Posts Tagged ‘Keiran Brown’

From Page to Stage is an excellent initiative promoting new musical theatre. For four weeks at the Landor they will put on two fully staged premieres, three ‘readings’ and a couple of showcase ‘concerts’. This is the first of the two premieres – a musical comedy thriller – and it’s huge fun.

Olivia Thompson (book, lyrics and gamely taking over the role of Verona!) & Chris Whitehead (music) have set their show in the 30’s at the birthday party of British film star Honey Quenelle (in a clever touch, designer Magdalena Iwanska has created eighteen period film posters featuring her). She’s walked out on her latest film and producer Stubby is determined to change her mind. The other guests Include jealous acting rival Verona, Honey’s ex Dickie and her new wife Farmonica, brother Monty and friends / colleagues Hilary & Margot. Butler Hugo and maid Mabel complete the picture.

The first half sets up a murder and the second unravels it in true farcical fashion. Things are not as they seem and it does become a bit convoluted as it progresses. It twists from being a whodunnit to a whodidntdoit and why. It’s a good score with a cocktail of musical styles and both the book and lyrics are very funny indeed. The writers are very lucky to have Robert McWhir direct and there are some inventive touches, including a prologue featuring a building on fire, guests arriving in three ‘cars’ and a blackout scene played with torches.

They are also lucky to have a cast of this quality and experience, assembled by Benjamin Newsome (again), including a delicious comic performance by Kate Brennan as Mabel and a glamorous leading lady in Amelia Adams-Pearce. The second half contains big numbers for Ian Mowat’s Stubby, Keiran Brown’s Hilary and Jenny Gayner’s Farmonica and they all rise to the occasion with gusto. Whitehead plays his own score on the piano, so there’s no hiding place for either composer or writer!

This is a very impressive first full scale musical. It does need a little work, and its running time cut from 2h40m (even the programme said 2h10m), but it must surely get a proper run outside From Page to Stage. Six performances just isn’t enough for such a good show. I can’t remember when I laughed so much at a musical.

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This is the London premiere of a Rogers & Hammerstein show, one based on a John Steinbeck novel no less, for which we owe the Union Theatre a debt of gratitude. It came after Oklahoma, Carousel, South Pacific and The King & I but before The Sound of Music. It was a huge flop.

The setting brings together the world of a brothel, a man’s doss house and a marine biologist (!) in Monterey’s Cannery Row in California. New-girl-in-town Suzy is ‘adopted’ by brothel madam Fauna and a love story develops between Suzy and Doc, the marine biologist. That’s about it, really – and that’s its problem; an extraordinarily slight story. There are some nice tunes, but nowhere near enough to redeem what is in reality a turkey from the most unlikely of sources. How on earth did it even get to Broadway in 1955?!

Sasha Regan has done her best with such material, with an evocative setting by Elle-Rose Peake. The few choruses are stirring, with fine choreography by Lizzi Gee, and there are outstanding performances from Kieran Brown as Doc ad Virge Gilchrist as Fauna, and good turns in smaller roles from David Haydn and Nick Martland. My one quibble with the production is that the keyboard / percussion duo are musically underpowered.

Whatever you think of the show, though, it’s a must-see for musical theatre completists like me who want to see all of the work of the great masters, not just endless revivals of their hits like The Sound of Music, currently revived at the Open Air Theatre less than five years aft it closed at the London Paladium.

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