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.

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La Cage aux Folles

La Cage aux Folles is the story of Georges and Albin and the titular nightclub in which they work. With a book by Harvey Fierstein and lyrics and music by Jerry Herman, the show was first performed in 1983, based on the 1973 play of the same name by Jean Poiret. Amidst the glitz and glamour of St Tropez, Albin entertain the crowds by night as his alter-ego, Zsa Zsa. The pair have been together for years, and have even raised a son, Jean-Michel, conceived by Georges during a misguided youthful fling.

Now Jean-Michel wants to get married, but his fiancée Anne’s parents are ultra-conservative. Georges is faced with the realisation that winning their approval and making his son happy means denying the love of his life.

The show is often dramatic and flamboyant, with incredible choreography and star turns from the club’s ‘Cagelles’. It is also very funny, particularly in the character of the ‘maid’ Jacob and the scene in which Albin tries to impersonate Jean-Michel’s mother. However, the underlying tone is serious and heartfelt, with a message of accepting who you are – as sung by Albin in ‘I Am What I Am’, powerfully, towards the close of the first act.

Adrian Zmed is very strong as Georges, while John Partridge has just the right amount of sass and vulnerability as Albin. Samson Ajewole is a highlight as Jacob, while long-time musical performer Marti Webb is memorable as Georges and Albin’s friend Jacqueline.

I didn’t really know anything about this show before I went to see it, but I ended up really enjoying myself. La Cage aux Folles is glitzy and fun, but it also has a powerful message, and it’s well worth seeing.

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat

I missed out on this new production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat when it first toured last year, so I was pleased to see that it was coming back to the New Wimbledon Theatre, and booked a ticket. Joseph holds powerful memories for me: it was the first musical I ever saw, with my grandparents who have since died, so it has strong associations for me.

The plot is based on a story from the Bible, although I should stress you really don’t have to be religious to enjoy this show. Joseph is the youngest of several brothers, and his father’s favourite; jealous, his brothers sell him into slavery in Egypt, but Joseph’s dream predictions endear him to the Pharaoh and ensure he gains a powerful position in Egyptian society.

The songs are catchy and memorable; something I didn’t appreciate when I was younger was just how many musical styles Andrew Lloyd Webber imitates and parodies during the show, including country, jazz and gospel, as well as the good old musical theatre ballad. The Pharaoh is even portrayed like Elvis.

X Factor winner Joe McElderry takes on the role of Joseph, and he really impressed me. His voice is excellent, most notably in the heartfelt ballad Close Every Door, and he exudes a hugely likeable charisma and charm. This is important as, let’s face it, Joseph is a bit of an arse. Arrogant and full of his own importance, its not really surprising that his brothers take a dislike to him, but McElderry makes you root for him anyway. When he sings, “I look handsome, I look smart, I am a walking work of art,” its more like the naive delight of a child rather than the excessive narcissism of an arrogant young man.

Lucy Kay takes on the demanding role of the narrator, and pulls it off really well, while the supporting cast bring to life the brothers as well as the various people Joseph meets on his journey. The touring set is serviceable but a bit basic, although I wasn’t too sure about the inflatable sheep, some of which failed to inflate properly and remained lying feebly on one side until a cast member scuttled by to right them.

Joseph might not have the emotional pull of Phantom, Evita and Jesus Christ Superstar, but it’s a hugely enjoyable show for all ages. It was my introduction to musical theatre, and I hope it will serve the same function for future generations of kids.

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is yet another classic film I haven’t seen, but this didn’t stop me going to the Wimbledon run of the theatrical production. The story of a magical car with a strong personality proves to be hugely entertaining on stage.

When inventor Caractacus Potts’ wife dies, he is left alone to bring up his two children Jeremy and Jemima with help from his father. When his children beg him to buy an old rusty car destined for the scrapheap, he does so and the resulting swimming, flying automobile proves a worthy companion as the family becomes caught up in the schemes of the villainous Baron and Baroness Bomburst of Vulgaria.

Lee Mead is superb as Caractacus, with a great rapport with the kids and an appealing personality. Carrie Hope Fletcher is also excellent as his love interest Truly, while Shaun Williamson and Michelle Collins are surprisingly funny as the wicked antagonists. Stephen Mear’s choreography is lively and entertaining, and Simon Higlett’s set is impressive for a touring production, conveying the various locations of the piece with aplomb.

The story is rather daft but this hardly poses a problem. Indeed, the villainous Child-Catcher is one of the most memorable characters in kids’ entertainment and I have to admit I found him rather creepy myself. The presence of a couple of spies is a reminder that the original Chitty book was penned by James Bond author Ian Fleming, and there’s some casual xenophobia thrown in for good measure, though it’s all so cartoonish it’s impossible to take offence. The special effects are genuinely impressive, and the conclusion is exciting.

With a strong story, memorable songs by the Sherman Brothers, and appealing characters, the show has enough for both children and adults to enjoy, and it’s well worth catching on its UK tour.

Footloose

Footloose is yet another of those famous Eighties films that I’ve never actually seen, but even so I decided to check out the touring stage production when it visited the New Wimbledon Theatre recently. The 1998 musical is based on the 1984 film of the same name, and has music is by Tom Snow, lyrics by Dean Pitchford and a book by Pitchford and Walter Bobbie. This actor-musician production is directed by Racky Plews.

The show is about a particularly religious, small town in America in which dancing is banned owing to a tragic accident some years before. Newcomer Ren is horrified to discover this, and also ends up falling in love with the vicar’s daughter Ariel. Can he convince the minister that dancing should be permitted?

Though the religious themes of the show are somewhat alien to British culture, they do make the piece a bit more meaningful. I didn’t think there was enough tension in the show: there was no sense of urgency and little sense of something huge being at stake. Having said that, it was interesting enough and proved a good excuse to enjoy several memorable tracks, including the title song.

I was very impressed with Hannah Price as Ariel, and Luke Baker was very good as Ren. While I wasn’t a fan of the character of Willard, who seemed far too over the top, I didn’t think 911’s Lee Brennan did a bad job at all in playing the role.

I would have liked to see far fewer solos from the adults in the cast, as their songs unfortunately tended to be quite dull. I much preferred the energetic and catchy numbers sung by the younger generation. Having said that, overall I did enjoy Footloose more than I thought I would, and I will probably go and check out the film.

Annie

Annie was the first musical I ever saw: my cousin played Daddy Warbucks in his school’s production when I was quite young, so the whole family went along to see it (and enjoyed it, too), but this was the first chance I had to see a professional production. The show, which has been made into three films over the years, originally opened on Broadway in 1977 to huge public acclaim, running for six years.

With a book by Thomas Meehan, music by Charles Strouse and lyrics by Martin Charnin, the show is the tale of little orphan Annie, a spirited redhead living in an orphanage run by the dastardly Miss Hannigan. When she is taken in by a New York billionaire, her life changes for good.

The premise may be reminiscent of Oliver! (albeit set in Depression-era New York) but this production’s set reminded me strongly of Matilda, the most recent success in the line of musicals for children. Jigsaw pieces are scattered around the stage, which work effectively, but the result is a little bare. However, I liked the maps which decorated the stage.

Nikolai Foster’s production has several fantastic child actors, including the star of the show, Annie herself, played by Isabella Pappas, recently seen in The Nether and proving that even at her young age she is a hugely talented singer as well as an actress. Pappas has a gorgeous voice and her Annie is likeable, plucky and spirited: no mean feat as I do think that the character of Annie has great potential to be hugely irritating. Another young actress I really liked was Nikoo Saeki, who plays the cheeky and charming orphan Molly.

The show’s adult stars don’t shine as much as their younger counterparts. Craig Revel Horwood, Strictly Come Dancing judge, is entertaining as Miss Hannigan, but I couldn’t help thinking that a more “serious” actress could have brought something really special to the part. It also seems a shame to have given the part to a man, seeing as there is a shortage of decent roles for women anyway: perhaps the producers hoped to emulate the success of Matilda, which casts a man in the part of Miss Trunchbull. Alex Bourne is good as Daddy Warbucks, though Holly Dale Spencer is underused as his secretary Grace Farrell.

I did feel that there was no real tension or menace in the show: there was never any doubt that everything would turn out alright, no truly dramatic moments. However, the songs were powerfully performed, “Hard Knock Life” and “Easy Street” being standouts, along with, of course, “Tomorrow”. Plus, the production has a dog – a sure way to get bonus points. This isn’t a perfect production by any means, but it has enough going for it to be well worth seeing.

The Sound of Music

Confession: I’ve never seen the film The Sound of Music. Appalling, I know: the lady sitting next to me when I saw this new touring stage production in Wimbledon couldn’t believe it either. This boded well for the show, since I would have nothing to compare it to; but it was so good that I am sure I would have loved it even with an acclaimed film as a point of comparison. Certainly everyone around me – most of whom would, I am sure, have been familiar with the movie – cheered loudly in appreciation at the end.

Central to the show is the cheerful and optimistic novice nun Maria Rainer, played here by Danielle Hope. Hope is perfect for the part: friendly, appealing, full of personality and with a gorgeous singing voice. The scene in which Maria bursts in front of the audience singing “The Sound of Music” has been much copied and parodied over the years, but performed by Hope it feels completely fresh, stirring and powerful. My only slight criticism is that her speech is a little over-enunciated, however in this case it only serves to add to Maria’s charm.

Hope is aided by a capable cast: Jan Hartley as the kind-hearted Mother Superior, whose rendition of “Climb Ev’ry Mountain” is soaring and beautiful, and Stephen Houghton as Captain Von Trapp, the ex-naval man whose children Maria is sent to look after and with whom she falls in love. The seven Von Trapp children deserve praise too, working brilliantly together as a team and displaying their own different personalities.

The story, which sees would-be nun Maria sent away from her Austrian convent as a governess to decide if a nun’s reclusive life is really for her (hint: it’s not), only to fall in love with the father of the children she cares for and, with her new family, cope with the growing Nazi threat, is richer and more layered than many musicals, and still resonates with audiences today. Memorable songs by Rodgers and Hammerstein decorate the piece like jewels in the beautiful Austrian setting. Even though I’d never seen the film, I was familiar with many of the songs.

Despite being a touring production, I thought the set was fairly impressive, showcasing the lavishness of the Von Trapps’ home, the beauty of the convent and the grandeur of the mountains. The orchestra sounded pretty amazing, too.

Whether you’re a fan of the movie, or new to the story, The Sound of Music is a must see – a fantastic production that’s memorable, powerful and moving.