Greater Londonposted/updated: 06 Jun 2012 -
a musical comedy whodunit from the creators of 'Cabaret' & 'Chicago', Kander & Ebb
society/company: Wimbledon Light Opera Society (directory)
performance date: 31 May 2012
venue: London Oratory School Arts Centre, Fulham
reviewer/s: John Maslen (Sardines review)
The correlation between a well-produced piece of theatre with high production values, and perceived entertainment factor being of a high level alongside its response/reaction by the audience, is not always predictable. We Will Rock You was panned by critics but remains highly popular years later, playing to big audiences each night. A lovely play I saw at Chichester 5 years ago Babes in Arms, full of gorgeous timeless songs by Rodgers and Hart, which I thought certain to transfer to the West End, promptly disappeared.
This mismatch of reaction and response applies in some part to our play in question Curtains despite having an impressive pedigree with writers Kander and Ebb,of Cabaret and Chicago fame, it does not get too much of an airing in terms of production and I wondered why. One reason may be that there is a little too much going on - parodies have to be immediately identifiable as such and I have my doubts as to whether audiences fully buy into the joke on a consistent basis. Mix this with a conventional musical and the intricacies of a murder mystery underpinning the piece, again played in parody style, but not quite treading a serious or irreverent path; and one sees the problem of identity for the audience in terms of appreciation.
Given this premise of potential negativity, WLOS did remarkably well to transcend these aspects and staged a sure-footed show bursting with exuberance, virtuosity, fine ensemble work and very sound performances, both in acting and singing. This achievement is surely heightened by the withdrawal and necessary replacement of the director no less at a perilously late stage of rehearsal. I am not party to the circumstances or story, but it appears from the programme note that this came out of the blue and could have been a traumatic blow, if not fatal, so well done Angela Daniel who stepped in and also appeared briefly at the beginning of the play as the fated ‘Jessica Cranshaw'.
For me, the absolute star of the show is Jonny Clines, who gives a bravura performance as the police detective who arrives to oversee the investigation into the spate of murders affecting the cast. Jonny finds the fine balance between the insouciant, breezy, straightforward detective and the star-struck would be performer who cannot help but get involved in the production that is ongoing when he arrives. His personality floods the stage and links the action nicely, his tentative unfolding romantic interest in cast member ‘Niki’, delicately played by Emily McDonald, is touching and sweet.
The songs are well performed but unmemorable - I assume Marion Barton's song as ‘Georgia’ Thinking of Him, which featured Marion's pleasing light voice, was meant to be turgid, in keeping with the context of the low quality of the play within a play - or maybe not. You see the dilemma for the audience in the field of parody....
Choreographers Mithu Lucraft and Georgina Christmas clearly did a fine job with such a large cast: their groupings on two occasions, the bedroom scene and the ruse played by the detective in leaving a revealing suitcase for temptation, were exercises in geometrical precision and a treat for the eye. Plaudits also to Jon Mizler as Musical Director for fine orchestrations and support. The big number in Act 2, which initially features Jonny Clines and Emily McDonald, and ultimately brings in the whole ensemble; was stirring, heart warming and spectacular but I thought could have benefitted from a small increase in the fluidity and smoothness of movement from the ensemble to make it almost perfect.
As a camp director, Ian Ward had a dream role which he played to the utmost with a nice pomposity and archness, with some wonderfully delivered one-liners (for example: to a hapless female cast member on her lack of allure: “the only thing you can arouse is suspicion”) and I liked the tough maturity mixed with dispassionate devilment shown by Dianne Norton as the theatre entrepreneur's wife. Her featured number Its a business very well delivered with elan and style. As her put upon daughter ‘Bambi’, Laura Hutchinson blossomed and shone on given the chance to reveal dancing and singing talents in Kansasland, a nod to the likes of Oklahoma!. There was some lively playing in cameo roles by Luke Burgess, Adam Walker and Jaco Botha. The latter in a pretty boy role which did not allow too much room for expression. As Mr Nasty, Paul Sadler was suitably terse and Hamish Norbrook played his cameo gently and neatly. Good work too from Nick Simpson as the theatre critic and a great geeky look with the glasses! As the world weary and cynical stage manager, Naomi Fieldus gave a convincing and effective performance, with a good dying scene too! Lastly, Jason Thomas as lovelorn writer Aaron Fox, gave lots of pathos and vulnerability and sang nicely in a heartfelt way. Well done to all involved for a great nights entertainment and splendid production!