Tag Archives: Daniel Evans

“South Pacific” at Sadler’s Wells

The fantastic songs in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s 1949 musical make any revival a must. The love between plantation owner Emile (Julian Ovenden) and army nurse Nellie (Gina Beck), with war as a backdrop, is hopelessly romantic. Get ready to swoon. Does the show’s message against racism make up for its misogyny and militarism? Well, no. But there are moments in this production when I thought Julian Ovenden’s singing could solve all the world’s problems.

Daniel Evans’ production, from the Chichester Festival Theatre, tries hard to focus on the indigenous characters of the islands that the action takes place on. Strong choreography by Ann Yee helps.

Bloody Mary, who sells tourist tat to the troops, becomes a forceful character in Joanna Ampil’s portrayal. Her desperation to marry her daughter off to a rich American is moving. The focus for the show’s second romance becomes Mary and her daughter Liat (Sera Maehara) rather than the suitor, Lt. Joseph Cable. That’s a shame for Rob Houchen, who does a good job in the role, but it’s a deft shift of focus.

Joanna Ampil, Sera Maehara & Rob Houchen in SOUTH PACIFIC Photo Johan Persson
Joanna Ampil, Sera Maehara & Rob Houchen

The show’s humour is a problem, though. The role of maverick sailor Luther Billis is an unhappy one – I guess the intention was to be endearing? As it stands, the part just makes the book (by Hammerstein and Joshua Logan) seem flabby. Evans downplays the show within a show (I wonder if the idea was a stab at realism), which is disappointing if understandable – there’s a lack of action overall, so the show can drag.

As for the nurses stationed with the troops… these “dames” are nothing more than a chorus (albeit a good one). It’s only Beck’s quirky delivery that raises any smiles – she’s good at this – while her fear of miscegenation is depicted in a suitably shocking manner. You couldn’t call Nellie a well-rounded character, but Beck does a good job with her.

It is with romance that South Pacific wins. And this production knows that. Beck enforces Nellie’s charm and she sounds wonderful. As for Ovenden – his voice has never been better and the role should surely be career defining. Every rendition of Some Enchanted Evening gave me goosebumps. This Nearly Was Mine is a long and difficult song, but I hoped for an ovation. It’s a surprisingly understated performance that comes from tremendous confidence and power. Ovenden’s expressive voice makes the whole production not be missed.

Until 28 August 2022

www.sadlerswells.com

Photos by Johan Persson

“Flowers for Mrs Harris” from Chichester Festival Theatre

The story of a widowed char lady who saves up to buy a Christian Dior dress doesn’t sound like a winner. But I’m shocked that this show, which started at Sheffield Theatres in 2016 and is generously presented online by the Chichester Festival Theatre, wasn’t a big hit. High-quality, old-fashioned and unashamedly feelgood, Richard Taylor’s score and lyrics, with a book by Rachel Wagstaff based on Paul Gallico’s novel, is musical theatre magic.

There are risks here. The central character is naïve as well as ridiculously self-sacrificing. Her motivation, the dream behind her triumph over adversity, really shouldn’t convince. And the show is predictable – we all know where Mrs Harris will take a trip (cue dodgy accents to join already plentifully dropped consonants). But if you’re going to manipulate, emotional restraint isn’t called for, and director Daniel Evans shows he knows that. The proof is in the puddin’ – I was close to tears for most of the second act!

Much of the success is down to the mammoth title role, played by Clare Burt. At first gravelly, her voice gets stronger as the show progresses – along with a score that reflects dreams and imagination with style. The trials she faces in saving for her dress create remarkable investment with the audience. When winning the pools isn’t enough (an excellent sequence) hard work is the key, and admiration for the character, and Burt’s assured performance, are secured.

Flowers for Mrs Harris
Laura Pitt-Pulford and Louis Maskell

Mrs Harris goes around inspiring all, like a mix of Mary Poppins and Dolly Gallagher Levi. It makes for plenty of subsidiary characters, admittedly of varying success. It’s great to see some older roles, like Mrs Harris herself, but the younger parts are better and create a rush of romance that adds further escapism. Helping the French in their amours indicates a nice sense of humour underlying the show and provides great numbers for Laura Pitt-Pulford and Louis Maskell. There’s a touch here of She Loves Me – it’s a chocolate cake rather than ice cream – and that’s never a bad thing.

That there’s plenty of love for Mrs Harris is only fair. Mark Meadows’ roles – as her dead husband and then a Marquis who sees her as a fellow spirit – anchor the show. Like the gown she so covets, everything in Flowers for Mrs Harris is “made to make you feel”. Taylor doesn’t let up, and even a couple of twists at the end of the show ram home humour and heart. Nor does the finale disappoint, with each bouquet for Mrs Harris bringing a smile and a sob.

Available until 8 May 2020

To support visit www.cft.org.u

Photos by Johan Persson

“Show Boat” at the New London Theatre

Daniel Evans, director of this latest revival, describes Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II’s Show Boat as “the mother of all musicals”. It’s old – a first version dates from 1927 – so it’s safe to say that the songs have stood the test of time. Serious subject matter – a troubled love story with a backdrop of racism in the Deep South – carries a message of tolerance. And while the piece is not exactly timeless, this brilliant production makes it considerably more than a period curiosity.

Sandra Marvin (Queenie) and Emmanuel Kojo (Joe)
Sandra Marvin (Queenie) and Emmanuel Kojo (Joe)

Rave reviews from the production’s premiere in Sheffield, and the reason the show unquestionably deserves all those stars, come from high production values and the performances secured by Evans. Lez Brotherson’s design screams that it’s a big bucks show. The action is held together by Malcolm Sinclair, as the showboat captain, and there are stand out performances from Sandra Marvin as Queenie and Emmanuel Kojo, who sings that famous anthem to the Mississippi. As for the leads, the lovers Magnolia and Gaylord, Gina Beck and Chris Peluso are real stars at the top of their game.

Chris Peluso
Chris Peluso

But what to do with all the history? Despite noble intentions, it’s impossible not to see Show Boat as uncomfortably racist, not to mention sexist and snobbish. Black characters are the backdrop here, no matter how much Evans tries to refocus our attention. And all those gals who ‘Can’t Help Loving Dat Man’ need a talking to. Wisely, Evans accentuates the affirmative with a view of the family – extended by theatrical camaraderie – that gives pause for thought and makes this a feel-good evening.

Drama arrives unexpectedly on the river, the years pass glibly and resolution is minimal. Love at first sight and characters bursting into song, well, that’s what fools who dislike musicals complain of. And, let’s be honest, the characters here are wafer thin and everyone’s heart is permanently on their sleeve. But, with a somewhat luxurious pacing, Evans doesn’t bother with excuses or gimmicks that try to update the experience. This show has earned respect – let’s call it old fashioned and enjoy it.

Until 27 August 2016

www.showboatmusical.co.uk

Photographs by Johan Persson

“The Full Monty” at the Noël Coward Theatre

Already a triumph in its hometown of Sheffield, The Full Monty received its London premiere last night. Adapted by Simon Beaufoy from his own hugely successful 1997 screenplay, this is yet another safe bet for a West End hit. It’s all about auditions at the moment, and this well-loved story of unemployed steel workers who decide to become strippers deftly uses rehearsals and try-out tribulations to build to the (quite literal) denouement. It’s so well done, in fact, that any cynicism is blown away: this is a terrifically fun show with a big heart that London should love.

On a technical level, The Full Monty is a masterclass in direction from Daniel Evans. He’s always a treat to see on stage as an actor and, with a string of achievements as artistic director at Sheffield Theatres, he has firmly established his talents behind the scenes as well. Here he excels, pacing the show perfectly, balancing its humour with emotional impact.

Evans has secured superb performances from his talented cast. Kenny Doughty leads as charismatic lad-about-town Gaz, desperate for cash to pay maintenance so he can see his son. Roger Morlidge gives a sensitive performance as his cumbersome best friend, and there’s a cracking cameo from Rachel Lumberg as the latter’s wife. Their former foreman-turned-choreographer is played with satisfyingly dryness by Simon Rousse, the only Conservative voter in sight. To suit broader tastes there’s fine work from Sidney Cole, Craig Gazey and Kieran O’Brien, who is accompanied by a gasp-worthy prosthetic addition.

Of course it’s crude – it’s about strippers after all – and some jokes show their age. A couple of scenes carried over from the film are weak, simply feeding a desire to see the movie recreated on stage. More impressive are new touches; an expanded exploration of a gay relationship and the use of Robert Jones’ nimble set, which sees cranes, girders and sparking machinery used to great effect.

The laughs are plentiful but, beyond the giggles, Evans uses Beaufoy’s scenario to explore all manner of sensitive issues, from gender roles to unemployment. This celebration of men of all shapes and sizes is a real make ‘em laugh, make ‘em cry treat with plenty to think about. In fact, it’s a refreshing blast of Northern wind.

Until 14 June 2014

Photo by Hugo Glendinning

Written 26 February 2014 for The London Magazine