Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Smooth operator: How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying @wiltonsmusichall


It feels a little like a high school musical with its clunky sets and actors cast in roles too old for them. But I still found How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying at Wiltons Music Hall a lot of fun. Part of its fun is the memorable performance by Marc Pickering as the ambitious young executive.

Here you get the impression he is relying less on boyish charm and more on being sly and cunning to get ahead. Given the space of Wiltons he can look you in the eye and let you know he is out to get what he wants.  He also gives the classic songs in the show a fresh interpretation that feels as if they should be on an album.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Its all about Audra: Audra McDonald @lsqtheatre


It is fair to say that Audra McDonald with her multiple Tony awards and unique voice and personality is a living Broadway legend. You shouldn't miss any opportunity to see her on stage and she is in town for few days performing at the Leicester Square Theatre.

She'll be back in London in the summer is reprising the Billie Holliday role in Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill. As her West End debut this is shaping up to be a a much anticipated event. It was due to happen last year but had a postponement as she and husband Will Swenson were expecting a baby. Now these Leicester Square Theatre concerts will add to the buzz.

Now the baby is backstage it's time to get down to some fine music making. What is exciting about her is not only her musicianship and personality but her ability to champion new music. This has always come through in her recordings (of which I seem to have collected all of them - which probably makes me a bit of a fan).

The format of these shows is her long-time friend and accompanist Seth Rudetsky serves as the host and accompanist. They sing and then chat. It's simple yet effective.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Long time coming: Chinglish @parktheatre


It's the little things that make all the difference in Chinglish, a slick and funny play currently at the Park Theatre. In David Henry Hwang's comedy, which opened on Broadway in 2011, Chinese-American relations, corruption and commerce are in focus.

But a funny thing happened in the five or so years since the play opened. America as led by its new leader is a country on its knees awaiting to be made great again. It may be firing missiles but they're hitting the least strategic targets possible.

And while America is impotent, China is the country the world is turning to for answers on the environment, the economy and manufacturing. So much so that some are wondering if the policy of the new administration is to make China great again.

Chinese President Xi Jinping is repositioning the country against the slouch on the couch. It could be the man, but it could be the country. And higher import duties and a corruption crackdown has ended Chinese tourists returning from Europe loaded with luxury goods.

It makes a few poorly translated signs about "the slippery are very crafty" seem like insignificant details in a broader cultural war. It all matters as what hangs on this comedy is the assumed preference for Western goods and know-how. Maybe this is the price to pay for being so topical six years ago. So as a historical piece it is a fascinating and funny account of a bygone era.

Stompin' at the Palace: This Joint Is Jumpin' @theotherpalace


In the basement space of The Other Palace there's a whole lot of jumpin', stompin' and jazzin' going on. It is not so much a theatrical piece but homage to the great jazz legend Fats Waller.

The artists pay tribute to the life and music of Fats Waller through song, dance and a small and largely insignificant plot device. But it's the music making that will leave you with the lasting impression.

There's music director and co-creator Michael Mwenso’s cool jazz vocals which combined with his band The Shakes are a sensation.  Mathis Picard’s on the piano, Ruben Fox on tenor sax and Mark Kavuma on trumpet each have some terrific moments.

But the highlight is the London debut of Broadway legend Lillias White. She is the cats pyjamas with her charm and ability to give meaning from the seemingly most insignificant lyric.

Sunday, April 09, 2017

The Corsican Job: Sublime @Tristanbates

With Sublime, the premise of a new heist drama and a promise of it being a provocative play is hard to resist. Its short run at the Tristan Bates Theatre has ended but there were some things to admire about the piece by by Sarah Thomas.

The story is that the heistess, Sophie, is back in town. And she's got one week to pull off three jobs to pay back the Corsicans. It's assumed knowledge that you don't want to fuck with the Corsicans. But if you have been to Corsica you probably will understand that immediately.

She enlists her brother Sam to help her. But Sam is trying to lead a straight and boring life with his mousy new girlfriend Clara (Suzy Gill). But there is so much sexual chemistry between the two you begin to wonder what sort of siblings they are.

Monday, April 03, 2017

It's not the work, but the stairs: The Life @swkplay


Whores with hearts of gold are back on stage with this slick and star-powered production of The Life at Southwark Playhouse.

It's a musical about the sleazy underworld of prostitution and pimps of the 1970s / 1980s New York set to songs from the 1930s. Well, it felt like they did, and it was hard to tell which one was out of place.

But even if the piece isn't a documentary of sex workers in the city, it presents a joyful set of tarts and pimps as an opportunity to celebrate being alive. Or at least being alive enough to take seven men in a single night.

Combined with a great cast and one of the best looking and best sounding productions in the Southwark Playhouse make it a worthwhile trip.

Sunday, April 02, 2017

Bang pop kapow: Big Guns @YardTheatre


 It's bad enough walking about the back streets of Hackney alone on a quiet mid-week evening without having to worry about a man with a gun. But after seeing Big Guns at The Yard Theatre that's all I was thinking about.

The man with a gun features a lot in writer Nina Segal's piece. It's part fear and part celebration of a culture of violence. Actually it is mostly fear. With a backdrop of pop culture references, pornography, terrorism, milkshakes and popcorn.

It's all topical as the banter moves between one violent act and the next. It is a two hander and opens with Two (Debra Baker) and One (Jessy Romeo) sitting in what could be a cinema. Wearing 3D glasses and stuffing their faces with popcorn.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Drain the swamp: The Frogs @JSTheatre


The search for a great playwright to rescue society seems an odd subject for a musical-comedy. But these are no ordinary times we are living in. A frog called Pepe is now a symbol for the alt-right movement. So now may be the time for a show where frogs appear to be a symbol of conformity, distraction and mediocrity.

The Frogs was an ancient Greek comedy from 405 BC by Aristophanes. It became a short musical piece performed in the Yale Swimming Pool in the 1970s by Burt Shevelove. And it is now a somewhat fully fledged musical thanks to Nathan Lane's obsession and fascination with the piece. It is having its UK premiere at the Jermyn Street Theatre.

Kosher cougars: A Dark Night in Dalston @ParkTheatre


No matter what your religious or cultural background, all you need is a warm hearted older woman to perk you up. And chewable painkillers. And tea in a paper cup. These are all important in A Dark Night in Dalston which is currently playing at Park Theatre.

In the piece Council estate resident Gina brings in a young devout Jewish man lying outside her flat for a plaster and hot cup of tea. Some of the lads on the estate roughed him up after he was visiting the local slapper.  It wasn't so much as anti-Semitism as robust local banter.

Anyway while she is tending to his cuts and bruises and offering him tea the sun sets. And so he can't go home as it's the sabbath.  He doesn't want to face his father and he doesn't want to face his fiancee. Gina is an ex-nurse and full-time carer. But what care does young Gideon need? What draws him to Dalston in the first place since he comes from Stanmore? Couldn't he find what he was after in Kilburn?

Monday, March 13, 2017

Mad as duck: The Monkey @theatre503


A debt, a bad nickname and an obsession Reservoir Dogs come into focus in John Stanley's funny and dark play The Monkey at Theatre 503.

Stanley notes that he has distilled the four characters in the piece from the larger than life characters he has encountered. They bring to life the many traits of London's sub-culture of addiction and criminality. It's part of the Homecoming's season of new writing by prisoners and ex-prisoners. The stories are about getting out and going home.

But what is fascinating in this hilarious piece is how he has created a unique character in Terry. Terry (or Tel as his mates call him) has left Bermondsey and trying to leave his old past behind. But an old mate Thick-Al owes him money (or a monkey)  His mates think he has a bit of screw loose but also that he is a soft touch.