Tag Archives: Stuart Neal

42nd Street at Theatre Royal Drury Lane

25 Apr

It is the return of the big tap spectacle to London’s West End. 42nd Street has moved into Theatre Royal Drury Lane and it definitely has not done so unnoticed.

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This is the revival of an American classic – some might call it the mother of all showbiz musicals. Director Mark Bramble does not go for understatement in this production. With 43 ensemble members 42nd Street fills the big stage of Theatre Royal Drury Lane. Watching the partly opened curtain at the start of the show and the long line of dancing feet is a sight (and sound) to behold.

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Save to say if you do not enjoy masses of dancers tap their feet off this show is not for you. But if you do enjoy a glittering, loud tap dancing spectacle 42nd Street is your definition of heaven on earth.

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Clare Halse shines as out-of-town dancer Peggy Sawyer who is hoping to get her big break on Broadway. Stuart Neal (Billy Lawlor) shows he is not just a tremendous actor and singer but also a wonderful dancer.

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Tom Lister (Julian Marsh) commands the stage – his solo moment at the end of the show is one of my highlights. It is such a simple yet incredibly powerful scene and Tom Lister quite simply nails it. Sheena Easton is perfectly cast as leading lady / diva Dorothy Brock. A special mention goes to Norman Bowman who is underused as Pat Denning – personally I cannot wait to see his take on Julian Marsh.

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But the real star of the show is the tap dancing ensemble. Those guys and girls seem to have unlimited resources of energy. They carry this show and they do so with big smiles.

42nd Street does things big – from the number of ensemble members to costumes and set. Visually you will not find a more stunning musical in town at this point. And I had a brilliant time diving into the glittering world of 42nd Street. This show dazzled and amazed me – no question about that. However, what it failed to do is touch my heart. But then I doubt this is what the production was planning to do. You do not watch 42nd Street with teary eyes because what you are seeing is so stunningly beautiful. You watch it with a huge smile on your face because you are being entertained at the highest level. And entertained I was.

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So do not hesitate – I urge you to go and meet those dancing feet.

42nd Street is running at Theatre Royal Drury Lane. For more info and to book tickets visit http://www.42ndstreetmusical.co.uk/.

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Finding Neverland at The Curve, Leicester – 5th October 2012

7 Oct

Who doesn’t know the story of Peter Pan, the boy who doesn’t want to grow up. But what about the story behind the story so to speak? What inspired the writer J. M. Barrie to create a play about a boy who lives in a far away land surrounded by lost boys, fairies and pirates? Finding Neverland tells just that. First a popular movie starring Johnny Depp and Kate Winslet the story has
now been transferred onto the stage at Leicester’s The Curve.

Julian Ovenden plays J. M. Barrie with a pure honesty and manages to catch the childlike attitude of the character without destroying his credibility. Rosalie Craig is Sylvia Llewelyn-Davies, a widow and mother of four boys who catches Barrie’s attention one day in a park. She gives her character such a warmth that it’s impossible not to love her. For me Rosalie is one of the most talented actresses in the UK these days who more than deserves all the praise she is getting.
Clare Foster plays Mary Barrie, the unhappy wife of J. M. Barrie. It’s fantastic to see how far Clare has come over the years and how much she has developed as an actress. She is perfectly cast in this show and gives Mary an almost aristocratic elegance without making her appear cold and unlikable.

Although not a lead part I have to mention Oliver Boot next who portrays Maximillian Blunt and Hook. Especially in the latter part he had me laughing out loud more than once with his spot on comic timing.
Stuart Neal as Elliot (the stage manager) is another highlight who has to be named. This is the fourth show I have seen him in and he once again manages to steal every scene he appears in.
Liz Robertson gives a solid performance as Sylvia’s mother who just wants what she thinks is the best for her daughter but loses sight of what makes Sylvia truly happy until it’s almost too late.

The rest of the cast does a marvellous job. The four boys I got to see were remarkably talented especially considering their age. The ensemble is spot on – a special mention for Norman Bowman and Ashley Hale who are once again a joy to watch on stage.
And let’s not forget the dog – he may be huge but he’s also the cutest thing I’ve seen on stage in a long time.

The staging of the show is stunning, simple as that. This is a production of West End standard – actually the whole set, props, lighting etc. are better than what you get to see in some West End shows these days. There’s a pirate ship, a proper car, some brilliant lighting effects – Finding Neverland just has it all.

So, is there anything I didn’t like? To be honest I’m not totally sure this show needs to be a musical. The songs were all lovely to listen to but they weren’t memorable for me. Personally I could see this do better as a proper play with a little more insight into the different characters. We didn’t really learn a lot about Sylvia’s illness for example so for someone who hasn’t seen the movie it might have been a bit difficult to understand what was happening.
It’s obvious the show has been changed a lot since the first preview and is basically still a work in progress. And although it’s not perfect, it has the potential to be huge. Finding Neverland takes the audience on a journey to discover their inner child and in the end it all comes down to one important question: Do you believe in fairies?

I do!

Finding Neverland is showing at The Curve in Leicester until 18th October.
For more info and to book tickets go to http://www.curveonline.co.uk .

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 .