Tag Archives: Matthew White

Finger-Clickin’ Good

THE ADDAMS FAMILY

Birmingham Hippodrome, Tuesday 6th June, 2017

 

Charles Addams’s characters first appeared in single-panel cartoons in the New Yorker – delicious gems offering snapshots of a dark psyche at work.  When the 1960s TV series appeared, it gave Addams’s family voices and movement, stories that flipped the conventional like a negative photograph.  The show also rendered the characters likeable and appealed to queer sensibilities at a time when there was no other mainstream representation.  We wallow in the Addamses’ morbidity – it is the ‘normal’ that is held up to be ‘other’.

This new musical (music and lyrics by Andrew Lippa, book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice) gives the characters songs, many of them good ones, while providing plenty of laughs in the expected vein.

Cameron Blakely is the excitable head of the household, Gomez Addams, an energetic father figure with a Hispanic flavour.  Last seen drowned in a pool in EastEnders, Samantha Womack kills it as his wife Morticia – her deadpan delivery is impeccably timed.  She is impressively dour and supremely elegant; her song ‘Death is Just Around the Corner’ is a definite highlight.

Wednesday Addams is presented as older here than she usually is, losing her little girl creepiness – this is so that she is interested in boys and thereby giving the show its plot.  Carrie Hope Fletcher is undeniably strong in the role but I would have scored Wednesday’s numbers a little less conventionally to make her sound more like a Lene Lovich or Kate Bush type.   It is the lyrics alone that subvert from the norm.  This Wednesday is a musical theatre student who couldn’t decide for Halloween between Wednesday Addams and Katniss Everdene.

Conversely, Grant McIntyre’s Puggsley, the creepy little brother with a penchant for explosives, actually sounds weird when he’s singing his solo.

Valda Aviks is good fun as the vulgar Grandma, while TV’s Les Dennis is in excellent form as Uncle Fester.  Dickon Gough’s cadaverous butler Lurch almost steals the show with his comic timing.

The ‘normals’ who come to dinner are Dale Rapley as boorish father Mal, Oliver Ormson as Wednesday’s main squeeze, Lucas, and Charlotte Page as mum Alice – the most developed of the three – in a belter of a performance.

Diego Pitarch’s set is beautifully derelict and gothic, while Ben Cracknell’s lighting paints the set in spots and shadows, maintaining an overall darkness with characters in pools of light, just like Addams’s original cartoons.  A baroque chorus of Addams ancestors haunts the stage for added spookiness.

Director Matthew White keeps the thin plot moving along; there is an emphasis on snappy one-liners rather than character development, but everything about this production is exquisite.  We enjoy the time we spend with these people in a show that amuses and delights at every turn.

Addams Matt martin

Creepy and kooky, Cameron Blakely and Samantha Womack (Photo: Matt Martin)

 

 

 

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Absolutely Batty

BAT BOY

Southwark Playhouse, London, Saturday 24th January, 2015

 

Having heard the original cast recording over a decade ago, I have been eagerly anticipating seeing a production of this quirky musical by Keythe Farley, Brian Flemming and Laurence O’Keefe ever since. Today I finally got my chance.

Southwark Playhouse is suitably cavernous for this tale of a creature discovered in a cave. Shaped like a human but behaving like a wild animal, ‘Bat Boy’ is taken in by the local vet’s family, despite the other small-town (read: small-minded) folk wishing him destroyed like an unwanted pet or mad dog. The story has much in common with Edward Scissorhands – Bat Boy learns the ways of the world through home education and also through hard knocks received at the hands of supposedly civilised people. Rob Compton in the title role gives an astounding performance: his movements are animalistic: chiropteran, yes, but he also waddles around like a naked baby bird. Educated and tamed, he is as well-spoken as Niles Crane, and can belt out the musical numbers in an expressive pop-rock voice.

Laurence O’Keefe’s score combines pop and rock with musical theatre – and there are some amusing disco touches. His lyrics are also wittily rhymed – there is not a duff number in the piece.

Stewart Charlesworth’s dual-level set, with a huge screen on its upper level and scenery on trucks, allows the action to move quickly between locations – and there are some hilarious moments involving some inept puppetry to suggest the scale of the underground caverns. Charlesworth’s colourful costume designs can be described as redneck chic, with some delightfully fake-looking wigs by Sam Cox.

Director Luke Fredericks has a comic-book, schlocky approach: the characterisations are larger-than-life to match the tabloid sensationalism of the plot. Video clips are put to effective use – especially when the story of Bat Boy’s origins is at last revealed. It’s a very funny show indeed.

The ensemble cast is top notch. Simon Bailey’s evangelist preacher is a hoot – and so is his Mrs Taylor. Lindsay Scigliano makes for a powerful leader of the town council, while doubling up as teenager Roy. Lauren Ward is excellent as vet’s wife Meredith, who forms a bond with the strange creature, while Georgina Hagen as daughter Shelley is both funny and sweet, growing up as Bat Boy – now called Edgar – becomes more humanised. Matthew White is also strong as the town vet and the piece’s villain, Dr Parker – but everyone is on point; the comic business of the townsfolk doesn’t miss a trick in this detailed and relentlessly amusing show. Nolan Frederick puts in a surprise appearance in drag as ‘Mother Nature’ while Russell Wilcox’s sheriff strives to be the voice of reason as the town ignites with vitriolic and vengeful scapegoating.

At the heart of it is the question of what makes us human, and what makes us less than human, when we allow our baser instincts to take over. Edgar the Bat Boy is differently human and elicits our sympathy. The townsfolk of Hope Falls, West Virginia, are all-too disappointingly human in their revulsion, their rejection and their bloodlust against someone who is ‘other’.

Bat Boy is immense fun, and dramatically satisfying in its sensationalism and silliness; it’s a crazy cartoon of a musical that deserves a wider audience and a longer run.

Bat-Boy-Southwark-Playhouse-73


Top Drawer

TOP HAT

Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, Thursday 23rd October, 2014

Adapted from the old Fred Astaire film by Matthew White and Howard Jacques, this Top Hat is refreshingly upbeat. The material is presented at face value – there are no ‘knowing’ looks, or nods to today’s more cynical age. We are allowed to enjoy it for what it is.  TImes have changed: smoking is no longer socially acceptable or seen as glamorous – but what remains the same is our love of a song-and-dance number expertly performed.

The story is paper-thin. Broadway star Jerry Travers (Alan Burkitt) comes to London to star in a revue. At his hotel he meets beautiful American Dale Tremont (Charlotte Gooch) and sets out to woo and win her over. She mistakes him for her best friend’s husband and complications arise, culminating in farcical misunderstandings in Venice…

It’s lightweight froth but hugely enjoyable. The script is peppered with corny one-liners – as familiar as the Irving Berlin songs – most of them delivered by Clive Hayward as Horace Hardwick. Broader comedy comes from Sebastien Torkia’s portrayal of hotheaded Italian dress designer Alberto Beddini and there is some amusing character work from John Conroy as Hardwick’s sarcastic valet Bates. Rebecca Thornhill is good value as the sardonic Mrs Hardwick

Supported by an excellent troupe, Burkitt and Gooch hoof around in a dazzling display of tap and high kicks. Burkitt is exceptional as the showbiz star who can’t keep still. His vocal stylings suit the 1930s numbers perfectly. One can imagine John Barrowman playing this role (he does, most of the time anyway!). Gooch is more than a match for Burkitt’s abilities. The show is worth the ticket price for the exquisite beauty of Cheek To Cheek alone.

It’s old-school spectacle. Hildegard Bechtler’s elegant set is a monument to Art Deco – there are a lot of scenes and there is humour and charm in the staging: the horse-drawn cab, for example, and the aeroplane arriving in Venice.

But it’s the dance numbers that hold us enthralled. There is something about a stage-full of people tap-dancing in synch that is spellbinding. Bill Deamer’s choreography goes all out to capture the style and brilliance of the classic film. Energy pours off the stage as the impressive cast and chorus delight us with this visit to another world, a better world of song and dance and happy endings. Just like in the Depression, we need quality escapism to take us out of these dark times of austerity. Top Hat is a toe-tapping tonic. It’s uplifting, unadulterated fun.

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