In Conversation With: JILL SANTORIELLO (It Happened In Key West)

Jill Santoriello is a writer, composer and lyricist whose newest musical, It Happened In Key West, has recently opened in London at the Charing Cross Theatre. Santoriello also penned the award-winning musical adaptation of Dickens’ “A Tale of Two Cities”. It Happens In Key West tells the story of Carl Tanzler, an eccentric German man living in Key West, Florida, in the thirties, who was found living with the body of Elena Hoyos, his true love but also a young woman who passed away seven years earlier.

Read my five-star review of It Happened In Key West here. 

What interested you about the story of Carl Tanzler and writing a Carl Tanzler musical?

I had never heard of this story until my producer and collaborator, Jeremiah James, pitched me the idea several years ago. It immediately appealed to me in an over-the-top gothic romantic sort of way. Jeremiah was familiar with my work on “A Tale of Two Cities” so I knew he had to be envisioning a musical that was somewhat romantic as well. But he couldn’t have known that I also have a slightly twisted, dark, demented side that was just as drawn to the potential for black comedy as it was drawn to the grand romance. The good news was Jeremiah didn’t want the show to be all one thing or the other either. We shared the view that as romantic and sincere as Carl’s intentions may have been, keeping and preserving a decaying body around the house just had to present certain challenges that were ripe for comedy.

Why did you choose to portray Tanzler as a romantic rather than a psychotic body-snatcher as many have?

Jeremiah, Jason Huza (co-book writer) and I were never interested in doing a dark, grisly horror story. That’s just not how we saw it, though it can be interpreted that way and has been portrayed that way in other versions of the story. But that’s what appealed to us frankly – taking what some people thought they knew – a creepy tale of body-snatching and obsession – and turning it into a silly, absurd, uplifting romance. We made a choice early on to take Carl at his word and tell the story from his point of view. And actually, his accounts were not greatly contradicted by the newspaper and legal accounts of the time, so he seemed to be the most reliable first-hand narrator for the show. And he literally ends his diary with the most optimistic, adoring words of gratitude for having known Elena and having had the honour of taking care of her as long as he did. So, when you read that, it’s kind of hard to not appreciate the romantic side of him and what he did. And it’s impossible to deny that this man truly loved this woman – as they say – to the bitter end.

What were the most challenging parts of the true story to adapt to fit the style of the musical?

Well even though Carl wrote a rather detailed diary account of the events, they didn’t automatically “sing” or lend themselves to being dramatized. In fact, sometimes his notes were a little too scientifically detailed and clinical, so we did take our fair share of dramatic license, inventing some scenes and conflicts as needed. The hardest (and most fun) part of writing a show like this is figuring out what to approach as heartfelt and what to approach tongue-in-cheek through the dark comedy filter.

Whilst researching for the musical, did you meet anyone who was around in Key West when the discovery was made?

It’s funny that you ask that because my collaborators actually met a woman in Key West who was alive at the time that Carl was discovered living with Elena’s body. So this person literally attended Elena’s second wake and viewing in 1940 when she was a little girl. They had a long conversation with this woman, whose mother was best friends with Elena, and the amazing thing was she literally corroborated our “imagined” version of events! In other words, we had written scenes where Elena showed that she really cared for Carl whilst she was alive, loved him and asked him to take care of her body when she passed away – and this woman told us that yes she did. And also that the people of Key West, people who actually knew them, saw the story exactly the way that we saw it – not as something creepy or horrible but as an expression of how much this man loved this woman and the lengths he went to to keep his promise to her. I was particularly touched by the fact that when the song “Undying Love” was played for this lady, she actually broke down weeping because she said it was how they all felt about the story.

Are there any other true crime stories you’d like to adapt to the stage?

Honestly, I never thought of this as much of a crime. I mean, the charges against him were grave robbing and desecration of a tomb. Well, he had paid for Elena’s funeral, paid for and built the mausoleum that she was kept in – all with the consent of her family. And if you happen to believe in an afterlife and spirit communication, which I do, if the dead girl you love comes to you from beyond the grave and asks you to get her out of the cemetery and take her home with you, well what else are you supposed to do? So where’s the crime in that? You can question whether he was delusional to think he’d been visited by a spirit – but no-one who knew him ever doubted he believed that to be the case. So I believe he truly thought he was honouring Elena’s wishes and I can’t fault him for that.

Where would you ideally like to stage It Happened In Key West in the future?

London has been great and it’s my favourite place on the planet so this has been a wonderful experience premiering the show here. And I’m definitely planning on coming back again on coming back again before the end of the run. But I would love to see it done in the U.S as well: in New York (where I live), of course, and especially in Florida and/or Key West. I think the story of undying love and how tough it is to say goodbye is pretty universal so I’m hopeful we’ll eventually find an audience in many places.

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I’d like to really thank Jill Santoriello for agreeing to be interviewed. You can find more information about her as a writer and her shows here. 

It Happens In Key West runs at the Charing Cross Theatre in London until the 18th of August 2018. Tickets and more information can be found here. 

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REVIEW: It Happened In Key West @ Charing Cross Theatre

Reviewed by Nathan Deane

A classic love story that involves forbidden lovers, tuberculosis, and grave-robbing. Honestly, what’s not to love?

It Happened In Key West tells the very true story of “Count” Carl Tanzler, a German man who lived as a doctor in Key West, Florida in the 1930’s. He had said that when he was a young boy, he dreamed of a girl that would be the woman he marries. He finds that in Key West in the form of Elena Hoyos, but ends up diagnosing her with tuberculosis. She is already married, but he showers her with gifts (and even proposes, to which she declines). When she eventually dies, he builds a mausoleum for her and eventually…steals her body and lives with it. For seven years.

Not traditional musical theatre inspiration, and being familiar with the story before seeing the show means I was extremely intrigued to how they’d pull it off.

Penning the book, music and lyrics, Jill Santoriello does her best to turn the macabre true story into a beautiful romance. The music is lush, with extremely clever lyrics and a book that turns Tanzler into a wisecracking romantic. Santoriello twists some truths of the story to play in favour of romance (I particularly liked the changing of Tanzler dragging Elena’s corpse out of the cemetery in a toy wagon to a variety of different ghosts and spirits marrying them in the graveyard).  In the true court case, Tanzler was medically proven sane. The book does its best to show that he wasn’t crazy, and it worked. There were moments which I found myself tearing up, which was a change from most versions of the story where they try to make Tanzler look like a psycho.

Marc Robin‘s direction and minimal choreography worked for the small stage of the Charing Cross theatre. Wooden crates were moved and stacked to create locations, aided by projections designed by Louise Rhoades-Brown.

Wade McCollum takes on the role of Carl. His comical, yet creepy, performance was perfect. He plays Carl from the moment he first meets Elena up to the day he dies, which McCollum plays wonderfully. In particular, his act one solo “Undying Love” was beautifully done.

Playing Elena Hoyos, both dead and alive, is Alyssa Martin. The innocence of Elena was shown perfectly in both acts, firstly accepting Carl to try and “cure her tuberculosis” (there was no cure for TB at the time), and in act two as a dead woman, singing beautifully “I Feel Loved”.

It Happened In Key West is definitely a musical to suit all tastes, from the classic musical theatre vibe of the score to the macabre but comic book. It’ll be hard to find a better new musical comedy this year.

5stars

IT HAPPENED IN KEY WEST runs at the Charing Cross Theatre until 18th August. Tickets and more information here.

Review: Soap @ Underbelly Festival, Southbank

Reviewed by Charlie White

CAUTION! Be prepared to get soaked! Enough to wet anyone’s appetite for talent, Soap at the Underbelly Festival is a wonderfully bizarre mixture of skills ranging from acrobatics to opera.

Directed by Markus Pabst and Maximilian Rambaek, the show is a variety of acts all linked together by one simple item…a bathtub! It starts off with 5 rather toned performers starting their day in the bath accompanied by the beautiful operatic voice of Jennifer Lindshield. You may think that circus acts and opera might not mix, but you’d be surprised.  It isn’t opera in the conventional sense, in fact, it’s used rather unconventionally which contributed to the comedy of the piece. I think the contrast added to the show in a very effective way and added a sense of feeling to the performance.

We were then entertained by the comedic stylings of Marie-Andrée Lemaire as she picked a random member of the audience to assist on stage and have a bit of circus-themed fun. There was more comedy in it than I thought there would be which was good because let’s face it, we all need a good laugh now and again. There was also the unique skill of towel spinning which was performed without fault by Vanessa Alvarez. She had impeccable timing and strength spinning towels on both hands and feet. However, towels were not the only thing she juggled, a guitar was also thrown into the mix as she balanced a juggled it rather impressively again with her hands and feet.

 

A large part of the show consisted of beautiful acrobatics from the amazing Lena Ries, Anton Belyakov, Daniel Leo Stern, Mortiz Haase and Adam Endris Yemam. There was a particularly outstanding trio by Daniel, Lena and Vanessa who managed to tell a story just through their elegant and passionate movements. They performed with such feeling and intensity, the emotion could be felt throughout the audience. Another emotional performance was a solo form of Anton which included an impressive acrobatic routine in a bathtub but this time it was filled with water. The addition of the water made it even more visually stunning.  I also have to give a special mention to the trapeze number by Mortiz. He quite literally flew over the audience and had us on the edge of our seats with the more daring tricks he executed.

These slightly more intense moments were juxtaposed with lighthearted sections which gave the show a good balance. For example, Adam amused us with his remarkable juggling skills. He had the audience completely in awe of his juggling, not 3, not 4 but 7 balls! There were also some cleverly conducted comedic tricks among this vast array of incredible acts.

Soap is an original and unique show with innovative and creative acts which are sure to be enjoyed by all, whatever your taste.

5stars

Soap runs at Underbelly Festival until 17 June 2018. For tickets and more information, click here.

REVIEW: Fishbowl @ Kings Head Theatre

Reviewed by Charlotte White

So we go straight in with a conversation about whether George called his neighbour Hatty over for sex or not. George is adamant there is a leak in his ceiling, but Hatty thinks there is something more going on, but is there? Or is it simply just, a leak?

Fishbowl, a play by Jenna Kamal and directed by Alice Wordsworth and Erin Blackmore is a truly simple yet quite brilliant piece of live theatre. Essentially we watch as the only two characters in the play discuss various issues at 4 in the morning.

George is played by Nick Cope who portrayed the awkward but loveable character in such an endearing way and did such a great job of showing us as the audience how everything in life can be affected by so many little things. Felicity Green took the role of Hatty and I felt her performance had such a natural flow about it (much like the play in general). I particularly enjoyed her little cardio work out dance break!

I wasn’t expecting the show to make you think about so many things in life. As the show appeared so much like a casual conversation it made it more relatable and made you reevaluate things in your own life as you were watching it. Lots of quite deep elements of life were discussed. For example, does change only come from conflict? Or can it come from positivity?
I liked the fact that these deeper moments were contrasted by witty one liners and again some great dance moves from Hatty!

Fishbowl is a thought provoking, clever, unique piece of theatre with a natural flow that makes it that much more enjoyable to watch.

REVIEW: Mirrors @ Leicester Square Theatre

Reviewed by Alex Kirk

Written and performed by Siobhan McMillan, Mirrors is a clever and humorous take on the classic Snow White story.

In Snow White, the Evil Queen discovers that there is another maiden in the land who dares to be fairer than she, and begins a hunt to kill her. In Mirrors, the Evil Queen is one of many personalities living inside the head of an enthusiastic yet entirely unoriginal and naive YouTube vlogger called ShyGirl, with a grand total of 30 subscribers.

When she is stood up by her ‘boyfriend’ (who merely uses her for sex and shows no romance at all), she becomes Shivvers – our ‘Evil Queen’ – a much more confident and down to earth character, who guides us through the story when her mirror tells her that she is no longer the most gorgeous woman alive, and begins her pilgrimage to kill her.

McMillan’s writing is clever and endearing, using mystical fairy-tale language to narrate the story, interjected with insults and stereotypes more commonly found in Facebook memes and ‘trash’ humour; the first woman that Shivvers believes is her new enemy is given the name ‘Bitchface’, and later in the play we hear all about another character’s love for chips and hummus (which was served to the audience after the show!). McMillan gives a strong performance throughout the play, in all of her characters, sometimes switching between them on alternating lines. She gives a masterclass in characterisation.

Gabi Maddocks’ direction is brilliant as well, and utilises the space superbly. The Lounge at the Leicester Square Theatre is a highly intimate space, and yet every single corner of the room is used throughout the show, thoroughly gripping your attention. The fairy-tale language in McMillan’s script parallels the fake oh-so-perfect world that YouTube vloggers pretend to have, and Maddocks’ direction heightens this further with some brilliant comedy moments – a personal favourite moment being ‘magical’ bubbles coming from a techie blowing very loudly at the back of the theatre. This is a production that is very self-aware and embraces its innocence and intimacy, and it is this that makes it such an endearing piece of theatre that will have you invested in ShyGirl’s journey.

Snow White parallels aside, I cannot compare this show to anything else. It’s thoroughly unique, totally personal, and I really enjoyed it.

4stars

REVIEW: V For Victory @ Stockwell Playhouse

Reviewed by Kayleigh Place

V for Victory starts off set in the 1940s just after the war starts between Britain and Germany and is about how the Nazis took over Jersey. I have never seen the film, read the book or watched the musical, I knew nothing about what this rendition was going to entail.

The programme took the form of a ration book which I thought was a nice touch and had a summary of the musical’s premise. I learnt upon arrival that it was the in-concert version of the musical so all emphasis was on the songs. When I entered the theatre, there was a very atmospheric 1940s scene already on stage.

The staging was fantastic, the use of the wooden crates for each scene and the transition of moving them about the stage was hardly noticeable and was conducted very fluidly.

 

They start with the open song which I cringed and flinched at as one of the actors, I believe it was Klemens Koehring, was completely off key and out of tune with the rest of the cast, I hoped that it would not be like that the whole way through! Luckily his solo was beautiful, as was the rest of his performance. I am therefore putting this down to not warming his vocal cords up properly before the show.

However, there was another song that had the same effect; Leanne Coupland, who played Judy, when she sang her solo I nearly put my fingers in my ears! Throughout there was the one note that she consistently missed and I noticed her voice wavering on some notes. It was less noticeable when the cast sang together but, being sat at the front, I could hear it rather well, unfortunately.

I do have a good point to say about the singing; the duet between Georgina Rose Hanson (Liz Edward) and Ben Eagle (Bailiff Edwards) was fantastic! The song was so intense with the overlapping lines and the cues which were so well timed, I would go back just to hear them sing it again!

Considering there was not a lot of dialogue, you could tell there was a lot cut out, everything still flowed nicely. You could see the love story between Thomas and Liz, Liz’s anger at her dad for not standing up to the Nazis for Jersey, how Captain Gunther Scheider was becoming to hate the Nazis and what they stood for because he joined the army to protect his country not enslave. I felt even though it was shortened I still managed to connect with each character, understand their backgrounds, thoughts and feelings.

One of the things the irritated me the most throughout were the costumes. They were great. The cast was dressed appropriately for the era the shoes, the stockings, the hats, the braces, everything was well thought about. But they clearly forgot their IRON! All the guy’s shirts were creased from the beginning and the girls’ dresses looking like they had been retrieved from a bag stuffed with clothes to go to a charity shop! The Captain’s Nazi jacket, although one of the items that wasn’t creased, it did not fit him correctly. You could tell that it was way too big and it looked like a child wearing his dad’s suit jacket!

The acting was spectacular especially from Aaron Bannister-Davis who played the main character, Thomas Carter. The emotion and the facial expressions he used felt like it was real life and at times I almost forgot that I was sat in a theatre. It felt as though I was his friend and I was there to help him through his pain and to stand by his side as he rose up against the Nazis to take our homeland back.

Overall the show itself was great, but there is a lot of room for improvement. I would happily see this again if I could be confident that the quality of the singing had improved. If you like historical musical and don’t mind the odd good song being ruined but are up for an emotional, heartfelt storytelling, I’d strongly recommend you see this.

3-stars

REVIEW: Banana Crabtree Simon @ Drayton Arms Theatre

Reviewed by Leyla Damirel

“Banana Crabtree Simon” – these are the three words that Alan is told to remember. These three words are also the title of a new, one-man play that I was given the lucky chance to review. The play follows the character of Alan and his ongoing condition of dementia.

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Other than that, I knew nothing of the play, and went in with an open mind, although I was intrigued as to how the actor would captivate and keep the audience’s attention all on his own – it is a great deal of pressure for one person to captivate the audience and tell a story and keep the audience interested with no other cast members to help, but CJ de Mooi (Alan) managed to capture it perfectly. His characterization is flawless – in a short amount of time, you can see an almost healthy 50-year-old man in front of you deteriorate with his condition to a man who is rapidly becoming weaker as his memory fades. At one point in the show, Alan is under the sure belief that he is once again a little boy who has just attended his sister’s funeral. The way this scene was portrayed was breath-taking – I was not watching a man perform as a man with dementia. I was watching someone who truly did have dementia. The lines between acting and reality were completely blurred.

From the word go, you’re thrown right into the heart of the story; granted this is not necessarily a high energy show, if you’re expecting grand sets and orchestrations, this show is not one for you, but if you want to truly get invested into a story and really feel something, then this is right down your street. The simplicity of the setting and the lack of ‘theatre glamour’ adds to the intimacy of one man telling you his dementia journey, and being able to see his dementia increase as the show gets on is truly something special. I feel if the play were to transfer to a larger theatre, the intimacy would fade and the effect the play had on me would be lost. The use of music throughout the show only adds to the mood – as the play becomes more intense and tense, the music builds and only adds to this; every aspect of the production of this show has been accounted for, so while at face value it may seem that this is a simple play about a man with a degenerative condition, when real attention is paid to the finer details, they can truly be appreciated and the hard work that has been put in behind the scenes which is often overlooked, can truly be noticed. A beautifully heart-breaking piece of theatre, I know for a fact I shall never be forgetting the time I went to see Banana Crabtree Simon.

5stars

Banana Crabtree Simon runs until 14th April 2018. Tickets and more information can be found here.

REVIEW: Myth @ The Other Palace

Reviewed by Nathan Deane

Only in the workshop process, Myth is a new rock musical based on the Greek legend Orpheus. The show is presented semi-staged and aims for a full run in the near future.

The show tells the story of Orpheus, a rock-star in his band The Argonauts, with bandmates Jason and Theseus. The Moirai (fates) have their eye on Orpheus and change his fate. They get his band a record label at Underworld Records overseen by Hades and his right-hand woman Medusa, tempt Orpheus with “viper”, a harmful drug, and eventually lead his girlfriend, Eurydice, away from him, leaving Orpheus to quest through the underworld to find her.

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The show was spectacular from start to finish. Before going in to the show, I wasn’t really educated on the stories of Orpheus so it was a pretty strange introduction to the myth, I’ll admit. However, I’m a sucker for rock musicals, so seeing a brand new British rock score was incredible.

The music, book and lyrics, by Sam Cassidy were refreshing and vocally challenging. While it is a rock musical, Cassidy mixed various other styles into the score, most notably rap. This made the music extremely interesting and the cast were working their asses off to sing the score perfectly, which they did.

Orpheus, played by Joel Harper-Jackson, was an extremely well-written character. He has quite an intense character arc, and Harper-Jackson plays the role perfectly. His vocals were pretty insane, and he acted the part flawlessly.

The three fates, Atropos, Lachesis and Clotho, played by Jodie Jacobs, Jodie Steele and Eloise Davies, respectively, provided powerhouse vocals throughout the show and basically narrated the story, overseeing act one and most of act two. These 3 characters were my favourites as they got the best songs and provided the tightest harmonies on the London theatre scene right now.

Matthew McKenna played Hades, the comedic antagonist of the piece. He was smooth and charming, yet truly villainous at heart. McKenna was hilarious and this role was absolutely perfect for him. His sidekick, Miss M, also known as Medusa, was played by Zoe Birkett. Birkett provided a seductive, sassy feel to Medusa and some of her lines had me laughing out loud.

Diana Vickers played Eurydice, Orpheus’ girlfriend. Vickers played the role well, providing vulnerability but also strength at points. The fact that she is hardly seen after act one is incredibly sad, as Vickers’ talent deserves to shine, but she does get to showcase, she gives everything she’s got.

This show is absolutely incredible. It’s unlike anything I’ve seen, and it’s deserving of a longer run.

5stars

Myth runs at The Other Palace until 17th March 2018. Click here for tickets and more information.

 

Olivier Awards Nominations: MY PREDICTIONS

Written by Nathan Deane

It’s not common practice to predict nominations for awards ceremonies. But the 2017-2018 theatre season in London was so great that the Olivier Eligibility is one of the best things I’ve ever seen. I feel like I have to tell everyone (is predict the right word? Oh well.) what I hope is nominated for the Theatre section of the Oliviers this year! I’ve limited myself to 3 or 4 nominations per category. These are not the official nominations; just my predictions/wishes.

Best Revival

The Birthday Party – Harold Pinter Theatre

Frozen – Theatre Royal Haymarket

Glengarry Glen Ross – Playhouse Theatre

Stepping Out – Vaudeville Theatre

New Play

The Ferryman – Gielgud Theatre

John – National Theatre (Dorfman)

Lady Day At Emmerson’s Bar & Grill – Wyndham’s Theatre

Pinocchio – National Theatre (Lyttleton)

New Comedy

Labour of Love – Noël Coward Theatre

Mischief Movie Night – Arts Theatre

The Miser – Garrick

Musical Revival

42nd Street – Theatre Royal Drury Lane

Follies – National Theatre (Olivier)

On The Town – Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre

New Musical

Everybody’s Talking About Jamie – Apollo Theatre

The Grinning Man – Trafalgar Studios

Hamilton – Victoria Palace Theatre

The Toxic Avenger – Arts Theatre

Entertainment & Family

Dick Whittington – London Palladium

Five Guys Named Moe – Marble Arch Theatre

The Hunting of the Snark – Vaudeville

Affiliate

The B*easts – Bush Theatre

tick, tick…BOOM! – Park Theatre

Room – Theatre Royal Stratford East

Disco Pigs – Trafalgar Studios 2

REVIEW: Trainspotting LIVE @ The Engine Rooms, Southampton

Written by Nathan Deane

Take any pre-conceived notions of Trainspotting LIVE and throw them away, as this play takes both book and movie and smashes them to bits.

Trainspotting LIVE is an immersive piece of theatre in a traverse environment with the audience sat on raised platforms. This allowed for the cast to interact with the audience, and they took every liberty they could to interact with every scene, including the infamous toilet scene. The play is primarily based on the book, with passages being directly lifted out of the text and placed into the play, often paraphrased.

Harry Gibson did an amazing job at adapting the source material, adapting the novel from Irvine Welsh into a punchy, non-stop 75 minute experience. Adam Spreadbury-Maher‘s direction was intimate and intense, and allowed for scene changes to occur smoothly and with minimal fuss.

Trainspotting LIVE tells the story of a group of Scottish heroin-addicts in the late 80’s. This show is filthy, intimidating, often funny and extremely well-done.

 

Frankie O’Connor played Renton, a part made famous by Ewan McGregor. O’Connor took McGregor’s performance and blew it out of the water. The arc that the character goes through is immense, and O’Connor plays it perfectly.

The piece is an ensemble piece, yet each actor in the small cast had shining moments. Finlay Bain as Tommy gave an extremely emotional performance, Chris Dennis as Begbie was extremely intimidating, James Boal as Mother Superior was comedic and quite eerie, and Rachel Anderson as Laura was often the comedic relief of the piece, lightening the often tense mood. The two actors that stood out of the ensemble for me were Andrew Still as Sick Boy and Erin Marshall as Alison. Their performances were stellar, their chemistry felt super developed and their story together closer to the end left me tearing up and shaken.

Trainspotting LIVE is an experience not for the faint hearted, but if you dare brave it, you’re in for a wild ride.

Trainspotting LIVE is touring the UK before heading to London for 2 months. For tickets and more information, click here.