Review: Miss Saigon UK Tour

Original review: Underdog Reviews

Miss Saigon UK Tour

Spectacular operatic epic

The Heat is On in Miss Saigon! An operatic epic inspired by a Puccini opera, Miss Saigon is visually and vocally spectacular: Madame Butterfly with bargirls and G.I.s, it tells the tragic tale of Kim and Chris, a romance grown and gutted by the violence of the Vietnam War.

Miss Saigon shares more than its music-makers with Les Misérables: from Schönberg’s motif-rich music to Boublil’s overlying lyrics, Miss Saigon is also sung-through, has a thieving entertainer who thrives on surviving – Red Concepción’s Engineer is magnetising – is thrillingly theatrical, and has the same thematic threat of revolution on intimate romance. Yet, far from a French revolution, the Fall of Saigon is a tragedy from only forty years ago: Continue reading “Review: Miss Saigon UK Tour”

Review: The Whale at the Ustinov Studio

Original review: Underdog Reviews

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An odyssey to the very depths of love, loss, and faith

No man is an island, but many a man is marooned on one. Charlie’s island is his couch in Idaho, just about buoyant on a sea of abandoned bottles, and with little more than a laptop to save him from total isolation. With his work and relationships folding under his vast and ever-rising weight, Samuel D. Hunter’s The Whale is an odyssey to the very depths of love, loss, and faith.

A titanic, two-hour text with no interval, it’s one that’s alive with intertextuality and intellect. Revelatory in its palpable realism and its revealing plotting, it’s a play that never feels like it’s force-feeding us information from the past, but rather lets it unfold naturally as four visitors – loved ones and lost ones – pass through his living room. Everything bar the undulating waves in the intervening blackouts in Laurence Boswell’s production at Bath’s Ustinov Studio is naturalistic, from Tim Shortall’s dilapidated but detailed apartment set to the perspiration on Charlie’s brow under his ample padding, but those waves allow other whales, of the more emblematic breed, from Melville’s leviathans to the Bible’s behemoths, to bask below the dramatic tide.

The literary – but literal – whales swimming past make the play’s title tough to swallow: Continue reading “Review: The Whale at the Ustinov Studio”

Review: Beautiful – the Carole King Musical UK Tour

Original review: Underdog Reviews

Beautiful the Carole King Musical

Beautiful jukebox biomusical

Beautiful is a jukebox biomusical: from Brooklyn to 1650 Broadway to Billboard, it charts the charming Carole King’s musical, and romantic, relationships and eventual meteoric rise to fame after finally finding her voice.

The musical is less about King’s life than it is her music and lyrics, but so rich and so resonant are their sound that it’s a moving and lively listen in its own right. This tuneful Tapestry is complimented by a plot that revolves mostly around her creatively fruitful but romantically fruitless relationship with lyricist Gerry Goffin, although, as the tattered piano at the centre of the free-roving set proves, this is more about the music than its makers. Continue reading “Review: Beautiful – the Carole King Musical UK Tour”

Review: Cilla the Musical UK Tour

Original review: Underdog Reviews

Cilla the Musical

A celebration of Cilla Black

‘Something tells me something’s gonna happen tonight’, sings Cilla at the show’s finale, and at the Hippodrome, after a lighting fault and show-halt as two in the audience were taken ill, it’s a line that suddenly felt very close to home. Once resumed, the songs and spirit of Cilla save the evening, but oversimplify the story of a star that deserves so much more.

Based on the TV series, Cilla is a celebration of Cilla Black. Set in, and with a soundtrack from, the sixties, it follows the teenage Priscilla White’s transformation into the chart-topping Cilla Black with a touching tribute to her talent and charm. Kara Lily Hayworth is warm and witty as the Liverpudlian lovely, and her performances of the Cilla classics ‘Anyone Who Had a Heart’, ‘Alfie’, and ‘Something Tells Me’ are perfectly poised between powerful performance and heartfelt homage.

Though it works for Cilla, elsewhere the impressive musical performances feel more like tribute acts and cameos than fully-formed characters in a well-plotted chronicle. Continue reading “Review: Cilla the Musical UK Tour”

Review: The Cherry Orchard at Bristol Old Vic

Original review: Underdog Reviews

The Cherry Orchard


Cherry-picked for the Year of Change

‘How much these walls have seen,’ muses the lady Lyuba in a fond but forlorn farewell to her family home; and, as her hand touches the gorgeous green and gilded walls of the Old Vic, her words touch our hearts, too. The Cherry Orchard, Chekhov’s so-called comedy about social change in turn-of-the-century Russia following the serf reform, seems cherry-picked for Bristol Old Vic at this time of redevelopment, in their very own Year of Change.

Tom Piper’s invigorating set envelops the Old Vic into the estate that’s up for sale: the architecture is the orchard, we the trees, and, with an audience also onstage in an uncanny recreation of the auditorium, the action plays out in-the-round and uses every inch of the space, from the stairs up to the pit to the passages behind the stalls. As such, we are in the estate: Continue reading “Review: The Cherry Orchard at Bristol Old Vic”

Review: Hairspray UK Tour

Original review: Underdog Reviews

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Feels fun but falls flat

‘What gives a girl power and punch? Is it charm? Is it poise? No, it’s hairspray!’ This Hairspray has plenty of punch from its performances, but is light on the power and poise and falls, well, a little flat.

Tracy Turnblad is a ‘big’ girl with some big dreams – to dance, and get out of detention – and her gritty, if ditsy, determination to do so is set against the backdrop of segregation and discrimination in sixties Baltimore. Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman’s score has moments of luminous amusement, from the shouts and shakes of showstopper ‘Run and Tell That’, to the body-and-black-positive belter ‘Big, Blonde, and Beautiful’, to the bold exuberance of the show’s close, ‘You Can’t Stop the Beat’. All this is fun, but the musical force is in its protest anthem, ‘I Know Where I’ve Been’, that reflects its politics, and it’s a powerhouse performance from Brenda Edwards’s respected, motherly Motormouth Maybelle that ends triumphantly with all hand-in-hand.

Yet, the force of Hairspray is blunted by its own flashy brashness, and the focus feels as though it’s on all the wrong colours: Continue reading “Review: Hairspray UK Tour”

Review: Wicked UK Tour

Original review: Underdog Reviews

Wicked UK Tour

Wicked is a richly woven tapestry of top-class entertainment, powerful performances, and unforgettable spectacle

‘Are people born Wicked? Or do they have Wickedness thrust upon them?’ The Wizard of Oz would have us believe the Wicked Witch of the West was born wicked, but Wicked breaks through the walls of L. Frank Baum’s book and the Technicolor musical classic to tell us what really went on in Oz. Based on the book by Gregory Maguire, adapted by Winnie Holzman, it makes use of the politics and ups the playfulness to create its own classic: the ultimate musical about friendship, fighting the good fight, and defying the odds – and gravity.

Wicked is a richly woven tapestry of top-class entertainment, powerful performances, and unforgettable spectacle. Wicked is not so much a prelude but an impassioned and political parallel tale that weaves itself effortlessly and perceptively through the loose threads of The Wizard of Oz: from the silver slippers to the Scarecrow, the musical leaves no stone, or song, unturned. Continue reading “Review: Wicked UK Tour”

Review: Theatre Ad Infinitum’s Translunar Paradise (2018 Tour)

Original review: Underdog Reviews

Translunar Paradise

Heartbreakingly, beautifully human

‘After great pain, a formal feeling comes –’: what pain – grief, loss, despair – is up for interpretation, poet Emily Dickinson wasn’t explicit, but for anyone who has experienced that fearful, emotional paralysis in the aftermath of pain, it’s undoubtedly true. Theatre Ad Infinitum’s tender and infinitely touching Translunar Paradise expresses these feelings without uttering a word. As a husband bids goodbye to his wife, their heart-breaking, beautifully human memoir is told through mime, music, and movement as a mask – literally – for his grief.

The formality of everyday life unfolds even after death: hunched, hobbling and breathing heavily, the husband returns home and makes tea, but even seemingly simple moments are haunted by what’s missing. Consciously or instinctively, he takes out two cups, even though only one is needed now. As the widowed William – as well as the writer and director – George Mann is weary and restless, tapping his fingertips to the ticking of a clock, but his performance isn’t without moments of muted humour, as when he hurriedly spoons a small mountain of sugar into his teacup.

Yet, Translunar Paradise intersperses formality with lyricism Continue reading “Review: Theatre Ad Infinitum’s Translunar Paradise (2018 Tour)”

Review: Sunset Boulevard UK Tour

Original review: Underdog Reviews

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The glitz, the glamour, the agony, the tragedy: Ria Jones is the Greatest Star of All

Sunset Boulevard: the glitz, the glamour, the agony, the tragedy. Based on Billy Wilder’s 1950 meta-cinematic masterpiece about damaging Hollywood stardom, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical adaptation makes a star of its leading lady. As the iconic, inimitable Norma Desmond, the faded silent-film star and fantasist who’s lusting after a young man, and her adoring fans, to love her again, Ria Jones is ready for her close-up, and it’s a masterclass.

As in the film, the musical opens with a man floating face down in the pool of Norma Desmond’s mansion, but unlike the film, the pool and the unfortunate man are projected onto two moveable panels that then become part of the infamous Paramount lot that Norma loves so much, lending some metatheatrics to the stage as well as the screen. Douglas O’Connell’s projections are not just crafty scenic design – the excitement of the car chase captured in quick cuts; the street outside Schwab’s Drugstore busy with big-shots and bystanders – but, along with Colin Richmond’s grand-yet-just-past-their-glory sets, they are clever storytelling devices. Continue reading “Review: Sunset Boulevard UK Tour”

Review: Slava’s Snow Show

Original review: Underdog Reviews

Slava's Snow Show

A show in the spectacular superlative: comedy touched with melancholic charm

Clowning belongs in the circus: beneath the big top, behind a big, red nose and between comics, not accomplished actors… yet Slava Polunin and his Snow Show are unequivocally proving that clowns really belong on the bright lights and beauty of the stage in his breath-taking blizzard of a performance.

Slava’s Snow Show is a show in the spectacular superlative: the brightest lights, the boldest ambition, and the biggest, ahem, bouncing balls. And yet, from the most outlandish and loudest laughs come the quietest moments of comedy touched with melancholic charm. Continue reading “Review: Slava’s Snow Show”