It may be a frothy, flimsy favourite from years gone by, but Hello, Dolly! has stood the test of time because it’s essentially a feelgood show about rediscovering life and love.
Curve’s Christmas musical is a sure-fire crowd-pleaser which works because it doesn’t pretend to be more than it is; a tremendously likeable, fun and warm tale of a meddling widowed matchmaker looking for love for herself and those around her.
Dolly (Janie Dee) wants to marry cantankerous half-millionnaire Horace Vandergelder (Dale Rapley), yet first has to craftily persuade him that the charms of another widow, milliner Irene Molloy (Laura Pitt-Pulford) are not for him.
In the meantime, Horace’s two employees run off to New York looking for adventure and love, gently nudged towards Mrs Molloy’s shop by Dolly.
Of course everything ends up happily ever after, and in the hands of musical creative team director Paul Kerryson and choreographer David Needham, it could hardly do anything but.
Janie Dee’s Dolly has humanity and humour as a woman learning to live and love again after being widowed too young, not wanting to spend her middle years alone and looking to Vandergelder for security and companionship. Dolly’s motormouth dialogue isn’t yet quite flowing with the speed and sass one associates with the role, but it will almost certainly come as the run progresses.
Michael Xavier sings up a storm as Horace’s chief clerk Cornelius Hackl, balancing his comedy well between immature and goofy, and Ms Pitt-Pulford’s voice soars gloriously with her solo spots.
David Needham’s dancers are key to the show-stealing moments – the frenetic waiters’ gallop, the exquisite ballet in Dancing and the impressive act one finale – always slick, busy, imaginative and immensely watchable, he creates magic with movement, keeping dancers so active you’d swear there were twice as many.
There’s also a pleasingly fat sound from musical director Ben Atkinson’s eight-piece band, with a grateful nod to the four local brass bands who add oomph to the parade scene (Enderby Band on press night).
Sara Perks’ designs are a little more hit and miss, costumes are period but some lack the wow factor (and Dolly’s “enormous bag” is referenced but doesn’t appear) and the central curved staircase, although providing a variety of functions including the milliner’s shop and train station entrance, often just looks out of place. But these are admittedly nitpicks.
Ultimately it’s a lovely show, it makes you smile, it makes you tap your feet and I defy you not to sing the title song all the way home. What else does a Christmas show need?
It may be almost a decade since EastEnders’ hapless Barry met his sorry end, but it was the start of a run of almost constant work for Shaun Williamson.
As well as the ritual humiliation of his regular role in TV’s Extras and Life’s Too Short, thanks to Ricky Gervais, he’s also secured regular work in theatre, now touring the country in The Ladykillers.
Based on the hit Ealing comedy film of the same name, it tells of a group of villains who rent rooms from an old lady while posing as amateur musicians as they plot their latest heist.
As the old lady becomes aware of their ruse, how can they ensure her silence?
“I have been very lucky,” says Shaun, “I’ve actually been out of EastEnders for almost as long as I was in it, but part of the reason I’ve kept working is that I haven’t sat around waiting for the phone to ring, I’ve done standup, corporate work and more recently written my own comedy drama series.”
Then, after his contract with The Ladykillers is completed, he’s straight into panto in St Albans before beginning filming for Life’s Too Short. He can’t say too much about the show, except that “there will be a big American star in in but I can’t say who, because last time I said who the star was and they pulled out, but myself, Keith Chegwin and Les Dennis feature heavily. Ricky seems to enjoy humiliating us but it’s a great job and I still love doing it.”
For now he’s playing a psychopath killer with a fear of old ladies, alongside comedy greats including Michele Dotrice and Clive Mantle. The piece has been written by Graham Linehan, the writer of Father Ted.
“All our parts are equally featured in the play, but it’s a very physical show – we had to do that with it because you couldn’t just put the film on stage, it wouldn’t have worked,” says Shaun.
“When I was first asked to consider joining the show I was offered a part which I felt was a bit like Barry, so I spoke to the director and I took a different role instead. It’s a great comedy but you have to play it straight, let the writing speak for itself and allow the audience to do the rest.
“The writing is sublime, Graham has done a great job, and comedy is about people being brought down to earth, so I’m a psycho who probably has killed someone in the past but then has to kill an old lady, but I have a fear of old ladies. Of course, if I didn’t have that fear and just killed her then there wouldn’t be a story! But the beauty of the piece is about how it unravels, how the rest of the villains are useless. It’s clever stuff, it’s not really been modernised or updated, just made physical and funnier.
“But at the end of the day quality appeals. We’ve had the days of political correctness, the anarchic comedy, but this is inoffensive, no swearing, it’s a lot of fun, the fighting is done in such a way that even kids will know it’s not real, it’s all very Tom and Jerry!”
As for touring, Shaun admits it’s a necessary evil of the job. “I always hate Mondays. I hate arriving in a place and having to get to new digs and not knowing what they’re going to be like, and I never manage to make time to get to the supermarket, so I always end up picking up a takeaway after the show and going back to the digs like the saddest mad imaginable. Then it’s a lie-in on Tuesday and off to the supermarket. But you get into a routine. My wife moved house for us last week on her own so I guess we get used to it – I got out of that very neatly!”
TWENTY-ONE years, two theatres, three dozen musicals, almost as many plays, hundreds of thousands of happy people, and one man.
Paul Kerryson’s directorial career in Leicester has brought to the city numerous European and UK premieres as well as the creation of his own musicals – one of which marks its own 21st anniversary next year.
It’s also seen the closure of the loved Haymarket Theatre, the creation of Curve, and an inevitable rollercoaster ride including union strikes, West End transfers, national tours and working alongside at least half a dozen different chief executives.
Yet he shows no signs of slowing up nor wanting to move on.
“Never for a moment have I wanted to leave, quite the reverse. Even during the more difficult setbacks I knew I had to turn things around and never wanted to admit defeat. You have to make things happen,” he says. “I live and work in the moment and rarely think too much about my own future. Then when an opportunity presents itself I can make something from it. Leicester reinvigorated me as a person. I was very immature in my 20s and obsessed with my career as a performer but when I came here I had a fantastic creative working environment and a great social life. I met the love of my life 16 years ago at the Haymarket and we’re still together, Curve is growing and we’re creating great new partnerships and bringing new things to the city. The city itself has changed immensely since I first arrived and it’s all good.”
His arrival in 1991 certainly seems to have had an element of fate about it. Five years previously he was working as an actor and choreographer, under the directorship of Howard Lloyd-Lewis at the Library Theatre in Manchester and Wynthenshawe Forum.
“Howard had been interviewed for the director post at Leicester Haymarket and had asked me if I would be his associate director, if he were successful. I, of course, was thrilled and jumped at the chance,” recalls Paul.
But Howard telephoned Paul from Leicester following his third interview, and said he didn’t think it had gone well. “I was in Manchester and he called from Leicester. He was upset and said he fancied some company. We arranged to meet in a busy Manchester bar we knew well. He came up from Leicester, I remember standing at the bar ordering him a pint of cider. I turned around to give it to him and he fell down in front of me, as though a puppeteer had just cut his strings. He had died on the spot.
“I don’t believe in fate, but a few years later when the position came up again at Leicester, I wondered if Howard were looking down, encouraging me to go for it. Maybe that experience is why I live for the moment. I came here on a two-year contract and that kind of pressure makes you fight to prove yourself. You can’t become complacent.”
So in 1991 Paul became one of two artistic directors of Leicester Haymarket Theatre, alongside Julia Bardsley, and went straight into rehearsal for Kander and Ebb musical Chicago, with little-known Caroline O’Connor as Roxie. She would later star in Curve’s production of Gypsy as well as star on Broadway and in films including Moulin Rouge.
Paul’s was an impressive first season, including Sean O’Casey’s Shadow of a Gunman, the first production of Hot Stuff, and the UK premiere of Sondheim’s revised Merrily We Roll Along.
How did a new director secure such a coup?
“I’d just worked at Chichester Festival Theatre and the boss there asked what I’d like to direct next. I’d said Merrily We Roll Along. The rights to produce the show were obtained but then the boss left, and I got a phone call from the person who took over saying they didn’t think I had enough main stage experience, and they were going to get someone else to direct it. I was so upset, almost in tears, and couldn’t believe what I was hearing.
“So I phoned Stephen Sondheim. I’d met him when he’d seen Follies in Manchester, which Howard had directed and I’d choreographed. I told him what had happened and he just listened and said “Really? Really? Let me call you back”. He called back half an hour later and told me Chichester would not be doing the show, and asked if I had anywhere else I could do it. So Leicester it was. Continue Reading →
NEARLY two weeks of previews, copious amounts of publicity and a multi-millionaire Hollywood producer at the helm. So how did opening night find Neverland?
Against the backstory of JM Barrie as the struggling writer of a failed latest play, we explore how his friendship with a widow and her sons saves his career and his spirit.
It’s very much a show of two halves, and not just in the sense of act one and two: there’s the love story narrative of a frustrated writer meeting his muse and her sons, who ultimately provide his inspiration.
And there’s the ‘imagination’ sequences featuring pirates, mermaids, fairies and sword-fights, steering the show away from grown-up musical theatre and towards Peter Pan panto.
That’s great for a piece billed as a family show, but the two never really sit comfortably, and although the audience was clearly delighted at the spectacle of a vast pirate ship sailing through the rear of the set, in terms of connecting with a story, emotional substance will always win over style.
There is plenty of style from Scott Pask’s sets – from the vintage car and pirate ship to the enormous stairway to heaven covered in hundreds of flowers (as well as Paul Wills’ costumes) – the show oozes Harvey Weinstein’s huge budget from every pore.
Yet Finding Neverland’s most successful moments are the simplest thanks to beautifully-considered performances from the principals: Julian Ovenden and Rosalie Craig are strong, intelligent actors who make the growing relationship between Barrie and widow Sylvia utterly convincing and heartwarming. Also huge hats-off though to the four boys in the company (young Harry Polden was a standout on opening night). But some of the smaller roles suffer from being underwritten, with both Clare Foster and Liz Robertson excellent yet woefully-underused as the “other women” in the couple’s lives.
Although Scott Frankel and Michael Korie’s songs are pleasing to the ear and sit well within the musical theatre genre, there’s not a song which lingers in the memory after the curtain, although they are sung to perfection under David Charles Abell’s sterling musical direction. In spite of the lack of big production numbers from director and choreographer Rob Ashford, the simply-staged duet “James Never Mentioned” where Sylvia meets Barrie’s wife Mary, is one of the show’s best and most emotionally-stirring.
It’s pleasant, enjoyable theatre and the end is predictably emotional for any parent, but ultimately it’s a show with an identity issue. Finding Neverland has a lot of great qualities, it just needs to really find itself.
*Finding Neverland is at Curve until October 22. Details on 0116 242 3595 or www.curveonline.co.uk.
Harvey Weinstein is an imposing man.
The 60-year-old native New Yorker is a multi-millionnaire, an award-winning producer, co-founder of Miramax Films and co-chairman of The Weinstein Company. In addition to his Academy Award win for producing Shakespeare in Love, he’s also collected a host of Tony Awards for producing musicals including Billy Elliott and The Producers.
And he’s talking to me because he’s heading to ….. Leicester? Apart from his wife Georgina “knowing the city well and we have friends there”, he’s lead producer on the musical stage version of Finding Neverland, receiving its world premiere at the city’s Curve theatre next month.
The show features UK performers Julian Ovenden and Rosalie Craig and is directed by Rob Ashford, telling the story of how Barrie came to create the legendary story of Peter Pan, and is loosely based on the hit film of the same name.
And Harvey couldn’t be happier about it.
“A number of years ago I was in Richmond where we shot most of Finding Neverland with a brilliant cast of actors, and we were nominated for so many Academy Awards, and there was a moment where I knew I would love to turn it into a musical. But it needed to wait until we had time to develop it and somewhere to showcase it. Curve is the most exciting space to explore; this is a big show with big sets and big production numbers. Curve has the technical ability to make it work and Leicester audiences are smart. By the time it reaches the West End we’ll have spent close to £7million but you’ll be able to see that money in a big show. It’s not two people in a room, there’s a full orchestra, large cast, great sets, it will be as big as any Broadway show.
“It’s not the same as the film, the story is told differently, there’s more humour, there’s more interaction with the kids, there’s more of a love story between the two main characters, and without giving too much away there’s pirates coming out of the rafters and every other bit of the brilliant Curve space.”
So why premiere the show in the UK rather than the USA? “When I did the film with Johnny Depp, he pointed out that other films like Shakespeare in Love and The King’s Speech were shot in the UK but premiered in the US. He said that the notion of JM Barrie and Peter Pan belongs to England. We saw that with the Olympics opening ceremony –and our opening night of Finding Neverland in the West End will be in aid of Great Ormond Street Hospital. We owe the people of England the chance to see it first. But it will play to the world – I want it out there in China, the USA, Australia – but Leicester gets the first opportunity.
“In the UK you are the greatest supporters of culture – look at the Olympics opening ceremony – Beijing was militaristic and had precision but you had quirkiness, the idiosyncratic and the universal, you had Simon Rattle being cross with Rowan Atkinson, you had the Queen with James Bond, you had Mary Poppins and Shakespeare, you had JK Rowling reading Peter Pan. Someone give Danny Boyle a Knighthood! My daughter Lily said it was interesting and historical but she never expected to laugh so much too.”
Danny Boyle may have got the Olympics, but it’s a celebrated stage craftsman who takes the helm of Finding Neverland. Director and choreographer Rob Ashford has won plaudits for his Broadway work on How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying as well as UK productions of Anna Christie (with Jude Law), A Streetcar Named Desire (with Rachel Weisz), Thoroughly Modern Millie, Evita and Guys & Dolls.
“I was very lucky to get Rob,” says Harvey. “He’s had huge success in England, he’s known in America as a man who makes musicals, he brought in Julian, we found Rosalie through the audition process, and he’ll create something magical so that people walk out feeling fabulous. They have great chemistry together and we’ve got that wonderful boy-girl story going on as well as it being a fantastic family show.
“Julian has an incredible voice and it must be tough being that good looking. Maybe the women of Leicester should join together to offer him some support for the incredibly tough situation of being so talented and so good-looking!”
* Finding Neverland opens at Curve on September 22 and runs until October 18. Details on 0116 242 3595 or www.curveonline.co.uk
To see the piece (as it appeared in the Leicester Mercury) go to the interview section CLICK HERE.
PART of the skill of a good director is casting; finding the perfect actor to get to the heart of a role.
But great directors can hone raw talent and get the absolute best from a performer regardless of varying levels of ability and experience.
So it’s all credit to Curve’s Paul Kerryson who has worked with local performers to create an Oliver! with heart, pace and polish.
Following last year’s sellout West Side Story, this year the run has been extended and principal roles have been split between two or three people who perform on alternate nights.
Press night saw Daniel Cornish as an appealing Oliver, Cameron Vear’s cheeky Dodger, Mary-Jean Caldwell’s feisty Nancy and Sean Dodds’ harsh Bill Sikes (complete with showstealer Boston as his dog Bullseye), all working well together to tell the classic Dickens’ tale with conviction.
Special mention too for Adam Orgrodzinski for a miserly yet humorous Fagin, bringing some necessary light to an often dark story and with great diction to get through his verbally-complex songs.
From the well-drilled children of the workhouse to the sparky boys of Fagin’s gang, from the dance sections of the production numbers to the intricate timing of the soloists in Who Will Buy?, the whole company gave it concentration, confidence and commitment.
Their efforts were fully-supported by the professionals – Lionel Bart’s score received the full treatment under Ben Atkinson’s 13-piece orchestra and Ben Harrison’s superb sound design, while Ellyn Philips’ choreography played to the company’s strengths. Glorious lighting too from Rob Halliday, particularly towards the end of act two when the vast Curve depth creates pure visual magic.
What’s clear is that these local performers have clearly acknowledged the massive opportunity offered them – working with professional technicians and creatives of such expertise – and yet not only risen to the challenge but actively embraced it.
It’s the kind of show which begins to blur the boundaries between amateur and professional. At a time when increasing numbers of fringe shows are being performed by unpaid “professional” (ie: trained) actors, it’s a joy to see so much passion and talent being displayed by members of the local community. Lucky Leicester!
Sexy, stylish and stunning – Matthew Bourne’s revival of his decade-old production has lost none of its original appeal.
It’s a truly-talented bunch of dancers who can act this well and get across a multitude of emotion, motivation and justification without a scrap of dialogue. And with each character played in duplicate or triplicate simultaneously, it’s a fascinating concept which absolutely works; every facial expression, each physical movement varying slightly from one dancer to the next yet still portraying the same emotion or reaction.
No, the concept won’t be to everyone’s taste, and it relies on the audience’s ability to be open-minded and simply accept what is being seen. But in doing so, you get double and triple the pay-off by seeing the nuances that different performers bring to the same role at the same time.
Lez Brotherston’s imposing set maximises the vast Curve space with 1963 London – from Chelsea apartments and Big Ben to seedy Soho nightclub, alongside exquisite costumes which perfectly evoke the era.
Based on the 1963 film The Servant, the piece explores the sexual revolution of the sixties, the class divide, equality and liberation, the “good girls” who remain chaste and the “bad girls” who explore their physical desires. We wonder who’s really in charge and who’s the most restricted, master or servant, as roles become reversed and power shifts.
But what director and choreographer Bourne does so accurately and brilliantly is get to the crux of how men and women feel about each other; whether sexually repressed, churning with anticipation or consumed by lust.
Dancers Richard Winsor and Saranne Curtin (both of whom helped create the original production) return for this short revival, both oozing class and sensuality in compelling performances. But there’s not a poor performance among the dozen dancers.
It’s all supported and complemented by Terry Davies’ original jazz score, played live each night by an exceptional five-piece band, the live music adding an extra raw element into the potent mix.
It’s a classy piece with witty choreography, unusual concept and the constant bubbling of erotic tension. As I said, sexy, stylish, stunning.
* Play Without Words is at Leicester Curve until July 7; Sadlers Wells, London, from July 12 to August 5; Norwich Theatre Royal from August 7 to 11.
Fourteen years after exiting our television screens on Christmas Eve, Chigwell’s three best-loved women are back.
For nearly a decade television audiences across the UK were hooked on a rare women-based sitcom, and its three stars became household names.
And ever since Birds of a Feather ended in 1998, Pauline Quirke, Linda Robson and Lesley Joseph have been staples of the stage and small screen with roles in popular soaps, theatrical tours and high-profile dramas.
But the lure of a reunion was always a possibility, and it became reality this year with the Birds of a Feather stage show, ending its run in Nottingham in July.
“By the time we reach Nottingham we’ll have done 17 weeks on tour, so we’re exhausted but it’s been fantastic. It’s great seeing “house full” notices go up and it’s been like having a long family reunion,” said Lesley Joseph, aka maneating Dorien.
“We did 103 episodes over nine years which were 29 minutes each, but the stage show is about 90 minutes so it’s like a feature-length special. It does what it says on the tin, it feels like you’re watching the TV show but on stage. We had the same writers so the piece has lost none of its humour or charm.
“The whole show takes place in an old age home where Dorien is residing, and the rest of it takes place in Tracey’s house, so there’s only two sets which means we don’t have that problem of going from scene to scene quickly. I don’t want to give the plot away but the script is really good – it needed to continue the voices of the characters to keep the stage show as a continuation of the TV show, but it does that really well and the audiences are loving it.
“It’s great to all be back together and to do something that’s even more successful than we thought it could be.”
Part of Lesley’s preparation to return to Dorien however meant ensuring she could fit into the character’s trademark skimpy costumes. “We may be 14 years older but there’s no way Dorien would let herself go. I’d just done a tour of Calendar Girls where you just had to be confident about your look, but Dorien had to look good so that meant losing two stones in weight. I’m not very tall and have gone from 9st 4lb to 7st 4lb with good old-fashioned calorie counting and exercise. I think we all know when we’ve eaten something naughty – with the Calendar Girls cast we used to go out looking for the best desserts – but the trick is being able to burn it off. It really is as simple as eating less and doing more, and I really think that anyone who says they can’t lose weight, unless it’s medical, is kidding themselves. I don’t think you need to beat yourself up about the way you look but I always thought I’d find it harder to lose weight because of my age, but you just need to be aware of everything you’re eating. Write it down. And burn the excess off.”
Matthew Bourne’s dance sensation Play Without Words is back!
Having premiered to rave reviews and a handful of awards in 2002, it enjoys a limited season taking in Leicester’s Curve, Sadlers Wells and Norwich Theatre Royal this summer.
Inspired by the 1963 film The Servant, it’s devastastingly sexy (not suitable for under 12s), incredibly stylish (set in 1965 Chelsea) and backed with an original jazz score.
“I retired completely in 2007 after having my second child,” she says, “I’d carried on touring after having my first but with my second child I was at the point where the first was about to go to nursery, my priorities were changing, and getting back in shape to be able to dance at a professional level after pregnancy was going to be tough. But Play Without Words is more movement-based than full-on dance, and it’s a short season. It’s a very special piece and just three venues is really short for a Matthew Bourne piece – blink and you’ll miss it – but it’s become an iconic show in the seven years since it was last done and it really must be seen.”
So what’s the great appeal that brought her out of retirement?
“We all loved it the first time, from the first moment that Matthew said it was what we were going to do and how we would interpret it, the creation of the piece and then every single performance, it was just always enjoyable and always a happy time. It’s got an amazing jazz score, probably the most stylish show visually I’ve ever done, the sets and costumes are stunning and it’s sit-on-the-edge-of-your-seat-sexy! It’s got humour, beauty and the intrigue of several different dancers all interpreting the same roles.”
Will it be enough to keep her out of retirement? “No, I shall be going back into retirement after this,” she laughs. “There’s a fantastically young new company coming through the ranks and it’s definitely time to pack it in. The thought of a technique class every day is horrifying. I did bikram yoga the other day and I could tell that my body has had five years away. It’s fine for this show and OK for now, but if I had to go back to the level I was at before, to the level that the company is at technically, then I’m not sure that I could. And I’ve got two gorgeous children and I’d miss them! What this has given me is a massive new respect for all the working mums out there thought, I don’t know how they do it on a day-to-day masis. The organisation of childcare and just making sure everything is OK while you’re working is hard. I’ll never be able to beat the buzz of performance so of course there will always be a little part of me that wants to keep going, but it’s nicer to go and watch other people and head home at the end of the night.”
Broadway director and choreographer Jerry Mitchell may have won the hearts of musical theatre fans with quintessentially American show Legally Blonde, but he’s looking back to the Midlands for his next project.
Having already visited English tales when he choreographed the stage production of The Full Monty, he’s now moving his sights from Sheffield to Northampton for a new musical based on film Kinky Boots.
The story is set in a failing Northamptonshire shoe factory and echoes British modern classics including Brassed Off and Billy Elliot with its look at the impact on families and communities when local industry struggles.
In the 2005 film, the shoemaker turns to producing fetish boots to save the business and the fates of his workers, after meeting a drag queen who opens his eyes to alternative footwear.
Cyndi Lauper is writing the score. “It’s very Full Monty in its essence,” says Jerry. “There’s a business struggling to make ends meet, a man trying to make a success of his life, a love story. I fell in love with the film, really found it moving, and knew it would make a great stage show.”
“I guess any director or choreographer has the same starting point when they’re putting a show together – how to tell that story in a physical way. The story can’t stop for a song, the song has to move the action along and you can’t afford to have any lulls in the storytelling. If you have a 5 second lull 12 times you’ve lost a minute and you can’t afford to do that.
“Elle’s story is a clean, clear one but it’s also a sweet story and I wanted to keep it moving along. Of course that hardest part is getting the show off the ground in the first place. The Full Monty took a year to get from film to stage because the book had already been adapted when I came on board, but Legally Blonde took two because there was a year of writing before we could even look at casting or starting rehearsals.”
* Legally Blonde on tour includes dates in Leicester, Dublin, Belfast, Woking, Aberdeen, Canterbury, Southampton, Bradford, Plymouth, Milton Keynes and Cardiff during Spring/Summer 2012. All details at www.legallyblondethemusical.co.uk.