Reviews from Paul's pen

Reviews from Paul's pen


West Side Story

Review by: Paul Towers, 28/11/19
West Side Story, book by Arthur Laurents, music by Leonard Bernstein, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
A Made At Curve production directed by Nikolai Foster
At Curve: 23 Nov – 11 Jan 2020

“a huge, lively, energetic dose of 1950’s New York”

First produced in 1957 by Jerome Robbins, West Side Story is inspired by Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Two disparate communities, native New Yorkers and immigrant Puerto Ricans, battle each other for turf rights. Testosterone boils over and violence ensues. In 1961 it was filmed as a full blown musical to great acclaim. It has been revived countless times and, in these troubled days of out-of-control knife crime in major cities across the country, it is sadly still very relevant.
Star-crossed lovers Maria and Tony fall for each other despite the enmity of their respective communities. They sneak around surreptitiously, cementing their bond but the violence inevitably comes between them and tragedy strikes, boldly having the curtain fall without a customary happy ending.
The set by Michael Taylor, is a huge three storey edifice of apartments above a diner which rolls in and out. Most of the rest of the set consists of a huge rubbish dump signifying the downmarket state of the neighbourhood and a number of wire fences that create corridors and cages.
Director Nikolai Foster has created a violent, poverty stricken corner of New York where gang violence is the norm.
You would be forgiven for thinking that this all sounds very downbeat and depressing. Of course, like many inner city areas, a lot of the time life is hard. But the story is enlivened with some great comedy routines. Anita, Rosalie and Conseula’s (Carly Mercedes Dyer, Mireia Mambo & Abigail Climer) rendition of America is outstanding combining comedy and high energy Latin American dancing. Both Maria and Tony (Adriana Ivelisse and Jamie Muscato) have superb singing voices and Ivelisse handles the comedy in her character very well.
However, the superlative number for me was Gee, Officer Krupke, superbly choreographed as a burlesque routine in front of the curtain by Action, Diesel, Big Deal, Baby John and A-Rab (Isaac Gryn, Michael O’Reilly, Dale White, Alex Christian and Ryan Anderson respectively).
Once again the production benefited form the addition of members of the Curve Young Company who have provided two teams of actors to supplement the main cast
The choreography by Ellen Kane is balletic and very energetic while the creative lighting by Guy Hoare is both atmospheric and, in the Krupke routine, almost a character in itself! Kudos should also go to fight director Kevin McCurdy for very realistic combat routines.
As is pointed out on the flyers this story contains violence and themes that may be unsuitable for children.
West Side Story runs at Curve until 11th January 2020. There are special Access Performances throughout the run. Full details are on the website.



Mary Poppins

Review by: Paul Towers, 21/11/19
Mary Poppins written by PL Travers and Julian Fellowes
Music and lyrics by Richard M Sherman, Robert B Sherman, George Stiles & Anthony Drewe
Directed by Richard Eyre & Matthew Bourne. Produced by Disney & Cameron Mackintosh
At Curve: 1 Jan – 3 March 2020

“This is 24 carat Disney gold.”

There have been a couple of fairly negative reviews of this production of Mary Poppins, so I was a little dubious about whether I would enjoy it. After stumbling out into the crowded streets of Soho on a damp Thursday after a matinee I think The Stage reviewer should take his churlish, bitchy review and shove it up one of Bert’s chimney stacks! This is 24 carat Disney gold. From the moment the curtain rises on Cherry Tree Lane and the departure of the last in a long line of disgruntled nannies to the gob smacking sight of Mary Poppins flying sedately across the stage and then  up and over the heads of the audience up into the Grand Circle I was spellbound.
The cast are practically perfect with Zizi Strallen taking on the role of the magical nanny last played by her sister Scarlett 11 years ago. The entire Strallen family are ridiculously talented and dominate the world of West End musicals. Magnificently paired with Ms Strallen is newly minted Charlie Stemp, rapidly becoming the go-to actor for all round musical roles that allow him to display his great dancing abilities and comic timing. And, at last, an authentic Londoner to dismiss the horros of Dick Van Dyke’s mockney accent. The children, of course, are central to the show and five rotating pairs are marshalled into their correct places by various mentors in the adult cast. But their vocals need no nannying as they were word perfect. High comedy is provided by the cook, Mrs Brill (Claire Machin) and footman Robertson Ay (Jack North).
The set is an ingenious combination of a large square edifice that rotated and unfolded like an origami box as the Banks’ house;  one side the front of the house, the other side the kitchen. This was a miracle of design and execution as it had to also hide a myriad of magical tricks and effects reminiscent of the dirty bedroom scene from the film. The children’s attic bedrooms floated down from above and also formed the base of the rooftops complete with chimney stacks up which Mary and various sweeps popped.
The story owes much more to the original books than the film and there are some dark moments. Several characters have been introduced and several left out so don’t expect it to be a carbon copy of the film.
Charlie Stemp’s Bert the sweep acts as narrator and is used to push the narrative along. He also provides tiny vignettes to cover scene changes. In the script there is a lovely tribute to the original Mary Poppins, Julie Andrews, with the nasty nanny being called Miss Andrews. The audience got the joke immediately.
As with so many West End shows these days there is a small element of stunt casting. 80’s singing star, 84 year old  Petula Clark, is The Bird Lady. She is barely on stage for more than 3 minutes in total and could so easily have been played by a member of the ensemble. However, it was nice for those of us old enough to remember her in her heyday to see her one last time.
At the moment Mary Poppins is booking until May 2020. Highly recommended for the young and young at heart.

Prince Edward Theatre: