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Review of Queen of the Mist at Charing Cross Theatre

Queen of the Mist Trudi Camilleri and company Photo by Stephen Russell
Queen of the Mist Trudi Camilleri and company Photo by Stephen Russell

Queen of the Mist is a new musical by the five-time Tony Award nominee Michael John La Chiusa, currently receiving its London premiere at Charing Cross Theatre.

The true story of the first person to negotiate Niagara Falls in a barrel may not seem the most obvious for musical treatment, but, as the copious programme notes say, La Chiusa ‘isn’t a dramatist who shies away from forgotten, abstract or difficult stories’. His angular, often Sondheim-like music ‘blends turn-of-the-century sound…… thematically exploring the key ideas….. they form a score that roots you in time while drawing on contemporary questions’.(Dom O’Hanlon – director)

The orchestrations (Michael Starobin), for an eight-piece band under the direction of Connor Fogel, are superb, aiding the ensemble in bringing the show to life

Will Arundell, in the role of Frank Russell, Anna Edson Taylor’s manager, is highly successful in imbuing his role with truthfulness from the moment he appears onstage. He is able to give light and shade to his character and is very watchable. Luckily he also has a superb singing voice and one of the musical highlights of the evening is his duet with Taylor ‘Types Like You’, one of the very few up-tempo numbers in the show.

Anna Edson Taylor herself, the ‘Queen of the Mist’ of the show’s title, is portrayed by Trudi Camilleri. This is a huge role: she is onstage nearly the whole time and sings in almost every musical number. Ms Camileri is at her best when she is able to use her gorgeous contralto voice; she also contrives to look just like the real-life Taylor, judging from the photographs in the programme, the sort of American that the much-missed Peggy Mount was born to play!

The other five members of the ensemble, all of whom work very hard, are used as a Greek-style chorus, commenting on the action as well as in the few secondary roles, such as that of Taylor’s sister, Jane, strongly portrayed and sung by Emily Juler. Another, Conor McFarlane, convinces as the person who shoots President McKinley, whilst Emma Ralston, Tom Blackmore and Andrew Carter all sing the difficult music lustily and move fluently.

The director, Dom O’Hanlon, has decided to adapt Charing Cross Theatre into a Traverse style for this production, with half the audience on each side of the acting area, meaning that each half sees a lot of actors’ backs! He has been greatly aided by some imaginative set and costume design by Tara Usher and Lemington Ridley and by some evocative lighting by Beth Gupwell.

In reality, this show is ‘not a musical about Niagara Falls’ nor about ‘the assassination of President McKinley, the progressive period or the march to World War One’ but about ‘Anna – she remains dominant and present throughout’.

3 Star Review

Review by John Groves

Pint of Wine Theatre Company’s acclaimed production of Michael John LaChiusa’s Queen Of The Mist comes to the Charing Cross Theatre for a strictly limited seven-week season from 15 August to 5 October 2019. Queen Of The Mist, which received its UK premiere in a sold-out run at the Jack Studio Theatre in April, is based on the astounding and outrageous true story of Anna Edson Taylor, who in 1901 on her 63rd birthday set out to be the first person to survive a trip over Niagara Falls in a barrel of her own design. With a soaring score that incorporates turn of the century themes with LaChiusa’s insightful and engaging style, this award-winning musical is the story of how one woman risked death so that she could live.

The original 2011 Off-Broadway production of Queen Of The Mist won the Outer Critics Circle Award for Outstanding New Off-Broadway Musical and was nominated for six Drama Desk Awards, including Outstanding Musical.

Cast: Trudi Camilleri (Ragtime, Death Takes A Holiday) as Anna Edson Taylor, with Will Arundell(Mack & Mabel), Emily Juler (Jerry Springer: The Opera), Emma Ralston (Bananaman: The Musical), Tom Blackmore (Grindr: The Opera), Conor McFarlane (Assassins) and Andrew Carter(Choir Of Man).

Creative Team: Director Dom O’Hanlon, Musical Supervisor Jordan Li-Smith, Musical Director Connor Fogel, Set & Costume Design Tara Usher, Lighting Design Bethany Gupwell, Sound Design Adrian Jeakins, Production Management Daniel Gosselin, Producer Blake Klein for Pint Of Wine Theatre Company.

Queen of the Mist
Charing Cross Theatre
Booking to Saturday 5th October 2019

Author

  • John Groves

    John Groves studied singing with Robert Easton and conducting with Clive Timms. He was lucky enough to act in the British premiere of a Strindberg play at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe more years ago than he cares to remember, as well as singing at the Royal Opera House - once! He taught drama and music at several schools, as well as examining the practical aspects of GCSE and A level drama for many years. For twenty five years he has conducted a brass band as well as living on one of the highest points of East Sussex surrounded by woodland, deer, foxes and badgers, with kites and buzzards flying overhead.

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