Welcome to today’s edition of ShentonSTAGE Daily, in which I look back on the last week of theatre news and reviews (including my own).
FRIDAY AUGUST 25
My ShentonSTAGE Daily newsletter today is my week in review(s) column of the last 7 days from Edinburgh, London and Provincetown, including notes on the London premiere of NEXT TO NORMAL at Donmar Warehouse and seeing the great Marilyn Maye, aged 95 and still singing up a storm, in cabaret in Provincetown. You can read it here: https://shentonstage.com/shentonstage-daily-for-friday-august-25-the-week-in-reviews
I saw her a second time after writing the above column tonight, and she was just as captivating. What a true life force she is. You can watch a clip of her performance tonight here.
SATURDAY AUGUST 26
Tonight Dom Simpson ends his seven-year stint on THE BOOK OF MORMON — one that began the same week he graduated from ArtsEd (where I had taught him in his first year) when he flew to New York to become an understudy for the role of Elder Price on Broadway. I used to see him regularly there, and take him to shows on his off-days; he also had a scheduled run of performances in THE BOOK OF MORMON one week that I was there, so I was able to see him in it.
He subsequently returned home to take over the lead role in the West End full-time — and has stayed with it ever since. It must have been a tough decision to give up the regular paycheck — but at the same time I’m sure a bright future beckons for him.
SUNDAY AUGUST 27
Today we arrived back in London, after six nights on Cape Cod. On our last night in Provincetown on Friday, we had one last dinner at our favourite restaurant here, the Mayflower, with two of my best friends who live there now for half the year, composer, writer and life coach Dana P Rowe (pictured extreme right below) and his husband Andrew (beside him), and Ken Lonergan (the former town crier, pictured in red).
Provincetown has been a huge part of my husband and my life: we’ve been going every year, bar the two pandemic years when travel to the USA was prohibited, since we first met in 2008, and had our honeymoon there in 2012, when we were first joined by Dana and Andrew, who had only just met then.
They would become engaged a year later, also in PTown; I officiated their subsequent wedding in New York. Two years ago they bought their own beachside apartment in PTown. And in a delicious bit of Kismet, it overlooks that very first apartment we rented together back in 2013.
MONDAY AUGUST 28
I was away last week when Norm Lewis and Celinde Schoenmaker (pictured below) led three concert performances of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s LOVE NEVER DIES at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, reclaiming a musical that had a troubled West End birth afresh.
As WhatsOnStage editor Alex Wood has noted in a column, “Refreshed and revamped with its sumptuous score played by a 27-piece orchestra (kudos also to musical supervisor Simon Lee and musical director Freddie Tapner), the musical felt assured, dramatic, powerful and poignant – deftly utilising the acoustics of the recently refurbished Drury Lane to fill the space.”
Wood goes on to write, “The success of the piece highlights something missing from the UK theatre ecosystem. Repeating a call I made during last year’s staging of CHESS, another show that hasn’t had the most favourably received book but is well-known for its excellent tunes, what UK theatre needs is an Encores! programme, similar to the US. In the Big Apple, musicals that may not be seen as commercially viable for long runs or in dire need of an update are given shorter, starrier stints at New York City Center.”
Many of these — like Jason Robert Brown and Alfred Uhry’s PARADE most recently — have seen the shows return to Broadway.
Of course, those with long theatrical memories may recall that Ian Marshall Fisher actually pre-dated Encores! by offering concert readings of neglected musicals in his FORGOTTEN MUSICALS seasons that played for many years at the Theatre Museum and subsequently the Barbican Centre, but with only single piano accompaniment. It would be fantastic if a similar scheme was revived today on a larger scale.
TUESDAY AUGUST 29
I’ve pointed out before how the blogosphere is full of gush, with some trotting out endless variations of “the most exhilarating show of the year”, “this might just be the must-see musical of the year” and “this could possibly be the best show of the year” so that it all becomes utterly meaningless. (Not that the theatre industry cares; they eagerly lap up the praise, and even put it on their posters).
But when a historically neutral news site starts doing it, we are truly in a race to the bottom. Playbill.com, in Edinburgh this year ahead of their plans to park a cruise ship in Leith docks to provide fringe accommodation, has reviewed a number of shows it liked, and declares of one show BATSU (pictured below), “This is truly our favorite thing we’ve ever seen, anywhere.”
It’ll look good on the posters, for sure, which is presumably the hope and intention, but it begs the question: what else have you seen?
WEDNESDAY AUGUST 30
As OKLAHOMA! reaches the end of its run this Saturday at Wyndham’s, I dropped in one last time tonight to marvel yet again at this production’s daring, raucous yet defined, energy and startling insights into such a well-worn classic.
This is an OKLAHOMA! quite unlike any other — played with a ferocious intensity of feeling that propels its drama in new directions. In particular, Patrick Vaill’s Jud Fry (pictured above) is just astonishing: waves of hurt and rejection play across his face, and he sheds real tears. This may just be one of the finest performances I’ve ever seen in a musical (yes, I’m gushing — but it’s also true); and it certainly one of the most fully lived. He’s been with the production since it was first staged as a student show in 2006, and 17 years later, he is still playing it.
THURSDAY AUGUST 31
It has taken NEXT TO NORMAL nearly a decade and a half since its 2009 Broadway premiere to reach the West End, but now it is finally here at the Donmar Warehouse, where its entire run has sold out ahead of its opening there last week. I was away for the opening, so went to review it tonight — my full review will appear on PLAYS INTERNATIONAL later.
As I’ve written there, after its Broadway premiere (which I saw a total of ten times), “I regularly wrote about it — so much so that in 2016 I received an unsolicited phone call from its original Broadway producer David Stone asking for my suggestions for a route to bring it over. We subsequently met in New York, and I told him then that the best possible home for its London launch was the Donmar Warehouse. I’m not saying that I played a direct part in that actually happening now — obviously it required artistic director Michael Longhurst to want to programme it too. But now that this outcome has indeed come to pass, I feel particularly vindicated by the appropr
iateness of my recommendation. It’s a chamber musical — just 6 actors and 6 musicians — so it fits the Donmar like a glove. But it also has a huge emotional heft that is amplified in such an intimate space.”
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-august-28-2023/
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).