Welcome to today’s edition of ShentonSTAGE.
The Awards season
Although there seem to be ongoing regular COVID-related cancellations and interruptions to theatre schedules, business has returned to normal, at least as far as the rush of opening nights is concerned, on both sides of the Atlantic. Broadway is about to enter its busiest season of openings of the year, with the annual rush to open ahead of the eligibility date for this year’s Tony Awards.
And while our awards season over here is less clearly defined, this coming weekend sees the Critics’ Circle Theatre Awards being presented in London on Sunday afternoon, a week ahead of the Oliviers the following Sunday, which marks an attempt to align them more closely, time-wise. It will be interesting to see just how differently the results diverge. The Critics’ Circle awards are awarded on a simple polling of the membership, who can choose from any and all of the productions they’ve seen across the year, based purely on their excellence; there are no nominations.
The Oliviers, by contrast, are now a heavily skewed affair: it is no longer based on selections made by a nominating committee who’ve actually seen all the shows, but instead both nominations and winners are chosen by the full membership of SOLT, who all have their own commercial interests to promote.
Hence the egregious omission, in my opinion, of what was one of last year’s best musical productions in ANY category: the Open Air Theatre, Regent’s Park production of CAROUSEL. For me, this is enough to disregard whatever the actual winner is, when the most interesting show wasn’t even in contention.
So I won’t be attending — or even tuning in — on the night.
Another cabaret winner
I wrote here from New York recently of seeing Betty Buckley here and Liz Callaway here, respectively in cabaret at Joe’s Pub and Studio 54; just before I left for New York, I also saw Maria Friedman at the Menier Chocolate Factory in her current show LEGACY, which I wrote about here (and loved so much I am returning to see this weekend).
The gorgeous music of the now departed Michel Legrand is part of Friedman’s show that also encompasses her long professional relationships with Sondheim and Marvin Hamlisch as well. But now the shimmering Broadway soprano Melissa Errico is presenting, for three nights only till tomorrow (April 1), an all-Legrand show at London’s Crazy Coqs,offering a deep dive into both the well-known Legrand classics like The Windmills of my Mind and How Do You Keep the Music Playing, to much rarer (re)discoveries.
The utterly radiant Errico has a deep love of, and affinity for, Legrand’s music, born when she starred in the short-lived 2002 Broadway premiere of his show AMOUR, where they first met. She’s gone on to record an all-Legrand album; and she combines a fierce intelligence and swooning romance to a repertoire that is all about love.
It’s on evenings like this that I truly believe cabaret is the greatest of all art forms to showcase songs in; it’s just a singer in intimate connection and conversation with the music and their audience. It is stripped back of all external distraction, like sets, costumes and lighting in a musical; and when the singer is accompanied by a pianist as exceptional as James Pearson (playing away from his usual home as resident musical director at Ronnie Scott’s), the artistry is complete.
A beautiful musical tribute to a beautiful talent
On a much larger scale altogether, Beautiful — the Carole King Musical, first seen on Broadway in 2014 and then in the West End at the Aldwych in 2015, celebrates another momentous songwriter. Molly-Grace Cutler, now starring as KIng in the UK tour of the show, captures both the distinctive roar as well as hurt in her voice that made her one of a kind.
This jukebox musical personalises and contextualises the songs; it’s not always subtle, but it’s very effective. King”s TAPESTRY album may well be one of the greatest solo singer-songwriter pop albums ever produced; at the rehearsals for the Tony Awards in 2016, when Beautiful was in contention, I sat right behind Carole King (pictured below)!
Watching BEAUTIFUL at Brighton Theatre Royal on Tuesday evening, I felt nearly as close to Carole King again, especially as so fiercely embodied by Cutler.
t’s also fascinating to see, by the way, how all jukebox musicals start blending into one: while THE DRIFTERS’ GIRL is currently in the West End at the Garrick (and whose cast album is released today), The Drifters also make an appearance here, recording one of King’s hits Some Kind of Wonderful. But this show — in a new actor-musician production that originated at Curve in Leicester before touring — is itself some kind of wonderful.
Diary of a Somebody
Last night saw the opening, too, of DIARY OF A SOMEBODY, which I saw at the matinee preview. John Lahr’s stage adaptation of Joe Orton’s private diaries were first brought to the National Theatre stage at an early evening platform performance in 1986, before being expanded into a full-length piece at the King’s Head and then the Boulevard in 1987 (a space adjoining the Raymond Revuebar, which was returned to theatrical use shortly before the pandemic struck, but is now alas again no more).
The story of Orton’s relationship with Kenneth Halliwell, his older partner who murdered him when he was just 34 and then committed suicide, has been previously charted in the 1987 film PRICK UP YOUR EARS, based on John Lane’s biography, which also lent its title to a short-lived 2009 West End play by Simon Bent with Chris New as Orton and Matt Lucas as Halliwell.
But DIARY OF A SOMEBODY, adapted directly from the diaries themselves, feels more authentically real to the real-life (and death) experiences it portrays, and is spellbindingly acted by Toby Osmond and George Kemp (pictured above in rehearsals as Halliwell and Orton respectively) to explore the intimate connections and ultimately explosive tensions between them.
As directed by Nico Rao Pimparé, this is a bitterly entertaining (and entertainingly bitter) play about a seriously co-dependent relationship, and the corrosive jealousies of fame and success that came between them. It is a very funny, and also deeply moving, play; with a hilarious comic turn from Jemma Churchill as Orton’s (highly) theatrical agent Peggy Ramsay, herself recently played on the London stage by Tamsin Greig in Peggy for You at Hampstead Theatre, which I reviewed here in January.
SEE YOU ON MONDAY
If you can’t wait that long, I can also be found regularly on Twitter here (but not as regularly on weekends): https://twitter.com/ShentonStage/.