Welcome to today’s edition of ShentonSTAGE Daily, where — after returning from Edinburgh where the one-man show is king (or queen, or non-binary) I saw two one-person shows in London on consecutive days as well.
Last Thursday I was at the opening night for Gary Barlow’s solo West End debut show A DIFFERENT STAGE — also the title of his recently-published autobiography — at the Duke of York’s (pictured above). He offers a polished canter through his Take That years, the pop-supergroup’s split and his subsequent bouts with depression, binge-eating and bulimia, before their triumphant re-formation (minus Robbie Williams) that saw them performing at the closing ceremony of the 2012 Olympics, and a subsequent tour that saw them shrink further to a threesome.
We’ve already had an “unofficial” TAKE THAT jukebox show — the eminently forgettable NEVER FORGET in 2007 — and a fully-endorsed one,THE BAND in 2017, in which the members of Take That were billed as co-producers. But now we’ve something even better: the original frontman Gary Barlow telling his own story in his own words (with a little help from Tim Firth, who collaborated on both the West End score for THE GIRLS with him, and on structuring THE BAND).
Though there’s an awful lot of narrative exposition instead of songs, Barlow is a warm, engaging and effortless narrator. And when he sings, that great voice once again resonates around the theatre. I’ve recently seen another great singer-songwriter Barry Manilow — who is now 79 — in concert at The O2; Barlow, who is a mere 51, is in much better vocal (and physical) shape, despite the lapses he describes so honestly, as well as movingly, when he talks about the stillbirth of his daughter: a life event that frames the show and puts everything into perspective for him.
The day after I see the show and tweet about it, Barlow sends me a direct message on Twitter to thank me; a lovely surprise. (The only other comparable pop icon to acknowledge me in the same way was a call I received from David Essex, the day after an interview I did with him ran, to thank me!) It’s pure class when this happens, as it is not exactly necessary. But Barlow and Essex don’t take any of this for granted. It is what makes them special.
DIVA — LIVE FROM HELL!, a macabre musical about revenge in a Florida high school musical drama club, is like GLEE-meets-CARRIE. Originally premiered at Off-Broadway’s Theater for the New City, it now comes to London’s Turbine Theatre. It has a wittily knowing script that references everything from Bob Fosse’s scrotum sweat (yes, really) to Howard Sherman (yes, really, REALLY — formerly executive director of the American Theatre Wing but now an obscure New York arts journalist and campaigner) and Jackie Hoffman (a very niche New York actor). There’s even a snatch of Kevin Kline in ON THE TWENTIETH CENTURY. (No wonder I loved it!)
Joe McNeice’s inventive production, set in a hellish nightclub, keeps the action moving swiftly; this could be another HEDWIG, with camper references. And it features a ferocious performance from Luke Bayer, in which he singlehandedly plays the entire cast! A tour-de-force! (Performances have now been extended another week, to September 10).
CRAZY FOR CRAZY FOR YOU….
Yesterday I was back at Chichester Festival Theatre for the final performance (for now, I hope) of CRAZY FOR YOU. (Here’s what I wrote after the first night in July). The show is so full of infectious joy, a transfer must be more or less guaranteed! (But it will have to wait till after Charlie Stemp finishes his stint in MARY POPPINS in January, which producer Cameron Mackintosh gave him a hiatus from to return to Chichester, where of course his stardom was launched in HALF A SIXPENCE that Mackintosh subsequently transferred to the Noel Coward).
CRAZY FOR YOU had its original run at the Prince Edward Theatre. It could return there when MARY POPPINS exits.
A full roaring standing ovation for CRAZY FOR YOU — both at the interval and the finale — puts the seal on a blissful afternoon. Charlie Stemp’s nonchalant charm — and his utterly effortless moves — are entrancing, but the entire company is thrilling. Who could ask for anything more, indeed!
SEE YOU ON THURSDAY
I’ll be back here on Thursday. If you can’t wait that long, I may also be found on Twitter here: https://twitter.com/ShentonStage/ (though not as regularly on weekends)