Welcome to today’s edition of ShentonSTAGE Daily that is e-mailed to subscribers every morning (to subscribe, send message to ShentonStageMailingList@gmail.com), and is also available online here.
Apologies for its absence yesterday — I’m on a mini-theatre jaunt to the Midlands, and waking up in a wet, chilly Birmingham yesterday — before heading on to a wet, chilly Leicester today — I didn’t have the time to write.
But I’m catching up today!
THE RETURN OF THE PLAY WHAT I WROTE
I was in Birmingham on Monday for the opening night of a Christmas run for THE PLAY WHAT I WROTE at Birmingham Rep, prior to a national tour, directed by Sean Foley (now artistic director there), who of course co-wrote and originally starred in this delightful comedy revue.
Part affectionate tribute show to Morecambe and Wise, part affecting portrait of a blundering effort of overreach to make theatrical magic by a hapless pair of aspiring but underachieving comics (joined by a mate from the pub, and a nightly conscripted guest star), it succeeds triumphantly at both.
On opening night in Birmingham, that guest was theatre actor turned movie superstar Tom Hiddleston (pictured below, right), which sets the bar pretty high for future appearances. But of course it is part of the producing masterstroke of the show: you never know who you’ll get. (He proves to be a fantastic sport — and there are new jokes written around him. When he sets out his credentials by indignantly having to inform them, “I did The Night Manager”, the reply is: Really? Did his wife know?”)
And talking of producing: the show is also a riotous vanity project for its original commissioning commercial producer David Pugh, who took it from the West End to Broadway, and here pops up as a frequent character in the show itself. No one is spared the indignities of the show, yet it is always, at root, extremely warm-hearted and generous about the act and art of theatremaking itself.
A CHORUS LINE REVIVED AND REINVIGORATED
My second Midlands show was also a show about putting on a show: A CHORUS LINE, Broadway’s greatest love letter to itself, in which a window is shone into the painful and poignant process by which a troupe of 18 finalists are put through their paces before a demanding director as to who gets one of the eight coveted places in the chorus line-up for his newest show.
I have loved this show since I was a teenager and first discovered its gorgeous Marvin Hamlisch score on the cast album in my native South Africa; when my family moved to London in 1979, it was the first show I saw in the West End, on the final matinee of its run at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane.
I subsequently saw the original Broadway production at its original Broadway home, the Shubert, on my first trip to New York in 1983, where it had by then become the longest running musical in Broadway history — a title it would lose in turn to Cats and now The Phantom of the Opera. I’ve also seen more recent revivals both on Broadway and in the West End, both of which recreated the original Michael Bennett/Bob Avian choreography and the original designs of Robin Wagner.
Finally unblocked (in every sense) from that original landmark staging, director Nikolai Foster, choreographer Ellen Kane, designer Grace Smart, lighting designer Howard Hudson and orchestrator David Shrubsole pay tribute to the original frequently, but freshen it up completely in revelatory ways.
Though Foster can’t resist his recent penchant for incorporating the use of live video, it really works to add layers and angles to the back stories being told; and Howard Hudson’s impressive lighting grids seem to be given their own intricate choreography that offsets the harsh black box and mirrors set.
Best of all, a rich ensemble — augmented by unpaid local actors from Curve’s Young Ensemble — deliver deeply moving performances; especially LIzzy-Rose Esin-Kelly’s Diana Morales (pictured below), who delivers the musical highlights with her fierce, funny ‘Nothing’ and the heartbreaker ‘What I For Love’, while Ainsely Hall Ricketts’s monologue as Paul is the dramatic high point.
There’s also committed work from Adam Cooper (himself a dancer turned choreographer) as the bullying director Zach, Carly Mercedes Dyer as his bullied former partner Cassie attempting a comeback, and glorious Emily Barnett-Salter as the forever-sassy Sheila. But there isn’t a weak link in the company.
And the new orchestrations, played by an onstage band led by Tamara Saringer on keys, who are revealed inside a scaffolding platform that is turned away from us for most of the show, set Marvin Hamlisch’s score on fire.
This is easily the best show I’ve seen at Curve since it offered the UK premiere of THE LIGHT IN THE PIAZZA; and it was lovely, for once, to see the reveal of the backstage and auditorium from the corridors after the show (done for all shows here) actually add to the layered experience.
MOULIN ROUGE CANCELS ENTIRE WEEK
I wrote here on Monday of Moulin Rouge cancelling performances, including tonight’s press night; Yesterday, the rest of the week was cancelled, too.
It is certainly going to be a challenge re-scheduling the opening in the remaining two weeks before Christmas, as there are already a number of other openings booked (including revivals of Spring Awakening and Peggy for You at the Almeida and Hampsead respectively, which are already clashing on December 17); perhaps it would be better to wait for the New Year, and open 2022 with a splash instead?
GILES TERERA RETURNS TO HAMILTON
It was also announced yesterday that Giles Terera, the original Olivier winning Aaron Burr in HAMILTON, is returning to the show, to reprise his performance from December 17 to January 30, as the current incumbent in the role has sustained an injury.
In a press statement, the show’s London producer Cameron Mackintosh said,
“I am delighted that Giles was free to return to the role he brilliantly originated when Hamilton first opened in London and I’m very grateful to him for stepping in for Simon-Anthony who sadly recently sustained an injury. It will be wonderful to have Giles back in the room where it happens and we of course wish Simon-Anthony a very speedy recovery and look forward to having him back in the show.”
Terera has recently published an account of his time in the show, Hamilton and Me: An Actor’s Journal.
SEE YOU TOMORROW
See you in your inbox tomorrow. But if you can’t wait that long, you can find me on Twitter @ShentonStage (though not as often on weekends)