Tag Archives: Savoy Theatre

“Dreamgirls” at the Savoy Theatre

This 1981 Broadway hit, with book and lyrics by Tom Eyen and music from Henry Krieger, reached movie screens before the London stage, so theatregoers have had to be patient. But it has been worth the wait. The story of a Motown girl group, and their trials in show business, its cast’s superb voices mean that from the first talent contest there’s no doubt fame will arrive for The Dreamettes. As the focus becomes the trio’s personal lives, with professional betrayals and broken relationships, powerful songs guarantee strong emotion.

Liisi LaFontaine plays Deena, the shy girl chosen to lead the band into stardom. She sounds fantastic and her acting is adroit. Asmeret Ghebremichael is Lorrell, another member of the group, who holds her own providing a welcome comic number, Ain’t No Party. Lorrell’s affair with the star the girls used to sing backing vocals for – played by the multi-talented Adam J Bernard – is strong in its own right.

Joe Aaron Reid and Liisi LaFontaine
Joe Aaron Reid and Liisi LaFontaine

The bigger story is the love triangle between Deena, the band’s manager Curtis (performed with a slick edge by Joe Aaron Reid), and Effie, jilted in love and abandoned by the band. And it’s all about Effie. Taking the role of this complex character, Glee star Amber Riley has the audience on its feet more than once. Her powerful voice brings goose bumps – do take the chance to hear her – but big credit also goes to her acting.

The music tells the simple story in a satisfyingly layered manner. Even weaker numbers, examples of cynicism rather than soul through the machinations of Curtis, reflect and comment on the characters’ lives. With the development of R&B into disco (again, blame the manager) variety is built in. It’s an accomplished musical history, aided by Gregg Barnes’ costume design, with a riot of sequins guiding us through the years and illustrating how to really wear a feather boa… if you didn’t already know.

But it’s the women rather than some calculated social history who bring this dream to life. Brilliant performances, packaged by Casey Nicholaw’s direction and choreography affording speed and immediacy, make the success, struggle and reconciliation both uplifting and entertaining.

Booking until February 2018

www.dreamgirlswestend.com

Photos by Brinkhoff & Mögenburg

“Guys and Dolls” at the Savoy Theatre

Another hit transfer from the Chichester Festival Theatre which, after its production of Gypsy, must be feeling at home in the Savoy. This exquisitely polished show matches the venue’s sophisticated glamour perfectly. New Yorker Gordon Greenberg directs, bringing an appropriate feel for Broadway to Frank Loesser’s “musical fable” of men about town and their much put-upon women.

Great material, superbly executed, the show’s hit songs sound better than ever. At the risk of being ungallant, the guys have the edge slightly, creating a big sound and working together to get the laughs. Greenberg pays attention to the humour in Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows’ book, following two gamblers, the high-rolling Sky Masterson and fixer Nathan Detroit, placing their bets on matrimony to, respectively, a Salvation Army sergeant and a nightclub hostess. Space is created for a series of strong comic performances, especially from Gavin Spokes and Ian Hughes, as Nicely Nicely and Benny – a double act to die for. This gang of gamblers forms a coherent group that’s more than just a background note to the love affairs on offer.

A further highlight is the production’s strong choreography – they’ve got both Carlos Acosta and Andrew Wright on board – with a trip to Havana generating a genuine fantasia as well as a spirited fight scene. Peter McKintosh’s design is a simple affair that will serve the production well on tour, but aids the dancers immeasurably. The key is the lighting (bravo designer Tim Mitchell) impressively adding structure to scenes. And special mention goes to the gloriously colourful costumes.

The central performances are superb. These characters are grown-ups and the balance between romance and realism is deftly handled. While Siubhan Harrison stalls slightly as Salvation Army Sarah, failing to exploit the book’s satire, Jamie Parker is a hit from the start as Sky. Charismatic and sounding superb, Parker adds tension to Luck Be A Lady – a revelatory performance of a well-known number. Close to stealing the show are David Haig and Sophie Thompson as Nathan Detroit and Miss Adelaide (we all recognise the cracking chemistry from Four Weddings And a Funeral). Haig is at his most charming and Thompson makes both renditions of her Adelaide’s Lament something to celebrate.

Until 12 March 2016

www.guysanddollsthemusical.co.uk

Photos by Johan Persson

“Gypsy” at the Savoy Theatre

Believe the hype. Jonathan Kent’s triumphant revival of Gypsy, coming from the Chichester Festival Theatre, deserves every one of the many stars critics have lavished upon it. And, as for stars, Imelda Staunton’s much lauded performance in the lead really is a triumph, attracting every superlative imaginable.

Of course, it helps that the musical itself is wonderful. Jule Styne’s score has hits and a satisfying coherence that builds power in a symphonic fashion. Arthur Laurents’ book is perfection: powerful family relationships and fundamental emotions elaborated through the story of a pushy showbiz mother, touring America’s dying Vaudeville circuit, and the bitter success of her daughter becoming the burlesque queen Gypsy Rose Lee. Stephen Sondheim’s lyrics are justly legendary, from ‘Have an Egg Roll Mr Goldstone’ to the phenomenal ‘Everything’s Coming Up Roses’.

This production of Gypsy has the highest standards. It feels like a bit of Broadway in the West End. Kent’s handling is loving – he knows he’s crafting a gem and creates a tremendous energy. The show sounds gloriously brassy, which is just right, while the detailed, mobile sets from Anthony Ward embody a ‘Hi, ho the glamorous life’ of travelling performers. There are strong performances from Gemma Sutton and Lara Pulver as Momma Rose’s long-suffering daughters, especially Pulver and she blossoms into the striptease sensation that is Gypsy.

Against this flawless backdrop, Staunton excels as Momma Rose. Surely there can be few roles more daunting – remember, the critic Frank Rich described the part as musical theatre’s unlikely answer to King Lear. And think of what big shoes there are to fill. Staunton’s comedy skills are the best around and, in Gypsy, her acting shines. When Staunton wants a laugh – she got it. But Momma Rose is grown with subtlety, her fragility well established before her final breakdown. This makes the famous scene of ‘Rose’s Turn’ startlingly brave and painfully real.

Curtain up until 28 November 2015

www.gypsythemusical.uk

Photo by Johan Persson

“Soul Sister” at the Savoy Theatre

Fans of Tina Turner should hotfoot it to the Savoy Theatre to catch the limited run of Soul Sister. It’s ‘inspired’ by the life, times and music of Ike and Tina Turner, and all the hits are there, from the soul classics of the 60s to the chart toppers of the 80s, and the performances are spectacular. Soul Sister may fail miserably as musical theatre – the life and times are drearily depicted – but if it’s the music you want then this is simply the best.

Tina tells us, in one of many annoying projections that interrupt rather than add to the songs, that the stories about her and Ike only “scratch the surface”: an idea that Pete Brooks and John Miller, who devised the piece, seem to take as given and don’t desire to change. It’s a shame that with such an emotive story of rags to riches (and that turbulent love affair along the way) they make so little of the material.

Attempts to paste topics as diverse as Buddhism and women’s rights over Ike and Tina’s personal stories are unsatisfying and vaguely insulting. Worse, the production gives the cast very little chance to make a mark with its acting skills. Emi Wokoma and Chris Tummings, who take on the lead roles, try their hardest but have shamefully little to work with.

Thankfully, shortly into the second half, any attempt to tell a story is abandoned and Soul Sister becomes a true tribute act. Backed by a superb band, Wokoma can get on with singing and this she does fantastically. It’s not just a matter of the mannerisms and the big wig – it’s more the big noise that she can make. Wokoma’s vocals put heart into the evening and her stunning sound saves the night.

Until 1 October 2012

Photo by Marilyn Kingwill

Written 24 August 2012 for The London Magazine

“Legally Blonde” at the Savoy Theatre

The London Magazine offices are right next to the Savoy Theatre and over recent months we have seen the preparations for London’s latest big musical Legally Blonde. The most exciting thing has been the dogs in the cast, six in all who take turns performing, accompanied by trainers and carers and looking every bit the celebrity, as Chihuahua’s tend to do.

The concern was that they might be the best things about the show. The thought of yet another musical based on a movie may fill you with trepidation.  For all the success of Billy Elliott anyone who sat through Footloose will sense a certain dread.  Legally Blonde, a film with no musical connection, seems an odd choice.

But silly plots and simple morality tales have potential.  It seems Sonia Friedman has chosen wisely in bringing this Broadway production to London.

Elle Woods appears to have everything – youth and beauty with a privileged upbringing. Her confident plans for continued perfection however, go awry when her intended fiancé snobbishly reveals she is not good enough for him. Elle turns out to possess more than we suspected though, with plenty of determination and brains, as well as heart, she follows her love to Harvard to become a lawyer.  So begins her real journey of self-discovery.

Naturally most of the audience already know the story and simple as it is the action can be swift with plenty of time for musical interludes. And the music from Laurence O’Keefe and Nell Benjamin really isn’t bad. I heard several people humming the main theme in the interval alone. There are saccharine ballads should that be your thing, performed with confidence by ‘Duncan from Blue’ – they left me cold but I suspect I wasn’t the target audience. To compensate, Elle’s main refrain has more emotional depth than might be expected.

The music’s strength is its comedy.  Peter Davison plays Elle’s tutor, a charismatic villain with a great introductory number.  Amy Lennox plays Margot, a video fitness guru, who is to be defended by Elle’s legal team.  She opens the second act with a workout inspired routine set in a prison that has fantastic energy and wakes up the fathers in the audience.  There’s even a potential showstopper in the number ‘European or Gay?’  The title says it all.  The ensemble knows they have a winner and thoroughly enjoy themselves.

Further praise goes to Alex Gaumond who plays Emmett. As the man we want Elle to end up with he reinforces the central theme of being honest to yourself. He also gets a makeover as Elle takes control of his wardrobe and ticks a lot of musical theatre boxes.

The undoubted success of the evening lies in the casting of Elle, she must hold the show together and bring things into a coherent whole. Sheridan Smith shines in this role. Along with a great voice, her presence on stage is always appealing and she possesses an effortless comic talent that makes some frankly feeble jokes go a long way. You will laugh – I promise you.

Legally Blonde is silly stuff but it knows that and it enjoys it. It genuinely contains something for everyone.  Director Jerry Mitchell and writer Heather Hach have cleverly constructed a musical that will please its natural audience but also entertain others. A lot of people will be surprised at how much fun they have and that is not to say that they dogs aren’t great.

Until 20 February 2011

Photo by Ellie Kurttz

Written 14 January 2010 for The London Magazine