Posts Tagged ‘Scarlett Strallen’

Mini-review – A Chorus Line – London Palladium

August 22, 2013

If you’re a fan of musicals, you want to see every one of the greats at least once. Sometimes a mediocre score can really come to life in context in a way that just listening to a recording or even watching a movie may not get across. So I was excited when it was announced that A Chorus Line was coming to London – it was my first chance to see it! But then I saw the prices, which seemed exorbitant for a musical that doesn’t really have any kind of scenery overheads and only runs for two hours. I waited, week after week, for them to come down. Scarlett Strallen! “Dance Ten, Looks Three” done live instead of at the piano bar! Really, really high kicks! Then it announced it was closing in August, and it started to look like I was never going to make it. I finally gave up and broke my £20 barrier and got some £25 tickets off of LastMinute that they advertised as “in the front five rows” – I wasn’t sure why the crowds weren’t coming but I thought I should make a little bit of an effort or face ten more year of just never having seen it.

The setting is “New York, 1970s,” and, in a nutshell, I think this is where the show falls down. The play is about the stories of dancers – why they dance – with (usually) comic numbers that they perform to illustrate their little quirks. But the stories they tell about their lives seem really dated. Puerto Rican identity issues, lots of closeted gay guys … through the lens of 2013, a lot of these characters come off, not just as stereotypes, but as the kind of stereotypes people had of people during the 1970s that we have moved beyond. They really haven’t aged well. And while, for example, “Dance Ten Looks Three” is a snappy number, the bitchy intrologue was completely limp. Given my druthers, I’d strip the show down, rewrite all of the spoken bits, and look to replace maybe a third to a half of the songs with things that represent what the performers of today are like.

Of all of the stories, however, it was that of Cassie (Scarlett Strallen’s role) that just 100% still worked. A star fallen from the good roles and going back just to work; it’s timeless, and her dance to “The Music and the Mirror” was captivating. Zach’s line about how “she couldn’t dance like the rest of them” was just so true; Strallen’s dancing was just gorgeous. Maybe it was just the choreography – it’s designed so carefully throughout the show to demonstrate the skill level of the various characters – but even if she was given the best, well, she was up for it. This was the highlight of my evening – five minutes (time stopped, actually, it could have been three minutes or ten) of pure beauty and motion. Aaaaahhh.

The group scenes are also a treat, and, for a musicals fan, there’s no doubt that this is a fun evening, with lots of good dancing, excellent songs, and white-hot talent on stage. But I can’t help but think the run is not working out the way they hoped – fifth row seats shouldn’t be going for twenty five quid. That said – I do really feel I got my money’s worth; but even more so when I spent 65 to see Book of Mormon from off to the side. But that’s for another post.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Tuesday, August 13th, 2013. The final performances will be on August 31st.)

Advertisements

Review – Singing in the Rain – Palace Theatre

February 9, 2012

So what do you do if you have the stage rights to one of the most popular musicals of all time? Turn it into a mostly faithful reproduction of the original, with all of the sparkle sucked out, seems to be the answer these days. While I appreciate the sentiment to move to strong, story-driven work rather than jukebox musicals, I’m really questioning the motivations that brought horrors like The Wizard of Oz to the stage. But before I go into too much analysis of this question (can the answer be anything but “money” when it comes down to it), let’s have a look at last night’s trip to the Palace to see Singing in the Rain – the fourth night of what will likely be a long run (and fully reviewable in my book as it already had a solid session in Chichester).

So: plot. It’s the end of the age of silent movies, and stars Lena Lamont (Katherine Kingsley) and Don Lockwood (Adam Cooper) are at the top of their universes. While both have outsized egos to match, they’re about to be brought down a notch: for Lena, by the arrival of talkies; for Don, by the arrival of a sassy yet sweet blonde (Kathy Selden, played by Scarlett Strallen) who makes him think he isn’t really the center of the universe. Love (inevitably) ensues between Don and Kathy, but when Lena realizes Kathy is taking away Adam – and horning in on her own fame – she decides to ensure her own distinctive stamp on their first talkie, The Dancing Cavalier. Can the picture (and the studio) be saved? What about love? Don’s best friend Cosmo (Daniel Crossley) has ideas to make sure both happen … and with this being a Hollywood original, you can be sure there’s a happy ending.

I knew little about this other than it had some positive buzz and, well, of couse, I remembered the plot and songs from the movie (which I love without being obsessive about it). But, as ever, I was prepared to experience it on its own terms. Adaptations frequently must give up a lot in order to succeed in a new medium, but I figured the distance between me and my last viewing of the original would mean any removed (or added) songs/choreography/characters/plot lines would fuzz into my vague memory of the story seamlessly. I was sure Lina Lamont didn’t have her own number, but as I was loving Katherine Kingsley’s characterization, I was more than willing to have her take a star turn.

What I didn’t expect was that the lead, Adam Cooper, would have so little charisma or zing of his own. Was it because he was trying to play Gene Kelley (playing Gene Kelly), rather than playing Don Lockwood? Don is a caricature of a character, mostly just a name to hang Gene Kelly’s face on, but Cooper doesn’t seem to get that what this character needs to work is not an actor playing an iconic actor (in a role as an actor): he needs to give it his own special something. And while he worked his way through the dance scenes with well-rehearsed skill, he didn’t succeed in creating that feeling of A Star. Did he need to be “Adam Cooper, Totally Amazing Dancer, I Own This Show,” or did he need to be “Don Lockwood, Song and Dance Man Who Rose To The Top (but still has a heart of gold)?” I was willing to be sucked in and amazed, but instead I was surprised at how very wooden Cooper was. Is it because the show had just started at the Palace and he hadn’t settled in? Had he spent his time working on his dance moves rather than creating chemistry with his costars? Whatever it was, I found myself focusing on Cosmo and Lena, who were really shining in their roles as laugh generators, but I knew it was just wrong that Cooper was not owning the stage.

Meanwhile, the various song and dance routines were entertaining but similarly lacking in pizazz. I wanted more wow, more new, more now, to be overwhelmed with the gorgeousness of it all and the thrill of the dance. It’s actually not that hard to do this to me (witness my tears at Crazy for You). But only in the final scene, when the cast came out to reprise “Singing in the Rain” with multi-colored umbrellas, was I finally swept away in it all. And when Scarlett Strallen stood there at the very end, smiling her heart out, wanting us to love her as she stood between Cooper and Crossley, I thought, damn, girl, you’re a real professional and you just got short-changed … not just by Cooper but by a production team that thought what they needed to do is make the two of you play Kelly and Reynolds rather than letting your own star quality shine through. They didn’t trust the material enough as a stage show; they just wanted a faithful, live reproduction of a musical that would draw in the bus fulls of silver haired theater patrons, night after night.

And I suppose, really, my dreams of art aside, this is just, really, a commercial venture, a way to put butts in seats, and the fact that sometimes something truly beautiful is produced amidst all of this worship of the almighty dollar (or pound in this case) is merely a side product and not the main goal. And enough of the theater was full (and happy enough) that they’ve probably made it all safe enough to get those tickets sold. But I wanted to see at the end of this night was the feeling that I’d seen two amazing performers burning up the stage, connecting with each other, sparks flying everywhere. And maybe it was all the water coming down from the rafters (I have to say I was a bit worried about someone possibly getting electrocuted through their microphone – no one can apparently sing well enough to fill the house without one these days), but Singing in the Rain was a damp squib for me.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Tuesday, February 7th, 2012. It’ll be booking into the far, far future, I’m sure. Meanwhile, don’t forget to catch Crazy for You before it closes – it’s a really top musical that has way more bang for the buck if you’re a fan of traditional song and dance shows. Note that the upper seats in this theater have a very restricted view, are small and uncomfortable and unsuited for those with vertigo or a desire to see all of the stage from their seats.)

Review – Passion – Donmar Warehouse

September 12, 2010

Let’s start out by saying I’m no Sondheim fanatic. In fact, until two years ago, I did not care for him at all based on the two versions of Into the Woods I’d seen. However, A Little Night Music (at the Menier) gave me an inkling that there might be more to him that first met the ear, and Company convinced me there was. And, well, apparently everyone likes him, so perhaps this was a late arrival for me. I thus jumped on the chance to see an early performance of Passion at the Donmar Warehouse. As usual, I did nothing to inform myself before the show so I could take it in raw: I only knew that it would be one hour and forty minutes with no interval (and thus, to me, a perfect post-work show).

Passion is a decidedly weird show. At first I thought it was about frustrated lovers, and thought there might be an early suicide (in the traditional “passion is bad” style of the era it was set in, seemingly any time from 1810-1890); then I thought we might have a true love tale; then I thought it was all going to go very, I don’t know, stalkery, kinda The Woman in Black meets Fatal Attraction, but it managed to completely elude all of my guesses and become none of these things whatsoever. There was a soldier (Giorgio, David Thaxton), and a girl (Clara, a very nubile Scarlett Strallen in fluffy wigs), then a bunch of soldiers and (to spice it up) another girl (Fosca, Elena Roger), a sickly one who starts the play off screaming from her distant room like the wife in Jane Eyre. As we’re feeling sorry for the soldier separated from his girlfriend and hostile to the clingy, freaky sick girl, suddenly it comes out that Clara is actually a married woman, and suddenly Giorgio’s relationship with her seems a little … bizarre. What was it built on, really?

I could go on about the plot, which made no sense to me, but I’d rather get to the point and say I did not care for this show. There was singing, but there was little in the way of memorable music of any sort. Despite her intense and hair-raising performance, I was disturbed by Elena Roger’s intense Piaf-isms; I kept expecting her to launch into “La Vie en Rose” (and I had never seen Piaf so I was going purely based on her voice and not the memory of what she’d done before, but the sound is, to me, that of a particular person, and NOT the sound of a character in a Sondheim show). Strallen and Thaxton executed nicely, but their performances could not paste over holes in the plot so wide a ski jump could not have helped them bridge the gap.

But you know what could have? A really excellent song or two. And today I saw another musical, of an older vintage (1968 vs 1994), which convinced me in a song about making a cup of tea that a society artist had fallen in love with an ignorant widow. It doesn’t matter that I saw a preview (and spent 20 minutes wondering if the actors were going to slip on spaghetti or 10 minutes earlier wondering if anyone was ever going to shut that damned door upstage); I just don’t think Passion is all that good. I’m sure the run will be sold out all the way through and people will convince themselves that they saw a great show; meanwhile, I’ll be looking eagerly forward to the Union Theatre’s revival of Bells Are Ringing at the end of the month.

(This review is for a preview performance that took place on Friday, September 10th. The show runs through November 27th and is already sold out. I’ve got a ticket for a show November 10th: if you’re really dying to see it, make me an offer. Meanwhile Paul In London’s review is so opposed to mine I feel it worth pointing out in a point/counterpoint kind of way. Truth be told, Elena Roger did really own the role of Fosca, but I still hated the show.)