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FUNNY GIRL – West End

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

“People”, who didn’t manage to nab their seats fast enough for the Menier Chocolate Factory’s Funny Girl can most definitely rest easy in the knowledge that this acclaimed and triumphant revival is an even bigger and better show following its transfer across the river to the Savoy. Sheridan Smith’s Fanny Brice simply oozes star quality.

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BARMITZVAH BOY – Upstairs at the Gatehouse

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

Upstairs At The Gatehouse, London

****

Music by Jule StyneLyrics by Don BlackBook by Jack RosenthalBook revised by David Thompson

Lara Stubbs, Sue Kelvin and Robert Maskell
Jule Styne and Don Black’s Barmitzvah Boy, now playing in Highgate, takes a look at Jewish life in suburban London with a perspective that is both delightfully dated and yet timeless. It was in 1976 that Jack Rosenthal’s inspired BBC TV play of the same title was broadcast. Rosenthal’s skill lay in affectionately spotting the satire that exists in the world around us and then gently, subtly, teasing his observations into a carefully crafted script. Barmitzvah Boy was so much more than a (rather far-fetched) tale of a young boy balking at the rite of passage that lies ahead of him. It offered a perfectly weighted glimpse into the quasi-assimilated angst of North West London’s Jewish community, with a cast of characters that were as recognisable as they were hilarious. 
It was to be Don Black who spotted the story’s musical potential and whilst musical theatre may not have been Rosenthal’s genre of choice, his magnificent characters lend themselves well to the transition. 
We find he Green family preparing to celebrate the Barmitzvah of their youngest, Eliot. Cab-driver Victor (Eliot’s father) resigns himself to the cost of the event (with three insurance policies cashed in and counting) whilst his wife Rita frets about her hair, the guest list and all manner of trivia which, as a major celebration looms, of course take on an immense significance.
Making his professional debut in the title role, Adam Bregman (just 13 and only recently Bar Mitzvah’d himself) puts in a cutely confident turn, displaying just the right amount of cheeky chutzpah. Robert Maskell’s Victor is a comic delight – He doesn’t over-egg his hard working sufferance in life, rather offering a portrayal of a Tevye 100 years on, only driving a cab and reading the Daily Express rather than hauling a milk cart and praying in synagogue. The enduring pathos of Victor’s well-worn love for Rita (think again of Tevye and Golde, only moved to a suburban semi rather than the shtetl), as well as a delightful duet with his aged father in law (Hayward B Morse) in Why Can’t He Be Like Me mark a nicely measured performance.
Sue Kelvin as Rita is every inch the Jewish mother. Rosenthal was merciless in skewering her character’s much stereotyped neuroses – but where so often comedy has usually placed such a matriarch in New York’s Brooklyn, to find her so recognisably sketched out in Willesden remains one of Barmitzvah Boy’s endearing treats. 
The cast in general deliver a quality package. Lara Stubbs puts in a beautifully voiced turn as Eliot’s older sister Lesley and there’s particularly fine supporting work from Nicholas Corre as Harold, her schlemiel of a boyfriend. What makes Corre’s work in particular so remarkable is his delivery of a guy who is a complete klutz, yet doing so with a combination of well-crafted acting, fine movement and a stunning vocal presence. There is also a charming cameo from NYMT alumna Hannah Rose-Thompson as Eliot’s school friend Denise. 
Notwithstanding the familiarity of its family/Jewish shtick, Barmitzvah Boy is very much a period piece. David Thompson has updated the book and whilst Rosenthal’s reference to TV cop Kojak squarely (and delightfully) pitches the action into the 1970’s, the outmoded references to “Chinks” (now unpleasantly racist and not penned by Rosenthal either) could have been cut out completely.
Bravo to producer Katy Lipson for having blown the dust off this time-machine of a show and credit to Stewart Nicholls for cleverly helming a potentially tricky piece. Ultimately Rosenthal and Black (along with Styne’s score, some of which is sensational and which is delightfully delivered on the night by Ed Court’s four piece band) have created a show that describes, over 2 hours, a culture that Jason Robert Brown distilled into 3 minutes in the song Shiksa Goddess from his show The Last Five Years.
Dripping with so much schmaltz that it could quite possibly congeal arteries, Barmitzvah Boy is most likely to appeal to musical theatre fans and Jews. This is one of those shows that makes London’s fringe great – and, after the recent triumphs of Gypsy and Funny Girl, for those who want to discover one of Jule Styne’s lesser known works, it’s unmissable.

Runs until 10th April, then at the Radlett Centre

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FUNNY GIRL – Menier Chocolate Factory

In London theatre, Musicals, Opinion, Reviews by Johnny FoxLeave a Comment

People, people who need people are, allegedly, the luckiest people in the world. I’d argue that those who are emotionally and financially self-sufficient have a hell of a bigger reason to feel lucky than those who depend needily on others for their wellbeing. But I’m not a character in a musical – and neither, really are the people who need people who appear in Funny Girl a narrative so far removed from the actual history of kooky kosher comedienne Fanny Brice and her deeply dodgy gangster hubby Julius ‘Nicky’ Arnstein as to be a complete fiction.

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#ThrowbackThursday: 2012 interview with Imelda Staunton about Sweeney Todd & Gypsy

In Features, Inspiring people, Interviews, London theatre, Musicals, Opinion, Plays, Quotes by Mark ShentonLeave a Comment

This weekend (27 December 2015), Imelda Staunton reprises her recent Chichester and West End performance in GYPSY in a filmed version of the production. In this 2012 interview I did with Staunton, first published in the Sunday Express, as she prepared to reprise her Chichester performance as Mrs Lovett in another Sondheim musical SWEENEY TODD in the West End, she mentions that she was already thinking of doing GYPSY next.

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NEWS: Funny Girl extends West End season until Sep 2016

In London theatre, Native, News, Press Releases, Ticket recommendations by Press ReleasesLeave a Comment

Following a critically acclaimed opening at the Menier Chocolate Factory this week, the smash hit production of Funny Girl extends its booking period at the Savoy Theatre due to popular demand. Michael Mayer’s “exhilarating embrace of a production – Independent” will now run until 10 September 2016 – marking the musical’s 50th anniversary year. Tickets for the extended booking period production starring Olivier and BAFTA award-winning actress and “phenomenal talent – Independent” Sheridan Smith as Fanny Brice go on sale today.

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Press pass: All the reviews and pics of Sheridan Smith in Funny Girl

In Features, London theatre, Musicals, News, Opinion, Plays, Quotes, Reviews by Terri PaddockLeave a Comment

In musical theatre happenings, the big news last night was London’s first major revival of Jule Styne’s Broadway classic Funny Girl. The big question: could Sheridan Smith lay to rest the ghost of Barbra Streisand, who originated the role of Fanny Brice on stage and (Oscar-winning) screen? And the big answer: a resounding yes.

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FUNNY GIRL – Menier Chocolate Factory

In London theatre, Musicals, Opinion, Reviews by Libby PurvesLeave a Comment

For half a generation there has been a truism in the musical theatre world that nobody can do Jule Style and Bob Merrill’s Funny Girl, because Streisand played the 1920’s eccentrically comic Ziegfeld star and nobody can beat her. So why try? Thus not many have done so: one Broadway revival got “postponed”. But nothing daunts the Menier, fount of daring musical revivals. Michael Meyer from New York directs, the Savoy transfer is already in the bag, and the starring role is our secret weapon: Britain’s own high-voltage electric waif, Sheridan Smith.

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FUNNY GIRL – Menier Chocolate Factory

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

Imelda Staunton may have just wowed in Styne and Sondheim’s Gypsy, but hard on her heels is Sheridan Smith’s take on Fanny Brice. In a role that famously demands an unconventional beauty – and which, from both Broadway and Hollywood launch pads Barbra Streisand was rocketed into the highest of stellar orbits – Smith has enormously famous shoes to fill.

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KINGS OF BROADWAY – West End

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

Christmas came early to the West End on Sunday night, for just like Max Bialystock, Mel Brooks’ legendary king of Broadway, Alex Parker has done it again with his own Kings Of Broadway. Though where Bialystock famously flopped, yet again this remarkable conductor cum impresario succeeded spectacularly in mounting a one-night only extravaganza of the work of Jule Styne, Stephen Sondheim and Jerry Herman. Either Parker has amassed a multitude of favours to call in, or, and this is far more likely, he has simply earned the respect of an army of talented professionals including a 30-piece(!) orchestra and a cast of stellar proportions, to put on a concert that proved to be as polished as it was entertaining.

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Don Black In Conversation – Pt 1: Cabaret

In Features, Inspiring people, Interviews, London theatre, Musicals by Jonathan BazLeave a Comment

Don Black

The London Festival of Cabaret opens this week and runs for a fortnight across the city. Featuring a line-up from both sides of the Atlantic you can expect legendary names getting up close to a microphone, singing songs that they love (and may also have composed) and reaching out beyond the spotlight to share stories with an audience.
Unlike a staged musical the atmosphere couldn’t be more relaxed – and over a cocktail or glass of wine, maybe with a bite to eat too, listening to an inspirational performer either singing beautifully or sharing a sparkling anecdote makes for a charming evening.
As the final preparations were being drawn up for Tuesday’s opening night, I caught up with Festival Patron and Oscar-winning lyricist Don Black to talk about his love for the art-form.

JB:    Don, what drew you to supporting the Festival? 
DB:    I’ve always, for as long as I can remember, loved cabaret. When I was managing Matt Monroe, all those years ago, I used to go to those northern clubs and cabaret clubs which were rife in the ’60’s. Places like Talk of the Town, I used to love the atmosphere. 
When I started going to America a lot, I used go to all the cabaret places in New York. Lots of things drew me to these places.
You would get singers there who sang the different songs, special material, witty songs. Songs you hear very often. No one in cabaret sings My Way or those out and out popular songs. You get some very, very interesting and intriguing artists.
In New York I used to go and see a guy named Oscar Brown Jr., wherever he appeared. In fact I was discussing him only the other day with Van Morrison, who is a huge fan of his, so is Paul Jones, and many people.
I used to go and see Matt Dennis who wrote great songs like Angel Eyes and Let’s Get Away From It All. 
I just like that closeness, the intimacy of the cabaret room. I’m delighted that so much is going on in London, in cabaret. I go to the Crazy Coqs quite often along with the St. James and I go to The Pheasantry too. The other night at The Pheasantry I saw Charles Strouse, the man who wrote Annie and Bye Bye Birdie. Now, you tell me where you can go see a guy, nearly 87 years old, talking for 2 hours and sharing anecdotes about Jule Styne and Hal Prince singing his songs?
Also, I really like the idea of them not being great singers! I like watching the song writers, like Strouse, who’s not a great piano player, not a great singer. You get so much heart and so much emotion in those couple of hours. It’s a different kind of evening. Cabaret really is a great love of mine. 
I recently saw Anne Reid at the Crazy Coqs. Now Anne is a great example of someone and she won’t mind me saying this, who really is not a great singer. But she’s a great actress, and therefore a great story-teller. 
JB:    What are your thoughts on the younger cabaret artistes, as compared to those who do cabaret on the back of longer established careers? 
DB:    What you get from young artists, that you may not get from the older people, is new material. You do get the younger people, they’ll find a song from a failed musical. You think, “Oh isn’t that beautiful.” They can be full of surprises.
But of course the more seasoned a performer is, the more they’ve got more to draw on and of course you can feel for them too. You are close up. So when you see a person in their 60’s and 70’s singing a song about years gone by or missed opportunities, you cannot help but be moved. It is very touching when you see Anne Reid, who’s I don’t know nearly 80 now, singing a Barbara Cook song. You get the goosebumps. And as I said about Charles Strouse, when he went into The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow, I mean, god almighty it was phenomenal!
I saw Mitch Winehouse at the Hippodrome a few weeks ago, Amy’s dad. He really put through with about a 12 piece orchestra, and he was terrific. So interesting and of course lots of anecdotes about Amy. It was very personal and also very touching. 
JB:    So – is it about the songs or the story-telling?
DB:    Being a lyric writer I’ve always gone for the story teller. It’s interesting because Tony Bennett’s favourite singer and he’s often said this and it says a lot, is Louis Armstrong. Sinatra’s favourite singer was Fred Astaire. These people aren’t known for singing but they are known for storytelling. You hang on every word when these people sing. That’s what I like about cabaret, you don’t have to be the greatest singer, but you just have to get your story across. That’s why with people like Lorna Luft, you hang on every comma. 
JB: Don, thank you so much for sharing your thoughts, and enjoy the Festival!
Aside from cabaret, Don also spoke at length about his song-writing career and part 2 of this fascinating conversation will be published shortly.
The London Festival Of Cabaret – Celebrating Song opens on 28th April and continues at venues across the capital until 11th May. Confirmed artists appearing include Kerry Ellis, Barb Jungr, Janie Dee and Scott Alan (amongst many others) and you can also watch some of today’s younger stars such as Jamie Parker and Caroline Sheen branching out onto the capital’s cabaret circuit. 
www.londonfestivalofcabaret.com
www.londonfestivalofcabaret.com/diary/

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Press pass: ‘Once in a lifetime’ Gypsy extends with ‘pocket diva’ Imelda Staunton

In Features, Inspiring people, Interviews, London theatre, Musicals, News, Opinion, Photos, Reviews by Terri PaddockLeave a Comment

This morning, producers confirmed that – on the back of a shedload of new five-star reviews from last week’s West End opening – Jonathan Kent‘s Chichester Festival production of Gypsy, “starring Imelda Staunton as the indomitable Rose”, has extended its booking until 28 November 2015 at the Savoy Theatre.

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10 unmissable Mommas … that I nonetheless missed. How many have you seen?

In Broadway, Features, London theatre, Musicals, Opinion, Photos by Terri PaddockLeave a Comment

Is Imelda Staunton the best Momma Rose ever? She’s absolutely the best Momma Rose I’ve ever seen – but, then again, she’s also the only Momma Rose I’ve never seen. Yes, my not-so-guilty confession is this: I’ve never seen Gypsy before… I say that without much guilt because, incredibly, Jonathan Kent‘s current critically acclaimed Chichester […]

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GYPSY – West End

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

It is rare to see perfection improved upon, but in its transfer from Chichester Festival Theatre, Jonathan Kent’s Gypsy achieves just that. A highlight of 2014, the resonance of Jule Styne’s big band brassy score filled the Sussex theatre’s world class open stage. But Gypsy was written in and for the Golden Age of Broadway, to be mounted on a proscenium stage. In re-sculpting their masterpiece to fit the Savoy’s traditional confines, Kent and choreographer Stephen Mear have excelled.

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Review: Bells are Ringing (Union Theatre, London)

In Musicals, Reviews by Johnny FoxLeave a Comment

When you examine the 1956 credentials of Bells Are Ringing: book by Comden and Green, score by Jule Styne near the top of his game three years before his impeccable ‘Gypsy’, originally directed by Jerome Robbins and choreographed by Fosse, and whose kooky comedienne star Judy Holliday beat Ethel Merman and Julie Andrews to the […]

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