1st October, 2001
"ANOTHER CLOSING, ANOTHER SHOW …"
NOTRE DAME - Possibly the most shameful excuse for a musical to have hit London for a long while, Notre Dame De Paris is finally closing up shop. A combination of bland melodies and atrocious lyrics must make this one of London’s most successful turkeys. There are hundreds of obsessed fans world wide so I have to be careful not to cause offence, but personally I think it is a shamefully poor piece of writing. Though many will be shedding a tear that this one is leaving (and I would normally mourn the loss of a new work), I’m afraid that I am probably one of the few who won’t be reaching for the tissues.
CLOSER TO HEAVEN - Considering it received such terrible reviews (except from the Evening Standard), I think its great that this show has survived as long as it has. However, sadly it has announced closure on October 13. The Arts Theatre will then house the very popular The Vagina Monologues. Though Closer to Heaven will be leaving the London theatre scene, I’m told that a cast album has been recorded which will no doubt be released sometime soon.
KING AND I - As I had predicted, The King and I is to close in January 2002, supposedly making way for Jeremy Sams’ new stage version of the popular film Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (still to be confirmed). Josie Lawrence and Keo Woolford, currently playing Anna and the King at the Palladium, have extended their contracts until the end of the run.
It’s only a rumour, but there have been messages spreading that The Witches of Eastwick may be closing in a month or so. However, I have heard information to the contrary. Apparently Mackintosh wishes to keep Witches running for two years in London (even though it is said to be losing money), so that he can then take it to Broadway with a "Two year London run" under its belt. I do hope you folks on the other side of the pond get to see Witches for it is an enjoyable, though flawed, traditional musical comedy.
NEWS AND RECENT OPENINGS
KISS ME, KATE CASTING
October sees the arrival of Kiss Me, Kate, with Marin Mazzie playing Lilli Vanessi to Brent Barrett’s Fred Graham. Though Londoners were promised the American leads, it appears that the original leading man, Brian Stokes Mitchell, hasn’t come across with the production. A shame as he has had something a following over here since his success in Ragtime. However, we have the equally terrific Brent Barrett who I’m sure will fill Mitchell’s shoes more than admirably.
SOUTH PACIFIC IS NEXT MUSICAL FOR NATIONAL
For their next musical project the National is once again turning to Rodgers and Hammerstein. Trevor Nunn will direct a new production of the classic show South Pacific, as part of the Richard Rodgers celebrations. John Napier, Matthew Bourne and William D. Brohn are all on the creative team and if previous musical productions are anything to go by, this will be a rather special revival, especially with these three great men on board. I also have it on good authority that Philip Quast will take the male lead, though this is yet to be completely confirmed. Booking is now open.
MOTHER CLAPP’S MOLLY HOUSE
Mark Ravehill’s latest work, a play with songs directed by Nicholas Hytner, has opened at the National to generally positive press. Ravenhill is known for using strong language in his plays (notably the successful Shopping and Fucking;, the title alone received plenty of media attention!). The critics were divided on how progressive or daring his latest work was, some feeling that despite Ravenhill’s use of offensive dialogue, as a piece of theatre overall it had minimal impact. Others felt that it was a strong new play, and it is certainly more risqué than what one would normally expect at the National! Mother Clapp’s Molly House is currently playing in repertoire.
...STOP PRESS…STOP PRESS…STOP PRESS…STOP PRESS…STOP PRESS...
Mother Clapp’s director, Nicholas Hytner, has been announced as Trevor Nunn’s successor for the National. Hytner has an impressive track record, ranging from the hit musical Miss Saigon to The Madness Of King George, successful both on stage and screen.
CLOUDSTREET - AN EXTRAORDINARY PLAY
Cloudstreet is the most magnificent, beautiful and moving play I have seen in years. An Australian epic that clocks in at about five hours, including two intervals, it sails by with its enchanting story of two families living under the same roof, the Lambs and the Pickles.
The play cuts back and forth from both families charting their frustrations, their joys and their experiences as the years go by. The two also join together on many occasions, for example when spending a day by the sea, where the Olivier audience is offered real ice cream by the cast!
I was constantly enthralled by this play not just because of its fascinating story line, but its extraordinary and ingenious imagination. Neil Armfield’s direction and Robert Cousins’ set (complimented by Mark Howett’s exquisite lighting) are a triumph, using the simplest of props to make marvellous visual and audio effects.
To pick but two from hundreds of brilliant ideas, on the beach a child finds fun jumping on Blowfish. A loud pop sound fills the auditorium whenever the actor mimes jumping on the creature. We then see that one of the actors, situated on the side of the stage, is popping paper bags in unison with the other actor’s movements. A second terrific idea was when Lester Lamb, the father of the Lamb family, jumps for joy in the water. Four members of the company sat in each of the four corners of the stage and flicked water from large bowls in his direction whenever his feet touched the floor, to give the effect of him splashing.
Other treats in this superb work were clever shadow sequences and a chilling yet spectacular scene where Fish Lamb gets caught in a fishing net, struggling high above the stage to free himself. There is also brilliant use of music, beautifully composed by Ian Grandage especially for the play.
The cast were universally outstanding and though I feel it would be unfair to single out one particular artist, it must be said that Dan Wyllie as the mentally disturbed child Fish Lamb, possibly the central character of the piece, gave a most disturbing and utterly convincing performance.
This is a play filled with good Australian humour, contrasted with many moments of such tenderness and sadness that I found myself deeply touched. Cloudstreet was a magical evening - a joyous and unforgettable experience.
LIGHTHEARTED FUN WITH PEGGY SUE GOT MARRIED
As this was one of the few big new openings in London this year, I decided to share the job of reviewing it. I went to see Peggy Sue with a friend of mine, Mark Clarke, and below is the culmination of our views:-
Peggy Sue Got Married focuses on Peggy Sue, a middle aged woman who is having difficulty forgiving her adulterous husband as she prepares to go to her High School reunion. In the middle of the party, Peggy Sue passes out and travels back in time through a cloud of dry ice, projected numbers, and sound snippets of historical speeches. A bemused Ms Sue wakes up to finds herself back in her High School days and in her teenage body. Such is the story of London’s newest musical.
Peggy Sue Got Married looks great. It’s got a stylish, if at times somewhat empty-looking shiny blue set, effective lighting and suitably bright costumes. The book is also rather humorous and well played by the youthful cast. The beautiful Ruthie Henshall, in the title role, shows that she's got it all with an incredible singing voice and great acting. She gives hilariously cynical, never letting the audience forget that despite the very becoming cheerleader outfit, she is a world-weary middle aged woman at heart.
The excellent Gavin Lee as Richard, your stereotype "Nerd", matches Miss Henshall’s bravura performance. Despite his smaller role, Lee manages to quickly charm the audience, until you are soon rooting for Peggy to drop Charlie like a bad habit, and run off with him instead!
There are, however two problems with this show, one being the character of Charlie. Though Andrew Kennedy cannot be held entirely responsible for the infuriatingly cheesy part, he still hams it up too much. Charlie is an annoyingly sincere and earnest boyfriend who sings comically chauvinistic, though well meaning, love songs. In short, the role (despite Kennedy’s efforts), does not convince.
The second problem is the songs, which though mostly very entertaining and relevant, are oddly forgettable. There is not really anything wrong with Bob Gaudio and Jerry Leichling’s musical numbers but they are not distinctive enough, sounding like anything you might hear from the 50s through to the 80s, the eras in which the title character gets to re-live her youth. Only the fantastic Act One closer "Two Kinds of Fire", a Meat Loaf-esque rock ballad, has any lasting impression.
Overall, one can’t help thinking that what Peggy Sue really needs is a new score. Obviously that’s not going to happen, but if it did then it would be an all round really great show. As it stands, it’s a feel-good night out, let down in the most crucial department. However, if you’re interested in seeing new musical theatre, it is well worth a visit.
DIVAS AT THE DONMAR – CLIVE ROWE
If Simon Russell Beale is the regarded as the new Gielgud of straight theatre, then Clive Rowe must be the Gielgud of musical theatre. Recently in cabaret at the Donmar, he performed to ecstatic reception. The man comes across as so natural, so likeable and when he starts singing he really does send a shiver down your spin. His well pieced together show included many theatre standards but given fresh new interpretations. "Heaven On Their Minds" was mind-blowing brilliant (no exaggeration, it was incredible), "Sit Down Your Rockin’ The Boat" a crowd-pleaser, and his third encore, "Big Black Man" (from The Full Monty), hilarious. Quite simply, he is the best male singer that London has to offer. I was thrilled to have caught such a fabulous evening with a wonderful, wonderful man.
UK CD RELEASE – SONGS FROM SUNSET BOULEVARD, THE 2001 –2002 UK TOUR
Of Lloyd Webber’s many musical scores, Sunset Blvd ranks as my personal favourite. There are several beautiful melodies, and he really is the finest in the industry when it comes to composing big ballads. My other reason for liking Sunset is its dark and witty lyrics by Don Black, Christopher Hampton and Amy Powers. This new CD single has Faith Brown and Earl Carpenter, currently touring the UK in the show, singing through three of the big numbers. From what I’ve read, this is a stunningly performed production and judging by this sampler disc I can only agree.
The renditions on this CD of the title number (possibly my all-time favourite Lloyd Webber songs), "The Perfect Year" and Norma’s showstopper "As If We Never Said Goodbye", are the best I have come across. As Joe, Earl Carpenter gets to show off his vocal excellence during Sunset Blvd, and there’s real aggression in his approach to a demanding solo. In "As If We Never Said Goodbye" Faith Brown displays an amazingly strong voice, delivering a thrillingly passionate version of this powerful song. There is real choked emotion in her delivery, and the words have never been so meaningful. If you love these songs and want to hear, in my view, near perfect renditions, this release should be added to your list.
Tim Connor, London
Additional information on London's current theatre scene is available at Albemarle of London.