On The Town

This summer at the Open Air Theatre, Leonard Bernstein’s classic On the Town is getting an airing. I haven’t seen the film and I didn’t really know much about this musical, so this pleased me. Originally written in 1944, it was written by Betty Comden and Adolph Green and follows a day in the life of three sailors with twenty-four hours in New York to see the sights, hit the town, and maybe fall in love.

Drama befell the production not long after it started previews. Lead Fred Haig, playing Chip, broke his ankle and was replaced by Jacob Maynard. In fact, the night I saw the production was Maynard’s first performance in the role after a day and a half of rehearsals.

None of this stopped the production being a strong, slick hymn to old-fashioned musicals, with superb choreography from Drew McOnie, who also directs. One moment I particularly liked was a moving scene between two sailors during the ‘Lonely Town’ ballet. Peter McKintosh’s set, made up of crates and boxes to reflect the shipyard, is clever, with parts that roll out and an impressive dinosaur skeleton, and his costumes are glorious, the coloured dresses of the female cast members standing out against the white of the sailors’ outfits. Howard Hudson’s lighting is simply gorgeous, particularly towards the end, as the sun sets in Regent’s Park and the musical moves towards its bittersweet conclusion.

All the principals do justice to the piece, with Danny Mac an appealing Gabey, Samuel Edwards excellent as Ozzie and Jacob Maynard a superb Chip: it certainly wasn’t obvious that this was his first performance. The leading men are matched by their female partners: Siena Kelly, Lizzy Connolly and Miriam-Teak Lee. It’s nice to see some diversity on the London stage, especially in an older musical such as this one. The ensemble as a whole do a great job, and the score is stunning, with memorable tunes including ‘New York’ and an assortment of comedic numbers as well as more serious tunes.

I loved this musical. I’m sometimes reluctant to visit the Open Air Theatre, mainly owing to the unpredictable nature of the British weather, but I was lucky enough to catch this show on a beautiful night. If you can manage to do the same, I thoroughly recommend it.

The Addams Family – The Musical

I never actually watched The Addams Family as a child; I’ve never seen any of the films. But I love a good musical, so headed down to the New Wimbledon Theatre, where the touring production of Andrew Lippa’s The Addams Family – The Musical was being performed.

The plot, such as it is, involves daughter Wednesday falling in love with a ‘normal’ boy and the impending dinner in which her family and his will meet for the first time. Gomez, entrusted by his daughter with a secret, worries about the effect this will have on Morticia, while their son Pugsley fears that his sister’s new relationship will take her away from him. In the meantime, Uncle Fester has loosed all the family ancestors throughout the mansion in the hope that they will somehow help (although they seem only to provide an excuse for an onstage chorus).

Despite the thin plot, I found the musical hugely appealing, largely because of the memorable music. ‘Death Is Just Around the Corner’, sung by Morticia (an excellent Samantha Womack), was a particular favourite, and Carrie Hope Fletcher showed off her amazing voice in Wednesday’s anthems ‘Pulled’ and ‘Crazier Than You’. The cast was also very strong, including a superb Cameron Blakely as Gomez and Les Dennis as Uncle Fester. Valda Aviks as Grandma was also very good.

Diego Pitarch’s set was effective, particularly the dramatic mansion gates, and there were some fun effects in the form of a ‘moving picture’.

I found the musical very funny; I would have liked it to be a bit darker, maybe, but this seems churlish considering I did really enjoy it. I took a friend with me who is an Addams Family fan but who doesn’t particularly like musicals, and she really enjoyed it, which I count as a win. I definitely recommend catching this fun show on tour.

Bat Boy: The Musical

Bat Boy: The Musical is a relatively modern musical, with a book by Keythe Farley and Brian Flemming and music and lyrics by Laurence O’Keefe. It premiered in 1997 and was based on a 1992 Weekly World News story about a half-boy, half-bat found living in a cave. I somehow managed to miss it when it was at the Southwark Playhouse, so was pleased to see that it was getting a student performance. I saw it performed by the London College of Music at the University of West London.

It’s the story of a young boy living wild in a cave, discovered by a bunch of young cave explorers and ending up in the care of Meredith and Shelley Parker, wife and daughter of the local vet. Against all the odds and great prejudice, the pair manage to care for him and ‘humanise’ him by teaching him to read and live like one of them. However, the supposedly respectable Dr. Parker has a secret, and it’s only a matter of time before it is discovered, threatening everything Meredith, Shelley and the ‘Bat Boy’ (now given the name of Edgar) have worked for.

Bat Boy has some good tunes but not great lyrics, and it’s not as clever as it wants to be, but it still has something interesting to say about small town life, the concept of Christian charity and how public opinion can easily be swayed. The young cast do a good job with the material, and altogether the show is thoroughly entertaining, with an unexpected twist.

The Drowsy Chaperone

The Drowsy Chaperone is one of those musicals I’d heard a lot about, but never actually seen until I bought a ticket to this production by Sedos at the Bridewell Theatre. It’s a relatively modern musical – it was first performed in 1998 – but it harks back to the 1920s golden age of Broadway, rather like 42nd Street does, but in a very different way. The show has a book by Bob Martin and Don McKellar and music and lyrics by Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison.

An unnamed narrator (the ‘Man in the Chair’, brilliantly played here by Alex Baker) is alone in his flat suffering from an unspecified sadness. He decides to play his favourite record, a recording of the 1920s musical The Drowsy Chaperone, to cheer himself up. As he does so, the characters come to life all around him and perform the show in front of us.

Sedos is an amateur group, but their performances are usually of a very high standard, and this production was no exception. I was hugely impressed by all of the cast, especially Corin Miller and Angus Jacobs as the soon-to-be married couple. The sets, while simple, worked very well. The music was good and served as a warm pastiche of the musical styles of the 1920s, but the best bits were actually the narrator’s asides, as he commented on his favourite scenes and remarks on the histories of the performers.

Ultimately, The Drowsy Chaperone is a love letter to theatre, a show about the power of musicals which will resonate with anyone who loves them. I’m so glad I got the chance to see this show.

Nunsense: The Mega-Musical Version

The original Nunsense (1985) is a musical comedy with a book, music, and lyrics by Dan Goggin. A new version named Nunsense: The MegaMusical Version is a remake of the original featuring additional songs, lines, and characters, performed by CADOS based at Mornington Hall in Chingford.

The musical is staged by a group of sisters from the Little Sisters of Hoboken nunnery. The rest of the nuns have died of botulism after being served soup prepared by a less-than-competent cook, and four of them still need to be buried – so the Mother Superior and the surviving nuns have set up a talent show to raise the money.

The show was pretty much as bizarre as it sounds. One of the songs involved the nuns explaining how they were formed: they worked in a leper colony near France but had to leave after some of the nuns developed leprosy. There are dance routines, Broadway-style musical numbers, puppetry and even an audience quiz. The nuns include Sister Mary Amnesia, who lost her memory when a crucifix fell on her head; Sister Mary Leo, who hopes to become the world’s first ballerina nun; Mother Superior Mary Regina, a former circus performer; and her second-in-command, Sister Mary Hubert. The performers were strong, although the sound meant that it was sometimes difficult to hear some of the lyrics. I liked the catchy songs and enjoyed the various Broadway parodies.

Full of more nun-based jokes than you can shake a stick at, Nunsense is highly amusing and well worth seeing if you can.

Miss Nightingale

Miss Nightingale, which started out as a three-person chamber musical at The Lowry Studio and the King’s Head Theatre, has expanded and enjoyed five different UK tours over the last few years; it has now settled in to The Vaults Theatre beneath Waterloo Station for a run of several weeks. I actually saw it back in 2013 at the Leicester Square Theatre, and loved the show. I’m happy to report that it’s lost nothing in the intervening years: if anything, it’s grown in coherence and confidence.

Set during World War II, the show, written and composed by Matthew Bugg, follows Maggie Brown, a.k.a. Miss Nightingale, a talented songstress who works as a nurse by day and is a cabaret star by night. Maggie is played by Tamar Broadbent, a comedian who exudes down-to-earth warmth, charm, and Northern tenacity, and is an incredibly talented singer. She performs Miss Nightingale’s cabaret-style musical numbers with captivating flair: songs such as ‘Let Me Play Upon Your Pipe’, ‘The Sausage Song’ and ‘Stand Up and Be Counted’ are melodic and rather saucy.

Adding weight to the show is the exploration of the relationship between Maggie’s friend and songwriter George (Conor O’Kane) and her patron, nightclub owner Sir Frank Worthington-Blythe (Nicholas Coutu-Langmead). Their relationship is dealt with sensitively. Homosexuality and issues of class are not the only difficult issues that the musical tackles – George is a Polish Jew, with family in danger from the Nazis, and Maggie has her own problems to deal with in the forms of roguish boyfriend Tom (Niall Kerrigan). Outside of the music hall, the songs sung by the characters, such as ‘This Man of Mine’ and Someone Else’s Song’, are heartfelt and moving, another highlight being ‘Meine Liebe Berlin’, sung by George and reminiscent of the musical Cabaret. The cast (who also include Tobias Oliver and the clearly multi-talented writer and director, Matthew Bugg) play all their own instruments, and their performances are full of energy.

The creative team have taken great pains to ensure the World War II theme is evoked down to the slightest detail: even the programmes are in the form of ration books. The underground nature of the Vaults, with trains rumbling overhead, perfectly suits this cabaret-style show.

Miss Nightingale runs at The Vaults Theatre until 20 May, and in my opinion it’s a superb show, well worth seeing. Many thanks to TheatreBloggers for giving me the opportunity.

Miss Nightingale poster

Wise words from Miss Nightingale: The Musical

42nd Street

As I’d already seen the touring version of 42nd Street a year or so ago, I wasn’t originally going to bother with the West End version at Drury Lane. But I heard so many positive things about it that in the end I gave in and got a ticket (only £15 for the second row – bargain).

Well, all I can say is that I’m so glad I did. 42nd Street, an old-fashioned hymn to Broadway, might not have the most intriguing plot, but the sheer spectacle of Mark Bramble’s production puts pretty much everything else I’ve seen on the West End to shame. The curtain rises on a multitude of tap-dancing feet in perfect syncronicity, and this is just the beginning. The routines associated with Al Dubin and Harry Warren’s classics like ‘In The Money’ and ‘Keep Young and Beautiful’ are breathtaking, and the title track’s routine is also pretty impressive.

Bramble co-wrote the original 1980 Broadway show, based on the 1933 MGM film. It is set on Broadway in the 1930s, when legendary director Julian Marsh is putting on a new show, Pretty Lady. Showbiz hopeful Peggy Sawyer joins the cast, and soon an accident puts the leading lady Dorothy Brock out of action. Peggy is newly cast as the star: will she be up to the job?

Tom Lister is excellent as leading man Julian Marsh, and Sheena Easton does a good job as diva Dorothy. Clare Halse is simply stunning as Peggy, with a lovely voice and perfect mastery of her dance steps. In fairness, though, credit must go to the whole ensemble, who work in perfect harmony and make 42nd Street the stunning spectacle that it is.

This is old-fashioned musical theatre at its best, a big song and dance show with a true wow factor. Any fan of musicals should not miss this.