Welcome to today’s edition of ShentonSTAGE, posted ahead of my spinal surgery later this morning.
So although on Friday I said I wouldn’t be back till this Friday, I’m here anyway, with my digest of last week in the theatre and the week ahead, both personal and more wide-reaching, including theatrical announcements of the week and openings of both the week past and the one ahead, plus day-by-day observations. (Last week’s column is here: shentonstage.com/shentonstage-daily-for-monday-april-4/)
Diary and Digest of the theatrical week
- MONDAY APRIL 4
* Last night (April 3) saw the presentation of the annual Grammy’s — the recording industry’s Oscars — and it saw another David and Goliath victory for a scrappy internet-created musical cast recording THE UNOFFICIAL BRIDGERTON MUSICAL beating out over the Broadway cast of GIRL FROM THE NORTH COUNTRY and the London recordings of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s CINDERELLA and THE LES MISERABLES STAGED CONCERT for Best Musical Theater Album.
There’s definitely a rebellion afoot against the old guard of Lloyd Webber and Cameron Mackintosh, who’ve dominated musicals for the last half century; CINDERELLA was also all-but-excluded from last night’s Olivier Awards, too, competing in just one category (which it lost).
* Tweet of the day today:
West End theatre will no doubt be in a similar predicament soon, where audiences have — mostly — abandoned masks entirely.
- TUESDAY APRIL 5
According to a story on WhatsOnStage, British musical theatre’s presiding superstar Michael Ball is set to turn his hand to novel writing. And it’s not just one book he’s got planned, but an entire series!
He is quoted saying,
“In my opinion, nothing beats the magic of the theatre and, my goodness we’ve missed it! And so I wanted to try and capture that magic on the page, through the fictional lives of a cast of characters whose world revolves around this wonderful theatre, The Empire. Performing and bringing joy to people is what I love more than anything and to think that I might be able to bring that to a different audience is truly exhilarating… These novels are going to be a love letter to all the theatres and performers I’ve worked in and with around the world.”
Set in a fictional theatre in the 1920s, it will be available from October 13.
- WEDNESDAY APRIL 6
My ShentonSTAGE DAILY newsletter for today is here, detailing the fallout to Clive Davis’s review of Chinonyerem Odimba’s BLACK LOVE at the Kiln.
Predictably, I get a lot of Twitter abuse for it, including accusations of racism, bullying (from full-time grievance merchant and playwright Morgan Lloyd Malcolm, inevitably) and that I am missing the point (by ArtsEd’s Head of Acting, where I used to teach); but I am gratified, too, by the support, including from Clive Davis himself and an email with Peter Brook’s reaction from Paris.
The column also includes the happy news of Mike Bartlett having three plays on simultaneously in London; and the less happy news of multiple COVID cancellations on Broadway this week.
* Ahead of this weekend’s Olivier Awards, The Duchess of Cornwall presented this year’s special recognition Oliviers in a separate event held at Clarence House.
PIctured above with the Duchess, the winners are Lisa Burger, outgoing executive director of the National; Bob King, graphic designer; Sylvia Young, founder of the theatre school that bears her name; Susie Sainsbury, arts philanthropist, and Gloria Louis, Delfont Mackintosh’s inclusion and diversity lead.
* Musical tweet of the day: I’ve not seen ANYONE CAN WHISTLE at Southwark Playhouse yet (see reviews, below), but this link to the great Millicent Martin singing ‘Everybody Says Don’t’ from its score in a 1967 TV special is worth checking out. CQ
- THURSDAY APRIL 7
Today it was announced that KINKY BOOTS — the Harvey Fierstein/Cyndi Lauper musical adaptation of the British film that ran six years on Broadway, from 2013 to 2019 — is set to return to New York. But this time it is downsizing: it will play at Off-Broadway’s Little Shubert Theatre on west 42nd Street, from July 26 prior to an official opening on August 25.
It joins such former Broadway titles as JERSEY BOYS and THE PLAY THAT GOES WRONG, both of which returned to New York after closing on Broadway, to play at New World Stages on West 50th Street.
Meanwhile, in London KINKY BOOTS is also set to make an imminent return, in a new production at Hornchurch’s Queens Theatre, from September 28.
- FRIDAY APRIL 8
My ShentonSTAGE Daily newsletter today is on THE FEVER SYNDROME at Hampstead Theatre & “DADDY” at the Almeida, and my imminent visit to a different kind of theatre, an operating one, on Monday. http://shentonstage.com/shentonstage-daily-for-friday-april-8/
* Column of the day: There’s a very good temperature check (in every sense) on Broadway right now from Lee Seymour for Forbes, as COVID hits again and 17 shows are set to open up to April 28 here. How much will it be disrupted?
* Tonight saw the (long-delayed) opening, at last, of the ENO’s new production of THE HANDMAID’S TALE, after losing a third of its scheduled six performance run at the London Coliseum, after COVID interruptions to rehearsals. Some of the audience even came dressed for the show, like the little girls at FROZEN that turn up in Elsa dresses!
Both austerely beautiful and grimly riveting, its a disturbingly prescient tale of an America where a new Puritanism meant abortion was illegal and women subjugated. Just like the modern Republican Party seems to be intent on recreating.
A really stark production from artistic director Annilese Miskommon, making her directorial debut at the helm of ENO, is fiercely led by mezzo-soprano Kate Lindsay in a house debut as Offred. And in a quirky bit of “stunt” casting, there’s a cameo (in a non-singing role) from the amazing Camille Cottin— Andrea in Netflix’s CALL MY AGENT — as the narrator that opens and closes the show. It was very brief, but such a glamorous addition!
Finally, an authorial footnote: the librettist to THE HANDMAID’S TALE is a man called Paul Bentley, whom the programme tells us is also an actor. What I didn’t realise, till I saw him in the audience (and he also took a curtain call), was that he was the stalwart of West End musicals in the 80s and 90s, whom I saw in such shows as the London premiere of Sondheim’s FOLLIES (produced by Cameron Mackintosh in 1987, in which he played Roscoe), the original production of Lloyd Webber’s ASPECTS OF LOVE in 1989 (as Marcel Richard) and Sam Mendes’s revival of COMPANY at the Donmar Warehouse in 1995, playing Larry, who was married to Sheila Gish’s Joanne).
- SATURDAY APRIL 9
A lovely report from Tim Walker on the recent Riverside Studios run of his debut play BLOODY DIFFICULT WOMEN in The New European has this observation on the critical response:
“Surprisingly it was The Guardian that was the most mean-spirited of the lot. Admitted to an early preview at their request, its reviewer snidely commented about some actors not being as ‘smooth’ as she might have wished. I wonder if this critic understood the difference between a press night and a preview and what little time there is to rehearse a piece in the commercial – as opposed to the subsidised – theatre. Of the more experienced critics, Michael Billington (now of COUNTRY LIFE) thought the play was powerful, my generous-spirited former enemy Mark Shenton – there was a time we never used to miss an opportunity to take a pop at each other – wrote warmly and movingly about it; and, startlingly, Lloyd Evans of The Spectatorpronounced it a “must-see.”
It is indeed one of life’s more wonderful things that Tim and I have evolved from “frenemies” to firm friends. He was notably honourable during my saga with the SUNDAY EXPRESS, when the person who informed the paper of the existence of naked pictures of me online (and led them to fire me as their critic) also told him. And despite the opportunity he had to ‘expose’ me (so to speak), he contacted me to let me know.
- SUNDAY APRIL 10
Last night saw the presentation of this year’s Olivier Awards, returning to the Royal Albert Hall for the first time since 2019 after the pandemic prevented an in-person presentation of the awards in 2020 and 2021.
I was shocked yesterday morning to see that, far from promoting West End theatre, SOLT’s annual pat on its back to itself had actually compromised one of its hit shows thanks to these very awards, with last night’s performance of LIFE OF PI having to be cancelled:
It did, however, end up being a big winner in the Awards, taking six of the nine awards it was nominated for, including being named Best New Play, as well as Best Actor (Hiran Abeysekera), Best Supporting Actor (shared by the seven actors playing the TIger), Design (for Tim Hatley’s sets and Nick Barnes and Finn Caldwell’s puppets), and lighting (Tim Lutkin and Andrzej Goulding).
Also, unsurprisingly, CABARET took the most awards — seven out of the 11 it was nominated for, including Best Musical Revival, all four performance awards for musicals for Eddie Redmayne, Jessie Buckley, Elliot Levy and Liza Sadovy; plus director Rebecca Frecknall, and sound designer Nick Lidser.
In a ceremony hosted by Jason Manford (pictured above in a giant selfie with the audience, which he posted to his twitter account), there was only one real surprise: the big win for BACK TO THE FUTURE, named Best Musical, in a category that also included MOULIN ROUGE (which won only for Catherine Zuber’s costumes), GET UP! STAND UP! (which saw Simon Hale collect an award for his orchestrations), and THE DRIFTERS’ GIRL and FROZEN (both of which went home empty-handed).
- Announcements of the week
Understudy Joel Harper Jackson has been announced as officially stepping into the role originally played by Taron Egerton in COCK at the Ambassadors for the remainder of the run, after covering Egerton’s recent absence that was attributed to COVID. On Friday, Jade Anouka announces that she, too, is out of the show with COVID, though she looks forward to “getting back on stage as soon as I’m allowed to”.
The Almeida’s 2019 production of THE DOCTOR — which was due to transfer to the Duke of York’s in 2020 — has finally set new dates at the same theatre, where it will now play from September 29 prior to a press night on October 10, after a three week tour that will take it to Brighton, Bath and Richmond.
Openings of last week
In London, in addition to THE FEVER SYNDROME and DADDY at Hampstead and the Almeida respectively last Monday and Wednesday which I saw and wrote about in my column last Friday (see above), London also saw a revival of Sondheim’s fast 1964 flop ANYONE CAN WHISTLE (which opened at Southwark Playhouse last Tuesday, and left many critics as bewildered as the original had, but not Mark Lawson, who welcomed it with a four-star review in The Guardian that dubbed it “a blazing revival”).
Mike Bartlett’s THE 47th, which opened at the Old Vic on Friday starring Bertie Carvel as Donald Trump, pictured above) also got mixed reviews, ranging from two stars (Dominic Cavendish in Daily Telegraph), three stars (Clive Davis in The Times, Arifa Akbar in The Guardian) to four stars (Andzrej Lukowski in Time Out).
Broadway saw the opening last week of a revival of Richard Greenberg’s TAKE ME OUT (by Second Stage at the Hayes) on Monday to a red-carpet welcome by most of the major New York critics, summarised here.
- Openings in the Week Ahead
This week sees the London openings of revivals of ZORRO THE MUSICAL (Charing Cross Theatre on Tuesday April 12). THE CORN IS GREEN (National’s Lytteltom on Thursday April 14) and Mike Bartlett’s SCANDALTOWN (Lyric Hammersmith, also Thursday).
Broadway openings of the week include THE LITTLE PRINCE (Monday April 11), AMERICAN BUFFALO (Thursday April 14), and THE MINUTES (Sunday April 17), while MRS DOUBTFIRE resumes performances on Thursday at the Sondheim Theatre after its lengthy COVID-induced hiatus.
For full details of these and other upcoming openings in London, at selected regional theatres and on Broadway, visit http://shentonstage.com/theatre-openings-from-w-c-april-11-onwards/
SEE YOU ON FRIDAY
If you can’t wait that long, I may also be found on Twitter, subject to the progress of my recovery, here: https://twitter.com/ShentonStage/.