Children of Eden aftershow party

Yesterday, I was kindly invited by Kevin Wilson PR to attend a charity concert in aid of Crohn’s and Colitis UK, with a one-off performance of Stephen Schwartz’s musical Children of Eden. With a book by John Caird and best on the book of Genesis, as Bibically inspired musicals go, it’s… well, it’s better than Godspell.

Seriously, there were some great musical performances (especially from Louise Dearman and Lauren Samuels) and it was great to see so many current and future West End stars come together, donating their time for such a worthy cause.

The reason I was invited was, once again, to take party pictures for The Stage. Because Friday was the company’s own annual party, the pictures won’t be in the paper until February 8 at the earliest, but you can see them here first. They’re also visible on my Flickr account.

Crohn’s and Colitis UK homepage

Crazy for You, Novello Theatre

Editor’s Rating
[media-credit name=”Roy Tan” align=”aligncenter” width=”584″]Sean Palmer (Billy) and Clare Foster (Polly) in Crazy for You. Photo by Roy Tan.[/media-credit]

Nobody loves a Gershwin tune more than I do. In the parlour game of whittling down my favourite tunes into the eight discs I would take with me should Kirsty Young cast me away onto Radio 4’s fabled desert island, a huge number of the songs that make my all-too-long shortlist have music composed by George with lyrics by “his lovely wife Ira”.

Which is one of the reasons why I ought to adore Crazy For You, which is currently playing in the West End’s Novello Theatre in a transfer from a summer run at the Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre. And by the end of the show, I did wholeheartedly. But it didn’t half make it hard to love.

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Crazy for You, Novello Theatre4Scott Matthewman2011-11-30 15:18:24[media-credit name=”Roy Tan” align=”aligncenter” width=”584″][/media-credit]

Nobody loves a Gershwin tune more than I do. In the parlour game of wh…

Soho Cinders in Concert, Queen’s Theatre

Editor’s Rating

Most new musicals take a while to see the light of day, maybe peeping over the parapet with workshops, or even a concept CD, long before they hit the stage. Few, however, gestate quite as long as Soho Cinders, a musical from George Stiles and Anthony Drewe (Honk!, Just So, the expanded stage version of Mary Poppins, Peter Pan, Betty Blue Eyes) which, as Mark Shenton notes today, has been in development for most of this century already.

And it’s a very 21st century piece – a modern day Cinderella story, with rent boy Robbie using the wages from his escort services to fund his law studies, in order to prove that his wicked stepsisters have illegally taken over his late mother’s coffee shop. The ball becomes a fund-raising bash for a good-looking mayoral candidate whom Robbie has been seeing on the side, although he’s there to escort the wealthy businessman who’s bankrolling the mayoral bid. And when he’s exposed as a rent boy and runs off, it’s not a shoe he leaves behind, but a mobile phone…

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Soho Cinders in Concert, Queen’s Theatre5Scott Matthewman2011-10-10 10:14:16Most new musicals take a while to see the light of day, maybe peeping over the parapet with workshops, or even a concept CD, long before they hit the …

Phantom of the Opera 25th Anniversary, Aylesbury Waterside (via the Royal Albert Hall)

Editor’s Rating

Last night I went to the Aylesbury Waterside Theatre, where the venue’s small studio area, the SecondSpace, had been converted into a big-screen cinema for a live relay of The Phantom of the Opera’s 25th anniversary gala at the Royal Albert Hall. It’s the first time I’ve been in the SecondSpace when it’s been in use as a performance area: the ingenious, adaptable design allows the seating to retract fully away into the walls and for a partition to be removed, making for a large open-plan bar area which was used for drinks receptions at the venue’s grand opening and at the gala night for last year’s pantomime.

Because of the retractible nature of the seating, I had expected that they wouldn’t be quite as comfortable as the luscious, generously proportioned seats in the main auditorium. And they’re not – but they are far better than I’d imagined, even if the fidgety old couple at the end of our row did cause the whole bank of seats to vibrate every time they shuffled around.

I wasn’t there to review the seats, though, but to see a transmission of the souvenir performance marking 25 years since The Phantom of the Opera blasted onto the West End stage (the actual anniversary is next weekend). A specially constructed set in the Albert Hall took over the whole of the choir and organ end of the auditorium. The upper level boxes were cleverly extended round to include Box Number Five, which the “Opera Ghost” demands is kept for his sole use. The main stage space saw the orchestra perched atop a series of ornate archways, with a lighting rig doubling as a faux proscenium arch that occasionally descended to show activity in the ‘fly tower’ above.

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Phantom of the Opera 25th Anniversary, Aylesbury Waterside (via the Royal Albert Hall)4Scott Matthewman2011-10-03 11:26:45Last night I went to the Aylesbury Waterside Theatre, where the venue’s small studio area, the SecondSpace, had been converted into a big-screen cinem…

Is musical theatre colour-blind?

Colour-blind casting. It’s a phrase that’s used to mean that the ethnicity of the cast performer isn’t taken into account when casting a role. And in practical terms, that tends to mean that a role traditionally played by a white actor is being played  by a non-white one.

In ‘straight’ theatre, it’s almost taken as given these days – despite the same examples being trotted out time after time (David Oyelowo’s Henry VI for the RSC, forever cited whenever the topic arises, was 11 years ago in 2000, for goodness’ sake).

But in West End musical theatre, there do seem to be precious few examples.

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The Lion King, Lyceum Theatre

Of all the animated musical films produced by Walt Disney Feature Animation since The Little Mermaid signalled the rebirth of the genre, the Lion King musical stands as one of the greatest (and I say that as one of Ashman and Menken’s biggest fans). The involving story of a scheming uncle who kills his brother, the king, before usurping the throne that rightfully belongs to his young nephew has often been compared to Hamlet – and while I think that’s an oversimplification that does neither work any favours, The Lion King is certainly more Shakespearean than it is the Andersen/Perrault fairytale that is the Disney studio’s more usual stamping ground.

One thing that’s noticeable, though, is how Western the original film is. With songs by Elton John and Tim Rice and a score by Hans Zimmer, aurally its feet are square in the Euro-American tradition of the musical. Save for the opening strains of The Circle of Life, many of the songs show no sense of place, no indication that the story is taking place on the African plains. Even Hakuna Matata, which takes its title from a Swahili phrase, is arranged as a Dixieland foot-stomper, bringing to mind The Jungle Book’s Bare Necessities.

The success of the film and its accompanying soundtrack CD saw a more interesting “sequel” CD, Rhythm of the Pride Lands, which saw the film’s existing songs and score rearranged, mixed with new and traditional African melodies to produce a wonderful fusion of styles.

It’s a shame that Rhythm of the Pride Lands is so hard to find these days, as it provides a clear bridge between the animated film and the stage musical, which I got to see for the first time last night, a good ten years after it first opened in the West End.

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Don’t underestimate the understudy

Over on Twitter, West End leading lady and all-round good egg Gina Beck (@Gina_Beck) has written an impassioned response to a series of missives that have been on The Stage’s letters pages of late.

The subject concerns understudies performing in place of highly-advertised and well-promoted names in West End shows, triggered by a letter complaining of a matinee performance of Wicked where several of the named leads were unavailable.

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Sweet Charity, Theatre Royal Haymarket

NB: This is the first of a series of very short reviews to catch up with what I’ve seen in the past few weeks since I last blogged.

My first ever viewing of this revival, and indeed my first ever viewing of a stage production. It sits in that awkward time period where the coy, flirtatious Fifties were giving way to the brazen, Swinging Sixties and on occasion the varying styles do jar.

Stephen Mear’s choreography, which stuffs in its Fosse references so tightly they ooze out at every opportunity is a delight. As, of course, is the sweet Charty Hope Valentine, the good-time girl who bounces from one relationship to the next before finding real happiness.

Regular Charity Tamzin Outhwaite was off sick the night I went to see it, but her understudy and the rest of the cast ensured the audience were far from disappointed.

La Bête, Comedy Theatre

Written in 1991, Peter Filichia’s comedy is a satire on, and tribute to, theatre in the age of Molière.

A troupe of actors, led by the purist Elomire (David Hyde Pierce), is desperate to retain the royal patronage of Joanna Lumley’s Princess. So when she insists that they admit the vulgar populist Valere (Mark Rylance) into their midst, the company is torn between principle and security.

The undoubted highlight of the production is Rylance’s performance. From the minute he staggers onstage, the worse for the wear after over indulging at a royal banquet, it becomes Rylance’s show. Valere’s opening monologue lasts for a good 25 minutes. It starts off funny, quickly becomes hilarious — but then becomes infuriating. At which point it starts to become all the funnier, because every point at which we think he is drawing to an end, he starts up again. Throughout, Hyde Pierce’s role is reduced to dumb reaction: but it’s the role that ten years on Frasier has shown he was more than capable of.

It’s not just the duration of the monologue that creats such mirth, though. The content — poking fun at actors, at critics, at pretension in general — takes profusive aim and generally hits every target.

In truth, once that monologue does draw to a close, the quality of the play dips substantially, becoming a poor imitation rather than the pastiche it wants to be. It never quite regains the heights of that monologue, and by the time the closing curtain comes there’s much more a feeling of relief than there should be.

Tap Dogs, Novello Theatre

If you go to Tap Dogs expecting a dance show with a great story, you’re not going to get one. It’s six guys tapdancing. You’re more likely to get a story from the gaggle of women sitting next to you who, reasoning that the show on stage contains no dialogue, consider it perfectly acceptable to chatter away to each other throughout the show. (Seriously. When you go to the theatre, does it never occur to you that the hundreds of other people in the theatre are not interested in what you think?)

Instead, we get Adam Garcia and five strapping men, clomping in workmen’s boots on a variety of surfaces – wood, steel and water – with gusto.

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