Thursday, 5 July 2012

Cape Town Opera - I'm In love with your Vocal chords

Sometimes working in a Theatre box office is amazing - last week was one of those moments. 

Porgy & Bess is one of Gershwin’s greatest master pieces and yet it is very rarely given justice in this country. This is why when I first heard about Cape Town Opera's production of this classic I was first in the queue to purchase the best available seats. Thankfully in this instance no early morning queuing was needed as the venue in question was my work place, The Marlowe Theatre (Canterbury), so all that was needed was a willing box office bod to take some card details (Bliss!). That moment was around 5 months ago - fast forward to last week when the production arrived.

Setting the scene - The venue was on top form. We had managed to sell all available seats with a few weeks to spare ('Like Gold dust' doesn't even compare to how much people wanted to see this show). The day before the show was to commence a visit into the auditorium was needed where I found what looked like the contents of a skip being unloaded, hammered, bolted and forcefully positioned into some sort of order by a mass of technical wizards (see the video at the bottom of this blog to see what it looks like). The set is stunning - designed to look like the streets of a poor and divided Soweto (South Africa), a fitting design that mimics the American streets (Catfish row - Charleston, South Carolina) the opera was originally about.   

The next day was show day - Music billowed from the changing rooms every time we wondered past. The deep voices of the Porgy's could be heard in all the admin rooms of the theatre. The lead roles of both Porgy and Bess were split between a few singers to help with the pressure of the tour. The Cape Town Opera has been renowned for many years as being the creator, trainer and developer of great opera and great performers, and this latest group really were the bee's knees. I think before I go any further with this praise, please take a moment to listen and watch the link below.....

Wow does not even get close to expressing how I felt after the first few bars of full chorus once 7.30pm passed. The opera is truly amazing, filled with suspense, lust, heroes, villains and lovers. The performance was way beyond all expectations in my mind - but if I had one niggling feeling, it was let down slightly by our positioning. Usually our preferred seating - upper circle row B - is one of the best places to sit as the sight lines are great and the acoustics are special, but in this instance, with a full orchestra situated in the pit (first 5 rows of the stalls lowered down), they were often too overpowering for some of the soloists - a issue that I’m sure will have been resolved by the time they arrive at the London Coliseum later this month.

 I was going to call this blog - the voice box I would love to steal. This is due to the sound that bellowed from the vocal chords of the leads that played Porgy. I love singing and it’s almost worth me catching a cold so as to make my voice even deeper - just to give me the slightest glimmer of the sound they produced. I wish them all the success possible as they finish off their UK tour with a trip to the west end. I really hope this is not there final visit to our shores.

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

London's Bright Red Rubies

The West Ends Demon Barber of Fleet Street

Having been a huge fan of Stephen Sondheim since being introduced to his music during A Levels (thank you Mr Hubble), the opportunity to see this hauntingly beautiful show live on stage was one not to be missed.

As it was Bekah's birthday last month, we felt a trip to the west end a few weeks ago to start the celebrations and to spend some theatre tokens was due. So off we trotted to Tkts Leicester Square (The Square is open again for those who have missed it during its refurb) where we purchased two £26 tickets.....front row, centre stalls :-) We knew we wouldn’t see everything from this angle, but the opportunity to see two fantastic performers up close was one we chose not to miss. 

The two leads, Michael Ball of Les Mis fame and Imelda Staunton - Harry Potter's sinister Dollores Umbridge (....shiver) are both wonderful performers in their fields, but when we found that they would be playing Sweeny Todd and Mrs Lovett, our instant reaction was @what?#.

Despite our trepidation's, I have never seen a live version of the show (excluding the staged DVD versions we have on our shelf) and as I studied Music at The University of Chichester, situated right opposite the theatre where this version of the production was dreamt up and created last Autumn (Chichester Festival Theatre), I felt all would be fine - The theatre has a long pedigree of creating great shows and was certain this production would not let anyone down.

If Star Wars was reality (and before anyone says anything, in what remains of my teenage memories it does exist) I would be entitled to say that Michael Ball has had to take a giant leap into 'the dark side' to play this role. He portrays this character as a revenge seeking, love lost barber which surprised us from the start - considering his previous roles have included Marius (les Miserable’s), Caractacus Potts (Chitty Chitty Bang Bang) and.....*cough cough* Edna Turnblad (Hairspray), Sweeny Todd is definitely a complete change of character. His style of acting is totally different to what I expected and his sinister and incredibly well formed makeup really does add to his character image (especially as we were so close). If anything, this older Michael Balls voice is deeper and more powerful then I have ever heard it. He has succeeded in adding to the role substantially with some wonderfully powerful and forceful moments and did a wonderful vocal tribute to the part that has previously been played by such great actors/musicians (such as George Hearn, Len Cariou, Bryn Terfel and not forgetting Mr Depp - even Kelsey Grammer has had a go).

I have great love for Imelda Staunton and the way she portrays Mrs Lovett - who happens to be my favourite character in the musical. From the moment she enters the fray with her 'worst pies in London' song, she is the glue that encourages, develops and holds the plans together. Even though her voice is not spectacular, her acting skills made sure the moments she was on stage were extra meaning filled. 

As with Sweeny, some great names of stage and screen have acted this part, most famously Angela Lansbury (murder she wrote and Mrs Potts!), Sheila Hancock (Famously on stage in Cabaret and Sister Act over recent years) and more recently Helena Bonham Carter (Harry Potter & Kings Speech).The role requires a strong, will-powered woman with a great deal belief and passion in the task ahead - this is something that Imelda Staunton has in reams. 

In news on Characters - keep your eyes and ears open over the next few weeks when Jason Manford (comedian) takes over as the Pirelli (the fake Italian Barber) - Here's hoping he is as successful as Sasha Baran Cowen.

Over all, the performance was beyond all our expectations. We would, after careful debate on the train on the way home, have preferred to have sat further back in the stalls - don’t think my bank balance could coup. The performance has helped my love for Sondheim to grow and I honestly cannot wait for the opportunity to arise for me to see another live musical - here’s hoping its not a long wait.