THE LIFE, 4Star****, London, To 29 April

Music by Cy Coleman
Lyrics by Ira Gasman
Book by David Newman, Ira Gasman & Cy Coleman.
Revisions by Michael Blakemore.

Southwark Playhouse, The Large, 77-85 Newington Causeway, London SE1 8BD to 29 April, 2017.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Tues & Sat 3pm.
Runs 3hr One interval.

TICKETS: 020 7407 0234.
Review: William Russell 11 April.

Blakemore returns in triumph
The director Michael Blakemore of this never staged here before Cy Coleman musical was responsible for its 1997 Broadway production and now returns to it with a more modest staging at Southwark. He has assembled a splendid cast headed by Sharon D Clarke Cornell S. John for this tale of the now long gone Times Square, a world of hookers, drugs and violence as well as theatres. It is the sordid side of musicals like Sweet Charity – also by Coleman. The score is packed with terrific, punchy numbers, the performances could not be bettered, the choreography dazzles. The only flaw is it goes on too long.

By the time one gets to the dénouement and the heroine, Queen, the girl who is on the game because she loves her man, is fleeing town from Memphis, the evil chief pimp, one is beginning to tire. Instead of getting on the bus and leaving she decides to stop for yet another duet with Ms Clarke, who plays Sonja, a tart with a heart who is past it, tired and motherly. Naturally she is stopped by Memphis.

The dénouement is satisfying enough, but getting there is stretched out too long. There are probably also more numbers for the extremely well equipped whores throwing themselves provocatively round the stage in hot pants than there need be. You can get too much of a good – or in this case – bad thing. Since it has been revised by Blakemore he is the man to blame. But that said it is still a very good gritty, dark and thrilling show.

T’shan Williams as Queen who believes in love, David Albery as Fleetwod, her useless Vietnam Vet pimp and boyfriend, and Cornell S John as the malevolent king pimp Memphis are a joy to watch, inhabiting their roles right down to their exquisitely manicured fingertips. There is also a nicely cynical sub plot involving porno movies and Mary, a delicious Joanne Woodward, the innocent from the hinterland who turns out to be not as pure and gullible as she seems. Life in Minnesota can teach a girl a thing or two

Critics always say something this good should move to town, but the trouble is a production devised for one house does not always necessarily thrive in another. There are lots of instances of that special something being lost along the way. All the same The Life deserves a longer life – and above all it would offer more chances to see Ms Clarke in her ample and radiant prime.

Sonja: Sharon D Clarke.
Memphis: Cornell S. John.
Jojo: John Addison.
Fleetwood: David Albury.
Chichi: Julisa Andrews.
Oddjob: Matthew Caputo.
Snickers: Lawrence Carmichael.
Slick: Omaru Douglas,
Carmen: Aisga Jawandon
Bobby: Thomas-Lee Kidd.
April: Charlotte Reavey.
Lacy: Jo Servi.
Tracy: Lucinda Shaw.
Theodore: Johnathan Tweedie.
Queen: T’Shan Williams.
Mary: Joanna Woodward.

Director: Michael Blakemore.
Choreographer: Tom Jackson Greaves.
Musical Director: Tamara Saringer.
Set & Costume Designer: Justin Nardella.
Lighting Designer: David Howe.
Video Designer: Nina Dunn.

2017-04-13 11:02:48

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