Posts Tagged ‘Marguerite the Musical’

Review of “Marguerite – the Musical” – Theatre Royal Haymarket

June 13, 2008

Tonight my uncle, my husband and I went to see Marguerite – the Musical at the Theatre Royal Haymarket. The reasons we went to see this show were simple: it was brand new (world premiere in London less than a month ago) and it was a musical. When it seems like 90% of what we’re seeing on stage in London is now either a revival, an American import, or some limp fish composed of pop songs with a thin through-line, this made it rather a standout. It was also not Gone With the Wind, which for some reason I could never imagine being anything other than cheesy even before the reviews sent it to its early grave (tomorrow, in fact). (Weren’t the Marguerite cast members thanking their lucky stars that they’d put their money on the winning horse!)

It’s actually hard for me to figure out what to say about this show because I didn’t find it thrilling, which is what I’m always hoping for in a musical, but this wasn’t, in fact, what I was expecting. Since the creative cast drew heavily from Les Miserables, a show I’d rank as among the most disappointing things I’ve ever seen on stage, I figured I’d loathe the music, cringe at the singing, and shudder at a banal book. Me, I am a classical musical kind of girl. I consider Oklahoma and Anything Goes the height of the form, and think that Chicago marked the end of the era. The only new musical I’ve really been passionate about is Avenue Q – everything else has mostly just been adequate, or boring, or bad.

As it turns out, the music in Marguerite is actually fairly pleasant. I really listen to the words the cast members are singing, which is especially important in this show, and the lyrics were interesting – they moved the story along without using painfully obvious rhymes to get there. The singers didn’t do that cheesy swooping thing with their voices that I hate, and the ensemble singing (the whole cast but also the trio of Marguerite, Armand and Otto) was quite good. But nothing was interesting enough for me to catch the tune and be humming it after the show, and while Marguerite (Ruthie Henshall) and Armand (Julien Ovenden) had fine voices, I wasn’t wowed by them. (This is not the case for Mr. Ovenden’s biceps, which did have my full attention.)

The story itself is pretty interesting, though not exactly any surprise to someone who’s familiar with La Dame Aux Camellias (or La Traviata, though I felt like this story split pretty far from it). A gorgeous older French woman is being kept by a German general in WWII Paris; she falls for a handsome piano player half her age, a man who makes her feel alive again. (Somehow it was all very Demi and Ashton.) There is, of course, trouble, and the Resistance gets involved. I actually was more interested in the way they wove in the historical fact of people being attacked for being collaborators after the war – and the way many people hid their lack of support for resistance activities afterwards.

I loved the set – it seemed like it was entirely made of glass, a metaphor for “people who live in glass houses,” and the use of projections on the lightly mirrored back walls very effectively created scenes of Paris without being particularly heavy-handed. Armand’s garret was very effectively created with just a bed and a big window, and the transition from scene to scene was seamless. And the costumes were quite good – one of the few times when I wasn’t sitting in my chair complaining about a lack of historical research or inappropriate use of [insert accessory here].

Overall I’d say this is a good musical, nicely set in the jewelbox that is the Theatre Royal Haymarket. For people who like the modern musical style, I think it would be a good night out – it just wasn’t one I was enraptured by, but my uncle and husband thought it was fine (though not outstanding). If you’re debating between this and, say, Jersey Boys or Wicked, I would go for Marguerite in a heartbeat, and even though I personally love Cabaret and Chicago, it would be much better to give a new show a chance. While GWTW deserved its fate, this show deserves much better. That said, will someone please bring Xanadu the Musical to London for me?

(This review is for a performance that took place on Friday, June 13th.)

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Review of “The Peony Pavilion” -下本- part three (”Reunion and Triumph”) – Suzhou Kunqu Opera company – Sadler’s Wells

June 8, 2008

It seems inevitable that a show in which we have a section/act dominated by a ghost (including a bit set in hell) would have a bit of a hard act to follow (as it were) in subsequent scenes, or, in this case, in the final part of the three night Young Lover’s version of The Peony Pavilion. This afternoon’s presentation was far quieter than the previous, high-drama evenings. With a focus on family reunification, it was basically a wrap up for what had gone before. Du Bao has to be convinced that Liniang is his daughter and not a demon in disguise, but it’s a bit of a foregone conclusion how this will turn out (though I was finding it a bit Monty Python-esque and wondered if they were going to bring out the scales and a duck to settle the question). And Liu Mengmei’s trip to the scholarly exams, how could he be anything but a success? It was good to see the old servant of Liu’s finally treated with kindness, and somehow cheering to see the slightly sleazy Confucian scholar Chen Zuiliang promoted to work for the emperor, but … somehow it all seemed a bit like those “what happened to” sections at the end of a movie.

The most dramatic for me were the scenes in which Liu Mengmei hasn’t yet found out about his success, and is unable to so much as buy a bowl of rice … and then is tortured as a liar by his father in law. His situation seemed quite dire – how COULD he be believed (“I know your daughter is dead but I’m married to her”)? How could he feed himself? – and echoed the sufferings of many people in the past, in China and in other countries. Yet as soon as he is awarded his scholar’s robes, he becomes all arrogance – no more struggling amongst the hoi polloi for him! He insults his father-in-law, hinting that soon he will take his job, and threatens the elderly scholar with exposure as a liar – it’s as if all of his years of struggle have taught him not the least bit of sympathy toward others. And Liniang is so proud of herself for having found a number one scholar to be her husband! I just saw her and Liu turning into her parents – she complaining about not having enough honors and comforts, he bullying people lower than him. And I thought, this is a romance? Perhaps at one time this was happiness.

After three nights I felt compelled to give the lovely cast a standing ovation. I’ve decided my favorite performer was Lu Jia, who played Spring Fragrance the first night and Duchess Yang the second and third nights. She really commanded the stage and was a joy to watch – a top notch actress that would bring light to any show. Shen Fengying was, I think, a very good Du Liniang – her voice was sweet and she moped delightfully. However, I felt like the cast was tired tonight – the sleeve flipping seemed a bit slow and uncoordinated, and the energy levels were really down. I can’t blame them, though – it was their sixth night, and I was lucky enough to get Thursday, Friday, and Saturday off while they kept cranking it out.

Now that I’ve been able to absorb this style a bit, I’ve decided that I really love it for its extremely simple sets and focus on “the word.” Throughout the show, staging consisted of little more than chairs and Chinese scroll paintings. The ponds, gardens, rivers, and other exotic settings referred to in the text? They are solely the product of the viewer’s imagination, as activated by the performer describing the scene. The costumes were gorgeous, to be sure, but it was really the lines, spoken and sung, that made this show come to life. Tang Xianzu’s poetry was gorgeous. It’s for this reason that I think the first night was the best of all. Part two was the most fun, with its scene set in hell and seductive lady ghost, but nothing equalled the poetry of Du Liniang in the first evening. Despite the fact this was also the longest night and I felt sure one of the scenes could have been entirely removed, this was the night I ultimately found most moving.

Afterwards we went to The Charles Lamb pub (one of my favorites in London – sure wish it was my local!) to chat about what we’d just experienced, and, lo and behold! We found an article about the show in The Sunday Times. Read and enjoy!

As a footnote, I’m probably going to be taking it pretty easy theatrically for the rest of this month. Wait, that’s a lie – I’m going to see Romersholm Thursday, Marguerite the Musical Friday, and The Revenger’s Tragedy on Saturday, and possibly two more shows on Wednesday and Sunday if I can get tickets. Ah, what a short memory I have!

(This review is for a performance that took place Sunday, June th, 2008, one of the most lovely sunny weekend days in recent memory.)

Pre-show anticipation – Matthew Bourne’s “Portrait of Dorian Gray” – the excitement is building! – and discount tickets for Peony Pavillion

June 2, 2008

I actually broke down and bought my tickets for Portrait of Dorian Gray today. I’m not going to be able to make it Edinburgh to see it as part of the Fringe (that weekend was already booked), but the September London presentation at Sadler’s Wells is a must. I will now be seeing it on Wednesday, September 3rd, and I’m excited! It’s also now the theatrical event that’s booked furthest ahead on my calendar. Tickets for most of the main floor were already sold, which I think is pretty impressive.

Oddly, this all came about because I was rebooking my tickets for The Peony Pavillion, since a fabulous deal came my way – £15 stalls seats for any show, if you use the promotion code pcdchineseopera . For all of the people who’ve come to this blog looking for info on authentic Chinese cultural presentations, I’d like to encourage you to see this show – it should be top of the line and it’s not the thing I’ve ever had the opportunity to see. Go go go (both of you)!

I also booked tickets for the Sara Baras flamenco show in mid-July (also at Sadlers Wells), and I’m kind of wondering about seeing the English National Ballet’s show at the Royal Festival Hall in early July. It’s got choreography by three people I’ve never heard of before, but it’s also butting right up against my departure date for the York Early Music festival, so I might be too pressed to catch it. Sadly, I’ve never been particularly electrified by any performance I’ve seen by ENB, so this is also making me think I shouldn’t go … but maybe this time things would be … different.

Closer in, I’ve got a pile of tickets accumulating in anticipation of my uncle’s arrival next week – the Marguerite the Musical set, a quartet of Revenger’s Tragedy at a delicious £10 a pop, a trio for Romersholm at the Almeida (I never see discount tickets there – makes me think they must do a better job at picking the right shows for the right length of time, or maybe they’ve done a good job of cultivating a steady audience) … now all I need is to have those silly Powder Her Face tickets jump in my hand for the Sunday June 15th performance, and somehow get a few for the Edith Bagnold’s Chalk Garden at the Donmar on Wednesday June 11th – but it looks sadly like they are sold out and you can forget my doing standing room for anything these days. Perhaps Afterlife at the National will prove an acceptable substitute, but with my luck it won’t even be on that day.

In a final note, I am still beating myself up for not ordering my Jordi Savall tickets for the York Early Music Festival early enough, and am praying to the gods of returned tickets to show me some mercy on this – he’s the whole reason I’m going!

Marguerite the Musical – the search for cheap tickets continues!

April 22, 2008

My uncle, a big fan of new theater, is coming to visit in June, and I’m planning to have a week full of fun for him. He’s retired so very cost conscious, which makes him extremely amenable to cheap seats up near the roof. I’ve managed to book us some decent seats for The Revenger’s Tale on Saturday the 14th of June. It’s not really new but since it’s £10 a pop, it hits a lot of other criteria quite nicely. (The summer season just went on sale at the National, so now’s the time to grab those £10 Travellex seats for the prime Friday and Saturday slots.) This puts me back to figuring out how to get us tickets for two other shows – Powder Her Face (an opera at the Linbury) and Marguerite, a brand-new musical based on La Dame Aux Camelias, which I’ve heard of but otherwise no nothing about (not being so big on opera).

Now, official tickets for Marguerite (per their website) are in the pricey range – £63 and £58 for stalls, £43 for upper circle, £27 for “cattle class”/nosebleeds. LastMinute.com (which has screwed up by not listing it in the musicals section) is not really doing better, but does have an amusing £25 deal in which (it appears) you get the equivalent of a free meal at Pizza Express along with your crummy pigeon-loft seats. This is a real disappointment to me because when I see shows at the Haymarket, I like to eat across the street at Galileo, which has genuinely good Italian food and a killer £10 prix fixe pre-theater meal deal (plus the owner is really funny and always very welcoming to me). So I did a search for “Marguerite the Musical” on Google, and what did I find – gallery seats on some site called DiscountTheatre.com for a mere £15. That will get me dining at the restaurant of my choice. Next stop, the Royal Opera House for Powder Her Face tickets, perfect for that hard to fill Sunday afternoon slot. Now, when will they release some more tickets?