Tag Archives: Anna-Jane Casey

REVIEW: Mack and Mabel – The Playhouse, Edinburgh

The original 1974 Broadway production of Mack and Mabel had such a critical mauling that it lasted only 66 performances. Jonathan Church’s revival, (with a revised book) for Chichester Festival Theatre, currently touring the UK, has well and truly laid those demons to rest.

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Despite its reputation as a musical tragedy, recounting as it does, the doomed relationship between egomaniacal, single-minded, silent film director Mack Sennett (Michael Ball) and deli-worker turned movie star, Mabel Normand (Rebecca LaChance), this is a surprisingly upbeat, and thoroughly entertaining show.

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To its credit, it doesn’t shy away from the less palatable aspects of the pair’s tumultuous lives; Sennett’s bullying and scant regard for those around him and Normand’s drug and alcohol addiction are all shown here. As a musical theatre hero, Sennett certainly falls short, effectively illustrated in his relationship with the young office assistant who went on to become the legendary Frank Capra, who delivers some home truths to Sennett about his part in Normand’s downfall. It’s a refreshing change from the usual musical theatre fodder.

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Ball has proven his dramatic worth since his role as Sweeney Todd, and he is exceptional here. Never trying to get the audience on his side, he is uncompromising, playing the character as it is; big, bold, brash and bullying. LaChance is a delightful Mabel, her wide-eyed charm and grating Noo Yawk accent, well-judged.

There is fabulous attention to detail in every aspect of this production. Jerry Herman’s knock-out score is brilliantly played by the outstanding band and the ensemble sound stunning when singing as one. Robert Jones wonderfully ingenious set and costume designs are dazzling. The use of projections is among the best I’ve ever seen, being both original and witty and Stephen Mears choreography is a delight, visually stunning and inventive.

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There are some glorious set pieces here: the ‘Roman’ movie scene, the bathing beauties and the brilliant Keystone Cops are particular highlights.

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I often find that the mark of a truly great show is how quickly time passes – and this whipped along at a break-neck pace. Stunning to look at and listen to, this truly is a five-star production.

Runs at the Playhouse, Edinburgh until Saturday 22 November 2015

REVIEW: John Wilson Orchestra Cole Porter in Hollywood – Glasgow Royal Concert Hall

Yes, dear readers it’s that time of year when I profess my undying love for John Wilson and his outstanding orchestra. Following on the heels of this summer’s Kiss Me Kate Prom (which incidentally will be broadcast this Christmas on BBC) and last year’s Rodgers and Hammerstein at the Movies, Wilson has turned his attention to the great Cole Porter on the 50th anniversary of the musical genius’ death.

Wilson has eschewed an evening of out and out familiar tunes, instead he has interspersed the big hitters like “I Get a Kick Out of You”, “Your the Top” and “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” with lesser known numbers such as “Love of my Life”, “The Physician” and “Please Don’t Monkey with Broadway” and provides a broad representation of Porter.

The quality of the playing is of the highest order and the sheer joy on the faces of the musicians transmits itself to the capacity audience. The programme is beautifully enhanced by regular singers Matt Ford and Anna Jane Casey who take on the jazzier numbers and newcomers to the John Wilson Orchestra: Scarlett Strallen and Richard Morrison. Strallen and Morrison are particularly stunning in the more demanding numbers and Strallen shines in the rib-tickling “The Physician”.

It remains to be seen what’s next for the John Wilson Orchestra but I personally can’t wait to see what it is.

REVIEW: Forbidden Broadway – Vaudeville Theatre, London

Since 1981 Gerard Alessandrini’s hysterically funny revue, Forbidden Broadway has been delighting audiences with its pin-sharp parodies of the great and the good of the musical theatre world.

Forbidden Broadway by Gerard Alessandrini. Anna Jane Casey, Damian Humbley, Ben Lewis and Christina Bianco. Credit Alastair Muir.

Known for its biting satire, (it spares no-one, not even the most beloved of performers or shows) it is, for the most part, done with genuine affection. This latest (specifically tailored for the West End) edition has transferred to the Vaudeville Theatre for a limited season after a successful run at the Menier Chocolate Factory and it’s a laugh-out-loud winner from start to finish.

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The cast sing, dance and act their way through a mind-blowing series of scenes at break-neck speed: The Lion King: “A story so bizarrey, it’s Hamlet on safari” and its cast resplendent in stuffed toy head-dresses crying agonisingly: “Can you feel the sprain tonight?”; a somewhat reduced helicopter scene from Miss Saigon and a “The heat is on in Saigon; is there a tune going on?”; The Sondheim parody “Into the Words”; a sweeping dismissal of Once: “once is enough”; Jersey Boys: “Walk like a man, sing like a girl”; Les Mis, where a bored cast member chats on their iPhone behind the barricade and ends with an “I’ll call you after I die,” Jean Valjean gives it welly in the too high bits and the infamous revolve is mercilessly evoked as the cast belt out a threatening “ten more years, ten years more”; the list goes on an on.

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The reason the whole endeavour works so well is the quality of the cast, only those as, if not more, talented than those they parody could possibly get away with this: Anna-Jane Casey, Damian Humbley, Christina Bianco and Ben Lewis are all stars in their own right and each shines.

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One word of caution though, the show is aimed squarely at musical theatre aficionados and a broad knowledge of both the West End and Broadway past and present is required to get the best out of it, so if you don’t know your Sondheim from your Miss Saigon then don’t bother. But if you do – don’t miss it.

Runs until 22nd November

REVIEW: John Wilson Orchestra – The Royal Concert Hall, Glasgow

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Nothing heralds the start of the Christmas season more vividly for me than the annual trip to see the John Wilson Orchestra. It’s not the cries of “It’s Christmas” blasting from every supermarket speaker or the switching on of the lights in George Square, but the sound of the orchestra tuning up and those spine-tingling first notes ringing out around the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall.

This year’s concert That’s Entertainment is a return to the 2009 Prom which took Wilson from respected conductor to worldwide sensation. Eschewing the big names (Seth MacFarlane, Curtis Steigers, Julian Ovenden and Sir Thomas Allen, to name a few) that have peppered previous concerts, he sticks with stalwarts Matthew Ford and Anna-Jane Casey, a pair of sublimely talented singers. Ford, with his magnificently evocative voice brings the era of the Hollywood crooner masterfully back to life and Casey, a gifted actress as well as singer, with the ability and stunning vocal skills to transport you right back to the golden days of the MGM musical.

This perfectly judged and perfectly polished programme opens with the magnificent MGM Jubilee Overture and the skill and talent of the performers and Wilson’s fastidious attention to every detail of this music, shines through from the opening note.

The concert cracks on at a blistering pace, played with exuberance and verve by the breathtakingly talented musicians, from familiar classics such as: “The Lady is a Tramp”, “You Made Me Love You”  and “A Couple of Swells” to lesser known gems: “Thanks a Lot But No Thanks” from It’s Always Fair Weather and the little heard score from Silk Stockings, each piece is beautifully executed and designed to delight the audience, an audience I might add who remained entranced throughout each song and moved to rousing applause at each’s conclusion. Most heartening to see was the age range of the sell-out audience, from little children right through to those able to remember this music in its glorious hey-day, through the talent and skill of Wilson and his orchestra these glorious musical classics live on and boy is this audience thankful that it has.

Of the 200 or so shows that I review each year for work, this is one of the few that I look forward to from the moment it’s announced and unlike much of what I see it never disappoints, a pure pleasure and an unalloyed triumph every time. Spirited, soaring, sparkling, sure-footed, sumptuous, vivid, vibrant, witty, well-judged, thrilling and triumphant. Sheer perfection!