Vanities the Musical (1 Star)

Vanities the Musical
Trafalgar Studios, 1st Sept – 1st Oct 2016
Review by Richard Lambert, 1 Star *

Having been invited to Review “Vanities the Musical” at the Trafalgar Studios I was a little concerned about my spinal back comfort having read Mark Shenton’s Review which claimed his husband refused to go to the Trafalgar Studios. Click here. That does strike me as odd since I don’t see why a Reviewer’s husband’s preference has any relevance whatsoever to attending a show as a paid Reviewer, which is after all a job and surely independent of a partner’s evening’s entertainment choices. Perhaps this was just Shenton’s excuse not to attend a venue due to incompatible size and weight proportionality issues and it not being a Howard Goodall musical. I attended Studio 2 tonight and had no seating comfort issues whatsoever, but then perhaps my physiology is better adapted for cushioned bench seating having visited many a gym in my younger days.

The Reviews I’ve seen for this musical have been amazing!
4 and 5 Star Reviews. Wow!
Something to look forward to I thought!

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The Cast are lovely, the lighting (Tim Deiling)  is lovely, the Set (Andrew Riley) is a genius (surprisingly, having seen his previous Thoroughly Modern Millie show which was inappropriate to the musical and a train wreck!), the Costumes and shoes are lovely (again Andrew Riley – where did he find the time? but well done!), the Wigs are brilliant (Richard Mawbey) even if the girls don’t always manage to fit them properly, the book (Jack Heifner) is clever, witty and fun, the Music and Lyrics (David Kirshenbaum) are lovely, and the Staging and Direction (Racky Plews) ticks the boxes.

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So where did this show of talented Cast and team go wrong?

Well, firstly, where were the harmonies? The programme sadly lacks any Musical Arranger, and this might go some way to explaining the problem……every song, with only one exception, could have been taught by Rolf Harris on a stylophone. Why did this happen? They all sing the same notes most of the time. With such prominent experienced Producers, who have produced brilliant concerts (such as Seasons of Larson), how on earth did this happen?

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And then the Sound. OMG.
I’ve only ever seen one other show in my lifetime where the Sound alone managed to ruin the show. Now I’ve seen 2. Ruined by the Sound Design. And co-incidentally both shows have been at the Trafalgar Studios. “Fat Pig” (Produced by Sonia Friedman) had such ear-shattering volume of Sound to cover Scene changes that it was painful!

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Tonight, the Sound (James Nicholson) was so amplified that the Cast had to hold back on any vocal projection. Like the character Brick from the TV Series “The Middle” talking shyly into his chest, it was all under-stated. It wasn’t possible to perform an ear-shattering emotive diva-esque show-stopper number, the speakers would have blown. You could hear the cast breathe like someone on a ward from BBC’s “Casualty.” The Reverb more appropriate to being 50 foot down a well whenever the music started, even though the Cast still had script over song musical introductions, or you’d feel like you’re in a concert hall/church with enormous echo (the space is actually only about 7m x 4m) when they sing. Yodelling in the mountains. I shuddered whenever scripted sections in the middle of songs were spoken from within vast caverns – expecting to hear the water drip and the pennies splash with echoes from the damp walls. It was so over-amplified that the cast appeared to be lip-synching! They have to hold back, and the entire production becomes very under-whelming. So disappointing! If the Cast want to improve the show, throw away the beltpack batteries – hey, accidents happen!

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And then there was a live band of 5 Musicians. The pit was downstairs in a seperate room. So the live music was piped electronically into the theatre’s speakers. It might as well have been pre-recorded with backing tracks. The only evidence of live musicians was the solo keyboard musical director live streamed onto TV monitors at the back of the theatre and even then I wondered if this was all pre-recorded. Perhaps it was? It might as well have been. The half-empty auditorium would have so benefitted from the live orchestra being located in the venue. The Producers are evidently employing them so why make them electronic and remote? How ridiculous can you get? What a wasted opportunity!!!

The Sound was so bad that it ruined an otherwise brilliant musical! It’s surprising that with such an experienced Production Team, and with every other department stepping up, this was allowed to happen. The Sound has ruined the show! The Trafalgar Studios are presumably expensive to hire. How can such a show be so mis-managed? If the Sound is fixed, and I hope it is, this musical could easily become a 5-Star must-see.

(Photo Credit Pamela Raith)

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