Mini Review

Shall We Dance?

Two current West End musicals hark back to Man in Chair’s heyday as a ‘dancer’. Such happy memories of performing these shows in wonderful productions at CLOC Musical Theatre.

Both shows owe their current West End success to initial seasons at other venues, and both happily demonstrate that audiences crave some of that old fashioned song and dance that is missing from pumped up juke box musicals.

With ‘new’ Gershwin musical Nice Work If You Can Get It about to open on Broadway, signs are good that this joyous genre is set to continue.

Crazy For You
Novello Theatre
7.30 Thursday 26 January 2012

Hooray for Crazy for You, once billed as ‘the new Gershwin musical’ but now fresher than ever back on the West End as ‘the smash hit Gershwin musical’, and deservedly so.

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A hit at last year’s Regent Park Open Air Theatre summer season, Crazy’s five star reviews earned it this transfer to the Novello Theatre. A very special favourite of Man in Chair (who has been out of chair to perform in it twice), this joyous production went a long way to expunging the memory of the Production Company’s lamentable effort.

With a nod to Susan Stroman’s brilliant original work, award-winner Stephen Mear (Mary Poppins and many more) has created dazzling new choreography that is an absolute highlight of the production. Featuring plenty of percussive prop work, as in the original, the characteristic feature here is the massed numbers. Watching from the dress circle was like being taken back to the classic MGM musical days, with beautifully attired young dancers all moving as one. Tap dancing on the wooden stage sounded fabulous.

Aiding the originality were new music arrangements by Gareth Valentine and orchestrator Chris Egan. The ragtime section of “I Got Rhythm” was terrific.

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Housed on a giant turntable, the two big built set pieces creatively portrayed the lights of Broadway and the well worn character of Deadrock, Nevada. The only setting left out was the renovated theatre of act two, although the dialogue referring to improvements was still there (the lame business with the vacuum cleaner was thankfully cut). Costumes, also by Peter McKintosh, effectively contrasted the jewel tones of the visiting showgirls with the dusty cowboys. Lottie and Irene were the picture of New York glamour, with only Polly missing out on any costume attention.

Director Timothy Sheader created loads of character business, complementing the chorry so that there was constant movement on stage. Sheader’s most impressive achievement was directing the leads on how to pull off the gags in Ken Ludwig’s creaky book without sounding corny.

The star turn at the heart of the revival’s success is from Sean Palmer as Bobby Child. Palmer is a sensational leading man, dashingly handsome, a strong actor, a stunningly effortless dancer and a wonderful singer. His extended solo in “Nice Work If You Can Get It” was amazing. Bet we won’t be seeing anything like that from Matthew Broderick in the show of the same name in Broadway this April.

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Clare Foster as Polly is a charming co-star, dancing and singing the role with deceptive ease.

They don’t make musicals like this anymore, making a lovingly staged version like this all the more of a blessed delight.

Singin’ in the Rain
Palace Theatre
7.30pm Saturday 25 February 2012

London’s new hit musical has arrived with this five star production that hits all the right notes.

One of the rare shows to be a movie musical first, Rain is the type of show that can go either way. If it’s bad, it’s really bad but, if done right, those songs, that story and that rain are a winning combination. Director Jonathan Church honed his slick, spritely production at the Chichester Festival Theatre before landing it at prized West End venue the Palace.

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The ensemble of triple threats, the real kind not the Lina Lamont variety, play a multitude of roles, never stepping on stage with any less than 100% focus, motivation and drive. And can they dance! Perfect hair and make up design completes the picture.

Simon Higlett’s streamlined design sees the show unfurl on a single grayscale set, efficient use of cute set pieces propelling the action on its way. Costumes are of such dazzling rainbow designs it’s as if the show is about the invention of colour in the movies rather than sound.

Best of all, Andrew Wright’s choreography is witty, inventive and just downright dazzling to behold. Wright must be absolutely thrilled with the caliber of dancers assembled for the cast. The “Gotta Sing” sequence is worth the price of admission alone (well, that and the two rain numbers).

Adam Cooper is the real deal as leading man Don Lockwood. Handsome, a great singer, terrific dancer and charming actor, he cements his star all over again with this role.

Who knew that Scarlett Strallen, practically perfect around the world as Mary Poppins, could dance? Strallen is sensational, and pulls off the adorable ingenue role with ease.

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Daniel Crossley, as Cosmo, delivers an absolutely brilliant turn in his showstopper “Make ’em Laugh”. Katherine Kingsley is deliciously ditzy as vocally challenged starlet Lina Lamont.

Singin’ in the Rain joins Matilda as the West End’s current Must See Musicals.

Photos: Singin’ in the Rain – Manuel Harlan

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