Archive for July, 2009

Review – La Cage Aux Folles – Playhouse Theatre

July 31, 2009

On Friday I had the magnificent opportunity to see a well-reviewed play with a topic/theme I found intriguing at the WORLD’s best price ever. Let me be clear about what a screaming deal I am talking about: I saw the Menier’s production of La Cage Aux Folles at the Playhouse, from the third row, for the stellar sum of £5.

To be honest, rather than giving a rip about my review, I think more of you are going to be interested in how I pulled this trick off. It’s all due to joining the Ambassadors Theatre’s mailing list. They have a regular email alert with sort of unimpressive deals, £25 for shows normally £45 or so, which I ignore because it’s not such a good deal. But then this email came out saying “Quick! £5 for first 10 tickets to each show of La Cage for the next month!” And there I was with the email nice and hot in my hand and I was at my keyboard and work was quiet AND I had been planning on seeing this show for ages but just hadn’t done it because I wasn’t willing to cross the £20 price zone and voila magic happened. Seriously.

I’d been planning on seeing this show for ages but was pissed off because the “best seats available for $25” deals all came with a little * and a note at the bottom of the page saying, “*Well, no, not really the best seats, just the seats we’re going to call the best available, because we don’t want to sell you the other seats. You’ll note ‘best’ is ‘really not very good.’ Tough.”

At any rate, I’d almost bought seats a couple of times, and this time I jumped like a spider had just landed on my leg. WHAM. Four seats, 20 quid, HUZZAH! And then I had to wait.

So, after not having seen this show for nearly 7 months since I’d originally been thinking about going to it, how was it, really? Sad to say, I found it unpleasant for a variety of reasons, none of which had to do with the Cagelles, most of whom I wanted to take home with me (or be taken home by). No, it was the script, and the acting, that bugged me. First, Philip Quast (Georges) and Roger Allam (Albin) were … so camp it was positively panto. It felt like straight guys trying to act like how English comedy musical audiences would expect gay characters to be. And then there was the black “maid.” Nolan Frederick may have been an understudy (it seemed like half the cast was), but this wrist flapping, bubbly, squeeing and oohing black man to me was every worst stereotype of a black servant turned gay. I couldn’t believe he found this role within the scope of his dignity to play. I mean, I’ve met plenty of queeny black men in my life but they’ve never felt scraping and servile. It was like being stuck in some horrible revue written by the BNP. Did no one notice how bad it was?

Finally, and there’s nothing to be done about it (other than a major update), but I could not swallow the primary “twist” of the script, that Georges would allow his son to bully him into kicking his life partner out of the house they shared, even for a night. What The F**k. It’s just not done, and I don’t care if it was the 70s. He wouldn’t have put his mother or granny on the street for the night, how could he possibly be okay with doing it with someone he supposedly loved, even for one evening? IT WAS THE HOUSE THEY BOTH OWNED, YOU CAN’T KICK THE OTHER PERSON OUT. And for the son, Jean Michel (Ben Deery), well, he came off as so slimey and unsympathetic that it killed rather a lot of the “comedy,” but it was ultimately Georges betrayal that killed the fun in this comedy. I couldn’t get over the hump of this person being so horrible to his partner and I wasn’t really able to get my funny bone tickled during the show, even when the horrible in-laws-to-be showed up. The songs were kind of nice, I did enjoy all of the numbers with the Cagelles and the big silly scene at the restaurant, I really liked when Georges was wooing Albin at the seaside restaurant, but too much bothered me for me to really enjoy this show.

Here’s what I think. This show should be set to England (to get rid of the comedy element of 9 cast members with English accents and only one with French) and the show should be rewritten so “George” does NOT agree to kick “Al” out, but does agree to pretend to be married to “Gene’s” birth mother (Gene of course never asking for anything so caddish as to have Al turned out of his home). Then we could do the rest of the laughs without the pallor of heartlessness and selfishness that turned La Cage for me. While I can’t say it was a bad show, the way it plays now I found it was a far cry from the light evening of comedy and fun I was expecting.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Friday, July 24th, 2009. La Cage is booking through 2010. FYI, John Barrowman is taking over as Albin/Zasa come September 14th.)

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Streetcar? Sold out? You CAN depend on the kindness of strangers …

July 30, 2009

The reviews for the Rachel Weisz / Donmar A Streetcar Named Desire are coming in, and generally speaking they are VERY enthusiastic. What are you to do, though, when the Donmar’s been saying for a month it’s sold out? Well, if you’re me, you keep checking (click the book tickets link and then look for dates marked “limited availability”). It appears that most of the seats that are open are far side seats (per this map, the 1s and 2s, 41s and 42s on the main floor and 2s, 3s, 44s, and 45s upstairs), but, you know, whatever, even though the view is blocked to some extent on the sides, since it’s the Donmar, the prices aren’t outrageous (£25-£15 for what’s available), so you should still be able to get good value on your money.

At any rate, these seats appear to have just opened today, so if you don’t want to just wait for standing day seats, I’d advise you to jump on them now!

“Too Close to the Sun” – cheap ticket deal

July 28, 2009

It looks like the camp bad musical sensation of this year’s London scene is Too Close to the Sun , described as “worse than Gone with the Wind – the Musical, but so bad that you must see it. Only under no circumstances pay full price.” With this caveat and also a note that it’s closing in early August, be advised the Metro has a “Best Available 17.50” deal. “Call 0844 871 7622 and quote ‘Metro Reader Offer.'” But don’t say you weren’t warned.

Review – Carlos Acosta and Friends 2009 – London Coliseum

July 24, 2009

This is my third time seeing Carlos Acosta’s showcase performances (once at the Coliseum and then before at Sadler’s Wells), and I have to say my expectations were high – I’d invited both my Acosta loving friend Ibi (soft sell), my husband and W to come with me. The posted program wasn’t really ringing any bells for me, but I felt sure I’d see lots of showy dancing and maybe some nods to Acosta’s past. I was also excited that this show had managed to sell out the house for five shows in a row, though the people standing behind our very-last-row seats weren’t as exciting for me – I just felt hovered over a bit. Still, it’s nice to see that much enthusiasm for dance.

Act One opened with the dancers getting out of their street clothes and into their dance costumes, as if they’d just wandered by the Coliseum for a class. The dancers then transitioned into “Three Preludes” (which I saw as a unit), with a male and female dancer (Begonia Cao and Arionel Vargas) in white doing a lot of dancing on and around a bar, feet on the bar, the woman lifted until she was en pointe on the bar, etc. It was nice but a bit subtle for my back row seats. Much better was “Ritmicas” (Ivan Tenori, 1973) in which two dancers (Veronica Corveas and Miguel Altunaga) in bright costumes went for much more salsa/Cuban flavored dance, with music, attitude, and showing off. It kind of showed both why Cubans love ballet (and why ballet works for Cuba) but also, by comparison, how much more life traditional Western choreography needs – you could feel it all the way in Row K. Sadly, the music was recorded, though much of the evening was live – yet I think live music would have really added to this particular piece.

Next up was Spartacus and at last we got what we had all paid to see. Or, maybe, we were getting what Carlos Acosta wanted to show, as I was suddenly reminded of the legendary Baroque singer who would only perform if his entrance would be the aria to Julius Cesar (I think it was), with him in full battle gear, no matter what the opera was he was supposed to be in … he had to make his entrance singing the same song and armored to the teeth. And there was Carlos, LEAPING! and SPINNING! and doing AMAZING LANDINGS ON HIS KNEES! while CARRYING A SWORD! To be honest, like Spartacus itself, the performance was just over the top – no plot, just feats of athleticism, including some over the head kicks in which Mr. Acosta’s toe appeared to go into an alternate dimension, possibly making contact with the international space station. And though it said it was Act 1 and Act 2 solos, to be honest, they pretty much looked and felt exactly the same.

The program said that playing Spartacus requires “immense strength, an infalliable technique, charisma as well as the sensitivity to portray Spartacus’ touching relationship with his faithful wife Phrygia,” but not a whit of “sensitivity” was present in the bits he performed – probably not surprising as per reviews I’ve read elsewhere, acting is not really Acosta’s forte. Ah well. But the sword bit and the whole hypermasculinity of the performance, well, it actually was verging on the comic for me. I know that when we go to see galas, we expect to see people showing off, but … it made me giggle, though silently lest the other audience members hurt me.

Then it was “Rhapsody,” a bit which I found rather forgettable other than the fact that it used the music from “Somewhere In Time.” I don’t think it was supposed to be “Somewhere in Time, the Ballet,” but, er, the emotional energy was kinda not getting me due to being so overwhelmed by Spartacus. It was like trying to taste a hit of cardamon after eating a vindaloo – my buds were burnt out.

The pas de deux from Act I of Neumeier’s Othello managed to cut through the torpor. (Sadly I did not realize that this was what was being depicted – it would have helped made sense of the dance a lot more.) The Arvo Part music was amazing, and the intimacy of the dancing was lovely – the woman in a nightgown (Florencia Chinellato) very delicate and loving and flexible and wholly open to the man; he, strong, catching and lifting and carrying her effortlessly. However, what blew me away was the passion and barely restrained sexual energy bubbling under the piece, which ended with the woman unpeeling the bit of gauze wrapped over the man’s dance belt. My God, his body – if ever a person could be unashamed of dancing naked, Amilcar Moret was he. My jaw was hanging open, and as I sat there with the binoculars glued to my eyes, my husband (whom I had stolen them from – he doubtlessly had his own opinions about the nearly transparent gown on the woman) turned to me and said, “His definition is so perfect you can see where the muscles attach to the bones.” Wow. The thing is, I wish, for that piece, I could have actually seen it in a far more intimate environment, because in the big barn of the Coliseum, the delicate beauty of it was overwhelmed. And I probably would enjoy seeing the whole ballet.

Next up in the continuing theme of half naked men parading around on stage in the guise of art was “Canto Vital,” described in the program thus: “Choreographed by former Bolshoi dancer Azari Plisetski in 1973 to show off the strength and dynamic masculinity of four dancers from the Ballet Nacional de Cuba, Canto Vital (Song of Nature) is an allegorical story of nature undergoing rebirth after conflict and resloution between three forces symbolising beast, fish, and bird.”

While “Othello” might have been the most beautiful piece of the evening, “Canto Vital” was, I think, the most memorable. It was so self-seriously masculine it flipped over into camp for me, thanks to being prepped by the strip tease in the piece before and Spartacus. All I could think of was those 50’s “male physique” magazines, in which young men lounged around naked in “brotherly love” positions while they engaged in healthy, outdoor pursuits. Admittedly, there was nothing really to complain about when it was Acosta, Steven McRae, Moret, and Arionel Vargas prancing and flipping and leaping in their speedos on stage; but I just couldn’t take it very seriously. It most certainly was an incredible piece in terms of fully showing off the talents of an all-male cast – and the caliber of performers required was very high. I could only imagine the choreographer, working at the height of the cold war, being utterly incapable of perceiving any homoerotic overtones in his work; but, child of the 80s that I am, it was painted all over this piece for me.

That said, big props for McRae for really tearing the house down on this one. While the other three men were more heavily muscled than he was, he was the one that showed grace (in his entrance leaps, in which he was fluttering his feet as if he were afraid to leap in a cold pool) and outstanding leaps, never once letting himself drop to the level of the other dancers, but always seeking to produce the best possible performance he could do in all of the sections in which he was allowed to show off his stuff – yet still dropping right into the ensemble work. When I walked out of the performance and was looking up who the red haired star was, I saw it was the same man who’d wowed me with “Les Lutins” in May. Ibi said he was much younger than the other guys (and thus more energetic and flexible), but the fact stands: he’s an awesome dancer whose star is in ascendancy (apparently he got promoted to principal in June, which he truly deserved). I’ll be keeping my eye out for him when I’m picking which night of a ballet to go to in the future.

Then it was intermission, from which we headed back in for a well varied program that never really managed to get the energy up as high as before (possibly indicating the pieces should have been shuffled a bit). I’ve completely forgotten DK60 just 24 hours later; “Summertime” made me glad I hadn’t bothered to buy tickets to Shall We Dance, as I think it’s the third time this year I’ve seen ballet dancers doing ballroom and it is just BORING boring BORING. I also hated the singer – “Summertime” isn’t opera and hearing it sung like it was grated like nails on a chalkboard.

Then it was Michel Descombey’s “Dying Swan,” starring, in an act of humility, Mr. Acosta. Um. Okay, so this is a version that has been redone for a man, and the music was somehow reworked to be much more chewy, but … it just kind of totally missed the emotional heart of the piece. It’s a tricky one, I admit, and easy to turn into a (yet again) camp nightmare (blame the Trocks) … but instead of passionate, we got dry. Frankly, I’d like to see Matthew Bourne take this one: he understands the story underneath the ballets and he would make it shine. Oh well. This one gets chalked up on the life list as “a curiosity.”

Next up was Ramon Gomes Reis’s “Over There,” happily done to the music of Purcell, “Ah Belinda” from Dido and Aeneas (“Remember me! but ah! forget my fate”). I saw it as being sort of a retelling of the Orpheus myth, with the man (Moret) attempting and yet failing to save the woman (Florencia Chinellato) from her fate. “Memoria,” which followed, was a solo for Miguel Altunaga (which he choreographed himself especially for this day), but it pretty well disappeared in the late program slump – it would have done much better earlier on when I had more energy to appreciate it, even though Altunaga really danced his pants off.

Wrapping it up was “Majismo,” choreographed for Ballet Nacional de Cuba in 1964 by Cheorge Garcia to some very cool music from Massenet’s “Le Cid.” It was a pretty thing, with men dressed like matadors and the women in stylized Spanish dress, with fans; but it didn’t have the energy and impact that an end of show piece really wanted, despite some nice solos. Frankly, I think they could have done much more. The show wrapped with the dancers taking off their costumes, putting on their warmup clothes, and heading off stage; a decent bookend but not the hurrah I would have liked.

In short: this evening provided some great context of the history of Ballet Nacional de Cuba, as well as giving us with an opportunity to see a lot of dance we would likely never or only very rarely have a chance to see – as well as highlighting current dancers from the Cuban company. It was also a real showcase for male bravura performances – nice in a world that seems to become substantially dominated by a female focused style. However, the dances should have been reshuffled a bit and maybe Acosta needs to take a step back from the freakishly butch stuff and insert just a bit more acting focused pieces, as well as rethinking the concept of “grand finale.” That said, I was grateful to see so much dance that was entirely new to me, and on the whole I felt it was a good evening, though it did tend toward being slightly naked at times.

(This review is for a performance on Thursday, July 23rd, 2009. The performance concludes with two performances on Saturday, July 25th. For alternate views, please see Allen Robertson in the Independent, Mark Monahan in the Telegraph, Clement Crisp and Sarah Frater in the Evening Standard.)

Late summer 2009 theater schedule

July 21, 2009

This time of the year is full of Russian ballet and barbeques and beach time and precious little else other than the Union Theatre’s annual Gilbert and Sullivan show. The Mariinsky/Kirov is running a bit rich for my tastes, unfortunately (though the programming is so unimaginative I’m not too hurt), Anastasia Volochkova was a disaster, and I’ve already been to the Union. What, then, is on my schedule for the next month an a half?

Shockingly, I’ve still managed to get pretty busy, with an average of two shows a week. Carlos Acosta is at the Coliseum this week – an event long awaited and for which I bought tickets back in April or so – and I’ve also got some Kirov Swan Lake tickets for August so I won’t be completely balletless this summer. The Arcola is doing Ghosts, so I’ll get to add to my life count of Ibsen shows. And the West End Whingers have given me a hot tip on a new show, Jerusalem (at the Royal Court), that I’m hoping will take the tang of the crappy Peer Gynt I saw away (and have also apparently saved me from seeing The Black Album – I want to see new theater but only if it doesn’t suck).

On a lighthearted, summer appropriate, wallet-friendly musical kick, I’m going to see “Blink! – and you missed it,” ” hits from the shows you missed” (including The Act, The Rink, and Ragtime), which should be thoroughly tickling my musical theater geek funnybone, as well as La Cage Aux Folles, which for some reason Ambassadors was hawking at a “fill the theater at any cost” price (£10) back in June. I’ll be hitting Forbidden Broadway for a second go-round in mid-August, then winding everything up with Alan Cumming’s solo show I Bought a Blue Car Today on September 1st. What a great way to wrap up the summer!

Schedule:
23 July Thursday: Carlos Acosta & Friends (have an extra ticket FYI)
24 July Friday: La Cage Aux Folles
31 July Friday: Ghosts, Arcola
6 August Thursday: Blink! … and you missed it
7 August Friday: Jerusalem, Royal Court
8 August Saturday: Swan Lake, Kirov/Mariinsky Ballet, Royal Opera House
19 August Wednesday: Forbidden Broadway, Menier Chocolate Factory
25 August Tuesday: A Streetcar Named Desire, The Donmar Warehouse
1 September Tuesday: Alan Cumming’s I Bought a Blue Car Today

(Other shows TBA.)

Review – The Mountaintop – Trafalgar Studios

July 20, 2009

On Saturday, J and I went to see The Mountaintop, which had just transferred to Trafalgar Studios after a successful (and sold out) run at Theatre 503. I had wanted to see it but missed out as tickets weren’t to be had, and gave up; but then I got an email from the Ambassador’s Theatre Group announcing that it had been picked up for a run at one of their properties, followed by a hot £10 deal from LastMinute.com. Woo! As I’m spending July in brokeville, this was great news – a show I really wanted to see … and could afford! Even in row N I was still excited to be there – and though many people came in late (when King takes a phone call), based on the fact the house was full, I think there were a lot of people who were as excited as I was. (Pent up consumer demand, perhaps?)

“The Mountaintop,” in summary, is a play about Martin Luther King Junior’s last night on earth, which was spent in a hotel room in Memphis, Tennessee. We know it is his last night, and that he will be assassinated at 6 PM the next day, but he does not. He has just given his glorious “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech, in which he says God’s allowed him to go up to the mountain and see the Promised Land. But with the door shut behind him in his hotel room, the playwright (Katori Hall) has King (David Harewood) display more of what is going on in his head – a man who is (rightfully) fearful of spies, startled painfully at every crack of thunder, and jonesing for a hot cup of coffee and a pack of Pall Malls to get him through the night and the speech he’s writing.

Hall adds to this already emotional mix Camae, a saucy, sexy hotel maid (Lorraine Burroughs), who seems initially to be a dramatic means of lightening up the grim mood. She gives King someone to talk to about his fears – about his worries about his people’s commitment to the movement, about people’s lack of involvement and quickness to criticize, about what would happen to the movement in the seemingly inevitable case of his death. In addition to providing King with his much longed for cigarettes, Camae gives him someone to tease, flirt, and have a pillow fight with (showing us a much more human side of his nature), but also pushes back on his assertions and give him flack for being a “bourgie negro” – which really tones down what could have been some syrupy hero worship.

In retrospect, I have to say I was pretty slack-jawed to discover the leads were actually both English, since not once did I catch their accents slipping (and they both had noticeably different accents, appropriate given that they came from such different backgrounds). I was unsure about Harewoods portrayal of King insofar as he kept fairly frequently falling back on King’s “preacher voice,” which I felt sure would have been used less when having a discussion behind closed doors. (While pleading with God to see things his way, sure, he could pump it up, but not while discussing which brand of cigarettes was his favorite.) However, thanks to the seamlessness of the acting, I was quite caught up in the action for the entirety of the 80 minutes running time. Hall threw a ringer in the show by having it seriously go off into left field “la la” land at about 50 minutes in – a good thing given that it seemed the next turn it was going to take was going to be very X-rated – but somehow I was able to swallow this Deux Ex Machina and just roll with the rest of the show.

And God, you know, I really liked it. It could just be because I’m American and this stuff really resonates with me. It’s my history, it’s the one American of the last 50 years I’m most proud of, it’s stuff I really care about. And the last 5 seconds of the play – this is embarassing – made me tear up.

I can’t say whether or not everyone will enjoy this play because it hit my own personal buttons way too well. But I had a great night, and I’d like to see the theater just as full every night of its run as it was for mine. It’s very much about two characters dealing with their own issues and not some cheesy preachy show that’ll leave you feeling like someone just read a history book out loud to you, even if you do wind up learning something in the end.

God, it was good.

That said … I’d like to leave you with the words of the man himself, one of the greatest orators of the 20th century, in the guise of putting some historical context to the title of the play.

But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life – longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over, and I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people will get to the Promised Land. And so I’m happy tonight; I’m not worried about anything; I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.

(The Mountaintop continues at Trafalgar Studios through Saturday September 5th, 2009.)

Review – Pirates of Penzance (all male cast) – Union Theatre Southwark

July 17, 2009

I AWARDED THIS SHOW BEST MUSICAL OF 2009. SEE IT AGAIN AT WILTON’S MUSIC HALL APRIL 2010.

Last night Jason, W and I went to the Union Theatre to see Pirates of Penzance. I’m a fan of Gilbert and Sullivan (not mad like some but there are pictures of me performing in Patience out there) and I’m a fan of the Union Theatre and the excitement that seeing a musical in such a small space creates for me as an audience member. Furthermore, this promised the zest and zing of an all-male cast. Woo! It wasn’t going to be Company, that’s for sure, but it sounded like something that I would enjoy immensely – and at £15 a ticket, it was a great price.

From the start, it pulled me in, as the Pirates (led by Pirate King Alan Winner, a buttery-voiced singer) bounded and bounced onto stage, all bluff and bluster and with ten times the energy I have for an entire month, filling the room with bodies and voices and pulling you into “the show” (and away from dull reality) with a bang. There amongst them (I was pointedly looking for cross-gendered cast experience, but was confused for a bit as to whether or not the person in qustion was a pirate) was the cherry-lipped Ruth (Samuel J Holmes), all fluttering eyes and tattered skirts and as unattractive a 47 year old nursemaid as Frederick (Russell Whitehead) could ever hope to escape. Surprisingly (since I thought everyone was going to camp it up), Holmes was basically doing a very straight job of playing this comic character. (As an aside I thought Mr. Holmes was gorgeous, but I could see by Victorian standards he might not have cut the mustard – not that the aesthetic issues of “men in skirts” kept Frederick from swooning over all the other girls in the next scene.) Frederick himself was also played without irony, which is practically necessary as half the comedy in the character is laughing at how rigid and literal he is – without it, the plot can’t move forward.

Then it was a quick switcheroonie off stage and suddenly the pirates were all back in white skirts and neck ribbons (and plimsoles) and voila we had our maidens! I loved seeing the cast in both roles like this – it added to the comedy – and they actually did a fair job of falsetto singing. Gloriously, lead girl Mabel (Adam Ellis) had a strong high voice that was verging on a counter-tenor. Ellis positively blasted Mabel’s lines out, most appropriately considering he had about 12 other maidens to sing over at times! (Ellis unfortunately didn’t have the clarity of tone that might have come from, well, being a girl, or perhaps actually being operatically trained, but I had no problems with suspension of disbelief as he put the character out well and was a good singer.)

This leaves the question (in terms of leads) of our Major General – a very important role! – and when Fred Broom came onto the stage with his mustache drawn on I about popped a gut. He was the spitting image of my friend Marcus. And of course he sang well – I have just come to expect it from the Union. He managed both gravitas and a quivering lower lip – and he really was a hoot, and darned pleasant to listen to, really doing justice to the role.

But of all of the characters, it was the policemen who just did me in. Instead of the fairly representative costuming of the pirates and girls, for the policemen the costume designer apparently went right for the Dali (or perhaps Magritte) school of costume design – the men (who further whittled down the ranks of the Pirates, briefly confusing me that this was actually a plot point, that Frederick had recruited his former pirate friends to work as constables, thus meaning they had no one to arrest) carried mustaches on sticks to show that they were law enforement officials. They continued holding on to them while they fought the pirates, including when they were on their backs or stomachs with the pirates sitting on them. At one point, they were grinning hysterically behind their cardboard facial hair and I was about losing it because they were kind of freaking me out. It was genius, really.

Oddly enough, I couldn’t remember having seen this show before – though I was sure I must have, but there was something about dumping all of the actors in my lap (more or less) and eliminating the set (well, there were some curtains and a rope) cut out all of the grounding references for me – and anyway, 1998 was a long time ago! Furthermore, I was confused because I could remember several of the songs (besides “Modern Major General”) referenced elsewhere, though God knows where I heard “How Beautifully Blue the Sky” (I remember “With Cat-like Tread” from Annex Theater in Seattle).

The thing is, in this intimate space, I could hear and understand pretty much every word that came out of the actors’ mouths, a critical thing for G&S. On big stages, the words get lost, and losing even 20% is a real problem in following along. But at the Union I could see the actors speaking, and when I couldn’t understand just by listening (if I were, say, distracted by something silly going on toward the rear of the stage), watching would shape it right up. That means that even for the patter songs I was able to laugh at almost every joke. And this made it practically a new show for me – not bad for a production that’s well over 100 years old.

A lot of what made this show so lively, though, was the staging. From the suggestive way Ruth fed a carrot to the Major General’s pushbroom hobby horse to the spankings to the extremely lewd fondling of one of the “maidens” by her pirate captors, the cast took advantage of one opportunity after another to make this play fun to watch as well as to listen to. I think G&S dies by its chorus, rather than its leads, and Pirates had everything to be proud of in terms of providing full-stage action.

Based on the number of times I looked over and saw the rather poorly W laughing his face off, I think we can consider this show a success. It helps that Pirates is a funny, witty show with a fantastic libretto; but Union made a show that too often seems dusty as a pharaoh’s tomb genius, with an energetic cast that paid attention to the bones of the show while having a great time playing with the presentation. I’m glad I rushed to see it in its first week, because chances are, like every other musical the Union Theatre has put on, this is going to be another sell out. Nice job, guys!

(Pirates continues at the Union Theatre through August 8th. For more information on this show, please see the Boise State Gilbert and Sullivan Archive, which includes all of the lyrics and tons of other supporting material.)

MLK play “The Mountaintop” available for £10 from LastMinute

July 16, 2009

I’ve been waiting for a month and a half for an opportunity to see the play The Mountaintop ever since the review I read in The Metro caught my eye. It seemed like such a timely play now that Obama is president ofthe United States, and in the intimate space of a bar sounded even more exciting. But the play was sold out for the rest of the run even when the review came out: blast!

Now, however, this play has been transferred to Trafalgar Studios, and I’m excited to note (as of this morning’s email) that LastMinute.com is offering £10 tickets to see it! I jumped right on this offer and got tickets for next Saturday, in part because 1) I want to see it and 2) I’m sworn to only buy tickets for £10 for the rest of the month due to overspending on a trip to Greece.

So jump on this, folks, the £10 seats could sell outat any time and this promises to be a great show!

Program for 2009 “Carlos Acosta and Friends” announced

July 15, 2009

I just got this email for the Carlos Acosta and friends show I’m going to next week. Here’s the program if you’re interested. (If you want a ticket, you may want to check the Ballet.co.uk forums, though you’ll need to be registered to respond to a posting.

PART ONE

Overture
Ben Stevenson’s Three Preludes
Ivan Tenorio’s Ritmicas
ADDED: Yuri Grigorovich’s Spartacus
Frederick Ashton’s Rhapsody
John Neumeier’s Othello
Azari Plisetski’s Canto Vital

INTERVAL(20 mins)

PART TWO

Kim Brandstrup’s DK60
Derek Deane’s Summertime
Michel Descombey’s Dying Swan
Ramon Gomez Reis’ Over There
Miguel Altunaga’s Memoria
Georges Garcia’s Majisimo

GUEST ARTISTS

Florencia Chinellato – Hamburg Ballet
Amilcar Moret – Hamburg Ballet
Begona Cao – ENB
Arionel Vargas – ENB
Roberta Marquez – The Royal Ballet
Steven McRae – The Royal Ballet
Miguel Altunaga – Rambert Dance Company
Pieter Symonds – Rambert Dance Company
Veronica Corveas – Ballet Nacional de Cuba

Due to unforeseen circumstances Nina Kaptsova of the Bolshoi Ballet will not be able to participate in the run of Carlos Acosta & Guest Artists at the Coliseum July 22-25.

Nina Kaptsova was due to dance the Pas de Deux from Spartacus.

Review – Time and the Conways – National Theatre

July 10, 2009

On Tuesday I had the good fortune of getting to see the National Theatre’s production of Time and the Conways for a mere £10. It had received a positive review from the West End Whingers, but its 3 hour running time – and, admittedly, cost – had put me off. However, with an offer for £10 tickets in hand, I decided to overcome my reservations and go see this show.

I’m glad I made the effort: for all its running time is longer than I can usually manage on school nights, Time and the Conways is a good show, despite having a director who apparently didn’t quite trust the words to make good theater and a second act that suffers from some seriously ham-fisted acting.

The family’s evolving relationships, shown in act-
length flashes (1919, 1939, and again 1919) were fascinating. Though it was heartbreaking to see people who seemed to love each other (act 1) so much brought down by spite and ego in the second act (1939), it made the third act ring more truthfully. There may have been a moment in time when all of the members of the family enjoyed each other’s company and were full of hope for the future; but once the lens of the future and its failings was put into your eyes, it was impossible to see the joys of the final 1919 scene looking rosy (and a good thing too as it was practically dripping with sap in Act 1). In fact, 1919 had the painful nostalgia I associate with looking at cherry blossoms in Japan – an appreciation for lovely things whose time will soon pass. And birthday girl Kay (Hattie Morahan)’s vision of what the future will hold for her family … I couldn’t tell if she was suffering because of what she knew or because she was wanting to undo it.

The shortcomings of this play were twofold. First, at times the acting was just “too too.” I couldn’t decide if Joan (Lisa Jackson) was pretending to be a person who liked to act like she was in a movie (as it seemed in Act One) or if the script actually called for her to make her character look like a silly numpty who had to overdramatize her feelings; at any rate, it was painful to watch. I also disliked most of the cast’s “aged” versions of themselves in act 2. Madge (Fenella Woolgar) had gone all floppy and slouchy, while Kay, who’d spent all of Act 1 being luminous and agile, suddenly looked like she had a pole thrust at an angle from her shoulderblades and hipbones and was attempting to convey 40 by standing at an angle and holding a cigarette. Adrian Scarborough, as Ernest Beevers, was, however, perfect as a short bully who had come into money as he had always hoped – but I found the evolution of his wife, the former Hazel Conway (Lydia Leonard). Perhaps his character had, in fact, changed very little, but I couldn’t fathom Hazel as the broken creature of act 2. (I think Priestly is to blame on this point, mostly.)

More annoying, however, was the director (Rupert Goold)’s ridiculous showy “end of act” moments that treated the audience as if they had no ability to think and process the words of the script and possibly had only ever seen movies before. The end of act 2 “mirror dance,” in which (I think) Kay attempts to convey the concept of living in multiple times simultaneously, was an ugly bit of choreography and wholly unnecessary. Worse than this was the end of act 3, in which Kay and her brother Alan (Paul Ready) do another sort of dance with video projections of themselves. I frequently loathe relying on cinematic innovations for theater; I feel like it shows a lack of trust in the text and is, in fact, a way of trying to do something in a simple and dull way rather than letting theatrical magic (the suspension of disbelief) take place. Much like A.I., this play would have been so much better if it had just stopped at the proper ending place instead of sitting there and beating us on the head to make sure we understood what Priestly was trying to do. Shame on you, Rupert Goold – just because you have the budget and the equipment doesn’t mean you should do it.

This was, however, probably only 5 or so minutes of the entire play, so I think I can give it a recommendation overall. A bit overproduced, as shows at the National sometimes are, but Time and the Conways is a strong script that has performances (and a story) strong enough to compensate for its shortcomings. I was lucky to get tickets for £10, but I think it would certainly be worth paying more to see it.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Tuesday, July 7th, 2009. It continues through August 16th.)