Posts Tagged ‘Menier Chocolate Factory’

Review – Travesties – Menier Chocolate Factory

November 12, 2016

It is over a month since I have seen this play and I am still so enthused by how brilliant it is that I had to make sure to get some sort of record of it in my blog. Fortunately, Travesties is transferring to the Apollo starting February 3rd so you now have a chance to indulge if you missed out on the Menier run.

And an indulgence this most surely is: Travesties had me feeling like every book I’d read, every movie I’d seen, and every play I’d been to in the last thirty years had all just come together in a big WHOOP of fission action and blown up into a bigger experience than I had any right to expect from a night in the theater. My useless degree in political theory, my teenaged obsession with the Smiths (and Oscar Wilde), my failed attempt to read Ulysses after Alison Bechdel recommended it … not to mention my years of self-teaching about art (no room for that in an American high school education) and even my little trip to the Bauhaus museum in Berlin this summer … yes, all of these things finally came into play as I was able to laugh heartily at a series of very clever jokes and have a right good time doing it. It was like reading “The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock” and getting it without having to read 200 footnotes to explain everything.

So what was I getting? The wordplay and froth of Wilde; a scene conducted entirely in limerick; some convenient mistaken identities; Edwardian sexual highjinks; a reading of a notorious scene from Ulysses that bore a hysterical similarity to the best known scene of When Harry Met Sally (and had a bonus joke at the end); an actress dancing on a table; lectures on the role of art in the communist society; and more, so much more! (The plot is some kind of nonsense about the British ambassador to Switzerland getting involved in James Joyce’s production of The Importance of Being Ernest that took place during the World War One, when both Lenin and the Dadaists were hiding out in neutral Switzerland and, according to the invention of the playwright, meeting up in the town library. There’s just enough real to make this farce of false hold together, but it’s really much more fun to just go for the ride rather than dissect any historical inaccuracies; this is about a night at the theater, not closely observing any sort of “facts.” The ambassador is supposed to have a crush on the librarian, who is a committed communist, but it’s probably best to not going into the details lest you be distracted from the fun.)

The truly impressive thing about this evening was how high energy it all way, with the actors themselves seeming flawlessly on top of every line they said. In fact, it was all executed with a perfection that made me leap to my feet at the end; for it seems to me that only here, in London, could we have such a concentration of talent that this play, which could just be overwhelming, in fact came of as frothy fun executed at the peak of perfection. And there was the whole audience jammed in there and loving it, bringing their own wide-ranging minds to a night of the exact opposite of low brow entertainment. I left loving my fellow Londoners, loving my lovely London actors, and feeling joyous about the wonderful opportunities this city presents for me to feel like life can be truly lived well here. This was without doubt the best show that 2016 will have on offer, and I am sure that I will remember it for a very long time … although possibly not long enough for me to ever get through Ulysses.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Tuesday, October 5th, 2016. The Menier run closes on November 19th but you can book those sweet tickets for the Apollo now!)

Review – Funny Girl – Menier Chocolate Factory (then Savoy)

January 9, 2016

It’s nice to go see a show that has been already committed to a transfer (not to mention sold out for the entire run), as this pretty well guarantees that you’re going in to see a winner – and even if it’s not a five star show, you get a whole extra star’s worth of smugness for being able to get in while the seats are cheap. Yep, I’m talking about Funny Girl, about the only show I can remember that not just sold out most of its run before it opened, but had sold out months of its transfer to the big stage as well. So, yes, when a passel of “well these are really restricted view but you can sort of see the stage most of the time” seats came up for grabs one day, I jumped all over it. You see, it pays to keep going back to the website and hoping something will come up, especially for tickets at the Menier Chocolate Factory.

Since it opened, most of the complaining I have heard about Funny Girl has been about how it’s just not as good as the movie, really. And by this, what people mean (and sometimes say directly) is that Sheridan Smith is not as powerful a singer as Barbra Streisand. But you know what? She’s a more compelling Fanny Brice. There, I’ve said it, now complain away. The feeling I came with when I finished seeing the movie ever so many years ago was that it was hard to see much of a tragedy in Funny Girl because the lead came off so full of egotism that you couldn’t really root for her to succeed. I felt Barbra’s own ego was taking over her ability to portray Fanny as a sympathetic character, someone with any weaknesses at all.

But Sheridan Smith, now, she’s a whole ‘nother story. Every self confident word that comes out of her mouth has a tint of “but I’m not really all that, am I, I just want to be more,” and this makes her greatest flaw as a person, her blind love for rascal Nick Arnstein (Darius Campbell), a completely understandable gap for someone who desperately needs to feel like she is actually loved. Fanny needs to get external affirmation in a world where she is constantly struggling with not being beautiful enough. I mean, how many other women out there have struggled with being told “but you have a nice personality” when what you want to hear is “you’re so gorgeous I can’t believe my good luck that you’re even talking to me?” For the most handsome man she’s ever met to treat her like a shining diamond, well, I was absolutely sucked into Fanny’s happiness and, even knowing the end, I was able to buy the emotional arc of the story and this comes down to Sheridan Smith’s performance (well and a good book). I did not like the movie of Funny Girl but this live stage performance … well, it gives you all the feels, and that’s what I want when I fork over for a musical, to walk out swooning with emotion.

Let’s not pass over the rest of the show, though, because this is not a production that hangs on one person and crumbles on the edges. I loved loved loved, all of the scenes set in Brooklyn with Fanny’s mom (Marilyn Cutts) and her group of gal pals: I went with a Jewish American friend and those scenes honestly made us homesick. And the dance scenes were BANG POW PIZAZZ! I was never expecting there to be so much tap dancing in this show! It all seemed a wee bit crowded on the Menier stage, but hey, give me dancing that’s so big it spills over, now THAT’S what I want in a musical!

Oh, wait, didn’t I say I wanted something else in a musical? Well, in this case, really, the only thing I really wanted is for Nick Arnstein to be softer on the edges. Some of the problem is doubtlessly how he’s written – apparently he was actually far more of a scoundrel than they were allowed to show him when this show was created (due to possible lawsuits), but I think, well, if Alec Guiness can make me believe in the Force, Darius Campbell should have been able to make me believe in Nick Arnstein. He just didn’t seem to have any depth or reality to him, like someone had once seen Clark Gable in Gone With the Wind on a bad video tape and then tried to make that in to a three-dimensional being. I suspect he needs to be written a little meaner and more scheming, and, without those words, Cambpell needs to find a way to bring the character to life that’s outside of what’s on the page.

Overall, though, this was a great night out and I’d go back to see it again – and doubtlessly will once it hits the Savoy.

(This review is for a performance that took place on December 19th, 2015. It continues at the Menier Chocolate Factory until March 5th 2016, then moves to the Savoy Theater in April. Buy your tickets either directly from the Menier or from the ATG website as there’s lots of scalping going on and no need to play that game.)

Review – Assassins – Menier Chocolate Factory

November 22, 2014

Step right up, ladies and gentlemen, to the Marvellous Mighty Menier for this grand revival of the unloved, the unkind …. Assassins! Walk through the terrifying fanged clown mouth and into the hall of frights … the cream skimmed from America’s murderous society, the land where the gun is king and the conspiracies run rich and thick. See the freakshow of death dealers! Witness the logic of a culture where people who think a death will improve the world inexorably become part of a chain of never ending violence! See the Master oF Ceremonies bravely supply himself for target practice, then join in the fun as the killers train their guns on you! You’ll clap from the sidelines as Squeaky Fromme (Carly Bawden) explains her devotion to Charlie Manson, then gets in a fight with John Hinkley (Harry Morrison) over who has a better relationship with their idol. You’ll flinch away from the gun John Wilkes Booth pulls on a friend, then cheer as he comes back to life – like the rest of the nutjobs populating this room. Failed crashed airplanes? Wanna be French ambassadors? The level of delusion is sky high, creating a magic that’s only broken by the hashed together po-Southern accent of Sara Jane Moore (Catherine Tate). It’s all just a warm up for … the grandest killer of all, the one who changed the course of American history, Mr Lee Harvey Oswald (Jamie Parker), whose sudden appearance in the final minutes of the show is the Last Great Reveal, the man about whom so much has been written but whose logic is still a mystery.

But wait! Don’t turn away! Don’t say no to the joyous dark sideshow just because it trivializes (or even laughs at) the deaths these people dealt to their victims! It’s such a very pretty circus, from the fine singing to the giant clown’s head and bumper car littering the stage and even to the shiny costumes. You’re looking at reality, folks, and you know damn well that you wanted to see ugly and you wanted to be a little scared. So now you’re complaining at me because it was actually offensive and maybe you were actually frightened? Well, all I can say people, is look in the mirror, ’cause there ain’t no sideshow less’n there are ticket buying folks saying they are willing to hand over their hard earned cash to see it. And you got in line, you bought your popcorn, you wanted to be there, so maybe if you’re feeling a little bit upset it’s actually because you just found out something about yourself, something about what you like, and maybe it’s a little bit nasty. But don’t try to get all high and mighty with me. I say you know what you came for and you damn well got your money’s worth. As for me, well, when I looked around and saw all of your pale and tremulous faces looking up a barrel at impending annihilation, I know I got mine.

(This review is for the first performance of this production, which took place on Friday, November 21st, 2014.)

Review – Forbidden Broadway 2014 – Menier Chocolate Factory

July 25, 2014

Ah, Forbidden Broadway. In a world full of people maddened by sport, this is my one chance to do an event with my people, appealing to our sense of humor: jokes about our passion – the theater. If you’ve seen it before, you might find the extended look at Les Miserables looking a bit shopworn; similarly, the Lion King shtick is no longer fresh (although for some reason I still think the Liza Minelli bit is funny).

But you do get some seriously barbed new material in this year’s revue. Among the shows they roasted were: Pajama Game; Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (which got its own number mocking the show’s technical failures and hum drumness as well as featuring in a “Sunday Roast” skewering the use of child actors); and Once (I still haven’t seen it but after listening to this tour of the show’s plot holes I feel like it may have been a bullet dodged). More generally, we were given a lovely song making fun of ticket touts to a tune from Guys and Dolls, and a number satirizing the involvement of corporations on Broadway. This was was too New York focused for me – with ATG and Delfont Mackintosh controlling so much of what is shown on the West End, I think a whole new piece could have been done.

But still: let’s examine the Blythe Spirit number, in which Angela Lansbury appears to answer the question of why she is appearing in an old show. Why, she replies, if I wanted something good, I’d summon up the spirits of my old and great friends and have them write something for me … because what I’m given is shlock. Now, with the brilliant state of new playwriting in London, I wouldn’t agree that you need Noel Coward back from the dead to create a show worth seeing … but when it comes to musicals, I think she has a point. Which is true of many of the songs in this show – and why I enjoyed it so much. I won’t normally splash out on full price tickets, but for once (and in part because, let’s be honest, full price at the Menier Chocolate Factory is hardly the same as full price for Skylight, is it) I did, and for me – and for you, if you’re reading this – it is an indulgence worth every penny.

(This review is for a performance that took place July 11th. The run has just been extended by two weeks, so why not do yourself a favor during the August doldrums and go for it? If you sympathize with the trials and tribulations of the hard core theater goer, this evening is made for you!)

Review – Merrily We Roll Along – Menier Chocolate Factory

January 28, 2013

It’s hard to figure out what to review when I’m writing up a show – the individual components (acting, set design, et cetera), or the impact of the prduction on me. I tend to stick to the second, but my experience is greatly influenced by whether or not I’ve seen the show before. I like to have shows be surprising for me, and part of the surpise is how the story unfolds. So this review, of a musical I’ve never seen before (Merrily We Roll Along), is going to be just as much a review of what was put on paper as it was how the actors, director, musicians, and so forth came together to make it all happen. And I realize this review is a bit late – the show opened in November – but shows at the Menier Chocolate Factory tend to be at the top end of my budget, and I decided to hold off going until the reviews came in. Once they did, though, it was a scramble to get tickets at any price, and I’ll warn you in advance if you want to see it that your best chance is to just check the website a few times a day to see if returns come in, because it is now VERY sold out (though talking of a transfer).

So! There’s a musical on at the Menier, by a composer I frequently have found irritating because of the tuneless nature of his show tunes. However, as I’ve been getting older, I’ve been finding myself enjoying his stuff more, because of the complicated textures of his … this is embarrassing … lyrics. OKAY! I’VE ADMITTED IT! Yes, I got to musicals and listen to THE WORDS. This is why I think Cole Porter is the best musicals writer ever, because his lyrics are so intelligent (and the music so singable). And, well, in an age in which lyrics seem to be getting stupider by the decade, tuning into a Sondheim musical at least proves intellectually satisfying. So when I heard that Merrily We Roll Along was not just supposed to be a good production, but had a story that I could get into (it’s about writing musicals, not very original but still the kind of thing I like on stage), I done went and ponied up and hoped against hope that maybe this time I’d walk out the door whistling a tune.

Okay, that last sentence was pretty much a lie. What I wanted was a show that pulled me into the story and made my brain fizz when people were singing, and even if it wasn’t the buzz I get from Irving Berlin, I thought this show would deliver. And so it did: starting with a scene of seventies success and excess, in a Malibu mansion, where producer Franklin Shepard (Mark Umbers) is having a big party to celebrate how awesome he is. He keeps feeling up a young starlet who’s there; before the evening is over, his wife and a mysterious fat broad from New York (Mary Flynn, Jenna Russell) have both told him off and walked out. What is this all about? Why are they so angry? Why was the New Yorker there at all? And there was a … songwriting partner?

From this point, the show starts rolling backwards, connected by a series of lovely announced date changes, telling the story of how Shepard got to where he was at the beginning of the play, how he made friends and lost them, how he had a family, how he had dreams, how he evolved from a man in love with music and the stars in the night sky to a man in love with fame, attention, and money. And because it’s told going backwards, because you know who his second wife at the start, you know there is a first: and when first wife (the lovely Clare Foster) is there congratulating Shepard and Gussie (Josefina Gabrielle) at the opening of Shepard’s first big success, your heart breaks that she won’t listen to Mary Flynn’s warning to keep an eye on her. In some ways, it’s wonderful to finally see when Shepard is friends with Charlie Kringas (Damian Humbley), in part because of the way it opens up opportunities for great duets and trios, but the hope and joy the characters show on stage can never be felt by the audience.

Let me be clear – there are a lot of really fun scenes and songs in this show – my favorites being the “composition” song (complete with the sound of typewriters, sung) and the Andy Warhol/Factory-esque dance party in black and white – but what really stuck was the feeling of infinite melancholy brought on by knowing where each scene, told going forward, would end up in the future. Thus a song like “Not a Day Goes By” hits you in the teeth on its reprise, because it’s not a song about how you can’t forget someone you hate … it’s about how your life is inevitably marked my someone you love. And then it changes. My God, what a show. I can see how I wouldn’t have enjoyed Sondheim so much in my twenties; shows like this, like Strindberg, really require a person to have had a lot more suffering and loss in their lives before they can really resonate. It was, really and truly, a great show.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Saturday, January 19th, 2013. It continues through March 9th and may have a West End transfer – God knows the talent was blasting off the stage like they were powered with rocket fuel. Unmissable in the Menier, I tell you.)

Review – Paradise Found – Menier Chocolate Factory

May 23, 2010

As I sat in the bar of the Menier Chocolate Factory on an extraordinarily sunny Sunday afternoon, it was hard to describe the atmosphere amongst my 10 or so theater loving friends. Was it glum? Was it funereal? It was certainly creative, as we struggled to put into words the experience we had just lived through.

“The singing. The performers had good voices.”
“And their professionalism. They weren’t holding back. There was no sense of unwillingness or self-consciousness in their performances. They were really giving it their best.”
“The costumes were good, weren’t they? And many of the roles for older women were really good.”
“Oh yes, it was great seeing Nancy Opel on stage again.”
(long pause)
“You know what’s weird about this conversation? It’s like listening to people talk about a Thanksgiving dinner where you’ve burnt the turkey, and everyone’s, ‘Ooh, the pie was really good, I loved the pie’ or ‘Gosh you did a nice job with the salad …’ ”
“All while we’re all staring at the big burnt turkey in the middle of the table?”

Yep, that’s exactly what it was: a gigantic, horking, charred and smoking turkey carcass, and not an accidental turkey you blundered into while slumming in some pub theater (or at the National), but some well-financed, “we’re taking it on a trial run before it goes to Broadway” (I shit you not, it says so right here) with BIG names (Hal Prince, Susan Stroman, Mandy Patinkin) behind it, all of whom should have at some point stood up and said, “My God! We are all making tremendous fools of ourselves! This thing stinks!” (So badly, in fact, I fear the smell may creep upstairs and scare of patrons of the Menier’s cafe.)

It is hard, hard I tell you, to figure out where to start a level discussion about a play which I can say so little on the positive side of the ledger other than that everyone sang on key and I adored the costumes (kudos Judy Dolan, it was nice to see that money well-spent and from my second row seat I got an eyeful). The plot was some bizarre flip of Mayerling (fin de siecle Vienna, only everyone’s a happy hedonist) and Measure for Measure sprinkled with a hefty dose of The King and I; following a Muslim emperor and his eunuch (both claimed to be from Persia but were clearly both from Panto-land, where everyone is white and the women all wear belly-dancing costumes) as they try to get the emperor’s libido working again and the eunuch (Mandy Patinkin) learns about love by going to whore houses and sex clubs. We got to hear songs about love, about masturbation, about love, about pleasure, all sort of set to some waltzes …

but I stopped listening. The words came in my ears and then went flat, the songs failed to illuminate the characters in any sort of interesting way. I enjoyed the fun and raciness of the scene in “Club Bat,” where the Viennese were running in and out of rooms having little sexual encounters behind the curtains while lovely girls danced around in front …

but I’d long ago lost my interest in what the eunuch was going to do, or how he was going to interact with these people. Instead it was one scene change after another, clumsy throwaway dialogue, absolutely nothing of interest happening with our so-called lead character (other than him mopping his head repeatedly – I’m pleased to say there is AC in the Menier and it was working, so it won’t be so painful if you’re in the audience). It all winds up building to some weak switched identity thing …

which led to intermission, which I came back from …

… and then it got even worse and I wondered, my God, could they really take the male non-lead of act one and suddenly turn him into Pierrot Lunaire/Paul (from Die Tote Stadt), only we’re really supposed to believe he got a job at as an actor and he’s going to try to kill himself but then suddenly …

I’d say I’d worry about giving too much away, but instead I’ll relate this quote from our post-show recap:

“Wow, how about that last scene in the dressing room?”
“I don’t know, what did you think?”
“It was just so amazing, I was hoping it would never end?”
“No, I’m kidding.”
“God, you had me fooled there for a minute. You’ve got a great delivery!”

I find myself relieved that this show came to The Menier Chocolate Factory before anywhere else, because I’m convinced that this massive pile of talent has the opportunity to something so much better – in fact, almost anything better – and with the money they saved by discovering what a horror they’ve given birth to BEFORE they blow a wad taking it to the Great White Way, there’s that much more hope for them getting their acts together and doing something worthy before Hal Prince kicks it. Gene Kelley never got another chance after Xanadu: Hal may still have hope.

Based on this show, I have coined this new name for the venue. The Menier: where dreams go to die. I mean, hey, I only had 30 quid and 2 1/2 hours invested in this; things could have been so much worse.

(This review is for a matinee performance that took place on Sunday, May 23rd, 2010. Please don’t encourage them to continue this horror by going to see it and let it die a peaceful death at home with its loved ones, thereby freeing everyone involved with it to get on with their lives elsewhere.)

Review – Sweet Charity – Menier Chocolate Factory

November 23, 2009

Part of the reason “last minute” for me means anything with less than two weeks of advance notice is because long, long ago, in a galaxy months and months away, in which I can barely IMAGINE the seasons will have changed and the clocks will have rolled back (or forward, I always forget) by the time the event in question comes to pass, I received an invitation from the West End Whingers to join them at the Menier Chocolate Factory for Sweet Charity, and I said yes. Now, this wasn’t a full invite with the gang, it was a “get it yourself” deal, so I haven’t quite made it into the upper echelons of Bloggerdom yet, but, hey, at least I got the email. (I can thoroughly piss off people that produce fringe shows and the occasional rabid Jesse Buckley fan, but mostly I’m a big nobody with time on her hands who really, really enjoys seeing shows with people who love the theater. And writing run on sentences. And sentence fragments. Sometimes.)

ANYWAY so as I was saying, I bought tickets to see Sweet Charity months and months ago, for basically two reasons: 1) the Whingers were going and 2) it was at the Menier, where old musicals come back to life, done full-sized and right in your lap. Now, sometimes the musicals bite and all you can thing about is how small and close the chairs are; but the number of winners (like the lovely A Little Night Music and the hysterical Forbidden Broadway) outweigh the losers, so hey, I figured, I’ll fly Air Menier again – much like EasyJet, you’re more often a winner than a loser (especially at 25 quid a ticket). And I do REALLY like musicals, even though Sweet Charity is not in my book of big love – but I’ve only ever seen the movie version, and who knows what wonders a live performance might have?

Well, the first wonder I would say has got to be the leading lady, Tamzin Outhwaite, who actually sold me on the role of Charity in a way that world-weary, wise old Shirley Maclaine just couldn’t manage. She was both fresh and happy and believable in her own self-deception and neverending surprise at just how very crappy and also wonderful life can be. Her key philosophy – “Without love, life would have no purpose” – actually did not sound sappy coming from her. I also found her extremely charismatic – I tracked her constantly on stage – and a real comedienne (especially hysterical in the closet scene at Vittorio’s place). I got a real kick out of her “tribute to Fosse” dance in the same scene and, well, mostly found it amazing that she could make me buy into a character I’d just written off as as ridiculous as Desdemona. Instead, I was seeing traces of a young Blanche DuBois – the innocent before everything goes south. She’s really got what it takes to make this production live.

Was the next wonder the band or some other member of the cast? Well … the band actually was leaving me (in my princely row D seats) somewhat deaf. All of the brass REALLY put the sound across, but my right ear was ringing after the show. That said, they made the score come to life in a sassy way that did a lot to make this aged music sound bright, like a vintage automobile that’s been fully restored to shiny penny glory. And the backing cast, well, they were dead in the eyes for “Hey, Big Spender” – but great singers and a perfect look for their roles, a real variety of faces and body types that really had the “normal girls doing an unusual job” feel to them – but, gotta say, great legs on the lot of them. And yet … there was something just a little bit too tatty about their costumes for me (as a connoisseur of 60s fashion). The era still had a lot more tailoring, and a few more darts and finishing would go a long ways to make the women look more “of the era” and less “we whipped these up in about two hours flat, isn’t the fabric divine?” (I especially wish Charity could get a workover of her red fringed dress – the neckline just wasn’t right, and she’s so perfect in every other dress, I figure, forget the fact that her character’s not got the money to look nice and invest in a really gorgeous outfit so we can all sit there and ooh-ahh like she deserves.)

Though there are many things to praise … well, this show was written by Neil Simon, and I famously don’t care for his plays and their shallow wit. The comedy scenes were really good (my favorite being the one at the diner where both Charity and her boyfriend sit back to back at adjoining booths), but the drama … just wasn’t dark enough. And for the show itself, well, it was enjoyable, but it didn’t really move me the way I wanted to be. This time I couldn’t blame it on Charity. I think maybe this is just not one of the musicals that resonates for me – the story didn’t blow me out of the water like Cabaret, the songs don’t slay me like Anything Goes. It’s a classic, but … not my favorite musical. However, I think this is going to be a very successful run, and if you like it, you should probably book before it sells out.

Even though I didn’t love it, the fact of the matter is, I still walked out (slightly sloshed and a good hour after it ended) singing the songs I’d just heard. That hasn’t happened to me … well, excluding “Silence: The Musical,” it was the first time all year, and by those standards, I’d say that this was a damned fine way to spend a dark, miserable, wintery London afternoon – in a theater surrounded by cheerful trumpets and singing strumpets.

(This review is for a preview performance that took place on Sunday, November 23rd, 2009. Sweet Charity continues through March 7th, 2010. The Whingers’ review is here. Book now if you want to go.)

Review – Forbidden Broadway – Menier Chocolate Factory Theatre

July 2, 2009

On Tuesday it was time for the highlight of my theatrical summer season. I’m not talking about the sold-out, anti-sunny days Jude Law’s HamletGodot is a no go – and while the all-male Pirates of Penzance might be fun, nothing had tickled my theatrical “gotta go” bone like the launch of Forbidden Broadway at the Menier Chocolate Factory, an event I heard about months in advance and decided to go to in the kind of blind, not-even-concerned-about-ticket-price way large producing organizations salivate over. I had a great time when I’d seen this show in New York on Christmas Day. It seemed to be written for me – a jaded old “been there, seen that, left at intermission” gal who is torn between her true and deep love of the theater and her dislike of wasting her time on tripe. All I wanna do is see a show that sends me out into the night singing my heart out … and a show making fun of the foibles of the world of theater seemed like just the ticket. And it was.

I wondered, though: was this going to be a straight import, the same show and cast I’d seen before? I’m pleased to report the cast is all original (and English), and the various numbers, while they may not be original, are at least widely varied from “Forbidden Broadway Goes to Rehab” – 70% of the first half was different, and about half the about half of the second half was.

Skipping ahead to the “but was it good” bit, well, I laughed my head off. Off course, the evening was spiked by going in the company of the West End Whingers, who about split their pants when they were namedropped in the first number (“All That Chat”). (I’m convinced this destroyed any semblance of distance they might have attempted to maintain for the rest of the evening. And of course I was seething with envy. Sure, I might have been mentioned in the New York Times on Sunday, but on stage? I was green.)

The thing was, though, even though that one bit was especially funny, it was met by song after song that had us in stitches. OH the wrong of the Billy Elliot/Elton John number, OH the campness of the Hairspray number, OH just SO many clever songs. I got a little tired toward the end of act one (the long Lion King and Les Mis pieces kind of wore me out), but by the end of the evening I was singing along (it was a singalong and not just because I was drunk, as I was not, though this changed afterwards) and completely charged up and pleased.

Part of this was, I think, because the performers were just totally on. Sophie-Louse Damn had a certain twitch to her upper lip that had me nearly hysterical, and everyone really had the pipes (and personal endurance) to make it thorugh the evening in high style. But my God, Steven Kynman’s Daniel Radcliffe put the American version to shame – his flitatiousness and insouciance, the little wink and giggle, made it just so painfully shameless that I laughed far more than I had six months earlier. Well done!

Unfortunately, part of the “new” bit of the first half were pieces making fun of old stodgy shows that I don’t really consider part of London’s theater culture so much. FBGR was very much hitting the “what is happening right now” nose of the scene, so I was expecting a bit more relevance to UK theatre’s problems, such as the omnipresent juke box musical phenom (the Jersey Boys number sort of hit that, but the treatment indicated that it was a unique problem to this show), star-based casting and the lack of new shows (just how many versions of Hamlet do we need in a year, no matter who is in it?).

However, so many of the problems they described were shared on both sides of the Atlantic – overpriced tickets (mocked in an Oliver sketch that was done fresh for this production), the preference for cute shows over those with substance, and even (my personal favorite) the rise in the use of animated backdrops as sets (Carousel was the show being mocked, though I didn’t know it was being performed on Broadway – however, this problem has apparently cropped up again for the Kensington Gardens’ Peter Pan, which would be a good replacement for the “Finding Nemo” projection shown during this number). And while the Mary Poppins “Feed the Burbs” might have been seen mostly as a stab at the Disneyfication of Broadway (a huge theme for the December show), the broader theme … “Tepid! Vapid! Musicals pay! …” is just as true a sentiment here as it is in New York.

Despite the roasting of the negative aspects of Theatre-land, overall this show was very upbeat – it was about loving the theater, not hating it. (As Katy noted, the Hairspray number actually made us want to see it again, rather than making us writhe in shame at how much we like that show.) For me, it was all the fun I wished I’d had at Priscilla wrapped up in one tinselly (and tart) evening. I liked it so much I think I’m going to go back before the end of the run -in the hope that they’ll have added in some new numbers, but mostly just because it was such a good evening. With the timid attitude of producers today, it will be ages before something so witty turns up on the London stage again.

(This review is for a performance seen on Tuesday, June 30th. It continues through September 13th, 2009.)

Review preview: Hayward Gallery “Walking in my mind” and Menier Chocolate Factory’s “Forbidden Broadway”

July 1, 2009

An unexpected load of things to do during the day (and sunny weather causing me to not want to sit around typing) means I’m behind on my reviewing. Still, if you’re fishing around for some fun, I can wholeheartedly recommend the Hayward Gallery’s new exhibit, Walking in My Mind, and the Menier Chocolate Factory’s production of Forbidden Broadway, both of which I saw this week. The Hayward exhibit is deliciously trippy and completely worth the cost of admission; I’d especially recommend going on a Friday night, when they’re open late. As for Forbidden Broadway, well, I saw it last night and just laughed my head off. It’s like it was especially written for theater geeks like me – all of the laughs I’d wished I’d been having at Priscilla and didn’t. Do go!

Back from vacation – June theater schedule

June 4, 2009

While I might do a writeup comparing the various aquariums I saw on my trip to other aquariums I’ve been to (and which was the best), or possibly comparing the shows at Marineworld France versus Seaworld Orlando … instead I’m catching up with work.

Theatergoing tends to slow down for me during the summer months – it’s hard to get motivated to go inside a dark theater when there are so many exciting things going on outside. (Not that Company at the Union Theatre wouldn’t get people to crawl out of their deathbeds, but it’s hard to know in advance.) I get in my usual Russian ballet treat in August, but mostly summers are more about hanging out with my friends and going to the coast.

At any rate, for readers of this blog (the five of you), what’s coming up for this month is:
7 June Sunday: Diaghilev tribute at the Royal Opera House (with a motley crew performing it)
8 June Monday: Phedre, National Theatre
9 June Tuesday: England (at the Whitechapel Gallery – site specific performance overcomes my dislike of being inside during the summer)
11 June Thurday: Been So Long at the Young Vic
13 June Saturday: Lulu, Royal Opera House
22 June Monday: Doll’s House at the Donmar
23 June Tuesday: Eonnagata, Sadler’s Wells
30 June Tuesday, the thing I’m most looking forward to: Forbidden Broadway at the Menier Chocolate Factory.

Note this joke publicity feature: the National Theater has announced that two plays “from acclaimed Japanese playwright Yukio Mishima” are to be performed in London. Let’s be clear: Mishima is an acclaimed novelist, but the play most recently produced that he authored (Madame De Sade) was uniformly trashed for being, well, a piece of crap, no fault of the performers. I suspect that the producers will seriously regret taking on this project, which only really has value for noveltly. I mean, TS Eliot was a great poet, but even he wasn’t a good playwright.