Tag Archives: show review

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 ©
Links: https://www.facebook.com/pg/SouthHillParkArtsCentre

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


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


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Bizet’s Carmen at London O2 – 21 May

It was hot work in the cigarette factory- all that panting and gasping, and the ever impassioned heaving- never mind the shrieking knife fights. And it didn’t help that it was the hottest weekend of the year – so far.  I was at the heady and intoxicating production of Carmen 2010 at the London O2 – directed by David Freeman – with Gareth Hancock  [Musical Director] and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra .

This exotic and erotic show was set in the round of this great coliseum of a home, and starred Christina Nassif as Carmen with John Hudson as José and the superb Elizabeth Atherton as Micaëla.

The staging area whirled around and ran to centre stage – with the orchestra at one end.  Performers tended to emerge from the Gates of Life at the corners of the event area, like gladiators facing their doom or glory. There must have been around 100 performers. I counted 35 girls in the cigarette factory- it was quite the largest production of the opera that I have ever seen. The idea behind the staging was to try to replicate the circuitous nature of the Street of Serpents in Seville. Furthermore, images from the macabre Feria Carnivals added fear and discomfort to the scenes and prepared the public for the doom laden thread that lay ahead.

Carmen is an opéra comique – in that it is spoken in places. This gives the work a ‘Hollywood musical’ quality and probably explains its runaway success in modern times. There is no doubt that Carmen is a favourite piece of music loved by both young and old. But this was not always the case, and back in 1875, when the work was premiered, it was defeated by both critics and the public, who protested that it was not serious enough. Bizet died before his work was fully accepted.

At the start of the drama, portly José is but a simple soldier and his music is that of the common folk and in tune with Micaëla’s.  By Act 2, though, José is a complicated rogue who can only be controlled by the summoning of the bugle. Micaëla, by contrast, remains dignified and loving throughout, and equally unblemished by the tawdriness of the situations as they develop as José is lost within the passion he has for Carmen.

Much is made of Carmen’s slippery nature and her venomous almost serpentine machinations.  These characteristics are musically enhanced by chromaticism, en-harmonic pivots and coiling motifs. But the sharp rhythms and exotic percussion also alludes to her ‘other worldliness’ and her Gypsy origins. She never quite feels comfortable in any social group – not the cigarette girls, nor the smugglers or even with other Gypsy girls. But Carmen is perfectly comfortable within herself and she accepts her nature and the nature of others around her, in a way that few can understand. She even gives in to her fatalistic ending – not only at the conclusion of the opera but also in the card reading scene.

Her fidelity and sharp mind is effectively introduced to the audience through the shrill nature of the central motif. This often sounds ironic and even patchy at times – like the unreliable character herself. Christina Nassif played the character with the sneer and the sensual passion that the part deserved, but I thought that the depth of her expression and the  overall dramatic quality of her performance was not as enthusiastic as it should be. When compared with the stunning fragile beauty of Micaëla’s air in E flat – brought to subtle life by Elizabeth Atherton – you could hear the limitations in the vocal power of Cristina.

Favourite moments were, of course, The Flower song, the Toréador’s Song and The Habanera – all gracefully and majestically brought to the fore by the superb orchestra conducted by Gareth Hancock. The vastness of the staging and the colossal size of the cast meant that  – at any one time – several scores of performers were ‘out of line of sight’ of the conductor. However, the production was perfectly handled by carefully positioned video monitors around the arena, so that the artists could each see the conductor from wherever they were.  I was concerned that some of the most intimate details of the plot would actually be ‘lost’ in the huge space. And I was fortunate to have a front row seat; (I do not know how folk managed to careen into those dizzying heights at the top of the event area- be warned that if you go to this venue you must not be scared of heights and you must wear sensible shoes.) But care and attention were given to the amplification of the voices, to provide as authentic operatic experience as possible for the audience. And spotlights and creative stage management meant that the limelight effectively fell at the right time and the right place to magnify or highlight the more important elements within the plot.

The last time I saw Carmen it had a ‘real horse’ and wonderful Gypsy dancers – and this O2 production also exceeded my expectations in both scope and epic proportions. The frantic hysteria of Act 4, including the Toreador’s Song, will live long in my memory.

As a delighted crowd left their seats we were all sternly warned that, ‘The O2 is a No Smoking area and patrons will be forcibly removed by staff if found smoking inside the building.’  No doubt patrons would also be flogged at whipping posts and the odd one lanced by picadors as well – just as an example to the others. I heard one member of the audience remark,  “That’s a bit rich isn’t it?  All night we have had to witness hussies flagrantly smoking endless cigarillos, torch lit processions brimming with flaming poi dancers and fire-eaters, and squad upon squad of chain smoking troops …. and we can’t even light up a crafty one!”

A sumptuous and hot production and a truly memorable experience.

© Neil_Mach
May 2010

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