Monday, 21 December 2009
Jones sharpshoots again
Yee-haw! Three days on, and my heart still belongs to Berlin. Irving Berlin, that is, who passed his early years as Isaiah Beilen speaking Yiddish in a Byelorussian shtetl and graduated to write words-and-music numbers that are glories of the song form equal to those of Cole-y and Noel-y. I knew we couldn't fail to enjoy Annie Get Your Gun at the Young Vic, given the songs and the off-centre light Richard Jones was bound to shed on it. But could Jane Horrocks, pictured here in one of the Young Vic production shots taken by Keith Pattison, really 'do' an Annie Oakley to match Ethel Merman and Kim Criswell?
Well, she did it on her own extraordinary terms, with a little help, I guess, from Jones and a presumably superb dialect coach, and she was so charmin', darn' it, that I had tears in my eyes from the moment she turns up as a confident, wide-eyed teenager and charms the pants (another yee-haw) off the macho Frank Butler of the all-singing, all-strapping Julian Ovenden - and everyone in the audience, I guess.
We knew our Bubbles had a bit of a pitch problem from her Little Voice (great impersonations, less spot-on with the notes), and this show suggests she may have discovered more comfort in the mezzo range. But as an ingenue with the most peculiarly winning twang 'doin' what comes nat'ru-lee', she banished all memories of anyone else. There's no weakness in a very all-inclusive cast. Everyone sings a lot (including some splendid a cappella harmony), gets round the need to dance in various ingenious ways, and is blessed with inspired support from four consummate pianists in brilliant, almost pianolaish arrangements by Jason Carr.
I won't spoil any of the Jones sight gags, as for instance what the above accompanies, or the fun of the Ultz designs; if you haven't seen it, go, go, go, before it closes on 9 January. Take the whole family, if you have one, or borrow a friend's; small boys will love the cowhands and the dignified Indians, the little girls will want to BE little sureshot Annie, and everyone will want to sing along to 'Anything you can do'. And probably to half a dozen other numbers, too, because I can't think of a musical with a higher stock of infectious tunes which fit the words like the classiest of speech-melodic gloves. Verily, it's the Carmen or Figaro of the musicals world in terms of stockpiled hits.
The feelgood effect lasts, I'm anticipating, for a very long time. I'm back with the Criswell/McGlinn spectacular on EMI, admiring the way that even the second song for the second-string couple and the one which got an earlier chop are just as catchy as those we know and love.
Enjoyed what I read in a very well-produced programme about the real Annie and Frank. His history is almost as amazing as hers, and it really was one of the great love stories, all 50 years of it. While the show sassily updates the action to the time of the musical's composition in the 1940s, Phoebe Ann Oakley challenged an all-male world in 1875 or 1881 (sources differ; the first would make her fifteen years old) when she won a shooting match against the man who became her husband soon afterwards.
The rest is history; she really did meet the world's great leaders, though not the ones encountered in an hysterically funny film at the start of the Young Vic show's second half.
Here she is in later life
and, most amazingly of all, YouTube has footage of her prowess back in 1894. That's a little bit of history, ain't it?
As for the sharpshooting Richard Jones, he goes straight on to Prokofiev's The Gambler at the Royal Opera. I'm mighty proud that he called upon me for the programme, which was going to happen anyway, and for a study day at the end of January, which wasn't. He has not forgotten the Prokofiev chap since our chat about The Fiery Angel all that time ago in the First Out cafe, when he seemed very struck by the notion that Prokofiev had nearly died from scarlet fever and seemed (to me, at least) to reproduce delirium extraordinarily well. How that resulted in the Monnaie show I don't know as I had violent food poisoning on the day I was due to take a then-functioning Eurostar to Brussels.
Anyway, I get to talk before, and with, two of my idols, Jones and Pappano. One of several big Prokofiev-related treats to look forward to in the New Year.