Review: The Fantasticks, Jermyn Street Theatre

Editor’s Rating
Rating

The Fantasticks’ reputation precedes it in musical theatre world. But that reputation varies wildly, depending on which side of the Atlantic you are on. In America, it is New York’s longest-running show, with the original off-Broadway run lasting for 42 years until January 2002, and the current revival continues since opening in 2006.

In the UK, however, it’s a very different story indeed. The original 1961 West End production ran for just 44 performances, and a 2010 revival closed after three weeks. Smaller scale revivals with short fixed runs have fared better, demonstrating perhaps that this is not a West End show, but one which suits the size of a fringe venue. And in the Jermyn Street theatre, which has the intimacy of fringe just a stone’s throw from Piccadilly Circus, it nestles pleasantly and inoffensively for a week.

The plot, which is very loosely based on one of Rostand’s, has echoes of a medieval morality tale – indeed, the lovers at the heart of the story are initially separated by a wall that directly echoes the Pyramus and Thisbe production performed by the mechanicals in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. But, it transpires, the wall is a fake – the supposedly warring fathers of the romantic leads are in cahoots, assuming correctly that their being at loggerheads will cause their children to rebel and fall in love with each other.

As the young lovers Luisa and Matt, Emma Harrold and James Irving bring the characters’ naiveté to life. Both have strong voices, full of character, with Harrold in particular possessing a sweet soprano trill that she ought to be able to put into good use once she graduates from the Royal Academy of Music’s musical theatre course.

Brian McCann and Tim Walton give their one-dimensional parent characters their all, but all the principals are dwarfed by the narrator and troublemaker, El Gallo. Gavin James’ character is hired by the parents to pretened to abduct Luisa so that Matt will come to her rescue, and as such he is really the only character that progresses the story along to any degree. Comedy character moments from Seamus Newham as a faded Shakesperean actor and, especially, James Weal as his acrobatic, mostly silent assistant certainly enliven the show’s duller moments, of which there threaten to be rather more than there should. And Greg Page’s permanently exasperated stage manager, while completely superfluous to the plot, bears enough of a resemblance to Michael Billington to wonder if the critic has started taking a hands-on role in a show he panned a few years ago.

Musically, the show is sweet and has plenty of opportunity for the cast to show off their vocal talents. However, because the musical’s stand out songs, Soon It’s Gonna Rain and the more well-known Try to Remember dominate the first act, and the principal story peters out by the interval, it’s a bit more of a stretch for the audience to enjoy the show throughout.

So, for the life of me, I fail to see just why off-Broadway has taken this show to their hearts so much. But I’m glad I’ve seen it, and delighted that I’ve seen some fine performers show what they’re capable of.

Rose Bridge Theatre’s production of The Fantasticks continues at Jermyn Street Theatre until July 27. For more details, visit rosebridgetheatre.com

Review: The Fantasticks, Jermyn Street Theatre3Scott Matthewman2013-07-25 13:59:57The Fantasticks’ reputation precedes it in musical theatre world. But that reputation varies wildly, depending on which side of the Atlantic you…

The most wonderful time of the year?

As people who regularly read my blog will know, I do review quite a bit of theatre for The Stage, as well as off my own back. I won’t kid anyone – I’m hardly in the first or second tier of reviewers, and the shows that get passed to me are often those that our more regular reviewers aren’t able to make.

When it comes to Christmas shows, it’s all hands to the pumps, though. The paper reviews hundreds of Christmas shows around the country – over 130 in the last fifteen days alone. I’ve been to what seems a higher number than usual, as my usual beat (Aylesbury, Rickmansworth and Chesham) has been supplemented by High Wycombe this year as well as several London-based shows.

This year’s reviews (all of which link to the review page on the Stage website):

In addition, I also went (in a non-reviewing, enjoyment-only capacity) to Robin Hood: Queen of Thieves at Above the Stag, a gay-themed panto for adults that was such enormous fun we’re going back to see it again on Friday.

Seeing so many similarly themed shows in such a short space of time usually exhausts me by this point in the run-up to Christmas. This year, though, with the great Potted Panto (which summarises six key pantomime plots with more panache than most shows manage with just one), Queen of Thieves and the big budget Cinderella at Aylesbury, I’m still feeling a little Christmassy. Which is nice.

Jet Set Go!, Jermyn Street

The love lives of a transatlantic cabin crew are played out in a variety of enjoyable numbers in this bawdy musical comedy, which unfortunately relies too much on anecdote to allow a real story to take flight.

Zipping along at a fair pace, each of the characters starts out as a broad caricature – the oversexed gay trolley dolly, the sexy Latina with a passion for the pilot, the anxious newbie. Rarely, though, are we treated to anything deeper. The feeling that we have seen all these characters before detracts from the quality of the songs, which are generally all of a high standard, encompassing a range of musical styles with an assured maturity from the writing team of Jake Brunger and Pippa Cleary.

The cast’s most recognisable face, Mark Evans, suffers from having the most underwritten role. Performing well in his two key numbers, he ends up lost in the ensemble pieces, which are dominated by the more flamboyant characters. Of these, Amy Coombes’ Hayley steals every scene as the girl from the Welsh valleys with a long, if unsuccessful, sexual history.

It is only in the latter half of the musical that some hint at what might have been begins to emerge. But presenting characters with emotional challenges this late on means that issues are either resolved within a couple of verses or merely hinted at and left hanging by the time the plane makes its final descent.

Mike Lees’ production design uses an effective, if minimal, set and the show’s imaginative use of low-budget props allows for some great comedy performances, particularly in scenes set in the plane’s flight deck. The staging helps contribute to a fun, if imperfect, evening of comedy that showcases some promising young composition talent.

_Reviewed for [The Stage](http://www.thestage.co.uk/reviews/review.php/24019/jet-set-go-)_

**Jermyn Street, London**, April 2-18
**Music:** Pippa Cleary
**Lyrics:** Pippa Cleary and Jake Brunger
**Book:** Jake Brunger
**Management:** Take Note Theatre
**Cast:** Mark Evans, John McManus, Laura Scott, Danielle Corlass, Emily Sidonie, Amy Coombes, Philip Riley, Tim Driesen
**Director & choreographer:** Luke Sheppard

Saturday Night, Jermyn Street Theatre

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Stephen Sondheim’s first musical, abandoned in 1954 after the sudden death of its producer, has been rarely performed since, but offers a rare insight into the developing talent of one of theatre’s foremost composers.

At the tail end of the Roaring Twenties, just months before the Wall Street Crash, David Ricardo-Pearce’s Gene leads a young group of friends, actor-musicians all, who throw their savings into the only stock which is not rapidly increasing in value. As Gene’s aspirational lifestyle causes him to build lie upon lie and risk the friends’ money, his burgeoning relationship with Helen, played by Helena Blackman, begins to fall apart.

The music has echoes of Gershwin and Porter, showing an aptitude for wordplay that both matches the style of the era and indicates the Sondheim that was to come. They are delivered with precision by a cast that works well together, and exudes enough charm to allow one to overlook the occasional lapse in accent from one or two of the men. Dancer Charlie Cameron, whose speakeasy-loving Florence rarely speaks, manages to steal every scene when she does so.

It is the book, adapted by Julius J Epstein from his play Front Porch in Flatbush, co-written with brother Philip, that proves the weakest part of the production. Events do not really start to get under way until well into the first act and the conclusion seems both perfunctory and out of character for all concerned.

That aside, one is left with the feeling that unlike many rarely-produced musicals, Saturday Night deserves to be seen by a wider audience.

Reviewed for The Stage

Saturday Night, Jermyn Street Theatre3Scott Matthewman2011-07-27 12:56:24Stephen Sondheim’s first musical, abandoned in 1954 after the sudden death of its producer, has been rarely performed since, but offers a rare insig…