(seen at the afternoon preview performance on 27th May 2017).
The very first musical the monkey ever saw, and its only viewing of the show
since. Naturally, it had more than a few memories, and was keen to re-discover
and fall in love all over again. Luckily, it did.
It’s the show itself the monkey loves. This old 1970s Broadway blockbuster
proves itself to be absolutely bullet-proof... as director Nikolai Foster and
the producers demonstrate, by thoroughly machine-gunning it throughout the
Set Designer Colin Richmond is obviously a fan of “Matilda The Musical,”
Banksy and the Smurfs, coming up with a bright blue graffiti-sprayed jigsaw
rather than the expected greys of a New York in severe financial trouble.
Richmond’s attention to detail is so lacking, he manages to give billionaire
Daddy Warbucks a Christmas with no tree – though to compensate he gives him an
off-stage TARDIS to allow him to time-travel and obtain a retractable ballpoint
pen some 15 years before they were invented. Oh, and Miss Hannigan gets a
refrigerator that the city of New York could never afford – or, again, have had
invented at the time, so thin is the insulation.
Risible setting over, the music department of 9 reduce the sassy, brassy big
score to a biscuit tin beat, the shrill cries of despair to mere whines – and
Richard Brooker’s sound design (fortunately) spares the expensive front centre
stalls most of that (at least at the preview the monkey attended, where the
customer next to it enquired if it was just her. No, it really wasn’t).
And then we get to the casting itself. Miranda Hart is the name that gets
£125 a pop out of fans at “peak periods.” As Miss Hannigan, this national
treasure does what she is renowned for, the “good old British Doing Our Best.”
And she really does – despite being reportly unwell during that performance. She
tries her hardest to be horrible to the kids, to drink herself to death and
motor through a couple of big song-and-dance numbers despite never having done
any of that on stage before. It is widely said that ‘God loves a Trier.’ Ms Hart
is thus truly blessed.
The real highlights of the show are Alex Bourne, a gentle yet anchored Daddy
Warbucks with more paternal instinct than usual, and a strong voice to match his
character. With foil Russell Wilcox as an avuncular Franklin Roosevelt, the
double-act is strong enough to carry the show throughout the shorter second
For the ladies, Holly Dale Spencer as Warbuck’s assistant Grace Farrell is
the controlled maternal spark the show needs – and deserves a new dress, as hers
malfunctioned disastrously at this performance (her final bow nearly put paid to
an elderly gent in the second row, for certain).
To launch any attack against pre-pubescent, pubescent and teenage girls is
firmly against Theatremonkey.com policy. It will therefore merely note that
“Madison” team did what was required of it, hitting a highlight with a raucous
“Hard Knock Life” and an extreme low with one tot flashing either a “peace” or
“V” sign (depending where you were sat in the front stalls) on exiting the stage
at the end of the show. Between times, either sound or diction sometimes
defeated the odd youngster, but somehow Madeleine Haynes as “Annie” won the day
with a credible stab at the young lady’s equivalent of iconic musical figure
And that’s really the point. This show is about one little girl’s dream
becoming a nightmare (neat performances from Jonny Fines – Rooster and Djalenga
Scott – Lily, his girlfriend and imposters, in a quick sub-plot that works just
fine) and a hopeful dream again.
If this production never finds the grit or grimness it should, it still
delivers a whole score full of all-time great tunes, and sends even the toughest
and most critical monkey out of the theatre with hope in its heart and humming
every single song. If this 3 star production of a six star show does nothing
else, hopefully a rich producer will adopt it and let London see what is so
great once again. Maybe.
P.S. In the scene where Grace Farrell announces that Billionaire Warbucks is
looking to adopt an orphan, is it OK to raise a hand from the second row? Even
if your parents are sitting next to you? Just asking for a friend, is all...