Happy new year, one and all! May 2018 bring you more excellent trips to the theatre. I ended my year with trips to a thrilling new British musical and the most exciting musical of the century. And I started my year with a trip to see a musical about a brain scientist as well as to the Southwark Playhouse to see a musical about a superhero.
The Grinning Man @ Trafalgar Studios
Currently running until: 17th February 2018.
Tickets and further information: https://thegrinningmanmusical.com
Another musical based on a Victor Hugo book has taken the West End by storm. The Grinning Man, based on the novel The Man Who Laughs, is about Grinpayne, a man with a permanent smile slashed across his face arrives at the Trafalgar Fair as a freakish act and leaves a newfound star. Determined to uncover what happened to his family and why he was left with his mouth slashed, Grinpayne sets off to discover who he really is.
Louis Maskell leads the cast as Grinpayne and considering he wears bandages over his mouth for most of the show, his vocals are crystal clear. The bandages don’t hinder his performance at all, which I did wonder how that aspect of his costume was going to impact his performance. But he was exquisite in his portrayal as Grinpayne and is certainly one to watch, I highly doubt this will be the last we hear of him. It isn’t all as doom and gloom as it sounds with fantastic comedic performances from Mark Anderson, Amanda Wilkin and Julie Atherton as the Royals as well as Julian Bleach as Barkilphedro, the Royals’ clown.
Even though the entire cast is made up of fantastic performers, I would say the real star of the show goes to the incredible set design by Jon Bausor that creates an immersive, gothic feel throughout the entire auditorium, from the stage to the walls to the fire exits to recreate the late 1800s when Victor Hugo published The Man Who Laughs. Tom Morris’ production of this thrilling new musical is a breath of fresh air in London through the immersive set design, a beautiful score by an impressive team of musicians and the incredible puppetry by Finn Caldwell and Toby Olie, which included a very life like puppet of a wolf that made me jump when it arrived on stage.
Bananaman The Musical @ Southwark Playhouse*
Currently running to: 20th January 2018.
Tickets and further information: http://southwarkplayhouse.co.uk/show/bananaman/
(Photo by Pamela Raith)
Having never seen the TV show nor read the Beano comics, I went into Bananaman The Musical with little to no expectations. I’m glad I did as it is everything you could want in an excellent musical comedy. The show follows Eric Wimp who, after being struck by a comet, becomes Bananaman, Acacia Road’s local superhero. Along with his assistant Crow, they aim to take down the villainous Dr Gloom and General Blight.
The show has everything a typical superhero origin story has. A transformation, a complicated relationship with a parent, a targeted love interest. But with added bananas. As someone who loves musicals and superheroes, this combination of the two was certainly right up my street. By writing the score and book of the show, Leon Parris deserves so much praise for creating an absolutely hilarious and outlandish musical comedy. I also found the show to be incredibly self aware of how small a show it is and that only added to the comedic aspect of the show; particularly in the props use and staging.
The bright and upbeat score is performed by a fantastic cast. Mark Newnham and Matthew McKenna make a great pairing as the geeky Eric Wimp and his counterpart the Ken Doll-esque Bananaman. Emma Ralston and Jodie Jacobs’ vocals soar as love interest Fiona and trusty sidekick Crow. However, the real stars of the show were Marc Pickering and Carl Mullaney as Dr Gloom and General Blight. As soon as they entered the stage dressed as a bin and a postbox, I knew the audience were in for a treat. They manage to create an iconic villainous duo through a couple of fantastic duets as well as being incredibly funny on their own.
The only real issue I found with the show was that the songs often had the characters overlapping each other, One Day More from Les Miserables style. Even though the space is in the larger space at the Southwark Playhouse, the acoustics often meant some of the vocals were drowned out. Whether the lyrics added to the development of the characters or not, it was a bit hard to tell. But that was my only real critique of the show, because I absolutely the show regardless.
Hamilton @ Victoria Palace Theatre
Currently booking to: 29th July 2018
Tickets and further information: http://hamiltonmusical.com/london/tickets
How does one prepare themselves for the UK premiere of the most iconic musical of the century? You don’t. When you walk through the doors of the newly refurbished Victoria Palace Theatre, you are instantly swept up in the excitement of an audience awaiting to see Hamilton. I was lucky enough to see the show on Broadway earlier this year which I blogged about here so I won’t dwell on what the show is about too much. And since the show opened, my two cents is probably the last in a long line of comments on Hamilton West End but I couldn’t not write about how fantastic the show is.
First of all, the ensemble are magnificent. In a show that has 46 numbers across two acts, the ensemble are hardly off stage and inhabit Andy Blankenblehur’s expertly incredible storytelling choreography to perfection, particularly in scenes such as The World Was Wide Enough, The Schuyler Sisters and My Shot. Howell Binkley’s lighting design is stunning, the mix of colours and patterns really illuminated the actors, particularly Giles Terera as Aaron Burr during Wait For It. Thomas Kail’s direction and set designer David Korins use exquisite detail in their work that you just can’t gain from a cast album.
Led by an extraordinary cast of regulars in the West End to those at the start of their careers like Jamael Westman as Alexander Hamilton, who had two previous stage roles before being cast as Hamilton. He is utterly incredible as the ten dollar founding father. Having had the cast album as my only source, I was surprised at the initial casting because he was a lot younger than the original A.Ham Lin Manuel Miranda. But with the recurring theme of Alexander Hamilton being a “young, scrappy and hungry” person, it makes sense for the actor playing him to be youthful. Other stand outs in the company were Michael Jibson as the hilarious and scene stealing King George the Third and Christine Allado who balances between the quirky and geeky Peggy Schuyler in act 1 to the temptress Maria Reynolds. But for me, the stand out of the cast was Obioma Ugoala who commands the stage as the authoritative George Washington with an incredible stage presence and outstanding vocals in One Last Time.
It makes me so happy that the show is being so well received in London. If you can grab a ticket, do it. Trust me, you won’t regret it.
Young Frankenstein @ Garrick Theatre
Currently booking to: 29th September 2018
Tickets and more information: https://youngfrankenstein.co.uk/
After premiering on Broadway in 2009, Mel Brooks’ stage adaptation of his 1974 comedy-horror film Young Frankenstein has arrived in London. The show follows Fredrick Frankenstein, a scientist with a speciality of the brain who heads to Transylvania after inheriting a castle of his grandfather’s. Once he moves in, he finds a monster strapped to a table and decides to finish his grandfather’s work. By giving the monster a human brain.
I have very mixed feelings on this very bizarre show. But what I can’t deny is how brilliant Hadley Fraser is as Fredrick Frankenstein. I have been a fan of his for years and it is wonderful to see him in a flashy musical like this. He is one half of a great partnership with Ross Noble as Fredrick’s assistant Igor and they have really great chemistry together. I do admire that Mel Brooks was heavily involved in the creation of the production by writing the original score and co-writing the book. And I am a sucker for a good tap number as the whole cast performed Puttin’ On The Ritz to tip top tap greatness choreographed by Susan Stroman.
However, the way the female characters were written made the whole production feel very cheap. I understand that the piece is a piss take of the horror genre. But they just felt very stereotypical and objectified and, quite frankly, it made the show feel very boring and repetitive. In a time where the industry is fighting for better representation, how can you think of including a song like “He Vas My Boyfriend” that included descriptions of normalised domestic violence? There is also a scene where a literal monster backs a woman into a cave in a bid to have sex with her. Just… why? Really?
I’m glad I saw the show so I could see for myself what I thought of it, having seen Young Frankenstein on a couple of 2017 favourites list. But if you are looking for a better musical comedy than I would recommend Bananaman instead.
Have you been to the theatre so far in 2018? What have you seen?
Until next time,