Tag Archives: Nikolai Foster

REVIEW: Grease The Musical – King’s Theatre, Glasgow

The first new production in 25 years, and with the promise of a return to the gritty, raw, original 1971 production, the odds would seem stacked in favour of this Leicester Curve production of Grease, one of the world’s most beloved musicals. However, spectacularly bad casting, lacklustre energy levels and poor vocals, render what should be a corker of a show, into a two and a half hour yawn-fest.

It’s 1959, Rydell High, and a dozen angst ridden teenagers negotiate the ups and downs of high school life: break ups, make ups, peer pressure and pregnancy scares, with a raft of familiar tunes wrapped around the action (if not in the order that fans of the movie are used too).

Principal among the faults of this production is the casting: Dan Partridge’s Danny Zuko is a non-descript leading man, he lacks any presence, his accent is appalling (something that seems endemic in the cast), and his singing voice even worse, and unforgivably there is absolutely no chemistry with the woefully underused Martha Kirby as Sandy, who manages to elevate proceedings in the few occasions she’s on stage. It is absolutely baffling why she would ever fall in love with this loser in the first place. Louis Gaunt is a charismatic Kenickie who makes his mark (the young actor seems as if he would be a much better fit as Danny). Of note too is Natalie Woods, who has a lovely voice and a nice presence as the body-conscious Jan, less successful are Rhianne-Louise McCaulsky as Rizzo, who looks thoroughly bored throughout and Darren Bennett, who provides an uncomfortable watch as the boob-grabbing old letch Vince Fontaine, the performance smacks of 1970s Benny Hill/Freddy Starr, not memories you’d want to evoke in 2019.

Are we are so far removed and so distanced from the times in which this is set, that it fails to resonate? Is that the main issue? There’s a moment in the cheesy dialogue when after a break up and a make up between Danny and Sandy where her asks her: ‘don’t you want my ring?’ you can almost hear the female audience cry: ‘no thanks I’d rather have a career’. The entire show plays out like a badly disjointed series of unrelated scenes and the lack of drive doesn’t help. On a positive note, Colin Richmond’s gymnasium design is effective, if simplistic and Guy Hoare’s lighting design tonally compliments it – it should be said though, that it’s particularly heavy on the dry ice.

The entire production from start to end lacks impact, there isn’t an ounce of sparkle and the lack of energy and commitment of the cast is astonishing. One could argue that it’s impossible to make Grease boring, but boy does this production succeed in achieving just that.

Runs until 31 August 2019 | Image: Manuel Harlan

REVIEW: An Officer and a Gentleman The Musical – King’s Theatre, Glasgow

Another day, yet another iconic 80s movie is adapted as a stage musical. This adaptation of An Officer and a Gentleman by Douglas Day Stewart (with Sharleen Cooper Cohen) of his own original 1982 screenplay, is a cheesy, overblown but ultimately likeable production with a plethora of hits of the decade.

For those unaware of the original source material, An Officer and a Gentleman follows the story of a group of new recruits at the United States Naval Aviation Training Facility in Pensacola, Florida, and the band of local factory women who strive to hook one of these would-be officers in an attempt to escape the drudgery of their dead-end jobs. Principal among them is the relationship between troubled Navy brat Zack (Jonny Fines) and “townie” Paula (Emma Williams). Oh, joy, another story where a man has to ‘rescue’ a woman in order to give her a better life, I hear you cry, and while hackles may rise in 2018, it just about gets away with it due to its early 80s setting and the corniness with which it’s delivered.

The action takes place on a dull but functional set by Michael Taylor. The colours, drab blues, brown and greys are evocative of the workers situation and the Naval Base but, are a trifle uninspiring to the eye. It does however change smoothly, quickly and effectively between the many locations in the story.

The whole score could be a Now That’s What I Call The 80s album and there are some stomping anthems: Livin’ on a Prayer (given the volume it deserves), Alone and I Want to Know What Love Is and a corking version of We Don’t Cry Out Loud from Williams and Rachel Stanley as her mother Esther, but, there are some baffling arrangements that are less easy on the ear: Heart of Glass and a caterwauling Kids in America to name two.

The greatest asset of the production is its actors, there are some knock-out performances from a refreshingly representative cast in age, gender and race. There are no weak links, veteran Ray Shell is highly effective as Drill Sgt Foley, and the central quartet of Williams and Fines as Paula and Zack and Ian McIntosh (who delivers an emotive performance and has a beautiful voice) as Sid and Jessica Daley as the hard-hearted Lynette are all excellent.

This is not going to challenge your intellect but, was never intended to. It is a piece of easy escapism that will entertain both fans of the film and those new to the story.

Runs until 15 September 2018 | Image: Manuel Harlan

This review was originally written for The Reviews Hub

REVIEW: Breakfast at Tiffany’s – Theatre Royal, Glasgow

Truman Capote’s heroine Holly Golightly was unforgettably immortalised on celluloid in 1961 by the incomparable Audrey Hepburn. Capote’s novella is a much darker beast than the movie adaptation and it is on this source material that Tony Award-winning Richard Greenberg’s stage version is based, returning the action to Capote’s original post-Depression 1940s.

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It’s a world where a whole generation of young men are at war and those left behind are in limbo. In their tiny apartments in a down at heel brownstone, dwarfed by the mighty New York skyline, aspiring writer Fred (As Holly calls him) lives upstairs, excused from active duty due to asthma and struggling to get a break. Downstairs, good-time girl Holly relies on a string of middle-aged suitors to make ends meet. As Holly flits from man to man and Fred finds work elusive, Fred charts their dysfunctional relationship in a series of flash-backs.

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In Greenberg’s wordy adaptation, the success of the players varies considerably. Matt Barber’s Fred is a delight from start to finish, onstage throughout, he has whole swathes of Capote’s wonderful prose to recite and his emotional journey from infatuated admirer, to confidant, to lover, to heartbreak, is beautifully judged.

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Hepburn is a hard act to follow, and however removed her portrayal of Holly is compared to Capote’s original creation, it is indelibly etched on everyone’s mind. Emily Atack, in her first stage outing lacks the magnetism that the role requires, her delivery is flat, dialogue is rushed and her accent wildly varied, it is an unremittingly dull performance from start to end. Holly is a charismatic, vivacious, irresistible creation and how Fred ever becomes entranced is hard to fathom in Atack’s characterisation. And while she looks lovely, she is far from ‘this exquisite extrovert who every woman wants to be and every man wants to be with”. Where she does shine (like her distant cousin Paul McCartney) is in the three (somewhat incongruous) songs: Oklhoma’s People Might Say We’re in Love, Grant Olding’s newly penned country-tinged Hold Up My Dying Day and, of course, in Moon River.

In a cast of 12, Greenberg’s adaptation only really allows these two main characters to register, but Robert Calvert as Doc, Holly’s past writ large, makes a mark – sensitively played, it tugs at the heartstrings.

There’s also a cat, an amazing cat, a cat so well trained it’s hard to believe it’s a real cat, and when Bob the cat garners more reaction than many of the actors, you know you’re possibly not in a good place.

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The thing that shines like a great big Tiffany diamond is Matthew Wright’s scenic design. Technically impressive, the scene transitions; from the apartments, the steel fire escape, Joe’s Bar and all manner of locations, fall in from the flies and from the side of the stage with impressive ease and all accompanied by an evocative soundtrack and atmospheric lighting from Ben Cracknell, that lend the whole production a filmic quality.

There’s real potential here, Barber and the supporting cast are excellent, the set design period-perfect and atmospheric, but it lacks a leading lady to set the stage on fire – too much surface and no substance consigns one of the literary world’s greatest creations to being a stage flop. It’s a pity.

Image credits: Alan Geary/Sean Ebsworth Barnes

REVIEW: Annie – King’s Theatre, Glasgow

As a populist piece of entertainment Annie, Thomas Meehan, Martin Charnin and Charles Strouse’s 1977 musical has always appealed to those who love their shows schmaltzy and sentimental and taking it as such, Nikolai Foster’s revival will surely entertain many. There are sunny tunes a-plenty, wall-to-wall energetic tots and a tug at your heart strings story, but high art it isn’t and the plot that threads together the musical theatre mega-hits is paper-thin.

The tale of 11-year old Annie left on the steps of a New York orphanage as a baby, still clinging to the desperate hope that her parents will return to claim her, is one of hope and optimism in the face of adversity. Set during the Depression, the plot has a familiar resonance – the wide-spread poverty and desperation are not so far removed from the world outside the doors of the theatre, however, the uneven book has its lulls and at times the attention drifts (a fact seemingly acknowledged by the director, who sends the cute canine member of the cast, Sandy (Amber) on stage to enliven any moments of boredom).

Foster’s new production has more than the hint of the RSC’s Matilda about it, from the jigsaw piece decorated set (building blocks in Matilda) to the sharp, modern choreography (which is absolutely first-rate), it shows its influences on its sleeve. That said, the set design and lighting are a visual treat.

The first-rate cast is deserving of high praise: Alex Bourne’s Oliver Warbucks is fine-voiced, fleet-footed and assured and Holly Dale Spencer’s Grace is a pitch-perfect, well-judged delight. The pint-sized orphans are well-drilled, energetic and characterful, the ensemble is universally razor-sharp and Elise Blake’s Annie is highly competent if lacking a little warmth.

Musicals have come a long way since Annie’s appearance in 1977 and Foster’s production delivers visually for a modern audience, but there’s just something missing in the musical itself that a great director, innovative choreographer, talented set designer and first-rate cast just can’t overcome. If you like your entertainment sweet, syrupy and sentimental and thoroughly family-friendly then you’ll love it – those looking for something with a bit more grit should look elsewhere.

Runs until 20 February 2016 |Image: Matt Crockett

REVIEW: Calamity Jane – King’s Theatre, Glasgow

The strangest fact about the stage musical of Calamity Jane is that is has never been staged in either the West End or Broadway despite numerous sell-out tours of both the US And UK.

Calamity Jane - Jodie Prenger as Calamity Jane & Tom Lister as Wild  Bill Hickok. Photo credit Manuel Harlan (2)

Loosely based on tales from the life of Martha Jane Cannary, Calamity Jane is the equal of any man in the Wild West. Friend and Golden Gate saloon owner Henry Miller is under the impression that he’s hired famous actress Frances Fryer to perform, but when the very male Francis arrives, Calamity steps in to save the day, vowing to head from Deadwood to Chicago to bring back the darling of the age, stage sweetheart Adelaid Adams. But, as it ever was in musical theatre, things don’t go quite to plan, there’s mistaken identity, a love triangle thrown into the mix, and musical mayhem ensues.

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Packed with a plethora of familiar tunes: ‘The Deadwood Stage’, ‘Windy City’, ‘The Black Hills of Dakota’ (much-loved by this Glasgow audience who sang out full voice when the first few notes rang out from the stage) and of course, Oscar-winner ‘Secret Love’, this is a good old-fashioned crowd-pleaser.

For all its fun and hi-jinks, underneath lies a very romantic and lyrically witty score which the cast do justice to. As is becoming their trademark, this Watermill Theatre production features a cast of actor/musicians and though personally not a fan, the device works well here and there’s no end to the places that musical instruments are produced from.

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The cast are ably led by I’d Do Anything winner and audience darling Jodie Prenger as Calamity andEmmerdale‘s Tom Lister as Wild Bill Hickok. Prenger wins over the audience before a word is uttered, her entrance greeted by a round of whoops and hollers, and whilst in possession of a roof-raising voice and well-honed comedic skills, it is Lister who captures the heart, he has a truly beautiful voice, the only complaint being that you don’t get to hear enough of it. However, one note of criticism which can’t go unmentioned is the poor diction/accents of some of the cast members who rendered the narrative unintelligible for whole swathes of the first act. That said it improved as the show progressed.

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The static set doubles, triples and quadruples as every location in the show: pianos and chairs become a stagecoach, a door and some barrels become tables and it is richly lit and nicely dressed to give both a sense of time and place.

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The first act seems disjointed and though long, doesn’t seem to cover much ground, the second and much more enjoyable act on the other hand, drives along at whip-cracking pace, bringing the romp to its happy conclusion. The production is suffused throughout with infectious energy and it is this, along with the cracking tunes that sends you back onto the street with a smile on your face. The popularity of this enduring classic shows no sign of abating. Get your cowboy hat on and get along to the King’s to see it while you can.

Runs until Sat 20 June 2015

This review was originally written for and published by http://www.thepublicreviews.com at: http://www.thepublicreviews.com/calamity-jane-kings-theatre-glasgow/