Tag Archives: Landi Oshinowo

The Circus of Life

BARNUM

Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, Thursday 29th January, 2015

Coleman and Stewart’s 1980 musical is back on the road, given the kind of treatment you might expect of a Kander & Ebb.   Stylised staging suggests the circus ring – the arena in which events in the life of showman Phineas T Barnum will take place. A chorus of supple and talented performers display impressive circus skills – they sing well and dance well; it’s good to see a company of this size touring the provinces. Their energy is infectious.

But I’m afraid the show doesn’t pack the punch it thinks it does. With very few characters, it boils down to a portrait of Barnum’s marriage, including an affair with Swedish nightingale, Jenny Lind. For me, the style of presentation keeps me at too much of a distance to care much at all.

There is nothing I can say against the performers. British showman Brian Conley is a perfect fit as the eponymous American showman. His own personality comes through – especially when interacting with the audience. “It’s a puppet,” some wag shouts as soon as Conley appears. “Not tonight,” he drawls. He is completely in control – and if force of personality were not enough, he has acquired a range of skills hitherto unseen: he conjures flowers, he eats fire and so on. He walks a tightrope, literally and metaphorically, between his wife and his mistress.

As the long-suffering but eminently supportive Mrs B, Linzi Hateley is a sweet and calming influence. I would like more solo numbers for her. She contrasts nicely with the ethereal, almost glacial Jenny Lind (Kimberley Blake, who sings like a – well, a nightingale, while being hoist aloft on a perch).

Mikey Jay-Heath is an effervescent Tom Thumb with a firecracker of a musical number, lighting up the stage with razzle dazzle; clever staging plays around with scale most effectively. Similarly, Landi Oshinowo makes her mark as the world’s oldest woman Joice Heth, before appearing as a blues singer, giving the action emotion that perhaps isn’t already present.

It’s a likeable production of a so-so musical. It’s the pizazz and razzamatazz that you enjoy. Like Barnum’s attractions themselves, when you see it for what it is, it’s a humbug. It’s like opening the most fancily wrapped present to find the wrapping is more attractive than the gift.

BARNUM-press-image-February-2014

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Lame

FAME

Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, Tuesday 4th March, 2014 

Fame‘s first incarnation was Alan Parker’s hard-hitting film of 1980, in which an assortment of aspiring performing arts students get their bubbles burst, their illusions shattered and their hearts broken in a variety of ways.  The film (which is still an excellent watch) was adapted into a more family-friendly television series that did pretty well.

This current production is an updated version of the stage show from a few years back, and so the characters have mobile phones and the music has an edgier, urban sound.  Ish.

But don’t expect the characters from the film or TV show.  Here we get alternative versions.  Leroy is now Tyrone, Coco is now Carmen, and beloved Mr Shorofsky is now Mr Scheinkopf.  Don’t ask me why.  The only recognisable elements are the theme song with its iconic guitar riff and the setting, the New York High School for the Performing Arts – a kind of Hogwarts for egotists and extroverts.

The trouble is, because this is a musical, everyone sings and dances all the time.  They express themselves through song and dance and they’re all bloody good at it.  The question arises: why do they need to attend a performing arts school for four years?  What can the course possibly teach them that they’re not already doing in their daily lives?  It’s a clash of form and content that could be solved by staging the story as a straight play with musical numbers, then we could see the students progress, succeed or fail.  As it is, they all look like they’ve aced the course already.

The quality of the production values is very high.  this talented ensemble exudes energy that infects and invigorates the audience.  It is a pity that the material doesn’t match their abilities.  There are so many characters there isn’t really time to develop each subplot satisfactorily.  Serena (Sarah Harlington) sings sweetly about her unrequited love for Nick (Alex Jordan-Mills) then hears a rumour he is gay.  She confronts him about it.  “I’m not gay,” he tells her.  Oh, ok then.  Problem solved.  Promising dancer Tyrone (a superb Alex Thomas) hides his illiteracy behind belligerence and swagger.  Cue an unconvincing sing-off about educational policy by the English and Dance teachers.  As Miss Sherman, Landi Oshinowo belts like a Motormouth Maybelle, but I couldn’t stomach her solo, impressively sung though it was, about thanking god for blessing her with the teaching profession.  Tyrone is eventually kicked out.  Problem solved.  Well, not really.

Joseph Giacone grabs our attention as class clown Joey (not Johnny) Vegas.  it’s disappointing that he is sort of sidelined later on.  His resolution is a throwaway line saying he’s appearing at a comedy club.  Jodie Steele is riveting as fame-hungry drama queen Carmen. who drops out to try her luck in Los Angeles, only to return broken and bedraggled and to walk in front of a car.  Not the best ending to a story that was building nicely about drug abuse.

Molly Stewart stops the show as food enthusiast Mabel with a country/gospel number about being unable to stick to a diet.  it’s a fun, feel-good moment, at the end of which she shrugs and decides to switch her major to Drama.  Problem solved.

The final scene – graduation! – has them all filing on in robes to sing the song Carmen supposedly wrote.  It’s mawkish, sentimental tripe about facing the future with optimism.  “Bring on tomorrow!”  Instead of being emotionally affecting or uplifting, it’s enough to make you sick.  Bring on the buckets, more like.

It’s not enough to update the script to name-drop Rihanna and even Freddie Prinze Jr (yes, him).  A couple of sub-plots need to be cut in order to allow the others to breathe.  And the show shouldn’t fudge any of the issues it dances around, in order to maximise emotional impact.  I think this dazzling cast of young performers deserve a better story to tell.

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