The theatrical behemoth that is Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s first performed musical, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat, really needs no introduction. From a humble cantata performed at Colet Court school in 1968, this most family-friendly of musicals has constantly been touring in one form or another for producer/director Bill Kenwright for 36 years.
This time around TV talent show star Joe McElderry, winner of the sixth series of X Factor (as well as emerging triumphant in Pop Star to Opera Star and The Jump) dons the loincloth and the coat of many colours. Following in the leather sandals of the much-loved Jason Donovan, Phillip Schofield and Any Dream Will Do winner Lee Mead (who, with his head of cascading black curls, McElderry bears a more than passing resemblance to), the pint-sized powerhouse delivers vocals that knock all those who’ve come before him into the proverbial cocked hat and turns in an accomplished acting performance to boot.
Indeed, this production is glorious from start to end. The choreography has been refreshed to give it an infectious energy, as have the musical arrangements (which in parts echo what’s was to come with shades of Jesus Christ Superstar popping up here and there), Tim Rice’s cynically witty lyrics, often squashed by poor performers, hit the mark every time in the hands of this excellent cast, and the sheer quality throughout gives this creaky middle-aged show a new spring in its step.
The staging, as always, is relatively simple but the technicolour tableaux are a treat and there’s still a nod to its school show origins in the dodgy balsa wood camels and the silly touches throughout.
It’s easy to be cynical about a production that’s been around as long as this, but the energy and verve of this hugely talented cast and McElderry’s blockbusting vocals and easy charm will make you fall in love with Joseph all over again. An irresistible delight.
Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat runs at Glasgow King’s Theatre until Saturday 14 May then touring the UK.
On one hand a masterclass in social climbing: B Movie actress and nightclub ‘hostess’ rises to become the saintly spiritual leader of the poorest and most disaffected in her country, on the other a portrait of a social climber who achieved riches and power in a finely calculated rise to the top. Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Evita is both a love letter to the saintly Eva Peron and an expose, through Che’s contradictory narrative that highlights Eva’s part in husband Juan Peron’s violent dictatorship, their silencing of enemies and the misappropriation of ‘charity” donations.
Evita is also a show melodically complex and huge in its staging, so it’s a brave undertaking for an amateur company, but Runway Theatre Company prove they are more than a match for Rice and Lloyd Webber’s epic musical.
The stage teems with life and under the disciplined direction of Robert Fyfe the hugely talented cast keep it tight and focussed throughout. Worthy of note is Greg Robertson’s exceptionally clever choreography, which plays to the strengths of a cast that varies in age and ability. At all times it is on-point and highly effective. There are some shining stars in the cast: as Che, Johnny Collins’ performance would put some recent castings in professional productions to shame, his diction is crystal clear and his delivery of Che’s iconic songs, in particular “Oh What a Circus” and “High Flying Adored”, are beautifully judged. Runway regulars J. Campbell Kerr (Peron) and Tom Russell (Magaldi) are in supremely fine voice as ever, as is newcomer Christina Rose Leon as Peron’s mistress. Less successful is Caroline Telfer as Eva, strong in her lower range, she ventures into shrillness in the soaring high notes, she also struggles in duets with Kerr and Collins, appearing to fight against the pair, who are both vocally excellent, instead of harmonising as the melodies require.
Runway do full justice to the dramatic intensity of Rice and Lloyd Webber’s much-loved work. This is a hugely accomplished staging with a stunning ensemble and strong core casting. As ever it leaves you waiting and wondering – what’s next from this exceptionally fine company?
The well-loved Jesus Christ Superstar is very much a show of its time, wearing its hippy-era roots on its sleeve. That said, this is a high quality revival from Bill Kenwright with much to recommend it. Unlike the ill-advised arena tour of a few years ago, this production returns the show very much to its origins as an emotive, though-provoking piece of theatre: much more subtle, yet more powerful than its bombastic predecessor. It features an impressive cast most notable Tim Rogers’ Judas and last-minute stand in Johnathan Tweedie as Pilate, both of whom are impressive.
An extension to the tour has been announced so there’s a chance to catch it when it comes to Glasgow at the King’s Theatre from 5th to 10th October.
The publicity surrounding this newly revitalised Jesus Christ Superstar has been plentiful and vocal. From the naysayers who have decried it before even seeing it, to those railing against the snobbery surrounding it, who welcome the extravaganza with open arms. For what it’s worth here are my thoughts.
The score of this musical is demanding on its performers and success of this piece almost always hinges on the abilities of the singers involved. Search for a Superstar winner Ben Forster may have manged to belt out a few numbers on his TV journey to the role of Jesus but here his limited vocal range is exposed – fine when he’s in range but seriously under-powered when he’s not. His acting skills are also woefully limited, swinging between pained and pouting and not much else. Melanie C is an anaemic Mary Magdalene – again vocally under-powered and is in possession of a rather ear-grating nasal whine. The stand out star turn and power-house performance of the night is given by Tim Minchin who conveys the anger and anguish of Judas beautifully, though his vocals sometimes suffer from the efforts of his acting. Chris Moyles as Herod, only on stage for 3 minutes, milks it for all it’s worth and equips himself with more aplomb than you would imagine. Sheer theatrical class though is displayed by Alexander Hanson as Pilate whose experience on stage shows his younger counterparts how it should be done. Beautiful acting and a fantastic voice.
Director Laurence Connor brings us a rather rawer and grittier setting for this production: referencing the London riots of last summer, Guantanamo Bay, the Occupy movement and reality TV, indeed, the re-staging is one of the highlights of the production. My only complaint would be the sheer vastness of both the stage and the cast, often rendering the detail and any ensemble performances invisible.
However there was a large and very vocal number of audience members at the SECC last night complaining that they had absolutely no view of the stage in their £65 seats.
The action takes place in the centre of a square set with enormous scaffolding (containing the musicians) rising either side to the ceiling. However, this rendered the action completely invisible for anyone who wasn’t dead-straight, centre-front of the stage. The enormous screen at the rear of the stage which may have helped some of the audience follow the action was also completely obliterated by the staging.
This has always been one of my favourite musicals, it is certainly the musical I’ve seen the most and I’ve seen it staged in many forms. The experience, though a thoroughly enjoyable one, left me with a feeling that something was missing, it was neither fish nor fowl – never fully embracing its theatrical origins and never fully submitting itself to the full rock concert experience. It was a new and not entirely successful hybrid. Fundamentally this is a piece of theatre and despite its pounding rock score the subtleties, emotion and often delicate power that sets it apart from the rest has been lost in this vast arena.
Enjoy the rock spectacle, marvel at the size of the cast, revel in seeing Tim Minchin give a glimpse of his genius but take it from me – this is a beautifully written piece and is best seen at its simplest, I hope that those who see this for the first time here, go and see it in a theatre if it ever tours again.
I’m definitely on a mission to see as many of the musicals that I’ve missed over the years as I can. This year there’s a bumper crop of revivals on tour so I’m managing to cross a few off. Today it’s Evita. The story goes… “It is 26th July 1952. A young Argentine student, Che, is among the audience in a Buenos Aires cinema when the film is stopped by an announcement that Eva Peron, “the spiritual leader of the nation, has entered immortality”.
Eva’s funeral is majestic, a combination of the magnificent excesses of the Vatican and of Hollywood. Che is the only non-participant. Throughout the opera the role of Che is that of commentator and observer.
Flashback to 1934. A night club in Junin, Eva’s home town Eva Duarte is just 15. She asks the singer appearing in the club, Agustin Magaldi, with whom she has had a brief affair, to take her to the big city – Buenos Aires. He is reluctant, but she gets her way.
Once in Buenos Aires, Eva quickly disposes of Magaldi and works her way through a string of men, each of whom helps her one rung more up the ladder of fame and fortune. She becomes a successful model, broadcaster and film actress.
1943. Colonel Juan Peron is one of several military leaders close to the presidency of Argentina which in recent years has proved a far from secure job for its tenant. At a charity concert (featuring Eva’s old friend Magaldi) held to raise money for the victims of an Argentine earthquake, Eva and Peron meet. They both realise that each has something the other wants. From now on Eva hitches her ambitions to the political star. She evicts Peron’s mistress from his flat and moves into Peron’s life to such an extent that she excites the extreme wrath of two factions who were to remain her enemy until her death – the Army and the Aristocracy.
As the political situation becomes even more uncertain it is Eva rather than Peron who is more determined that he should try for the highest prize in Argentina – the presidency, supported by the workers whose backing she and Peron have long cultivated. Eva’s ambition is fulfilled, and from the balcony of the Casa Rosada on the day of Peron’s inauguration as president, the vast crowd gives Evita, now Peron’s wife, an even greater reception than that accorded to Peron – thanks to her emotional and brilliant speech and to her striking appearance. Che notes and experiences some of the violence that was never far away from Peron.
Che asks Eva about herself and her success but does not meet with a great response. Eva’s main concern is her forthcoming tour of Europe which begins in a blaze of glory in Spain but meets with later setbacks in Italy and France. She never gets to England at all.
On her return home, Eva resolves to concentrate solely on Argentine affairs, undeterred by continual criticism from the society of Buenos Aires. Che points out that the regime has to date done little or nothing to improve the lot of those Eva claims to represent – the working classes.
Eva launches the Eva Peron Foundation, which is a huge concern of shambolic accountancy and of little practical benefit to the nation’s economy but which helps to elevate her to near goddess status in the eyes of some of those who benefited from the Fund – including children. Che’s disenchantment with Eva is now total. He sneers at those who adore her and for the last time tries to question her about her motivation and the darker side of the Peron administration. Eva’s response is that of the pragmatist, ‘There is evil ever around, fundamental.’ She has realised that she is ill.
Anti-Eva feeling among the military reaches new heights and Che lists several of the major failures and abuses of the Peron administration. He draws attention to her illness. Peron and Eva discuss the worsening situation – he is losing his grip on the government, she is losing her strength. Eva refuses to give in to her illness and resolves to become vice-president. But the opposition to her from the army is too great; more importantly her body lets her down. She knows that she is dying and makes a broadcast to the nation, rejecting the post of vice-president, a position she knows she could never have won.
In her last hours, images, people and events of her life flow through Eva’s mind, while the nation’s grief knows no bounds – to the mass of the people she has become a saint. As her life draws to a close she wonders whether she would have been happier as an obscure ordinary person. Maybe then her life would have been longer…Che looks back on her short life at the same time, but hints at different conclusions.
But even in death she is denied obscurity. The moment she dies the embalmers move in to preserve her fragile body to be ‘displayed forever’ although this never happened. The story of the escapades of the corpse of Eva Peron during the quarter century after her death is almost as bizarre as the story of her life.
This is a sumptuous production which the photos don’t do justice to. I heard from a fellow audience member who had seen last year’s tour that this one was much richer and more detailed looking than that. Just a great show, sung and played beautifully with a story of substance – go and see it if you can.
I’ve never seen this before, it’s probably one of the least seen Tim Rice musicals, written with Bjorn and Benny from Abba. This touring production has been re-staged and re-choreographed by Craig Revell-Horwood (yes him!).
“Two of the world’s greatest chess masters battle it out at the world chess championships but their greatest battle is for the love of one woman. Amidst political intrigue and international conspiracies, the American and the Russian fight to win the heart of Florence Vassy in a romantic triangle that mirrors the heightened passions of the cold war.” – so there!
The more familiar songs in it are probably ‘One Night In Bangkok’ and ‘I Know Him So Well’.
It looks very 80s retro – it is, of course, set during this time and at times the choreography bordered on the cheesy, but it was saved by the strength of the four leads; James Fox, Shona White, Daniel Koek and David Eric, who were all vocally strong, altogether an enjoyable few hours very well performed.