As I sat in the bar of the Menier Chocolate Factory on an extraordinarily sunny Sunday afternoon, it was hard to describe the atmosphere amongst my 10 or so theater loving friends. Was it glum? Was it funereal? It was certainly creative, as we struggled to put into words the experience we had just lived through.
“The singing. The performers had good voices.”
“And their professionalism. They weren’t holding back. There was no sense of unwillingness or self-consciousness in their performances. They were really giving it their best.”
“The costumes were good, weren’t they? And many of the roles for older women were really good.”
“Oh yes, it was great seeing Nancy Opel on stage again.”
“You know what’s weird about this conversation? It’s like listening to people talk about a Thanksgiving dinner where you’ve burnt the turkey, and everyone’s, ‘Ooh, the pie was really good, I loved the pie’ or ‘Gosh you did a nice job with the salad …’ “
“All while we’re all staring at the big burnt turkey in the middle of the table?”
Yep, that’s exactly what it was: a gigantic, horking, charred and smoking turkey carcass, and not an accidental turkey you blundered into while slumming in some pub theater (or at the National), but some well-financed, “we’re taking it on a trial run before it goes to Broadway” (I shit you not, it says so right here) with BIG names (Hal Prince, Susan Stroman, Mandy Patinkin) behind it, all of whom should have at some point stood up and said, “My God! We are all making tremendous fools of ourselves! This thing stinks!” (So badly, in fact, I fear the smell may creep upstairs and scare of patrons of the Menier’s cafe.)
It is hard, hard I tell you, to figure out where to start a level discussion about a play which I can say so little on the positive side of the ledger other than that everyone sang on key and I adored the costumes (kudos Judy Dolan, it was nice to see that money well-spent and from my second row seat I got an eyeful). The plot was some bizarre flip of Mayerling (fin de siecle Vienna, only everyone’s a happy hedonist) and Measure for Measure sprinkled with a hefty dose of The King and I; following a Muslim emperor and his eunuch (both claimed to be from Persia but were clearly both from Panto-land, where everyone is white and the women all wear belly-dancing costumes) as they try to get the emperor’s libido working again and the eunuch (Mandy Patinkin) learns about love by going to whore houses and sex clubs. We got to hear songs about love, about masturbation, about love, about pleasure, all sort of set to some waltzes …
but I stopped listening. The words came in my ears and then went flat, the songs failed to illuminate the characters in any sort of interesting way. I enjoyed the fun and raciness of the scene in “Club Bat,” where the Viennese were running in and out of rooms having little sexual encounters behind the curtains while lovely girls danced around in front …
but I’d long ago lost my interest in what the eunuch was going to do, or how he was going to interact with these people. Instead it was one scene change after another, clumsy throwaway dialogue, absolutely nothing of interest happening with our so-called lead character (other than him mopping his head repeatedly – I’m pleased to say there is AC in the Menier and it was working, so it won’t be so painful if you’re in the audience). It all winds up building to some weak switched identity thing …
which led to intermission, which I came back from …
… and then it got even worse and I wondered, my God, could they really take the male non-lead of act one and suddenly turn him into Pierrot Lunaire/Paul (from Die Tote Stadt), only we’re really supposed to believe he got a job at as an actor and he’s going to try to kill himself but then suddenly …
I’d say I’d worry about giving too much away, but instead I’ll relate this quote from our post-show recap:
“Wow, how about that last scene in the dressing room?”
“I don’t know, what did you think?”
“It was just so amazing, I was hoping it would never end?”
“No, I’m kidding.”
“God, you had me fooled there for a minute. You’ve got a great delivery!”
I find myself relieved that this show came to The Menier Chocolate Factory before anywhere else, because I’m convinced that this massive pile of talent has the opportunity to something so much better – in fact, almost anything better – and with the money they saved by discovering what a horror they’ve given birth to BEFORE they blow a wad taking it to the Great White Way, there’s that much more hope for them getting their acts together and doing something worthy before Hal Prince kicks it. Gene Kelley never got another chance after Xanadu: Hal may still have hope.
Based on this show, I have coined this new name for the venue. The Menier: where dreams go to die. I mean, hey, I only had 30 quid and 2 1/2 hours invested in this; things could have been so much worse.
(This review is for a matinee performance that took place on Sunday, May 23rd, 2010. Please don’t encourage them to continue this horror by going to see it and let it die a peaceful death at home with its loved ones, thereby freeing everyone involved with it to get on with their lives elsewhere.)