28th Nov2013

The Commitments – Theatre

by timbaros

images-34First it was a book. Then it was a movie. Now The Commitments is a West End show.

At the illustrious and very central Palace Theatre, (former home to Les Miserables and Priscilla Queen of the Desert), the Commitment’s story is similar to the movie, but of course is confined to the stage. It is a very basic story at that: one man attempts to form a band, several characters audition, members are selected, various shows are performed, controversy erupts in the group when one member leaves, they form back together, and give one rousing performance at the end of the show. And that is pretty much it.

Working from a barely there book by Roddy Doyle, whose name is above the title, Jimmy (Denis Grindel, making his West End debut) is the impressario who gets the idea to form an all Irish band in 1980’s Dublin, a band to primarily sing soul music. He is lucky to find Deco (Killian Donnelly, who is an amazing singer), and then the rest of the members fall into place, including motorcycle riding ladies man Joey (a very witty and perfectly cast Ben Fox).

With great sets, including a two-story tenement house, good visuals (supermarket/launderette and Miami Vice Club signs, as well as the requisite strobe lighting effects), a young and energetic cast successfully sings soul music to the audience. Songs such as Papa Was a Rolling Stone, Knock on Wood, and I can’t get no Satisfaction are brought back to life on stage. But it is when Donnelly opens up his mouth and sings, the audience sits up and takes notice – they are mesmerized. He has a voice so unique and soulful that even when he is eating chips on  whilst singing at the same time it still sounds incredible. When Donnelly sings I’m a Midnight Mover, you wish that the show was all about him and him alone. Donnelly, whose previous theatre credits include Billy Elliott, Phantom of the Opera, and playing Combeferre in the Les Miserables film, is the true star of the show. While Grindel does a fine job in his debut, The Commitments belong to Donnelly. While the back up trio of female singers are quite good and pretty and bubbly, no one else, including Donnelly, in the band of 10, we really get to know. The cast is too big. And this is the problem with the Commitments – it has a weak storyline, some jokes that fall flat, and thinly drawn characters. And we have all seen it done before – the cast orders the audience to get on their feet at the end of the show for the last two numbers. A ploy for a sure thing standing ovation? Probably. It’s a gimmick that is all too common in the Jukebox style musicals now playing in the West End (The Bodyguard, Flashdance, even the dreadful Viva Forever). Is the Commitments recommended? Yes, purely to enjoy the soulful voice of Donnelly. His voice is absolutely amazing.

Review originally published by The American and copyright Blue Edge Publishing Ltd.

08th Aug2013

Once – Theatre

by timbaros

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The film Once was made for a paltry $100,000 in 2007 and grossed over $15 million. The stars were nobodies, non—professional actors who also happened to be singer—songwriters. One song from the film, Falling Slowly, went on to win the Academy Award for Best Original Song.

Once has now been reincarnated in the form of a musical and is currently playing at the Phoenix Theatre in London’s West End.

It’s a very simple story of a romance between two songwriters — Guy (played to perfection by Declan Bennett) and Girl (newcomer Zrinka Cvitesic) — the main characters don’t have names — who meet and slowly fall in love, with circumstances that prevent them from taking it any further.

The Girl, who happens to be Czech, meets the Guy, who happens to be a busker, on a street corner singing his own songs. He is also a Hoover repairman, and she needs her Hoover fixed.

This is the match that is lit that starts the spark between them. And while the Guy feels like he has no career in music, especially after his girlfriend moves to New York, the Girl truly believes in his talent and pushes him to record a demo to send to record companies.

The Girl, you can tell, is slowly falling for him. However, she too has a partner, a husband who is back in their home country. She also has a daughter and they both live with her very stern mother.

The Guy starts making moves on her and there is a feeling in the air that makes their interest in each other real, so real that, by end of the show when are singing Falling Slowly, it is a very emotional as well as a very memorable moment.

The songs, written by the stars of the film, Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova, are memorable and heartfelt. While some of the songs are fine, a few of the others will stay with you for a very long time, especially Falling Slowly.

The set, meanwhile, is very simple. It is a bar. There is no change of the actual set and no heavy machinery to move around. Also, the musicians do double duty and act in the show as well, all doing a fine job and missing neither a beat nor their marks.

Bennett and Cvitesic are very good at acting the roles and also very, very good at singing them as well. Bennett in particular has a raw, raspy, sexy voice, while Cvitesic’s voice is soft and sweet.

I enjoyed Once so much that right after the show finished I wanted to see it again the next night. It’s a show that does not need the razzle dazzle that most other West End productions offer: it is perfect the way it is.

Go and see it, at least once.

30th Jul2013

Daytona – Theatre

by timbaros

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DAYTONA
Park Theatre, Clifton Terrace, Finsbury Park, London N4 3JP
To August 18

Maureen Lipman, CBE, British film, theatre and television actress; Harry Shearer, American actor, Spinal Tap member and voice actor for several characters in The Simpsons; and John Bowe, English television and theatre actor most recently seen on stage in Priscilla, Queen of the Desert – together they star in the World Premiere of Oliver Cotton’s play called Daytona in the gorgeous new Park Theatre in Finsbury Park.

Lipman plays Elli, longtime wife to Joe (Shearer). Set in 1986 Brooklyn, they both lead a simple life. Both retired, former accountant Joe still finds time to manage the taxes of one client, while at the same time pursuing his and Elli’s hobby of ballroom dancing. One day there is a knock on the door – Joe’s brother Billy (Bowe), who Joe has not seen in over 30 years. After escaping a concentration camp back in 1945, Joe and Billy found their way to America where they were about to set up a business together before Billy left at the last moment, only now returning. Billy has revelations about his new life (in Daytona, Florida), and more shocking revelations about an old man, a shadow from their shared past that he met just two days ago, and the violence that transpired. This is just the first act. The three actors put in great performances. However, the fourth big star of the show is the Park Theatre.

A stone’s throw away from Finsbury Park tube and train station, and opened in May 2013, the Park Theatre is like an oasis in an area that is still up and coming (or still up but has a long way to come). A multi-leveled glass-fronted building, with several levels including two theatres, an education suite, one bar on the ground floor and another bar upstairs, the Park Theatre also has a gallery. It still looks brand new – you can practically smell the fresh paint. The theatre in which Daytona is playing, called Park 200, is two levels and holds 200 people. The seats on the first level surround the set, making the audience feel part of the production, or at least eavesdropping on a very good and dramatic conversation. The other theatre in the building is Park 90, a smaller theatre that is currently showing Skin Tight, about an ordinary couple with an extraordinary love reliving their darkest secrets, deepest passions and heartbreaking truths.

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Daytona can also be caught at the Theatre Royal, Bath (with the same cast), October 14-19.

Review originally published by The American and copyright Blue Edge Publishing Ltd. – click this link to view

21st Jul2013

Private Lives – Theatre

by timbaros

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The play Private Lives has more lives than a cat. Written by Noel Coward in the 1920s, it had its debut at London’s Phoenix Theatre in 1930 to rave reviews, and starred Coward and Laurence Olivier. The next year it opened on Broadway. 83 years later, Private Lives is still making the rounds, now at The Gielgud Theatre, and again, it is a hit.

The story is a very simple one. Newlyweds Elyot and Sibyl (Toby Stephens and Anna-Louse Plowman) are on a hotel balcony in Deauville talking about their future together, and discussing Elyot’s previous marriage. In the room next door to them are Amanda and Victor (Anna Chancellor and Anthony Calf), also newlyweds enjoying one of their first nights together. Separating both couples on the balcony is a small partition, and wouldn’t you know it: Elyot and Amanda used to be married, and in a very volatile relationship.

After arguing with their respective partners over very minor matters, Amanda spots Elyot on his balcony. Coy, shy and nervous at first, Amanda speaks to Elyot and not too long later, jumps over the partition to be with him. They share a drink, reminisce about their marriage, have a few laughs, and before you know it, they decide in a ‘will they or won’t they’ moment, to run off together to Paris where Amanda has a flat that her new husband knows nothing about.

Once in the flat, they act like honeymooners all over again, loving and laughing, and then arguing and fighting, just as they did when they were previously married. Finally, they have their biggest fight and things could not get any worse, and in walk Amanda and Victor. The fighting between Elyot and Amanda continues, and also ensues between Elyot and Sibyl and Victor and Amanda. Who is going to end up with whom? You have to wait until the end to find out.

Considering that Private Lives has played in the West End several times in the past 13 years (most recently at the Vaudeville Theatre in 2010 with Kim Cattrall and Matthew Macfadyen), this version of the play, a transfer from the Chichester, has opened to rave reviews and will be talked about for years to come.

Chancellor upstages everyone in the cast; she can tell a joke, pout when needed, give out a big laugh when necessary, and dance and flail her arms memorably. Her chemistry with Stephens is very palpable, very real, that it makes it believable that she could fall in love with him all over again. Her eyes flutter, her gowns (and robe) drape over her like she is a star, and a star she is. Stephens is able, somewhat, to keep up with her, firstly as the man whose second wife is seven years younger than him, to believably falling back in love with his ex-wife, smouldering in one moment and then vile the next. Calf and Plowman are second fiddles to the main two actors. They are able enough, but this is Chancellor’s show, and they know it.

The set design, by Anthony Ward, is luscious. The balcony in the first act is gorgeous, but when the play switches to the Paris flat, we see exactly what we expect: a flat decorated in French style, from the checkerboard floor to the paintings on the wall, very detailed and lovely to look at. The script is funny, witty, dramatic; all you could ask for in a Noel Coward play.

Given the fact that everyone who watches this play has a great time, it should be no surprise Private Lives is still going strong, some 70 years after it began.

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Review originally published by The American and copyright Blue Edge Publishing Ltd. – please click on this link to view

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