Company (Gielgud Theatre)

This reimagining of Stephen Sondheim’s classic musical about a 35-year old man, Bobby, who juggles freedom with the wish of his married friends that he finds a lasting romance, makes Bobby become Bobbie, a woman dealing with the same preoccupations.

company 1

Rosalie Craig’s Bobbie now has three boyfriends (Theo, Andy and P.J.) who have the trio You Could Drive A Person Crazy in Act One. Of the five couples who interfere with her life in the name of friendship, one are a gay couple planning their wedding, leading to the hilarity of Getting Married Today where a neurotic “Jamie” (Jonathan Bailey) panics about whether dependable Paul (Alex Gaumond) is the right man for him.

Sarah and Harry (Mel Giedroyc and Gavin Spokes) constantly belittle each other, but in here there is love, too, as Harry explains in one of the great songs of the score, Sorry/Grateful, joined by David and Larry. Sarah is perhaps borderline bulimic, and Harry is a drunk, but their marriage can stand it because “everything’s different, nothing’s changed, only maybe slightly rearranged”.

Susan and Peter (Daisy Maywood and Ashley Campbell) find they are far better divorced than married; while Joanne and Larry (Patti LuPone and Ben Lewis) keep going as she is irritated by him and he is fascinated by her. In the original show, Joanne propositions Bobby, but here she offers her husband to Bobbie under a sugar daddy arrangement, which didn’t work in the same way for me.

company 2
Patti LuPone as Joanne

Jenny and David (Jennifer Saayeng and Richard Henders) are square and settled, and humour Bobbie by smoking the joint she offers them, clearly signalling they are grown up enough to move on from all that, and she isn’t.

Bobbie wears killer red heels throughout, and we see her being used by geeky Theo (Matthew Seadon-Young), who decides she isn’t marriage material, and by self-obsessed P.J. (George Blagden), who sees the universe revolving around him (Another Hundred People) rather than making any meaningful connection with others.

A night with dumb Andy (Richard Fleeshman) – formerly April the air stewardess – who has to fly off to Barcelona gives rise to a couple of surreal scenes, with the husbands of Bobbie’s friends visiting her bedroom while she is in coitus, and a dream sequence of many mirrored Bobbies and what could happen if she marries any of her three boyfriends.

The set is excellent, starting with a small lightbox that grows into a line of interconnected rooms, and some use of a box which rises from and sinks below stage level. Bobbie’s birthday balloons, too, become as small as in Alice in Wonderland, or are large as to be suffocating.

company 3
Gavin Spokes as Harry, Rosalie Craig as Bobbie, Mel Giedroyc as Sarah

The songs do not survive the transformation intact: I was particularly sorry to lose the original, poignant lyrics of Someone Is Waiting, an Act One solo for Bobbie who considers how a combination of her friends may make the perfect mate for her. The same problem hampers Getting Married Today and Barcelona (mistaking Andy’s name for Freddy instead of April’s for June is not quite as funny).

There are compensations, though. Patti LuPone’s The Ladies Who Lunch lives up to expectations, Rosalie Craig’s Being Alive, which closes the show, is moving and effective, and the ensemble number Side by Side is livened up by a farcical bit of movement work.

I can’t get on board with the praise that has been lavished on this production to the point that “the original may never be done again”.

It’s an interesting experiment, and Marianne Elliott is to be congratulated on making it such fun and relevant to middle-aged women (and Sondheim himself for allowing and facilitating the changes to his exquisitely crafted songs), but for me, it didn’t quite come off.

company 4

This remains my favourite Sondheim from a songs alone point of view, but I find that Follies, A Little Night Music, and Sweeney Todd all have a more coherent storyline. Company remains extremely cynical about relationships, and where for a man the concept of Have I Got a Girl [Guy] For You seemed acceptable laddish banter, when sung by women to another woman it just seems a bit sad.

Photograph credit: Brinkhoff/Mögenburg.

Company continues at the Gielgud Theatre.

Advertisements

Follies (National Theatre, Olivier)

Stephen Sondheim’s bittersweet musical of theatreland gone by has its first major revival in London in years, and the book by James Goldman has now been returned fairly closely to the original plot, with the songs added for the 1987 revival dropped and the likes of ‘The Road You Didn’t Take’ and ‘The Story of Lucy and Jessie’ returned to their rightful place.

follies-poster

The set is a depiction of the decayed and partly demolished Weissman Theatre, where the neon still works but the walls are crumbling, the seats are distressed, and the auditorium is ruined.  For me, the opening scene and prologue takes too long to introduce everyone, but that would be true of every version of this show, and it is certainly touching to see the mature showgirls descend the ‘staircase’ (in reality, a less-than-glamorous fire escape) one last time, while their younger selves move in ghostly sequins and sparkles in from the stage.

This show is very much about those ladies who graced the Weissman Follies between the two World Wars, and although we are more focused on the story of two of them – Sally (Imelda Staunton), and Phyllis (Janie Dee) – we still feel invested in the others, from Carlotta the movie star (Tracie Bennett, done up as Joan Crawford in stern red, and decaying from despair, drink, and dallying with young men who ‘mean nothing’), ageing opera diva Heidi (Josephine Barstow, whose delicate depiction of sad memories of an affair with the boss, Mr Weissman (Gary Raymond, who makes an sobering impact in a nothing part, as lost in time as his girls), is as touching as her faded soprano voice in ‘One Last Kiss’, a duet with her younger self, played by Alison Langer), to the much-married and knowing Hattie (Di Boutcher, who knocks ‘Broadway Baby’ out of the park from the moment she removes her glasses, but who is surely far too young for the part), and the rather sad Solange (Geraldine Fitzgerald, with her memories of ‘Paree’).

Staunton has shone in a couple of award-winning Sondheims already – from 2012’s glorious ‘Sweeney Todd’, to 2015’s ‘Gypsy‘.  Further back she was a stunning Miss Adelaide in ‘Guys and Dolls’, so she has the musical credentials, and as an Oscar Best Actress nominee for ‘Vera Drake’, she is also known as a talented actress.  Both skills serve her well as Sally Plummer, a tiny housewife with a salesman husband, Buddy (Peter Forbes), who is cheating on her, and dreams which have never died for her former lover, Ben (Philip Quast, always a favourite of mine, and I’m delighted to see him back in a leading role), who rejected her for her friend Phyllis (perhaps sensing she would be more acceptable material for a politician’s wife).

follies-national-theatre-r009Adam Rhys-Charles, Zizi Strallen, Philip Quast – rehearsal photo by Johan Persson

This Weissman reunion brings Sally and Ben back together for the first time in thirty years, and in ‘Don’t Look At Me’, Staunton attempts to make a connection which leads Ben to think back to the girl he used to know (Alex Young, who made such an impact in the ENO’s ‘Carousel‘ this summer, as Carrie, and previously in the New London’s ‘Show Boat’), and to look, for a moment, kindly on the disturbed and clingy woman she has become.  When Quast and Staunton duet in ‘Too Many Mornings’, there is a glorious blend of music, memories, and the magic of what could-have-been, however transient that feeling may be.  Staunton may be a little short, height-wise, for the pivotal kiss which she takes as a way out of her boring life with the Buddy she has ceased to see, but we do engage with their relationship from this point on.

Janie Dee’s Phyllis is the textbook example of a rich socialite whose life is totally empty, with a nice house bursting at the seams with ‘the Chagalls and all that’, but lacking love, attention, or the children she so desperately wanted.  She has grown so tired of life, that her ‘Would I Leave You’ is perfectly delivered and completely believable; theirs is a marriage of convenience that doesn’t even feel convenient anymore.  But yet, in the end, she is the one who shows the most strength, and who will, we feel, at least attempt to pick up the pieces.  Her younger shadow is played by the dazzling Zizi Strallen, who has the star quality and energy which must have turned the young Ben’s head while he and Buddy were ‘Waiting for the Girls Upstairs’.

follies-national-theatre-r007Liz Izen, Liz Ewing, Tracie Bennett, Imelda Staunton, Dawn Hope, Janie Dee, Julie Armstrong, Gemma Page – rehearsal photo by Johan Persson

Peter Forbes is Buddy, a salesman who is really no good, and who calls anywhere he lays his hat home.  His routine involves going out on the road to shack up with Margie, a bright young thing who idolises him (the character always makes me think of ‘Death of a Salesman’ and Willy Loman, who is stuck in a spiral of not quite reaching the American Dream), and then returning to Sally, who fantasises that in his eyes she’s ‘young and beautiful’.  Their marriage has children, but they have moved away to escape their mother’s neuroses and arguments, so you can imagine the echoes of their empty rooms where the boys once played and fought.

The last section of the show moves from the realism of the crumbling theatre of the past to a fantasy staging of ‘Loveland’, a sequence which I always find problematic, but which brings the young quartet to the fore (as well as Young and Strallen, the young Ben and Buddy are played well by Adam Rhys-Charles and Fred Haig) before moving into the individual follies of each as they are now: Buddy, dealing with a drag depiction of his mixed love-life done in a vaudevillian style; Sally, in a blonde wig and a sumptuous dressing room, ‘losing her mind’; Phyllis, in old and young versions, doing as well as she can to tell us about Lucy and Jessie; and Ben’s Fred Astaire pastiche which collapses into an emotional breakdown.  Although I love ‘Losing My Mind’, and Staunton did it well, this whole sequence remains a problem, and as much as I admire Quast, and he did all he could with the number, the breakdown felt rushed to me, which may well have been a directorial mis-step.

What else?  Bennett channels Judy Garland (again, but beautifully) in the caustic ‘I’m Still Here’.  The mirror number ‘Who’s That Woman’ weirdly has the young chlorines not mirroring their older counterparts, and I felt in this case the Royal Albert Hall concert did this number better (although I did like Dawn Hope’s Stella, and the chance to see Liz Izen’s Deedee in the line-up).  Billy Boyle and Norma Atallah are fun, and poignant, as the Whitmans.

This may not be a perfect revival, but it is a great show, and it is rare to see something done on this scale, with so much love and energy – an emotional powerhouse, with eminently hummable tunes.

Do go, and also grab a copy of the fantastic programme, which is full of information, articles, and pictures and can be yours for just a fiver.

 

 

Follies in Concert (Royal Albert Hall)

follies program

Not quite a ‘once in a lifetime’ show, but a ‘twice in a lifetime’ as this staging of Stephen Sondheim’s musical ‘Follies’ played at the Royal Albert Hall yesterday afternoon and evening.  It now has the distinction of being the most expensive ticket I ever bought for a show – I initially baulked at the £98 ticket price, and sales were sluggish for quite a while, but we duly booked once the cast was announced.  Good seats, in the stalls.  Nothing could go wrong, could it?

follies tix follies view

When we arrived, it was clear these were restricted view seats, although not sold as such.  I appreciate the RAH may not have known at the point of sale that this was the case, but in advance of the show they would have done.  This problem affected four seats on each side of the stage.  Note the speakers and the ugly black rail that gave one double vision when watching a cast member singing at the front (only affected three numbers, but still).  At a sporting event where we had a slight restriction on the view of a full price ticket at Wembley Arena we were given the option to be reseated: as ‘Follies’ was not entirely sold out, this would have been a nice gesture from the Hall.

I might have let this go had we not paid extortionate premium West End prices for our tickets.  For nearly £100 I don’t expect a rail in my way or speakers that stop me seeing people’s feet when dance numbers have been staged (as Craig Revel Horwood of ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ was directing, it was no surprise to see some inspired pieces, of which more later).  So that’s my one negative of the night: on to the show.

(And do look for the 1985 concert version, too, which is available in part on DVD.  Revel Horwood rightfully flags it in the programme: Follies in Concert (1985).)

When the cast was announced, it was quite a mouthwatering confection – the four main roles of the couples Buddy and Sally, and Ben and Phyllis would be played by Peter Polycarpou and Ruthie Henshall, and Alexander Hanson and Christine Baranski.  A slight disparity in ages aside this was excellent casting, and Henshall’s emotive vibrato worked well on ‘In Buddy’s Eyes’, ‘Too Many Mornings’ and her big number, Act Two’s ‘Losing My Mind’; while Baranski’s acid vibrancy pepped up ‘Would I Leave You’ (circling Hanson’s Ben like a snake as he was symbolically caged between the set’s flexible arches, which also served as doors, mirrors, and showcases, and her sense of brassy fun fizzed through ‘The Story of Lucy and Jessie’.

Polycarpou’s Buddy was a jaded traveller who juggled the wife who was bored by him and the girlfriend who was wowed by his status with seedy charm, and ‘Buddy’s Blues’ was fun, while his acting in the background while the story of his wife’s former love affair with the young Ben unfolded was well thought out.  As Ben, Hanson was in very good voice and he was well matched by Alistair Brammer as his younger self (we’d missed Brammer in ‘Miss Saigon’ as he was ill when we attended the show, I can see he would have been an excellent Chris).

‘Follies’ in many ways is about the girls, and they were all introduced in a chorus line by Russell Watson’s ‘Beautiful Girls’.  We had Stefanie Powers as Solange, Betty Buckley as Carlotta, Anita Dobson as Stella, Anita Harris as Emilie, Lorna Luft as Hattie, and Charlotte Page as Heidi.  I’d seen Page a couple of weeks ago as the Beggar Woman in Sweeney Todd, so she is definitely versatile with pure opera coming to the fore here, but she seems far too young to play alongside such a veteran cast – although of a similar vintage to Henshall.  What I didn’t realise until I just looked it up was that Page is married to Alistair McGowan, who was tonight’s Dimitri (wasn’t this originally announced for Christopher Biggins?).

The other ladies do well in their roles.  The Whitmans’ ‘Rain on the Roof’ always strikes me as a curious inclusion to the score alongside the big numbers, but Harris, still glamorous, played well alongside comic great Roy Hudd in this piece; while Powers was a cheeky minx in ‘Ah! Paris’ with better singing than I expected.  Lorna Luft (otherwise known as Judy Garland’s second daughter) exuded star quality and big voice in ‘Broadway Baby’, the first palm-tingling showstopper of the night – I’d seen her on stage once before, in a show in Leeds alongside Wayne Sleep, and she hasn’t lost any of her energy: this song was a belter.

After Ben and Sally’s quieter, reflective pieces it was time for a bit of fun where Dobson took centre stage for ‘Who’s That Woman’ aided and abetted by her colleagues – nicely portraying Stella’s hesitation at going back to her singing and dancing past, and also perhaps the fact that this artist does not have the same musical range as the other ladies.  Whichever, the staging was superb, with a rotation of ensemble girls mirroring their mature counterparts, and Dobson clearly having a lot of fun, and deserving of her prolonged applause.

Betty Buckley – last seen here in Dear World – was, as expected, a superb Carlotta.  ‘I’m Still Here’ has been much performed: if you go to YouTube you can watched Dolores Gray, Ann Miller, Elaine Stritch, Elaine Paige, Shirley MacLaine, Carol Burnett, tonight’s own Christine Baranski, Yvonne DeCarlo, Polly Bergen, Eartha Kitt and more perform the number.  It was perhaps the highlight of the night, although I still find Buckley a cold performer in some ways while others might engage more with their audience.  Regardless, she is a huge Broadway star and was a good choice for this show’s Carlotta.

The richness of the Sondheim music is often lost in a show which is hard to revive, but the central quartet and their regrets and futures were portrayed well, and the quieter songs were not lost in the mix.  ‘Too Many Mornings’ is perhaps one of his finest lost relationship songs, and this was done well – as was Henshall’s Sally reacting with clear grief when she realised her suspicions about her husband Buddy’s infidelity were true.  Baranski’s Phyllis also showed a soft centre under the hardness she had developed over the years in a marriage where she felt taken for granted.

A word, too, for the ensemble, who worked hard, from the glamorous girls to the suited boys (young Sally – Amy Ellen Richardson, young Buddy – Jos Slovick and young Phyllis – Laura Pitt-Pulford), to Carol Ball’s veteran chorus member – and of course the City of London Philharmonic under the baton of Gareth Valentine.  This was a show I was pleased to attend (no sign of cameras or recording equipment so I assume it has not been recorded for posterity), despite the disappointment of feeling cheated by the venue in their description of the seats we purchased.

Some decent curtain call photos were afforded by our view though (once we stood up), and I present a couple for you – Miss Luft and Miss Powers:

follies curtain call 1

… and the best I could get of tonight’s core couples:

follies curtain call 2

Sweeney Todd (English National Opera, London Coliseum)

We were lucky enough to see the final performance (of a short run of 14) of the ENO’s ‘Sweeney Todd’, a production first performed at the Lincoln Center with the New York Philharmonic.  Ported over for this show were Bryn Terfel (Sweeney Todd), Emma Thompson (Mrs Lovett) and Philip Quast (Judge Turpin), with the addition of Matthew Seadon-Young as Anthony, Katie Hall as Johanna, John Owen-Jones as Pirelli, Jack North as Tobias, Rosalie Craig as the Beggar Woman, and Alex Gaumond as the Beadle.

sweeney1

At the start it seems as if we are going to see a straight concert performance, but this seems a waste of a good cast and a vibrant, beautiful venue, so as Terfel and co throw down their scores, destroy items on the stage, and hand out props from an ENO trunk, we pitch into Sondheim’s powerful score with some style, and stuffy concert formality is pushed aside for banners, graffiti, and bloody handprints (the conductor even sports one on the back of his shirt, visible through his ripped black jacket).

sweeney2

Whether the production is a success or not generally depends on whether the balance of darkness and comedy is depicted correctly – and in Thompson there is a saucy playfulness around a hard interior which is quite happy to condone and encourage mass murder to encourage the pie trade.  In Terfel’s magnificent Sweeney we see an icy resolve for revenge, not just on the men who violated his wife and stole his daughter, but on everyone who needs a shave.  Truly there are no closer shaves to be found on Fleet Street.

Sondheim’s score, too, is towering, walking the line between musical and opera without effort – so that one of opera’s greatest bass-baritones fits well in the role alongside a musical comedy actress and a baritone who has played most of the major roles in musicals without having formal voice training.  Owen-Jones may be slightly wasted in the role of Pirelli, but he is fun, while Philip Quast is hissably repellent as the judge who finds himself lusting after his adopted daughter, who ‘looks lovely in her white muslin dress’.  Absent from London stages since La Cage Aux Folles six years ago, he’s welcome back in the UK after a run of successes in his native Australia, and it is a privilege to hear him sing the duet ‘Pretty Women’ with Terfel.

Thompson has two comedy high points in ‘The Worst Pies in London’ and ‘By The Sea’ (with a handy spray bottle to evoke the briny), while her duet with Terfel, ‘A Little Priest’ sizzles with menace against audience, orchestra and unsuspecting pie eaters alike.  In a red outfit with slashed collar and headscarf, she totters between industrious baker and lovestruck widow, and she has great chemistry with her Sweeney.

Thumbs up for this production’s Anthony and Johanna too, with their ‘Green Finch and Linnet Bird’ song of young love, and their eventual look of horror at the mouth of hell in the bakehouse’s final carnage.  And Tobias, the young lad who we first see as Pirelli’s assistant, a cheeky chap with a fast mouth, becomes a broken bird, and perhaps his story is the saddest of all.

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‘.

Theatre review: Sweeney Todd, Adelphi Theatre, London

A hit at the Chichester Festival last year, this new production of Stephen Sondheim’s musical ‘Sweeney Todd’, starring Michael Ball, Imelda Staunton, Jason Manford (covering as Pirelli for a month), John Bowe, Peter Polycarpou, Gillian Kirkpatrick, Lucy May Barker, Luke Brady, and Jason McConville, looks sumptuously high-budget and lives up to the hype which followed it to London.

Ball is a gifted musical tenor with many leading roles to his name including Raoul in Phantom of the Opera, Marius in Les Miserables, Giorgio in Passion. Here, in a role written for a singer with a lower register, he acquits himself well and seems to relish playing a multi-faceted villain, with mad delight in dispatching his customers to the bakehouse below, as well as being a good comic foil to the slightly desperate Mrs Lovett (Staunton, who is excellent in a role still associated firmly with Angela Lansbury).

Elsewhere in the cast John Bowe misfires a bit as Judge Turpin – he’s a fine actor, but not right here, and certainly no singer. Polycarpou however, himself a veteran of many musicals, notably Miss Saigon, is delightful as the Beadle, particularly in the Tower of Bray sequence, where the Beadle, Mrs Lovett, and the hidden Toby make a funny, if bleak, trio. As Toby Jason McConville is convincing and acts his part very well, especially in the final scenes.

For me, the character of Joanna always seems to be a weak link, and here is no exception. I don’t think there is any way to save a song about a Green Linnet, and Lucy May Barker’s soprano is just that bit too high at points – although in her favour she does exude the right amount of innocence and desperation as her situation becomes clear to her. Luke Brady is a fairly impressive Anthony, while Gillian Kirkpatrick’s pivotal role is beautifully played, making her heartbreaking at the conclusion.

The previous production I saw of Sweeney Todd was at the Oldham Coliseum, starring Emile Belcourt in the lead and directed by Paul Kerryson. I’ve had happy memories of it ever since. This new Todd has had money lavished on it to make it more of a spectacular – the set is on three levels and also has a section which moves out to stage front, and also uses trapdoors to good effect – and it will remain in my memory for a long time. As for Michael Ball, I look forward to seeing him in many more challenging roles as he goes into the peak years of his career, no longer a juvenile lead.

Road Show (Menier Chocolate Factory)

Originally published on my LiveJournal blog on 16 July 2011.

Stephen Sondheim’s newest musical for the London stage is not ‘new’ at all, really.  Although the story of the Mizner brothers is now called ‘Road Show’, it dates back to 1999 and has previously been staged in the United States as ‘Wise Guys’, ‘Gold’ and ‘Bounce’.  Every time it has tanked under critical derision and lacklustre audience interest.

David Bedella in Road Show.
David Bedella in Road Show.

With a cast of thirteen, a band of eight musicians. and a staging which has the audience on either side of the action, we first meet Addison Mitzer (Michael Jibson) on his death-bed, where his friends and relations sing about how his whole life has been a ‘Waste’.  His energetic younger brother Wilson (David Bedella) has the charm and the ‘something’ which keeps him afloat through gambling and scams, while Addison follows a more sure and steady path – only really coming into his own when he meets the young Hollis Bessemer (Jon Robyns), an artist with money who quickly becomes his lover and business partner.

The songs aren’t particularly memorable when you consider Sondheim’s major works and the major songs which have come from them – still, ‘Isn’t He Something’ (a song from Mama Mizner about Wilson) and ‘You’re The Best Thing That Ever Happened To Me’ (a love duet for Addison and Hollis), have charm.  It is just that, despite the best efforts of the cast, who clearly work hard, and the rethinking of the production as a major piece, all thrown money, furniture moving, and striding about, something is still not quite engaging enough.

I was interested to see Julia McKenzie, a talented Sondheim alumnus herself, in the audience – I wonder what her verdict on this show would be?