West End stars Louise Dearman (Wicked), Tim Driesen (Never Forget), Gerard Carey (Masterclass) and Lucy Sinclair (We Will Rock You) are set to lead a workshop presentation of a brand new musical version of JM Barrie’s Peter Pan tomorrow.

The workshop, which will take place in front of an invited audience at the Lyric Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue  at 1pm on  Thursday 28th June, will feature Dearman as Tinker Bell, Driesen as Pan, Carey as Hook and Sinclair as Wendy.

An ensemble of 35 other characters is played by a supporting cast of seven – Allyson Ava-Brown, James Ballanger, Natasha J Barnes, Matt Corner, Anthony Lawrence, Sion Lloyd and Kit Orton – working with a fast-paced, funny new script.

The workshop is directed by Christian Durham (Chicago, We Will Rock You), with movement by Lucie Pankhurst, musical direction by Dean Austin (Taboo, Zorro, Spamalot), casting by Anne Vosser and orchestrations by Tom Curran. Music, book and lyrics are by Jimmy Jewell, with additional book and lyrics by Nick Stimson.

Spellbound: Former Glinda Louise Dearman will appear as Tinker Bell

For further information about the workshop presentation, e-mail peterpanworkshop@gmail.com.

I stumbled across this cracking comic strip by Cailey on Tumblr. I love social media geekery.

I  love Dolly Parton. I love her little Confucius-style Dollyisms, I love her music, I love the concept of Dollywood. So I’m pretty sure I’ll love the jukebox musical based on her hits, 9 to 5. I must emphasize that I am as critical of the jukebox musical trends as most other lovers of ‘proper’ theatre, but the bottom line is they do well, bring in money and possibly even enable producers to go on and produce something more organic. Plus, lots of them are good, clean fun. The plot is based on the 1980 movie of the same name, with Dolly’s soulful and perky country tunes leading the way for the narrative. Whether it turns out to be a foot-tapper or a flop in the UK, I would still love to be Dolly just for a day… she seems to have such fun with life as well as having such great singing and songwriting talent at the core.

Dolly spoke to BBC Breakfast this morning about 9 to 5, which will start its UK tour at Manchester’s Opera House in October 2012. God love her for a) not throwing a diva strop at being asked to sing and b) still sounding fantastic at 66 (yes…. sixty-bloody-six). The show’s run on Broadway earned it four Tony Award nominations, which speaks highly of it, and if it captures even a little of Dolly’s chutzpah and sparkle, it’ll be a great night out.

ALRA (the Academy of Live and Recorded Arts) is based in Wandsworth, south west London, and its third year Acting students are performing these two contemporary plays back-to-back, first at ALRA’s own theatre and then transferring to the nearby Tara Theatre.

Both plays dwell on adolescent sex. Blow jobs on a grubby rubbish tip, drug-deleted rape, sex in the dreams of a horny teenage boy, unprotected sex, naive sex – in the youthful world the ALRA students have created, everyone’s at it.

Apples, adapted by John Retallack from a novel by Richard Milward, is a gritty look at the debauchery and lust of a group of straight-talking teens, very much in the Skins vein. Slutty but charming Eve, miserable Claire, geeky Adam and wideboy Gary narrate their teenage experience in a series of pacy, brutally frank monologues.

The trouble I’ve always had with Skins, and have with Apples, is believing that all of this – daily sex, drugs and general rock’n’roll – is happening to one bunch of teenagers. Perhaps my teen experience was simply too vanilla, but the amount of action the gang get seems pretty hardcore for what appears to be lower-middle class Britain. Realism aside, the story is brilliantly acted, particularly by Maria Louis as Eve, who posesses more than a little Sheridan-Smith-esque star quality fairydust. Her cheeky expression and absolute comfort in her somewhat saddening role (Eve is quite the ‘village bicycle’) make her monologues the highlight of Apples.

Strong support is given by Alexandra da Silva as Eve’s downtrodden friend Claire, whose bleak musings on teen motherhood and being left behind by her friends have a touching sincerity to them. Craig Stratton as the sinister Gary is more than a match for Louis’ effortless Eve – he prowls round the set of rubbish bags, abandoned trolleys and mattresses, kicking rubbish in the air, swilling cheap lager and grabbing whatever he wants – usually his high-on-substances, low-on-self-esteem female classmates. Colour is added by Steph Georgeson as scouse tart Debbie and Ben Bland as the sweetly clueless Adam, though Bland’s acting does have more of a self-conscious, playing-for-laughs twinge than the grittier characters.

The material is bleak and melodramatic at times, but the voices of the characters are vivid and fully-formed, and this cast did a great job of getting the message across.

If You Really Love Me (by Mark Leiren Young) is more of a self-aware, physical representation of teen sex. Using DV8-style movement and a giant patchwork duvet as a backdrop, the cast of five pelt through relationship conundrums including buying condoms, saying you love someone to get laid, teen abstinence and loving the attention being known as easy brings.

This second piece was more scattered and less enjoyable for me – although my guest preferred the energy and inventiveness of it to the earlier play, so the ALRA group certainly offered something for everyone. Some of the dialogue was a little too knowing and preachy – “AIDS is a disease – it doesn’t care who you sleep with” – and the team felt like a particularly witty and lively educational theatre company which should be brought into high schools to shake up sex education a little.

The cast of five – Alexandra Agnew, Robbie Capaldi, Nell Clemency, Sarah Helena Ord and Alex Steadman – charge around the stage between mini-dramas, only stopping to spout quirky historical ideas about contraception. I felt this idea – the ‘if you really love me’  being that you’d sleep with someone there and then, regardless of precautions – could have been more focused and less time spent on other issues.

Both directors (Jack McNamara and Tara Robinson respectively) brought out the best in each performer and kept the material dynamic and engaging. The two sets – one cluttered, one simple – were functional and atmospheric, although not much of the story of Apples seemed set at the rubbish-strewn bridge created by designer Lauren Cameron. The lighting and sound were impeccable and the staging neat and effective.

While the overall combination of the two plays was intense and effective, I was left wishing some of the characters could have seen a bigger picture beyond their own lust, virginity or lack thereof. But that’s a pretty accurate impression of adolescence, isn’t it?

Maybe I’m a little late to the party, as its stars appear to have been tweeting from the set for some time, but the photos on the Les Misérables movie Facebook page are rather exciting. From the convicts in the Prologue to the gaudy, bourgeois wedding cake presumably for Marius and Cosette (via Hugh Jackman’s excellently-sculpted beard), the visual choices made by Tom Hooper and team look vivid, gritty and just different enough from the traditional design of this well-loved show.

I’ve mentioned before my hesitance about Hooper’s professed intentions to live-record the cast’s vocals – I like a raw sound, but not all of the actor’s chosen are famous chiefly for their dulcet tones – but since reading that a mixture of live and studio vocals were used for several of Meryl Streep’s scenes in Mamma Mia, I’m more open to the idea.

Using a mixture of locations including rural France and the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich, London, the film will feature a brand new, original song (in the style of the excellent Phantom of the Opera film adaptation – unfortunately its additional song was godawful. Let’s hope for better from Messrs Boublil and Schönberg).

This piece of musical theatre history is set to hit our screens on 11 January 2013, and I for one am looking forward to spotting past West End cast members playing students, whores and beggars, as well as original Valjean, Colm Wilkinson, giving a no-doubt moving cameo as the Bishop of Digne.

Image: London’s Old Royal Naval College is transformed into Paris, 1832 https://www.facebook.com/LesMisMovie

UPDATE: More images have been published (with Cameron Mackintosh’s comments) here.

One great place to see shows not often performed in the West End is the Fringe; another is London’s generous sprinkling of drama schools. Central School of Speech and Drama has become one of the most famous dramatic institutions in the capital since being founded in 1906, and last night I attended the MA Music Theatre course’s final production, Stephen Sondheim’s Sunday in the Park with George.

The cast were slick and assured in their delivery of this complex and intense musical. The show full of Sondheim’s signature rhythms, rhymes and scattered stream-of-consciousness lyrics, Rick Woska as intense artist George and Kate Adler as his lover Dot kept a fantastic pace and stayed on top of the relentless material. Both possessed with a strong stage presence and vocal talent, these two propelled the show along.

As someone who finds Sondheim unreasonably lofty and intellectual for a musical theatre composer, Sunday did not change my mind so much as give me a small insight into the man and his methods. ‘Art isn’t easy…’ sings the cast in the modern-day second act, and this certainly isn’t one of Sondheim’s most accessible shows. The character of George, absorbed in his work, a perfectionist, closed to the demands of everyone but his art, and the reaction of his contemporaries, seemed reflected by the show itself – Sunday may not hit you with waves of emotion or wit, but you can see a lot of thought has gone into the process. Still, the CSSD actors made it a visual treat using paint-spattered curtains, cleverly employed frames for both sketching and photography, projection and effective choreography. Not to mention the spot-on costumes for the stunning close of Act 1, where Georges Seurat’s painting A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte – the inspiration for this entire show – is recreated amid the powerful harmonies of standout number Sunday.

Each soloist had a strong and vivid voice, and the scenes were absorbing and well acted. The one sadness was that the material did not allow for much humour or passion – personally, my spine remained un-tingled and my diaphragm unstretched by laughter. But I can’t blame the cast for this; Stephen Sondheim and I largely go together like chocolate and pickled herring (he’s the herring), and I think this may be one of his driest pieces.

One of the more touching moments was George’s duet with his mother (Vassula Delli), Beautiful. Bada Ruban and Kimberley Shore also provided lightness as Mr and Mrs America, struggling to get off the island and appreciate Paris’s charms. Overall, Sunday did exactly what it was supposed to do in this instance: showcase the professionalism and confidence of its cast. It may not be a spectacularly entertaining or moving show, but it’s certainly a thinker, and this came across neatly in this CSSD production.

Image: cssd.ac.uk

I’m not sure whether I absolutely love this or want to burst out in hysterical laughter. Mark Evans and Siobhan Dillon sound pretty good (albeit with some muted production on this version of the track), but the bit where they try to merge the Ghost storyline with a betrayed-ex-themed pop song is a bit funny.

Anyway, good on them for doing a bit of out-of-the-box promotion. As I was saying about Wicked, I think West End shows could stand to do some fresher and more innovative multimedia marketing – stuff like this is a great way to get attention. I haven’t been back to see Ghost since my visit in previews, but I hope to soon. A great day for musical geekery!

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