The biggest story of the week in theatre is one with both transatlantic and bicoastal (in America) implications: the public revelations of an open secret in the entertainment industry, of the behind-the-scenes bullying of staff by uber-producer Scott Rudin.
A leading player — in every sense — both in Hollywood and on Broadway and West End theatrical stages, he is based in New York (living on Central Park West), but his influence straddles both West and East coasts, and both sides of the Atlantic, in terms of the footholds (and sometimes strangleholds, almost literally) he has on film and theatre production.
Hardly a season goes by without him chalking up significant Oscar and Tony nominations alike: this century alone so far, he has been responsible for producing the winners of five best plays, five best play revivals, and one each of the best musical (The Book of Mormon) and best musical revival (Hello, Dolly!); his films have been Oscar nominated for Best Picture 11 times over the same period, with one of those, 2008’s No Country for Old Men, winning the prize.
In London and on Broadway, he was represented — until the theatre shutdown a year ago — by his production of The Book of Mormon; while a London edition of his new Broadway hit stage version of To Kill a Mockingbird was due to transfer to ShaftesburyAvenue’s Gielgud There last May, but has now been delayed to next March. Both are being managed in the West End by his London co-producer Sonia Friedman.
But the exposure of his frequently outrageous — not to say completely unhinged — behaviour in the privacy of his own offices by the Hollywood Reporter this week could (or should) cast a major shadow over his influence, and how much that behaviour could (or should) be tolerated in return for the big box office returns his productions usually generate.
It’s not the first time his antics have generated anxious ripples: when he summarily had another stage adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird completely squashed after his own version, commissioned from playwright and television writer Aaron Sorkin, opened on Broadway in 2018, left theatre companies and community groups facing legal action from him to prevent them going ahead even though they had secured the rights that other version in good faith, there were a lot of upset people, including London’s Open Air Theatre whose own highly successful production of that version had to abort a planned UK tour.
The bully on that occasion, however, won the day; but now that it has come even closer to home, with stories that have even included the suicide of former assistants of his, the question will be whether his behaviour can any longer be tolerated. Can Sonia Friedman still allow herself to be the front and facilitator for his work to reach a London audience?
My column yesterday (see Saturday below) lays out some of the allegations and stories against him, drawing on some of my personal experiences with him. Like everyone, I wrestled with whether I could risk incurring his wrath; but I refuse to be complicit anymore in putting my own aversion to risk ahead of others whose lives have been directly impacted by his appalling behaviour. It’s time to hold him accountable.
As Rose McGowan tweeted on Friday,
SUNDAY APRIL 4
My column today was last week’s recall of the previous week’s columns, news, tweets and other features, either by myself or others, as I’m doing here today for this week’s round-up.
- Favourite Easter picture: Stephanie McKeon, who will be Anna in the West End production of Frozen, enjoying Easter as a child!
- Anniversary of the day: Follies turns 50!
- Broadway opening of the day yesterday — when it reopened for 36 minutes
- Watching Matt Doyle on Seth Concert Series:
MONDAY APRIL 5
My column today is a new weekly feature that keeps track of the shows that are coming back, or are newly being announced, that will be updated weekly until such time as it becomes a reality, and from then on will provide a weekly update to that week’s openings and future ones.
As I write, “Theatres, of course, are in the midst of plotting its come-back from next month — theatres are likely to be able to re-open to socially-distanced audiences from May 17, with limits capped at 1,000 people for indoor performances or 50% of capacity, whichever is the lower figure; with a possible lifting of all restrictions to follow from June 20. The government have only committed to formally confirming these dates a week before; so many producers are having to take matters into their own hands and start planning to open on or around those dates, which may or may not prove to be actually possible.”
- Online show of the day: I caught up with the National’s ROMEO AND JULIET on Sky Arts:
- Other reviews of ROMEO AND JULIET:
- Yesterday’s 50th anniversary of the opening of Follies, marked (and masked) by a New York friend outside the Winter Garden Theatre:
- Photo purchase of the day:
TUESDAY APRIL 6
My column today asks if critics are building cultural walls — or alternatively becoming part of the culture wars.
As I write, “We’re living through an unprecedented era of cultural wars, promulgated by the likes of Donald Trump and Boris Johnson mainly as a tool of mass distraction for the destruction of the old norms that they’re determined to advance./ But it seems that critics — the people who used to be the guardians at the gates, at least to protect, support and encourage the industries they report on — are now increasingly casting themselves as cultural warriors, too. If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em, I suppose; and there’s something to be said for the fact that maybe, just maybe, the guardians at the gate needed to be changed anyway.”
- West End Anniversary of the day: Mamma Mia! 22nd birthday
- Farewell to Paul Ritter, who has died aged 54, of a brain tumour
- Rebranding of the day: Out of Joint to become Stockroom
- Diversity in action:
- Broadway news of the day: A Beautiful Noise
WEDNESDAY APRIL 7
My column today charts the warnings from Sage that a further easing of COVID restrictions “in May and beyond could unleash a third UK wave as deadly as the one seen during the winter, when more than half of the country’s total of Covid deaths occurred”. I also quoted The Guardian’s citing of research by the London School of Hygience and Tropical Medicine, “based on pessimistic but realistic assumptions about the effectiveness of the vaccines”, that forecast that a third wave could peak at the end of July or early August.
As I observed, “I’m pretty sure any producers reading those news stories will be trembling with new uncertainty: how realistic are the expectations that ‘normal’ service can be restored from late June?”
London News of the Day
- Abbamania! to Shaftesbury, May 21-June 6:
- West End Live Lounge, Lyric Mon June 14:
- Regional news of the day:
Mill at Sonning to reopen from May 17:
THURSDAY APRIL 8
My column today is on the 22nd anniversary of the premiere of Mamma Mia! that occurred two nights ago (on Tuesday). On Friday (see below), its West End reopening at the Novello (its current home; the third West End theatre it has occupied during its run to date) was formally announced from August 25.
As I also write, “I’ve seen the show more times than I care to count, from the opening to its 10th anniversary performance in London and its subsequent moves to each of the other theatres it has played in here in the West End. I’ve also seen it multiple times on Broadway, including the first invited ‘gypsy run through’ in September 2001, just weeks after 9/11 when it was the first new musical to open and it provided New York with a much needed tonic./…..As Mamma Mia! marked its 22nd birthday in silence this week, though, I’m reminded of its incredible influence on musical theatre during the early noughties, launching a whole genre of imitation jukebox show franchises based on plenty of other iconic pop groups and music back catalogues.”
London News of the day:
- Summer season confirmed at Open Air Theatre:
- Here Come The Boys to London Palladium, May 25-June 9, press night May 26:
- Public Domain to Vaudeville: May 27-30
- Heathers to return to Haymarket, June 21-September 11
- Donmar Warehouse partners with new transatlantic production company Wessex Grove:
- Regional news of the day: Manchester’s Hope Mill Theatre to stage The Wiz:
FRIDAY APRIL 9
My column today is my weekly companion piece to my ShenTens podcast, this week counting down my top ten favourite regional UK theatre venues, from Sheffield’s Crucible Theatre, Manchester’s Royal Exchange and Chichester Festival Theatre in the top three positions, to more quirky (and scenic) venues like Kilworth House Theatre in Leicestershire, the gorgeous Watermill Theatre in Berkshire, and of course Cornwall’s Minack Theatre, quite possibly the most beautifully set venue on the entire planet, whose stage backdrop is the Atlantic ocean (pictured above).
- Theatre news of the day, via Baz Bamigboye (invariably first with the big announcements!)
SATURDAY APRIL 10
My column today is on Scott Rudin, Broadway’s pre-eminent producer of plays and musicals, who is also a Hollywood big-shot, and how he puts the “rude” into Rudin, after the Hollywood Reporter published a scorching report into his extraordinary bullying of his underlings. At one point in the mid-noughties, he burned through 119 assistants in the previous five years, as a Wall Street Journal article at the time that was headlined “Boss-zilla” revealed.
As I wrote, “I’ve had my own modest experience of this myself. He is extremely controlling, which is no doubt part of his phenomenal success, micromanaging and disrupting everything from when and which press can see his shows onwards. I’ve been the beneficiary of his largesse sometimes; as when I requested if I could buy a pair of house seats for The Book of Mormon soon after it had opened on Broadway and won multiple Tony awards, so I could take my husband to see it for his birthday, he replied inviting me as his guest.” But then at other times I’ve been put in my place, as I was refused press access to his production of Hello, Dolly! — until I bought my own ticket, in the back row of the stalls, for a performance that wasn’t a designated press one, and he suddenly intervened.
- Photograph of the day: an interview with Andrew Lloyd Webber about his spectacular £60m refurbishment of the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane in today’s Times featured the following pictures of the auditorium and exterior of the theatre:
BIRTHDAYS OF THE WEEK
SUNDAY (APRIL 4): Trevor Griffiths, playwright, 86; Graham Norton, 58; Cherie Lunghi, 69; Monty Norman, composer, 93; Hugo Weaving, 61
MONDAY (APRIL 5): Jane Asher, 75; Freddie Fox, 32 (pictured above left, with his father Edward, in An Ideal Husband at the Vaudeville in 2018) ; Lily James, 32 (pictured above right, in Romeo and Juliet at the Garrick Theatre in 2016, with Richard Madden); Stewart Lee, 53
TUESDAY (APRIL 6): Rory Bremner, 46; Marilu Henner, 69; Paul Rudd, 52; Gina Yashere, 47
WEDNESDAY (APRIL 7): Russell Crowe, 57; Duncan James, 43 (pictured above left, with Sheridan Smith in Legally Blonde at the Savoy Theatre in 2009); Clarke Peters, 69 (pictured above right in The Witches of Eastwick at the Prince of Wales Theatre in 2001)
THURSDAY (APRIL 8): John Madden, theatre, film and TV director, 72
FRIDAY (APRIL 9): Sorcha Cusack, 72; Tom Lehrer, satirist songwriter (whose songs were used in the West End revue devoted to his work, Tomfoolery, presented by Cameron Mackintosh in 1980) 93; Cynthia Nixon, 55
SATURDAY (APRIL 10): Lesley Garrett, 66 (pictured in Carousel at the Savoy Theatre in 2008); Peter Morgan, playwright (Frost/Nixon, premiered at the Donmar Warehouse in 2006, before traswnferring to the Gielgud, then Broadway — the press quote shown in the image above right is mine!), 58