School Of Rock, New London Theatre, London, 2017

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School of Rock’s plot has more holes than a polo mint factory. I almost had to talk myself into suspending my disbelief. However, when I did, this show has funny lines, great tongue-in-cheek, rock songs, and some very talented children.

The opening song “I’m too hot for you” is a clever parody and “Stick it to the man” and “School of Rock” are crowd pleasing, audience participation, stadium rock pastiches. There are other good songs too “You’re in the Band” is catchy and I liked the “Faculty Quadrille” which has recognisable Lloyd Webber moments.

David Finn is likeable and irritating in equal measures as Dewey, but this is as it meant to be. The plot involves him living out his teenage fantasy by changing a class of nerdy kids into 1980s style rock stars. The story is fun, ridiculous and there is a big enjoyable finale, where the crowd goes wild. The children play all their own instruments and their acting and singing is excellent.

This show is a real crowd pleaser, the whole audience was involved by the end and there was a standing ovation. The cynic in me saw a lack of narrative, did not see the ending as happy and felt a bit manipulated. However, I took a lesson that I learned from the “Book of Mormon” song “Turn it Off” and did just that.

Put away your critical eye, embrace your inner teenager, and you will enjoy it too!

The Other Palace, Victoria, London, SW1

The Other Palace started life as St James Theatre in 2012 when it was the first newly built theatre in Central London for over 30 years. It was bought by Andrew Lloyd Webber’s, Really Useful Group, last year and has been rebranded and it intended as a place to develop new musicals.

The opening season looks very promising.  The first show was  “The Wild Party” which was an auspicious start . This was my review of it. The Wild Party, The Other Palace, Victoria, London.  Later in the year The National Youth Music Theatre will be bringing “Sunday in the Park with George”. A musical based on Fellini’s “La Strada” should be interesting too.

The complex itself, is a space containing two theatres, a restaurant upstairs and a ground floor bar. The building is glass fronted on the ground and first floor making the entrance, bar and restaurant feel bright and airy. The main theatre is relatively small, with around 300 capacity, nicely laid out, with every seat giving a good view of the stage. The studio is quite intimate, capacity around 100, it was laid out as a cabaret bar, but seating arrangements could be flexible. The cabaret tables and chairs worked perfectly for the show on at the time.

The upstairs restaurant, is modern and light. The setting is lovely. I have not eaten there since it has been rebranded as The Other Naughty Piglet but I have heard good things about, Naughty Piglets, their other restaurant, in Brixton.

The bar is set slightly lower than ground level, it catches the light well and it is a comfortable place to chat. It’s not huge, though, and does get crowded during the interval, this is a bar where it is definitely worth pre-ordering your interval drinks. The house white and house rose were both dry and good quality.

The Really Useful group have made a shrewd buy in this handily located theatre. It is  very close to Victoria Station and right across the road from Buckingham Palace.

I love the idea of it being a place to refine new work and I wish them every success in their endeavour.

The Wild Party, The Other Palace, Victoria, London.

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Andrew Lloyd Webber has bought the theatre that used to be known as The St. James Theatre and changed its name to The Other Palace. He wishes it to become the place where writers and producers can try out and refine new work.

The first show here is “The Wild Party”. This musical has a lot of good things going for it. The ensemble are fantastic, the songs are good, the comedy songs are very funny. The dancing and choreography are fast and good, the characters are interesting and flawed.

For me, the music is too loud for the size of the theatre, it took me about three songs for my hearing to adjust enough to understand the lyrics. This is a shame because the lyrics that I did hear were acerbic and funny. The ending is a bit of an anti-climax, if ever a show needs an encore routine, this is one. This is such a disappointment because so much of the rest of the show is wonderful.

The songs are a nice mixture of vibrant, funny and bitter. The dialogue is sharp. The choreography is dynamic and energetic. The atmosphere is decadent and sexy. The closing series of songs in the first act is amazing and if they were to somehow make this the finale of the whole show, it would run forever.

It is hard to pick out individual performances, not only because everyone is very good, but also because everyone in the show has their own part to play. There is no chorus here.

Frances Ruffelle and John Owen-Jones have beautiful emotive voices. Donna McKechnie and Bronte Barbe are both funny and have a great song each, showing off their range. Steven Serlin and Sebastien Torkia are a clever comedy double act. Gloria Obianyo and Genesis Lynea are excellent at joining the show together. Victoria Hamilton-Barritt arrives late and threatens to steal the show. The dancing is uniformly outstanding.

This show truly is a wild party, bringing with it all that this entails. It is an exhilarating rollercoaster ride, and like all the best parties – although I may have some regrets the next day, I wouldn’t miss it for the world.

An American in Paris, Dominion Theatre, London, 2017

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Everything about this production is spectacular.

The 1950 film, on which it is based, won 7 Academy awards. George Gershwin won one for the best score, the stage show takes this and adds some of the best of his back catalogue; “The Man I Love”, “But not for me” and “They can’t take that away from me”.  They are beautifully sung by Haydn Oakley and Zoe Rainey.

Alan Jay Lerner won the Oscar for best story. This has been kept with just a little more detail added. It also won the awards for best costume and best sets. The costumes here are beautiful, postwar in style and Paris elegant. The sets are wonderfully inventive, they could be Jerry Mulligans drawings brought to life. They are outlines of the Paris skyline being sketched on blank backdrops as they are moved into place, a beautiful concordance of the 1950s and the 21st century.

Wonderful as all of the above is, the real stars of this show are the choreography and the principal dancers. Robert Fairchild and Leanne Cope are both classically trained ballet dancers, he in New York and she in London. The dance routines are dazzling. The show opens with a 7 minute number where Fairchild arrives on the scene as Jerry Mulligan, full of vitality.  Cope’s part as Lise builds more slowly and she comes fully into her own in the second act.

The director and choreographer is Christopher Wheeldon. The final numbers of the show are nothing short of inspirational. “I’ll build a stairway to Paradise” is a classic 50’s, exhibitionist, camp show stopper. This is followed by the beautiful ballet inspired “An American in Paris” equally good, yet completely different.

This is a joyous reimagining of a classic Hollywood musical and, as you can probably tell, it stole my heart.

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Anyone Can Whistle, Union Theatre, 2017

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Anyone Can Whistle at the Union Theatre is an ebullient production of a lesser known Sondheim musical. Originally performed over 50 years ago on Broadway, it is certainly one of his shows that deserves a second hearing.

The storyline is quirky, this production brings out the humour and mayhem very nicely.

It has some great characters; Felicity Duncan is excellent as the power hungry, desperate to be loved politician, Rachel Delooze and Oliver Stanley are both very good as the lovelorn fake investigator and the fake doctor, and their final duet “With so little to be sure of” is a thing of beauty.

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It is packed with fantastic classic Sondheim songs: “Me and my town”, “There won’t be trumpets”, “Parade in town”, “Everyone says don’t”, “Anyone can whistle” and “With so little to be sure of” are all from this show!

The ensemble here are great, the stage can seem a little packed at times, but this works very well for the chase scene and the dance numbers are filled with energy and inventiveness.

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With all the talk of political madness and fake news, the time is right for the revival of this wonderful, undervalued musical and I thoroughly enjoyed this production.

This is a show that is not revived often enough, you should go to see it while you have the opportunity!

La La Land – Damien Chazelle (2016)

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I am almost loathe to review this because so much has been written about it over the past few weeks, nevertheless here is my two cents worth.

I understand why this movie has had such mixed reviews. The plot has holes, the storyline is unlikely, the dialogue is stilted on occasion, the music is not quite jazz…..

However, I enjoyed its inventiveness, the cinematography is amazing, the soundtrack is pretty and the ending is perfect and touching. Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling are likeable and fully committed to their roles. Their singing and dancing is good too.

The opening sequence sets the scene well, if you don’t like that, you can leave early, because you won’t like the rest of the film – it has the best dance routine and it lets you know that you are going to touch reality only intermittently.

I particularly loved the complexity of the final scene, a definite homage to “An American in Paris”. This finale was never going to be universally acclaimed and Damien Chazelle must have realised this and decided to go for it anyway. It was a brave decision and this final song gives the film a  new depth and intensity.

The good parts of this film are so good that you want to overlook the less good bits. All in all it is one the best films that I have seen in years.

I hope it wins some Academy Awards; definitely best cinematography, probably best original score, possibly even best director and best film.

Half a Sixpence, Noel Coward Theatre

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This is a revival of a 50 year old show. It has been done with so much love and a nice attention to detail.

There are new songs and a tidied up storyline but it still does not feel current and it doesn’t attempt to.

It looks and feels like an early 1960’s musical and that is its charm.

It has the early 60s obsession with class, it has the big boisterous dance numbers of the time and it has some great songs. There is an innocence and optimism about this show that one doesn’t find in contemporary musicals.

The whole cast are fantastic but Charlie Stemp is outstanding as Arthur Kipps. How he manages to maintain that energy throughout the whole show is remarkable.

Some of the songs have been moved around and there have been new ones added. “Pick Out a Simple Tune” is a particularly memorable new song. Moving “Flash, Bang, Wallop” to the close is a master stroke, finishing the show on a glorious high.

This is a great show with a wonderful finale and I will be amazed if it does not win a host of awards in the coming season.

Go see it while you have the chance – you will leave the theatre elated!