Archive for November, 2007

Impempe Yomlingo (the South African Magic Flute) – The Young Vic

November 27, 2007

Despite its somewhat sincere looking ads, Impempe Yomlingo is a Magic Flute well worth catching. First, the music is a blast – mostly performed on marimbas (I think it was about a ten marimba orchestra), but also with trumpets and even filled glass bottles – making the stiff sounds of some 200 years past come through fresh sounding and, well, pleasant on their own merits. The show was about 75% in English, and far more intelligible (even in South African) than most operas. More importantly, it was emotionally engaging, in part because several sub-plots and some of the more boring songs were cut out. The Queen of the Night had a gravitas (scary murderous powerful mom!) that Kenneth Branagh’s “psycho Tinkerbell” totally lacked; Papagena’s pink camouflage costume made tears run down my cheek. There were disco lights and dancing and people singing, in chorus, songs that had been formerly sung alone. I highly recommend it!

(This review is for the night of Tuesday, November 27th)


King Lear at the New London Theater or: I saw Gandalf’s willie last night

November 26, 2007

Last night was what shall be known as the Ian McKellan King Lear at the New London Theater (where my uncle saw Cats “back when they were just kittens”), which the three of us saw with Wechsler. I wish I could go on and on about how brilliant it was, but it was as brilliant as a Lexus or something – really well designed but not, somehow, compelling. Yeah, Sir Ian handled Lear’s entire mental arc very nicely, but I just didn’t really care. I was bizarrely caught up in the Gloucester story, which, truth (and uncle) be told, could have been utterly excised and left the plot intact. It was neat to really catch Cordelia’s humiliation, and Goneril and Regan were just brilliantly evil, but … I don’t know. We had good seats. I was not moved. (Wechsler was moved to leave during intermission due to post-new-flat exhaustion. I was a bit sorry I hadn’t just been able to scalp his ticket, but there you go.)

Also, it appears “the second Doctor” or some such was in this show as the Jester, but I don’t know one from the other and didn’t buy a program so can’t say for certain. At the end there was a bit of a standing ovation, but I’m not going to clap for Sir Ian because he’s Sir Ian, I would only clap for the actor who played Lear last night, and he was good, but he didn’t move me. Maybe the show’s just been running for so long that it’s lost all of its energy. God only knows I’ve lost most of mine.

(This review is for the performance of Monday, November 26th.)

Parade – Donmar Warehouse

November 23, 2007

I made it out of the house to see Parade at the Donmar, which bills itself as “A New Musical.” Well, it isn’t really new, and it’s actually more of an opera, given the heavy subject matter and lack of tap dancing. It was a way more satisfying experience than Billy Elliot, and yet it was obvious why Billy is getting the filled-to-the-rafters houses. To be honest, I think every standing spot at the Donmar was filled tonight, but, still, it’s a tiny house, so maybe that shouldn’t count for much. Every performance was quite good, but … I just couldn’t get into the rather esoteric subject matter. I’m more interested in internal struggle rather than historical moments, and the struggle of the characters in this play was just too slight. That said, the “character definition and story telling through music” was far stronger than last night, and, to be honest, the dancing was better, too. But Venus as a Boy is still winning my prize for best play of the fall – the perfect combination of actor and storytelling. (Macbeth is a great night at the theater, but it didn’t make me care as much as Venus did.)

In retrospect, my uncle voted this his favorite show of his stay (over Impepe Yomlingo and Sir Ian’s Lear), but I found it not memorable. Apparently he did research on this case back in college, but, as I had never heard of it, it didn’t capture my imagination at all.

(This review is for the performance of November 23rd, 2007.)

Billy Elliot – Victoria Palace

November 22, 2007

I’m writing this review in retrospect and it’s so hard to figure out how to describe Billy Elliot. The theater was packed to the rafters, there were people there I would normally never see in a theater (they just looked different, like they’d be more prone to seeing concerts or football matches), there was more merchandise on sale than I’d ever seen for a play …

And it was all just so generally boring. There was no acting, there was no character arc, and there was very little good dancing (despite there being a fair amount of it). So there was a “story” and some “characters” and some singing and dancing, but it just didn’t really add up to much for me.

Still, the theater was packed. I’ve had to ask myself, “What am I not getting?” I didn’t live through the Thatcher age, I didn’t live through the mines being shut down, and I didn’t really grow up in an English small town (no, I grew up in the Arizona desert, in a large but not cosmopolitan city). I think, to some extent, a lot of the popularity of this show has to do with its cultural relevance. And, I don’t know, little boys in drag tapdancing – who wouldn’t love that? Still, I have to judge it against what I know, which is the body of song and dance numbers in all of the shows I’ve seen, and since I didn’t leave the show humming the songs and actually cringed at some of the dancing (though I did like the  miners’  numbers and the dream sequence) … I did not like Billy Elliot, and I don’t think it’s because I didn’t get it. Or then again, maybe that’s exactly what kept me from liking it. But they must not care about the opinions of people like me, because, with a huge house like that packed to the rafters, they don’t have to – and good for them. A whole legion of young male dancers is coming up through this show, and in the years to come, I will reap the benefits of this show as the boys that started in it make their way onto the London stage, and the pipeline for male performers widens at the bottom as parents across the country (I hope) encourage their sons to look at learning what it would take to be the next Billy Elliot – either in this musical or elsewhere in the performing arts.

(This review is for a performance on Thursday, November  22, 2007.)

Review – The Country Wife – Theater Royal Haymarket

November 21, 2007

The Country Wife, currently showing at the Haymarket, is a total laugh – witty and ribald and really fun. The tickets (off of Last Minute) were only 10 quid so I felt like the evening was a great deal. Do try to catch it.

And, sorry, not much more to say as it’s quite late, I’m tired, and tomorrow I have a lot of things planned and not enough time to do them in.

Review – Michael Clark Stravinsky Project – Barbican Theatre

November 8, 2007

The Michael Clark Stravinsky Project is really worth writing about, and not just because the foolish 7:45 start time contributed painfully to my midnight end time and braindeadness today. I was pretty excited about seeing a show that had three Stravinsky pieces in it (despite being so far up in the theater I expected to see a colony of bats lodged above us), since he’s one of my favorite composers. The chosen pieces were “Apollo” (not very exciting musically in my book), “Rite of Spring” (need I say more), and “Les Noces,” which as it turns out is pretty good even though it started out reminding me of the stimmtspiele stuff we saw with Pierrot Lunaire that about turned me off having singing at a dance performance ever again. And hey, the program “warned” that the evening contained nudity, which in my mind is always a positive thing in an arts performance, especially if we’re talking dance.

This promise was not entirely carried out, though the costuming was actually quite interesting. Dancers in rubber skirts? Dancers in body stockings with shiny bits wrapped around their bodies in interesting patterns? I liked this part. However, I was quite taken aback by the dancers wearing toliet seats on their shoulder with their heads protruding from the center. What really was this about? Was the “Rite of Spring” (called “Mmmmm” as a dance performance) really all about people who really needed to go to the bathroom? Is that why they were grabbing their crotches? Or was it all just some “I’m a wacky modern choreographer” silliness? I couldn’t really tell, and the ending, with either a Hitler or a Charlie Chaplin character dancing a long solo, left me mystified, or, rather, eager for some interval ice cream.

Anyway, the movement (isn’t this about the movement, ultimately?) was quite good. The “Apollo” piece (“O”) really seemed a tribute to the Balanchine choreography, only with Apollo in a mirrored box, on his back, doing a little duet with his reflection. “The Rite of Spring” let me down a bit, for while the movement was interesting (Michael Clark can really do partnering – his dancers seemed to float in the air at time!), it just couldn’t keep up with the power of the music. During the most dramatic bit, there just seemed to be a little bit of tweedling on stage, but what I expected to see was something really, really powerful. I admit the fact it was performed (musically) on two pianos also didn’t help.

The final bit was “Les Noces” (“I do” for Clark), which to me seemed to be about the sexual desire of brides and, well, you know, the couples. There was a very interesting bit where the women dancers stood up and, with their hands pulling between their legs, dragged the male dancers off stage one by one. Despite the fact this was my favorite piece, the costuming proved aggravating, at first because it was so distracting I had to tell myself to NOT look at it (the shiny things on the dancers noses and the queue-like bald head prostheses on their heads were utterly bizarre), but then later because the colors of the body stockings were off from the dancer’s own skin tones. This only really made me nuts for the Asian (Chinese/Japanese or such, though apparently New Zealandese) guy, who got a BROWN body stocking. It was so off. Admittedly it match one of the female dancers, but it just drove me crazy because everyone else was almost perfectly matched and this just looked … like they were trying to make him look like something he’s not. And the end look of the woman coming out totally wrapped up in some kind of knitted outfit with a big curved knitted cap over the top – well, she just looked like she was wearing a giant willie warmer, and I wouldn’t put it beyond the choreographer to have done that deliberately. Oh, those crazy Scottish choreographers!

Anyway, though it was a good night, I would have preferred to just see two pieces (they were all quite meaty, so it wouldn’t have been like I would have felt cheated) and got home a little earlier. Tonight is Aida, and I sure hope it’s compelling because I am going to be worn out.

(This review is for a performance on November 7th, 2007.)

Review – Glengarry Glen Ross – The Apollo (London)

November 6, 2007

Tonight J, W, Alex and I caught Glengarry Glen Ross at The Apollo. This is a modern American classic, a parallel with Death of a Salesman (I think, though not in that total A+ class, more of an A-). I’ve wanted to see it ever since J and I read it in the one class we took together in college (I took it so I could hang out with him, aren’t I nauseating?), and … well, at the time, I just couldn’t understand how the dialogue fit together, and I’ve wanted to see it on stage ever since.

I’ve found the script online so you can see what I mean, but basically people are interrupting each other left and right and sometimes they talk as if they expect someone to interrupt them, but they don’t, and … well, as I thought, it made a lot more sense with actual people doing it.

While some things didn’t translate so well (Lordie, the rant about “Indian” people, that was really icky to hear spoken to a London audience), the energy and desperation carried through pretty well, I think, and unlike a few other shows I’ve seen (Boeing Boeing, Awake and Sing), the actors really seemed at home in their American accents.

(This review was for a performance on November 6th, 2007.)
But WOW, I just have to quote the most SCATHING dressdown I’ve ever seen someone get on stage so you can appreciate it.

Scene: a real estate office, mid-eighties. Character one has just had a business deal ruined by character two, Williamson.

You stupid fucking cunt. You,
Williamson…I’m talking to you, shithead…You just cost me six thousand dollars.
Six thousand dollars. And one Cadillac. That’s right. What are you going to do about it? What are
you goin to do about it, asshole.
You fucking shit. Where did you
learn your trade. You stupid
fucking cunt. You idiot. Whoever
told you you could work with men?

I’m going to have your job, shithead.
I’m going downtown and talk to
Mitch and Murrray, and I’m going to
Lemkin. I don’t care whose nephew
you are, who you know, whose dick
you’re sucking on. You’re going
out, I swear to you, you’re going…

Anyone in this office lives on
their wits…

What you’re hired for is to help
us–does that seem clear to you?

To help us. Not to fuck us up…to
help men who are going out there to
try to earn a living. You fairy.
You company man…I’ll tell you
something else. I hope you knocked
the joint off, I can tell our
friend here something might help
him catch you.
(starts into the room)
You want to learn the first rule
you’d know if you ever spent a day
in your life…you never open your
mouth till you know what the shot
You fucking child…

Wow! The audience was so NERVOUS after that scene was done! It was great.

Uh … we all went for dinner before hand at the Thai food place that was written up in the paper for having a chile cooking incident get reported as a chemical spill. Thai Cottage, Soho, YUM. Pre-theater special, 5.50 for curry AND rice (or noodles). My chicken red curry, FABULOUS. You know it’s going to be good when grandma’s in the dining room peeling the garlic.