Posts Tagged ‘Lucian Msamati’

Review – Amadeus – National Theater

October 28, 2016

I admit, I did not know that Amadeus, which I saw in 1984, was originally (1979) a play … written for performance on the Olivier’s huge stage. Of course, there were a lot of things I didn’t know in 1984 … but I was already familiar with the music of Mozart (give me some credit!). But since then, I’ve listened to and seen The Magic Flute many times, laughed at Don Giovanni, mostly enjoyed The Marriage of Figaro and Cosi Fan Tutti … and, well, for me to write about seeing Amadeus I have to come clean: I cannot talk about this play from the position of innocence with which I like to approach the theater. I got a lot more little jokes in this play than I would have if I did not know that a woman going to see an opera wearing a tiara of giant stars was likely to very quickly throw off her coat and return to the stage as the Queen of the Night. Anyway, I really, really wanted to see this show and was pleased as punch when the marvelous folks at Theatre Bloggers wrote me with an opportunity to come see this show on press night. Was I happy to fill in a few extra seats in the house of this sold out night? Yes, ma’am; or, more appropriately, “Rock me, Amadeus!”

The play gets off to a rather slow start, which, in retrospective, is probably a good thing given that the play is three hours long and we might as well just get our heads around the fact that we’re going to be sitting there for a while. Salieri (Lucian Msamati), the most famous musician of his time, is explaining to us how it was that he came to hate Mozart. There’s a LOT of back story, and rather a lot of musicians on stage, and not a lot of decor, so your choices as an audience member are to get bored (the guy next to me fell asleep!) … or to actually dig in and engage.

This, dear reader, was my choice. What I was given in return was a chance to have a world built for me with actors, costumes, and the mere breath of a set; and, most importantly, music. MUSIC music music. I listened to music described by people who think about it and (possibly) by people who try to understand how to MAKE it and … it was magic. And it was an amazing story. I came out of the movie oh so many years ago thinking the character of Amadeus Mozart was just insufferable; and, amusingly enough, Adam Gillen was probably even more extreme as the insufferable, poorly socialized, oversexed genius (in pink Doc Martins, loved that so much) … but somehow all of that swirling chaos made the emergence of his ridiculous, beautiful, pattern-breaking music sensible. Of course it could come out of this peculiar/crude/garish vessel … and perhaps it was all of that music sitting in him that turned him into the freak he was written.
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Salieri’s theory is that God chose to express himself though Mozart, leaving Salieri silent, and Salieri (at least as written by Peter Schaffer) has thus been forced to act to repair this injustice, to act against God by punishing Mozart. And we, yes, we, are the lucky recipient of the fruits of his frustration, which is glorious music played deliciously and fantastic conversations about what makes music work. Alongside we get some kind of artistic reconstruction of the lives of both of these men (this is not a history lesson), but, more importantly, a compelling fiction of revenge with bonus gold lame and harpsichords that was so much more compelling than the movie. I have so rarely seen the huge stage of the Olivier so wonderfully used – the experience was nearly overwhelming.

It’s a good thing that the National is planning on broadcasting this production (2 February 2017) because THIS is what people need to remember – a glorious theatrical evening of scintillating music with extra spectacle and great storytelling – and, well, it’s also sold out for the run except for day seats, the Friday rush seats, and returns. So keep your eyes peeled!

(This review is for a performance that took place on Wednesday, October 26th, 2016. It continues into February – the additional dates are yet to be announced.)

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Review – Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom – National Theater

January 31, 2016

There are three playwrights whose works I collect obsessively, aiming for “the complete set.” Shakespeare isn’t one of them, oddly enough … but Ibsen and Pinter are. The third member of this set? American author August Wilson, whose work The Piano Lesson I first saw in a student production at Rutgers University in the mid-nineties. Then when I moved to Seattle, I had the opportunity to see one after another of his works – some of them debuts – at the Seattle Repertory Theater. I saw him hanging out writing at a local coffee shop. He was an icon of American history, a playwright with a compelling vision of documenting the African American experience in the 20th century.

I was afraid I’d never get to see his plays again after moving to the UK and The Pittsburgh Cycle would be forever left with gaps. But to my joy, the Young Vic decided to stage Joe Turner’s Come and Gone in 2010, and the game was back on … but with a long, long gap between that show and the National Theater’s production of Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, which officially opens February 2nd. I couldn’t wait after five years of no Wilson, though, and I went and got a ticket for the first night of previews. It’s nearly the earliest in the cycle and it was the second one he wrote – and its subject, the fabulous (titular) 1920s blues singer, was one who I was eager to see on stage. I mean, this was IT. I was so there.

At the start, musicians Cutler (Clint Dyer), Levee (O-T Fagbenle), Toledo (Lucian Msamati), and Slow Drag (Giles Terera) sit in the green room and warm up while waiting for Ma herself to appear. The play begins to seem like it’s another Waiting for Godot – but with four musicians waiting for eternity to pay them a visit. I stepped back, though, and realized what I was actually seeing on stage: August Wilson giving us a chance to see how African Americans act with each other when they’re not under the gaze of white Americans (in this case the fractious recording studio bosses, Sturdyvant – Stuart McQuarrie – and Irvin – Finbar Lynch). Yeah, there’s some discussions about how black and white Americans deal with each other, but what’s more important is that it’s four men talking philosophy and bullshit, being friends with each other, talking about their aspirations, being themselves in a way that’s impossible to do when under the eye of The Man. Wilson’s given us a gift, a chance to be backstage on a number of levels, and as an audience member, my job was to sit back and enjoy.

This isn’t Beckett redux, though: Ma Rainey (Sharon D Clarke) does appear, and, oh my, she is SUCH a character, a million megawatts of talent with willpower that could send a rocket to Pluto and back. I can see why Wilson wanted to immortalize her in a play. Seeing a black woman fight to get what’s hers – and pushing back and the ridiculous barriers people try to fence her in with because of her race and gender – was inspirational. I was also amazed to see her toting Dussie Mae, a female groupie (Tamara Lawrance), with her into the recording session – giving us a bit of a chance to see a bit of life on the other side of that power divide. I have no idea to what extent any of this was based on historical evidence or if Wilson just cooked it up in his head – but Wilson (and Lawrance) has created an impressively real character and dynamic, and I was … well, I couldn’t tear my eyes off of the stage. Wow.

The ending … well, you guys know we’re not living in a very nice world, right? And Wilson reminds us that some things haven’t really changed a lot in (nearly) a hundred years, and gives us food for thought. It was a good payout for my financial and time (2:35) investment, and I hope the run is as successful as the quality of the cast and the material deserve.

(This review is for a preview performance that took place on January 25th, 2016. It continues through May 18th.)

Review – Comedy of Errors – National Theatre

December 4, 2011

It’s been over a week since I’ve seen this show and I’m having a hard time writing up my review. That tends to happen with shows that I’m not passionate about, and that’s definitely the case for the National’s current production of Comedy of Errors. The play was really fresh in my mind thanks to seeing Propeller’s “pocket” version of it in September; this production showed to me that most of the flaws of this show come right down to the script. While there are some momemts I enjoyed (such as Dromio of Syracuse’s description of maid Luce), the comedy seems to turn far too much on just how funny it is to beat up servants. I found this offensive, nearly as bad to my 21st century sensibilities as Taming of the Shrew. Anyway …

The National has gone for a non-typical cast by creating Egeon (merchant of Syracuse, Joseph Mydell) and his wife (played by Pamela Nomvete) as black people, thus the two sets of twins, their sons Antiopholus (one of Syracuse, Lenny Henry, the other of Ephesus, Chris Jarman) and their respective servants Dromio (one of Syracuse, Lucian Msamati, one of Ephesus, Daniel Poyser) are also black. This allows them to add a lot of flavor to the production, sort of a Caribbean touch, that wouldn’t have been there otherwise; but what I really liked about it is that it gave a bunch of folks I probably never would have seen on stage together a chance to get out there and really show their chops. And they were great! Both Antipholus (Antipholi?) really hammed up the gags, and the Dromio’s were suitably comic and downtrodden and goofy. However … I was just waiting for the Dromio’s to slap the Antipholi for their ridiculous behavior and say, “I am a man, and you are not to treat me like a dog. I quit. Go find your own damned rope.” But it never happened. So yes, there were some mistaken identities, and the cast was all a top notch pile such as one will find at the National, and the set was nicely designed … but in the end I just didn’t really care that much. A fine evening and one that I forgot almost as soon as the door had shut behind me. Perhaps I’ll get to see them all reunited some day in a much better play than this one.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Friday, November 25th, 2011. It’s booking through April 2012.)