Welcome to today’s edition of ShentonSTAGE Daily, the last of the year, in which I say goodbye to 2022 and hello to the year ahead.
As I wrote here last week, we’ve seen an unstable end to 2022, with multiple COVID cancellations to shows, showing the precariousness it has continued to bring to the industry.
HIGHLIGHTS OF 2022
Many critics have filed their end of year summaries of their favourite shows of 2022: you can find Susannah Clapp’s Top Ten for The Observer here, Arifa Akbar’s Top Ten for The Guardian here, Dominic Cavendish’s choices for The Daily Telegraph here, The Independent’s five contributors top fifteen here, Time Out’s Andrzej Lukowski’s Top Ten here, Sam Marlowe’s favourites for The Stage here (from a round-up of The Stage’s top 50 shows in London) and Sarah Crompton’s Top thirteen for WhatsOnStage here.
From their 78 choices in all, there are inevitably a lot of overlaps with each other — but there’s also a distressing lack of regional choices across the lists, suggesting that these London-based critics don’t get out of the capital much (beyond Chichester, that is, though Bristol, Cirencester and Theatr Clwyd appear on Clapp’s Observer list, the North Wall Arts Centre In Oxford makes an appearance on Akbar’s Guardian list, and shows in Leeds, Bristol and Edinburgh are on the Independent’s list). Theatre, at least iin the media that covers it, is clearly still seen through a primarily London-based critical lens.
I’m now based outside London myself, and while Chichester (20 minutes from my front door) is my most accessible regional theatre (and I now see pretty much everything in its summer season as a result, though I was thrice thwarted in my repeated attempts to see Alecky Blyth’s OUR GENERATION there by cancellations, and in the end missed it), I still try to go further afield as much as possible.
My show of the year comes from the short trip I made to Edinburgh in August, where I saw Ivo van Hove’s shattering A LITTLE LIFE (pictured above, which I reported on for Variety here, and which he will direct an English version of in the West End in March).
For Musical Theatre Review, I wrote a column choosing my favourite productions of shows by Stephen Sondheim, a year after his passing, that stretched from Bath to Broadway, cabarets to galas. (I could have added a production of A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC that I caught at Leeds Playhouse to that list, which was another great regional outing for me; but when I attended the press night, I discovered that I was the ONLY critic there, joined by fellow blogger Carl Woodward).
Inevitably no critic can be EVERYWHERE — I found myself in the intriguing position of being castigated for not getting to Belfast to see a new musical this year, with one of its cast — whom I’d always publicly admired and supported — unfriending me on Facebook and unfollowing me on Twitter as a result. But actors are not unusual in living in a narcissistic bubble where whatever they are doing is the centre of the known universe.
But yes, I *do* beat myself up for what I missed across the year, and amongst the shows that made other people’s best of the year lists I’m particularly sorry to have missed Ivo van Hove’s THE AGE OF REASON at the Barbican and I’m still dying to see ABBA VOYAGE (that didn’t make it onto any critic’s lists, but constantly appears on the Facebook feeds of friends).
I managed to live without seeing the National’s revival of THE CRUCIBLE, and deliberately passed, too, on seeing I, JOAN at Shakespeare’s Globe and Punchdrunk’s THE BURNT CITY. I didn’t get to the Bush at all — so I missed shows like The P WORD and HOUSE OF IFE that made it onto other people’s favourites. I also didn’t get the Orange Tree, Kiln or Soho Theatres more than once each, which was also a failure of both will and planning.
But here, from what I DID see, are my shows and theatres of the year.
* THEATRE OF THE YEAR for me is Rupert Goold’s Almeida. Although I wasn’t a massive fan of TAMMY FAYE, their sell-out Elton John/James Graham musical, I only managed to see it once on the first night; I’d booked tickets to see it twice more, both before (at the first scheduled preview) and after (the final matinee), but both were cancelled, so I’d love to have been able to give it another chance; but Goold’s dazzling revival of SPRING AWAKENING ended 2021 with a blast, and should have earned an immediate West End transfer.
His production of Peter Morgan’s PATRIOTS, seen there in July, with Tom Hollander as a Putin friend and ally turned enemy, and Will Kean as Putin, will go into the West End to open at the Coward next July. Robert Icke’s 2019 Almeida production of THE DOCTOR finally made it to St Martin’s Lane, two years after it had been due to get there but was derailed by Covid. Icke’s double bill of HAMLET and THE ORESTEIA, also both seen first at the Almeida, made a transatlantic crossing to New York’s Park Avenue Armory.
* PLAY OF THE YEAR: As already mentioned my play of the year was A LITTLE LIFE, which I caught at Edinburgh’s Festival Theatre as part of the International Festival.
David Eldridge’s MIDDLE, the middle part of his planned trilogy of plays for two actors about relationships, has been forgotten in all of the above lists, but for me this utterly beautiful, truthful and hurtful account of a long-term couple facing a marital reckoning was unforgettable, and played by two stunning actors Daniel Ryan and Claire Rushbrook so seamlessly that it doesn’t feel like acting at all
* PLAY REVIVAL OF THE YEAR: Ibsen’s JOHN GABRIEL BORKMAN was given a stunning contemporary makeover at the Bridge by director Nick Hytner in a version by Lucinda Coxon, starring Simon Rusell Beale in the title role of the disgraced banker and the utterly magnetic duo of Clare Higgins and LIa Williams as the two sisters still in competition for him. I went twice; it was THAT good.
* MUSICALS OF THE YEAR (In London and NYC): The Young Vic’s import of Daniel Fish’s on and off-Broadway revival of OKLAHOMA! was the musical revival of the year, which will soon be reprised at the West End’s Pinter Theatre
In New York, the best new musical production of the year was MJ, a stunning jukebox biography of Michael Jackon that will arrive in the West End in 2023; the best original musical was Jeanine Tesori and David Lindsay-Abaire’s beautiful adaptation of the latter’s 2000 play KIMBERLY AKIMBO. Revivals of the year in New York were City Center’s productions of Sondheim and Lapine’s INTO THE WOODS (which subsequently transferred to Broadway and will next embark on a US national tour) and Jason Robert Brown and Afred Uhry’s PARADE (heavily tipped for a transfer, too). An entirely separate and very different revival of INTO THE WOODS, as mentioned earlier, also played at Bath Theatre Royal, and may yet turn up in the West End.
* CABARETS OF THE YEAR: LIz Callaway’s TO STEVE WITH LOVE, an intimate cabaret about her long association with the composer Stephen Sondheim which began when she made her Broadway debut in the original production of MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG in 1981, was premiered at Studio 54 in March; she subsequently brought it to London’s Crazy Coqs.
I saw it in both places, but for those that didn’t, it is now also available on CD.
Maria Friedman re-opened the Menier Chocolate Factory in March with a show that paid tribute to Sondheim, Michel Legrand and Marvin Hamlisch that was another cabare highlight of the year (and her 2012 Menier production of MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG also transferred to New York Theatre Workshop, from where it is now set to transfer to Broadway in 2023). I also heard another of my favourite New York voices Melissa Errico in cabaret in both London and New York and the glorious Donna McKechnie in London,respectively singing tributes to MIchel Legrand and Sondheim.
LOOKING AHEAD TO 2023
My regularly updated feature on shows in London, selected regional theatres and on Broadway is here: http://shentonstage.com/theatre-openings-from-w-c-december-19/
This will be updated as and when any announcements are made, but the next official version will be published on January 9.
On the musicals front, I am particularly looking forward to catching, at last, Sheffield Crucible’s production of STANDING AT THE SKY’S EDGE when it transfers to the National in February, and the return of the TIm Minchin scored musical version of GROUNDHOG DAY to the Old Vic (pictured above with Andy Karl, centre, reprising his Olivier award winning performance as weatherman Phil Connors from its 2017 premiere at the same theatre, before transferring to Broadway). The latter is one of my favourite musicals of the century so far; but absolutely my favourite is NEXT TO NORMAL, finally set to receive its UK premiere in a new production at the Donmar Warehouse in August.
Broadway is also sending us AIN’T TOO PROUD, a jukebox based on the music of The Temptations, opening at the Prince Edward in April, and a stage musical version of MRS DOUBTFIRE, opening at the Shaftesbury in June; Chichester’s summer 2022 revival of the 1990s Broadway hit CRAZY FOR YOU is set to transfer to open at the Gillian Lynne in July; while the greatest Broadway musical of them all, in my opinion, GUYS AND DOLLS gets a new production at the Bridge, opening in March.
Homegrown new musicals THE GREAT BRITISH BAKE-OFF MUSICAL and OPERATION MINCEMEAT come to the Noel Coward and Ambassadors, respectively opening in March and May. There are also revivals of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s ASPECTS OF LOVE, opening at the Lyric in May, 42nd STREET (coming to Sadlers Wells for a run in June, after opening in Leicester, and then touring), WE WILL ROCK YOU (at the Coliseum in June), THE WIZARD OF OZ (in a version with added new songs by Andrew Lloyd Webber, set to open a summer run at the Palladium in July after its current Christmas revival at Leicester’s Curve) and LA CAGE AUX FOLLES (to be revived in a new production at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre, opening in August).
See you here on Tuesday…
I will begin the new year with a celebration of the astonishing and prolific career of Broadway cartoonist Al Hirschfeld, initiating a new intention to provide monthly feature coverage in 2023. If you can’t wait that long, I may also be found on Twitter (for the moment) here: https://twitter.com/ShentonStage/ (though not as regularly on weekends)