Posts Tagged ‘Guest Review’

Guest review – White Christmas (the West End musical) vs White Christmas (the movie) – Dominion Theater

December 8, 2014

Good friends and good shows … it’s a combination impossible for me to resist at Christmas. So when one of my best friends invited me to see White Christmas at the Dominion Theater, I immediately said yes. Afterwards, we got into a lively discussion about how this production compared to the movie we both love. With a little encouragement, I was able to convince her to take her extensive knowledge of the movie and really go through the changes between the original and the stage production … for the benefit of the other White Christmas fans out there who want to know whether or not they should go. So without further ado … Aahhhamy!

To say I’m a fan of White Christmas the film would be an understatement. I grew up watching this film at least once every Christmas for as long as I can remember. It is one of my mom’s favorite Christmas films and one that I grew to love as a favorite as well. It is a film I can happily watch start to end and then watch all over again. I wanted to dance like Judy, sing like Betty, crack jokes like Phil, and listen to Bob croon all day.

Now enter White Christmas the Musical playing here in London to which when I saw the posters on the tube advertising the coming show my heart did a little skipped beat and I had to go see it.

Now I know that when a film is adapted to stage, you expect there to be some plot changes in order to make the production better suited to the stage. I also know that Crosby & Clooney’s shoes are not easy ones to fill when it comes to song. I was gauging my expectations as the stage show wasn’t going to be the film that I loved but I hoped it would at least be a respectable tribute to my beloved classic.

To overview, there were bits I loved, bits I hated, and bits I understood why they changed, and while it was a fun experience overall, it was definitely not as good as version as the film I love.

The most obvious change would be the swap of several of the numbers from the film for other Berlin songs. In absence were “I’d Rather See a Minstral Show”, “Mister Bones”, “Mandy”, and “Choreography” which were replaced with “Let Me Sing and I’m Happy”, “I Love a Piano”, “Falling Out of Love Can Be Fun” but with only a couple done as performance numbers. “Gee I Wish I was Back in the Army” made a brief appearance for a whole bar at the start and that was the entire nod it got. A few other Berlin numbers made it into the show as well to be remixed with existing numbers from the film, particularly “How Deep Is the Ocean” sung with “Love, You Didn’t Do Right By Me” which felt a bit wrong to me.

My biggest pain point was the change in dynamics of the relationships between the four main characters as none of the relationships seemed to muster a believable dynamic. Bob & Phil felt more like colleagues than the close friends they were in the film. Betty & Judy were a very defined older and younger sister in the film but on the stage it just felt like they were just BFFs. When paired off, Bob & Betty felt a bit forced and lacking. Though perhaps that was because their relationship in the stage show took back seat to that of Phil & Judy who seemed to always be on stage together whereas in the film the whole driver behind their getting together was as a sham to get Bob & Betty together before it turned into a real one.

While looking at the characters, there were some changes to the characterization of the supporting characters from the film to stage. The stage version General was fun and while not quite the stoic version of the film, I didn’t mind the slight deviation. Emma the housekeeper / receptionist for the Inn was a bit more lively and pronounced for the stage show than she was in the film. While I preferred the more comic relief role she played in the film, the stage show interpretation was quite fun, though she overpowered pretty much everyone else on stage in performance. Susan, the General’s granddaughter, they aged down from 16 in the film to about 10 in the stage show, probably figuring it was easier to work in numbers for a cute kid than a teenager.

The stage production also added several additional characters, which to me seemed pretty unnecessary additions. There was Ezekiel the stagehand with his simple “ah, yep” that came across more Canadian than New England and really didn’t do much for the story. The overly manic stage manager was mostly annoying and really didn’t do much for the story. Same opinion holds for the costumer who just seemed to be present with the occasional line or two. Sheldrake the booker for the Ed Sullivan show seemed to be the only character addition who actually seemed to help the plot along.

In additional to the character and plot changes, my other beef with the show as the costuming choices. Could they have made the two girls look dowdier? Could they have picked less appealing dresses for the final number? Nearly every time a character came on stage I wanted to cringe at what they were wearing. I can see not replicating the film costume for costume, but still at least pick something that is appealing and period appropriate. Part of what I love about the film is the classic Hollywood glamour from the 50’s with the costumes and the stage show just seemed to really fall flat on that front.

To summarize, it was definitely not the film I love. There were bits of it still there but at lot of it changed. And while I was expecting some change, there was a lot more than seemed necessary. I enjoyed the show for what it was and had fun seeing it. But now having seen the stage show once, I probably wouldn’t go again and I’d rather just watch the film for the 100th some time. But if you’re still angling to see the stage show and you know and love the film as much as I do; I would strongly recommend going in with dialed down expectations. And maybe have the film ready in the DVD player to watch when you get home.

…. And that’s, I think, an even better summary of the show than I could have ever managed. If you are just looking for a safe show to take Grandma to the theater to see, then this will probably fit the bill: but if you want your heart to swell with joy, well, that’s what DVDs are for. And if you just want an excellent musical, I hear Assassins might be transferring.

(This review is for the matinee performance that took place on Saturday, December 6, 2014. It is booking through January 3rd.)

Guest Review – Prick Up Your Ears – Comedy Theatre

September 28, 2009

What is a girl to do when she has tickets for two shows on the same night? Thanks to winning a ticket giveaway on LastMinute.com, this happened to me. I decided to stick with the shorter one and likely cheerier one (An Inspector Calls) and gave these tickets away to the husband of a friend of mine … a friend who’s a huge Joe Orton fan. My requested payment? A review of the show. And thus we have …

Prick Up Your Ears, a guest review by Katy

If you have read the biography and the diaries and the plays and watched the film adaptation (yes, I am a bit of an Orton fan, why do you ask), then the play of Prick Up Yours Ears will not show you anything you didn’t already know, but you should go to see it anyway. (The one thing I wasn’t expecting was the Battenberg-cake ceiling, which kept giving me a vague craving for marzipan.) If you haven’t done any of that, I recommend it anyway if you’re interested in watching the faithful depiction of a loving, intense, unbearable and tragic relationship rendered through very funny Ortonesque – and indeed Halliwellesque, why not? – dialogue.

I’ve always seen the inextricably intertwined history of Joe Orton and Kenneth Halliwell as one of the great love stories. There’s a satisfying clarity about the themes, the similarities and the oppositions: the two men shared their love, their trangressive homosexuality, their actors’ training, their obsession with language, their sense of humour and their anarchic indifference towards all forms of authority. It’s easy to see why they were together. And, terribly, you can also see right from the start why it was doomed. The young, attractive, working-class, confident, talented Orton and the older, middle-class, insecure, much less talented Halliwell, living for fifteen years in one room while one became famous and one didn’t: it all feels very inevitable.

The intelligent, realistic production of Prick Up Your Ears at the Comedy Theatre is of course very aware of all this. It’s an adaptation by Simon Bent of John Lahr’s biography of the same name, which was largely based on Orton’s diaries: Orton’s life was well documented, not just in content but in style. Everything the characters say on stage is more or less what they actually said at the time. And yet it’s art, too, because Orton himself made it art. The dialogue in his plays were very much riffs off the way the people around him spoke – illustrated in this production by Mrs Cordon (Gwen Taylor), the comic-relief landlady, who forms the third character in what is essentially a two-hander, and is basically a character from Orton while also being a real-life inspiration of his. At this point it starts to feel as if art and life are bouncing off each other like light off opposing mirrors: is Mrs Cordon Ortonesque, or was Orton Cordonesque?

The life-reflecting-art-reflecting-life effect is further heightened by the awareness that the play – and the film of Prick Up Your Ears, and the biographies, and the diaries – has given Halliwell at least a taste of what he always wanted, fame, too late for him to appreciate it; even if the fame is eternally linked to his lover’s. The fact that this production features celebrity actor Matt Lucas as Halliwell underlines the irony. Whereas the biography was really about Orton, the play is angled to become really a play about Halliwell. It was a good decision, and a good casting choice. Matt Lucas is a perfect Kenneth: bald, angry, pretentious, funny, showing us that his position is both untenable and irresistible. He delights in his lover’s failures and resents his successes, partly because he himself has failed, and partly because Orton’s successes are driving them apart. Chris New as Orton plays off him brilliantly: bickering, shouting, bantering affectionately, and then carelessly leaving to pursue his endless cottaging activities while Halliwell does the housework and sadly sniffs his lover’s scent on the pillows.

Poor Kenneth. Despite everything (and I’m not going to specify exactly what ‘everything’ is here, just in case there’s anyone who doesn’t know how this ends), it’s impossible not to feel sorry for him. My companion J (who was new to the story) muttered ‘Poor bastard!’ several times during the production, particularly when Orton presents Halliwell with a present – a wig to cover his baldness. And yet, what was Orton to do? It wasn’t a situation anyone could win at.

The structure of the play is chronological, taking us through the major turning points of the couple’s life together. First, the early years of library-book-defacing, and the seminal prison sentence that finally gave Orton space to write. (The prison theme is referenced throughout: every time the door to their room closes, the sound effect is of prison gates.) Then the increasing success of Orton’s plays, Orton becoming gloriously Orton and Halliwell remaining ingloriously, defiantly Halliwell. “You’ve changed,” says Kenneth after their post-prison reuniting. “You haven’t,” replies Joe glumly. Orton’s even changed his own name, from John to Joe.

He becomes famous. Every step takes him further away from Kenneth; and yet he never does leave. Their room, rendered on stage with claustrophobic, congested, increasingly-collaged accuracy, is a prison he keeps returning to. The couple have locked themselves into co-dependency, in the kind of love that continually tenses up into hate. It becomes increasingly hard to watch, the comedy darker and disintegrating, as they reach the end. Symbolically, Mrs Cordon has moved away: there’s no light relief from each other now, and although Joe is starting to consider it, Kenneth is determined that there shall be no escaping.

(This review was for a performance in September, I think on the 23rd. Prick Up Your Ears continues until December 6th at the Comedy Theatre.)