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Broadway Round Up

May 14th, 2011 No comments

I’ve seen lots of stuff on Broadway lately.  Here are my views of what’s hot and what’s not.

Spiderman
I saw this in January 2011. The show is famously still in the middle of a massively long preview period, and Julie Taymor has since been fired, so bear in mind things may have changed but the first half was stunning – simply one of the most amazing pieces of staging I’ve seen. Ever.  Really nice production design, with some very clever treatment of height and perspective, good lighting and an excellent (and large) cast.  The aerial work was breathtaking. And the plot kind of made sense. Reeve Carney is easy enough on the eye and has a pleasant singing voice.  The songs, well… I’ve never been a U2 fan but they are ok.    Part 2 though was bonkers.  Made no sense at all.  But assuming they work that out (the show has re-opened this week but still in preview) I think the show will be great overall.  Go see it – the money they have spent (this is the most expensive musical ever) shows on stage.

Book of Mormon
Wow. Like everyone else I don’t really have anything bad to say about this show.  The guys who created South Park have a hit on their hands of monster proportions. Already rumoured to be planning a West End transfer the show is one of those rare hyped shows that didn’t disappoint at all. A genuinely funny catchy score is matched by brilliant cast performances across the board.  It’s also the hottest show in town – tickets are like gold dust so the atmosphere front of house is electric.  I found myself sitting next to Jodie Foster in the production seats!  The cast recording is out next week but I’d actually recommend you don’t listen to the score before you go as it will spoil some of the gags.

How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying
This is a revival of an old musical that is guaranteed to be a hit because it stars Daniel Radcliffe.  Beautifully staged with a set that fuses the aesthetic of Mad Men with The Jetsons the show also features terrific choreography. I’d describe the show as a slow burner in terms of audience engagement.  The first few songs don’t really connect but by the end of the first half I was really enjoying it, but it does takes a while.   A good third of the audience were simply there for Daniel it would appear, and whilst he has certainly put in the work learning some very athletic and complex dance routines I couldn’t help feeling that he lacks the natural carisma the person in this role should have.   The score is more catchy than you think it is (still humming some of it), and anyone who has worked in an office or tried to climb some form of corporate ladder can’t fail to find some of the scenarios amusing and wry, if not laugh out loud funny.

Priscilla Queen of the Dessert
Those of you who know me in real life will know that I love this show and will find any vague excuse to see the London production time and time again.  I think it’s a show that looks tacky, glib and moronic from the outside, but is actually a show with the most heart of any I’ve seen. It’s beautifully written and directed with a nuance and story that connects with people from all different walks of life. It’s truly universal and how they have worked the songs into the story is genius. It has audiences on it’s feet night after night after night.

Some changes have been made for Broadway.  Tick is now firmly the star of the show (America like their leading men to be clearly defined) and Adam worships Madonna, not Kylie.  Lots of other changes had been made too and having read about them in advance and also seen some unwelcome changes made to the London version I was ready to hate the show.  But I have to hand it to Simon Phillips and the rest of the creative team – they have pulled it off, and they actually have a faster, more focused and ultimately better production in the Broadway show. And that’s saying something considering how much I love the London production.

Key to the success of the show is the magnificent Tony Sheldon. It was a pleasure to see him perform the role of Bernadette again in NYC over a year since leaving the London production.  It’s a role he so convincingly owns and has perfected it’s just a joy to watch.   I found myself returning to the Palace solo the next day just to watch his performance again.   For Tony fans the best interview I’ve seen with him can be found here.

Mary Poppins
I’d wanted  to see this show for ages, having missed it during it’s residency in London a few years back, but have to say in all honesty I was really disappointed. So-so songs and a pretty boring storyline led me to almost nod off at one point.  The families in the house seemed to be enjoying it, and maybe the fact I’ve never actually seen the film put me at a disadvantage but I really struggle to find anything about this show that stands out.

It’s unfortunate this show is right across the street from Spiderman, as Spiderman’s aerial work totally shits all over the big end of Act 2 effect (Mary Flying over the audience).

 

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Theatre Review: Eigengrau @ The Bush Theatre

April 5th, 2010 No comments

“Eigengrau” (a noun, meaning intrinsic light – the colour seen by the eye in perfect darkness), written by Penelope Skinner and directed by Polly Findlay is a zippy fast paced gem of a play that follows two sets of 20-something flat mates and their interactions with each over the course of a couple of months.

Mark is doing well earning £80k a year in marketing. His flatmate and old Uni friend Tim isn’t adjusting quite so well to the bright lights and is unemployed and locked in an inward spiral of depression following the death of his nan. Leaving the flat or getting dressed would be a noteworthy achievement in Tim’s current world.

Across town Cassie is trying to use her fervent interest in women’s rights to nurture a career in political speech writing.  But, more pressingly, she needs to pay the rent. And her newly [via Gumtree] acquired flatmate Rose seems to have lots of excuses, lots of fanciful notions, but very little money.

Mark meets Rose in a pub and Rose brings Mark back. The play kicks off with the awkward conversation between Mark and Cassie the morning after.

The situations, which are presented with sparkling humour laced dialogue clearly resonate well with the mainly 20 something audience and the the play’s strength lies in using familiar experiences (like the awkward morning conversations with flat mate’s shags) as jump off points for exploring deeper themes, which in turn are also oddly familiar albeit somewhat exaggerated.  Maybe it’s just me, but I can see elements of all the characters in people I know in real life.

Ultimately, I see the play as being about loneliness.   Each of the characters is lonely  (some in a more obvious way than others) and is reacting to the paradoxical loneliness of city life in their own way.  In a city you may live on top of people in a shoebox flat, cram into the tube with the masses, share your bed with that nights conquest but still be emotionally cold and lonely with little emotional intimacy.  The play draws attention to that.  I also think it’s a play about Passion – or rather the search for it.  Each of the characters is looking for passion in their lives, be it personal or professional but is missing the mark when trying to find it.   People coming to a city to look for that certain “something” isn’t exactly new, but it’s nicely evoked here.

Great performances from the cast:  Geoffrey Streatfield could easily pass for a young Hugh Grant in terms of mannerisms and Alison O’Donnell particularly impressed. Given the limitations of the venue the staging and lighting were also very good.  I think the decision to keep the play moving and not have an interval was also a good one.

Geoffrey Streatfeild

A few other reviews have noted that the play doesn’t draw all it’s themes together into a bite size conclusion.  But I think that’s missing the point.  Whilst the play does offer a conclusion of sorts for characters we’ve been watching for the past 90 minutes, by that point I think it’s got the audience thinking about their own situation and their own points of reference so much that the actual characters in the play become of less interest than the thoughts the play has opened up.

The Bush is a small (intimate!) venue and stage, and the setup for this play has the audience facing each other on opposite sides of the tiny performance area. This serves to enhance the comic moments (“oh yes we can all relate to this!” people seem to say as they chortle)  yet make the uncomfortable moments where you are witnessing a characters despair all the more uncomfortable as you catch the glance of the person opposite and share a brief moment of collectively not knowing where to look.

This was my second trip to the Bush Theatre having previously seen the excellent “2nd May 1997″ there a few months ago. If these two plays are indicative of the overall general quality of output from this venue then it seems my hops over to west London are going to become more frequent.

My verdict: 4 stars out of 5
Performance attended: Friday 2nd April @ 7.30pm

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