You’re not going to find any pantos on my top ten list this season — I’ve just not been to any at all this year, thanks to my double round of surgery for a hip replacement, then displacement.
But here are some shows to provide seasonal pleasures in London and beyond that I’m happily see again (and again) — and some of which I *am* already seeing again within the next couple of weeks!
1. The Rocky Horror Show. This year the film version of Richard O’Brien’s cult musical incredibly celebrated its 40th anniversary since it was first released, two years after its stage premiere at the Royal Court’s Theatre Upstairs back in 1973. And this week I’m heading to Brighton to see the launch of its latest UK tour, running now at the Theatre Royal to January 2, with tour dates already booked through August. Up to May 28, the cast will be led by West End regular Liam Tamne (above) as Frank ‘N’ Further, with S Club 7 member Paul Catttermole as Eddie/Dr Scott, Emmersdale’s Ben Freeman as Brad, former X Factor finalist Diane Vickers as Janet, and Kristian Lavercombe as Riff Raff. Website: http://rockyhorror.co.uk/home
2. Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. I’ve been a fan of the stage musical version of the film, featuring a jukebox score of pop favourites, ever since I saw its original production in Sydney a few years ago ahead of its subsequent West End (and then Broadway) transfer. Now it is on the UK touring road, and I’ll be catching up with it in Edinburgh next week at the Playhouse, where the cast includes Jason Donovan (pictured left, reprising his West End performance as Tick; at other tour dates, he alternates in the role with Duncan James and Darren Day), Simon Green and Adam Bailey. Website: http://www.priscillathemusical.com/uk-tour/tickets/
3. Mr Foote’s Other Leg. I’m looking forward to re-visiting the West End transfer of Ian Kelly’s marvellous theatrical play at the Haymarket this coming Thursday afternoon (December 24), which I previously saw and reviewed at its Hampstead Theatre premiere here for London Theatre Guide. It should feel very at home at the Haymarket, where it is running to January 23, as it is partly set there! Simon Russell Beale, Dervla Kirwan and Joseph Millson reprise their performances from Hampstead. Website: http://www.mrfootesotherleg.com/
4. The Lorax. Entirely delightful, but also thoughtful, stage version of the Dr Seuss allegorical story of human greed vs the environment is the Old Vic’s first Christmas family show under Matthew Warchus as artistic director. Michael Billington has called it the best family show since Matilda in a five-star review for The Guardian. My review for The Stage is here. Website: http://www.oldvictheatre.com/whats-on/2015/the-lorax
5. Legally Blonde – the Musical. Upstairs at the Gatehouse offer their latest Christmas show, a revival of the 2007 Broadway musical version of the 2001 film, and it’s the best production I’ve yet seen there — and made me reappraise the show, too! It features newcomer Abbie Chambers (pictured right) in the title role, which made a musical theatre star of Sheridan Smith (currently headlining in another title role in Funny Girl at the Menier). Website: http://www.upstairsatthegatehouse.com/legallyblond
6. Les Liaisons Dangereuses. Not exactly festive fare, this grimly gripping portrait of human manipulation and sexual game playing casts a dark spell, superbly played by Janet McTeer and Dominic West, at the Donmar Warehouse. My review for London Theatre Guide is here. Webiste: http://www.donmarwarehouse.com/whats-on/donmar-warehouse/on-now/2015/les-liaisons-dangereuses. It will also be broadcast live to cinemas in the UK and elsewhere in partnership with NT Live on Jan. 28
7. Peter Pan Goes Wrong. Never mind the slew of panto versions of JM Barrie’s story usually available at this time of year, including one at Wimbledon starring Marcus Brigstocke; the one to see is Mischief Theatre’s version that defiantly insists it is not a pantomime. But it is a farce — and a riotous one — in which, instead of Peter Pan’s traditional declaration that to die would be an awfully big adventure, it is more of an awfully big misadventure. It’s a cliche to say you were crying with laughter, but I really was. My review for The Stage is here. Website: http://www.theplaythatgoeswrong.com/peter-pan-goes-wrong
8. Bend it Like Beckham. My favourite new musical of the year — Howard Goodall’s glorious music soars in this stage version of the 2002 film, booking at the Phoenix Theatre to March 5. My review for The Stage is here. Website: http://benditlikebeckhamthemusical.co.uk/
9. Close to You. Joyful concert revue of Burt Bacharach classics, mashed up and re-made for now, now extended at the Criterion to Feb. 14. Co-created by and starring Kyle Riabko, pictured in the air, right. My review for The Stage is here. Website: http://closetoyoulondon.com/
10. In the Heights. Lin-Manuel Miranda’s 2008 Tony winning Broadway musical returns to London in the exhilarating production first seen at Southwark Playhouse last year, and now at the new Olivier-eligible King’s Cross Theatre, where it is currently booking to April 10. See my review for The Stage is here. Website: http://intheheightslondon.com/
BROADWAY’S LATEST FIDDLER ON THE ROOF OPENS
During previews, the revival of Fiddler on the Roof has ignited some controversy for its new framing device that director Barlett Sher introduced, featuring a bareheaded Tevye (played by Danny Burstein, pictured above) in modern clothing at the show’s opening, and at the end, “an inescapable visual nod to the current global refugee crisis”, as the New York Times put it in a preview feature.
Lyricist Sheldon Harnick, the last surviving member of the original creative team, had a right of veto. He was, he told the New York Times, ultimately persuaded to allow it, saying: “To my surprise, it had an extraordinary reaction from a significant part of the audience that finds it very moving,” he said in an interview. “They’ve written letters to the producer, they’ve told the cast, they express great emotion.”
The controversy, suggests Alisa Solomon, who has written a cultural history of the show, is quoted saying, “People generally have deep attachments to musicals, and to how they remember them, but Fiddler has that quality more than any musical that’s ever existed, because of the force it had, particularly for Jewish Americans, in the middle of the 20th century. In some ways, there is more flexibility for Jews regarding Jewish ritual itself than there is with Fiddler on the Roof.”
Reviewing its December 20 opening, Charles Isherwood draws out this production’s contemporary relevance and resonances in the New York Times:
The sorry state of the world gives us new reason to appreciate the depth of feeling so powerfully, so ingeniously embedded in Fiddler on the Roof… that has returned to Broadway at a time when its story of the gradual disintegration of a family, and a community, strikes home with unusual force…. This multihued staging moves to a heart-stopping conclusion. It’s impossible to watch the people of Tevye’s town, Anatevka, marching toward their unknown destinies in the shadow of a threatened pogrom without thinking of the thousands of families fleeing violence in the Middle East and elsewhere today….
The buildings of Anatevka sometimes hover above the stage, and as the production progresses they grow smaller; we seem to see them from a greater distance. By the climactic tableau they have disappeared entirely. All we see are people in transit, carrying the few possessions they can bring with them, moving with a weary but steady gait into an unknown future, an image that might have been taken from the front page of a newspaper on almost any day this year.
In Time Out New York, David Cote also draws eloquent modern parallels: “Modern love struggles with ancient custom, as disaster looms in the wings. In the end, as Anatevka’s denizens are seen leaving in silhouette—and Burstein’s man in a red coat returns to take his place with them—you may glimpse a darker angle on tradition. It’s not just the sacred rituals that hold families and villages together: The global, human tradition is this: Exile, displacement, homelessness.”
CHRISTMAS (THEMED) MUSICALS RETURN (BRIEFLY)?
A pair of Christmas musicals have returned to New York for short Christmas seasons — Annie and Elf. And reviewed side-by-side, their current NY homes are part of the charm (or lack thereof) of each. In the New York Times, Alexis Soloski writes:
“I think I’m gonna like it here.”
You could hardly blame that little scamp Annie for gushing. The refurbished Kings Theater in Brooklyn is a very nice place for a touring company of Annie to park itself for the holidays. An evening spent in these lavish Art Deco environs, where hardly a surface goes uncarved or ungilded, might make you sympathize with the tour of Elf: The Musical, now braving a winter engagement in the sterile confines of the Theater at Madison Square Garden.
Most of us, of course, don’t choose a holiday entertainment based on architecture.
But then she goes on to say of Annie,
The production gets a boost from its surroundings. Kings Theater is, depending on your architectural preferences, a triumph or a disaster of neo-Baroque style. But it boasts terrific sightlines and decent acoustics. It contrasts meaningfully with the scenes set amid tenements and hobo encampments, and is perhaps the only setting that could make Warbucks’s Fifth Avenue palace appear understated.
The environs of Madison Square Garden lend less to Elf, which seemed a little lost onstage, its sets flimsy, its good cheer not quite infectious.
She lets two “pretween” girls in the audience have the last word in her section on Elf, whom she overhears in the interval.
“Well, no one goes upside-down like in Mary Poppins,” one complained.
“Or in ‘Spider-Man,’” sighed the other. “That was a great show.”
NEWS & VIDEO OF THE WEEK: SPRING AWAKENING, FINDING NEVERLAND, AND FAREWELLS
- The cast of the current Broadway revival of Spring Awakening, being presented by a mixture of hearing and deaf actors in Deaf West Theatre’s production, have released a hilarious video: https://youtu.be/dAGSCi9JMHI
- Finding Neverland will soon have its original principals back in place — but not for long: Playbill reports that Kelsey Grammar, who originated the role of Captain Hook, returns to the company Jan. 15 — before Matthew Morrison departs Jan. 24. I will happen to be in NYC from January 16 for a week —- maybe I’ll put it on my list for a return visit.
- Paying tribute to those who died in 2015: Playbill have done a round-up of some of those we’ve lost in the last 12 months. They include playwrights Brian Friel and Frank D Gilroy (a Pulitzer winner for The Subject was Roses), actors like our own Roger Rees (the original Nicholas Nickleby for the RSC, who appeared in his final Broadway role this year in The Visit, pictured left, but which he left early when he fell ill), Ron Moody (the original Fagin on stage and film in Oliver!), Geraldine McEwan and Keith Michell, as well as Theodore Bikel (the original Captain von Trapp in the Broadway premiere of The Sound of Music), Dean Jones (the original Broadway Bobby from Sondheim’s Company), 21-year-old Kyle Jean-Baptiste (who died after falling from a fire escape soon after he’d become the youngest actor to play Jean Valjean in the current Broadway Les Miserables), directors Robin Phillips and Gene Saks (a regular collaborator of Neil Simon’s) and stage and cabaret veteran Julie Wilson.