Diary of a theatre addict: Musical theatre returns from Goodall to Carrie

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addictI got back from 9 nights in New York on Thursday morning after a 10th night on board a Virgin Airbus back to Heathrow. Thanks to a mileage upgrade, I flew home upper class (a rare treat), mainly so I could get some sleep before a busy day on Thursday, and could use the Virgin revivals lounge after I landed — no, not as the name suggests, a place where you might catch Gypsy or The King and I, but a place when you can have breakfast, shower, and work before heading to town.

I had scheduled it all very tightly: I needed to work on polishing up and finishing my 1,500 word feature on Broadway’s current crop of musicals for The Times (behind paywall) before filing it at noon that day, which became touch-and-go as the Revivals lounge was evacuated owing to a fire alarm.

Then I was heading direct to ArtsEd in Turnham Green to spend the afternoon beginning a new course that I’m teaching there to BA Acting students. And then I went direct to the first night of Light Shining in Buckinghamshire at the National (pictured)light-shining-in-buckinghamshire, the first production of Rufus Norris’s tenure as artistic director there (though not directed by him – that’s coming this week, on Wednesday with the opening of Everyman).

As I wrote in my review for londontheatre.co.uk:

OK, I admit it: I nodded off during the first night of Light Shining in Buckinghamshire, though fortunately my companion quickly roused me… Audiences, including and especially critics, need to be fresh for the task and challenge of the evening ahead – no more so than when watching a dense, intense Caryl Churchill play, so I failed myself and the play.

Being an audience member comes with responsibilities – staying awake is one of them. And as we are constantly reminded, one of the even simpler ones is to make sure your mobile phone is off. Within minutes of the play starting however, we were treated to a ringtone rendition of ‘Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring,’ that came – it turned out – from the mobile of Nick Hytner, attending the first National Theatre production he’d not programmed himself since he handed over the reigns of the running of the theatre to Rufus Norris.

A few years ago I remember interviewing Hytner around the time that the Orange Tree’s Sam Walters was proposing a zero-tolerance policy towards those who ‘allowed’ their mobiles to go off at the theatre, and Hytner told me then that he couldn’t honestly say it would never happen to him. That was borne out on Thursday; and by the same token, few theatre critics can say they have never nodded off (and there were several reportings of such incidences included in Kelly Nestruck’s blog for The Guardian back in 2008, including a well-alibi’d denial by me at the time!)

More recently, I had to personally rouse snoring colleagues during first nights at the National (sitting directly behind me) and the Royal Court (directly in front of me) as they were creating audible disturbances, but were not with companions to do the honours for them. So I was pleased that I’d brought a young producer with me as my guest to the National on Thursday, who brought me back to consciousness.

Sometimes, of course, snoozing can be a proper critical response to a show: as I pithily wrote in my Times column on dr-zhivagoDr Zhivago that opened on Broadway last Tuesday, it “puts the zzzz into Zhivago”. In his review for deadline.com, Jeremy Gerard writes  that “deafening accents [are] provided by the intermittent firing of guns and cannons, of which [director Des] McAnuff seems wildly enamored (possibly to encourage us to stay awake).”

Another New York critic Elisabeth Vincentelli hits the nail on the head when she said in her review for the New York Post,  “At a time of heightened competition on Broadway, Doctor Zhivago is so dull, it may soon be Zhiva-gone.”

The Tony nominations are being announced this Tuesday, and that’s when the first shows will start tumbling: as Michael Riedel wrote in his New York Post column on Friday, there’s a positive bloodbath ahead:

“Clear the flop wall at Joe Allen! We’re going to need the space!”

That’s how one wag sizes up the situation on Broadway this week. To accommodate the coming bloodbath, Joe Allen may have to remove some of the posters on the long brick wall of his West 46th Street restaurant — of shows like “Nick & Nora,” “Carrie” and “Dude” — or start putting them up next door at Orso.

Mentioning that the revival of The Heidi Chronicles has already announced a May 3 close, he proceeds to cite trouble ahead for Living on Love, Dr Zhivago (it “may be headed for Siberia by the end of the month”), It Shoulda Been You and Gigi.  I saw the last four (but not the first), and it’s simply the fact that there’s far too much competition around for them all to survive, even though (at the performances I saw at any rate) Living on Love and It Shoulda Been You were both determined crowd-pleasers.

it-shoulda-been-youAnd truth to tell, I had a better time at It Shoulda Been You than I did at Something Rotten, the most hyped new musical about (very old) musicals in town, mainly because it has arguably the most luxurious and accomplished cast of any new musical on Broadway: Tyne Daly, Harriet Harris, Chip Zien (pictured left, with Michael X. Martin) and Edward Hibbert are each brilliant comic actors, and Sierra Boggess and Montego Glover serious vocalists. And there’s also terrific work from Lisa Howard, Josh Grisetti and David Burtka.

As Chris Jones wrote in one of the few non-grudging reviews of the show for the Chicago Tribune,  “a great deal of the content in this show lands with its audience. I have a feeling I’ll be at this particular wedding again and again, in some suburb, somewhere.”

And I have a feeling that, assuming it survives, this is one of the shows I’ll want to re-visit when I return to New York for the Tony Awards weekend in early June, along with the glorious Chita Rivera in Kander and Ebb’s dark, insinuating The Visit. Though part of me hopes that Chita might actually be off when I do — her standby is Donna McKechnie, another Broadway veteran (who actually won the Tony over Rivera in 1975 when they went head-to-head: Donna for A Chorus Line, Chita for the original Chicago).

As much as I loved the spectacular new King and I at Lincoln Center, I hope that the revival of On the Town (at the Lyric) isn’t forgotten for the Tonys: it’s my revival of the year, and the one I most want to revisit, too, in June.

The other show I hope isn’t forgotten is The Last Ship, Sting’s original musical that arrived on Broadway last October, but closed back in January, and has what I consider to be the best original score of the year there. Yesterday I heard it again sung by Sting himself, in concert on his home territory at the Sage, Gateshead, and hope it prefigures a proper UK outing for the show. (It was previously workshopped at Newcastle’s Live Theatre in 2012 before it went to Broadway). The show may need some structural work, but the score is a thrillingly original, folk-tinged masterpiece.

Meanwhile, I’m looking forward this week to re-visiting three more musicals: Closer to Heaven, the original Pet Shop Boys scored musical that’s returning to open at the Union on Tuesday, Carrie (the RSC’s notorious flop musical returning in a new production at Southwark PLayhouse) as well as Bugsy Malone, brought back to the stage to re-open the refurbished Lyric Hammersmith.

howard-goodallI’m also planning on heading to Peterborough Cathedral on Friday to hear Howard Goodall conduct local musicians in a performance of Every Purpose Under Heaven, the oratorio he composed to mark the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible and previously premiered in Westminster Abbey in 2011.

Also this week I’m hosting a live Q&A with Elaine Paige as part of Mountview’s 70th Anniversary celebrations at the Hospital Club on Thursday, and my good friend Scott Alan begins a four-night residency of his work at the St James next Sunday with a concert in the main house joined by surprise guests, before he does three nights in the downstairs studio with Cynthia Erivo. I can’t wait to be there (on at least three out of the four nights!)