Tag Archives: The Other Palace

“Ushers: The Front of House Musical” at The Other Palace

Director Max Reynolds has a great venue for his tenth anniversary revival of this funny show. With the scenario taking us behind the scenes of a fictional West End hit, downstairs at The Other Palace has a clubby feel that’s perfect for a piece full of insider jokes sure to appeal to a theatre crowd.

We see the romances and dreams of strong characters as they work with confectionary and merchandise, answering the same questions repeatedly, and clean up the audience mess. Two struggle with their relationship, another two fall in love, and a fifth is a fangirl searching for the leading man of her dreams (look out Michael Ball). It’s all tongue in cheek, and sweet, with neat roles for Bethany Amber Perrins (pictured top), Luke Bayer, Christopher Foley, Cleve September and Danielle Rose.

Daniel Page in "Ushers" at The Other Palace
Daniel Page

This is a strong cast, it’s great to have the chance to see them up close, and they all have strong voices and excellent comedy skills. Credit to Reynolds for getting the most out of them and the material. But the star of the show is Daniel Page who brings his pantomime skills to the role of villainous theatre manager Robin. He’s the one behind all the upselling, robbing the punters you might say, obsessed with sales figures and spend per head. It’s a joy to see a performer having so much fun in a role, making every line work and getting so many laughs.

In truth, the cast are funnier than the jokes. In particular, Amber Perrins makes the cooky Rosie hilarious when the character could be annoying. And the singing is better than the songs. While the music by Yiannis Koutsakos is solid enough, his lyrics (also credited to James Oban and James Rottger) are clumsy. Rottger’s book is strangely loose given how clear the structure is. These are problems. But what’s going on has such charm, they matter less than usual.

For full disclosure, I’ve worked front of house myself. I suspect many in the audience, let alone the cast and creatives here, have too. There’s a lot that is recognizable although, cleverly, the show is harsher about the theatre owners than it is about the public (it could be a lot meaner). But all the industry jokes and contemporary references are a hoot. While the show might not have the widest appeal, it knows its audience and serves its customers well. Don’t just see it once, go twice. And buy a t-shirt.

Until 19 May 2024

www.theotherpalace.co.uk

“Cruel Intentions” at The Other Palace

The market for this new musical is clear enough – it’s an adaptation of a popular film from the 90s with pop songs from the same era that should secure an audience. You might like the movie and the hits. But Jordan Ross, Lindsey Rosin, and Roger Kumble’s efforts at bringing both to the stage are messy and unsatisfying. The combination of story and song isn’t inspired and the whole show comes across dated.

At least the story is OK, after all, it’s based on Pierre Choderlos de Laclos’ Dangerous Liaisons. The action is moved to a wealthy school. Emotions and motives are simplified but the book is clear and replacing French aristocrats with wealthy American teenagers is an interesting idea. If it suffers from the characters all being the same age, and focusing on sex rather than power, the change provides insight.

The show is well performed. The leads, now wicked stepsiblings, have strong voices and are convincingly sexy. Daniel Bravo has the required charisma as Sebastian Valmont and sounds great. Rhianne-Louise McCaulsky, who takes the part of the villainous Kathryn Merteuil, is phenomenal. She has a voice that can make anything sound good (a talent she employs frequently here). Their victims can also sing but their roles are less successful; the parts for Abbie Budden and Rose Galbraith are either saintly or stupid and neither is particularly interesting. At least director Jonathan O’Boyle keeps everything clear and swift.

Problems arise with the songs. It’s not just a matter of taste or the issue of forcing songs into a musical that were never intended to be there (this can be done well, look at &Juliet). The trouble is that the mix seems random. Styles often jar…but pointlessly so. With a couple of exceptions, songs are thrown into the action with little thought. Even if you enjoy the performances, it’s hard to get past questioning – why this number? Compounding the problem, the orchestration is, mostly, unimaginative.

Yet it isn’t the music that really dates the show. Dangerous Liaisons should shock. Credit where it is due, these characters really are awful (and foul mouthed). The action isn’t coy. But any challenge or drama is dampened by injecting humour. Mixing Choderlos de Laclos with pop songs is, undoubtedly, camp. But camp should be clever. There’s a complicity with laughing along here that is thoughtless. Maybe it goes back to changing everyone’s age? Again, it isn’t a question of the talent on stage: Josh Barnett and Jess Buckby both have nice cameos that show their comic skills. It just seems odd to laugh at teens exploiting one another. In case that is a judgement based on taste, if you do want a comedy, the jokes still need to be better. Random profanities and unimaginative innuendo shouldn’t cut it nowadays. Ultimately, we know what’s going on here isn’t funny – as the end proves – so the show concludes on a downer and the jokes feel pointlessly tasteless.

Until 14 April 2024

www.theotherpalace.co.uk

Photo by Pamela Raith

“The Last Five Years”: a lockdown performance

A bittersweet highlight of the Covid-19 lockdown, this specially filmed version of a show via The Other Palace theatre is wonderful – even if it made me rue the chance of seeing Jason Robert Brown’s masterpiece live more than ever.

Taking the roles of lovers Cathy and Jamie, Lauren Samuels and Danny Becker have singing voices to die for. They can both belt out a number with fantastic power – and make a song intriguing, dramatic, funny and moving all at the same time. Yet, of course, the sound quality doesn’t touch a live performance. At the back of your mind is how much you’d love to hear Samuels and Becker on a stage.

Brown’s influential musical, with a justly deserved following, is full of fantastic songs and lyrics that blend the joy and poignancy of romance magnificently. The brilliant narrative structure – Jamie starts by falling in love, while Cathy tells her story backwards, beginning with a lament to their failed marriage – is superficially suited to a show produced in isolation as only one scene calls for both performers to be together.

Samuels also directs and, without doubt, has plenty of problem-solving ideas. If I wasn’t too keen on some of the touches (text messages on screen or scenes inserted in boxes), the variety of rooms and costumes impresses. Best of all, Samuels makes sure neither she nor Becker are always looking straight to camera, so the show doesn’t feel like a long monologue.

Lauren Samuels in 'The Last Five Years'
Lauren Samuels

Samuels’ more important skills, as director, are understanding both characters to get the audience emotionally involved and appreciating the impact of the piece’s structure. Because we see her pain first, we have more sympathy for Cathy. And Jamie is less appealing (I’m thinking A Miracle Would Happen). This is balanced by Samuels showing us a fragile and demanding Cathy. Meanwhile, Becker’s appealing performance balances his character’s self-obsession; The Schmuel Song (which I’ve never bothered about before) is a revelation that brought tears to my eyes.

Danny Becker in 'The Last Five Years'
Danny Becker sings The Schmuel Song

Though impeccably executed with sublime singing, the piece has unavoidable restrictions. While the physical separation of the performers reflects the many ways that distance is referenced in the piece, the charge that comes from having them share a stage can’t help but be a loss. And what do I miss most of all? Applause… without doubt. In a theatre, I would be on my feet for Samuels and Becker as soon as the show ended.

Until 27 June 2020

www.theotherpalace.co.uk

"Falsettos" at The Other Palace

William Finn’s 1992 musical has two Tony Awards to its credit and for its long delayed British premiere a strong cast. To add to the excitement, the book is from none other than James Lapine. But Finn’s music and lyrics make this story of a modern Jewish family ramble. Even sterling performances from Laura Pitt-Pulford and Daniel Boys, as divorcees Trina and Marvin, cannot save what descends into a frantic scramble for “tears and schmaltz”.

Director Tara Overfield-Wilkinson deploys a sensible strategy in trying to keep the show simple. And Finn’s off-beat wit, focusing on neurosis, is given its due. But Falsettos’ off-Broadway history, a merger of two single act shows that form a trilogy, makes the show unwieldy. Finn gets bogged down in the minutiae of how Marvin left his wife for a no-good-guy, who turns out OK, while Trina starts an affair with the family shrink, and their son Jason acts with more maturity than all of them. Oh, we’ll get detail…but not depth.

Laura Pitt-Pulford (Laura Pitt-Pulford in Falsettos at The Other Palace
Laura Pitt-Pulford

The opening number sets the tone. ‘Four Jews In A Room Bitching’ is sharp and quirky but predictable and lacking charm. Ultimately, none of the characters rise above caricature. Pitt-Pulford gets the chance to shine with a number about a mental breakdown. And Marvin’s affair with the promiscuous Whizzer (what kind of name is that?) is filled with passion by Boys. But like their new partners – successfully performed with strong vocals from Joel Montague and Oliver Savile – the characters are too thinly written to care about.

Daniel Boys & Oliver Savile in Falsettos at The Other Palace
Daniel Boys & Oliver Savile

Things don’t get better. The second act focuses on the characters ageing and on mortality – a message hammered home. The combination of Jason’s bar mitzvah and Whizzer contracting AIDS is painfully forced. Shockingly, despite Boys’ forceful singing, the finale arrives too quickly and is dealt with too briefly to carry much emotional impact.

Gemma Knight-Jones & Natasha J Barnes in Falsettos at The Other Palace
Gemma Knight-Jones & Natasha J Barnes

All the way through, too many questions arise. Why should Trina and Marvin care so much about each other’s new sex lives? What’s the real motivation for either starting a new affair? The close family that Marvin still wants – the depiction of which guarantees the show has a place in the history of LGBT theatre – isn’t really shown to us. And why are the lesbian neighbours – a shameful waste of the talents of Gemma Knight-Jones and Natasha J Barnes  – only introduced in the second act! Even the title theme, introduced in a dream, is a puzzle; too much in Falsettos is ill conceived and under explained.

You can forgive a musical many failings if the score is up to scratch. It’s clear why Finn’s compositions have admirers – he can write a tune and some of the harmonising is beautiful. But the musical references are obvious and the variety in the structure of each number repetitive:  a staccato opening includes a gag, there’s a pause for the thought then a manic finale. Worse still, Finn’s lyrics come close to sounding lazy. The dazzling delivery here can’t hide how much repetition is used (although credit for getting canasta in a song). The words, like the characters’ confused motivation, sometimes don’t even make sense. Despite fine performances, the truth is that Falsettos ends up a disappointing mess.

Until 23 November 2019

www.lwtheatres.co.uk/theatres/the-other-palace/

Photos by The Standout Company

“Eugenius” at The Other Palace

Here’s yet another irreverent musical, this time taking comic books and their creators as its subject, full of tongue-in-cheek fun and aspiring to cult status. A transfer to the Ambassadors Theatre was announced and cancelled just today. Let’s hope the breaking news is just a postponement to future success. The show is primed to do well by Ian Talbot’s admirably ambitious direction, which ensures that Ben Adams and Chris Wilkins’ piece impresses. There’s plenty of enjoyment to be had, even if Eugenius is a tame affair that too gently pokes fun at theatre and heroics: it’s competent, entertaining and only just short of super.

Reservations arise not just because the piece is derivative, although you will probably recognise a lot of other shows that have inspired it. Adam and Wilkins’ book is a bit messy and the humour tepid. There’s a coming-of-age story that’s whisked to Hollywood just as it’s settling down, with a clumsy competition device where our hero’s unpublished comic is to be turned into a film. Then there’s a half-developed struggle for integrity before the fictional world of ‘Tough Man’ collides with reality to provide us with moral lessons. None of this is bad, although the lyrics are strictly functional, but it’s Talbot who powers the show.

Christopher Ragland and Rob Houchen

Much is made of time and setting – America in 1988 – and the show cleverly cashes in on nostalgia. But the nudges to recollection are superficial, achieved by constantly throwing in references. There’s little effort to make the characters specific either. Their ages are a bit of puzzle and another niggle is ignoring how snobbish comic book geeks can be! It’s unbelievable that they would be so egalitarian with their references. Here it’s the performances that win out. Rob Houchen makes for an appealing lead as Eugene, likewise his love interest Janey and best friend Feris are engagingly performed by Laura Baldwin and Daniel Buckley. The whole cast gets the chance to shine with a lot of dual roles as Eugene’s fantasy connects with real life: Christopher Ragland and Simon Thomas both benefit.

It’s a shame that the love story in Eugenius is so predictable. Comics themselves have been challenging since before people started using the term heteronormative – so it’s odd to end up making fun of something more sophisticated than your own parody. The role of Janey is particularly unsatisfying, no matter how much irony is intended. Thankfully, when it comes to the most important thing – the music – Adams and Wilkins are on firmer ground. They can write a catchy tune and the score coheres well at several points. There’s a nice mix of pastiche and sincerity that offsets a lot of contrived moves. It may be a case of promise rather than something to rave about, but Eugenius deserves success.

Until 21 October 2018

www.eugeniusthemusical.com

Photos by Scott Rylander

“Big Fish” at The Other Palace

For this musical version of Daniel Wallace’s novel, John August has adapted his own screenplay from Tim Burton’s film and produced a satisfyingly theatrical show. Big Fish fits into a genre of Americana started by Thornton Wilder’s This Town that celebrates everyday life with a magical touch. At times it is captivating.

Edward Bloom is the not-so-average Joe who is our hero and, as he approaches death, he recounts some wild and wonderful tales about his life. These stories have – somewhat inexplicably – alienated his fact-driven reporter son, Will. Their reconciliation makes the show a family drama of low stakes – and the journey the latter has to take to embrace his father’s optimism is too gentle to be compelling.

Kelsey Grammer takes the lead, ably abetted by Jamie Muscato who appears as Joe’s younger self, and delivers the star factor: he sells the character of a travelling salesman superbly and is a strong enough comedian to make a bad joke go a long way. Matthew Seadon-Young plays son Will, giving a dedicated performance with a strong voice, but his character doesn’t convince. It’s a problem shared by the roles of wives to both men – capably performed by Frances McNamee and Clare Burt – who are sketched with depressing brevity.

The music and lyrics by Andrew Lippa fail to excite – a collection of try-hard numbers that feel forced and end up forgettable. Yet as a chamber piece Big Fish has charm. It’s when we see an ambition to be big that the cracks show; there isn’t the power to deliver a big West End feel here. Tom Rogers’ design is a case in point – clever, even charming, but inventive rather than impressive.

With too much sentimentality – fathers and sons skimming stones on a river is always a bad sign – the death bed reconciliation ends up uncomfortably long. I had plenty of time to check, in case I was just cold and heartless, and there was barely a wet eye in the house. “Part epic tale, part fire sale” is a description of Bloom’s life that could have been a warning – mixing the show’s simplicity with attempts at grandeur fails too many times, and director Nigel Harman struggles to accommodate the piece’s inconsistencies.

Until 31 December 2018

www.theotherpalace.co.uk

Photo by Tristram Kenton

“Our Great Tchaikovsky” at The Other Palace

Hershey Felder’s play with music takes us through the life of its eponymous composer in an informative fashion. Felder plays his subject, and his music, as well as narrator, taking us from the artist’s childhood to his legacy. You learn a lot.

Felder’s piano sounds great, his characterisation of the Great Man is conscientious and his Russian accent… let’s say he’s generous with it. The direction from Trevor Hay helps with the atmosphere and the projections used are impressive and accompany the music wonderfully.

My only reservation is that there’s something of the lecture about the whole event. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing – the one hour and 40 minutes fly by and Felder can hold a stage, while snippets of anecdote and scandal are grabbed at ferociously. But there’s an air of the classroom here, nonetheless.

A real life note raises the stakes. An invitation to perform the play in Russia is well positioned by Felder to add a contemporary commentary on gay rights in Tchaikovsky’s home country. Seeing how the composer lived in fear because of his sexuality, and was blackmailed by his estranged wife, it makes lessons in the show important ones to hear.

Until 22 October 2018

www.theotherpalace.co.uk

“This Joint Is Jumpin’” at The Other Palace

This concert show aims to channel the spirit of jazz master Fats Waller with world-class performers honouring a selection of his music in a stylish, contemporary, manner.

The band is The Shakes, five outstanding musicians, and the show is conceived by Michael Mwenso and Michela Marino Lerman. It’s the performances that are the attraction: there’s only the ghost of a story here – snatches of Waller’s life and times read from newspapers, letters and books. To be blunt, the fragments prove a distraction – you learn next to nothing new.

The talent on stage is remarkable, though. Vuyo Sotashe joins Mwenso on vocals, both oozing charisma and cool, making a magnificent duo and blissful sounds. The tap dancing moves by Marino Lerman and Joseph Wiggan set a new benchmark for me, their percussive feet truly integrated into the compositions. On a stage crowded with talent, their personalities shine.

The show has a special treat, too – an appearance from the legendary Lillias White. A Broadway stalwart with awards for roles in Dreamgirls and The Life (both having London revivals right now), White is the real deal. Her numbers – too few of course – are total value, showing a playful flirtatiousness with Squeeze Me and then giving goose bumps with a civil rights number, Black and Blue. It’s an honour to see a performer like White on stage and the chance to do so is not to be missed.

Until 15 April 2017

www.theotherpalace.co.uk

Photo by Darren Bell

“The Wild Party” at The Other Palace

The renamed St James Theatre, now in Lord Lloyd Webber’s portfolio, has the new raison d’être of trying out and refining musicals. And there’s the aim of starting conversations from artistic director Paul Taylor-Mills that warms a blogger’s heart. The first show, by Michael John LaChiusa, is a strong start, but a puzzle, too. Seen on Broadway in 2000, it already seems so cogently formed that there is little new to talk about.

The piece is experimental in that it is based on a poem – by Joseph McClure March – can anyone think of another musical apart from Cats with such a source? George C Wolfe’s book is structurally audacious and, while the scenario couldn’t be slimmer – someone holds a party, that’s it – the tension ratchets up and up. Both music and lyrics have little time for novices or a discernable eye on commercial success. The milieu here isn’t that familiar to a British audience (jokes, in particular, are a touch obscure) but LaChiusa’s knowledge of American music is obviously profound.

A good portion of the show is a series of introductions. Taking the lead is Queenie, a dancer in Vaudeville, brilliantly portrayed by the legendary Frances Ruffelle, who gives this tart-with-a-heart appropriate depth. Her common law husband, played by John Owen-Jones – also tremendous – ensures the show is not one for coulrophobics. This complicated relationship is the vehicle for exploring obsession and dependence.

John Owen-Jones and Victoria Hamilton-Barritt
John Owen-Jones and Victoria Hamilton-Barritt

Presenting other partygoers gives the rest of the ensemble a chance to shine. Dex Lee is particularly strong as the arch hedonist Jackie, a sophisticate who turns bestial. And, as Queenie’s best friend Victoria Hamilton-Barritt really gets her teeth into a juicy role. It would be hard to sacrifice any of these characters… but maybe more focus might have made the show more enjoyable? Combining high and low life and a mix of ages, races and sexualities has a point but means there’s a lot to handle here. And don’t forget a moral. Like many works of art about libertines, The Wild Party is a warning. When the bootleg gin arrives, complete with bathtub on stage, it would make Hogarth proud.

The venue’s aim as an experimental home is fulfilled for Drew McOnie. While his acclaimed choreography adds enormously to what could be a static affair, his remarkably assured debut as a director is the real story. The piece calls for strong acting and McOnie secures it. There’s a cutting pathos to many of the affairs. And a crazed wish for love, sex, drugs and ambition, with a scary intensity that McOnie doesn’t spare us from.

Until 1 April 2017

www.theotherpalace.co.uk

Photos by Scott Rylander