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Posts Tagged ‘Andrew Lippa’

Sometimes shows don’t cross the Atlantic successfully (either way) and I think this is one of them. It’s quintessentially American, with rather more schmaltz than most Brits can stomach. Though there’s much to like, it falls short of complete success, though it’s fair to say that the audience’s reaction on the night I went was much more positive than the critical reception, so perhaps its a populist rather than critical success. I think I’m more with the critics than the audience.

It’s based on Daniel Wallace’s 1998 novel, made into a film by Tim Burton in 2003 (somewhat ironically with Brits Albery Finney and Ewan McGregor as the leading man and his younger self). John August was responsible for the screenplay as he is here for the book, with music and lyrics by Andrew Lippa. It starts at Edward Bloom’s son’s wedding, during which he is taken ill. From his hospital bed, he tells tall tales which are re-enacted as song and dance fantasy sequences. These include a witch, a giant and a werewolf and times in a circus, at war and as a travelling salesman. His son has been hearing these all his life and doesn’t believe any of them, but one day he tracks down his dad’s old school friend Jenny and discovers a true tale he hadn’t been told, which enables them to repair their relationship before Edward dies.

Like Lippa’s The Wild Party at the same venue earlier in the year, the story is subservient to the ‘turns’, so there are some great comic song and dance routines but they don’t really add up to a satisfying musical theatre work. The songs are OK, the comedy broad but fun, but the story sentimental tosh which I found rather pointless, I’m afraid. The lead role isn’t very demanding, but Kelsey Grammer, the main draw here, is likeable and playful. The real work is left to the younger members of the cast, most notably Jamie Muscato as the young Edward and Matthew Seadon-Young as his son Will, amongst the best of the new generation of musical theatre performers and both on fine form. The comic honours belong to Forbes Masson in more than one role.

I liked the intimacy that The Other Palace facilitates, but it’s a big show for that space and it sometimes felt a touch cramped. Given the space, Liam Steel works wonders with the choreography, with a particularly fine sequence for Muscato involving hula hoops. Tom Rogers design, with projections by Duncan McLean, works well and Nigel Harman, relatively new to directing, marshals his resources well. In fact, all of the creative and performing contributions are excellent, it’s the material that lets them down, though I don’t regret going.

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What a delicious hour of musical theatre for Sondheim fans, celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Sondheim Society, who co-produced the show. Based on an idea of the society’s administrator Lynne Chapman, who has been collecting material and ‘incubating’ the show for sixteen years, and staged by London Theatre Workshop at their new base in Fulham, it was both a tribute and a loving parody of the undoubted god of musical theatre.

Presented as a revue, it contained existing songs like Andrew Lippa’s Marshall Levin, Alan Chapman’s Everybody Wants to Be Sondheim and the late Jonathan Larsons homage / riff on Sunday plus excellent new material from Eamonn O’Dwyer, Matt Board and the show’s musical director Alex Parker. It’s set in a rehearsal space where writers, directors and performers step out to give us a song alone, in combination with one or more of the three others or as an ensemble, with terrific accompaniment from MD Alex Parker and excellent staging by Alastair Knights.

Most of all though there are four stunning vocal performances from recent winners and finalists of the society’s annual Student Performer competition. These were faultless star turns from four future stars which completely blew me away. They sang beautifully alone and together they soared. It is rare to see such uniformly fine and faultless performances on any stage and the ovation afforded to Emma Odell, Kris Olsen, Corrine Priest and Jay Worley was richly deserved.

The performance I saw was being recorded, so I hope God gets to see it as he cannot fail to be impressed and moved by this affectionate homage.

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I nearly gave up at the interval. The main reason I returned was to find out how you can have a second half of a musical with two characters when one has died just before the interval. I’m glad I did though, as things picked up considerably.

This 1995 chamber piece is penned by Andrew Lippa (with Tom Greenwald), whose latest show – The Addams Family – made it to Broadway last year. The first half tells the story of a brother and sister growing up six years apart, taking us from the birth of John in 1952 to Jen’s brief return from college 19 years later to announce her emigration to Canada with her draft-dodging boy friend. John goes to Vietnam and dies and we all wonder what on earth is going to happen in the second act……..well, Jen is now a single mother and has named her son….guess….John. The second act tells us the story of her relationship with her son from his birth until it’s his turn to go to college.

This second act has so much more colour and true depth to the characterisation. There is a particularly good scene where¬†the teenage years are played out as a sequence of chat show appearances . If only the first half hadn’t been so monotone and pedestrian; you really didn’t care for the characters or their story until just before the interval. The music was also more distinguished in the second half, moving from mostly modern-day recitative to proper songs.

Katie Brayben carries the piece as a passionate Jen, playful as she grows up and filled with a mother’s anguish later on. Adam Rhys-Davies only has to age to late teens, but does so extremely well, capturing both the innocence of childhood and teenage angst well. David Randall & Lucinda Skinner’s piano and cello accompaniment is lovely.

If ony they could do something about the first half, this could be a real treat……by the way, the pretentious small j’s are theirs not mine!

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