Welcome to today’s edition of ShentonSTAGE Daily. I am, starting today, trying out a new weekly feature, in which I review and comment on the week’s headline news and reviews, as well as other more personal landmarks.
Saturday December 31
The New Year’s Honours list included the award of an OBE to Julian Bird, former CEO of SOLT and UK Theatre from 2010-2022, for “services to theatre”
OBE’s also went to ACE’s deputy chief executive for arts and museums Simon Mellor and actor David Harewood — currently in the West End in BEST OF ENEMIES at the Coward Theatre. Harewood was previously made an MBE in 2011.
Sonia Friedman was given a CBE, as was film and theatre composer George Fenton.
Recipients of MBE’s include playwright and screenwriter Rachel De-lahay, founder and director of Bedford Fringe Festival James Pharaoh, executive director of Bradford-based theatre company Mind the Gap Julia Skelton and chief executive and artistic director of South Asian Arts UK Keranjeet Kaur Virdee.
Sunday January 1
The New Year is always about new beginnings; and I made my own one this week by starting with a new personal trainer — a former paratrooper who specialises in back pain.
He was recommended to me by my actor friend Nick Holder (pictured above, with wife Ricky Butt), a man who also began me on a journey nine years ago that healed my emotional life; now he’s helped me find someone to transform my physical being. *I* have to do the work; but I’m forever grateful.
Monday January 2
The late, great Nancy LaMott was possessed of one of the most beautiful voices I’ve ever heard. She died, aged just 43, in 1995. But she will live on forever thanks to a collection of CDs she recorded; and videos of her live appearances, including this one of her singing James Taylor’s The Secret o’life.
Tuesday January 3
- I launched a new monthly feature today with this article on legendary Broadway illustrator Al Hirschfeld.
Peter Land responded on Twitter with this rare picture of his late wife, the director/choreographer Gillian Lynne:
- Farewell to Chicago theatre titan Frank Gelati, who has died, aged 79, of cancer. From 1986 to 2008 he was associate director at the Goodman Theatre, and won Tony Awards for his adaptation of THE GRAPES OF WRATH (named Best Play in 1990, for which he also won the Tony for Best Director). He also directed the original Broadway productions of RAGTIME (1998), SEUSSICAL (2000) and the short-lived THE PIRATE QUEEN (2007). Fellow Chicago director Robert Falls paid tribute to him on Twitter:
Wednesday January 4
- Broadway had its best week since pre-pandemic times, with the 33 shows (22 musicals, 11 plays) running grossing $51.9 million between them.
THE LION KING led the charge, in every sense, grossing $4.3 million last week, which, the New York Times reported, “is the most ever taken in by a show in a single week on Broadway.” 20 other shows also grossed over $1m each (sometimes a lot more than $1m — WICKED took $3,152m, HAMILTON $2,740m, HARRY POTTER AND THE CURSED CHILD $2,671m (a new record for a play on Broadway), FUNNY GIRL $2,405m and MJ $2,223m, The revival of CHICAGO, the longest running American musical in Broadway history, had what the New York Times called “the highest-grossing week in its 26-year history, as well as its highest single-performance gross”, taking $1,299m.
- Moulin Rouge ensemble member and dance captain Jason Leigh Winter managed to get the attention of the Daily Mail when he tweeted this:
Thursday January 5
The Stage, self-styled friend of the theatre industry, has published its annual Stage 100 list of theatre’s most influential people that has traditionally, at least, celebrated the great and good.
In what is a classic bit of click-baiting, this year it has broken with convention and put a villain at the very top of its list: former culture secretary Nadine Dorries (and slavish disciple of former PM Boris Johnson), whose insistence on diverting cultural funding outside London led to ACE cancelling ENO’s funding entirely, unless and until they relocate outside the capital, as well as cancel all funding to the the powerhouses of creativity in London like the Donmar and Hampstead Theatres. Dorries also publicly announced plans to privatise Channel 4 (though this week her successor Michelle Donelan cancelled this, stating, “Channel 4 is a British success story and a linchpin of our booming creative industries. After reviewing the business case and engaging with the relevant sectors I have decided that Channel 4 should not be sold.”
By all means draw attention to Dorries’s negative impact on the industry, but to have her lead this list is akin to endorsing her, too: she’s going to wear it as a badge of honour (and already has, on Twitter here, insisting she was NOT responsible for the ENO decision; in which case, as ENO publicly asked, what did drive it?).
Also making a largely negative impact is the power of the country’s largest theatre owner, ATG, now fully owned by private equity and therefore putting profit before people and art — so it’s hardly a surprise to find their senior executives in second place behind Dorries.
So perhaps THE STAGE 100 list is one you do not want to be at the top of any more…..
Friday January 6
Producer Cameron Mackintosh got his first exultant taste of Broadway success when his West End revue SIDE BY SIDE BY SONDHEIM transferred there in 1977 from the West End, with its original cast of Julie N McKenzie (as Julia McKenzie was redubbed, owing to an American Equity name-clash), Millicent Martin and David Kernan, with director Ned Sherrin as narrator.
It kick-started Mackintosh’s international producing career, and also introduced the name Sondheim into wider popular currency. I was too young to have seen it either in the West End or on Broadway (I didn’t get to the latter first till 1983), but I can safely say that it was listening (again and again and again) to the original London cast recording when I first heard it in 1979 that swung me decidedly into the Sondheim camp (in every sense). I was just 16 at the time, and wouldn’t have understood every nuance — heck, I’m still finding new things to appreciate even now — but Sondheim would come to be the defining creative artist of my lifetime.
So, thank you Cameron, for this gift. And to Julia McKenzie, surely to this day the greatest-ever musical theatre actor Britain has produced, for setting the benchmark on performing Sondheim; you can sample her “Broadway Baby” from FOLLIES in SIDE BY SIDE here.
Julia would go on to star as Sally Durant Plummer in Mackintosh’s West End premiere of FOLLIES In 1987 (you can watch her singing ‘In Buddy’s Eyes’ here), and then direct a sequel to SIDE BY SIDE called PUTTING IT TOGETHER, first at Oxford’s Old Fire Station in 1992 (with a cast that included McKenzie’s FOLLIES co-star Diana RIgg), then at New York’s Manhattan Theatre Club in 1993 (when it marked Julie Andrews’ return to the New York musical theatre stage). Mackintosh would subsequently transfer another production of the revue, directed by Eric Shaeffer with a cast that comprised Carol Burnett, Ruthie Henshall, John Barrowman and Bronson PInchot from LA to Broadway in 1999 (you can watch the cast perform the title song here).
This week Mackintosh revealed to WhatsOnStage’s Alex Wood that he’d been in touch with Sondheim the Sunday before he died — and had a long conversation with him about his final uncompleted musical — based on Luis Buñuel’s film, The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie. Wood reports Mackintosh saying,
“My last conversation with Steve was the Sunday before he died. He asked me to go through the entire score with him on the phone.”
“It was 50 or 60 per cent there. Musically. What was interesting was that Steve had never gone through a full score with me before like that – I think he wanted me to reinforce his view as to whether or not he was going to complete it. Because of the amount of energy it would have taken. I mean he was always looking for excuses not to write! When we went through it I found so many vigorous tunes, but none that he had fully completed. Some moments would go off at tangents – I’d ask him: ‘why don’t you let the music do its thing!’ There was a whole section in the musical that he told me he wanted to be ‘wall-to-wall music’ – like the Follies sequence. But sadly he never got to write that.”
Picture of the week
- Via Instagram:
LOOKING AHEAD TO 2023
My regularly updated feature on shows in London, selected regional theatres and on Broadway is here: http://shentonstage.com/theatre-openings-from-w-c-december-19/
Next week in London sees the delayed press openings for the Donmar’s revival of WATCH ON THE RHINE (on Tuesday) and the Almeida’s revival of A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE (on Thursday), both of which were originally due to open before Christmas but were postponed by illness and a cast change respectively.
I’ve recently updated the Broadway openings scheduled up to and including the transfer of BACK TO THE FUTURE in August. (There are also transfers for Andrew Lloyd Webber’s CINDERELLA — now renamed BAD CINDERELA; LIFE OF PI and Mischief Theatre’s PETER PAN GOES WRONG listed).
The next fully-updated version will be published on January 9.
See you here on Monday..
I will be back on Monday. If you can’t wait that long, I may also be found on Twitter (for the moment) here: https://twitter.com/ShentonStage/ (though not as regularly on weekends)