Tag Archives: savoy theatre

Dreamgirls (Savoy)

Now coming to the end of a two and a bit year run, Dreamgirls remains a spectacle with numerous set and costume changes, and a killer of a first act closer in “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going”, which at this performance Marisha Wallace delivered with devastating style and emotion. That girl can sing!

Marisha Wallace in Dreamgirls. Photo by
Brinkhoff & Mögenburg.

This story feels a bit like the real-life one of The Supremes, in which one of the trio becomes pre-eminent over the others. In Dreamgirls, Effie White, larger than life in voice and body, sings lead until pushy Curtis, their new manager, decides to trade her in personally and professionally for one of the back-up girls, Deena.

In the meantime, third girl Lorelle is content to remain as back-up and as girlfriend to married showman Jimmy Early, who has a definite Little Richard vibe going on. Over time, the rechristened Dreams cross over into the white market, leaving Effie by the wayside until the (inevitable) comeback.

Dreamgirls poster
Dreamgirls poster

There’s not a great storyline here, and that act one closing declaration of courage, love, and resilience, doesn’t make much sense when the character singing it goes into semi-retirement for seven years before act two, but there are some great musical moments and in Wallace, Brennyn Lark (Deena), Asmeret Ghebremichael (Lorelle), Joe Aaron Reid (Curtis) and Tosh Wanogha-Maud (Jimmy) there are some charismatic and talented performers on display.

Henry Krieger’s score is on point to the period, and Casey Nicholaw directs with more than an nod to Michael Bennett’s original work, given the latter’s prominent credit in the programme. There have been snips and changes evident if you’re familiar with the Jennifer Hudson/Beyonce film, but this show retains a high energy and entertainment value to the end.

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Guys and Dolls (Savoy Theatre)

Another musical comes into the West End via the Chichester Festival, following the phenomenally successful ‘Gypsy’: this time Frank Loesser’s saga of New York gamblers and mission dolls, ‘Guys and Dolls’ which was first presented on the stage in 1950, with its inspiration from the stories of Damon Runyon, and characters like Harry the Horse, Society Max, and Liver Lips Louie.

Those of you familiar with the film version of 1955 might be confused at some score changes here – Miss Adelaide’s original first act number ‘A Bushel and a Peck’; Sky’s solo ‘My Time of Day’ which leads into his duet with Sarah, ‘I’ve Never Been In Love Before’ (replacing ‘A Woman in Love’, which is briefly heard as a background tune); Arveit’s solo ‘More I Cannot Wish You’ (with more than a hint of Harry Lauder in this version); and towards the end of act two, Adelaide and Sarah’s duet ‘Marry The Man Today’ (a fun song, but one I have always felt never belonged with the rest of the show).  You may also miss the song ‘Adelaide’ which was created to give Nathan Detroit a solo number in the film.

However, the score is sound and well-performed throughout – by the four leads (Jamie Parker as Sky Masterson, a real find who gives the gambler a real soft heart beyond the bravado – he’s no Brando, but he is different, and very good; Sophie Thompson as a terrific Miss Adelaide, all faded pizazz at the Hot Box and distraught love with the man who still hasn’t married her after fourteen years; David Haig as Nathan Detroit, who dispels memories of Sinatra with his genuinely seedy violet-suited crap game; and Siubhan Harrison as Sarah Brown, the Mission sergeant who gets tipsy and finds herself and her true love) and supporting players alike.

This is a bright, brash and fun show, which highlights some of the rough edges (what do the Hot Box girls really do for their male clientele?) as well as showcasing some seriously talented performances from people who may otherwise not find musical leads – Ian Hughes as Benny Southstreet, for example, or Gavin Spokes who rightly brought the house down with act two’s knockout ‘Sit Down, You’re Rocking the Boat’ (which included some scat singing for General Cartwright, played at the show we saw by understudy Genevieve Nicole).

I must also mention Peter McKintosh’s set design, Tim Mitchell’s clever lighting, and Carlos Acosta’s choreography.  Catch this in its brief London stop or on the continuation of its tour if you can.


Gypsy (Savoy Theatre)

Moving swiftly into the West End following a successful run at the Chichester Festival, this quintessential Broadway musical camps up at the Savoy in lyricist Stephen Sondheim’s 85th birthday year, with just one cast change (Peter Davison replaces Kevin Whately as Herbie).

Written in 1959 to a book by Arthur Laurents, with music by the late Jule Styne (1905-1994), this musical takes the real life memoirs of Gypsy Rose Lee (born Louise Hovick) as its source, choosing to present the story of this most famous of strippers and her little sister June (who made it big in Hollywood as June Havoc) by focusing on their most monstrous of stage mothers, Momma Rose.

As Rose, Imelda Staunton must be aware she has some big shoes to fill.  Although singers such as Betty Buckley, Bernadette Peters, Patti Lu Pone, Tyne Daly and Angela Lansbury have appeared in well-received productions, each and every portrayal arguably has the ghost of the greatest of them all, Miss Ethel Merman, hanging over them.  And although the tiny Staunton proves to be an engaging and convincing powerhouse, you can’t help thinking that her Rose is channelling those big voices of the past (and doing it very well).

If Staunton is harking back to Merman and others, then Davison seems to be taking inspiration from Jimmy Durante with slightly off-key and often gravelly vocals, which give his characterisation a curious and sinister quality.  He does get into the spirit of the role, though, throwing himself into the ‘that’s showbiz’ vibe of ‘Together Wherever We Go’ and slumping visibly when he realises that Rose will never be the calming wife he seeks to spend his declining days with – this man gives years to Rose and her daughters and their increasingly awful vaudeville act, and yet proves dispensible at the end.

Lara Pulver, previously seen on television as the confident dominatrix Irene Adler in ‘Sherlock’, is a quite wonderful Louise, moving effortlessly from the quiet innocence of ‘Little Lamb’ (“I wonder how old I am”) to the brassy confidence of the strip-woman (“My mother says ask them what they want and then don’t give it to them … but I am not my mother.”).  She comes out of her shell wonderfully in the second half of the show when she finally emerges from the shadow of her squeaky voiced sister (Gemma Sutton).

The best number though, which rightly brought the house down, is ‘You Gotta Get a Gimmick’, in which three old burlesque performers give advice to the newcomer.  Louise Gold is quite superb and hilarious as Mazeppa (“bump it with a trumpet”), while Anita Louise Combe is a gracefully ageing Tessie Tura and Julie Legrand a cheeky Electra.  This routine boasts the original Jerome Robbins choreography, a good decision as why try to improve on perfection?

Stand-out songs to look out for are the spunky ‘Some People’ in act one, where Rose vows to strike out and make her girls stars, and ‘If Momma Was Married’ where June and Louise wish for a normal existence, off the road.  But it is Staunton’s ‘Rose’s Turn’ which gets the emotions stirring, and which give her the standing ovation she rightly deserves.  On the debit side I felt ‘Mr Goldstone’ could have had more zip, but it is a small quibble.

The staging is simple – a fake proscenium arch with variety boards title each scene, the sparsed of sets indicate living and performance spaces.  This allows the lush orchestrations and the clever lyrics from a writer just beginning to flourish to come through.  I wouldn’t have used the area beyond the thrust stage, though: it isn’t fair to those in cheaper seats and adds little to the proceedings.  Better to let the orchestra (who are brilliant) stay seperate and do their thing.

Jonathan Kent’s sparkling revival (the first in London for forty years) is worth a look, and if you like the traditional, old musicals it will not disappoint.  If you’re used to the brash and modern pieces then you might find it slow (especially the lengthy overture), but be patient, and this ‘Gypsy’ will reward you.

For more on the real-life Hovick sisters, see here for Gypsy herself (in 1943):

and here for June (also 1943):

while Rose Hovick’s story is told in the book ‘Mama Rose’s Turn‘.


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