Diary of a theatre addict: 6 shows in London, 2 more in NYC, plus a car breakdown in middle lane during a tube strike

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addictI’ve just arrived in New York yesterday, with another busy week ahead that encompasses 6 shows, 3 big interviews and a wedding! One of the interviews has even forced me to change my return flight this Friday from the morning day flight to the evening overnight flight, but it is with Andrew Lloyd Webber, so worth making the change.

The other two interviews are with Alex Sharp, the British-born but American-trained actor who graduated from Julliard only last year but beat Bradley Cooper, Bill Nighy and Ben Miles to this year’s Tony for Best Actor for the Broadway production of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time (which I’m going to revisit here on Tuesday); and Michael Feinstein, the great singer and archivist of popular song who has invited me up to his house on the Upper East Side.

I’ve met and/or interviewed Lloyd Webber and Feinstein each many times in the past, but never here in New York — where the former will premiere his new musical School of Rock in December (his first show since Jesus Christ Superstar 44 years ago to debut on Broadway instead of the West End),  while the latter is bringing his latest Big Band show to the Adelphi in September.

kristin-chenoweth-and-andy-karlThere are times, it has to be said, when I know just how lucky and privileged I am to be doing what I do as a job. But I also find time for pleasure, too, and this afternoon I’m re-visiting (for the third time) the current Broadway revival of On the Twentieth Century starring Kristin Chenoweth (pictured above with Andy Karl), one of my all-time Favourite Musicals (it was in my final Top 10 of in my series for The Stage of my fifty favourite musicals of all time).

And on Friday afternoon, I saw the musical that occupies my top slot in that list — Guys and Dolls, in a spirited and engaging student production at Guildhall School of Music. No, the vocals weren’t always pristine enough, but every single time I see this show I marvel anew at the utter perfection of its writing: the melodic warmth that melts over you, and the intricate wit of the lyrics that are unsurpassed (even by Sondheim) in modern musical theatre. (Is there a fuller — or filthier — image around than this one about falling in love: “Ask me how do I feel, ask me now that we’re fondly caressing/ Hell, if I were a salad I know I’d be splashing my dressing”)

KNOX-AlexOne of the great joys of Guildhall productions is that, being a music school as well as an acting one, the orchestra is one of the best I’ve heard in a musical in ages, featuring 23 players under professional maestro Michael Haslam. The other stand-out performances in the show come from Alexander Knox’s Nicely-Nicely Johnson (pictured left, and how nice to see a Nicely-Nicely who isn’t portly for a change!) and Luke Dale’s Sky Masterson. (Also fun to spot in the chorus someone called Marina Bye – Ruby Wax’s daughter!)

I also saw a couple of cabarets this week in London: the return of Ann Hampton Callaway and Liz Callaway in Sibling Revelry, 17 years on from when they first did it at the Donmar Warehouse (which I reviewed here), and the glorious and gorgeous Sally Ann Triplett (whom I wrote about here).

Also on the work front I reviewed the brilliant UK premiere of Orson’s Shadow at Southwark Playhouse (see review here), and went in early to see both The Mentalists (that opens tomorrow at Wyndham’s) and What’s It All About? at the Menier (opening Wednesday), both of which I’ll be reviewing for The Stage this week. (On my last trip to NYC at the beginning of June, I also interviewed the latter’s creator Kyle Riabko for a feature here)

Matthew_TennysonBut it was not all work and no play – at least one of the plays wasn’t work at all, but just me catching up. On Thursday afternoon I braved the tube strike and awful traffic to drive to Regent’s Park to see the matinee of The Seagull (Matthew Tennyson pictured left, who played Konstantin), a favourite play of mine re-imagined here in a stunningly designed production complete with an onstage lake on which two of the more minor characters took a skinny dip. It was hot enough day to wish I could join them.

If getting there wasn’t easy, getting home was even harder: my car’s alternator chose to shut down when I was in the middle of three lanes of gridlocked traffic on Gower Street just south of Bedford Square. Fortunately my husband was with me, so he pushed the car to the left hand lane — and then he waited for the RAC to turn up while I continued on foot from Bloomsbury to the Menier for my evening show!  That meant I got some walking in, but I also found myself having to stop off en route at the National to buy a fresh tee-shirt from the bookshop there so I wouldn’t be sitting in a sweat-soaked shirt all evening….