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GOTTA SING GOTTA DANCE – Richmond Theatre, Surrey.

Gotta Sing Gotta Dance - Chris Jordan Productions - Devonshire Park Theatre - August 2013If the thought of 60 numbers from the world of musical Theatre makes you raise your jazz hands in the air and grapevine over to the nearest box office, you’ll find this jam-packed show is a little piece of musical-geek heaven. If, on the other hand, you regularly use the name Andrew Lloyd Webber as a particularly violent expletive, it’s a new circle of hell.

Happily, I fall into the former camp, and this feel-good compilation left me grinning like a loon. Gotta Sing Gotta Dance celebrates a dizzying range of musicals, from Old Hollywood and best of British to jukebox, Sondheim, The Glums and yes, the Lord himself, making it both constantly engaging and great value for money. Scattered among the performances are slices of history and the only debates worth having: Broadway versus West End, and Fred versus Gene.

Of course, the correct answer is all of the above, but it’s great fun seeing the arguments for both sides. After a frosty week for US/UK relations, there is a certain tension to a cleverly adapted ‘Anything You Can Do’ pitting spangles against cockneys, but the tap/musical spoons trading is a definite highlight – and possibly the only solution to political conflict not yet suggested in the media.

There are plenty of opportunities for ‘Oh, I love this one!’ fan recognition, as well as the odd introduction to a hitherto undiscovered gem. However, some brave choices in picking unlikely numbers from hit musicals yield mixed results. You can feel the audience’s energy plummet during ‘Stars’, easily the dullest song from the otherwise gloriously overwrought Les Mis, and others lose their potency when pulled out of context; the Lloyd Webber section, in particular, becomes cloying without narrative drive.

The most joyful numbers are the ensemble ones, such as ‘Wilkommen’/‘Money’ from Cabaret, ‘Honey Bun’ from South Pacific and ‘Seasons of Love’ from Rent, which showcase the cast’s warm chemistry, while the girls give the Andrew Sisters a run for their money in ‘Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy’ and deliver on the risqué wit of Gypsy’s ‘Gotta Getta Gimmick’. The sustained level of energy from the six inexhaustible triple-threat performers and cracking four-piece live band gives the impression of a cast and orchestra of hundreds.

There is a noticeable dip in quality during Act 2, as a jukebox medley just can’t compete with the all-time greats, but it’s almost salvaged by Simon Adkins’ frank confession that he was one of the unfortunates cast in the short-lived, ironically titled Viva Forever. I’m sure he really really really wants to forget that episode. More successful is the Reduced Shakespeare Company-style three-minute West End round-up, with several wonderfully sly mini parodies.

Easily the strongest sections – and bookending the show – comprise golden oldies like Me and My Gal, Top Hat, American in Paris, Crazy for You and 42nd Street. Tough to match up to Fred, Ginger, Gene, Judy et al, but the combination of solid tapping and pleasant vocals gives us an enjoyable tribute. Director Chris Jordan and choreographer Nick Winston also make some interesting choices, particularly in re-creating the backstage drama of Singin’ in the Rain’s eponymous number: the tapping and vocals had to be dubbed later, milk was added to the water to make the rain visible on camera, and the star, suffering from a cold, struggled out of bed long enough to perform just two takes.

Among those hoping to impress with this live showreel, Adkins is a square-jawed leading man with strong technique, Adam Rhys-Charles brings wide-eyed sincerity and comic charm, but lacks edge, Lucinda Lawrence comes alive in the quirkier contemporary songs (particularly zany fable ‘Taylor The Latte Boy’), and Alison Dormer’s bright voice and vitality are well suited to screwball ditz, the manic energy of the murderous ‘If’ from Two On The Aisle and the rockier pieces.

Gotta Sing Gotta Dance - Chris Jordan Productions - Devonshire Park Theatre - August 2013Winning awards for all-round versatility are David McMullan and Rebecca Lisewski. McMullen finds superb chemistry with Akins in both a Gene ‘n’ Fred a cappella tap rendition and a soulful Sondheim mash-up, and also does an excellent Frankie Valli, while diminutive dynamo Lisewski is a true chameleon. Her rich voice, crisp movement and gift for concise storytelling give her a great base for any role, from beatboxing nun and roller-skating reject to Judy Garland ingénue and Wicked’s emerging diva.

The sheer range and volume of work means there is an understandable loss of finesse, particularly in some of the partnering, specific styling and sync work, and we had to suffer through some horribly erratic lighting cues. Admittedly, this is the kind of show that would reduce a normally serene technician to a blubbering wreck, but when the cast and band produce such impressively smooth transitions, it is rather a glaring defect. Let us hope subsequent theatres on the tour don’t detract from this otherwise camp-tastically joyous show.

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Reviewed 06/09/13/

By Marianka Swain
@mkmswain

5th – 7th Sep 2013
Richmond Theatre, Surrey, TW9.

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Photography by Robert Workman

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