Richard Seff recently flew over to London to see some shows and here’s what he thought:
Guys and Dolls is or should be at the top of your list of favorite musicals. Its colorful score, its book full of local color and funny twists and turns, its rich heritage from its source in stories by Damon Runyon, all conspired to turn out a smash hit that opened in 1950 and launched or enhanced a dozen careers, onstage and behind the scenes. So it was with trepidation that I went down the 75 steps to the stalls at the Savoy Theatre to see its latest incarnation, an import from the Chichester Festival Theater.
Directed by Gordon Greenberg, choreographed by Carlos Acosta and Andrew Wright, all of whom have been doing good work in the USA and England, showing promise and winning awards all over the place, but that work was still new to me. The four leading actors are well seasoned featured players with varied backgrounds in all the media, but clearly the title was the star, the main attraction, as none are household names.
All that was before the show arrived in London. I attended a late preview on December 17th, shared the evening with a packed house of young, old and in betweens who were rewarded with a smashing production by Tristan Baker and Charlie Parsons, who head Runaway Entertainment.
The ‘four leading players’ could not be better. First billed Sophie Thompson has transformed herself from the soft spoken, self effacing Miss Bates of the film Emma, from the wacky bride in Four Weddings and a Funeral into the adorable “Miss Adelaide” whose major occupation is waiting for her fourteen year engagement to Nathan Detroit to end in marriage. Miss Thompson is original, radiant, hilarious, and she takes Frank Loesser’s marvelous lyrics into new territory. She manages to be amusing, empathetic, engaging and very touching as she puts her own stamp on Miss Adelaide, who remains one of musical theatre’s iconic characters..
As her reluctant groom, David Haig is a totally believable con man with a fatal flaw. He is in love with Miss Adelaide and watching him control his chronic aversion to marriage is an unalloyed joy.
Jamie Parker has played major roles all over the British countryside, but with Sky Masterson, he has finally found one that fully realizes his ability to sing as well as act. The delight in watching him perform the gambling man is enhanced by his constant use of thought before belting out a lyric. This ability is apparent all evening long, but is particularly evident in the lilting “My Time of Day” and “I’ve Never Been In Love Before.” With these central numbers, key to understanding Sky, he puts his name on the role and can now claim it as his.
For the rest, from Siubhan Harrison as Sky’s inamorata Sarah Brown, to Gavin Spokes who answers most questions with “Nicely, nicely”, this revival is in the best of hands. A winner from start to finish, it should bring renewed interest to this magnificent relic from 1950, the golden age of the musical on Broadway. Relic, hell. Its current version at the Savoy is a freshly opened bottle of the finest wine.
Ticket information is here.
Kinky Boots at the Adelphi Theatre
I reviewed Kinky Boots on Broadway when it opened over a year ago, so I’ll be brief in telling you that the London production, which landed September 15th, once again directed and choreographed by Jerry Mitchell, is in every way equal to the New York version.
For me it was exciting to discover in Killian Donnelly and Matt Henry two performers with all the talent, energy, agility and star quality to match the two great performances by Stark Sands and Billy Porter on Broadway.
The consortium of producers headed by Daryl Roth has found in Amy Lennox an original personality very different from Annaleigh Ashford who landed in the role of “Lauren” in New York.
Ms. Lennox belts out her one number “The History of Wrong Guys” with pizzazz, making thrilling use of the factory set and its very helpful conveyor belts. Each of the supporting players in on target, and this very British cast brings even more authenticity to the Northampton setting of the shoe factory that keeps up with the times by punching out those kinky boots.
Cindy Lauper’s vibrant pop score remains stage worthy and great fun, and Harvey Fierstein’s well structured book keeps us interested in the spine of the story which remembers to stop now and then for a quiet and moving moment, though its over all mind is to keep things bouncily moving along. I had a fine time at this Britishizing of an American musical about a very British bunch of people. Well done!
Ticket information is here.
Terence Rattigan’s Twice Night at the Garrick: All on Her Own and Harlequinade
Here we have a double bill of vintage Rattigan, one short very dark play called All On Her Own and a longer one called Harlequinade, a very light one designed only to amuse. Presented by the Kenneth Branagh Theatre Company the evening stars Branagh in the farce and Zoë Wanamaker in the darker curtain raiser.
The double bill alternates with A Winter’s Tale in which Branagh faces off against Judi Dench. The Rattigan double bill, which I saw on December 15th, was rewarding for it offered me a rare opportunity to watch Ms. Wanamaker, who rarely appears on our side of the pond. An accomplished actress, she has All On Her Own pretty much all to herself, briefly supported by Rosemary Hodge.
The lead is a woman who is grieving for the loss of her husband and most particularly on this night, returning from a party, searching for the reason for his untimely and possibly suicidal death. As she unwinds with whiskey, she pokes and probes into her marriage and the rest of her history, and we leave her exhausted and thoroughly depressed.
The quality of Rattigan’s prose and the range of Ms. Wanamaker’s talent make this half hour monologue, written originally for television in 1968, intriguing. Though it’s perhaps more suited to the small screen than it is to the stage, it works well in contrast to the longer farce which follows it after a brief break.
In the farce, Harlequinade, Branagh is playing a middle aged “Romeo” and family secrets and surprises keep interfering with rehearsals for this touring production of Shakespeare’s tale of supposedly young lovers. He proves himself a fine farceur and earns buckets of laughter as he zips along opposite his offstage wife, played amiably by Miranda Selby.
Branagh has important news from the play’s complicated plot, and all I can tell you is he rounds each bend with consummate skill and obvious enjoyment. Originally presented in 1948 as a double bill with the popular The Winslow Boy it serves very well as the sturdier of the plays in this current double header. The direction is shared by Rob Ashford and Branagh and though this sort of arrangement can often cause friction, it’s worked well here to create a solid evening’s entertainment.
Ticket information is here.
Mr. Foote’s Other Leg by Ian Kelly at the Haymarket
The British Theatre artists handle the Edwardian, Victorian, Georgian ages better than anyone, and when they get themselves a tale to tell that rightfully belongs in one of them, we are all in for a treat. Such is the case with this high comedy/farce conjured up by Ian Kelly, who started with his novel, and went on to adapt it into a comedy for the stage. Along the way, he made some judicious decisions. He collared the brilliant Simon Russell Beale to play the title character, he placed the play in the hands of Richard Eyre for staging and for design he landed Tim Hatley to give it the lusty look of the late l8th century in English Show Business. In addition, he allowed himself to be cast in the play in a pivotal featured role, and his performance worked out well.
When asked what were the essential things he hoped audiences would take away from his play, he answered: “It’s a love letter to the theatre really, as well as to the 18th century. Mr. Foote is a play about lost reputations and theatre ghosts. The Georgians understood, perhaps better than we do, that we commune together, alive and in the moment.” Perhaps that’s why, in the thank you speeches we hear at so many Theatre Awards ceremonies, reference to the Community that helps sustain and encourage them in pursuit of trying to entertain a weary world.
To help inform, enlighten and tickle us, the unique Simon Russell Beale is playing Mr. Foote with great relish. Diminished by one leg (The Duke of York’s horse threw him) he nevertheless commands center stage whenever he is around, and when he is not, he is aided by a large troupe of ready, willing and able actors to keep us happily involved. Because Mr. Foote in real life knew that “the jest may survive, but the jester is usually forgotten”, Foote’s reputation and genius have long been forgotten. Mr. Kelly’s play returns him to the spotlight he once enjoyed and I think you’d have a fine time visiting with him. I know I did.
Ticket information is here.