Tag Archives: Francis O’Connor

Half-Decent Proposal

THE WEDDING SINGER

New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham, Tuesday 23rd May, 2017

 

There is a trend among theatre-makers to turn a mediocre film into a stage musical (eg Legally Blonde) and this show sits firmly in that genre.  Adam Sandler was the go-to guy for film comedy decades ago, mixing gross-out gags with sentiment.  Without his forceful personality, the material struggles.  Even with the show’s book written by Sandler collaborator Tim Herlihy (along with lyricist Chad Beguelin) the result is a mismatch of tones that don’t quite gel.

Jon Robyns appears as the cheese-for-hire performer of the title, compering weddings at the helm of his band, Simply Wed (best joke in the piece).   Where Robyns comes into his own is when, jilted at the altar, he becomes embittered and viciously savages the happy couple at his next gig, in a heartfelt and funny outburst, a public indulgence of emotion – which is what weddings are, I suppose!  Robyns also shines in duets with Cassie Compton who plays Julie, a waitress who crops up at the same weddings.  Compton is in great form, blending pop vocals with musical theatre expressiveness.

Julie is engaged to yuppie go-getter Glen (Ray Quinn, enjoying himself as the selfish and soulless financier/fiance) but from the start it’s clear (it would be clear to a blind man on a galloping horse) that she and the wedding singer are meant to be together.  There are stumbling blocks along the way, like the reappearance of runaway bride Linda (an energetic Hannah Jay-Allen) an unlikely leather-clad rock chick-cum-Donna Summer to Robyns’s clean-cut Huey Lewis persona.

Maplins escapee Ruth Madoc appears as Rosie, the wedding singer’s grandmother, for some of the broader comic moments, and there is decent support from Tara Verloop as Holly, Ashley Emerson as Sammy, and Samuel Holmes makes the most of the marginalised role of token gay George, who doesn’t get a subplot of his own.

The tunes, by Matthew Sklar, are serviceable if not memorable, with Chad Beguelin’s lyrics snappier than the dialogue.  Director Nick Winston’s choreography evokes the 1980s, and is performed by a lively chorus.  The show attempts to arouse nostalgia in its look and with its pop culture references; I would have liked to see more mullets and bigger hair though among Francis O’Connor’s costume designs.

A run-of-the-mill love story with no surprises is the underwhelming heart of this bright and colourful production.  There is something of a reminder that materialism is not the way to go – but then you knew that already, I hope – but I don’t get engaged (ha!) with the characters or care about their lives.  This is no reflection on the cast or the production values.  I think the script needs to decide which way it’s going to go: larger-than-life laughs or sweetly sentimental rom-com.  I feel as though it tries to deliver both but ends up delivering neither.  An unhappy marriage of tones.

The-Wedding-Singer-John-Robyns-as-Robbie-with-Company-c-Darren-Bell-1024x619

Wedding tackle: Jon Robyns, trashing a wedding as Robbie Hart (Photo: Darren Bell)

 

 

 

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Better than OK!

OKLAHOMA!

Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, Wednesday 4th March, 2015

 

This revival of the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic musical is just about flawless. From the moment the overture begins, you know you’re in for a good time as we’re reminded of the wealth of good tunes that lies ahead. The curtain rises on Francis O’Connor’s rather monochromatic set, all horizontal planks like a big ol’ barn. In fact, instead of the great outdoors and wide open spaces, the set boxes the characters in. They have a restricted world view, out there in the sticks – as evidenced in the song “Kansas City” where even the most basic advancements in technology and infrastructure are greeted as marvels of the modern age. Colour is brought to the production by O’Connor’s evocative costumes and by some beautiful lighting design by Tim Mitchell.

Populating this set is an energetic and lively chorus just brimming with yee-hah spirit. Drew McOnie’s choreography is in keeping with the period (early 1900s), the place (the wild frontier) and seems fresh and original, all at once.

Belinda Lang is Aunt Eller, a crotchety matriarch (all the other females seem to be nubile young women) with a no-nonsense approach and a dry sense of humour. She embodies the pioneer spirit, hard-working, wise and willing to embrace change and challenge. Lang is magnificent in this less-than-glamorous role.

Charlotte Wakefield’s Laurey is sweet and spunky – her bickering scenes and duets with Curly are highlights – of a show that is almost all highlights! Lucy May Barker as the promiscuous Ado Annie delivers a flawless rendition of “I Cain’t Say No!” – her characterisation is both naïve and calculating. James O’Connell is her beau Will Parker, an appealing hunk and an excellent dancer. Their troubled romance is a counterpoint to the main plot, the relationship between Laurey, Curly and brooding farmhand Jud Fry.

As Fry, Nic Greenshields is all menace, using his stature and build to terrify us, keeping his outbursts of temper to a minimum. He also has a resounding baritone voice – a worthy villain! Scenes in Jud’s smoke house of porn are exceptionally creepy.

Big name casting for this tour is veteran star Gary Wilmot who is ideally cast as itinerant pedlar Ali Hakim. Wilmot has Hakim’s sardonic humour down pat and, of course, can deliver a show tune apparently effortlessly. Value for money, indeed.

But for me, the show is all about Curly. Here, Ashley Day is perfect. Tall, handsome, with a voice to make you swoon, he balances Curly’s cocky humour and his all-out decency. You can’t help falling for him.  In fact, I’d better change the subject or people will say I’m in love.

Director Rachel Kavanaugh delivers comedy and drama, allowing the tones of Rodgers’s score to inform the show’s moods and Hammerstein’s delightful lyrics to come to the fore. There is genuine tension in the climactic knife fight (directed by Christopher D Hunt) – even if you know the outcome already.

This top-quality show has it all, and you can’t help leaving the theatre with a grin on your face and warmth in your heart. This touring production reminds us why the show is a classic – staged and performed by exuberant, irresistible talent.

Short and Curly - Ashley Day and Charlotte Wakefield (Photo: Pamela Raith)

Short and Curly – Ashley Day and Charlotte Wakefield (Photo: Pamela Raith)