The Theatreguide.London Review
Royal Albert Hall Summer 2006
This Raymond Gubbay-produced extravaganza, on for a short run at the Royal Albert Hall, is surprisingly good.
I say surprisingly, because one might fear that the need for arena-size spectacle might overpower and cheapen the show. But it doesn't and, a few annoying but minor flaws aside, this is a first-rate revival of an acknowledged classic of the American musical theatre.
Certainly the Jerome Kern - Oscar Hammerstein score has rarely been bettered, and you will have no complaints with the renditions here of Ol' Man River, Can't Help Lovin' That Man, Make Believe and the other songs that have become embedded in our cultural DNA.
Given the inherent difficulties of theatre-in-the-round in a very large space, Francesca Zambello's direction is fluid and lovely, moving the very large cast around but always keeping the focus where it's wanted. Set (Peter J. Davison) and costumes (Sue Willmington) are as colourful and impressive as any spectacle-lover could want, and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra is not just another pit band.
If the cast is not made up of household names, it is certainly solid B-list, with West End, Broadway and opera house veterans, including current or recent Phantoms, Cosettes and the like.
Elena Shaddow and John Owen Jones are a pleasure to look at and listen to as the central couple, with David Burt a charming Captain Andy.
Rebecca Thornhill is strong and tragic as Julie (though it is surely a mistake to sing that ultimate torch song Bill cheerily), and Mark Coles appropriately stops the show with Ol' Man River.
The flaws? The large-scale production forces everyone to overact, allowing no opportunities whatever for subtlety. Arthur Pita's choreography is unrelentingly shapeless and ugly.
And while we may have grudgingly become accustomed to the kind of miking that puts a performer Here while his voice is coming from Over There, in this case everyone's voice comes from the same place Way Up There, so you frequently have to search the stage to find who's talking or singing.
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