Posts Tagged ‘priscilla queen of the desert: the musical’

2010 Olivier Awards – did they deserve it?

March 22, 2010

Reviewing the final list of winners for the 2010 Olivier awards, I had to ask myself: did they deserve it? Aside from Spring Awakening, I did manage to see pretty much every show that got a nod (well, a major nod – Hello Dolly also slipped through my fingers due to being staged outdoors). So, first, a look at the shows that won minor awards (each linked to my original review).

PRISCILLA, QUEEN OF THE DESERT – THE MUSICAL: Best Costume Design I have continued to be mystified by the popularity of this thin on the ground musical. But one thing I wouldn’t deny: it’s got great costumes. In fact, that was about the only think I really liked about the show.

The Brandstrup-Rojo project’s GOLDBERG: Best New Dance Production I disagree with this. The production was nice but the output sterile. I’m sure there was something better out there that was overlooked. Did Birmingham Royal Ballet’s E=MC2 just not count? They did it in London, too …

Royal Court for COCK at the Jerwood Theatre Upstairs: Outstanding Achievement in an Affiliate Theatre Well, this show was my pick for best of the year, so I’d say: yeah, damned right it was an outstanding achievement. Or perhaps “upstanding” would be more appropriate.

So – this leaves the shows that were up for the major awards. Only one thing surprised me: CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF: Best Revival I thought this cat was a dog. Did the performances improve tremendously after the time I saw it? I sure hope so.

Meanwhile, there’s no doubt that JERUSALEM deserved its best actor award for Mark Rylance (though I don’t think it really hit Best Set Design – was the competition slim, or did the live chicken make the difference?). I, however, just never really “got” this play, much as I wasn’t able to quite buy Rachel Weisz (Best Actress, A Streetcar Named Desire at the Donmar Warehouse) as Blanche DuBois. Not that she was bad, mind you, but Ruth Wilson (Best Actress in a Supporting Role, same show) inhabited her role with seamless perfection.

So we’re left with the top new play of the year. I actively go see new plays, so this is a category that matters to me. And Enron (Best Director: Rupert Goold), well, it had good direction, but it wasn’t a story for all time. And … I hate to say it … but … Jerusalem … it may be where England is here and now, but it didn’t move me. Me? I’ve been to THE MOUNTAINTOP (Best New Play), and I saw the promised land, a land where artists lose themselves completely in their roles, where I learn more about the world, where I walk out with my skin shivering with excitement. Hats off to you, Katori Hall, for making theatrical magic happen: you really deserved it.

Best London theater, 2009

December 19, 2009

While I’ve still got three more shows before the season’s entirely over, I feel confident that I can now get the “what was the best” posts out of the way (complete list of shows here, grand total estimated to be 116). Best dance, best musical/drama are my categories, as well as a few special celebrations and a shaming here and there. Read on …

Discovery of the year: the Southwark Playhouse. A Midsummer Night’s Dream at this small and atmospheric venue blew me away; the shows I’ve seen since have been of mixed quality (the recent and continuing Christmas Carol was a treat to be sure) but never made me feel financially cheated. Generally worth going to “just for the heck of it.” Now, mind you, Royal Court has been crowned “The New Donmar” (affordable prices, adventurous programming) and I’m planning on buying something akin to the entire spring season there, but it was hardly a discovery; it just became noticeable for its greatness this year.

Overdone gimmick of the year: “event” theater with movie or TV celebrities. Please, let’s have less of the classics being butchered by people who can’t act at extravagant prices. I realize this is probably singlehandedly responsible for the fantastic income London theater is experiencing this year, but good theater is not just about filling seats. I feel like seeing Jude Law/David Tennant/Keira Knightly on stage gets people to go just so they can say “ooh ah I was in the same room as INSERT NAME HERE” and does little to encourage the creation of good shows. The Donmar deserves an especial drubbing for going so mad for celebrity casting in their West End season – and what a horrible mistake to waste Judi Dench in that Mishima dog they put on.

Dance performance of the year: Birmingham Royal Ballet’s “E=MC2” (full discussion here) I saw the Royal Ballet many times this year and they just weren’t doing anything this exciting – not really helping the cause of getting ballet into the 21st century and recruiting new audiences so much as sticking with tried and tried and tried and true (“Mayerling” twice in two years, please!). I also give BRB points for “best new story ballet of the year” even though I don’t think Cyrano was new and I don’t think I saw any other new story ballet this year (even though I do try to go see them when I can – well, okay, there was the Wuthering Heights ballet but it seemed more like a thought than a story).

Painful lesson of the year: modern opera, I really shouldn’t bother. Die Tote Stadt, Into the Little Hill, Grand Macabre; I really want to support new opera but unfortunately I think it’s almost entirely unmusical, like it’s designed by academics to adhere to certain structures and generally not to be musical in any way.

Musical of the year: the nominees were: Priscilla, Queen of the Desert: The Musical*; Company; Forbidden Broadway; (the all male) Pirates of Penzance; Silence the Musical. After tossing and turning, debating the hysterical brilliance of Silence (full of hummable, if utterly rude, tunes) and the extravagant, seedy intensity of Pirates, I’ve decided the award goes to … Pirates, which made an arthritic script come to life in a way I truly did not think possible. Rumor has it it’s going to be reprised at Wilton’s Music Hall this spring, though unfortunately I can’t find any information about it on their calendar. That said, Silence: the Musical is going to be done again at the Above the Stag theater – don’t miss out as there’s really little reason for it to be staged again so soon and it really is a hoot.

Best theater blog: I’m not going to list the ones I read (mostly because it’s a short list), but once again the West End Whingers have proven to have the blog that gets me the right hot tips on what shows to see. Sometimes it was a show I’d unimaginatively rejected; sometimes it’s a show I never heard of; almost always it was a show that was on the verge of becoming unattainable. It’s even better now that they have a Twitter feed: getting a line from them to “buy your tickets for Jerusalem now” will send me immediately to my computer. Every now and then we utterly disagree on a show; but mostly they are like having my own private theatrical pimp. I like that.

Show of the year: the nominees were: Entertaining Mr Sloane; Kursk; The Mountaintop; Enron; Cock. (Note absolutely nothing from the Donmar this year, for shame). In a year in which great shows were thin on the ground in comparison to the volume of productions being cranked out, this wasn’t nearly as competitive as I was hoping it would be. Still, I’ve weighed the best of the year (that I saw), and it’s clear: not only as best production but also as best script, Mike Bartlett’s Cock blew me away. Each performance was perfect; the close confines made it all that more intense; the words were exactly what they should be. It’s a damned shame it sold out so fast, but such good theater should never experience a single unoccupied seat for even one night. I can’t imagine it being remounted elsewhere without watering down the impact of seeing this in the round in a tiny (80 person?) house, but this was really just a tiny drop of perfection in a year that was otherwise a bit of a desert.

Right, that’s it for me: 116 shows in one year was probably about thirty more than I should have seen. I don’t even think I’m capable of remembering who the best actor and actress even were anymore. Next year, I’m hanging up my hat and taking it easy; I want 2010 to be a year when I see less shows and more that I like. This will require waiting until the reviews come in so I can more easily identify the productions that will suit me, and might mean that I miss a few that sharper people snapped up sooner – but I think it’s probably the way to go. Even sticking to a budget like I try to do, this year was taxing on my wallet as well as my sleep schedule. See you in the second balcony …

*Actually, Priscilla was never a contender for me. I just put it in there because it seemed like it should have been, especially given how expensive it was.

Review – Priscilla, Queen of the Desert: The Musical – Palace Theatre

April 1, 2009

Monday night J and I went to the Palace Theatre to see the much hoo-hahed “Priscilla: Queen of the Desert the musical. I was quite chary of seeing this show for many reasons, the first being that with as much money behind it as it has, I figured it would be the kind of wide-appeal, commercial clap-trap I usually avoid like the plague; the second being that it was at The Palace, home of the worst seats I’ve ever experienced in London. But then I saw the West End Whingers’ drooling review. My God, I thought, I may be mistaken! In fact, their review filled me with an incredible desire to drop everything and see the show. However, I was further discouraged when I read that premium seats were going for £95. I mean, Jesus Christ, what do these people think they’re selling? The only 20 seats with an unobstructed view in the entire theater? And for me, these last two months have been ones of theatrical penury as I penny-pinched in a somewhat backwards-looking attempt to cover the cost of my recent move.

Fortunately, LastMinute.com came through with a sweet little £40 sale that was *erk* a bit out of budget but doable with an extra-added dedication to home cooking and staying out of pubs. And I read somewhere (sorry I can’t quote it!) that the costumes are fantastic but likely to start wearing down quickly with heavy use and that it might be a good plan to see the show early in the run while they are still fresh. So rather than waiting for affordable tickets to pop up in another eight months or so, I was able to see the show only a week after opening night! I even got main floor tickets, though Row F seats 28 and 29 meant we were a bit far to the edge, yet not sitting under the overhang like poor 30 and 31 (though 31 got to go on stage and dance with the cast, so there ARE advantages)! However, I was able to see all of the stage clearly – even though a tiny bit of the curtain waaay up in the left corner that said “you are here” (next to a map of Australia, in the center). So, overall, I was happy with my seats.

And the crowd was good, too – the house seemed packed and everyone was very “up” – and of course there were lots of gay men there and people of both genders with bottom-lit cocktails in their hand acting like they were ready to have a good time. Unfortunately some of them appear to have not been taught their “company manners,” as the woman sitting beside me insisted on TALKING OVER THE SONG that opened the second act. Jesus Christ woman, if you can’t shut your yap, maybe you oughta stay home, huh? There are LIVE PEOPLE ON STAGE SINGING and I am PAYING TO HEAR THEM, not you. However, people were generally so cheery -laughing and radiating energy – that for once I did not turn around and give her the shit-eye because I didn’t want to ruin the mood.

But, I digress.

I have still not seen this movie despite being in many ways part of its target audience, so I was unfamiliar with the story behind it, which appears to be as follows: A mediocre drag queen (Tick, played by Jason Donovan, whom I also had not heard of, but please remember that before I moved to the UK I had also never heard of this Kylie girl), decides to drive from Melbourne to Alice Springs to meet his 6 year old son, and convinces his old friend Bernadette (Tony Sheldon), a retired transsexual of the old-school drag regime, and Adam/Felicia (Oliver Thornton), a white-hot newcomer, to join him with the promise that they will have a gig at a casino. But first, they need to cross the Outback in a giant silver bus (Priscilla), going through one after another hick town on their way to the middle of nowhere. Hilarity ensues.

I mean, seriously, that was pretty much the plot. Character development? An increase in self-knowledge? Nope, none of that here, and certainly no political statements of any sort (other than a bit of “why do these people hate us,” but even that was thin and only came up once), which was actually a bit of a relief. No, this show was all about big silly costumes, sight gags, and fun disco tunes, as performed by the leads and a cracking cast that were truly diverse. Actually, I wanna do a shout-out to Wezley Sebastian (Miss Understanding) and the other tall drag-queen looking person who were in so many of the ensemble scenes, because even at the very end these workhorses were performing every scene like they were the stars and they expected people to be watching them. It was really quite impressive!

But … really … it still wasn’t … it just wasn’t as good as Anything Goes. I mean, I realize I have different standards for musicals than other people, but I found the songs didn’t compensate for plot. I mean, it would have all been fine in a disco, but I can’t get excited about a night of watching people lipsynch to songs that have mediocre lyrics at best (though I appreciated that they had the lovely divas overhead actually singing). The opportunity to hear songs that brilliantly illustrate a story is actually a major reason I enjoy musicals, and this just wasn’t happening for Priscilla. Also, the voice of the women singers was positively tinny. I think this is just a problem with the whole “people singing through microphones” phenomenon – I mean, basically, if they’re not trained to sing to the back of the stage, they’re going to sing with this weak little head-voice that just has no power to it. This is not the kind of voice that would inspire today’s drag queens – and it sure as hell didn’t inspire me.

There was a fair bit to laugh about (such as the completely crude scene with the mail-order bride and the ping-pong balls and a hysterical pair of sagging falsies) and truly amazing costumes (the dancing cupcakes about made me cry, but basically anything that Oliver Thornton put on suddenly looked much better than it had any right to), but I just wasn’t caught up in it like I was hoping to! I’ll blame a bit of this on Mr. Donovan, whom I thought was just flat out dry and not really either an exciting performer or even a slightly gifted singer. Tony Sheldon was quite good, a perfect incarnation of the role (and an actor I’ll be watching out for in future productions) and talented as all get-out, and Oliver Thornton was just a brilliant shining star who shone across the stage with super-nova intensity, but with so much of the action focused on Tick … eh, well, I guess that’s why there were so many dance numbers. At any rate, if you’re looking for a good night out with the boys or a great hen party activity, this would probably be a great show for you to catch, but it wasn’t quite what I was hoping for. I probably just ought to go see that bare-bones Cole Porter show they’re doing at Sadler’s Wells so I can get what I need out of a night of musical theater.

(The reviewed performance took place Monday, March 30th, 2009. The bus did break down at one point and they had to entertain us while they fixed it. Remember, if you have an aisle seat toward the front of the stalls, you may get to dance on stage. Pity I missed my chance for my big West End debut!)


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