Tag Archives: Birmingham Hippodrome

The Peasants are Revolting

LES MISERABLES

Birmingham Hippodrome, Friday 12th August 2022

Victor Hugo’s sprawling novel of post-revolutionary France (honestly, you could derail a train with that thing) has become more widely known due to this musical adaptation, which receives something of an upgrade after all these years.  The staging is enhanced by video projections, mainly of gloomy watercolours (inspired by the daubs of Hugo himself), but these effects never overshadow the action.   The lighting, by Paule Constable, is absolutely beautiful, giving scenes the richness of the Old Masters.  The visuals match the quality of the music and the singing.  The show feels both familiar and fresh.

Dean Chisnall is powerful as the upright Jean Valjean, a man seeking to rehabilitate himself after a 19-year stretch for stealing a loaf of bread.  Valjean should try his luck in the supermarkets of today, where even the tubs of butter have security tags.   Branded a criminal for the rest of his days, Valjean is the moral heart of the story, and Chisnall’s singing has a purity to it.  His nemesis, the dogged Inspector Javert, is played by an imposing Nic Greenshields, towering over everyone else.  Greenshields brings nuance to the putative villain of the piece, even displaying tenderness over the (Spoiler) corpse of plucky little Gavroche.

At this performance, the role of young lover Marius is played by Caleb Lagayan, who really shines in the heart-breaking Empty Chairs and Empty Tables.  His voice blends marvellously with Paige Blankson’s soprano, and the trio, when the lovers are joined by go-between Eponine (Nathania Ong) is sublime.  Also strong are Rachelle Ann Go as the doomed Fantine, Rick Zwart as the kindly bishop, Samuel Wyn-Morris as the rousing Enjolras, and of course Ian Hughes and Helen Walsh, who rapidly establish themselves as audience favourites, the ghastly Thernadiers.

The chorus scenes are stunning, whether squabbling in a dingy factory, beckoning outside a brothel, or manning the barricades – these latter scenes are almost immersive, thanks to Mick Potter’s sound design; you can almost feel the bullets whizz past your head.

It’s been a while since I’ve seen or listened to the show.  I’d forgotten how repetitive the score can be, with tunes and phrases repeated and repeated.  The big numbers are bangers, of course, but I find the recitatives a little wearing.  (Incidentally, audience member seated directly behind me, it’s not really appropriate to whoop and holler to demonstrate your appreciation for someone’s tender death scene, no matter how well it’s performed.  Glad you’re enjoying it, but not down my earhole, please!)

For me, the star of the show is the translation of the book and lyrics into English by Herbert Kretzmer, giving dignity to the undignified, wit to the wretched, and compassion to the tortured.  It’s thrilling to see the show performed live with all the bells and whistles (no thank you, concert performance) and thank goodness you don’t need a degree in French history to derive an immense amount of pleasure from all this suffering.

The French have always been better at taking to the streets than we Brits.  The show emphasises romance over social injustice, hitting us emotionally rather than politically, so don’t expect to leave the theatre in revolutionary mood.

Stirring stuff, in one respect, but the message seems to be, The poor are always with us, and there’s nothing you can do about it.

☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

One reprise more!

Cher and Cher Alike

THE CHER SHOW

Birmingham Hippodrome, Tuesday 2nd August 2022

Charting the life story of one Cherilyn Sarkisian, this show gives us not one, not two, but three Cher-alikes, depicting the diva at three stages of her career.  There is Millie O’Connell as Babe, taking us from bullied schoolgirl to budding hippie popstar.  There is Danielle Steers as Lady, showing us Cher in the Sonny Bono years.  And there is Debbie Kurup as Star, giving us Cher post-Sonny and beyond.  Each performer is phenomenal but I find when they’re all on stage together, I can’t help but compare them: this one looks most like the real thing… that one sounds most like the real thing… The other one can do the hair toss…  When they’re all chatting in that characteristic and highly mannered way of speaking, it’s a bit weird.  What starts as a narrative device becomes an alienation effect, and I can’t warm to any incarnation.

Rick Elice’s book contains some zingers but on the whole I get the impression that Cher has had a miserable life.  The script focusses on the low points, the relationship break-ups, the unemployment, while successes (winning an Oscar) are glossed over.  Some songs fit their moments better than others, but we get all the hits – and more.

With Arlene Phillips directing and Oti Mabuse choreographing, as you might expect, the staging of the musical numbers is top drawer, energetically executed by an excellent ensemble.  Production values are high, although the set, which mainly consists of row upon row of costumes in bags suspended on rails, gives the impression that the main events of Cher’s life took place in a dry cleaner’s.

As well as the three Chers, we get Lucas Rush bringing moments of tension as Sonny Bono, Jake Mitchell camping it up as Bob Mackie, and the versatile Sam Ferriday playing a range of parts including 70s rock yeti Greg Allman.  There is strong support from Tori Scott as Cher’s mum, although she does repeat the key line, “The song makes you strong” a little too often.  One moment is splendidly touching: the recently deceased Sonny duetting with Cher one last time, before she realises she’s no longer got you, babe.

Danny Belton conducts a splendid band.  The story might come across as a bit of a downer but the music is relentlessly uplifting, culminating in the inevitable megamix that gets everyone on their feet and enjoying the party atmosphere.  And there is much to enjoy, in the performances, in the music, but I feel unengaged and distanced from the material, and I love Cher as much as any gay man.

☆ ☆ ☆

Three Chers! Hip hip hooray! Danielle Steers, flanked by Millie O’Connell and Debbie Kurup (Photo: Pamela Raith)

Right as Rain

SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN

Birmingham Hippodrome, Tuesday 7th June 2022

I maintain that the 1952 Gene Kelly-Debbie Reynolds film is a pinnacle of cinematic endeavour, so any stage production seeking to emulate this piece of perfection has an impossible task ahead.  This large-scale touring production  originating from Chichester Festival Theatre comes pretty close!

A spoof of the advent of ‘talking pictures’, this story of Hollywood glamour is funny, romantic and spectacular.  This show doesn’t stint on the large production numbers.  Andrew Wright’s exuberant choreography delivers period, verve and character.

Sam Lips makes quite a splash as leading man Don Lockwood, cocksure and on the right side of cheesy.  A lovely crooner, Lips can also hoof it – the iconic title song which closes the somewhat lengthy first act is everything you want it to be.  As Don’s love interest, the sunny, funny Kathy Selden, Charlotte Gooch is practically perfect, while Jenny Gayner is hugely entertaining as villainous diva Lina Lamont – you can’t bring yourself to hate her.

Stealing the show, though, is the indefatigable Ross McLaren as Don’s sidekick Cosmo Brown.  McLaren lights up the stage, combining terpsichorean talent with comedic flair.  His Make Em Laugh brings the house down, and his double act with Lips delivers some of the funniest moments of the show.  You can’t take your eyes off him.

Director Jonathan Church doesn’t miss a detail.  The filmed excerpts are a delight, and there’s a light touch to the comedy across the board.  The musical numbers are wonderful.  Some standouts include All I Do Is Dream Of You, Good Morning, and the extended, luxuriant Broadway Melody sequence, where the production values go through the roof. Simon Higlett’s costumes bring a rainbow after the downpour.

The infectious score is played by a tight-knit orchestra with Grant Walsh at the helm, the music so evocative of that bygone age.

An absolute joy, a celebration of showbiz, and  pure, unadulterated fun, the show’s message is to enjoy yourself whatever life chucks at you.  Sing in that rain!

☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

Storming it: Sam Lips, Charlotte Gooch, and Ross McLaren (Photo: Johan Persson)

Bad at Spelling

MAGIC GOES WRONG

Birmingham Hippodrome, Tuesday 25th May 2022

The team behind The Play That Goes Wrong, Peter Pan Goes Wrong and all the rest of them, join forces with master-magicians Penn & Teller to bring us this cavalcade of calamity.  The title says it all.  A hapless bunch of performers strive to raise funds for charity with a series of acts that each go awry in their own special way.

Our host is the increasingly desperate Sophisticato (Sam Hill) trying to preserve his late father’s memory.  Sam Hill’s eyes get wider as the situation around him unravels.  His act with doves is hilarious, and I’m assured no birds were harmed during making of this spectacle, although perhaps several humans were.

Rory Fairbairn as the Mind Mangler is hopeless, making wild stabs in the dark to guess our names and occupations.  The joy of it comes from seeing through his cod mysticism, of being smarter than he is.

Kiefer Moriarty is delightful as The Blade, a daredevil act, ripping off shirt after shirt, and attempting dangerous feats involving spikes, a water tank, mousetraps… and never giving up no matter how much pain he inflicts on himself.  It takes a lot of skill to do things ‘wrong’ – Think Les Dawson at the piano – and the timing across the board is flawless.  It has to be.

Jocelyn Prah and Chloe Tannenbaum are a hoot as Teutonic glamour girls Bar and Spitzmaus, serving as assistants to the others and also as an act in their own right, involving gymnastics, contortionism, and a ‘live’ bear…

Valerie Cutko brings elegance and charm as the ill-fated donor Eugenia.  Much use is made of a live video feed, and there’s the running joke of the woeful total of funds raised.  The ‘In Memoriam’ section brings tears to my eyes for all the wrong reasons.

Organised chaos is the order of the day, with surprises and slapstick galore.  Every now and then, the magic goes right, and this is just as surprising as the mishaps.

Relentlessly funny entertainment from a hugely talented team.

☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

Disillusioned: Sam Hill as Sophisticato (Photo: Pamela Raith)

Jacob’s Cracker

JOSEPH AND THE AMAZING TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT

Birmingham Hippodrome, Wednesday 6th April 2022

Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s first (and best) musical is on the road again in this refurbished production by director Laurence Connor.  There are a few interesting changes, most of which work brilliantly.  Firstly, the use of children.  Liberated from the usual choir corral, the kids come and go, singing and dancing along with the other performers.  Connor also uses kids in character roles: the younger brothers, for example, complete with comedy beards.  This serves as a reminder that the piece was originally conceived as a school play.

Another big change is the expansion of the role of the Narrator.  The mighty Alexandra Burke leads us through the story, with charm, good humour, and above all, that marvellous voice.   Connor also has her don a comedy beard to portray the patriarch Jacob.  Burke does a good job but I miss the old man.  At the show’s climactic point, the father-and-son reunion is therefore diluted, robbing the show of its emotional kicker.  Oh, well.  Burke also takes on the role of seductress Mrs Potiphar – surely there are guidelines about making a pregnant actor work so hard! – She is clearly having a lot of fun in this show, and she handles the crowd like a boss.

As Joseph, rising star Jac Yarrow is instantly appealing, with his boy-next-door good looks, powerful vocals, and broad shoulders.  His Close Every Door  stirs the blood.

Beardless, singleton Joseph is coded as different from his hirsute and married brothers, who soon tire of their father’s favouritism, Jacob’s encouragement of Joseph’s flamboyance —  he may as well wrap the kid in a Pride flag – so they plot to get rid.  This gives us the marvellous country-and-western number, One More Angel In Heaven, complete with a culture-clashing Hebrew hoedown.  The joy of this musical, for me, is Lloyd Webber’s shameless use of pastiche, cobbling different styles of popular music together in his richest, most fun score.

It’s a short show still, having been extended over the years from its school hall origins.  To give it a decent runtime, we get reprises and prolonged dance sequences.  I prefer a leaner version, where we don’t hear the same song twice.

Featuring as the Pharaoh is national treasure, former pop-and-soap star Jason Donovan.  Incredibly, it’s been thirty years since he donned a mullet and a loincloth to give us his pop-oriented Joseph (while Yarrow’s is more musical theatre) and it’s a treat to see him as the King, incorporating Elvisisms into his performance.  Donovan is golden, and there is much love for him in the room, a considerable amount of it coming from me.

The highlight of the second act is the brothers’ French song, Those Canaan Days, a wonderfully camp staging complete with a can-can.  All the dance routines bring a smile.  Joann M Hunter’s exuberant choreography and the cast’s tireless efforts give us much to enjoy, even if it’s chiefly to extend the running time.  The show has more padding than a drag queen’s bra, sacrificing dramatic impact in favour of fun.  But, hey, it IS fun, and fun seems to be this production’s watchword, and there’s nothing wrong with fun.

Yarrow is great, Donovan is marvellous, but if I’m being honest as coconuts, the show belongs to the indefatigable Alexandra Burke in a winning performance that demonstrates her comedic skills as much as her rich, tingle-inducing voice.

A bright and colourful, tuneful treat.

☆ ☆ ☆ ☆☆

Musical Theatre gold: Jason Donovan and Jac Yarrow (Photo: Tristram Kenton)


Something to Crow About

Motionhouse: NOBODY

Birmingham Hippodrome, Friday 4th February 2022

This latest piece from dance company Motionhouse seeks to externalise the internal.  Our inner voices, represented here by crows, are what keep us apart from others.  Our inner doubts, fears and concerns prevent us from achieving our potential as individuals and as a society.  The show begins with the performers moving like crows, settling on the rooftops of tall buildings in a cityscape projected on the backdrop and on the set.  Then we meet human characters, each of them caught up with their own crow, holding them back, keeping them distracted, and so on.

Above all, the show is a visual feast, as the performers move around an ever-shifting set.  A huge cube frame, when covered in fabric, becomes a building emerging from the background.  The cast physically move this structure around – putting the motion house in Motionhouse, you might say.  Stripped of its fabric, the cube becomes a room, a cage.  The way the performers move and manipulate the frame while they move in, on, and through it, is spellbinding.

The second act begins with swimmers in a stylised ocean, heads, arms, and torsos rising from the cloth, thrashing and flailing around, until one figure rises up, impossibly tall.  This is a turning point.  From now on, the crows are no longer around.  The humans move together, supporting and helping each other to get over obstacles  in the landscape (the cube frame) and creating a sense of shared purpose, harmony and cooperation.  If we don’t listen to our inner voice, the piece appears to say, then we will really get somewhere as a species.  It’s a back-to-basics approach.  The performers are like a tribe of prehistoric humans, and also a giant, multi-headed organism.  The individuals have become parts of the whole, a mass of limbs and heads and trousers.

Of course, one’s inner voice isn’t necessarily negative.  Quite the contrary.  Perhaps the crows could turn into doves or something.

Brimming with ideas, the show doesn’t give you time to absorb and reflect; it’s constantly shifting and changing, presenting each next idea, expressing the next concept, so you get an overall impression of the experience with some moments and images that stick in your mind’s eye – a man drowning in a water tank, for example.  What impresses, perhaps more than the content of the piece, is the proficiency of the performers.  Their circus skills blend in seamlessly with contemporary dance, extending the range of the performers and what is achievable in their storytelling.

Captivating and breath-taking, Nobody has something for everybody.

⭐⭐⭐⭐

See the source image
A murder of crows!

Return of the Slack

GOLDILOCKS AND THE THREE BEARS

Birmingham Hippodrome, Tuesday 21st December, 2021

After two years, pantomime is back in Birmingham, with the Hippodrome pulling out all the stops as usual to provide the glitteriest, spangliest, sparkliest show imaginable.  The story of Goldilocks is well-known but too slight to fill a full-length show—the events of the tale are covered here in the time it takes to perform the Donna Summer classic, Hot Stuff!  The rest of the time is largely padding, hung loosely around a scrap of plot about rival circuses.  It is a variety show, when all’s said and done, yet the circus theme allows the inclusion of magicians, tightrope walkers, even stunt motorcycles in the ‘Globe of Speed’, performing feats even more death-defying than the audience members who are not wearing masks.

The show is packed with entertainment, but it takes a while to get going with not one, two, or three but FOUR opening numbers in a row.  Two of these should be cut.  The villain gets a song, setting out his stall, and that’s fair enough, but when the dame’s first appearance is a po-faced ballad about dreams and believing, you long for something funny to happen.

King of Birmingham panto, Matt Slack makes a welcome and overdue return, giving us exactly what we’ve come to expect and what he’s so good at.  He’s Ringo the Ringmaster (although it’s left to Goldilocks to introduce most of the acts!) but really he’s the clown.  His audience-handling is second-to-none, and his physical comedy is hilarious.  There is a sequence of impressions that impresses, and you can see why the Hippodrome gets him back year after year after year, because of the fun and the level of skill he brings.  Bring on next Christmas, when he’ll be giving us his Dick (Whittington, that is).

Top of the bill is superstar and heartthrob, Jason Donovan, making his panto debut as the villainous Count Ramsay of Erinsborough.  Donovan is deliciously evil in the role, dressed like the Child-Catcher, and he’s in great voice.  He proves himself a great sport and clearly has a strong rapport with Slack on and off-stage.  I can’t bring myself to boo him.

Also back is Doreen Tipton, appearing this time as a lazy lion tamer.  Doreen’s deadpan delivery is a hoot, and she has fun in spite of herself.  One of the best dames in the business, Andrew Ryan is Betty Barnum, in a range of outfits of increasing extravagance.  Ryan shines brightest in the comedy moments, displaying perfect timing.  It’s the earnest musical numbers that don’t seem to fit.  Even Be A Clown is a bit dour.

In the title role, Samantha Dorrance is a knockout as a sweet and perky Goldilocks.  The Three Bears I find a little disturbing, with their full-body costumes and human faces.  Considering the quality of the rest of the animals in the show (a marvellous gorilla, and an astonishing elephant…) and the sky-high production values of the rest of it, the Three Bears seem a little short-changed, but they’re performed with verve by Ewan Goddard, Georgia Anderson, and Jessica Daugirda, as Daddy, Mummy, and Baby Bear respectively.  There is also a star turn from Alexia McIntosh as Candy Floss, whose rich vocal stylings lift the musical numbers into something special.

The story, such as it is, is broken-up by circus acts.  Pierre Marchand amazes with his diabolo; The Gemini Sisters on their tightrope; and Phil Hitchcock as the Magical Mysterioso — all are gobsmackingly good, although in a piece that touches on cruelty to animals, I’m dismayed to see live birds used as props.

On the whole, the show provides welcome respite from the grimness of life in Britain at the moment.  There is much to marvel at and more to laugh at.  It’s a crowd-pleasing piece of fun brimming with sauciness and silliness.  You don’t need ten good reasons to see it—Jason Donovan is reason enough for me, and yes, it’s great to have Matt Slack back and at the top of his game.

★★★★

Matt Slack and Jason Donovan (Photo; Birmingham Hippodrome)

Slick and Slack

SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS

Birmingham Hippodrome, Monday 23rd December 2019

 

If you like your pantomimes to come with lashings of glitz, glamour and spectacle, you come to the Hippodrome’s annual extravaganza – and you won’t be disappointed.   This production, originally staged at the London Palladium last Christmas, stints on nothing as it aims to impress.  The key ingredient for a pantomime to work is its cast and here too, we are not sold short.

The show opens with the Magnificent Seven, the dwarfs, who provide the customary exposition in rhyming couplets.  They handle the verse well and have a big impact – it’s a shame then that they disappear from proceedings for quite a while.  And I feel they could be featured more, in comedy routines – they don’t appear to be lacking in talent.

Joe McElderry is the Spirit of the Mirror, a kind of good fairy; he reminds us how great an entertainer he is and, wisely, director Michael Harrison makes good use of him for musical numbers.  McElderry is paired with handsome Prince Harry of Harborne, rising star Jac Yarrow – their voices fit well together, Yarrow’s musical theatre tones blending with McElderry’s pop star vocals.  They are a duo to be reckoned with.  Yarrow is suitably dashing in princely garb but, like many of the characters, has to play the straight man to comic turn ‘Muddles’ a kind of Buttons character, played by the Hippodrome’s resident panto star, Matt Slack.

Slack, returning for his 120th year – oh, wait, am I confusing it with the theatre’s birthday celebrations? –  has an appreciative fan base in Birmingham, and he has plenty of opportunity to showcase his skills: his impressions, his physicality, his daftness, all of which have an underlying wit and intelligence.  Slack is great at what he does, (although I can find him a little overbearing at times), and his shtick invariably goes down well.  There is nothing slack about his professionalism.

Slack’s brilliance comes at a price.  Consummate pantomime dame Andrew Ryan is underused.  Rather than a comic turn in her own right, his Nanny Annie is a sidekick for Muddles’s shenanigans.  Similarly, delightfully deadpan Doreen Tipton is restricted to being part of the troupe and is not given her moment to shine with a song or a monologue or recitation.

Faye Brooks exudes sweetness as the titular princess.  She sings sweetly too – there is a plot twist that works brilliantly, giving her character more oomph.

But for me the undisputed star of the show is the mighty Lesley Joseph as the wicked Queen Dragonella.  A seasoned pro, Joseph pitches the role perfectly, so we find her villainy delectable and her diva-esque ravings high camp.  She is not above making a laughing-stock of herself and she looks fabulous.  The best panto villain I’ve seen this year.

Everything about the show says quality.  The dancers, the costumes, the beautiful set… Britain’s Got Talent’s urban dance act, Flawless crop up as the palace guards, bringing slick moves and also a sense of humour.  Of course, Matt Slack gets in on the act – and it’s one of the show’s funniest and most impressive moments.

All in all, this slick production is as entertaining as you could wish.  All the right ingredients are there – it’s just that some of them are overpowered by the flavour of others.

8-Snow White 11

Yass, Queen! Lesley Joseph rules as Queen Dragonella (Photo: Paul Coltas)

 


Serving Fish

UNFORTUNATE – The Untold Story of Ursula the Sea Witch

The Patrick Studio, Birmingham Hippodrome, Tuesday 17th December 2019

 

Fat Rascal are back in town with another hilarious new musical.  Following up their hit show Vulvarine and previous Disney parody, a gender-swapped Beauty and the Beast, they turn their merciless attention to another animated classic, Disney’s The Little Mermaid.  Our protagonist is the film’s antagonist, the sea witch herself.  In a Wicked kind of way, the script by Robyn Grant and Daniel Foxx, gives the villain a back story, and we see the other characters through the prism of her bitterness.  The story then takes us through an extremely funny piss-take of the film.  If you have detailed knowledge of the original work, (as I have) you will appreciate the comic business at play, as moments, some large and some small, are recreated and held up for mockery.

Robyn Grant herself appears as Ursula, looking fabulous in her tentacled frock.  There is more than a hint of Katherine Hepburn to her drawling, high camp performance and the glint never leaves her blue-shadowed eyes.  A liaison with Triton, back when he was a prince, leads to her banishment in the dark waters, but the couple’s mutual attraction never fades.  Triton, now king of the ocean, seeks the sea witch’s help with his wayward daughter, the incredibly thick, Essex-toned Ariel (a brilliant characterisation by Katie Wells).  Ariel falls for upper-class twit of a human, Prince Eric, a dimwit with a silver spoon in his mouth and a flute in his pocket.  Jamie Mawson is terrific as the Prince – the playing is as broad as the humour, but the show is not without its sophistications.

Allie Munro chunters and nags as the crab Sebastian – presented here as Oirish rather than Caribbean, delivering one of the highlights of the score, ‘Under The Waves’.  Later, Sebastian sings about the importance of gaining consent before you kiss the girl – an important message served up in a fun way.  Fat Rascal never lecture but there are lessons for us in all their works.  Steffan Rizzi is in great voice as Triton and everyone is involved in operating some puppet fish and other creatures for additional silliness.  At times it seems like there is more than just five actors in the company.

The film references come as fast as the jokes.  The lyrics, also by Grant and Foxx, are witty and, like the dialogue, are peppered with perfectly placed profanities.  The tunes, by Tim Gilvin, stay just the right side of plagiarism, sending up the Disney hits as well as including some fine showtunes.

It’s light-hearted, filthy fun that will change the way you look at a dinglehopper for good.  Scramble to get a ticket; to miss this marvellously funny work of genius would be, well, unfortunate.

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Squids in! Robyn Grant as Ursula (Photo: Matt Cawrey)

 

 


The Joker is Wild

RIGOLETTO

Birmingham Hippodrome, Wednesday 6th November, 2019

 

Welsh National Opera is back in town and they’ve brought with them this revival of James Macdonald’s 2002 production.  Set in what looks like Nixon-era America, the production gives us the Duke as a womanising, presidential figure, complete with Oval Office – How prescient!  His courtiers are besuited, secret service types, and his jester, the title character, is a lounge-type entertainer in chequered blazer.  Rigoletto’s humour is cruel, of the roasting variety, and it soon lands him in trouble when the butt of his jokes pronounces his curse upon the comic.  The notion of being curse obsesses Rigoletto for the rest of the story – it’s how he views everything that happens from that point, while everyone else is going around enjoying themselves, playing ‘hilarious’ pranks, falling in love, and did I mention the womanising?

David Junghoon Kim is a magnificent Duke, sharp in his tuxedo with a tenor as clear as a bell.  Verdi gives him the best tunes, the most seductive melodic lines – it’s like the Duke’s superpower, or supervillain power, because we have to keep in mind, this chap is the bad guy here.  When he sings with Rigoletto’s daughter, this is not two people falling in love, although he later admits “her modesty almost drove me to virtue”.  He’s a fine one to talk, in that most famous, most jaunty aria, that women are fickle and not to be trusted.  Pot/kettle, mate.  It is this dim view of the ladies that lets him treat them so badly.

Mark S Doss, limping and shuffling around, is superbly plaintive and melodramatic.  It’s not the most enlightened approach to keep your daughter shut indoors but we sense that it comes from deep love for her and a desire to protect her from this environment that treats women as objects for male enjoyment.  Rigoletto’s impassioned plea and his final heart-wrenching grief are powerfully done.  Quite rightly, he gets the hump!

As the daughter, Haegee Lee is quite simply the best Gilda I’ve ever seen.  Innocent yet inquisitive, she has inherited her dad’s sense of the melodramatic, and there’s a naïve nobility in her self-sacrifice for a cad who doesn’t deserve it.  Lee almost steals the show, whether it’s duetting with Doss or Kim, or singing solo.  A towering performance from such a diminutive figure.

There is strong support as ever from the WNO chorus – including offstage when they give voice to the wind during the stormy climactic scene – and from Woytek Gierlach’s burly assassin Sparafucile, a powerful bass that seems to come from his boots, and from Emma Carrington as the assassin’s sister Maddalena, bringing a sleazy touch of humour to proceedings.

Alexander Joel’s baton elicits stirring emotion and a sense of foreboding from the orchestra.  It all comes to a head for a flawless third act of high drama and high emotion.  With a clarity of storytelling, superlative vocal and acting talent, and excellent production values, this is Verdi how he should be presented, a gripping emotional ride that thrills and exhilarates.

Bravo!

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Bear with me: Mark S Doss as Rigoletto (Photo: Richard Hubert Smith)