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On the train into central London on Friday, I started reading one of this week's library book collection, Charlotte Brontë's The Foundling. It's a work of juvenalia, written when she was seventeen, in which wacky, silly, and improbably lucky things happen at a fast clip. The hero goes off to foreign land, looking for his fortune, when he's suddenly imprisoned for not knowing the customs. He's kept locked up for what feels like a long time (15 days) until he's suddenly released with great fortune succeeding to him.

So then, not very far along in the book, I arrived in central London, met up with C. and M. for dinner and a long-awaited trip to see Lee Mead, winner of last year's Any Dream will Do, perform the lead role in Andrew Lloyd Webber's Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. Lloyd Webber was seventeen when he first hooked up with collaborator Tim Rice, and three years later, Joseph was first staged. It's a wacky, silly musical about an improbably lucky guy who goes off to foreign lands (albeit having been sold into slavery by brothers who couldn't stand his happy-go-luckiness), where he's suddenly imprisoned for not fitting in with expectations. He's kept locked up for what feels like a long time until he's suddenly released with great fortune succeeding to him.

The worst bit about the production was the sound system. I treasure minor hopes that the singers were decent ones, fighting a bad sound system. It's possible that all the singers were poor. I know Lee Mead can do better, for one, although even he wasn't trying all that hard when he came out for the Mamma Mia* portion at the end. I could hardly decipher a word of the Pharoah's two songs; indeed, for all he even had a reprise of his dream song, I could not tell you the content of Pharoah's dream based on what he sang. The leads were all over-enunciating, an effect which helps projected consonants when there isn't much of a sound system, but was magnified into distracting noise by this one.

The most delightful surprise was the children's choir, under-advertised, but present, on stage, for nearly the entirety of the musical. I also quite liked the procession of sheep. Also, the songs really are, by and large, a great deal of fun, especially when the lyrics are decipherable. The dancing had its moments too, high energy, with frequently psychedelic costumes. The costumes, although they suited the songs, just drove home even more what a wacky piece of juvenalia the show itself is.

London quotient: It's been fascinating watching the London Eye gradually replacing the Big Ben clock tower as the iconic symbol of modern London. Yes, the London Eye made a brief appearance in the production.

I'm glad I went, since we'd all been curious about it for so long. But the production, as a whole, wasn't that much more than just okay.

* i.e. the now almost-inevitable singalong at the end of West End musicals. I'm not certain I'd ever encountered it before Mamma Mia (where it makes some sort of sense) and thus I've been blaming that musical for the phenomenon.

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Comments

( 13 comments — Leave a comment )
sartorias
Oct. 26th, 2008 09:48 pm (UTC)
Charlotte's juvenilia is interesting, but I wish she hadnt been quite so busy in burning anne's and emily's.
owlfish
Oct. 26th, 2008 10:19 pm (UTC)
So that's why its her work I happen to be reading. There is so much I don't know about all of the Brontës.

Technically, I have read Wuthering Heights, but it was in high school with a class edition, and what I remember isn't the text but that the class reader was printed two columns to the page. It was entirely too easy to be spoiled for something about to happen because it was in the next column. I know more about the plot of it from Jasper Fforde than I do from having technically read it back then.

So in many ways, I feel that The Foundling is my first real encounter with any work by any of the Brontë's. I know, not the best place to begin.
sartorias
Oct. 26th, 2008 11:09 pm (UTC)
If it piques your interest, it's a fine place to begin!
desperance
Oct. 26th, 2008 10:36 pm (UTC)
Points of information:

1) the children's choir is traditional in Joseph; they raid whatever is the local stage school, for little darlings. Who are often the stars of the show.

2) the almost-inevitable singalong - not traditional. In any musical. Should be shot at first appearance (except in deliberate singalongaSoundaMusic, or similar). Along with that thing of "oh, hey, we recognise this rhythm, let's clap ever-so-slightly out of time with it..." which is equally new and to be detested.

3) what you say about the London Eye replacing Big Ben? It's happened in the north-east too, with the Angel of the North replacing the Tyne Bridge as the Sign of Tyneside...
bookzombie
Oct. 27th, 2008 10:43 am (UTC)
I believe the singalong is fairly traditional for Joseph. We first encountered in a production we saw in the early nineties (several years before the Jason Donavan revival) at the Wimbledon theatre.
sioneva
Oct. 27th, 2008 12:35 pm (UTC)
This. As far as I'm aware, the singalong part at the end of Joseph is standard - a friend of mine has seen it several times, from the late 80s on, and it's always been there. If anything, Mamma Mia stole it from Joseph ;)

As to Pharoah's songs, I suspect the reason they were so incomprehensible (and I found them to be the same when I saw Joseph in Manchester) is that, because of the whole Elvis theme, you've got an English person not just trying to fake an American (Southern) accent, but trying to SING and fake said accent. It was really, really tough to understand - on the soundtrack I used to own from a production in LA in the 90s, it was a lot easier but even then the Elvis-lookalike thing got in the way.

desperance
Oct. 27th, 2008 01:33 pm (UTC)
Hmmph. I still don't approve; art is not a democracy, and stage shows are not mass participation events (except for panto, to which I do not go).

Also, I am here to tell you, the production I saw in Oxford in the '70s with Tim Rice as the Pharoah? Definitely no singalong.
pennski
Oct. 27th, 2008 08:11 pm (UTC)
Oh I has show envy!
owlfish
Oct. 27th, 2008 03:48 pm (UTC)
The only time I've seen the show, there was no singalong. There was no children's chorus either. At all.

It was a small community theater production - small in both scale and size of physical theater. Indeed, I can't even remember a band, which makes me wonder if the music was prerecorded for it.
bookzombie
Oct. 27th, 2008 03:58 pm (UTC)
Now pre-recorded music: that's hit one of my own bugbears. Maybe if you are the consumate professional and so are all your principals and chorus then you could probably just about get away with it.

But if not then you are really in trouble - the first time anyone fluffs an entrance, or there's a tech issue which leads to a 'vamp' bar having to play a couple more times, you are completely sunk.
despotliz
Oct. 31st, 2008 08:43 pm (UTC)
I auditioned to be in the children's choir for Joseph sometime in the early nineties - at that point they were getting local school choirs to audition by tape and then in person, rather than raiding the stage schools. We got to the last two or three and lost, so no moment of glory for me.
geesepalace
Oct. 27th, 2008 03:10 pm (UTC)
The London production of Oliver that I saw in 1965 ended with the entire case coming on stage to reprise Your Favo[u]rite Songs. As I remember, large sections of the audience sang along. I was a snobbish whippersnapper and found the whole thing revolting and a godawful offense against any play that could possibly be worth staging. In fact it was offensive even when the play wasn't, e.g., Oliver. Now I'm a snobbish geezer.
noncalorsedumor
Nov. 6th, 2008 08:20 pm (UTC)
I'd been noticing that about the London Eye as well. In a lot of the BBC productions I see on PBS, the first shots of London frequently use the Eye as the iconic London symbol.
( 13 comments — Leave a comment )