Welcome to today’s edition of ShentonSTAGE Daily, which is resuming daily weekday publication from today (though I may occasionally take the liberty of not publishing on some days!)
Starting today, I am also trialing a new online venture: ShentonSTAGE LIVE. This is a rolling theatre blog that will appear on my website, updated throughout the day as necessary, to reflect news updates and other observations and commentary as they occur, including short reviews of shows when I see them that may be expanded into fuller reviews later. Parts of this live blog will then be incorporated into my daily newsletter, so don’t worry if you don’t check in regularly, or miss any updates! The landing page for this is here: http://shentonstage.com/shentonstage-live
TROUBLE IN RIVER CITY: CHANGING THE RULES OF ENGAGEMENT — AGAIN
Some producers are famously disruptors. The impulse to change the way things are usually done is what always drives change. After nearly two years in which Covid has changed the way a lot of things work, not least the theatre, the producers of the long-delayed THE MUSIC MAN, starring Hugh Jackman in the title role (pictured below) — which was in rehearsal before the virus arrived — have, apparently, changed who they are: Scott Rudin, who led the project before and put it together creatively, was said to have bowed out after stories emerged of his serial bullying of staff, and Barry Diller, the chairman of IAC, and David Geffen, one of the founders of DreamWorks, who he was partnering with before took over, with Kate Horton — formerly executive director of London’s Royal Court and then Deputy Executive Director at the National Theatre — parachuted in to take day-to-day producing responsibilities.
Rudin was said to have retained a financial interest — “but Horton is now the boss”, Michael Riedel reports Diller saying in a recent Vanity Fair preview of the show.
But is she really? In a move announced on Friday, New York critics are not being invited to the usual critics previews ahead of opening, but are being invited on the opening night itself (which is Thursday week, February 10). Which is why many Broadway insiders are suspecting the controlling force of Scott Rudin at play: the last show to pull this stunt was a revival of THE FRONT PAGE, another Rudin produced star revival in 2016. But there at least it was partly a case of form and content; THE FRONT PAGE is a classic play about the functionings of the news industry, and this throwback practice of having critics compelled to rush out of the theatre to file their reviews could be regarded as a clever historical nudge to the past.
It’s stunt-producing which raises hackles, sure, but also gets people talking. (Not for nothing was David Merrick, the most famous indigenous Broadway producer of the second half of the last century, dubbed “the Abominable Showman” in the title of Howard Kissel’s biography of him).
Now THE MUSIC MAN is reviving the practice; and The Music Man’s press representative, Rick Miramontez, of O&M (who was hired for the job by Rudin and regularly represented his shows in the past), was quoted by Deadline saying: “We feel just terrible for offering dozens of theater critics premium seats to a Broadway show. I am sure they will simply loathe having to tell their grandchildren about the time they were forced to witness Broadway history in the making. Most of all, it pains me personally to imagine the burden of having to turn around a review on such a tight time table — has such a feat ever been attempted before? Well, let it be seen as the greatest vote of confidence by this production in our beloved press corps that we think they just might be up to the challenge!”
That fuck-you to the critics sounds less like Miramontez — a press agent who, in my experience, actually likes working with the press, than dictation from Rudin himself.
And it reminds me a lot of the difficulty I had securing press tickets for Rudin’s production of HELLO, DOLLY!, which was also represented by Miramontez’s office in 2017. When I asked Rudin personally when I didn’t hear back from O&M after repeated attempts, he replied that he had no inventory and it was O&M’s call where the tickets went. So I bought a ticket online, in the very back row of the stalls (all that was available at a reasonable price), for the final preview of the show.
I didn’t want any issues if I saw either Rudin or the press agent at the theatre that night, so I let them know when I was coming. Within a few minutes, I got a reply from Rudin: the performance I’d booked was not a press performance! I replied that since neither he nor his appointed press agent could accommodate me, I’d been forced to make my own arrangements. Then my phone rang: it was Rick, telling me that all hell had broken loose, I’d be refunded the cost of the ticket I’d bought, and a pair of tickets would be available for me for the critics’ preview a night earlier.
That is all I’d asked for all along.
I’ve again just bought a ticket for the Wednesday matinee, the day before the official opening of THE MUSIC MAN; it’s hardly a premium seat (which currently cost $714, including fees), but a side stalls seat for $227.
It will not necessarily be the view most critics will see the show from. But at least I will now see the show on my own terms and to my own timetable when I’m in New York next week. (I’m not there for the opening night itself even if a ticket were to be offered, as that is the night I am flying home).
TAKING THE SHINE OFF THE GLOW
There’s nothing quite like a play — often as not at the Royal Court — to divide critics. The initial, mostly hostile, reactions that greeted Sarah Kane’s BLASTED when it premiered at the Royal Court Upstairs in 1995 was capped by the Daily Mail’s declaration that it was “a disgusting feast of filth”; while Paul Taylor in The Independent stated that watching the play was like “having your whole head held down in a bucket of offal”.
Critics, including Taylor himself, subsequently repented at leisure (Paul’s is here, and MIchael Billington’s here). But perhaps you are doing something right when not all the critics agree: I remember reading Susannah Clapp’s review of the 2007 Royal Court premiere of Anthony Neilson’s The Wonderful World of Dissocia that it made me go to see it again, even though I’d hated it the first time. (She went twice too: as she said in her review, “The project is important: what, after all, is the point of going to the theatre if what’s on offer can be summarised in print?….But (this play about having more than one person in your skin put me so much in two minds that I went back for a second shot) it also hits some bull’s eyes. By far the most appealing comes when a small white bear pokes his muzzle through the floor of the stage, as if through a hole in the Arctic ice, and croons lugubriously to the heroine; presumably he’s bipolar.”Last week the Court premiered a new play by Alistair McDowall, The Glow, that has again received wildly contradictory reviews, from one-star in The Times to four stars in The Stage and Time Out.
In a one-star review for The Times, Clive Davis writes: “January hasn’t even ended yet, and we already have a contender for the title of worst play of the year.”
But In Nick Curtis’s three-star review for the Evening Standard he suggests: “This show will divide critics, friends, couples. It frequently overreaches itself but also highlights how safe most mainstream theatre remains. Even the most poetic, challenging dramas, from Hamlet to Hamilton, ultimately boil down to some people arguing in a room. Or, in the case of Godot, beside a tree. McDowall set out to write a myth that tracks human history, then to transcend it. Naturally he falls short. But to watch him try is exhilarating. Go. Get your mind blown and your hackles raised.”
And for Time Out, Andzrej Lukowski compares it to the playwright’s previous work, and writes, “Like X and Pomona, The Glow also clearly exists as an experiment in a form largely ignored by theatre…. There are things about The Glow and its premise I’d be more critical of if there was anything else on the stage like it, and Featherstone’s immaculately stylish direction serves a script that would be left exposed by a more naturalistic production. But Alistair McDowell has undoubtedly come up with the goods again in this strange and beautiful play, a mix of sci-fi, folk myth and elegy for humanity.”
Of course reactions like this mean there is only one answer for critics and the public alike: to see it for themselves. And now I may need to.
THIS WEEKS OPENINGS
My regularly updated feature of openings in London, the regions and on Broadway is here: http://shentonstage.com/theatre-openings-from-w-c-jan-31-onwards/
This week’s major openings are:
- Tuesday February 1:
LONDON: A Number (Old Vic) January 24-March 19, 2022, press night February 1). Lennie James and Paapa Essiedu play father and son(s) in Caryl Churchill’s play, directed by Lyndsey Turner. Press contacts: Hannah Stockton, Kitty Greenleaf, Jo Allan at Jo Allan PR. https://www.oldvictheatre.com/whats-on/2022/watch-at-the-theatre/a-number
BROADWAY: MJ – The new Michael Jackson Musical (Neil Simon Theatre) Previews began December 6, prior to an official opening February 1, this musical inspired by the life of the late pop icon star s newcomer Myles Frost in the title role. It has a book by Lynn Nottage, and is directed and choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon (whose last Broadway show An American in Paris transferred to the West End). Press contact: DKC/O&M. https://mjthemusical.com/
- Wednesday February 2:
LONDON: Saturday Night Fever (Peacock Theatre) February 1-March 26, press night February 2) West End premiere of new production of the stage version of the 70s disco film hit, featuring a score of Bee Gees hits. Directed and produced by Bill Kenwright, it features new choreography by Bill Deamer; it was launched in 2020 with a week-long run at Bromley’s Churchill Theatre before a planned transfer to Germany, but which never happened owing to the pandemic. Press contact: Emma Holland/Georgie Robinson at EHPR. https://www.sadlerswells.com/whats-on/saturday-night-fever/
LONDON: Dirty Dancing (Dominion Theatre) February 2-April 16. Stage version of the 1987 film returns to the West End, where it originally ran at the Aldwych Theatre from 2006-2011, before a second season at the Piccadilly in 2013/14. Press contact: Caitlin Plimmer at Chloe Nelkin Consulting. https://www.nederlander.co.uk/whats-on/dirty-dancing
- Thursday February 3:
LONDON: Cyrano de Bergerac (Harold Pinter Theatre) February 3-March 12, 2022) James McAvoy reprises the title role in Jamie Lloyd’s production of Edmond Rostand’s play that was originally seen at the Playhouse Theatre in 2019. It will subsequently visit Glasgow’s Theatre Royal from March 18-26, before transferring to New York’s Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM), from April 5-May 22. Press contact: Freya Cowdry at Kate Morley PR. https://www.atgtickets.com/shows/cyrano-de-bergerac/harold-pinter-theatre/
LONDON: Hamlet (Sam Wanamaker Playhouse at Shakespeare’s Globe) In rep, January 21-April 9, press night February 3. Globe associate artistic director Sean Holmes directs the Globe Ensemble, led by George Fouracres in the title role. Press contacts: Jessica Strawson at the Globe. https://www.shakespearesglobe.com/whats-on/hamlet-2021/
LONDON: Wuthering Heights (National’s Lyttelton Theatre) February 3-March 19. London season for Emma Rice’s adaptation of Emily Brontë’s novel, with a cast led Lucy McCormick as Cathy and Ash Hunter as Heathcliff , co-produced with Rice’s company Wise Children, Bristol Old Vic (where the production first opened last October) and York Theatre Royal. Press contact: Louisa Terry at National Theatre. https://www.nationaltheatre.org.uk/shows/wuthering-heights
- Sunday February 6:
LONDON: Camelot in Concert (London Palladium) February 6. Bradey Jaden, Ramin Karimloo and Lucy St Louis star in a concert performance of Lerner and Loewe’s 1960 Broadway musical. https://lwtheatres.co.uk/whats-on/lerner-loewes-camelot-in-concert/SEE YOU TOMORROW
See you in your inbox tomorrow. But if you can’t wait that long, you can find me on Twitter @ShentonStage (though not as often on weekends), or in my live blog here.