Welcome to today’s edition of ShentonSTAGE Daily, in which I look back on the last seven days of theatre news and reviews (including my own).
MONDAY NOVEMBER 13
My week in review(s) column of news and reviews (including my own) across the last week (from November 6-12) is here: https://shentonstage.com/shentonstage-newsletter-the-week-in-reviews-nov-6-12/
TUESDAY NOVEMBER 14
Barry Manilow has been labouring for nearly 30 years to bring his original musical HARMONY, with book and lyrics by his longtime collaborator Bruce Sussman, to Broadway; and it finally reached the Barrymore stage on w47th Street last night.
I previously reported on this production’s first iteration in March 2021 under the auspices of the National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene (NYTF) at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in downtown New York. Now that it has shimmied up to Broadway, at last, it feels a little old-fashioned there, but at least sincere in its ambitions to bring its forgotten story of a 1930s German singing troupe, half Jewish, half gentile, to a wider public.
And at least it isn’t a jukebox musical drawing on Manilow’s wonderful back catalogue, but has an original and well-crafted score of its own.
WEDNESDAY NOVEMBER 15
A double bill today of new(ish) British musicals: this afternoon, i returned to see FLOWERS FOR MRS HARRIS again at RIverside Studios again, which I previously wrote about here; and then went to Kilburn to see he clunkily titled TWO STRANGERS (CARRY A CAKE ACROSS NEW YORK) at the Kiln Theatre.
Originally premiered at Ipswich’s New Wolsey Theatre in 2019, when it was called THE SEASON, it is both bland and banal, full of deeply cliched writing, as it seeks to tell the story of the wide-eyed wonder of a young man travelling to New York to attend the wedding of the father he has never previously met, and forging a friendship with the younger sister of his dad’s new bride.
The two appealing actors — Sam Tutty and Dujonna Gift — elevate it far beyond its worth in Tim Jackson’s production, but this is a labour of love that is deeply laboured.
THURSDAY NOVEMBER 16
This afternoon I saw the ludicrous — and ludicrously bad — MATES IN CHELSEA at the Royal Court, a new play by Rory Mullarkey that marks the end of Vicky Featherstone’s tenure as artistic director there with a real damp squib.
A couple of critics — notably Dominic Cavendish in the Daily Telegraph were more generous (“Mullarkey’s latest opus proves to be that rare thing at the Royal Court, a near-unalloyed delight, making political points, yes, but with a premium placed on entertainment value, delivered to the hilt in Sam Pritchard’s gloriously funny, joyously acted production”) — but both The Times and Sunday Times offered one-star reviews,
In the former, an exasperated Clive Davis asks: “Is the Royal Court determined to consign itself to utter irrelevance? Have the people who run the place given up on the editing process? After enduring this puerile would-be comedy by Rory Mullarkey I’m once again left wondering how an institution that was once renowned for being bold and innovative manages to keep unearthing new writing that is so feeble.”
The play is duly (and dully) unlikely to be nominated for any Evening Standard Theatre Awards, but this reference to proprietor Evgeny Lebedev more or less guarantees it…..(One perspective comment, though, isn’t enough to save the play)
At least I had a happier evening catching up with the brilliant Mandy Patinkin, back — all-too-briefly — on the West End stage at the Lyric in a solo concert, coincidentally two doors down from the Gielgud where Bernadette Peters, his original co-star of SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE in 1983, is appearing in SONDHEIM’S OLD FRIENDS
SUNDAY IN THE PARK was the first Sondheim I ever saw in its original Broadway production in NYC; earlier this month I saw the original production of Sondheim’s last show HERE WE ARE in NYC, as I reported here recently.
Tonight Patinkin, joined by pianist Adam Ben-David (pictured above), honoured Sondheim with selections from ANYONE CAN WHISTLE, INTO THE WOODS and COMPANY. A wide-ranging programme also stretched from Rodgers and Hammerstein and Harold Arlen to Randy Newman and Freddie Mercury, delivered with Patinkin’s unique blend of intensity and raw feeling. He’s one of a kind and a superb storyteller, and his voice is still in spectacular shape at 70. (That’s more than you can say, alas, for Bernadette Peters two doors away).
FRIDAY NOVEMBER 17
MONTY PYTHON”S SPAMALOT returned to Broadway officially last night, opening at the St James Theatre in a production that was seen earlier this year at Washington DC’s Kennedy Center. I saw a designated press preview last weekend, and had an enjoyable enough time — even if I couldn’t quite understand why we’re seeing it again so soon; the original Broadway production, which played further along w44th Street at the Shubert, only closed 14 years ago.
While jukebox musicals have become all the rage, this is like a jukebox of favourite Monty Python sketches, accompanied by pastiche songs sending up musical theatre itself, like FORBIDDEN BROADWAY but on a much bigger scale and budget. A less starry company than it had originally, but with some good Broadway stalwarts like Christopher Fitzgerald, Michael Urie and Leslie Kritrzer, give it full welly,
Last week’s newsletter reported on Deadline’s exposure of behind-the-scenes allegations of bullying, misconduct and toxicity at Arts Ed, a school where I taught for nearly a decade; today Deadline have run another story on further allegations, as well as the fact that the school has also undergone an Ofsted inspection, “categorically” unrelated to those allegations, the school says.
SATURDAY NOVEMBER 18
As I was in New York last week, I missed the opening of Marcelo Dos Santos’s tame, lame Royal Family comedy BACKSTAIRS BILLY at the Duke of York’s, which sadly turned out to be a bitter disappointment.
I bought myself a rush day seat for £25 in the royal circle; as it happens, I was seated right next to an old friend who had paid £85 for his ticket. But even as I was glad of my own bargain, the financial savings didn’t make up for the lost time I spent watching it.
Like the new series of THE CROWN that has just dropped on Netflix, feeding the seemingly insatiable desire for imagined behind-the-royal-scenes encounters, this play is mildly diverting enough, but deeply predictable; what saves it are lovely performances from Penelope Wilton as the Queen Mother and Luke Evans as her most senior and loyal footman. The show is nearly stolen from both of them, though, by a pair of real corgis.
SUNDAY NOVEMBER 19
I’ve already noted the widespread suspicion that accompanies the annual presentation of the Evening Standard Theatre Awards (see Thursday above), not helped by a judging process that seems to promote celebrity wins over true merit that had several judges retire from the process a few years ago.
So I’m loathe to give them any further air time here, except to note that the big wins at this year’s ceremony, held tonight at Claridge’s Hotel, were, of course, taken by the big star names again — Andrew Scott named Best Actor for his solo VANYA (I didn’t even see it), Nicole Scherzinger winning the Best Musical Performance Award for playing Norma Desmond in the current SUNSET BOULEVARD and Editor’s Awards going to Elton John and Ruth Wilson for TAMMY FAYE (announced this week to be bypassing the West End to head direct to Broadway after its Almeida run last year) and THE SECOND WOMAN respectively
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-november-20-2023/
I will be here again next Monday. 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 Instagram with the same handle (@ShentonStage)