Diary of a theatre addict: Peter Pan Goes Right, the National Lacks Wonder and Funny Girl is very funny

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So Billy Elliot is closing after 11 years — and some 4, cost 600 performances in the West End — on April 9, information pills 2016, illness and no sooner did Andrew Lloyd Webber premiere his latest musical School of Rock in Broadway last Sunday than the very next day he announced it will be coming to the London Palladium next autumn.

I’ve written about the latter here, dubbing Lloyd Webber “the ultimate showman among composers.” The show has marked a significant reversal in Lloyd Webber’s critical fortunes in New York, as I chronicle in the same piece. In the 80s and into the early 90s — Lloyd Webber’s busiest era, creatively speaking, with six major titles opening, from Cats to Sunset Boulevard, with Song & Dance, Starlight Express, The Phantom of the Opera and Aspects of Love in between — the most powerful critic on Broadway was Frank Rich, and it can be safely said he was not a fan.

But even he had to grudgingly admit, in his book Hot Seat which collects the reviews he wrote for the New York Times between 1980 and 1993, exactly the years of Lloyd Webber’s biggest influence — that Cats “was in retrospect the most influential Broadway production of its era, proving that there was a bottomless tourist audience for a show that pushed spectacle over content and that indeed required virtually no knowledge of English to be appreciated, whether by young children or foreign visitors.”
Never mind the idea of spectacle over content; Rich never liked his music, either, declaring in his review of the Song half (Tell Me on a Sunday) in Song & Dance, “As is this composer’s wont, the better songs are reprised so often that one can never be quite sure whether they are here to stay or are simply refusing to leave.”

school-of-rockBut last Monday Ben Brantley, now chief theatre critic of the New York Times, gave School of Rock (pictured left) the paper’s biggest vote of confidence in years. As he writes, “Of course, any show that serves up somber preadolescents springing to joyous life via music of their own making is bound to push buttons, especially if the kids don’t seem to be trying too hard. Me, I melted when two little girls started singing the backup chorus from Lou Reed’s “Walk on the Wild Side” (one of many genial nods to classics). All the children are defined as distinct individuals but without excessive shtick. My personal favorite: the petite, poker-faced Evie Dolan as Katie the bass guitarist.”

billy-elliot-logoMeanwhile, Billy Elliot – the show that helped Elton John to challenge Lloyd Webber’s crown as King of the British Musical — is closing at the Victoria Palace, to make room for the theatre’s long-planned refurbishment. As it is, the theatre has rather forlornly looked isolated in the middle of the massive building project across the road, so it has been an obstacle course to approach. But Billy Elliot (pictured at the top of this feature) is already set to be embarking on its first UK and Ireland tour in February (both will play concurrently for a while), and I would bet my bottom dollar that that tour will end up back in the West End. Having been streamlined for touring — the original production had to excavate the stage in order to accommodate its set — it would now fit more easily into any available theatre.

bugsy-malone-picStill in the musicals corner, the stage version of Bugsy Malone, which re-opened the refurbished Lyric Hammersmith last April, is to return there next June for a 12 week summer season. I wanted to see it again, mainly to enjoy Drew McOnie’s choreography again, during its last run but never got around to it; now I can!

And Sunny Afternoon — which is now onto its second West End cast and in its second year at the West End’s Harold Pinter Theatre — has announced it is to launch a UK national tour, kicking of at Manchester Opera House in August. Finally, the filmed version of the recent Gypsy that starred Imelda Staunton as Momma Rose, is to be broadcast on December 27 on BBC4, as Playbill noticed that the show’s Facebook page had announced. I saw the show four times in the theatre (once at Chichester, and three more at the Savoy); now I can record it and watch it as often as I like!

Cumberbatch Hamlet breaks film box office record
The biggest play news of the week was of the breakthrough success of NT Live’s cinema broadcast of the Benedict Cumbatch Hamlet (pictured left) from the Barbican.  benedict-cumberbatchAccording to a report in The Stage, it has taken nearly £$3m at the U.K cinema box office alone — “more than the Michael Fassbender feature film Macbeth – with £2.93 million in takings compared to Macbeth’s £2.82 million. It also broke the record for largest global NT Live audience to date.”

And The Stage also reveals that, in terms of the secondary ticketing market, it was “was named the seventh most popular ticket for any entertainment or sporting event in 2015. Ticketing website Viagogo revealed the play was more in-demand than the England versus France Six Nations rugby match, though less popular than One Direction’s latest tour.”
So Billy Elliot is closing after 11 years — and some 4, store 600 performances in the West End — on April 9, medications 2016, and no sooner did Andrew Lloyd Webber premiere his latest musical School of Rock in Broadway last Sunday than the very next day he announced it will be coming to the London Palladium next autumn.

I’ve written about the latter here, dubbing Lloyd Webber “the ultimate showman among composers.” The show has marked a significant reversal in Lloyd Webber’s critical fortunes in New York, as I chronicle in the same piece. In the 80s and into the early 90s — Lloyd Webber’s busiest era, creatively speaking, with six major titles opening, from Cats to Sunset Boulevard, with Song & Dance, Starlight Express, The Phantom of the Opera and Aspects of Love in between — the most powerful critic on Broadway was Frank Rich, and it can be safely said he was not a fan.

But even he had to grudgingly admit, in his book Hot Seat which collects the reviews he wrote for the New York Times between 1980 and 1993, exactly the years of Lloyd Webber’s biggest influence — that Cats “was in retrospect the most influential Broadway production of its era, proving that there was a bottomless tourist audience for a show that pushed spectacle over content and that indeed required virtually no knowledge of English to be appreciated, whether by young children or foreign visitors.”

Never mind the idea of spectacle over content; Rich never liked his music, either, declaring in his review of the Song half (Tell Me on a Sunday) in Song & Dance, “As is this composer’s wont, the better songs are reprised so often that one can never be quite sure whether they are here to stay or are simply refusing to leave.”

school-of-rockBut last Monday Ben Brantley, now chief theatre critic of the New York Times, gave School of Rock (pictured left) the paper’s biggest vote of confidence in years. As he writes, “Of course, any show that serves up somber preadolescents springing to joyous life via music of their own making is bound to push buttons, especially if the kids don’t seem to be trying too hard. Me, I melted when two little girls started singing the backup chorus from Lou Reed’s “Walk on the Wild Side” (one of many genial nods to classics). All the children are defined as distinct individuals but without excessive shtick. My personal favorite: the petite, poker-faced Evie Dolan as Katie the bass guitarist.”

billy-elliot-logoMeanwhile, Billy Elliot – the show that helped Elton John to challenge Lloyd Webber’s crown as King of the British Musical — is closing at the Victoria Palace, to make room for the theatre’s long-planned refurbishment. As it is, the theatre has rather forlornly looked isolated in the middle of the massive building project across the road, so it has been an obstacle course to approach. But Billy Elliot (pictured at the top of this feature) is already set to be embarking on its first UK and Ireland tour in February (both will play concurrently for a while), and I would bet my bottom dollar that that tour will end up back in the West End. Having been streamlined for touring — the original production had to excavate the stage in order to accommodate its set — it would now fit more easily into any available theatre.

bugsy-malone-picStill in the musicals corner, the stage version of Bugsy Malone, which re-opened the refurbished Lyric Hammersmith last April, is to return there next June for a 12 week summer season. I wanted to see it again, mainly to enjoy Drew McOnie’s choreography again, during its last run but never got around to it; now I can!

And Sunny Afternoon — which is now onto its second West End cast and in its second year at the West End’s Harold Pinter Theatre — has announced it is to launch a UK national tour, kicking of at Manchester Opera House in August.

Finally, the filmed version of the recent Gypsy that starred Imelda Staunton as Momma Rose, is to be broadcast on December 27 on BBC4, as Playbill noticed that the show’s Facebook page had announced. I saw the show four times in the theatre (once at Chichester, and three more at the Savoy); now I can record it and watch it as often as I like!

Cumberbatch Hamlet breaks film box office record
The biggest play news of the week was of the breakthrough success of NT Live’s cinema broadcast of the Benedict Cumbatch Hamlet (pictured left) from the Barbican.  benedict-cumberbatchAccording to a report in The Stage, it has taken nearly £$3m at the U.K cinema box office alone — “more than the Michael Fassbender feature film Macbeth – with £2.93 million in takings compared to Macbeth’s £2.82 million. It also broke the record for largest global NT Live audience to date.”

And The Stage also reveals that, in terms of the secondary ticketing market, it was “was named the seventh most popular ticket for any entertainment or sporting event in 2015. Ticketing website Viagogo revealed the play was more in-demand than the England versus France Six Nations rugby match, though less popular than One Direction’s latest tour.”
I’ve been consciously taking it easy (or at least easier than I usually do!) over the last week after dislocating my newly replaced hip the week before, viagra approved as I described in a posting here last week  was a bit of a wake-up call — I had actually scheduled some ten shows (including out-of-town trips to Leicester and Leeds) just ten days after coming out hospital the first time; but then had the wake-up call that took me out of commission entirely.

peter-pan-goes-wrongI went back to the theatre last Sunday for a press performance of Peter Pan Goes Wrong at the Apollo, viagra approved and I don’t know if it was the fact that I was back in a theatre for the first time in a week, but the show definitely goes wrong in the right way and left me reeling with happiness, duly reflected here in my five-star review for The Stage.

I know its a cliche to say you were crying with laughter, but I really was. Not to mention surprised that the cast weren’t dislocating their own hips in the process. It also remains a joy to revisit the Apollo, scene of the worst London theatre catastrophe in years almost exactly two years ago (on December 19, 2013) when part of the ceiling collapsed mid-performance, leaving scores of theatregoers injured, some seriously.

But as I wrote here for The Stage, the theatre was not merely in back in service just four months later, but co-owner Nica Burns also presided over “a complete and thorough refurbishment of the theatre that has turned it into one of the West End’s most beautiful.” As I went on to say, “It’s regrettable that it took a major incident for it to finally be restored to something like its former glory. But as Nimax now reinvests funds into its buildings, unlike some other theatre owning chains I could mention, it has been impressive to see a similar makeover done to the Garrick, where Kenneth Branagh has just opened his year-long residency to turn that intimate playhouse back into another West End jewel.”

There’s a metaphor somewhere in there about being repaired and my own physical rehabilitation; both take a bit of time, but are worth it in the end. So, in a slow week by my standards, I only went to two other press nights — reviewing A Christmas Carol in the West End here and wonder.land at the National here.

funny-girl-rear-viewI also had two “me” events — i.e. shows for my own pleasure as well as professional interest. I’d had to cancel going to review the opening of Funny Girl (pictured left) at the Menier Chocolate Factory, so finally caught up with it on Friday night. It had been covered instead for The Stage by my colleague Paul Vale, who noted here,

Sheridan Smith is one of the few actors of her generation with a legion of committed fans garnered from both screen and stage appearances, a fact verified by this run’s complete sell-out within 24 hours of tickets becoming available. Casting Smith is not simply smart business sense, though, as The Legally Blonde and Cilla star is an instinctive comedy actor with the sensitivity and emotional range to pull off the story of this feted comedienne with the tragic private life.

When Sheridan sings “I’m the greatest star,” Fanny Brice’s early desperate cry of self-belief that you can tell she doesn’t quite fully believe in herself, she could be sing her personal autobiography: she has a terrific talent that has to overcome her own insecurity, that she reveals in her extremes of vulnerability and punch onstage. When I tweeted about how heartbreakingly wonderful she is, one follower called @BrightonLock concurred, and added that she’s “so emotional that I just hope she’s keeping something back for herself.”

I hope so, too, and was going to ask her myself this coming week in a big interview I had planned to do with her for The Stage. But alas it is not to be: after initial reassurances that she and her agent were up for it, I was subsequently informed that it had proved impossible for her personal publicist (rather than the theatre’s)  to schedule it, despite numerous to’s and fro’s on my availability. (We have happily filled the space now, so at least there won’t be three blank pages where she should have been).

BigGaySwingSqFinally, I also paid my annual visit to the London Gay Men’s Chorus Christmas show — this year called The Gay Big Swing, which isn’t a show about a sudden embrace of all things bisexual but instead saw the gorgeous chorus joined by the equally marvellous London Gay Big Band (who reached the semi-finals of Britain’s Got Talent last year). Staged at the gigantic Roundhouse in Chalk Farm, it saw the space made feel considerably more intimate with a cabaret room style layout of the stalls with the audience seated at tables. I love this most affirmative and joyous of Christmas music celebrations; a real sense of a community coming together to celebrate more than just the bar and club scene with its emphasis on sex, but sharing something together that’s totally inclusive of everyone — whether gay or not.

Otherwise, I missed a lot more than I saw, including the openings of two out-of-town productions I was looking forward to seeing of Into the Woods (at Manchester’s Royal Exchange, starring Alex Gaumond and Gillian Bevan) and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (at West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds, ahead of a national tour when I can see it instead, and earned a five-star rave from The Independent).

The original London production of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang was the first show I ever reviewed for the Sunday Express in 2002, imitating a run of over 11 years as the paper’s theatre critic — a job I stupidly clung onto as national titles are few and far between, but in fact where one’s influence is next to nil. I am far more usefully employed now as joint lead critic on The Stage, which is actually read by the industry.

I also missed the West End transfer of Martin McDonagh’s Hangmen to Wyndham’s that I was looking forward to re-visiting. I can’t say I was sorry to have missed the revival of Tom Stoppard’s impenetrable spy thriller Haploid (I saw both the original West End production and its subsequent New York premiere) or Wimbledon’s Peter Pan (with Marcus Brigstoke and Flawless, about which my Stage colleague Natasha Tripney wrote here that it contained jokes “so old you could extract DNA from them and open a theme park”), though I’d have liked to have seen Richmond’s Cinderella that has Hayley Mills making her panto debut joining panto veterans Matthew Kelly and his real-life son Matt Rixon playing out the Freudian nightmare of doing a double act as ugly sisters!