Posts Tagged ‘Bronte Barbe’

Disney does industrial action! Well, 123-year-old American industrial action. It took 20 years for the film to get to Broadway and another 10 for it to cross the Atlantic. This is a new production by Matt Cole, a choreographer-director who turns it into a thrilling immersive dance drama. I loved it.

It’s based on a real 1899 strike by newspaper boys, most of whom lived rough, when newspaper baron Pulitzer increased the price he charged them by 20% so that he could increase his bottom line. Those that crossed him ended up in a ‘refuge’ i.e. workhouse, but this doesn’t deter Jack from persuading his newsie brothers to stop buying and distributing the newspaper. He’s helped by a front page story by Katherine in a rival paper, then blackmailed by Pulitzer. That’s when he realises Katherine isn’t who he thinks she is. Almost defeated, she comes to their rescue again and Jack’s trust in her pays off.

The Wembley Park Troubadour Theatre is an aircraft hanger like space, but it serves this show well, helped significantly by Morgan Large’s design. A three-story metal backdrop and walkways around and through the audience (think Starlight Express on a larger scale without trains!) create the epic and immersive feel, yet intimate scenes work well too. Nigel Lilley’s band sound great and for a venue like this Tony Gayle’s sound design was outstanding. The star of the show though is its stunning staging and choreography involving a multitude of styles, athletic & acrobatic, including street, tap & ballet, executed by a hugely talented young cast. Many of these numbers are showstoppers, which get their own standing ovation mid-show. You can’t fail to be thrilled.

Michael Ahomka-Lindsay s superb as Jack, with Bronte Barbe excellent as his on-off-on love interest. There’s a lovely pairing of Ryan Kopel as Davey and Oliver Gordon as his young brother Les, who often steels the show. It’s a big cast to fill a big stage and their enthusiasm was infectious. A fantastic showcase of young talent. It all adds up to an uplifting show which is well worth the trek to Wembley for a SW Londoner like me. Go!

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This is the second production of this show at Chichester in a decade. Given there have only been two in the West End (originating in Leicester in 1980 and the NT in 1998) in the 70 or so years since it’s UK premiere, that’s quite something. Is there some affinity between Sussex and the state of Oklahoma that I’ve missed?

It was the first of of eleven collaborations between Rogers and Hammerstein during their sixteen years writing together, including the more frequently revived Carousel, South Pacific The King & I and The Sound of Music. It was ground-breaking in so many ways, but now we can look back on their whole career it seems to have somewhat less depth than what followed. Still, how can you resist a hoe-down with some cowboys and their gals and tunes like Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’, The Surrey with the Fringe on Top and the title song, and what other show can boast a song that became a state anthem.

It’s really a simple love story revolving around whether the farmer or the cowboy wins the heart of young farm owner Laurey. Revivals have tended to emphasise the darker side of one suitor’s jealousy and disappointment leading to rage and violence, as they do here. The lack of native American characters or references is a bit glaring, given it’s set on the eve of the statehood of Oklahoma, created from their territory and reservations, but hey, this is 75-year-old musical theatre.

Robert Jones’ set, Brigitte Reiffenstuel’s costumes and Mark Henderson’s lighting combine to give it a terrific look, propelling you several thousand miles west and more than a hundred years back in time. There’s a windmill, giant barn doors and plenty of bales of straw. Matt Cole’s athletic choreography takes your breath away and the set pieces and dream ballet are thrilling. It’s a big fifteen piece Chichester band again, this time under MD Nigel Lilley, and they sound great. Director Jeremy Sams is the master at marshalling big resources and making something old feel as fresh as new, as he’s done with other R&H shows, and does again here.

Much of the success of the production is age appropriate casting of early career talent. Hoyle O’Grady, Amara Okereke and Emmanuel Kojo are terrific in the love triangle roles of Curly, Laurey & Jud respectively, all with fine vocals, which is the other key to the show’s success, in just about every role. Isaac Gryn and Bronte Barbe are fine too as the somewhat intellectually challenged Will and Ado Annie, and there’s a brilliantly funny cameo from Scott Karim, who makes much of the role of Ali Hakim, the Persian peddler who becomes intertwined with them.

As fine a revival as you could wish for. Given that it hasn’t has a West End outing for over twenty years, it would be good to see this one make the 70 mile journey north-east where I for one would be sure to see it again.

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This show by Brendan Milburn, Valerie Vigoda & Rachel Sheinkin is based on Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Match Girl. It started as an album in 2002 and became an Off-Broadway show four years later. It appears to have lost half of it’s songs since the album (I’m not sure about the US show) and the big question about this UK premiere is Why?

It’s set on New Years Eve in New York City where Brendan is torn between staying at work and partying. The match girl is now a seller of electric lights. There are just three other actors who play a narrator, other characters and musical instruments like drums and violin, and there’s a pianist. With fourteen songs in seventy minutes there isn’t much time for story or character development and it felt more like a song cycle than a musical.

I liked Oliver Kaderbhai’s lively staging and Natalie Johnson’s design and there are good performances all round, led by Declan Bennett as Brendan and Bronte Barbe as The Match Girl, both in fine voice. I was particularly impressed by Kate Robson-Scott, who played a mean violin. Even though they had already played more than a handful of performances, they hadn’t got the sound balance right the night after the press night, which marred the performance. Using a drum kit necessitates the amplification of vocals in this small space. Despite this, lyrics were lost and acoustic instruments sometimes buried.

Though it’s an eclectic score with some good tunes, and the creatives and cast do their best, sound issues notwithstanding, it’s a slight piece which I’m not sure justifies the transatlantic journey.

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