Diary of a Theatre Addict: Finding myself centrestage at my public birthday party

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I’ve been a true addict this week — I’ve seen the same two shows twice over (one of them for a third time, treat if you’re keeping up with the maths, tadalafil which I saw for the second and third time in less than the same 24 hour time period).

grand-hotel-logoThat was Grand Hotel, which ended last night at Southwark Playhouse, which I reviewed originally when it opened for The Stage here, and then re-visited on the bank holiday Monday — before going, the very next day, yet again to a matinee that’s open to the public but laid on towards the end of the run on a Tuesday afternoon so that other working actors can attend. (I duly had Vince Leigh from Sunny Afternoon sitting right in front of me, and Kaisa Hammerlund, currently chanting her way through the Almeida’s Bakkhai, was also there, amongst many others).

I’ve always adored this show, ever since the original daring and audacious Broadway production of Tommy Tune back in 1987, which I still regard as one of the landmark productions of my theatregoing life. Tune is one of the most brilliant of all Broadway actor/dancers turned director/choreographers, who – like Bob Fosse and Michael Bennett before him — combined dazzling showmanship with a brilliant visual imagination to tell stories with seamless and organic momentum born of the way they moved.

grand-hotel-petalsThom Southerland’s new production, choreographed with real panache by Lee Proud on a traverse stage, borrows a bit from other places — there’s a strong borrowed echo of the last London production of Cabaret (which was directed by Rufus Norris) in the show’s closing moments, and a few steals from director John Doyle’s use of thrown objects at a key point (here, rose petals, pictured left, just as Doyle uses thrown bank notes in Road Show), but it is performed with highly individualised skill by the entire cast. ??Each time I’ve seen it I’ve appreciated different performances: the obvious stand-outs are Scott Garnham’s sturdily sung Baron, Victoria Serra’s enchanting, yearning-for-stardom Flaemmchen and George Rae’s Otto Kringelein; but the third time I was knocked out by the pair of athletic Jimmy’s (Jammy Kasonga and Drone Stokes) and by Valerie Cutko’s tall, angular Raffaela.

alexandra-silber-love-storyI also saw the London return of Alexandra Silber twice over at Crazy Coqs. too — at her first night on Tuesday and her last again last night. This Michigan born musical theatre star-in-the-making trained in the UK (at Glasgow’s Royal Academy of Music and Drama, now the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland) and was seen in shows like Carousel and Fiddler on the Roof in the West End, before going home — and since then I’ve seen her both on Broadway in Master Class and in Philadelphia in the US premiere of Howard Goodall’s Love Story (pictured above, with co-star Will Reynolds).

She told us poignantly of her reasons for re-locating to Britain to train — it followed the death of her beloved father, whose birthday coincided with the opening night of her London return — and also for reasons for going home again (after the heartbreak that followed the ending of a long-term relationship). On Saturday night, she hot-footed – or rather, hot-biked it (on a courier bike, no less, where she was the package being delivered!) — direct from the Royal Albert Hall, where she’d been an encore guest at the Last Night of the Proms’s celebration of Leonard Bernstein, to sing a song from West Side Story, whose recent symphonic recording she had starred in.

Last night she was joined both at the Albert Hall and then at Crazy Coqs by the radiant Gina Beck, who like her possesses an utterly shimmering soprano; on Tuesday she was accompanied on a song from Love Story by its composer Howard Goodall, whom she declared as the future of British musicals (and I entirely concur). On both nights she sang ‘Will he like me?’ from Bock and Harnick’s She Loves Me, which she called her favourite song of all time, and she proved why. (There’s a Broadway revival next year that she’s too late for now — she’s about to head there to star in a new production of Fiddler on the Roof — but perhaps a West End producer could cast her in a revival here. She said she mentioned this to Julian Ovenden, who was also a guest at the Prom last night, and he’s up for it, too….)

Between Grand Hotel and Al Silber, that took care of four of my theatrical visits this week, but those weren’t the only repeats I did. In fact the whole week pretty much comprised shows I’d seen before. I also returned to What’s It All About? at the Menier (for the third time) and Cats (for the God-knows-how-many-times), this time in the Opera House at Blackpool’s massive Winter Gardens (intriguingly, Cats of course played its entire Broadway run at New York’s Winter Garden, too). What’s It All About has now this week announced a transfer to the West End’s Criterion, so I’ll be seeing it quite a few more times, I’m sure; and Cats, of course, is returning to the Palladium, so I’ll be back there to see Beverley Knight play Grizabella in October.

jane-mcdonaldBut the reason fro seeing it in Blackpool was to see the wonderful Jane McDonald (pictured left in costume with Andrew Lloyd Webber and Cameron Mackintosh) in it; I’d interviewed her for The Stage here before the show opened, and she was a complete joy.  Like Grizabella, McDonald ascended to the Heaviside Layer, in her case of stardom, after riding different kind of bumpy waves along the way: she was an entertainer aboard cruise ships and was on what she thought might be her last tour of duty when the documentary TV series The Cruise eavesdropped on life on the ship she was on sixteen years ago, and a star was born.

While I was in Blackpool, I also caught up with Hot Ice — possibly the longest running live show in the world, now in its 79th year at Blackpool Pleasure Beach. I’ve seen this before, too, and it still feels happily retro; lots of the costumes sprout feathers, as they might at the less fully clad Lido or Moulin Rouge in Paris, and there’s a lot of dry ice and some slippery ice, too, as several members of the company took tumbles. But there’s still something incredibly thrilling about the speed and skill of these skaters, even if the some of the routines feel pretty deja vu.

Finally, speaking of deja vu, I also saw You Won’t Succeed on Broadway If You Don’t Have Any Jews at the St James, which is itself a re-visiting of songs from an endless succession of Broadway musicals (plus a film or two) that were penned by Jewish composers and lyricists. I was seeing it again for a second time — I’d seen an earlier one nighter incarnation at the Garrick. It’s now been enhanced, not necessarily for the better, for an extended run that first played a season in Tel Aviv before coming back to London. On the one hand, you won’t succeed with this type of revue if you get your basic facts wrong: Kander & Ebb did NOT write Fosse; nor was Rent a hit film; nor did The Producers win 14 Tony Awards; if you want to provide historical background to your thesis about Jewish influences on Broadway, get the basics right. There are times, too, when the dance routines look like a bad TV variety show.

danny-lane-jewsBut on the other hand, it fields a large cast that includes some real stand-outs: Jackie Marks, from the original London cast of Les Miserables who took over from Patti LuPone as Fantine, steals the show, reprising that show’s ‘I Dreamed a Dream’; and Sarah Earnshaw stops it with I’m Not Getting Married’ from Sondheim’s Company. There are also strong contributions from Johnny Barr, Danny Lane (pictured left – Gypsy’s ‘Everything’s coming up roses’ sung by a man is interesting!), and David Aldbury (whom I first saw in the Union’s production of Howard Goodall’s Love Story and have been looking out for ever since).
scott-and-meYesterday was my birthday (age unspecified, viagra 40mg but not a ‘special’ number!), viagra 40mg and I’ve never quite had a birthday celebration like it, to be honest. Over the last few years, the brilliant New York songwriter Scott Alan and I have forged a very special friendship. It emerged from our shared experience of depression — something that’s the loneliest and apparently unreachable place on the earth when you’re in the midst of it, but something that I always try to take positive experiences out of. And one of the most positive has been friendships like the one I’ve forged with Scott.

It takes one to know one, they say; but the one thing that those of us who suffer from depression know, better than anyone else, is that there’s no amount of advice that can mitigate it. The only thing we can do is quietly understand. And be there for each other.

Scott has been there for me, even though he lives in New York and I live (mostly) in London, and I hope I have been there vice versa for him. But we also share time together as often as we can — he’s come to join me and my husband in Provincetown on our annual summer holiday over the last two summers, and I see him often during my regular trips to New York as he does me on his regular trips to London.
He’s in the midst of a 12 night residency at the Hippodrome, and last night he devoted the night entirely to me! evening-standard-scott-alan-adIn fact, when a half page ad ran in the Evening Standard (see left), I was slightly alarmed that, amidst the nightly listings for guests that included Cynthia Erivo, Oliver Tompsett, Eva Noblezada, Rachelle Ann Go and their co-stars from Miss Saigon, Ashleigh Gray, Danny-Boy Hatchard and Lucie Jones, I was billed as the star for September 12, with guests to be announced. I hoped no one was thinking that I was going to sing!

But I also thought that, whereas the other nights would sell on the strength of Scott’s following and those names, my night would be a slow seller, since no one knew who the guests were going to be! Yet last night was entirely sold out. And not just with my friends, either: I actually didn’t know much of the audience.

But I knew all of the incredible line-up of talent that Scott assembled — both onstage and (in an amazing coup-de-cinema!) onscreen in a video montage of taped messages! Onstage, they included Frances Ruffelle (who introduced Scott and me in the first place, so to whom we are forever grateful!), Cynthia Erivo (ahead of her flying to New York to reprise her astonishing performance in The Color Purple on Broadway, heading the billing ahead of Jennifer Hudson!), her partner Dean John-Wilson, and composers Howard Goodall and Richard Thomas, respectively accompanying Emma Williams and Stuart Matthew Price (on songs from the non-Scott Alan catalogue Goodall’s Love Story & The Hired man, and Thomas’s Jerry Springer – the Opera).

There was also Johnny Partridge (who reminded me — and the audience – that the last time I’d seen him on the Hippodrome stage he’d split his trousers right the way down…..) and Madelena Alberto (London’s last Evita, whom I first saw on the tiny stage of the Union Theatre in a production of Jekyll and Hyde and have been a devoted follower of ever since)

On video, meanwhile, the cast list included Philip Quast (on the back of a quadbike on the sea!), Michael Ball, Alfie Boe, Imelda Staunton,  Jonathan Groff (in his Hamilton get-up as King George!), Ramin Karimloo, Hadley Fraser, Rosalie Craig, Eva Noblezada, Jon Jon Briones, Michael Xavier, and a couple more composers I love: Stephen Schwartz (whose Pippin is one of my most adored shows) and Dana P Rowe (with the cast of a new production of The Fix that Dana and I travelled down to see in Arlington, VA last month, that includes Mark Evans).

Jenna Russell also appeared on the video, giving one of the most moving speeches of the night (with hilarious interventions by her young daughter) in which she spoke of how working in the theatre was often difficult, and that one of the things you needed was champions — and that’s what she said I am!

I happily accept the compliment — though of course I hope I’m not an indiscriminate champion. I can’t — and don’t — like everything they do; I famously hated the play Mr Burns that Jenna appeared in at the Almeida. When I tweeted her comment last night and said,  “Tonight everyone was a champ for me!”, she replied, “I was going to sing the 3rd Act of Mr Burns….” I replied, “Oh, I would have just LOVED to hear the third act of Mr Burns again!!!!” And she ominously replied in turn,  “Hahaha! One day Mr Shenton…when you least expect it! ??😀??

scott-alan-birthday-cake2015This may very well be what attending your own memorial service might be like – with the only difference being that I was there to experience it for myself! Jenna was there on the video; others were there only in spirit. When I posted a picture (left) of Scott and me being presented with the birthday cake  that had been so beautifully prepared for me by Philip Dehany – into which Scott had inserted a giant pink dildo — a friend on Facebook waspishly added, “I see John Barrowman showed up 🙂

As well as the established talent, either real or wishful thinking, I was delighted that the evening was also, as always with Scott, about promoting younger, yet-to-make-it talent. The show was topped and tailed by a glorious appearance by ten of the students I’ve taught at ArtsEd, who this week move into their 3rd and final year! And Scott also selects a special guest competition winner to sing every night with him, too — last night it was the turn of Bethany Heywood (from over 180 entrants!).

olllie-tompsett-&-scottI spent quite a few nights at the Hippodrome this week: as ever when Scott is in town, I go as often as I can, and this week I also went on Tuesday (where his guest was the utterly wonderful Oliver Tompsett, pictured left with Scott, a major talent I’d previously pigeonholed as belonging to rock shows like We Will Rock You and Rock of Ages that he’d done in the West End, but last Christmas discovered his true leading man versatility when he starred in the West Yorkshire Playhouse production of White Christmas) and again on Wednesday night (when he was joined by Eva Noblezada, the amazing firebrand currently playing Kim in Miss Saigon, as well as guest appearances by her co-stars Jon-Jon Briones and Chris Peluso).

But my ‘real’ life as a critic also has to continue, and I was also at first nights for (the long-delayed) Dusty (my review for The Stage is here), Future Conditional, inaugurating Matthew Warchus’ tenure as artistic director at the Old Vic (my review is here) and the touring The Glenn Miller Story (which I caught in Southampton, review is here)

I also went to a press preview for the London transfer of Broadway’s Tony winning Kinky Boots ahead of its opening on Tuesday (my review will appear that night), and today saw See What I Wanna See at Jermyn Street Theatre (my review will appear tomorrow on The Stage website). I also caught up belatedly with the marvellous People, Places and Things at the National (which deserves closer critical inspection than I have time to give it right now!), Simon Stephens’s Song from Far Away at the Young Vic (that I’ve written about here) and tonight I’ve just re-visited The Commitments at the Palace, which I’ve not seen since the first night, before it closes next month.

So, in addition to my 3 Scott Alan nights, I’ve seen 8 other shows! And that’s besides interviews and/or press events with Nicole Kidman (who opens tomorrow night in Photograph 51), director Dominic Cooke (currently in rehearsals for Christopher Shinn’s Teddy Ferrera at the Donmar) and legendary set and costume designer John Napier (still represented, 30 years on, by Les Miserables at the Queen’s, and soon by the return of Cats to the London Palladium, who is currently preparing a retrospective exhibition of his career as a designer and artist that will open in Eastbourne in November).