ShentonSTAGE Daily for MONDAY JUNE 13

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Welcome to today’s edition of ShentonSTAGE Daily.

BRITISH EXPORTS TO BROADWAY WIN BIG TONY’S

At last night’s Tony Awards — the 75th year of the annual ceremony — the London-originated productions of THE LEHMAN TRILOGY and Sondheim’s COMPANY were named Best Play and Best Revival of Musical respectively, with the directors of both (Sam Mendes and Marianne Elliott) named Best Director of a Play and Musical respectively, as well as stars Simon Russell Beale (below) and Patti LuPone respectively winning Leading Actor in a Play and Featured Actress in a Musical.

Lehman won additional honours for Jon Clark’s lighting of a play and Es Devlin’s scenic designs of a play, taking its tally to five, while Company won the same number of awards, with Tony’s also won by Bunny Christie for scenic design of a play and Matt Doyle for best featured actor in a musical.

The other big headline wins were for A STRANGE LOOP, named Best Musical and also winning Best book of a musical for Michael R. Jackson, but those two wins were out of 11 nominations, so it was a relatively modest haul; TAKE ME OUT, named Best Revival of a Play, also saw co-star Jesse Tyler Ferguson named Best Featured Actor in a Play; while Myles Frost and Joaquina Kalukango were named Best Leading Actor and Actress in a Musical for their work respectively in MJ and PARADISE SQUARE, with MJ also winning Tony’s for Christopher Wheeldon’s choreography, and Gareth Owen’s sound and Natasha Katz’s lighting. 

The much-heralded British import SIX won co-writers Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss the Tony for best score, and Gabriella Slade won for best costume design of a musical. Another British winner was Simon Hale for best orchestrations for GIRL FROM THE NORTH COUNTRY. 

The biggest upset in terms of British wins was Sharon D Clarke failing to secure the Tony for CAROLINE, OR CHANGE, though she will assuredly have another shot at Tony glory next season when she reprises her performance as Linda Loman in DEATH OF A SALESMAN when the Young Vic originated show transfers to Broadway. 

OPENINGS OF THE WEEK

This week sees London openings for a revival of August Wilson’s JITNEY, transferring to the Old Vic on Wednesday in a production that originated at Leeds Playhouse in 2021 in a co-production with Headlong, the London premiere of Lucas Hnath’s 2017 Broadway play A DOLL’S HOUSE PART TWO (opening at the Donmar on Thursday), and Kathryn Hunter returning to the title role of KING LEAR at the Globe (opening on Friday), which she previously played at that address in 19 years ago).

Then there’s the opening of THAT IS NOT WHO I AM  by “Dave Davidson’, as the theatre billed the playwright in its original announcement, who has now been revealed to not be who they claimed they were, but the long-established playwright Lucy Kirkwood.

The theatre world had been suckered in with a giant prank — which originated with a “exclusive’ granted to TIME OUT in April.

As TIME OUT wrote at the time,

“When the Royal Court Theatre reached out with the offer of an exclusive show announcement, we jumped at the chance, sight unseen. After all, the main house programming of London’s foremost new-writing theatre – which has given us the likes of John Osborne, Caryl Churchill and Jez Butterworth – is always worth paying attention to. Then it all got a bit weird: we were sworn to secrecy and told that the next main house play at the Royal Court would be THAT IS NOT WHO I AM, by one Dave Davidson, a man we’ve literally never heard of, whose entire biog is ‘he has worked in the security industry for 38 years’, and who is ‘highly security conscious’, meaning he won’t allow anybody to photograph him (how accurate the blurry supplied image is we don’t know).”

Either TIME OUT were also duped — or even more damagingly, complicit in allowing themselves to be the channel for this supposed intrigue. Because if that’s the case, why believe in ANY of their scoops in the future ever again?

Is this a case of utterly mismanaged and inappropriate messaging, raising false hopes amongst unknown writers that they, too, could suddenly be ‘discovered’ by London’s one-time premiere new writing venue (though it has long ago lost the premiere part of that billing)?

This is a debacle entirely of the theatre’s own making, and is now going to entirely overshadow this week’s opening that was due to take place on Thursday, but for which reviews have now been embargoed not to appear till Sunday at 00.01, so as to avoid the clash with the Donmar opening also on Thursday. As well as everything else, the Royal Court seems incapable of organising a press night, too, without crashing into one previously booked by another company.

Not only is it very strange indeed for a new writing theatre — where the playwright is supposedly paramount — to disavow its actual writer in this way. Especially one who is grown up enough to own her own work (though I assume she was in on this bad faith ‘joke’) And after the theatre’s catastrophic mishandling of issues that arose in the naming of characters in its production of RARE EARTH METTLE — which it itself concluded in a report “fell short of [its] own high ambitions in terms of inclusivity and anti-racism”, what is going on there? Is anyone actually in charge?

After that previous incident, artistic director Vicki Featherstone wrote, “We are very grateful to the many individuals, charities and organisations that have been open to conversations with us to ensure that these events lead to meaningful, long-lasting change and understanding. I am hopeful we can build trust with all the artists and communities we work with whose stories need to be told.”

And now it has just shattered the trust of the press and its audience all over again by duping us on the authorship of its new play

MORE OPENINGS

As ever, you can find an updated list to upcoming shows in London, selected regional theatres and on Broadway in my regular feature here:  http://shentonstage.com/theatre-openings-from-w-c-june-13-onwards/

FAREWELL TO CINDERELLA

Last week I wrote here of reivisting Andrew Lloyd Webber’s CINDERELLA one more time before it closed yesterday. And it turned out, the show did go gracefully, but with a final burst of serious rancour in the ranks. Director Laurence Connor read the cast and audience a missive from Lloyd Webber in which he referred to the opening of the show during the midst of the COVID crisis as “a costly mistake”, which Variety reported was met with boos from the audience.

Lloyd Webber is adept at scoring his own goals, but this one adds a final insult to injury that is not going to win him more fans.

WEEKEND PLEASURES

Last night I was at the Gielgud Theatre, for (some of) the last night of Barry Humphries presenting his utterly spellbinding solo trip down memory lane THE MAN BEHIND THE MASK. A bit like a Ken Dodd show, he does go on a bit — so I had to bow out early to catch my last train home, but I really didn’t want it to end either. Next time I’m booking a hotel!

I’ve been seeing — and loving him — for over 40 years now, ’ve been seeing Barry Humphries live for over 40 years now — from the Piccadilly to the London Palladium, Theatre Royal Drury Lane to the Strand (now the Novell) and Theatre Royal, Haymarket, plus Broadway. When I was a student at Cambridge in the early 80s, I also saw Dame Edna appearing at the Cambridge Union; Humphries has always been adept at bringing his creation to the heart of the establishment (and in two priceless video clips last night, he reminded us of Edna’s prescience as a celebrity interviewer, when she asked both Donald Trump and Boris Johnson in 80s tv appearances if they would ever run for Presidential or Prime Ministerial office). 

In 2019, I interviewed him —when he was doing a show with fellow Melbourne-born performer Meow Meow at the Barbican Centre, for LondonTheatre — and he was both hilarious and ruthlessly honest. In a bit I didn’t use in the actual piece, we spoke of his originally coming to England in the early 60s. “I came here when I was just getting to be a bit known in Australia; I thought if I get to be too well known, I will be too comfortable and will never leave. I came and faced devastating obscurity, for three years, until I got into Oliver! in the West End.”

Musicals had been part of his DNA growing up in Melbourne: “My mother would take me to matinees and sit in the front row and comment loudly on what we were seeing. Her favourite phrase was to say, ‘isn’t it pathetic at his age’. So today if I see a woman with a hat and glove sitting in the row talking to a schoolboy, I know what she is saying!”

During his run as Fagin, one of the boys playing the Artful Dodger was Phil Collins, he remembers. “Now he looks older than I do!”

The night before I was at the London Palladium, seeing another iconic performer Michael Ball. A couple of weeks shy of his 60th birthday, he remains at the top of his game: an old-school leading man of musicals who made a pop cross-over and now sprinkles his repertoire with self-penned country, pop covers and an inevitable couple of belters from Les Miz.

The last time I saw him here at this theatre he was starring as Caractacus Potts in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang in 2002 — coincidentally, the first show I ever reviewed for the Sunday Express, for which I was theatre critic for the next 11 years! So seeing Michael here brought me full circle, in a way.

And on Saturday afternoon, I was at the Royal Albert Hall to see its current short residency of Matthew Bourne’s re-imagined, expanded production of THE CAR MAN (pictured above from my box seat). There isn’t a venue in London with a more powerful sense of occasion (without pomposity) than the Albert Hall, and no one  who has done more to popularise contemporary narrative dance than Bourne, who tweeted in response to mine about the venue:

SEE YOU ON WEDNESDAY

I’ll be back here on Wednesday. Meanwhile, you can find me on Twitter here: https://twitter.com/ShentonStage/ (though not as regularly on weekends).

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