THE MGM STORY The Magic of the Musical
Upstairs at the Gatehouse, Wednesday 31 August – Sunday 25 September 2016
Review by Richard Lambert 5 Stars *****
Katy Lipson for Aria Entertainment Concerts and Szpiezak Productions announce the World Première of a brand new musical revue telling the story of the MGM Musicals, The MGM Story.
“Of all the Hollywood studios Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer was the true home of the film musical. Here, under the supervision of producer Arthur Freed, classics of the genre were made, such as The Wizard of Oz, Meet Me in St. Louis and An American in Paris to name but a few.
THE MGM STORY traces the history of the Golden Age of Song and Dance and tells of how the studio fostered the talents of stars, including Judy Garland and Gene Kelly and composers, such as Cole Porter and Irving Berlin and many more.
It charts the rise of the studio’s dominance in the field through the 1930s and 1940s and features the stories behind the making of many masterpieces. It explores how the studio rose to the challenge of competition from TV in the 1950s and it looks at how the empire eventually disintegrated by the 1960s with the fascinating tale of Say It With Music, one of the biggest movie musicals never made!
Set on a disused film set, see how the world of The MGM Musicals comes alive”!
And come alive this show certainly did! It was a journey through MGM’s rise and fall with punchy script (Chris Burgess) and plenty of pizazz, flair and style. A cast of star quality (Benjamin Newsome Casting) who seamlessly moved from dialogue to song with overlap of musical introductions all expertly stitched together. Sure-footed Direction and Choreography by Mathew Cole.
The delightful theatre space is larger that your usual pub theatre with high vaulted ceiling lending itself well to a film studio or barn location so classicly MGM. With a Band of 4 integrated into the Set Design, ladders, ladders on wheels, stage platform trucks, clothes rails, packing crates it felt right. I loved the Patt 23 lights on a tripod – used as a Follow Spot and for the MD’s Piano light and the Vintage Camera on wooden tripod on dolly. The occasional use of all these items throughout keep the show dynamic. (Set and Costume Design Emily Bestow).
James Smith who designed the lighting used a predominantly fixed rig that was clever and discrete. The lighting was superb. WIth only 3 Movers and Scrollers it managed to punch the Technicolour, pastel the storyboards and add theatrical effects and tableaus in all the right places. I especially liked the Rainbow spread of colour during “Over the Rainbow”. Such a beautiful touch! Sacrificing 6 lighting fixtures for a 10 second effect – had to be done!
Taking song and dance from such films as The Wizard of Oz, Meet Me in St Louis, Easter Parade, On the Town, Annie Get Your Gun, An American in Paris, Singin’ in the Rain and Gigi there is so many songs that are foot tapping, hand clapping and well known. It has to be said that the 2 stand-out performances were James Leece’s Singin’ in the Rain and Miranda Wilford’s Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas. Even with only 4 Singers the harmonies on the latter were just beautiful.
If there was one thing I’d change it would be the Sound quality – the head mics over-amplify and there’s what sounds like crickets mating in the background. But you soon adjust to this and the show is a fabulously entertaining evening.
With a Cast of 4, a Band of 4 and 2 technicians this show feels like it’s just the perfect size. It’s unusual for a musical of new writing to hit the mark so precisely but under the guidance of this experienced team it does just that.
The MGM Story will also tour:
Theatre Royal, Windsor from 27 September – 1 October (www.theatreroyalwindsor.co.uk)
Theatre Royal, Norwich on 7 October (www.theatreroyalnorwich.co.uk) and
The Radlett Centre on 22 October (www.radlettcentre.co.uk).
The cast is made up of Steven Dalziel (NewsRevue, Canal Café Theatre, The Kissing Dance, Ye Olde Rose and Crown Theatre, Grease, Magnetic Theatre, Seasons of Larson, Lyric Theatre and Maoam Advert UK/Europe TV), James Leece (Don Lockwood in Singin’ In The Rain, UK Tour, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, Open Air Theatre, Regent’s Park and The Snowman UK Tour), Emma Kayte Saunders (The Goodbye Girl, Upstairs at the Gatehouse, Beyond The Barricade (UK Tour) and Parade, Minack Theatre) and Miranda Wilford (The Who’s Tommy, Greenwich Theatre, Thriller Live! Lyric Theatre and Hair, European Tour).
Wednesday 31 August – Sunday 25 September
Upstairs at the Gatehouse
Highgate Village, London N6 4BD
Tuesday – Saturday, 7.30pm,
with matinees on Saturday 17 and 24 September, 3.00pm and Sundays, 4.00pm
Tickets: From £16