Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘London’

So, here I am with the last entry in my London series, and a show that I’ve been a fan of for over 25 years.  It was a fun experience of re-visiting an old favorite while also seeing this version for the first time.  I feel that way about London itself every time I visit there.  Having been there five times in the last six years, it has become a very familiar place to me but I always discover new things about it when I am there.  I hope I will be able to visit again before too long and see more of the city and more great shows in the wonderful West End.  So until then, thanks London–it’s been fun!  Here’s my review:

Les Miserables

Music by Claude-Michel Schoenberg

Lyrics by Alain Boublil (French) and Herbert Kretzmer (English)

Queen’s Theatre, London

October 25th and 29th, 2012

It seems like Les Miserables has been following me lately.  Not only did I go see this production in London, but at the very same time, the US tour was in St. Louis.  Also, the movie will be released in a few weeks, and the Muny recently announced that the show will be part of their 2013 summer season.  I’m not complaining—I love this show and I have since the 1980’s when Les Mis was brand new and I was in high school, listening to the London and Broadway cast albums on my friend’s Walkman on the school bus and singing along with the Broadway CD at home with my brother. Those days are a distant memory now, but my fondness for the show endures.  I was so glad to be able to see the London production because, as far as the English language production goes, that’s where it all started.  Even though the show is one of my all-time favorites and I’ve heard several cast recordings and seen both televised anniversary concerts as well as numerous YouTube clips, I didn’t get to see it onstage until the Muny’s production in 2007, which I saw twice and loved.   Still, seeing it in London was special for many reasons, not the least of which is the incredibly high caliber of the current cast, including two of my favorite performers and several highly talked-about performances.  It’s also Les Mis in London, with mostly the original staging, but it still seems fresh and vibrant even 27 years into its run.

As much as I’ve loved the musical, I never got around to reading the novel until this year, and I’m glad I did because it enhanced my appreciation of the show.  It was fun to watch the show and think of all the little elements from the novel that show up in the various performances, particularly from this cast.  It was also great to watch the show as originally staged and see how well the atmosphere is set–following Jean Valjean (Geronimo Rauch) on his journey from the chain gang to small town mayor to Paris in the midst of the student rebellions.  I think this show has been popular so long because of its enduring themes of loss and redemption, struggle and hope, faith and love, and this current production communicates those themes extremely well.

The cast is simply amazing.  This is a show that’s had so many people in the various roles over the years but the current casting more than lives up to the show’s illustrious reputation.  It’s a “dream cast” as far as I’m concerned, and I felt honored to be able to see them.  Geronimo Rauch, who had previously played the role in Spain, plays Jean Valjean with strength, energy and real compassion, and his voice is strikingly clear and strong. His moments with Fantine and Cosette are very convincing, and “Bring Him Home” is beautiful.  He is well-matched by Tam Mutu as the rigidly determined Inspector Javert.  I loved their performance of the “Confrontation” with all of the energy and depth.  Mutu brings a real depth and humanity to Javert that is evident in his solo numbers and interactions with his fellow cast members.  Sierra Boggess, who played Christine so remarkably in the 25th Anniversary performance of Phantom of the Opera, appears in this production as Fantine, and she brought out the character’s desperation and fragility in a way that I had never seen before.   Her death scene was hauntingly tragic, and she brought both power and gut-wrenching emotion to “I Dreamed a Dream”.  Boggess is more of a traditional soprano than most actresses who have played Fantine, but her voice worked well, highlighting the emotions of the character. Danielle Hope is an outstanding Eponine, bringing out the full emotional range of the character in a performance that is very true to the novel. Hope has a particular gift for allowing the audience to see the character’s thoughts very clearly, without uttering a word.  Her scenes with Marius and her reactions to his attentions to Cosette (Samantha Dorsey) are especially remarkable. “On My Own” is amazing and “A Little Fall of Rain” is heartbreaking.  Her Eponine is simultaneously tough and vulnerable, single-minded, intense and even a little crazy, which is marvelous.

Craig Mather is also a standout as a particularly compassionate Marius. His “Empty Chairs At Empty Tables” is stunning, and he has excellent chemistry with his co-stars, especially Dorsey and Hope.  Adam Linstead is also excellent as the saintly Bishop and the student Grantaire, bringing strength and sympathy to both characters.  I also saw Linstead as Thenardier the second time I saw the show, and he was excellent in that role as well, highlighting the comic aspects of the character in contrast to principal Thenardier Cameron Blakely’s darker (and also excellent) portrayal.  I also got the chance to see two different actresses as Madame Thenardier–Nicky Swift (the understudy) on the first night I saw the show and Linzi Hateley (the principal) the second night.  Both were excellent, with Swift coming across as more earthy and Hateley as more over-the-top villainous.  There was also a top-notch ensemble that was in great voice both nights, doing justice to the wonderful score of this remarkable show.  I especially loved “One Day More”, the barricade sequences and the finale in terms of ensemble singing.

Seeing the original staging of this show was a delightful experience.  I loved the giant barricade set especially, and was tempted to applaud when it came together dramatically at the beginning of the second act.  I also liked the extensive use of the revolve and how everything was in constant motion as the story took us from setting to setting as the story unfolded.  It was also great to hear the spectacular music played so well by the show’s orchestra.  The time, place and mood of the show and its various settings were vividly realized, and even though I knew the show well, I felt transported to 19th Century France.  It’s great to see such a long-running show in such a a vibrant production, still being played as if it is brand new.

I could go on writing every little detail about this production, but I won’t because this entry would be far too long.  I love this show so much that anything I write seems inadequate, and it was a joy to get to see it in London with this wonderful cast.  It more than lives up to 27 years of hype, and it deserves to run for many more years. The tagline for this show is “Dream the Dream”, and after all these years, the dream is still going strong.

 

Read Full Post »

This time last month, I was in London.  I still wish I could have stayed longer, and that I can go more often.  London is such a vibrant city full of history,character and great theatre, and I was so glad to have been able to see so many shows on my latest trip.   In this entry, I was planning on reviewing two shows–one of the most exciting new shows I’ve ever seen as well as the one classic show that is probably my all-time favorite, but the sheer length of both reviews has made me decide to make this two entries instead of one.  I wanted to do justice to both of these wonderful productions. I felt so privileged to be able to see both, as well as all the shows I saw and the magnificent city itself.   I hope I will be able to get back there before too long, because there is always so much happening and because it’s London and I will never get tired of visiting there.  Here is my review of a very exciting and extremely popular new show:

Matilda the Musical

Book by Dennis Kelly, Music and Lyrics by Tim Minchin

Choreographed by Peter Darling

Directed by Matthew Warchus

Cambridge Theatre, London

October 28, 2012

I almost didn’t get to see this show.  Matilda is the hottest ticket in London right now, and as I was preparing for my trip, I had tried to buy tickets in advance.  They were sold out on every website I tried.  Every day I looked at was sold out, but I had a friend who told me about the returns line, so I tried for that when I got to London.  I tried the Wednesday matinee, but there were no returns when I got there and I decided to get a ticket to Singin’ In the Rain instead.  I was very glad I saw that show, but I still wanted to see Matilda, and since I had a free day on the Sunday, I decided to try in earnest and wait in the line up until showtime if I had to, so I showed up an hour in advance expecting to wait.  Fortunately, I didn’t have to, because after about three minutes a woman walked up to me with two spare tickets and offered to sell me one.  I never found out her name, but I’m very grateful to her because, thanks to her, I was able to see one of the most exciting and creative musicals I have ever seen.

Matilda is based on the classic book by Roald Dahl, which I’m ashamed to admit I haven’t read.  I haven’t even seen the movie.  All I knew is that it was a Dahl book and it was about a girl with special abilities and a mean teacher.  I was going into this show almost blind, and I’m actually glad because the whole unfolding sense of wonder as the story progressed was a major highlight of the experience of seeing it for me.

In the opening “Miracle” sequence highlighting some parents’ overindulgence of their children, we are introduced to Matilda Wormwood (Hayley Canham), an extraordinarily gifted young girl who is ignored and underappreciated by her materialistic and self-centered parents (Annette McLaughlin and Mark Goldthorp).  She learns to read at a very young age and is only encouraged in this by the local Librarian Mrs. Phelps (Melanie La Barrie), who likes to listen to Matilda’s stories.  Soon Matilda is sent to a school run by the overbearing and over-the-top evil Miss Trunchbull (David Leonard), where she makes friends with the other children and meets another encouraging adult, her teacher Miss Honey (Haley Flaherty), who has a dramatic childhood story of her own that mysteriously links her to Matilda.

This show has some of the most creative staging I’ve ever seen, and numbers like “School Song” with the different sized alphabet blocks being pushed through a grid to the rhythm of the song by cast members while other cast members climbed on them, and “When I Grow Up” with the kids on swings, were visually stunning.  I also thought the “Bruce” sequence, in which a boy is forced to undergo an unorthodox punishment by the evil Miss Trunchbull, was very well staged, as were the story sequences that Matilda narrates with the Escapologist and the Acrobat.

The set is colorful and whimsical, with the different sized alphabet blocks a prominent feature, and fun little touches like school desks that rise out of the floor, and towering shelves of books in the library.  Everything sets the mood perfectly, and childhood with all its adventure, joy, and mischief is represented as well as the very real sense of horror and menace personified by Miss Trunchbull.  There is also real spectacle with some clever special effects, but the real “special effect” is the overall atmosphere of the show, which runs the full gamut of feelings from fear to wonder and from loneliness to love.

The casting is universally excellent, and the child performers are simply amazing.  There is a rotating cast of child performers and I’m sure they are all wonderful.  The standouts for me were the remarkably talented Hayley Canham as Matilda, Elliot Reed as Bruce and Ella Yard as Matilda’s self-proclaimed best friend, Lavender. Canham especially is a wonder, bringing an earnestness and entirely unsentimental sympathy to the role. Her pain at being rejected by her parents is apparent, as is her hope for something better and her joy in reading and telling stories.  She also has a strong singing voice and performs her solo songs “Naughty” and “Quiet” extremely well.  The whole cast of children is extremely impressive as well.

As for the adult performers, the casting is also very strong and very energetic, with the standouts being La Barrie as the sympathetic Miss Phelps, Flaherty as the concientious, compassionate and self-doubting Miss Honey, and Goldthorp (the understudy) as Matilda’s television-obsessed father. Leonard as Miss Trunchbull was also outstanding, bringing a villainous energy and real sense of menace to the role.  It’s obvious why the children, and the adults, are terrified of this domineering, self-centered and sadistic character.

I loved how the writers of this show, from Dahl to the adapters, don’t condescend to children and seem to genuinely remember what it’s like to be a child in all its wonder and magic, as well as some genuine terror.  The joys, dreams and fears of children are aptly displayed here, and of the grown-ups (most notably Miss Honey and Mrs. Phelps) who still remember, as well as the self-absorption and over-the-top ridiculousness of the adults who don’t remember (Trunchbull, the Wormwoods), even though there is a small humanizing moment for Mr. Wormwood later in the the show.  The songs by Tim Minchin are wonderfully written, perfectly expressing the sentiments and situations.  All of the songs are excellent, but my favorites were “When I Grow Up”, the “School Song” and Matilda’s solos.  The “Telly” song by Mr. Wormwood and his son Michael (Nick Searle) at the beginning of the second act was a fun comic highlight as well.

I don’t know how to accurately describe how much I loved this show, and how privileged I felt to be able to witness this remarkable feat of new theatrical writing.  I hope this show is a symbol of the future of musical theatre, and that more shows with this degree of wit, charm and creativity will make their way to the West End and Broadway in the near future.  It’s basically an ideal show, and I am so glad that its sold-out status did not prevent me from seeing it.  I will remember this for years to come as one of the real highlights of this trip to London.  This show is due to open on Broadway early next year, and I hope it does as well.  It’s so distinctly British that I do worry a little bit that it might not be the wild success it has been in London, but I hope it is successful anyway.  It deserves to be a smash hit on both sides of the pond.

Read Full Post »