Welcome to today’s edition of ShentonSTAGE Daily.
We are still uncommonly dependent on Broadway — on and off — to keep West End theatres, on and off, supplied with new musicals. Currently we have THE BAND’S VISIT at the Donmar, and as part of their recently announced 30th anniversary season, they will also be offering the UK premiere of NEXT TO NORMAL.
Also on the horizon: a transfer for George Takei’s ALLEGIANCE (to Charing Cross Theatre in January); and West End runs for AIN’T TOO PROUD, the Temptations jukebox show, to the Prince Edward in March, to be followed at the same address by MJ – THE MUSICAL in 2024. Also lining up a UK tour and summer season at the South Bank’s Queen Elizabeth Hall is the 2017 Broadway musical THE SPONGEBOB MUSICAL, based on the Nickelodeon TV series.
But the tide may be at last turning and we are beginning to return the favour. SIX, which originated as an Edinburgh fringe student show, has become an established hit on Broadway; previews are about to commence on Broadway for the transfer of the Max Martin jukebox & JULIET; Andrew Lloyd Webber will transfer his latest musical, now re-titled BAD CINDERELLA, to Broadway in February; and also recently announced BACK TO THE FUTURE will land on Broadway at the WInter Garden next June.
We are also producing a sudden rush of original musicals over here. The coming months will see the official opening, over a year after it began previews at the National Theatre but failed to actually hold a press night, for Rufus Norris’s production of HEX; the National also has the transfer of Richard Hawley and Chris Bush’s STANDING AT THE SKY’S EDGE, originally premiered at Sheffield Crucible in 2019, in February.
In the Cut, the Young Vic has MANDELA at the end of next month, while the Old VIc opposite has SYLVIA, a new hip-hop musical about the suffragettes, in January. Jake Brunger and Pippa Cleary’s THE GREAT BRITISH BAKE OFF MUSICAL, premiered at Cheltenham in August, transfers to the Noel Coward for a West End run in February. Cleary is also currently responsible for composing new songs for Rob Madge’s autobiographical MY SON”S A QUEER (BUT WHAT CAN YOU DO) at the Garrick.
Last week I reported, too, on the premiere of THE TIME TRAVELLER’S WIFE, with a score by Dave Stewart and Joss Stone, at Chester’s Storyhouse; and this week I’ve just seen the opening of the much-awaited Elton John and Jake Spears scored musical TAMMY FAYE, with a book by playwright James Graham, at the Almeida last night; and Theatr Clwyd and Chichester Festival Theatre’s co-production of THE FAMOUS FIVE moved from Wales to West Sussex, opened officially in Chichester the night before.
Tammy Faye (Almeida Theatre)
This new musical is based on the life of the American television evangelist; like JERRY SPRINGER — THE OPERA, it celebrates a figure of popular TV culture, but instead of satirising it comedically, it is a fairly conventional re-telling.
It is powered by a magnificent performance from Katie Brayben in the title role, bringing colour, warmth and texture to a complicated woman, just as she also provided when she played Carole King in BEAUTIFUL in the West End (she is pictured above right, with Andrew Rannalls, left, as her philandering husband Jim Bakker).
But Elton John’s music, with lyrics by Jake Shears, is disappointingly underpowered, except when in inevitable gospel mode, when it sounds rather generic. (I sometimes felt it was channelling SISTER ACT, Alan Menken’s musical version of the film of the same name that played a London season this summer in Hammersmith).
But thankfully Rupert Goold’s production keeps a driving momentum even when the score lacks it. And the cast are ace, with Zubin Varla and Peter Caulfield both in stellar form as fellow TV evangelists Jerry Falwell and BIlly Graham.
The Famous Five (Chichester Festival Theatre)
More successful, on its own terms, is THE FAMOUS FIVE, co-produced with Theatr Clwyd, where it was launched and tremendously directed by Tamara Harvey, Clwyd’s artistic director, with spirit, charm and momentum.
With a clever and sophisticated score by Theo Jamieson, THE FAMOUS FIVE is a thorough-bred musical delight. Like MATILDA and MARY POPPINS, it shows children negotiating an adult world who neglect their needs — but find their own inner strength. So it’s moving, too.
A terrific cast gives delightful performances all around — but I adored the utterly elastic, and electrifying, Louis Suc as younger brother Dick (pictured above right). He’s definitely a name to watch!
Blues for an Alabama Sky (National’s Lyttelton Theatre, to November 5)
For the first time in many years, I had not seen any of the shows in the current repertoire of the National Theatre until yesterday, when I broke that run by seeing Lynette Linton’s beautiful production of Pearl Cleage’s BLUES FOR AN ALABAMA SKY, a poignant portrait of life in a Prohibition-era Harlem boarding house.
A seriously impressive cast is led by Samira Wiley (above left) and Giles Terera (above right) as two best friends sharing a room, as he dreams of moving to Paris to work for Josephine Baker (for whom he designs costumes) and she longs for a man to rescue her.
When I exited the theatre, I got an email confirming that Teresa’s original play THE MEANING OF ZONG, premiered at Bristol Old VIc, is to transfer to the Barbican Theatre from April 20-23. It has been added to my regularly updated feature of openings in London, on Broadway and selected regional theatres that you can find here: https://shentonstage.com/theatre-openings-from-w-c-october-24/
SEE YOU ON MONDAY
I’ll be back here next on Monday. If you can’t wait that long, I may also be found on Twitter here: https://twitter.com/ShentonStage/ (though not as regularly on weekends)