Book by Terrence McNally, Music by John Kander, Lyrics by Fred Ebbs.
Southwark Playhouse, the Large, 77-85 Newington Causeway, London SE1 6BD to 23 June 2018.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm. Mat Sat 3pm.
Runs 2hr 20 mins. One interval.
TICKETS: 020 7407 0234.
Review: William Russell 29 May.
A glorious roller coaster ride
Adam Lenson’s production of this 1984 Broadway musical proves an exhilarating experience and has in Caroline O’Connor as Anna, the owner of the roller skating rink of the title, a leading lady at the top of her game. She sings beautifully, handles the wise cracks with whip lash skill and manages to sustain the interest in the rather maudlin plot devised by Terrence McNally.
It really is at times hard going caring about whether Anna, who is selling the down on its luck seaside resort boardwalk attraction, is reconciled with her daughter Angel, a hippy who actually owns half of it and wants to keep it, or not. The problem is that daddy Dino, who Angel doted on, abandoned them when she was small and Anna told the child he had died. They hade a difficult relationship and in time Angel, having been told the truth by a neighbour, set off in search of Dad. Do we care? Not very much.
Fortunately there is always Ms O’Connor to lift the spirits, and, this being that awkward construct, a show with two leading ladies, Gemma Sutton as the bolshie Angel rises with equal aplomb to her share of the big numbers which is as it has to be. It is, however, ironic that the number which stopped the show opening night was performed by neither but by the six men who make up the rest of the cast. They erupt in act two, just as one is starting to wilt, to whirl like dervishes round the stage in a brilliant display of lad dancing and the whole thing takes flight.
The score, although it is not Kander’s best by any means, is charming and tuneful, but he has not, for instance, quite come up with the required belter for Anna. The opening number Chief Cook and Bottle Washer in which she tells how she ran the rink all those years is good but not that good and the best song is probably a sentimental lament for past glories of the boardwalk, What Happened to the Good Old Days, which Ms O’Connor gets to lead. Ebb’s lyrics, however, are as good as ever and while McNally’s plot may be pretty turgid he has come with some good one liners.
The show was last seen in London in 1988 at the Cambridge Theatre with Josephine Blake as Anna and Diane Langton as Angel. Show business being what it is Ms O’Connor understudied Ms Langton in that production. It was, however, a flop running only for a month. Nor was the original Broadway version with Chita Rivera as Anna and Liza Minnelli as Angel a major hit.
But maybe its time has come. Certainly this latest outing is stunningly energetic, performed as well as could be by all concerned, has a nicely decayed set and a first rate band to deliver those melodies. It even has good sound, rarer than you would think. and a nice last minute surprise.
Anna: Caroline O’Connor.
Angel: Gemma Sutton.
Dino: Stewart Clarke.
Lino: Ross Dawes.
Lucky: Michael Lin.
Benny: Elander Moore.
Lenny: Ben Redfern.
Tony: Jason Winter.
With Amelia Ioannou & Millie Samuele Lee.
Director: Adam Lenson.
Choreographer: Fabian Aloise.
Musical Director: Joe Bunker.
Set Designer: Bec Chippendale.
Costume Designer: Libby Todd.
Sound Designer: Mike Thacker for Orbital.