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 23
MRS DOUBTFIRE opened officially at London’s Shaftesbury Theatre tonight; I’ve been in New York since Tuesday, but I saw an invited press performance last Saturday, and my review (for Plays International) is here: https://playsinternational.org.uk/mrs-doubtfire-shaftesbury-theatre/
SATURDAY JUNE 24
With the UK undergoing a heatwave, one of the consequences, it seems, is that some theatres have been cancelling shows.
Wimbledon Theatre tweeted this weekend,
The important question surely is how come ATG haven’t got Air Conditioning in all their theatres as standard yet? And what else IS the “restoration” levy charge on each ticket being spent on?
SUNDAY JUNE 25
Today, the last Sunday of June, is the day that New York always celebrates Pride, coinciding with the anniversary of the Stonewall riots in 1969 that gave birth to the modern gay rights movement.
Four years ago my husband and I were here for the 50th anniversary (pictured above).
Today, with the GOP using gay and especially trans rights as a weapon as attention-seeking missiles in their endlessly pursued culture wars to drive the division and disharmony they thrive on, we need to stand up and be counted more than ever.
After the disgraceful Supreme Court’s overthrow a year ago of Roe v Wade that had previously long secured rights to legal abortion has shown that everything is up for grabs, Supreme Court justice Clarence Thomas suggested that it might be a good time to re-visit the constitutionality of legal gay marriage next (but not apparently of the kind of everyday conflicts of interest that has seen him accept expensive holidays from people with cases that have come up at the court’s benches), we need to be ever-vigilant.
Interestingly, there’s a scene set at a UK Pride march in FRANK AND PERCY, Ben Weatherill’s new play at Windsor Theatre Royal that stars Ian McKellen and Roger Allam (pictured above) as a couple of elderly gay men finding gay love with each other late in life; and its curious to find Sunday Times theatre critic Quentin Letts going in for the kill with a review in the Culture supplement today that clearly finds him triggered by its contents. “Things go awry only when the director, Sean Mathias, allows McKellen to overdo things. Give the old show-off a postcoital scene and, inevitably, he undoes his shirt to show us his torso. Likewise, some karaoke singing and a scene of supposed hilarity about gay pride costumes spoil the deft understatement of much of the rest of the production.”
He embarrasses himself — and the paper — by then showing McKellen a shocking level of disrespect: “There is a whiff of hammy narcissism to this enterprise and it may be time for McKellen, or his vanity, to retire.” Perhaps the person who should be retired is Letts, not McKellen.
MONDAY JUNE 26
I’ve just spent the last six nights in New York — my home from home, though no longer quite as literally as before after we gave up our apartment here last year, but I still come over as often as I can.
I’ve already written about some of the shows I caught here and here. Of the 8 performances I attended, two were of the same new show (DAYS OF WINE AND ROSES) by composer Adam Guettel and book writer Craig Lucas, so I built a repeat into my schedule; of the other six performances, one was another, earlier Guettel/Lucas collaboration, THE LIGHT IN THE PIAZZA, receiving a concert revival as part of the Encores season at New York City Center, and a real personal favourite of mine, one of the most yearningly beautiful scores of the century’s musicals so far.
There was only one other show that was brand-new to me (ONCE UPON A ONE MORE TIME, constructed out of pop hits made famous by Britney Spears, so not entirely original). Two more I’d seen in London already (THE DOCTOR and JUST FOR US), and the last was HERE LIES LOVE — an original collaboration by pop figures David Byrne and Fatboy Slim — which has finally arrived on Broadway ten years after I first saw it Off-Broadway (and then at the NT, where it re-opened the refurbished and re-named Dorfman).
I’m just missing the start of Broadway previews for another import from the West End, BACK TO THE FUTURE at the Winter Garden (pictured above) which I have no great need to see again. But I’ve also not caught GREY HOUSE, a new play with Laurie Metcalf, or THE SIGN IN SIDNEY BRUSTEIN’S WINDOW, both of which had opened since my last trip in April, and I won’t now, as they’ll be long gone by the next time I’m here.
As in London, I have to resign myself to not being able to catch everything I’d like to see. But I’m most upset about missing a one-off concert performance of Maury Yeston and Arthur Kopit’s 1982 musical NINE that’s taking place tonight, and features one of my most beloved scores of the 1980s. When it was announced, I immediately booked a ticket — then rang BA to move my flight. They said they could accommodate me — at a cost of $2000!
I politely declined. Fortunately the concert has sold out, and the venue happily refunded me the ticket, so I’m not out of pocket on it at least.
TUESDAY JUNE 27
In a tweet today, consumer champion and adviser Martin Lewis wrote,
Though I don’t have quite the following that Mr Lewis has, this reminds me of some of the negative reactions I received during the COVID crisis when I dared to question how the theatre industry was (or wasn’t) taking steps to mitigate its dangers, like mandating masking.
I even had some asking why I was trying to destroy the industry; far from it, I was trying to PROTECT it.
WEDNESDAY JUNE 28
Tonight I attended a very moving concert by theatre composer Adrian Sutton at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, called SEIZE THE DAY (no, not a reference to NEWSIES, but to his own determination to make the most of what life he has left, after a recent terminal cancer diagnosis).
As he wrote in The Guardian last December, “Alas, I’ll be missing out on 30 or more years of life that could have been spent on the things that ultimately matter: my partner, friends and family, good food, lively discussion, playing chamber music. In truth though, we all have limited time – and resources. How to make best use of them? In my situation, there’s only one answer: avoid egregious waste of both time and energy ruminating on things I can’t change. Instead, I can choose how I react to the facts – and I’m choosing not to be a victim.”
And this warm and embracing valedictory concert, hosted by Classic FM presenter Zeb Soanes (pictured above left with the composer) and played by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra under Michael Seal, featured two world premieres — with Fenella Humphresys performing Sutton’s gorgeous new Concerto for Violin — alongside extracts and cues from his theatre scores that famously include WAR HORSE and THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME, as well as a snippet from HUSBANDS AND SONS, a NT/Royal Exchange production he scored but which he found his contribution had been entirely removed from at the tech run-through, so it was in fact another world premiere.
It was particularly poignant to hear this affirmative concert tonight, after spending the afternoon with my best and most enduring friend — we’ve known each other for 39 years — at a hospital where he is also being treated for terminal pancreatic cancer. He and Adrian are the same age.
THURSDAY JUNE 29
As I was in New York last week, I missed the opening of MOM, HOW DID YOU MEET THE BEATLES?, the UK premiere of an autobiographical play by Adrienne Kennedy and her son Adam P Kennedy that tells the oddly shocking story of how, as a young playwright, she travelled to London to work on a play with John Lennon, based on his nonsense poems, IN HIS OWN WRITE, in 1966, that was commissioned by Laurence Olivier’s National Theatre at the Old Vic.
After being courted by Olivier himself — and his literary manager Kenneth Tynan — she found herself removed from it when they wanted to give sole authorial credit to Lennon (though he was heading to India for six months and had no time to participate in its active creation). As powerfully narrated by Rakid Ayoka (pictured above), with Jack Benjamin as her son providing a musical accompaniment and occasional prompting questions from the side, this is a slice of mostly forgotten theatrical history brought to life with a fascinating immediacy
It reminded me of the unedifying story of how Sarah Henley and Tori Allen-Martin conceived and brought a show that was eventually called TREE to Kwame Kwei-Armah and Idris Elba. before being excluded from its billing by the time it premiered at Manchester International Festival in 2019 that was followed by a run at Kwei-Armah’s Young VIc. They wrote about their experience here, stating, “This whole process has been terribly upsetting and we’ve felt terrified about speaking out, but we want to be the change we want to see, and ultimately have been left with no choice because those involved fail to accept that we have a claim.”
Clearly not a lot has changed in the fifty-something years between Kennedy’s treatment and those of Henley and Allen-Martin.
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-262023/
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)