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COMPANY Musical Supervisor Joel Fram: ‘Songs are dramatic journeys, little one-act plays; there are some actors you help lead through that journey and some who show you the way – Marianne has made sure we are all telling the same story together.’

Joel Fram Photo by Helen Maybanks
Joel Fram Photo by Helen Maybanks

Joel Fram Photo by Helen Maybanks

Joel Fram is an international music arranger and conductor. He has worked extensively in the West End and on Broadway. He also happens to oversee the Musical Theatre Writing Workshop at the National Theatre.

I thought it would be a good idea to have a chat with Joel during tech week as he has literally the most important job. He’s making COMPANY happen. “I am one of many people making COMPANY happen,” he says with a laugh. “My job is to look after the music department and make sure we are taking good care of Mr. Sondheim’s score.”

Fram knows what he is talking about. He conducted WickedScandalousSweet Smell of SuccessThe Music Man,and Cats on Broadway and his West End productions include the London premiere of Wicked (starring Idina Menzel).

Company

Company

In many ways, Fram is the ideal ambassador for the new West End production of George Furth and Stephen Sondheim’smusical Company. Exuberant, concise and full of life. “To be in the room with this amazing cast and our fantastic orchestra, singing through this iconic score – what a thrill,” he says.

Joel is working alongside Marianne Elliot on the upcoming gender-swap production of COMPANY. Elliott changed the character – originally a mid-thirties singleton Bobby – from male to female, Bobbi. Sondheim gave his blessing to proceedings, as well as sanctioning minor revisions to the script.

Being Musical Supervisor on COMPANY must be a career high right? “It has been a career highlight to work with Marianne, the great Stephen SondheimDavid Cullen – all people I’ve admired for many years,” he says. “Steve is courteous and supportive. When Marianne and I were in his living room, pitching this idea for the show, we were making a big ask – switching the gender of a leading character in a very famous, ground-breaking musical.”

Where does he go from here? “I’m not sure what’s next – but for now, I just want to live in this very special moment”, Fram reasons.

Today, though, COMPANY is where his heart is. “COMPANY is the product of great minds, and it seems that this piece was and is very personal to all of its original creators. But as we worked through our concept, it became clear that Steve has a real affection and respect for Marianne and her work. He was willing to take a gamble – and he’s been incredibly generous and supportive every step of the way.”

As for there being three productions by Elliott running in London simultaneously from November with Curious Incidentplaying a limited run at the Picaddilly Theatre, Company at the Gielgud, and her production of War Horse returning to the National Theatre; Fram is thrilled. “I just became aware of that yesterday,” he says. “It’s a notable feat in itself, but it also has a lot to say about a long-overdue re-balancing of women’s roles in the theatre.”

“Marianne is such a thoughtful and inspiring director,” he beams.

 “We are in the hands of a wildly inventive thinker, someone who investigates every single word of text. She won’t settle for anything less than the truth, and I think that is what makes her work so successful, moving and enduring. Marianne works so carefully on the scenes – but she also puts her eye on the songs in the same way, investigating both music and lyrics in terms of dramatic structure,” says Fram.

COMPANY boasts a top-notch cast and creative team. What can we expect from them? “Rosalie Craig brings such warmth and humanity to the role, and Patti LuPone is a remarkable Joanne – to name just two.”

“Conducting actors of this calibre is an honour. Songs are dramatic journeys, little one-act plays; there are some actors you help lead through that journey and some who show you the way – Marianne has made sure we are all telling the same story together,” he says. “Also, I have the most amazing orchestra in the West End.”

What does he enjoy doing that has nothing to do with his career? He laughs. “I am an avid baker – you could say obsessed – so imagine having Bake Off’s Mel Giedroyc in the cast! I mean, I can barely breathe when she walks in the room,” says Fram.

“Anyway, throughout rehearsals, however late or tired I was when I got home, I made sure I baked – every single day. Let’s just say I’ve heard that I have some big fans in the company – well, ­fans of my biscuits, at any rate. And I take requests.”

I ask him to choose between musicals Gypsy or Follies. “Oh God. That is a very tough question.” Pause.

“I don’t think there could be a life without either… I would say the best way to answer is: ‘Waiting Around for the Girls Upstairs’ and ‘If Momma Was Married.’ So, both.”

Company runs at the Gielgud Theatre from 26 September to 22 December 2018.

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Theatre Diary: Sweet Charity, SIX The Musical, Abigail’s Party & Eugenius!

It’s a popular misconception, and one frequently held by opportunists, that low quality, no-redeeming-features musicals are easy to palm off on theatre fans. See: Heathers / The Band.

Far from being guaranteed to rock your world, EUGENIUS! is guaranteed to bore you rigid. It is with deep regret that I inform you this sci-fi super hero show is not a good musical in any world.

There are moments you feel the show wants to get out of first gear; when the bizarre dancing fish people appear. Aaron Renfree’s choreography is perfectly satisfactory. Oh, and he was an S Club Junior as well.

This production has been tottering around London for 2 years now – originally staged as a concert at the London Palladium in 2016. But it is 2018 and Ben Adams and Chris Wilkins’ 80’s inspired show is back at The Other Palace. It has very few redeeming features, aside from Rob Houchen. He plays the lead role of Eugene well.

Most of the music doesn’t work, but it scores a palpable hit with ‘Comic Book Kind Of Love’. Every other line, every other character, seems mechanical. It just doesn’t know what it is or who it is for. I also take issue with the grossly stereotype homosexual character – played by Scott Paige. It’s just not funny to have an effeminate individual just for their gayness. Basic.

The Warwick Davies produced musical starts off being far better than you might have expected, ends up being far worse than you could ever have feared. Sadly, it swerves anything meaningful and hurls itself into a sort of risible parody of a parody affair with basic gender stereotypes, a ropey design and misguided sexual politics, which is a bit disappointing but, well, it’s 2018 isn’t it. Avoid.

Life in prison for Warwick and the other two, please.

At Nottingham Playhouse, Rebecca Trehearn demonstrates how Sweet Charity should be done. Everything glides by like a dream.

As Charity Hope Valentine Rebecca Trehearn enters like a ditzy lioness in Bill Buckhurst’s triumphant revival of the 1966 Broadway hit – the first musical produced by the Playhouse in over a decade. Everyone is in most assured hands with choreographer Alistair David, master of clever choreography that animates everything. Sizzling stuff.

SWEET CHARITY

SWEET CHARITY

Things soar with a dazzling interpretation of Big Spender and Buckhurst brings his particular gifts to the show: nimble direction, razzle-dazzle, pinpoint characterisation. Yes, it goes on a bit, at nearly three hours long. Nonetheless, an evening of many enchanting charms with a winning vitality.

Another year, another revival of Abigail’s Party. Douglas Rintoul’s treacle slow production both stages and stays faithful to Mike Leigh’s acidic comedy about 1970s social norms at Queen’s Theatre, HornchurchMelanie Gutteridge is beautifully contained as the ghastly host Beverley, though. Her delivery of: “Laurence, Angela likes Demis Roussos. Tony likes Demis Roussos, I like Demis Roussos, and Sue would like to hear Demis Roussos: so please, d’you think we could have Demis Roussos on?” brought a wide smile to my face. Brilliant.

There are plenty of quietly enjoyable moments. But everything lacks depth that would give it savour. The design helps; Lee Newby’s smartly 70’s kitch work frames the action acutely.

But this is a safe evening: a retrieval rather than a rediscovery, it adds nothing new. The greatness of Leigh’s play lies in its unspoken wish that aggressive suburban consumerism might itself one day have the courage to confront reality.

A new British musical that’s as brilliant as it is absolutely daft, Six The Musical has made the last few years of Arts Theatre, London worth all the hassle.

Managing to be an inspiring piece about female empowerment without being trite and generally shit, SIX The Musical enjoyed a sell-out run at Edinburgh Fringe this year and arrives in town evolved with a real buzz.

Cheers all round for a resounding bunch of queens. A royal affair, sassy performances and a show-making all-female crew stir in tinselly costumes. This concert-style show about the six wives of Henry VIII is a real joy.

SIX

SIX

Yes, the message here is probably as substantial as Girl Power once was / is, but this is stompy musical theatre perfection nonetheless. There’s a strong sense of ‘imperial phase Little Mix’ in this musical, which is to say it’s close to pop musical perfection. There’s a lesson to be learned here.

Eugenius! is at The Other Palace until 21 October.

Sweet Charity is at Nottingham Playhouse until 22 September.

Abigail’s Party is at Queens Theatre Hornchurch until 22 September, then touring. 

SIXthe Musical is at Arts Theatre, London until 1 December.

 

 

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Kiln Theatre: why the north London theatre rebrand is cause for celebration

Indhu Rubasingham

Indhu Rubasingham

The Tricycle is no more: earlier this year Indhu Rubasingham relaunched it as the Kiln theatre.

Before going any further, let’s nail this idea that Kiln Theatre is a mistake. It’s a dangerous half-truth which seriously underestimates artistic director Rubhasingham. So it should be pointed out as a matter of urgency, that it is not the end of the world.

This week, though, former artistic directors and board members of the north London Theatre, are urging the venue to revert to its previous name, the title it held for 38 years.

In a letter to The Observer 15 people signed a letter in the Observer criticising the decision. The list includes all three previous chairs of the board – Andree Molyneux, Patricia Macnaughton and Stephen Phillips – as well as the theatre’s original architect Tim Foster, and others.

In the letter, they say: “The Tricycle was a landmark in London, and a brand locally, nationally and internationally. In our view this change of name throws away a valuable legacy and history.”

I’m kind of over this obsessive and credibility-destroying campaign. Yes, renaming Tricycle Theatre has misfired. But it is the opposite of an attempt at demolishing an old identity.

Understood? Good. Then let’s proceed in an open-minded fashion with the Trike, the focus group years, where there is a £7 million capital development programme, not dissimilar programming to before and a new name: Kiln Theatre.

A Kiln Theatre spokesperson said “Theatre is not, and never has been, primarily about preserving a legacy. Theatre by its nature is ephemeral and impermanent, it’s about reflecting the world around us, provocation, and ultimately change. We are representing the theatre for today as we embark on the next stage of the company’s story in the newly refurbished building we have worked incredibly hard to deliver over the past five years, and one that we are futureproofing for the next generation.”

Elsewhere, Michael Billington also put the boot in this week. Writing in The Guardian, he says: “Even the restructuring of the building is no reason for changing the name. In recent memory both the Bush theatre in Shepherd’s Bush and the Orange Tree in Richmond have moved from spartan rooms above pubs into more spacious premises, but they retained their original names.”

Thank God, then, for Jim Carter and Imelda Staunton who sent a letter into The Guardian urging ‘everyone who professes to have loved the Tricycle’ to support its new name and its artistic director’

I asked a few people for their thoughts on the debacle. Slung Low’s Alan Lane said: “I have some sympathy with Kiln. We’ve a small group of men in Holbeck who when ever they get the chance denounce us as communists and sodomites and all sorts of things. The criticism is occasionally aimed at us by others that we haven’t brought the whole community with us. And of course we havent. I don’t care what the place is called and I’m bored of this little cabal of dickheads who keep theatre stuck in this dreary relationship with the past and with money and with community. We’re meant to be the dangerous art.” Amazing.

Inside Kiln Theatre’s revamped auditorium

Inside Kiln Theatre’s revamped auditorium

On the other side of the fence is critic Dominic Cavendish: “I can’t quite see the point in the name-change, you need innovation and continuity when you effect a major exercise in rebranding. As someone who writes for the Telegraph, I’m fairly used to the anachronism of the ‘title’ I work for – and for some the name itself might suggest a newspaper that hasn’t kept pace with modern technology; but even if there are things a paper, or a theatre, can do to widen its appeal and demographic, I think there’s something self-defeating about a name change; all theatres are built on legacies; unless those legacies are completely toxic, embrace the ghosts of years gone by! The Tricycle programme as was is, incidentally, nothing any artistic director should feel the need to disown, which some might infer is the subtext.”

On the surface the rebrand has misfired badly and people have lined up to throw bricks at the decision, but I think it’s just cosmetic. Which seems like a shame. If we ever needed someone to shake up a staid theatre industry, it’s now.

Cynics be damned – there’s an uncomplicated reason why Indhu Rubhasingham has had so many hits and secured a £7 million facelift for the building. It’s that people like really good theatre, and she makes it happen.

Kiln Theatre is a cause for celebration, a new era – and it’s exactly what 2018 needs.

Give her a break, folks.

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Edinburgh Festivals Diary: Day 4

Meek

Meek

It has been a heady few days – and of course – nearly the end of the festival.

Saturday brought new levels of misery at Traverse Theatre as I settled down for Meek –Penelope Skinner’s dystopian new play for Headlong in association with the Birmingham Repertory.

Everything is directed by Amy Hodge with an overly-serious tone. It has the potential to be an interesting story, and one that deserves to be told and retold, albeit in rather more adventurous fashion. But the performances are strictly daytime soap. A play that should be a challenge feels relentless. And bleakness is the opposite of what makes theatre interesting.

Meek is, for the most part, a toolkit for stage-haters.

Paines Plough’s vibrant Roundabout programme in the Summerhall Courtyard includes new plays from Tom WellsMiddle Child, and more.

Sticks and Stones is a really, really fun hour. Vinay Patel’s play thrusts virtue-signalling and offence taking centre stage and unpacks how comically disarming vivacity can be. This is a tightly written story about workplace politics that widens into an exploration of free speech. In an exceptionally strong cast, Katherine Pearce is a knockout as the misguided B, who uses a word as part of a misfiring joke fuelled by regret and fury.

Sticks and Stones is one of this year’s coolest shows.

Build a Rocket has been awarded the Holden Street Theatres’ Edinburgh Fringe Award 2018, which gives winning shows the chance to take part in the Adelaide Fringe, which is absolutely idea.

Stephen Joseph Theatre’s production is a showcase for Serena Manteghi’s theatrical dynamism: the way she attacks Christopher York’s monologue.

This charming show follows a disillusioned young mum punching hard against a miserable world. York’s writing manages to strike a clever balance between humour and pathos as they recount a young person’s experiences in austerity Britain. Bold, minimal and surging. The story is wonderfully told, full of deep compassion, scalding rage and surprising humour. It’s not to be missed.

If you aren’t careful, the Fringe can feel like one never-ending theatrical treadmill. It is important to remember this is a marathon not a race; pacing yourself is essential.

I pop to a café by Pleasance Dome for a panini and a cup of coffee.

“Surviving the Fringe?”, I ask the owner.

“Just about,” begins the man I speak to. “There seem to be more people than ever in the city; not very many of them are spending money”, he adds.

“Interesting, why do you think that is?”, I ask.

“Ticket prices. They seem to go up and up and up every year. Most of them are £12-15.00 now. If you are taking a punt on an unknown company or work in progress and it is shit then that is a lot of money,” he says, sighing.

He has a point. Many individuals that I talk to keep telling me 2018 has been more challenging than ever to get full-price paying audiences, particularly for shows beyond the city centre.

I retire to the apartment where I am staying in just off George Square and get ready for Alan Cumming’s triumphant return to the International Festival with his Club Cumming at Leith Theatre.

Cumming delivers a raucous night of songs, guest stars and anecdotes. Anyway, the first guest was bearded baritone Le Gateau Chocolat in a gold lamé dress. Swish-swish.

The centrepiece – to these ears, anyway – is ‘I Who Have Nothing’. Desolate and jarring. At its heart it was a shrewd way of Le Gateau recognising – then owning – the space he occupies. The truth is, nobody else is delivering musical theatre quite like this.

The end time is 2.45am but Edinburgh peaked, for me and it’s 1.30am.

Way past my bedtime.

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Edinburgh Fringe Diary: Day 3 

Fringe Awards 2018

Fringe Awards 2018

I start the day by heading to the Fringe First Awards at Pleasance Courtyard. The weekly awards recognise new work at the Edinburgh Fringe and The Scotsman have been hosting the awards since 2004; they continue to be the most important awards at the Fringe.

Jason Donovan took time out of his short festival appearance to help present this morning’s Fringe Firsts. Summerhall and the Traverse have each won six awards this year, which is kind of remarkable.

Anyway, rules for the prize were simple. It doesn’t pretend to cover all genres – it would celebrate theatre, as theatre tends to suck in the best bits of other genres anyway.

Many congratulations to all the winners and nominees.

A quirky tale themed around extra-terrestrial sightings, Lights Over Tesco Car Park offers up the perfect theatrical fit for Oxford-based Poltergeist Theatre’s inimitable melancholy. These bright young things have crafted with charm and humour a simple but multi-faceted interactive show that works so superbly on so many levels. The whole thing is staged with infectious youthful seriousness; really enjoyable.

The production is staged with visual sophistication and is emotionally engaging. But, watching this playful study of outsiders, I too felt a sense of alienation. Clever stuff.

I head off to the Pleasance Cafe to have a chin wag with Lyn Gardner. We have a mint tea and discuss several shows that we have both seen. Gardner has been here all month: writing a daily blog for The Stage, participating in podcasts, reviewing for The Independent and seeing up to six shows a day.

She’s kind of amazing.

Clown Show About Rain explores the unpredictable nature of mental health. Clowning, beautiful visuals and physical theatre, this is a quietly enjoyable hour. A poignant piece that borders on the saccharine yet still contains some subtle theatre magic thrown in – there’s a vibrant dance scene with mops and the cast deserve an award for their facial expressions. Not awful.

I’m not quite sure how I ended up at a show about about a woman who has vaginismus, which is a fairly brazen set up. But Skin A Cat at Assembly Rooms, is a clever and frank drama. Isley Lynn’s comic play about one woman’s sexual identity was certainly an eye-opener.

Actually, the moments that do feel a little commonplace here are vastly outweighed by moments that allow uniqueness to shine through. A story that compels its audience towards strong feeling but keeps spectators at a distance. Worth a look.

David Greig’s expanded revival of Midsummer – originally a Fringe two-hander in 2008 – is inexplicably at the Hub for the International Festival. This spirited chamber musical is a thing of joy. It occasionally feels like hard work, though.

There are strong performances from Henry Pettigrew and Sarah Higgins, with a supporting on-stage band delivering a sweet soundtrack. But the dissonance between the forgettable songs and a man having a midlife crisis amidst a haze of hangovers is just too jarring to work. It goes on a bit.

I ended the night at Summerhall with Mark Fisher (The Guardian) chatting about life, Fringe fever & other things. Such fun.

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Edinburgh Fringe Diary: Day 2

Edfringe Diary -Day 2
Edfringe Diary -Day 2

Edfringe Diary -Day 2

What’s worse than

Pippin? 

Pippin without an interval. The Stephen Schwartz musical, originally directed by Bob Fosse, ran for 2,000 performances on Broadway. In London, it managed only 85.

This turgid youth-led production manages to be relentless and unforgivably off-key: the vocals are all over the place and the costume looks like someone has raided a clothing bank. Do you know what, this musical is not bad if you like this sort of thing, which I don’t and you probably don’t either. But still.

The whole thing seems like a massive ball-ache to be honest.

Ambitious themes pay off for Strictly Arts’ and Camilla Whitehill new play: Freeman at Pleasance Courtyard.

The piece explores the link between racism and mental health in a vibrant, uplifting, major-key 60 minutes. Regressive views on race are still dangerously pervasive. But this cast just clobber you.

Freeman can’t help but serve as a rallying cry, but it is more than a clarion call. It’s an exciting theatre thing. I.e. quite simply, totally good.

The End of Eddy opened this week at the Edinburgh International Festival ahead of its run at the Unicorn and Dublin Theatre Festival.

This slick coming of age two-hander is analytically adapted from the autobiographical novel by Édouard Louis. The two wide-eyed performers, Alex Austin and Kwaku Mills, work in tandem to deliver a profound and deeply moving 90 minutes that examines class, bullying, identity & homophobia. It really spoke to me.

Overall, a thoroughly intelligent, inspired and good-natured piece of theatre. A festival highlight for me.

Carl Woodward and a Drag Queen

Carl Woodward and a Drag Queen

Prom Kween in the Piccolo Tent is actually quite good, you know. The best zeitgeist satirical comedy in this year’s set of hopefuls, anyway. It feels basically like a show about becoming a drag queen. The subject is enticing: our hero Matthew wants to win his High School Prom and ends up competing against the stereotypes associated. A satirical and anarchic 60 minuted ensues.

The Ru-Paul inspired production doesn’t work quite as well as it should but this is a solid piece in a fun sort of way. It has a talented ensemble cast in teeny shorts, and who slip in a second from America hillbilly to Cher and reflective to wigged-up and glam and there are some real laugh out loud moments, but more light is required.

You better werk, etc.

A fun day.

Here is a photo of me with a drag queen. You’re welcome.

 

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Fringe Diary – Day 1: Edinburgh, I am amongst you.

I land at Edinburgh International Airport and hopped on a tram and to my utter delight was greeted by critic Matt Trueman who had spent 3 days in the Hebrides. We discussed shows and various other things and it came to light that he still hadn’t seen Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again…

“What!?,” I say – in disbelief.

He smiles.

“But Matt you’re the only person I know who could intellectualise Mamma Mia! (Matt recently appeared on a Channel 5 documentary chatting about the ABBA jukebox musical).

Actually, I did offer to take Matt to the cinema to see the film. But I won’t hold my breath.

Anyway, Edinburgh in August plays host to a vast amount of theatre and culture. But it’s the quality of the experience that counts for both industry figures, critics and residents, not the 3,000 plus performances. For me the Fringe is like Christmas and as Lyn Gardner put it recently: “Edinburgh Fringe is a great time to stock the larder for my theatrical year.” Truly.

My first show was Chris Goode’s sell-out site-specific show for Dante Or Die: User Not Found. This charming piece takes place at Jeeliepeace Cafe and is performed by Terry O’Donovan. We are handed headphones and a smart phone while Norah Jones plays.

It has something to say about memory and mortality and how we manage our social media footprint when we depart this world.

User Not Found could bring immersive theatre back from the dead. (I’m not usually a fan). Being simultaneously life-affirming and death-focused, however, is a tough act for any theatre-maker, but O’Donovan more than manages it. Beautiful.

European Citizen Popsong

European Citizen Popsong

Following the success of five previous seasons, Big in Belgium season at Summerhall always manages to produce some theatrical gold. Unfortunately, European Citizen Popsong is terrible.

This show doesn’t need any encouragement to be a preachy, right-on bore. Potentially, this could be a charming and cutting show that is bold enough to dish out stick to everyone, not just Brexit and Euroceptics and then progress to stage two of its development as a musical-comedy show: making it funny.

I walked out after 40 minutes.

HOME

HOME

In a terrific stroke, Geoff Sobelle‘s HOME is a quirky installation-slash-art-slash-theatre piece involves assembling a two-up, two-down house. It also involves unprepared audience members as co-performers.

A UK premiere at the Edinburgh International Festival this year, yet the show itself swarms with contradictory life. Much of it is terse, fuelled by low-key suspense and playful imagination. It’s a slow fragmentary show about an over-populated society.

I didn’t love it, though.

As late nights go, sticking All We Ever Wanted Was Everything in a 11.30pm slot – for one week only – Roundabout @ Summerhall is pure genius.

Middle Child’s forensic gig-theatre show is a heroic full-on piece of work that examines youthful dreams beautifully. The raucous live music and the lives it puts on stage, and the way you listen to dialogue. There is a sense of urgency and striving to bring about change in Luke Barnes’s engaging and ambitious play. All We Ever Wanted… makes you feel you can do anything. Everyone should sample it.

Edinburgh is amazing.

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 Dante or Die’s Terry O’Donovan: ‘I guess User Not Found is different to our previous experimental work; we really want to guide you through this.’ 

Terry O’Donovan
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Bloody hell: A Monster Calls, The King and I, The Jungle, Bring it On and Young Frankenstein

A Monster Calls

Sally Cookson’s brilliant and touching staging of Patrick Ness’s A Monster Calls is currently at the Old Vic, London. There were many moments of genius, in the direction and delivery of this gorgeous production. It’s another lovely, solid effort from one of Britain’s most enduring directors. There is something seriously lovely about the coiled rope and choral beauty that explodes into propulsion and colour – and its ambition is matched only by its beauty. Take Kleenex.
THE KING AND I

THE KING AND I

The Tony-Award winning Lincoln Center Theater production of the Rodgers and Hammerstein epic The King and I is currently gracing The London Palladium for a limited engagement. Powered by the lung-busting magnificence of Kelli O’Hara and Ken Watanabe’s star-power, respectively. The show-within-a-show in the second half does drag. But the dazzling spectacle and the skill of the performers on display is enveloped in designer Michael Yeargan and costume designer Catherine Zuber’s glorious work. I haven’t seen this much Gold Leaf since Follies.
Millennials will have only experienced the musical via the 1956 film. Yes, inert, and yes, problematic, yadda yadda, and, indeed creaky at times but at the heart of the sumptuous story is the struggle between modernity and tradition and production values. This is a unique showcase for the talent of many young actors of Asian ethnicity, too. The King and I is epic, timeless and superb.
Fun fact: the tiniest child in the small army of the King’s children is less than a metre tall. Adorable.
THE JUNGLE

THE JUNGLE

Is there a show that has had as much critical acclaim as The Jungle? First seen at the Young Vic last year, this vibrant migrant-crisis drama has moved into the West End. Stephen Daldry and Justin Martin’s production gets straight down to business placing us in the heart of an Afghan Café. Joe Murphy and Joe Robertson’s remarkable, rackety play is cleverly conceived; distinctively different. To that end, this kind of theatre is hard to get right but they do and the incredible company of performers bring the refugee crisis closer to home, making it more personal and difficult to ignore.
The essential grit in the oyster, though, is that towards the end, the whole narrative occasionally overestimates how much of a damn normal people give about politics and the charity appeal isn’t as clever as the creative team imagines. In fairness, none of that really matters, The Jungle is a harrowing reminder that everyone has a story worth telling.
I really tried to hate Bring it On – The Musical, but resistance is futile; it had me at “Being a cheerleader is like being a marine: you sign your life away.” It’s hard to resist this giddy musical based on the cult teen comedy. With songs by Lin-Manuel-Miranda and Ewan Jones’s choreography and direction give the whole show a lift. This originally premiered in 2011 on Broadway and the now the British Theatre Academy have brought it to Southwark Playhouse. Many of these bright young things will certainly go into the profession.
The chief glory of the show is Robyn McIntyre as Campbell, the captain of her high school team and vows revenge on her rival. A first-rate ensemble bless things with a remarkable energy, excellent comic timing and touching vulnerability. A predictable feelgood story but Bring it On is a blast, simply.
YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN

YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN

I will miss Young Frankenstein. The show has a book by Mel Brooks and Thomas Meehan, and music and lyrics by Brooks, and tells the story of Frederick Frankenstein who inherits his grandfather’s castle in Transylvania.
Both times I’ve watched it – Brooks’ horror movie spoof has felt grotesquely pertinent to the #MeToo whirlwind. Last year, I found it a poignantly contemporary antidote to the endlessly offended culture; this time, I laughed harder without discomfort at the naughty satire on the politics within the piece. Hadley Fraser undoubtedly does a marvellous job as Dr Frankenstein. Lesley Joseph, I have to say, is really quite splendid and relishes the role as scene-stealing Frau Blucher. Also, I really rate Diane Pilkington who is consistently excellent as Elizabeth. The rather fantastic live cast recording has also just been released; so check it out.
Complaining about unsubtlety is beside the point with material like this. In fairness, this show is extremely funny so the individuals who took issue with Young Frankenstein are credulous individuals who take everything at face value and with hindsight, make the Creature look smart.
Overall: some people like Young Frankenstein, some people do not. The latter people are wrong.
Young Frankenstein is at Garrick Theatre, London until 24 August.
A Monster Calls is at Old Vic, London until 24 August.
Bring It On is at Southwark Playhouse, London, until 1 September.
The King and I is at the London Palladium until 29 September.
The Jungle runs at the Playhouse theatre, London, until 3 November.
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London Theatre is a flickering tealight of hope: Allelujah! Bat out of Hell, Fun Home & King Lear

There is a special furnace in theatre hell reserved for rubbish state-of-the-nation plays, so I’ll keep it brief. You thought Young Marx was dull? Try staying awake through Alan Bennett’s new play, where the substance is so lacking that it prompted me to leave at the interval. Since the NHS is never out of the headlines and affects nearly all of us, we have long been crying out for a new play on the subject.

Unfortunately, Nick Hytner’s Allelujah! is not it. Generously described by Michael Billington as a “hospital drama”, rather than virtue signalling mediocrity. Not Bennett or Hytner’s finest hour, if we are honest.

Allelujah

Allelujah Photo Credit: Manuel Harlan

Old people singing and dancing sweetly– check.

Two original ‘History Boys’ – check.

A sub-plot involving immigration and Brexit – check.

I attempted to discover, once and for all whether Bat out of Hell was good. I can now announce my findings: no, it is nowhere near as dreadful as The Band.

This is exactly what, I think, consumers of Jukebox musicals – shows created out of the existing back catalogue of popular hits – want to see.

From musical to album to musical again, the mind-blowing scale of Jim Steinman’s Bat Out of Hell; robot bats, motorbikes and a Cadillac is quite something to behold. I loved the nonsense of it all. The main source of fascination, though, is how cunningly constructed and gloriously sung it is.

BAT OUT OF HELL

BAT OUT OF HELL

This Jukebox musical is so meticulously crafted, with entertainment in mind, that it becomes disorientating to watch.  

Sometimes you see a show and you can’t quite pin it down. I loved Fun Home at the Young Vic, the Tony-Award winning musical is based on Alison Bechdel’s 2006 striking graphic novel memoir about growing up gay. I know what you’re thinking, another Broadway musical making a long-awaited debut in London. But, if anything, the accolades attached to this show understate the level of theatre sorcery going on here: kids tap-dancing on a coffin, a lesbian protagonist and a closeted gay father. Absolutely ideal.

An intelligent book and an inventive score combine with  often unbearable-to watch emotional performances that are so neatly done. Part of a fine ensemble, Jenna Russell is a cut above the rest. I haven’t seen as concise and uplifting a musical all year. Bit special.

FUN HOME

FUN HOME

Just when you thought you’d had enough Shakespeare, along comes Ian McKellen’s victory lap as King Lear at Duke of York’s Theatre. Jonathan Munby’s monumental production began life at Chichester Festival Theatre in 2017. McKellen is, of course, sublime at least in terms of unassuming lucidness: you will not see such another dignified Lear this year. A brilliant Sinead Cusack add further class to an evening that combines with something more mystic and mythical.

KING LEAR

KING LEAR

79 year-old superstar McKellen shines solidly for 3 hours 40 minutes, in what may be his last major Shakespearean role on stage. We’ll miss him when he’s gone.

Unmissable. Truly.

Allelujah! is at Bridge theatre, London, until 29 September

Bat out of Hell is at Dominion Theatre, London until January 2019 (link https://batoutofhellmusical.com/)

Fun Home is at the Young Vic, London, until 1 September.

King Lear is at Duke of York’s until 3 November and will be broadcast live on 27 September via National Theatre Live.