Heathers the Musical @ The Other Palace – Review

5 StarWhat’s your damage, Heather? Except for the wrecked vocal chords of a few hundred people screaming as if their lives depended on it, no damages have been caused as a result of the first fully staged professional production of Laurence O’Keefe and Kevin Murphy’s Heathers the Musical in the UK. First presented as a staged reading in 2017 as part of the Work in Progress initiative at The Other Palace, the cult musical has made its way from the studio downstairs up to the main auditorium where it is currently playing to full houses until August, which will be followed by a transfer to Theatre Royal, Haymarket for a 12 week run from September through to November.

The piece has been reworked and refined since its premiere off-Broadway in 2014 and it is much stronger as a result. O’Keefe and Murphy have managed to balance the dark nature of the plot with a great deal of humour and wit alongside an extremely catchy and boppy score. They also clearly want to the piece as good as it can possibly be as a new song for Heather DukeNever Shut Up Again, has been added and You’re Welcome, first heard in the workshop, replaced Blue.

The material is performed brilliantly by the extremely talented cast of theatre favourites. Leading the cast as Veronica Sawyer is Carrie Hope Fletcher, who is simply marvellous. Fletcher plays the quirky role with a grounded sense of humanity, making her character seem extremely real. Her singing is also incredible. Veronica’s songs are not easy to sing at all and she smashes her way through the belt-a-minute score as though its nothing: her effortless singing is a thrill to watch and listen to. As her troubled boyfriend, Jason Dean is Jamie Muscato who reprises the role from the workshop. He is exceptionally cast as J.D, really reaching deep inside this complex character and constantly showing how broken he is. It was lovely to not see the character just be portrayed as an evil villain which could be so easily done, and instead as a fleshed out person who was acting in the only way he could see fit. His Meant to Be Yours is a masterclass in acting and, especially from the front row, was truly terrifying.

In the eponymous roles of the Heathers were Jodie Steele as ‘mythic bitch’ Heather ChandlerT’Shan Williams as usurper Heather Duke, and Sophie Isaacs as timid onlooker Heather McNamara. Having been a fan of the show since its original run off-Broadway, it was lovely to see these roles played in such a different way. They also benefited from rewrites as each character seemed like a more fleshed out character. Steele is dastardly as Chandler, possessing a steely look on her face (the resting bitch face to beat all others, if you will). Watching her own the stage toward the start of the show is great and (no spoilers) after a drastic action is taken against the character, she gets to have a great deal of fun, particularly in The Me Inside of Me and Never Shut Up Again. Williams has received probably the most of the rewrites and boy, does she make the most of it! Never Shut Up Again is perfectly suited to give the character her moment to shine, which was always missing, and she rocks it. It was also very sweet to witness her redemption at the end of the show, showing her skill as an actress. Isaacs is adorable as McNamara, revelling in the weirdness and quirkiness of her character. She nails the comedy but her version of Lifeboat is something to behold. Seeing her fall apart is very moving to watch, she performs the song beautifully and it is no surprise why she reprised her role from the workshop when it is a role that is clearly suited perfectly to her.

As Ram Sweeney and Kurt Kelly, the school’s resident jocks turned gay forbidden lovers, Dominic Andersen and Christopher Chung relish these characters who must be great fun to play. The pair bounce off each other so well and they clearly have a great rapport. It is also frightfully clear how much more appropriate You’re Welcome is in context. Jenny O’Leary plays Martha Dunnstock, the butt of all jokes due to her weight, and her performance is absolutely stunning. The sense of unwavering optimism comes through in buckets and her rendition of Kindergarten Boyfriend was absolutely heartbreaking. Rebecca Lock absolutely smashes her dual role as Ms. Fleming and Veronica’s Mom (as well as a teenager during Big Fun, watch her during it, she’s great fun). Her Shine a Light is incredibly well sung, with her throwing an amazing new riff in at the end. Special mention has to be given to myself for my cameo as Steve (thanks Rebecca, I’ll make sure to not wear the sailor costume in public again!)

Edward Baruwa and Jon Boydon are also featured in a multitude of roles, but most notably as Ram and Kurt’s Dads and they are both great! Also deserving named special mention for how individual and brilliant they all were, are the 5 piece ensemble made up of Lauren DrewCharlotte Jaconelli, Alex James-HattonOlivia Moore and Sergio Pasquariello.

The production feels extremely slick and polished because of the direction of Andy Fickman who obviously cares a great deal about this show and had been involved since the beginning of its journey. The choreography by Gary Lloyd is explosive in nature and fills the relatively small stage well. David Shields’ design is well suited to the show and the space at The Other Palace, as is Dan Samson‘s sound design which for a space which sometimes does struggle with an even sound, was brilliant. Ben Cracknell’s lighting, in particular, was brilliant and worthy of mention. Props to the production also for its all-female band, led by Simona Budd.

To sum up, Heathers has finally graced London with its presence and in what is an extremely well put together production, performed by an extremely talented and hardworking cast of theatre favourites. Although the run at The Other Palace is sold out, a lottery is being held every Friday for performances in the following week and returns may become available from the box office or online. It will begin performances at the Theatre Royal, Haymarket on September 3rd and is due to close on November 24th. At this stage, other than Carrie Hope Fletcher as Veronica, a cast hasn’t yet been officially announced but this is expected in due course. Visit http://heathersthemusical.com/ for more information on the transfer and to book tickets.


Myth @ The Other Palace – Review (Workshop)

5 Star

In September 2016, a new rock musical called 27, written by Sam Cassidy and directed by Arlene Phillips, hit the London fringe scene, about the rise and fall of an aspiring rock star. I was interested in seeing it but for whatever reason, it passed me by and I missed my chance to see it… until now, that is. A year and a half later, 27 has been reworked into Myth, staged at one of my favourite venues, The Other Palace, which, since being taken over by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Paul Taylor-Mills early last year, has become a hub for staging and trying out new material in a safe and supportive environment. Myth has become the latest in a number of public workshops held, following well-known shows like HeathersBonnie & Clyde, and Starlight Express (also directed by Phillips).

This production has been billed as ‘semi-staged’, but seemed to me to be very well produced with excellent lighting and a fitting set by Nick Eve, with effective sound design by Harry Barker. The minimal costuming also worked as it added to the modern and contemporary feel of the show. Phillips direction was very well thought out and it felt like I was watching a full production, not a workshop, so congrats to her and the other creatives for managing to make everything so slick and polished in a short space of time.

Cassidy’s score is brilliant: although rock scores are fairly prevalent in theatre, few are as true to ‘real’ rock music as this is. It felt fresh and new, and you can tell how passionate he is about this project. I just wish I had a way to hear these songs again as I loved them and to appreciate the score even further, I feel like I need multiple listens. It also felt like a score that you could listen to out of context and would still make sense. Complimenting the score were a fantastic 6-piece band who sounded exquisite under the direction of Matt Nalton and the supervision of Jimi MaddisonCassidy also wrote the book and I felt like the incorporation and modernisation of the Greek myths were very well done, not feeling shoehorned in at all. Some of the elements may have been difficult to an audience member who didn’t know the original myths but I doubt this would hamper their enjoyment of the show.

Of course, what helped to make the show so brilliant was it’s hugely talented cast. Leading the show as Orpheus was Joel Harper-Jackson who I saw last September in the ensemble of the tour of Curious Incident and automatically wanted to see him do more. Something about him just intrigued me and getting to see him lead this show definitely fulfilled that. His voice is exceptional and he sang the score effortlessly, especially considering how demanding it is. His acting was also wonderful, really moving me in ways I wasn’t expecting to be moved in. He’s a brilliant performer, one who I can’t wait to see in more shows.

Opposite him, as girlfriend Eurydice and bandmates Jason and Theseus, were Diana VickersRichard Carson, and Damien Walsh respectively. Vickers (known for appearing in the 5th series of The X Factor, and for starring roles in The Rise and Fall of Little Voice and The Rocky Horror Show, the latter of which I was lucky enough to see her in) really showed her skill as an actress in this role. Of course, her voice is gorgeous but she is a very skilled actress and is really compelling to watch, again moving me in ways I didn’t expect. I previously saw Carson when he was understudying for Chris in the West End revival of Miss Saigon and was eager to get to see him again. He didn’t disappoint and it was great to see him in a completely different role. Walsh was delightfully cheeky in his role, clearly having a great time and is another cast member I’ll be sure to keep an eye on.

Also in the cast as the ever-observant Fates, AtroposClotho, and Lachesis, were Jodie JacobsEloise Davies and Jodie SteeleJacobs (well known in the theatre community for performances in such shows as Rock of AgesLegally Blonde, and Carrie the Musical which I saw her in) had the perfect amount of threatening and menacing in her performance as the eldest of the Fates, playing a role that seems completely different for her. She got to show off her phenomenal belt which I loved hearing again. Eloise Davies was a name I was previously unaware of but she’s got a new fan in me. I found her delightfully creepy as she went around trying to sniff out a new star, and her voice is exquisite, mixing the powerful chesty belt of Jacobs with the high and light belt of Steele, who I also thought was brilliant and will be keeping an eye on in the future. These three women constantly caught my attention as they watched and oversaw the story unfold, their use in the show as omnipresent narrators who began to alter the story being very well done.

Also deserving special mention are Zoe Birkett and Matthew McKennaBirkett was sultry and sexy as Miss M, getting to show off the multiple different flavours to her voice, going from a high belt to bluesy and jazzy throughout the show. McKenna grasped his opportunity to shine as the slimy and manipulative Hades and got to play around with different characters too (a favourite of mine was a very camp talk show host). The ensemble were also extremely talented and had some great harmonies, especially in the finale. I liked that they also each had an opportunity to come to the front in small featured roles, such as the band’s management team or a superfan. To sum it up in a sentence, this is a kickass cast all around and they smashed it!

A new British musical, workshopping at The Other Palace until the 17th March, with an incredible and hardworking cast. Not for everyone, granted, but an extremely well crafted musical that no doubt will have another life somewhere. For updates on the show once it’s run at The Other Palace has ended follow @MythMusical or @sammalcassidy on Twitter. Until then, tickets for this production are available from https://www.theotherpalace.co.uk/whats-on/myth

The Grinning Man @ Trafalgar Studios – Review

5 Star

Victor Hugo’s novels have a history of being turned into successful and highly acclaimed musicals, most notably Les Misérables and The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and his 1869 novel L’Homme qui rit, or The Man Who Laughs is no different. Premiering at the Bristol Old Vic in October 2016, The Grinning Man has received a great deal of acclaim and transferred to the Trafalgar Studios in December 2017, receiving a similar amount of acclaim there.

The show has music and lyrics by Tim Phillips and Mark Teitler, as well as additional lyrics from Carl Grose, the show’s book writer, and Tom Morris, the show’s director (known for his collaboration with Marianne Elliott on War Horse), and I have to say, it is brilliantly put together. The score flows seamlessly with the dialogue and fits this dark but uplifting tragicomic musical extremely well. It also gives its performers a great deal of room to show off their abilities without just being song after song of vocal acrobatics. The writers have truly grasped how to mix song and scene and it’s wonderful and refreshing to see and hear. The book is also surprisingly funny, with a great deal of adult references, which I was not expecting. It’s also deeply heartfelt and emotional, really tugging at the heartstrings at times.

Morris’ direction also deserves a special mention as he has managed to mix fairground lightness with an extremely dark and deeply moving story, along with a lovely bit of puppetry. Similarly to how the puppets were used in War Horse, you almost forget that there are people holding the puppets because of how brilliant the direction is. This is aided by the wonderful work of the cast who control the puppets with grace and care, making them feel completely real. Deserving special mention for this are James Alexander-Taylor and Loren O’Dair who bring Mojo, the pet wolf, to life. At no point did it feel like two actors controlling a puppet; the puppetry heightening the joy this show brought me.

All the creative elements of this show only add to its brilliance. The set by Jon Bausor was perfect for this show, heightening the dark world that the show was set in, as well as being surprisingly large for what is a relatively small theatre. Jean Chan’s costumes were also perfectly suited to the world of the show, running the gamut from torn and grubby, to regal and royal. Rob Casey’s lighting design and Simon Baker’s sound design also deserve mention for being particularly well done.

This show features some absolutely brilliant performances, most notably from its leading pair, Louis Maskell as the Grinning Man himself, Grinpayne, and Sanne den Besten as his devoted blind companion, DeaMaskell was simply phenomenal, only having the upper half of his face to act with, still managing to convey the complex emotions that come with the role. His singing was also impeccable, showcasing his expansive range from low to high, performing the second act opening aria Labyrinth extremely well, proving to be a show highlight. Sanne den Besten fared similarly, effectively acting as blind throughout the show and never faltering from this. Her voice was also stunningly beautiful, performing big number Born Broken gorgeously. The pair had great chemistry together and were an absolute joy to watch.

Supporting them are an extremely talented group of actors. Special mention must go to Julian Bleach as the clown, Barkilphedro, who played the part with menace but also a real sense of self-belief: he didn’t play the role as a simple villain, he played someone who only did what they did because they felt they had to to get where they wanted in life. David Bardsley played the role of Ursus at the performance I saw, in what was only his second performance in the role. He played the role with a great deal of heart and warmth and underlying guilt, and showcased a gorgeous voice in his Act 1 solo, Stars In The Sky.

Also featured were Mark AndersonAmanda WilkinJulie AthertonEwan Black and Sophia MackayAnderson was delightful as the pompous and arrogant Dirry-MoirWilkin was thrilling to watch as the sultry and orgy-obsessed Josiana, showing off her deeply rich voice; West End leading lady Julie Atherton (known for such shows as Avenue QSister Act and The Last Five Years) was hilarious as Queen Angelica, clearly taking delight in the fun of her role. Ewan Black, who I was previously unaware of prior to this show, was a joy to watch, singing beautifully as Trelaw and showing off a natural charm as showman OsricSophia Mackay also fared the same as Black, blowing me away with her singing as Mother and showing off good comedic chops as Quake. The small but hardworking ensemble were also a joy to watch.

If something new and fresh is your thing, with a gorgeous score, wonderful performances, and phenomenal direction, you ought to give this new British musical a go, it really is something special that we don’t get a chance to see all the time! The show is running until 14th April so don’t miss your chance to see it! Visit https://thegrinningmanmusical.com/ for more information.

The Life @ Southwark Playhouse – Review

4 Star

On 22nd April, I visited one of my favourite venues, the Southwark Playhouse, to see the first UK production of Cy Coleman, Ira Gasman and David Newman’s musical The Life. The Life first hit the Broadway stage 20 years ago in 1997 with direction from Michael Blakemore, starring Pamela Isaacs, Lillias White and Chuck Cooper, and proved to be a huge hit, offering a stark look at prostitution in New York City in the time before Disneyfication (the clean up of the city and the commercialisation it soon saw afterwards). The production ran for over a year and garnered 12 Tony Award nominations, with wins for White’s and Cooper’s stellar performances as Sonja and Memphis respectively. I didn’t know a huge deal about the show going in but the casting of Sharon D. Clarke and Cornell S. John intrigued me enough to book a ticket.

The show itself was a mixed bag for me, I thoroughly enjoyed it (even if the first act felt like it was about 20 minutes too long, especially sat on the not-so-comfortable seats of the Southwark Playhouse) but there was something off to me. At times, it was dark and chilling, where you genuinely felt terrified for the women (in particular, Memphis’ act 1 solo, Don’t Take Much, in which he sang about being able to turn any woman into a prostitute for his use) but at others, it was jaunty and jolly as though there was absolutely nothing wrong with the world they lived in. This may have been a deliberate choice by ColemanGasman and Newman to show how the city carried on despite the plights of many of it’s residents but regardless, there was something that felt off about it. This didn’t hurt my enjoyment in the slightest though, and at multiple moments, I was truly moved by what I was seeing.

The cast were brilliant and each and every one of them deserve great praise for the stellar work they did. T’Shan Williams led the company as Queen, the hopeful young woman looking for an escape with her boyfriend FleetwoodT’Shan acted the role brilliantly, breathing such life into this complex character, and had a gorgeous voice to match. I see great things ahead for her. Another member of the cast with a great career ahead of them is David Albury who played Queen’s boyfriend, Fleetwood, the Vietnam War veteran struggling to get rid of his drug addiction that eases his PTSD-style flashbacks. David showed off his lovely voice and strong acting throughout the show and had such wonderful chemistry with T’Shan.

Playing the role of Sonja, the aging hooker who has seen better days, is Olivier Award winner Sharon D. Clarke who showed why she is such a sought after actress in the UK with her multi-faceted and heartbreaking portrayal of this woman who knew there was nothing left for her. Her rendition of The Oldest Profession got the largest audience response of the whole show, and her stellar acting during My Friend and the scene that followed moved me to tears. Cornell S. John was the perfect antagonist, showing such subtlety as Memphis. His chilling, calm speaking voice, deep baritone, and icy glare only added to his menace and visibly terrified a lot of the audience. Other stand outs include John Addison as Jojo, the scheming, manipulative hustler, and Joanna Woodward as Mary, the small town country girl who wasn’t as innocent and wide-eyed as she originally seemed.

The show was filled out by an extremely talented ensemble of people who each got their chance to shine in their individual featured roles. Jalisa AndrewsAisha JawandoCharlotte Reavey and Lucinda Shaw played the other prostitutes we meet during the show, each with a thrilling belt on them and great levels of sass, and were joined by Jo Servi as Lacy, the charming barman, Johnathan Tweedie as Theodore, the smarmy adult film director, and Matthew CaputoLawrence CarmichaelOmari Douglas (who made a cameo as a transgender prostitute in the act 2 number, ‘Someday’ is for Suckers) and Thomas-Lee Kidd, and an 11-piece band led by musical director Tamara Saringer which sounded brilliant and was the perfect backing to this cast of extremely strong singers.

This production was in fact directed by the original Broadway director, Michael Blakemore, and it definitely showed. It was slick and well thought out, Blakemore clearly knows what he is doing with the piece. Whilst I enjoyed the choreography by Tom Jackson-Greaves, I thought some bits were unnecessary and felt shoehorned in but it didn’t ruin the show at all. The production showed a new light to the Southwark Playhouse for me, with the usual static set replaced by automated pieces emerging from behind a sliding metal gate (which surrounded the entire space, adding a fully realised feel to the show), designed by Justin Nardella, and projections to show the multiple different locations the show took place in, designed by Nina Dunn, both of which I thought fit the piece and venue extremely well. Nardella also designed the costumes which were probably the best I’ve seen at the venue, perfectly suiting each individual character and the feel of the late 70s/early 80s. The lighting was designed by David Howe and I thought it was brilliantly atmospheric, representing the mood of each individual moment extremely well, and a special shout out has to go to Sebastian Frost who designed the sound in a venue that is notoriously hard to get sound balance right in.

All in all, this was a thoroughly enjoyable show despite a couple small misgivings, with excellent performances all around and if it were still running, I would definitely recommend it to any theatre fan who wanted to see something a little bit out of the ordinary.