Tag Archives: Tim Rice

Fashion Victim

JOSEPH AND THE AMAZING TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT

Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, Wednesday 18th May, 2016

 

Way, way back, many centuries ago, I appeared in my school’s production of this show, as the Narrator, and so, of all musicals, this is probably the one I know the best.  In fact, it started life as a 20-minute piece for an assembly and has been added to and added to over the years.  Initially the additions were to flesh out the story.  Nowadays it seems the further additions are to extend the running time – perhaps to make people feel they’re getting their money’s worth.  There is an old saying, however, that less is more.

And so we get previews of songs before they crop up in the story, and endless reprises.  At the core though, the show remains a daft, funny and ultimately moving piece of theatre that can still work its magic despite all the padding.  The plot is, of course, a Bible story, an Old Testament tale from which God is absent.  It tells of Jacob, a fertile old man.  Eleven of his sons envy the twelfth.  The camel’s back is broken by the last straw: Jacob gives his favourite the eponymous garment.  The brothers decide to do away with this rival for their father’s affections and end up selling him into slavery.  Joseph rises through the ranks of Egyptian society, via a detour into prison, because of his ability to interpret the puzzling dreams of the rich and famous.  The fashion victim is able to turn the tables on his detractors.

Joe McElderry dazzles as Joseph.  He has never sounded better and when it comes to the acid test for all Josephs, Close Every Door, he nails it.  The song, not the door. I get chills; they multiply.  He looks great too – he can certainly fill a loincloth – apart from one scene when he is dressed like a gold Power Ranger doing Phantom of the Opera.  McElderry is matched, if not surpassed, by a terrific Narrator – soprano Lucy Kay, whose voice ranges from the operatic to power rock.  I can’t remember a better Narrator – me included!

Choreographer Henry Metcalfe appears as Jacob and the rich merchant Potiphar.  His choreography matches the genre of each song, adding to the fun and spectacle.  The chorus of brothers largely act as one – this production doesn’t give them each a wife to dance with, and so there is a distinctly masculine feel and sound to their numbers.  It’s difficult to single them out for praise but Benjamin Beechey makes his mark as eldest son Reuben, especially during Country and Western lament, One More Angel In Heaven; Jamie Jukes stands out as Zebulun; and Marcus Ayton’s Issacher delivers a rousing calypso; Lewis Asquith’s Butler is a curious mixture of Egyptian posturing and upper class twit.  The show requires everyone to be versatile and this lot pull it off with aplomb.  Those Canaan Days, an inexplicably French number, is hilariously melodramatic.

The other big role, that of the Pharaoh, is always a highlight.  Emilianos Stamatakis delivers The King, a Las Vegas Elvis in the white jumpsuit of his prime.  It’s an electrifying performance that is diluted by one-too-many encores and a relatively new song, an interpolation that seems nothing more than an excuse to namedrop as many Presley song titles as possible.  It makes me wonder what the youngest members of the audience get from this, with Elvis less than a current event.  There is much to enjoy in Stamatakis’s rendition at face value, I suppose, but it strikes me the primary school attendees will be more familiar with the Ancient Egyptian iconography in the set design than the works and mannerisms of the King.

A choir of local school children appears – they get their moment in the spotlight for a medley that kicks off the second act.  A great opportunity for them to appear alongside professionals in a high quality production.  The show is colourful, irresistibly and energetic, and is enhanced by plenty of silly business – a singing camel’s head, a bottomless boat, inflatable sheep that don’t always rise to the occasion.  Director Bill Kenwright somehow keeps the whole enterprise fresh, despite its familiarity and its playing-for-time padding.

To my mind, it’s Andrew Lloyd Webber’s best piece.  Nowhere else has he used pastiche so effectively and honestly.  The pop tunes, across a range of styles, are matched perfectly by Tim Rice’s witty, very English, lyrics.  All the fun culminates in a simple but moving moment of reconciliation and reunion that gets me every time. The emotional impact sneaks up on you – you’re surprised by how affected you are, and that is why this show works time and time again.

Joe McElderry in Joseph(c)Mark Yeoman (2)

 Joe McElderry displaying his X factor  (Photo: Mark Yeoman)

 

 

 

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Don’t Cry For Eva

EVITA

Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, Tuesday 20th August, 2013

There are only three Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals I enjoy: the Joseph one, the Jesus one, and this one.  All three concern an individual who achieves greatness in one way or another, although only the first one ends happily.

Evita is the most ambivalent of the three.  Were it not for the cynical and sarcastic narration of Che, it would be easy to regard the central character as a kind of Lady Diana figure – I believe there are some people who see it as a Cinderella, rags-to-riches tale, but they are missing the point.

It begins in an Argentine cinema.  The screening is interrupted by the announcement of the death of the First Lady.  It’s a “Where were you when Kennedy died?” kind of moment.  (Or “What were you wearing when Versace was shot?”) Cut to the full pomp of a state funeral, complete with Latin incantations.  The blaring discord of Eva’s requiem mass gives us a hint: something is up!  Che steps forward for Oh, What A Circus! framing our perception of Eva from that point on. Marti Pellow looks good if a little gaunt in khaki.  He hits the notes and goes through the motions, but sings without conviction.  He doesn’t believe a word he is singing.  I found him a little too wet, wet, wet for Che’s dry, dry, dry humour.

We meet Eva Duarte in a parochial bar.  A fling with a travelling singer (an appropriately cheesy Nic Gibney) is her ticket to Buenos Aires.  She is a transparent Machiavel, beavering her way to the top. But what is also clear is that Madalena Alberto is a major talent.  Her performance is the engine of this production.  You want to applaud and cheer everything she does but don’t want it to seem like you are condoning Eva’s actions.  She meets Juan Peron and seduces him with I’d Be Surprising Good For You – the show really does have some of Lloyd Webber’s best tunes (even if Magaldi’s Night of a Thousand Stars is a direct rip-off of Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom Wine…) As Peron, Mark Heenehan is very strong, keeping on the right side of operatic, bombastic in public and tender in private.  His election promises are attractive (Nationalisation of industries under foreign control, tackling poverty and social injustice) and you think, yes, please, we could do with some of that here.  Of course, it’s all empty talk.  Once in power, the Perons turn out to be like politicians everywhere.  Eva claims her jewels and finery are for everyone – the claims ring as hollow as Cameron’s “all in this together” bullshittery.

The staging is kept simple but is evocative of place and period.  Archways suggest power and permanence, but staircases also feature a great deal, suggesting the climb of Eva’s status.  The choreography supports the design aesthetic: the aristocracy and the military both have elements of the tango in their movements, although clipped and controlled.  There is a sort of musical chairs number in which the military are picked off one by one and led away with sacks over their heads that is especially chilling, reminding me of how much the piece has in common with Cabaret in its depiction of the rise of fascism.  It is Lloyd Webber’s most Brechtian show – but what are we meant to consider? This changes every time I see the show.  This one comes post-Thatcher’s funeral, and Eva’s number Rainbow High reminds me of the shaping and styling our first woman prime minister went through to create her media image.

Eva appears on balcony for Don’t Cry For Me Argentina, the show’s most iconic number, sparkling in a gown like a Disney princess.   In context, you realise it’s all spin and manipulation and I think this is the contemporary message of the show.  Don’t be seduced.  Don’t fall for the spin.  These people are corrupt and do not have your interests at heart.

Her come-uppance is not from political means.  Instead she is toppled from power by that great democrat, Death.  She grows visibly frailer – again a testament to the talent of Alberto – and we are reminded that beneath all the manipulations and machinations, she is a human being after all.  But, as with Thatcher, frailty at the end of life does not excuse the actions perpetrated in good health.  Since the film version, the show includes added song You Must Love Me – it’s a lovely tune but I think gilds the lily somewhat.  We only really need Eva’s Lament for the emotional twist of the knife at the end, in which she cries out to her unborn children to understand what she has done.

A high-quality production, with an excellent company, Evita is always worth seeing, and always provokes different thoughts.  It was gratifying to hear, when we were filing out of the auditorium that people were singing the praises of Madalena Alberto rather than the character she so powerfully portrays.

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