The World Goes Round

 

The Castle Theatre, Wellingborough, 1 April 2010

 

Review by Emma Shane

©May 2010

 

There were moments, when I wondered if it would really be worth the time and expense of the trip to Wellingborough.

 

Tonight the show started half an hour late, because two of the musicians in the on stage band had got stuck in a traffic jam on the motorway, so just before the show finally started a gentleman, possibly the director Nik Ashton, took it upon himself to come on stage and thank the audience for their patience. Then the band struck up and the show itself begin. Getting off to terrific start, not least because the first person on stage, to sing the opening number (and indeed the title song) And The World Goes Round is Louise Plowright, a super way to start the show, for this supertrouper sets such a high performance standard and high energy level. Also she wraps her big glorious voice beautifully around the song. John Kander has written a good tune, while Fred Ebbís lyrics for this number are just amazing, worthy of Stephen Sondheim or Noel Coward, in terms of insight and feeling and meaning, they certainly struck a real chord with me tonight. If youíve been having a bad week, be it at work, in your social life, or your financial investments, or well pretty much anything in life, then this lyric really can sum up how one might feel. In fact it is a truly excellent song for the current economic climate. If youíve ever had a so called ďfriendĒ treating you bad by convincing you that an investment is a good idea, that then turned out to be dubious or something awful like that, well this song would sum that up very well indeed.

Louise is soon joined on stage by the rest of the company: Sophie-Louise Dann, Ashley Day, Laura Pitt Paulford, and, Dominic Tighe for Yes, a big splashy ensemble number, which all do well. A brief pause and then itís onto Coffee In A Cardboard Cup, an amusing little song, although I wasnít too keen on the jerky choreography, however appropriate it is for the number and the cast all performed it satisfactorily.

Four of the company depart the stage, leaving Dominic Tighe alone to sing The Happy Time, this was entirely enjoyable, and one I hadnít heard before. Next up Laura to sing Coloured Lights. Beautiful Laura couldnít really make herself look like a possibly slightly stoned nearly-ex-hippie. Her performance of the song is simple and sincere. Entirely believable, although completely out of context. It was a very enjoyable song, I just canít quite envisage her as Angel in The Rink. Ashleyís first solo Sara Lee is one that I first heard when, I think it was Jessica Martin sang it somewhere. Iím not too keen on the song, however, Ashleyís performance of it was enjoyable, and his backing singers of Sophie and Laura, each with plates of pastries was very funny. Ashley remained on stage behind a screen (at least I think he did), while Sophie quickly divested herself of her apron and props, to return to the stage for her own solo Arthur In The Afternoon. She clearly has a pretty powerful voice, quite suitable for wrapping around some of the numbers associated with that originator of so many Kander & Ebb classics, Minnelli. Tonight Sophie makes this number very much her own, and makes good use of the choreography to be very suggestive. However, that solo is somewhat eclipsed by the next one, a true Kander & Ebb classic, in fact their first successful song My Coloring Book, originally recorded by Streisand. Well if you are going to have a classic chart hit originally sung and closely associated with a legend, incorporated into a show such as this, then to make it truly work youíd better have someone pretty special to sing it. Fortunately tonight we have Louise Plowright. She is one of those singers who is rather good at making numbers very much her own, no matter who has sung them, even when its a case of Streisand got there first. However, Louise is so impressive a performer, that trying to follow her is difficult, especially when she remains sitting on stage, Dominic comes on stage to sing I Donít Remember You. A song I had not heard before (and itís a completely different song to Maltby & Shireís I Donít Remember Christmas). It is almost as through he could be singing it to Louise. They remain on stage as Ashley enters to sing Sometimes A Day Goes By, with simplicity, then the three of them each reprise their respective solos in a kind of David-Kernan-Style Medley, which at least accounts for them all remaining on the stage. Sophie and Laura enter, with Laura joining the other three behind a screen, while Sophie out in front (having changed costume, so she is now wearing leotard rather than trousers) launches into All That Jazz, presently the screen goes up to reveal the rest of the company in a pose, as her backing singers. A perfectly fine impressive performance of one of those, almost canít-go-wrong classics.

Continuing with Chicago, we come to a rather more difficult to make their own number, Class. I say difficult, because a couple of years ago a cabaret in Maidenhead included an extraordinary performance of this number involving the two leading puppeteers from Spitting Image, with a puppet from that programme. Well trying to rival that extraordinary memory was going to be hard (in addition I have previously seen that number done hilariously in cabaret at Lauderdale House and Jermyn Street by a certain Mamma Mia colleague of Louiseís). Fortunately tonight Louise and Laura are very much up to the challenge. They manage to turn the number into a hilariously brilliant drunk act. With some notable exceptions, Iím not usually too keen on drunk acts on stage, but this one worked a treat. Louiseís characterisation was just brilliant, some of the audience wondered if a bit of Tanya got mixed into the character there, though never having actually seen the original cast of Mamma Mia I canít really tell for sure. But whatever she was doing with that character it was jolly good. That number was going to be a hard act to follow, but follow it Ashley, with another Chicago number Mr Cellophane jolly well did. This was rather unlike any version of that song Iíve heard before, actually his interpretation seems to improve the number. It kept making me think of Jerry Nelsonís Robin The Frog, if youíve ever seen the Bernadette Peters episode of The Muppet Show, when Robin is being ignored, well that is the kind of character Ashley managed to create for this number.

Continuing with the Chicago theme, there is one more number, Me And My Baby. Like Class I thought this might be rather difficult for the cast to make it their own. Itís been sung properly by such artistes as Ruthie Henshall and Maria Friedman. And then at Jermyn Street back into 2002 it was given a truly hilarious interpretation by the legendary Muppeteer Louise Gold, resplendent with one of Paul Jomainís puppets. How could anything match that? Well for shear hilarity match that this company certainly did. All five of them ran on stage pushing buggies. For two of them, Laura and one of the guys (I think it was probably Dominic, their buggies held dolls representing babies. The other guy, I think it may have been Ashley had a rugby ball in his. I canít remember exactly what Sophie had in hers. Louise Plowright was the funniest of the lot, a glass and a bottle of wine! shades of the prohibition bootlegger in a scene in the film Alexanderís Ragtime Band! I rather enjoyed the companyís very initial take on this number, yes they did succeed in making it their own.So impressive was this number that the following number There Goes The Ball Game was a bit of a come down, though it was performed entirely satisfactorily, I think the whole company were involved with that one too.

Four of the company exit leading Sophie alone on the stage for a solo How Lucky Can You Get, a song which is something of a favourite of mine. What to say about tonightís performance, well itís OK, after all Sophie has a good voice, and she doesnít murder it or anything like that. But for me there is one problem, I have the Hot Shoe Shuffle Original UK cast album, which includes a perfect version of that song, and good though Sophie is she just canít quite match that. However she is in good company. Ten years ago, when I first saw Mamma Mia, Louise Gold (Cast 2ís Tanya) seemed to be having a similar problem with Does Your Mother Know, which was done so perfectly on the Mamma Mia Original Cast album that no one can match that either.

For Act 1 finale, the title song from The Rink involves the whole company, well it stars Dominic and Ashley on roller skates, who handle the lead vocals alternately. Presently they are joined by the trio of giggling girls, who try to support them. Itís so good to send the audience into the intermission laughing.

 

The first act had opened with a very fine powerful singer. Now the second act opens with their second best vocal powerhouse, Sophie who demonstrates that she can do something with some of those classics written for Minnelli, in this particular case Ring Them Bells, which she manages to make her own. Towards the end she is joined on stage by her four colleagues, all wearing white gloves and carrying handbells, which they ring. This is followed by the title song from Kiss Of The Spider Woman, I think it was Dominic and The Company, but I am not entirely sure, it was one of the less memorable numbers.

Laura seems to be a fairly engaging performer, and very much the sweet young thing, so her performance of Only Love is beautiful and sweet. Ashley, who makes a fine juvenile lead joins her to sing Marry Me. A very interesting take on that song, beautifully sung, turning it into a duet for a pair of romantic juveniles (quite different to its actual place in The Rink. Continuing with the twists of putting songs in different settings, we have Sophie, clearly taking the role of an older guardian to Laura, being pleased about the match and reflecting A Quiet Thing, and When it All Comes True a totally different setting to those songsí original one in Flora The Red Menace. Nevertheless Sophie sings it perfectly well, and I canít help but me amused to find a song from Flora following one from The Rink. Remember the story about the theatre director who requested the rights to The Rink and got given Flora instead?

Time for the ensemble to show their dancing strengths as Dominic, playing the role of a dance captain or resident choreographer or some such, leads the company with Pain. Yes its a great song about life in the chorus line, strangely the programme does not say where it is from. Fred Ebb has certainly written some amusing lyrics, and of course John Kanderís music is always good. However I was not all that keen on Nik Ashtonís crutches staging of it, though I could see that it was clever and inventive.

Fortunately, I very much enjoyed the way the next number The Grass Is Always Greener was done. I have no idea whether this version of it as performed by Laura and Louise was anything like the way the number is normally done, but itís a jollyy good song. It has a good catchy tune, and excellent lyrics, which Laura and Louise both do justice to. I particularly enjoyed Louise rasping ďfirst you brown an onionĒ (Actually the thought running through my head on hearing this is that one should be very wary of anyone who wouldnít start a pot roast in this simple way, by browning an onion). Laura does splendidly as a celebrity possibly longing for a simpler life. Louise, however has a tougher challenge. Her character in it is somewhat at odds with her generally bubbly personality. Having her mane of blond curls rather tamed by means of a scarf tied over them (British fashion Ė like the sort of way Her Majesty The Queen is sometimes shown wearing a head scarf) means her appearance is almost dowdy. This fits in with the supposedly rather ordinary character she is playing. It is fortunate that Louise is a skilled actress, and also perhaps benefits in this number from having come to the acting profession a little later than some. This number once again included the alcohol gimmick, but good though she is in doing well by the song, Iím not sure the number really suits that feisty actress. Still itís great to see her display a fair amount of versatility in tackling the part.

The Grass Is Always Greener must have made a fairly good impression, for it managed to eclipse the number which followed it. Dominic and Ashley singing We Can Make It, which was rather less memorable, though both are clearly good capable performers. However, another reason not to remember the number could well be the one which followed it, Maybe This Time, which turned out to be something of a showstopper.

Maybe This Time which first came to public attention when included in the film version of Cabaret, and as such its defining performer was one of the people most commonly associated with Kander & Ebbís songs, Liza Minnelli, and it appears very suited to her talents. This makes it very difficult indeed for anyone else to really make the song their own, though the brilliant Maria Friedman on the JAY/TER Studio cast album did succeed in uniting both the stage and film portrayals of Sally Bowles as one vocal masterpiece. However in so doing, she did of course create her own definitive recordings of those songs. Thereby making it still harder for other performers to make this song their own. That said, in a live performance it can be done, as Jon Robyns for example redoubtly proved in a TheatreMAD charity performance, Flaunt It 2008. So it can be done, but you need a pretty special performer to do it. Fortunately Louise Plowright happens to be very good at rising to this sort of challenge, and even more fortunately (given that most of the Minnelli classics tonight have been given to Sophie to sing) this one is handled by Louise. Itís a super number for her. Louise has a gift for doing big emotionally powerful numbers amazingly. songs like: Long Ago And Far Away, The Winner Takes It All, and Could I Leave You, and now she adds another tour de force making Maybe This Time very much her own. As often happens with Louise she puts so much feeling into the song, she seems to be able to convey additional meanings to those originally in the song. Although the song itself is about love (basically a woman who hasnít had much luck in holding onto a male partner), somehow tonight (I donít know if I was reading too much into it) but it seems it could also be a metaphor for a stellar actress who doesnít have that much luck getting the big roles she deserves, though of course she was very much the winner of a leading lady in Mamma Mia in the West End.

The only problem with Louiseís sparkling performances in this revue, is the difficulty for any cast member who has to follow them. Well how do you follow a showstopping performance? This particular one is followed by a largely forgettable performance of a little known song, Isnít This Better, I think it was sung by Dominic, but coming hot on Louiseís heels it was just too hard to make an impression. Sophie and Dominic fared rather better heading the company with one of the great Kander & Ebb classics: Money Money otherwise known as Money Makes The World Go Around. One needs to be specific because so many musical theatre songwriters ranging from Irving Berlin to Bjorn Ulvaeus & Benny Anderson have written songs about money (with the titles, alternative titles or opening lines: Money Money, or Money Money Money) Once again itís Sophieís turn to tackle the legacy of Minnelli, while Dominic has Joel Greyís part. The song is a strong one, which stands up well to a little reinterpretation. The other three members of the company provide a powerful ensemble. This leads naturally enough into a finale of the title song from Cabaret, which is a splendid ensemble effort from the whole talented company. A great way to end the show? Somehow so wonderful a show just couldnít end there. One more classic, New York New York makes a spectacular encore. Although it is an ensemble piece, there is one performer who seems to lead that number.... All the company have come to the front of the stage, and are standing in a line, Louise, who is at the centre, breaks off to go to near the back of the stage, where the band are, and returns carrying a black cloth sack. Each of the other four reach in and pull out a prop or two, for an around the world variation of the song. Ashley has a string of (was it) garlic or onions? at any rate French, Laura has a fan to represent a Japanese version, Dominic armed with an IKEA catalogue does a spectacular Swedish take on it, while Sophie (possibly with Sausages) gets to do a German version. Louise is the only one without any gimmick, she is just simply a star. (Though of course sheís never made it in New York herself, mind you she does have a sororial similarity with a certain Met-Mezzo). Tonight was Louise singing in an English accent or American accent? Probably the latter but either way it didnít matter. All the regional variations were unusual added something to the number. But in the end it was our dazzling dynamo of a supertrouper, Louise with her big powerful voice, and presence that made the number memorable. Quite right to, for in a way this encore summed up the whole show. For the final verse, Louise led the company up some steps, still they were standing on a platform a at the back and sides of the stage, behind the band. Louise once again centre stage and the centre of attention, singing out so powerfully belting the song over the band and over the footlights, admirably backed by the other four.

At the end of the number the quintet returned to the front of the stage for a final bow before departing the stage.

 

All in all a fantastic show, the very best sort of entertainment, for it was wonderfully uplifting, the sort of really wonderful entertainment that can make people feel a whole lot better. if they are feeling sad this show will make you feel happier. John Kanderís tunes a just lovely. While as for Fred Ebbís lyrics, they are so clever and full of feeling and multilayered meaning As a lyricist Fred Ebb belongs up there with Ira Gershwin, Noel Coward, and Stephen Sondheim for being able to write lyrics full of depth and insight, that an audience will really connect with. Importantly to, although many of these songs were written for specific book musicals, they also work very well out of their original context, and sometimes even put into quite different contexts as in this revue. It helps a great deal that it is extremely well performed by a talented company. The band lead by Dean Austin (other members included: Neil Crossley, Avelia Moysie, Richard Coughlan, Nick James, plus one more player whose name wasnít in the programme) all played jolly well. Dean Austin clearly knows how to get the best out of the singers. Louise Plowrightís performances always benefit from having a musical director who figures out how to get the best from her. Generally Nik Ashtonís direction of the piece has also brought the best out in the performers. There were a few bits where I didnít entirely care for his stageing, but generally it was fine, and in places innovative.All five singers gave of their best. Dominic Tighe is generally an asset to the company, the number he stood out individually the most in was leading the company with Pain. Meanwhile Ashley Day makes an engaging juvenile lead, and sings a really beautiful rendition of Mr Cellophane. Sophie Louise Dann generally acquits herself adequately, and thankfully never murders any of her songs. With some of her numbers (for she sang quite a few classics) there are occasions when I felt yes they probably have been done better by other people, but for the purposes of this revue her performances are more than adequate, particularly with Arthur In The Afternoon, All That Jazz, and Ring Dem Bells. Meanwhile Laura Pitt Pulford is a very engaging performer (a little similar perhaps to Julie Atherton and Cassidy Janson in that respect for she is very likable), this quality helped to make her rather unusual performance of Coloured Lights into an enjoyable refreshing piece. Many of her other solos were very little known numbers. Two of her best performances were duets with Louise, where she managed not to get overshadowed.

However, while this was apparently meant to be very much an ensemble show, somehow, by shear force of talent and personality, along possibly with height and vocal power Louise Plowright stands out as something of a star of the show. Splendid in all her solos, particularly And The World Goes Round, and Maybe This Time, she is equally capable in duet, and pitches in well as part of the ensemble, and finally leading the company with New York New York.Prior to seeing this show, I had only seen her on stage in book musicals and pantomimes (which are effectively like book musicals to), never before in a revue. So I had no idea whether what her performance would be like in this genre, which depends so much more on the performerís ability to put the individual songs across, and create little scenarios for each song. As it turns out Louise is very adept at this, the genre suits her talents very well indeed. She has plenty of personality and stage presence, plus a good powerful voice, she sings with a lot of feeling and she proves to more than capable of being very convincing without the support of a showís book to rely on. In fact, in some ways the genre actually enhances her performance. Hitherto, from what Iíve seen of her work, Iíve long thought that one of Louise Plowrightís few weak-points as a performer is that she tends to have difficulty rising to the challenge of insufficient rehearsal time, in that if she lacked confidence due to that it would be apparent to the audience, well that may be so in book musicals, but interestingly when performing in revue, aided by her bubbly personality, she can project confidence (how much acted) to the extent that if she was under-rehearsed tonight it certainly didnít show. Having now seen just what a sensational performer she can be in revue, I hope we see her in more of this type of stuff, and it might be worth seeing how sheíd fair with the genre of cabaret, which after all has certain similarities with revue (such has doing a lot of songs outside of their original context). After all if such performers like: Julie Atherton, Cassidy Janson, and Nicola Sloane amongst others can do it, who knows what Louise might be able to do, given a chance, perhaps someone could suggest this to Lauderdale House. Anyway, it was a joy to see Louise Plowright on magnificent top form heading a generally excellent cast in this thoroughly enjoyable compilation of terrific Kander &Ebb songs. How lucky can you get to witness such a winning combination. Well this time the audience at Wellingborough Castle certainly got lucky.

 

 

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