Singin’ In The Rain ~ Salisbury Playhouse ~ 14.05.2016

“Lina. She can’t act, she can’t sing, she can’t dance. A triple threat” drawls Christian Edwards’ Cosmo Brown in this revival of the Gene Kelly classic.

The entire cast, however, pose the more traditional theatrical ‘triple threat’ in that they excel in all areas. I’d even go as far as to call it a ‘quadruple threat’ as they act, sing and dance whilst playing their musical instruments. It’s an incredible feat and – with a small but perfectly-formed cast of 12 – such an innovative way to bring the full sound of the score to the stage whilst not losing anything in the staging of the big numbers.

I’d be lying if I said I’ve been a lifelong fan of Singin’ In The Rain. I first saw the film last year when the Prince Charles cinema had one of their retro nights and I was dragged along by a couple of fanatics. I didn’t dislike the film – large parts were very enjoyable. But I’ve not been in a rush to rewatch by any means. However, I was intrigued by the stage show, and couldn’t wait to see how some of the more famous moments were re-enacted on stage – namely the ‘Make ’em Laugh’ sequence (Cosmo Brown was my favourite character in the film) and, obviously, wondering how they would stage the title song.

From the moment the orchestra struck up the opening notes, I knew I was in for a treat. Having live music onstage rather than sat in the pit makes such a difference to the acoustics – and this, combined with elegant staging, immediately transported us back to late 1920s Hollywood, the silent film world and birth of the talkies, where the show is set.

It’s a pacey show, with the entire ensemble constantly rotating between musician, daner or acting duties – first sitting at the back of the stage with their instruments, then being actively involved in scene dialogue, or even combining playing of instruments and singing/dancing around the stage. With this regard, it makes it difficult to pick anyone out for extra applause as it’s clearly a highly talented and hardworking unit. However there are some fabulously noteworthy aspects of the show that do deserve recognition.

Matthew Croke and Eleanor Brown as Don Lockwood and Kathy Seldon combine to produce a highly likeable couple. It was very easy to warm to Croke’s performance of Lockwood, very charming and with smooth vocals to add to the mix. Brown’s portrayal of Miss Seldon was equally masterful, with enough attitude at the beginning, before showing a softer and more fun side. Her vocal performance was my favourite of the evening and I look forward to seeing her again in the future.

Croke also had chance to show a fine comic streak when he combined with Christian Edwards, whose energy in the role of Vaudevillian star Cosmo Brown keeps the show moving along at pace. I’ve been fortunate enough to see Edwards perform in a few roles now and his flair for the comedic is second to none. I don’t know how much he works at that or whether it just comes naturally, but it’s impressive either way. I’ve seen plenty of comic moments delivered by actors who don’t quite have the timing, so it’s a gift when such a great role as Cosmo Brown is performed by someone who gets it. I won’t spoil the moments for potential viewers by listing my favourite comic moments, but let’s just start by me advising you to pay attention to “Make ’em Laugh” as so much goes on there and it’s an absolute riot. The scenes with Don and Cosmo are generally wonderful – especially the montage at the start showcasing their career as a double act and the “Moses Supposes” piece, highlighting a strong partnership in tune with one another.

Special mention too to Sarah Vezmar as Lina Lamont. It can’t be easy to be cast to portray an unlikeable character as Lina undoubtedly is, especially when also asked to perform a musical number in the style of someone who cannot sing. But despite the nasal New York accent, she delivered a fabulously deadpan comic turn.

The tech team have done a fantastic job with the show too, the combination of projected film and live stage action works so well, especially when dealing with the world of silent film. And the design of the “rain area” was perfectly orchestrated – enough room for Matthew Croke to move around in, and plenty of water for him to splash around!

There are no weak moments in this tightly-knit production, and again applause to the entire ensemble for constantly being onstage in various guises. This is not a show where people get a lot of downtime in between scenes, but they all looked like they were having the time of their lives, dancing and singing in the rain.

From someone who was never overly mad on the film, consider me a convert to the story. I’d really like to see this show again during the run, it’s just realistically a question of whether I’ll be back in Manchester at any time during the Bolton dates. Here’s hoping!

Singin’ In The Rain is running at the Salisbury Playhouse until Saturday 28th May, before heading North to the Octagon Theatre in Bolton from Friday 3rd to Saturday 25th June, before finishing the run in Newcastle-under-Lyme’s New Vic Theatre from Thursday 30th June to Saturday 16th July.

 

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Phantom of the Opera ~ Her Majesty’s Theatre ~ 15.01.2016

A second visit to Her Majesty’s Theatre in six months for me – I wouldn’t normally schedule two visits so close to each other, but considering John Owen-Jones was returning to star in the title role for such a short time, it was a case of now or never.

Whether or not he will return to the role again is uncertain – after discovering he has fewer than 40 performances to go to hit the 2000 mark, he seemed keen to consider coming back at some point to hit that milestone.

As I’ve mentioned previously, the elaborate costuming and technical aspects of the show are phenomenal. And this time, sitting in the second row, I saw it all up close. The effects are not lost, only heightened by close proximity.

John Owen Jones was, of course, fabulous as the masked murderer. It was a pleasure to see him perform – he comes across as one of the most likeable people in theatre and it’s been a long-term aim of mine to see him perform in a role and not just in concert. His vocal delivery was absolutely spot on throughout, perfectly capturing the Phantom at his softest and most vulnerable, through to giving him a big voice during the epic dramatic numbers.

Once again I saw Emmi Christensen as Christine, and yet again she did not disappoint. Phenomenally talented and sings the role so beautifully. Nadim Naaman was simply brilliant as Raoul – it’s a character I often struggle to warm to, but it was very easy to root for his portrayal of the Vicomte de Chagny. Having witnessed Naaman’s skills on the football field, it was great to finally be able to see his talents on stage.

A personal extra highlight for me was seeing Rhidian Marc in the ensemble. He’s got such a lovely singing voice, I look forward to him progressing and picking up principal roles in the near future.

Phantom in the West End celebrates its 30th Anniversary this year, and I highly recommend you take time to visit this spectacular production if you have a chance.

 

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Les Mis v Phantom Weekend

30th July – 2nd August ~ Queen’s Theatre, Her Majesty’s Theatre, Bromley FC

A weekend spent in the company of the West End’s finest French musicals – Les Misérables and Phantom of the Opera. This formed the basis of an action-packed weekend I planned to celebrate my Mother’s birthday, much of which was a surprise to her. I had offered to take her to a musical, and whilst she had spent so long deliberating between these two productions, I went and bought tickets to both without telling her. She eventually chose Les Mis, so the Phantom tickets went unmentioned until I was guiding her into the theatre. I should also mention at this point that we were scheduled to attend the annual charity football match ‘Les Mis vs Phantom’ on the Sunday – completing the trilogy.

Readers of any previous blogs of mine will know how I hold Les Mis in such high regard. So many casts over the years have made this such an enjoyable show for me and I have returned to the Queen’s Theatre several times. Phantom, however, I have only seen once – so was looking forward to revisiting this.

There’s not much new I can say about Les Mis at this stage – it’s been going 30 years (the anniversary is in October) and the production is as slick as ever. This visit gave me the chance to see the new cast in action, following quite a significant cast change in June. It’s always fun to see new people in the roles, regardless of how much you enjoyed previous cast members performances. Everyone brings something new to the role, interprets the character in a different way.

Rob Houchen and Carrie Hope Fletcher continue to deliver strong performances in the roles of Marius and Eponine. Confession: I am really not overly keen on the Marius/Cosette storyline – either in the book or the musical, but Rob is absolutely fantastic and makes the character interesting. Bradley Jaden has moved into the role of Enjolras and what a fabulous piece of casting that was – great vocal performance.

Of the new additions to the cast, Adam Bayjou was covering for the absent Peter Lockyer as Valjean, and he is one for the permanent role in the future, I am certain. Very steady and assured performance in a very demanding role. Jo Parsons deserves notable mention for his role as Grantaire (who remains my favourite character – he has some of the best ranting speeches in the book. And always has wine. Winner!). Christian Edwards is very much missed, he was superb as the cynic last year, introducing many little comic touches to scenes and being the very human response to the tragedies unfolding. Jo has already started introducing his own flourishes and I look forward to seeing him in the role again to see what else he will bring.

The following day saw us attend the matinee performance of Phantom of the Opera at Her Majesty’s Theatre. It’s been a few years since I saw this show and remember enjoying it but being so high up and far away from the action, feeling that I was missing out. This time, although we were sat in the upper circle, we were front row and had a brilliant view – especially when it came to the chandelier scene (I won’t elaborate for fear of spoilers, but it is a fairly famous moment, I’m probably safe!)

Quite simply, I forgot how stunning this production is. Even after taking into account all the elaborate costumes for all the opera scenes within the show, the actual tech is superb. The ‘Phantom of the Opera‘ scene with the candles and the boat remains one of my favourites, but all the trickery with the mirror and the disappearances throughout are just so well executed, it’s very easy to suspend disbelief and embrace the legend of the Phantom.

Unfortunately Gerónimo Rauch was not well enough to perform as the Phantom, which was a shame as I had hoped to see him – he had a fantastic run as Jean Valjean in Les Misérables prior to this role, and he’s a phenomenal talent. However, must acknowledge the flawless performance of the understudy Phantom, Kieran Brown – strong vocal performance and gave the Phantom just the right combination of man and monster, tragic victim and menace. The Phantom is such an interesting character, you can never quite commit to either hating him or pitying him as there is such a complexity behind his situation.

Opposite Kieran was alternate Christine, Emmi Christensson, who was delightful as the daydreaming damsel. I was fortunate enough to see her perform a duet with Harriet Jones, who alternates the role of Christine with Emmi, at Scott Alan’s concert in May. Both ladies were in fine voice and Emmi again delivered a pitch-perfect score. Joining Kieran and Emmi to complete the lead trio was understudy Raoul, Oliver Savile. It’s sort of a running joke among my close friends that there have been a number of times where I’ve attended a show or concert with an extra incentive to see a specific person and that person has not been available and Oliver Savile has popped up to save the day! It’s never any hardship, he’s a fine performer indeed, and it’s always a pleasure to hear him sing. But it does mean I have yet to see Liam Tamne perform live. But there is time for that. And Oliver did a fantastic job with Raoul – who is a character I don’t usually warm to, but very much enjoyed on the day.

So, with our scouting mission for both Les Misérables and Phantom of the Opera over, we made our way to Bromley FC to the football match the following day full of up-to-date squad info and full of certainty of who we would be supporting. By which I mean I had enjoyed both performances equally, and I knew Phantom had a really strong team the year before – but my heart, as always, lay with Les Misérables.

When Les Mis went 1-0 up I did feel it might be their day and their chance to win the trophy back from Phantom. At 6-1 down, deep into the second half, I felt it was time to perhaps acknowledge that I might have been mistaken. The late consolation goal kept the crowd happy, many of whom had been happily singing along to cheer their teams. For the Phantom team, captain Ryan Goscinski and Man Of The Match winner Tricky Shelmerdine were outstanding, and also special mention to Ryan O’Gorman for the Les Mis team – a recent transfer from Phantom FC but didn’t shy away from those tackles.

It’s a delightfully odd thing, a charity football match. Especially one involving musical theatre. As a football-goer myself, the crowd is always different at a charity match – understandably so. But at Les Mis v Phantom it’s a whole other level of enjoyment. Genuinely such a fun day – from the vast array of live performances pre-match, to the highly entertaining live commentary from Carl Mullaney, Tim Morgan, and usually Adam Linstead, however he couldn’t attend this year due to his Blackpool run of Cats alongside Jane MacDonald. He was sorely missed, but Carl and Tim ensured that no player went unmocked, no gag remained untold, Carl has even now learned to stop calling half-time “the interval” (although I’ll admit to constantly doing the opposite…)

Lots of appreciation for the pre-match entertainment, provided by Kerry Ellis, Rachelle Ann Go, Killian Donnelly, Carrie Hope Fletcher, John Owen Jones and Rob Houchen in lieu of the still-unwell Gerónimo Rauch. Half-time entertainment was brought to you by Take-4, including Les Mis alumni Dayle Hodge and Ethan Bradshaw, who performed a medley of Frankie Valli songs. See, you don’t get showtunes at Old Trafford, the Etihad or Anfield, eh? More’s the pity…

Bromley FC were, as always, fantastic hosts for the event, and thanks to their support and the efforts of everybody involved with Les Mis v Phantom, a fanastic sum of £18,000 was raised for the MAD Trust and MacMillan Appeal.

 

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