Diary of a theatre addict: 6 shows in London, 2 more in NYC, plus a car breakdown in middle lane during a tube strike

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addictI’ve managed a 9-show week, information pills but the truly frustrating thing is that the show I’d been most looking forward to of the week, if not the summer, I ended up missing — owing to traffic. Yes, I know, I know — we should have just left earlier. But we looked up how long it takes to drive from London to Grange Park Opera in Hampshire to see Bryn Terfel as Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof, and it said two hours from where we live in Borough, near London Bridge — so we allowed three to be safe.

In fact, the first hour-and-forty-five minutes were spent just getting to the M3. At which point I was still hopeful we’d make it — but then M3 traffic was gridlocked, too. As hope vanished — and we knew that the first act is the lion’s share of the evening, from 5.20pm-7.10pm, followed by a 90 minute dinner interval, with just another hour to go afterwards — it didn’t seem worth persevering just so that we could see the second half.

Perhaps we should have followed the Grange Park’s instructions on its website about taking a helicopter there instead! A someone tweeted in response to me when I said this, “If everyone took that option it would be like a gala performance of Miss Saigon!” I can’t think of another regional theatre that offers such advice, though talking of Miss Saigon, I once saw a show at Sheffield that Cameron Mackintosh was at and he’d come by helicopter to! (It was My Fair Lady, not Miss Saigon, though, that he was seeing).

bryn-terfel-tevyeSo I missed Bryn’s Tevye (pictured left). Anyway, at least I’ll be able to see Fiddler on the Roof, albeit without him, later this year when it is revived on Broadway. And last night we started watching the original 1971 film version of the show with Topol on Sky. On Friday, though, having lost hope of seeing Fiddler, we turned around and come back to London via a stop-over in Kingston, finding a restaurant on the river just behind the Rose Theatre to have a lovely outdoor dinner at!

Then we used the opportunity that we were back in London early to head to Woolwich Barracks to catch the 10pm Greenwich+Docklands International Festival free showing of their centrepiece show The Four Fridas instead. That, too, was slightly jinxed — owing to heavy winds, one of the features of the show, an aerial display on a large screen, was cancelled; but it was worth being there for the huge piece de resistance in which the four-fridasMexican Voladoras and caporal of Xochiapulcho (pictured left), making their first visit outside their home country, scaled a massive vertical tower and then dropped, head first from it, and were spun around it, all the while playing musical instruments upside down, till they reached the ground. (Full disclosure: Bradley Hemmings,founder and artistic director of GDIF, is a personal friend, so I was happy to be supporting this amazing free public project).

I had a busy week reviewing, everywhere from the Finborough (A Third, reviewed here) and St James (The Dreamers, reviewed here) to the West End (The Importance of Being Earnest at the Vaudeville, starring David Suchet as Lady Bracknell, reviewed here). I also went to Manchester for the opening of wonder.land, the new Damon Albarn/Moira Buffini/Rufus Norris collaboration, which I reviewed here; it was probably a bit premature to have the combined forces of the London critics aimed at it, after just a handful of previews, and as I noted in my review, “There are still tweaks and cuts to be made to clarify and shape it, and with a transfer to the National’s Olivier Theatre already booked for the end of November and Paris to follow, this is only the first pass at making the show work. I’ll be intrigued to revisit it in a few months time.”

killian-donnellyI also re-visited Memphis, to see its star Killian Donnelly (left) in the lead role one more time before he left yesterday (he’s next in Kinky Boots at the Adelphi); he’s just amazing to watch. A true everyman, he doesn’t radiate star quality in the looks department — yet the moment he starts performing, he’s absolutely astonishing, as a singer, dancer and actor. I’m beginning to wonder if he’s our best new leading man in musicals. (He’s also hardly been out of work since he first started working in the West End in 2008 in Les Miserables, starting as a swing and ending up as Enjolras; then going on a stint in Phantom of the Opera as Raoul, then Tony in Billy Elliot, before originating the lead role in The Commitments, then Memphis).

Memphis, of course, is a musical with book and co-lyrics by Joe DiPietro — and I’ve suddenly been saturated by all things DiPeepShow. (Another disclosure: we have a good mutual friend who once misheard me talking about him and thinking I’d called him that. The name has stuck and that’s what I call him all the time now). Back in April I saw the Broadway premiere of his first original play there, the short-lived Living on Love, not long after seeing the London premiere of Memphis. Last weekend, I saw the new UK tour of Love Me Tender, the re-titled version of All Shook Up, Joe’s first Broadway musical in 2005. And last night, I saw a revival of Joe’s first big off-Broadway hit I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change, at a tiny space above the Arts Theatre.

love-you-you're-perfectI never did see the original off-Broadway run of nearly twelve years (from 1996 to 2008, making it the second longest running musical in off-Broadway history after The Fantasticks) at the Westside Theatre, but have seen it in several incarnations in London, including a brief West End run in 1999 and one at Jermyn Street Theatre in 2005. Last night’s had a Rolls Royce cast (pictured above) – including two original members of the London production of Avenue Q, Julie Atherton and Smon Lipkin, plus Gina Beck and Samuel Holmes, which I will be reviewing for The Stage tomorrow.

And talking of the Westside, that’s also where the Kander and Ebb revue And The World Goes Round first originated back in 1991 (and where I first saw the work of Susan Stroman, who would become one of Broadway’s pre-eminent choreographers thereafter). By coincidence, that’s the show I’m also seeing again tonight at Chelsea’s The Pheasantry, with a cast that includes Oliver Tompsett and Debbie Kurup.  The world does indeed go round…. and so does my life, spinning endlessly back to shows I’ve seen before!
addictI’ve just arrived in New York yesterday, troche with another busy week ahead that encompasses 6 shows, rx 3 big interviews and a wedding! One of the interviews has even forced me to change my return flight this Friday from the morning day flight to the evening overnight flight, pill but it is with Andrew Lloyd Webber, so worth making the change.

The other two interviews are with Alex Sharp, the British-born but American-trained actor who graduated from Julliard only last year but beat Bradley Cooper, Bill Nighy and Ben Miles to this year’s Tony for Best Actor for the Broadway production of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time (which I’m going to revisit here on Tuesday); and Michael Feinstein, the great singer and archivist of popular song who has invited me up to his house on the Upper East Side.

I’ve met and/or interviewed Lloyd Webber and Feinstein each many times in the past, but never here in New York — where the former will premiere his new musical School of Rock in December (his first show since Jesus Christ Superstar 44 years ago to debut on Broadway instead of the West End),  while the latter is bringing his latest Big Band show to the Adelphi in September.

kristin-chenoweth-and-andy-karlThere are times, it has to be said, when I know just how lucky and privileged I am to be doing what I do as a job. But I also find time for pleasure, too, and this afternoon I’m re-visiting (for the third time) the current Broadway revival of On the Twentieth Century starring Kristin Chenoweth (pictured above with Andy Karl), one of my all-time Favourite Musicals (it was in my final Top 10 of in my series for The Stage of my fifty favourite musicals of all time).

And on Friday afternoon, I saw the musical that occupies my top slot in that list — Guys and Dolls, in a spirited and engaging student production at Guildhall School of Music. No, the vocals weren’t always pristine enough, but every single time I see this show I marvel anew at the utter perfection of its writing: the melodic warmth that melts over you, and the intricate wit of the lyrics that are unsurpassed (even by Sondheim) in modern musical theatre. (Is there a fuller — or filthier — image around than this one about falling in love: “Ask me how do I feel, ask me now that we’re fondly caressing/ Hell, if I were a salad I know I’d be splashing my dressing”)

KNOX-AlexOne of the great joys of Guildhall productions is that, being a music school as well as an acting one, the orchestra is one of the best I’ve heard in a musical in ages, featuring 23 players under professional maestro Michael Haslam. The other stand-out performances in the show come from Alexander Knox’s Nicely-Nicely Johnson (pictured left, and how nice to see a Nicely-Nicely who isn’t portly for a change!) and Luke Dale’s Sky Masterson. (Also fun to spot in the chorus someone called Marina Bye – Ruby Wax’s daughter!)

I also saw a couple of cabarets this week in London: the return of Ann Hampton Callaway and Liz Callaway in Sibling Revelry, 17 years on from when they first did it at the Donmar Warehouse (which I reviewed here), and the glorious and gorgeous Sally Ann Triplett (whom I wrote about here).

Also on the work front I reviewed the brilliant UK premiere of Orson’s Shadow at Southwark Playhouse (see review here), and went in early to see both The Mentalists (that opens tomorrow at Wyndham’s) and What’s It All About? at the Menier (opening Wednesday), both of which I’ll be reviewing for The Stage this week. (On my last trip to NYC at the beginning of June, I also interviewed the latter’s creator Kyle Riabko for a feature here)

Matthew_TennysonBut it was not all work and no play – at least one of the plays wasn’t work at all, but just me catching up. On Thursday afternoon I braved the tube strike and awful traffic to drive to Regent’s Park to see the matinee of The Seagull (Matthew Tennyson pictured left, who played Konstantin), a favourite play of mine re-imagined here in a stunningly designed production complete with an onstage lake on which two of the more minor characters took a skinny dip. It was hot enough day to wish I could join them.

If getting there wasn’t easy, getting home was even harder: my car’s alternator chose to shut down when I was in the middle of three lanes of gridlocked traffic on Gower Street just south of Bedford Square. Fortunately my husband was with me, so he pushed the car to the left hand lane — and then he waited for the RAC to turn up while I continued on foot from Bloomsbury to the Menier for my evening show!  That meant I got some walking in, but I also found myself having to stop off en route at the National to buy a fresh tee-shirt from the bookshop there so I wouldn’t be sitting in a sweat-soaked shirt all evening….