Saturday, 24 January 2015

City of Angels - A Performer's Eye View from Tiffany Graves

In the first of an occasional series in which respected professionals from the world of theatre offer their thoughts on a show, Tiffany Graves gives her Performer's Eye View of City of Angels, currently playing at the Donmar Warehouse....

I know, I know - I'm very late to the party. Embarrassingly so, as City of Angels shall only be at The Donmar for another couple of weeks (the run comes to an end on February 7th). But, better late than never - with soaring reviews and tickets like gold-dust, I was delighted to have been able to secure a seat.

Before the performance, I spotted a fellow performer Frankie Jenna (currently starring as Kathy Seldon in Singing in the Rain at The Gatehouse) who had bagged a standing spot on her night off as she couldn't bear to miss this production either.

Although not a show I was lucky enough to be seen for, it was definitely one I would have loved to have been in (not least because I adore Cy Colman’s work and greatly enjoyed doing his Sweet Charity at the Menier and Haymarket, also choreographed by the wonderful Stephen Mear).

I do, however, have a ridiculously talented friend who got very close to being cast as one of the Angel City Four and recounts tales of sitting up until the early hours learning both female harmony parts and was a mere 'shoo-wap-bee-dooo-wah' away from getting the job - had it not been for the fact that she has glorious long, raven hair (not too dissimilar to Rosalie Craig's locks that adorn all the show’s sultry smoldering posters) and that Josie Rourke decided to give a nod towards LA's racial undertones so fitting of the time. Brilliant choice... not so much for my talented friend.

So where does one start? The show is a veritable smorgasbord of delights, boasting a creative team that would make any performer salivate with joy at the thought of the first day of rehearsals. Think 'Avengers Assemble'. With the likes of Josie Rourke, Gareth Valentine and Stephen Mear at the helm, you know you are going to be in very safe hands.

And the cast that they had 'assembled' were truly at the top of their game. Led by newlyweds Rosalie Craig and Hadley Fraser, the entire cast's diction was a crisp and effortless vocal tone.

Peter Polycarpou excelled playing Fidler/Irwin with just the right combination of cringe, humour and Hollywood sleaze. Quite a masterclass in delivery. And, naturally for Peter (we did Cats together many Jellicle Moons ago), he didn’t pass up the opportunity of going au naturel for our viewing pleasure!

Like every performer, there is the part of my brain that never stops when watching a show, no matter how hard I try to quash it, whispering to me "If you had been cast in this- who would you like to be? How would you play the role and would it be a different portrayal to the one you see before you?"

So - hands up, I admit it - I would’ve adored to play Alaura Kingsley/Carla for the sheer glamour and show-stopping joy that a part like that offers. What a gift! Katherine Kelly was perfect casting for the role (damn her!) and oozed the sophisticated allure demanded of her. 

And with Katherine's unfortunate exit from the cast this week, in swooped Wonderwoman Caroline Sheen to save the day with a mere 24 hours notice. (We did A Funny Thing at the National together, and you couldn't ask for a calmer head or safer pair of hands to step into the show at the last minute) Hats off to you Caroline, from all of us awestruck and envious fellow performers up here in the cheap seats!

Stephen Mear's clever racket-choreography for her Tennis Song duet with the rugged Tam Matu raised all the necessary titters, and I will be doing my level best to steal some of Alaura's bombshell poise when I portray Ulla in The Producers later this year (well, it's the biggest form of flattery after all).

As for my favourite turn of the evening, it was a tough call, as You Can Always Count On Me is one of my all-time favourite songs and Rebecca Trehearn did not disappoint in her rendition. She certainly is a dame who knows how to sell a song. And Rosalie Craig’s It Needs Work was delivered beautifully – and must have been such fun singing David Zippel’s irreverent lyrics across a New York cafĂ© table to her new Mister.

However, it's a full feast of a production, meaning that not only are the performances sublime, but the devilishly ingenious lighting, creative staging, inventive set and fabulous costume design all play a huge part in the audience's enjoyment and the show’s overall success; seamlessly depicting which story we are in (there are two - the Film Noir and reality, woven together marvellously in Larry Gelbart’s book... do keep up!).

In such a stylish era, the women look spectacularly put together and the men suave. Set against a backdrop of scripts that can be climbed upon and sweeping stairs that glide across the stage, it cannot fail to impress. I always worry when friends see me in a show and comment on how wonderful the set or costumes or lights were as I feel that they are deflecting. Not so here - these features all complement the actors beautifully, making the piece as a whole so perfectly formed.

So. I enjoyed it. A lot. Is it obvious? I would love to tell you to grab a ticket and go, but sadly they are now few and far between. You could try the Barclays Front Row offer if it is still available, or if not queue up for returns. Or feel smug that you were one of the lucky few who got to enjoy such a gem. Or sit on the floor, crossed legged and pray to the great fairy of musical theatre in the hope that it might, hopefully, transfer.

If it does, I for one would certainly go see it again!

Tiffany Graves

Tiffany will soon be appearing as Ulla in the UK tour of The Producers alongside Jason Manford, Ross Noble, Phil Jupitus, Cory English and David Bedella.

Best known for playing both Velma Kelly and Roxie Hart in Chicago, Tiffany went on to be alternate lead in Sweet Charity at The Haymarket, Killer Queen in We Will Rock You, Marlene Dietrich in Piaf, and took part in the 50 Year celebration at the National Theatre. She has also appeared in Cats, A Chorus Line, Sunset Boulevard, Witches of Eastwick, Wonderful Town, Follies and A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum.

She will be performing in her own cabaret show Desperate Divas at London's St James Theatre on February 22nd.

Follow Tiffany on Twitter @tiffanygraves4

City of Angels plays until 7th February 2015

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