Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat

So another West End show, ‘Joseph’ starring Gareth Gates has just closed early. If I remember correctly, I saw the original Palladium production two (or possibly even three times) with both Jason Donovan and Phillip Schofield. This restaging has been at the Adelphi Theatre since 2007 when Lee Mead, the winner of the BBC talent show, ‘Any Dream Will Do’ took on the lead role.

Tonight was the last night and it was packed with the additional showbiz element of Tim Rice sitting a few rows in front and getting besieged by autograph hunters. As far as I could tell, the show was identical to the Palladium production. It’s still brilliantly staged with the scenes flowing effortlessly into one another. Performances were very good and it must be a tough show to do because there’s little pause for breath. Dean Collinson was a particularly fun Pharoah but Jenna Lee-James played the Narrator in an oddly cold and businesslike fashion.

Oh and Mr Gates? He did a very fine job. I was impressed. The megamix was as foot-tappingly camp as it should be and Gareth went up on the hydraulic lift at the end. What more could one ask for?

Spring Awakening

Based on a controversial German play, ‘Spring Awakening‘ the musical first saw the light of day in New York in 2006. It tells the story of a group of teenagers as they leave childhood behind and transition into adulthood. I’d read lots of positive reviews and it was on my list of shows to see and by sheer fluke I was a bit alarmed to discover it was due to close early this week. So a discount ticket email was hastily dug out from the inbox and Tuesday was the night.

I’d heard some comparisons made between the show and another of my favourite musicals, ‘Rent’ (the original production not the abysmal ‘Rent Remixed’) and it does have the same feel – the brick wall set, the liberal use of dialogue during songs and in-your-face rock band guitars. Like ‘Rent’, ‘Spring Awakening’ has a raw energy and youthfulness that’s invigorating to watch and the music is just superb. It runs the full musical gamut from the soft and tender ‘Left Behind’ to the angry, rocky and pretty-damn-awesome ‘Totally Fucked’. Yes folks, the Broadway cast recording is now sitting on my iPod and I love it.

Acting was good all round but vocally the girls were much stronger and more confident than the boys. The one exception was Iwan Rheon (playing the role of Moritz) who had an fantastic voice. The set design and lighting deserve special mention because they really lift the production to a very high standard.

Unfortunately, fantastic songs and staging wasn’t enough. Even after a successful run at the Lyric Hammersmith, any show that deals with ‘challenging’ subjects such as suicide, incest, S&M and abortion is going to have a tough time in the West End. ‘Spring Awakening’ just isn’t commercial enough for a mainstream audience and that’s a great shame because any show that isn’t Andrew Lloyd Webber or a jukebox musical deserves a home in my opinion.

As a footnote, I’d never been to the Novello before but it’s a wonderful theatre. We sat in row T of the stalls and on the side walls are large ornate mirrors that reflect what’s happening on stage. It really enhanced the experience. Another unusual feature was the bar at the back of the stalls that has a window into the auditorium and looks like a cute old train carriage.

Les Miserables

Yes I know it’s been running for centuries but for some inexplicable reason I’d never seen Les Mis until last night. It’s one of those shows that everyone seems to rave about. OK well almost everyone. The friend-of-a-friend at Priscilla last night thought it was a snoozefest.

So along I went to the Queen’s Theatre with an open mind and a smattering of anticipation. The latter probably due to the fact that the lovely and highly talented Jon Robyns has been part of the cast since last year. But what if my reaction to the show was inappropriate? Should I pop into Angels on the way down Shaftesbury Avenue and hire a couple of masks?

If so, how would I know which mask I should be wearing? Is Les Mis the sort of show that starts with the right mask and ends with the left? Or is it just right mask all the way from curtain up through to the train journey home and bedtime?

Three and a bit hours later as we stumbled through a mild gin and vodka induced haze into the street (at the Queen’s Theatre the circle exits are at street level..how weird is that?) I still wouldn’t have known which mask to wear.

I wasn’t very familiar with the music but it sounds great and looks great. David Shannon as Jean Valjean was very good with a beautiful voice. Also strong was David Thaxton as Enjolras and Jon Robyns didn’t disappoint. On the other hand, ‘I Dreamed a Dream’ was rather a hard and shouty affair.

I can appreciate that Les Mis is an impressive show but would I go again? Hmmm. Sorry Les Mis fans, but it just didn’t light my fire.

Priscilla Queen of the Desert

The huge stiletto heel at the front of the Palace Theatre is a bit of a clue that this is not Les Mis. After years running in Australia, the movie-turned-into-a-musical has hit the West End.

The star of the show is of course Priscilla the bus. She’s 8m long, dominates the stage and is covered in LED lights. Inside are 3 lifts and an interior that looks like an Early Learning Centre.

Tony Sheldon is superb as Bernadette, the transexual who unexpectedly finds love in the outback. Jason Donovan is OK but rather bland as the drag queen on a trip to meet his son and Oliver Thornton makes for a convincing dippy and shallow Adam. The rest of the company put in solid performances and the three divas that hover above the stage are a lot of fun.

The set and costumes are as extravagant and inventive as you’d expect but it just feels a bit half-baked, clunky and lacking in pace at times. The sheer size of Priscilla means she can only move slowly around the stage and that drags the show down a bit (sorry couldn’t resist). There’s a bizarre scene at the start of Act 2 where the Aussie locals in the outback have a hoedown with members of the audience dragged up (oops I did it again) on stage. Did I miss summer? Is it panto season already?

The last time I saw Jason Donovan on stage was in Joseph at the Palladium. Now there was a show with amazing energy, great lighting and earth shattering sound. I was expecting a similar thing with this production – to be swept away with it all but it never happened. The sound is average and the lighting in particular was very disappointing. It was terribly flat at times, the rear cyc was underused and the operatic travelling scene could have been far more striking with some lighting animation. Maybe there was no budget left after all the frocks?

Don’t get me wrong, I did enjoy the show and there are some great moments but I left feeling a bit disappointed. All the ingredients are there but a little bit of theatrical magic got lost on the road from screen to stage.

I am a Very Bad Blogger!

Yikes it’s been ages since I wrote anything on the site, so here’s a catch up:

Saw an excellent new version of Sunset Boulevard before Christmas at the Comedy Theatre. I’ve long been a fan of the show – I saw the original production at the Adelphi twice and then also on tour in Birmingham. This one is very, very different and far more captivating. Directed by Craig Revel Horwood (he was milling around in the bar with friends on the night we went) the show follows the tradition of the Watermill Theatre in Newbury by having actor/musicians on stage throughout. The original production was all about spectacle, glamour and glitz. This time round it’s dark and claustrophobic which breathes a new lease of life into the show. Highly recommended.

Also before Christmas I saw Tim Minchin at the Queen Elizabeth Hall. My sister had seen him perform in Cheltenham and said I must go and see him. Quite unlike any performer I think I’ve seen before. Definitely not one for a lazy night out – “you mean I’ve got to think about what is being said on stage rather than just laugh along?”. Here’s an example of his brilliance recorded on of the London nights.

In January, I saw previews of Milk and Bolt 3D at BFI Southbank. Both completely wonderful and followed by Q&A with Gus van Sant and John Lasseter. I saw The Times of Harvey Milk documentary at the BFI last year and thought it was amazing. Sean Penn puts in a spellbinding performance.

Finally, this month I took my mum out as a birthday treat to see An Inspector Calls at the Birmingham Rep. I’d seen the production at the NT in the early nineties with Kenneth Cranham as the inspector and remember liking it but I think this production made a much bigger impression. It’s such an amazing show. Not just for the cinematic quality of the staging but the performances are wonderful – the Inspector and Shelia in particular. It’s on tour around the country until June 2009 and I’d urge you to go and see it if you can. Theatre at its absolute best.