Tag Archives: Morgan Large

“The Woman in White” at the Charing Cross Theatre

If memory serves me correctly, the West End debut of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical, at the Palace Theatre back in 2004, was a grand affair with ambitious, if ineffective, projections and a big orchestra that served a lush score superbly. For its first revival the music has been revised, by Lloyd Webber himself, to suit a smaller setting. As a result, the show joins a string of revivals that remind us how versatile the composer’s work is. This is a piece that impressed first time around but now it is a musical to fall in love with.

The Woman in White is impressively plot driven. It’s based on Wilkie Collins’ 1859 novel, expertly condensed by Charlotte Jones, with its Victorian morality deftly handled to embrace current concerns about equality. This is a great yarn – a romance and a crime mystery that flirts with the supernatural – following the adventures of the Fairlie sisters and the mysterious titular character who has a secret that will change their lives. David Zippel’s lyrics serve the story superbly, even if all that exposition makes them occasionally prosaic. Director Thom Southerland aids the clarity to ensure we are entertained – with a staging full of atmosphere via strong work with the striped back set from designer Morgan Large.

For all Southerland’s accomplishments it is his cast that makes the show stand out – a particularly strong group of singers with exquisite control appropriate to the precision in both the score and the production.

Ashley Stillburn makes an appealing hero, as the Fairlies’ drawing teacher and love interest, who becomes a man of action when danger arrives. His rival in love is Chris Peluso as Sir Percival Glyde – “a liar, a braggart and a philistine” – full of charisma and danger. Glyde’s partner in crime is Count Fosco, played by Greg Castiglioni, who comes dangerously close to stealing scenes as he has the musical’s only light relief (credit where it’s due, for an Italian accent that isn’t just a cheap gag).

The trio of female roles secure more praise. The wealthy heiress Laura might be a little too wet but Anna O’Byrne tackles the role sensibly and gives her as much spirit as possible. Similarly, her half-sister Marian is one of those martyred women, beloved by Victorians, that can annoy – but in the role Carolyn Maitland makes her devotion believable and her sacrifices moving. Finally, Sophie Reeves, who plays the ghostly woman in white, delivers an impressive portrayal of mental illness. The whole cast tackles the satisfyingly complex storyline and its melodrama while singing to perfection, making this a clear five-star show.

Until 10 February 2018

www.charingcrosstheatre.co.uk

Photo by Darren Bell

“Xanadu” at the Southwark Playhouse

If you think Arts Council funding is complex, imagine trying to create your Gesamtkunstwerk,including a roller disco, in the cultural desert that was 1980s LA. Such is Sonny’s dilemma in Jeff Lynne and John Farrar’s musical adaptation of the cult(ish) movie that famously starred Olivia Newton-John. Fortunately, the Greek muses are on hand to help, making this show so mad, so unbelievebly camp and crazy, that it casts an irrestible spell. Thank the gods that Xanadu is a place director Paul Warwick Griffin has dared to go. Get your skates on and join in.

Bringing the story to the stage is brilliantly done thanks to a superb book by Douglas Carter Beane – surely key to the show’s success in New York, where it started at the Helen Hayes Theatre in 2007. There’s a lot of fun with language, from faux archaic to Aussie accents via Valley girls. Likewise the music, based on blasts from the past, mashes together anything to get a laugh. The songs are surprisingly strong, but then it was the soundtrack rather than the film that was a hit. Cleverly adding comedy and nostaglia, emodied by Nathan M Wright’s witty choreography, this is theatrical heaven on earth.

xanadu-carly-anderson-as-kira-and-samuel-edwards-as-sonny-photo-credit-paul-coltas-lower-res

 

Donning their roller skates as Sonny and Kira (or rather the muse Clio)are Samuel Edwards and Carly Anderson. Chiffon has seldom been used to such effect (bravo to designer Morgan Large) and while cut-off denim shorts aren’t for all, I doubt anyone will complain about Edwards wearing them. More importantly, both Anderson and Edwards are fine leads with firm comic skills who enter into the spirit of the piece perfectly. Convincingly wide-eyed, with hearts on sequinned sleeves, they get you laughing along easily.

Joined by a superb ensemble, who look as if they’re living the roles of divinities on Earth, the clash with Mount Olympus when our heroes fall in love is titanically funny: a lament that Achilles should have had leg warmers pretty much sums it up. The show’s casting coup is Alison Jiear, as the jealous Melpomene. The muse of tragedy could be out of place in this feel-good phenomenon, but Jiear is superb and matched for laughs by Emily McGougan. As sinister sisters with great gags these partners in crime, giggle and cackling away. When they observe the show is “like children’s theatre for 40-year-old gay guys” you know that they’ve nailed it.

Until 21 November 2016

www.southwarkplayhouse.co.uk

Photos by Paul Coltas