Posts Tagged ‘John Plews’

I saw a preview of the Broadway production of this show in 2012, with soon to be West End bound Matthew Broderick and the recent Broadway / West End star of The King & I, Kelli O’Hara. I predicted a big hit, but it only ran for 15 months and never crossed the Atlantic, so its down to Upstairs at the Gatehouse to give us the first London look, as they did with Nine to Five fifteen months ago, which is now getting a West End outing.

It’s actually a Gershwin compilation musical, like Crazy For You, with a fairly daft but funny book by Joe DiPietro based on material by P G Wodehouse & Guy Bolton. It’s the days of prohibition and bootleggers are using the Long Island seaside mansion of Jimmy Winter’s mother to stash their booze while the family aren’t in residence. Twice married Jimmy embarks on a third with Senator Evergreen’s daughter Eileen, an exponent of modern dance, and goes home for his honeymoon, so the bootleggers have to don disguises and pose as staff. From here, just about everyone falls in love with someone so that we have four couplings by the end, almost two-thirds of the characters!

Director John Plews and choreographer Grant Murphy work wonders in the small space and Chris Poon’s band sounds way bigger than a sextet, doing full justice to Gershwin’s songs and incidental music, also pinched from his back catalogue. The score includes standards like Someone to watch over me, Let’s call the whole thing off, ‘S wonderful, Fascinating rhythm and the title song of course. The musical standards are as high as the dancing ones, and you can’t help getting swept away by the energy, enthusiasm and sense of fun.

Alistair So is a real find, an outstanding romantic lead with a great voice. His leading lady was ill, so assistant choreographer Amy Perry stepped in. She obviously knew the dances, but had to learn the songs and carried her script. She’s a performer too and her vocals were excellent. A really triumphant stand-in performance. Charlotte Scally is a hysterical delight as squeaky Eileen, her contemporary dance sequences bringing the house down. Then there are two terrific veterans of musical theatre just as at home on West End stages – David Pendlebury as Cookie and Nova Skipp as the senator’s sister Estonia. It’s as fine a supporting cast as you’d wish for.

It might not have Broadway production values, but I think I had a lot more fun above a pub in Highgate than at the Imperial Theatre on Broadway at a fraction of the price. Try and catch the last few performances if you can.

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Another impulsive evening which paid off; I’d hesitated about schlepping across London for something I thought might have dated – but how can a 21-year-old show set 25 years before that be dated? If anything, the mid-60’s are even cooler today than they were in the late 80’s when this show was first seen; maybe even cooler than the 60’s themselves!

The Heather Brothers musical has 29 short songs and a fairly flimsy story, but it’s what it says on the can – a slice of…. I wouldn’t want to defend them in a plagiarism action, as there are many very recognisable melodies, riffs and even whole songs, though I think this is intentional.

We’re in the Club-a-Go-Go, with a band at one end and a bar at the other. A revolve enables us to move to both the ladies and the gents where some of the funniest scenes are played out. Four boys (Rossano Canzio, Jon Hawkins, Adam Welsh and Robin Rayner) and four girls (Stephanie Ticknell-Smith, Nicola McQuillan, Lea Bourne and Natasha Barnes – another one from Spring Awakening popping up) on a Saturday night out are doing what boys and girls did on a Saturday night then as now – drinking, dancing, flirting and chatting up. Bar owner Eric (Jason Griffiths) presides over affairs.

Though I wasn’t entirely convinced that traverse staging was best, John Plews production is very good and Racky Plews choreography absolutely superb. The performances from a (mostly) young cast are uniformly excellent (four of them also taking turns to play in the band) and I find myself crediting a casting director for the second time this month – Amy O’Neill hasn’t put a foot wrong.

This is a delightful, nostalgic and charming show which lifted my day and sent me home smiling. Upstairs at the Gatehouse is a well run unsubsidised family theatre. Quite how they can stage work of this quality when a week of full houses probably brings in the same as 25% of one full house of a West End musical is beyond me, but long may they continue.

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