Tuesday, July 31, 2012

'Phantom of the Opera' - The Brilliant Original

Despite The Phantom of the Opera being my favourite musical of all time, this was only my second time seeing it on stage. I have seen the film and the 25th anniversary concert on DVD countless times of course but somehow I have not gotten round to revisiting Her Majesty's. So much has happened since the last time I went there in 2008. This time I was much more observant of little details and having gained a greater understanding of musical theatre I was more capable of appreciating the show.

The Phantom of the Opera at Her Majesty's Theatre, London
Performance: Wednesday 4th July 2012 at 19:30
Seat: Stalls D6
Cast included: Peter Jöback (The Phantom), Claire Doyle (Christine Daaé, u/s), Killian Donnelly (Raoul), Cheryl McAvoy (Madame Giry), Anna Forbes (Meg Giry), Wendy Ferguson (Carlotta Giudicelli), Jeremy Secomb (Ubaldo Piangi), Barry James (Monsieur Firmin), Gareth Snook (Monsieur André)

Gina Beck and Ramin Karimloo - the two I saw on my
first visit. (source)
The show was magnificent of course. Even my sister whom I had dragged with me stated that she had forgotten how impressive the music was. I love Phantom because of the show in itself: the music and the story (however sloppy-romantic it may be). Hence I am generally not fussed over which actors are playing the main parts. I must say, however, that knowing Peter only for having dubbed the voice of Aladdin for the Swedish-language release of the Disney film, I was most interested in seeing him as the Phantom.

Peter's take on the role was very different to what I have witnessed before. I found myself having more pity for him than normal since his younger voice and shorter statue (in comparison to what I have been used to seeing the Phantom have) made him come across more human rather than a supernatural being.
Claire impressed me greatly with her Christine as she had a lovely innocence to both her looks and her voice.  I have heard recordings of people with stunning voices singing Christine but they have sounded too mature and had I seen something like that on stage I don't think I would have been convinced. So Claire did a great job. 
Peter Jöback and Sofia Escobar
Photo Michael Le Poer Trench

I loved Killian as Raoul. This was my first time seeing him perform live and I found he has a great stage presence. I found myself fixated on what he was doing during Prima Donna for example rather than watching the overall action. I very much enjoyed Anna's take on Meg. She was genuinely funny to watch with her sharp facial expressions but she did not come across exaggerated. I had never thought of a comedy side to Meg before so it was lovely to see Anna bring that up. 

It was a little strange for me seeing some of the 25th anniversary concert cast members on stage playing their respective parts - that made me half expect Sierra Boggess or Ramin Karimloo to walk on - but they were all brilliant and their acting felt very familiar and "right" due to the fact that I have seen that DVD several times. 

As one expects to happen, I walked out of the theatre after the performance randomly humming some of the recurring melody snippets of the score. My main thought was: Why have I not come to see the show again sooner? I need to try and come back more often than every four years as I had almost forgotten how incredible the original stage show is. I am hoping to go and see the UK touring production this autumn also. 

Friday, July 20, 2012

'Sister Act' - UK Touring Cast

I am sure many of you have seen the film of the same name starring Whoopi Goldberg on which the stage show is based on. I watch films quite rarely but I am happy I saw that one because it did make me laugh.

Sister Act at New Wimbledon Theatre
Performance: Wednesday 13th June 2012 at 19:30
Cast included: Cynthia Erivo (Deloris Van Cartier), Denise Black (Mother Superior), Michael Starke (Monsignor O'Hara), Julie Atherton (Mary Robert), Jacqueline Clarke (Mary Lazarus), Laurie Scarth (Mary Patrick), Edward Baruva (Eddie Souther), Cavin Cornwall (Curtis Jackson), Gavin Alex (Pablo), Tyrone Huntley (TJ), Daniel Stockton (Joey)

Brief plot summary: Deloris Van Cartier sees her gangster boyfriend kill a man and the police deem it necessary to hide her until his trial. She is placed in a convent and has to get accustomed to a new life as a nun under the name Sister Mary Clarence while her boyfriend's men do their best to hunt her down.

Apparently this touring production is slightly different to the West End production of 2009 (I did not personally see it though): A song has been taken out, another one added and so on. However little I enjoy comparing stage musicals to films, I must say in favour of the stage version in this case that I found it even funnier than the original film. The film is not actually a musical even though, as proved by this show, it lends itself well to one thanks to the focus on the convent choir.

One thing is certain: the audience loved the show and rewarded it with a standing ovation at the end. I got the feeling that many of the audience members present that night had seen the musical before: there was that anticipation in the air, and there was a fair amount of that special kind of cheering at the jokes (the kind where you can tell people haven't been taken by surprise). I adored the show: it was a feel-good musical with a notably clever plot. Many of the songs were catchy and the dance routines entertaining. I don't know why but there is just something hilarious about a bunch of people dressed as nuns doing a stereotypical musical theatre group number.
I really loved Mary Robert's solo song, The Life I Never Led. It is very me in style so I thought I might find the sheet music and learn it. I enjoyed all the nun group numbers, especially It's Good To Be A Nun, Raise Your Voice and Bless Our Show

Bless Our Show from the Original London Cast recording:

I absolutely agree with the multitude of people who have said Cynthia Erivo does a fantastic job of Deloris. It did not even take her half a scene to convince me I was in safe hands when it came to the portrayal of the character.

Laurie Scarth was hilarious as Sister Mary Patrick and Tyrone Huntley stood out in a positive way with his brilliant portrayal of TJ - it was the perfect part for him!
On this visit I had decided not to look at the programme in detail beforehand like I usually do in order to make a note of any familiar names. I figured I would just concentrate on seeing how each of the actors perform before finding out whether I had heard of any of them before. When Sister Mary Robert started singing, I could tell straight away the actor had to be someone famous and if she was not, she certainly ought to be. "Julie Atherton" - well, there you are. I was very happy I now had had the opportunity to hear her perform live having heard numerous recordings of her in the past. 

Julie Atherton singing The Life I Never Led:

I would definitely go and see this again! 

Sunday, July 1, 2012

'Jekyll and Hyde' - very creepy but good

I looked up this musical for the first time after hearing this gorgeous track from the show on Louise Dearman's solo album: Someone Like You (the version below is sung by the Original Broadway Cast member, Linda Eder) .

Jekyll and Hyde at The Union Theatre
Performance: Sunday 10th June 2012 at 18:00
Cast included: Tim Rogers (Dr Jekyll/Mr Hyde), Madalena Alberto (Lucy Harris), Joanna Strand (Emma Carew), Mark Goldthorp (John Utterson), Mark Turnbull (Sir Danvers Carew)

The Union Theatre is a small off-West End venue near Southwark underground station. I remember when I went there for the first time (last year to see The Baker's Wife) and we got there very early, we couldn't figure out where exactly the theatre was as we did not suspect the back wall of the little cafe would open up to reveal a box office and a door to an auditorium.

Poster for this production
Jekyll and Hyde enjoyed a long Broadway run (1997-2001) but it has never been performed on West End stage. It has, however, toured the UK twice to date and there have been a large number of regional productions.
This off-West End production had been modernised and taken into the era of mobile phones and the NHS reverting from the setting of the novella on which the musical is based (Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson, published in 1886). Dr Henry Jekyll is determined to test the chemical formula his father has discovered which supposedly separates the good and evil in a human. He cannot get permission to use a volunteer for the experiment so he ends up taking the drug himself causing him to suffer from split personality: half of the time he is still the intelligent, chronically late doctor who wears glasses and is hoping to marry Emma, the daughter of Sir Danvers Crew, but uncontrollably, without warning he may transform into the bold and dangerous Edward Hyde.

This show actually scared me: I had to keep reminding myself it was just a musical and therefore no one would creep up on me from behind. The fact that the actors hovered around in the audience and the singing surrounded you completely did not help. In those numbers the sound was everywhere and you could feel the occasional gust of wind at the back of your neck when a cast member hurried past. I was trying to act normal despite: I was sitting on my hands to prevent them from grasping the arm of the person next to me. I don't mind scary though and the story was gripping: very much my kind of thing. The music was great too: I discovered several tracks which I enjoyed a lot.

Tim Rogers and Madalena Alberto (source)
Tim Rogers blew me away with his portrayal of Dr Jekyll on one hand and Mr Hyde on the other. The complete transformation that happened in him when going from one character to the other was astonishing even if the only physical difference between the two personalities was Mr Hyde's lacking a pair of spectacles. There was even an obvious difference in the voice quality: Dr Jekyll had a tender, slightly nervous way of singing which was a total contrast to Mr Hyde's powerful belt.

I loved Madalena Alberto's rendition of Someone Like You. Despite being such a slim, small woman, she has a strong, belty voice.

Moment which had the audience in hysterics: Mr Hyde murders an elderly lady and puts the body in one of those big, green rubbish bins which have two wheels. Now, putting a real person in one of those is quite funny in itself but it gets better. Two other characters went and threw stuff (one of them being a decent size bin bag) inside, on top of the lady not realising the supposed body in there. The garbage man then came, tilted the bin onto its wheels and pushed it off through the audience. Okay, me telling about it like this isn't that funny. I guess you did have to be there...

But yes, great show! I was very impressed by Jekyll and Hyde and I would definitely go and see another production of it if one cropped up.