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January 23, 2006

We were having a Wild, Wild Party…

Last week saw MTW take over the main Arts Centre theatre for Andrew Lippa's 'The Wild Party' – as elegant and decadent a portayal of the roaring 20s as one could hope for.

A quick overview of the plot:

Vaudeville performers Burrs (a clown 'of some renown') and Queenie ('legs built to drive men mad'), live out an uneasy and unhappy domesticity. When Burrs' sexual and violent ways get too much, Queenie decides public humiliation is in order. A 'Wild Party' is to be thrown, and by flirting with everyone in sight, she hopes to drive Burrs to appreciate her more.

The guests arrive, a heady mix of lesbians and hookers, producers and pugilists. Queenie seems to have her mind set on seducing dancer Jackie, when mutual friend Kate enters quickly followed by the mysterious 'Mr. Black'. Queenie abandons her dancer, and starts to put the moves on the far-from-reluctant Black. Kate, seeing what Queenie has in mind, decides to let them play out their seduction, hoping to ensnare Burrs in the cross-fire. Behind the contretemps of the leads, the guests at the party are having a wild time, and seem intent on singing to eachother about it…

To cut a long story (slightly) short. Black and Queenie find that there is more than sexual tension between them. Burrs, consumed with jealousy, walks into the bedroom to find them entwined in the covers and eachother. There is a gun. There is a shot. There is a death…

The Review

The sheer effort that was involved in taking this production to stage would be enough to be going along with even if it were a professional company, but when you stop and think that the people involved in this show are all students, juggling degree and extra-curricular activities as best they can…then the mind truly boggles.

Director Luke Shires deserves massive plaudits for his handling of the show. Bringing in six chorus 'muses', in order to show the true depths of Burrs' psyche as vividly, was a masterstroke of invention. The muses jolted the senses, their unison singing in the first numbers proving both alarming and alarmingly effective. Equally, their dancing (superb) and demeanour (intense) throughout was a constant reminder of the passions bubbling under the surface of the party.

Shires' direction, and Choreographer Honor Roche's treatment, of the ensemble was equally impressive – the cast formed a solid backdrop to the 4 superb lead performances, with cohesion apparent in even the fastest of dances (one of which was so quick as to require three viewings before this reviewer actually managed to see all the moves!)

The musical direction, too, was top notch. MD Matt Mimms added electric guitar elements to the original score to update the sound, whilst still leaving it grounded in the 20s era. The band sounded fullsome, whilst never overpowering the cast (credit to the sound engineer for that one).

The cast themselves struck the perfect emotive chord – you really did feel they were having a wonderful time when they wanted you too…and you really did feel they were in severe emotional pain when they needed you to. Special credit must go to the four leads (Emily Brooks – Queenie, Nadim Naaman – Burrs, Owain Llyr-Williams – Black, and Laura Poyner – Kate) for performances verging almost entirely on the professional.

In short, it was an absolute privilige to be able to watch this show, as I'm sure the rest of the audience will agree. We laughed, we cried, we watched agog as the director played out his final trick on us with the very closing of the curtain; and, as all we could offer back was applause and a standing ovation, we definitely got the better of the deal. Once again Music Theatre Warwick have raised the bar, and I for one avidly await their next jump…

November 10, 2005

Madonna – she's back…oh yes!

4 out of 5 stars

What can you say to start a review about Madonna's new album? Rolling Stone has started by harking back to her emergence on the scene in 1985:

'Over the most Eighties-sounding synthesizers imaginable, she proclaimed, "And you can dance — for inspiration." ' (from 'Into the Groove')

Quite the manifesto for (at that time) a chart debutant. Since then, however, Madonna has done much to move away from this wherever possible. Recent albums have shown that, whilst Madonna is as adept at reinvention as Kylie (another in the 'dropping the surname' stakes), this has often come at the expense of the ability to 'make people dance'. There was 'Ray of Light', dark and engaging. Then there was 'American Life', indistinct and poorly produced. It is refreshing to see, then, that dancing comes firmly at the top of the agenda this time around.

In fact, it's so high up the list that at times this album comes across as a dance compilation rather than the latest from the Queen of pop. Bringing in Stuart Price (Jacques lu Cont, Les Rhythmes Digitales) on production credits was definitely a savvy move. The 12 tracks on the album are a whirl of synth and sparkle, bass and bombast (if you will!) Whilst at times this threatens to merge one song into another, Price generally does enough to allow each track to stand on its merit, something which Mirwais was alltogether unable to do on 'American Life'. Samples abound – taking in Abba, Popcorn, and even the odd Madge favourite (Price must have had a whale of a time putting this album together!) to great effect.

Most importantly of all, this album genuinely makes the listener want to dance. The vast majority of these tracks would work in a club and, in building an album in this way, Madonna really has found a recipe for success.

In short? When Madonna is on form, she pisses all over the competition and thankfully this is the case here. Buy this to listen to early on a Friday night. Buy this to remind you of a lost weekend. Buy this for your car. Just buy it – it's awesome, and the perfect way to celebrate 20 years in the business…

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