Tag Archives: Karen Mann

The Glory of Gloria

ON YOUR FEET!

Birmingham Hippodrome, Wednesday 4th September, 2019

 

This biographical show tells the story of Gloria Estefan’s rise to fame, from humble beginnings as a Cuban immigrant living in Miami to world-renowned music star.  As far as stories go, it’s pretty straightforward: girl meets musician boy, she fronts his band, they make records, overcome the prejudices of the music industry, hit the big time… It seems quite an easy ride with very little conflict.  There’s some argy-bargy with her mother, who is supposedly envious of her daughter’s career having lost out on her own big chance…

As the show goes on, you come to think, the plot is not the point here.  The point is the performance.  It’s an absolute party of a production right from curtain up.  The energy blasts from the stage and does not let up.  It’s bright and breezy, colourful and cheery, and we are reminded how many hits she (and the Miami Sound Machine, who hardly feature) had.  Dr Beat, 1-2-3, Anything For You…

Heading the cast is Philippa Stefani as Gloria and she is, well, glorious, bringing a Cinderella quality to the role, as Gloria (quickly) overcomes her initial shyness, learns to stand up for herself, and conquer the world.  Stefani is paired with George Ioannides as husband-mentor-business manager Emilio Estefan, a passionate advocate of Gloria’s music, a charming, handsome presence, with some ‘amusing’ linguistic blunders.

Also strong is Madalena Alberto as Gloria’s strident, stubborn mother, and there is fine comic character acting from Karen Mann as Gloria’s abuela, Consuela.  (There is a bilingual aspect to the dialogue, with Spanish phrases translated into English, a bit like Dora The Explorer.)   Robert Oliver also makes an impact as record executive Phil, who overcomes his reluctance when the money starts rolling in.

The bus crash that almost ended it all for Gloria leads to the emotional heart of the piece, not so much her brave fight back to full mobility, but the reappearance of her estranged mother at the hospital.  A flashback scene to Cuba, before the family fled to the US, attempts to add a bit of depth and historical context, but doesn’t really go anywhere.

On the whole, this is light-hearted, easy-going, undemanding fare.  The book, by Alexander Dinelaris, contains some amusing exchanges, and keeps the action zipping along from hit to hit.  Inevitably, the show is at its best during the musical numbers.  The Latin arrangements are infectious, the singing and dancing are top notch – although I find some of the male vocalists a bit shouty.  This is proper feelgood stuff, a surge of sunshine in these benighted times.  The Rhythm is Going To Get You is not an empty threat.  You will get off your arse and on your feet.

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Philippa Stefani and George Ioannides as the Estefans (Photo: Birmingham Hippodrome)

 

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Nunny Girl

SISTER ACT

Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, Monday 27th February, 2017

 

This touring production originates from Leicester’s Curve theatre, a place with a growing reputation for the excellence of its musicals – and this one goes all out to uphold that reputation.  The story will be familiar to fans of the Whoopi Goldberg film comedy, but the score does not use the same old songs.  Alan Menken’s vibrant original score pastiches the music of the era (the action is transposed from the 1990s to the 1970s) and gives the show its own musical identity.

Leading the cast as sassy club-singer-turned-fugitive Dolores, is TV talent show alumnus Alexandra Burke.  Her singing voice is heavenly but she also proves herself an accomplished comic performer, physically as well as vocally.  Lighting up the stage whenever she appears (and she is rarely off) Burke is a revelation (but not the bad kind from the Bible!) and an utter joy to behold.

She is supported by a fine ensemble of actor-musicians who carry their instruments around like fashion accessories.  Among the nuns’ chorus, Sarah Goggin’s postulant Sister Mary Robert has the most developed character arc, growing from shyness to full-on belt.  There is something inherently comical about nuns, and this show gets a lot out of this without resorting to off-colour gags about cucumbers or soap in the bath.  These nuns are funny, individualised along the lines of the seven dwarfs: there’s the old one, the happy one and so on.

Karen Mann’s Mother Superior is a powerful stage presence and her solo numbers are masterclasses in musical theatre.  Aaron Lee Lambert is afro-sporting villain, Curtis, with a rich, chocolatey voice, contrasting with Joe Vetch’s good guy cop Eddie.  Their songs range from old-school r&b to disco – oddly, perhaps for a show directed by Craig Revel Horwood, the numbers are not saturated with choreography.  Horwood uses the 70s moves sparingly, so the Travolta-moves lift the songs when appropriate, without becoming parodies of themselves.

Matthew Wright’s set keeps the ecclesiastical interior throughout, dressing it with disco stairs or police cell bars as the plot requires, in an economical and effectively emblematic fashion, allowing the action to flow seamlessly from scene to scene.  Behind the scenes, the band fills out the sound of the onstage performers.  Led by MD Greg Arrowsmith, this tight combo does as much to raise the roof and our spirits as those we can see.

An unadulterated pleasure from alpha to omega, this is a joyous night at the theatre, energising and uplifting as only live theatre can be.  Perhaps the best of the trend for adapting films for the musical stage, Sister Act has everything you could pray for in a show.

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Creature of habit: Alexandra Burke

 


Bowing and Scraping

FIDDLER ON THE ROOF

Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, Tuesday 15th October, 2013

 

Craig Revel Horwood directs this new touring production of the classic musical and shows us exactly why it is a classic musical.  His production has a twist – the cast play instruments on stage, a trick that was all the rage a few years back (I remember a particularly fine Mack and Mabel) but here it fits in with the action almost seamlessly: the violins, guitars, flutes and clarinets are the more portable instruments but after a while you don’t notice that one of Tevye’s daughters is lugging a cello around with her.  The cast prove themselves as quadruple threats: they act, sing, dance AND play instruments.  Everyone else in musical theatre better up their game.

The first half –as long as a feature film but doesn’t seem it- establishes Tevye, his family and the community of Russian Jews, and is rich with warmth and humour – most of which stems from the wise-cracking Tevye (Paul Michael Glaser – yes, that’s right: STARSKY himself!).  Well-known songs keep on coming: Tradition, Matchmaker, If I Were A Rich Man – the richness of Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick’s score offsets the poverty of the characters.  Sunrise, Sunset is absolutely beautiful.  Gradually, cracks appear in Tevye’s world and his adherence to tradition is challenged, stretched and contorted, as each of his eldest daughters pairs off with young men not of his choosing.  Also, pressure from the outside world increases and while the disruption of a wedding at the end of the first act is little more than the overturning of a couple of stools and tables by a mob of two, the threat is established.

The second act is more about the deconstruction of Tevye’s way of life, at home and at large, as his daughters fly the nest and the community disbands.  Still, the sense of humour prevails with some of the funniest lines coming at moments of suffering.

As Tevye, Paul Michael Glaser is magnificent, wholly inhabiting the role and making it his own.  Karen Mann as wife Golde is very strong and touching in a character part and I particularly liked Claire Petzal as daughter Chava, Liz Kitchen as the matchmaker and Jon Trenchard as Motel.  I could go on and list the entire company but really you should go out and catch the show yourself.

As you’d expect from Revel Horwood, the choreography is something to behold, using peasant dances and Cossack moves.  There is a dream sequence that is a lot of fun, a moment of high camp in the otherwise dreary setting – Diego Pitarch’s set centres around the homestead which rotates and opens out like a ramshackle doll’s house.   The costumes remind us of the period, although the theme of people being dispossessed of their homelands and forced to become refugees remains all too current.  Perchik’s revolutionary teachings also have relevance in Broken Britain: “In this world it is the rich who are the criminals”, and even Tevye observes “our old ways were once new” – a message for conservatives everywhere who are resistant to change.

There are the odd moments when everyone dons a false beard to join in with the dancing and Paul Kissaun’s otherwise excellent Lazar looks a bit too much like Hagrid, but on the whole this is a fine-looking, great-sounding production of a show that remains as funny, touching, enjoyable and moving as it ever was, plucking at your heartstrings.

The fiddler on the roof is a metaphor for all of us: life is precarious but we try to scratch out our own tune.

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