Monday, 28 December 2009

La Cage aux Folles Review

A surprise Christmas present lead me to the theatre to see the West End revival which started off at my favourite Off West End Theatre, La Menier. Here is my review:

Before seeing the show, I knew next to nothing of the plot or the characters. The composer is Jerry Herman, who has composed other notable musicals, such as Hello, Dolly! and Mack and Mabel, none of which I have seen, purely because all of the original productions were staged before I was born, and with the exception of Hello, Dolly! (which I sacrificed in favour of Forbidden Broadway) there have not been any revivals in London or the surrounding area. The score was listenable, light and enjoyable, although it was a bit on the short side. Lots of the songs were quite similar, but the absence of slow ballads kept the show moving at a good pace. The book was written by Harvey Fierstein, and incorporated a range of clever, and some not-so clever, jokes. Of course, lots of them could be seen coming a mile off, but this was the nature of the piece. The storyline was relatively simple and predictable, but the cast managed to raise this into an extremely enjoyable experience.

The set was good, not too much and not too little. The scene changes were quick and fit in well with the story, although there were a couple of instances where there was nothing happen except for the movement of scenery and scene change music, however these moments were so scarce that this did not really matter. It was clever how the main stage area showed action happening backstage at La Cage aux Folles, then immediately transformed into the on-stage area. The set fit in well with the era (1970s France) that the show was set in and transported the audience back into the era.

The direction was very good. The dialogue scenes were directed very well, with the actors given plenty to do, and the interpretation of most of the characters was satisfying and deep.

I liked the choreography of the dance numbers, although I felt some sections were not choreographed enough and looked a little untidy. I also thought that sometimes the stage was not big enough for all the actors so looked a bit crowded.

The lighting design was okay, a bit boring in scenes where I felt it could have been a bit more exciting, for example in scenes where it was the La Cage aux Folles show.

Douglas Hodge in the lead role of Albin/Zazza was really good, fulfilling all the camp aspects of the role but also bringing great depth and understanding to the role. It never felt as though he was trying too hard and it was tough to tell that he was acting throughout – a sign of a really great performance.

Denis Lawson was great as Georges, reminding me of Emcee in Cabaret at several points, and getting into the swing of the show. He also made all the relationships seem really realistic and interesting.

The ensemble, especially Les Cagelles, were fantastic, a really tight unit who made the show fun and seemed to each have their own personality whilst moving as one. The rest of the cast in named roles were also good, Tracie Bennett was particularly entertaining as Jacqueline and really stood out in the midst of a very strong company.

Overall, La Cage aux Folles was a surprisingly touching show and something that will stay with me for many years. I hope it continues the success that it deserves on Broadway, in the same way as A Little Night Music has been doing.

Sunday, 20 December 2009


I'm actually starting to feel very Christmassy (which is actually not a word, but oh well), despite not feeling like this for the whole of December up until yesterday.

We put up the Christmas tree. Very exciting, probably the tree in all the world with the most unco-ordinated decorations, but I much prefer it to those boring people who buy one set of decorations which is then all they use so all the tree looks really like a tree you see in a catlogue or a magazine, with no originality at all.

It's was also the second day (third today) where the whole of the usually (!) sunny South East was absolutely covered in snow. I again ventured out, wearing my rather attractice wellies and hillwalking coat. I built my family out of snow on Friday, but on Saturday (yesterday) we drove to the next town, which actually wasn't that scary to be honest (I thought it would be) to see A Christmas Carol, on stage.

It was really cool, definitely a play with singing (acapella) as opposed to a musical, which is what I originally thought it was. I have now been inspired to tackle the novel, which I will do after (finally) finishing 1984. It must have been about a month now! Anyway, I don't really have much to say about it, other than that it put me in a very happy, Christmassy mood, even though I nearly slipped over six times on the way back to the car afterwards!

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Theatre 2009

So, I only have one more show left to see this year, which is A Christmas Carol, presented by a local amateur dramatics group at a really cool local theatre/film venue which used to be a church. I was feeling quite sad about this, because I love theatre so much, and it's strange to think that it's only been about nine months since I really got into it. A lot has happened in those nine months.

I think the most important thing, for me, was my first ever little job as a production assistant in the summer holidays. It helped me to realise how much I want a theatre career and most of all gave me a really good understanding of how a production is put together. I can read all the books I want, but they can only take me so far.

I thought I would start by posting a summary of the shows I've seen this year:

1. Chicago - West End - ****
2. Wicked - West End - ***
3. Mamma Mia - West End - ***
4. We Will Rock You - West End - **
5. Sunset Boulevard - West End - *****
6. 42nd Street - Amateur - *1/2
7. Forbidden Broadway - Off-West End - *****
8. Avenue Q - West End - ****
9. Les Misérables - West End - ****1/2
10. Little Shop of Horrors - UK Tour - ***
11. An Inspector Calls - West End - *****
12. Sister Act - West End - ****
13. Rent - Amateur - ***
14. Annie Get Your Gun - Off-West End - ****
15. A Christmas Carol - Amateur - Pending....

So, overall, an excellent year's progress! (As said in true Bridget Jones style). I'm pleased that I gave just three shows five stars and that I managed to avoid getting into the habit of giving every single thing I enjoyed five stars by default - if that were the case there would be a huge number of shows with five stars, I can guaruntee that.

I also thought of some overall thoughts about what I've seen this year. I decided that, although it's not my favourite musical, the performance of Sunset Boulevard I saw was absolutely outstanding and one of the best performances that I've ever seen. I decided that this was my favourite musical of the year.

An Inspector Calls is my play of the year, not just because it was the only play I saw (!) but also because I had studied it at school and the performance surpassed all the expectations I've ever had of seeing a play.

Forbidden Broadway was awesome, so I chose it as my favourite alternative style event/show. I finally found a whole load of other Broadway fans, all in one room, and the show was totally amazing!

Here are some notable performances that I really enjoyed:

David Shannon as Valjean in Les Misérables
Daniel Boys as Princeton/Rod in Avenue Q
Julie Atherton as Kate Monster/Lucy the Slut in Avenue Q
Patina Miller and Katie Rowley Jones in Sister Act
Helen Owen, the awesome understudy, as Eponine in Les Misérables
Kerry Ellis (my only reason for going to see it) in Wicked
Linzi Hately as Donna Sheridan in Mamma Mia

I now admire Stephen Daldry and Trevor Nunn as directors after seeing An Inspector Calls and Les Misérables respectively. I think that what they've created on stage is just stunning and I hope one day I can create as great a production as they have throughout their careers.

Finally, I'll post my top musicals list. It's changed quite a lot since I first posted it!

1. Rent
2. Avenue Q
3. Les Misérables
4. Chicago
5. Sister Act
6. Starlight Express
7. Sunset Boulevard
8. Annie Get Your Gun
9. Marguerite
10. Mary Poppins

I much prefer the look of this list now! I hope next year can be just as good, if not better, for my theatre trips!

Sunday, 13 December 2009

So.....I hadn't watched any films for ages, then:

I watched:

The Pianisit (2002)
Cheri (2009)
Synechdoche, New York (2008)
State of Play (2009)
The English Patient (1996)

in eight days. That sounded so much more impressive in my head, but now I've typed it out it doesn't seem impressive at all. Oh well. Anyway, I haven't ever done this on here (I think, at least, I never read my own blog), so I thought I would write my thoughts on each film. Here goes.

The Pianist (2002)

I think 2002 is fast becoming my favourite year of the decade for film. This film was captivating, wonderfully shot and directed by Roman Polanski. Adrien Brody's performance was amazing, definitely Oscar worthy, although for one reason or another the film left me a little bit cold. I cried more at the Boy in the Striped Pyjamas than I did at this. The violence inflicted on the Jews caused sudden, sharp tears to form in my eyes, but in the back of my mind it was obvious that he was going to survive, so there was no real point where I felt scared that he wouldn't. Overall, though, the story was amazing and I am now in an impossible position - this or The Hours for my BP win in 2002? One thing's for sure, though, Chicago is now definitely out, though I still love it.

Cheri (2009)

I had been looking forward to seeing this. Not because of the presence of Keira Knightley's (rather attractive) boyfriend, of course. I am a serious film watcher. Actually, we all have our weaknesses. Mine is Rupert. This wasn't my only reason though. Cheri, I could see from the poster and calibre of the film, that it was probably Oscar worthy, but would sadly not get a look in at the Oscars. Pleasingly, I was right. I love it when this happens. Anyway, Michelle Pfeiffer's performance was the best I've seen from an actress this year (bearing in mind that I've not seen much). All of the other performances, paticularly Rupert's (!) and Kathy Bates', were also fantastic. The story was relatively simple, but the way the film was directed was beautiful. I've never been a Stephen Frears' fan (I fell asleep whilst watching The Queen), but this made me realise how good a film maker he actually is. However, what ruined it for me was the irritating voiceover. The screenplay was strong enough without it!

Synechdoche, New York (2008)

I really thought I would love this. I love Adaptation, Being John Malkovich and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, so why not this? The premise looked fantastic - the plot centres on a theatre director who becomes wrapped up in creating a replica of his own world in a battered New York warehouse. However, the film went on for two hours. During this time I became quite bored, none of the characters were rerally engaging and I just didn't connect with it in the way that I've connected with the writer's other films. Also, it left me with a really odd feeling about life.

State of Play (2009)

A political thriller. I felt inclined to watch it, mainly because of the buzz it got when it first came out. Let's just say that I wasn't disapointed in any way. Helen Mirren and Rachel McAdams gave paticularly good performances, although I would like to see a film where Helen Mirren does something other than her natural British accent. It was a fantastic story, very well scripted and managed to hold my interest. I just wish it had been released in the Oscar season, then it may have had a good chance at the awards.

The English Patient (1996)

I am now a bigger Kristin Scott Thomas fan than ever before. She stole the film, making it so (as it rightfully was) it was all her character's story. The scenery and direction was fantastic and transported me to another world. The way two different but inextricably linked stories were told together was really good, not at all confusing or annoying, though Katherine's story was the most interesting. Definitely better than Cold Mountain, and now one of my favourite films.

So, five films. School will be finished for Christmas soon, so I'll have more time to watch loads of films.

Friday, 4 December 2009

November....what a slow month it was!

Basically, I've just finished my mock GCSE exams (scary), so haven't watched any films since seeing An Education at the cinema. But, Nine comes out in exactly two weeks, which conincidentally is the last day of term, so hopefully I will get to see it then. I am looking forward to it so much - I've never seen a musical film (I'm not counting Mamma Mia) at the cinema before, and I absolutely love all the actresses, except maybe Kate Hudson and Fergie, and of course Daniel Day-Lewis. And of course it's directed by Rob Marshall, the reincarnation of Bob Fosse (in my humble opinion).

Near the beginning of the month I finally became a Renthead. I saw a really good amateur production of Rent, it was the best amateur production I've ever seen - it was very proffesional and looked so close to the Broadway show. The way a couple of the characters were played was annoying, but apart from that, it was thoroughly enjoyable. Great value for money, too! I wish that someone would revive Rent in the West End. Maybe one day I will.

Also at the theatre, this month I saw the revival of Annie Get Your Gun at the Young Vic in London. I'm now going to post a slightly shorter copy of my review:

Annie Get Your Gun Review:

The story of Annie Get Your Gun is based on the real life of Annie Oakley. Quote of the evening, however, from the woman in front, showed her lack of knowledge. “This is a stupid story, isn’t it?” I absolutely love quotes like this, my all time favourite being the couple having a full on argument with the usher at Mamma Mia about why Meryl Streep and Pierce Brosnan weren’t in the show, or “They should put this on stage, it would be really good,” heard at the end of Sweeney Todd by a dear friend of mine in the cinema. If only they knew. This was a similar example here. Annie Oakley was a real person, and the majority of the events in the show were true, and occurred in her life, so that person had just effectively insulted an awesome historical figure.

Anyway, moving on. We arrived at the Young Vic at 6 o’clock, an hour and a half before the performance, because there was that wonderful thing in operation, known as unreserved seating. We were second in the queue to get into the auditorium, behind three relatively old ladies, so managed to grab some great seats, right in the middle and five rows from the front. The actual theatre was really nice and modern, and the restaurant/bar area had a really nice vibe.

The musical was composed by Irving Berlin in the 1940s. I’ll own up to it, before now I had never seen a musical composed before the 1980s, though I was born in the 1990s, so it’s excusable. This proves that Berlin’s scores are timeless, especially with White Christmas playing up North this season. I adore the score, there are so many classics in it that some people may not realise actually come from the musical. It’s like old films – you can’t beat them. EDIT: Just listenied to Razzle Dazzle, and realised that Chicago was first performed in the 1970s, so was therefore composed before 1980. Then, however, I realised that no one considers Chicago to be a classic musical anyway. Not classic in the classic sense. I think I’ll just stop with the Broadway history and get on with the review now.

The score had been rearranged by Jason Carr, who has a multitude of credits. I was a tad worried when I spotted that the orchestra would be made up of four pianos, but as the show progressed I realised how good the simple arrangement of the score sounded and how it suited the type of production. I would still like to hear it played by a full orchestra, though.

The direction was rather good. No, it was very good. For once the humour was not forced and it all seemed natural – consistency had been achieved across the actors. The stage was set very well, using video, holograms and even an ingenious extra stage area above the main stage, which was, you guessed it, a bedroom. There were some really great pieces of set, for instance a conveyer belt which the poor stagehands had to sit on stage loading and unloading scenery onto to signify a train journey, and a door which slid on to split the stage up for a multitude of situations. Back to the direction. I felt like the entrances and exits were always done very well, and the way the characters moved and utilised the space was very good. The interpretation of the characters was great, and a special mention must go here for the quality of the American accents from everyone.

Jane Horrocks. I will confess I knew little about her before seeing the show, other than that she lead the original production and subsequently the film version of The Rise and Fall of Little Voice. Within that role she obviously impersonated Ethel Merman, who happened to originate the role of Annie Oakley on Broadway. So far, so good. Her performance was entertaining and her vocals fit well, although at the beginning I had to adjust to her character voice. Richard Gere in Chicago gives character voices a bad name, but here Jane altered her voice as her character changed, suggesting a good understanding of the character and vocal ability. Her acting was good, and her comic timing perfect. Considering she is 45, she pulled off the role remarkably well.

Julian has still got it. It’s hard to believe that almost a year and a half ago I was seeing him in Marguerite. I can’t decide which performance I prefer, obviously Armand is a more challenging role than Frank, but unfortunately, as is often the case in musical theatre, both roles are second fiddle to the female lead. Julian gave the best acting performance, and, even if all else had failed, he would still have had his natural good looks and charm to fall back on. Not that Julian’s presence in the show had anything to do with me being there, of course.

All of the rest of the cast were excellent in their roles, but for me there were no particular standouts other than the two leads mentioned above. Overall, the stage musical is better than the film because there are almost three times the musical numbers, of which the interpretations are a lot better – in the film Betty Hutton seems to holler “Anything You Can Do” as opposed to singing. The show is also more engaging and stimulates the imagination more.

To conclude, it is now common knowledge that La Cage Aux Folles with fulfil its West End run then head to Broadway. This means that the Palace Theatre will be empty from 9th January, the exact day Annie Get Your Gun closes at the Young Vic. Now instead of picking up a boring jukebox musical (Dreamboats and Petticoats), wouldn’t it be nicer if Annie Get Your Gun could move to the Palace for the West End run it deserves?

So, that's my review. It's quite long, really, but I do enjoy writing them. Not much else theatrey/filmy happened to me this month, although I did vote for the theatregoer's choice awards. Seems like the annoying revival of Oliver has everything (undeservedly) in the bag. Disapointed not to see Katie Rowley-Jones nominated for best supporting actress in a musical, but the other performances nominated were really deserving too.

Tonight I'm hopefully going to watch a film (finally).