Musical theatre is there to entertain the theatrically non-discerning members of the public and give work to people that can sing, dance and make jazz hands, isn’t it? Obviously, the answer is a resounding No! It is true that some regular theatregoers look down on musicals as low brow but, in fact, they are missing out on so much. Think about shows like La Cage Aux Folles, Wicked or Fiddler on the Roof. Each one of these has an amazing story to tell and raises awareness of issues in a subtle way and each one is a successful musical production. So yes, it is possible to combine the frothiness of musical theatre with an important story or message. Just such a show has recently opened at the Stockwell Playhouse with the arrival of LAMBCO productions Boys in the Buff.
The show starts with our wonderful hostess, the lovely Diana Diamonte (Natalie Harman) welcoming the audience to the evening and explaining what will happen. This isn’t a show with a start-middle-end story but is a musical revue themed around our bodies and how we feel about them. And then Diana introduces to her boys – Dan (William Frazer), Max (Adam O’Shea), Phil (Julian Quijano) and Richard (Shaun Riddick). All four are young handsome and just ‘dreamy’ to look at. In fact, at first glance, you can’t help but wonder what these four young Adonises can tell someone like me – old and currently working as a stand in for the Michelin Man – about body image. But, of course, everyone – no matter how beautiful an observer may think they are – has a tale to tell about their body and what they would like to change. The story itself is around building up Phil’s courage so that he can go ‘Full Monty’ in the final scene.
Over the course of the show, Diana and her boys perform some really impressive songs that really highlight the issues that people face. A couple that really come to mind are the extremely emotional ‘Only a Joke’ which, with its memories of being in school wearing NHS specs, had me shedding a silent tear. Then there is the celebratory song ‘Big Hearted Mama’ which, by rights, should become the next great anthem.
Chris Burgess, responsible for words and music, has penned a really entertaining show with some great songs, which when put together with Director/Choreographer Sam Rayner’s dance moves, really bring a tone and look of various other musicals – definite tracings of Cabaret, Wicked, and many others in the mix. Never preaching, the songs get their message across wonderfully and it’s really worth listening intently to the words as well as watching the lovely delivery by the cast who somehow manage to perform West End style flamboyant choreography, on a quite small stage without hitting anything or falling off the edge. Be aware, there is some audience participation involved and my advice – having gone through it – is throw yourself into it and enjoy the experience. Like Gypsy Rose Lee, I now know how to be seductive with only one item of clothing.
Boys in the Buff is a really camp, fun night out which sends its message out loud and proud in an exciting and highly entertaining way. The cast are wonderfully energetic and engaged throughout. In fact, it’s true to say everyone looked as if they were having a thoroughly good time up there from the start. Did I have a favourite among the cast? Well, William Frazer caught my eye. His Dan flirted with the audience and had a cheeky twinkle in his eye throughout. But the reality is that this was a lovely cast of good singers and dancers who showed great courage in literally giving their all to the performance. The show is suitable for everyone, as we all have a body and all have something wrong with it. I was surprised at the amount of conversation the show generated. In fact, my companion and I spent the majority of the interval talking about things we disliked about our bodies, sleeve gastrectomy, and plastic surgery. Any show that can keep the audience fully entertained and cause quite intense discussions at the same time is a powerful one. Boys in the Buff is such a show and is strongly recommended by this reviewer.
Since July 2014, I've seen and reviewed 588 shows altogether. 2017 was a fairly quiet year with a total of 132 shows visited by yours truly.
So, in the best traditions of end of the year ideas, here is my list of the top 10 shows that I've seen this year. Please remember, this is my list not anybody else's and if you don't agree with the pick, well, what can I say?
1.Priscilla Queen of the Desert, Bridewell Theatre This story of friendship and hope took two drag queens and a trans woman from Sydney to Alice Springs, in a big pink bus. Along the way, the met new friends and face rampant homophobia. SEDOS brought every element of the show together beautifully, and to a standard that you would expect to see in the West End. Sold out virtually as soon as it was announced, this was the ‘must see production of the year. 2.La Cage aux Folles, New Wimbledon Theatre This is was a touring production of a show that demonstrates the importance of family and how much a parent will s…
Southern Baptist Sissies
Above the Stag is a theatre that specialises in putting on LGBT+ shows. I’ve been there a couple of times previously and seen some very well produced and very funny plays about gay life. So, I was really looking forward to another visit last night to see their latest show, the European premiere of Southern Baptist Sissies by Del Shores.
This is the story of four people emerging from childhood and becoming adults. These boys are all from the great state of Texas – the ‘buckle’ in the bible belt – and all are regular attendees at their small town Baptist church presided over by a real old fashioned ‘wrath of God’ style preacher (Stephen Parker). The four boys are all really good friends who each bring something different to the group. So, there is preacher’s son Mark (Jason Kirk) the thinker, TJ (Daniel Klemens) the brawn, Andrew (Hugh O’Donnell) the introverted and…
A theatre show is often like a swan. Out on stage, all is serene and beautiful whilst backstage there is a hive of activity going on. There have been various shows written about life backstage at a theatre – Noises Off springs to mind, though I’ve still not got around to seeing it. However, if you would like to see life backstage during a Christmas show, then you can do no better than toodle off to the Waterloo East Theatre to see Shaun Kitchener’s play Christmas Farce.
Thirty minutes – or in theatrical parlance, The Half – before curtain up and Alice (Natalie Lester) is the only person in the Green Room of a regional theatre. The fact it is Christmas is demonstrated not only by Alice’s OTT festive jumper but also with the gaudy decorations festooning the place. These are the handiwork of back-stage worker Makenzie (Marc-Gee Finch) and, while they are a tad tacky, they do add a sort of desperate fe…