I liked 42nd Street when I saw it last year but I can’t say that I truly loved it, it felt a 24-carat production of a gold-plated show. But upon revisiting, to celebrate Bonnie Langford’s arrival in the company for its final furlong before closing in the New Year, some kind of magic seems to have happened at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane (or maybe I was just less grumpy) as it has now matured into something spectacular.
Revisiting 42nd Street at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane – and it still remains the finest spectacle of dance to be found in the West End.
Lulu returns to the West End after 30 years to join the cast of Broadway classic 42nd Street. From 19 March 2019, she takes over the iconic role of ‘Dorothy Brock’, first played by Sheena Easton, in this five-star production at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane.
Any number of shows could have been included in this post; frankly it’s ludicrous that I decided to stick with my whole top 12 idea… As I’ve seen about 90 more individual shows than last year.
You know what time of year it is – so I’ve just been through my annual Mind the Advent countdown! As I’ve seen a personal best number of different shows this year, the sheer volume of actors (and performances) have really been stacking up and making my life difficult – in terms of summing up my favourites of the year, that is. So here is a bit of a sneak preview of what’s to come in my highlight posts…
An American in Paris will finish its West End run at the Dominion Theatre in the new year. A cinema release featuring the show’s original stars, Robbie Fairchild and Leanne Cope, is planned.
Christopher Wheeldon’s stunning reinvention of the Oscar® winning Hollywood musical An American in Paris has extended its engagement for a second time, with tickets now on sale until Saturday 28 April 2018.
An American in Paris now rocks up at the newly refurbished Dominion Theatre, just ahead of another huge dance-heavy Broadway musical in 42nd Street, producers clearly banking on audiences wanting distraction from the realities of the outside world.
Full casting is announced for Christopher Wheeldon’s stunning reinvention of the Oscar® winning film (that starred Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron) AN AMERICAN IN PARIS. Joining the previously announced Broadway stars Robert Fairchild (as Jerry Mulligan) and Leanne Cope (as Lise Dassin) will be Haydn Oakley as Henri Baurel, Zoë Rainey as Milo Davenport, David Seadon-Young as Adam Hochberg and Jane Asher as Madame Baurel. Ashley Day will be the alternate Jerry Mulligan (and will assume the role from Monday 19 June 2017).
Leeds Grand Theatre, Leeds
Music and lyrics by Cole Porter
Book by Bella and Samuel Spewack
Directed by Jo Davies
Quirjin De Lang, Jeni Bern and Company
Opera North, a leading UK arts organisation whose key focus and goal is to ‘actively challenge conventional perceptions of opera’ (as stated in the programme), return to Leeds Grand this Autumn to present their latest season of work, with this new production of Kiss Me, Kate being the first in a diverse line-up.
Kiss Me, Kate tells the story of Fred Graham and Lilli Vanessi, two actors whose tempestuous love lives take centre stage as they perform in a new musical version of The Taming of the Shrew in 1940s Baltimore. Almost fabricated as a play within a play, Kiss Me, Kate takes a different tack to the musical theatre norm and allows the audience to see both the on stage and off stage dramatics and hysteria of the story’s main arc.
Quirijn De Lang and Jeni Bern, the key protagonists, shine in their roles offering the audience a true abundance of wit, charm and delight as they work with an overly complex plot that takes an hour and a half to actually get to the point. Whilst there are some great comedic interludes from Joseph Shovelton and John Savournin as Gunman 1 and Gunman 2, Kiss Me, Kate struggles to sell itself as a piece of high class musical theatre.
With a running time of almost 3 hours, Kiss Me, Kate fails to pack the punch required for such a long piece of theatre, with scenes drawn out for much longer than required. At least half an hour could be trimmed and still allow a piece that could be easily grasped without becoming boring due to a lack of tension, suspense or characters one can truly care for.
Tiffany Graves and Ashley Day feel a tad miscast as the secondary characters Lois Lane and Bill Calhoun – there’s a surprising lack of chemistry between the two and apart from a wonderful, albeit small, comedic moment in Tom, Dick or Harry. Katie Kerr as Hattie seems underused with an absolutely divine voice that opens up the first act in Another Op’nin, Another Show, whilst Claire Pascoe as the Stage Manager is another ensemble member who stands out, grabbing our attention as soon as she walks on stage.
The main saving grace of this production is its music. Superbly conducted by David Charles Abell, Kiss Me, Kate harks back to Musical Theatre’s golden era. The best moments are the ensemble numbers particularly Too Darn Hot the second act opener.
The lighting and set designs for this production are ambitious considering the size of the theatre but Ben Cracknell and Colin Richmond do a remarkable job, providing stunning backdrops that draw the audience in and help sell a flawed story.
Kiss Me, Kate’s lack of purpose and confusing storyline will possibly leave many feeling a little cold and put out. For those Shakespeare aficionados however who fancy seeing something a bit different and unconventional, then it may well prove the perfect night out.
Runs until 31 October and then toursGuest reviewer: Megan Kinsey
Ah Oklahoma, another in that list of musicals who have been produced and cast so perfectly in the past (in this case the wonderful National Theatre production that gave Hugh Jackman his big break) that you begin to wonder why anyone would dare attempt it again. But clearly Music & Lyrics – the collaborative effort of a number of the UK’s finest regional receiving theatres – are braver souls than I.
Royal & Derngate, Northampton
Music by Richard RodgersBook and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein IIDirected by Rachel Kavanaugh
Ashley Day and Charlotte Wakefield
There is a traditional charm that pervades the Royal & Derngate’s Oklahoma! This show, the first collaboration of Rodgers and Hammerstein, is at once dark and glorious but above all, crammed with some of the biggest numbers from the Golden Age of Broadway. And here, on Francis O’Connor’s set that has been cleverly designed to be taken on the road, it is beautifully staged.
Set around the turn of the last century, the Oklahoma!’s book glosses over much of the Indian Territory’s troubled history (the actual State of Oklahoma was not created until 1905). Whilst the legacy of the recently ended American Civil War is roundly ignored, the tale does hint at the vastness of the land that was there to be grabbed, as well as the agricultural rivalries between the cattle rancher and the farmer and all alongside the emerging technologies that were seeing automobiles appear and skyscrapers come out of the ground. Famously though, the story bravely weaves its human interest themes as light and frivolous romance seamlessly segues into the dark and damaged side of our fellow man.
Charlotte Wakefield is a delight as Laurey, the orphaned niece of her aged Aunt Eller with whom she lives on the farm that they own and tend. Wakefield has previous form with Rachel Kavanaugh, having garnered an Olivier nomination in the director’s The Sound Of Music two years ago.
The actress epitomises tough yet cute, with a carapace that ultimately holds a vulnerable soft-centre. Initially wary of suitor Curly’s advances, Laurey is in fact desparate for the love he offers. Throughout, Wakefield’s singing is divine, with her handling of the harmonies in People Will Say We’re in Love proving a gorgeous take on the classic tune. Alongside Wakefield, Ashley Day’s Curly is handsome and well sung , but he needs to dig deeper to earn our sympathy. All too often Day glosses over the nuance of his lyrics, losing much of the cleverly crafted Hammerstein verse. But these are early days for the production, though and there is no-one better than Kavanaugh to coax that little bit more from her leading man.
Elsewhere there is doom and delight from the supporting cast. Belinda Lang is fabulous as Aunt Eller. With no apparent kin aside from Laurey, Eller is the loving matriarch not just to her niece but to her wider community too and Lang nails the fiercely protective loyalty that the old woman shows towards her ward.
Nic Greenshields’ Jud Fry offers a chilling take on the tragic desparate loneliness of a man shunned by the world. As Laurey’s hired hand on the farm, he craves her beauty and there is a true terror and menace in his manner. But in Greenshields’ singing of Lonely Room there is also a profound exposition of a deeply damaged man.
At the other end of the emotional spectrum, Lucy May Barker’s Ado Annie is just so incredibly believable as the girl who sings I Cain’t Say No. Barker shamelessly steals her scenes, but with a performance that deliciously good who cares? Other comic treats come from Gary Wilmot’s exquisitely timed work as peddlar Ali Hakim, whilst James O’Connell’s Will Parker truly gives his all in All Er Nothin and his Kansas City makes for good fun too.
Edging south down the M1 following his recent stints at Leicester, Drew McOnie choreographs in his first ever partnership with Kavanaugh. The flamboyant hallmarks of musical theatre’s wunderkind of dance have been reined in for this is tale, but it still remains a treat to see his interpretation of some of Broadway’s biggest classic routines. McOnie’s work impresses with his movement perfectly capturing the humour of It’s a Scandal! It’s a Outrage in a whirl of chaps, petticoats and bloomers, whilst the ballet sequence that closes act one is truly a dream. Credit too to Stephen Ridley’s 10 piece band. They’ve been well drilled and as the first notes of that gorgeous Overture sound out, they set the tone for an evening of musical excellence.
Shortly to tour the UK, Rachel Kavanaugh’s Oklahoma! is a classic musical, wonderfully performed. Go and see for yourselves, you won’t be disappointed.
Plays until February 28th 2015, then tours