Posts Tagged ‘David Yazbek’

This may be the most unlikely Broadway musical, a show about an Egyptian police band who end up in the wrong city in Israel. It’s based on a 2007 Israeli film by Eran Kolirin, adapted by Itamar Moses & David Yazbek as an Off-Broadway musical which made its way to the Great White Way in 2017 and now to the West End five years later.

The Alexandria Ceremonial Police Orchestra have been invited to the opening of an Arab Cultural Centre in a town in Israel, but through a mis-pronunciation get a bus from Tel Aviv airport to a different town in back-of-beyond Israel where they are stranded overnight. Both the locals and the band are wary of each other, but the offer of hospitality from restauranteur Dina breaks the ice.

Conductor Colonel Tewfiq Zakaria, a widower, is shown around the town by Dina. Band member Haled accompanies four youngsters to a roller disco and coaches the shy Papi in courting. Another, Simon, gets taken in by Itzik where he is exposed to his troubled relationship with his wife and grieving father-in-law Avrum. Somehow, the initial wariness is replaced by warmth and friendship as these Egyptians touch the lives of their hosts, and vice versa.

Yazbek’s music is a million miles way from the scores of his other shows – Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown and The Full Monty – with a distinctive Arab / Israeli aesthetic. It feels more like a play with music than a musical, and a very original one at that. Michael Longhurst’s production is sensitive to the material, with a gentleness and charm that captures your heart. It’s beautifully performed by a cast led by Miri Mesika as Dina and Alon Moni Aboutboul as Tewfiq. The onstage orchestra is terrific.

The lasting impression of this lovely show is that humans will connect and befriend each other in any circumstances provided they ignore the political, cultural and religious prejudices that otherwise pervade and poison their daily lives.

A surprising and lovely evening.

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Though I’ve seen most of Pedro Almodovar’s later films, I haven’t seen the one on which this musical is based, so I came to it cold. Sadly, I left it a bit cold too.

The story revolves around serial lover Ivan, his most recent Pepa, his ex Lucia and his new flame Paulina. Lucia is still pursuing him through the courts almost twenty years on and Paulina is her lawyer. Pepa is obtaining advice from Paulina for her neurotic model friend Candella who has come under the spell of terrorist Malik. Ivan & Lucia’s son Carlos is engaged to Marisa but takes a shine to Candella (like father, like son). It’s a quirky black comedy.

Most of David Yazbek’s songs have a Spanish flavour. They’re OK, but the score isn’t really good enough for a full-blown West End show. The narrative moves along apace and there are a fair few laughs, but it doesn’t fizz and sparkle. The biggest question for me is what is the point of a musical adaptation in the first place? It doesn’t seem to add or illuminate anything. It all seemed to be a bit flat and even though its in previews and beset by cast illness, it’s hard to see what could be done to breathe life into it. It flopped on Broadway four years ago, so what made them think they could turn that around here?

Both Tamsin Greig (Pepa) and Willemjin Verkaik (Paulina) were ill on the night I went, but their covers, Rebecca McKinnis and Holly James respectively, acquitted themselves well, so I don’t think that contributed to my disappointment. I was impressed most by Anna Skellern as Candella and Ricardo Afonso as Taxi Driver, a sort of narrator, and I liked Haydn Gwynne as Lucia. Michael Matus, a fine musical performer, is wasted in his small roles. Anthony Ward’s day glo two-tier set is fun and facilities speedy changes of location.

I didn’t dislike it, I wasn’t bored by it, but it didn’t capture my imagination and I left feeling indifferent I’m afraid.

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After what seems like an age of pompous pop operas and jukebox musicals, this old-fashioned but new musical comedy comes as a breath of fresh air; and I mean old-fashioned in a positive way! In what seems like a golden age French Riviera, designed by Peter Mackintosh, it fits the art deco Savoy Theatre like a glove.

I’ve never seen the film, so I come to it fresh with the twists and surprises unspoiled. Lawrence Jameson is the reigning king of the con and as the show starts he’s in the process of getting money for his destitute kingdom. New grifter on the block, young American upstart Freddy Benson arrives to challenge him and after some initial competition, an unlikely friendship develops and they start combined scams, though not without some healthy competition for good measure.

There’s nothing like a lovable rogue and here you get two for your money – the suave smoothie and the cheeky chappie – played by actors with terrific chemistry. The role of Lawrence was made for Robert Lindsay and he doesn’t disappoint. His particular brand of slick charm contrasts well with the rough-and-ready clumsiness of Rufus Hound’s Freddy. This is only Hound’s third stage role, and his first musical, and he’s a revelation, virtually unrecognisable, red-faced and cherub-like without that trademark tash. Katherine Kingsley is sensational as Christine Colgate, in fine voice and gliding effortlessly as if assisted by some modern day dance machine. There’s great support from her poshness Samantha Bond and John Marquez, complete with dodgy French accent, in an unlikely but delightful sub-plot love story.

On first hearing, David Yazbek’s score did’t wow, but it was perfectly enjoyable and the lyrics are sharp. It’s the comedy that shines through with a good book by Jeffrey Lane, nimble staging by Jerry Mitchell and the infectiousness of a cast that is clearly having as much of a ball as the audience, with the occasional ad lib and knowing look. The show was broken in out of town so at the third London preview it’s more than ready. I thoroughly enjoyed it and left the theatre feeling nostalgic about something brand new.

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