Patrick Marmion: Lacquer is back! Michael Ball is back to wow crowds at the Coliseum in London

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Lacquer (Coliseum, London)

Verdict: Spray everywhere

Rating:

Hair spray could be the music solution we’ve all been waiting for.

Starring Michael Ball, Les Dennis and Lizzie Bea, it will be seen by some as an escape from the 1960s.

But the roar of the crowd at the end of the show this week almost blew the cast off the stage.

Clearly moved, Ball’s pantodame mom Edna thanked the audience.

“You have no idea what it feels like to hear that after so long!” Sighs the man who won an Olivier Award for the role in 2008.

The show’s story is that of tall schoolgirl Tracy Turnblad (Bea) grappling with racial inequality in suburban Maryland.

Lacquer could be the musical solution we’ve all been waiting for. Starring Michael Ball, Les Dennis and Lizzie Bea, it will be seen by some as an escape from the 1960s

Jack O'Brien's production has jet fuel in its veins, thanks to training choreography by Jerry Mitchell, colorful costumes by William Ivey Long, and cartoon sets by David Rockwell

Jack O’Brien’s production has jet fuel in its veins, thanks to training choreography by Jerry Mitchell, colorful costumes by William Ivey Long, and cartoon sets by David Rockwell

He throws the burners with Good Morning Baltimore, kicks off with Mama, I’m A Big Girl Now, and soars in Welcome To The 60s.

Jack O’Brien’s production has kerosene flowing through its veins, thanks to training choreography by Jerry Mitchell, colorful costumes by William Ivey Long, and cartoon sets by David Rockwell.

Replacing the previously booked Paul Merton as Tracy’s dad, Wilbur, Dennis is a perfect fit for Ball as Tracy’s washerwoman mum.

But that’s the spectacle of Bea as the brave Tracy. She can move, she can hum, and she can light the show’s blue tactile paper – and maybe set the whole West End on fire, too.

Heathers (Theater Royal, Haymarket)

Verdict: Niche black comedy

Rating:

heather is another cult 1980s movie turned musical, but its noir comedy is much more adolescent and specialized.

The film starred Winona Ryder as a new high school girl who seeks protection from three bullies called Heather.

But she falls in love with Christian Slater’s character, JD, who turns out to be a psycho-killer.

Kevin Murphy’s and Laurence O’Keefe musical sweetens some of the film’s tough themes with tunes like (“I want the world to know I love …”) My Dead Gay Son and the Seventeen rock anthem .

Heathers is another cult 1980s movie turned musical, but its dark comedy is much more adolescent and niche.

Andy Fickman's production has the feel of a school performance set in a red-brick boardroom

Andy Fickman’s production has the feel of a school performance set in a red-brick boardroom

Jodie Steele (middle) is cold as a blade as the main bully Heather Chandler, Jordan Luke Gage as psycho JD is a baby-faced Clint Eastwood and Christina Bennington makes a pretty fiery heroine, Veronica

Jodie Steele (middle) is cold as a blade as the main bully Heather Chandler, Jordan Luke Gage as psycho JD is a baby-faced Clint Eastwood and Christina Bennington makes a pretty fiery heroine, Veronica

Andy Fickman’s production looks like a school show staged in a red brick boardroom.

Jodie Steele is cold as a blade as the main bully Heather Chandler, Jordan Luke Gage as psycho JD is a baby-faced Clint Eastwood and Christina Bennington makes a pretty fiery heroine, Veronica.

I’m just glad I didn’t take my 11 year old daughter, who might think this is what awaits her in high school.

The marquee invites with great pleasure

Le Hooley – Cirque de Giffords

Verdict: A great family affair

Rating:

Giffords Circus is an elegant, traditional and friendly Irish company that visits Gloucestershire, Wiltshire, Oxfordshire and London.

Inside the cave-style marquee towers, you’ll find hoof-dancing elves and the Caomhanach family of goblin tumblers.

Giffords Circus is an elegant, traditional and warm Irish operation that visits Gloucestershire, Wiltshire, Oxfordshire and London

Giffords Circus is an elegant, traditional and warm Irish operation that visits Gloucestershire, Wiltshire, Oxfordshire and London

Inside the cave-style marquee towers, you'll find hoof-dancing elves and the Caomhanach goblin goblet family

Inside the cave-style marquee towers you’ll find hoof-dancing elves and the Caomhanach family of goblin goblets

With a muscular talking dog and pony on microphones using ventriloquism, everything is done with an Irish twinkle and set to the whistle, violin and piano tunes of the Joyce Country Ceili Band

With a muscular talking dog and pony on microphones using ventriloquism, everything is done with an Irish twinkle and set to the whistle, violin and piano tunes of the Joyce Country Ceili Band

My choice, however, was Colm Banus’ routine with half a dozen doves leaping from his puffed sleeves.

And there is a ballet beauty in the aerial of Cathal O Cearbhaill and Finnian O Fearghail spinning in a hoop above.

With a muscular talking dog and pony on microphones using ventriloquism, everything is done with Irish flicker and tuned to the whistle, violin and piano tunes of the Joyce Country Ceili Band.

I can’t wait to be locked up with them in a pub on the Emerald Isle – as soon as Covid allows.

Bach and sons (Bridge Theater, London)

Verdict: More grunts than Bach

Rating:

Genius composer Johann Sebastian Bach in Nina Raine’s new play with Simon Russell Beale, comes across as a cranky old man.

It’s a show that achieves the dubious distinction of making me like Bach and his work a little less.

For the devout Protestant German of the 18th century, music was an offering to God.

Still, Raine suggests that Bach’s first wife, Maria Barbara, was not very impressed. Raine makes fun of her that her mathematical compositions were also “boring and complacent.”

JSB wasn’t really a family man either. His two sons Wilhelm and Carl who follow in his footsteps are respectively too spoiled and under-encouraged.

When their mother dies before the intermission, they are dismayed to discover that dad has a pretty soprano to replace her.

Where there might have been a story, Raine shares his grievances with musicians and inferior rivals, as well as the lamentations over the lost children that don’t seem to mean much to JSB.

And there is a lot of very dry talk about Bach’s use of musical counterpoint: “hope filled with pain,” he explains.

Raine writes in a modern four-letter vernacular deliberately at odds with Bach’s ecclesiastical reputation.

“What is this shit?” He carp and there’s hardly a line where Jesu’s author, Joy of Man’s Desiring, isn’t crazy and blinding.

Sir Nicholas Hytner’s production abandons any sense of the divine with a beaten harpsichord and a fortepiano, which move on marbled plinths like ice floes.

Despite his warm and cuddly demeanor, Russell Beale’s Bach presents himself as a moody introvert who justifies his lack of charm in the name of honesty and the need to work.

Douggie McMeekin as Bach’s favorite eldest son, Wilhelm, is (as Dad puts it) “interesting” in his dereliction, while Samuel Blenkin is “more correct” as a hardworking and less talented younger son trying to overcome his negligence.

More mischievous is Pravessh Rana as King Frederick the Great who recounts a troubling childhood and has fun playing with the terribly obsequious Carl. Maria Barbara of Pandora Colin despairs of her husband’s attention, while Ruth Lass is touching parched by devotion to him.

We notice that everyone loves Bach “for nothing”, but Raine never shows why. I still love his music – I think – but I might have to forget this piece to continue.



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