Welcome to today’s edition of ShentonSTAGE Daily, in which I look back on the last ten days of theatre news and reviews (including my own). This usually appears on Fridays; I missed last Friday, so I’m catching up today, but I’m also going to use this opportunity to publish this on Mondays, going forward.
FRIDAY SEPTEMBER 15
My week in review(s) column of news and reviews (including my own) across the last seven days is here: https://shentonstage.com/shentonstage-daily-for-friday-september-15-the-week-in-reviews/
Tonight saw a short West End transfer for Mike Birbiglia’s THE OLD MAN AND THE POOL, seen earlier this year at Lincoln Center’s Vivian Beaumont. My full review for PLAYS INTERNATIONAL is here:
Tickets went on sale this week for the West End transfer of another Broadway hit, the 2022 revival of Neil Simon’s PLAZA SUITE that will run at the Savoy Theatre from January 15 to March 31. “Premium package” tickets are being sold for £395, for which theatergoers get access to the private Ambassadors lounge at the theatre and are served champagne and an ice cream. Seats without those ‘benefits’ cost up to £300.
They were, of course, expensive in New York, too: as I wrote when it opened there,
“You could stay at New York’s five-star Plaza Hotel, on the south west corner of Central Park South and 5th Avenue, in a couple of Saturday’s time for £669 in the cheapest price I could find online yesterday. Or you could go see the 1968 Neil Simon play, set in the eponymous hotel, on the same night at the Hudson Theatre on Broadway for the sme price in dollars: $672 ($649 +$23 service and processing charges). I know $ are still slightly less than £, but that $672 is currently £513.44, so there’s only a modest difference between spending just shy of three hours in a Broadway seat or a whole night in a hotel room. (At least that seat is now a comfortable one: the Hudson has the most expansive and luxurious of any theatre on Broadway).”
I saw it then — and also wrote, “the show is polished but so dated as to be essentially pointless.” I’m not sure I’ll bother to see it again when it comes here — I also recently passed on revisiting AIN’T TOO PROUD. Life is too short.
SATURDAY SEPTEMBER 16
Last October I reported on Christina Bianco’s amazing recreation of LIZA WITH A ‘Z’, Liza Minnelli’s legendary 1972 live TV concert that she brought to the Clapham Grand here: https://shentonstage.com/shentonstage-daily-for-monday-october-24/
Tonight this glorious 4’11 firecracker reprised it at Brighton’s Theatre Royal, and I was there again for this real love-in between performer, her material and her audience. She was joined by fellow Liza devotee Sooz Kempner, so we were seeing double. And hearing it on multiple channels, thanks to the backing of the scintillating London Big Gay Band, led by Glenn Dunn. What a night!
SUNDAY SEPTEMBER 17
Tonight I was at the Schwartz at 75 concert at the Lyric Theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue, celebrating the genius of Broadway composer/lyricist Stephen Schwartz to mark his 75th birthday.
The composer’s career has spanned such legendary musicals as GODSPELL, PIPPIN and WICKED, as well as films like PRINCE OF EGYPT and THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME. (I am pictured above with him at Charing Cross Theatre in 2021, when I hosted a post-show interview that coincided with a revival of PIPPIN there).
An all-star West End cast included a truly wicked trio of Louise Dearman, Rachel Tucker and Kerry Ellis, who’ve all appeared in WICKED, performing ‘As Long as You’re Mine”, Rob Houchen (who also produced the concert) singing two of my favourite Schwartz songs ‘Corner of the Sky’ (from PIPPIN) and “Out There’ (from HUNCHBACK) and Louise Dearman performing ‘Meadowlark’ (from THE BAKER’S WIFE, which it was revealed tonight will be revived at the Menier Chocolate Factory in 2024).
Other brilliant featured performers tonight included Caroline Sheen (a late stand-in for an indisposed Alison Jiear), Emma Kingston and Jamie Muscato. It was a thrilling night.
And next month, Liz Callaway — one of my absolute favourite singers in the world — is coming to Cork in Ireland to perform an all-Schwartz show at the CIT Cork School of Music — I immediately booked a flight to be there when I heard! (You can watch her here singing his song THE SPARK OF CREATION from CHILDREN OF EDEN: https://www.youtube.com/watch?si=yjti-N1cu1oVp_lC&v=0LFG-0EkdIs&feature=youtu.be
MONDAY SEPTEMBER 18
Tonight saw the English-language premiere of REBECCA at Charing Cross Theatre; its planned 2012 Broadway premiere was aborted, after rehearsals had already begun, when the producers faced a severe funding shortfall after a major investor withdrew when it was revealed that another of the supposed investors didn’t actually exist. In a bizarre twist, it was the show’s official press agent who had tipped off the investor anonymously
In London, the official PR seems to only want to scare off the press, or at least me, but I was still invited by the theatre itself, where I am hosting a post-show Q&A with members of the cast after the performance on Friday September 29.
The show is a musically colourful European pop-opera in the Les Mis/Notre Dame de Paris vein that was originally premiered in Vienna in 2006 (where it is currently running again), with a large cast and big orchestra giving it full value, with plenty of powerful vocal performances.
The book is a bit clunky, and so are some of the set transitions, but the second act in particular achieves dramatic lift-off in the surging tunes of composer Sylvester Levant (pictured below with musical director Robert Scott).
TUESDAY SEPTEMBER 19
Lauren Boebert, the Congresswoman who is a right wingnut of the Republican Party, took herself to a touring production of the musical BEETLEJUICE in Denver recently. As Vanity Fair reported, “To Boebert and her far-right base, all the world’s a schoolyard in which to pick fights—and maybe hit vapes. This is all to say that it’s not so surprising that disruption (and vaporization) would be her main approach when she went to see a traveling stage performance of the Beetlejuice musical in Denver on September 10…. They were asked to leave the show after fellow theatergoers complained of Boebert’s vaping and general loudness, and the pair could be seen groping each other on surveillance footage… Initially, Boebert said that she was kicked out for enjoying the musical too much. ‘I plead guilty to laughing and singing too loud!’ she tweeted. This is true, in a way. Boebert was not lying. She really did seem to be enjoying everything around her too much. The congresswoman with the teenage worldview was remembering what it was like to physically be a teenager, maybe”.
The report goes on to cite her defence: “Boebert had initially denied the vaping portion of the incident, but had to walk that back when confronted with the video of herself” vaping a ton” (She could also be seen taking flash photographs and waving her hands in the air). “She blamed her divorce and “the natural anxiety of being in a new environment. ‘Whether it was the excitement of seeing a much-anticipated production or the natural anxiety of being in a new environment, I genuinely did not recall vaping that evening when I discussed the night’s events with my campaign team while confirming my enthusiasm for the musical,’ the statement read. ‘Regardless of my belief, it’s clear now that was not accurate’.”
At a time when incidents of bad behaviour in theatres seem to be rising, it’s depressing to see politicians setting another bad example.
In better news, CIrque du Soleil have announced that they are finally planning a permanent London base, restoring the former Saville Theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue (until recently an Odeon cinema). The 1931 building had a chequered history as a theatre — it was here that Cameron Mackintosh had one of his more notorious flops when he revived ANYTHING GOES there in 1969, that ran for just 15 performances with a cast led by Marion Montgomery as Reno Sweeney.
Cirque have stated that the venue “would complement Cirque du Soleil’s annual Royal Albert Hall residency and offer theater-goers a more intimate space to enjoy incredible performances all year round.“`Variety quotes Eric Grilly, president, resident and affiliate show divisions at Cirque du Soleil Entertainment Group, as saying, ”We see a unique opportunity to bring back live entertainment to a beloved venue with fresh content and new ideas.”
WEDNESDAY SEPTEMBER 20
This week’s opening of a new production of DAS REINGOLD at the Royal Opera House featured 82-year-old Rose Knox-Peebles. As The Guardian reported, “It was the first time the 82-year-old model, who plays Erda, the weary, gnarled earth mother who has seen it all, who knows what has been, what is and will be, had performed in an opera. In quite the baptism of all sorts of fire, the director, Barrie Kosky, decided to keep her character on stage, naked, for the entire two-and-a-half-hour performance – with no interval.”
Richard Fairman’s FT review stated that she had been made up to look quite a fright. Unfortunately for Fairman, there was no make-up involved.
She wrote a letter to the paper and they published it. “‘Your reviewer tells readers that Erda, the earth goddess, was made up to look “quite a fright”.This is not so. I wore no make-up – the “fright” look is all naturally mine.”
THURSDAY SEPTEMBER 21
Still at the opera, tonight I saw the thrilling revival of David Alden’s 2009 production of Britten’s PETER GRIMES at the London Coliseum, featuring Gwyn Hughes Jones in the title role (pictured below left) & Elizabeth Llewellyn (right) as Ellen Orford, conducted by Martyn Brabbins (centre)
It was just wonderful to see the ENO orchestra taking an onstage bow at the curtain calls, having played this majestic score with such precision and feeling. And of course this is an opera where the chorus is a major character — ENO’s huge chorus was a constantly amazing sight (and produced an amazing sound).
FRIDAY SEPTEMBER 22
Regular readers will already know what a fan I am of NEXT TO NORMAL — I saw its original Broadway production ten times, and this afternoon I returned to the Donmar Warehouse to see it for the third time (so far; I have tickets to see it twice more, this week and next weeek). It was an invited understudy run — at least for the four members of the cast of six — and it was just wonderful, seeing this family come so searingly alive with different actors.
As Diana, the bipolar matriarch, Carolyn Maitland (abiove right) is simply blazing, honest and wrenchingly true. And Ben Morris as her ever-loyal husband Dan (above centre) was also understatedly marvellous.
Tonight I caught the London transfer of Kimber Lee’s untitled f*ck m*ss s**gon play from Manchester’s Royal Exchange to the Young Vic. Sadly, the most provocative thing about it is its title. The first hour is an endlessly repetitive loop that riffs on MADAME BUTTERFLY — yes, we get the point, and got it the first time around. The rest of the play doesn’t recover.
SATURDAY SEPTEMBER 23
Today I caught the 30th anniversary revival of Jonathan Harvey’s BEAUTIFUL THING at the Theatre Royal, Stratford East, with the two teenage boys now played by non-white (and non-teenage, either) actors, which jolts the play into an unexpectedly new direction, and shows that the play’s resonances are utterly universal.
I will be reviewing it in full for PLAYS INTERNATIONAL, but the play remains a delight and is still a warm-hearted surprise.
And tonight I saw the birth of the next historical musical cult, CAKE in Jits short showcase run at the Lyric on Shaftesbury Avenue. Yes, it’s a bit of SIX and HAMILTON, with a MOULIN ROUGE vibe too; but Drew McOnie’s choreography galvanises it, and Zizi Strallen is an instant corseted seduction as Marie Antoinette
SUNDAY SEPTEMBER 24
The Sunday reviews can sometimes provide a useful contrast to the dailies, and so it proves today with PYGMALION at the Old Vic, which I was going to pass on having read the overnight reviews. But writing in the Observer, Kate Kellaway awards it five stars. This is a review that will actually persuade me to see it.
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-september-25-2023/
See you here on Friday
I will be here next 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).