An American in Paris – Dominion Theatre, London

An American in Paris was a few hours of irresistibly danceable tunes and swirling skirts. A mix-up of jazz-driven tap and modern ballet. It is taken from a classic musical film, but I hadn’t seen that before I went into the theatre, although I’m tempted to hire it to watch at home one night.

Despite the grim settings and back stories of many of the characters (none of whom are prepared to discuss the war they have just lived through at the start), it is about finding purpose, beauty and love as life unfolds before them, so becomes a very feel-good show

The number of dancers filling the stage, and the music also helped with this: the band were fabulous.

The greatest mystery is how the woman two seats across from me (near the front of the stalls!) managed to fall into such a deep sleep that she was snoring in both acts!

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Seasons Greetings – Chorley Little Theatre

This was, as can only be expected, well-acted and funny. A parody of a family Christmas, with an aunt getting drunk in the kitchen, the hostess falling for one of the guests and the men slouching around trying not to do anything. Although the children were oddly well-behaved in this party, always staying where they were told: just off the stage.

My disappointment was that it all ended in a rather unresolved fashion. Although of course that is how family gatherings do work: a continual rolling conversation spanning months or decades as people travel to group together infrequently. Potentially the unfinished nature is therefore a comment on the subject matter rather than a failing.

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat, Manchester Palace Theatre

Joseph remains my favourite cheesy musical. Despite the latest director’s occasional wanders off the original score where the story was dropped and there is a “what the hell” moment.

…But all that I say can be told another way, in the story of a boy whose dream came true…

This was my son’s first proper musical at age five, and he announced that he liked two songs. But given how enthusiastically he applauded I think this was a case of remembering two songs in the moment. We generally had a lovely evening or, catching the 5pm extra showing, with hot chocolate beforehand and sushi when it turned out we’d just missed a train and had nearly an hour to wait to go home.

https://youtu.be/tAofhYdtVa4
The children’s choir were very good, as was Trina Hill as narrator. I’d never before realised quite how bereft of women the cast is, as in children’s productions several of the brothers have been women. The semi-naked men were a bit of a distraction from that though, with the costumes well done.

With perspective the idea that all Joseph wants once he is a great success as an adult is the cost his dad had given him without any warning or effort does suggest a very primal need for family love and acceptance, but I suspect I am reading too deeply into Andrew Lloyd Webber’s light hearted musical there. Although Any Dream Will Do always raises a year, even if the emotions behind that change as I have aged.

The Rise and Fall of Little Voice – Chorley Little Theatre

Even though the title of the play clearly gives away the trajectory this must take, this was a very watchable play, even if it is one that could do with a more closed-off ending. Jim Cartwright, the playwrite is a local man, who now runs a drama school in Chorley, and this play does have a very local feel.

Steve Unsworth was as always a very competent actor (and I’ve nearly forgiven him for picking me out of the audience in the Complete Works of Shakespeare), and Eleanor Anderton played Little Voice brilliantly, with beautiful singing switching seamlessly to shy, browbeaten LV.

The new seats are very plush, although it was odd to be on the “other” side of the auditorium from our previous season ticket!

Wicked – Gregory Maguire

I am a big fan of musicals, including Wicked, and wanted to revisit the novel that inspired the musical.

Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West does not have the same plot as the musical, but the same starting premise. Elphaba is given a stronger destiny, and Galinda more socially constrained in the novel. Not to mention the stronger political tones with genocide and murdering dissidents.

This is a full story of a life, starting with a difficult childhood, and an escape to university which is more complex than expected, and full circle being reached again with family links. She has life-long friendships throughout this in the flawed but loving Nanny and Boq, her partner-in-crime. But fundamentally it is about the life of a woman who faces discrimination and battles it to try and be a force for good in the world.

Maguire’s reimagining of Oz manages to be magical and political. He weaves together complex characters with a range of motives, each of them flawed, but so many driven by a higher purpose or destiny.

And of course, it being Wicked, we need a video. I’ve had a good few weeks of concerts recently, and have heard Defying Gravity at both Idina Menzal’s world tour and at an orchestral performance sung by Ashleigh Gray.

Persuasion – Jane Austen

With the second centenary of Austen’s death there are many events going on to commemorate her and celebrate her works. This runs from appearing on banknotes to plays and other cultural events. I went to a modern “retelling” of Persuasion at the Manchester Royal Exchange, which was both true to the original language and hilarious in its modern interpretations. I confess I didn’t recall a foam party in the text.

Having seen the play (at short notice) I then returned to the book, to take in the depths and layers that a play with limited cast and a short timeframe couldn’t include. Cousins are added, the full detail of who Mrs Clay is and a bit more detail that makes the courtship make more sense.

It is of course beautifully written, humerous in places and shows Anne Elliot manoeuvring her position to navigate through life and find a suitable future for herself.

Have you recently revisited any classics?

La Boheme – Manchester Palace Theatre

I had never before seen an opera, and felt this was something I should do. When I was browsing this season at the Manchester Theatres, I was glad to see La Boheme on the programme. As a Rent fan since my mid-teens, I expected that the themes and plot of La Boheme would be accessible, and make the whole opera experience easier.

Still I didn’t know quite what to expect when we got to the theatre. In some ways an opera in a language I knew better than Italian may have been a better call, but I now know just how much of Rent is taken from La Boheme, including throwing artistic material into the burner during the first scene, a flitation through candle-lighting, dancing on the tables and Mimi overhearing the male friends discussing her health as the setup for the final scene takes place.

I’m not sure I would ever go to see another, but I am glad this was my opera, and would recommend anyone to give it a try.

The Complete Works of Shakespeare (Abridged) – Chorley Little Theatre

Totting up beforehand we realised we had watched about half a dozen of Shakespeare’s plays between us, although that did count the three times I have seen Romeo and Juliet as one. But of course we have had exposure to the rough plot of many more.

We laughed out loud at this. The actors were lively and the script did not run through each play formularically, but instead tackled them in vastly different manners. From a cook show to a rugby match through to just skipping between main scenes, each was satisfying to watch. The two of us ended up on stage for the audience participation though, with my husband having to scream as I ran back and forth.

Good customer service from the Little Theatre too, who came to find us in the interval and ask if we wanted the same seats next year (a definite yes from us).

 

Kindertransport at Chorley Little Theatre

Play number four of our 2016/17 season ticket was Kindertransport, this year’s serious drama. It was indeed very serious, an intense play with very few light moments. Of course this is to be expected from the subject matter, and certainly we weren’t expecting a light-hearted comedy.

We live through Eva’s trauma and recovery, and how that effected herself and her relationships within her family. There were so many points where I had tears rolling down my face, as recovery seemed impossible. The actors were very powerful, in what must have been an emotionally tiring play.

In terms of angles on the impact of war theme, this stood in sharp contrast to Pals, which had been a story about men’s friendships, as instead a story about women’s family bonds. My only sorrow is that the playwright ended it where she did. It could easily have turned more towards a reconciled note at the end, although of course that would lessen the impact.

Funny Girl – Manchester Palace Theatre

Don’t tell me not to live
Just sit and Putter

Sheridan Smith’s interpretation of Fanny Brice’s rise from Brooklyn musical halls sparkles with energy. She easily handles the big numbers in this show, as well as the emotional depth of how she handles her personal life.

Life’s candy and the sun’s
A ball of butter

But then it is a piece from its own time, with some rather dated views on the roles of women and men within relationships, which are held up to be right and proper. But at least we establish that Fanny won’t let anyone rain on her parade.

Don’t bring around a cloud
To rain on my parade

I couldn’t work out how the set was moving until I saw this video (with the Orchestral Overture) of how it was built. Fascinating to watch for someone like me who belongs firmly in the audience.