ShentonSTAGE Daily for WEDNESDAY OCTOBER 19

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Welcome to today’s edition of ShentonSTAGE Daily.

A new stage musical version of the 2000 film ALMOST FAMOUS is currently in previews on Broadway; another new adaptation of SOME LIKE IT HOT (previously adapted as the short-lived SUGAR in 1972) heads there next month. Also on the cards for the current season: Martin Scorsese’s 1977 film NEW YORK, NEW YORK is heading to Broadway next March, in a production being directed by Susan Stroman, featuring Kander and Ebb’s songs written for the film, with additional lyrics being provided by Lin-Manuel Miranda. 

Meanwhile, over here I’ve just spent two consecutive evenings seeing stage adaptations of two more niche films from the 1980s: LOCAL HERO, Bill Forsyth’s 1983 film set in a small Scottish Highlands seaside community being threatened by the arrival of Big Oil from Texas wanting to buy the town to turn the beach into an oil refinery; and MY NEIGHBOUR TOTORO, Hayao Miyazaki’s 1988 fantasy animated feature for the Japanese Studio Ghibli.

Local Hero (Chichester Festival Theatre’s MInerva)

The original film score was written by Dire Straits frontman Mark Knopfler, and he has now augmented and expanded it for a new musical adaptation that was originally premiered at Edinburgh’s Royal Lyceum Theatre in 2019; it was originally announced that John Crowley’s production would transfer to the Old Vic in 2020.

Those plans, of course, got derailed by the pandemic; instead, the show was taken up by another director Daniel Evans, and re-worked by him in what has turned out to be his final production at the helm at Chichester Festival Theatre, before he departs to co-run the RSC (with Tamara Harvey, also coincidentally current represented at Chichester, where her production of THE FAMOUS FIVE begins previews on Friday, in a co-production with Theatr Clwyd where it ran first last month).

Much is made of the beautiful light in the north-west Scottish coastal village of Ferness where it is set; funnily enough the light was also lovely in West Sussex en route to the theatre on Monday!

But the show itself lacks emotional shading, either in it’s pedestrian score or staging. Matters aren’t helped by an ugly set dominated by a giant silver wave metallic screen, onto which the lights are projected, and an unconvincing beach; and while the performances are engaging enough, they have to work overtime to fill in the blanks in the writing.

As a director, Evans has had some notable musical theatre successes during his time at Chichester, including with FLOWERS FOR MRS HARRIS in 2018 and THIS IS MY FAMILY in 2019 (both of which he premiered during his previous tenure as aritstic director at Sheffield’s Crucible), and the revival of SOUTH PACIFIC in 2021 that is currently on a UK-wide tour. But I don’t think LOCAL HERO will be joining them now in securing an extended life. 

In a preview feature in the Daily Telegraph about the stage show, Jasper Rees quotes Bill Forsyth telling him, “In a real way music made the film, if not saved it, because I’m so reluctant to give things to an audience. Maybe I err on the side of reserve. Mark saw what the film wanted to do and his music helped it by another 50 per cent. I felt wow, thank goodness.”

But though songs in a musical typically advance the action — and provide a fast short-circuit to emotion — on stage here they often have the opposite effect of draining life and focus away from David Greig’s poignant book.

It is also, coincidentally, the third musical in as many weeks to feature music by a pop cross-over writer: on Monday I reported here on Euthrymics co-founder Dave Stewart co-writing THE TIME-TRAVELLER’S WIFE that I saw at Chester’s Storyhouse; while now in preview, ahead of opening next week at the Almeida, is Tammy Faye, with a score by Elton John and Jake Shears, which I’m seeing next Wednesday.

My Neighbour Totoro (Barbican Theatre)

The RSC’s new show MY NEIGHBOUR TOTORO is, reportedly, the company’s fastest-selling show in history, outstripping Benedict Cumberbatch’s HAMLET (according to a preview feature in the Sunday Times earlier this month). But the cult following of the 1988 Japanese animated feature has passed me by, so I was entirely new to it.

This stage version is directed by master theatre maker Phelim McDermott with puppetry by Basil Twist on the expansive Barbican stage that stretches from tiny pom-poms on sticks to an inflatable light-filled bus and a giant teddy bear for the title character. McDermott inventively populates the stage with action, but I couldn’t help feeling that it is more children’s storytelling than anything else. Live music — which as with Local Hero, its original composer Joe Hisaishi has augmented for the stage — underscores the show, though it is never quite a musical.

It is lovingly and sincerely rendered, but it is also sluggish in parts.

Something in the AIr (Jermyn Street Theatre)

Playwright and director Peter Gill is now 84, but still going strong. The world premiere of SOMETHING IN THE AIR is at the tiny Jermyn Street Theatre, off Piccadilly Circus, but is a major event: it is a miniature gem of a memory play, replaying long-term gay relationships from a  youthful first meeting to their loving companionship in old age that is deeply moving.

Across a long career, Gill has mined personal territory of his own life with haunting, evocative skill; this may yet be one of his most tenderly heartfelt plays yet. It is a short but truly beautiful play, co-directed by him with Alice Hamilton, in a production that aches with tenderness and heartbreak.

OPENINGS IN LONDON, ON BROADWAY AND BEYOND

My regularly updated feature of openings in London, on Broadway and selected regional theatres is here:  http://shentonstage.com/theatre-openings-from-w-c-october-17/

Updates added this week include the announcement of a West End transfer for THE GREAT BRITISH BAKE-OFF THE MUSICAL, originally premiered at Cheltenham’s Everyman in August (pictured above), and the next two productions at @sohoplace, where Josie Rourke will direct AS YOU LIKE IT to follow the venue’s official opening with MARVELLOUS tomorrow, and will be followed in turn by Dominic Cooke directing Sophie Okonedo as MEDEA.

SEE YOU ON FRIDAY

I’ll be back here on Friday. 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)

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