ShentonSTAGE Daily for WEDNESDAY MAY 4

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Welcome to today’s packed edition of ShentonSTAGE!

The Cinderella fall-out continued

In a tweet on Monday, Telegraph chief theatre critic Dominic Cavendish suggested aloud:

​During the early days of the pandemic, the same Andrew Lloyd Webber had used Cavendish and the Telegraph as his personal megaphone to amplify his protests against the government’s supposedly unfair disruptions to his theatre business by the imposition of COVID safety restrictions, and in particular, his schedule to open CINDERELLA that he is now so suddenly pulling entirely.

On Monday, I wrote an email to Lloyd Webber myself:

Lloyd Webber, for his part, isn’t emerging well from the handling of this news, especially after the debacle of the return last year of THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA with its much reduced orchestra that saw them all laid off and having to reapply for jobs that were only available to half the former number of players — a decision he attributed at the time to Cameron Mackintosh, the show’s co-producer with Lloyd Webber’s own Really Useful group. But CINDERELLA is solely produced by Lloyd Webber now; so who is he going to blame now?

Nor is this the first time that his companies have found out their shows are closing from social media. When LOVE NEVER DIES was going to shut at the Adelphi, the first to reveal it was Baz Bamigboye, then writing in the Daily Mail, before the company itself was formally advised.

Yesterday, Equity UK came to the party, staging a picket outside the Gillian Lynne Theatre (pictured above). Of course this is all for show — and a news picture; but when will they actually enforce substantive change, so that theatre managements simply can’t disrespect their companies in this way? Yesterday they issued a proposal:

  • Producers should give more thought to the effect of their business decisions on the real lives of their work force and how they communicate it to them: For example: Do not tell cast and stage management that the contract is cancelled on a Sunday evening in advance of a bank holiday.
  • Tell the Union in advance of intended closure, and make sure that all cast members have been individually told in good time before releasing any news via social media or the press. Do not think that sending an e-mail out to an Agent or cast member after hours is fulfilling your obligation. It is not a press matter, it is a matter of workers dignity.
  • Compensation should be made to both current and future cast members. The full value of the current cast members contract until it ends on July 17, and payment of adequate compensation to those contracted who were due to start work beginning of June

Of course some of this has traditionally relied on good practice, human respect and basic business ethics; but if producers can’t be relied upon to behave honourably, perhaps the union needs to stipulate that such conditions be put into contracts. 

But back to the show itself. As Andrew Lloyd Webber himself said in his press statement,

“Not only did it get some of the best reviews of my career, but we led the charge to reopen the West End, ensuring that theatre and live entertainment remained relevant and in the news. While mounting a new show in the midst of Covid has been an unbelievable challenge, we held the government’s feet to the flames throughout their changes of heart during the pandemic.”

Actually, not all critics were favourable, not least myself, but I was definitely in a minority. Chris Wiegand, the Guardian’s theatre editor, gave it a five-star rave when it finally opened last August. He returned to see it last Saturday, by coincidence, and on Monday reported, ” I was at the Gillian Lynne theatre again on Saturday afternoon to see the show for a second time after it left me giddy on opening night in August. I wondered if it would have the same effect and, if anything, I enjoyed it even more.”

So why has it flopped so spectacularly? Wiegand ponders: “Its stop-start run won’t have helped build an audience and, while many saw the composer as theatrical Marmite already, his declarations last year about risking arrest to open the show at full capacity won’t have endeared him to many. Ticket prices aren’t the key issue: there are two ticket bands under £20 with lots of those seats still left. There are certainly issues of confidence about returning to theatres when the majority of an audience is unmasked; I didn’t see very many masks at Cinderella.”

EVERY DAY A LITTLE DEATH….

Stephen Sondheim, the wisest-ever chronicler of the human condition in musical theatre in the last half century, penned so many songs that precisely summons a feeling for every occasion. I’ve previously written here how “No More” from INTO THE WOODS speaks to me so personally:

Running away, go to it
Where did you have in mind?
Have to take care…unless there’s a ‘where’
You’ll only be wandering blind
Just more questions… different kinds

Where are we to go?
Where are we ever to go?
Running away, we’ll do it
Why sit around, resigned?

As I wrote, “I’m no longer running away: a few months ago, I finally confronted this undone, previously unspoken business. And at last, with the utter clarity that has come from understanding the totality of my father’s rejection throughout my life, I’m no longer feeling undefined. And Sondheim being Sondheim, he’s even buried an amazing ‘Easter egg’ in the lyric: ‘Trouble is, son, the farther you run/the more you’ll feel undefined’; farther, of course, is also father.

And yesterday I contemplated another lyric that always reaches out to me when I’m feeling sad, lonely or rejected: “Every day a little death” (from A Little Night Music). Last night of course was the big Sondheim OLD FRIENDS gala at the Sondheim Theatre, and as I watched tweets from people who either attended the afternoon dress rehearsal or the actual evening performance, I was suddenly immensely sad that I wasn’t there. 

But no one can take away the fact that I co-founded the Stephen Sondheim Society (in the 1990s) or that I interviewed him onstage at the National Theatre in 2004 in front of a sell-out audience in the 1,100 seat Olivier Theatre.The full transcript is here: http://shentonstage.com/my-2004-interview-with-stephen-sondheim/

Art lives inside us; and the artists that create it live beyond their own lives. Sondheim will always be a part of my life, whether or not I attend what looked like a spectacular celebration of his work. 

HEADING TO NYC….

On Friday, I head to NYC for a 10 night stay — and I’ve scheduled some 15 shows for my visit (yes, I’m still a helpless addict). They include two new Broadway musicals, MR SATURDAY NIGHT (with songs by Jason Robert Brown and Amanda Green (with songs by Jason Robert Brown and Amanda Green, starring Billy Crystal reprising the title role of his 1992 film of the same name) and A STRANGE LOOP, plus a revival of FUNNY GIRL and a new Broadway comedy POTUS.


I’m also seeing Tracy Letts’s new play THE MINUTES; a revival of David Mamet’s AMERICAN BUFFALO; a return visit to the new musical PARADISE SQUARE that I previously saw in early preview;s and the new Encores! production of INTO THE WOODS, plus Thornton Wilder’s THE SKIN OF OUR TEETH, revived at Lincoln Center Theatre, where I’m also seeing a one-night gala concert performance by Patti LuPone next Monday.

Off-Broadway, I’m seeing ISLANDER, an Edinburgh Fringe hit transferred to Playhouse 46;AMERICANO at New World Stages; THE BEDWETTER at Atlantic Theatre, KEV BERRY IS DIANA THE MUSICAL, a one-person cabaret tribute to the ill-fated DIANA, at the Green Room club and SUFFS at the Public Theater.  
I’ll be reporting on all of these next week.

But this visit is also personally bittersweet, as my husband and I are selling the (tiny) apartment we/ve proudly owned in Manhattan for the last decade and this is our last visit to it. A bit like when you have to put down a beloved pet, it is a heartbreaking decision, even if we know it is for the best.

It has been a wonderful privilege having our own home there, but three things have happened: first, of course, the pandemic, during which —  as non-US citizens — we were unable to use the apartment at all for nearly two years, yet we still incurred costs like maintenance and service charges. And secondly, as regular readers will know, my back problems have only increased during the time we’ve had the apartment: although I’ve just had another round of spinal surgery that may, finally, fix it, the apartment is an old Hell’s Kitchen walk-up, and we’re on the top floor — so there are some 70 steps to get there (no, there isn’t a lift). The late Elaine Stritch used to tell of the ageing French prostitute who was relieved to be retiring: “It’s not the work, it’s the stairs.” I feel the same every time I go over.

But finally, though I hope this doesn’t come to pass, I genuinely fear the return of Donald J. Trump in 2024; if he becomes President again, I’m not sure I will want to return to NYC for the four years he is in office again. And in any case, the America he could leave behind next time if this was the case could be pretty much unrecognisable.

SEE YOU ON FRIDAY

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).

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