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 JUNE 16
I’ve already written here about the theatregoer sitting a couple of rows in front of me who threw up during the first act of THE CRUCIBLE tonight at the Gielgud Theatre.
But apart from that, Mrs Lincoln, how was the play?
This forever timely Arthur Miller classic from a McCarthy era 1953 is the perfect one for our fractured, antagonistic times, where false accusations, if repeated often enough, come to be embraced and actually believed. Your followers will hear your claims of a rigged election, and even storm the Capitol.
This questing, questioning play has long become a theatrical staple. This is the second time I’ve seen the play at the Gielgud theatre alone — it was previously seen there in 2006 in a transfer for Dominic Cooke’s RSC revival (with Iain Glen); this new Lyndsey Turner production is a transfer from the National, who had previously revived the play in 1990 (when the late Howard Davies directed Tom Wilkinson as John Proctor). In-between the RSC and current NT outings, we’ve also had Richard Armitage in Yaël Farber’s revival at the Old Vic. (And I’ve also seen a Broadway revival in 2016, with Ivo van Hove directing Ben Whishaw in his Broadway debut, with Sophie Okonedo as Elizabeth Proctor and Saoirse Ronan as Abigail Williams).
To be honest, when it opened at the NT I resisted seeing it yet again: just as I no longer find myself compelled to see every Macbeth or King Lear, I thought I could sit this one out. But I was glad to have had the opportunity to catch up with it after all. The play’s churning core of steel and principle is always relevant and resonant. And Irish actor Brian Gleeson is a superbly conflicted Proctor, wrestling with his conscience as the world seemingly goes mad around him. There is also extraordinary support, including from one of my favourite old-timer NT members Karl Johnson, who I’ve been seeing there since he was a member of Bill Bryden’s magnificent company there in the eighties.
SATURDAY JUNE 17
After seeing WE WILL ROCK YOU at the London Coliseum, I tweeted this:
It reached a lot of people as you can see on the screenshot above. A couple of days later, I received a determined private email from a member of the creative team, wondering aloud why I’d bothered to come to see it, and defending his triple threat director, writer and current star.
I admire the sense of loyalty. But after all these years — and given that the production has been revamped and updated, I felt it was necessary to see it and give it another chance.
I wrote a bit about the original reviews — including my own, here. (I was unable to name the cover who played the Killer Queen instead of Brenda Edwards there, as I missed the cast board at the theatre, but I’ve since found out it was the formidable Jenny O’Leary)
SUNDAY JUNE 18
Today I paid a third visit to Ivo van Hove’s gruelling A LITTLE LIFE; I’d seen it at last year’s Edinburgh International Festival in Dutch, then its English language premiere at the Pinter Theatre when it opened in April (I reviewed it for Plays International at the time here, https://playsinternational.org.uk/a-little-life-harold-pinter-theatre/).
Seeing it again today, it was wonderful to see James Norton’s phenomenal performance again — and his clearly evident pride (and relief) at the curtain call. This is a major feat: one of the most extraordinary performances I’ve ever seen, utterly exposed in every way possible.
It is a bruising theatre event in every sense; both deeply upsetting and unsettling, but also a tender portrait of the healing powers of friendship and how humans try to soothe those who’ve been harmed.
It has now closed at the Pnter, but will resume performances at the Savoy from July 3 to August 5.
MONDAY JUNE 19
Tonight I revisited the chillingly good production of ASSASSINS at Chichester Festival Theatre, which is framed by a GOP political rally presided over by Donald Trump and ends in a trashed, post-January 6 Oval Office that makes the current toxic direction of travel in the (dis)united States all too apparent.
Director Polly Findlay has given Sondheim and Weidman’s bold imagining of the motives of presidential assassins an astonishing prescience that has led directly to the current moment; it is easily the best production of the show I’ve ever seen.
The extraordinary company gives career-best performances, including the utterly remarkable Nick Holder, who raises the game (and stakes) for everyone, full of desolation, desperation and barely-contained fury.
TUESDAY JUNE 20
Today I flew to nyc: as I tweeted,
WEDNESDAY JUNE 21
Tonight in New York I caught Adam Guettel and Craig Lucas’s wrenching and sobering (in every sense) new musical version of DAYS OF WINE AND ROSES in which a couple battle for sobriety in 1950s New York. Though I’ve never picked up the drink, I know about the struggles of battling addiction first hand, and the effects of it on families, so I was intensely moved.
With Guettel’s glorious gift for powerful songs, they are delivered by two soaring voices — Brian d’Arcy James and Kelli O’Hara, who also mine depths of shame and sorrow to shattering effect.
This show has been in development for a long time, originally with now disgraced producer Scott Rudin, but I’m glad that producers Kevin McCollum and Mark Cortale have now joined forces with Atlantic to bring it to the stage at last. This is a story that needs to be told, and its impact is shattering.
THURSDAY JUNE 22
The last season saw Cinderella make two appearances: in Sondheim and Lapine’s fairytale mash-up INTO THE WOODS, and as the titular character of Andrew Lloyd Webber and David Zippel muddled BAD CINDERELLA. Now Cinderella makes a further appearance — along with other fairy tale heroines — in ONCE UPON A ONE MORE TIME that officially opened at the Marquis tonight (and I saw at a press matinee yesterday).
With the closing of BAD CINDERELLA earlier this month, Lloyd Webber does not have a musical playing on Broadway for the first time since EVITA opened there in 1979, some 43 years ago. The decades that followed saw him equal Rodgers and Hammerstein’s record of having four titles playing simultaneously in 2017, when THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, SCHOOL OF ROCK and a revival of CATS were joined by another of SUNSET BOULEVARD (the composer is pictured with members of each of those companies above)
But there are now no fewer than three shows featuring songs made into hits by Britney Spears: ONCE UPON A ONE MORE TIME is finally a show of wall-to-wall Spears songs, after MOULIN ROUGE and & JULIET only featured selected tracks. The pop back catalogue take-over of Broadway — which in addition to these three also currently has Neil Diamond’s back catalogue folded into a stage bio of his life called BEAUTIFUL NOISE and MIchael Jackson’s career celebrated in MJ — may be giving audiences the reassurance of familiarity.
The bright but ultimately bland fan show that screenwriter John Hartmere has created by folding Spears tunes into his story of female empowerment is intriguingly also is a work creation opportunity for his long-time domestic partner, British stage and screen actor Adam Godley (they’ve been together for 16 years), who plays the narrator figure. It’s quite the contrast to his last Broadway outing in the transfer of the National’s THE LEHMAN TRILOGY (he is pictured above with scene-stealing Jennifer Simard as Cinderella’s stepmother).
Tonight I also saw the return to Lincoln Center’s David H Koch Theatre of Luc Plamondon and Richard Cocciante’s 1998 French spectacle NOTRE DAME DE PARIS, which has long become an international touring hit. It was brought to London in an English language adaptation in 2000, but it sounds better in its original French, as it is now performed in New York (with surtitles on either side of the stage), with vibrant acrobats sprawling and leaping over the climbing wall of back of the stage, it delivers as an exhilaratingly visceral and memorably melodic spectacle.
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-june-19-2023/
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/ (though not as regularly on weekends)