Monday, 13 June 2022

Ray Gelato and his Giants - Review

Pizza Express, Dean Street, London


****



A packed Dean Street Pizza Express enjoyed Ray Gelato and his Giants perform a two-hour set that criss-crossed the Atlantic with its content in a glorious celebration of the power of music to entertain. An old-school bandleader, Gelato led from the front switching effortlessly between vocals and sax throughout the gig with his six fellow musicians (three on wind, a bass, piano-player and drums) delivering classy support.

The energy fizzed from the moment Gelato opened proceedings with a speeded up When You’re Smiling. Up tempo and uplifting, feet tapped and faces grinned as the band delivered immaculately rehearsed takes on American Songbook classics that ranged from Louis Jourdan to the Rat Pack. Memorable moments from the evening included Gelato’s saxophone take on Sinatra’s Angel Eyes and his outstanding lead in Boulevard of Broken Dreams. Elsewhere, drummer Ed Richardson’s sensational three-minute (!) riff in Nat King Cole’s L-O-V-E had to be seen to be believed.


A witty songwriter himself, it was a joy to hear Gelato’s self-penned gems Bar Italia and My Last Meatball played live - maybe next time he’ll treat us to some gangsta with Who Stole Ronnie’s Pickle?


This is London music as it should be. On for two more sold-out evenings, but well worth trying for returns.



Performing until 14th June

Saturday, 11 June 2022

The Car Man - Review

Royal Albert Hall, London



*****


Directed and choreographed by Matthew Bourne
Music by Terry Davies and Rodion Shchedrin's Carmen Suite (after Bizet's Carmen)




Will Bozier

More than twenty years after Matthew Bourne’s The Car Man, his ballet inspired by Bizet’s Carmen, premiered in Plymouth the show returns to London playing at the Royal Albert Hall as a part of its 150th anniversary and marking the first time that Bourne has ever staged a production in the landmark London venue. No expense has been spared in this revival, with the director/choreographer fielding a cast three times the size of his original 2020 company.

The plot’s inspiration may hail from Carmen, but the aura of The Car Man hails from Hollywood. Set amidst an Italian-American community in the USA’s Midwest, the action plays out in the fictitious town of Harmony, a name that is as ironic as its images are iconic. This is a town of billboards, tumbleweed and Dino’s eponymous automobile repair shop, where the car men work. The music is from Rodion Shchedrin’s Carmen Suite supplemented by additional composition from Terry Davies, with the opera’s fabulously familiar melodies delivered to perfection under  Brett Morris’ baton, fused into mouthwatering leitmotifs that emerge through the two hour show.

Zizi Strallen

Bourne’s protagonists are a quintet made up of the abusive Dino who is also the owner of the town’s diner, his wife Lana, her sister Rita together with Angelo, a hired help and Luca an itinerant drifter whose arrival leads to the destruction of Harmony’s harmony. This review will not reveal how the five’s smouldering passions ignite, but remember that this is Carmen-themed where lust, jealousy, and murder have to fuel the narrative. Bourne’s vision is as bold as it is beautiful and bloody, with his characters’ sexualities straddling their desires and all leading to an inevitable and heartbreaking revenge.

Will Bozier is Luca the titular car man, with the practically perfect Zizi Strallen opposite him as Lana. Both of these performers are outstanding in their dance and acting and where the intimate nuance of stolen glances can so easily be lost in the Royal Albert Hall’s vastness, the billboards that double up as projection screens show occasional snatches of beautifully filmed lingering glances in true Sunset Boulevard style close-up. Strallen is wondrous in portraying both her allure to Luca and also in capturing quite how irresistible she finds him to be. Mary Poppins she ain’t!

Will Bozier and Zizi Strallen

Bozier is all muscle and movement. A guy who cannot keep it in his trousers and to whom any hole is a potential goal. Oozing testosterone, his is a role of almost perpetual or potential conflict or coitus. Physically demanding, Bozier’s performance is breathtaking.

Paris Fitzpatrick’s Angelo is the more diminutive of the younger guys, clearly vulnerable and at times violently violated and abused. Integral to the plot, his is a carefully delivered role. Likewise Kayla Collymore’s Rita. While hers may be the more marginal of the principal roles, Collymore dances with an assured and nuanced sensitivity.

Kayla Collymore and Paris Fitzpatrick

The middle-aged, flabby Dino is played here by Alan Vincent, a neat touch being that back in the day at the show’s Plymouth premiere, it had been Vincent who created the role of Luca. At the Royal Albert Hall however, Vincent captures the rage of the cuckolded Mediterranean exquisitely. And as is so often the way with a New Adventures production Lez Brotherston’s design work shifts the audience from London’s south-west to America’s mid-west effortlessly. 

For more than two decades The Car Man has been lifting the hood on modern dance, treating its audience to a powerful spectacle of music and dance that stirs the soul and pulsates the emotions. If you’ve seen it before, then you need to revisit this outing to wonder at how Bourne’s company fill the Royal Albert Hall. And if you haven’t seen it, then all the more reason to grasp the opportunity right now. Either way, just go!

The Company


Runs until 19th June
Photo credit: Johan Persson

Wednesday, 8 June 2022

Jersey Boys - Review

Churchill Theatre, Bromley



****


Music by Bob Gaudio
Lyrics by Bob Crewe
Book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice
Directed by Des McAnuff


The cast of Jersey Boys


Jersey Boys returns to the UK touring circuit, with this stand-out musical about The Four Seasons playing at Bromley’s Churchill Theatre for this week only. 

What is so attractive about the show is that not only does it offer a chance to hear the band’s hit songs played live, it also reveals how much they were ordinary people. With their own flaws and troubles, the show reveals what happened in their lives and what formed their music.

Michael Pickering plays Frankie Valli, showing the lead singer's journey from a humble Italian family to worldwide stardom. It isn’t easy to sing like Frankie, with his unique lead falsetto voice and Pickering performs well, matched by his acting. 

Dalton Woods’ Tommy DeVito unfolded more stories of the band’s history, from his initial co-performance with Frankie, with little success, to the full team-up of the Four Lovers, as the band was originally known that was to raise them and him to chart fame.  Lewis Griffith as Nick Massi and Blair Gibson as Bob Gaudio complete the quartet, with the show providing a glorious showcase to classic hits including Sherry, Big Girls Don’t Cry, Walk Like a Man, My Eyes Adored You, Dawn, Go Away and Who Loves You

For South East Londoners, Jersey Boys at the Churchill Theatre is a must see, especially if you want to enjoy a show that is all about the highest West End standards in musical theatre, but at a far more affordable ticket price!


Runs until 11th June, then continues on tour

Friday, 3 June 2022

The Lion - Review

Southwark Playhouse, London



***


Music, lyrics and book by Benjamin Scheuer
Directed by Alex Stenhouse and Sean Daniels


Max Alexander-Taylor

There are likely to be few more impressive performances than Max Alexander-Taylor’s turn as Ben in The Lion now playing in Southwark Playhouse’s Little space. In the 75 minute one-act piece, Alexander-Taylor, aided only by 5 guitars (4 acoustic, 1 electric) takes Benjamin Scheuer’s autobiographical look back at the first 30 years of his life, in a virtuoso combination of acting and musicianship.

Alexander-Taylor’s first class performance however is stifled within a structure that barely gets beyond the two-dimensional. The Lion is more scripted cabaret than theatre, with Scheuer treating the audience almost as his therapist, The show's narrative (comprising both lyrics and their linking monologues) is almost entirely expositional, with minimal dramatic substance to lift the tale. We learn that Scheuer had a troubled relationship with his father and subsequently his mother, a failed relationship and that at 30 he was blighted with a (thankfully cured) debilitating cancer. While this may be an undoubtedly sincere and humbling narrative, as presented it is neither gripping nor memorable drama. All too often modern musical-theatre writing can descend into little more than self-indulgent, introspective balladry. The Lion descends deeper than most.

Scheuer’s journey will resonate with many as dysfunctional families, depression and cancer are sadly all too common. But worthy causes alone do not a musical make. Outstanding work from Max Alexander-Taylor, but this lion fails to roar.


Runs until 25th June
Photo credit: Pamela Raith