Girl from the North Country @ Noël Coward Theatre – Review

4 Star

Play? Musical? That’s one thing no one can agree on with one of London’s newest transfers from a critically acclaimed run at the Old Vic Theatre, Girl from the North Country, featuring an array of Bob Dylan’s hit songs but not in the way you know them. They have been weaved into a story of longing, sadness, and missed opportunities but not in the usual ‘jukebox musical’ fashion: in this show, a lot of the songs don’t serve to advance the plot; Conor McPherson, the playwright, has said that instead, the show is ‘a conversation between the songs and the story’. This is at times deeply affecting but at others, rather confusing, leaving the audience wondering what a certain song was supposed to be showing. The story also had elements of this: it was very emotional and moving at times, almost reducing me to tears, but some of the plot threads just didn’t seem as though they were going anywhere.

This is not to detract from any of the performances which are absolutely fantastic across the board. Sheila Atim plays Marianne Laine, the adopted daughter who is black, pregnant and unmarried in a time of great prejudice, capturing brilliantly the innocence of youth, constantly hoping for a better life. She sings beautifully, particularly with a rendition of Tight Connection to the Heart which was the first moment in the show to start making me emotional. Also particularly impressing me with their singing were Emmanuel Kojo who was on as Joe Scott when I saw the show, giving Slow Train Coming and Hurricane a new twist with his smooth and velvety voice, and Claudia Jolly as Katherine Draper who sings I Want You gorgeously.

Bronagh Gallagher is absolutely heartbreaking as Mrs. Burke, in what was one of the most emotional plot threads of the whole show. Her rich and gravelly voice is also lovely to listen to and I loved her rendition of Sweetheart Like You. Playing her disabled son, Elias, and husband, Mr. Burke, were Jack Shalloo and David Ganly respectively, who also both gave beautiful performances, again showcasing extremely powerful voices and playing their emotional scenes with grace and respect. Sam Reid gets to show off his raspy and gravelly voice as Gene Laine, the aspiring writer struggling to find meaning in his life.

Notable West End actress Debbie Kurup (known for performances in such shows as RentAnything Goes, and Chicago) plays Mrs. Neilson, the disgruntled mistress of Ciarán Hinds’ character, Nick LaineKurup‘s character wants more from life, showing her sarcastic side with some great one-liners and reactions, and singing Went to See the Gypsy and True Love Tends to Forget with her signature rasp and gravelly tones. Hinds plays Nick Laine impeccably well, really showing his skill as an actor in a difficult role that he plays with strength, vulnerability and compassion, relating to the audience a sense of desperation and wanting the best for the people he cares about but not being quite sure how to go about this. His performance is deeply compelling and its a joy to watch him play a difficult role so effortlessly.

The show only belongs to one person, however, and that is Shirley Henderson as Elizabeth LaineNick’s wife and Gene and Marianne’s mother, suffering from dementia. Henderson (best known for her role of Moaning Myrtle in the Harry Potter series) is the epitome of phenomenal in this role, beginning the show as little more than being portrayed as mad before growing to show that she is far more aware of goings on than people realised. Her performance is deeply emotional and moving, but she is also very funny, getting some great one-liners, and shows off what is a phenomenal voice, which surprised me when I first heard her: her performance of Like a Rolling Stone gave me chills!

Rae Smith’s set and costume design serve the show well, fitting the bleak world very well, with Mark Henderson’s lighting also fitting this, definitely adding a great deal of ambience to the show. Simon Baker’s sound design gives the musical numbers a great deal of power and oomph, adding to the joy of hearing them.

If you want to hear some amazing singing and see some extremely strong performances in a show that is well put together, but a bit muddled at times, visit https://www.girlfromthenorthcountry.london/ for more information. Emmanuel Kojo takes over from Arinzé Kene from 10th March and plays all matinée performances until then. The show closes on 24th March but will transfer to the Princess of Wales Theatre in Toronto in February 2019 – visit https://www.mirvish.com/shows/girl-from-the-north-country for more information. Casting for the transfer is to be announced.

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Hamilton @ Victoria Palace Theatre – Review

5 Star

Now hands up those of you who have heard of Hamilton? Its hard to get very far in the theatre world at the moment without at least knowing of this show and it’s success. The 2015, 11-time Tony Award winning hip-hop musical by Lin-Manuel Miranda about the life of America’s first Treasury Secretary, Alexander Hamilton, opened in the West End in December 2017 and I was lucky enough to get tickets in the original pre-release for this February.

It’s difficult to say much about this show that hasn’t already been said time and time again: it’s exceptional. It’s a brilliantly crafted piece of theatre, one of the best of recent times I’d go as far as saying. Miranda has perfectly married hip-hop and rap with traditional theatre storytelling to create an exciting, emotional and exhilarating musical which makes the founding of America feel contemporary and fresh. Hamilton is the very definition of one of a kind and it’s not hard to see why or how it has become so critically and commercially acclaimed over its relatively short lifetime.

Despite being extremely familiar with Miranda‘s score and the Original Broadway Cast Recording going into the show, having been a fan since early in the show’s life, the West End cast were exactly what I wanted them to be and more, completely making the show their own with their well-executed performances. The ensemble of Hamilton are ridiculously hard working, performing Thomas Kail’s frantic direction and Andy Blankenbuehler’s demanding choreography with precision and skill, barely ever being offstage and it was thrilling and exhausting to watch. All were exceptional, but particular standouts in small featured roles were Jack Butterworth as the uptight messenger, Samuel SeaburyLeslie Garcia Bowman as the excitable and incompetent officer, Charles Lee, and Waylon Jacobs as the cuckolded husband, James Reynolds.

At the performance I saw, the dual track of John Laurens and Philip Hamilton was played by Ash Hunter with energy and at times, heartbreaking emotion. His Laurens was particularly strong, really capturing the spirit of someone who wanted to change the injustices in the world. Alongside him were Jason Pennycooke and Tarinn Callender as the Marquis de Lafayette / Thomas Jefferson and Hercules Mulligan / James Madison respectively. Callender, a recent graduate from Arts Ed, was perfectly bold and brash as Mulligan and suitably reserved and weedy as Madison, surprising me with the lovely velvety voice he had. If he is this strong in his West End debut, I predict great things for him and can’t wait to see where his career progresses to. Pennycooke, a recognisable name from West End shows such as Memphis the Musical and La Cage Aux Folles, was a delight in his dual track, particularly as Thomas Jefferson where he camped everything up to the max, taking dastardly delight in the response he got from the audience.

Also taking delight in the response he got from the audience was Michael Jibson as King George III. Jibson ticked all the boxes of the role and made a huge impact as the childish but ruthless ruler, despite a relatively short amount of stage time with only 3 songs. Obioma Ugoala played George Washington with the perfect amount of gravitas and strength, commanding the stage as you’d imagine an army general and President to do. His voice was brilliant, with a deep gravelly tone, giving Right Hand Man and One Last Time the power they need.

Extremely strong is Rachel John as Angelica Schuyler, playing the role with a great deal of subtlety and grace. John absolutely smashes Satisfied, really focusing on Angelica’s plight and experience, deservedly received a great deal of applause and cheers for her rendition of this song. Rachelle Ann Go also does a good job of playing Eliza Hamilton, absolutely smashing her Act 2 solo, BurnGo‘s performance is much stronger in the second act than the first: playing Act 2 with much more strength and power than Act 1, with her Act 1 performance drifting into the realm of stereotypical Disney Princess rather than a young woman who is still learning about the world and falling in love. Christine Allado makes a brilliant Maria Reynolds, her voice particularly suiting the sultry nature of Say No To This, but not making as much of an impact as Peggy Schuyler, which may be due to the nature of the role being very small.

The joint male leads were extremely strong, as I expected they would be. Giles Terera was a brilliant Aaron Burr, no longer making the role feel like a villain who set out to do bad as Burr can be played, but simply as a human who was pushed too far. He was heartbreaking towards the end of the second act, really making you feel a great deal for him despite what had happened. His voice was also absolutely gorgeous and he sang Wait For It and The Room Where It Happens extremely well. As Alexander Hamilton, recent graduate of RADA, Jamael Westman, shone, effectively showing Hamilton’s growth from a young, scrappy and hungry individual to a man on a downward spiral due to his ambition. He rapped extremely well and also had a lovely singing voice which was a pleasant surprise as this isn’t something vital to the character.

Not only was this show’s cast brilliant but all the creative elements of it only added to its excellence. Thomas Kail’s direction was at times genius and inspired but did at other points feel overdone and as though it was overly stylised – I would’ve welcomed a tad few more of the quiet moments as a reprieve from how busy it all was. I also felt similarly about Andy Blankenbuehler’s choreography. It was all extremely impressive though and I definitely enjoyed watching it. I did love the use of the revolve though and the non-stop energy it gave the show. The set resembling a dockyard by David Korins remained static throughout but still managed to impress with its depth and intricacy. Howell Binkley’s lighting was exceptional and impressed me in a way that lighting design rarely does. Paul Tazewell’s costume design was again simple but effective which worked extremely well, and Nevin Steinberg’s sound design worked perfectly with the modern music.

All in all, Hamilton is an extremely well-written musical which deserves all the hype it has received as everything comes together to create what is one of the greatest pieces of theatre in modern times. It is booked currently until the 15th December 2018 although this is sure to be extended. Visit https://hamiltonmusical.com/london/ for information about booking.

An American in Paris @ Dominion Theatre – Review

3 Star

On 17th June, I visited the Dominion Theatre to see the West End production of An American in Paris, based on the 1951 Academy Award winning film of the same name. Whilst as a whole I did enjoy the show and the performances, I have to admit I didn’t see it in the same light as many others who have given it rave reviews – in fact, I found it quite dull at times, mainly due to the use of dance.

Christopher Wheeldon both directed and choreographed this show and whilst I found the choreography visually interesting and impressive, I felt as though certain portions of it weren’t necessary and didn’t actually enhance the story – in particular, the dance number which ended the second act and the show’s title number An American in Paris. Both of these numbers, whilst containing great choreography (especially the title number), just felt too long for the amount of story they were telling. Other numbers were thoroughly enjoyable however, especially I’ve Got RhythmI’ve Got Beginner’s Luck and Liza.

For the most part, projections are used instead of set which I’m not the biggest fan of in general, however I thought they worked quite well for the style of the show and were very beautiful (created by 59 Productions Ltd.). The small amount of set there was worked but wasn’t anything to write home about and due to the large size of the Dominion Theatre’s stage, it often felt quite empty. The costumes were lovely, minus the cubist and abstract design of the title number which I felt jarred with the rest of the show.

Robert Fairchild, a principal dancer with the New York City Ballet, played the lead role of painter Jerry Mulligan, and his ballet background really shone through with his effortless dancing. With a gorgeous voice and strong acting skills to match, Fairchild is a real triple threat and I do hope he stays around the London theatre scene. Playing opposite him as ballet dancer Lise Dassin was Royal Ballet alum Leanne Cope who did a great job with the bland part she had to play, showcasing a gorgeous and strong voice, as well as being a stunning ballerina. The show was definitely at its strongest when Cope and Fairchild were dancing together.

Supporting Cope and Fairchild as various love interests were Haydn Oakley as aspiring singer Henri BaurelDavid Seadon-Young as composer Adam Hochberg, and Zoë Rainey as philanthropist Milo Davenport, each of whom I have seen previously. Every time I’ve seen Haydn Oakley perform in the past, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed his performances and this was no different. He captured the essence of a struggling song and dance man extremely well, showcasing his talents in Act Two “showstopper” I’ll Build a Staircase to Paradise (which was actually quite underwhelming, due to the huge stage which made the number seem very sparse), whilst dealing with allusions to him being gay (which were never expanded on, something which could have made his character arc far more interesting). The last time I saw David Seadon-Young perform was in Assassins in 2015 where he gave a truly heartbreaking performance, and he was no less brilliant here, showing off his beautiful voice and giving a heartbreaking performance which pleasantly surprised me as I didn’t expect to be so moved in a show such as this. Zoë Rainey also fared extremely well, showing off her gorgeous belt and also giving a moving performance as she deals with her love for Jerry. Also featured were Jane Asher and Julian Forsyth as Monsieur and Madame Baurel, who were your typical strict parents who eventually softened to their son’s aspirations but neither were given enough to work with to make an impression.

If you’re a fan of old timey musicals and/or ballet, this show would definitely be one to check out! The role of Jerry Mulligan is now played by Ashley Day, except for Wednesday evenings when he is played by Max Westwell, and Daniela Norman plays Lise Dassin on Thursday evenings. Jane Asher will play her final performance on 2nd September 2017, with her replacement yet to be announced. The show is currently booking until 27th January 2018: check the website for updates – https://www.anamericaninparisthemusical.co.uk/