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THE GREAT JEWISH AMERICAN SONGBOOK – Upstairs at the Gatehouse

In Cabaret, London theatre, Musicals, Opinion, Reviews by Jonathan BazLeave a Comment

Once upon a time Jews wrote the shows…Now it seems they ARE the shows, with revues and plays, some good, some Bad lining up to have the “J” word in the title. The latest pot-pourri – or should that be cholent (google it) – of kosher-themed offerings is Aria Entertainment’s rather charming, which includes many of the 20th century songwriters who composed for Broadway and Hollywood. Note “many”, but significantly, not “all”, with notable omissions on the night including Bernstein, Sondheim, Styne, Kander, Ebb.

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LEGALLY BLONDE – Kilworth House Hotel

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Kilworth House Theatre, Leicestershire

****

Music and Lyrics: Laurence O’Keefe and Nell Benjamin
Book: Heather Hach
Director and Choreographer: Mitch Sebastian

Jennifer Harding
Omigod – as autumn approaches and the nights are drawing in, Legally Blonde is creating a fabulously pink infusion of summer fun in the gorgeous grounds of Kilworth House Hotel’s theatre. 
From a distance the show’s story couldn’t be cheesier. Elle expects boyfriend Warner to propose to her but instead the cad dumps her, prior to his leaving town to study law at Harvard – and find a fiancée of greater intellect and social standing. Not to be put down, Elle pursues her man, studying hard and also joining Harvard Law School. What follows is a story as delicious as it is improbable, as through a combination of hard work and sassy female intuition Elle heroically wins the day.
To say any more would spoil – for actually Legally Blonde is all about brilliantly executed song and dance, the breaking and mending of hearts and the lampooning of men whose attitudes to female equality belong in the Stone Age.
Fresh up from being nominated in London’s Off West Awards for Best Female Performer of the Year, Jennifer Harding is Elle. Barely off stage throughout, the strikingly blonde Canadian drives the show with stunning vocals and breathtaking presence. We sense her indignation, resilience, passion and yes at times, a deliciously ditzy blondeness that fuels the narrative. All of Harding’s singing is a treat, with her take on the title song and its Remix, proving spectacular. 
Supporting Elle are a raft of featured characters. Greg Miller Burns is good-guy Emmet, who convinces in his transformation from geek to chic. The accomplished Jodie Jacobs is a delight as Paulette – scene stealing deservedly in her big number Ireland and bringing the house down during the Find My Way/Finale number.
Jenny Gayner puts in an eye-wateringly energetic turn as fitness guru Brooke Wyndham, a woman whose circumstances provide the opportunity for Elle to triumph. Gayner’s Delta Nu Nu Nu duet with Harding proves to be another of the show’s ridiculously memorable moments.
Mitch Sebastian directs and choreographs imaginatively – and for such a charmingly quirky venue, Philip Whitcomb’s set along with Chris Whybrow’s well-crafted sound design ensure all the action is both seen and heard as the sun sets behind the trees, with John Morton’s 11 piece band making fine work of the sugary score.
Fun musicals don’t get better than this!

Runs until 20th September

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THE CLOCKMAKER’S DAUGHTER – Landor Theatre

In London theatre, Musicals, Reviews by Jonathan BazLeave a Comment

Landor Theatre, London

****
Jennifer Harding

Written by Michael Webborn and Daniel FinnDirected by Robert McWhir

As Carrie The Musical closes in Southwark, so another show about a misunderstood young woman, who’s blessed with supernatural powers, opens south of the river. But where Carrie was the re-imagining of a classic modern horror story, The Clockmaker’s Daughter in Clapham’s Landor Theatre is a boldly written new fairy tale.
There are hints of Alan Menken, Stephen Schwartz and Howard Goodall in the music as we learn how many years ago clockmaker Abraham made himself a clockwork young daughter named Constance (geddit?) to replace his young dead wife. Notwithstanding the potentially “mechanically incestuous” complications that the scenario suggests (and which need to be ironed out in the inevitable future re-writes), the very best of fairy tales, on close examination, are all horror stories and there are distinct nods to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein as a starting point for this fable. We see Constance, like Dr Frankenstein’s creature before her, learning to reason and to feel emotions and going on ultimately to be shunned by the world around her.
The plot is simple – and as Constance goes around the village performing acts of kindness, she represents a wholesome focus for the story to pivot upon. Her craving a human mortality only adds to the story’s poignancy and with the inclusion of an appropriately boo-worthy villain, the show offers some gorgeous potential.
That this story works at all is largely due to the outstanding performance of Jennifer Harding in the title role. Robert McWhir has coaxed from her a subtly portrayed reality that convinces us of her soulless plight. Her robotic movements are just right, not too pronounced and Harding’s gold-painted face defines her as being not of this world. Her singing is gorgeous too, making fine work of her big solos A Story Of My Own and the climactic Clockwork.
Jo Wickham hams it up magnificently (though she could shout a bit less) as the wicked Ma’ Riley, out for Constance’s downfall, Alyssa Martyn convinces as a charming young bride Amelia, whilst elsewhere the large company numbers again demonstrate Robbie O’Reilly’s ability to achieve impressive ensemble work in the Landor’s compact space, with both Keep It To Yourself and Market Day being cleverly staged numbers that were easy on both eye and ear. 
David Shields’ stage design works wonders with a set that’s a combination of trucks, projections and ingenious contraptions and credit too to Richard Lambert’s lighting work that for the most part enhances both ambience and location.
This ain’t the finished product yet, but it’s a damn good work in progress. The show needs to lose at least 30 minutes and its script would benefit from some expert treatment too. But make no mistake, The Clockmaker’s Daughter is a charming show that celebrates the ingenuity of today’s new writing – it’s fun to watch and a bit of a tear-jerker too. This wonderful story deserves a future life, possibly as a Xmas show somewhere or who knows, possibly on screen? There’s enough potential in the story to hook even the most Disney-fied of today’s audiences and I wish it well.

Runs until 4th July 2015