Considered the finest interpreter of the works of Stephen Sondheim, Broadway superstar Bernadette Peters visited Edinburgh this week on the final night of her three date tour of the U.K.
Ms Peters, despite her tiny stature, is a Titan of the stage, but her modest demeanour and genuine warmth belies this, there are no diva antics here, the moment she steps on stage to a standing ovation, she seems truly appreciative of her audience, and boy are they appreciative of her. That’s not to say she’s lacking in sass – far from it – she cheekily sashays through some glorious, and in some cases forgotten, musical theatre classics. From Gypsy’s Let Me Entertain You, through a series of Sondheim’s greatest works, some sassy show-stoppers such as Fever (delivered reclining on the grand piano) and C’mon a My House which she performed in her TV show Mozart in the Jungle, to little heard songs from Carousel and State Fair, this is a masterclass in acting through song.
Despite the sheer size of this, the largest theatre in the UK, it seems as though you’re in an intimate cabaret club, so adept is Peters at drawing her audience in. There’s pure emotion and total commitment to each and every note and from the front row it gives you glorious goosebumps.
As you leave theatre you know what you have just witnessed is something truly special and will rarely be repeated. Just magical.
What more can be said about Gypsy?, save for the fact that it is all it is hyped up to be: a great big, ballsy, barnstorming, bravura performance by the brilliant Imelda Staunton in the musical many regard as the greatest ever written and astonishing that it has been over 40 years since its one and only appearance on the London stage.
National treasure Staunton is in equal measure terrifying and electrifying as the showbiz mom to end all showbiz moms. She veers from comical pluckiness to frightening forcefulness throughout, but there are moments too of genuine tenderness in her relationship with the long suffering Herbie, her much put-upon beau.
The book by Arthur Laurents and the music and lyrics from Jule Styne & Stephen Sondheim perfectly encapsulates the Vaudeville era, the desperation to ‘make it’, grab a buck wherever you can, travelling the vast expanse of the US from the dustbowl to the down at heel playhouses, scrabbling for a slot to show your wares and pay for your next meal.
Though it is very much Staunton’s show, she is more than ably supported by Lara Pulver as Louise the daughter who eventually morphs from overlooked tomboy to the world’s most famous strip tease artist Gypsy Rose Lee, Gemma Sutton as favoured daughter June – still pretending to be nine years old when she’s clearly on the cusp of womanhood and Peter Davison as the affable and loyal Herbie. Credit must also go to the child actors of Rose’s ragbag vaudeville troupe who provide much of the first act laughs.
This is a work of infinite quality topped off with one of the finest musical theatre performances you are ever likely to see. Truly unmissable.
This post originally written for and published by The Public Reviews at: http://www.thepublicreviews.com/west-side-story-kings-theatre-glasgow/
Book: Arthur Laurents
Music: Leonard Bernstein
Lyrics: Stephen Sondheim
Director/Choreographer: Joey McKneely
Reviewer: Lauren Humphreys
The Public Reviews Rating:
The glorious finished product that West Side Story became is extraordinary considering how fraught the relationship between the show’s tyrannical director Jerome Robbins (whose choreography is re-produced on this tour by his former assistant Joey McKneely) and the creative team of Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim. Shocking audiences and changing the history of musical theatre on its debut in 1957, this ground-breaking musical is a re-telling of Romeo and Juliet, our Montagues and Capulets this time two gangs; the Polish-American Jets and the Puerto Rican Sharks. Re-set on the mean streets of 1950′s New York, it tells a tale of gang violence, rape and rampant racism.
When looking at the show from a distance of sixty years there has to be an acceptance that in this age of daily exposure to violence and tragedy some of its impact and shock value has been lost but what hasn’t eroded is the emotional impact that the piece has on its audience.
The staging is simplistic, nothing more than a few spindly fire-escapes, some balconies and black and white projected backdrops of New York and Arthur Laurents book, though light on dialogue is effective, but this really is a show whose magic lies in its music and choreography to drive the story and ramp up the tension. With a score that includes the now classic songs, ‘Maria’, ‘Tonight’, ‘Somewhere’ and ‘I Feel Pretty’ and the show-stopping set pieces ‘America’ and ‘Gee, Officer Krupke’ executed with impressive precision by the hugely talented ensemble, it’s impossible not to be won over. The only jarring note is the overly sentimental dream ballet sequence during the emotive ‘Somewhere’, mawkish in its day it is just too syrupy for a modern day audience.
The cast are universally deserving of praise, in particular Louis Maskell as Tony, a star in the making with an evocative voice, rich in tone and emotion and an appealing stage presence. In support Djalenga Scott is a fire-cracker Anita, Javier Cid, an elegant and imposing Bernardo and Jack Wilcox a power-house Riff. Katie Hall in the pivotal role of Maria, captures the accent well, managing to maintain it whilst singing, but she’s physically unconvincing as the young Puerto Rican immigrant Maria and whilst her clear soprano is impressive (as it was as Christine in the recent Phantom of the Opera tour) her acting skills leave a lot to be desired. That said, any minor quibbles, and there are few, are easy to forgive in the face of such talent and quality.
Deserving of its status as an all-time great, this beautifully executed production with its pitch-perfect cast is simply unmissable.
Stephen Sondheim is the musical theatre equivalent of Marmite – it’s either love or hate and this seldom seen Sondheim is a brave choice by Runway Theatre Company.
Personally I am in the love category – believing Sondheim’s works have the ability to scratch below the surface of life and really speak to an audience, but this isn’t your average Sondheim. A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum tells the bawdy story of slave Pseudolus and his attempts to win his freedom by helping his young master Hero woo the girl next door. The show is at its heart a farce, with punning a-plenty, mistaken identity and many a double-entendre on show.
The set alone sets the tone – a rollicking Roman riot of eye-poppingly bright colour and the infectious spirit continues throughout the performance.
Comedy is by far and away the most difficult genre to pull off but this is a sure-footed cast who deftly handle the quick witted dialogue and full-on farce with a joyous enthusiasm and an ebullient spirit. In a knock-out cast it seems unfair to single anyone out for particular praise but central to the success of the show is the casting of Will Pollock as Pseudolus and the quite frankly hysterical Iain G Condie as Hysterium. The pair’s razor-sharp timing and well-honed comedy skills provoke genuine belly-laughs from the audience throughout. Also deserving of praise are the ever-sonorous tones of J Campbell Kerr and Tom Russell, who to complement their already impressive vocal skills add perfectly pitched comedy acting to their repertoire.
This is a joyous production by a spirited company richly deserving acclaim, not only for their polished performance but for their clever artistic choices. Runway Theatre Company radiate warmth and charm and above all deliver unfailing quality every time.
Runs until Saturday 18th May 2013 at Eastwood Park Theatre
Bobby is 35 and in the opinion of his friends and multiple girlfriends it’s high time he settled down. As he watches the couples around him disintegrate, the single guy wonders: Is this worth giving up my life for?
One Academy, the production arm of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, take on Stephen Sondheim’s Tony Award-winning look at relationships in Company, bringing a freshness and life to this classic.
As Bobby analyses his way through the relationships in his life, this highly polished company remind us why Sondheim is hailed as a genius, and the Conservatoire lauded for producing the best new talent. The quality and class of this production just shines through: they deliver a sound of richness and depth that does full justice to the multi-layered music that defines Sondheim. As Bobby, Douglas Walker gets to play one of the most iconic roles in musical theatre and does so with believable emotion, but this isn’t a one man show, this soul-searching piece is brimming with witty and sharply written songs which give the rest of the cast ample opportunity to shine and they do, in particular Kylie McMahon who gets to deliver the show-stopping ‘Getting Married Today’.
Where the production falls down is the set and costumes don’t represent the upper middle class New Yorkers that Sondheim wrote this piece for, but his message is still loud and clear: life is a journey to find what’s right for you, not what others want for you.
There’s so much here to delight, there’s never a dull moment musically, it’s brilliantly written and this cast is absolutely teeming with talent and despite being written in 1970 it’s as fresh and relevant as the day it was written.