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).
FRIDAY JULY 21
My column today is my regularly updated week in review(s) round-up of news and reviews of the last seven days, including my own.
Tonight I revisited THEN, NOW & NEXT at Southwark Playhouse, which definitely rewards a second viewing, both for its intricately textured songs and their powerful delivery by the tremendous cast, led by the fine, fierce Alice Fearn (pictured centre above). When I saw it the first time, Fearn was off and the show’s director Julie Atherton brilliantly stood in, as I reported here at the time.
But Atherton, of course, had not been fully rehearsed to be in her own production, or had time to grow in the role, so it was good to see the show as it was intended to be seen.
SATURDAY JUNE 22
Last night I visited the Lavender Theatre in Epsom,a brand-new outdoor theatre located on a lavender farm in Surrey, to see their opening production ANNIE GET YOUR GUN, and today I caught up at last with James Graham’s DEAR ENGLAND at the National. I reported on both in my column here: https://shentonstage.com/shentonstage-daily-for-monday-july-24/
SUNDAY JULY 23
There’s bad news at the Edinburgh Fringe, according to Alice Savile in a feature for the FT: “The Total Theatre Awards and The Stage Awards, both key platforms where emerging talents are discovered, have announced they can’t afford to run this year.”
Of course awards are not the reason companies go to Edinburgh, but it helps shows to rise above the crowd, and can propel a future life for them.
An early closing notice has been posted today for the West End transfer of the Broadway jukebox musical devoted to the Temptations AIN’T TOO PROUD, that I wasn’t tempted to see again here after I saw it originally on Broadway when it first opened there.
The same thing happened for me with TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. Though I’m a serial repeater on shows I love, once was enough for both of these.
MONDAY JULY 24
Mark B. Simon was the quintessential New Yorker: a small but mighty chain-smoking theatrical casting director, whose death I heard about today via a Facebook posting by Jason Robert Brown, whose Broadway premieres of PARADE and 13 he had cast, as well as Off-Broadway’s THE LAST 5 YEARS.
As Jason wrote of him,
“Casting directors aren’t exactly part of the creative team, but every successful project owes its success in no small measure to its casting director, who guides the right actors to the right roles and then guides the creative team to the actor who most closely fulfills their vision. Every casting director brings their own personality into the job, but what made Mark so distinctive to me was how much he loved actors. He fought for them, he believed in them, he was determined that they succeed. He loved the audition process, he loved giving actors notes and watching them rise to the challenge. I had worked with other casting directors who seemed bored of the whole thing, in it for the check, capriciously cruel or indifferent. Here’s the thing: of all my close friends, Mark was easily the cattiest and the bitchiest but he was not cynical about the theater. He couldn’t wait to do his job.”
I first met Mark myself when a mutual friend introduced us to each other at a restaurant near Lincoln Square. We would go on to become close friends — I’d see him every time I was in New York, and he would travel to London often, sometimes staying with his friends Zoë Wanamaker and Gawn Grainger at their house in Islington (during a brief career as a producer, Mark had transferred a MTC revival of LOOT to Broadway that featured Zoë; when he was trying to raise funds for it, he told me he’d asked his mother to sell a kidney…. I don’t think he was even joking!)
Once Mark, Zoë, Gawn and I went to see a revival of a Noel Coward play at the National together; at the second interval they all decided it was time to call it quits, so we all went for dinner instead!
On another visit he made to the UK, he and I went on a road trip; I drove him to Bath, where we stayed in a B&B. In the middle of the night I was woken by snoring that was so loud that the walls were vibrating. I had to take my duvet downstairs to the lounge and sleep the rest of the night there!
I was his guest at the Tony Awards the year that RAGTIME (which he’d cast) lost to THE LION KING, a show that was one of his greatest achievements, alongside the original PARADE.
After his move to LA, I visited once — it’s not my favourite city — but he seemed happy enough. Until he lost his job at Mark Taper and had a stroke; he soldiered on bravely but it came at quite a cost, in every sense.
I was saddened when he was forced to crowd fund for his medical expenses here on FB. I made a small contribution, but felt very helpless that I couldn’t do more. I wish the industry could have been kinder to one of its foot soldiers that had given so much to it.
The closing notice was posted today for NEW YORK, NEW YORK, directed and choreographed by Susan Stroman based on the 1977 Martin Scorsese film of the same name. It will shutter on July 30.
One of my favourite twitter accounts in @LiZaOutlives, in which the passing of a celebrity, show or other landmark is marked in comparison with the life of Liza Minnelli, showbusiness’s ultimate survivor. Liza has now outlived the stage version of one of her own most celebrated film vehicles.
TUESDAY JULY 25
The ever-aggressive Ambassador Theatre Group — the UK-based theatre chain, originally founded by Howard Panter and Rosemary Squire and now private-equity owned — have just expanded their Broadway footprint significantly, by buying a 93% stake in Jujamcyn, the smallest of Broadway’s three big landlords, who currently own and operate five Broadway houses (shown below in collage from the New York Times).
The remaining 7% will be retained by Jujamcyn’s Jordan Roth, who is also staying on to become creative director of the combined company, and will also receive a 7% stake in ATG”s current pair of Broadway houses, the Lyric (home to HARRY POTTER AND THE CURSED CHILD) and the Hudson.
Prior to the deal, ATG already operated 58 venues in Britain, Germany, and the United States. They now look poised to become the world’s largest theatre operator.
I unsubscribed at last from The Stage, realising I didn’t need the aggravation of reading its content anymore or finding myself compelled to report its numerous errors to its editor as an unpaid copy reader.
I’m sure they are more relieved than grateful — who needs the regular criticism? — but having left THE STAGE four years ago after nearly 15 years as critic, columnist, feature writer, and associate editor there — as well as unpaid judge for their multiple awards events, it’s best not to have to read their endlessly repetitive columnists and frequently inadequate critics anymore. (I exempt reviews editor Sam Marlowe from this charge — she is absolutely an asset and I will miss reading her reviews).
WEDNESDAY JULY 26
Tonight I saw a “Friends and family” London preview for Benjamin Scheuer’s latest Edinburgh bound solo autobiographical musical A MOUNTAIN FOR ELODIE that continues where THE LION finished. That truly remarkable musical chronicled his own survival from cancer, at the age of 30, and his relationship with his own father, who died at the age of 42 when Benjamin was barely a teenager.
Now Benjamin has become a parent himself, and this tender, terrific story of parenting and the impossibility of achieving closure is another deeply moving show about love and trying to make sense of loss.
A week before he goes on to Edinburgh, the show is still not quite finished — there’s a moment which he says he’s still got to write a song for — so I’ll have to see it yet again up there at the Gilded Balloon. But then he reminds us that one of the great songs from THE LION — Weathering the Storm — was only completed just ahead of that show’s Edinburgh premiere.
THURSDAY JULY 27
Tonight saw the delayed press night for THE CROWN JEWELS at the Garrick, that was due to have taken place last Wednesday; the pressed ahead with their ‘gala night’ that night, but critics were told, “The producer has advised that this new play is still evolving throughout previews, and that it will not be locked in time for the original press night”.
They may have bought extra time before offering it up to critics tonight, but I dread to think what state it must have been in before. The show is a dismally unfunny “comedy” that woefully squanders a first-rate comic cast but even their best efforts can’t rescue. I couldn’t find a guest to take with me, and was hugely relieved that I didn’t subject anyone else to it. It’s a show that misfires on all cylinders.
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-24-2023/
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/, as well as Threads and Instagram with the same handle (@ShentonStage).