REVIEW: Hadestown @ National Theatre, Olivier

Reviewed by Nathan Deane

2018 has been the year for musicals based on Greek mythology in London, with Myth at The Other Palace earlier this year, Mythic at the Charing Cross theatre currently, then Orpheus at the Battersea Arts Centre next month, and now Hadestown at the Olivier Theatre.

Currently appearing in London’s National Theatre autumn season before transferring to Broadway, Hadestown is a musical re-telling of the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, a myth that already has a fair share of theatre adaptions, and Hadestown is nothing like those.

Anaïs Mitchell, who penned all book, music and lyrics, provides a lush folk score that 7 on-stage musicians play throughout the show. Mitchell’s lyrics and book, however, are a major weakness to the piece. Both feel repetitive and boring, and would be extremely confusing if you weren’t already familiar with the myth. At times, the book felt like it was trying to drag out the myth to be as long as possible. I can’t even really remember what happened in act one.

The direction by Rachel Chavkin and choreography by David Neumann was inventive, yet minimalist and intricate. In fact, Neumann’s choreography really livened up moments in act one and the opening of act two.

The cast did well with what they had to work with. Reeve Carney as Orpheus was a stand out performance, despite having very little to do within act one. I mean, for a musical about Orpheus, there was a distinct lack of Orpheus. His act one solo, Wait For Me, was a highlight. Eva Noblezada as Eurydice provided gorgeous vocals, and worked well with what seemed to be a very under-developed and flat version of Eurydice.  Amber Gray as Persephone was incredible, with probably the best performance all evening. Her vocals and acting were wonderful, and she really brought some energy to the piece within her numbers Livin’ It Up On Top and Our Lady of the Underground.

I also enjoyed costume and lighting, designed by Michael Krass and Bradley King, respectively. Krass’ costumes were at times beautiful and bright with the character of Persephone, and yet they were simple and effective with Orpheus and Eurydice. King’s lighting was wonderful, once again often simple but helped to show setting and brighten up the mood and atmosphere of the piece.

Despite a boring, dragged out book and confusing and repetitive lyrics, Hadestown boasts a lush score with stellar performances and a gorgeous design.

3-stars

 

 

 

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Review: R+J @ Access Theatre, NYC

Reviewed by Annie Zeleznikow

In this modern retelling of a classic story where men are nowhere in sight. There is a museum of sorts that explains why men disappeared. But the focus of this play is on the women, so that’s what I’ll do too. The set of R+J can be described as industrial and hazardous (designed by Marisa Kaugars). Large sheets of metal are the backdrop of the scene and surround the entire performance area. The aggressive set was an accurate location for this retelling, filled with anger and passion, it is hard to imagine this version of R+J in a set any less dynamic. The warlike set is reflected in the conflict ready direction of the play.

R (Charlie Aleman) is charismatic. The show revolves around R, and they provide a strong emotional foundation for a show that at sometimes is frantic. Benvolio (Chelsea Fryer) and Mercutio (Ania Upstill) banter with R with ease, an emotional bond is clear, as the actors move forward with the plot. Perhaps I am placing my ideas of femineity on the actors and seeing traditionally male characters as more emotional because they are being portrayed by female presenting individuals. Each thought and conclusion I made during the show has me second guessing my biases.

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R+J’s costume design (designed by Lux Haac) deepens the dark nature of the play, and the set forces the audience to imagine a different world. The inherit masculinity in the black and camouflage costumes contrasts the femininity exhibited from the actors. Even traditionally female characters, such as J (Briana Sakamoto) are shrouded in black. Although her mesh shirt exuded female energy. On the other hand, the low cost but high intellect of the set creates an entirely masculine world. The Reflective properties of the metal sheets double the cast and the audience- eerily reflecting our confused and shocked expressions back onto ourselves.

My preconceived ideas lessen lust in a gay relationship, I was shocked when I found myself surprised that two female presenting individuals could be as lustful as R and J. My idea of the traditional play, my understanding of lust and sexual desire, had been dictated by societal norms. The kissing scenes and sex scenes in this production felt so strange to me because I hadn’t thought that queer love could descend into the same single-minded lust and passion that I have come to expect in a straight couple. I think subconsciously I had made assumptions, most that non-heteronormative relationships were lustless, or less lustful. I was tested by R + J and found wanting.

Shakespeares’ sex jokes feel weird, female-presenting individuals are talking about how hard their dicks are, and how they want to sleep with different women. The jokes become poignant. A reminder of how ridiculous and segregated our genders are. It seemed bizarre for a woman to make a joke, but it was just funny (to me) in other Romeo and Juliet productions. I think this is one of the many reasons this production is so revolutionary and relevant, it highlights internal sexism and forces me to confront my prejudices. These differences are mirrored in my response to the violence in the show. It feels overly violent, and I wondered while watching, would I have felt that way if it were two male presenting individuals fighting to the death?

It feels strange for J to wait for R to take action. In this retelling, there is no fairer sex, but J still waits. In previous shows I have seen it felt natural, Romeo will go organize the wedding while Juliet waits. But when there are two female presenting individuals, why should one wait for the other to take action? They are equal. I am mortified at myself, and my complacency. The power imbalance between Romeo and Juliet in classic telling’s of the show are increasingly obvious as I watch the classic story unfurl.

At the top of Act II the show began to drag a little. This does happen (in my opinion) in almost all Shakespeare plays, so it wasn’t too outside the ordinary. What was strange and unique to this production was the confusion caused by actors playing multiple roles, sometimes in the same scene. That was truly one of the most confusing aspects of the show.

R crying seems too feminine for the character as portrayed by a female presenting actor, and again this show puts my own notions of gender to shame, as I am faced with my deeply innate response to men crying, which is to perceive them as weak. R is described as “a child and a beast” and this stood out to me. During R + J, I was faced with a lot of confrontational ideas and this line stood out to me as powerful as it was a strong and reasonable way to define a man, but not a woman.

When J is found ‘dead’, there is a single light that follows her. J is found by R, and the long soliloquy begins. I never thought about how truly toxic R’s masculinity is until a gender non-conforming individual portrayed him and he was so clearly made to look ridiculous through his bravado and self-imposed masculinity. R takes the poison and violently throws up. My response to this was that it was accurate yet entirely melodramatic. J’s demise is powerful, touching and modern. The drama feels accurate to the text, and to Shakespeare, but with a female presenting individual in the role, it felt over the top.

I have seen countless retellings of this story, but never before have I been so surprised by my response to this well-known and well-loved story. I was moved, angered, and made to question myself throughout the show. Although confronting this show is worth seeing. It might not be what you want to hear, nobody likes discovering dark and ugly things about themselves. But I feel this show justly deserves a receptive audience.

4stars

 

 

Review: Pop Punk High @ (Le) Poisson Rouge, NYC

Reviewed by Annie Zeleznikow

The show began with a standing crowd and no chairs (except some couches and a reserved section), not what one expects when heading to the theatre. And as the unconventional seats forewarned, Pop Punk High was no ordinary show. The evening I attended began with a band, Dude Ranch, singing and encouraging the audience to shout “DICK”. The band was loud, and I should have paid more attention when the merchandise stands outside the theatre had earplugs for sale. Despite the intense volume, Dude Ranch sufficiently warmed the audience, preparing them for the power of pop-punk music. 

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The show began in earnest with the protagonist, Derek (Ben Lapidus) yelling at his parents (Mclean Peterson and Eric Wiegand), telling them he hates them. Which seemed odd to me, as I have a deep respect and love for my parents. Little was I to know how clever the foreshadowing was in this overtly silly show. The cleverness of this show, as a form of self-deprivation, is unfortunately overshadowed by the loudness of the dated music.

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While describing the evolution of pop-punk, Tib (Amanda Centeno) states that pop-punk was created by “tak(ing) out the nuance, and leav(ing) the power cord”. How accurate she was. Although moving at times, this show pandered to a specific niche music fan. Despite that, the hilarious show remains nostalgic, if sometimes a bit silly. And Tib’s charisma and charm help elevate the show.

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The crux of the story is that Derrick, a loser with a needledick, sprays a magic axe bottle, releasing a dead Avril Lavigne (Kelly Krauter), who offers Derek 3 wishes. The ridiculous wishes come as no surprise, despite its predictability the wishes nicely foreshadow the outcome of the show. The story itself is whimsical, and at some times thin, logic crumbles under narrative pressure.

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The pacing of the show and the quality of the songs were excellent. The songs meaningfully moved the story forward, providing excellent rhythm for the show. The ensemble continuously sang and danced their hearts out. It was the first time I asked myself what the true meaning of punk-pop was. And I’m surprised a show with such an airy story managed to perfectly provide me with a deep existential question. This show climaxes with a giant dick knocking over the antagonist. Despite that, the evening was enjoyable.

Niched, fun and a bit rude, this silly show will fulfil your 2003 self’s dreams. With all the ups and downs of the show, it creates a positive atmosphere for growth and excitement. I felt empowered as the cast took their bows, to be the best version of myself.

3-stars

Pop Punk High is currently playing at (Le) Poisson Rouge until November 1st, tickets can be purchased here

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: Laura Bush Killed a Guy @ The Flea Theatre, NYC

reviewed by Annie Zeleznikow

I was welcomed into the theatre with an offer of a pen and a cowboy cookie. Delighted, I took my seat and was surprised to find two things. One, this was a one-woman show with no intermission and Two, my uncultured assumption that Laura was one of the Bush twins was wrong. I was surprised to find a well-groomed older woman, George W. Bush’s wife Laura.

Munching on my cookie, Laura (or First Lady Bush, or Mrs. Bush now I guess) began sharing her renowned Cowboy Cookie recipe in detail. This long monologue bookended the show, Laura used her recipe as a method of connection with America, and on a smaller scale with our audience. The mirroring of her words continues throughout the show if I paid close attention I could see the dual image Lisa Hodsoll was creating in her portrayal of the First Lady.

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Hodsoll’s engaging and thrilling storytelling captured the small audience. Ian Allan used carefully crafted words to paint a specific image of Laura Bush. Laura’s story was told as though to a friend, with whom she was happy to lie to. Halfway through the show, Laura retold an earlier story, with different motives around the accident. My personal feelings of betrayal shocked me. Hodsoll had made me her friend, only to tell me she had been lying the whole time. This dualism of Laura added both suspense and intrigue to the show. Hodsoll had my full attention.

Laura tells two stories about an orphanage. She went once with her parents, and she went once with George. This reflection of events provokes powerful emotions and was successful in engaging me in meaningful thought about the Bush family, something I had thought impossible. Laura speaks about visiting countries in the Middle East, and how the weight of a Burka surprised her. Hearing stories of Laura trying new things and opening up her world to new experiences impressed me. In light of modern politics, this show cleverly introduced a more sympathetic woman than I would have suspected.

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Laura tells two stories about how she met George. At this point, I’m not sure what to believe. I’m not sure if it matters which story is true or accurate. The emotions a felt in response to each story was real for me. Although jarring, I found this show thought-provoking and engaging. The atmosphere was electric and like a true politician, Hodsoll had me eating out of the palm of her hand.

3-stars

REVIEW: The Producers @ Ferneham Hall

Reviewed by Nathan Deane

The Producers is an iconic comedy musical based off of the 1969 film of the same name written by Mel Brooks. South Downe Musical Society have returned to Ferneham Hall in Fareham to tackle the challenge of producing the over the top, lavish musical written by Brooks himself.

The Producers tells the story of Max Bialystock and Leo Bloom, two theatre producers scheming to produce “the worst show ever written” and take all the money and travel to Rio. However, the show they produce, Springtime For Hitler, is ultimately a success and the fraudsters are caught out.

Taking the roles of Bialystock and Bloom are Matt Sackman and Sam Townsend. Sackman was excellent as Bialystock, a scheming ex-King of Broadway. Sackman is funny in the role, and his act two solo “Betrayed” was a highlight of the show. Townsend was perfectly cast as Leo Bloom, giving an awkwardly cute performance with lush vocals and comedic delivery of lines.

Director Jane Pegler had a tough job of bringing the book and music to life without copying too much from the film or previous productions of the show. And whilst I did see some similarities between the movie, Pegler did her best to keep the staging fresh and inventive.

The standout performance of the night goes to Kimberley Harvey as Ulla. An extremely funny performance, with strong vocals and a convincing Swedish accent throughout.

It was a shame that the sound levels weren’t balanced properly as the ensemble often seemed to be drowned out by the pitch-perfect orchestra (who were West End standard, may I add.)

The Producers was a great night out guaranteed to entertain anyone from die-hard theatre lovers to die-hard Mel Brooks fans.

4stars

REVIEW: Island Song @ Davenport Theatre Loft, NYC

reviewed by Annie Zeleznikow

All Things Broadway, a much beloved Facebook group, presented their first full-length show. The theatre was filled with family, friends and supportive theatre lovers. One of the producers, Eliyahu Kheel, addressed the audience, explaining in a short and heartwarming way the long road that lead to this production.

Island Song presents the overlapping lives of serval busy New Yorkers. The story follows 5 core characters, with actors doubling up to play minor characters. The show offered many opportunities to show off the actors’ vocal range, to my delight. The songs that bookend the show rang out through the theatre with the strong harmonies of a powerful cast.

The staging was interesting and the director, Keira Todd, impressively utilized the space and light of the Loft. The lighting stood out, as the twinkle lights around the room pulsed in time with the emotions and climax of each song. The small theatre space created an intimate atmosphere, and the show felt tailored uniquely for me. Focusing on romance and making it in the big city, the themes of the show resonated with me.

Each of the 5 characters struggled with living in the city and found strength in different ways. The pop songs illustrated the nuanced issues the characters were facing. Will (Mathew Billman) charismatically courted his girl-next-door, Jordan (Stephanie Michele Toups), and Shoshana (Kira Leiva) was just looking for love in all the wrong places. Caroline (Anna Harris) struggled with a purpose. The standout, however, was Cooper (Darren Cementina) who, through his story as a struggling artist, managed to give me goosebumps with his superb vocals.

Although there was a dense amount of songs, and there were some technical issues with the microphones, this show was undoubtedly heartwarming. The community produced show is representative of the great artistic creativity that can be produced with the faith and support of loved ones. Empowering and touching, this production showed me how much heart can be woven into a single show.

3-stars20180619_212412

REVIEW: The Fourth Wall @ A.R.T, NYC

reviewed by Annie Zeleznikow

The fourth wall is an interesting idea for a show, it questions the formatting of plays, of life and of politics. The one-act provided some intellectual stimulation. The show focuses on a husband and wife who are at ends about the arrangement of their furniture. Peggy (Ann Marie Morelli) insists on keeping the fourth wall of their living room empty, which concerns her husband Roger (Stephen Drabiki).

The set design for the show was interesting, and a focal point for the plot. Often the characters address the benefits of a set for a play and are eerily aware of their roles in the show at hand. The constant reminder that the audience was watching a play did not necessarily have the desired effect, as it felt forced rather than enticing.

The gimmick of the play is the self-awareness of each character, and how frequently they refer to their lives being a play. This self-awareness could have developed into something interesting and powerful. Instead, I found it to be slow and convoluted. Characters acknowledge for the majority of the show on the fact they were in a play, rather than subtly and slowly coming to a realization.

Roger, Peggy, Julia (Pamela Sabaugh), and Floyd (Nicholas Viselli) weave their way through increasingly ridiculous plot driven by a need to acknowledge their presence is confide within a play. The plot, which centred around Peggy’s need for a blank fourth wall, fell flat. Some comments about the fourth wall were insightful. The perplexing wall can and often represents the hollowness of humanity, which at times during the show is a powerful image. However, the depiction of human connection and the depths it requires is quickly drowned out by forced puns, silly jokes, and dry dialogue.

Including an actress who is wheelchair bound and an actor who is hard of hearing felt like a profound choice. Julia stood her ground as a central character to the story and continued developing alongside her co-stars. This casting felt powerful, and despite the show feeling flat, the addition of all-ability casting made a significant impact on me.

There were several songs sprinkled throughout the play. The songs served little purpose, other than to act as transitionary moments between scenes, as confessed by the characters themselves. It seems these songs were there to add time to the show. It was disappointing that there were no other benefits to the songs, those would-be soulful moments were wasted.

The language of this show was superfluous, as the characters endlessly overused theatrical terminology and clichés. Despite what the author may think, acknowledging theatre clichés does not make those clichés permissible. The Fourth Wall fell victim to an inordinate number of theatrical clichés, which surmounted to a slow and dull show.

The back wall covered in mirrors was an excellent set design, the actors and the audience are both reflected back upon themselves. As a show about breaking through, it was poignant to watch actors from all angles, and to see yourself on a stage the characters acknowledged were real.

The interesting end doesn’t quite make up for the dull start and relentingly long middle. This one act show develops slowly and misses the mark. There is a clear and strong heart to it, however, and the messages that motivate the characters are powerful. Although not entirely enjoyable, there were interesting and thoughtful aspects of The Fourth Wall.

2-stars

 

REVIEW: Transparent Falsehood: An American Travesty @ Theatre 511

Reviewed by Annie Zeleznikow

Before the show began, a collection of middle eastern, French and South Asian songs played as the small crowd filled up the theatre. there was a cabaret-like set up close to the stage, with small tables and chairs. There was a life-size paper-mache member of the press propped at the back of the audience. I was nervous coming into the show, as theatre is ordinarily my escape from reality, and this shows only promise was to include the antics of the 45th United States President (Ezra Barnes).

The show starts with Donald telling his young son, Baron, a night-time story. It was a classic story, filled with graphic descriptions of ISIS beheadings. The show continues on this path of crude and overwhelming themes, as Donald becomes violent with his youngest child. This show was not quite funny, rather it was overwhelmed by silliness and left me feeling a bit uneasy.

Unlike SNL and The Late Show with Seth Meyers, Transparent Falsehood: An American Travesty pushes aside topical humour and interesting news stories for a darker and more confusing storyline. In reviewing the notes, I took during the show, I am unable to discern a coherent story. The show continues with disturbing images and jokes that diminish any humour or clever observations within the show.

There were several one-liners included in the show, which were meant to be funny but fell flat. Trump, in his imagined HBO special claims that the queen was so excited by his show that “she started menstruating again”. This crude humour adds nothing to the play, and although clearly trying to entertain the audience with a realistic tweet-like line, I am left with a foul taste in my mouth.

I found that ultimate this was a show that believes it is making an intelligent point while only confusing and convoluting reality. It is a strange collection of scenes that develops no singular plot or theme. The vulgarity and harshness of this show did little justice to the possible intelligence hidden beneath some jokes.

2-stars

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.