Tag Archives: Hadley Fraser

“The Phantom of the Opera” from The Shows Must Go On!

Available for only 24 hours, this concert production marking 25 years of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical aimed to raise funds for various charities connected with Covid-19. To celebrate such a hit show, with its potent beauty-and-the-beast love triangle, producer Cameron Macintosh didn’t scrimp. The result is tremendous.

Gorgeous costumes, fantastic video projections and, with the Royal Albert Hall standing in for the Palais Garnier that the Phantom made his home, the atmosphere is impressive throughout. The auditorium is skilfully used in the film and – wait for it – the chandelier has fireworks!

The extravagance continues with a plumped-up ensemble and full corps de ballet, including a guest appearance by Sergei Polunin. Appropriately, there’s a star-studded cast, led by Ramin Karimloo in the title role. Karimloo makes a formidable Phantom, his singing muscular and emotions raw. His is a frightened figure, scared of his love for Christine, with hatred of his rival fuelling his insanity.

'The Phantom of the Opera' anniversary concert
Hadley Fraser and Sierra Boggess

The object of his obsession, played by Sierra Boggess, sounds beautiful and is just as well acted. Boggess is great at bringing out the horror in the story and even shows that Christine herself is a good actress. Also, very few people can make a cape work so well for them. Completing the trio of leads, Raoul Vicomte de Chagny, is a poorer role, but Hadley Fraser does well to inject an edge to the character with a ruthless streak that aids the show’s action.

Both the staging and the cast, directed impeccably by Laurence Connor, are wonderful. But the biggest attraction remains Lloyd Webber’s music. Benefitting from a bigger orchestra than usual, it sounds better than ever; the overture to Act Two is gorgeous and the opera music within the show impressive.

How to end such a fantastic event? I’m pleased I kept watching, after the lengthy applause, for the encore – an appearance by the original ‘angel of music’ Sarah Brightman, backed by four former Phantoms! A very special end to a magnificent event that easily deserves donations.

Available on The Shows Must Go On! YouTube channel until 18 April 2020

“Committee…” at the Donmar Warehouse

Verbatim theatre, with the script transcribed from everyday speech, is relatively rare. As for a verbatim musical – I can only thing of Alecky Blythe’s hit London Road. So doubling the genre, with music by Tom Derring, this new show counts as a curiosity, while suggesting the novel treatment has potential.

The subject matter might make you question the sanity of the project. The piece’s full title is The Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee takes oral evidence on Whitehall’s relationship with Kids Company. Yes, it’s a crazy idea. But it works well.

For further originality, the book and adaptation into lyrics, by Hadley Fraser and Josie Rourke, use not the casual conversations admired in most verbatim works, but public testimony in the House of Commons – speech that contributors knew would be on record.

Topical, political, important – all fine qualities for good theatre. It’s clear that, despite the humour, including initial giggles at people bursting into song, this is serious stuff. The cast excels at depicting the MPs we came to know during the news story – Alexander Hanson and Liz Robertson are especially strong as Bernard Jenkin and Cheryl Gillan – but coming so close to impersonations can be distracting. Thankfully, the show isn’t flattering about anybody’s sense of importance – or their desire to capture the “8.10 slot” on the Today programme.

Being grilled are none other than Alan Yentob and Camilla Batmanghelidjh, the Kids Company charity’s trustee and CEO. The roles are taken by opera singer Oscar Ebrahim and, with a voice to match him, Sandra Marvin. Again, while their impersonations are eye catching, the real achievement is a vocal ability that aids in revealing the complexity of characters and the situation. They add weight to Deering’s compositions and, while the show is static, some clever touches from director Adam Penfold are well used.

While you might find yourself surprised at how entertaining the whole thing is, Committee’s biggest success is drier – it works as a peculiar pedagogy. The MPs sing that their aim is not a show trial but “to learn” what happened to the bankrupt charity. And from this condensed 80 minutes you discover the issues and questions far more efficiently that following the story in the media. The edit deserves credit, of course, but the ability of the music to focus the mind has a strange power I’d happily hear utilised more often.

Until 12 August 2017

www.donmarwarehouse.com

Photo by Manuel Harlan

“The Fantasticks” at the Duchess Theatre

The Fantasticks is the simplest of stories, staged minimally to emphasise theatricality and dealing with universals. Archetypal characters and situations are presented with comedy and tragedy painted broadly. If you want to sound clever you can say it uses the oldest performance traditions, with a narrator as chorus and drawing on commedia dell’arte. It is designed to appeal to all and, as the success of its songs by Harvey Schmidt, along with its 50-year run in New York indicates, it does so.
Boy meets girl and they fall in love. Cue glitter. There seems to be an obstacle – their warring fathers. Overcome this and the result is more glitter. A further set of problems to confirm this love is the real thing and you have a finale that includes (you guessed it) glitter. There really is a lot of glitter.

The book and lyrics by Tom Jones are far more knowing than this outline suggests. His reference is as much Pyramus and Thisbe performed by the rude mechanicals as Romeo and Juliet. It is a surprise, therefore, that Amon Miyamoto’s production is so heavy handed when it comes to sentiment. An observation that the production is ‘avant garde’ gets the biggest laugh of the evening, as the black jutting stage and mawkish choreography are jarring. As is the audience participation with those sitting on stage drafted into the action. It may prove some point for the director but it does little for the show.

Unfortunately this overdose of sincerity seems to have made an impression on the younger members of the cast. Luke Brady and Lorna Want have great voices but look as if they are trying too hard. Hadley Fraser shares this problem when he comes to deliver the play’s numerous homely truths as The Narrator but he also gets the chance to show great comic talent when he plays the bandit El Gallo. Clive Rowe and David Burt seem to make getting laughs easy work. They are wonderful together. Likewise Paul Hunter and Edward Petherbridge who are conscripted in a plot to bring the lovers together. From the moment of their wonderful entrance on stage they are laugh-out-loud funny. Petherbridge really is fantastic and is in total control of the audience.

The Fantasticks is a joyous celebration of the power of your imagination. You have to be hard hearted indeed not to love such an appealing show even if it is essential to revel in the incredible and let yourself go. And why not? Sometimes it is great to take things with a pinch of salt. Or maybe a pinch of glitter.

Photo by Dan Tsantilis

Written 11 June 2010 for The London Magazine