Cinders had a ball… and so did I! PATRICK MARMION reviews Cinderella

Cinders had a ball… and so did I! PATRICK MARMION reviews Cinderella

Cinderella (Gillian Lynne Theatre, London) 

Verdict: A glitter ball hit 

Rating:

Jersey Boys (Trafalgar Theatre, London) 

Verdict: Oh what a night!

Rating:

Jailbirds languishing in HM prisons can relax — it looks as though Andrew Lloyd Webber will not be joining them after all. He had threatened to do time rather than submit his theatres to government Covid regulations for a moment longer.

But now that Cinderella, his latest musical, has opened at last to packed houses — and looks set fair to stay that way — he can pop his orange jumpsuit back in the drawer.

In the title role, Carrie Hope Fletcher delivers a poke in the eye to the old-fashioned Disney idea of feminine virtue: a sarky, surly gothic Cinders who’s more into black lipstick and Doc Martens than pumpkin carriages and glass slippers.

Thanks to a scorched earth re-write of the fairy tale by Emerald Fennell, who won an Oscar for the revenge movie Promising Young Woman, she’s a heroine for the age of Gogglebox, Love Island and #MeToo feminism.

Let her eat cake: Rebecca Trehearn as the MarieAntoinette-esque Queen of Belleville

The show itself, meanwhile, is basically an out-of-season panto: joyously vulgar and fabulously catty. It’s also lavishly costumed — especially for the show’s rival divas. One is the Queen of Cinderella’s hometown, Belleville, played by a gleefully giddy Rebecca Trehearn as a reincarnation of Marie Antoinette (and yes, she eats cake!).

But Cinders’ stepmother is even more fun; played by Victoria Hamilton-Barritt as a cross between Joanna Lumley and Sir Alan Sugar, savouring each withering put-down like a champagne truffle.

Hunky Prince Charming, incidentally, has gone missing in a long, almost three-hour plot. But he is happily replaced as the love interest by his baby brother Sebastian. Played by Ivano Turco, he is Cinderella’s secret BFF and beloved . . . until his mother demands he make a suitable marriage.

There’s a glittering parade of sumptuous kitsch; and cartoon sets for the picture-book town of Belleville. But it’s Lloyd Webber’s music that does the heavy lifting, with one of his most varied scores.

The first belter is Hope Fletcher’s anthem of mock self-reproach, Bad Cinderella. But her acoustic duets, riffing with Sebastian, afford sweeter, more subtle moments.

In the title role, Carrie Hope Fletcher delivers a poke in the eye to the old-fashioned Disney idea of feminine virtue: a sarky, surly gothic Cinders who’s more into black lipstick and Doc Martens than pumpkin carriages and glass slippers

Turco gets a good yodel in a typically lush torch song, Only You, Lonely You, before Hope Fletcher unleashes the show’s biggest, stringiest, swooniest number, Far Too Late (To Sing A Love Song).

Cinders’ and Seb’s romance is all very earnest, but the real fun is had by the baddies. The Queen and the Stepmother scratch each other’s eyes out (metaphorically speaking) in the comic blackmail song I Know You. And hen parties may like to know there’s a Chippendales-style set piece executed by the Queen’s guard: a troop of buff and bare-chested swordsmen.

It’s still a family musical, though; and my 11-year-old certainly took it all in her stride. And after so much time waiting for this finally to happen, Lloyd Webber can take heart from the fact he actually made the earth move for us. Yes, after the interval the front stalls revolve with the stage for the stunning company waltz at the ball.

Sad news for those jailbirds, whose cells will not now be alive with the sound of music.

They’ve had the builders in at the Trafalgar Theatre on Whitehall. What had been converted to a cliff-face of an auditorium with a second, coffin-shaped studio buried below, is now a single, enormous black mausoleum with silver, art deco trimmings and remarkably comfy upholstery.

It does feel a bit funereal . . . but only till you’re yanked back to life by the return of Jersey Boys, the re-cast musical telling the story of Frankie Valli — the 1960s Italian pop sensation from New Jersey — and his band The Four Seasons.

Thanks to Valli’s falsetto voice the band always sounded squeaky clean. But be warned: the Boys’ language and behaviour, off stage, was more like a Martin Scorsese movie (minus the body count). Musically, Jersey Boys is a two-and-a-half-hour toe-tapper, thanks to a back catalogue including Oh What A Night, My Eyes Adored You and Bye Bye Baby.

Musically, Jersey Boys is a two-and-a-half-hour toe-tapper, thanks to a back catalogue including Oh What A Night, My Eyes Adored You and Bye Bye Baby

And in newcomer Ben Joyce, as Frankie, they have a sensational talent who floats effortlessly through Valli’s high notes and grows as a character, from wide-eyed kid to feckless playboy and, finally, chastened man of honour.

Benjamin Yates is terrific fun, too, as bad boy Tommy who sets up the band, but gets banished by the mob to Las Vegas after running up crippling debts.

And if Des McAnuff’s slightly spartan production goes off the boil a bit after Tommy departs, it all comes together again thanks to neat dancing, glitter jackets — and Joyce’s voice.

His rendition of Too Good To Be True more than lives up to its title.

A version of this review appeared in earlier editions of the Mail.

Thank you for the music — and this alfresco treat

By ANDREW PIERCE for The Daily Mail 

Close your eyes and you can almost smell the jasmine. In front of you, a whitewashed hotel is bathed in the golden glow of the sun setting over the dazzling Greek island of Skopelos — and then that joyously familiar, uplifting music begins…

Mamma Mia! (one of the most successful musicals of all time) opened this week in the grounds of Harewood House in Yorkshire (one of Britain’s grandest stately homes). It’s enjoying a brief outdoor run, before heading off on tour — and whetting our appetites before the Mamma Mia of them all, the West End production, re-opens at the Novello Theatre in London next week.

The London stage show was forced to close because of Covid in March last year, so this performance was eagerly anticipated — not least by me. Having seen the show 26 — yes, 26! — times myself, I think I can safely lay claim to be one of its greatest fans.

For the uninitiated (and there can’t be many of you), the story revolves around hotelier and single mother Donna Sheridan (played by Meryl Streep in the first movie) who finds herself confronted by three men who — due to a series of youthful one night stands — could all be the father of her 20-year-old daughter Sophie. Who is about to get married.

It’s the ultimate tale of love conquering all — with the added bonus of 20 or so glorious Abba songs.

Mamma Mia! (one of the most successful musicals of all time) opened this week in the grounds of Harewood House in Yorkshire (one of Britain’s grandest stately homes)

The excitement of the cast was palpable: they were clearly delighted to be back on stage (and back in work) for the first time since the pandemic struck

This first ever open air production proves yet again why Mamma Mia!, which hit the West End in 1999, triumphed over deep scepticism in the showbiz world to become a monumental global hit.

The excitement of the cast was palpable: they were clearly delighted to be back on stage (and back in work) for the first time since the pandemic struck.

Despite the distinctly un-Mediterranean evening chill, they turned in performances full of warmth, wit and joie de vivre.

The romantic scene between Donna (West End veteran Sara Poyzer), and Sam, one of the three dads (Richard Standing) had an added poignancy. The pair are married in real life, and Monday was their 12th wedding anniversary.

This first ever open air production proves yet again why Mamma Mia!, which hit the West End in 1999, triumphed over deep scepticism in the showbiz world to become a monumental global hit

Despite the distinctly un-Mediterranean evening chill, they turned in performances full of warmth, wit and joie de vivre

The first night brought together the show’s original producer, Judy Craymer — it was she who had the genius vision of creating a storyline around Abba’s peerless pop music — scriptwriter Catherine Johnson and Phyllida Lloyd, the director with a populist touch.

‘It’s great to be back…and to perform under the stars for the first time,’ Ms Craymer told me.

Ms Lloyd agreed: ‘I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve seen it, but I always enjoy it more and more.’

This version was a truly special event. I’ve been in love with Abba ever since, as a 13-year-old, I watched them win the 1974 Eurovision Song contest with Waterloo on our family’s new colour TV at our Swindon council house.

In the pink: Andrew Pierce with (left to right) Phyllida Lloyd, Catherine Johnson and Judy Craymer

Many in the Harewood audience were dressed to impress — in neon colours, tinsel wigs, feather boas, sateen and towering platform heels straight out of Abba’s famously garish wardrobe.

Not one to be outdone, I was wearing the specially made, bright pink suit I wore on the best night of my life: when I was an extra in the West End show in 2018.

To date, the stage show has been seen by more than 65 million people; had 50 productions, in 16 different languages worldwide; and grossed more than $4 billion at the box office.

But the real secret of its success is that Mamma Mia! is Abba magic on tap; and it’s impossible to resist joining in with every single song.

When the curtain finally came down, the audience was on its feet, desperate for the evening not to end.

As far as I’m concerned, the West End will only be truly back in business when Mama Mia! is back in business, so make a date for August 25 when it re-opens at the Novello.

I’ve already booked for my 27th visit.

Performances will be taking place at Harewood House until August 30, mamma-mia.com/harewood-house/

Spy’s the limit when the only thing to lose is a war

Operation Mincemeat (Southwark Playhouse) 

Verdict: I spy a hit! 

Rating:

In the dark, stuffy barn that is the Southwark Playhouse, miles from the smart stalls of the West End, an artisanal masterpiece is playing.

We have a cast of five, a three-piece band, a dressing-up box worth of costumes and a set a GCSE woodwork class could probably knock up before break.

But whoof! It blew the roof clean off. Hoots and tears welcomed this ingenious, touching musical. Taut lyrics, vintage gags, a wild tale and tunes that followed me out into the night air, in hums and whistles. Perfection.

This is British Intelligence in World War II. Hitler’s troops need tricking away from Sicily for an invasion to succeed.

The plan? Operation Mincemeat: an insane ruse involving a corpse, a submarine, a briefcase of fake files, a sweaty Spanish attaché . . . and luck. Outrageously, it’s all true. ‘What’s there to lose?’ ‘Er . . . the war!’

Instead, I caught in my tasting notes whiffs of Airplane!, Beyoncé, The Producers and Hamilton. Rap, pop and R&B get a look-in. There are funnies from Coward and heartbreak from Rattigan. This is Broadway oomph, but with pert British humour — more Hello Doily than Hello Dolly

We’re given clashing egos, genuine suspense, a double agent subplot and an office romance. No dusty history here.

Instead, I caught in my tasting notes whiffs of Airplane!, Beyoncé, The Producers and Hamilton. Rap, pop and R&B get a look-in. There are funnies from Coward and heartbreak from Rattigan. This is Broadway oomph, but with pert British humour — more Hello Doily than Hello Dolly.

It’s all written by SplitLip; aka David Cumming, Natasha Hodgson, Zoe Roberts and Felix Hagan.

With scant physical resources, director Donnacadh O’Briain conjures a mighty breadth of scenes, so we flit between a smoky club and a panicked submarine with jaw-dropping dexterity.

The cast are clever chameleons, hoovering up numerous parts — and all with startlingly impressive voices.

An honourable mention is due to Jak Malone, who goes from camp coroner, to weeping widow, to snippy old office bird in moments. Hilarity to heartfelt, and back again.

And this is the show’s genius that lifts it above the usual West End comedy: it has soul. At the end of act one, an achingly sweet tune about a lost wartime love moistened even these critical eyes.

Book before the secret’s out.

LUKE JONES

Dazzled by these starry constellations

Constellations (Vandeville Theatre)  

Omari/Tovey

Rating:

Maxwell Martin/O’Dowd

Rating:

Verdict: Stellar Maxwell Martin 

The results are now in for the marathon, multi-cast production of Nick Payne’s tragi-comic love story, which starts at a damp barbecue and ends in a Swiss clinic.

Last month Sheila Atim and Ivanno Jeremiah proved very moving as the youngest of the play’s physicist and beekeeper combos; while Zoe Wanamaker and Peter Capaldi brought some late-life melancholy.

Now, to end the summer, we have the intimate warmth of Omari Douglas and Russell Tovey, as a gay couple. And Anna Maxwell Martin and Chris O’Dowd as a middle-aged pair — who are, to my mind, a world apart from the rest.

And Anna Maxwell Martin and Chris O’Dowd (pictured) as a middle-aged pair — who are, to my mind, a world apart from the rest.

Director Michael Longhurst is a master of emotional nuance in his handling of all four casts. It’s an extraordinarily complex play and it’s a miracle the actors don’t get lost in the web of (sometimes nearly identical) scenes, re-played with slightly different outcomes.

Douglas and Tovey have wonderful chemistry. Tovey is sweet, solid and direct as the ‘straight guy’ beekeeper; while Douglas is more ornate with fluttering fingers as the quantum physicist who’s shy, sexy and camp.

But I was simply mesmerised by Maxwell Martin as the physicist. Funny and familiar, serious and emotional, her ability to shift from laughter to tears and back again is surely unparalleled.

There are times when O’Dowd, as her beekeeper beau, seems trapped in her headlights. But he carries his character’s conflicting feelings lightly, and has the loveable awkwardness of a man trying to pretend he’s not on stage.

P.M.

EDINBURGH FESTIVAL FRINGE 

Aye, Elvis (Traverse at MultiStory)

Verdict: Will leave you all shook up

Rating:

In Morna Young’s captivating Aye, Elvis, Joyce Falconer is Joanie, a woman trapped in a dull life in Aberdeen, a carer for her housebound mother (Carol Ann Crawford), who is comically generous with the F-word.

But then Joanie discovers the world of Elvis Presley impersonators and her life is transformed.

Joanie makes her way from karaoke nights to a national contest, aided by her friend, local DJ Fat Bob (David McGowan), and we discover why her mother is so set against her new hobby.

The characters feel touchingly real, Miss Falconer is excellent, and the broad Doric adds to the enjoyment: ‘Are ye lonesome tha’ nacht — d’ye ken?’ Huge fun.

(Until August 29.)

Move (Traverse at Silverknowes Beach)

Verdict: Moving stories

Rating:

Julia Taudevin’s Move, which she also directs, is a choral drama for five women (the playwright, Helen Katamba, Nerea Bello, Mairi Morrison and Beldina Odenyo), performed at Silverknowes beach to the north of Edinburgh. What connects their interwoven stories is the music they carry with them in their involuntary migrations, whether from the ancient Gaelic isles or modern-day Colombia, and their mourning for the loved ones they have lost to the sea.

The audience listen through headphones as the women describe love and loss. The tone shifts, sometimes uneasily, between serious and light, but this is a thought-provoking piece to which the setting on a huge expanse of rocks and sand adds an unsettling ethereal quality.

(Now streaming online.)

Sweet F.A. (Tynecastle Park)

Verdict: Too much of a good thing 

Rating:

Sweet F.A., Paul Beeson and Tim Barrow’s play with music by Matthew Brown and an ensemble cast of nine, is about how women’s football came to be banned in 1921. It’s performed on a small stage in front of one of the stands at Tynecastle Park, home to Hearts FC.

It’s sprawling (ie, too long), taking in women’s suffrage and how they kept the factories going during the Great War, as well as football history, and cuts between strong drama, broad satire about the blazers who still run the game and soap-operish elements of forbidden love.

But it has a good heart and marvellous performances.

(Until 30 August)

VERONICA LEE

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