Tag Archives: Ben M Rogers

Little Women

Little Women

★★★★

Park Theatre

Little Women

Little Women

Park Theatre

Reviewed – 17th November 2021

 

★★★★

 

“The full cast of eleven are in fine voice, supported by the rich string arrangements of the music”

 

Louisa May Alcott’s novel “Little Women”, originally published in two separate volumes in the 1860s, was said to be one of the first visions of the ‘All-American Girl’. It was hailed as being ahead of its time, and as such has stood the test of time. Continuously in print, with many film and television adaptations under its belt, it finally made it into musical form at the beginning of this century, opening on Broadway in 2005. Today’s audiences might not find the scenario unduly innovative, but it is its charm and endearing representation of the multi-layered personalities that draw you into the story. And Bronagh Lagan’s staging at the Park Theatre has charm in abundance.

The ’Little Women’ are the four March sisters: Amy, Beth, Meg – and Jo steering them through the treacherous subplots of growing up. The rites of passage are brilliantly navigated here by the strong cast that give a passionate portrayal of the inevitable loss of innocence when childhood and womanhood overlap. This is also one of its only snags, though, particularly in the first half when the characters’ young ages jar slightly with the on-stage physicality. But that minor moan is swiftly swept away as we get caught in the current of song and story.

The story focuses on the sisters’ differences. Amy is the baby, yearning for sophistication that’s out of reach. Selfless Beth is timid and musical. Meg, the eldest, is the most traditional, while Jo burns with a determined passion, struggling to find her place in the world. Allan Knee’s book pushes Jo centre stage, whose fiery energy Lydia White captures marvellously, while her theatrical generosity allows the others to shine too. Mary Moore is a bundle of joy as the young Amy, Anastasia Martin is ultimately heart-breaking as the tragic Beth and Hana Ichijo deftly mixes romanticism and pragmatism of the oldest sister Meg in probably the most difficult personality to portray. Savannah Stevenson’s charisma rules the roost as the matriarchal Marmee; a compellingly watchable performance that comes into its own during her two solo numbers.

The full cast of eleven are in fine voice, supported by the rich string arrangements of the music. Whilst Jason Howland’s score never takes your breath away, the sumptuous melodies and Mindi Dickstein’s plot driving lyrics add stirring layers to the narrative. A story that is intercut with vignettes from Jo March’s mostly unpublished attempts at writing. We long for everything to work out for these far from little women, we feel the joy when it does, and our senses are tugged when it doesn’t.

The humour and the pathos are captured in equal measure. You want to laugh, and you sometimes want to cry. It doesn’t rock you to the core but on a cold evening as winter fast approaches it will certainly warm you with the glow of its captivating charm.

 

Reviewed by Jonathan Evans

Photography by Pamela Raith

 


Little Women

Park Theatre until 19th December

 

Previously reviewed at this venue this year:
When Darkness Falls | ★★★ | August 2021
Flushed | ★★★★ | October 2021
Abigail’s Party | ★★★★ | November 2021

 

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Elton John: It’s A Little Bit Funny

★★★★

Upstairs at the Gatehouse

Elton John: It's A Little Bit Funny

Elton John: It’s A Little Bit Funny

Upstairs at The Gatehouse

Reviewed – 20th February 2020

★★★★

 

“It’s poignant, entertaining, exciting and, often, ‘it’s a little bit funny’”

 

For the best part of fifteen years Elton John had made Vegas his second home until he gave it a memorable farewell last September with a spectacular and emotional three-hour retrospective gig. It’s part of his ongoing ‘Farewell Yellow Brick Road’, booking until next year, after which he will retire. Or so he says, Frank Sinatra’s farewell tour lasted twenty years. Leaving Las Vegas must have been a wrench. His ‘Red Piano’ residency ran for five years and the later ‘The Million Dollar Piano’ for seven years.

Imagine you are a devoted fan of Elton’s, growing up with his songs and learning to play the piano by listening over and over to the music. He is the reason you chose your perilous career as a musical performer. You’re doing okay at it. In fact, more than okay. You’ve got theatre, television and concert, recording and writing credits to your name, and you’ve now landed a job in a touring musical which, on its North American Tour, takes in some dates in Vegas right next door to Caesars Palace where Elton is playing. On a rare night off you’re hanging out late one night, doodling away at a piano in a hotel foyer, when Elton John walks in and joins in, starts chatting, buys you a cocktail, takes you gambling …

This is not imagination, but fact, for Martin Kaye, pianist, singer, songwriter and all-round showman. Well – almost. It is the whole truth – except the last bit might be made up. But it was a real possibility. Martin and Elton’s paths could so easily have crossed. And if they had… well, that is the show: “Elton John – It’s A Little Bit Funny”. It tells the tale of that night in Vegas. A night of confessions, anecdotes, jokes and songs.

Anybody expecting a ‘tribute act’ or Elton impersonator will be disappointed. Everybody else will be blown away by the musicianship of Kaye and his totally relaxed stage presence. A soft and cheeky Mancunian accent – the perfect voice for the self-deprecating one liners that trip off the tongue. Written by Chris Burgess this definitely has the feel of a collaborative labour of love. Over thirty of Elton John’s songs make up the set list. Many are extracts from which Kaye breaks away to pick up the thread of the story. It is a three-way conversation between him, the audience and Elton.

We don’t learn much more about Elton John’s colourful life than we already know, but the key facts are given a personal touch which are further emphasised in the music with their autobiographical context. Many of the old favourites are there; “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road”, “Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me”, Candle In The Wind”, “Rocket Man”, “Tonight” and the poignant “Someone Saved My Life Tonight; but also some lesser known ones such as “Skyline Pigeon”, “Bitter Fingers” or “Feed Me” which give a deeper insight into the man.

Backed by a tight three-piece band, with Morgan Rickman on guitar, Johnny Wells on bass and David Talisman on drums, Kaye pounds and caresses his piano. He is a truly talented pianist who has both the technique and expression to make the instrument an extension of his own personality. Some of the songs are direct replicas of the original, but many are reinterpreted. His jazz-inflected re-phrasing of “Bennie And The Jets” is a stunning opening to the show.

It closes with “Your Song” from which the show’s title gets its name. It is a song which, over the years, has become a faded wallpaper to the music world. But, like much of Elton’s repertoire, Kaye strips it down and re-pastes it with a fresh sheen. This is far from an Elton John gig. This is a Martin Kaye gig. You certainly don’t need to be a fan of Elton to appreciate this show. It’s poignant, entertaining, exciting and, often, ‘it’s a little bit funny’.

 

Reviewed by Jonathan Evans

Photography by Ben Hewis

 

Upstairs at the Gatehouse thespyinthestalls

Elton John: It’s A Little Bit Funny

Upstairs at The Gatehouse until 1st March

 

Last ten shows reviewed at this venue:
Bad Girls The Musical | ★★★ | February 2019
Strike Up The Band | ★★★★ | March 2019
The Marvelous Wonderettes | ★★★★ | April 2019
Flat Out | ★★★★ | June 2019
Agent 14 | | August 2019
Pericles, Prince Of Tyre | ★★★ | August 2019
Working | ★★★★ | September 2019
A Modest Little Man | ★★★★ | October 2019
I Do! I Do! | ★★★½ | October 2019
42nd Street | ★★★★ | December 2019

 

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