Monday, June 11, 2018

THE RINK at Southwark Playhouse - rolling back the years...

 When I heard that Southwark Playhouse were going to stage Kander & Ebb's musical THE RINK I was excited tempered with worry... always the way when a favourite show is being revived.

In 1984, THE RINK premiered on Broadway with the killer-diller casting of Chita Rivera and Liza Minnelli as estranged mother and daughter Anna and Angel Antonelli, fighting over the imminent demolition of their former home, a roller-skating rink on a now-derelict boardwalk.  Anna is glad to finally be rid of the place as it is filled with memories of her unhappy married life and later struggles as a lone parent, while for Angel it's the only home she has ever known after years of unfulfilled searching in California.  When she discovers Anna forged her signature on the sale contract, Angel declares war...

Despite the star headliners and a score that is classic Kander & Ebb, the critics were unimpressed and it lasted six months with Liza leaving before the end to check into rehab, Stockard Channing replacing her for the last few weeks.  In retrospect, maybe that was the way it should have been all along: Kander and Ebb had wanted it originally as an off-Broadway show with a different book and director, their friend Liza expressed an interest and the investment money poured in, a new director was brought on board and Terence McNally was asked to write a new book.  Although judged a failure it did however win Chita Rivera both the Tony and Drama Desk Awards for Best Actress in A Musical.

Jump forward three years and I am on a train up to Manchester to see the British Premiere at Paul Kerryson's northern musical powerhouse The Forum Theatre in Wythenshawe starring the equally magnificent musical talents of Josephine Blake and Diane Langton.  They had whetted my appetite by singing some of the songs in the Kander & Ebb tribute show HOW LUCKY CAN YOU GET! that I couldn't let the opportunity pass.... little did I know they were to transfer to London's Cambridge Theatre.  But, as I got in to see them in their shared dressing-room after, I'm glad I did!

But history repeated itself: despite their explosive performances and the energetic performances by the male chorus of six, the show received cool reviews from the critics and the show closed after a month despite the goodwill of all who saw it and a rallying campaign by Jo Blake who told me she suspected double-dealing from the show's management.  It was all very sad but their dynamic production lives on with the cast recording which captures some of their two unique performances.

But to the Southwark playhouse and a new audience... and a new text!  There were a few new lines, an altered finale and the biggest surprise was that the show's opening solo for Angel COLOURED LIGHTS now closes the first act rather than a short reprise; I am not totally sure it worked.  The show now starts with the book rather with one of Kander & Ebb's signature solo numbers to whisk you into the score straightaway.

Director Adam Lenson's production however moved along like the demolition men on their roller-skates - maybe a bit too briskly at times as several of the numbers were cut-off before the end of the song which frustrated the audience - alright, me - in giving the performers their due.

The pairing of Caroline O'Connor and Gemma Sutton worked well, although both oddly seemed to have dodgy moments with demanding numbers in the second act - Anna's MRS A and Angel's ALL THE CHILDREN IN A ROW - and in the first section of the play O'Connor sometimes over-sold her line-readings - she seemed to be channelling Popeye - but she calmed down as the show went on. No such worries with Gemma Sutton whose Angel was nicely poker-faced and combative.

The six supporting actors who play the demolition men also portray all the men - and sometimes women - in Anna and Angel's flashbacks and I particularly liked Ross Dawes for his spectacular spins in the title number and Ben Redfern's Lenny, quietly loving Anna from afar.  The way the auditorium has been configured for this production has cut down on the space for the chaps to do their skating in the title number but Fabian Aloise's choreography managed to still make an impact.

THE RINK is running until June 23rd and if you have never seen it before I urge you to get down to Southwark Playhouse and experience John Kander and Fred Ebb's wonderful Broadway score. My memories of Jo and Di are still intact but it was great to experience it all over again... and congratulate myself on my taste in musicals!

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