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Romance Romance

Romance Romance
★★★★

Above the Stag

Romance Romance

Romance Romance

Above the Stag

Reviewed – 14th March 2019

★★★★

 

“this musical packed as much energy as any West End show I’ve attended”

 

In the heart of Vauxhall, Above the Stag Theatre has established itself as the only professional LGBT+ theatre in the UK with Artistic Director Peter Bull introducing some exciting productions. Romance Romance is a revival of the 1980’s Broadway original, with book and lyrics by Barry Harman and music by Keith Herrmann. Marketed as a reimagining told through the exploration of gay attraction and relationships, this two-act musical offers two very different stories both connected by the theme of love. Act One, The Little Comedy, is set in 19th Century Vienna and provides a light-hearted, farcical story of two people who upon adopting new personas fall in love. Act Two jumps forward to a contemporary setting in The Hamptons for Summer Share, which explores the complexities of love through the possibility of an affair.

First and foremost for a small production this musical packed as much energy as any West End show I’ve attended. The driving force behind this was the cast of just four performers (Ryan Anderson, Jordan Lee Davies, Alex Lodge, and Blair Robertson) who each threw themselves into this production heart and soul. Powerful performances from all but notably Ryan Anderson who brought the house down with his solo number ‘How did I end up Here?’ Some fantastic casting as the dynamic between the four was electric, and by the end of Act Two, the idea of this being a reimagining as a means to explore gay attraction is so far out of the picture, it was as if it was meant to have been written this way. Act Two really stood out because of its exploration of love, emotion and the complexities of relationships offering something we can all connect to regardless of your sexual orientation.

The direction (Steven Dexter with Summer Strallen as associate director) ensured the absolute most was made of all available space which doubled the size of the production as it burst out from every part of the stage. David Shields’ smart design allowed for the set to be transformed in front of our eyes, transporting us from Vienna to The Hamptons in a blink of an eye. Live music filled the room from upstage where the band sat playing for all to see, emphasising just how much can be achieved in a studio space. The lighting design (Jack Weir) added another layer which allowed for us to be transformed from the character’s private thoughts to new locations. The production made the most of all it had and then some.

Overall this musical was very sharp and full of life. My only wish is that it could be realised on a bigger scale as it has so much to offer. Act One offers you fun, songs, silliness and dance with Act Two bringing the heart and soul; a musical of two very different halves but with something for everything!

 

Reviewed by Lucy Bennett

Photography by PBG Studios

 


Romance Romance

Above the Stag until 6th April

 

Previously reviewed at this venue:
[Title Of Show] | ★★★★ | February 2019

 

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

 

Nice Work If You Can Get It
★★★★

Upstairs at the Gatehouse

Nice Work If You Can Get It

Nice Work If You Can Get It

Upstairs at the Gatehouse

Reviewed – 14th December 2018

★★★★

“It is a fizzy cocktail indeed, with bubbles that tickle you and fill you with a feel-good warmth at the same time”

 


Although it premiered on Broadway as late as 2012, “Nice Work If You Can Get It” has the authentic feel of a 1920s musical. Joe DiPietro’s book connects wholeheartedly with the whimsical humour of that bygone era, capturing the spirit of the roaring twenties. In essence this is a ‘Juke Box’ musical threading together a greatest hits package of the Gershwin Brothers catalogue, but unlike many contemporary counterparts, this show has a stamp of originality that makes it feel like the songs were written especially for this show.

It is very loosely based on the early Gershwin musical “Oh, Kay!” written by Guy Bolton and P. G. Wodehouse. The connection is tenuous, but DiPietro has captured the spirit with a cocktail of screwball comedy, oddball characters and jazz. It is a fizzy cocktail indeed, with bubbles that tickle you and fill you with a feel-good warmth at the same time.

That this is the UK premiere is a real coup for John and Katie Plews, the producers that have brought the show to the Gatehouse, and they have assembled a magnificent team who bring this show truly to life. A six-piece band do perfect justice to Gershwin’s inimitable score, while a twelve strong cast of ‘triple-threats’ gives the feel of a West End show; even if, at times, the space does feel somewhat overcrowded. But hats off to Grant Murphy, whose choreography packs every version of the Charleston onto a dance floor that could barely accommodate a swinging cat, let alone the full, swinging routines devised for the show.

At the height of prohibition, fast-living playboy Jimmy Winter finds himself intertwined in the escapades of various bootleggers, chorus girls and politicians. On the eve of his fourth marriage to the “finest interpreter of modern dance in the world” he unexpectedly falls for female bootlegger Billie Bendix who stashes a shipment of moonshine in his plush Long Island beach house. (It’s nice to see this timely twist: she becomes the tough guy while he is the ‘damsel’ in distress). Jessica-Elizabeth Nelson shines as the hard-edged yet flirtatious Billie who conceals a vulnerability beneath the devil-may-care exterior. A contrast all the more underlined whenever she breaks into song with her rich mezzo-soprano. Alistair So’s Jimmy handles the girl who gives as much as she gets in a mischievously nuanced performance with definite nods to Fred Astaire.

But this isn’t a show that boasts any leads as such. An ensemble piece, each performer plays a vital role (often more than one), from the wild flappers and chorus girls to the over-zealous vice squad, the politicians and the matriarchs. It is a real mixed bag but somehow everyone manages to find their perfect match. Love blossoms in the most unexpected places; particularly between Billie’s fellow bootlegger, Cookie McGee (a wonderful David Pendelbury) and the temperate Duchess Estonia Dulworth who knocks back the hooch: a show stealing performance from Nova Skipp.

The show’s denouement is almost Shakespearean as the couples come together and mistaken identities are revealed and rectified. It is positively uplifting; but the sense of joy we come away with has undoubtedly been roused by the music. The show is littered with so many of the Gershwin’s best tunes from their other musicals; “Nice Work If You Can Get It”, “Someone To Watch Over Me”, “Let’s Call The Whole Thing Off”, “‘S Wonderful”, “I’ve Got A Crush On You”… the list goes on and on. But the genius lies, as I have said, in the fact that the story fits so well to the tunes, a marriage made in heaven, consummated by the sheer skill of an all singing, all dancing cast.

One minor complaint – occasionally the band are too loud for the voices. And if the space occasionally feels too small for the actors; that is only because this is crying out to be put on a much larger stage. And it deserves it. This production looks likely to be a sell out, so: nice work if you can get a ticket.

 

Reviewed by Jonathan Evans

Photography by Darren Bell

 

Upstairs At The Gatehouse - Home

Nice Work If You Can Get It

Upstairs at the Gatehouse until 27th January

 

Previously reviewed at this venue:
A Night at The Oscars | ★★★★ | February 2018
After the Ball | ★★★ | March 2018
Return to the Forbidden Planet | ★★★ | May 2018
Kafka’s Dick | ★★★★ | June 2018

 

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