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 Post subject: Simply Heavenly
PostPosted: Wed Mar 19, 2003 7:18 am 
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Simply Heavenly
By Michael Billington for The Guardian


What strikes one most about this Harlem musical by Langston Hughes and David Martin is its guileless innocence. Although set in 1957, when Governor Faubus of Arkansas sent in state troops to deny black children admission to Little Rock High School, the only reference to national events comes in a newspaper headline. For the most part, the inhabitants of Paddy's Bar are content to sing their troubles away.

You could excuse Hughes's detachment from current events in that he based the show on a 1953 collection of stories about his popular black hero, Jesse B Semple, a comic Everyman who suffers the daily frustrations of his race. But the emphasis, in a show clearly designed for Broadway, is less on Jesse's sudden sacking from an industrial plant than on his emotional problems. Yearning for a divorce from his estranged wife, he longs to marry the good-hearted, church-going Joyce. The problem is that he is constantly drawn to Harlem's Paddy's Bar where he is ceaselessly vamped by the fun-loving Zarita.

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Simply irresistible
Charles Spencer in Th Daily Telegraph reviews Simply Heaven at the Young Vic.


Occasionally you run into people who announce, rather smugly, that they don't like musicals. For them, tune-and-toe shows represent everything that is vulgar, sentimental and brashly profit-driven in theatre. There's not much you can do for such deluded saps, but I've always thought that saying you don't like musicals is a bit like saying that you don't like sunshine, or love, or laughter. Indeed, my addiction to the genre is now so chronic that I even take a perverse pleasure in the flops as well as hits.

Make no mistake, though - Simply Heavenly is a terrific show, flawed certainly and a bit verbose but receiving a production at the Young Vic that sends you out into the night floating euphorically on cloud nine.

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<small>[ 29 March 2003, 04:28 AM: Message edited by: Stuart Sweeney ]</small>


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 Post subject: Re: Simply Heavenly
PostPosted: Sun Mar 23, 2003 1:52 am 
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Location: London, England; Tallinn, Estonia
Harlem showstoppers
Simply Heavenly has enough oomph and chutzpah to restore anyone's faith in the musical. By Susannah Clapp for The Observer

It couldn't have a better title. Simply Heavenly is enough to restore anyone's faith in musical theatre. Josette Bushell-Mingo's production teems with life and with the most expressive music on the London stage.

Langston Hughes, 'the Poet Laureate of the Negro people', based the book and lyrics of this 1957 musical comedy on stories he'd written for a newspaper column featuring a plain-speaking fellow who, along with a shifting group of black workers, hung around a Harlem bar.

The bar is boldly realised in Rob Howell's design; it allows people to sneak into its corners and different voices to sound off. The music of this show - blues, jazz, gospel - is wired into particular internal experiences.

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 Post subject: Re: Simply Heavenly
PostPosted: Sat Mar 29, 2003 3:28 am 
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Location: London, England; Tallinn, Estonia
The blues for real
By Rhoda Koenig for The Independent

In this musical set in a Harlem bar in the Fifties, Rhashan Stone has the lead role of Jesse B Semple ("Simple" to his friends), a good-natured factory worker whose wages seem to keep slipping through his fingers. It's no criticism of the immensely likable Stone, however, to say that one comes away from Simply Heavenly with a stronger impression of two lesser but more emphatic characters.

As Mamie, the maid who prides herself on her independence, Ruby Turner blasts with almost atomic force a follower who is not discouraged by such rebuffs as "Git outa mah face!" The suitor is Clive Rowe's Watermelon Joe, who remains confident that she will realise he is as sweet as his produce.

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"Simply Heavenly"
By Kate Bassett for The Independent

By comparison, Simply Heavenly is a joy. This jazz musical about Harlem in the 1950s was adapted by the Afro-American novelist Langston Hughes from his story, Simple Takes a Wife. A guy called Jesse (gangly Rashan Stone) struggles to make ends meet and can't decide if he wants to settle down or party with his liquor-loving pals. Josette Bushell-Mingo's revival winningly combines a gritty look with slick and buoyant performances.

We become intimate with the regulars at Hopkins' bar because, designed by Rob Howell, it thrusts into the audience with its old cane chairs and worn floor-boards. Instead of a lavish orchestra, we get one upright piano and a wandering guitarist strumming the blues.

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