Critics full of praise for first professional production of Howard Goodall's "A Winter's Tale"

Critics full of praise for first professional production of Howard Goodall's "A Winter's Tale"
London critics have been unanimous in their praise for the first professional staged production of Howard Goodall's Shakespeare-inspired musical, A Winter's Tale, following its launch at the Landor Theatre on 12 November 2012.

With music and lyrics by Goodall, to a book by Nick Stimson and developed and directed by Andrew Keates, the production runs until 1 December.  Click here for tickets and further information:
‘Like The Dreaming - Goodall’s beautiful 2001 version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream - the show was written specifically for young people to perform, but stands up beautifully now for a more experienced cast, too, and yields darker, richer musical and dramatic colours in the process. It’s very typical of the composer - to my mind (and ears) the best contemporary British composer of musicals we have - to take a problem play and turn it into a glorious opportunity.
He writes melodies with aching undercurrents and compressed emotions that are perfect for distilling the essence of this troubled, troubling play of marital suspicion and bad conscience that seemingly fatally undermines a happy marriage.  There’s also a rich seam of fantasy and wonder as his abandoned daughter grows up to fall in love with the son of the man he suspected of adultery with his wife.  The musical - and Andrew Keates’ elegantly focused staging of it - cast a warm glow over a chilly play.  The music, with Goodall’s distinctive strings to the fore in orchestrations for cello, guitar and keyboards, is played with tender, telling strokes under musical director George Dyer, and Keates’ production is robustly sung and acted by a cast that includes the marvellous Alastair Brookshaw as Polixines, radiant Helena Blackman as Paulina, and Fra Fee as Florizel.’
The Stage (Mark Shenton), 13 November 2012
… it’s a big, baggy, seductive collection of marches and ballads, complex chorales and interwoven musical lines at dramatic flash points, such as the trial of the Queen or the final revelations.
And Goodall is such a skilful, insinuating composer that you can literally hear the shift from the entwined, furrow-browed mood of Leontes’ jealousy and marital prosecution to the sunshine and floral dance of the Bohemia scenes, where the delightful pairing of Abigail Matthews as Perdita and Fra Fee (don’t panic, he’s Irish) as Florizel discharge a beautiful love duet, “When You Sing.”
You’d never have thought a musical could wrestle The Winter’s Tale to the ground, but Andrew Keates’s production has a jolly good try, considerably abetted by the always high presentation standards at this little venue - there is clever design by Martin Thomas, wittily resourceful choreography by [Cressida Carré] and a terrific, visible quartet led by George Dyer on keyboards.
The singing is of a high standard, too, especially that of Pete Gallagher (a notable Caiphas in the recent rock arena Jesus Christ Superstar) as Leontes and the captivating Helena Blackman as Paulina, one of the great Shakespearean women and the guardian of the plot…
A Winter’s Tale is such a relief in a year (so far) of poor new musical theatre.
What’s On Stage (Michael Coveney), 13 November 2012
Goodall’s staggering ability to capture raw emotion in his music makes an impressive stand in this latest work playing at the wonderfully intimate Landor… Goodall grabs the driving emotions behind Shakespeare’s difficult original by the jugulars and brings them to the forefront. Gone are stylised performances of the beautiful language, and in are the raw passions at the core of the story, something Andrew Keates’ assured direction brings quivering to the electric yet understated action on stage.
Despite being a fiercely impassioned production, the beauty of the show is that it never feels over played, even sitting on the front row. The fantastic Pete Gallagher’s booming vocals and intense performance seem as suited to the closeness of the Landor as they were in huge arenas on the recent Jesus Christ Superstar tour, and both his madness and consequent repentance in the role of the emotionally tormented King Leontes play beautifully in such close proximity to the audience. There’s something striking too in Alastair Brookshaw’s Polixines shaking with anger only steps away, while the love story between Florizel (a suitably charming Fra Fee) and Perdita (an innocent Abigail Matthews) seems all the sweeter for being within touching range of spectators.
One of the most delightful things about the production is the size, and standard, of the ensemble.  It’s a rare treasure to see such a large cast in an off-West End venue, particularly one with credits stretching from the recently graduated to firm West End favourites and coaches, but the mix of experience and influence blends as beautifully as Goodall’s contrasting score, and the result is something quite magical.  Similarly, while there’s intensity in the driving story, the comic side of the tale led by Ceiran Joyce (Rob), Denis Delahunt (Melik) and Gareth James Healey (Zeki) never fails to bring laughs and a lighter edge to happenings on stage.
… this brilliant adaptation showcases the best of British musical talent perfectly; from the institution that is Goodall, to the ever-exciting work of Keates, and the brilliant diversity currently performing on the UK stage.
Whilst Shakespeare’s greatest virtue is often seen to be the splendour of his language, A Winter's Tale captures the intensity of emotion behind the words and the production brings a ray of light to a sometimes perceptively gloomy landscape for new musical theatre.
StageWon (Melissa Rynn), 13 November 2012
‘The Landor scores again… this adaptation of Shakespeare’s late play swings from a dysfunctional cold world whose innocence is lost through distrust and paranoia into a rural idyll with songs of flowers and glowing warmth that allows the score to soar and breathe in glorious colour.
… the large company fill the space with a wall of sound ensuring the lush multilayered harmonies enfold the audience, wooing them into submission- this is inspiring new musical theatre writing, it is also British and there is everything to celebrate about it…
When the world is full of such limited musicals with little integrity, this is uplifting new writing full of emotion and power, telling an age old story which speaks on many different levels, a wonderful tonic given the current climate. Get a ticket quickly as they will be hot property from now on.
Remotegoat (Petra Schofield), 13 November 2012
‘There have been more operatic adaptations of Shakespeare’s plays (most by Verdi) than there have musicals and they haven’t been as faithful to the bard as this Howard Goodall show (he also produced a musical version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream).  It has none of the verse but every bit of the essence and the story.   Add to this a beautiful score, wonderful performances and a brilliant production by Andrew Keates and you have another triumph at the Landor Theatre…
There’s a lot of story for a musical but the book by Nick Stimson and Andrew Keates delivers it with complete clarity (it has to be said - much more than the play!).   I’d know a Goodall score if I heard just a few bars because his music is distinctive and unique with lush, sweeping melodies and glorious harmonies that are simply uplifting, and this is one of his best scores. The unamplified voices deliver it beautifully with just two keyboards and cello accompanying them.  I’m not sure I heard one dud note last night.
As they did with The Hired Man, director Andrew Keates and choreographer Cressida Carre have made great use of the Landor space which doesn’t feel small even with 18 people on it!  The production values are outstanding – Martin Thomas’ design is elegant, with a simple but brilliant transformation between locations, Philippa Batt’s costumes are terrific and Howard Hudson’s lighting bathes the space in warmth.
For once, I am not going to single out one performance in this faultless cast of 18; no-one stands out because everyone stands out. They were clearly loving this show as much as I was. From professional debuts to musical veterans, this is a company any producer would consider a privilege to have.
As a huge Goodall fan, I’ve been a bit over-excited about this premiere, so there was a risk I’d be disappointed.  In the end, it delivered way beyond my expectations and I’ve already booked to go again.  Howard Goodall is Britain’s greatest composer of musicals and here he’s got a production this wonderful show deserves. I’ve run out of superlatives……..you should know by now what you have to do…’
GarethJames Blog, 14 November 2012
‘The first act is just glorious.  This Sicilia is a dark, military world and this is obvious from the off with a magnificent multi-layered opener of goose-pimpling intensity which sets the scene perfectly.  Pete Gallagher’s Leontes and Alastair Brookshaw’s visiting Polixines make a fine pair of kings, all good-natured joshing until Helen Power’s Ekaterina enters the scene to persuade Polixines to extend his visit whereupon the red mist of vicious jealousy descends on Leontes with devastating consequences for all concerned.   Goodall’s swirling melodies and impassioned lyrics are ideally suited to this emotional whirlpool and all three leads excel, backed up by a large but impressive ensemble who bear witness to the tragic consequences of Leontes’ blinkered viewpoint…
… as good a piece of musical theatre as you will see this year and already has me impatient for some kind of cast recording (I might just have to revisit to hear the gorgeous music again).   The strength of the performances from the cast, from the bands and from the creative ensures an enthusiastic sweep through the material which never drags, and I can well imagine future life for this British musical as it is continued to be further developed.   I may not have cried but I certainly applauded.’
ThereOughtToBeClowns (Ian Foster), 13 November 2012
‘Goodall’s quintessentially English sound resonates throughout the production and the care that he has lavished on composing this work is evident…
Like good wine, this show will improve over its run. It’s impressive on the eye, symphonic on the ear and proves that Goodall remains one of Britain’s leading composers.
The Public Reviews (Jonathan Baz), 13 November 2012
‘The last time I reviewed a production where Keates directed Goodall—The Hired Man—I said “Now is the time to get to the Landor” and I think the same thing now.   Andrew Keates has found another excellent cast, in first class vocal form under the musical direction of George Dyer, that gives Goodall’s romantic score and rich harmonies full reign.
The band of four led by George Dyer on piano, Daisy Fancourt, Rohit Nijhawan and the wonderful cello of Stefan Knapik deserve special praise…
Whilst it is Leontes (Pete Gallacher) and Polixenes (Alastair Brooksaw) who hold dominion over their court, the greatest courage lies in Paulina, Ekatarina’s defender, played by Helena Blackman and the feisty Perdita of Abigail Matthews who both give performances full of conviction in this must–see production.
British Theatre Guide (Sandra Giorgetti), 13 November 2012
‘With some slight changes to Shakespeare’s original characters and plot, A Winter’s Tale is a highly enjoyable adaptation that showcases many exceptional vocal talents…
Whilst the play has a large cast of characters and a winding plot, this production never felt rushed or overcomplicated – each character was instantly memorable, and all of the actors made the absolute most of their part…
… I found this a really enjoyable evening’s entertainment, with an incredibly talented cast and brilliantly-crafted music and lyrics.  The message of love providing redemption and hope for the future gave the production an inspiring and uplifting ending. A perfect winter’s tale to brighten up a winter’s evening!
Backstage Pass (Steve Stubbs), 15 November 2012
‘Howard Goodall’s score has much of the forceful spirit of his historical British musical (and last year's Landor hit) The Hired Man…  the talent of the cast and complexity of the music and lyrics are captivating.  With a bit of work to get the book up to speed, this will be a bold, stylish version of The Winter’s Tale.  A must-hear for fans of Goodall’s musical theatre.
Broadwayworld.com (Lucy Thackray), 13 November 2012
‘… a work of two halves, though together they add up to a satisfying and heart-warming whole…
… Goodall and Stimpson have created an incredibly entertaining take on an established tale, and this production makes the perfect way to warm up a winter evening.
Exeunt Magazine (Tracey Sinclair), November 2012
… a sumptuous and emotionally-charged show.
Shakespeare’s “problem play” turns out to be ripe subject matter for musical treatment.  The breadth of emotion and the complete tonal shift between the first and second acts offers plenty of scope of variations in melody and pace, and Goodall takes full advantage.  Where the location shifts from the royal court to the countryside, Goodall’s musical suite evolves from an operatic flavour to rustic melodies that include a highly enjoyable jig about the wonders of sheep.   Piano, played by George Dyer, and cello by Stefan Knapik prove, as always, a perfect marriage.  They unite to form the core instrumentation.  Standouts songs include the electrifying “The Trial Of Queen Ekatarina”, in which the ensemble take part in a frantic courtroom drama, and the spine-tingling “All You Need To Know” that rounds out the action with a cracking showstopper.   As well as crafting decent melodies, Goodall creates songs that resonate, drawing the audience into the world of the story and keeping them there.
A Winter’s Tale is an impressively conceived piece.  Goodall gets to grips with the story straight away and ably conveys mood through music.  With a fairly sizable cast, he establishes characters quickly.   Perhaps most fundamentally of all, the melodies are excellent and the songs memorable, building to exhilarating climaxes through a powerful ensemble…
A Winter’s Tale is a beautiful production, bursting with great songs and pitch perfect performances. The close proximity of the audience to the stage allows it to make an impact from the start. Aided by memorable songs and note-perfect live musicians, it’s a show that boasts considerable talent in every department.’
Entertainment Focus (Greg Jameson), 13 November 2012
'Goodall’s score is remarkable; he has a masterful command of harmony and remains lyrically bold. The opening number "Allies", almost fugue-like in style, is an exceptionally powerful opener, while the lyrical gem "Found On A Beach" has to be up there with Goodall’s best.'
Fourthwall Magazine (Edward Theakston), 18 November 2012