Tag Archives: Laura Baldwin

Godspell

Godspell in Concert
★★

Cadogan Hall

Godspell

Godspell in Concert

Cadogan Hall

Reviewed – 29th June 2019

★★

 

“The youthful bias offered the huge plus point that the show was bursting with energy”

 

Godspell is a 1971 musical written by Stephen Schwartz. Based on a series of Bible parables, it has been revived countless times and seen by millions. A successful film version emerged in 1973, the same year that Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Jesus Christ Superstar also hit cinemas. Directed by Dean Johnson, this semi-staged version by the British Theatre Academy saw those popular songs performed by a huge ensemble of teenagers (representing a community of disciples) and a handful of West End and TV star guest singers. Their renditions were interspersed with scenes of the younger folk partially acting out the teachings of Jesus.

The youthful bias offered the huge plus point that the show was bursting with energy. But on the downside, some of the vocals were better than others and the sound was at times painfully shrill. There was no set to speak of, but visual interest came from the bright neon technicolour clothing (Day-Glo tops, tie-dyed T-shirts, rainbow-striped leggings) and sparkling accessories. A five-piece band (coordinated by musical director James Taylor) played with gutsy efficiency, but the sound was fairly muddy from where I sat (eight rows back).

Although the songwriting and the overall concept retained a very dated early-1970s feel, there were admirable attempts to modernise the material. For example, it was a nice touch that the show began with seven of the performers wielding mobile phones, texting and scrolling as they debated religious philosophy. A less successful contemporary element was the moment in which, if I’m not mistaken, a Donald Trump impersonator was condemned to Hell by a group of Mexicans he had wronged.

Jesus was surely one of the most charismatic men who ever lived. It’s difficult to reconcile that image with Luke Bayer’s slightly underwhelming figure reading out his lines from an iPad. There must have been an awful lot of lines to learn, it’s true, but you’d expect these words to emerge from deep within his soul rather than be cued by an interchangeable gadget anyone has access to. It eroded any sense of the commanding presence such a figure would exude.

The production also suffered from the lack of a narrative arc or any real emotional complexity. Despite ending with the crucifixion (and controversially not the resurrection), the bulk of the ‘story’ is just a series of simplistic preachings – lively, unrelated episodes that could have been delivered in any order without changing the overall effect. And the much-needed flashes of wit (a parable rendered as interpretative dance, children pretending to be goats and sheep) are little more than temporary diversions from an unrelenting sequence of moral lessons. How much you can take away from those lessons is a personal matter, of course, depending on your theological stance. But if you know the teaching of Jesus already, do you really need to hear them presented this way? And if you aren’t aware of them, is a loud rock/gospel musical the best way to take on board that guidance? Beyond the hordes of clearly delighted parents in the hall (enhancing the feel of a well-presented school play), I wasn’t sure who this show was intended for. Christians might consider it too flippant and irreverent. And non-Christians are unlikely to have the patience to sit through so much of the New Testament, however catchy songs such as ‘Day by Day’ might be. In 2019, religion is a divisive, often contentious business, so a more nuanced treatment of the topic would have been welcome.

The best parts were when they kept it low-key and immediate. When one of the performers rapped over a rhythm built from the ensemble’s perfectly coordinated claps and foot stomps, there were a few seconds of real dynamism. And there was an endearing interlude in which a member of the audience was brought on to the stage without warning, handed his lines on a prompt card and made to play the part of Lazarus.

No one can deny the sincerity and goodwill behind the production, nor the obvious vitality of the cast, but Godspell came across as a wearyingly one-dimensional affair. Sadly, it was very much a case of preaching to the converted.

Reviewed by Stephen Fall

 


Godspell in Concert

Cadogan Hall

 

Previously reviewed at this venue:
At Last: The Etta James Story | ★★★★ | October 2018
All You Need Is Love | ★★★★ | April 2019

 

Click here to see more of our latest reviews on thespyinthestalls.com

 

Waitress

Waitress
★★★★

Adelphi Theatre

Waitress

Waitress

Adelphi Theatre

Reviewed – 7th March 2019

★★★★

 

“a smart and sensitive script with a magnificent sense of humour”

 

If you’re at all interested in musical theatre, then Waitress probably needs no introduction. The musical adaptation of Adrienne Shelly’s 2007 film of the same name went down a treat on Broadway in 2016, garnering a host of Tony nominations, and its transfer to the West End has been hotly anticipated by many. If the name Waitress doesn’t mean anything to you yet, then here’s a quick summary: it’s an absolute firecracker.

The plot centres on Jenna (Katharine McPhee), a waitress and skilled pie maker at a local diner, whose life is thrown into chaos upon realising she’s fallen pregnant at the hands of her abusive husband, Earl (Peter Hannah). With the support of her two colleagues and friends, Becky (Marisha Wallace) and Dawn (Laura Baldwin), and her new gynaecologist Dr Pomatter (David Hunter), she is forced to make choices for herself and her child that question what true happiness entails and whether motherhood and a career are allowed to thrive in tandem.

Jessie Nelson’s book delivers a beautiful blend of delicious comedy and more complex ruminations on the greyer morality of relationships to mull over – with both Jenna and Becky in unsatisfying relationships, and Dawn desperately seeking love, they make a lot of questionable choices that are ultimately treated with sympathy and understanding by the script, as well as by Diane Paulus’ direction, and Sara Bareilles’ music and lyrics. Certain moments feel like tired tropes being wheeled out, such as Dawn suddenly being seen as more attractive after taking off her glasses and letting her hair down, and the end of the show dismisses some of the nuanced ingredients it was mixing for the sake of a more sickly-sweet conclusion that felt like it was just trying to wrap everything up neatly, but overall Waitress features a smart and sensitive script with a magnificent sense of humour.

Bareilles’ songs amplify this too, with the pop-fuelled score incorporating soaring melodies and beautiful harmonies to punctuate character moments and relationships, and keep the tone and atmosphere firmly pinned to the setting of the American South. Particular highlights are Dawn’s neurotic ‘When He Sees Me’ and the Act One finale ‘Bad Idea’, as well as its reprise in Act Two – the hugely theatrical nature of these songs allowed for slick and dynamic choreography from Lorin Latarro, creating a visual and audial combination that was an absolute joy to consume.

The performances were ceaselessly strong all round. McPhee’s vocals were heavenly in the show’s signature song, ‘She Used to Be Mine’, and Wallace and Hunter brought an enrapturing amount of depth and empathy to their respective characters of Becky and Dr Pomatter. Jack McBrayer also demonstrates his scene-stealing comic prowess as Dawn’s love interest Ogie. Paulus’ direction brings out the best in all the characters and keeps the show moving at a tight pace, allowing everyone’s creativity to shine through when needed.

Waitress is not flawless, and is in no way a revolution for musical theatre, but the restless sense of joy and fun it invokes cannot be overstated – this show is utterly delectable.

 

Reviewed by Tom Francis

Photography by Johan Persson

 

Waitress The Musical

Waitress

Adelphi Theatre until 19th October

 

Last ten shows covered by this reviewer:
Motherhood or Madness | ★★★ | Katzpace Studio Theatre | November 2018
Specky Ginger C*nt | ★★½ | Katzpace Studio Theatre | November 2018
Pinocchio | ★★ | The Albany Theatre | December 2018
Fight Night | ★★★★ | The Vaults | January 2019
Original Death Rabbit | ★★★★★ | Jermyn Street Theatre | January 2019
[Title Of Show] | ★★★★ | Above the Stag | February 2019
BackPAGE | ★★½ | Lion & Unicorn Theatre | February 2019
Black Is The Color Of My Voice | ★★★ | Trafalgar Studios | February 2019
Soul Sessions | ★★★★ | Trafalgar Studios | February 2019
Talk Radio | ★★★½ | The Tower Theatre | March 2019

 

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