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On Your Feet (London Coliseum)

The London transfer of the story of Gloria and Emilio Estefan comes to St Martin’s Lane with lots of cheesy energy, chock-full of hits from Gloria and the Miami Sound Machine.

The rather thin plotline follows the young Gloria as she performs in her community, before growing up to catch the attention of Emilio, at this point playing weddings and the like with little success.

The company of On Your Feet

The company of On Your Feet

Although she sings “Anything for You” at her audition (complete with a section where all the other observers leave the stage, letting the young couple have their ‘love at first sight’ moment), the Machine is strictly Latino and pitched at that market.

Gloria’s home life consists of a mother who had performed, successfully, in Havana, now resenting her daughter’s ambition; a father sick with MS and mute except in flashbacks and one dream sequence where he gives his child advice; and a younger sister who isn’t sharply enough defined for us to get a sense of her.

Christie Prades as Gloria Estefan

Christie Prades as Gloria Estefan

With these is Consuelo, the tough grandma who also provides the comic relief as well as key support for Gloria as she builds her career. I liked her scenes, but it’s a trope we have seen so many times before, the helpful granny.

The music is good, and the production values are high in terms of lighting and effects – the set is mainly a series of sliding platforms to keep the action moving.

George Ioannides and Christie Prades as the Estefans

George Ioannides and Christie Prades as the Estefans

Act one closes with dancing in the stall aisles and “Conga”, before a pace change in the second half with Gloria’s road accident and rehabilitation. For me this slowed the pace too much for what has been marketed as a show which will get you “On Your Feet” and presumably keep you there!

As the Estefans have had a long and happy marriage, there’s nothing much to exploit there in the way of conflict, and other than their record label declining to support “Dr Beat” or put money into their albums, there’s little sense of the obstacles faces by a Latino group crossing over into a white market (other than a great joke about Sweden feeling like “a land of dancing cotton buds”).

Christie Prades and company of On Your Feet

Christie Prades and company of On Your Feet

For all the high energy of this piece, it is a jukebox musical with a sliver of story, and if you paid full price for your tickets you may feel a little disappointed. Look around for the many discounts available and you may feel you have more value for money.

Gloria Estefan is played by Christie Prades, who gets the singer’s mannerisms and vocal patterns just right. Emilio is George Ioannides, who did well with an underwritten role (and a slightly troublesome microphone). Madalena Alberto (who was in Aspects of Love earlier in the year) is Gloria’s mother, and Karen Mann is Consuelo.

On Your Feet continues at the London Coliseum. Tickets are available throughout the remainder of the run, but shop around for the best prices.

Photo credits – Johan Persson.

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Man of La Mancha (London Coliseum)

In their tradition of star-led revivals of classic musicals, the ENO have now brought Mitch Leigh and Joe Darion’s Man of La Mancha back into London, with American theatre and TV star Kelsey Grammer in the lead.

Kelsey Grammer in Man of La Mancha

Kelsey Grammer in Man of La Mancha

Although it is true that Grammer’s long runs in Cheers and Frasier have undoubtedly gained him fans in the UK, and his earlier musical forays into Big Fish (at The Other Palace) and A Christmas Carol (catch it annually, on TV) have proved a certain familiarity with the medium, some disquiet has been expressed with his stepping into the shoes of Placido Domingo, Richard Kiley, and, er, Peter O’Toole (although I liked him in the film) as Don Quixote, the Knight of the Woeful Countenance.

With the big numbers The Impossible Dream, Man of La Mancha, and Dulcinea, quite a burden is placed on Grammer who is clearly an average singer at best: still, his charisma and acting ability carries the difficult role of Cervantes telling the story of a weak-minded man who tilts at windmills and thinks his destiny is “to right the unrightable wrong”.

Kelsey Grammer in Man of La Mancha

Kelsey Grammer and Cassidy Janson

The leading lady at this performance was Cassidy Janson, who I have seen before in Beautiful and Chess, and although she lacked a bit of the indignant fire brought to the role by Julia Migenes in the glorious album recording, she is effective at the “kitchen slut reeking with sweat” who eventually believes in that “impossible dream”, and she sings It’s All The Same well enough.

Add Peter Polycarpou (remember the original Bui-Doi in the 1989 Miss Saigon?) as devoted and comical Squire Sancho Panza, and Nicholas Lyndhurst (the Starkeeper from previous ENO production Carousel and long-time TV sitcom favourite) as a sinister leading prisoner and a drunken innkeeper, with a chorus of talented lesser roles, and you have a show worth watching, although it is in no way worth the top asking prices.

The company of Man of La Mancha

The company of Man of La Mancha

The opening, set in a jail pit reached by a lowered metal staircase, feels grim, but comes to life as Cervantes states “I will impersonate a man” and brings the tale of battle and chivalry to life to save his precious manuscript in a trial by his peers.

There are bits and pieces in this uneven musical that give away its age – the gang attack on Alonza is pretty horrible – but the score largely stands up, with moments of telling comedy in I’m Only Thinking Of Him and A Little Gossip, and effective orchestrations of those big numbers.

Cassidy Janson and company of Man of La Mancha

Cassidy Janson and company of Man of La Mancha

Man of La Mancha continues until 8 June, and is heavily discounting and offering upgrades if you’re tempted. For me I was glad to catch a fully-staged version (directed by Lonny Price) which at least tries to do justice to a musical which is often dismissed as a piece of history.

Photo credits Manual Harlan.


Carousel (London Coliseum)

This musical is one of my firm favourites, but the lead casting choices didn’t fill me with joy when they were first announced.  I’m familiar with both Katherine Jenkins and Alfie Boe as popular singers of mainly operatic fare (although neither have ever sung in a full-length opera), and to me they were hardly the embodiment of Billy Bigelow and Julie Jordan.

carousel-ENO

However, the supporting cast and the spectacular full-staging has been gathering praise despite some lukewarm reviews from both professional and blogging critics, and I do like the score, so I bit the bullet and bought a couple of tickets in the Upper Circle, which were overpriced and allowed fairly awful views and minimal leg room.

The show, though, has some great numbers and the ensemble pieces were well-delivered (‘June Is Bustin’ Out All Over’, ‘Blow High, Blow Low’, ‘What’s The Use of Wond’rin’), with some excellent chorus work and choreography.  Derek Hagen as Jigger, Brenda Edwards as Nettie, and Davide Fienauri as the dancing Carnival Boy need special mention as they lifted the energy and engagement levels whenever they appeared.

Gavin Spokes gives a real comic edge as well as some serious singing class to the role of Mr Snow, while Alex Young is a splendid Carrie, rightly getting warm applause for ‘When I Marry Mr Snow’ and ‘When The Children Are Asleep’.  This last song is a duet between Young and Spokes, who demonstrate the chemistry that is sadly lacking in the big lead duet ‘If I Loved You’, which should pull the audience in to the sudden emotional and deep love between Billy and Julie.

Let’s talk about Katherine Jenkins as Julie.  It’s been reported that as well as company voice coaching she has been receiving private acting lessons, and they have rubbed off as well as can be expected.  However she cannot both sing sweetly and put across the complex emotional range needed for the character, leaving her numbers to be simply very nice to listen to for the melody.  But in Act Two, where she has to engage with her wayward daughter, she’s fairly convincing, and her casting wasn’t the disaster I feared.

Which leaves Alfie Boe as Billy.  Reviews have not been kind, primarily to the wig which has now been replaced with something more in keeping to what a carnival barker might have worn.  His acting has been derided, too, with him being described as ‘a floorboard’, ‘a child pretending to be an adult’, and similar.

It may be the way the role was directed, but his stance is not in the least sexy or smouldering as it should be, and he’s just not convincing, and we don’t really understand what Julie sees in him.  In fact at the start of the big seven-minute Act One closer, ‘Soliloquy’, the way he stood made me think of the actors who taught thick Prince George how to deliver a speech in Blackadder.

The ‘Soliloquy’, though, is the undoubted highlight of the role, and by the end, the strength of the song came through and the effect was rather touching; we did, at last, believe that this man had found the heart within himself on discovering he was to become a father.

The staging though was odd, with the revolving circle which had been used to great effect in the opening ‘Carousel Waltz’ overture to introduce all the character and the show’s name itself, in letters revolving, oddly, backwards.  In the ‘Soliloquy’ Boe spent most of the number alone, as is right and proper for a number in which the character vocalises his thoughts,  but I expected a bit more use of both space and backdrops than we got.

Act Two started with some drama, as we were told that Alfie Boe had been feeling progressively ill during the first act and was unable to continue, leaving understudy Will Barrett to come on and deal with the tricky scenes of Billy’s death, engagement with the Starmarker (Nicholas Lyndhurst, in little more than a cameo), and as an invisible observer to his daughter’s childhood.  It would be hard to judge Barrett’s singing in Act Two as not much is required, but I felt he acted the part better, overall, and had a more believable engagement with Jenkins, as well as with Amy Everett, playing their daughter Louise.

Lonny Price directs, and Josh Rhodes is the choreographer, with David Charles Abell conducting the ENO Orchestra.  And no matter what the publicity says, this is most certainly not a semi-staged musical, there is a full set, costumes and flavour.  I can’t recommend it unreservedly due to the weakness of the two leads, but it is not the dud I thought it would be.


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