Hairspray April, ’16

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Disclaimer

I’m still not a musical lover. But thanks to Simon Burke I actually learn to love some of them. Be afraid, be very afraid…  ;)

 

We are in Baltimore in the 60ies, where being different is still a bad thing and segregation and racism are still very common. But there’s Tracy Turnblad (the brilliant Lauren McKenna), who is different – she’s plump, she’s fun loving and adorably naive and she thinks that everybody should have the chance to just dance together. Her favourite show is the Corny Collins (Tim Campbell and very over the toppish glam – in a good way!) Show and her favourite part of it is negro day. She wants every day to be negro day.

When one of the main dancers of the show drops out ( for, like, nine months),Tracy auditions, only to be laughed off the stage by Amber von Tussle and her producer mother Velma, an ex Miss Baltimore Crab.

But she doesn’t give up. With moves learned from her new black friend Seaweed in detention, she catches the eye of both Corny and the wanna be Elvis Link and is a new regular on the show. When she tries to include her black friends into the all white dance group, they’re all apprehended and land in jail. But in the big finale all is well again: Tracy wins Miss Hairspray and Link commits to her, her black friends are finally integrated into the show and racist von Tussle is put in her place.

Doesn’t sound like much?

Oh but it is.

Not only did the producers manage to get 900 ( nine HUNDRED) kids from 7 to 22  on stage in absolutely riveting choreography. With clever lighting, minimum props and two raised main stages they were able to hold the audience’s focus fixed on the main characters who are able to show off their acting and singing skills.

There we have Tracy, 22 year old Lauren McKenna in her first leading role and she’s killing it. Basically present on stage for almost all the time and singing, her strong voice is a reliable source of joy. She does an amazing job and hers is a name we will have to remember. Wherever she goes next, follow her. She’s amazing.

Obnoxiously racist Velma von Tussle is unashamedly camp played by Amanda Muggleton, who unfortunately suffers from a cold which of course affects her voice. But she is brilliant when she summons her frightened staff with clapping twice and I do believe her when she claims to have a politician in here pocket and damning Polaroids in her safe. Her daughter Amber is unfortunately played by a weaker actress. At first I thought that was a directorial decision, but she actually does lack charisma and stays as bland as she is blond.

Link is the perfect budding Elvis-copy and the weakling Amber first fell in love with. He is good looking enough to carry his playboy/idol role off and good enough to succumb to Tracy’s charme.

Barry Conrad,  a finalist in the Australian x factor, shows off his moves as well as his strong voice as Seaweed and is especially sweet when playing with his love interest Penny (Emily Monsma) whose talent for comedy shines. She’s incredibly cute and lovable.

Tim Campbell does a perfect stereotype of a show host, constantly smiling and focused on himself until he starts to fight for his integration ideas and luckily his poster boy good looks, his voice and his talent provide him with the tools to pull that off without a problem.

Christine Anu (the producer of negro day, Motormouth Maybelle) – awesome. Her voice: damn great. She IS soul music. Damn, she’s good.

Now on to the one drag  part of the musical. (The one played by the absolututely dreadful John Travolta in the movie, whose lack of acting and singing made a mockery of the part)

Here it’s Simon Burke who dons a dress and does his or rather Edna Turnblad’s roots to look good for the cameras, before she, devoted wife and loving mother, goes out to join her daughter in the fight for equality. Having the best lines and being the comic relief could be enough but Simon does so much more with his part. He conveys the slightly frustrated working mum with no time to care for her appearance just as believable as the glam, self assured woman with a cause and a lot of sequins.

But it’s his voice that makes his portrayal so special (and I’m not talking about his choice to not use  falsetto to mock-play a female! I always find that slightly offensive, actually). No, it’s his singing that keeps blowing me away. He simply soars. His ad-libs and ensuing giggles are infectious and despite his (private) claims that he can’t dance he’s really very good at it.

I just wish he’d have a better “husband”. Wayne Kermond, a delightfully pleasant and nice man, comes from Vaudeville royalty and it shows. He strongly reminds me of those old Hollywood vaudeville comedies. Not a bad thing if it fits. Unfortunately it doesn’t in the time set for hairspray. His style is not 60ies, it’s 20ies and 30ies. It also doesn’t help that he’s huffing and puffing through the one song he has. At one point in the show he twirls a cigar like the Marx brothers, for heaven’s sake. too bad his audience isn’t old (or nerdy like me) enough to realise that. I have to say, though, that by the end of the run he had calmed down considerably. A relief, really.

Bastard Territory April 5th, ’16

theatre misc

 

A play about searching for ones identity – with very different outcomes. A father running from the truth, a mother desperately looking for love and a misplaced gay son who can’t find the answer he’s looking for, because no one knows the answer (who his biological father is). On their way they influence and destroy the lives of the people they touch , sometimes more,sometimes less. In the end there’s death and alcoholism and a son who sets out to find his mother, as he hadn’t been able to find his biological father.
The play is very good, the actors are strong. But 3 hours with 2 intermissions is too long. The play could use some clever cuts and would profit from it. But other than that it was a really great evening / night at a very cute and charming theatre.

Anything goes Feb.19th, ’16

theatre misc

 

Anything goes… or rather : anything didn’t go – let me explain. Billy was totally miscast, too young for the part, and not enough volume to soar over the orchestra. His love interest was at least 10 years his senior. The theatre was not much more than a rehearsal stage and I still am miffed the ticket cost almost 200 dollar. I’m all for supporting the arts, but I don’t want to have to fear being kicked in the head by a kick line, just because I was brave enough to buy floor seats. I didn’t realise that the row was actually ON the stage as the stage was level with the audience.

The story isn’t new. Billy Crocker is an up and coming broker who fucks up a huge sale for his boss,because he saw debutant Hope, with whom he spent one night, board the ship his boss is on. He has to disguise himself, something that doesn’t go unnoticed by Reno, actress and singer and in love with Billy. Soon they find out: Hope is on the ship to marry the earl. A gangster and his floozy are on board, disguised as a priest and his chaste companion. And Billy’s boss is half blind without his glasses, which moonface Martin therefore Nick’s. After a looong of disguises,switched identities, lots of fabulous Cole Porter music and a bit of soulsearching lovers come together. The earl discovers his wild side and marries Reno, Billy and Hope tie the not and his boss is a trillionaire because billy didn’t sell his stock and marries Hope’s mother. Moonface’s floozy gets a sailor or two, and moonface himself escapes from the police. Happy ends everywhere.

Everywhere?

There was a maybe 5 yr old child next to me who right at the beginning seemed to poop himself. It stank accordingly.  Back from the crapper the boy resumed to climb his mother. Lovely. Oh well.

Really good : moonface Martin , the Earl and the redhead Reno (real names escape me, I’ll supply them as soon as I’m home). So not a total loss but also not a win.

Red Velvet Jan.25th, ’16

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I had seen the play in 2012, when it played at the Tricycle Theatre very off West End and I loved it then. The story of now almost forgotten Ira Aldridge, the first Othello of colour in London, who was run out of town after only two shows, and made it in the rest of the world was gripping and heartwrenching and Adrian Lester, calmly putting white make-up on to play Lear, was an image that rocked me to the core.

It’s even better now. The casual discrimination displayed in every word the fellow – white – actors utter, the thoughtless xenophobia and therefore hostility against Ira Aldridge comes through as even more pronounced in the light of a global refugee crisis. Add to that the artistic “war” between Kean’s baroque and stencilled way of staging Othello, and Aldridge’s much more modern, method interpretation of the Moor and you can see the characters clash. It is due to Lolita Chakrabarti’s writing that is timeless and yet so current, (and Indhu Rubasingham’s directing) that this play elicits gasps from the audience and tears at the end. And it is thanks to the brilliant cast that the play has you entranced.

Ira, now an old man, is playing in a Polish town – best paid actor of all times-, when a very young reporter comes in and tries to interview him. And she asks the one question that you do not ask: Why aren’t you working in London.

It is in flashbacks that Ira remembers the humiliation, the hatred and desperation that had cut his stay short. All that just because his skin was not white. It is a subtle kind of revenge that he has to white-face in the end, to play King Lear …

Adrian Lester is a force of nature, full of passion, fury, desperation and brilliance in this part. His monologues are a joy to watch and listen to. When he recollects his first theatrical experiences in America, his friendship with Pierre Laporte (Emun Elliott) he paints the joy and happiness with his words. When he begs Laporte to let him stay he breaks every heart in the audience. He certainly broke mine.

For me Lester is currently the best and most versatile Shakespeare actor Europe has. To watch him on stage is a privilege.

Peter Pan goes wrong Jan.24th, ’16

london west end

 

Peter Pan. You all know the story. Wendy and her two brothers are “stolen” by Peter, who brings them to Neverland, where they meet the little fairy Tinkerbell, the Indian princess, the crocodile and the pirates, with Captain Hook who tries to capture Peter to exact revenge for his lost hand.

Peter Pan goes wrong. Oh it goes wrong. So much. I cried laughing. Gabe was ordered to pass on a huge electric cable over her head. They were searching for a hammer this time. Then almost threw it over the audience because they needed to secure some of the seats in the theatre. The dog was found, btw (see The Play that goes wrong). They tried to capture the stagefrightened Tootles / Lucy Grove (Ellie Morris) but she escaped numerous times through the audience. Brad Pitt isn’t in the play as well. But Peter Pan / Jonathan Harris (Greg Tannahill) has many and fantastic philantropic causes and adopted two kids, no wait, that’s Pitt again. (yes, those are quotes from the program). Oh and we all mourn the loss of Nadia, the ten foot Nile crocodile that had to be euthanised shortly after arriving in London as it broke loose and wreaked havoc (another quote)

There is not one flying sequence that works. Peter is trying to … mount every woman on his stage and succeeds mostly. The brilliant narrator (Tom Edden) is constantly fighting with his moving chair – and losing. Tinkerbell / Annie Twilloil (Nancy Wallinger) is wearing a tutu with lights – and gets electrocuted (that cable Gabe had to pass on wasn’t as safe as they had hoped). Captain Hook / Chris Bean (Henry Shields) is brilliant with his hook for a hand and slowly losing his cool and his mind when he’s trying to open a bottle of poison to FINALLY kill off Peter. While he struggles with the cork, the audience is “encouraging” him till he mutters: “you’re not helping here. people have to catch trains, you know!” The cork goes back in again and my seat neighbour (3rd row) yells: “Hey, get it on, I have to catch a train!”  I think I died from laughing so much. The look on poor Hook’s face – priceless!!!! Also – Captain Hook insisted that “this is not a pantomime!” – audience: “oh yes, it is!”, Hook “Oh, no it’s not!” …. that went on for quite a while and a couple of times. There was even an incident we all could scream “He’s behind you!!!”

The play’s last scene is making good use of their revolving stage – only the damn thing revolves so fast you barely can see the actors, trying valiantly to stay on the ship, in the bed, on the tree, on the ship, the bed, the tree, ship bed tree, shipbedtree…

they’re having another play out soon. The Comedy about a Bankrobbery, which is a comedy about a bankrobbery. I’ll book as soon as they start selling.

 

 

Hangmen Jan.23rd, 2016

london west end

 

On first glance this is “just” a very hilarious comedy. The story of rivalling hangmen, now made obsolete through the abolishment of the death penalty, still bickering about who was better, had more or at least more gruesome perpetrators under the noose is fun to watch from the safety of a theatre seat. But there’s also a second story told: a story about how easily any given run of the mill person can turn into a vicious part of a lynch mob, given the right push.

Hangman Harry Wade’s last job was the hanging of  rapist/murderer Hennessy who vehemently denies that he’d committed what he’s being hanged for. He’s putting up a fight, too and finally insults Wade by crying “They could’ve at least sent Pierrepoint. Hung by a rubbish hangman, oh that’s so me.” That doesn’t go over too well, so Wade retorts: “If you’d have tried to relax, you could’ve been dead by now.”

In his pub (for every hangman gets himself a pub after his job’s done) Wade has a round of admirers, even a shady police inspector, to keep him company and drink his beer. His wife Alice and his moping teenage daughter Shirley are also behind the bar and life is good, as long as Wade’s allowed to spin the yarn. Then a sneering, wisecracking young Londoner comes in and everything changes. Because Mooney tells of a rape/murder in one of the coastal towns not too far away – just like the ones Hennessy had been hanged for. So while Mooney flirts with blushing young Shirley, doubt starts to nag on Wade’s mind. What if his idiot then assistant Syd was right all along and there is a killer still on the loose…

But it was Syd who paid and sent Mooney to stir up the self righteous life of Harry Wade as a late revenge for all the crap he had to endure while working for the hangman. And Mooney got almost too good at his charade…

Hours later Shirley is missing.

And when Mooney turns up at the pub, an enraged, fearful father Wade captures and tortures him with the help of his three drunk clients. When Pierrepoint shows up to confront Wade with some not so polite words he’d gleefully uttered in a newspaper interview they have to hide Mooney – but Pierrepoint stumbles over a chair behind the curtain – and Mooney hangs himself. When Pierrepoint leaves it is already too late for Mooney. He died, not telling where he’d hidden Shirley.

Shirley, who swirls into the pub, enraged, because Mooney had left her stranded in the rain. She mopes upstairs to her room, while the men just stare. And then get rid of the body.

It’s a dark, dark comedy, one that makes you feel uncomfortable and insecure about your own judgement and leaves you with lots to think about. David Morrissey is fantastic as the self centered, egomaniacal hangman who seems to have no morals at all. Mooney (Johnny Flynn) gives you the creeps and makes it totally believable that he indeed kidnapped and hid Shirley (Bronwyn James and absolutely brilliant!!!). And the three drunks have been compared to the stooges and rightfully so. They are the perfect “side show”.

The brilliant writing is by Martin McDonagh. The house is sold out, btw.