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Posts Tagged ‘Jonny Weldon’

Summer wouldn’t be summer without an Open Air Theatre musical and this one is their first new musical for almost forty years. It’s based on a 1956 novel set here in Regent’s Park which has been adapted as films, TV series and video games, and even one musical before this, but has now come home in a show with music by Douglas Hodge, better known as an actor and one of the cast of that last OAT new musical, and a book by Johnny McKnight based on a stage adaptation from Zinnie Harris.

Though I’m not familiar with the novel nor any of its adaptations, it appears to be faithful to it. Danielle and Dominic meet in the park as they walk their respective Dalmatians. In no time at all they are a couple, and the dogs produce a litter of fifteen puppies. A clever updating gives us Cruella as an influencer, a brilliant creation, who sees the dogs first as enhancements for her instagram feed, but then as material for a coat for the Black & White Ball. Her nephews Jasper and Casper are her reluctant henchmen.

Toby Olie has done a wonderful job creating the puppet dogs and puppies (and a few cats) and these provide the ahh moments (which become uber ahh when a real puppy appears!). Kate Fleetwood is a terrific Cruella, so terrific that she didn’t get the customary baddie boos at the curtain, as appreciation trumped panto response. Jonny Weldon & George Bukhari are a fine double act as Casper & Jasper the hapless nephews. Karen Fishwick & Eric Stroud are charming as the loved up dog lovers. I adored Katrina Lindsay’s costumes, a whole wardrobe of OTT creations for Cruella and a riot of black & white for the dogs and puppies.

There’s something missing, though. The music is OK but not particularly memorable and what I could hear of the lyrics were good, but there was too much lost for some reason other than amplification. I wasn’t keen on Colin Richmond’s set, with ever present giant letters revolving to become items of furniture; it all seemed a bit tacky to me. Timothy Sheader’s staging and Liam Steel’s choreography had great moments, but it is a bit inconsistent and unevenly paced – it took a while to take off, but ended well. It feels like a hybrid of a musical comedy and a kids show, struggling to decide what it is.

I suspect it will grow as it beds in. Hopefully they’ll have a lot more great summer evenings like the one I experienced, as there’s nowhere better at this time of year.

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