ShentonSTAGE Daily for FRIDAY OCTOBER 21

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Welcome to today’s edition of ShentonSTAGE Daily.

The current Tory shitshow

Who truly needs the theatre right now, given how much drama the House of Commons is providing on an hourly basis?

On Wednesday evening, Charles Walker, a backbencher Tory MP of some 17 years standing, was interviewed, and in a reply of barely contained fury about his parliamentary party being engulfed in chaos, remarked: “I’ve had enough of talentless people putting their tick in the right box.”

This could equally apply to the Arts Council’s funding priorities. And we’re already on notice that this is likely to be another shitshow, as funding is to be diverted out of London, under the desired intention to ‘level up’ the country. (It seems, though, that the Conservatives simply want to level the country, not level things up). Unfortunately building-based venues like BAC can’t simply put their venue on coasters and trundle it to an under-served regional location.

But yesterday saw Downing Street trundling out its lectern and Truss stepping forward to resign as the shortest-serving Prime Minister in history, which at least makes her notable for something; and Boris Johnson reportedly cutting short a Caribbean holiday to apparently launch a bid to return to Number 10 (Let’s hope Truss didn’t get around to replacing the expensive wallpaper he’d installed there at the behest of his wife, should he succeed in doing so). 

As playwright James Graham tweeted earlier yesterday morning, anticipating the lunchtime announcement,

Does Times Square need a casino?

The New York Times has reported on a plan for Times Square to have a casino open at 1515 Broadway, the SL Green skyscraper near West 44th Street. As the New York Times theatre reporter Michael Paulson has tweeted, there’s already a divergence of opinion from the main theatre industry players.

Times Square and its surrounding streets, of course, already have more than 40 places where people like to gamble away their money. The places are theatres and the people are producers.

And in GUYS AND DOLLS, arguably Broadway’s greatest ode to its own streets, the Salvation Army’s Save-a-Soul mission (cited in the show as being located at 409 W49th Street) is turned into a gambling den. If you visit this address, though, it’s actually a playground.

Until we gave it up a few months ago, my husband and I had an apartment one block up and one avenue across, so I felt a little like I was a living part of Runyonland.

But somehow going to a crapshoot in a mission — or sewer, as happens in GUYS AND DOLLS — is very different to going to a glossy Vegas style casino, and I fear that Times Square — already Disneyfied beyond previous recognition, is becoming a theme park like never before.

Theatre ticket prices: who can afford them anymore?

A week ago I wrote here of the prices being charged at the new production of GOOD at the Harold Pinter Theatre. This week critic David Jays, who writes for The Guardian, amongst others, tweeted:

It’s why, despite the low fees for journalism these days, it still pays to be a theatre critic — not with money, but so that you can actually go to the theatre.

However, even that comes at a price, sometimes, which is that you have to deal with theatre PRs to do so. In CHICAGO, the prison warder Mama Morton offers to make a phone call  on behalf of Velma Kelly.

Velma asks: “And how much would that phone call cost?”

Morton replies: “You know how I feel about you Vel. You’re like family. I’ll do it for fifty bucks.”

Velma in turn says: “Fifty bucks for a phone call? You must get a lot of wrong numbers, Mama.”

I often feel that way about theatre PRs, too. Some of them seem to get an awful lot of wrong numbers, given the regular “glitches” that seem to occur with emails that they fail to send or respond to, and the fees they are charging their clients for all those wrong numbers.

In the past few weeks and months, I’ve been pushed to breaking point more than once, and found myself copying in their clients in order to (try to) get a response at all.

When THE SEAGULL was heading to the Pinter Theatre earlier this year (pictured above), I sent four emails that were met with deafening silence. I finally had to email Jamie Lloyd, the director of the production whose own company was producing it, to get a result.

Last night a brand-new theatre opened in the West End (the first for 40 years). I emailed the PR on Monday — I couldn’t make it last night, asking for an alternative date. Four days later, there was still no response. I emailed again. this time copying in the theatre owner and producer, who responded immediately that I’d be welcome.

But as with our current shitshow of a government, there are new lows always to be found.  Another PR for the current regional tour of STRICTLY BALLROOM has not responded to four emails either. The same company represented a revival of SPEED-THE-PLOW in the West End a few years ago, starring Lindsay Lohan, and literally failed to send out ANY invitations to the press night. Critics had to make individual personal requests.

On Twitter, people regularly tell others to “Do Better”. It\s time perhaps for some PRs to do better themselves and be reminded that their job is to support the press — not alienate them. This is a hard enough industry as it is, for both them and us. Let’s not make it quite so difficult. 

LIz Callaway: one of Broadway’s best-ever voices, back in London (partly thanks to me)

Last night I caught up with the sublime Liz Callaway, whose talents I have regularly championed, bringing her new tribute show to Stephen Sondheim to London. I’d previously seen it on its New York premiere at 54 Below in March, when I wrote about it here; and I said, “I hope she brings the show to Crazy Coqs one day, where I last saw her in London; but nearly twenty-five years ago, I was instrumental in bringing her and her sister Ann Hampton Callaway to the Donmar Warehouse as part of the inaugural Divas at the Donmar season in 1998, which I helped to programme.”

It turns out that my tweet from New York saying that it needed to be seen at Crazy Coqs led directly to this engagement, with the venue contacting her after seeing it. She thanked me publicly from the stage last night, apparently — but I had briefly exited the room at that point to answer a call of nature!

So I’m proud to have played a part in the show being here; and to be able to see this beautiful programme in which she reminisces of her frequent collaborations with the composer, including making her Broadway debut, aged 21, in the short-lived original production of his 1981 show MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG, a legendary concert at the Whitney Museum called “A Stephen Sondheim Evening” in which she gave the first public airing to “What More Do I Need?” from Sondheim’s then still-unproduced 1954 musical SATURDAY NIGHT, and the famous FOLLIES IN CONCERT gala performance at Lincoln Center in 1985, in which she was Young Sally to Barbara Cook’s Sally. 

We got songs from these, and much more. She was also joined for “Move On” from SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE by the brilliant Damian Humbley (star of the Menier’s 2012 production of MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG).

As she sang “With So Little to Be Sure Of”, from one of Sondheim’s biggest-ever Broadway flops ANYONE CAN WHISTLE, I realised that in a world that is moving much too fast, there is at least one certainty: LIz Callaway herself, and Sondheim’s enduring legacy.

It was marvellous to know you/

And it’s never really through./

Crazy business this, this life we live in/

Can’t complain about the time we’re given/

With so little to be sure of in this world”

OPENINGS IN LONDON, ON BROADWAY AND BEYOND

My regularly updated feature of openings in London, on Broadway and selected regional theatres is here:  http://shentonstage.com/theatre-openings-from-w-c-october-17/, including new additions of the 2023 Open Air Theatre season in Regent’s Park.

SEE YOU ON MONDAY

I’ll be back here next on Monday. If you can’t wait that long, I may also be found on Twitter here: https://twitter.com/ShentonStage/ (though not as regularly on weekends)

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