Posts Tagged ‘Umbrellas of Cherbourg’

Review – On a Clear Day You Can See Forever – Union Theater

September 13, 2013

I’m glad, in retrospect, that I knew nothing about On a Clear Day You Can See Forever before I headed to the Union Theater on Wednesday – I just hoped that with lyrics by Lerner and production values by Sasha Regan that I’d be having another lovely evening of golden/silver age musicals in the exquisite confines of my favorite tiny theater in London. And, well, so it was: but if I’d looked up the story beforehand, I might have been scared off! Whether you say it’s about psychoanalysis or about ESP or about past lives … well, any one of these things would have had me reconsidering my plans. A play where someone spends a lot of time with a shrink? Shoot me. A show about reincarnation? Couldn’t live through it.

But thanks, I think, to the utterly charming and completely non-ironic performance of Vicki Lee Taylor (as Daisy Gamble), rather that grumbling about how outrageous, silly, or (worst of all) boring this show was, I found myself relaxing into an utterly lovely and pleasant evening about truly surprising topics – absolutely original in all of the musical theater I had seen. Daisy Gamble is at a teaching psychologist’s office during a lesson and inadvertently is hypnotized. While recovering from her mishap, she winds up demonstrating other skills she has to Dr Bruckner (Nadeem Crowe) – such as an ability to read minds and, as demonstrated by the utterly gorgeous song, “Hurry, It’s Lovely Up Here,” a talent at making plants grow. I had been sitting there feeling a bit confused by the hip 60s setting (miniskirts galore) and the way the band (sitting behind me) were kind of drowning out some of the lyrics and dialogue, but once Taylor started singing, I was sunk. (It helped a little bit that she reminded me of Umbrellas of Cherbourg-era Catherine Deneuve.) It was like discovering you were on a journey to an unknown destination with a driver whose tastes you had utter faith in. I was very excited to see where Burton Lane and Mr. Lerner were going to take us.

Although the middle of this show is a very bizarre trip to woo woo land, I had no difficulty in swallowing it hook, line and sinker: as a bonus, Daisy actually has a very neat personal evolution that takes her from a difficult to believe, two dimensional character to a much better rounded person by the end of the show – you really do wind up rooting for her. And Dr Bruckner, well, he’s a bit of an odd duck, but his passion for understanding the mysteries he’s confronted with – and his willingness to accept Daisy without trying to put her in an easily-labeled box – makes him sympathetic as well. Really, On A Clear Day is such a curious thing, but it’s so lovely to watch: and sitting there at the end, five feet away from Taylor as she (and the rest of the talented cast) belted their hearts out – well, it was that kind of Union Theater magic that keeps me coming back show after show. In this case, it might have me coming back just a little bit sooner, because Taylor’s voice was just too good to be believed – playing to a house of, what, forty or fifty people, unmiked – what a treat!

(This review was for a performance that took place on Wednesday, September 11, 2013. It continues through Saturday, September 28th.)

Review – Blink Again! (turn on the lights) – Above the Stag Theatre

June 30, 2011

It’s been two times lucky with the Blink series at the Above the Stag theater, and I wasn’t about to miss a chance to see the third round of this series of songs from musicals people loved to hate. The format is songs performed with small intros as to their provenance, enhanced this time with a digital projection showing pictures of the appropriate cast album cover or program.

Unfortunately this round just wasn’t as fresh as it could have been – too many shows were rehashed for my tastes (Grand Hotel, “I Want to Go to Hollywood;” Moby Dick, “A Whale of a Tale;” The Rink, “Colored Lights;” Children of Eden, “Wasteland”), decreasing the sense of discovery and wonder previous productions had imbued. Even the same songs were being rehashed, which I found particularly irritating given my feelings about Drowsy Chaperone‘s “As We Stumble Along.” However, there was a movement toward organanizing the songs in a more thematic way, which led to a pile of fun mocking the Disney enterprise (yes sure Lion King is still going wild but nobody’s crying about the unfortunate fates of Tarzan – represented by “You’ll Be in my Heart” – and the Little Mermaid, “Part of Your World” and “Under the Sea”) with new, camp versions well suited to a fringe venue (and didn’t Ashley Martin look fetching in his spotted tunic). We also had a fab disco interlude that hit Saucy Jack and the Space Vixens (“All I Need is Disco,” I forgive them for doing a repeat in this case as the musical itself is so terrible I was thrilled not to have to sit through it), Flashdance (“Gloria”) and 9 to 5 (theme song), ending with the entire cast (men included ) parading around stage in giant blonde wigs. I loved it!

The height of brilliance, though, was in their perfect sendup of Kneehigh Theater’s Umbrellas of Cherbourg, a show which I enjoyed but was so … misdirected (I think it was overpriced and overlong) that it made it only 40 some performances before closing. They ripped not just the bizarre performance of cabaret performer Meow Meow, but the entire premise of the show … in a manner that seemed to me very Forbidden Broadway-esque. It was all just so fresh it stung … and I loved it. Maybe, I am thinking, that where this show should focus is on the much more recent flops – God only knows I was expecting a mechanical pig to show up on stage any minute – and go for a performance that’s far punchier. The frequent references to another mega-flop (which I’ll keep a secret) made for a gag that kept me giggling all the way through – why not mock Greenland too, and for that matter all of the other shows that deserve a good swift kick for being expensive, badly cast, poorly thought out, and generally a waste of time? Hell, I’d sign up for that! I don’t want to discount the joy of hearing songs from Which Witch (they were great) or Batboy, but if there aren’t enough musicals to stick with the theme, I say change the theme and go for a better show.

Still, it was £14 and I had a good evening, the cast was talented, and the few songs I hated were short. Overall, this was a good evening and I do recommend it to the musical geeks out there.

(This reveiw is for a performance that took place on Tuesday, June 28th, 2011. It continues through July 2nd.)

Review – Umbrellas of Cherbourg – Kneehigh Theatre at the Gielgud

April 3, 2011

Given that Kneehigh produced my favorite show of 2008, Noel Coward’s Brief Encounter, I was thrilled to hear that they were coming back to the West End with another movie adaptation, this time of the wonderful Umbrellas of Cherbourg. This movie, a marshmallow sky vision of life in France made in 1963 and starring the radiant Catherine Deneuve, is a cult classic that I adore for its color saturated settings as much as its sweet, all-sung dialogue and heartbreaking story of broken dreams. What would Kneehigh bring to this story? How would they change it? Was the movie strong enough to handle being remade? I was so excited I considered going up to Leicester to see it, but travel costs made it impossible; I would just wait until it opened in London.

However, prices as announced were, again, too high for me, Ms. Cheap Seats. I wanted to have a good experience, but £19.50 would only get me a side seat in the second balcony! £39.50 my absolute tops for a show, would get me the middle third of that same balcony, with front of second balcony going for £49.50! It was just, too, too expensive. LastMinute.com had only one deal (that I missed out on) and it wasn’t coming up on the TKTS half priced ticket booth – what was I going to do? I didn’t want to shell out £30 to sit in the last row of the entire theater way in the back. I didn’t know if it was the expenses of being on the West End, but my Umbrellas trip was being rained on. It was scheduled to run for about six months, though, so I figured after the newness wore off, something would happen.

Weeks passed. The show started previews. I couldn’t find any cheap seats. Finally, a first review appeared, a highly enthusiastic five wine glasses from the West End Whingers. Andrew even liked it so much he went again two nights later. I pencilled in a Friday two months later when I thought I just might be able to go. Then the old media reviews started coming in, and while they weren’t really negative, they lacked enthusiasm. I bided my time. Then … bad news … Twitter started telling a tale of half, even two-thirds empty houses. Suddenly, I realized, I had better go before it was too late. No one can keep running at a loss for month after month. I convinced my friend Jonathan to go for the £29.50 front row day seats and we finally made it on a Wednesday, the last week of March.

It was true – the Gielgud was deserted. We wandered in a theater that barely seemed to have a show happening at all. The lights dimmed a bit and we had a female cabaret star, with teased black hair, fishnets, and a skirts slit in the back and on the thigh, flirting with several sailors and explaining what kind of place Cherbourg was and teaching us some practical French. I don’t really know why Meow Meow was in the show or what it was Kneehigh thought she was required for, but there she was, full of personality and fun but, well, distracting. Finally the curtain went up and there was our tiny Cherbourg, cute little models on stage. Then a boy and a girl puppet came out and had a cute romantic moment … then it all flew away and the musical really got down to it.

It’s a show … about a boy. And about a girl. And about being young, and falling in love. And about parents who don’t support you when you’re in love, and about passion, and excitement, and how boring work can be, and about enthusiasm and joy and optimism – promising to spend your life with someone and meaning it, not having enough “history” to be jaded. Carly Bawden was as lovely and self-possesed and youthful as I could have hoped for in a Genevieve – utterly believable as a girl with stars in her eyes who is clear about what she wants in life. Andrew Durand had just the right feel for Guy, utterly in love with his girl, not worried about the future because it’s all so clear when you’re in love. And there is singing, and there are girls in beautiful gem-colored dresses (my favorite being Cynthia Erivo with her fantastic voice), and there are bikes being ridden around on stage and slides to go down and simple sets and a live band and so much life, life, life on stage. Life is exciting, and it’s meant to be sung, and Umbrellas embraces this.

And … do you know what happens? I can’t bear to tell you. Umbrellas isn’t tragic in a Romeo and Juliet kind of way; like Genevieve’s mom says (I think), people only die of love in the movies. This show is heartbreaking because, well, it’s about two people learning how love just really isn’t enough, when it comes right down to it. But far be it from me to explain to you how, or why, but I do promise that at the end you will feel your heart breaking with all of the disappointments ever felt by the teenager inside you.

I was left pondering just what it was that had kept this musical from attracting the audience it deserved. I think some people just don’t like this style of musical, even though the music itself was wholly superior to Love Story and Ordinary Days (though the lyrics were rather simple, keeping with the original as I recall). My guess is this show might have been better if the Meow Meow bit were cut entirely and it was just a straight ninety minutes without an interval – given that it already starts at 8PM, this would be a natural move and help the show be more focused. Nothing could really be done about the electricity missing from the performers; they acted as if they were expecting bad news any minute, and it came on Friday, as the shows early closing (in May) hit them at the end of the night.

But I think there is more to this, and maybe it’s just not about the cost of the tickets, but more about misjudging the appetite for this story. As Tim Watson said to me after we finished up the April third edition of the As Yet Unnamed London Theater Podcast, the previous shows Kneehigh did on the West End were well loved movies with a strong British tradition; Umbrellas really is a cult favorite and very French. It’s a pity it didn’t succeed here, but it’s still a good show. Catch it while you can.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Wednesday, March 30, 2011. Umbrellas continues through May 21st.)