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WHAT'S NEW IN THE WEST END by Tim Connor
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1st November, 2001

RECENT OPENINGS AND CLOSURES

It has been a sad, sad month in London’s Theatreland. The aftermath of the tragic events of September 11 coupled with the earlier Foot and Mouth crisis have had a crippling effect on the tourist industry. In last month’s letter I mentioned several closures. Since then two more big musicals have folded, Peggy Sue Got Married and The Witches of Eastwick. Both came as a sudden shock, leaving no more than about two weeks notice. The demise of Witches has especially upset many theatregoers, as it was one of the few new musicals of 2000 that was still running in the West End. There is now almost no new musical theatre at all.

On the plays front however, things are looking stronger, with the National Theatre continuing to offer a variety of both old and new work, the visiting production of Jitney recently opening to positive press. Other theatres are also boasting great plays with great casts including The Homecoming with Ian Holm, Private Lives with Alan Rickman and Cat On A Hot Tin Roof with Brendan Fraser. All these new productions have had successful openings, Brendan Fraser in particular picking up a sack load of praise from many London critics for his performance in Tennessee Williams’ famous work. Don't be surprised if more than a few of these new productions head your way across the pond next season.

WHAT’S THE BUZZ?

Though it may be quieter than usual in Theatreland, the rumour mill is on full throttle! I’ve heard all sorts of things . . .

It seems that Jekyll and Hyde is back on the cards for London, many saying that it will replace Blood Brothers at the Phoenix Theatre. I doubt this very much as I recently re-visited the show and the theatre was very full. The production also remains top-notch with the one exception of the scenery, which is showing its age. Casting rumours for Jekyll are also circulating, with Ruthie Henshall and Michael Ball being the two hot favourites. However, these two are also being named as a possibility for Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, now confirmed to open at the Palladium in spring 2002. It will be interesting to see whatever Ruthie does post Peggy Sue. There is also talk that Martine McCutcheon is going to get the boot from My Fair Lady and Ruthie will be her replacement. The whole McCutcheon saga is beginning to be a case of "Cry Wolf", so I’ll believe it when I see it. Richard O’Brien, creator of the cult favourite The Rocky Horror Show, is also named as being in the Chitty line up, in what seems like being one of the major openings of 2002.

Cats is rumoured to be closing soon, having run in London for 21 years. Sources say that recently audiences could be counted in tens, and Contact seems to be the most likely show to fill the New London Theatre next.

SHOWS COMING TO TOWN

Rent, which has been successfully touring the UK, will be making a brief return to London in December and January at the Prince of Wales. This news comes as the UK tour of Grease has announced a short spell at the Dominion, before Ben Elton’s We Will Rock You, a musical about the music group Queen, opens next year. I’m not one for pop compilation musicals, but it will be interesting to see whether the show becomes a public success like Mamma Mia or receives a critical battering, like the short lived All You Need Is Love.

The best news of the month is that The Fully Monty will be baring all from March 2002. The Prince of Wales will house the hit musical, and there is the possibility that the show’s location will be reverted back to Northern England, as in the original film. However, I don’t think this would really work as David Yazbek’s songs are very American in style and humour. Either way, I can’t wait to see it.

UK CD RELEASE - SONG OF SINGAPORE - Available at Dress Circle, Leicester Square

Playing a brief but reasonably successful spell at London’s Mayfair Theatre, Dress Circle Records has produced the live cast album of this old fashioned show which comes across as totally silly, brainless but most enjoyable.

Musically and lyrically there’s nothing challenging on offer here. One has to just sit back and enjoy the jazzy melodies accompanied with extremely witty lyrics. The show harks back to the days of really old musical comedy: small on plot, big on song and dance. The plot for this piece is especially thin, almost to the point of being non-existent; a girl named Rose loses her memory and by the end of the show finds it again. Not exactly rocket science, but a good enough excuse for a collection of 19 tuneful and rhythmic songs.

To pick out a few favourites, Issy van Randwyck as Rose lets loose in the swing number ‘You Gotta Do What You Gotta Do’, whilst delivering the excellent blues ‘Sunrise’ with real style. Of the comedy gags ‘Necrology’ is a hilarious moment of utter stupidity whilst ‘Never Pay Musicians What They’re Worth’ proves to be every bit as entertaining as its title suggests. The band plays with panache throughout, whilst the vocalists all sound as if they’re having a ball working with the material. Guaranteed, this CD will make you smile.

Tim Connor, London

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Additional information on London's current theatre scene is available at Albemarle of London.



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