Welcome to today’s edition of ShentonSTAGE, which finds me back in London after a week in New York.
Digest of the theatrical week
Starting today, I am going to present a new weekly feature every Monday: a digest of the theatrical week just past, both personal and more wide-reaching, including theatrical announcements of the week and openings of both the week past and the one ahead, plus day-by-day observations.
- MONDAY MARCH 21
Last Sunday (March 20) I caught the final performance of the short Encores! return of Cy Coleman and Ira Gasman’s 1997 Broadway musical THE LIFE, set on the gritty streets of the pre-Disneyfied Times Square itself, which I reported on here last week.
In a lyric from the show, they sing: “One of these days You’ll be one of those People In People Magazine…” Thanks to Bruce Glikas, Broadway’s primary chronicler of backstage and opening night red carpet appearances, Billy Porter — who directed THE LIFE — is himself one of those people in People magazine:
On Monday I attended BROADWAY BY THE YEAR, an annual concert series celebrating the Broadway song catalogue, now in its 21st season, that is held at Town Hall on West 43rd Street. I wrote about it here: http://shentonstage.com/shentonstage-daily-for-tuesday-march-22/
- TUESDAY MARCH 22
On Tuesday, I finally caught up with MJ — the new Michael Jackson jukebox bio musical, that opened at the Neil Simon Theatre on February 1, and wrote about it here last Friday: http://shentonstage.com/shentonstage-daily-for-friday-march-25/ (as well as the shows I saw on Wednesday and Thursday)
- WEDNESDAY MARCH 23
TalkRadio is a station that offers a platform to such “broadcasters” as Julia Hartley-Brewer, but she is at least one step up from Alex Belfield, formerly of YouTube but now banned from that platform and operating instead on his own subscription channel.
It was therefore refreshing to hear TalkRadio’s Mike Graham calling out Belfield in a recent phone-in here — “He’s an idiot, he’s a moron, he shouldn’t just be cancelled on YouTube, he should be taken out and given a good talking to”. When I retweeted the clip, Belfield duly set his attack dogs on me on Twitter, but it amounted to a few abusive tweets from his ‘fans’. Should he see this, he will not doubt try again. The thing about challenging a narcissist’s view of themselves is that they HAVE to kick back. The truth hurts.
- THURSDAY MARCH 24
Tonight is the Broadway opening night for a new production of PLAZA SUITE at the Hudson Theatre, and last Thursday (March 24) I attended a Critics preview of the show; my review will run tomorrow here.
So I won’t comment on the show itself here, except to note that the pair of press tickets I was given had a retail value of $599 each — with booking fees added, the cost would have come to $622 each (tickets are available in the top balcony for $129 each). That’s the price of a return flight to London. No wonder theatre fans sometimes find it cheaper to head here to get their theatre fix (though they’re also fast rising here, as I wrote here about the recent openng of COCK).
Broadway is once again publishing their weekly box office takes that stopped during the initial re-opening of theatres there last September. In a column for Forbes last week of the previous week’s figures, Lee Seymour reported that the current Broadway revival of THE MUSIC MAN, starring Hugh Jackman in the title role, “raked in an eye-popping $3.45 million, out-grossing even Hamilton by a wide margin, and providing welcome buzz for an industry still in recovery after a brutal winter.”
But he puts the figures in perspective: “The average Music Man seat went for $283 a pop, the highest on the strip by about $70. And while that price tag may make your wallet wince, it’s a far cry from pre-pandemic benchmarks. Hamilton seats were averaging $375 in 2019, and Bruce Springsteen still holds the industry record at a staggering $512 per seat for his solo show.”
I look forward to Lee’s reporting once PLAZA SUITE opens….
- FRIDAY MARCH 25
The main reason I scheduled my New York trip for last week was to see Liz Callaway’s new show at 54 Below, “To Steve with Love”, a deeply personal journey through Sondheim’s catalogue which has been a part of her life for 41 years now, since she made her Broadway debut in the original short-lived production of MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG in 1981.
This intimate and revealing personal account of her many more professional connections to Sondheim included playing young Sally to Barbara Cook’s Sally Durant Plummer in the legendary 1985 Lincoln Center concert version of FOLLIES. That’s history right there.
Accompanied by a superlative trio led by musical director Alex Rybeck, who she first met when he was a musical assistant on MERRILY, she was joined by her own 31-year-old son Nicholas for a gorgeous “Move On” from SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE. The show was directed by her husband Dan Foster, with whom I shared a table during the show; he revealed that during the pandemic they were both big fans of my ShenTens podcast series. (I’m pictured with the Callaway Foster family backstage afterwards below)
I hope she brings the show to Crazy Coqs one day, where I last saw her in London; but nearly twenty-five years ago, I was instrumental in bringing her and her sister Ann Hampton Callaway to the Donmar Warehouse as part of the inaugural Divas at the Donmar season in 1998, which I helped to programme.
It occurred to me listening to her last Friday that she is a natural successor to the sublime late, great Nancy LaMott in the clarity and beautiful tone of her singing. And I can’t think of a higher compliment!
- SATURDAY MARCH 26
For the last show of my Broadway trip, I chose BIRTHDAY CANDLES, in previews at Roundabout’s American Airlines Theatre, for a very simple reason: it ran just 90 minutes without an interval, and as I had a 7.50pm flight home from JFK, it meant I could squeeze it in, then jump on the E train to the airport and make it in good time.
It doesn’t open officially till April 10, so I won’t comment further yet, but yes, I did get the airport on time — even with a stalled train on the platform at 42nd Street when I arrived there!
- SUNDAY MARCH 27
Coming back to the UK, this was my view about an hour from landing:
Catching up on some reviews today, I read Lloyd Evans’s review of COCK in The Spectator, in which he also reviews RED PITCH, a new play that was seen at the Bush, and in which he advises: “Mike Bartlett should pop in to see how it’s done.” Perhaps Mr Evans, as a failed playwright himself, should be taking notes too….
Tom Stoppard also offers thoughts to chew on in the Sunday TImes around identity politics and cancellation culture, two of the the biggest touchpoints currently around. As he writes, “From Alice in Wonderland to Nineteen Eighty-Four and until the last Trump, the appropriation of language is the declared bedrock of authoritarianism and there is no mystery about it. … But I’m a libertarian. I don’t want to criminalise every fool who says the moon landing was faked and there were no gas ovens. Reality will take care of them too. But no one, not even Lewis Carroll, saw identity politics coming. Carroll’s Humpty Dumpty has maybe had the last word. ‘When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less,’ he tells Alice. And that includes pronouns. Will reality take care of it now? I doubt I’ll find out but perhaps my children will.
- Announcements of the week
My Twitter feed features announcements of new shows and castings as they are made, and I then incorporate them into my ongoing list of upcoming openings in London, select regional theatres and Broadway.
The most exciting ones last week, for me at least, were the Donmar Warehouse announcement last Monday that it is to offer UK premieres to two Broadway shows, Lucas Hnath’s A DOLL’S HOUSE, PART 2 (June 10-August 6), with the wonderful Noma Dumezweni returning to the London stage for the first time since HARRY POTTER AND THE CURSED CHILD; and DavidYazbek/Itamar Moses Tony award winning musical THE BAND’S VISIT (September 24-December 3), and also the announcement that Call My Agent’s brilliant Camille Cotlin is to join the cast of English National Opera’s new production of THE HANDMAID’S TALE, playing the non-singing role of Professor Piexoto, opening April 8 for 4 performances. I simply adore her!
And I can’t wait either to see Pamela Anderson, joining the Broadway cast of CHICAGO from April 12, pictured in publicity shots here (and above).
- Openings of the week
Last week saw the London openings of a revival of Bruce Norris’s CLYBOURNE PARK at the Park on Monday March 21, a brief season of Ivo van Hove directing Ruth Wilson in Cocteau’s telephone monologue THE HUMAN VOICE at the Pinter Theatre on Tuesday March 22, and the premiere of David Hare’s new play STRAIGHT WHITE LINE starring Ralph Fiennes at the Bridge on Wednesday March 23.
As I was away, I will have to play catch up for at least two of them, though I think I’ll skip THE HUMAN VOICE after the mostly two-star reviews, including from Time Out editor Caroline McGinn, who declared, “This glamorously staged misery monologue starring the wonderful Ruth Wilson [pictured above] got a full-throated standing ovation on opening night, but it left me totally cold…. I have a massive crush on Ruth Wilson and would happily watch this twice Olivier Award-winning actress read a shopping list. But Ivo van Hove’s weird, monochrome production of a weird, monochrome play, cuts her off from the audience behind a massive glass picture window, literally boxing her in so it’s very tough to make an emotional connection. It looked like an incredible acting masterclass might have been happening behind the glass but I just wasn’t feeling any of it.”
By contrast, Bruce Norris’s CLYBOURNE PARK — which received its premiere at London’s Royal Court in 2010 ahead of a separate Broadway production in 2012, when it won the Tony Award for Best Play, looks essential viewing in its revival at the Park: according to Nick Curtis in a four-star review for the Evening Standard, “This exquisitely discomfiting riff on race and property by US writer Bruce Norris won the Evening Standard Best Play Award in 2010 and Oliver Kaderbhai’s punchy revival proves it’s become more, not less, relevant since then.” The cast includes Imogen Stubbs, Richard Lintern, Andrew Langtree, and stage newcomers Eric Underwood and Aliyah Odoffin (pictured above).
David Hare’s new play STRAIGHT LINE CRAZY earned a five-star rave from Mark Lawson in The Guardian, in which he concludes: “This is Hare’s most dramatically gripping and politically thoughtful play since The Absence of War three decades ago and provides another acting triumph for [Ralph] Fiennes which, in scenes where the urban monarch broods and rages over maps of his American kingdom, is a preview of the King Lear that is surely soon to come.”
But not everyone is enamoured: for Andrzej Lukowki in a three-star review for Time Out, its “the best David Hare play in an age, by some distance. It needs to be said, though, that for all its essential effectiveness – helped by Fiennes’s powerhouse performance – it’s still pretty clunky. It heavily leans on improbably expository dialogues, it’s extremely static, and the other characters are all so minor beyond Moses – many of them are fictional – that they might as well have just been called Person A, Person B, etc. Where playwrights like Pinter or Churchill refined and distilled their craft in later years, Hare writes dialogue with less subtlety and ambition than he did 30 years ago.”
- Openings in the Week Ahead
This week sees the Broadway openings of PLAZA SUITE tonight (my review will apear tomorrow), and the new musical PARADISE SQUARE on Sunday. London has the arrival of TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD from Broadway (at the Gielgud on Thursday), as well as a new play THE FEVER SYNDROME (at Hampstead tonight, starring Robert Lindsay) and a cast change at & JULIET tomorrow sees Keala Settle — best known for her starring role in the film musical The Greatest Showman — making her West End debut, taking over as Nurse, at the Shaftesbury. There is a media night next week for the latter, so I will be re-reviewing it then. This week also sees the opening of DIARY OF A SOMEBODY at the Seven Dials Playhouse on Wednesday, which I’ll be reviewing here on Thursday.
For full details of upcoming openings in London, at selected regional theatres and on Broadway, visit http://shentonstage.com/theatre-openings-from-w-c-march-28-onwards/
SEE YOU ON WEDNESDAY
If you can’t wait that long, I can also be found regularly on Twitter here: https://twitter.com/ShentonStage/.