Category Archives: Musical

SCHOOL OF ROCK by Magna Carta School

SCHOOL OF ROCK is a rock musical with music by Andrew Lloyd Webber, lyrics by Glenn Slater and a book by Julian Fellowes, based on the 2003 musical comedy film released by Paramount and starring Jack Black and Joan Cusack.

This week we went to see the excellent production of the musical by The Performing and Visual Arts Faculty at the Magna Carta School, at Thorpe Road Staines, directed by Danny Gwynne, with Helen Claringbull’s musical direction and choreography by Riannon Stygal.

The musical follows the adventures of Dewey Finn, a jobless rock singer and guitarist who claims to be a substitute teacher at a prestigious high school…

The musical follows the adventures of Dewey Finn, a jobless rock singer and guitarist who claims to be a substitute teacher at a prestigious high school.

After identifying the musical talent in his students, Dewey forms a band of fifth-grade students, in an attempt to win the next Battle of the Bands contest and “stick it” to his ex bandmates.

The musical at Magna Carta began with a hilarious performance by the band “No Vacancy” who are about to shelve their guitarist, Dewey, because he keeps upstaging the lead singer.

After the show we first meet Ned Schneebly, and his dominant wife/girlfriend Patty Di Marco at their pad. This is where Dewey crashes, rent-free. Patty wants Dewey out, but he receives a call from the private school at Horace Green who wants to hire Ned as a substitute teacher (“a temp?”) and Dewey sees there is a possibility of making some bucks (to pay his dues) so he plans to impersonate his friend and take “the gig.”

At Horace Green we first meet with the slightly testy Rosalie Mullins.

She sings the school anthem “Here at Horace Green” and we find she’s fussy about behaviour, competitiveness and quality.

In comes the disreputable Dewey character (pretending to be Mr. Schneebly) “Just call me Mister S...” He is not only doubtful but also lazy. “Got anything to eat?” he asks one kid. “Got any money? Go to Subway and get me something,” he yells.

Soon after this, though, he hears the kids playing in the school orchestra, and their relationship develops: the deficient teacher and the too-good-to-be-true, goodie-two-shoed, teacher’s-pets. He gets them to “Stick it to the Man”  (Miss Mullins is the man… Donald Trump is the man...”) and they  teach him determination  and resilience.

One of the best scenes in the Magna Carta production was when Dewey discovers that Miss Mullins is a secret fan of Stevie Nicks and takes her to a coffee shop where she confesses (over beer) that she is a nightmare… and that’s why nobody likes her. This scene gives us the first inkling there’s electricity between them. A frisson that came over well in this great show.

Poppy Williams who played Tomika (vocals) was the definition of proficiency. Her soul-filled voice filled the auditorium and was worth waiting for.

Lanky Alistair Scott (Zack, the guitarist) was also perfect on the night, uptight, tense & nervy, that is until he “stuck it to the man” (in this case, his Dad) and liberated himself through rock music. A great performance.

Amy Young (Katie on bass) was perhaps not so studiously inclined as her character in the movie, the Magna Carta version of the character was zesty and more polished. We liked this version a lot…

Daisy Lee and Sali Adams (Shonelle and Marcy) were exemplary, as was Umar Aunghareeta (playing Lawrence on keys) and Sammy Austin (playing Freddie on drums.) But perhaps more could have been done with Dylan Oak’s character (Billy the stylist) and Ella Clark (Summer, the manager.) Both were great actors but their roles were underutilized (in our opinion) — but these are minor quibbles.

just fantabulisticcal

Great acclaim should go to the children who played the parts of the parents of students.

Each one played a superior and memorable cameo role.

And the ensemble and the orchestra was just fantabulisticcal!

Of course, the stand-out performance of the night was from Dewey Finn, played by Sebastian Hobden. He owned the stage — left, right and centre — our only comment being: “I wish he’d calm down and settle.” Jack Black was unflustered in this role, a calm influence on the kids and his  half-asleep attitude and laid-back kinda style was commanding. But Sebastian opted to interpret the character entirely differently — as a spring-heeled cat on a hot-tin roof, with uncontrolled levels of untapped ever-fermenting energy. At times we just wanted him to be tackled to the ground by the crew. God love him!  You couldn’t fault his  earnestness.

The most notable performance was that of Katie Mack, who played Miss Mullins. She didn’t put a foot nor finger wrong. She sang with controlled emotion, spoke with excellent articulation and gave a very credible portrayal of the dispassionate and distant school principal who has an (invisible) heart of the liquid honey.

Big thanks must also go to the TMCS PVA Faculty, the entire production team (especially Lily Warnes for her excellent stage management) and the hairdressing and makeup teams, as well as everyone who made this show such a magical success.

Five Stars!

Words:  @neilmach 2018 ©



Little Shop Of Horrors at Magna Carta

Concorde Productions presents Little Shop of Horrors

This week we went to see the rock musical Little Shop of Horrors [music by Alan Menken] at the excellent Magna Carta Arts Centre in Egham put on by Concorde Productions, directed by Craig Howard.

Most people are familiar with the 1986 movie and recall Rick Moranis as Seymour and Steve Martin as the dentist. In fact, the film directed by Frank Oz features an assortment of recognizable faces.

The story first came to the public as a cult film in 1960…

This famous musical has lived an inverted existence… the story first came to the public as a cult film ( in 1960, with Jack Nicholson.)

This was later envisioned as an off-Broadway stage musical in 1982 and had a five-year run, with shows in London’s West End in 1983, then the big production movie in 1986 before finally moving to Broadway production.

The story is about a pitiful florist shop worker who fancies his glamorous but trashy co-worker, and raises a plant that feeds on blood and human flesh. The plant grows during the show and and although it resembles a classic “window-sill plant” cultivated by amateurs — a cross between a Venus flytrap and one of those avocados you try to grow from the stone — it eventually becomes a monster that dominates the entire stage.

The story begins in Mushnik’s Flower Shop in Skid Row where the audience is introduced to the miserly and miserable old shopkeeper (played convincingly by John Wesson.) The glamorous blond bombshell shop assistant Audrey (played by Georgie Glover) arrives late and with an injury on her face (it later becomes clear that the shiner was given to her by boyfriend Orin, the sadistic dentist played by Billy Reynolds.)

The plant grows during the show and resembles a classic “window-sill plant” cultivated by amateurs. Photo Credit: Concorde Productions

The hero of the story, Seymour (played by a lanky Christopher Blackmore who seems very Brad Majorish in this production) appears from the back-room where he’s been raising a little plant he discovered. It’s a surprisingly odd looking thing so Audrey invites Mushnik to put it into the shop window to draw-in custom. The moment they do, a woman comes in to enquire about the odd looking plant and, while there, places a huge order.

So the plant, baptized by Seymour as Audrey II [ voiced by Trevor Begley and with puppeteering by Shaun Lati] becomes a permanent feature in the window and its not long before it starts to bring good fortune to the store, and in particular to Seymour.

But, like a malicious genie, the talking plant soon starts to demand a price for the wishes it grants. And, because it’s a carnivore, the price is blood. To begin with, occasionally, its a drop from Seymour’s fingertip. But soon the cultivar gets more demanding and that’s when things get horrific.

An exemplary spectacle, a fun evening, and a slick show…

This was an excellent production with great staging and superior music. We loved the Phil Spector-style Peppermint Lounge singing group comprising of Ronette (Helen Tang-Grosso) Crystal (Julie Antoniou) and Chiffon (Cate Baines) and who drive the story and act as semi-narrative detractors. The dance (choreography by Honor Lily Redman) was spot on. And their inflections clearly accentuated.

Georgie Glover played the bimbo with a heart and she was perfect. She never let us down, although the moving aria, Somewhere That’s Green could have been given more prominence.

But our favourite song from the show, the duet Suddenly, Seymour, was perfectly rendered.

The music is largely rock and roll and doo-wop and seemed to be far more Jewish-sounding at Magna Carta than I recall, making Mushnik a recognisable Fagin character. The voice of Audrey II and the puppet-work was impeccable. The only truly amateurish scene was the final song, where the cast return with petals around their faces and was perhaps supposed to be a whimsical mockery of music-hall troupes, but actually looked pretty lame.

Photo Credit: Concorde Productions

There are several sub-texts lurking under the fundamental premise. One is the proposal that fame and fortune always costs. Sometimes the cost can be dear.

Another subtext is that when a man grows something its not so easy to control that thing and the thing can’t easily be pushed back into its container.

The story is also judgemental about the haves and the have-nots (although I couldn’t help thinking that if the musical was set in May’s Britain neither Seymour nor Audrey would still be employed by Mushnik or they would be signed to zero hours contracts.)

The other vituperative attack is on domestic violence and how, often, it’s the female partner who thinks she’s somehow “to blame” and finds it difficult to escape the brutality.

This was an exemplary spectacle, a fun evening, and a slick show. It had just the right amount of tongue-in-cheek humour and some excellent song and dance. Wonderful.

Words: @neilmach 2017 ©

Formerly known as The Concorde Players the friendly amateur dramatics group called Concorde Productions was initially for friends and colleagues of British Airways. Following the closure of the Concorde Centre in Heston, they have now moved home to the Magna Carta Arts Centre in Staines-upon-Thames, Surrey for their productions.

If you’d like to be part of their team both onstage and off you should contact them.

GODSPELL — by Eagle House at Wilde Theatre

It’s Lent so we decided to get “churched up” this week.

We headed to the excellent Wilde Theatre, at South Hill Park to see the Eagle House [ School in Sandhurst] present their GODSPELL.

The 1971 show with music by Grammy award winning Stephen Schwartz [Enchanted ] and a loose script based on the Gospel of Saint Matthew ( originally re-envisioned by playwright John-Michael Tebelak) is a popular show for touring companies and has enjoyed many revivals.

The structure of the GODSPELL musical is a series of parables interspersed by rock arias that have been inspired by the Book of Psalms.

The structure of the musical is a series of parables interspersed by rock arias that have been inspired by the Book of Psalms.

The original London production starred characters like Julie Covington, David Essex, Jeremy Irons and Marti Webb. We were fortunate enough to have seen the original West End Wyndhams production back in 1972. But we love to see new productions and were excited to see the Eagle House show.

In the Seventies the stage show was a fluid and conceptual performance. It borrowed elements from dance, music and circus to tell the story of “Christ’s Passion”.

In the early days of the stage-show the figure of Christ was dressed as a clown. His “tribe” were portrayed as a group of irresponsible, long-haired hippies.

Now the hippie clothing is gone, because today’s youth movements tend to be associated more with athletic trainers and sportswear. The younger elements of the Eagle House Godspell Team wore printed t-shirts with the hash-tagged “Godspell logo” while main cast members wore distinctive tartans.

The magnificent Wilde Theatre is perfect for this kind of innovative, unpretentious presentation. At Godspell the audience was seated on all four sides of the staging.

After the exultant sound of a brass shofar the audience and cast “Prepared” for the “Way of the Lord”. This first song was an exceptionally compelling and enthusiastic number, sung by the whole cast [all five teams] who circled the newly baptised Christ in a spiritual state. Followers were given rubber wristbands to show their affiliation and discipleship.

Exceptionally compelling and enthusiastic…

A characteristic of the earliest shows, and all theatrical productions since, has been topicality.

Once we saw Godspell during the period known as the Three-Day Week, this was in the “power-cut Seventies” and the big joke was that it didn’t matter how dark things got because the audience was “The light of the World.”

Similarly, during the storytelling from Eagle House we had mentions of Facebook, Premier Inn, Justin Bieber and Fake News.

And of course the big, rich baddie (before “All for the Best” ) was Donald Trump.

Ben Trunck, perhaps shorter in stature than we expected, played a fascinating Jesus character — full of vivid personality. While Mark Dickin interpreted Judas skulking presence perfectly.

A feeling of “loving community” encompassed everything…

Each year group of Eagle House wanted to stage their own parable and musical number — so this meant the show was a wonderful consolidation of excellent sketches — each interconnected with the next.

The overall experience, from the perspective of the audience, was a feeling of “loving community” that encompassed everything.

Day By Day” always was — and still is — the most memorable song from the show and in Basingstoke the number was handled intelligently and with sympathy.

All Good Gifts” was brilliantly choreographed and elegantly efficient. Also, at one point, after “Save the People” we had an army of scary zombies grabbing at souls…

There was humour, movement, excitement and tenderness throughout the show — with great dramatic use of simple objects, like the coloured blocks.

Our favourite song was “On The Willows” — it came after the Last Supper scene. Psalm 137 — from which the song is taken — has been set to music by several composers over the years and the lament found in Godspell is possibly the best of all of them. The Eagle House vocalists performed the difficult harmonies with distinction.

This was an excellent production.

All 128 cast members [ages 9 to 13] should be congratulated, as well as their staff at Eagle House and the committed parents who made it all possible.

5 Stars

Words: @neilmach 2017 ©

Godspell at The Wilde Theatre, South Hill Park was ann amateur production presented by special arrangement with Samuel French Ltd

Return to the Forbidden Planet

Its the 25th anniversary tour of Shakespeare’s only rock ‘n’ roll musical.

For Those that did not strap themselves into their seat-belts on the
UPC Albatross last time around – this is a chance to take to the stars – we urge you not to miss this one!

Also based loosely on the 1956 film Forbidden Planet with Leslie Nielsen
Also based loosely on the 1956 film Forbidden Planet with Leslie Nielsen

For Those Who are about to Undertake a maiden voyage on the Albatross we need to go through some pre-flight safety preliminaries:

  • The dialogue is Shakespearean. Yes you will need to pay attention
  • The story is loosely based on the Tempest
  • Moreover, the basis is also the 1956 film Forbidden Planet with Leslie Nielsen
  • The actors play all the instruments, they fly the ship and they move the story-line along
  • This is a jukebox musical so be warned (if you do not like this sort of thing)- but if you’re curious, let me add that this musical is like nothing else you have seen before!

The music is soulful rock ‘n’ roll – numbers like “Heard It Through the Grapevine”, “Young Girl”, “Good Vibrations” and GLORIA. You’ll be singing along – and the songs will stay sentinmentally locked secure in your cerebellum for days afterwards.

The cast are magnificent – so much energy and talent! And there are a lot of surprises (we will not spoil the show) – so you will feel entertained through the show and even before and after the curtain!

Slightly disappointing on this tour:

  • Seasoned voyagers might be disappointed with Ariel on this production. When we saw him he was not even remotely ‘electrical’
  • The actor playing the part didn’t roll about. Was this due to Health and Safety restrictions? Or it was it because he was an under-study?
  • The monster (no other spoiler here) is not as aggressive this time around. Just saying!

Favourite moments:

  • The George Goehring, Sylvia Dee song “Robot Man
  • Cookie’s guitar solo in particular “Smells Like Teen Spirit
  • The juggling microphone – there is only one mike to ‘go around’ so there are many comic moments, while the actors do their best to ‘get back the microphone.’
The cast are magnificent - so much energy and talent...
The cast are magnificent – so much energy and talent…

The Return to the Forbidden Planet is On at New Wimbledon Theatre 23-28 March

@neilmach 2015 ©


Carnaby Street The Musical – Review

Carnaby Street is a new musical, set against the backdrop of London’s Soho in the Swinging Sixties. It reveals some of the goings on at the famous Marquee club, the trendy fashions seen around the district of Soho, and some of the quirky characters of the time. This was a period of hope and freedom. When the world was changing at an astonishing rate and everything seemed possible.

Produced by Carl Leighton-Pope (and based upon his own experiences working in The Marquee club as a cloakroom assistant in 1964 ) it was directed by Bob Tomson (Blood Brothers, Dreamboats and Petticoats) and designed by Matthew Wright (Evita, La Cage aux Folles.)

Carnaby Street shortCarnaby Street tells the story of Jude, a working class lad from Liverpool, and Penny (his on-off girlfriend).

The central premise of this jukebox musical is that these two young dreamers headed to London to find their fame and fortune. One day in an unknown year – 1964 is suggested – the kids arrive at the London street that was already famous worldwide as the focal point of the fashion and music scene in the Sixties – Carnaby Street.

Soon they meet up with Jack – a street -wise cockney recruiter who also acts as the show narrator. He quickly introduces the newcomers to Lily – a fashion store manager and society fixer. Through this meeting, Jude is able to connect with the rich and debauched socialite play-girl Lady Jane. And it’s not long before she invites him back to her place for some no-strings sex.

Meanwhile the C-ST band, a bunch of musicians fronted by a wild-man hairy ‘rocker‘ known as ‘T‘ is looking for a new guitarist.  Jude auditions for the band, and soon becomes the group’s main attraction. Jack tries to organize a recording contract for the band with the sinister record label boss Sir Arnold Layne.   His attempts fail, but socialite Jane agrees to ‘sell‘ herself to Layne, in order to clinch the deal. Layne agrees to sign the band in exchange for more sex with Jane .

Troggs Wild ThingThe band is an unexpected runaway success. But ‘Wild Thing’ band-leader ‘T’  – who is already a drinker –  starts to transform into a drug addict. He becomes unreliable and a liability.  Jude is convinced by Layne to let him go.  Soon a tour of America is planned – but only Jude ( with band manager Jack) will go on the trip.

Before departing for the the States, Lady Jane attempts to meet Jude to give him some urgent news.  But when Jane and Penny see him off at the airport,  they find that the new ‘celebrity’ has become conceited and arrogant towards them.  Success has gone to his head.  Jane never has the chance to pass on the important information.

Like of all these types of musicals – the show is only as good as its numbers. The good news is that  Carnaby Street has a huge pile of songs to choose from. The bad news is that most of the songs that I remember most fondly (from that period) are missing.

And this is a big problem.  I would have expected one or two Beatles songs in a show about the Swinging Sixties. But “Money (That’s What I Want)” and “Roll Over Beethoven” are only representative of the Beatles output. Significantly,  they were not Beatles originals. This seems a bit absurd . Even the cast agrees that “The Beatles [had] five singles in the top ten this week.” But they don’t explain why they cannot sing any of them.

And even if I could overlook the lack of Beatles songs, I could not overlook the lack of ‘Rolling Stones’ numbers or ‘Who’ hits. American R&B numbers were missing too. The only ones to get into the show were the ones that had been covered by ‘British Invasion’ bands. ( For example “Do You Love Me” the Contours smash hit –  was covered by the Tremeloes, the Dave Clark Five and The Hollies.)   But there are no ‘Supremes‘ songs in the show. No Baby Love? How can that be?  And a  Sixties show without Elvis is unthinkable.  How can this show properly represent the Sixties if there is no Elvis?

Arnold Laye by Pink Floyd
Arnold Laye by Pink Floyd

(And , by the way, “Arnold Layne“ was a real character and he could have been a wonderfully eccentric personality to develop. Moreover, there are no Pink Floyd songs  in the show either.)

The magical time machine that is used by ‘Musical Theatre’ when it creates these kind of shows must have been playing up when they created the script for this.  The audience is vaguely informed that Jude meets Lady Jane in 1964. And that would seem to fit in with the invention of the mini-skirt.  By Mary Quant in that same year.  But when Jane sees Jude off at the airport – about one year had elapsed. So “Mustang Sally” (from 1965) makes sense – but “Son of a Preacher Man” (from 1968) and the biker anthem “Born to Be Wild” (also from 1968)  does not.

I suppose it’s fitting that the cast can ‘Look Back‘ to music that was created before the Sixties – so jukebox classics “Poison Ivy” and “Summertime Blues” – which were formidable hits in their day –  could be fairly recollected by the characters.  My only problem with this is that these two numbers are from the Fifties. And we do not exactly have a shortage of material from the Sixties to choose from. So why have two 1950’s  songs in the show at all?

Often the plot in this kind of show is just a mechanism for introducing the next song. When devices are clumsy – and the audience can see the light of day between the beams – some of the magic is lost. The numbers were introduced quite efficiently in this show though ( I’ve seen a lot worse – in ‘We Will Rock You‘ for example.) And at least the audience could build up some sympathy for  a few of the characters. This is despite the nagging feeling that some of the characters were hastily drawn.

Lily The PinkParticularly galling was the cartoon transvestism portrayed by Lily the Pink. (And no, the 1968 Scaffold song was not in the show either – in case you ask. )  Apparently Lily is the only character in the street to have half a sense of style.  Luckily, Lily is played with extreme passion and theatrical razzmatazz by the super talented Paul Hazel. He, single-handedly, raises this show from the doldrums with his over-the-top performances, colourful frocks and smooth, juicy vocals.

One of the things that I most liked about this musical was that the cast members could just pick up their instruments and play.  Most of the characters did so, but special mention must go to Phoebe (Katia Sartini on alto sax) Debs (Rachel Nottingham on baritone sax) and Alicia (Jill Cardo on trumpet) who were all excellent.  The horn/sax sounds really added an extra-lustrous texture and a sleazy fullness to the output.

But overall, the show was a disappointment. The acting was crusty. The set was uninteresting. The dialogue (especially those jokes from ‘Al’ the newspaper vendor) were often cringe-worthy.  The vocal performances were sometimes weak ( Arnold’s rendition of The Trogg’s song “I Can’t Control Myself” was insipid.) And sometimes the acoustics played up : All of the songs performed by Mark Pierce (as ‘T’ ) sounded bass-heavy and heavily distorted.  The song choices were not great. And the plot was not memorable .
carnaby street shorterThe slogan for the Carnaby Street Musical is “All you needed was a dream … and a guitar.”  And maybe you should be sure of this sub-text before you approach this show.  Only superficial people see life in this simplistic way. The Sixties were no different to any other period in our social history. Life was, of course, full of complications, emotions and anxieties.  And things were never as easy as they seemed.  In fact, the guitar was just another key to a whole new world of problems, frustrations and further entanglements. Never a solution in itself. The Wild Thing character ‘T‘ realized this early on. And so he tried to distance himself from it.  Ultimately, it took him too.

I still love Carnaby Street. (The place.) Once a year I go to Soho and spend a day there. Just relaxing – letting the memories flood back. When my wife went to Carnaby Street – as a girl in 1968 – she bought one of those street sign plaques that almost everyone had – in those days –  above their bed. It is still a treasured possession.  Everybody wanted to be a part of the scene. They all wanted a slice of Carnaby Street.  To take home.  Carnaby Street was almost a sacred place. And it entered our hearts and became an essential part of our national identity.

Perhaps this musical is missing a trick. It never manages to connect with this deep-felt emotion. It doesn’t live up  to the glamour and magic of the place.  And it doesn’t jog your memory as much as it should do.

As a jukebox musical it is not bad. But there are better out there.

– © Neil_Mach September 2013 –


We saw Carnaby Street The Musical at the New Victoria Theatre Woking.

Mon 9-Sat 14 September
New Victoria Theatre, Woking

Tues 17-Sat 21 September
The Mayflower Theatre, Southampton

Mon 23-Sat 28 September
New Wimbledon Theatre

Mon 30 September-Sat 5 October
Princess Theatre, Torquay

For further dates please check :

Sweet Charity – Doesn’t Put a Tingle in Your Fingers

Bob Fosse’s original musical ‘Sweet Charity’ opened in 1966 but you will be more familiar with the 1969 movie version starring Shirley MacLaine. Based on Fellini’s ‘Nights of Cabiria’ and a book by Neil Simon, with music by jazzman Cy Coleman and lyrics by Dorothy Fields. It was a successful show in the late sixties.  I went to see the 2010 West End revival playing at the Theatre Royal, Haymarket and starring Tamzin Outhwaite in the lead role.  We are introduced to Charity Hope Valentine as she meets her new boyfriend, Charlie in New York’s Central Park – Charlie then steals her handbag and pushes her into the lake – starting off the string of events that leads to Charity failing, in ever more desperate ways, to achieve escape from her demeaning existence and find her idea of heaven … her ‘little white picket fences’.

The story is about the life of misery and disappointment that a girl has to bear. Charity is a taxi dancer at a Times Square dance-hall. Surprisingly, the ‘working girls’ like Charity in this story are more often than not optimistic, full of aspiration and expectation. Their hopes are so frequently and cruelly dashed upon the painful rocks of a life – that you would expect them to be cynical harpies full of hate for all men. But they seem totally unaffected by their futility – shaped for them by the total and abysmal failure of all the men that they meet to be honorable and trustworthy.  Men are always exposed as liars, cheaters, thieves, charlatans or selfish oafs. Men are pigs at the trough. And women are the feed.

You will recognise “Big Spender” the Shirley Bassey hit directly the opening notes blast out. This is the big show number that introduces the ‘taxi dancer’ girls at the “Fandango Ballroom” where Charity works for a pittance.  You know the song, ‘The minute you walked in the joint, (boom boom) I could see you were a man of distinction, a real Big Spender’.    Although these “dime-a-dance” girls are genuinely one step up from the hookers described in Fellini’s film, it is not difficult to assume that girls who offer the patrons hotter and more sensual dances, for their ten cents, get to fill their dance cards quicker and get to choose their dance partners. So the competition amongst the girls is to go the extra distance to grab themselves a good punter. They don’t pop their corks for every man they see !

Charity meets some ‘big spender’ Vittorio Vidal- who uses and abuses her. She meets shy Oscar Lindquist in a lift liaison (after a daft romp and a frustrating wardrobe scene with the big spender) and this relationship also ends disappointingly. She goes to The Rhythm of Life church under the bridge, where her life is not changed or altered in any way by the charismatic black preacher… so that’s another waste of time and effort. The story is just about the grinding futility of her existence and the relentless search for a man- it doesn’t matter whether the man is good – or bad even – Charity is happy as long as a man (any man) is willing to spend a night with her, because he just might be her ticket out of this place. She runs her heart like some kind of cheap hotel for no-goods and rogues … she has  “always got people checking in and checking out”.

The jazz and show tunes are great fun, but for most part, forgettable. The dance is hot and energetic. Tamzin was full of energy and fun and perfectly interpreted the two sides of the nature of Charity – the girly side, crushed, needy and mundane, and the get-up-and-dance side … the resilient business-woman who makes things work. The other female characters were portrayed in a similar way by the cast- some more severely cynical, others smarter, but they were all in the same boat. They were all used and abused.

The standout number in this show seems, to me anyway, to be set in entirely the wrong musical. The “Rhythm Of Life” song is introduced to us by Daddy Johann Sebastian Brubeck and Daddy’s All-Girl Rhythm Choir- and  ought to be in the musical ‘Hair’ not in ‘Sweet Charity’.   Even if you know this song (because it’s in your head for years after the first hearing) you will be surprised to find here. Sammy Davis, Jr. had a reasonable hit with this number back in 1968, and you will be humming it after the show, I guarantee it.  “The rhythm of life is a powerful beat, Puts a tingle in your fingers and a tingle in your feet, Rhythm in your bedroom, rhythm in the street … Yes, the rhythm of life is a powerful beat.”

Ultimately, though, this show is built on disappointment and futility. Charity and Hope are the two virtues missing from this bleak world. And without hope and success, the show ends, in my view anyway, on a sour note – and leaves a hollow feeling in the heart. The companion songs to the two big numbers are not strong, and the farcical situations are sometimes tedious, if not frustrating, for the audience.  The Theatre Royal was not half full on the night I saw the show, but the tickets started at £10.

If you like big song and dance shows, maybe you should try something else. But if you are curious about why this musical has been successful since the sixties – and you enjoyed the film – you could give it a try.  Just don’t spend too much on tickets  – unless you are some kind of a Big Spender!

© Neil_Mach
November 2010


Ad Pontes Staines- music arts & going out IN STAINES

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Hair – The Musical – Gielgud Theatre, London

Hair – Gielgud Theatre

Be sure to wear some flowers in your hair …

It was a perfect spring afternoon in London when I went to see this new Diane Paulus production of the iconic swinging sixties musical “Hair” starring American 2009 Tony Award ® winning actor Will Swenson (Berger) along with Tony ®  nominated actor Gavin Creel  (Claude). I spent the afternoon in a pleasant amble around in Soho – browsing in Carnaby Street – before going to the Gielgud Theatre and revisiting my misspent youth. It brought back some kind memories for me.  I was one of the hated  ‘tribe’ of hippies.  I remember my Dad telling me not to go out in the street wearing my love beads around my neck because they made me  “look like a proper poof”  (his words).  Ah the sixties! This musical takes me back.  I also remember when I finally cut my hair (like the character Claude has to do) and the look of sadness upon my father’s face when he realized that the free and innocent creature he had once loved was gone forever. It is an irony of the age that men and women like my Dad fought in the Second World War for freedom and for love yet looked on in despair when the fruits of that hard won freedom was a generation that was actually acting ‘freely’ – protesting against the ‘rules’ of a regimented society (in a gentle non-confrontational way) and seeking approval for their mantras of love, peace and harmony and the ‘abandonment’ of the materialistic world

There have been several attempts to reincarnate this rock musical – most fail – but this is, I believe, the right time to re-watch those hippies and what they represented and to sit back and enjoy the show.  Although I was familiar with the musical,  I was still surprised at how everything seemed to be so relevant.  Subjects stand out like anti-war, pro-drugs, the results of ‘guilt free love’ and racial harmony and all have currency today.  It is worth remembering how important and innovative this show was originally, with black and white actors on stage at the same time – sharing equal billing -long before anyone could imagine a man like Barack Obama would be living in the WHITEhouse.  Eventually, skin-heads, punks and a New Wave of working class culture killed off the ‘middle class’ hippies (contrary to popular myth they were not all exterminated at the Altamont Free Concert of 1969.) And this musical was lost along-the-way,  lost in the same way as our ideals for peace and love and our cheese-cloth shirts, cow-bells and Afghan coats.  But the legacy of the Hippie culture still lives on and is found in environmental consciousness,  whole food shops, music festivals, new age travellers, sexual liberation and tolerance,  LGBT communities, ‘world’ music, and even the journey into cyberspace.

Claude, and his mate Berger, like all their friends of the tribe, struggle to balance the ideals of love, peace and harmony against a backdrop of the Vietnam war and those conservative middle-class parents (like my Dad) who think that the kids should have a wash, grab a haircut, land a job and just bloody  well conform.   The story is based around the decision that Claude faces –  should he cut off his hair  and go to Nam or should he dodge the draft and burn his papers?   The consequences of both choices may well result in the ruining of his life (he may face a prison sentence for burning his papers – but at least he would be alive and unwounded. )  The tribe doesn’t have much but they do have  each other and they have got their shared love. So they make love not war.  And they ask us to give peace a chance.

“I got my feet
I got my toes
I got my liver
Got my blood”

The music by Canadian composer, Galt MacDermot – the Bantu beats and the funky rock n roll tunes, don’t necessarily conjure up memories of Sixties hippy music. For me, then, my music of choice was Jefferson Airplane, but I also liked the Jimi Hendrix Experience and Bob Dylan.  In the musical there is no psychedelic rock or hard blues – though the cast talk about it plenty. (Though there was a nod to Jimi’s Star Spangled Banner.)  Even critics at the time thought that the show music did not accurately reflect the counter-culture of rock. But the music of Hair is firmly in the tradition of big belting
show-tunes and musical barn-storming stompers.   And the songs are good. “Aquarius” still makes my hair stand on end – and “Let the Sunshine In” [ a hit single for 5th Dimension] is still as gob-smackingly beautiful as ever. Other stand out songs are the Blur-ish ditty “Manchester, England, England” sung by Claude and the blaxploitation songs of Dionne (Sasha Allen) black boys / white boys  (“ white boys are so pretty… ”)

In “The Trip” scene Buddhist monks, Catholic Nuns, Red Indians, Viet soldiers and even astronauts get involved in the slaughter of the innocent. It was no surprise to find that director Diane Paulus has also worked on dramatic operas like ‘Turandot’ because this scene and the ‘Eyes Look Your Last’ were visually stunning as well as emotionally moving musical masterpieces. Thanks must also be given to Karole Armitage for the breathtaking choreography.

Certainly, looking back, hippies were full of sh ** – gathering bits of religion along the way, with astrology and mysticism often as an excuse for sexual abandon, drug use and general laziness. Amongst the freedoms enjoyed during the Summer of Love was the freedom of nudity – and Hair still contains elements of this, but it now seems more artistic and almost twee against our modern ‘porn flick’ sensitivity.  Previous Hair nudists have included (in no particular order) Paul Nicholas, Richard O’Brien, Elaine Paige and Tim Curry. Meat Loaf, Curved Air’s Sonja Kristina and even Donna Summer and Liz Mitchell (of Boney M) in a German production. The full-frontal nudity in the 2010 version is neatly and appropriately performed, swathed in gentle warm light – just before the interval – just seconds long. If you are thinking of going to see the show just ‘for an
eyeful’  then think again- the nudity is – shall we say – tame, by modern standards.

I recommend this production for a loving, warm and passionate evening of pure entertainment.  Like the posters say, “Feel The Love” …

Let it fly in the breeze and get caught in the trees ….   Hair!

© Neil_Mach
April 2010

Tickets for the limited run in London

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