Welcome to today’s edition of ShentonSTAGE Daily, in which I look back on the last seven days of theatre news and reviews (including my own).
Today marks the 11th anniversary of my wedding to my husband Mark in a ceremony in Central Park, New York, following the US-wide adoption of the legality of gay marriage following a Supreme Court ruling the year before in 2012.
I wonder if the current Supreme Court would rule in the same way — and whether there might yet be an attempt to roll this back. Certainly Justice Clarence Thomas has recently suggested there might be an opportunity to re-visit it after abortion rights were similarly overturned after several decades of being settled law. As it is, they are already reintroducing the right to discriminate by service providers of theoretical rights to limit the provision of website designs.
And in disturbing proof of how the world is swinging, my posting of an even more innocuous wedding picture than the one above on Facebook got cited as a possible breach of their community standards!
I’ve meanwhile had a good week of theatre too, especially musical theatre, including a brand-new original British one (THEN, NOW & NEXT, at Southwark Playhouse), a brilliant classic brilliantly revived by students at the Royal Academy (CAROUSEL) and a regional jaunt to Leeds and Sheffield for a terrific new jukebox show based on the catalogue of Roy Orbison (IN DREAMS) and a brand-new and searching new production of MISS SAIGON respectively, even if across the Pennines another leading regional theatre, Manchester’s Royal Exchange, is specifically currently challenging the very integrity of that late 80s behemoth with UNTITLED F*CK M*SS S**GON PLAY (which I’ll see when it transfers to London’s Young Vic later in the year).
FRIDAY JULY 7
Rodgers and Hammerstein’s CAROUSEL is already my favourite Rodgers and Hammerstein show: a profound meditation on a dysfunctional relationship, and trying to repair that damage from beyond the grave. And seeing it again today in a production at the Royal Academy of Music in my current state of grief, as my best and oldest friend died last night (as I wrote in my column here last week), it hit me even harder.
Just as GROUNDHOG DAY for me is a show about how you can’t change the past but you can change the future, the carousel barker Billy Bigelow in CAROUSEL is afforded the priceless opportunity to resolve unfinished business with the daughter who was born before he died — and he fails again. It’s totally wrenching.
Bruce Guthrie’s production is profound, layered and musically exquisite; hearing this ravishing score played by a nearly 30-strong orchestra truly is something.
SATURDAY JULY 8
As a regular user of Twitter, I’ve been watching the dying gasps of the service with a mixture of sadness and relief.
As JM Booyah, the Guardian’s senior tech reporter, put in in a feature on its death throes,
“Today, Twitter is a ghost town. The spice, the joy, the pressure to be funny has gone. Many users are mad. Paid subscribers get top billing – their tweets are pushed to the tops of people’s feeds, they get to tweet more characters. People who no one would ever question whether they are who they say they are have their accounts verified, you know, just in case. Twitter always had a tendency to be an echo chamber, but you got to choose the one you wanted to be in. Today it’s still an echo chamber, but the main voice you’re hearing is Elon Musk’s.”
I’ve just this week watched my closest friend die in real time, following pancreatic cancer that he could nothing to avoid. But watching the ever-approaching death of Twitter feels more self-inflicted. Elon Musk has brought this upon himself.
As Mehdi Hassan tweeted,
Meanwhile, as Zuckerberg’s Meta launched its own rival to Twitter with Threads, Musk tweeted this:
What a desperate state of affairs.
SUNDAY JULY 9
Talking of desperation: as 13 years of Tory (mis)rule spiral into chaos and discord, today’s Observer points out that they’ve given us 12 culture secretaries in that time period, including Jeremy Hunt, Nadine Dorries and Oliver Dowden (pictured below).
None have been more destructive than Dorries, who continues her toxic abrogation of duty by apparently resigning after being denied a promised peerage in Boris Johnson’s resignation honours, but now refusing to formally do so, yet continuing to take a full MPs salary and expenses that include a salary for her daughter as her assistant, yet not actually appearing in the Commons for months on end.
This week she announced she’s working on a new book defending Boris Johnson’s tenure as Prime Minister. She, however, is absolutely indefensible.
MONDAY JULY 10
My ShentonSTAGE newsletter today is on IDIOTS ASSEMBLE: THE SPITTING IMAGE MUSICAL and another new (and better) British musical THEN, NEXT AND NOW at Southwark Playhouse: https://shentonstage.com/shentonstage-daily-for-monday-july-10/
TUESDAY JULY 11
I’ve written before about the utterly sublime Broadway actor and singer Melissa Errico, and tonight she returned to Crazy Coqs with a cabaret programme that stretched with intelligence and feeling from her mentor Michel Legrand to Stephen Sondheim, Gershwin, Porter, Lerner & Loewe, Rodgers & Hart and Harold Arlen.
Tonight she was delightfully joined by Isabelle Georges from Paris (they are pictured together above), as they had starred in Legrand’s AMOUR in Paris and on Broadway respectively. What a treat!
WEDNESDAY JULY 12
Today I travelled north to Yorkshire, to see two musicals on successive nights at leading regional theatres.
Tonight I saw the world premiere of the amiable IN DREAMS at Leeds Playhouse which — seeing it less than a week after my own best and oldest friend died of cancer, aged 56 — cuts into poignant notes of grief and loss as a woman with the big C summonses her friends for a last reunion.
That this dark theme is anchored to the back catalogue of Roy Orbison lends the songs extra depth, and a reunion of leading man Oliver Tompsett (second from the right above) writer David West Read and director Luke Sheppard from AND JULIET means they know which buttons to push.
They also field an extra secret weapon in the formidable Broadway actor Lena Hall in the lead female role (pictured above in the centre), perfectly complementing Tompsett.
THURSDAY JULY 13
Tonight I saw the opening night of the brand-new production of MISS SAIGON at Sheffield’s Crucible Theatre, nearly exactly 34 years on from its original 1989 premiere at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane.
This magnificent production defiantly and definitely retrieves it from charges of cultural appropriation to tell its story of a US assault that wraps its soldiers in a complicated legacy. So does the show, which originally fielded non-Asian actors like Jonathan Pryce playing the lead role of an Asian wheeler-dealer.
Co-directors Rob Hastie and Anthony Lau have made casting choices that reclaim agency for the protagonists, notably Jessica Lee’s haunting and haunted Kim, Christian Maynard’s Chris and Joanna Ampil’s wonderful Engineer. Also superb are Shane O’Riordan’s John and Shanay Holmes’ Ellen.
Claude-Michel Schonberg’s music, stunningly orchestrated by William David Brohn, is his best — even more memorable and haunting than Les Mis — and it is stirringly played by an onstage band led by Chris Poon, and ravishingly sung throughout, with superb sound from Mike Walker.
This show is Cameron Mackintosh’s greatest producorial achievement: unlike Les Mis, which he acquired as an already-produced property but then gave a brand-new production to, this one he built from the ground up. As a producer, Mackintosh’s biggest skill has often seemed to be focused on promotion and distribution: with ad agency Dewynters (whom I once worked for at the height of Mackintosh’s global expansion), he created branding campaigns that gave his shows massive reach, and then rolled them out globally. But MISS SAIGON was also creatively inspired by Mackintosh’s singular passion.
SHOWS AHEAD IN LONDON, SELECTED REGIONAL THEATRES AND ON BROADWAY
My regularly updated feature on shows in London, selected regional theatres and on Broadway is here: https://shentonstage.com/theatre-openings-from-w-c-july-10-2023/
See you here on Monday
I will be here on Monday. If you can’t wait that long, I may also be found on Twitter (for the moment) here: https://twitter.com/ShentonStage/ and Threads with the same handle (@ShentonStage).