ShentonSTAGE Daily for THUR FEBRUARY 17

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Welcome to today’s edition of ShentonSTAGE.

The price of fame — and the toxic effects on those who seek it

Mark Borkowski — celebrity PR handler and stunt publicist extraordinaire — wrote a piece in The Guardian on Tuesday that spoke of the poisoned chalice of celebrity and those dangers of chasing fame — especially phoney celebrity, of the sort so brilliantly celebrated in the musical CHICAGO, where fame is more to do with notoriety than genuine achievement.
 As he writes,

“Experiencing fame without talent is to exist on the constant precipice of anonymity. In desperation to claw themselves away from this cliff edge and into the deceitful comfort of the limelight, celebrities will willingly sacrifice their principles and even their dignity. Some effectively donate their personal lives to the tabloid and celebrity media, some stoop to humiliating depths by agreeing to be part of whatever tawdry novelty sideshow will continue their exposure, and somehow others will spout whatever hateful opinion or item of fake news a loyal sect of the internet will laud them for.”

Louis Theroux’s new series FORBIDDEN AMERICA that started airing on the BBC on Sunday shows the toxic politicization of “fame” that has led from Trump to even more outlandish corners of far-right internet “celebrities” that enables its stars to reach wide audiences online. 

And of course this has, inevitably, spread to UK. There’s one particularly toxic individual, whom I shall not further promote by naming him here, who previously existed on the fringes of the theatre scene but has since embraced a much bigger audience (and an alleged 330,000 followers on YouTube, until they recently banned him) by promoting right-wing propaganda. He is currently on bail, before a Crown Court trial scheduled for later this summer, on stalking charges.

He is very, very thin-skinned: he has made numerous videos attacking me about me after I called him out for his behaviour. (The videos are clearly designed as a wolf whistle to his followers to attack me; but after the last one, I got a couple of abusive tweets and one email, so apparently his reach isn’t as big as he claims it to be). He intimidates and bullies by threatening legal action against anyone who challenges him; and then, of course, claims that he is the one being bullied!

He does have a kind of fame of his own now, which of course is all a narcissist craves. (It’s no coincidence that he has joined forces with Katie Hopkins, and will be doing a live show in Blackpool in May).

I am not “famous” (or even infamous!), but I am regularly recognised, in theatrical circles at least, by people I don’t necessarily know. Sometimes this is satisfying — as when the maitre d’ of the Delaunay seems to know me by name when I arrive, or a follower engages me in conversation at the theatre or on the streets (which has happened everywhere from London and New York to Provincetown); and I’ve forged some very good friendships as a result.  But I am also uncomfortably aware sometimes that my behaviour is being watched and scrutinised when I’m in public; one theatre blogger actually posted a photograph of me on twitter in Regent’s Park in the summer of 2020, and claimed that I ‘happened’ to be in the picture when one was being taken of him!

Another person on twitter, responding to my calls for mask wearing in theatres, last summer asked if I always wore one myself; I replied that I did. He then cited a first night at the Prince of Wales Theatre where he said he saw I wasn’t wearing one in the interval. I remembered the night clearly; I was alone in the middle of a row, everyone else around me had gone out, and I bought an ice cream. I had removed my mask to eat it.

But it made me realise: if this is what happens to me, what must it be like to be a REAL celebrity, having one’s every move monitored and minuted? It must be a kind of madness.

SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER STRUTS AND SIZZLES AGAIN

London already has a stage version of one hit dance movie Dirty Dancing back at the Dominion (until April 16); last night saw the return of another film-to-stage adaptation Saturday Night Fever open at the Peacock (running to March 26).

I must confess that I played a small part in it being there at all; in March 2020, just before the first lockdown, I was invited to a rehearsal run of this production that was being prepared for a European tour, after a British date at Bromley’s Churchill Theatre. I immediately thought that the Peacock — run by Sadler’s Wells as its West End outpost — would be the perfect home, as it specialises in dance-based shows; and said so to producer Bill Kenwright.

I also saw it at Bromley, but then the German tour was cancelled as theatres shut down across Europe and the world.

So as theatres are now back in business, it is particularly gratifying not just that SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER has been happily resuscitated, but that my idea has reached fruition and it is indeed playing at the Peacock. It is the perfect for this hybrid dance show/film-to-stage jukebox show, set to a great Bee Gees soundtrack. 

And Kenwright, who is also directing the production, with choreography by the resourceful Bill Deamer who proves as adept to putting his own spin on 70s disco as he was to classic vaudeville and burlesque tropes in the National’s 2017 revival of Follies, brings both a sense of the familiar and beloved to it, but also makes it fresh and properly dramatically motivated, too.
Most of the songs are presentational accompaniment to the show’s dance numbers, and Kenwright’s production has three superb covers for the Bee Gees (Jake Byrom, James Hudson and Oliver Thomson) singing the numbers live on a balcony above the action; but there are at least four occasions when the songs are fully integrated into the action, as in a conventional musical.

Jasmin Colangelo’s Annette (pictured above with the Bee Gees) gives a heartfelt rendition of “If I Can’t Have You”. as the wannabee object of Tony Manero’s affections who spurns her; and Kevin O’Dwyer’s Bobby C, the young Catholic man who has managed to get his girlfriend pregnant, pressages a more haunting narrative in “Tragedy”. Most striking of all, Olivia Fines as Tony’s dance partner Stephanie proves that as well as legs that only the floor stops from going on forever also has a powerful voice in “What Kind of Fool”. 

Theirs are all poignant break-out stories from the dancing; but that is ultimately the inevitable highlight of the show, with Richard Winsor’s Tony offering a thrusting combination of retro charms that even includes sporting real chest hair!  (His onstage change of clothes, when he strips to his underwear, gets whoops of approval from the audience).

Winsor was a lead dancer in Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures, and like Adam Cooper who also went on to star in musicals, is a star presence in his own right. He makes the show dazzle with star quality.   

THE MUSIC MAN ON BROADWAY

I’ve already written here on the media circus that surrounded last Thursday’s opening of THE MUSIC MAN on Broadway and how critics were held back from reviewing it until that night; I also quoted extracts from some of their reviews.

I have just joined Musical Theatre Review, a brilliant site devoted to all things musical, and have filed my own full review of the show for them here.

As I write, “Broadway loves Hugh Jackman unashamedly, as he soaks up the attention with a knowing gleam in his eye, a twinkling spring in his step, and a gleaming smile never far from his lips. He’s quite clearly as delighted to be on Broadway again as much as the audience is to see him there. (And they sure are paying for the privilege: though there are day seats available for those prepared to queue early for $45, tickets are on sale through the box office at an eye-watering $600 for premium seats).

The gratification has also been serially delayed – originally due to open in 2020, it was of course postponed by the Covid pandemic when Broadway was shut down entirely for some 18 months, and has itself been beset by problems during its extended preview period that began in mid-December amidst the surge in the Omicron variant. Both Jackman and his co-star Sutton Foster tested positive for the virus so a number of performances were cancelled.

Has it been worth waiting for after all that time? Yes and no. Only a complete curmudgeon would not get a lot of pleasure from this production and admire the epic sweep of Jerry Zaks’ fiercely well-drilled and lavish production.”

To read the rest, click here: https://musicaltheatrereview.com/the-music-man-winter-garden-theatre-new-york/

SEE YOU TOMORROW

You can also find regular updates on ShentonSTAGE LIVE, a rolling theatre blog that appears on my website, updated throughout the day as necessary, to reflect news updates and other observations and commentary as they occur. The landing page for this is here: http://shentonstage.com/shentonstage-live/
I can also be found regularly on Twitter,  https://twitter.com/ShentonStage/

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