Posts Tagged ‘Rose and Crown Theatre’

Review – Superman (the musical) – Ye Olde Rose and Crown Theatre

March 18, 2014

C’mon, be honest: the phrase “Superman: the Musical” probably made you want to run away screaming, right? You’re imagining the overblown bleah of Spiderman meets, I don’t know, the musical know-how (or “ready to capitalize on anything”) of Viva Forever (much in the same way The X Men begat The Green Hornet)? So what if I told you it was actually written in the 60s by the musical team that wrote Bye Bye Birdie? And that the whole thing is performed in a tongue-in-cheek style that was a bit Benny Hill meets Mad Men?

While any play that’s sat on the back burner (this is its London debut) can normally be written off as a waste of stage time, Superman, as done by Star Productions, managed to make being comic book style an advantage, with primary color sets and costumes that brought to mind Roy Lichtenstein. This was an era in which both sexism and racism played out differently from today, and I must admit I shuddered when I saw Ming Foo Ling and Ding Ling on the cast of characters – was this going to be another anti-Asian clunker? As it turns out, these weren’t our baddies, and casting the family of acrobats with Caucasians helped tone down what could have been a really ugly element of the show. As a bonus, well, acrobatics! We had people actually doing somersaults and backflips on the wee wee stage of the Rose & Crown, and I loved it.

Er, yes, plot: Superman (Craig Berry, making full use of his talent for the single-eyebrow lift) is happily ensconced as the hero of Metropolis, to the delight of Lois Lane (Michelle LaFortune, every inch the New York girl) and chagrin of reporter Paul Harwood (Max Mencken). But he’s not the only one who wants to bring him down: there is a villain (Matthew Hibbotson, hamming it up to 11) who sees popping Superman’s bubble of perfection as his means to personal fulfillment. As we make our way to the happy ending we get to see romances develop for both Clark Kent and Lois outside of their traditional roles (each other), which makes the plotting much more interesting. We also get to experience some very sassy relationship handling from Sydney the secretary (Sarah Kennedy), whose big solo “Ooh, Do You Love You?” was both really funny and a great showcase for a snazzy talent (once again confirming that I’m spoiled seeing fringe theater in London).

I actually don’t want to say too much about the show in case you’re thinking about going, because so many of the laughs I had were because of surprises that frequently came from the ironic way they handled nearly everything except, well, the great singing and the “how did they get so many people onstage” dancing. Even the special effects were fun despite being unapologetically on a budget. To be honest, I don’t know if I’d want to see this done with people taking everything seriously – it would have spoiled the fun. I’m really glad I made the hike up to Walthamstow to see this show – at £15 quid a ticket, it overdelivers value. Don’t miss it!

(This review is for the evening performance that took place on Saturday, March 15th, 2014. It continues through Saturday March 22nd.)

Mini-review – One Touch of Venus – Ye Olde Rose and Crown Theater

February 21, 2013

Is your idea of a FABULOUS Valentine’s day going to a pub and watching a bunch of semi-professional actors do a musical so unpopular that there’s not even a cast recording available these days? Well, it’s mine, especially when it’s a musical with music by Kurt Weill and lyrics by Ogden Nash. Getting to break in a new fringe theater venue was just a plus; so much the better that it came with several awards from CAMRA and a liberal policy about bringing in your own food on nights when the kitchen was not open. So One Touch of Venus at the Rose and Crown it was for me and my sweetheart, with full tummies, nice drinks, and bonus chocolates for the interval.

As it turns out, the show really delivered what I was hoping for in terms of great songs with witty lyrics, all glued together with a fairly lightweight yet fun (and surreal) plot that was better than many musicals of the time (but sounded like it was straight out of the mouth of Man In Chair from The Drowsy Chaperone): a silly art dealer (James Wolstenholme) gets an ancient statue of Venus delivered to his gallery, and while he’s fussing about, a visiting barber (David Jay Douglas) slips a ring on the statue’s finger, and it (now Kendra McMillan) comes to life – and falls in love with the barber! Shenanigans ensue, including dealing with the barber’s shrewish fiancee and her even more unlikeable mother, with a subplot of “where has the statue gone” that gets rather gangstery.

The songs really made this show for me (even if I thought one or two should have been cut to keep the running time down) – I laughed at the bitter meanness of “Way Out West in Jersey” (I can’t see how a British audience would have got the jokes) and the art scene mockery of “The New Art is the True Art,” but Nash outdid himself with “The Trouble with Women” (“is men,” now how perfect is THAT for Valentine’s day!). And then, well, “Speak Low,” my God, Weill and Nash, as sung by McMillan, was pure genius. I was … in a dream, I suppose, I’d lost all concept of watching a highly improbable show and was just wallowing in musical pleasure (thinking it might be nice to see her do a cabaret evening on her own).

The show did a good job of being inventively staged with its small budget. I loved the Punch and Judy show done for the “Dr. Crippen” ballad (making me think of the “Sweet Violets” ballet), and they handled Venus’s magic powers (making people disappear, bending prison cell bars) with aplomb and inventiveness (nice job Sarah June Mills). And yet … it was all just a bit long and I ran out of steam before they ran out of show. Sometimes in their duets, Venus and Rodney (the barber)’s voices were just not blending well, and some of the dance numbers seemed … skippable. But overall, it was a good evening and a fun Valentine’s day and a show I’d happily see again if it were remounted.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Thursday, February 14th, 2013. It runs through February 23rd.)