Review: Hamilton – An American Musical

Hamilton 2

This is not a moment, it’s a movement

This is it: ‘The Room Where It Happens’. It’s here. ‘It is Hamilton, and after a fortnight of previews, the musical chronicling the finding, founding, and fight for American freedom through the life of founding father Alexander Hamilton, it’s finally open at the Victoria Palace Theatre in London’s West End. With so much hype and hysteria, just what is it about Hamilton that makes us all want to be in ‘The Room Where It Happens’?

Telling history through rap, hip-hop, and R&B, composer Lin-Manuel Miranda makes America’s past matter through contemporary music and a cast-of-colour who play the mostly white political players of the late-18th century. With characters and songs taking their cue both from the founding fathers who wrote America into existence and the rappers and musicians who use real-life experience to write their way to respect, Hamilton fuses the present, the past, and the future – the finale asks, ‘Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story?’ – into a harmonious whole with a heart that beats and breaks and aches. Hamilton tells not only a political history but a private one, with the story centring on the opposing views of Hamilton and his perpetual rival, Aaron Burr (Sir): one waits for it, the other works non-stop; one stands for nothing, the other rises up; one dies, the other survives.

Hamilton, like America, is ‘young, scrappy, and hungry’, a nobody who arrives in New York to be a new man, and Burr, his nemesis, is a waiter who will do anything to win but has much, much more to lose. Hamilton, and history, hangs in the balance between the two men. Continue reading “Review: Hamilton – An American Musical”

Review: Crazy For You UK Tour

Original review: Underdog Reviews

crazy-for-you.jpeg

Good old-fashioned fun: ‘Gaiety’ in all its glory!

George and Ira Gershwin first composed music for the romantic comedy film Girl Crazy in 1930, at the dawn of the golden age of the cinematic American musical, but the thirties in America were also famous for the Great Depression, and audiences craved the escapism offered by such musicals. Eight decades later, the name might have changed but the escapism hasn’t, as Crazy For You dazzles and delights anew in an age where we definitely need it again.

The story itself has little to say – the tale of budding but blundering performer Bobby, who’s sent to shut up a failing theatre in Nevada but ends up falling for the proprietor’s daughter Polly and putting on a show to save it – but it’s the score that’s literally the star of the show. Full of favourites from the Gershwin catalogue, including ‘Shall We Dance’, ‘I Got Rhythm’, and ‘Embraceable You’, the score is a jukebox of jazz classics that are joyful and filled with infectious rhythm that only catches quicker because it’s performed onstage by a crazily-skilled cast of actor-musicians. Nathan M Wright’s choreography incorporates the instruments into every number, including a wheel-mounted double bass, and Diego Pitarch’s gorgeous designs, set on-and-backstage in the Gaiety Theatre that Bobby sets off to save, go from dilapidated to dazzling under Howard Hudson’s ingenious lighting, and even make use of some meta-theatric tricks in revealing the run-down but once-magnificent theatre auditorium. Continue reading “Review: Crazy For You UK Tour”

Review: Legally Blonde the Musical UK Tour

Legally Blonde the Musical

Great fun with a heart of gold under all that hair

Do blondes have more fun? Legally Blonde the Musical certainly does, but so will you, if you’re blonde, brunette, auburn, or somewhere in-between. Based on the feel-good film about Elle Woods, a fashion-forward sorority sister who heads off to Harvard Law to find her ex-boyfriend and ends up finding herself, the musical is just as fast-paced and fun-loving, but also, just like Elle, has a heart of gold under all that hair.

Nell Benjamin & Laurence O’Keefe’s songs capture all the best bits from the movie and make them ‘So Much Better!’ ‘So Much Better’, sung when Elle sees that accomplishment can outweigh attraction, is as bold and ambitious as an Act I closer should be, the courtroom drama in Professor Callahan’s case descends into criminally-entertaining chaos when the defense can’t decide if the key witness is ‘Gay or European’, and, of course, the iconic ‘Bend and Snap’ – it ‘works every time!’ Anthony Williams’ choreography is flashy and fun and performed with the force of a thousand cheerleaders by a company whose flexibility is equaled only by their enthusiasm. With so much enthusiasm on all sides, some elements seem a little gimmicky rather than genuine, but any grievances evaporate within a few songs as the feel-good fun kicks in – and the feeling couldn’t be more genuine. Continue reading “Review: Legally Blonde the Musical UK Tour”

Feature: Wicked UK Tour Launch

Original feature: Underdog Reviews (26th September 2017)

Wicked UK Tour Launch

Over a century ago, the Wicked Witch of the West first flew into Oz in L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz; green and ghastly, she was after silver slippers and had only one all-seeing eye. In 1939, she was immortalised, in a certain shade of green and on screen, by Margaret Hamilton in MGM’s musical The Wizard of Oz, this time on the hunt for ruby red slippers to make the most of Technicolor technology.

After frightening families for over fifty years, Gregory Maguire reimagined the green-skinned miscreant as a green-skinned, misunderstood young woman with, for the first time, a name: Elphaba, fashioned from L. Frank Baum’s own initials, in the novel Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West. This previously untold story of the Wicked Witch’s life and times prior to Dorothy’s appearance was adapted into a stage musical: Wicked. With music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz and book by Winnie Holzman, the musical opened on Broadway in 2003, starring Idina Menzel as Elphaba, and was nominated for 10 Tony Awards, winning three.

Now, on a September day in 2017, it’s over 10 years since Wicked opened at the Apollo Victoria Theatre in London’s West End and it’s the announcement of a new Wicked UK Tour, to begin in Bristol in the New Year, and a new Elphaba. Continue reading “Feature: Wicked UK Tour Launch”

Review: The Addams Family UK Tour

Original review: Underdog Reviews

The Addams Family

Quick, clever, and kooky, but more spunky than spooky

They’re creepy and they’re kooky, mysterious and spooky, they’re all together… normal? The Addams Family. Duh-duh-duh-duh *click click*. Andrew Lippa’s musical adaptation is a formulaic but fun-filled frolic focusing on Wednesday, the first daughter of America’s freakiest family, finding love with cookie-cutter conventionalist Lucas, whose ordinariness is disorientating for the rest of the kooky clan when his equally-ordinary family come to dinner.

The plot, from Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, is ‘Pulled’ in perhaps one too many new directions: the difference between the families, as wide as the Addams’ Central Park plot, provides some predictable but funny fodder, but as well as Wednesday and Lucas’s love woes, there’s Morticia and Gomez’s marital discord once she finds out he’s keeping secrets about their daughter from her, Lucas’s seemingly conservative parents needing to rediscover love in their mid-life marriage, Uncle Fester’s loony longing for the moon, and all haunted by a host of historically-attired ancestors. The effect is that the plot feels padded rather than planned, and, although believable, because Wednesday and Lucas are already a couple it feels like a missed opportunity to explore their differences more effectively through their undoubtedly unconventional courtship, rather than a dinner party that’s appropriated by their parents.

The family are terrifically creepy and their kinship is a force to be reckoned with: Continue reading “Review: The Addams Family UK Tour”