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). This now appears every Monday instead of Friday.
MONDAY OCTOBER 9
My week in review(s) column of news and reviews (including my own) across the last week (from October 2-8) is here:
TUESDAY OCTOBER 10
MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG returned to Broadway tonight, 42 years after its infamous 1981 bomb there, when it ran for just 16 performances and brought a decade of collaborations with director Hal Prince that had previously produced such masterpieces as COMPANY, FOLLIES, A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC, PACIFIC OVERTURES and SWEENEY TODD to an end.
They would briefly reunite on BOUNCE in 2003, a musical that had begun its life off-Broadway as WISE GUYS (with Sam Mendes at the helm) and would later become ROAD SHOW (directed by John Doyle), but after playing in Chicago and Washington DC was not a success, either.
At a screening for a documentary called BEST WORST THING THAT EVER COULD HAVE HAPPENED about the failed genesis of MERRILY, Sondheim told Jesse Green (now chief critic of the New York TImes) in 2016 of his enduring regret of that experience, particularly in relation to the youthful company of actors whose debuts it marked: “For the first time in my life I felt guilty towards the cast, I felt that we had let them down,Not through laziness, not through tawdriness, we just did. I didn’t feel that, for example, with Anyone Can Whistle, but they were pros — 50, 60, 40 years old. Here, these were fledglings, and you pushed them out of the nest, and they couldn’t fly. That’s not a good thing.”
But by then the show had itself been long reclaimed, with a 2012 production at the Menier Chocolate Factory transferring to the West End, under the direction of Maria Friedman who had starred as Mary Flynn in a production at Leicester Haymarket in 1992 (that I incidentally wrote the liner notes for the cast recording of).
Now, more than a decade later, Friedman has returned the show to Broadway, at last, via an earlier 2022 run at New York Theatre Workshop, starring Daniel Radcliffe as Charley Kringas, Jonathan Groff as Franklin Shepard and Lindsay Mendez as Mary Flynn (pictured above at the Broadway opening night curtain call by Bruce Glikas); I can’t wait to see it again when I’m back in New York soon, when I will also be able to catch Sondheim’s final show HERE WE ARE, receiving its posthumous premiere at the Shed.
WEDNESDAY OCTOBER 11: FIRST NIGHT
Tonight saw the Chichester opening for their co-production of Arthur Miller’s A VIEW FROM THE BRIDGE (the theatre’s partners are Headlong Theatre, Bolton’s Octagon and Kingston’s Rose).
This is the first time I’ve seen the play since Ivo van Hove’s 2015 production cracked it open at the Young Vic (and subsequently transferred to the West End and Broadway) to reveal its simmering, shimmering violence that felt like a Greek tragedy.
Director Holly Race Roughton, artistic director of Headlong, can’t quite compete with that memory, but she propels the play into a shiny, slick contemporary setting that still pays dividends, notably thanks to Jonathan Slinger — pictured above, one of our most chameleon-like and underrated actors — as Eddie Carbone, the New York longshoreman wrestling with conflicted feelings for his young niece that sets in motion a tragedy when she falls for a visiting Italian relative of his wife.
NEWS OF THE DAY: Amit Sharma, currently associate director of Kilburn’s Kiln Theatre, has been announced to succeed Indhu Rubasingham as Artistic Director and CEO. He will take up the role on December 1, 2023.
THURSDAY OCTOBER 12: WORLD PREMIERE
Today I flew to Cork in Ireland to see the world premiere of Liz Callaway’s new show THE WIZARD AND I, a heartfelt tribute to her friend and regular collaborator Stephen Schwartz’s amazing body of work, joined by students from the MTU Cork School of Music (she is pictured below with some of them).
I love Schwartz’s music across a career that has stretched from GODSPELL (she sings Beautiful City here, added to the soundtrack for the film version of the show) to WICKED. Just a few weeks ago I attended a concert celebrating his 75th birthday in the West End that I wrote about here.
I’m also a massive fan (and now friend) of Callaway’s; she’s one of the greatest theatre voices in the world, up there with such greats as Barbara Cook and Maureen McGovern in the purity of her tone and range. (I am pictured with her after the show with her husband Dan Foster and actor Paul Wilkins, who is now studying for a masters at Cork but whom I once taught in his first year at ArtsEd back in my first year there in 2012)
It was worth the journey even if a £43 return flight on Ryanair turned into a £98 one when I had to pay a £55 check-in fee after failing to be able to complete my check-in before I got to the airport. It proved to be impossible, though, because I’d booked my flight through a third party site (Opodo), who had used their own credit card to make the booking, not mine, so when I was asked for the number I was unable to provide it. I had, however, completed and paid for the airline’s verification process to prove that I was their customer; but the check-in process still failed. Lessons learnt: never use a third party site to book Ryanair. Or better yet, don’t fly Ryanair. (At least I didn’t fall for the scammers who descended upon me after I revealed my plight on Twitter, who offered to resolve it by refunding me the flight cost plus £240 for the inconvenience. They just needed my banking details…..)
FRIDAY OCTOBER 13: FIRST PREVIEW
Tonight I attended the spectacular first performance of the opening production at Manchester’s stunning new 3Aviva Studios (pictured below), FREE YOUR MIND: a vivid 3D spectacle of lights, sound, video and especially movement that riffs on THE MATRIX.
It opens officially on October 18, but was performance-ready tonight, with not a hitch in sight in a spectacle overseen by director Danny Boyle, featuring a score by Michael ‘Mikey J’ Asante and stage sculptures by Es Devlin. I’d find it hard to describe exactly what happens in it, nor would I want to spoil it for people still to see it, but it’s a hugely impressive endeavour. (I think dance critics may have an easier time finding the language to explain it).
Kudos to the venue too, for looking after its disabled patrons so well (including me); produced by Factory International, the organisation that runs and programmes the Manchester International Festival, it’s going to give an already major cultural destination another serious reason to come to the city.
SATURDAY OCTOBER 14
As I was in Cork on Thursday (see above), I missed the official opening of an utterly stunning reinvention of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s 1993 musical SUNSET BOULEVARD at the Savoy, which now — barring a theatre miracle — is probably the last great Lloyd Webber musical we’ll get.
My full review for PLAYS INTERNATIONAL is here: https://playsinternational.org.uk/sunset-boulevard-at-savoy-theatre/
SUNDAY OCTOBER 15
Things seem to be in crisis mode yet again at English National Opera, where today music director Martyn Brabbins (pictured below) announced his resignation, following the axing of 19 posts and employing the remaining musicians on part-time contracts.
He issued a statement saying,
“I cannot in all conscience continue to support the board and management’s strategy for the future of the company. “While my feelings on this have been developing for some time, it reached its nadir this week, with the internal announcement of severe cuts to its orchestra and chorus from 2024-25 season.”
ENO In turn issued its own statement:
“Martyn Brabbins has been party to all key discussions at all stages and the extremely difficult decisions that have to be made by the Board and Management in constrained financial circumstance. After nine months of negotiation with Arts Council England, the ENO has reached a position where we are confident we can maintain a substantial level of operatic work – as opposed to the original reality of total redundancy across the entire company. We are disappointed that Martyn has chosen to resign rather than support the company by engaging with the process of creating a sustainable future for the ENO.”
This was all set in motion, of course, when former culture secretary Nadine Dorries insisted that the company relocate outside of London, without any consultation as to where it might go.
But now a bad situation is being made far worse, as a company without strong artistic leadership may not be worth taking anywhere.
And as Alex Marshall of the New York Times tweeted this morning:
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-october-16-2023/
See you here next Monday
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).