Archive for August, 2008

September Theatre preview

August 27, 2008

This is the most shocking of weeks – I have no theater trips planned at all! That, however, is how the cookie crumbles when out of town trips come along (and no, I didn’t do Edinburgh this year). I do have plenty of shows planned for September, though … well, not nearly enough as I have an out of town guest staying for a week (with no interest in theater, as near as I can tell), but I will do my best with the time remaining.

These are the shows I’m planning to see (so far) for September:
3 September (Wednesday): Matthew Bourne’s Portrait of Dorian Grey – Sadler’s Wells
12 September (Friday): Wayne Macgregor’s Ignite festival at Covent Garden (this is over three days so I’ll just go when I can manage).
15 September (Monday): The Pinter double header at the National, Landscape and A Slight Ache. The Whingers didn’t care for Ache but that’s no surprise – they’re not major Pinter fans. Me, I love Pinter, and I like seeing two short plays back to back, so off I go.
16 September Tuesday: one of the Norman Conquest plays at the Old Vic. I’m not super enthused about this as I detested the last play I saw by Alan Ayckbourn (Absurd Person Singular, such a dud!), but it was an invitation from the Whingers so I said yes anyway.
17 September Wednesday: Zorro. This initially gave me The Phear, but the Whingers said it was great, so I’m going. (Actually it’s a bit of a surprise that they said it was great, since they’re far less enthusiastic than the average punter, but since they haven’t let me down yet with their recommendations I’m going to give this thing a shot.)
19 September Thursday: Small Craft at the Arcola. I suspect this is just a ploy for me to go out and get more good Turkish food in Dalston, but, whatever, the people at the theater don’t care why I come as long as I pay for my ticket (and I do like Tennessee Williams).
23 September Monday: Kamishibai theater at the Barbican. I like Japanese theater (this sounds like their version of Punch and Judy) and culture so I wouldn’t want to miss this.
25 September Wednesday: supposedly a trip to the ROH to see Callisto, if I can find tickets I can afford.
30 September Tuesday: Stevie Wonder at the O2. It’s a birthday present for my husband (and likely the most expensive night out we’ll have all year, which is why I’m bothering to mention it).

Finally: October 1st is Merce Cunningham at the Barbican, and though it’s not actually in September, I’m starting October with another long bout of being out of the country, so I thought I’d include it in this list. The last person I took with me to see Merce was apparently damaged by the experience (“Did you know it was going to be like that?”) so I’m being more particular and sticking to going with my husband, who, like me, thinks that Merce is one of the true grand masters of modern dance – a living treasure of American culture – and we are excited that we can continue to watch his already excellent art evolving in real time.

Holy shit, and I just found out that Autumn: Osage County, the single play I’ve been most dying to see for the last year, is coming to the National in November! Heads will roll but I WILL see that show!

Review – Miss Behave’s Variety Nighty – The Roundhouse

August 24, 2008

Last night I went with a large group of friends to see Miss Behave’s Variety Nighty at the Roundhouse. This show has been running for several weeks now, and after seeing it last night I’m really sorry that tonight (Sunday) appears to be the closing night. (This will also affect the length of my review, as there’s not too much point in putting a lot of effort into reviews that won’t get read.)

I had a great night last night, despite being within spitting distance of the stage (at one of the reserved tables) and too far to the side of the stage to see some things. The acts ranged from brilliant to “good enough,” but since all of the bits were short, something which didn’t blow me away was over pretty quickly – and I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect every act to be brilliant – it would, in fact, have negatively affected the texture of the evening.

Kalki_Hula_Girl (24k image)The evening was started up in fairly good style (after, of course, the drinks were brought to my table, which I considered also a great start to a night at the theater) by a rock and roll hula hooper. Now, I don’t really know how you make hula hooping interesting (aside from having someone gorgeous doing it, and let’s be honest about what I was looking at during a lot of the performance), but the combination of 80s hair metal and glitter striped hula hoops really kicked up the energy. The Kalki Hula Girl’s persona on stage – her “thing” – was that she was wasted, and watching her stagger around gave me flashbacks of Amy Winehouse, only with much better muscle tone.

Later highlights included some great aerialists, both of the trapeze (normal and hoop) and climbing hanging silk swags variety. I was blown away by the aerialists – having these sexy men flying over my head – literally – while holding onto a slender bar or hoop was amazing. Wow! And the grand finale, “Lucifire,” a female fire performance artist, was really stupendous, a great combination of burlesque and circus skills. Gypsy Rose Lee could have killed for a gimmick this hot (tee hee). And when she cracked that giant, flaming bullwhip? ShaZAM! My hair stood on end!

Overall, this was a really good night out and a bargain at the price. Recommended!

(This performance was for the 8 PM showing on the night of Saturday, August 23rd. There is one more performance left on Sunday, August 24th.)

Review – Jordi Savall and Rolf Lislevand – BBC Proms, Cadogan Hall

August 22, 2008

On Monday, I did the unthinkable : I skived out of work to go see a concert over my lunch hour. Now, in the States, I wouldn’t have considered this too unusual, as in a downtown location I could have easily walked to a concert in a plaza or something (a treat I frequently indulged in back in my days temping at a law office in Seattle), but in London, this required a half hour tube journey to make it to my destination. With time getting to the tube and then to the hall, suddenly my lunch “hour” was two and a half hours long … but, to see Jordi Savall, I was more than willing to push the limits of what was an acceptable time to be away for lunch.

To some degree, to appreciate why I considered it worthwhile to upend my entire day (and race, panting, up several flights of stairs), you have to understand how I feel about Jordi Savall’s musicianship. He is … an artist. He is perfection. He occupies the throne of exaltation previously reserved for the likes of David Bowie, Siouxsie Sioux, and Perry Farrell (and now occupied by Carlos Acosta and Arianna Lallone and Bill Viola, gods who walk the earth alongside us mere mortals).

I spend many of my days at work listening to Otto’s Baroque Music on 1 FM (the irritating commercials are almost made up for by the great music), and I can always tell when Jordi is playing. Maybe it’s something about how he records his music; frequently, the sound quality is so intimate I can hear the light movements as the bow starts to move across the strings, and often even the breathing of the man who holds that bow. It is not like being in the same room as the player; it’s like sitting directly in front of him, like being able to feel the vibrations in the fabric of your clothing. It’s amazing. (It’s also nicely described here if you want to hear someone else rhapsodize about him – it’s not just me.)

I realized one day, sitting here at my computer, that now that I live in Europe, I can get that feeling much more directly by actually going to see him play. I don’t know rich classical musicians; sitting around cloistered away is not how most of them live – they play and they teach. So, as I mentioned in July, I looked and found his touring calendar online, and, much to my delight, discovered he was going to be in London … performing a “BBC Proms” lunchtime concert (whatever it is that a Prom is, it doesn’t seem to have anything to do with wearing long dresses and tuxedos and dancing). I marked it on my schedule, promised my boss I’d make up the lost time … and waited for August 18th to finally roll around.

The concert itself was in Cadogan Hall (pronounced Ka-dug’gin, like “a jug in”), delightfully situated a quick sprint to the right of the exit of Sloane Square tube station. And it’s gorgeous inside, a nice rake so the seats had a good view of the stage, and the upper balcony gorgeously curved around the lower floor – I would recommend it for any concert (of the sort I enjoy, at any rate).

The performance itself was the music I’ve learned to love over the last 15 years, primarily Marais and Ortiz, with Savall on his lovely, English-made viol, and Lislevand alternately on guitar and archlute. A BBC presenter introduced it while I was finding my seat, and talked about each bit of music and its composer – a nice touch, I thought, since I so frequently know nothing more than what I read about them in the program notes (when they bother to make them!). Jordi was also interviewed, which I found very charming (and probably shouldn’t have surprised me, this being a radio show, which I might not have realized – I thought it was just a concert series) – I felt like he was trying to describe the infinite when he was talking about music, and that words were just about not good enough to put the content of his head and heart out there to the world. In addition to the ever popular Preludes and Musettes from Marais’ third book and the Hume pieces I’d heard last winter at St. John’s Smith Square, I also got to here “La Sautillante,” which was new for me, and I was pleased as if I’d found a rare B-side in a record shop.

All in all, the concert wrapped up very nicely within an hour, and I was able to rush back to work and get on with my day … knowing, full well, that when I go back to think about what I did that day, the only thing that I will remember in the future – possibly the only thing I will remember about this entire week – is the gorgeous hour I spent in Cadogan hall listening to the best viola da gamba player in the world doing what he is most brilliant at; making ancient music come to exquisite life.

Here’s the program, which, with luck, might be available to download on the BBC website:

* Ortiz: Passamezzo antico; Folia; Ruggiero Romanesca; Passamezzo moderno (Savall and Lislevand)
* Hume: “A Souldiers March”; “Harke, harke”; “A Souldiers Resolution” (Savall)
* Marais: Pièces de viole, 3è livre – Prélude; Muzettes I/II; La sautillante (Savall and Lislevand, I think)
* Sanz: Jácaras; Canarios (Lislevand)
* Marais Couplets des Folies d’espagne (Savall and Lislevand)

Preview of Wayne McGregor’s “Ignite” program at the Royal Opera House

August 20, 2008

Well, after the initial “nothing happening” of the Ignite website, some content has finally been added (not that they bothered to email me about it … I guess I signed up on the list just for the sake of killing a few minutes online). It appears that Random Dance will be doing an outdoor piece at Covent Garden. I’m excited about this because I love it when dance integrates itself with a space – so often it’s done in the sterile confines of a concert hall, but when done outside, it can actually do things to make a space come alive. I’ll never forget the piece I saw danced at Arizona State University’s Nelson Fine Arts center – it’s a wonderfully designed building and the dancers made me really appreciate how special it was.

Who knows if I’ll come away from this event with a sudden appreciation of the genius of Covent Garden, but one can hope. According to another guy’s blog (can’t figure out his name from the one page), there’s going to be some cool installation pieces up, too, including a “playable light sculpture” by Sophie Clements (never heard of her before, but, well, that doesn’t mean much). I have to figure out how to coordinate a visit to this event with the visit of a friend of mine from the States (occuring over that same weekend), but my fingers are crossed that somehow the list of events will entice her into going. That said … sometimes my artistic tastes have little in common with those of “normal” people and I just have to accept the fact that I may have to go alone. I do sincerely hope that in this case I don’t wind up not getting to go at all because I’m needing to play hostess.

(The Ignite festival takes place September 12, 13, and 14th, 2008.)

PS: The website refers to “Wayne McGregor, one of the dance world’s most iconic figures” – now, that’s going to make his head fat. I mean, is he up there with Balanchine and Merce Cunningham and Jiri Kylián? I don’t think so.

Review – West Side Story – Sadler’s Wells (New Victoria Theatre, Milton Keynes Theatre, The Lowry, The New Wimbledon Theatre, etc.)

August 18, 2008

(Note: this show has now moved to New Victoria Theatre in Woking from Tuesday 2 through Saturday 13 September 2008, from whence it will be at Milton Keynes, The Lowry in Salford and then The New Wimbledon Theatre – even Glasgow and Cardiff.)

As a big fan of the American musical, I was determined to add West Side Story to my “seen” list – and not a cheesy high school production or a remount of the movie, but something very much like the version that’s at Sadler’s Wells right now (and through August 31st, after which it’s touring, including a two week visit to the New Wimbledon Theatre starting October 14th). It’s billed as the 50th anniversary version and “very true to the original choreography,” so I figured it was going to really to give me an opportunity to judge this show in its purest form. Does it deserve to rank with the best of the best, or was it just a 50s flash in the pan that people cling on to because of the Romeo and Juliet connection? Old chestnut or classic? There was only one way to find out … and on Friday, Katie and J and I headed out to Get Experienced.

As it turns out, this show is rather painfully popular and nearing the end of its run, so, as a blogger, I don’t consider it worth my while to spend a thousand words talking about it. You’ve either got tickets or you weren’t going to go (though perhaps you’ll go see it in New Wimbledon). I found it … well, fun, really! Jerome Robbins is a great choreographer, and the initial fight choreography was high energy and a blast to watch. The dancers were totally on form, and I had to think actually better than they would have been in the 50s – although (I think) there were way many performers to choose from back then, technique has really moved forward, and I felt like Joey McKneely’s version had a likely better execution than the original might have had. (Not that one can replace Chita Rivera, but …)

So … the music. Wow, the music was really dated, in a way I found occasionally painful. Xylophones, bizarre not-quite-melodic songs … West Side Story‘s score sounded like it was blended from some record of 50s exotica and more experimental opera of the era. Only a few of the songs were hummable, and “Tonight” was not! This left “America” and “I Feel Pretty” as the only songs I could remember after the show. The other songs were interesting and moved the narrative forward, but weren’t … well, let’s say I won’t be buying the soundtrack and singing them to myself (or an audience of amused strangers).

The set: good, very flexible, nice use of projections (shock!), kept the attention focused on the actors but still did a good job of creating the different “scenes” (the balcony scene, with “Romeo” climbing up the fire escape ladder, was especially cute).

The accents: for once, they were GOOD. Maria had an honest, fresh from a Spanish-speaking homeland young woman, and didn’t sound forced, but rather very much real. This was a huge relief to me (and based on her name I think she was probably not pushing herself too much to get it right). The rest of the performers – not once did I have my “Good God, why can’t English actors do American accents?” button pushed. Were they all Americans? I didn’t read the program (too busy watching the show), so who knows, but what they were was competent and believably American or Puerto Rican.

What does this leave? The acting and the story. Who would think that by coming to London I would have suddenly been put into a frame of mind where young toughs getting into a knife fight would become much more poignant rather than quaint (in America, we just expect street toughs to shoot each other). So when we got to the climactic knife fight, which seemed like a bit of a throwaway in Romeo and Juliet, it became so much more – young kids throwing their lives away for a stupid sense of pride in a way that meant more than it did in R&J (rich fools duelling, not very sympathetic) and very much seemed like “look, nothing’s changed.” And Tony’s role is very different – he’s a nice guy trying to break things up, he’s a completely sympathetic character. Maybe it’s a bit unrealistic that he would fall in love with a girl he only just saw at a dance, but once the fight happens, far more so than in a tale of star cross’d lovers, Tony and Maria really and truly to seemed to have no chance in the world of keeping their relationship together in a world where no one, really, wants to see them succeed.

How was the acting, though? I think it all comes down to this: we all knew how it was going to end, right? And yet way up there in the second balcony, the second balcony, mind you (where I could afford seats), I could here scores of people sniffling at the end – reserved old English people having a cry about the tragic end of what could have been a beautiful romance. And me, uh, I had some dust in my eyes and my contacts were dry, okay?

(This review is for a performance that took place on Friday, August 15th, 2008. Performances continue through the 31st of August though it’s mostly sold out, but, hey, if you just want a single, you can always call the day of and get a return ticket. More information on the official “West Side Story 50th Anniversary Production website. This show will be touring for a while so you have many chances to catch it still!)

Desperate for content, I wordled my blog

August 15, 2008

I was in high hopes of getting a scoop by seeing the first night of the “Threepenny Ring Cycle,” but the performance was postponed due to rain and I found myself having serious doubts the show would occur at all – so I exchanged my tickets for the Pinter double header taking place in September at the National (tickets in the very front at the very back for only £10, a good deal at five quid a play – Landscape and A Slight Ache if you were wondering). Watching the crew pour buckets of rain off of the tent that sat over the show sealed the deal, and we were home at about 9:15.

Thus, for a lack of content, I “Wordled” my blog. Tomorrow, or tonight, you’ll get my take on what £20 tickets for West Side Story at Sadler’s Wells will get you.

Review – “I, Lear” – Trafalgar Studios

August 9, 2008

Friday night is often a difficult night to watch theater for me. All of the mainstage shows (that aren’t crap) are frequently either sold out or only offering outrageously priced tickets, and I don’t really have the energy to watch anything more than two hours long or in any way an energy suck. Fortunately, Trafalgar Studios came to my rescue. They (along with the Soho Theater) have been staging a lot of fun one acts that in many cases have had a previous life as fringe theater (often actually from the Edinburgh Fringe festival, so “creme de la fringe”) and are perfectly suited to after work on a Friday night. Also very kindly, these productions often come with a sweet price tag, in this case a mere £10, and, in the case of Lear, a relaxed start time of 7:45, enough for dinner without needing to rush. What a winner!

We’d actually seen the Sir Ian King Lear in November, so the show was still pretty fresh in my mind, and when I’d seen the ads for a comedic short version (by the Black Sheep, aka Andrew Jones and Ciaran Murtagh), I was very up for seeing it. The show was quite different than I’d originally thought, though: rather than just being Lear, it was also a bit of a tour through other plays and playwrights, framed as “the history of British theater” (starting with the Greeks and including Chekov and Tennessee Williams) and a sort of demonstration of the various acting techniques that make these shows come to life (or not).

I did actually get quite a bit of laughs out of this fast moving show. Not every joke hit, but the energy was very up, and in an intimate space like this, I could really feel it rolling off of the stage. We got a little bit of improv (when the actor’s cane broke as he attempted to lift himself off of the stage with it during the Chekov bit), several very comic lines aimed at the highly theater literate (Alan Bennet – very prolific and terribly boring – oh, why didn’t I take notes!), and a lot of corny jokes and bad puns. There was also some scatological humor (during the Greek scene) and some, er, well, maybe a lot of sex jokes. Truth be told, I was busting a gut during the show, and while the cider, sake, and Pimms might have had a bit to do with that, mostly it was just that I was getting off watching Jones and Murtagh do their thing (especially when things went a little wrong – God, I love to watch actors struggle to get their ship back upright!).

The actual Lear bit was a bit not as exciting as I was hoping for. It was actually a rehash of what we’d seen earlier, so it was a bunch of jokes that we’d been set up for (the re-enactment of Bennet’s “Faces,” the re-use of the Greek tragedy in Lear’s storm scene, the wiping of the nostrils with Marmite – don’t ask), and was fairly clever but, well, not as sharp as I would have liked and not playing on the material as well as I could have enjoyed. Still, overall the night was a good one, and the price was right on and my laughs were hearty, so I’d say “I, Lear” was a success.

(This review is for a performance that took place Friday, August 8th, 2008. I, Lear continues at Trafalgar Studios until Saturday, August 16th.)

You say “You went to three shows last week?” like there’s something wrong with that …

August 8, 2008

( … surely I should have seen four?) Off tonight to hit a third show this week, I Lear at Trafalgar Studios. With tickets available for a mere £10 from LastMinute.com, this was a no-brainer, a quick comic snack after a trip to the pub on a Friday. My big question is: where to eat? While I seem to have good luck finding inexpensive restaurants with tasty food (Bon Appetit, the Lebanese restaurant on Leman street near Wilton’s – 133 Leman, phone 020 7265 1234 if you care, and with £3.50 sandwiches I do – was a classic example) before my shows, Trafalgar Studios appears to be in a bit of a dead zone (given that Wetherspoon’s isn’t my idea of a good place for a meal, though a great place for a Pimm’s). Any ideas on where I should eat before my show tonight?

Review – Pygmalion – Old Vic Theater

August 7, 2008

What a pleasure it is to watch theater that is the very embodiment of what people expect to see in London, the English language theater capitol of the world. Witty, beautifully staged, excellently acted – it was fairly well perfect. Of course, it started with an excellent script – Shaw is a good writer – but Pygmalion is a masterpiece, right up there with Hamlet. It appears it was cut a bit for length, but I didn’t mind it much (except for a reference to a black eye later in the show that didn’t seem to make sense) – each scene was a powerhouse of action, funny dialogue, and character development. The set (Simon Higlett) was rather heavily designed, but seemed well suited to a very realistic production; the costumes (Christopher Woods) were gorgeous 1910ish fashion plates (when appropriate), and the choice to put Eliza consistently in white a wonderful decision – the cut of her tea party dress had me drooling.

The actors were all basically spot on and I can’t really say too much about any one of them (in part given that the show is ending this Saturday) that doesn’t apply to them all due to their uniform excellence. They completely inhabited their characters and each one of them, from the rather hateful Henry Higgins (Tim Pigott-Smith) to his mother (Barbara Jefford) to his housekeeper (Una Stubbs) just kept me fully engaged at all time. And Michelle Dockery, well, this Eliza she had me laughing and crying at different times during the show and had irresistable stage presence to boot. Nice job all!

The previous evening’s show had left me with a bit of Post Turkey Stress Disorder, but Pygmalion washed it all away. It closes soon, but do try to catch it if you can – a better show can hardly be imagined. Me, I want to get a copy of the script and read it all to catch the few lines I missed due to them being laughed over by the audience. What a great night!

(This review is for a performance that took place on Wednesday, August sixth.)

Review – “Wizard of Oz” – Royal Festival Hall, London

August 6, 2008

“Surrender Dorothy,” indeed. For this show, I think “Beware Dorothy” might be a more appropriate tag.

As someone who grew up watching The Wizard of Oz over and over again (once a year, on TV), the possibility of NOT seeing this show was small. Basically, every time I saw the ruby slippers on a poster at the Southbank, I knew I had to go. Appropriately, I was promised tickets as a birthday present – what better to bring a sparkle to my eye? – then studiously avoided reading all reviews of the show until I went last night.

This may or may not have been a good thing.

From the beginning, I had problems with elements of this show. I liked the Kansas version of the set, with a video screen overhead showing images of fields and stormy skies and the floor fenced off by corrugated metal that nicely implied a not very rich farmstead. But from the minute she came on stage, Dorothy (Sian Brooke) rubbed me the wrong way. First, she seemed whiny rather than plucky (home from school on a farm? I promise you you’d be set to doing chores right away, not bothering the farmhands with your gossip), and her accent was atrocious. How can English actors get 40 kinds of English accents right and fail so miserably at almost every American accent? “Southern” and “New Yawk” do not substitute for Midwestern, and Dorothy sounded like she was about to run down the road to Tara and make a fancy dress out of the drapes. I was mortified. Not only do people from Kansas not talk like that (I should know), but neither did Judy Garland (whose performance was so clearly influencing this one) in this or any other movie.

That said, I was patient at the beginning despite my frustrations. Toto was adorable (though ever so focused on the contents of Dorothy’s pockets – ah, dogs!), the various characters were still establishing themselves (though mostly coming off a little cardboardy), Kansas isn’t exactly supposed to be “magical,” so there was still plenty of time for things to improve.

Sadly, the magic never happened at all. Dorothy’s tornado scene should have blown the metal away in preparation for entering a new world. Instead, she lay on her bed as it circled around the stage floor, while the video screen showed childish drawings of a spring around a funnel, with occasional projections over the spring of a boat, a cow, a bicycle, and a witch (if these were the “visual installation,” Huntley Muir has a lot to answer for). These drawings became a source of amusement for me, and I made sketches of them to show just how bad they were (see reproductions, fairly lifelike, made in MS Paint, the first the projection used while on the Yellow Brick Road, the other the one that appeared when they were in the forest finding the Tin Man) since I wasn’t particularly captured by the “action” on stage.YellowBrickRoadsign

So … Oz, land of wonders. Or not. The world was still full of corrugated metal, with a tiny opening in the back of the stage (6 by 15 feet?) showing blue skies and representing arrival in Munchkinland, now full of small children who managed to sing a bit but struggled with their dialogue. At this point, the failures in the lighting design (by Mike Gunning) began to really irritate me. A group of moving people in what is supposed to be an outdoor space should not be walking in and out of shadows on stage. Is this a problem with the Royal Festival Hall, say a lack of places to plug in lights? At the very least, much heavier use should have been made of follow spots; I would have kept one constantly trained on the red slippers during the entire time they were on the Wicked Witch of the East’s feet. Instead, they sat in the shadows, somewhat forlorn, a rather sad fate for such well publicized footwear.

TinManProjectionThroughout the entire time in Oz, the metal background never went away. The scene in the cornfield (full of crows who looked like Goth versions of Robert Michener in Night of the Hunter) took place surrounded by metal, the poppy field (in which escapees from St. Trinians held giant red flowers over their heads) was similarly ghetto gated, even the Emerald City had a shantytown look to it. By the time we made it to the Wild West hangout of the Wicked Witch of the West (featuring cowboy hatted and duster wearing, all-black, “Yo hee oh” chanting Winkies – what had gone wrong with this world?), I’d long given up on ever escaping from this dim little set. Was there no fly system to carry things away? Was there no backstage? Did the revolve only provide a tatty little yellow marley circle for the performers to half-heartedly stroll on?

What I found myself longing for (other than for the people who sat in the audience talking like they were at home watching TV to DIE) was the raw energy and enthusiasm of Pantos. (This show isn’t done as one per my English born companion, but I had thought from reading the West End Whingers’ article on why they weren’t going to see the “Wizard of Oz” that it was). The Cowardly Lion (Gary Wilmot) was getting there; he hammed it up, gave his lines 110%, and acted like he needed to act loud enough for the people at the back of this barn (most of us) to feel his performance. While this wouldn’t have been appropriate for a really serious performance, it seemed like it fit with this show fairly well. And the Tin Man (Adam Cooper) was not a bad dancer and actually tossed in some gratuitous (and much appreciated) tap moments. In fact, for me, the closest this got to magic was when the gang of four were bitten by a “jitterbug” and all wound up dancing around on stage. This show could have used a lot more of this kind of action – as well as a lot more enthusiasm in general.

It seemed ultimately it was all brought down by Sian Brooke, who just seemed to be going through the paces (the joke in our row being she was off to Oz in search of acting lessons and returning to Kansas hoping to find her accent). Is she upset at being trapped in this turkey and just biding her time until her contract is over? I haven’t seen such a listless performance since the closing week 7 Brides for 7 Brothers, in whch the half-full houses seemed to be pulling the smiles off of the chorus members’ faces en masse. Maybe she just found the work of taking care of a dog and acting at the same time too much to handle, but in a town with the depth of theater talent that London has, there is simply no excuse for her lackluster performance. She let down every other person on stage, except for Toto, who, obviously, isn’t a person and appeared to be having a great time, which meant at least one living creature in this horrid barn was. Certainly the 10 year old napping on my shoulder wasn’t, nor her 8 year old sister.

In short: not as bad as Fram (see the Framometer at the WestEnd Whinger’s site – and note we actually stayed through the interval though I would left if this hadn’t been my birthday present – my friend said the increasingly hysterical levels of cheese were encouraging him to stay to see just how bad it could get) but still a turkey and TOO DAMNED LONG. Don’t take your kids, don’t go yourself, play your get out of jail free card before you buy and take a pass on this mess.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Tuesday, August 5th, 2008. For an even more sizzling review, read Russell’s Theatre Reviews, where the origin of the horrible overhead projections is explained in great detail. The good news is that West Side Story, which I’ll be seeing next week, is supposed to be great, as is Pygmalion, which I’m seeing tonight, and even Into the Hoods, which ends at the end of this month, should be fun.)