Union Theatre, London – until 6 August 2016
I was already familiar with the original soundtrack to this controversial yet exceptionally current piece of musical theatre; I have also watched clips of other performers playing the main roles. However, in three years of theatre blogging, I have never seen a performance that matches the magic of Lucy Williamson’s genius portrayal of Violet Chandler.
The show centres around a family in ‘mourning’ for the loss of Reed Chandler (played by Peter Saul Blewden) who was tipped to be President. A far cry from “don’t put your daughter on the stage, Worthington” yet the similarities are also uncanny, as Violet, the power-crazed widow decides that if she can’t be the wife of the President, you can bet your ass, she’ll be his mother! Her unwilling son, Cal (Fra Fee), who is of questionable paternity, is pushed to centre stage with his mother and Uncle Graham (Ken Christiansen), behind him. Graham is a bitter man, crippled physically, and it seems, also mentally. Cal is dragged into the middle of a political whirlwind where he has his marriage fixed for him. Plus, to keep him pepped, his mother is insisting that they do whatever it takes, and what it takes, is drugs, thus throwing the unwitting young lad into the clutches of another woman. The other woman is a stripper called Tina (Madalena Alberto) .
The musical is packed with numbers that make for dramatic listening, Embrace Tomorrow which is a duet between Violet and Graham is one of my personal favourites. I have always been moved by Spin, too, and Lucy Williamson took this pinnacle song and notched it up several more levels in comparison to the version I am used to hearing. The choreography was tight, slick and made as much impact as the score, itself.
The cast, collectively are a strong mixture of talented all-round performers. Madalena Alberto is the perfect choice for the lost, lonely and highly influential Tina, she makes for a good pairing with Fra Fee as Cal. The ensemble all possess excellent vocal ability, I was able to distinguish the harmonies clearly and they provided a heady backing for the big power-house numbers. However, it’s Christiansen and Williamson that steal the show as limelight hungry Violet and flawed Graham. They’re a force to be reckoned with, to the point that you might suspect they have worked together extensively, before, which they haven’t! I have previously been privy to Christiansen’s acting ability, but add his singing voice to the mix and it’s a performance de force. Williamson is a Norma Desmond and Grizabella in the making, at the very least.
It’s a dream of a show, well directed, well choreographed and a fantastic use of the new space recently taken over by the Union Theatre. Bravo!
Photo Credits: Darren Bell