Saturday, February 25, 2012

'Legally Blonde' - catch it before it closes

I saw Legally Blonde in the West End on my birthday two years ago with two of my friends. I was highly dubious when mum told me she had booked tickets for it. It had only been running for three months then so I didn't know anyone who'd have seen it and, frankly, it did not seem like my kind of thing at all... Despite that, I ended up loving it. So when I heard the show was closing I knew I had to see it once more (even though I end up wanting all the pink dresses...)

Legally Blonde the Musical at the Savoy Theatre
Performance: Tuesday 21st February at 19:30
Seat: Centre rear stalls
Cast included: Carley Stenson (Elle Woods), Stephen Ashfield (Emmett Forrest), Ben Freeman (Warner Huntington III), Peter Davison (Prof. Callahan), Natalie Casey (Paulette Buonufonté), Tricia Adele-Turner (Vivienne Kensington), Aoife Mulholland (Brooke Wyndham)

What's the thing about Legally Blonde? In the two years it's been running, the musical has gained a rather extensive fan base. For me (being someone who likes an intellectual challenge) the unbelievably witty lyrics did the trick. The musical was not simply full on pink, fluffy and girly; it was actually funny in quite a clever way.
Which songs do I like the best? So Much Better and There! Right There! come joint first. I have much love for Legally Blonde and Ireland too. I enjoy singing the title track especially as with a little bit of editing it works brilliantly as a solo song.

"Some girls fight hard, some face the trial, some girls are just meant to smile. It's not up to me, just let me be legally blonde."

A Finnish production of Legally Blonde ran for the 2011 summer season at an open air theatre and the "Gay or European" had been changed to "Gay or Swedish" to work better for the Finnish audience. It made me laugh so much. 
Carley Stenson and the current West End company (Source)
I have to say that I enjoyed the show more the first time round than I did this time. I think it was partly to do with the cast because I liked the original West End cast so much that the experience I had watching them was a very difficult one to top. However, that is not to say that the current cast did not do a brilliant job. Carley was wonderfully funny as Elle, Ben had the right kind of hot-guy-who-gets-all-the-girls look, Natalie made Paulette her own and Aoife was great as Brooke. I still cannot get over the fact that she used a skipping rope to do a pretty full-on work-out while singing perfectly with a steady voice. A special mention also to Lucy Miller, Ellie Kirk and Abiona Omonua who sang the parts of Elle's friends (Serena, Margot and Pilar respectively) amazingly well. 

Carley Stenson as Elle (Source)
It's a shame this West End production is closing. That will be one proper feel-good musical out of the door. Then again, there is currently a UK touring production not to mention worldwide productions (the next production due to open in Sydney this year) so I'm sure that this won't be the end of Legally Blonde :) 

Fact from the website: "There are 18 songs in the show and Elle sings 16 of them as well as having 19 costume changes." - impressive!
UK website:
Legally Blonde the Musical closing in the West End on 7th April 2012.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

'Wicked' London - the "new" cast

'New' in quotation marks because they have been playing the parts for two months now so I don't know whether you can really call them the new cast anymore but this was my first time seeing them. As usual, I'm going to focus on the things I liked about the show rather than ranting on about things that were bad :)

Wicked at the Apollo Victoria Theatre, London
Performance: Saturday 11th February at 19:30
Seat: Front stalls right, slightly restricted view. We were seated only a couple of rows from the front in front of the loudspeaker. The sound quality was terrible there so will avoid those seats in the future. 
Cast included: Rachel Tucker (Elphaba), Gina Beck (Glinda), Matt Willis (Fiyero), Desmond Barrit (the Wizard), Julie Legrand (Madam Morrible), Lillie Flynn (Nessarose), Adam Pettigrew (Boq), Christopher Howell (Dr Dillamond)

I was very excited to see Gina as Glinda as I saw her a few years ago as Christine in The Phantom of the Opera and I could imagine her being suited to the part of Glinda as I quite like Glinda to have an operatic voice. The feedback I had gotten from people who had already seen her had been mixed: many people said she was good but that they missed Louise's characterisation. 
Personally I found that Gina's Glinda corresponded well with that mental expectation I have of the character. She was very bubbly and smiley which I liked (she has a kind of cute, girly way of smiling which makes her whole face light up and she made that a part of the character very effectively). Overall Gina came across to me as quite a natural and convincing Glinda. She made the character believable. Oh, and she has a lovely voice well suited for No One Mourns the Wicked and Thank Goodness. She impressed me especially with the latter by nailing the optional high note at the end. Found a recording of her doing NOMTW. Have a listen. Vocally she is a very strong Glinda in my opinion:

An interesting thing that I noticed (Gina and Matt both did this during the course of the show): they rushed a one or two of their lines to the extent that they actually sounded like normal speech. I don't mean it in a negative way. It is just peculiar how you don't notice the way in which most lines are spoken slightly slower than normal conversation pace until someone does not do that.

Matt is actually more attractive live than in pictures I think. He has a very pop-style voice which is not the kind of voice I would pick for my ideal Fiyero but I don't see a reason why it would not work for some people. He also played the arrogance of Fiyero well. Having someone like Matt who is already famous in non-musical theatre circles will persuade new people to come and see the show. That in turn means that the show is likely to run for longer :) I am surprised there had been no attempt to cover the tattoos on Matt's arms which, although they may suit him, I did not think were particularly appropriate for Fiyero. 

Some souvenirs ;)
I was very impressed by Desmond Barrit as the Wizard. I really liked Clive Carter especially because he was a very good singer so I did not expect to like his follower but Desmond sang very well. We had a word with him afterwards at the stage door and and he said he finds the singing terrifying :P

Random points:
  • Gina said "Our paths did cross as students" instead of "at school".
  • It was strange seeing Nessarose with ginger hair to begin with (the wonder of Nessarose not wearing a wig).
  • I liked Gina's ending to Popular. She made it funny and different. 
  • Loved Julie's 'Nooo' when Glinda asked if she could touch the Grimmerie. 
  • Rachel's growl in the last 'Ah' of Defying Gravity <3 
  • Lillie and Adam did a good job of Wicked Witch of the East, I rather liked Lillie's voice.
  • Rachel's No Good Deed <3 (I was never a big fan of the song until I heard Rachel sing it; I think it's her best number).
  • In For Good, Gina reminded me vocally of Annaleigh Ashford.
  • Gina had chosen to play quite an upset Glinda in For Good. She probably didn't cry for real but she was convincing anyhow. 
  • Overall I salute Rachel for doing a good job despite having been ill a lot lately and still recovering from that.
  • According to Gina, Galinda is not in the second classroom scene because she has dropped the class being tired of Dr Dillamond harping on about the past (the popular interpretation is that she is hung-over after the party).
  • According to Rachel the reason why Elphaba abruptly stops carrying a bag in the second act is because she has become more mature and the bag gives a bit of a school girl image.
Finally, Rachel performing No Good Deed: 

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

'Pippin' - London revival

If anyone has read Voltaire's Candide, the story of Pippin is a little similar: a story of a young man's travels. This new London production has taken the 1970s musical into the 21st century by having Pippin complete levels in a video game.

Pippin at The Menier Chocolate Factory
Performance: 4th February at 15:30
Seat: G4, quite good view. Because the stage was the same width as the auditorium, I don't think the very front row seats would have been particularly good. 
Cast included: Matt Rawle (Leading Player), Harry Hepple (Pippin), Ian Kelsey (Charles), Frances Ruffelle (Fastrada), David Page (Lewis), Carly Bawden (Catherine), Stuart Neal (Theo), Louise Gold (Berthe)

Picture source
I had been putting off seeing this one for a while mainly due to people saying it was a bit weird and not that great but I decided to take up a cheap ticket as I was still keen on seeing another show with music by Stephen Schwartz. 

Very effective lighting design not to mention the set. The space they had had been used effectively. The most amazing thing was that the 'walls' of the stage were composed of strips of fabric forming an initially solid-looking composition but they allowed actors to literally enter the stage from anywhere as they could pull the fabric apart and slip through. I feel that I should also mention the extending of the set into the passage through which the auditorium was entered. To begin with I thought I had ended up in the wrong place (you never know with these small off-West End venues especially since the Menier Chocolate Factory also does arts exhibitions and such) when I walked through something that resembled a bedroom with a guy playing video games. I did realise he was an actor because one of the people trailing into the auditorium tried to ask him something and he just ignored her but the purpose of him being there only dawned to me afterwards. 

Another thing that impressed me was a sword-fighting scene between Pippin and a shadow projected onto the back wall. First I thought it was a trick of light and that there was a person fighting him because all of the sound effects of metal clashing together were so perfectly timed with Pippin and the shadow's swords. 
Picture source
I only found out Frances Ruffelle was in this when I started flicking through the programme. She most famously played Eponine in the original London and Broadway casts of Les Misérables. I had never seen her perform before so I was quite excited. She has a very unique voice and a great stage presence and she suited the part of Fastrada very well.
Another special mention goes to Louise Gold and her rendition of No Time at All. I can't recall when I have last heard the applause and the cheers go on for as long as that after a single song in a musical. However, that might have also been partly due to the fact that it was the third last of Louise's performances in the part (I don't know who is taking over for the rest of the run). 
The choreography was particularly interesting for me to watch as I have recently been familiarising myself with Bob Fosse's work and he was the one who choreographed the original Broadway production of Pippin. I noted happily that this new production had kept a lot of Fosse routines. 

In this musical the actors addressed the audience directly on occasion and, even though I did not exactly know what this musical was about, I had heard of the Leading Player extending his hand to someone in the audience and saying "Come" towards the end of the musical. The lady who was chosen this time actually did get up and follow the Leading Player. Wonder where she was taken. Surely they would not have denied her the end of the show? The ending, by the way, is slightly different to the ending of the original production and I think it works brilliantly with all the futuristic alterations that have been made to the musical. 

Pippin is running at the Menier Chocolate Factory until 25th February.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

'After the Turn' - the Tim Prottey-Jones musical

This was the first preview and, as I also found out, technically a dress rehearsal since there had been no time for a dress run. Even not taking that into account it was a great performance.

Plot summary: Michael (early 20s) lost his mother Amanda three years ago when she was run over by a car. He now lives with his uncle, Will, and since Amanda's death he has not spoken a word. Lauren, who is Michael's ex-girlfriend and who is now dating Wolf, a member of the band Michael used to be the lead singer of, starts visiting Michael regularly at Will's request to try and help Michael over his mother's death. 

After the Turn at The Courtyard Theatre, London (Off-West End)
Performance: 31st January 2012 at 19:30 (1st preview)
Seat: The third row or something (non-allocated seating)
Cast: Liam Doyle (Michael), Tori Allen-Martin (Lauren), Greg Oliver (Wolf), Stephen Rolley (Teenage Michael), Ashleigh Gray (Amanda), Stevie Webb (Will)

So Tim Prottey-Jones has become pretty famous in the world of musical theatre for the music he has composed and After the Turn is based on his songs. If you like his music, I most certainly recommend for you to see this production. Ashleigh being in this was my main reason for booking a ticket and it turned out to be a worthy reason as well. Excellent vocals and she actually is very scary in the part of the controlling mother. Stevie Webb also delivered brilliantly both vocally and acting-wise. The rest of the cast was younger and although obviously they all had great singing voices, I noticed that the rock style songs which encouraged shouting and forcing volume did wear their voices as the show progressed. However, this could have been to do with nerves as well and I think all this will improve at every performance. It would be interesting to go and see this again in the last week of the run or something to see how different the show has become (also, Sarah Earnshaw will be taking over as Amanda for the last week). 

I have to admit I was not that familiar with Tim Prottey-Jones's music before mainly because I am rather fond of the traditional Broadway musical style music rather than the popular music that many musicals in the recent years have adopted. Despite that, I was rather fond of many of the tracks. If I was to just pick one favourite it would probably be Just One Look but also Closer to Home and Mother, Mikey among others stood out to me. The musical was heavily focused on the music rather than the story line. A couple of things, especially with the ending, left me a little confused but that's all been cleared up for me now!

Especially Greg and Liam acted very well; particular credit to the latter for keeping up the 'mute' role. 
By the way, all the promo pictures and posters I have seen for this musical indicate that there is a lot of making out and undressing in the show but that is not the case so fear not; seeing this with an elderly relative will not be awkward. 

More information about the musical can be found here: