Musical review catch-up: Lady Day, Trial by Jury, Don Giovanni

Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill @ Wyndham’s Theatre

When the wonderful Masterclass sent round an email offering £5 tickets to the first performance of Audra McDonald’s west end debut, my reaction was, of course, I’m there. True, I hadn’t really had the chance to see her in anything other than James Corden’s ‘Carpool Karaoke’, but I knew of her Broadway standing. And besides, pretty little Wyndham’s is one of my favourite West End theatres. I was completely unaware of the show’s content, but I was willing to risk it.

Lady Day is a show about Billie Holiday’s life – a first person-narrated play interpersed with her songs. We are led from her troubled childhood through the rise and fall of her career by way of struggles against racism, reminiscences about musical inspiration and a fluffy pet dog (it’s very cute and very real). All of this occurs within the framework of a performance in a jazz club towards the end of Holiday’s time, to which we are ostensibly the audience. The Wyndham’s stage has been turned into a club with appropriately faded glamour and a bar in the corner, and McDonald is a vision in white, a characteristic flower in her hair.

I rarely see one-man/woman shows, which is really what this is, though a very good jazz band (and a good handful of audience members) are onstage with McDonald. It needs a certain type of energy to sustain a story and a character for the duration of a show and keep me interested. However, McDonald does this beautifully, never letting her characterisation of Lady Day slip. I was most surprised by her ability to so consistently reign in her powerful singing voice, capturing Billie Holiday’s strange warble so perfectly and not overshadowing the character with her natural, much better, vocals.

I’m glad it did not go on too long, as it isn’t the most interesting of plays. It may also have been better in a smaller venue – the piece’s conversational nature and jazz club setting would suit a more intimate location. However, McDonald is wonderful and it is worth going for her (if your ticket isn’t terribly pricey). At least, I found this a lot more worth it for the star casting than what ran at Wyndham’s before this (yes David Tennant’s great and all but I really did not like Don Juan in Soho..).

imagephoto credit: Marc Brenner

Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill is playing Wyndham’s Theatre until 9 September 2017. For more information and tickets, click here.

Trial by Jury @ ENO Studio Live (Lilian Baylis House)

Confession time: this is the first Gilbert & Sullivan production I’ve ever seen onstage. Filmed school productions featuring my cousins, Youtube videos and other sources have familiarised me with the core repertoire, but this was the loss of my live G&S virginity.

For some reason not having made the mental leap that ENO’s Hampstead rehearsal space and the Coliseum are not the same thing, I arrived just in time, dripping with rain. I immediately warmed to the casual nature of Lilian Baylis, even managing to squeeze in a friendly conversation with an usher before finding myself a seat and settling in.

Trial by Jury is Gilbert and Sullivan’s 40-minute one-act comedy about a jilted bride who puts her rogue husband-to-be on trial and, spoiler alert, ends up marrying the trial’s judge instead. It is sung-through, fast-paced and rather silly.

With something so typically light opera-esque and fluffy, its understandable that ENO couldn’t resist modernising things a bit – this groom is a slick, white suit and Shades-wearing modern-day slimeball, and the bride quickly changes from her wedding gown into rock-and-roll, all-black tight jeans and tank top. The production mixes these new elements with traditional gowns and wigs and generally goes for a very colourful and in-your-face style. Physical comedy abounds, and there is much movement onstage.

Over in such a short time, it is what I might call an appetizer show – one could easily go on to another, a main course, afterwards. It is quick, frothy and enjoyable – if you like G&S you will like it, if not, you won’t. No matter what one does with the visuals, G&S music always stays very G&S.

With the piano and conductor to one side of the stage, the construction of the performance space obvious and the lack of reserved seating, this show has an obvious studio feel, which I found very refreshing in ‘an evening at the opera’. I’m not sure there is much deep exploration to be done with Trial by Jury – in any case, I thought the ENO Chorus, directed here by Matthew Monaghan, did a pretty good job with it.

image

ENO Studio Live’s production of Trial by Jury played at Lilian Baylis House until 6 June 2017.

Don Giovanni @ Opera Holland Park

After interning at Opera Holland Park in January, and sending out who knows how many score packs to chorus members, it was high time I saw one of their shows. Don Giovanni was the free ticket that was offered to me, and I happily accepted.

Director Oliver Platt has set this new production on a cruise ship in the 1930s. At first I wondered why, but it’s probably because I’ve never seen Don Giovanni live that the reasons for this weren’t immediately apparent. The tragi-comic story of a womanizer who can’t stop seducing married women, the intrigues that ensue and the way his upper class standing often excuses his scandalous behaviour can really only be modernised up to a point, and the claustrophobic but ostensibly luxurious atmosphere of a cruise ship, in which many different people are forced together, suits the story perfectly.

The design was excellent – the 1930s costumes sparkled and the cruise ship’s plethora of doors and hatches enabled many a ‘chance’ encounter. The principals each had their own style of dress, while the chorus looked beautiful as sailors, dancing partygoers and more.

It might be that Leporello is just the funnest role, but I greatly enjoyed John Savournin’s performance. His Leporello was very concerned with maintaining appearances, conscientious and loyal. This of course created much comedy between him and his rogue, audacious master, Don Giovanni.

A smooth, enjoyable, amusing production, this Don Giovanni sat very comfortably on the Opera Holland Park stage. On a balmy summer’s eve, it was wonderful to be swept up in this. I can imagine that in torrents of rain, which is what occured on press night, it would be an altogether more realistic experience!

imagephoto credit: Robert Workman

Don Giovanni played at Opera Holland Park until 24 June 2017.

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