Posts Tagged ‘Joel Montague’

In 1987, a quirky and, at that time, highly original little one act musical called March of the Falsettos turned up in the West End for a few weeks. It was the second part of a trilogy but we never saw In Trousers, the first part, or Falsettoland, the third, here in the UK. This is the second and third part together, and its taken 27 years to get here, hot on the heels of a successful Broadway revival three years ago. It’s writer William Finn went on to give us The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, Little Miss Sunshine and the song cycle Elegies, and there are a handful of other shows that never made the crossing. His book co-writer James Lapine is better known as Stephen Sondheim’s collaborator on three of his shows between 1984 and 1994.

The story revolves around Marvin, Jewish New Yorker, married to Trina, son Jason. He leaves Trina for a man, Whizzer. Trina goes to Marvin’s shrink Mendel to help her come to terms with it. She gets Mendel to see her son Jason at home, though he might be the most balanced of them all. She ends up marrying Mendel. Marvin and Whizzer bicker, as do Marvin and Trina. He seems to want it all. Marvin and Whizzer split. In the second part we meet the lesbians, Marvin’s neighbours, and he is reconciled with Whizzer. The family rows turn to Jason’s bar mitzvah and the spectre of AIDS appears. The story is told almost entirely in song, thirty-five of them in fact. They are expertly crafted, catchy tunes with sharp, witty lyrics that really do propel and animate the story. Each part starts lightly, but gets serious, and both dare to end sadly. It struck me how ground-breaking it must have been and how much it was ahead of its time. With the exception of the fatality of HIV, it seems more a story of now than then.

This appears to be a big gig for Director / Choreographer Tara Overfield-Wilkinson and she’s done a great job. The real strength of the production is its faultless casting; I loved every one of them. Daniel Boys as Marvin and Oliver Saville as Whizzer excel in both acting and singing and the combination of their voices is beautiful. Laura Pitt-Pulford shines as always as Trina and I loved Joel Montague’s characterisation of Mendel, both also in fine voice. Natasha J Barnes and Gemma Knight-Jones make great contributions in the second past as the lesbians, with great big vocal performances. Young George Kennedy gives an incredibly assured performance as Jason; a most auspicious professional debut indeed.

In the last six months the producers Selladoor have given us Amelie at the Watermill and on tour and Finn’s Little Miss Sunshine at the Arcola and on tour. Long may they continue to deliver such high quality productions like this. Don’t miss it!

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Kay Mellor is a prolific writer of populist TV drama and Fat Friends was one of her early successes, running to four series over five years. I never saw it. It’s also famous for connecting Ruth Jones and James Corden, who went on to create the hugely successful sitcom Gavin & Stacy together, taking cast members Alison Steadman and Sheridan Smith with them. Now thirteen years on, Mellor has turned it into a musical with a score by Nick Lloyd Webber.

It revolves around slimming class Super Slimmer, franchised by Julie Fleshman, run by Lauren, who also runs the wedding dress shop. Betty, who’s lost five stone, is expected to win Slimmer of the Year but she doesn’t. Her daughter Kelly, soon to be married, shows off her flesh proudly, which her sister films and it goes viral. Fleshman decides to exploit Kelly and challenges her to lose enough weight to fit into the wedding dress of her dreams, in which case she will pay for both the dress and the wedding itself, which is handy as her parents uninsured Fish & Chip shop has burnt down leaving them stony broke! Kelly is a hopeless dieter so Fleshman helps her with some dubious pills. Will she make it?

The plotting is a bit clunky, but it’s a good enough story for musical theatre with it’s heart in the right place and a worthy body image message. The songs, in a whole range of styles, are OK though I’m not expecting to remember them tomorrow. It’s a touring cast to put bums on seats with TV talent show winners aplenty, a Corrie legend and a former pop star for good measure. In some cities there’s a cricketer too, but we were spared that in Dartford.

There were some very strong vocal performances, notably from an almost unrecognisable blonde Jodie Prenger as Kelly and Sam Bailey as her mum Betty; both acted well too. Natalie Anderson and Jonathan Halliwell were good as the Jewish slimming class leader and young Anglican vicar who fancy each other. Joel Montague is a very likeable Kevin, Kelly’s intended, also with good vocals (I do wonder what Freddie Flintoff makes of this role), as is Kevin ‘Curly’ Kennedy in the less demanding role of dad Fergus. Atomic Kitten’s Natasha Hamilton makes a serviceable baddie as Fleshman.

I didn’t take to the Orchard Theatre Dartford, where the show seemed somewhat distant, or its noisy audience, or to Dartford itself come to think of it, but I’m sure my knee will recover eventually, and I’m glad I caught the tour. If they’re planning to take it ‘up west’ they’ll need to up their game a bit. It’s a first musical for writer / lyricist / director Mellor and only the second for Lloyd-Webber Jnr and that does show a bit.

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I can’t help comparing this show with Jules Styne’s other big hit, Gypsy. It’s another quintessentially American showbiz story with a gutsy heroine, and like the recent Chichester Gypsy, this production has a diminutive leading lady with the triple threat – acting, singing and dancing all sensational.

It’s the true story of Fanny Brice, who gets her vaudeville break by being funny and is soon top of the bill at the Ziegfeld Follies. She falls in love with businessman and gambler Nick Arnstein, moves to a mansion on Long Island and starts a family. Nick makes some bad, even dodgy, business decisions and she soon finds herself returning to work and bail him out. It backfires when her attempts to help become secretive, hurting his pride, and when he comes out of prison he doesn’t return to the family home.

It’s a conservative show, which here gets a very conservative production, including the design and the choreography. It’s as if its American director is scared to mess with it. I also don’t think it fits the Menier space well, a big show desperate to break out of this confined space. For once, the venue’s intimacy works against it. I think it will suit The Savoy, where Gypsy was and where this is heading, better.

That said, it has a good score, played to perfection by Alan Williams’ band, and it’s superbly cast. Darius Campbell continues to impress with great presence and a fine voice (here towering over his leading lady). Marilyn Cutts is excellent as Fanny’s mother, no more so than when she’s with her two friends, played superbly by Gay Soper and Valda Aviks. In fact, the more mature members of this cast all shine, with Bruce Montague a wonderful Ziegfeld too. Praise as well for Joel Montague as Fanny’s showbiz chum and dance coach Eddie, another fine performance.

It’s Fanny’s show, of course, and musical theatre lovers and Sheridan Smith fans have been seriously over-excited at the prospect of her in this role and she doesn’t disappoint. When she sings Don’t Rain on My Parade to end Act One you want to punch the air. In the final scene, alone in front of her dressing room mirror, she breaks your heart then breaks out and lifts you up to close the show. Terrific stuff. 2016 Olivier sorted.

Time to book for The Savoy, I think, if only to prove my prediction eight.

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