Posts Tagged ‘Thomas Meehan’

I can’t imagine a more exhilarating return to the West End than this, a revival of the 2007 UK premiere by the same creative team (director Jack O’Brien, designers David Rockwell & William Ivey Long and choreographer Jerry Mitchell) with Michael Ball returning to his Olivier Award winning role. Oddly enough, it was amongst the last musicals I saw before lockdown, just as good though in a rather different venue (https://garethjames.wordpress.com/2020/03/10/hairspray-HM-prison-bronzefield).

I first fell in love with the show when I took a punt on a Broadway preview almost exactly 19 years ago. This was followed by three visits to the West End run between 2007 and 2009 and a couple of regional outings before last year’s rather unorthodox revival and Sunday’s barnstorming return. I simply adore the 60’s aesthetic, the catchy tunes and witty lyrics of Marc Shaiman & Scott Wittman, the anti-segregation, body positive and anti-racist messages (book by Mark O’Donnell & Thomas Meehan) and the sheer loud, brash, colourful, tongue-in-cheekiness of it all.

Nothing much is changed from the UK premiere (there was nothing to fix) but the joy of a bunch of people returning to what they do is infectious. It’s as if they are doing it for the very first time. Lizzie Bea is a match for all those other Tracy’s, and a great tribute to NYT and NYMT. Such is his range that the last time I saw Michael Ball he terrified me as Sweeney Todd (so unrecognisable, people were asking for their money back because they thought he wasn’t in it!), now he’s padded and in drag as Tracy’s mom Edna. Les Dennis clearly delights in playing the loving father / husband Wilbur, a role he too has played before, with his show-stopping duet with Ball, (You’re) Timeless To Me, packed with delicious moments. Rita Simons (East Enders’ Roxy) was a bit of a revelation as baddie Velma and Marisha Wallace wowed as Motormouth Maybelle, as she did in Dreamgirls and Waitress, with I Know Where I’ve Been bringing the house down.

Though attentive and receptive during scenes and numbers, the audience continually erupted between them and the atmosphere in the vast London Coliseum (too vast for this show really) was extraordinary, as if the pent up euphoria after 16 months of musical theatre famine exploded all at once. An absolute joy.

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There are times in every theatre-goers life when they just want fun, which is exactly what this show delivers. Mel Brooks will never win any awards for subtlety, sophistication or political correctness, but when it comes to big laughs and huge fun, he sweeps the board.

Like The Producers musical adaptation before it, the show is based on his own 1974 film, adapted by Brooks himself (with Thomas Meehan contributing to the book) 33 years later, and it’s taken another 10 to cross the Atlantic, apparently improved and rewritten. As musicals go, it’s small scale, and achieves an intimacy at the Garrick Theatre that makes you feel like you’re sharing a joke with your friends.

There’s little need to outline the story, though it’s never been so loud, brash, cheeky or rude before. The songs will be remembered more for how they emerge from the tale than their quality as songs. It’s packed with sight gags, not always new, but always funny. The designs makes a virtue of the fact they’re old school (all painted screens and flats). The performances are broad, but impeccably executed. Above all, the smile rarely leaves your face and you often ache from laughter.

Hadley Fraser is simply superb as Frankenstein, with that manic twinkle in his eye, athletic movement, fine vocals and impeccable comic timing. Ross Noble is a revelation as hunchback Igor; stand-up’s loss is a real gain for musical theatre. Lesley Joseph is popular casting as the housekeeper Frau Blucher, whose voice alone scares the horses, themselves brilliantly cast! There’s a Strallen of course, and Summer delivers the comic goods as well as the fine vocals we’ve become used to. I haven’t seen much of Dianne Pilkington’s work, but she’s terrific here as Frankenstein’s fiancee. Schuler Hensley is a great monster and Patrick Clancy doubles up brilliantly as the Inspector and the Hermit (I didn’t know it was the same man until his curtain call!). It’s superbly cast and their combined sense of fun sweeps you away – they’re clearly having as much fun as the audience.

Some will find it crude, some corny, some tacky, but if you go just to have some very welcome fun you won’t be disappointed.

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This musical by Maury Yeston & Peter Stone / Thomas Meehan is a 2011 adaptation of a 1924 Italian play which was filmed twice, in 1934 with Fredric March, and in 1998 as Meet Joe Black, starring Brad Pitt. This is its European Premiere, staged by Thom Southerland, who has had great success with Yeston’s Titanic and Grand Hotel.

The Lamberti family have a near miss car accident on the way home from their daughter Grazia’s engagement party. It turns out that Death has prevented Grazia’s demise because he fancies a long weekend in human form, partly to answer the question of why he’s so feared. He takes the form of Russian noble Prince Nikolai Sirki and only Grazia’s dad, the Duke, knows the truth. He falls in love with Grazia and she with him and he’s intent on taking her with him at the end if his holiday, but her dad pleads with him not to, until counter pleas from Grazia.

I struggled to suspend enough disbelief to engage fully with the story, but it’s a gorgeous melodic score. Morgan Large has designed a terrific Italian villa and Jonathan Lipman has created brilliant period costumes. Stylistically, it feels like Sondheim’s A Little Night Music or Passion; very European, very early 20th century. Thom Southerland’s staging is up to his usual impeccable standard, with a forensic attention to detail. The humour surprised but pleased me. Dean Austin’s band sounds as beautiful as the music.

Zoe Doano and Chris Peluso are superb in the leading roles and there’s a fine supporting ensemble. Mark Inscoe has great presence as Duke Lamberti, Ashley Stillburn is excellent as Grazia’s fiancé Corrado, as is James Grant as servant Fidele (who will be promoted to the role of Death / Nikolai during the run!). It’s great to see Gay Soper give such a fine cameo, as Contessa Evangelina Di San Danielli (!), close to her 50th year in musical theatre.

I’m not entirely convinced by the premise and the story, but it’s a lovely lush score, it looks gorgeous and the performances are terrific.

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I really enjoy my outings to shows at London’s drama schools and music colleges. I’m a regular at RADA, Guildhall, LAMDA and the Royal Academy, but this was my first trip to ArtsEd. There’s something very energizing about watching young talent and with an audience containing a high proportion of friends, family and fellow students being positive and supportive, you’re virtually guaranteed a great atmosphere.

The Producers is a very ambitious show for a drama school. It’s a BIG show, with lots of big numbers and a few characters that seasoned actors cast at the right age find challenging, let alone younger actors. It might be unique in musical history that two star names cast as Max Bialystock never got as far as their opening nights (though in one case that may be more differences with the director rather than talent!).

Mel Brooks, with help from Thomas Meehan,  adapted his own non-musical film, even providing both the music and lyrics himself. It returned to the screen when the musical itself became a film, but it’s not so easy to re-create the excitement of musical theatre in a cinema as it is drama. In case you didn’t know, it’s the story of a Broadway producer who, inspired by a minor accountant, realises its possible to make a fortune from a flop. He recruits the accountant and sets about finding the worst play, a bad creative team and a talentless cast. The show is of course Springtime For Hitler.

They’ve done a terrific job here. The professional creative team (chosen because they are good, not bad!) of director Russell Labey, choreographer Drew McOnie and designer Colin Mayes have given the show a production which relishes the satire (of musicals themselves as well as Broadway and Nazis!), brings out every ounce of comedy and fizzes with energy throughout. The ensemble of 16 play multiple roles seamlessly (including the boys as the little old ladies as in the original production) and all six leads are excellent. Even MD Caroline Humphris makes her four-piece band sound big.

Matthew Corner and Piers Bate are a great double-act as Max & Leo (more chemistry between them than any other pairing I’ve seen – and I’ve seen a fair few!). Matthew isn’t aged by make-up, which is a good decision; his physical comedy, timing and singing are all outstanding. Piers mousey Leo is the perfect foil. I loved Simon Bamforth’s manic Franz – he got laughs where I don’t remember there being laughs! Lewis Kirk & Robbie Boyle are deliciously camp as director Roger DeBris and his PA Carmen Ghia. Melissa James (no relation!) is great as Ulla, with a lovely Marilyn Monroe moment in a white dress stage front aided by a understage blower!

I do love this show, and I enjoyed this as much as my earlier outings on Broadway and in the West End – and all for a fraction of the price in a small space in a college in Turnham Green. Well done, ArtsEd!

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