reviewed at the Gordon Craig Theatre, Stevenage on 30 August
Few musicals of the 1940s have stood the test of time with repeated revivals. Oklahoma! by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II passes with flying colours. Catherine Lomax directs this new Gordon Craig Theatre production which treats it as the musical play – rather than operetta or musical comedy – intended.
Her musical director Rob Scott takes his 15-piece orchestra through the score with panache, from the brisk overture through the mock-solemnity of “Poor Jud is dead” to the lyricism of “People will say we’re in love” and “Oh, what a beautiful morning!”. The large cast act, sing and dance (choreography is by Khiley Williams and Philip Joel) with skill and energy.
Carrie Sutton makes an attractive Laurey, the girl who finds herself with one suitor too many. Lisa Bridge’s Ado Annie is engaging and has a memorable laugh which is part irritated cockerel and part aggravated hyena. Jeremy Batt leads the male dancers as Will Parker, sort-of-rivaled by Joe Leather’s pedler Ali Hakim.
There are also good portraits from Alice Redmond as Aunt Eller and Ian McLarnon as Ado Annie’s father. Joshua Gannon has a strong if not subtle voice and his Curly is very credible. Villain of the piece is Jud Fry and Connor Ewing makes the most of both his brutality and the sense of isolation which fuels it.
No designer is credited for the costumes or the set which transforms between four locations in the course of the action. it works very well, as does Peter Kramer’s lighting. For my taste, sound designer Luke Hyde has overdone the use of mics diminishing the graduation of sound as the story unfolds.
Four star rating.
Oklahomo! runs at the Gordon Craig Theatre, Stevenage until 8 September with matinées on 1, 6 and 8 September.
reviewed at the Gordon Craig Theatre, Stevenage on 31 August
Catherine Lomax’s summer musical at the Gordon Craig Theatre stands comparison with many a more expensively lavish touring production – in fact, it deserves a tour of its own. The Producers, that in-joke about how to stay out of the bankruptcy courts as a Broadway impressario, is a bold choice for a small regional theatre.
The settings and drop-curtain scenes follow each other slickly, aided by Pete Cramer and Al Rivers’ lighting and enhanced by Lisa Hickey’s clever costuming. from the opening number – bridging the gap between the first and closing nights of Max Bialystock’s latest production – a musical skit on Hamlet called Funny Boy – Khiley Williams and Philip Joel’s choreography sparkles.
Pail Easom as Max dominates the show throughout; we may wince at his exploitation of elderly female “angels” and shameless manipulation of everyone with whom he comes into contact, but we can’t help rooting for him. Even when he and the hapless accountant Leo Bloom (Ryan Owen) he has recruited launch that farrago called Springtime for Hitler to lose rather than to make money.
Owen makes an excellent foil to Easom, as does Oliver Stanley as the unrepentant Nazi with his cages of storm-trooper-drilled pigeons (a set designer is not credited in the programme) but s/he and the stage crew deserve plaudits of their own. Ali Bastian as sultry Swedish bombshell Ulla looks and sounds charming but rather pales into the background of the character studies around her.
These include Daniel Page as the campest of cross-dressing directors, Joel as his other-half and their coterie of flamboyant thespian homosexuals (Joseph Connor, James Donovan and Adam Shorey) and one butch lesbian (Catherine Millsom) (remember that this all takes place in 1959).
Sound balance (Luke Hyde) is excellent with Phil Dennis’ orchestra allowed to make its musical points whle never swamping the actors’ words. The ensemble comprises ten young performers just launching their professional careers who display impressive talents in song, acting and dance.
Four and a half-star rating.
The Producers runs at the Gordon Craig Theatre, Stevenage until 9 September with matinées on 2, 7 and 9 September.
(reviewed at the Gordon Craig Theatre, Stevenage on 4 December 2015)
There are a number of commercial producers of pantomimes; not all of them have the production values of Eastbourne-based Chris Jordan. This year sees The Sleeping Beauty trapped by the vengeful Carabosse in Stevenage. The sets and costumes (Shelley Claridge) are colourful and there’s some excellent choreography by Philip Joel.
We begin with Fairy Fortywinks (Nicola Bryan) confronting the much more powerful Carabosse (Wendi Peters), an immortal with grievances. Lots of them.King Clarence (Paul Bentley) is missing his late wife and seeking a suitable prince to marry his daughter Belle (Daniella Piper). She doesn’t take kindly to being cosseted either by her father or by Nellie Night Nurse ((Paul Laidlaw).
Laidlaw is an experienced Dame, of the cuddly rather than abrasive variety. Son Chester (Aidan O’Neill) is the Court Jester and, of course, secretly in love with Belle. That doesn’t make Prince Valiant (Gregor Stewart)’s task any easier as he goes in search of a suitable bride. The “Love me” duet is an attractive number.
Carabosse has a team of helpers, and very nasty they are too. There’s an attractive duet for Belle and Valiant before the spectacular final to the first act. In Act Two we have Nellie’s famous strip-tease as well as a time machine (not a million miles from Dr Who’s police-box) to take everyone forward a hundred years.
The Sleeping Beauty runs at the Gordon Craig Theatre, Stevenage until 24 January.
There’s a dragon in the ghost scene, which makes a nice change, and at least one spectacular exit through the orchestra pit – James Cleeve’s domain. Innovations are carefully blended with the expected traditional – such as the kitchen scene. And Fairy Fortywinks may keep on dropping off at crucial moments – but she has a winning way with her trumpet.