A diary of addiction: five star nights at The Sound of Music and Sweeney Todd, and Talking About Critics

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I’m obviously slackening off: in the three weeks I’ve kept this online diary now, I’ve seen 10 shows, 7 shows and 6 shows respectively. And — shock horror — looking at my diary for the week ahead, I’ve actually got two nights that are (so far) unplanned!

But it’s really rather good to keep some flexibility in my diary; although parts of it inevitably fill up several months in advance, it’s always good to have a spare night or two in there to accommodate a surprise, a recommendation, something I want to see again, or simply to have a night off! (BETTE_MIDLERLast night we stayed in and caught up on some long-ago recorded telly, including the sorrowful end of the brilliant Russell T Davies series Cucumber, and the joyous Bette Midler ITV Christmas special (pictured left)— at 69 years old, she’s still as dauntless and outrageous and stunning as ever!)

In the last week, I’ve been on formal reviewing duty for two big revivals of shows I’ve seen many, many times before: The Sound of Music and Sweeney Todd, originally premiered on Broadway exactly twenty years apart (in 1959 and 1979 respectively), but a musical world apart. The Sound of Music is this year celebrating the 50th anniversary of its even more celebrated film version’s release, which has made this one of the world’s most popular and enduring musicals of all time (only lately eclipsed by the even bigger film success of Mamma Mia!).

But seeing it these days is often a trial; the drenching of sentiment, those endless chanting nuns and its corny celebrations of lonely goatherds and whiskers on kittens, even though Julie Andrews is sheer enchantment as Maria. Seeing a delightfully fresh (and beautifully designed) new touring stage production, pictured below, at Wimbledon on Monday, however, was to be reminded of why the show simply works when delivered in safe hands. (See my review for The Stage here) Sound_MusicAs I also commented in my review, “We’re never too far away from an R&H production – there’s also a current UK tour for Oklahoma!, Opera North is reviving its production of Carousel soon and a big Broadway revival of The King and I is about to open – but this tremendous staging will hold its own in the best company.”

We’re equally never far from a revival of Sweeney Todd either. Hot on the heels of the ‘pie shop’ production that originated at a real-life pie shop in Tooting last year and has now transferred to a meticulous recreation of it on Shaftesbury Avenue, a much, much bigger version first seen at Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall last year has been revived at the London Coliseum, with its New York stars Bryn Terfel and Emma Thompson (pictured below) reprising their roles as Sweeney and Mrs Lovett respectively, also joined again by the glorious Philip Quast as Judge Turpin who also starred in New York. (sweeney-toddI reviewed this one for The Stage, too, and as I point out, you can’t really compare it to the pie shop version. I can only say you really need to see both!)

I’ve also reviewed two new plays: the RSC’s transfer of Oppenheimer to the West End’s Vaudeville Theatre and the premiere of journalist-turned-playwright Jonathan Maitland’s Dead Sheep at the Park; and tonight I’m seeing a revival of Godspell at Hackney Empire which I’ll review on The Stage website tomorrow.

I also saw (but didn’t review) an entirely delightful kids show, The Velvetine Rabbit, at Southwark’s Unicorn Theatre, in which a toy bunny comes to life for a young boy, and was thrilled to see an audience of parents and very young kids melt in its warm presence, just as I was brushing away my own tears.

It was also a week in which I spoke quite a bit about the act of criticism itself. On Monday, I was interviewed by James Lawrence for his Actor’s Podcast series (which you can listen to here), and yesterday, I took part in Winchester Theatre Royal’s excellent Young Critics’ programme in which they are seeking to develop a new generation of young writers (you can read my speech here)

As for the week ahead, I’m seeing two evenings of new musicals — the Landor’s series Songs from the Playground development programme on Monday which is showcasing the work of  Rebecca Applin this week, with a cast that includes Cassidy Janson, Stewart Clarke and Victoria Serra; and Apartment 40C, a new musical that was premiered at Fulham’s London Theatre Workshop but I missed there and am now happy to be catching at the St James Studio instead on Wednesday afternoon.

Also in the new music stakes, English National Opera are premiering a brand-new opera Between Worlds between-worlds(image left, inspired by the events of 9/11) that I’ll be seeing at the Barbican Theatre on Saturday; while elsewhere I am also catching a couple of revivals. I’ll also be at Greenwich Theatre on Thursday for the new tour of the off-Broadway musical Thrill Me that I last saw at the Tristan Bates Theatre  in 2011, and I’m seeing the Imelda Staunton Gypsy transfer to the Savoy Theatre on Saturday afternoon, ahead its formal opening there on April 15 which I’ll miss as I’m heading to New York a week tomorrow — straight after going to the Oliviers next Sunday at the Royal Opera House.

What’s going to win? In this week’s Stage, out on Thursday, I’ll be handicapping my own choices; and on Friday afternoon, Terri Paddock and I will be joining the Curtain Up Show on Resonance FM, being broadcast live from Shaftesbury Avenue’s Theatre Cafe, to talk about the Oliviers as well.

See you on and off the Avenue and the airwaves!