Tag Archives: Robert McWhir

“Next Thing You Know” at the Garden Theatre

Shows about youth aren’t unusual, but a coming of middle age musical makes a nice change. Approaching their thirties, the characters in Joshua Salzman and Ryan Cunningham’s piece want to be “less young” and are already hungover from their twenties…poor dears.

The hopes and fears, and a sense of surprise, about growing older that are presented are interesting enough. Cunningham’s book is clear. By accident or design, Next Thing You Know ends up the story of Waverly, a strong role for Bessy Ewa, a young woman deciding on her love life and whether to carry on trying to become an actor. If Waverley’s future decisions end contrary to expectations the piece is entertaining and amusing along the way.

Based around a bar on Sullivan Street, New York, Waverly’s friend Lisa provides a stand-out role for Amelia Atherton (who also gets the best songs). You could watch both women for a long time. Indeed, it’s odd we don’t get to see Lisa, a singer-songwriter, perform something she has written. But the men hanging around them are less appealing. Waverly’s wet boyfriend, who Nathan Shaw gets great comedy from, generates a little sympathy. But his salesman colleague has some oddly dated sexual politics – “shallow and sleazy” – that Callum Henderson’s best efforts cannot redeem. I’m not sure Waverly would really have much time for either man.

Next-Thing-You-Know-starring-Nathan-Shaw-and-Callum-Henderson-photo-NatLPh
Nathan Shaw and Callum Henderson

Rather sweetly, director Robert McWhir’s production has the super idea of casting graduates from 2020. A welcome move in a year so difficult for young performers, the whole cast are hungry to impress. They’ve clearly learned much from their training and McWhir’s evident skills.

The singing is good and serves Salzman’s credible music and lyrics well. In the mould of Jason Robert Brown, it would be nice to hear a richer sounding version of the score with more than a pianist and guitarist performing. There are fine tunes, but the lyrics sometimes make both comedy and sentiment effortful. More than once, lower stakes produce better results: a meditation on city life and a song about a one-night stand are highlights. 

Problems come with the show’s specificity; are the characters (not performers) convincing 28 year olds? You might think them immature. If not, you may wonder what their problem is and find them whiney. Both positions are exacerbated by the commonality and repetition of concerns – there’s lots of talk about signs and decisions. Salzman and Cunningham like a motif a little too much.

As well as more variety, it’s disappointing that Next Thing You Know collapses into a standard romance. And one dealt with far too briefly at that. It might be quirky that its characters embrace being ordinary… but it isn’t that inspiring! The solution seems clear enough – strengthen the suggestion that Lisa is pursuing her dream and develop the role as a foil. Just a little more work would have given the show a lot more weight. 

Until 31 October 2020

www.gardentheatre.co.uk

Photos by NatLPho

“She Loves Me” at the Landor Theatre

A favourite soundtrack, I’ve never seen performed, the stakes were high for my trip to the Landor Theatre for Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick’s She Loves Me. The musical lovers’ musical, it’s a piece that shows how the often-maligned genre of romantic comedy can really work. The course of love, for a shy couple who write each other anonymous lonely heart letters yet work in the same shop, runs sweet and funny, if not smooth. And the songs are to die for – a brilliant collection of stirring and amusing numbers, each of them a treasure.

She Loves Me, Landor Theatre, 4th February - 7th March 2015, courtesy Darren Bell-34
Joshua LeClair and Ian Dring

The setting is Maraczek’s perfumery and the staff all have love lives and ambitions worth a song. Emily Lynne makes an exciting London debut as Ilona, struggling with the caddish Kodlay, played super smoothly by Matthew Wellman. Ian Dring has a busy time as the store’s cuckolded owner, also stealing a scene where he doubles as a waiter. Meanwhile, Joshua LeClair’s Arpad only has eyes for the job, tackling the role with a level of perkiness that forces you to smile along.
She Loves Me, Landor Theatre, 4th February - 7th March 2015, courtesy Darren Bell-28
John Sandberg as Georg

Taking the lead role as Amalia is Charlotte Jaconelli who seems undaunted by the big shoes previous performers have left her to fill; her tremendously powerful voice is a thrill to hear. Possibly Jaconelli might have played the role with more humour – a tactic that works for Amalia’s love interest Georg, played by John Sandberg, whose affable presence is easy to warm to.
While I imagined Robert McWhir’s direction would have been speedier, the second act is faultless. Performed on piano with a couple of strings accompanying, I’d still like to hear a full orchestra perform the score but this production didn’t disappoint my high expectations. She Loves Me is quaint and comfortable, as it should be, but full of tenderness and brimming with gentle humour. As well-served customers at Maraczek’s have sung to them – thank you, thank you. And I would love to call again. Thank you.
Until 7 March 2015
www.landortheatre.co.uk
Photos by Darren Bell

“Curtains” at the Landor Theatre

Making its European debut at the Landor Theatre, Kander and Ebb’s last work, Curtains, sets the making of a new musical – a Wild West version of Robin Hood – alongside a comedy murder mystery. It’s a bizarrely inspired combination, executed with a wicked sense of humour.

At the play-within-a-play’s opening night it isn’t just the critics’ knives that are out; a talentless star becomes a showstopper of a special kind when she’s murdered on stage. Behind the scenes is a hive of viciousness and villainy that proves plenty of suspects. Enter our detective, who just happens to be a huge theatre fan.

Jeremy Legat excels in the role of Lieutenant Cioffi, solving the crime in style and inspiring the cast to produce a better show at the same time. Bryan Kennedy, who plays an imperious director, delivers every line in superbly arch fashion and the show’s apparently ruthless producer, played by Buster Skeggs, joins the fray in equally high camp fashion.

Curtains isn’t without its problems. Even for a musical, there’s a touch too much pastiche, the piece loses some steam toward the end and, despite tremendous performances from Leo Andrew and Fiona O’Carroll trying to save their marriage and the show, heartfelt moments seem out of place. But these faults are quickly forgotten in director Robert McWhir’s superb production – injecting humour into every scene, he lifts the piece magnificently.

With designer Martin Thomas’s near miraculous use of the space, Curtains feels very much the big Broadway show. As the cast sing of ‘wide open spaces’ that couldn’t be further from the intimate setting of the Landor, they show off Robbie O’Reilly’s terrific choreography perfectly. No question that this playful whodunit is a hit.

Until 1 September 2012

www.landortheatre.co.uk

Photo by Francis Loney

Written 31 July 2012 for The London Magazine

“The Glorious Ones” at the Landor Theatre

The Landor Theatre in Clapham has the coup of presenting the European première of the off-Broadway musical The Glorious Ones. Set in 17th-century Italy, in the world of Commedia dell’Arte, it celebrates theatrical collaborations. Such affirmation seems appropriate: written and composed by award-winning team Ahrens and Flaherty, of Ragtime fame, the show reunites Landor dream team director Robert McWhir and designers Martin Thomas and Howard Hudson.

The conceit underlying The Glorious Ones is the satisfying fantasy that the actors are as interesting offstage as they are on it. In a stirring opening number we are told that their “lives are like a play within a play”. Flaminio Scala is the man in charge – a pied piper of performers, gathering an ensemble together as much for their personality as their ability. A famous pioneer in the history of Commedia dell’Arte, Scala’s passion is improvisation, and this is the key to his comedy.

Naturally improvisation in a musical is tricky but the cast is admirably fresh and McWhir has succeeded in creating a sense of camaraderie appropriate to a travelling company, aided by the Landor’s intimacy and Martin Thomas’ cleverly designed set. Mike Christie gives a sterling performance as Scala, joined by Peter Straker as Pantalone in fine comic form, and there are excellent turns from Jodie Beth Meyer and Kate Brennan.

The miniature performances of Commedia dell’Arte performed by the group are never quite as thrilling as the musical moments. And a challenge to change the art form from one of improvisation to scripted works – embodied in the conflict between Scala and his protégés – struggles to ignite the imagination. But there are more than enough songs and strong performances to allow The Glorious Ones to live up to its title – praise for the show should be plentiful in every sense.

Until 7 April 2012

www.landortheatre.co.uk

Photo by Mitzide Margary

Written 13 March 2012 for The London Magazine