Ruthless! The Musical, Arts Theatre, London.

'Ruthless' Musical performed at the Arts Theatre, London, UK

Ruthless! The Musical, first opened off Broadway 26 years ago. It is the almost archetypal off-Broadway show. It makes the fact that it is a low budget show in a small theatre part of its appeal. So, I was worried that the Arts Theatre, although it is the smallest theatre in the West End, would be too big for it.

Having said that, Ruthless is a great show, with a wonderful part for an aspiring young actress as  the 8 year old, Tina.  Given the importance of understudies in the storyline, there is a wonderful irony in the fact that the first two understudies for Tina when the show opened in 1992 were Natalie Portman and Britney Spears. This being the UK, with child protection laws, we have 4 Tinas and no understudies. Anya Evans played Tina on the night I attended and she was very good, great dancing and a frighteningly bright smile.

It has become usual for the role of Sylvia St Croix to be played by a man and Jason Gardiner makes a good job of it here, his movement is excellent and he can certainly dance in heels. Kim Maresca is fantastic as Tina’s mother, very Stepford Wife in the first act and very Liza Minnelli in the second. In fact,  all the acting in this production is top notch, Tracie Bennett and Harriet Thorpe are both pantomime villain good as theatre critic Lita and drama teacher Myrna.

The musical numbers are mostly good, two standout songs are “I hate musicals” sung, with many funny reprises, by Lita and the title song, Ruthless! by the whole company. The set and costumes are both “fabulous dahling”, 1950’s crinoline petticoats in a 1960’s Formica living room.

The real stand out thing about this show is the references, Shirley Temple, All about Eve, Bob Fosse, interpretive dance, Judy Garland – far too many to list – all get a mention in some way. It’s enjoyable trying to spot them and there’s no way that you will get them all.  Everything about this show is kitsch, but if you didn’t know that before you arrived, you should have done more research before buying the ticket. The humour is camp and low brow, but still great fun. This is good production of a good show, perhaps it could have been even better in a more intimate theatre.

 

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The Donkey Show, Proud Camden, London 2016

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In this version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the forest outside Athens has become a 1970s disco. Oberon, the king of the fairies, is the nightclub owner, Titania is his main squeeze and the fairies are a troop of Muscle Mary disco dancers strutting their stuff on raised plinths and around poles.

Puck is a roller-skating drag queen narrator and the 4 star crossed lovers are punters in various states of alcohol and drug fuelled confusion. I was amazed at how well the setting fitted the original play.

All of them sing their parts (no lip synching here) to classic 1970s disco tunes while interacting with the audience and getting increasingly out of it as the night goes on.

It’s camp, it’s brash, it’s rude and crude, its funny and it is great fun. London needs a camp, frothy, boisterous night out as a tourist attraction and this could be it!  After all,  “Beach Blanket Babylon” has run in San Francisco for over 40 years now and is still going strong.

Leave your inhibitions at the door and be prepared to party.

This is the best rowdy, rollicking night out in London this summer!

The Grand Budapest Hotel (dir. Wes Anderson) 2014

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The Grand Budapest Hotel is light, frothy escapism. The story is an unlikely but likeable tale involving the concierge, played by Ralph Fiennes, aided by the lobby boy, played by Tony Revolori.

It is crammed with famous actors in cameo roles. Jeff Goldblum, Tilda Swinton and Edward Norton are particularly memorable, but there are so many others that you could spend the whole movie saying “Oh look! Isn’t that…..”

The jokes are off-beat and sometimes off-colour. The script contains some nice aphorisms and some good one line jokes. The characters are a lovely mixture of smarmy and sharp.

The sets and set pieces are extraordinary and absorbing. It was nominated for 9 Academy awards and best set design was one of those it won.  The costumes and the acting are wonderfully camp, it also won Oscars for best make-up and best costume design.

I didn’t find any great universal truths in “The Grand Budapest Hotel” but I smiled for the full hour and a half and that is definitely a recommendation.

Funny Girl (dir. W. Wyler) 1968

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“Hello Gorgeous”

Barbra Streisand won the Oscar for best actress for this film in 1968. This film was nominated for 8 Academy Awards in total. It is almost always included in lists of all time best musicals.

It is too bright. It is melodramatic. It is both camp and kitsch. Omar Sharif does not sing well…….but the film is about succeeding by overcoming faults and making the most of what you do have.

This movie has Barbra Streisand, who is amazing in this film, the role could have been written for her and she grabs it with both hands and wrings every piece of emotion out of it. It has some fantastic, powerful songs that still sound great almost fifty years on. It also has a line that is often included in lists of most memorable movie quotes:”Hello Gorgeous”

If you like musicals or are interested in cinema history you have to see this film.