Welcome to today’s edition of ShentonSTAGE Daily.
Neither guns nor football are my thing — but over the weekend I had a great time seeing shows about both.
There’s no people like show people….
Irving Berlin instinctively understood the lure of the greasepaint and the smell of the crowd.
The butcher, the baker, the grocer, the clerk
Are secretly unhappy men becau-ause
The butcher, the baker, the grocer and the clerk
Get paid for what they do but no applause
They’d gladly bid their dreary jobs goodbye
For anything theatrical and why, why-y?
There’s no business like show business
Like no business I know
In my column on Friday, I quoted Stephen Sondheim’s lyric: “Working for a tiny compensation, hoping for a thunderous ovation” that says much the same thing.
iLater that evening, the lavender-filled fields of the Mayfield Lavender farm echoed with a thunderous ovation, as that Berlin classic “There’s no business like show business” was performed by a young professional cast on the opening night of ANNIE GET YOUR GUN at the brand-new outdoor Lavender Theatre built in its grounds, privately funded by the farm’s genial, forward-thinking owner Brendan Maye and co-produced by him and Joe McNeice, who has come on board to establish it.
Berlin’s hokey old 1946 Wild West Broadway musical is based on the real-life story of a female sharpshooter called Annie Oakley who headlined a touring circus show in the late 19th century, who had to tame her own skills so as not to outshine Frank Butler, the man who became her co-star and husband, so as not to show him up.
The sexual politics may be a bit dated, even in Peter Stone’s updated libretto for a 1999 Broadway revival (that also excised problematic songs and negative references to native Americans), but Berlin’s melodies are timeless wonders.
The songs are performed with vim, vigour and rigour by a terrific youthful ensemble cast, and a small but punchy band led by conductor Debbi Clarke. Is there a lovelier melody than “Moonshine Lullabye”? It’s one long swoon-inducing wonder. I also never tire of hearing such gorgeous songs as “I got lost in his arms” and “They say it’s wonderful”; this truly was a golden age of Broadway songwriting, and I wistfully get lost in its charms; I say it’s just wonderful. So is Surie (pictured below left), playing the title role with a tomboyish glee.
She is charmingly joined by the sure-voiced Charlie McCullagh as Butler (above right), and a supporting cast that also features the wonderful Chlöe Hart as Dolly Hart and Joe Boyle as Charlie Davenport, respectively singing and dancing up a storm.
The theatre is its own star attraction, offering seating for 200 in five long rows that brings everyone close to the action; the stage is open to the skies, but the audience is covered. The show is the perfect curtain raiser to a venue that I hope becomes a summer fixture.
The Beautiful Game creates a beautiful play
I was away when DEAR ENGLAND opened at the National’s Olivier, and after all the reviews I read I was worried that it might not live up to the hype, not least because I am largely indifferent to the sport that is at the heart of it.
But James Graham’s extraordinary play takes the pulse of a changing Britain through our obsession with the national game of football, and its many near-misses for world champion status from 1966 to 1996 to Qatar.
This is the perfect NationalTheatre play, populist, entertaining yet deeply questioning about our tribal loyalties, the immense psychological pressures the young men who are invested with carrying our national hopes are put under, and the racism some of them are subjected to.
Graham is probably the contemporary theatre’s most perceptive writer of state of the nation political plays, and this one hits the bullseye, under the dynamic, kinetic direction of Rupert Goold, who is now probably our very best director, period. And it is thrillingly played, both on the pitch and off.
The company is led by Joseph Fiennes in an uncanny impersonation of England manager Gareth Southgate, with the wonderful Gina McKee as the psychological coach he drafts in to boost the team’s morale. I don’t know or care about football — but I cared deeply about it here!
I don’t say this in a hurry, but I doubt this play will be bettered in pertinence and impact this year. Surely Goold has to be the top contender to replace Rufus Norris at the National now; but I hear the job has already been offered to Indhu Rubasingham.
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-july-24-2023/
It’s a slow week for big openings, though THE CROWN JEWELS that postponed its planned press night last Wednesday, but nevertheless proceeded with its gala opening that night anyway, will be allowing in press from this Thursday, which is when I’ll be there.
See you here on Friday
I will be here on Friday. 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).