Review - City of Angels - Donmar Warehouse (previews)

Question: Where can you find Hadley Fraser, Tam Mutu, Rosalie Craig, Samantha Barks, Rebecca Trehearn and countless other West End stars all under one roof?

Answer: The Donmar Warehouse, where they are performing in an incredible new staging of City of Angels, a musical with a book by Larry Gelbart and music and lyrics by Cy Coleman and David Zippel. But good luck getting a ticket, the production (which played it's first preview on Saturday the 6th December),  has been sold out for months now. However, if you are REALLY eager to see the show, like I was, and you are prepared for a few minutes of extreme stress on a Monday morning, then you could as I did, try purchasing Barclay's Front Row seats, which are released every Monday at 10am on the Donmar's website. However, as so many people are eager to see the show, and there are only a very limited number for each performance, you'd better get in quick!

Luckily though, I was one of the lucky few who managed to secure a ticket for the 2nd preview on Monday 8th December, and I'm so glad of that! My seat, Circle A8, was a front row, side facing seat on stage left, and from there I had an absolutely perfect view of the stage. That being said, the Donmar is such an intimate space that I can't imagine many seats have anything less than a perfect view).
If you are unfamiliar of the story, as I was, then here is a description of the show from the Donmar's website -

'Hollywood comes calling for a New York novelist. The offer is too good to refuse: adapt the private detective protagonist of his books into a big-screen hero. The siren song of Los Angeles is a dangerous temptation and while his movie plays out in black and white, his new life is all-too colourful.' (plot summery from the +DonmarWarehouse website)

Hadley Fraser played the novelist; a slightly geeky, cardigan wearing, unsuccessful affair-having push over named 'Stein', while Tam Mutu played his literary persona, the handsome, brandy sipping, cigarette smoking womanizer, Detective Stone. Clearly, everything that Stein longs to be and more, Stone has an influence over his creator that only increases as the story progresses. The rest of the cast multirole as characters in both Stein's novel and his real life. Notably, the incredibly talented Rosalie Craig played both Stein's business-minded wife Gabby, and Stone's old flame, the alluring nightclub singer Bobbi. Part of the fun of the show is spotting the similarities between Stein's characters and the people who inspired (or become inspired) by them. 

Perhaps the most awe inspiring element of the production though, was the music, which I was blown away by. From the first note, every song oozed 40's glamour and seduction. As Bobbi, Rosalie Craig wooed the audience with her rendition of 'With Every Breath I take'. Her performance was a incomparable masterclass in musical theatre. Alternatively, Rebecca Trehearn's sarcastic performance of 'You Can Always Count On Me' was both hilarious and heartbreaking, a real standout number in a show jam packed with brilliant songs. Unsurprisingly, Hadley Fraser gave a flawless vocal performance, as did Tam Mutu, and when the pair performed together and played off one another, the result was nothing short of breathtaking. The final song ('I'm Nothing Without You') was one of the most joyful, brilliant songs I've ever had the pleasure to hear performed live, and I was grinning as I left the theatre! The rest of the cast all gave brilliant vocal performances too, with the omnipresent Angel City Four ensemble group (Kadiff Kirwan, Sandra Marvin, Jennifer Saayeng and Jo Servi) keeping everything running smoothly. 

As far as other production elements were concerned, the show was a period clothing fanatic's dream,I wanted to take home every character's wardrobe! The set design was also brilliant, quite minimalist (except for the large bookcase that formed the back of the stage), and set changes happened mostly at the hands of ensemble members who wheeled desks and chairs around left, right and centre. There was a gorgeous act 2 surprise in the form of a magnificent grand piano, but I'll keep the details of that a mystery for those who already have tickets!  

The idea of two stories running parallel to one another was inspired, and worked remarkably well on this occasion (The show reminded me vaguely of a film noir take on The Last 5 Years at some points!). Although, there were points when I found myself getting a little bit lost, especially due to the fact that sometimes fictional characters and their real life counterparts shared too many similarities and for a split second it was hard to tell weather you were inside Stein's novel or not. I also found that occasionally there was too much sound on stage and it was hard to focus. On the occasions where Stein was typing at his typewriter, and characters on the stage were speaking or singing, and there was music playing too, there seemed to be too much going on and the vocals were drowned out. However, I'm sure that this is an issue that will be ironed out before opening night. I also noticed that some actors appeared to be underused, with Samantha Barks, Nick Cavalier and Cameron Cuff going long periods of time without making an appearance, but this is an issue with the book, and not with this specific production, and was only an issue as their performances were so brilliant that it would have been nice to see more of them, but not necessary I suppose. 

I'm so happy to have nabbed those illusive Barclay's Front Row tickets, and if you don't have a ticket I seriously recommend that you try your luck every Monday morning. The show runs until February 9th so you'll have plenty of tries. Personally, I have fallen in love with the ingenious book, the gorgeous music and the talented cast, and would go back tomorrow if I could. An extended run or transfer to a different theater would be a dream come true for me, but sadly, not all great shows can be seen by everyone and I predict that once this show is gone, it's gone, so SEE IT if you can! 

Verdict - 5 Stars

Twitter: @OddJazzShoes
Bloglovin: Talkstageytome

Edit - August 2015
In response to recent events, I would like to state that this preview review was posted solely for personal use at the time of publication. This blog began as a hobby, and for this reason I was not familiar with embargos or the etiquette surrounding reviewing previews. Even so, this review was posted with the word PREVIEW in the title, so that it would be clear that my comments may not fully reflect the content of the show later in previews or on/after press night. Having now become more a more professional theatre blogger, I would like to state that unless specifically agreed, no preview reviews will appear on this site, and any posts which contain references to or comment upon preview performances will continue to be clearly labelled as such. Thanks for your support!

Throwback - NT Live:Frankenstein

I've talked before about my love of National Theatre Live, and of my love of cinema releases of stage productions in general, and so when my uni hired out a screen at the local cinema so that the English Literature undergrads could see the National Theatre's 2011 production of Frankenstein, I jumped at the opportunity and grabbed a ticket for both myself and my equally enthusiastic English and Classics studying friend!

What initially attracted me to this particular production was the fact that Benedict Cumberbatch and Johnny Lee Miller alternated the roles of Frankenstein and his monster. I thought that this was an incredible acting feat in itself, and the short documentary about the production that played before the play began really reiterated that.

The filmed production which I saw featured Benedict Cumberbatch as Doctor Frankenstein and Johnny Lee Miller as the Monster. The pair were absolutely glorious in their roles. I loved Miller's childlike curiosity, and the way that it juxtaposed with his horrific, dark side. Cumberbatch too was brilliant, though I would have liked to see his monster, as I feel the Doctor was very much the epitome of the character that Cumberbatch has sadly been typecast as. That being said, his performance was nothing short of excellent. Naomi Harris was another wonderful addition to the cast! Although she played Cumberbatch's wife, a relatively small role, she acted so subtlety and emotionally, the performance she gave was really heartfelt.

As you would expect of a National Theatre production, the set design and costume was absolutely top notch. The addition of a part-mechanical, part-physical-theatre-y steam train entering the stage not only looked awe inspiring, but made for one of the most exciting scene changed I have ever experienced.

Sadly though, there were elements which I did dislike, such as the addition of an uncomfortable rape scene near to the end. It felt gratuitous, added for the sole purpose of shock value, not because it was necessary or helped the audience to understand the characters involved any better than they did beforehand.

As a whole though, the production was enjoyable, fresh and remarkably well acted.

Twitter: @OddJazzShoes
Bloglovin: Talkstageytome