David Benedict on theatre

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The Independent Culture
Andrew Lloyd Webber longs to be taken seriously. Alas, the powers that be won't play ball, although the reviews for his latest show, By Jeeves, should have cheered him up. Meantime, he's hard at work on his next show, that little-known Hollywood property, A Star is Born. Picture that publicity machine wheezing back to life as successive casts throw up yet more names poised for "overnight" stardom.

The man charged with injecting life into the production, aka the director, is Steven Pimlott, something of a specialist in large-scale music theatre with Carmen at Earl's Court, Sunday in the Park with George at the National and the recent smash revival of Joseph... to his credit.

He also had the dubious pleasure of opening Dennis Marks's regime at ENO. As you would expect with his theatre credentials, his 1994 production of La boheme was no canary-fanciers' night out. His production genuinely qualifies as theatre, and watching the revival is a real pleasure and not just for opera-lovers. Pimlott's fingerprints are all over it, partly thanks to his regular collaborators. Hugh Vanstone's sharply etched sculptural lighting creates interiors and exteriors from Tobias Hoheisel's single set, which moves from a chilly loft in the 1950s to the action-packed cafe.

It is the latter which really shows off the strengths of the production (below). Alive with detail, helped by a punchy Jeremy Sams translation, it is a tremendously animated crowd scene from start to finish. For once, there is none of that ghastly generalised chorus acting. Among the (excellent) principals, Roberto Salvatori as Marcello and Rebecca Caine as Musetta run away with the evening, not just through powerfully focused singing, but their vibrant characterisations. Together with Alex Ingram's marvellous conducting, it's a great night out.

ENO, London WC2 (0171-632 8300)

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