Monday, December 24, 2018

MARY POPPINS RETURNS – A Movie Review

Cast: Emily Blunt, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Ben Whishaw, Emily Mortimer, Pixie Davies, Nathanael Saleh, Joel Dawson, Julie Walters, Colin Firth, Meryl Streep, Jeremy Swift, Kobna Holdbrook-Smith, David Warner, Jim Norton, Dick Van Dyke, Angela Lansbury
Creative Team: Songs by Marc Shaiman & Scott Wittman • Choreography by Rob Marshall, John DeLuca & Joey Pizzi • Screenplay by David Magee • Based upon the novel by P. L. Travers • Directed by Rob Marshall
My Rate: 10 (from 1 to 10)

The Plot: Michael Banks, is now a widower with three little sons, on the brink of losing their home. But Mary Poppins is back to help him and his family 

The Movie: Since I saw the trailer for this movie that I’ve been very excited about it, but I never expected to fell in love with it in just a couple of minutes. But I fell head over heels for it! I know the original is an eternal classic and I enjoyed it very much, but I’ve to confess that, although it had better songs, I prefer this sequel… it’s very rare for that to happen to me!
I think director Rob Marshall did an amazing job recreating the magic of the original and giving it a modern pace that takes us from one scene to another with rhythm, imagination, humour and magic! He has a terrific sense of how a movie musical should work and took full advantage of the means at his disposition. Visually, the movie is amazing and the scenes between humans and cartoons are so real that we forget they are special effects.
It’s true, the characters sing and dance every time they get a chance and I love it! The sequence at the “Royal Doulton Music Hall” is fabulous and “Trip a Little Light Fantastic” is terrific and contagious. But there’s more, including a hilarious Meryl Streep giving us “Turning Turtle” and the great Angela Lansbury with the melodious “Nowhere to Go but Up”. The song “The Place Where Lost Things Go” is beautiful and “Can You Imagine That” magically funny.
In the title role, Emily Blunt is perfectly perfect, showing us what a great and versatile actress she is (early this year she was fighting monsters in A QUIET PLACE). I love Julie Andrews, but Blunt made the role her own. At her side, Broadway’s Lin-Manuel Miranda is the nice Jack, a lamp lighter who believes in magic. As Michael Banks, Ben Wishaw is like a lost big kid in need of a miracle and, has his sister, Emily Mortimer is sweet and always giggling. In a change of character, Colin Firth convinces as the bad guy and Julie Walters is funny as the Bank’s house maid. I already mentioned Meryl Streep, she’s at her best here, enjoying every minute of her performance and dear old Angela Lansbury is sweet as over. One last word for Dick Van Dyke, who played the characters of Bert and Mr. Dawes Senior in the original, and here plays, sings and dance as Mr. Dawes Jr. Having him in the cast was a nice touch by Marshall.
I can’t recommend this movie enough! The world is in terrible need of believing in the magic of Mary Poppins and the movie melted my heart, put a big smile on my soul and made me cry of happiness! I don’t know about you, but this is one of the best movies I saw this year! Don’t miss it and let Mary Poppins magic live in you; it’s good to be a child again!  






















Friday, October 26, 2018

COMPANY – London 1995: A Theatre Review

Cast: Adrian Lester, Rebecca Front, Clive Rowe, Clare Burt, Gareth Snook, Liza Sadovy, Teddy Kempner, Sophie Thompso, Michael Simkis, Sheila Gish, Paul Bentley, Anna Francolini, Kiran Hocking, Hannah James
Creative Team: Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim • Book by George Furth • Musical Staging by Jonathan Butterell • Directed by Sam Mendes
My Rate: 10 (from 1 to 10) / Photos: Mark Douet

Introduction Notes: Now that a new production of COMPANY opened in London, it’s time for me to revisit the 1995 Donmar Warehouse production. I was lucky to saw it twice; first at the Donmar and, a few months later, at the Albery Theatre for where it was transferred. I love it both times and I’m sharing here the “review” I wrote back in 1995. I was 31 years old at the time… how time flies!
This production won the Olivier Awards 1996 for Best Director, Best Actor in a Musical for Adrian Lester and Best Supporting Actress in a Musical for Sheila Gish; it also won the Critics Circle Award 1996 for Best Musical.

The Plot: Bobby is a lone bachelor and his married friends decide to give him a surprise party to celebrate his 35thBirthday. Before blowing the candles, Bobby thinks about his life, specially his relationships.

The Show: This is a musical masterpiece! The book by George Furth is intelligent, with terrific lines, and lives in perfect harmony with Stephen Sondheim’s words. To tell the truth, it's impossible to know when the work of one end and the others began. Unforgettable and original, this is a modern classic, which revealed to the world one of Sondheim's best scores!
Sam Mendes took full advantage of the single set he had at Donmar Warehouse’s small stage. Paying equal attention to the small details as he did to the big ones, he transformed this production into an unforgettable experience. Being at ease with the hilarious sequences as well with the dramatic ones, he makes us care for the characters, involving us into their games. 
The cast couldn’t be better, and everyone lives their characters lively and emotionally. Of course, for obvious reasons, some of the roles shine more than others. In the leading role of Bobby, Adrian Lester plays it with heart and soul, giving a great realistic performance. His Bobby is real, and we really care for him!
But, besides Lester, the truth is that the show belongs to the ladies, specially to two of them.     As the alcoholic Joanne, Sheila Gish stopped the show with her powerful "The Ladies Who Launch". As the freaked bride, Sophie Thompson brought down the house with her touching and funny rendition of "Getting Marry Today". Both actresses were absolutely amazing, but the other females of the company were also very good.
The score has some of Sondheim’s best songs and the cast gave them a new life, making them, once again, unforgettable. There are only two dance numbers, and both were a joy to watch. “You Could Drive a Person Crazy” is brilliantly effective on its simplicity. “Side by Side by Side / What Would We Do?” is a true showstopper; full of originality and humour, was truly hilarious and one of the best dance numbers I saw on stage.
From the haunting opening number to the blew of the candles at the final, this revival is a unique event, of those that only happens once in a lifetime!

Thursday, October 18, 2018

A STAR IS BORN – A Movie Review

Cast: Bradley Cooper, Lady Gaga, Sam Elliott, Andrew Dice Clay, Rafi Gavron, Anthony Ramos, Dave Chapelle, Alec Baldwin, Marlon Williams, Brandi Carlile
Creative Team: Songs by Lukas Nelson, Lady Gaga, Bradley Cooper, Mark Nilan Jr., Nick Monson, Aaron Raitiere, Paul Blair and others • Screenplay by Eric Roth, Bradley Cooper & Will Fetters • Original Story by William A. Wellman & Robert Carson • Directed by Bradley Cooper
My Rate: 6 (from 1 to 10)

The Plot: Jack is a famous singer/composer whose career, because of drugs and alcohol, seems to be downhill. One day he meets Ally, an aspiring singer/composer, on a drag club and falls in love with her. Seeing her potential as an artist he pushes her to the front of his concerts helping her to become a star on her own.

The Movie: This is the fourth time that this award-winning story serves as the basis for a movie. The first time was in 1937 as a melodrama starring Janet Gaynor and Fredric March; in 1954 it became a musical with Judy Garland and James Mason and in the 70s a pop/rock musical starring Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson. I believe you already know all about that and that this new adaptation of the story is closer to the 70s version than to the others. Before going on, I just want to tell that, not surprisingly, my favorite is the Judy Garland version.
I have to congratulate Bradley Cooper for such a strong debut in the director’s chair. He shows a steady hand and knows how to deliver emotional scenes without being too lame. He’s also excellent directing his cast and himself; in fact, he gives us one of the best performances of his career. And he also can sing!
As for Lady Gaga, she is a revelation as an actress and, at least for me, as an excellent singer. Although she reminded me of Streisand, she makes the role her own and deserves the reviews she’s having. For me, the only problem is that she didn’t convince me as the pop star her producer turns her into. She isn’t comfortable on that role (the number introduced by Alec Baldwin is terrible) and her character seemed to me too strong to let that happen.
The best thing are the concerts numbers on the first half of the movie, where “The Shallow” and “Always Remember Us This Way” become highly emotional moments that gave me chills up and down my spine. I also loved the scene on the drag club, where Lady Gaga delivers an exciting “La Vie en Rose”; she’s also terrific with the beautiful ballad “I’ll Never Love Again”.
Maybe I’m imagining things, but I think Cooper gives us a small tribute to Judy Garland when, almost at the beginning of the movie, Ally goes through an alley singing the kind of song Garland sung and a tribute to Streisand by having Ally being discovered in a gay club.
I don’t doubt the movie will be on the Oscar run and that its stars and songs have a strong chance to get deserved nominations. I enjoy seeing it, but I didn’t fall in love with it; the problem is the second half of the movie, when Ally become a star like any other pop star. Gaga is great, but Cooper is better!


Sunday, July 22, 2018

MAMMA MIA! HERE WE GO AGAIN – A Movie Review

Cast: Lily James, Amanda Seyfried, Christine Baranski, Julie Walters, Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth, Stellan Skarsgård, Jessica Keenan Wynn, Alexa Davies, Jeremy Irvine, Josh Dylan, Hugh Skinner, Andy Garcia, Dominic Cooper, Cher, Meryl Streep
Creative Team:Songs by Benny Andersson & Björn Ulvaeus • Screenplay by Ol Parker, Richard Curtis and Catherine Johnson • Choreography by Anthony Van Laast • Directed by Ol Parker
My Rate: 4 (from 1 to 10)

The Plot:Years after the events of the first movie, Sophie is rebuilding Donna’s hotel and having problems with her husband; she also finds out she’s pregnant. At the same time, we follow Donna’s young life and how she met Sophie´s three fathers. 

The Movie:It’s true, here we go again through Abba’s songbook and back to the dreamy Greek island where the action takes place. Unfortunately, this time around, the story is uninteresting, and everything seems kind of forceful.
I love musicals (theatre or movie) but I know that when the characters start to sing and dance it must look as natural as possible and that doesn’t happen here. I don’t believe I’m saying this, but there are too many musical numbers in here and, practically, all of them seem unnatural. There’s no magic here and there isn’t enough fun.
Take for example the university number (anyone remembers GOOD NEWS?), it’s completely out of place and what is Celia Imrie doing at the end of it? And what about the “Waterloo” number? As for Cher’s “Fernando”, it couldn’t be more artificial. Anyway, the best number is the one with the boats arriving on the island with everyone singing and dancing.
But the cast is still having fun, although the young generation lead by the radiant Lily James and Amanda Seyfried aren’t up to the veterans. In fact, the movie only comes really alive as soon as Christine Baranski and Julie Walters appear on the screen. They’re the best thing about this sequel. As for Cher, what happened to her? Strangely, she moves like if she was Frankenstein’s monster. The best new addition is Omid Djalili as the funny border officer.
This still is a feel-good movie, there’s more than a good laugh in here and it’s great for an Abba sing-a-along, but it’s a pale sequel to the original.

DESPERATE MEASURES: A CD Review

Off-Broadway Cast – 2018 / Music by David Friedman and lyrics by Peter Kellogg
Starring: Lauren Molina, Emma Degerstedt, Conor Ryan, Peter Saide, Nick Wyman, Gary Marachek
Rate: 5 (from 1 to 10) / Photos by Carol Rosegg

Review:Shakespeare and musical theatre may sound a little bit strange, but it had given us more than a couple of great scores, THE BOYS FROM SYRACUSE, KISS ME KATE and WEST SIDE STORY, just come to mind.
This time, Shakespeare’s “Measure for Measure” becomes a western musical comedy and its authors, Peter Kellogg and David Friedman, saw their work winning the 2018 Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Music and Outstanding Lyrics, plus the Outer Critics Circle Award for Outstanding New Off-Broadway Musical.
With a mixed of country and showtunes, sometimes this score reminded me of CALAMITY JANE, a score that I really enjoy. None of the songs of this new musical are up there with the likes of “Secret Love” and, sometimes, they sound too country for my traditional taste, but it makes for a pleasant listening. For me the highlights are the ballads “Look in Your Heart” and “What is This Feeling?”, both sung with soul by Emma Degerstedt; Laura Molina gives us the steamy “It’s Getting Hot in Here” (this one brings me memories of SMASH), Peter Saide shines with the Alan Menkinsh “Stop There”, the ladies have a good time with “In the Dark” and Lauren Molina and Conor Ryan share the comic-romantic duet “Just for You”.
The cast sounds like they are having fun with their characters and in complete harmony with the spirit of the score. The end result is an unpretentious score, nice to the ears and, sometimes, it puts a smile on our face.



Sunday, July 15, 2018

AN AMERICAN IN PARIS – London Production: A Screening Review

Cast:Robert Fairchild, Leanne Cope, Haydn Oakley, David Seadon-Young, Zoe Rainey, Jane Asher, Julian Forsyth, Julia Nagle, Ashley Andrews
Creative Team:Music by George Gershwin • Lyrics by Ira Gershwin • Book by Craig Lucas • Choreography by Christopher Wheeldon • Directed for the stage by Christopher Wheeldon • Directed for the screen by Ross MacGibbon
My Rate: 9 (from 1 to 10) / Photos: Tristram Kenton, Dave Morgan, Angela Sterling, Johan Persson, Clive Barda

The Plot:Paris 1945. Jerry, an American soldier, decides to stay in Paris after the end of the Second World War and try his luck as a painter. While there, he falls in love with an unknown girl and becomes friends with an American composer and a French singer. The problem is they are all in love with the same girl.

The Show:I have two confessions to make. First, the MGM classic directed by Vincente Minnelli was never one of my favorite movie musicals and although I like it, I never thought it was one of the genre’s best. Second, I always found Leslie Caron a little bit irritating. So, my hopes for the stage adaptation of this musical weren’t very high. 
A few years ago, I saw SINGIN’IN THE RAIN (one of my favorite movie musicals) in London and I was disappointed by it. So, imagine my surprise when I attended the movie screening of the London production of AN AMERICAN IN PARIS and fall in love with it!
The plot is similar to the one of the movie, but it’s more interesting. There’s a dark shadow that kind of haunts the story, giving the show an edge that doesn’t exist in the movie.
The musical is, without any doubt, the son of director/choreographer Christopher Wheeldon, who does an amazing job recreating the MGM movie to the stage and reimagining it in a way that makes it more exciting, interesting and dramatic. In his creative hands everything dances, not only the cast, but also the sets. The entire show works like a ballet full of romance, poetry and life.
This is a perfect oiled production, without dead moments. The use of projections gives it a cinematic dimension and transport us to a Paris still leaking its war wounds, but ready to embark on a new life. The opening number creates the perfect atmosphere and its with delight that we dance through the streets of a post-war Paris. 
The final ballet it’s the number closer to the one in the movie. But for me the most enjoyable numbers are the entertaining “I’ve Got Beginner’s Luck” and the genial and contagious “Fidgety Feet”. Of course, the songs by the Gershwin are unforgettable and it’s always a pleasure to hear them and see them become alive in such a wonderful production. 
Leading the cast are Robert Fairchild and Leanne Cope, the ones who created the roles on Broadway, and they are a match made in heaven. Their singing voices aren’t strong, but they know how to carry the tunes and their dancing talent is fabulous. Fairchild has everything that is needed to be a star and a matinee idol. Cope is delightful and it’s easy to see why the three guys fall in love with her.
David Seadon-Young as Adam is a bit annoying at the beginning, but soon we warm up to him. As the French singer, Haydn Oakley is a nice sweet feller and his “I’ll Build a Stairway to Paradise” is great fun. As Milo, Zoe Rainey is a scene stealer and make us wish there will be a happy ending to her.
On the whole this a breathtaking musical and Ross MacGibbon did a terrific job filming it during its London run at the Dominion Theatre; it feels like we were there, at the theatre. The end result is a treat for all senses and “who can ask for anything more?” Don’t miss it in a cinema near you!