Welcome to today’s edition of ShentonSTAGE Daily, and as the mercury looks like it might hit 40C today in parts of Britain, I hope you are managing to stay as cool as possible.
It’s at times like this that going to some venues is a wonderful respite from the heat, while at others it is a worse penance. Of course the summer heat in New York is often ferocious; but at least you know that the theatres are going to be properly cooled. (In fact, I always take a sweatshirt with me in case it is over-cooled; more than once, I went unprepared and had to buy an emergency souvenir jacket to warm myself up with!)
But in the UK it is much more hit and miss. Some theatres are great; others considerably less so. And you can’t rely on the theatres telling you they’re air-conditioned, either. According to officialtheatre.com, “Air Conditioning: The Harold Pinter Theatre has air conditioning.” But according to a recent visitor on TripAdvisor, “The theatre was so hot a button popped off my shorts and I got a heat rash on my bum”
The increasing diversification of British theatre (not before time)
Seeing THE DRIFTERS’ GIRL again at the Garrick Theatre last week — hot on the heels of revisiting GET UP, STAND UP! The Bob Marley musical — as I reported here, made me realise that the West End currently has three jukebox musicals celebrating real-life black musical legends and influencers: manager Faye Treadwell and Bob Marley, joined by Tina — The Tina Turner musical. And next year, the current Broadway hit MJ — a celebration of Michael Jackson — will join them in the West End, reportedly heading to the Prince Edward Theatre.
But the West End is also happily these days home to diverse casts also playing fictional characters: the title roles in Disney’s BEAUTY AND THE BEAST are both played by performers of colour (as I wrote here, “The amazing Shaq Taylor delivers a show stopping “If I Can’t Love Her” as the Beast that’s one of the most powerful numbers on any London stage right now; his Belle (the Beauty of the title) is also a performer of colour, Courtney Stapleton, to prove that not all Disney princesses need be cookie-cutter white”), while & JULIET and MY FAIR LADY also features performers of colour in their title roles, the Olivier winning Miriam Teak-Lee and Amara Okereke (both of whom I coincidentally taught during their time at ArtsEd, the west London training ground for musical theatre royalty).
Also, the long-running THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA has Lucy St Louis as Christine, the first black performer to play that role in the West End (while Emilie Kouatchou has finally broken through the glass white ceiling to play the same role on Broadway). As I’ve previously written, they were a long time coming: the production has been running for 36 and 34 years in each city respectively. And we are yet to see a black Phantom in London after all this time: earlier this year I recounted the shocking audition experience of Cedric Neal here (the actor currently has a featured role in Back to the Future in the West End)
So there’s still a long way to go in making West End roles available to all. But last night saw the return of a homegrown musical superstar, when Cynthia Erivo headlined a BBC Prom at the Royal Albert Hall. The last time she appeared on a London stage it was at the Menier Chocolate Factory, where a revival of THE COLOR PURPLE was launched in 2013 which then took her to Broadway four years later, where she won a Tony Award. (I am pictured below with her in her New York dressing room in 2018).
That quickly propelled her to the international stage which has seen her become a bona fide, Oscar-nominated movie star; just as the likes of David Harewood, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Daniel Kaluuya, Lennie James and Sophie Okenedo have made a similar journey from stage beginnings to screen stardom before her.
She opened her set with ‘Don’t Rain on My Parade’ from FUNNY GIRL — currently being revived on Broadway, in a production that coincidentally also originated at the Menier but has been completely overhauled for New York. With all the controversy over the originally cast Beanie Feldstein — soon to depart the show and to be replaced by Lea Michele (after the cover Julie Benko does the month of August) — the producers could have saved a lot of effort and cast Erivo in the first place!
It was lovely to hear her sing two original songs she wrote herself; intimate, personal songs that have the influence of Scott Alan, with whom she worked often in London, and recorded an album of his original songs with Oliver Tompsett (pictured below).
She ended her Prom with Prince’s “Nothing Compares 2 U” — nothing compares to HER! What a show! I can’t wait for the TV version that has been recorded for later broadcast.
The rising, even prohibitive, costs of Edinburgh
In a Guardian interview published on Saturday, Scottish screen and stage actor Brian Cox railed against the rising costs associated with going to the Edinburgh fringe, particularly regarding the cost of accommodation. (This year he has a connection to the festival, as a producer of She/Her by his wife, Nicole Ansari-Cox)
As he said,
“It’s in the festival’s interest to gather the people who do rent properties and say, ‘look, what are we going to do? How are we going to make this equitable? There will always be that extremis in Edinburgh, people living in cupboards, that’s a kind of tradition in a way. But at the same time it shouldn’t be exploitative. “If you see a situation where less and less kids can afford to go up there, then that is damaging. Because it’s the youth that have always supplied the energy for the festival. It’s giving the opportunity to young people – performers, actors, musicians, comics in particular, and we’re cutting off the lifeblood if we squeeze it too much. We’ve got to be careful about it.”
This year I’m going up to Edinburgh for just three nights, from August 21-24, and my accomodation — at a Premier Inn Hub — is costing me £445. Yesterday I bought a ticket on Easyjet to get me to Edinburgh, which cost £173.96. So that’s £618 for THREE DAYS. My recent WEEK in Spain (including flights and half-board hotel) cost my husband and I £368 each!
And that’s even before you factor in the cost of tickets to the shows (if you are not a critic in receipt of press tickets, which presumably is why there are nearly as many people representing themselves to be critics in Edinburgh as audience members. Never has it been more true that everyone is a critic these days). And managing it all is, inevitably, an army of PRS and assistants.
SEE YOU ON WEDNESDAY
I’ll be back here on Wednesday. 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