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KISS ME, KATE – Touring

In Musicals, Opera, Opinion, Regional theatre, Reviews, Touring by Jonathan BazLeave a Comment

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

THE PRODUCERS – Touring

In Musicals, Regional theatre, Touring by Matt MerrittLeave a Comment

Ah, The Producers. Probably our favourite of the glut of movies turned musicals of the past decade or so. The original production was a wonder of un-PC satire that was far and away the best thing Mel Brooks had turned his hand to in years. More than ten years later and the show is well established in the canon of musicals that head out regularly on tour. Has familiarity dulled the humour of the piece?

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The Producers – Review

In by Jonathan BazLeave a Comment

Churchill Theatre, Bromley

****

Music and lyrics by Mel Brooks
Book by Mel Brooks and Thomas Meehan

Jason Manford and Cory English
The headline cast of The Producers is almost a who’s who of today’s popular entertainment scene. Jason Manford, Louie Spence and Phill Jupitus all take principal roles alongside the lesser known (but nonetheless industry greats) Cory English, David Bedella and the stunning Tiffany Graves. They lead a company that delivers flawless performances as they dust off Mel Brooks deliciously dated musical.
The 12 Tony-winning musical wowed Broadway in 2001, but of course the original yarn was spun by Brooks in his 1968 Oscar winning movie – and it is to that film that this touring revival pays homage. The onstage newspaper headlines scream of BJ and Vietnam as shyster Broadway producer Max Bialystock, so richly defined by Zero Mostel in the 60s, slicked-back hair and red smoking jacket, is neatly caricatured by Cory English. Back in the day Gene Wilder defined the nebbish (google it) that is frustrated accountant Leo Bloom. In 2015 Jason Manford (a surprisingly big fella in the flesh) makes the most of his lumbering features to define Bloom’s wondrously hopeless inadequacies. Manford’s anxiety-ridden Bloom seriously exceeds expectations.
The story could be neither more tasteless nor more famous. As humble clerk Bloom realises that were a show to prove a guaranteed flop then amoral producers could sell its rights many times over and embezzle the investors’ cash. Bialystock pounces on this stroke of (criminal) genius and takes Bloom into partnership. Sourcing possibly the worst script in town, Springtime For Hitler written by a crazed former Nazi and hiring Roger De Bris, a disastrous director to helm it, failure is a certainty. Until of course De Bris delivers a Fuhrer who’s camper than Christmas and the Broadway crowds go wild…
Cory English has previous as Bialystock, having played the producer on Drury Lane and he masters the ways of the wily granny-shagger with aplomb, his 11 o’clock number Betrayed being a particular treat. Mel Brook’s Borsht Belt comedy roots (google that too) are manifest in Bialystock’s corny patter, as his unique style merges Sid James’ Carry On smut with a wry sense of self-deprecation that’s as New York Jewish as pastrami on rye.

The biggest butt (pun intended) of Brook’s gags is of course Hitler and the Nazis – and what better way to humiliate a truly evil force than to laugh at it (With a momentary pause to sadly wish “if only” that could be the case in today’s troubled world). Along the way however and in alphabetical order, blacks, gays, Irish, Jews and Swedes are all mercilessly mocked in a show that makes for one big guilty pleasure.
David Bedella’s De Bris is a high priest of high camp. Preening and pouting, he is poured into his dress – and gives Hitler just the right touch of manic megalomania too.  Louie Spence as his posturing assistant Carmen Ghia has a modest role but milks it magnificently with a movement that is as technically brilliant as it his hilarious.  And whoever thought of Phill Jupitus to play the Nazi Franz Liebkind deserves the Iron Cross. The comedian’s (rarely seen) fat, pasty, lederhosen-clad legs add visual genius to the deluded German. Be in no doubt, Jupitus cannot sing and his almost solo number, Haben Sie gehört das deutsche Band will stay with me for a long time.
Meanwhile, leading lady Tiffany Graves’ blonde bombshell Ulla simply steals her every scene. Graves’ accent is wonderfully caricatured, her singing sensational whilst her dance and cartwheeling/backflipping movement is jaw-dropping. Sporting fabulous tresses (kudos to wig mistress Sally Tynan) Graves is every inch the (not so dumb) Swedish Blonde.
Magnificence elsewhere from Lee Proud’s choreography, with the big numbers of Along Came Bialy (complete with denture wielding tap-dancing geriatrics) and Springtime For Hitler evidencing a company well drilled in dance routines that blend professional precision with immaculate comic timing. And look out for the unexpected nod to the Vulgarian (aka Germanic) Doll On A Music Box routine from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang as the Springtime number kicks off. 

Bravo too to Andrew Hilton’s nine-piece band who give Brooks’ compositions the bold and brassy treatment they deserve.
The Producers’ producers have clearly piled their cash (or their investors’ ?) into the cast and it shows as Matthew White directs a magnificent 5* flawless troupe. But the un-inspiring scenery wobbles, the tank-gun helmets of the dancing Nazi showgirls look like they are Blue Peter inspired cardboard creations and unforgivably, Hitler’s moustache fell off in his big number Heil Myself! Bedella to his credit gamely played on – but where were the professional production values? The show’s future audiences deserve a little better.
As entertainment, this touring production of The Producers provides a sensational night out at the theatre. Top notch actors, delivering top notch routines. It makes for one of those rare nights when cheeks will ache from grinning. If you love comedy and musicals it’s unmissable. Brilliant, irreverent, hilarious and all performed by one of the best companies on the road today.

Plays until 14th March, then on tour. 

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Review: Desperate Divas (St James’s Studio)

In Reviews by Johnny FoxLeave a Comment

If I’ve been to one compilation evening where a range of theatrical types repackage show tunes on the theme of ‘love, sex and relationships’, I’ve been to a hundred but the credentials of the two killer-diller headliners now trading as ‘The Desperate Divas’ made this one a must. I loved Anita-Louise Combe’s wit and musical […]

The post Review: Desperate Divas (St James’s Studio) appeared first on JohnnyFox.

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Desperate Divas Cabaret – Review

In by Jonathan BazLeave a Comment

*****
Tiffany Graves, Tom Wakeley and Anita Louise Combe
Tiffany Graves and Anita Louise Combes are West End leading ladies who amongst other things, have both played Chicago’s Roxie Hart and Velma Kelly even if never in the production at the same time as the other. It was Tom Wakeley however, a former Musical Director of the Kander & Ebb hit, that spotted the potential of pairing the two as a double act. It has taken a couple of years to bring Wakeley’s idea to fruition, but their cabaret Desperate Divas, a collection of show tunes loosely themed around the trials of modern dating, is now finally receiving its premier at the St James Studio.
Graves and Combes are vocal sensations and this show is all the more remarkable for having been put together whilst both actresses are currently rehearsing major openings. Graves is shortly to commence touring as Ulla in The Producers, whilst Combes in preparation for the transfer of last year’s sensational Gypsy, from Chichester to the West End’s Savoy. It was a neat touch that saw the gig open with a mash up of When You Got it Flaunt It together with Let Me Entertain You from each show respectively. The tweaked lyrics may have been a little bit cheesy but the songs provided a classy moment that set the tone for the rest of the night.
The divas’ patter was mostly classy, even if occasionally clunky. But this was their first gig – and when schedules allow these talented women to re-group and perform again, (which they must) their spiel will only get better.
The songs however were flawless, combining familiar numbers (in a set list that was inevitably heavy on offerings from Chicago) together with showtunes some of which have yet to be performed in the UK. One of Combes’ desperate deliveries was Where In The World Is My Prince from William Finn’s Little Miss Sunshine, which included the sparklingly memorable rhyme that she’d been “trained by Nikinsky and coached by Lewinsky”. Other treats of the first half included Graves’ (now clad in a wedding dress – bravo to the backstage dressers for executing such speedy costume changes) Always A Bridesmaid from I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change, whilst the pair closed act one with Side Show’s plaintive Who Will Love Me As I Am, delivered with stunning harmonies and a thrilling anthemic power.
Graves had played a stunning Sukie Rougemont in the 2013 prodcution of The Witches of Eastwick at Newbury’s Watermill (reviewed here). So to see Words,Words,Words, a bogglingly complex number rarely heard on the cabaret circuit, listed amongst the second half gems, whetted appetites. Graves duly smashed the song, to showstopping whoops from the packed crowd.
Tom Wakeley excelled on piano throughout – ably accompanied by Paul Moylan on double bass.
The pair closed with Chicago’s Class and Nowadays – done to perfection by two singers who could not know their material more intimately nor with greater understanding. That they also threw in a very slick Hot Honey Rag dance routine, tailored brilliantly to the Studio’s confines, was but an added bonus. These women are at the top of their game with voices that are perfectly tuned. Cabaret singing doesn’t get better than this!

Photo credit – Jonathan Hilder of Piers Photography

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Review: Tiffany Graves

In Reviews by Johnny FoxLeave a Comment

If you’ve never been to Lauderdale House, you should try it. Here is a cabaret venue almost a world away from the cocktail bars and fleshpots of the West End where, in the words of compère Valerie Cutko, you can enjoy the finest acts over a plastic cup of average wine. The Tudor pile sits […]

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Review: Tiffany Graves

In Reviews by Johnny FoxLeave a Comment

If you’ve never been to Lauderdale House, you should try it. Here is a cabaret venue almost a world away from the cocktail bars and fleshpots of the West End where, in the words of compère Valerie Cutko, you can enjoy the finest acts over a plastic cup of average wine. The Tudor pile sits […]

The post Review: Tiffany Graves appeared first on JohnnyFox.