Totally casual, but we spent last week on Broadway. Yep. The bad news is it was nowhere NEAR long enough but the good news is we saw some AMAZING shows. For theatre lovers like us the experience was a true dream! Below are our show by show reviews of what we saw! Enjoy!
Kinky Boots Review
Kinky Boots is the Broadway sensation by Harvey Fierstein and popstar Cyndi Lauper, based on a true story about a man who takes over his fathers shoe factory and is inspired by a group of transgendered performers.
When I sat down in the exceptionally fabulous Orchestra Stalls of the Al Hirschfield Theatre on 45th and 8th I was very aware that I was about to take in my first ever Broadway show. Whilst I see three or more shows a week back home in London, this was my first experience of the Great White Way. I had dreamt of this day for the past 7 or so years and I was finally here! And what better a show to break me in than Kinky Boots!
I am a lover of all things sassy and this show is certainly that! As a theatre enthusiast I am no stranger to the music and story-line of this show and was actively in awe whilst watching the Kinky team perform in the Macy’s Thanksgiving day parade last year. So the music strikes up and I am immediately sold! Over the next couple of hours I was hit with an endearingly vivacious storyline (based on actual events!) peppered with jaunty song and dance numbers!
Okay so let me get my one actual complaint out of the way right now. The show is set in Britain. The characters are supposed to be British. I AM, however, British and can spot a phoney accent a mile off. God love some of the cast for trying (and I can only imagine my New Yorker accent would be just as good!) but as a Brit it was hard not to be distracted by half cockney, half Australian attempts at the Northampton accent. That said, the marvellous Jeanna De Waal and Timothy Ware were almost convincing.
Phew. Glad that is out of the way…now let’s get back to the praise!
Ware is a fierce and fabulous Lola, so much so that I forgot I was watching an understudy (the role is usually played by Tony Award Winning Billy Porter.) The sex was not only in Ware’s heel but just about every damn inch of him during his turn as Lola. Conversely, he presented a shy and vulnerable Simon (Lola without the drag) which rendered a real sense of three dimensional feeling to his character which I really felt touched the audience.
Similarly stand out was De Waal, who hit the nail on the head when presenting the somewhat overlooked factory worker, Lauren. De Waal brought the character to life with true pizzazz throughout the show but the moment that really got me cackling with laughter was her presentation of “The History of Wrong Guys.” I feel ya honey!
Aside from the super sensational costumes for the super sassy Lola and her Angels, my favourite element to Kinky Boots has to be Cyndi Lauper’s music and lyrics. Rarely do I really leave a theatre singing several of the productions show tunes, but here this was absolutely the case. Lauper proves herself more than just a popstar (as if we were in any real doubt!) and I do hope she pens a few more musicals with the perfect blend of fun and punch, as in Kinky Boots.
I have a great deal of praise for everyone involved in the show, including director and choreographer Jerry Mitchell who I hope stays true to his word and brings this show to London. We would bloomin’ love it over here!
Beautiful is the new jukebox musical about the life and music of Carole King and her closest friends. The show transfers to London’s West End in early 2015!
All I have heard from across the pond from the eternally fabulous Great White Way is “Beautiful.” “Beautiful” this and “Beautiful” that, “you MUST SEE Beautiful!” OKAY ALREADY. Not satisfied with having to wait until 2015 like every other Londoner, I decided to make the trip to the Stephen Sondheim Theatre to see this show in its home on Broadway. I am pleased to report what New York has been saying for a long time: Beautiful is the next great jukebox musical and it will certainly enrich the West End when it arrives in the Spring.
Unlike some Jukebox’s, Beautiful brings a new level of class to both its content and look; a well written book is offset by some simple but effective choreography and a stylish set that perfectly evokes the 60’s era.
Beautiful again sets itself apart from it’s jukebox counterparts and the shows structure really allows for character development. Rather than actress Jessie Mueller, who depicts King, breaking into song at every available opportunity, her songs are performed by those much showier than herself and over the course of the two acts we slowly see her transform into a performer. It is an engaging journey to watch and one that Mueller performs flawlessly and enviably. I hope that our British Carole, Katie Brayben can perform the role with such blossoming colour.
Similarly I hope the still to be announced London cast can fulfil the roles of Gerry, played by Scott J Campbell, and rivals turned friends Cynthia Weil played by Anika Larsen and Barry Mann performed by Jarrod Spector. It is rare that secondary characters are just as interesting as the principles, but here this was most definitely the case.
Even if you are unaware of the name “Carole King” (she did do a good job of hiding behind her musical writing in her early years) you will undoubtedly know her music. Tunes such as “Take Good Care of My Baby,” “Will You Love Me Tomorrow,” “The Locomotion,” and “You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman” are all round crowd pleasers. Whilst the audience did seem to be made up of 50 something year olds who owned the Tapestry album, all generations alike gave rapturous applauses to the music.
Okay so I am not sure that the show will have exactly the same effect as it does in Manhattan; the show is largely set in the city and focuses on Brooklyn born Carole King who spent her married life with Gerry living and working in the city. There is a certain vibe one gets from actually being THERE – where it all began on this journey to stardom for Carole, but it is of course still a relevant tale in any city and I think it will light up London’s Aldwych Theatre just as bright as Broadway’s Stephen Sondheim.
Yes, this show IS a jukebox musical so there is obviously a huge song and dance number to dramatic scene ratio, which is my least favourite thing about the genre. However Beautiful manages to also generate a true, meaningful and touching tale of personal success in the face of misery, which is something we can all draw inspiration from. I for one am very excited to see this show make its move to London, where I can only imagine it will attract similar success.
The Last Ship Review
The Last Ship is Sting’s new musical, with a book by John Logan and Brian Yorkey with direction by Joe Mantello. The story focuses on the lives of those living in Wallsend, North East England, in particular that of young lovers Gideon and Meg.
Every so often, now I am not talking once a week, once a month or even necessarily once a year, but once in a blue moon, a show comes along that truly takes your breath away. You sit there before the show having absolutely no idea what to expect and then: WHAM BAM! Pure and utter awesomeness hits you in the face leaving you irrevocably altered. So yep, as you may have guessed, this is what happened with The Last Ship.
It seems I like a bit of bleak, nitty gritty economical hardship in a production (who knew!) and this is certainly the case in The Last Ship. Maybe it is because those low on their luck tend to frequent the pub (it works in Once!) and love a good knees up?! I don’t know. Whatever it is I loved the aesthetic of this show. From its coral singing, to its bleak weather to its hard graft, I never wanted The Last Ship to stop sailing. Ever.
I have never paid a great deal of attention to Sting. Yeah, like most, I like a bit of “Roxanne,” “English Man in New York” and “That’s Not The Shape of My Heart” but I would never have proclaimed to be a huge Sting fan. Well I’ll tell you what, I am now! There is no word to describe the music he has written for The Last Ship other than “perfect.” From opener “Island of Souls,” to the haunting “Autumn Winds,” to the super sassy “If You Ever See Me Talking To a Sailor,” to the powerful “The Last Ship” I was in awe. The music is gorgeous, and for a musical this is pretty much the battle won.
As both a performer and also a genuinely lovely lady, I have such a great deal of respect for Rachel Tucker. Tucker more than proved her worth on the West End after several years in the role of Elphaba in the West End and now she stakes her claim on Broadway in her cross Atlantic debut as the jilted Meg Dawson. Tucker begs to be watched from start to finish. She is vulnerable, lonely, crowded, sassy and self sufficient all in one. Tucker is perfect in the role, her singing voice is to be marvelled at and so is her successful Geordie accent! I can only aspire to be as sassy as Tucker makes Meg in “If You Ever See Me Talking To a Sailor.” Bravo!
The rest of the cast are similarly fantastic, including the stand out Jimmy Nail and Michael Esper. Colin Kelly-Sordelet is also delivers a truly tear jerking performance at times. Best of all are the whole cast when they come together to sing powerful choral-like chants such as “The Last Ship.” I think the word “rousing” would probably be an understatement.
Stephen Hoggett strikes again with his faultless movement choreography which perfectly compliments Sting’s truly fine music. Moreover, Hoggett manages to bring to life the onstage characters in a innovative and addictively watchable way. His work during “If You Ever See Me Talking To a Sailor” is worth a Tony on it’s own.
David Zinn’s scenic design is the icing on a perfectly cooked cake, making the experience seem very much like a total piece of theatre. Together set, costume, sound and movement work in a blissful, blissful harmony. Oh god I need to see this show again.
I can’t sing the praises of this show more. It was everything I wanted but never thought to expect. If you live anywhere even remotely in the vicinity of Manhattan you are lucky and should support this fantastic new piece of theatre. If, like me, you live in or near London, we can only pray for a transfer. Other than that, I’d start checking out airfare to the states…
If only I had a time machine and I could go back in time and experience this show again. Although I guess if I did, I would let young Gideon borrow it.
Sleep No More Review
Punchdrunk’s immersive, promenade performance, Sleep No More, is adapted from their original 2003 production. The show is loosely based on Shakespeare’s Macbeth.
Okay so it nay be somewhere near impossible to “review” Sleep No More as any real words spent describing or even referencing the plot are sure to ruin the experience for the next participant (yes, participant as that really is what you are) but..okay…here goes.
So I arrived at the McKittrick Hotel ready to take up my “reservation,” and was promptly handed my “room key.” To say I didn’t know what to expect would probably be a bit of a lie as, well, I went to Goldsmiths College in London, famed for its avant-garde, boundary pushing taking on theatre. I knew of Punchdrunk and had seen similar immersive pieces of what I liked to call “adventure theatre” by Shunt in the past. However, having missed The Drowned Man in London, I was keen to experience (yep, “experience”) Sleep No More in New York. And wow. What an experience.
Sleep No More is a three hour long theatrical journey loosely based on the story of Macbeth. “Audience” members become masked voyeurs and explorers who give up their ability to speak as they enter the performance – a 1920’s style series of locations ripe for discovery.
The only way I can really describe the show without revealing too much is by saying it is a strange cross between a real life film noir, a perverse video game and a nightmare. A fabulous, fabulous nightmare.
As I ventured around solo, as advised, I really found myself letting go of my social norms. In fact I think I became a bit weird…no, finding myself lying in a coffin and later praying at an alter, I realised I had absolutely gone a bit weird and to me this was a revelation. A performance that directly had the power to alter my behaviour as a usually reasonable and responsible human being…now that is something!
Although spread over a vast playing area with hours and hours of individual performance (you couldn’t even begin to try and see it all in one sitting) the show manages to guide its audience to a harrowing climax…
You could see this show a hundred times and have a different experience. Three hours without break is a considerable amount of time, but I really don’t think I saw it all…or touched it all…or smelt it all, or ate it all. Because each audience members experience is so personal, so fully tailored to what choices they make, this production feels like a totally exclusive experience for each individual adventurer.
Go. Seriously. Just go. You won’t have experienced anything like it. Also after the show you can enjoy a couple of hours of fabulous performance in the super stylish bar. Win win.