Tag Archives: Carley Stenson

“From Here to Eternity” at the Charing Cross Theatre

This first London revival of the musical by Stuart Brayson and Tim Rice has admirable qualities but unfortunately highlights some of the show’s shortcomings. It’s set on the eve of Pearl Harbour, where the love lives of bored soldiers, more interested in boxing than war, is a little too much like a soap opera. The book, by Donald Rice and Bill Oakes, is impressively adult but rushes the action. And the production, directed by Brett Smock, follows suit, splurging on plot and leaving little time for emotion.

The music might not be the most memorable, but Brayson’s songs are good and the score coherent. The new orchestration from Nick J Barstow is bold. And the performances are enjoyable. But the effort to inject energy is too transparent. There’s a lot of soldiers running around and far too much moving the boxes that make up a big part of Stewart J Charlesworth’s design. Scenes feel truncated – snapshots of army life – and are occasionally confusing.

Nervous rather than macho is the atmosphere. The show has something to say about masculinity and war, but gives us little time to think. The roles of Warden and Prewitt are interesting and Adam Rhys-Charles and Jonathon Bentley, who take the roles, sound great, though neither holds attention for long. We are on to another scene too quickly, too often. The build-up to the bombing, clearly designed to provide structure and tension, is overworked and underdelivers.

Jonny Amies as Maggio photographed by Mark Senior

The cast has plenty of young talent to enjoy and they acquit themselves well. There is a sense of life in the barracks that is tense if not particularly detailed. Jonny Amies as Maggio, “the Joker of the pack”, is smart not to force the show’s attempts at humour and ends up a moving figure. But more experienced performers do shine. Alan Turkington makes the role of the cuckolded Captain work. And Eve Polycarpou, who plays the show’s brothel owner, makes her number (not the strongest) stand out.

The women in the piece – despite being outnumbered – are the highlight. There are strong performances from Carley Stenson and Desmonda Cathabel as the love interests, who inject some much-needed pathos. The songs are sometimes hampered by the lyrics – serviceable yet uninspired – but the delivery is good. The singing gets better and better. But there’s still the problem of just too much going on that feels rushed through or episodic. Storylines have to be resolved even quicker than they were set up. This leaves a poor impression of good show.

Until 17 December 2022


Photo by Alex Brenner

"Curtains" at Wyndham’s Theatre

Although this musical comedy by Kander and Ebb – creators of Cabaret and Chicago – is never going to be regarded as their best work it’s still a credible piece, being clever, funny and always entertaining. It’s a spoof of musical theatre itself and of the detective genre, which means there’s a lot going on. Unfortunately, at the unhappy performance I attended, it feels that the content is simply too much for this company to tackle.

Jason Manford and Leah Barbara West
Jason Manford and Leah Barbara West

At an out-of-town run for a turkey of show called Robbin Hood, the drunken star is killed while taking an underserved bow. And since that death might be the best thing for those onstage and off, the suspects are plentiful. In a nice twist, our detective, Frank Cioffi, is a theatre lover who sets about saving the show as well as solving the crime. Jason Manford takes the sleuthing role and acquits himself well. It’s a shame that there’s too little chemistry with his love interest Niki (played by Leah Barbara West). These are well-written roles that feel neglected by director Paul Foster, who plumps instead for the eye-catching director and producer characters who provide comedy highlights via the performances of Samuel Holmes and Rebecca Lock.

Samuel Holmes in 'Curtain' at Wyndhams Theatre
Samuel Holmes

Kander and Ebb don’t make things easy for themselves (or anyone) as Robbin Hood is reworked, and improved before our eyes. It’s an interesting idea for lovers of the genre but needs more pace and more signposting than Foster provides. As Noises Off just down the road shows, when you pretend to be bad you really have to be very good. A delay at the start of my showing created suspicions of problems, then a real scenery malfunction created very much the wrong atmosphere.

Curtains The Musical credit The Other Richard
Alan Burkitt

Of course, this is just one performance in a long run, and such things happen. But there are other disappointments. Having only seen the show in a fringe production before, I should have found a large-scale version more exciting. Foster doesn’t infuse enough ambition into the piece and the stage seems sparsely populated. Alistair David’s choreography does not help; the dance seems laboured – no matter how well delivered by Alan Burkitt and Emma Caffrey, who do well with their roles as Bobby Pepper and Bambi Bernet – an awful lot of effort for little result. Worse still, Curtains should be a lot funnier: Rupert Holmes’ book builds expertly and the lyrics are smart. For some reason, the composers of the show within the show seem instructed not to even try for a laugh, which means that performances from Andy Coxon and Carley Stenson may sound great but end up – like the production as a whole – flat and disappointing.

Until 11 January 2020


Photos by Richard Davenport