Tag Archives: Michael Strassen

“Godspell” On Line, In Concert

This recorded concert, celebrating the 50th anniversary of a legendary show, boasts a special introduction from its composer and lyricist Stephen Schwartz. Fans have the chance to hear some great new performances from a strong cast. And it’s all in aid of good causes: Manchester’s Hope Mill Theatre, Acting For Others and the National AIDS Trust.

I’m not a huge admirer of the piece, but there are plenty of good songs. While Schwartz knows variety is needed, both in style and emotional tempo, there aren’t enough stand-out numbers in a score that’s a little too easy on the ear. Thankfully, there’s no sense that any of the performers share my reservations. Among the West End stars assembled, it’s great to see and hear talents such as Alison Jiear, Jenna Russell and Sam Tutty. George Carter’s musical direction is of the highest quality.

Director Michael Strassen tries hard to tackle the fluid nature of the song cycle format. While original productions presented parables, here inserts reveal abstract concepts of what the songs are ‘about’: Prepare, Hope, Faith, even Class. The approach provides some structure but conflicts with the inclusion of photographs from the present day, mostly of care workers, that feel proscriptive. And Godspell’s religious content is strangely absent. It takes a while to remember that John-Michael Tebelak’s book is loosely based on the Gospel story. As a result, Darren Day’s emotive performance as Jesus ends up disconnected and rather odd.

Although a smaller problem, the performers are not helped by the video work in this production. The variety of backgrounds is nice, but the split scenes, phone screens (of course) and graphics are frequently, well, naff. Especially disappointing is their intrusion in Ruthie Henshall’s number, Turn Back, O Man, performed in the bath! With a rubber duck on board, we don’t need bubbles added – the performance alone is enough.

Another notable exception – some humour – comes with a fine performance from Ria Jones of Learn Your Lessons Well. Otherwise, the tone is earnest, dry even. Plenty of effort is made to inject energy (Jiear is especially good at this) but as a collection of short films, momentum never takes off. Much of this is not Strassen’s fault – it’s a reflection of the show itself. While it always sounds top notch, the piece is downright monotonous.

Until 29th August 2020


“The Fix” at the Union Theatre

Those who love musicals know that the art form can tackle pretty much any subject matter. But some might raise eyebrows at show tunes about an American presidential campaign. John Dempsey and Dana P. Rowe’s musical The Fix shows there’s a good fit between the two since the theatricality and artificiality of politics is highlighted by the genre.

This is the story of Cal – a young man from a dynasty that sees politics as a game – and his journey to power, from a stint in the military to a marriage of convenience, and the ensuing sleaze, affairs and mafia connections. Director Michael Strassen does a superb job with this fast-paced, exciting story, injecting it with humour and passion. A 60s setting allows Rowe to show off a panoply of musical styles that can’t fail to impress and Dempsey’s smart lyrics are full of satire.

If The Fix has a failing it serves to prove a point. Cal is blank slate for others to manipulate. The suggestion is that’s what it takes to get ahead in politics, and his character is somewhat flat – though this certainly isn’t the case with Louis Maskell’s singing, which resonates beautifully. Maskell also displays considerable acting skills and manages to put some flesh on his character in scenes with his mistress Tina, played by Daisy Tonge, whose strong voice makes this young actress one to watch.

As the plot thickens to include Cal’s desperation for a fix because of his drug addiction, the real focus becomes not the heir in waiting to the presidential throne, but his mentor and his mother. As the former, Miles Western gives a tremendous performance as a Machiavellian mastermind of spin with plenty of motivation – his continual questioning of the very sanity of his plan gives The Fix its edge. Yet the star of the show is Liz May Brice as Cal’s mother. In superb voice with the highest calibre of acting, this mad mixture of Lady Macbeth and Mama Rose is truly captivating.

Until 14 July 2012


Photo by Roy Tan

Written 28 June 2012 for The London Magazine