Sunday, 31 October 2010

Back In The Dole Q!

Four and a half years, three different West End homes, and an 18 month stay of execution, but Avenue Q's London residency has finally come to an end at the Wyndhams Theatre, which ironically stands feet away from the Noel Coward where it started out life all those years ago.

I will be honest I think since the departure of Daniel Boys and Julie Atherton (the second time around) the cast has lacked the strength it once had. Daniel had done a fantastic job following on from the phenomenal Jon Robyns, But Paul Spicer for me lacked the charisma that both Jon and Daniel had bought to the lead role. Equally Cassidy Jansen in the role of Kate and Lucy seemed not to live up to the likes of Becky Lock and Julie Atherton who had been so vibrant in the role before hand. I will state at this point that these are just my views, others have said that this is the best cast to date... we will just have to agree to disagree on that one.

It would be wrong to tar the current cast with the same brush. Tom Parsons spent many a show hiding in the shadows as one of the male understudies. In fact the first time I saw the show Tom was covering the role of Trekkie/ Nicky in the absence of Mark Goldthorpe. For reasons unknown to man or beast and indeed monsters alike, Mark Goldthorpe left the show with minimal notice which left the door for Tom Parsons to take up the role on a permanent basis. He has most definitely outshone Mark and would give Simon Lipkin who originated the role in London a run for his money also.

But cast aside, who would have thought that Avenue Q had what it would take to survive in the West End for so long. In essence bringing a show to the West End is like throwing yourself into choppy waters without a life jacket. In many cases you simply drown, few shows last long enough to make an impact. Quite what Avenue Q did to survive for so long we will never know. Maybe it was simply down to the marketing and ticket prices which under cut competitors. It could be that the use of puppets bought musicals into a new dimension. Though for me the reason is much more simple... it is a feel good hilarious show that you just want to see time and time again.

The biggest issue that Avenue Q faced was that it had to fight off competition from more conventional and traditional productions such as Les Miserables and Billy Elliot, which quite obviously has more appeal to your average theatre goer than a comedy musical with puppets. Though it was this very point which I loved about the show. This was not a show for your average theatre goer - it opened the door to new people, sceptics of theatre and those who just thought that theatre wasn't their thing. In essence the show drew people in who would never go and see a show like Les Mis, and why? It boils down to the fact that theatre still has an out dated class system attached to it. It is not thought as a working class past time, people still think of the theatre as posh and snobby. Shows like Avenue Q demonstrate that this really isn't the case and allowed a new market to access the arts. You know what? I think London owes Avenue Q a lot more than people think...

So final night - how to wrap up all that time in London? It needed to be special... How about a sing along version of the Internet Is For Porn - featuring Simon Lipkin (original Trekkie/ Nicky) and Jon Robyns (Original Princeton/ Rod)? Sounds great doesn't it? As a fan of the show and speaking on behalf of all the others - it was a nice way to wrap the show up and take it home with a bang. So from a personal perspective it is sad to see the show leave the West End, but for those who missed it first time found it is on tour in 2011 - and yes... I will be going to at least one show!

G x

Sunday, 3 October 2010

Beyond The Barricade

For the more theatrical readers among you, it will have occurred to you that this weekend was the 25th anniversary of the iconic musical - Les Miserables. By all standards that is one hell of a run for the show, which first started out at the Barbican theatre all those years ago. Some said that it would never even score a transfer to the West End. Though even the more optimistic followers of the show surly wouldn't have thought it would have lasted this long and manage to sweep across the globe like it has over the years.

he Barbican these days is known mostly for its dance productions, however that didn't stop Cameron Mackintosh negotiating a return for Les Miserables back to its original home. Over the last month it has made 22 special appearances at the Barbican - selling out almost every night. I was lucky enough to be at one of them earlier this week.

I must admit I love Les Mis, but I did have my reservations. Cameron Mackintosh had openly admitted in a radio interview that the 25th Anniversary edition of the show would feature some sizable differences to the original production playing at Queens Theatre in London. Furthermore I wasn't convinced that Gareth Gates would make a good Marius. Though as always I went to the show with an open mind. Though I will admit it is really difficult sitting there trying not to draw a comparison to the format of the show I had seen twice before.

The first notable change was that the set had been vastly modernised, which though had its advantages, I wasn't so sure about it. Something didn't feel right about having certain parts of the scenery projected onto the back wall. (Such as the sewer scenes) In a show that is so dated this just felt a bit too modern. Though in honesty this was only a minor gripe on the grand scheme of things.

Gareth Gates cast in the role of Marius was phenomenal. I had my reservations as I said, but they had proven unfounded. I think whenever I see a washed up pop star on a bill at a theatrical performance, it just feels like they have been added due to their name not their ability. Gareth Gates had however managed to adapt to the vocal demands of such a role, which is challenging throughout. He was convincing in his acting also which was a relief - and I really hope this encounter with musicals will be one of many. Sure beats a career in pop music!

Earl Carpenter in the role of Jarvet was the unsung hero of the show, never before have I seen such a passionate performance from an actor. Grasping every emotion with two hands and, encapsulating the audience with the power used in delivering these feelings is an art form in itself. Vocally his performance was second to none. In fact as a bold statement I feel Earl had the edge over John Owen-Jones, in the role of Jean Valjean. Don't get me wrong, he was too fantastic and delivered "Bring Him Home" perfectly, which you need one hell of a range to sing, and he managed that faultlessly! I just felt John's personification in the earlier scenes wasn't quite right. Though his second act performance was enough to win me over! It was also a pleasant surprise to see Jon Robyns again who played Marius in the West End version a while ago and before that starred in Avenue Q. He also happens to be one of my favorite actors!

I guess the only disappointment for me was the Thernadier scenes. I felt that whilst Ashley Artus is a talented actor, he just seemed to posh for the role. Strangely vocally he reminded me of Rik Mayall from The Young Ones. For the records I never used to watch the Young Ones, my dad did, I just remember it for some reason! Anyhow... that's going off at a tangent somewhat. I personally felt that he lacked the sleaze that you would normally associate with the role, he lacked that peasantish (yes that is a new word) charm which former actors have bought to the role. It wasn't terrible by any means, just could have been much better. There were some additions and twists to the scene that enhanced the comical value of the role, which was a pleasant touch in such a serious show.

So overall? What a show!!! When you see Les Miserables for yourself you will appreciate why it has lasted for 25 years. Some people argue that Susan Boyle's success with "I Dreamed A Dream" is the reason this show has been so successful of late. All I can say to this is, where was Susan Boyle for the 23 years before she came to fame? A show like this doesn't need some old trout from Scotland to be successful. It has managed all by itself, and its down to the powerful storyline, superb acting and phenomenal songs. At this rate it will be around for another twenty five years to come.

Happy Birthday Les Mis!