Tag Archives: Harry Hepple

Ragtime at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre – July 14th 2012 (evening)

18 Jul

A visit to the Open Air Theatre in the middle of July. It seemed like a brilliant idea at the time of booking – a lovely summer evening and maybe a picnic before the show. In the end I spend about 3/4 of the performance sitting in the pouring rain (my wallet took 2 days to dry completely!).
But that’s the risk with performance spaces like Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre. I’ll just call this a challenge completed because yes, I did sit through the whole performance despite the weather.

But on to the show: Ragtime (based on E L Doctorow’s novel from 1975). This musical is all about life in Amerika at the beginning of the 20th century focusing on three different groups. There’s an upper-middle class family, a Jewish immigrant and his daughter and a black musician and his girlfriend. The lives of these people intertwine as they deal with issues such as immigration, politics, racism and social challenges of the time. The story is quite complicated but really interesting and well told. In case you want to take a closer look at it I recommend you read through the plot summary here: http://www.sparknotes.com/lit/ragtime/summary.html

This production has quite a modern feel to it with the big banner of President Obama in the background of the stage. I’m not too convinced by the set I have to admit. It looks a lot like a random garbage dump and reminds me of a set one would use for Cats. There’s a piano on one side of the stage where the house of Mother and her family is set and various scenes take place on a slight elevation on the left side of the stage. I know a set doesn’t have to be detailed or naturalistic but I just didn’t see the point in letting the characters walk around in a dump. That might be just my lack of understanding for a new and modern approach to this show though.

The cast is the real stand out in this production (with few exceptions). First of all there is the wonderful Rosalie Craig as Mother. She is without a doubt the star of the show and brings such a warmth to her character that is it impossible not to be impressed by her performance. Plus her voice is nothing but beautiful and suits the songs perfectly. Rolan Bell plays Coalhouse Walker (father of Sarah’s child and leader of the black group). He seems to struggle with the songs now and then and in my opinion his portrayal of the character is slightly too angry and imature which makes it hard to be on his side no matter what injustice he experiences.
Claudia Kariuki on the other hand brings a tear to the audience’s eye with her moving portrayal of Sarah, the black woman who first abandons her newborn child and is then invited to stay with Mother and her family.
John Marquez plays Tateh, the Jewish immigrant who comes to America with his little daughter in search for a better life, with a twinkle in the eye while never losing sight of the struggle the character goes through.
David Birrell gives a fabulous performance as Father and manages to give the audience a great insight into the inner turmoil of the character. His singing is spot on and I particularly enjoyed seeing him and Rosalie act together.
Both Harry Hepple and Jo Servi do a good job as Brother and Grandfather. I would have loved to hear Harry sing more as I loved his voice when I saw him in Pippin at the Menier Chocolate Factory.
I would like to give a special mention to Stephane Anelli (Harry Houdini) who never fails to make me smile with his amazing dancing and his great facial expressions (which can be hilarious if the part allows a funny interpretation). Special kudos for dancing like this on a wet and slippery stage and for performing those Houdini tricks (or rather stunts!) in the rain.

My one major criticism regarding the casting is the mixing up of gender and race. I have nothing against colour-blind casting, don’t get me wrong! But having a black guy play the white grandfather and a woman the male Booker T Washington just makes this already quite complicated piece even harder to understand. If Ragtime was a well-known musical it probably wouldn’t matter but most visitors will most likely never have seen the show and the different storylines are difficult enough to follow without adding cross-race and cross-gender casting.

As the title of the show suggests the score is very much influenced by the ragtime era so it has a jazzy and partly gospel feel to it and makes good use of the piano. The title song “Ragtime” is definitely a catchy tune and big ensemble numbers like “Till we reach that day” are quite spectacular to listen to. I probably wouldn’t listen to a lot of the songs at home but I really enjoyed them in context with the story.

Ragtime is certainly not an easy musical and I highly doubt it will please theatregoers that are focused on feel-good shows and who want to spent a relaxing evening at the theatre without having to think too hard (and there’s nothing wrong with that, I do it as well to get away from the busy and hectic everyday life now and then). However, if you want to see a show that intertwines history and fiction to tell a story of personal drama, change and everyday problems of people in America in the early 20th century this is the piece for you. This production is by no means perfect but the stellar cast alone is worth braving the British “summer” and spending an evening at the Open Air Theatre.

Ragtime is showing at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre until September 8th. For more info and to book tickets go to http://www.openairtheatre.com/production/ragtime-the-musical.

Pippin at the Menier Chocolate Factory – January 21st 2012 (matinee)

23 Jan

After watching Pippin at the Menier Chocolate Factory in December I knew immediately that this wasn’t going to be my only time seeing the show. I’ve always liked the Chocolate Factory. It’s such a lovely little venue and so far their productions have never disappointed me. And Pippin turned out to be no difference.

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I admit I was a bit disappointed when I entered the bar before the show and was greeted with an understudy notice informing me that the part of Leading Player would be played by Bob Harms at this performance. Matt Rawle was one of my highlights of the show when I saw it back in December after all and I remembered from that Gypsy Kings best of show (also known as Zorro – the musical) that he often is the most vital part of any production he is in.

But as fantastic as his performance in Pippin is I can honestly say I didn’t miss him one bit at this matinee. The moment Bob Harms stepped on stage he had me glued to my seat. His Leading Player was charismatic, gripping and just plain cool. I would never have guessed it was his very first time in the role. So thumbs up for Bob! If you get the chance to catch him as Leading Player you can consider yourself lucky.

 

Harry Hepple gave another brilliant performance as Pippin. Such a lovely voice and he portrays Pippin’s search for meaning in the most perfect way. I feel for his Pippin. I enjoy coming along on his journey from level to level and I want him to succeed in becoming an outstanding person.

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Stuart Neal always manages to catch my eye and I would love to see his take on Pippin. Having said that I’m sure I’d miss seeing him as Theo on that occasion.

David Page is just perfect as Pippin’s rather shallow brother Lewis. That does sound a bit wrong so I should clarify that David is obviously not only a great dancer but also a fantastic actor. Speaking to him after the performance made it very clear that he is in no way vain or self absorbed but totally lovely and down to earth.

Holly James once again had me in awe – she is so stunningly beautiful and one of the most expressive dancers around. I could watch her dancing all day without getting bored.

France Ruffelle still didn’t impress me but as I’ve stated before it’ probably just one of those cases of “We don’t click”. She’s got a good voice and I know lots of people enjoy seeing her on stage and love her performance in Pippin.

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I can see why Pippin isn’t one of the shows that are put on regularly. The show is not typical mainstream and I can imagine it wouldn’t necessarily appeal to someone who is not really into theatre but just goes to see a show once in a while.

But still, the show shouldn’t be put back in the closet for ages once the run at the Chocolate Factory is over. Pippin is a well written piece of theatre with a fantastic score and (something not all shows have these days) a message. It’s a story about finding yourself, a story about becoming someone extraordinary without being corrupted.

 

So please do yourself a favour and go see this fantastic production of a show that deserves to be noticed amongst the common main stream shows of today.

 

Pippin is on at the Menier Chocolate Factory until February 25.

http://www.menierchocolatefactory.com

Pippin at the Menier Chocolate Factory – December 17 2011

22 Dec

Pippin at the Menier Chocolate Factory is yet another example that fringe theatre often produces the most extraordinary shows. After a friend and I went to see Parade at the Southwark Playhouse we decided that we needed to see more fringe theatre. So, our next trip to London in mind we booked tickets for Pippin. Personally I had no idea what the show was about and the cast hadn’t even been announced at the time. All I knew was that the Menier Chocolate Factory so far had never disappointed me with its productions – and this was a chance to see something new which I’m always up for.

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So who or what is Pippin?
Pippin is a boy on a search for meaning and fulfillment. I know this is not a proper synopsis but seriously, I don’t think I should go into too much detail. After all I will urge all of you to go and see the show at the end of this blog post. 😉

What I can say is that I totally loved the way the story is transported into the world of cyberspace in this production of the show. The whole concept of dividing the plot between real life and a mix of computer games, Twitter and the like all wrapped up in Fosse style dancing and a quite disturbing ending is pure genius. I admit it did take a bit of getting used to especially as I entered the auditorium not knowing what to expect at all. I loved how you basically walk into the story (I do pity Harry Hepple though – he doesn’t even get a proper interval break… you’ll see what I mean when you watch the show).

It’s amazing how such a tiny venue like the Chocolate Factory manages to stage productions like this. The set was quite amazing and the space looked so much larger than the other times I’d been there.

As mentioned before the cast hadn’t been announced when my friend and I booked the tickets for the show. And I can safely say: If I didn’t had tickets already I would have booked some straight after the first glance on the complete cast list!

First of all there is Matt Rawle as the Leading Player. Matt is one of those performers that will catch my eye no matter what part he is playing. The man oozes charisma and he has the ability to include the audience in his performance throughout the whole show. It always feels like he is performing for you only. The part of the Leading Player gives Matt the chance to actually talk to the audience and he does so with such a natural charm that it’s hard to look anywhere else whenever he is on stage.

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I managed to tear my eyes away from Matt now and then (it wasn’t easy, I can honestly say that!) and this was thanks to everyone else in the cast. It was amazing to see so much talent on one stage in such an intimate performing space.

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Harry Hepple (Pippin) is definitely one to watch out for in the future. He’s got such a fantastic voice and is a completely natural actor.

I loved seeing David Page on stage again after such a long time. I still remember him playing the lead in the UK tour of Kiss me Kate years ago (a show I only went to see because of a friend in the cast in the first place – and I’m so glad I did because I totally loved the production). What an amazing dancer and absolutely perfect as Pippin’s brother Lewis (and this shows what a great actor he is because I’m absolutely positive he is nowhere near as shallow and self absorbed as the character he plays ;-).

Stuart Neal will always have the Lord of the Rings bonus – meaning: Everyone who has been in Lord of the Rings – the musical has bonus points in my judgment already. But I am happy to report Stuart doesn’t need that bonus. I loved seeing him as Theo (yes, there were a few Hobbit / Pippin like facial expressions but those totally fit the part) and I had no idea he was such a great dancer as well.

I admit I wasn’t too fond of Frances Ruffelle as Fastrada but that is probably just down to the fact that she is just one of the performers I can never warm to. She’s a good actress, had a nice voice and she’s good great comic timing – she’s just not for me.

Ian Kelsey as Charles (it took me ages to figure out where I’d seen him before…. It was Chicago, of course!), Louise Gold as Berthe and Carly Bawden as Catherine all do a fantastic job. I can’t say a bad thing about their performances.

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A special shout out has to go to the absolutely awesome ensemble in this show. Yes, the stage did appear larger than I remembered it to be but still, this is a small fringe venue. To dance in such a small space especially with a whole ensemble can’t be easy. Plus the choreography of this show definitely requires a lot of skill. And the guys and girls in the cast really did the whole piece justice. And I just have to say it here and now: Holly James is one of the most beautiful women I’ve ever seen on stage! Seriously, the girl is stunning (and she’s an amazing singer and dancer as well). I’ve been lucky enough to see her in a few shows already (Hairspray, Hair and Shoes) and she always stood out – in a positive way, of course!

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So, if I haven’t done everything wrong at least some of you will now consider booking a ticket to see Pippin. And this will now be my final plug: Please, please, please do yourself a favour and watch this show! It’s got a fantastic cast, a great score, it’s interesting and a show you might not get the chance to see again anytime soon (in my eyes Pippin is a largely under-appreciated musical). So go see it now!

Pippin is running at the Menier Chocolate Factory until February 25 2012. For more info and to book tickets go to http://www.menierchocolatefactory.com .