Happy birthday to musical theatre royalty

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A Dreamgirl making her dreams come true

No sooner did I declare Cynthia Erivo yesterday to be number two in my list of current UK musical theatre actresses in my round-up for The Stage than yesterday it was also announced that she’s at to reprise the shattering performance she gave in The Color Purple at the Menier Chocolate Factory in the summer of 2013 when John Doyle’s production transfers to Broadway, treatment drug beginning performances at the Bernard Jacobs Theatre on November 9 prior to an official opening on December 3.

The New York Times’s chief theatre critic Ben Brantley saw it at the Menier and has already anointed it a revival to see, saying,

In one of this summer’s most surprising marriages, John Doyle has made an honest musical out of The Color Purple. This minimalist director’s take on the stage adaptation of Alice Walker’s novel is so lithe and muscular that at first it’s hard to detect even remnants of the big, bloated show that The Color Purple once was.

He also dubbed Erivo as “wonderful”.

I can’t wait to see it again there, especially since she is co-starring with the amazing Jennifer Hudson (an Oscar winner for Dreamgirls) as Shug (a role taken in London by the also-wonderful Nicola Hughes, pictured below with Erivo).

For her part, Erivo told the New York Times yesterday,

I’m completely over the moon. Part of me is still in disbelief, and the other part of me is completely ready for the challenge, and another part is bubbling over for joy.

cynthia-nicolaAnd so am I. Fans can get a chance to see her before she heads to Boadway in a series of concerts with songwriter Scott Alan at the St James’s Studio from May 4-6; Scott is also doing a one nighter on May 3 in the St James mainhouse.

And if you want to see just how breathtaking she is, here she is just a week ago performing the big song from Dreamgirls “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” in her debut solo concert at King’s Place. Sonia Friedman was reported last week to have signed the rights to bring that show to the UK at last; she’s found her Effie right here, right now.

Saddle Up the Horse without Delay: On the Twentieth Century earns raves on Broadway

On Sunday a revival of one of my most favourite musicals ever On the Twentieth Century opened on Broadway; I managed to see it twice over the week before when I was in town, once on a ticket I bought, and a second time on a press preview.

OTTCAnd it is was worth it, twice over, particularly for Kristin Chenoweth’s Lily Garland and a really spirited star turn from 83-year-old Mary Louise Wilson as Mrs Primrose (Chenoweth is seated left, and WIlson is seated right in the adjoining picture). I’ve been a really big fan of Wilson’s for years, ever since I saw off-Broadway in a one-woman play called Full Gallop in 1996, and in subsequent Broadway appearances in revivals of Cabaret and The Women, as well as a great musical called Grey Gardens that is yet to cross the Atlantic.

But Chenoweth I have viewed with a lot more guarded pleasure. Yes, she can sing — her coloratura soprano is quite something. She is, however, prone to over-(re)acting. However, as Ben Brantley pointed out in his review in the New York Times,

In the theater, there is overacting, which is common and painful to watch. Then there’s over-the-moon acting, which is rare and occupies its own special cloud land in heaven. I am delighted to report that this latter art is being practiced in altitudinous-high style at the American Airlines Theater, where Kristin Chenoweth and Peter Gallagher are surfing the stratosphere in On the Twentieth Century.

And in theatre reviewing, there is hyperbole and there is reportage. I’m afraid Ben indulges in a little bit of the former in pretending to offer the latter when he also says of Chenoweth that “she uses Lily’s histrionics to create one of the most virtuosic portraits in song ever on Broadway.” Ever? How can one critic possibly say that, unless he’s lived forever and seen everything?

Every Brilliant Thing is coming home and it’s brilliant

I was also delighted to receive news yesterday that Jonny Donahoe is bringing the play Every Brilliant Thing, that he performs and co-wrote with Duncan Macmillan, home to the UK after its current Off-Broadway run at the Barrow Street Theatre ends on March 29. I managed to miss it first time around when it played the UK, but caught its New York opening night in December, and went again there earlier this month. every_brilliant_thing

It’s a hauntingly beautiful, intensely personal piece about a child trying to help his mother deal with depression, which becomes a project that lists 1m reasons to stay alive! Full tour dates are here.
Tomorrow (March 22) Stephen Sondheim turns 85 — and Andrew Lloyd Webber turns 67.

It’s one of musical theatre’s great coincidences that the two giants of musical theatre of the second half to the last century share the same birthday.

They’re also both irrepressibly active still. sondheimSondheim recently told The Times in an interview that he’s in the midst of writing All Together Now with playwright David Ives, viagra 60mg based on two Luis Buñuel films, try The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie and The Exterminating Angel, and said it’s “coming along slowly.  If I’m lucky I’ll finish it. I don’t see it as my final piece, but there can’t be that many left. It takes a long time to write them.”

In the same interview, he also addressed the long-gossiped about subject of a sex dungeon in the basement of his Manhattan home:

There is no basis of truth in it whatsoever. It bothers me. What it represents is people trying to put me down and trash me. It’s like saying, ‘So and so’s a drunk’, ‘Who does he think he is?’ If you go downstairs there’s a washing machine and a boiler. There’s one great thing down there and that’s a cedar closet with all my original manuscripts in it.

And today I’m of to see the “pie shop” Sweeney Todd again, transposed from Tooting to Shaftesbury Avenue; and on Tuesday week (March 30), I’ll also be at the opening of another production of the show at the London Coliseum, inaugurating ENO’s new partnership with Grade/Linnit to bring musicals there, with an all-star cast that’s led by Bryn Terfel (reprising a role he’s previously played in London at the Royal Festival Hall) and Emma Thompson and also featuring the welcome return to London of three-time Olivier winner Philip Quast, who’s been living back in his native Australia for the last few years. (Phil will be appearing not once but twice in London this year; in June, he returns in Sydney Theatre Company’s production of Waiting for Godot to the Barbican).

This photograph is (C) ITV Plc and can only be reproduced for editorial purposes directly in connection with the programme or event mentioned above, or ITV plc. Once made available by ITV plc Picture Desk, this photograph can be reproduced once only up unMeanwhile Lloyd Webber is readying his next musical School of Rock, which will premiere on Broadway in December — the first of his shows since Jesus Christ Superstar to open there ahead of the West End (Whistle Down the Wind was also supposed to open on Broadway before coming to London, but its first production was aborted after a Washington DC try-out and a different production opened in London instead).

I’ve never seen the 2003 Richard Linklater film on which School of Rock is based, but the title worries me a little: I absent-mindedly just typed Rock of Ages into google when I was looking up the show. The comparison doesn’t bear thinking about…..