So successful is Chichester Festival Theatre’s 2014 production of Guys and Dolls, that not only has it made the transfer to the West End but has also spawned a comprehensive national tour. Sad to say, however, it appears to have lost some of its five-star sparkle in transit.
An amalgamation of three of Damon Runyon’s Broadway fables; The Idyll of Miss Sarah Brown, Pick the Winner and Blood Pressure: shifty, small-time crook Nathan Detroit (Maxwell Caulfield), in need of money to host ‘the oldest established, permanent floating crap game in New York’, bets charismatic cool-cat and inveterate gambler Sky Masterson (Richard Fleeshman), that Masterson can’t get frosty missionary Sarah Brown (Anna O’Byrne) from the Save-A-Soul Mission, to go with him to Havana on a date. A merry band of misfits help colour the tall tale, from eternally engaged, fourteen years a fiancée Miss Adelaide (Louise Dearman), to local low-lives Nicely-Nicely Johnson and Harry the Horse.
The witty words of Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows are regarded as among the funniest in the musical theatre canon and they remain intact in Gordon Greenberg’s revival. However, the pace and direction of Greenberg’s production lacks the spark required to bring Runyon’s stories fully to life, playing like a poorly connected series of stand-alone scenes rather than a flowing whole.
None of the faults of the production can be blamed on the cast, with West End leads Louise Dearman, Anna O’Byrne, and Richard Fleeshman and seasoned actor Maxwell Caulfield at the helm, then quality is assured. Dearman turns in an especially effective turn as a Lucille Ball-like Miss Adelaide, managing to balance the humour and pathos brilliantly and Fleeshman conveys the easy charm and charisma of Masterson with aplomb. The supporting cast too is of the highest quality.
Peter McKintosh’s set design is essentially simple, an arc of lightbulb-ringed adverts and a series of roll-on-roll-off accents, which only really brings the vivid world of New York alive when fully lit. The choreography of Cuban ballet superstar Carlos Acosta and West End stalwart Andrew Wright has been placed firmly centre stage, with extended dance sequences throughout. The duo’s work is especially effective in the ballet-inspired crap game in the sewers with its athletic, inventive sequences and a nod to Acosta’s ballet background in the Swan Lake line up.
With such a top-notch cast and first-rate creative team, it’s hard to see how this could go wrong, but Greenberg’s production falls flat in too many places that if fails to do full justice to the stellar cast and this musical theatre classic. Ultimately unsatisfying.
Cole Porter, Rodgers and Hammerstein and the MGM, golden era of Hollywood movie musicals have all been celebrated over the years by the wonderful John Wilson Orchestra. The lost scores recreated note by note and bar by bar by the supremely talented Wilson. This year, the spotlight turns on George and Ira Gershwin.
From a vast back-catalogue of hits, Wilson presents a broad spectrum of the composer’s work; some pieces recognised from the first few notes to some lesser-known gems, and a perfect balance of orchestral pieces and vocal numbers.
The hand-picked orchestra as always, are in the finest of form, getting the evening off to the best of starts with the overture from the 1945 biopic Rhapsody in Blue. Featuring West End leading lady Louise Dearman and John Wilson Orchestra veteran and big band star Matt Ford, there’s not a weak link anywhere. The playful chemistry between Dearman and Ford is a delight to watch and the playing and singing a joy to the ear. Vocal highlights include Dearman’s Someone to Watch Over Me and The Man I Love, and Ford’s S’Wonderful (with the most spectacular whistling I’ve ever heard) and They Can’t Take That Away From Me.
It seems like a disservice to mention so little of the evening, but quite simply, this is as close to a perfect evening’s entertainment as you are likely to get. Sheer class.
John Wilson’s DVD celebrating the music of Frank Sinatra is on sale now.
An artist who means so much to so many: both tragic victim of the studio star system and ultimate Hollywood legend, the ever-enduring appeal of Judy Garland is enough to ensure a full house wherever her name appears.
Judy – The Songbook of Judy Garland is the only production officially sanctioned by the Garland estate and features youngest daughter Lorna Luft accompanied on this whistle-stop journey through the musical career of her mother by West End leading lady Louise Dearman, X-Factor, Brookside and Dancing on Ice alumni Ray Quinn, an array of seasoned musical theatre veterans and backing dancers The Boyfriends.
The show format is a familiar one, live performances are interspersed with video snippets of Garland’s most famous movies and a few unseen interview clips of the star, looking it must be said, fragile and vulnerable, as well as some personal anecdotes from Luft about life with her famous parent. These personal reminiscences are a welcome touch and provide a tangible link from audience to superstar, that said, it would have been nice to utilise this very real connection and allow Luft more show time talking rather than singing songs which only her mother can truly give justice to.
There is a quality which permeates the whole production, from the set design of Colin Rozée (a Hollywood studio stage) with its black, red and white motif that carries through to the costume design, to the first class cast. Dearman and Quinn are the standouts in a universally talented line-up. Dearman’s “Stormy Weather” is a showstopper and Quinn surprises and delights, most notably in his duet with Darren Bennett, “Puttin’ on the Ritz”, being both fleet of foot and in extremely fine voice. Bennett, it must be said is a class act, singing and dancing beautifully throughout. Dearman and Luft also memorably recreate the now famous 1962 duet between Garland and a then unknown Barbra Streisand.
The musical arrangements are excellent as is the choreography and there are some nice touches in the projections especially in “The Trolley Song” where background and onstage action merge beautifully and to great effect. For all its quality there are a few quibbles though: a couple of technical glitches were handled quickly and professionally but an out of synch video of Garland singing “Mr. Monotony” did ruin what could have been a powerful moment.
The celebratory tone is brought to an end by a melancholy tribute to Garland and her most famous song, as the first notes ring out from “Over The Rainbow” the production to its credit, realises that no one else could come close to the star’s iconic rendition, leaving Judy in her gingham dress to sing alone.
This is very much a production that gives its target audience what it wants. With nigh-on 30 songs on the bill and a first-rate cast, the audience can’t complain it doesn’t get its money’s worth. A fine, quality tribute to a Hollywood legend.
Runs until Sat 6 June 2015 then touring
This article was originally written for and published by http://www.thepublicreviews.com at: http://www.thepublicreviews.com/judy-the-songbook-of-judy-garland-theatre-royal-glasgow/
Since 1962, no movie franchise has conjured up an image of glamour, intrigue and mystery quite like the Bond films. The locations might change, the villains might change, even the Bonds are ever-changing but the one thing that remains the same is the big, block-busting theme music.
Conductor and arranger Clive Dunstall and the Scottish Concert Orchestra take that most constant feature of the movies and present an evening that showcases the best of 50 years of Bond music.
With 25 movies to choose from you would be forgiven for thinking that there was enough material for a concert, but Dunstall has enhanced and extended the programme above and beyond Bond by including a series of ‘suites’ based upon themes from the world’s best-loved cop shows: there are medleys of “British”, “Female” and “American Detectives” interspersed throughout, which, much to the delight of the audience, added a ‘name that tune’ competition element to the show.
The playing from the Scottish Concert Orchestra is an absolute delight, a fact that is made all the more astonishing when we learn that the afternoon’s concert was presented after only two and a half hours of rehearsal that morning, it remains tight and on-point throughout. But it is the two guest singers, West End veterans Tim Howar and Louise Dearman who are the outstanding highlight of the performance. The sheer diversity of styles they have to recreate is jaw-dropping, that they do it with such style, panache and power is impressive. Both have exquisitely toned voices, with vast ranges which they utilise effortlessly and to great effect.
Like Bond himself this is a classy affair; a top notch programme, first-rate singers and a world-class orchestra – an afternoon’s entertainment of the highest order.
It’s been a while, but following on from previous New Musical Talent subjects: Laura Tisdall, Dougal Irvine, Tim Prottey-Jones and Craig Adams, I’m proud to feature a new musical star in the making;
Composer Gary Albert Hughes has a varied and colourful theatrical résumé: from beginnings as a classically trained musician at Guildhall School of Music and the Royal Academy, to a career in musical theatre and pop. Gary is also one half of the writing team that composed and wrote the lyrics for E4’s hit reality dating show Playing It Straight (he also appeared every week as the singing troubadour). He has had his music featured in film, TV and theatre and is fast becoming a favourite on the new musical theatre writing scene. I had a chance to catch up with Gary in a rare break between projects.
Tell us a bit about your background and what inspired you to become a composer.
Well, before I ventured into musical theatre I was a classically trained flautist, pianist and composer and was all set to pursue a career as a classical musician. After my studies I realised I was not fulfilled creatively and it took another few years of trying different areas of the performing arts before realising that what makes my heart race is composing. Though I’ve been writing songs and music since junior school!
Which musicals or composers have influenced you?
I am inspired and influenced by so many people but there have been a few major influences. I met George Stiles as a young musician finding my feet and I’ve been inspired and in awe of how his career has gone from strength to strength. I’m also massively influenced by my classical training, and am always inspired by film music, especially that of John Barry.
Tell us about your writing partnership with Joan Taylor-Rowan?
About three years ago I was in the audience of a short story reading of Kandy Kottage at an evening called The Liar’s League. I knew it would make the most magical and interesting musical. I contacted Joan after wading through pages and pages of Google. We met for coffee and started work. I always ask for Joan to send me sketches of lyrics and ideas which I will then be inspired to write music to. Usually I’ll send her what I’ve composed and she will then work on more ideas, rhyme schemes and verses and choruses. Then when we get together to work on the song we will tweak it and neaten it up. We love to go The Dance Attic in Fulham where there’s a buzz of creativity. However, we are going over to Normandy at the end of January to finish Kandy Kottage in time for its showing at The Landor. I’m happy to say that we have a dear friendship and an amazing working relationship.
You recently released the Christmas love song Your Presence with Shona Lindsay, tell us more.
Your Presence was inspired by our followers and fans on Twitter and Facebook urging us to write a new festive love song. People were tired of hearing the same old Christmas songs everywhere. We took the bull by the horns and went for it. We were so thrilled when Shona agreed to release it for us. She has such a beautiful voice and such a touching way of using it, which is why she has had the amazing career she has. Colin Billing (Lend Me a Tenor) musically directed the track and did an amazing job bringing it to life.
You’ve been asked to be part of new musical theatre writing festival From Page to Stage at The Landor Theatre; tell us about that.
It’s a festival solely for new writing and emerging writers, the baby of Katy Lipson of Aria Entertainment and A Stage Kindly, two companies supporting new writing. We’re taking part in two slots: the first, Three Writers and a Piano will feature me and two fellow composers at the piano singing our own songs. I’ll hopefully be having a few West End singers with me as well as some fabulous up and coming singers. The second slot is for our brand new musical Kandy Kottage.
Your musical Kandy Kottage; what’s it about and what are your hopes for it?
At the Kandy Kottage you meet Kevin and his imaginary sidekicks The Kandy Kremes as they embark on a mission to win the heart of Greta, a Hollywood wannabe with a sweet tooth. It’s a fairy tale with a dark twist following the story of a young boy, neglected and lonely, seeking perfection in his world of confection! All he needs is someone to share it with. Greta has a passion for sweets but not for Kevin. He decides to woo her in the only way he knows – with sugar. Temples of toffee, palaces of pear-drops and sweet sculptures bloom under Kevin’s hands. But not all fairy tales have a happy ending. What lengths will Kevin go to, to keep Greta for himself? We believe this show has a life in an off West End theatre, or even the West End itself.
You’ve used social media to help promote your work; do you think it’s a helpful tool for artists starting out in musical theatre?
I think it’s essential for anyone trying to make a start in anything! If used correctly and appropriately it’s an extremely powerful tool. If one is professional, friendly and interesting, then Twitter and Facebook are wonderful tools for communicating, networking and contacting people when, before, it may have been impossible. Twitter is how we first made contact with Shona Lindsay about recording Your Presence.
Is there anyone you’d love to work with or write a song for?
Wow, what a question, yes, loads. Firstly we’re not the type of writers who only want somebody to sing our material because they’re a ‘name’. We’re interested in who the person is as an artist, their voice quality and what they represent as a vocalist and performer. I think Ramin Karimloo has a deeply touching and interesting quality to his voice, and would LOVE him to sing our ballad One Minute More. Louise Dearman is another voice I think is exceptional and unique and we’d love her to sing one of our big numbers.
After all of that, what’s next?
We are planning an album called Taylor-Rowan & Hughes Present… which will feature our best songs with a host of West End singers. We’ve already talked with Shona Lindsay, Nigel Richards and Shona White about singing a track, and are waiting to hear back from others. We’re in the process of applying for some funding too, so if anyone out there’s interested in supporting new British talent, then please do get in touch!
From Page to Stage runs from 15 February
see Gary Albert Hughes in Three Writers and a Piano on 26th February
and Kandy Kottage on 14th March at the Landor Theatre