15th Jul2017

Yank (Theatre)

by timbaros

The company of YANK! at Charing Cross Theatre 2, credit Clair BilyardA gay fictional World War II love story that tells some of it’s story via musical numbers is now playing at the Charing Cross Theatre.

In “Yank,” Stu (Scott Hunter), also given the name ‘light loafers’ by his 89th squadron fellow soldiers, is an 18 year-old wet behind the ears soldier drafted for WW II. His fellow soldiers know that he is gay, hence the nickname, but they must also contend with trying to save their lives as battles loom ahead. It’s not too long before Stu and fellow soldier, the hot and sexy Mitch (Andy Coxon), get together. After a few side glances and more than a few cheeky conversations, they expectantly kiss when they’re forced to share a bunk bed (ah, it’s all of our fantasies!). But is Mitch really gay or is he caught up in the moment? Their sort of relationship takes a turn when Stu is offered a job writing for Yank Magazine (it might just as well be called Wank magazine). It’s a job Stu wants because it will take him away from fighting on the front lines and will hopefully one day help him to publish the diary he has written of his exploits as a soldier. Stu’s new position takes him all over but he begs his editor Artie (Chris Kiely) to go to Hawaii as this is where the 89th is fighting, and it’s of course where Mitch is. Stu can’t stop thinking about Mitch and they rekindle the romance they had, well now it’s more than a romance, it’s a full blown relationship as Mitch discusses them moving back to his hometown and living together. But it’s the evil Tennessee (Lee Dillon) who steals Stu’s diary and turns in into the authorities in a time when homosexuality was absolutely forbidden in the army. And things will not be the same for Stu and Mitch and the rest of the 89th- war, death, and jail rear it’s ugly head.

‘Yank’ is reminiscent of the war musicals of Rogers & Hammerstein (“South Pacific”) where romance, between a man and woman, was interspliced with memorable musical numbers. In “Yank,” brothers David and Joseph Zellnik have created a gay WWII love story that pays homage to these 1940’s musicals and cleverly takes the name of their show from the WWII army publication Yank, the Army Weekly. Having opened up, appropriately, on gay pride weekend, Yank is a celebration of gays in the military, but it does make a few missteps along the way. Hunter is fine as the scared soldier Stu, but I didn’t find him as charasmatic as he should’ve been, while some of the staging and songs are a bit off, including a song about pin-up girls (“Betty”) that goes on way too long. Coxon shows that he’s the true stage actor among the cast – his acting and singing are excellent, while the rest of the supporting soldiers do the best they can do with what they have been given (a scene about gay telephone operators is a bit dreadful and really doesn’t need to be in the show). There is at times clever use of the stage, including during the battle and interrogation scenes, and Sarah-Louise Young is just about perfect in her various roles. Director James Baker just doesn’t get it exactly right in making this show a must see event. While it’s a show that is light on it’s feet and has a few snappy musical numbers, it’s not groundbreaking nor particularly excellent.

To buy tickets, please go to:
http://charingcrosstheatre.co.uk/theatre/yank-a-wwii-love-story

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23rd Oct2016

Ragtime (Theatre)

by timbaros

unspecified-4The U.S. is in turmoil: racial discrimination is rife while immigrants arrive by the boatload to escape feast and famine in their own countries. This could describe present day U.S. but it’s actually the early 20th century in the new production of “Ragtime” now playing at The Charing Cross Theatre.

Ragtime the novel was originally written in 1975 and had it’s London stage debut in 2003, after it had debuted on Broadway in 1998. The revival of the show was brought back to London’s Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre in 2012. This new version, directed by Thom Southerland, is very ambitious, with a very crowded cast of 24 on a stage barely able to fit in their singing, dancing and acting.

It’s the turn of the 20th century in New York and we are sung the story of three different groups; an upper class family, African Americans, and Eastern European immigrants, and eventually all their lives will cross in a show that packs a lot in it’s over two hour running time in a theatre that was too hot and a bit too uncomfortable.

The upper class family takes from and centre. It’s the wife, who’s called Mother (Anita Louise Combe) with a young son and a husband who leaves the family behind to go on an exhibition to the North Pole. Then there’s the African Americans, fronted by Coalhouse Walker Jr. (Ako Mitchell), a Harlem musician whose girlfriend Sarah (Jennifer Saayeng) leaves her baby on Mother’s doorstep, but eventually moves in with Mother and is found living there by Coalhouse. Then there’s the immigrants – Tateh (Gary Tushaw) and his daughter (Alana Hinge) – who arrive in the big city with nothing to their name. However they don’t find their American dream in New York so Tateh decides they should go to Boston but right before their trip they meet Mother and her son. And trouble is in store for Coalhouse and Sarah who get harassed by unfriendly locals and it’s at this point when the first half ends.

The second fails to match the first half’s intensity and drama. It neatly wraps up the storylines, with themes of reunions and acceptance but it’s all a bit of a letdown after the energetic and frantic first half. The cast are all fine, with the excellent vocal chords of Saayeng and Bernadette Bangura. And Combe and Tushaw provide much dramatic acting in their roles, while Samuel Peterson is adorable and perfect as the son on the night I saw it.

If there ever was a musical that’s full of music, this is the one. It’s a good old classic American story that’s pure red, white and blue – there’s nothing as American as this show. And what a pertinent time to have on display this show of Americana, when the U.S. is going through a most unusual election, and where black men are continuously getting killed, and immigrants from all over the world wanting to live to live there. What took place in the early 20th century is still taking place today.

‘Ragtime’ is now playing at the Charing Cross Theatre until Dec. 10th. To purchase tickets, please go to:

http://charingcrosstheatre.co.uk/theatre/ragtime

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21st Jun2016

Titanic (Theatre)

by timbaros

13329426_1004915136224632_2850082151825824399_o_galleryThere is no Celine Dion singing ‘My Heart Will go On,’ but the new stage production of ‘Titanic’ is a classy production with an outstanding cast.

Playing at The Charing Cross Theatre, ‘Titanic’ tells the story of the doomed ocean liner that set sail from Southhampton UK for a journey to New York City. But before reaching it’s destination, it hit an iceberg, and started taking on lots of water. While some passengers were lucky enough to escape on lifeboats, others remained on the sinking ship. In total, more than 1500 people died whereas only over 700 survived. Of course, this production of Titanic does not have a cast of 2200 people nor is there a huge ship on stage, it’s practically a bare bones theatre production where the focus is on the acting and the singing.

The set consists of the deck of the ship, and that’s it, but it works and blends in very well with the cast of 20. Included in this cast are actors/actresses who play the officers and passengers of the ship – both rich and poor. But it’s Claire Machin who plays 2nd class passenger Alice Beane who from the onset steals the show with her musical description of who is who as they board the ship (the Astors, Ladies and Lords, Politicians, and celebrities), while deeply wishing that she was traveling first class, and not second. But it’s genius in that most members of the cast play more than just one character, drifting in and out of each scene – very fluid and ver elegant. Philip Rham is all so stoic as the ship’s captain, while Luke George as the bellboy is so innocent yet unaware of what fate has in store for him.

‘Titanic’ enjoyed a two year run on Broadway in 1997, and most recently had a run at London’s Southwark Playhouse in 2013. So does London really need another ‘Titanic’ stage show just three years later? Yes, because this production is fantastic. Director Thom Southerland does wonders with the small stage in which to tell a story that is perhaps larger than life. And with music and lyrics by Maury Yeston and story and book by Peter Stone, this production of ‘Titanic,’ which has received rave reviews, will sweep you off your feet from start to finish.

To buy tickets, please click on the below link. ‘Titanic’ runs until August 6th, 2016.

http://charingcrosstheatre.co.uk/theatre/titanic

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11th Sep2015

Dusty (Theatre)

by timbaros

Dusty-34A new musical about Dusty Springfield arrives in the West End – with a thud.

There’s something just not right with ‘Dusty,’ which is playing at the Charing Cross Theatre. Could it be the singing? Could it be the acting? Could it be the directing and script? Could it be that it’s multi-media theme just doesn’t work? I think it’s all of the above. Let’s start with that multi-media mularcky. The producers are calling this show a ‘Fusion Musical’ which means that the show is a combination of Alison Arnopp performing as Dusty mixed in with videos of the actual Dusty Springfield singing from her various television appearances (American Bandstand – 1964, The Ed Sullivan Show – 1965 and 1968, the Dusty TV series on the BBC – 1966 and 1967, Morecambe & Wise Show – 1970, plus others). Twenty video clips are included in the show, and while a few are cleverly done as holograms, it’s unfortunate that these video clips are much better than any live singing that’s performed. And it’s quite funny because the audience claps at the video clips, like they’re actually seeing Dusty live! And it’s not fair to have Arnopp’s voice competing with Springfield’s in the videos.

And the acting and singing? Well, it’s OK. Arnopp is credible as Dusty. Sure she can sing, and sure she can dress like her, and she definitely can act, but Arnopp is a far cry from the real Dusty. And the wigs she wears? They’re a bit over the top – not her fault, but in a few scenes she looks a bit like a drag queen. A bit better is Francesca Jackson as Dusty’s friend Nancy Jones. She’s just as pretty as Dusty yet it’s Dusty who becomes rich and famous, however Jackson is a fine singer in her own right. And Whitney White owns the stage in her short bit as Martha Reeves. She’s bound to a huge star in the West End in a few years time. But Arnopp’s singing is a far cry from any other biography musical that’s currently playing in the West End (think ‘Memphis’ where Beverly Knight wows them every night at the Shaftsbury Theatre and Katie Brayben who brings Carole King to life every night in ‘Beautiful’). The rest of the ensemble are quite good, energetic and vibrant, and I also couldn’t help but notice that they are all very young.

I’ll have to pin the blame on the direction and the script. Both by Chris Cowey, who used to be a producer on Top of the Pops. It’s not what you had hoped to expect from a musical tribute show to a British legend. Yes, Dusty Springfield is considered a legend, in her heyday and even today. She scored an incredible 18 singles on the Billboard Hot 100 from 1964 to 1970 – her peak years. She was a cultural icon of the 1960’s and was one of the best-selling UK singers in that decade. She’s been inducted into the U.S. Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the UK Music Hall of Fame, and was awarded on OBE. Yet, all this doesn’t seem to matter in the show ‘Dusty.’ It presents Dusty in flashbacks, with Dusty’s life story told by Nancy to a presenter for the television show ‘Talk of the Town.’ It’s a device that doesn’t quite work. And her sexuality is handled a bit clumsily on the show. She was a Lesbian, and in the show she has a minor relationship with a woman who lives in Los Angeles, but it’s a part of the show that appears to be thrown in at the last minute, and before you know it the relationship is over. It’s an acknowledgement of her sexuality but it’s too quick and not enough.

‘Dusty’ opened on 25 May 2015, and had it’s official press night this week. It took 14 weeks for the production team to get this show done as they wanted it. However, another few weeks of additional tweaking won’t really save this production. And they left out any mention of her last hit, which became one of her biggest – ‘What Have I Done to Deserve This’ – sung with the Pet Shop Boys. It’s a song that past and current generations are familiar with. Instead of ‘Dusty’ being a celebration of her and her career, it’s more like a minor tribute to a woman who deserves to be remembered in a bigger and better show.

Performance Times:- Tuesday to Saturday at 7:30pm, Wednesdays & Thursdays at 2:30pm and Saturdays at 3pm

Run time approx. 2 hours.

Mon, 25th May 2015 to Sat, 21st November 2015

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