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Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat
Book and Lyrics by Tim Rice, Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber
Directed and Choreographed by Stephen Bourneuf
STAGES St. Louis
June 7, 2017

Jeff Sears (Center), Kirsten Scott (Center Right) and Cast
Photo by Peter Wochniak, ProPhotoSTL.com
STAGES St. Louis

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat is an intriguing show, simply in terms of how versatile it is. It’s one of those shows that can be done on almost any scale or budget and still work. It’s not the deepest or most profound of shows. It’s really just a lot of fun, but what has become most interesting to me is the range of ways that a theatre company can produce this show. It can be big and flashy or more toned-down. Its look can change drastically depending on the production values and directors’ vision. It’s a show I’ve seen several times now, but I think this latest version from STAGES St. Louis is my favorite yet because of the cohesiveness of design, the sheer personality and energy of the cast, and the emphasis on a more human scale for this story rather than over-the-top flashiness, although it’s certainly a great looking production as well.

The story of this show is fairly straightforward–it’s a retelling of the Bible story of Joseph (Jeff Sears), son of Jacob (Steve Isom), and of Joseph’s journey from shepherd’s son to essentially prime minister of Egypt. It follows Joseph from his early days tending sheep with his eleven brothers, and boasting of his dreams that predict that he will someday rule over the rest of his family.  The story is presented by the Narrator (Kirsten Scott), who interacts with the characters at various times in the process of telling the story. As the story unfolds, a variety of different song styles is employed in whimsical fashion, from the country-western “One More Angel in Heaven” to the 1920’s styled “Potiphar” as Joseph, sold into slavery by his brothers, serves in the house of Potiphar (Brent Michael DiRoma) and is tempted and accused by Mrs. Potiphar (Molly Tynes), and then sent to jail. Joseph’s skill at interpreting dreams eventually brings him to the attention of Pharoah, who is–as in all productions of this show–presented as an Elvis-like figure (also played by DiRoma). It’s a fun show that blends the Bible story with various modern elements and and the variety of musical styles that also includes pop and rock influences.

While I’ve seen bigger and flashier productions of this show, I’m especially impressed by this production’s emphasis more on character and a stylish but not cartoonish look to the production. It’s a very human Joseph, with a strong cast led by the excellent Sears as a Joseph whose emotional journey is given more resonance here than in some other productions I’ve seen, bringing depth to songs like “Close Every Door” and “Any Dream Will Do”. Scott is also superb as the Narrator–a role I’ve generally considered to be the best part in the show–and her vocal range is impressive on numbers like the “Prologue”, “Poor, Poor Joseph”, and “Pharaoh Story”.  Scott brings a good deal of humor to the role of the Narrator as well, and her rapport with Sears as Joseph is a highlight. In fact, this is the first production I’ve seen in which there seems to be a hint of attraction between Joseph and the Narrator. There are also memorable performances from Isom as the proud and then sad patriarch, Jacob, by Tynes as the would-be seductress Mrs. Potiphar, and by all of the actors playing the brothers, and particularly Brad Frenette as Levi, Jeremiah Ginn as Reuben, Jason Eno as Judah, and Kyle Ivey as Benjamin. DiRoma is also a stand-out in two roles, as the rich but lonely Potiphar and especially as Pharaoh, where he exudes a lot of charm and comes across as more of the “young Elvis” as opposed to the older “Las Vegas Elvis”, even though he does get to wear the glittery, sequined jumpsuit. There’s also a strong ensemble to back up the leading performers, displaying a lot of vocal and physical energy on various production numbers that have been dynamically choreographed by director/choreographer Stephen Bourneuf.

Visually, the show is colorful and whimsical without being overly flashy or cartoonish. It’s a great look for this show, in keeping with the overall tone of this production. James Wolk’s versatile set frames the action well, and Brad Musgrove’s costumes are vivid, detailed, and fun. The excellent lighting effects by Sean M. Savoie also adjusts well to the various scene and tone changes throughout the production.

This is a fun show, and the cast and creative team obviously enjoy presenting it. From the starry opening to the bright, energetic “Megamix” conclusion, this is a Joseph with heart and humanity. It’s an excellent, highly entertaining production, and a great start to STAGES’ 2017 season.

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat presented by STAGES St. Louis at Robert G. Reim Theatre in Kirkwood, Missouri on June 1, 2017.

STAGES St. Louis is presenting Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat at the Robert G. Reim Theatre in Kirkwood until July 2, 2017

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Tell Me On a Sunday
Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber
Lyrics by Don Black and Richard Maltby, Jr.
Directed by Mike Dowdy-Windsor
New Line Theatre
August 13, 2016

Sarah Porter Photo by Jill Ritter Lindberg New Line Theatre

Sarah Porter
Photo by Jill Ritter Lindberg
New Line Theatre

Tell Me On a Sunday is a challenging show. It’s a one-woman production, and a musical at that, with many songs and no spoken dialogue. It tells a story entirely through song, and it requires a personable actress with a great voice and loads of stage presence. New Line Theatre has chosen the right performer in veteran New Liner Sarah Porter, who brings a lot of energy and heart to this memorable score and intriguing story.

The one-act musical follows the story of Emma (Porter), an English expat living in the United States. Spending time mostly in New York with a short detour to Los Angeles, Emma navigates her way through culture shock, a quest for her Green Card, and a series of relationships with a variety of men. The events are punctuated with a succession of letters to her mother, in which Emma tries her best to explain her emotions and  her thought processes. She also sings to the audience, who serve as stand-ins for various people in her life, from her boyfriends to curious and sometimes gossipy friends. It features a memorable score with some well-known songs such as the melancholy title song, the ballad “Unexpected Song”, and the confrontational “Take that Look Off Your Face”.

Porter handles the songs and story with excellent range, in both singing and acting. She brings the audience along on Emma’s emotional journey, exploring the discoveries of new love, exploring a new country, and issues of personal identity and dependence in her successive relationships. The songs range from happy to humorous, wistful to angry, and Porter not only delivers the material with strength and energy–she presents the character with all of her degrees of complexity, making her at once intriguing and relatable. This is one of those “showcase” type of shows, giving the performer a chance to shine throughout the entire duration of the show, and Porter certainly does shine. It’s a remarkable performance, played out with an impressively believable English accent, as well.

Porter notably also designed the costumes for this production, excellently. She changes outfits several times throughout the show, and each one is well-chosen for each particular moment, reflecting Emma’s personality and her journey of self-discovery. There’s also a richly decorated set and lighting by Rob Lippert that sets the tone and mood of the production well, from the New York scenes to the brief sojourn in LA. Due credit should also go to props master Kimi Short, Sound Designer Benjamin Roseman, and dialect coach Laurie McConnell for their vital contributions to the production, as well as the entire technical crew.

With all the songs and  no spoken lines, this is a show that could easily come across as more of a concert than a play, but thanks to the clever, dynamic staging of director Mike Dowdy-Windsor and Porter’s superb performance, that doesn’t happen here. This is a fully staged, fascinating story, centered around a complex character who is learning about herself as she learns about her world and her relationships. There’s a lot to talk and think about, as well as some real humor and drama. It’s not a long production, running at just over one hour, but it’s a thoroughly engaging hour.

Sarah Porter Photo by Jill Ritter Lindberg New Line Theatre

Sarah Porter
Photo by Jill Ritter Lindberg
New Line Theatre

Tell Me On a Sunday is being presented by New Line Theatre at the Marcelle Theatre until August 27, 2016.

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The Wizard of Oz
Music by Harold Arlen, Lyrics by E.Y. Harburg
Additional Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber, Lyrics by Tim Rice
Directedy by Jeremy Sams
The Fox Theatre
May 13, 2014

Danielle Wade, Jamie McKnight, Lee MacDougall, Mike Jackson Photo by Cylla Von Tiedemann Wizard of Oz Tour

Danielle Wade, Jamie McKnight, Lee MacDougall, Mike Jackson
Photo by Cylla Von Tiedemann
Wizard of Oz

The real “wizard” behind the curtain of this latest production of  The Wizard of Oz is Andrew Lloyd Webber.  Having produced this show first in London and then in Toronto, casting the lead via a reality talent competition both times, Lloyd Webber has put his own stamp on the time-honored classic, re-teaming with lyricist Tim Rice to write additional songs for the show and assembling an excellent design team to create a unique look for the production.  The current US Tour of the production, starring most of the Toronto cast, has now arrived at the Fox Theatre, and while the overall production isn’t quite as grand as it was in London, it still provides for a tuneful, colorful and entertaining evening of theatre suitable for all ages.

 The story here is familiar to basically everyone, having been taken mostly from the classic MGM film. Dorothy Gale (Danielle Wade) and her dog Toto (an adorable Cairn terrier named Nigel) are whisked away by a cyclone to the magical land of Oz, where Dorothy, advised by Glinda the Good Witch of the North (Robin Evan Willis), heads off on a journey to the Emerald City to meet the Wizard (Jay Brazeau) in the hope that he will be able to help her get back to her home in Kansas.  Along the way, she meets the Scarecrow (Jamie McKnight), the Tin Man (Mike Jackson) and the Cowardly Lion (Lee MacDougall), all the while being antagonized by the vengeful Wicked Witch of the West (Jacquelyn Piro Donovan), who is determined to capture Dorothy in order to obtain the precious Ruby Slippers, with which Dorothy has been entrusted.  It’s a classic tale of friendship, bravery and the importance of home, and all those familiar elements are here, with a few mostly stylistic elements from L. Frank Baum’s original book (such as the Munchkins all dressed in blue) thrown in for good measure.

I was fortunate enough to have been able to see the original London production of this show three years ago, and I found it spectacularly staged and extremely well-cast.  This production has obviously been scaled down for touring, and for the most part, it still looks good, with colorful sets and costumes by Robert Jones, and strong choreography by Arlene Phillips. It’s probably not fair to compare too much, and most of the people seeing this show will not have seen it in London, but I can’t help but wish this version still had some of the scale of the original.  Where the scaling down shows the most is in the lack of flying effects (the Witches mostly just walk everywhere, and the Monkeys don’t really fly), and in the Munchkinland scene, where the staging comes across as cluttered and cramped.  Also, several of the backdrops have a one dimensional quality, and when Dorothy and friends on the Yellow Brick Road finally see the Emerald City in the distance, it looks a lot like a flat Christmas tree.  Still, even with those issues, the show manages to entertain. The Kansas scenes look great here, and I’m also especially impressed by some of the dancing that I don’t remember from the London show, such as an impressive rhythmic baton-clicking dance by the Winkies (the Wicked Witch’s minions) near the end of the show.

In terms of the cast, this production does well.  Wade makes an engaging, likable, slightly tomboyish Dorothy, and her voice is strong on the iconic “Over the Rainbow”. Despite seeming oddly out of breath through much of the first act, Wade displays a strong bond with her three companions and, especially, with Toto. McKnight makes a fine, goofy and forgetful Scarecrow, and Jackson is in great form as a swaggering Tin Man.  MacDougall, as the Lion, is funny delivering his many one-liners, although he seems a little too over-the-top at times. The Witches–Willis as a particularly snarky version of Glinda and Donovan as the menacing Wicked Witch–play well in their antagonistic relationship on stage, and Donovan delivers the new “Red Shoes Blues” with gusto.  As Professor Marvel (in Kansas) and the Wizard, Brazeau is charming and sympathetic, if not a particularly powerful singer.  The ensemble here is strong as well, especially in the dancing.

For the most part, I would say that this incarnation of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Wizard of Oz is a crowd-pleasing success. While not quite as spectacular as the earlier London production, this version still has many strengths and is an excellent show for families. It’s not exactly like the film, and visually it looks very different, but the story is essentially the same.  The poignant and familiar finale (with a slight twist) is especially well-done here, leaving the audience with a sense of wonder and hope.

Danielle Wade, Mike Jackson,Jamie McKnight Photo by Cylla Von Tiedemann The Wizard of Oz

Danielle Wade, Mike Jackson,Jamie McKnight
Photo by Cylla Von Tiedemann
The Wizard of Oz

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Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat
Lyrics by Tim Rice, Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber
Directed and Choreographed by Andy Blankenbuehler
Fox Theatre
April 29, 2014

Ace Young, Diana DeGarmo Photo by Daniel A. Swalec Joseph... National Tour

Ace Young, Diana DeGarmo
Photo by Daniel A. Swalec
Joseph… National Tour


Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat has been produced many times over the years, and in many countries around the world. It may seem like the show has been done so often that it would be a challenge to come up with a version that’s both entertaining and vibrant without seeming at least somewhat stale. Now, the latest national tour has taken up that challenge and, for the most part, succeeded. Starring a pair of former American Idol contestants, this production manages to overcome a few technical missteps and present an incarnation of the show that’s engaging and can be a lot of fun.

The concept of this play is simple–it’s the Biblical story of Joseph (Ace Young) told in a pastiche format with a blend of different musical styles and concepts, with a Narrator (Diana DeGarmo) telling the story and sometimes interacting with the characters along the way. As Joseph undergoes his journey from entitled favored son to forced slavery in Egypt and finally to a place of prominence in the Egyptian government and reconciliation with his family, his adventures are portrayed mostly with humor, dance. spectacle, and a little bit of drama. The cast of characters is familiar, with the figures from the Bible fleshed out as more stylistic archetypes, most notably with Pharaoh (Ryan Williams), who is cast as an attention-loving Elvis impersonator.

This show has been told many different ways over the years, although it seems the prevailing style for the past two decades has been based on the 1991 London Palladium revival, with its flashy sets, children’s chorus, expanded role for Joseph and the added “Megamix” song-and-dance medley at the end.  The previous live versions I’ve seen have followed that mold, for the most part. Refreshingly, this latest tour gets away from that format, with a structure and song order more in keeping with the 1982 Original Broadway production. This version has an all-adult ensemble, Potiphar (William Thomas Evans) sings lead on his song, and Joseph’s notable song “Any Dream Will Do” doesn’t appear until late in the show, as it had been before the 1991 revival set the new standard. Although the Megamix is still added on to the end, it’s interesting to see the show performed with the older structure, which puts more emphasis on the narrator and the ensemble than on Joseph himself.

The ensemble here is a good one, led by husband-and-wife American Idol alums Young and DeGarmo.  The role of Joseph is somewhat slight and really just requires a reasonably good singer with a degree of physical fitness, and Young more than fits that bill. His voice is pleasant but not as powerful as other Josephs I’ve seen, and he plays the role with a somewhat distracting slouch, although he brings a wide-eyed, almost geeky quality to Joseph that is ultimately appealing. DeGarmo as the Narrator displays a lot of energy, stage presence and strong vocal ability, especially in her lower range and on big belty numbers like “Paraoh’s Story”. She tends to sound squeaky on some of the higher notes, but that may not be entirely her fault, as the sound quality isn’t great and lends something of a muddled quality to a lot of the vocals.  DeGarmo interacts well with the ensemble and she has great onstage chemistry with Young, especially in their duet of “Any Dream Will Do” late in the show.  There’s also an excellent ensemble here, with Williams hamming it up winningly on “Poor, Poor Pharaoh/Song of the King”.  Several of the brothers shine in various moments of the show as well, such as Brian Golub (Reuben) in “One More Angel In Heaven”, Paul Castree (Simeon) in “Those Canaan Days” and Will Mann (Judah) in “Benjamin Calypso”.  “Those Canaan Days” in particular is a treat, with excellent performances all around and some fun choreography involving juggling plates.

Stylistically, the set (designed by Beowulf Borritt) is simple and clever, with a few movable set pieces, a prominent staircase and curtains framing the scenes and serving as a canvas for the excellent projections (designed by Daniel Brodie).  The projections range from the abstract (various colorful shapes and patterns) to the concrete (such as a map of Egypt), and are cleverly used to set the mood and transition between scenes. There’s even one notable moment in which ocean scenes are projected on the backs of ensemble members, clad in flowing white robes. Director Andy Blankenbuehler’s staging and choreography is snappy and energetic, as well, with some fun stylistic callbacks to other musicals such as West Side Story (“Poor, Poor Joseph”) and Oklahoma! (“One More Angel in Heaven”), and fun elements such as the aforementioned dish-juggling sequence. The quality of the sound (designed by John Shivers and David Patridge), is cluttered and muddy, however, and the lighting (designed by Howell Binkley) is often too dark, and these flaws can be distracting but for the most part, don’t detract too much from the overall enjoyable nature of the show.

This isn’t the first production of Joseph… I’ve seen and, as popular as it is, I’m sure it won’t be the last. Still, this latest tour has managed to make an impression and provide for an enjoyable evening of lighthearted entertainment.  With two appealing leads and a strong ensemble, this production stands out as an enjoyable evening and a memorable retelling of this oft-told story.

Ryan Williams, Ace Young Photo by Daniel A. Swalec Joseph... National Tour

Ryan Williams, Ace Young
Photo by Daniel A. Swalec
Joseph… National Tour

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Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat

Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber

Lyrics by Tim Rice

Directed and Choreographed by Lara Teeter

The Muny, St. Louis

July 23, 2012

I almost skipped this production of Joseph.  The Muny just did a production of this show five years ago and I was planning on sitting this week out because I thought I wouldn’t need to see it again so soon. I was wrong.  I’m glad I caught a report on the local news talking about the “twist” of this production, because it made me curious to see it, and I’m very happy that I did.  With this production, the latest in the Muny’s so-far extremely impressive 94th season, veteran Muny performer Lara Teeter takes the reins as director and choreographer and, along with a strong cast and crew, presents a show that is wildly entertaining, extremely clever and uniquely St. Louis.

As usual, this is the Biblical story of Joseph, son of Jacob, with a twist—a pastiche of different musical styles melded together to tell the story.  What is not usual, though, is that this production is set in a strange amalgam of the ancient Middle East and Egypt, and modern-day St. Louis.  The show starts with a collection of people wandering aimlessly on stage as, one by one, a few recount how they have “lost their dream”.  Then the Narrator (Mamie Parris) appears to tell the story of Joseph (Justin Guarini), who enters wearing a Cardinals jersey, singing one of the show’s most well-known songs “Any Dream Will Do”.  From there, we are taken back to Bible times, sort of.  Everything has a St. Louis flavor and oddly enough, it works.  Jacob (Gary Glasgow) and his sons run a Schnucks-like supermarket (“Jacob and Sons”), go tailgating at Busch Stadium (“One More Angel In Heaven”) and later, when their fortune changes, are relegated to hawking frozen custard concretes at Ted Drewe’s (“Those Canaan Days”).  Joseph is sold by his brothers into slavery in Egypt, and goes to work for Potiphar (also Glasgow), who is an obvious Donald Trump-like character whose business empire is based in Downtown St. Louis.  Later Joseph meets the Pharaoh (Austin Miller), who is an Elvis-like figure as is usual in this show, but this time he is backed by an ensemble consisting of golden cat-people and 1950’s-styled teenage groupies.  The settings are hilariously random and specific at the same time, and St. Louisans in the audience are bound to recognize a lot of the references.  It’s also amazing that most of the change of setting is achieved by the sets, costumes and performances as opposed to changes in the script.  As far as I can tell, aside from the little addition to the prologue, the most drastic change to the show as written is an adaptation in the arrangement of one song– the usually titled “Benjamin Calypso” toward the end of the show has been turned into a gospel song, incorporating the full cast in a rousing,  energetic production number.  I’ve never heard of this being done before but in the context of this production, it works.  There are also some fun pop-culture references thrown into the “Megamix” at the end.

What is great about this production is that, while this very different approach could easily seem distracting or pretentious, it all goes together surprisingly well.  This is just the right kind of show to adapt in this manner, in that it’s not a deeply serious show to begin with, and it seems to work best when everyone involved just has fun with it.  All the elements of the show work together seamlessly. The set design is simple but effective—it’s basically just a bridge, with a few movable booths and platforms and familiar St. Louis scenes posted on the scenery wall in the background.  The costumes are also simple with a lot of bright colors and some St. Louis specific outfits like the Ted Drewe’s uniforms and Cardinals jersey.  The choreography is well-executed and energetic, reflecting the various styles of the songs. One of the best examples of the St. Louis specific staging is in the Ted Drewe’s sequence in “Those Canaan Days”, in which the booths are arranged into a reasonable suggestion of the custard stand, and the choreography even incorporates the signature “turning the concrete upside down” gesture in a way that is hilariously appropriate and adds to the humor of the song without seeming the least bit forced.

Aside from the setting, the best thing about this production is its cast.  Parris as the Narrator has a strong voice (occasionally reminiscent of original Broadway Narrator Laurie Beechman) and good stage presence, and Guarini, who was a pleasant surprise as Billy Flynn in the Muny’s Chicago a few weeks ago, is excellent again as Joseph.  He projects just the right air of charm and cockiness at the beginning of the show, and convincingly matures into the wise leader by the end, and his voice is very strong in songs like “Any Dream Will Do” and the moving “Close Every Door.”  Miller is obviously having a lot of fun as Pharaoh, and he shows a great rapport with both the cast and the audience.  His part is relatively small, but he makes the most of it, and the scene in which he describes his dreams to Joseph (“Poor Poor Pharaoh/ Song of the King”) is a real highlight.  Maurice Murphy as Joseph’s brother Judah leads the “Benjamin Gospel” number with a strong, clear voice and infectious enthusiasm as well, and Glasgow plays his dual roles of Jacob and Potiphar convincingly.  All of the the brothers work very well together and their group numbers are a treat as well.

The bottom line here is that this production is, simply put, a whole lot of fun.  It’s goofy, it’s clever, and it’s so well put together that the company makes it appear as if this is the way the show was always supposed to be done.  It’s not a deep or overly serious show, and there is not one bit of pretension.  The way this production incorporates its setting is ingenious and a remarkable success. It’s a production with lots of humor, and to borrow a lyric from another show (Damn Yankees), “miles and miles and miles of heart”. It’s a great way to celebrate the time-honored St. Louis tradition of attending a show at the Muny. I was very pleasantly surprised by this production, and after this season is done, this is one that will definitely stand out in my memory as an ideal example of how some things that might not work anywhere else can work incredibly well at the Muny.  It’s a unique venue, and this was a fittingly unique and surprisingly successful production.

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I just got back from a 10-day trip to the UK, where I was able to soak up the sights and sounds of the thriving London theatre scene, as well as taking in a touring show in Stoke-On-Trent.  I also got to re-acquaint myself with the lovely scenery of the valleys of South Wales.  The highlight, however, was definitely London, which (with all due respect to New York) is my favorite theatre city on Earth.  It has much of the variety and thriving theatre scene of New York in (to my mind) a much more friendly and accessible atmosphere.  I love New York as well, and I would love to get back there someday and have a real Broadway trip, but London will always hold a special place in my heart.  Here are some mini-reviews of the five shows I saw:

The Sound of Music (UK tour), Regent Theatre, Stoke-On-Trent, England

This is a production I had seen before, first at the London Palladium and later in Cardiff, Wales, both starring Connie Fisher as Maria.  I am a big fan of Connie’s, and I really thought she brought something new to the role of Maria, but this time the show’s Maria was played by UK soap actress and West End veteran Verity Rushworth, who I thought played the role extremely well.  Rushworth has a clear, pretty voice and, acting-wise, made for an energetic, almost athletic Maria, and her scenes with the children were a highlight.  There was also excellent supporting work by Jacinta Mulcahy as Baroness Schraeder and Martin Callaghan as Max.  The weak link, however, was Jason Donovan as Captain Von Trapp, who lacked the stage presence and sense of authority that is required for the role, and the production as a whole seemed to have less energy then it had when I saw it before.   Still, it was an enjoyable production overall, and the sets (especially the mountain in the opening and closing scenes) were much improved from the last time I saw the tour.

Ordinary Days–Trafalgar Studios, London

This show (music and lyrics by Adam Gwon, directed by Adam Lenson) was a very small musical with a cast of four, telling the inter-twining stories of four young New Yorkers.  Daniel Boys and Julie Atherton played a young couple going through troubles in defining their relationship, while she dealt with issues from her past, and Alexia Khadime and Lee William-Davis played two very different people who were brought together in friendship by chance.  It was a very well-done show, almost entirely sung-through, with a very clever set (one large white structure with movable pieces that the actors would move around as needed), and universally appealing performances.  Although the entire cast was excellent, Alexia Khadime was the standout for me, with the energy she brought to her character and her powerful voice.  It was also fun to be seeing the show in such a small venue with the cast being so close-up.

End of the Rainbow—Trafalgar Studios, London

This play (written by Peter Quilter and directed by Terry Johnson) is more of an experience than just a show.  It tells the story of Judy Garland’s last time in London, when she was doing a series of concerts at a night club a few months before she died, and works as kind of a concert-within-a-play, with a full band backing Tracie Bennett as Garland in the concert scenes.  Bennett gives what can only be described as a tour-de-force performance.  She doesn’t just play Judy Garland—it’s like she becomes her, and it is such an emotional, physically and vocally demanding role that I really don’t know how she manages to keep coming back and delivering this performance night after night.  It is a truly remarkable feat of acting, and it was an honor to be able to witness it.  Bennett is ably supported by Hilton McRae as Garland’s pianist, Anthony, and by Stephen Hagen as her fiancé, Mickey Deans, and the costumes and sets really add to the late 60’s atmosphere of the piece.  It’s a wonderful, intense theatrical experience, and although the whole cast is wonderful, Bennett’s performance alone is more than worth the price of admission.  If you live in London or plan on going in the next month, I highly recommend seeing this show.  It truly is a must-see.

The Last Five Years—Tabard Theatre, London

This production of Jason Robert Brown’s musical, directed by Drew Baker, starred Lauren Samuels (from BBC TV’s “Over the Rainbow”) and Christopher Pym as a couple recounting their failed relationship, going backwards in time from her perspective and forward in time from his.  It is a very intimate piece of theatre, and was executed very well.  Samuels in particular was outstanding, displaying a convincing American accent and offering a sympathetic portrayal of a frustrated actress in a confusing but exciting relationship.  She also possesses an extremely powerful singing voice that was very well used in this production.  Pym, as her novelist husband, was excellent as well, but I had trouble sympathizing with his character, who just seemed full-of-himself from the start.  The set was simple but effective, and I’ve long been a fan of Jason Robert Brown’s music.  Overall, it was a moving depiction of the building and unraveling of a relationship, with good chemistry between the two leads even though they only actually interact with each other in one scene, in the middle of the show when their timelines come together.

The Wizard of Oz–London Palladium

This is Andrew Lloyd Webber’s new stage version of the classic film, with music and lyrics by Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg and additional songs by Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, adapted by Lloyd Webber and Jeremy Sams and directed by Sams.  It stars Danielle Hope as Dorothy, who won the part in the BBC talent show “Over the Rainbow”, and veteran stage and screen star Michael Crawford (the original Phantom of the Opera) as the Wizard.

I’m not sure I can be entirely objective reviewing this particular show, since I watched “Over the Rainbow” online and started a fan forum for Danielle (www.daniellehopeforum.com) that she has since endorsed as her fan club.  Still, I like to think I’m an honest fan, and no matter how much I like a performer, am willing to admit when they give a less-than-stellar performance.  Fortunately, I don’t have to do that this time, since Danielle is truly a delightful Dorothy.  Her performance is very unlike Judy Garland’s in the 1939 film, but thoroughly winning all the same.  Her Dorothy is gutsy, at turns shy and feisty, and even has bits of the whiny teenager at the beginning.  Her story is one of growth, and her rendition of “Over the Rainbow”, occuring very early in the first act, is plaintive and sincere.  Her Dorothy seems a bit distrustful and pessimistic at first, but by the end of the show she is brimming with optimism.  It is a unique take on the character, and for me it really works.  The highlights of the performance for me were her reprise of “Over the Rainbow” in Act Two and the scene where she says goodbye to the Scarecrow, Tin Man and Lion.  In fact, all four actors were impressive in this last scene, and the chemistry between them was delightful and moving.

The other real stand-out in this cast is Hannah Waddingham as the Wicked Witch of the West.  She presents a very fresh take on the character, imbuing her with a sense of gleeful, evil energy, and her new number in the second act, “Red Shoes Blues” is a showstopper.  She is nearly matched by Emily Tierney as a somewhat mischievous Glinda, the Good Witch, and their scenes together are a real comic highlight.  Edward Baker-Duly makes a great macho, deadpan Tin Man, and Paul Keating is a charming, seemingly boneless Scarecrow.  David Ganly as the Lion is given some groaner jokes, but he delivers them well, and the whole trio has excellent chemistry with Danielle’s Dorothy.  There’s also a cute Westie terrier (there are four used in rotation) as Toto.

Michael Crawford also gives a convincing performance as the Wizard, although he isn’t given a lot to do beyond his first act number “Wonders of the World”, which is a nice, melodic addition to the show.  I did think that his Act One closing song “Bring Me the Broomstick” sounded like a rejected song from Phantom of the Opera, though, and it featured Crawford in full-on Phantom voice.  I especially liked his reprise of “Off to See the Wizard” in the second act–it was very touchingly done.  I could see all the weariness and regret in his character, and found it moving.

As for the other aspects of the production, I found the sets and costumes by Robert Jones to be nothing short of spectacular.  There’s a set piece in the second act (the Witch’s Tower) that just sort of unfurls itself onstage, and it was one of the first times in a show where I actually wanted to applaud the set.  There are also some very clever tricks with flying from both of the witches, and the tornado scene is very effectively portrayed, as well.  The costume and set designs also deviate from the film somewhat drastically, and I really liked that, because this comes off as its own new theatrical presentation and not a carbon-copy of the film. I also really liked the orchestrations of the music, which blended themes from both the old and new songs together seamlessly.

This show is by no means high art, but it is a very enjoyable, extremely well-crafted and well-performed show that will surely delight audiences of all ages, and if ALW wishes to, he can use that as a pull-quote on the posters!   I had a great time seeing this show, and I’m sure it will run at the Palladium for a very long time.

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