Saturday, January 10, 2015

2015 West End London mini-reviews


WOMEN ON THE VERGE OF A NERVOUS BREAKDOWN, THE MUSICAL ; performed at the Playhouse Theatre; book by Jeffrey Lane, music & lyrics by David Yazbek; direction by Bartlett Sher; based on a film by Pedro Almodovar.

I’m sorry I didn’t see this on Broadway with my friend Brian Stokes Mitchell, and Patti LuPone. The creators claimed to ‘improve’ their work with this production, but, as I watched the show I wondered why it didn’t grab me… and I feel the reason was that they couldn’t decide if it was a comedy, a realistic play, or a farce. This play had all three ingredients but for some reason they just didn’t gel for me.  I have to say the cast was very good, and some of the songs worked, and many had the chaotic feeling of the title of the show, but a cohesiveness was lacking. The set by Anthony Ward worked fine… but finally I was still a little hungry after this theatrical meal.


THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME; based on a Mark Haddon best seller, adapted by Simon Stephens, and heartfully directed by Marianne Elliott; at the Gielgud Theatre, having moved from the Apollo when the balcony fell down during a performance the end of ’13.

A wonderfully performed play about Asperger Syndrome. Abram Rooney playing Christopher the AS student was a delight to view.  The lead role is double cast as it is such a difficult and tedious role. Kudos to the entire cast on this amazing play. I felt I saw the insides of a ‘problemed’ boy and the difficulties he endured just to thrive. I am in awe of this production and was so happy I was able to see it.


THE PLAY THAT GOES WRONG; at the Duchess Theatre; direction by Mark Bell, writers Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer, & Henry Shields; set by Nigel Hook; lighting by Ric Mountjoy, and costumes by Roberto Surace.

This ‘play within a play’ farce can be slightly compared to Noises Off in comedy style… very funny and performed without a hitch. As soon as you enter the theatre the shenanigans begin, with the arguments and frustrations of a set that is not ready for performance, along with a search for a lost dog. The play within the play is Murder at Haversham Manor and winds up in hysteria. The ensemble cast is excellent. The ‘gymnastics’ of the cast as well as the set is truly exceptional, and a good time was had by all.


NEVILLE’S ISLAND; a comedy by Tim Firth; at the Duke of York’s Theatre; direction by Angus Jackson; set design by Robert Innes Hopkins.

This play is performed by 4 British comedians, Adrian Edmondson, Miles Jupp, Neil Morrissey, and Robert Webb. Just to let you know a little about the physical production: people in the front row were given parkas to wear as they got wet when the actors came through the set, made of real ice, snow, and water. I didn’t think I was going to enjoy this play once it started but changed my mind after realizing that it showed how several characters’ true feelings and emotions come forth once they are faced with the reality that life may be limited. This may not sound like a comedy, but in the true nature of a good comedy there is a serious message presented, and that does not take away from the humor of the piece. This would be a difficult play to perform without the ‘wet set’, but after all is said and done, I had a good albeit dry time.


IRVING BERLIN’S WHITE CHRISTMAS, THE MUSICAL; book by David Ives & Paul Blake; set design by Anna Louizos; costume design by Carrie Robbins; lighting by Ken Billington; sound design by Clement Wawling; choreography by Randy Skinner; direction by Morgan Young.

A more than capable cast performs this wonderful holiday show at the Dominion Theatre, one of London’s largest venues.  This is more of a traditional musical, well performed by the entire cast, starring Aled Jones, Tom Chambers, with great support from Louise Bowden, Graham Cole, Wendi Peters, Rachel Stanley, and a slew of talented singers and dancers . The choreography was superb as were the Irving Berlin songs we all know and love so well. Seeing this show after Christmas certainly did not deter from the wonderful joy this show brings to its audience.


CITY OF ANGELS; book by Larry Gelbart; music by Cy Coleman; lyrics by David Zippel; directed by Josie Rourke, for the Donmar Warehouse.

Donmar Warehouse is known to put on terrific productions, and this one is no different. City of Angels is about a writer and the story he writes, and the director has kept the tradition of presenting the writers' life in living color and the characters and storyline from his typewriter in black and white. The lighting by Howard Harrison is extraordinary in helping with just this theme.  For a little theatre, they have fantastic effects which bring this show to life. It is the best of all the productions of this show I have seen.


GHOST STORIES; at the Arts Theatre; by Andy Nyman & Jeremy Dyson; directed by Jeremy Dyson, Sean Holmes, & Andy Nyman; set & costumes by Jon Bausor; lighting by James Farncombe; sound by Nick Manning; special effects by Scott Penrose.

When a show is called Ghost Stories you have expectations of ‘being scared’ or ‘spooked’. This show did not disappoint!  This basically 4 character cast starring Paul Kemp, Simon Holmes, Chris Levens, and Gary Shelford held my interest from the moment it began.  Professor Goodman (Paul Kemp) begins with a lecture on ‘FEAR’, and his interviews are based on this subject. The ‘stories’ come alive, and with the help of the set, sound, and lighting, we are all subjected to the surprise elements erupting from the ghost stories. Thoroughly enjoyable! I am so happy I came to this theatre having never attended a performance there before.


SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE, THE PLAY; Adapted for the stage by Lee Hall; direction by Declan Donnellan; set design by Nick Ormerod; performed at the Noel Coward Theatre.

Not being a Shakespeare aficionado, I was surprisingly blown away by this piece. So funny and poignant at the same time! Beautifully acted by Tom Bateman and Lucy Briggs-Owen as the leads and beautifully supported by a wonderful supporting cast, this show just flew by for me. I never wanted it to be over. The leads showed more versatility between comedy and drama than I would have expected. And beautifully directed with the use of a fantastic set that captured the element of the Old Globe Theatre. Absolutely this was one of my highlights this year in London.


DANCE ‘TIL DAWN; book by Ed Curtis; director and co-choreographer Karen Bruce, other co-choreographers Flavia Cacace and Vincent Simone; creators Flavia Cacace and Vincent Simone; set designer Morgan Large; costume designer Vicky Gill; and light design by James Whiteside, with music & orchestrator Chris Egan; and assistant director and choreographer Elliot Nixon; Aldwych Theatre.

This delicious piece is the conception of the creators whom you may recognize from their many ‘Tango’ shows, who wanted their new show to have a ‘Broadway’ type feel.  Under the vale of a 40s murder mystery, including a detective who breaks the fourth wall and talks to the audience, having myself come from a dance background, I absolutely LOVED this show!  The actors are too numerous to mention, but each did their job to the fullest, creating an entertainment that you never wanted to end.  And the ‘bimbo’, Abby Osman, has such a magnificent singing voice. The show climaxed with the best Tango dance number performed by Flavia and Vincent I have ever seen. All in all, a fantastic piece of theatre that everyone enjoyed.


MISS SAIGON; at the Prince Edward Theatre; music by Claude-Michel Schonberg; lyrics by Richard Maltby, Jr & Alain Boublil; direction by Laurence Connor; musical staging by Bob Avian; additional choreography by Goeffrey Garratt; production designed by Totie Driver & Matt Kinley with sound design by Mick Potter.

I have seen this show at least 7 or 8 times and this production is probably the best one I’ve witnessed.  I believe this is my favorite musical of all time (including West Side Story).  This production far exceeded my expectations, especially since I heard they ‘updated’ this one slightly.  The leads included Jon Jon Briones (based out of Los Angeles) as the Engineer, Eva Noblezada as Kim (West End  debut in London), Alistair Brammer as Chris, Tamsin Carroll as Ellen, Hugh Maynard as John, and Kwang-Ho Hong as Thuy… each and every one of them brilliant in this remarkable show. The girls’ dance numbers are sexier than ever and they are more scantily clothed than other productions I’ve seen, and their more suggestive body language is apparent. I had heard they took out the helicopter… UNTRUE!!!  That scene worked wonderfully, as did all the group scenes filled with the additional cast members. I can’t say enough about this show… and this production.  Exquisite!!!


Well that’s it for now… 10 shows, not bad… I was only there for 8 nights.  Talk to you after my New York trip in April.
-Stan Mazin


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