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Posts Tagged ‘Theo Jamieson’

Enid Blyton’s series of adventures were at the top of my childhood reading list, with The Secret Seven close behind. They whisked me away from the valleys of South Wales on adventures which fed my imagination. Little did I know I’d be seeing their stage adaptation more than fifty years later, and when I entered the auditorium to see Lucy Osborne’s picture-book design my eyes lit up and a wave of nostalgia enveloped me.

Enid Blyton has sold over 500 million copies of her 700 books in 40+ languages, one every minute in 2021, so I’m not alone. There were 21 adventures in this series (and another 15 Secret Seven stories) between 1942 and 1962 and I don’t think they’ve ever been out of print. Adaptor Elinor Cook gives us a mash-up, with a sprinkling of more modern themes like equality and the environment.

Julian, Dick & Anne are spending the summer with eccentric inventor Uncle Quentin and Aunt Fanny, an archetypal loving mother and domestic goddess. Their headstrong tomboy daughter George and her dog Timmy make it five. The double kidnap adventure is connected to Quentin’s latest work on alternative energy but it has a redemptive ending as Quentin accepts his flaws. The benign station-master moonlights as the kidnapper’s accomplice, anything for money, but he regrets it and is ultimately forgiven.

I’ve much admired the orchestrations, arrangements and musical direction of Theo Jamieson and this is his first full musical. The songs are not always well served by the vocals, with Lara Denning as Aunt Fanny & Isabelle Methven as Anne taking the musical honours. Katherine Rockhill’s band, though visible behind a gauze screen above the action, sometimes seemed disjointed from the vocals, presumably because of the sound design. In the acting department, Louis Suc is terrific as Dick, capturing all of those young teenager mores. Sam Harrison gives a fine comic performance as the station master et al. A puppet takes a starring role as Timmy, with others as sea lions, birds and bunnies, all designed and directed by Rachael Canning. I liked the staging by Tamara Harvey, with choreographer Annie-Lunnette Deakin-Forster bringing both pace and a teenage adventure feel.

It’s an impressive first musical, if not a great show. The young audience clearly enjoyed it. For me, it seemed a bit surreal seeing contemporary youngsters connect with something I’d hitherto considered belonged to my childhood!

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This is a musical based on a poem! Somewhat bizarrely, another musical based on the same poem opened in the same 2010 season in New York. This one, by Michael John LaChiusa, was on Broadway; the other, by Andrew Lippa, ran Off-Broadway. It crosses the Atlantic seven years on to open the newly rebranded The Other Palace, formerly St. James’ Theatre. Given it lasted less than two months over there, I wasn’t expecting to be quite so blown away, though more so by the terrific staging and sensational performances than the material..

It’s a slice of roaring twenties decadence. Queenie and Burrs are Vaudeville entertainers who form a stormy, abusive relationship. They throw the wild party of the title, fuelled by alcohol and cocaine, resulting in all sorts of sexual activity and depravity. When the party’s over, there are hangovers, regrets and recriminations, before its tragic conclusion. It feels more like a song cycle than a musical (and there are almost forty of them!). Above all, it’s a showcase for the performers.

The story is subservient to the jazz-influenced score. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a show with so many showstoppers and so many show-stealing opportunities, distributed evenly so that almost everyone gets their moment. The longer first half doesn’t let up and by the interval I was exhausted; I think I’d have liked more light and shade. This is delivered in the shorter and darker second half with a series of sensational solo turns, many of which bring the house down. 

Soutra Gilmour’s design has a ‘stairway to heaven’ and terrific costumes. Drew McOnie continues his successful transition from choreographer to director / choreographer with a staging that took my breath away and choreography that was positively thrilling. Theo Jamieson’s eight-piece band sounded terrific.

I’m not sure where to start with the performances as they were all stars. John Owen-Jones was in fine acting and vocal form as Burrs, miles away from his usual territory, and Frances Ruffelle was clearly relishing every moment as Queenie. US star Donna McKechnie was a treat in her cameo as Delores. We’re used to scene-stealing turns from Tiffany Graves and Victoria Hamilton-Barritt and they deliver yet again. Sebastien Torkia & Steven Serlin make a superb double-act as the budding producers, particularly in their second half comic duet. Casting women as ambisexual brothers Oscar & Phil D’Armano was an inspired idea and Genesis Lynea & Gloria Obianyo are outstanding. Dex Lee and Ako Mitchell are superb as Jackie and Eddie respectively. It’s hard to imagine a better cast.

This exceeded my expectations; it’s rare to see such faultless casting and such a stunning production. Head to Victoria while you have the chance. 

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There was a time when I wasn’t interested in hearing songs from musicals performed out of context; now I can’t seem to get enough – this is the second of three evenings this month. There are five Sondheim compilation shows and this is one of the two most famous, but after it’s premiere run in Oxford 22 years ago (starring Diana Rigg, no less) it never got to the West End – well, until now. It’s been worth the wait.

It’s an unpredictable selection, with four from the film Dick Tracy, two from rarity The Frogs (which co-incidentally I will be seeing for the first time on Saturday) and numbers from the less well-known Do I Hear A Waltz? and Anyone Can Whistle and that’s actually part of its appeal. They are not just sung, they are performed by the characters for whom they were written by a quintet of seasoned musicals professionals – David Badella, Daniel Crossley, Janine Dee, Damien Humbley & Caroline Sheen. I loved the arrangements for piano, double bass, trumpet and three woodwind and they were played beautifully by an extraordinarily young band under Theo Jamieson.

As solos or in various combinations, these songs are interpreted with meaning and you savour every word of Sondheim’s incomparable lyrics. You know they’ve worked when you’re on the edge of your seat willing Janine Dee to make it through the manic Not Getting Married Today (which she does, to perfection), you’re laughing uproariously at Daniel Crossley’s hysterical take on Buddy’s Blues and Being Alive brings a tear to your eye just by being uplifting. There’s some sprightly choreography, a conceit that they’re all at a cocktail party and the only props are a chaise longue and a drinks table, but it’s the songs that make the show.

Producer & musical supervisor Alex Parker, director Alastair Knights & choreographer Matthew Rowland, like MD Theo Jamieson, have all graduated in the last 18 months and there’s a youthfulness, energy and freshness about the whole thing; a towering achievement indeed.

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