Mini Review

West End Magic

Man in Chair looks at a massive hit production bound for Australia and a gala one night only charity concert.

Piccadilly Theatre
7.30pm Tuesday 17 January 2012

Wow! Don’t you love it when a show lives up to its hype? This is a thoroughly enjoyable ride that grabs you by the shirt collar and doesn’t let go.

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New age master director Matthew Warchus (The Lord of the Rings) again proves himself master of theatrical magic with a trolley load of tricks, all the more appreciated for their perfect with the story.

Flying, floating, walking through walls – all look amazing, with many effects so skillfully done that even the eagle eye of Man in Chair from 4th row centre could not tell how they were done.

The sets are thin, light screens that carry video images while also being quite see-through. Visuals range from realistic panoramas to hyperactive video clip stylings. A featured look is silhouettes of people, often dancing in time with the on stage cast to create a more populated effect. The contrasting images for souls departing for heaven or hell are very effective.

The book is a slick redux of the Oscar winning screenplay by the original writer Bruce Joel Rubin. The one questionable choice here is the update to current day, which causes a couple of plot points to jar. Released in 1990, the movie highlighted the coming of the Greed is Bad decade. In this post 9-11 world, downtown New York no longer teems with Wall St wannabes. Are there really still massive, undiscovered Brooklyn lofts with Manhattan views going for a song? Are multi million dollar bank accounts held on paper signature cards?

But these are minor points in a terrific show, and there are no quibbles with the score, which is an easily accessible, high energy pop-lite tune fest. There are even a nice of range of styles, with the power ballads and duets balanced with whimsical tap and Rastafarian rap.

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Original leads Caissie Levy and Richard Fleeshman, resting before Broadway, have been replaced by Siobhan Dillon (How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria? finalist) and Mark Evans (above). Evans, on stage for almost every second, is extremely likable. Dillon is a powerhouse, singing up a storm and looking totally hot while she does it. Man in Chair would love to see Amy Lehpamer in this role!

Da’vine Joy Randolph is currently cutting her teeth for the Broadway opening as Oda Mae Brown, the hilarious role that won Whoopi Goldberg a Supporting Actress Oscar. Oda Mae is a hoot, especially in her outrageous costumes, and Randolph has the voice and chutzpah to bring her off perfectly.

The success of Ghost is clearly due to a very talented team of theatre practitioners. It is sure to be enjoyed around the globe for many years to come.

Children of Eden Charity Gala Concert
Prince of Wales Theatre
7pm Sunday 29 January 2012

An all star West End cast and creative team gathered to raise for awareness and funds for Chron’s and Colitis UK.

Director Drew Baker, powerhouse behind the evening due to his sister Amie’s recent diagnosis with Chron’s Disease, put together a slick, well polished production for the one night only event. With most of the Mamma Mia production elements packed away, the stage was filled by the band, choir and lead performers.

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Musical Director Paul Frankish achieved a great sound from the dozen musicians, with the choral numbers particularly achieving a lush, heady sound. Being almost through-sung, the 20 year old musical suited a concert staging well. Containing many a power ballad, much of the music was beautiful to hear performed by a range of strong singers.

A companion piece of sorts to Godspell, Stephen Schwartz’s music and lyrics stand alone as quality compositions. The show as a whole, however, proves to be disappointingly dull, with the old testament stories playing out slowly with little or no tension. Act two’s focus on Noah and his family comes off slightly better than act one.

Anton Stephan, in the central role of Father, gave a powerhouse performance. Solemn and focused, his singing was excellent throughout, especially in “Precious Children”. Louise Dearman, as Eve, pulled off a couple of “Defying Gravity”-like belts with apparent ease, leading the act one closer “Children of Eden” to great effect. Brenda Edwards brought the house down with Mama Noah’s “Ain’t it Good”. Petite Lauren Samuels was surprisingly strong as Yonah, singing a beautiful “In What Time We Have” with stage partner Waylon Jacobs.

Another standout was Gareth Gates as Cain. Special mention to Marcus Billany, adorable as Young Abel. The six Storytellers, often dimly lit, gave strong support throughout.

A highlight for many members of the audience was the appearance of four male dancers clad in the briefest emerald green trunks for “In Support of Excellence”, in which Eve is tempt by the snake.

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Most impressive in the quality of the show was that every singer, including the choir of 24 had fully learnt all their parts.

A special treat at the end of the concert was the appearance of powerhouse vocalist/actress Kerry Ellis to sing a new song “Heal the World – A Song for Chron’s”.

Photos: Children of Eden- Claire Bilyard

3 replies »

    • It sounded wonderful with the big choir and the band on stage. Bookwriter John Caird says it was the best cast he had ever seen/heard perform the show.
      Speaking of Elphaba, listen out for a split second Wicked in-joke on the cast cd of Godspell! And it is a really beautifully produced album – the new arrangements are amazing.

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