Tag Archives: Michael Stewart

“42nd Street” at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane

Bringing one of the most famous movie musicals to the stage, Mark Bramble and Michael Stewart’s adaptation of the 1933 backstage-on-Broadway tale relies on scale to secure success. Taking Harry Warren and Al Dubin’s fantastic collection of songs, they add more hits to the original list. Accompanying the great tunes, Randy Skinner’s Busby Berkeley-style choreography uses an enormous ensemble and every bit of the theatre’s huge stage. Spectacular is the key word.

As one of the many hit songs proclaims, “Who cares if there’s a plot or not?” Following chorus girl Peggy Sawyer’s rise to stardom, after breaking the ankle of her leading lady, doesn’t take much time. Instead 42nd Street is a collection of set pieces. Delivered big, with giant mirrors and staircases included in Douglas W Schmidt’s design. And what costumes – bravo to Roger Kirk. Who knew it was possible to be overwhelmed by sequins? To quote another song – “We’re in the money” – the producers haven’t skimped here.

Bramble is in charge and stamps his mark on the piece, like his potential onstage alter ego – another director – Julian Marsh. Tom Lister takes this role and shouts in capitals throughout, no doubt as instructed, detoxing the character’s old-fashioned pomposity and sexism. Camp is a clever way to deal with how the show has dated. But it isn’t the only possibility: so while An American in Paris give us old-age panache, here we have pastiche. Lots of humour and the over-the-top staging make everything ridiculous – deliberately so – and enormous fun.

Clare Halse
Clare Halse

Yet all the parody kills the characters. The star playing the star (she of the broken ankle) is Sheena Easton, who can belt out a number but fails to transfer personality into her role. Stuart Neal, as the shows tenor, makes all his smiling look like hard work; he is technically brilliant but the character leaves no mark. Thankfully, Clare Halse can’t be faulted as new star Peggy. She has ingénue down to a T and her tap dancing is superb. And Jasna Ivir, playing a matriarchal producer, is the epitome of value for money. Which is exactly what this show is – a West End ticket that’s worth every penny, delivering jaw-dropping, extravagant entertainment.

Booking until 10 February 2018

www.42ndstreetmusical.co.uk

Photo by Brinkhoff & Moegenbur

“The Grand Tour” at the Finborough Theatre

Those hoping to find a formula for the success of a musical may be confused by the The Grand Tour’s poor reception on Broadway. The 1979 show by the legendary Jerry Herman is only now receiving its London premiere at the tiny Finborough Theatre, and I can’t for the life of me work out why. The book by Michael Stewart and Mark Bramble is more than serviceable, while the music and lyrics by Herman are superb. The show’s themes certainly live up to its ambitious title.

OK, so The Grand Tour is old fashioned. Maybe it’s not that original either. And the escapades of Jewish intellectual Jacobowsky and Polish Colonel Stjerbinksy as they flee from the Nazis are sometimes a little silly: there’s a circus, a wedding and even some nuns. But these flights of fancy fill a desperate journey with colour – even a scene on a crowded train is vivacious – and Herman’s score looks past dark events to embrace affirmation.

The Grand Tour 5 Natasha Karp, Nic Kyle, Vincent Pirillo, Michael Cotton, Samuel J Weir, Laurel Dooling Dougall, Alastair Brookshaw and Lizzie Wofford photo Annabel Vere
Natasha Karp, Vincent Pirillo, Michael Cotton, Samuel J Weir, Laurel Dooling Dougall and Lizzie Wofford make up a powerful ensemble

Alastair Brookshaw succeeds in making the unbelievably optimistic Jacobowsky heroic, while Nic Kyle gives Stjerbinsky more dimensionality than he’s written with. The finest moments come with a gentle love triangle around Marianne, the Colonel’s fiancée, played by the charming Zoë Doano. The excellent Thom Sutherland directs a powerful ensemble and Phil Lindley’s set is cleverly cartographic. Sutherland works flawlessly in small venues and The Grand Tour deserves big success.

Until 21 February 2015

www.finboroughtheatre.co.uk

Photos by Annabel Vere