Welcome to today’s edition of ShentonSTAGE Daily that is e-mailed to subscribers every morning, and is also available online here.
First of all, apologies that I was missing-in-action yesterday. I was in London — and at a hotel without desk space in the rooms, so unable to write. (And the dog ate my homework, too). So no, that’s not the entirety of my excuse. But sometimes I need to take a break, too. There may be days when the newsletter fails to materialize!
My trips to London — and beyond — from my new country base in West Sussex occasionally take their toll…. Yesterday I was additionally travelling on from London to Liverpool, where I am now, so I’m keeping myself busy…..
NO ONE MOURNS THE WICKED (BUT WE CAME TO CELEBRATE IT)
On Tuesday evening I was at the Apollo Victoria for the 15th anniversary performance of the original opening of WICKED there.
I was also at the opening night there back in 2006, and I’d also seen it early on its original Broadway run in 2003 (where it has also recently resumed performances at the Gershwin Theatre).
The anniversary event was not just a celebration of the show’s success, but even more of live theatre’s return. As Glinda says, “It’s good to see me, isn’t it? No need to respond. That was rhetorical.” And yes, it WAS good to see Glinda and Elpheba live again! As the show’s composer Stephen Schwartz put it in a curtain call speech, he used to take live theatre for granted! (He’s pictured third from the left below, as green ticker tape engulfed the front stalls).
So did I. But its irreplaceability is affirmed by seeing this wizard of a musical firing on all cylinders.
The current companywas as good as I’ve ever seen it — with the luxury casting of Sophie Eans (returning to the show as maternity cover for Glinda),the ever-glorious Kim Ismay as Madame Morrible and delightful Alistair Brammer as Fiyero. The star turn, though, is inevitably Laura Pick’s Elphaba. The green-hued ‘witch’ has become one of the signature roles for young leading ladies, and Pick is, er, of the pick of the bunch (of the many) I’ve seen!
Schwartz’s soaring melodies — and Elphaba’s soaring appearance on a levitating broomstick at the Act One finale — have seldom looked or sounded better. But more importantly, after the Trump years in America and the 18 months we’ve all just had, the show’s message of not “othering” others could not be more timely or relevant.
Communities need to come together, and friendship is the key to our happiness. Sitting in the Apollo Victoria, amongst friends like my old friend actor Clive Carter — a Wicked veteran himself — coincidentally to my immediate right, was a reminder of how wonderful and rich the theatre community is.
Schwartz, meanwhile, has a number of other anniversaries coming up. This year marks the 30th anniversary of the West End world premiere of Children of Eden, his Old Testament musical co-written with its original director John Caird, and this Sunday evening I’ll be at a concert celebration of that show at Cadogan Hall.
I’ll also be at the penultimate performance of the revival of Pippin that afternoon at Charing Cross Theatre, a production I’ve already seen four times; next year marks the 50th anniversary of its Broadway premiere. And this November Godspell celebrates the 50th anniversary of its London transfer to the Roundhouse, before moving to the West End’s Wyndham’s.
BEAUTY AND THE BEAST IS MORE BEAUTY THAN BEAST
Then last night I was at the grand old Liverpool Empire — though it could do with sprucing up a bit (and discovering that the gents loo signposted from the front of the left hand side of the front stalls as actually up two and a half flights at the front circle level of the theatre was a little annoying, given my current mobility issues).
Disney’s new touring version of Beauty and the Beast — the first of its film-to-stage titles that originally premiered on Broadway back in 1994 at the Palace Theatre, before moving to the Lunt-Fontanne and transferring to London’s Dominion — has been gloriously re-imagined and restored, even if Liverpool Empire where it received its national press night last night is looking so tired.
The production is full of sparkle, with an act one finale of “Be Our Guest” that’s like a giant bauble of a Follies revue number come to 3D life. It’s not the only time the stage show actually tops the animation in sheer spectacle; but it is also populated by real actors, not drawings, that lend it actual heart and genuine sex appeal. Which is saying something for a Disney show!
The show is now both directed and choreographed by its original Broadway choreographer Matt West after the departure of original director Rob Roth (previously known as Robert Jess Roth) after the revelations of a leaked communication with recently cancelled producer Scott Rudin in which Roth mocked Broadway actor Karen Olivo; bizarrely, it was seen by a fellow traveller aboard an aeroplane that Roth was travelling on, who managed to transcribe it; it included a remark suggesting that Rudin Rudin be awarded an “honorary Tony Award for somehow getting that horrible woman to quit acting…God bless you Scott for your service to American theatre.”
Meanwhile, this West End-ready company is led by Emmanuel Kojo (pictured below in rehearsal) as a big-voiced Beast (if Andrew Lloyd Webber is looking for a new Phantom, he’s the man!) and Grace Swaby (standing in on press night for the indisposed Courtney Stapleton as Belle).
It was wonderful to have such West End veterans as Gavin Lee, legend Nigel Richards (a one-time West End Phantom) and Martin Ball in support as Lumiere, Cogsworth & Maurice, plus (pictured below) wonderful Sam Bailey as Mrs Potts and dashing Tom Senior as the preeningly vain Gaston.
NO TIME TO DIE, BUT A GOOD TIME TO RETURN TO THE THEATRE
Today sees the general release, at last, of the much-delayed No Time To Die, the 25th Bond film, and actor Daniel Craig’s fifth and final outing as the character, since debuting as Bond in Casino Royale in 2006.
Like so many of our best actors, Craig began his acting career on the London stage, where I variously saw him at the National (in Declan Donnellan’s production of Angels in America) and the Royal Court (in Caryl Churchill’s A Number, opposite Michael Gambon).
Now resident in New York, I’ve also seen him appearing on Broadway in A Steady Rain (opposite Hugh Jackman, pictured above) in 2009, whose producers included Bond producer Barbara Broccoli, and with his wife Rachel Weisz in Pinter’s Betrayal (in 2013, produced by the aforementioned Scott Rudin).
In 2016, I also saw him play Iago (opposite David Oyelowo’s Othello) at Off-Broadway’s New York Theatre Workshop, directed by Sam Gold. Now he will reunite with Gold to star as Macbeth in a new production at Broadway’s Lyceum Theatre from March 29, opening April 28, for a 15-week run, with Brocoli again producing and co-starring Ruth Negga as Lady M.
TODAY’S THEATRE BIRTHDAYS