Welcome to today’s edition of ShentonSTAGE Daily.
Bravo to the FOH staff….
Someone threw up in the second row of the dress circle during the first act of the show I was seeing on Friday night; fortunately, I was three rows behind, and so I wasn’t directly affected. No, it wasn’t a jukebox musical where the audience member had got over-tanked on alcohol; it was actually at THE CRUCIBLE at the Gielgud Theatre.
The audience members around them were promptly moved to other seats elsewhere in the stalls. Though it was a bit distracting, a cleaning crew came in and dealt with the aftermath even as the play continued uninterrupted; it was a study in the quiet efficiency of West End house management.
Another terrific thing I’ve recently noticed, particularly at Delfont-Mackintosh and Nimax theatres. As a currently disabled theatregoer – I have to use a stick for mobility — I’m now routinely allocated an access usher when I enter the theatre, who not only guides me to the easiest route to my seat, which isn’t necessarily the public route, but also helps with things like interval drinks if I want to order them.
It all reminds me how crucially the front-of-house staff — often amongst the most poorly paid people in the theatrical ecology — help to contribute to an audience’s enjoyment; and how too often maligned they are, bearing the brunt of audience misbehaviour as well as production staff expectations. (A West End house manager I’ve known for many years recently had a breakdown after being bullied by a well-known producer’s general management team, and has now taken early retirement).
We Will Roil You….
I’ve written before about the almost universally hostile critical reaction that greeted the original 2002 opening of WE WILL ROCK YOU at the Dominion Theatre, including my own original verdict that it was a “grim spectacle” and “tacky, trashy tosh” in the Sunday Express.
By the time the show eventually closed there over 12 years later. in 2014, it had outlived my own tenure on the Sunday Express and become an audience favourite. It has since played all over the world — though, interestingly, never on Broadway.
Now it is playing a summer season return to London, in a substantially overhauled production (with entirely new choreography and a knowingly updated book, that even references those original dire reviews), at the London Coliseum. Usually, of course, it is the home of grand opera, but now it is hosting a pop opera, and the driving rock beats emanating from the onstage band could threaten the foundations of the theatre were it not already conditioned by Wagnerian wailing.
It still has the dumbest book of a musical by Ben Elton, and now also has the single worst performance in a London musical, also from Ben Elton (pictured above), who positively mauls “These are the days of our Lives” as he dad-sings his way through it. I’m surprised the director — also Elton — didn’t demand better, or simply ask another member of the cast to do it for him instead.
And yet the show is still a genuine crowd-pleaser that survives him, especially Ian McIntosh as Galileo, Elena Skye as Scaramouche, Lee Mead as Khashoggi, Christine Allado as Meat and Adrian Hansel as Brit. (Brenda Edwards was off as Killer Queen on Saturday afternoon, but she was superbly covered; unfortunately I did not see a cast board with who actually played the role instead, and @WestEndCovers — the invaluable twitter resource that publishes information about understudies in real time — didn’t have any updates for the show, either)
Under the musical direction of Stuart Morley, and thanks to the sound design of Rory Madden, these songs — some of the greatest pop songs of our age — sound just tremendous. And that’s the experience the audience have come to engage with, so does it matter that the book is so lazy and hopeless?
Yet again the critics — many of them writing about the show for the first time, since a whole new generation has taken over since it first opened — have been as dismissive as the first time around. In iNews, Fiona Mountford declared:
“Who needs theatre critics anyway? Certainly not this Queen musical, which received abysmal reviews when it opened at London’s Dominion Theatre in 2002 and went on to run for 12 triumphant years. I managed to avoid the show the first time around, but on the evidence presented here I feel confident in stating that it hasn’t improved over the decades. What a grim, joyless, deafening thud of an evening.”
In the Evening Standard, Nick Curtis opens his review by declaring,
“We will rob you, more like. This insultingly slapdash musical by Ben Elton and Queen is possibly the most cynical piece of entertainment I’ve ever seen. The pomp-rockers’ impressive greatest hits are hammered willy-nilly into a nonsensical futuristic plot. The onstage band is ok, but that’s a low bar. There are two singing styles: loud and louder, both equally unclear. The choreography recalls an aerobics video, the mostly projected sets are vestigial, and the costumes appalling. The acting is OTT and full of pre-emptive, knowing nods to the crappiness of the whole enterprise.”Evening Standard
But critical contrarian (and libertarian commentator) Lloyd Evans struck a different tone in The Spectator, declaring “Like the best musicals, this show has the atmosphere of a joyous religious service”.
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-june-19-2023/
A big week of openings in London includes a new James Graham play about football legend Gareth Southgate at the National (DEAR ENGLAND, opening tomorrow, featuring Joseph Fiennes, pictured above right in rehearsals, as Southgate), a West End revival of Martin McDonagh’s 2003 play THE PILLOWMAN (opening at the Duke of York’s on Wednesday) and the London arrival of the short-lived Broadway musical version of MRS DOUBTFIRE (opening at the Shaftesbury on Thursday) . The Menier Chocolate Factory also has a new Trevor Nunn directed musical version of THE THIRD MAN (opening tonight), while regionally another famous film title ROMAN HOLIDAY opens at Bath’s Theatre Royal on Wednesday and Chichester’s Minerva has Adrienne Kennedy’s MOM, HOW DID YOU MEET THE BEATLES? opening on Thursday.
I’ve seen MRS DOUBTFIRE at an invited press preview on Saturday already, but the rest will have to await my return from New York, where I head tomorrow, mainly to catch not one but two Adam Guettel musicals: his new one DAYS OF WINE AND ROSES at Atlantic Theatre, and an Encores! presentation of THE LIGHT IN THE PIAZZA at City Center, as well as this week’s opening of ONCE UPON A ONE MORE TIME, a new jukebox musical based around the catalogue of Britney Spears.
See you here on Friday
I will be here on Friday with my regular Week in Review(s) round-up of the week’s news and reviews. If you can’t wait that long, I may also be found on Twitter (for the