Posts Tagged ‘Savoy Theatre’

Review – Funny Girl – Menier Chocolate Factory (then Savoy)

January 9, 2016

It’s nice to go see a show that has been already committed to a transfer (not to mention sold out for the entire run), as this pretty well guarantees that you’re going in to see a winner – and even if it’s not a five star show, you get a whole extra star’s worth of smugness for being able to get in while the seats are cheap. Yep, I’m talking about Funny Girl, about the only show I can remember that not just sold out most of its run before it opened, but had sold out months of its transfer to the big stage as well. So, yes, when a passel of “well these are really restricted view but you can sort of see the stage most of the time” seats came up for grabs one day, I jumped all over it. You see, it pays to keep going back to the website and hoping something will come up, especially for tickets at the Menier Chocolate Factory.

Since it opened, most of the complaining I have heard about Funny Girl has been about how it’s just not as good as the movie, really. And by this, what people mean (and sometimes say directly) is that Sheridan Smith is not as powerful a singer as Barbra Streisand. But you know what? She’s a more compelling Fanny Brice. There, I’ve said it, now complain away. The feeling I came with when I finished seeing the movie ever so many years ago was that it was hard to see much of a tragedy in Funny Girl because the lead came off so full of egotism that you couldn’t really root for her to succeed. I felt Barbra’s own ego was taking over her ability to portray Fanny as a sympathetic character, someone with any weaknesses at all.

But Sheridan Smith, now, she’s a whole ‘nother story. Every self confident word that comes out of her mouth has a tint of “but I’m not really all that, am I, I just want to be more,” and this makes her greatest flaw as a person, her blind love for rascal Nick Arnstein (Darius Campbell), a completely understandable gap for someone who desperately needs to feel like she is actually loved. Fanny needs to get external affirmation in a world where she is constantly struggling with not being beautiful enough. I mean, how many other women out there have struggled with being told “but you have a nice personality” when what you want to hear is “you’re so gorgeous I can’t believe my good luck that you’re even talking to me?” For the most handsome man she’s ever met to treat her like a shining diamond, well, I was absolutely sucked into Fanny’s happiness and, even knowing the end, I was able to buy the emotional arc of the story and this comes down to Sheridan Smith’s performance (well and a good book). I did not like the movie of Funny Girl but this live stage performance … well, it gives you all the feels, and that’s what I want when I fork over for a musical, to walk out swooning with emotion.

Let’s not pass over the rest of the show, though, because this is not a production that hangs on one person and crumbles on the edges. I loved loved loved, all of the scenes set in Brooklyn with Fanny’s mom (Marilyn Cutts) and her group of gal pals: I went with a Jewish American friend and those scenes honestly made us homesick. And the dance scenes were BANG POW PIZAZZ! I was never expecting there to be so much tap dancing in this show! It all seemed a wee bit crowded on the Menier stage, but hey, give me dancing that’s so big it spills over, now THAT’S what I want in a musical!

Oh, wait, didn’t I say I wanted something else in a musical? Well, in this case, really, the only thing I really wanted is for Nick Arnstein to be softer on the edges. Some of the problem is doubtlessly how he’s written – apparently he was actually far more of a scoundrel than they were allowed to show him when this show was created (due to possible lawsuits), but I think, well, if Alec Guiness can make me believe in the Force, Darius Campbell should have been able to make me believe in Nick Arnstein. He just didn’t seem to have any depth or reality to him, like someone had once seen Clark Gable in Gone With the Wind on a bad video tape and then tried to make that in to a three-dimensional being. I suspect he needs to be written a little meaner and more scheming, and, without those words, Cambpell needs to find a way to bring the character to life that’s outside of what’s on the page.

Overall, though, this was a great night out and I’d go back to see it again – and doubtlessly will once it hits the Savoy.

(This review is for a performance that took place on December 19th, 2015. It continues at the Menier Chocolate Factory until March 5th 2016, then moves to the Savoy Theater in April. Buy your tickets either directly from the Menier or from the ATG website as there’s lots of scalping going on and no need to play that game.)

Mini-review – Gypsy – Imelda Staunton at the Savoy Theater

April 29, 2015

I’m an Imelda Staunton fan, so I’d already had a pair of tickets for this show in my hot little hand (courtesy of Santa Claus) for some time before the reviews for the Savoy transfer came through (I’m a fan but not enough to go to Chichester). But BOY the West End Whingers were just bubbling all over themselves about this one (“Everything’s coming up roses .. and daffodils!”) and I knew any moment now “it’s gonna be my turn” and I couldn’t wait. I’d only ever seen Bette Midler’s version (on TV) and I really, really was hoping for something amazing.

And, really, that’s what I got. The stage was frequently teeny tiny, a little rotating flip capturing a sideways glance of where things were happening .. but then it opened up in the horrible scenes set in old vaudeville houses. I started off fighting it a bit – the young Baby June was grating (and tinnily miked) and I was glad to see the end of the child actor scenes even though they did get progressively camper as the evening went on.

Songwise, it’s almost unfair to have so many standards jammed in one show – you’re not getting that with modern musicals, that’s for sure – and the emotional ride of Rose’s relationship with the manager Herbie (Peter Davison), and the heartbreak and disappointment when she breaks her last promise to him … Gypsy herself (Lara Pulver) in the shadows for most of the evening, because, really the show isn’t about her anyway … I saw that this time, the fact that I thought it _was_ about her was my mistake, she was just the cherry on top of the cake, but not the cake at all. And oh, the brilliant laughs of the old strippers in “You Gotta Get a Gimmick …” so funny! By this time we were all just riding the wave of the story, the inevitability of Gypsy’s “fall,” which suddenly was (again) about her mother, the most horrible relationship ever, and as the stage finally utterly transformed itself for Mama Rose’s last big number, like something right out of the movie version of Chicago, so big you almost couldn’t believe it was on stage, there was little Imelda belting it out, surrounded by glittering lights … breaking our hearts. It wasn’t the end of the show, but we jumped out of out seats and applauded. It was all just so intense. Everything came up roses, roses covered with thorns, and we (and she) held on to them tight, the blood pouring down and the smile fixed on her face. My God, what a night. I nearly immediately broke all of my promises to stick to cheaper seats and went and got a pair of tickets in the front row so I could see it again but this time from a place where I could see the sweat beading on their faces as every single actor busted their chops to make it awesome for us. Yes, it was that good. Don’t miss it.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Thursday, April 16th, 2015. It’s on until October.)

Review – Dirty Rotten Scoundrels – Savoy Theater

May 15, 2014

When the going gets tough, the tough get going to … musicals. Live musicals. Funny musicals. Just the day before I’d been to a riotous How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying in Walthamstow – could a big, polished West End production in any way recreate the charm and joy of a weensie yet perfect show held over a pub?

To my pleasure, my economical (bumped from third balcony to second) yet well-centered seats gave me just the sort of big-bang evening I was hoping for. The story of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels was one I didn’t know … two con men (one cultured – Lawrence Jameson as played by Robert Lindsay; one low brow – Freddy Benson as played by Rufus Hound) go head to head in a Riviera resort town, betting that one of them will be first to do a big con and the other will then leave town in disgrace. It’s like a buddy comedy, only mean instead of cute, with the two men playing tricks on their cons and each other, while we in the audience laugh harder and harder. And of course the woman they choose for the big con sets it up so it becomes personal between the two guys.

I came to this show with no knowledge of the movie, so the whole thing was pretty much a surprise for me. It turns out it was much less greasy than I expected – I never anticipated that the development of the relationship between the two men would be so important to the story. (Watching the movie later, I realized that a fair amount of liberty had been taken with the source material – all the better to make a good night at the theater.) I was despairing at the combination of “hit Hollywood movie” and “Broadway songwriting talent,” expecting some Disneyfied piece of crap, but as it turns out, the songs were actually genuinely funny, with lyrics that didn’t just fill space but gave me the giggles. What went right here? And even if they kept the sets fairly light and airy, weren’t the dance numbers a laugh? OH MY GOD WAS I HAVING A GOOD TIME? There are nights when I am sure it would never happen again!

In retrospect, despite the West End ticket price, I have to say that Dirty Rotten Scoundrels has every possibility of being the kind of reliable that you turn to for a pick me up on a gray day – a bit of slapstick, a lot of dancing, and buckets and buckets of fun. And thanks to Paul in London for the heads up – without you, I would have missed out entirely!

(This review is for a performance that took place on Thursday, May 8, 2014. It is booking until well into the future.)

Review – Legally Blonde – The Savoy Theatre

March 10, 2010

The Strand’s been an interesting venue for theater for me – some big winners (Drowsy Chaperone), some limp squibs. Given the hoopla down the street for Love Never Dies, I felt like it was kind of funny that, rather than trying to go to a preview of that show and get a blog post that would really boost my stats (the West End Whingers must be having kittens about their traffic), I was, instead, going to see a show that I thought I might actually enjoy: Legally Blonde.

Some three months or so back it had been dubbed the rightful successor to Hairspray in the “feel good” department; and me, I am all about a fun, lighthearted musical. However, I was suspicious about the comment that it didn’t have particularly interesting music; this is pretty much a requirement for a good musical for me. But the choreography was supposed to be fun, and, well, it sounded like a perfect birthday night out for my friend K, so late, late in the game, I finally made it to the show.

My tickets, purchased off of, were real dogs at 40 pounds a pop; third to last row in the back half of the balcony, with a bit of the stage cut off by the overhanging ceiling. Grrr. Now, I didn’t actually miss anything because of this, but there was piles and piles of auditorium in front of us, and to me 40 pounds is actually a really major theater expenditure. And the seats were crap. I was not happy about this: Happy Birthday, here’s your binoculars. Bah.

As for the show, well, I wish I was more enthusiastic about it. The story is pretty much the same as the movie: blonde Californian follows her boyfriend to Harvard Law School to prove she’s “serious;” comedy ensues. It’s actually a really nice story with an upbeat kick to it. The songs do flow naturally, the lyrics are occasionally clever and easy to understand, but …

I don’t know what to say. The show goes down nicely; I’d say it’s very suited to hens’ nights and entertaining out of town visitors. But it’s not a brilliant musical. Sheridan Smith is really very good, and this is a great star turn for her, but … it kind of ultimately seemed like disposable entertainment to me. I walked out and forgot about it. I didn’t remember any of the tunes; while there were a few gags here and there that I laughed about, there was just no great raging genius of “wow” happening to make me care. It was like a giant musical Twinkie: sweet and full of fluff but not very satisfying. My female friends loved it, despite the bad seats; I felt kinda sad that I hadn’t but can’t deny the truth. Oh well. Some day I’ll get a musical that makes me go “wow” again, and chances are it will either involve men in Victorian drag or Hannibal Lecter.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Thursday, March 4th, 2010. Legally Blonde is booking until February 2011, so I guess they’re not particularly afraid of my grumping.)

Review – Carousel – The Savoy Theatre

February 27, 2009

Two nights ago I went with J, Jill and a random visiting American to see Carousel at the Savoy Theatre, a place I\’d never been and didn\’t even know where to look for! The show itself had been on my radar since November, when my uncle came to visit, mostly because I\’m a huge fan of Rogers and Hammerstein (the golden standard of the musical, in my mind – only Cole Porter and Kander and Ebb occupy the same heights for me) but also because it\’s a classic musical that I\’ve never seen, in the era which produced the most works I enjoy. However, it\’s also known as a bit of a dark musical due to the male lead being, er, a wife beater, and the fact that his wife sings about being okay with having him hit her. This kind of creeped me out, but I decided to just go and experience it and see how I felt about it later.

I am completely unfamiliar with the music of Carousel (it\’s part of my \”thing,\” to experience a show as if it\’s brand new if possible, no matter how forced it is to have such an experience – thus I avoid reading plays by authors I enjoy unless I\’ve actually seen them so that I can really enjoy the live experience, whenever it finally happens), so I didn\’t know any of the big songs, even though I knew the title \”You\’ll Never Walk Alone\” – but I had no idea what it sounded like! February, though, was the time for me to finally overcome my resistance to the story and indulge in my love of the classics – and £10 tickets from LastMinute were the final incentive to get me in the theater.

This, actually, turned out to be a real winner, as when we arrived, it turned out the Savoy house management had upgraded us to Row E! Now, I do believe there is no point in paying lots of money for a show in the hopes that somehow sitting closer will make a bad show better, but I was quite pleased that for once my frugal ways were really working in my favor. And it was a lovely theater to be able to admire in the full – all Art Deco to the hilt, gilded decor, a frieze of monkeys in the bar, the whole thing very OTT. We were also notified that \”Carrie Pipperidge\” was being played by Tasha Sheridan, which means this show\’s effective utilization of understudies was continuing full blast.

I was pretty put off at the very start of the show, when, after the women punched out of work (establishing the scene as a late Victorian era New England factory), the stage elements withdrew to produce … GAH animated projections instead of a real set! AARGH I was so frustrated. Is this the latest trend in cost cutting for shows, go for drops and send everything else off to Pixar? That said, I liked thet elements they did have – a man on stilts, three can can dancers, various other carnie types – but the projections irritated me continuously throughout the show, especially when movement in the background distracted me from the action on stage.

As \”center of the action\” Julie Jordan, I was quite taken with Alexandra Silber, who wasn\’t just beautiful, she was perfect for the role. She somehow managed to make the character believable – both independent, vulnerable, tough, and loving – and really kept my eyes focused on her. Maybe I can\’t figure out why she threw her life away for the sake of some silly man, but who knows what motivated girls of this era? At any rate, it was a real pleasure to listen to her sing, and I feel like she was an incredibly good choice for the role. Tasha Sherida also did a good job as Julie\’s best friend, being both cute and spunky and fun in a very Rogers-and-Hammerstein \”comic sidekick\” kind of way, but the person in charge of doing her hair really dropped the ball – it looked not just period inappropriate but ridiculously messy and half-thought-out.

Meanwhile, Billy Bigelow, Julie\’s love interest and the guy who slaps her around because he doesn\’t like her being right, certainly does a good job of being a rake and a flake and a ball of temper – but Jeremiah James wasn\’t as amazing in the role as I might have hoped for. The shoes seemed filled but not really full of personality. Lesley Garret, who plays Julie\’s aunt Nettie, was fun and well-placed in her role. That said, she could have taught the other girls a lot about how to sing correctly, as she clearly had a voice that would have made it to the back of the house, while the chorus of women singing along in the group numbers (i.e. \”Clambake\” and \”June is Busting Out All Over\”) just sounded painfully thin.

This, I think, is a problem with letting people sing with their voices miked, and as near as I can tell everyone in the cast was doing this. You could hear them sigh, you could hear them whisper – it was ridiculous! I\’m convinced this \”trend\” (if it isn\’t in fact just \”the way things are done\”) is completely ruining the quality of musicals and making stage singers weak. Seriously, if I want to hear people sing through a sound system, why not just fire up the home stereo?

Overally this was a \”good enough\” show and not a bad evening out, but it all just seemed a little done on the cheap and didn\’t overwhelm me. The dancing was okay (I did like the bit where the crew of the whaling ship faced off with the girls from Nellie\’s Soda Shack – it was kind of like \”Seven Brides for Seven Brothers\” but much better than the show I\’d seen in London two years back), and Billy\’s best friend was a great evil villain. The energy of the cast wasn\’t as up as I would have liked – I compare it with \”Hairspray,\” which was electric and energetic even from the second balcony – and can\’t help but think they were maybe a bit down about not being in such a popular show. It was a good introduction to this musical, and I\’ll probably see it again some day, but it didn\’t really blow my socks off.

(This review was for a performance that took place on Wednesday, February 25th, 2009.)