Welcome to today’s edition of ShentonSTAGE Daily, which is currently being published on a more limited schedule, but will return to a fuller cycle next week.
I’ve taken additional time out owing to ongoing problems with my back, but had another pain blocker injection yesterday afternoon, so this will enable me to move more easily…. at least I hope so, as I have a return trip to New York booked next Thursday, where I have a lot of theatre booked — particularly off-Broadway. (On Broadway, I’m seeing the new Michael Jackson show MJ next Friday, a few days after its official opening next Tuesday, and am also hoping to see THE MUSIC MAN before it opens the following Thursday, February 10).
What good is sitting alone in your room?
Notwithstanding my pain problems, I nonetheless had a trip to London this week — it meant having to take a cab from Angel tube to the Almeida, as I couldn’t manage the short walk, but it was more than worth it to finally catch Rupert Goold’s ferociously brilliant production of SPRING AWAKENING.
This production would, in any other world than the one we’re in right now, be guaranteed to transfer to the West End, but things are very jittery there, with the problems of COVID cancellations and audience confidence knocked by the West End’s total failure to embrace appropriate safety regimes until very recently.
Besides this was always going to be a tough sell anyway; the predominantly young cast means there are no star names (though there are sure to be future stars amongst their number). And the 2009 West End transfer of the original 2006 Broadway version — to the Novello after a try-out run at Lyric Hammersmith — failed at the box office, so it doesn’t set an encouraging precedent.
Yet this is that rare show that genuinely appeals to a younger generation of theatregoer, even if they are not exactly the ones who can afford top West End prices.
But I can’t help feeling that the show’s perfect time has come. We are already in the midst of a glut of shows about high school years, that have stretched from Heathers (still at the Other Palace, on its second run there with a West End season at the Haymarket in-between) and Be More Chill to Dear Evan Hansen and Bring it On (that just ended a run at the Queen Elizabeth Hall) amongst others.
Spring Awakening has easily the best score of any of them; in fact, I’d go as far to say that the songs by Duncan Sheik (music) and Steven Sater (lyrics) make up the best rock-based theatre score since Hair and Jesus Christ Superstar; I’m still longing for another hit of this magnitude from them. The songs are bold, tuneful and wonderfully contemporary (TOTALLY FUCKED is still the perfect moment in the perfect place of just about any song in a modern musical), offset and riffing with a faithful adaptation of Frank Wedekind’s classic play of the same name about burgeoning adolescent sexuality.
And Rupert Goold’s production is both restrained and contained for a director who usually trades in bigger theatrical gestures. Instead, he harnesses both the show’s depth and detail, with a mostly young cast that is spectacularly led by Laurie Knyaston and Amara Okereke as young lovers Melchoir and Wendla respectively (pictured above), and the heartbreaking Stuart Thompson as haunted young Moritz. Also just extraordinary: Mark Lockyer and Catherine Cusack, playing all the adult roles with chameleon-like versatility.
Putting a seal on the wonders of this SPRING AWAKENING is the dynamic choreography of Lynne Page, and the thrilling eight piece band under Jo Cichonska.
SPRING AWAKENING ends its run at the Almeida tomorrow; also ending tomorrow, and which I also only caught this week, is the National’s production of Alice Childress’s TROUBLE IN MIND in the Dorfman (Another of the perks of no longer being compelled to be a first night critic: I can now pick and choose what to see — and when to see it, too).
This evocative 1955 play about racism in the theatre, of which the play itself was victim when changes were demanded for a Broadway transfer which the playwright refused to make, was — finally — produced on Broadway at the end of last year, in a Roundabout Theatre Company production that I also saw.
I connected more with it here in the comparative intimacy of the NT’s Dorfman than at Broadway’s American Airlines Theatre. Part of the added pleasure it gave me here was down to the utterly wonderful Tanya Moodie, as an actress yearning for her time to come; Moodie’s definitely has. She is warm-hearted yet bruising — a performance of raw emotion and calibrated texture. There was lovely work, too, from Daniel Adeosun and Gary Lilburn (above left, with Moodie) as a theatrical newcomer and old-timer respectively; and Rory Keenan as the ambitious white director.
You can find a full list of upcoming London, selected regional and Broadway openings in my regularly updated feature here: http://shentonstage.com/theatre-openings-from-w-c-jan-24-onwards/
I will also highlight new additions in this newsletter.
- NATIONAL LOTTERY’S BIG NIGHT OF MUSICALS. Last weekend’s concert celebration of musicals, held at Manchester’s AO Arena will be broadcast on BBC1 tomorrow (Sat Jan 29, at 7pm. Hosted by Mason Manford, it features appearances by the West End casts of Back to the Future, Dear Evan Hansen (including Olivier winner Sam Tutty), Tina – The Tina Turner Musical, & Juliet (including Keala Settle, who is joining the company from March 29), The Drifters Girl, Get Up, Stand Up! The Bob Marley Musical, The Lion King and Frozen (with the latter two joined by the touring production of Beauty and the Beast), plus appearances from the current touring productions of Waitress, School of Rock and Bat Out of Hell,and the company of the recent Hope Mill Theatre production of The Wiz.
- This Sunday’s sold out 20th anniversary reunion of members of the original production of Boy George’s musical TABOO at the London Palladium has added an extra performance on Monday (January 31). It will feature Boy George himself (who played Leigh Bowery in the show), Julian Clary, John Partridge, Dianne Pilkington and Paul Baker (who won an Olivier award for the original production for his performance as Philip Salon), in aid of the Terrence Higgins Trust and Shelter.
- Holly Stars’ DEATH DROP, a drag murder mystery show that played at the Garrick Theatre in 2020 and 2021 (interrupted by the theatre shutdown in December 2020) is returning for another West End run, to replace Pride and Prejudice (Sort of) at the Criterioin form March 3 to April 24. It wil feature RuPaul’s Drag Race’s Jujubee and Kitty Scott-Claus.
- Ryan Calais Cameron’s For Black Boys Who Have Considered Suicide When The Hue Gets Too Heavy is to transfer to the Royal Court’s Jerwood Theatre Downstairs from March 31 to April 30, with a press night on April 7. Originally conceived by Ryan Calais Cameron in the wake of the killing of Trayvon Martin in 2013, it was one of the first shows to be made at New Diorama Theatre’s revolutionary Post-Lockdown artist recovery hub NDT Broadgate, where Nouveau Riche are an Associate Company. Originally directed by Tristan Fynn-Aiduenu, it first ran at the New Diorama in October/November 2021; it is now directed by the author.
SEE YOU ON MONDAY
See you in your inbox on Monday.. But if you can’t wait that long, you can find me on Twitter @ShentonStage (though not as often on weekends)