Posts Tagged ‘New London Theater’

Review – Showboat – Sheffield Theater at the New London Theater

April 15, 2016

I am sure that I saw the movie version of Show Boat ages ago, but walking into the production at the New London Theater last Saturday, I realized I pretty much had no idea of what I was about to see. I was pretty sure I’d be hearing “Old Man River,” but just what the heck was the show about? My memory failed me. I’d never had an opportunity to watch it on stage, so I was bound and determined to remedy that gap as soon as possible – I mean, Kern and Hammerstein, how awesome could it be? – and rushed to get in as early as possible. I was hoping for great songs, good dancing and a fine story, all enhanced by the magic that is the brilliant talent pool available to British stage productions. But in some ways I realized I’d also be looking at the show with my very modern eyes, and I had my suspicions that a play that actually looked at race in the US, written decades ago (indeed nearly 100 years ago!), was going to have a hard time passing muster. But, you know, good songs! And side balcony tickets for 19.50, so affordable!

Er, so maybe you don’t know/remember the plot, either? There’s a paddle boat, the Cotton Blossom, that sails down the Mississippi, doing shows for people in the various town (it’s the “Show Boat” of the title). It’s the Reconstruction, and blacks are treated like second class citizens … well, not really citizens at all, more like servants … and there’s all sorts of laws to keep them “in their place,” i.e. not to marry whites; and on top of this, they are pretty firmly kept apart socially, even in the entertainment arena. So … the big star of the Cotton Blossom is Julie La Verne (Rebecca Trehearne)- married to Steve Baker (Leo Roberts – always recognizable with his big sideburns). Julie is best friends with Mangolia Hawks (Gina Beck, whose voice soars like a skylark above everything in this show), who wants to act and has the talent for it ….

I mean, what am I supposed to say here? The plot has such an air of inevitability about it that writing about it seems silly. What I didn’t expect is that the second half would be set ten years ahead of the first act, and that the whole thing would end very curiously in the 20s, with the black people now retired and living in an apartment; and that somehow, the whole evening would end with people waltzing back on stage in the 1880s costumes from the beginning of the show. I was really gobsmacked by the ending, but it was because I couldn’t decide if it was more inevitable to see flapper dresses next to calico or to see Magnolia reunited with Gaylord (Chris Peluso) some twenty years after he’d walked out on her. Really? She never found anyone else she liked in all that time? Seriously? What the crap was this, Carousel meets Taming of the Shrew?

And … I mean, hey, has anyone noticed what a LOAD of non-Caucasian talent is on stage for this show? Aaand … did no one decide to maybe create some better roles for them? And Julie gets to be all noble and let her life be screwed up to help her friend? Talk about flaws you could sail a paddle boat through … this show had me pulling my hair out.

I also found my enthusiasm flattened by the noticably poor sound quality in our far side balcony seats (about ten away from the wall). I love how old fashioned musicals really use their songs to drive plot and character …. but I’m only guessing this would have been the case for Showboat, since I could only hear about 40% of the lyrics. I moved to the center balcony after the interval and, for the pleasure of having my knees jammed into the seat in front of me, I got only an extra 10% better sound. Hopefully they’ll improve that as the run goes on (the performance I saw was first preview), but … it seriously detracted from my experience.

Sadly, overall, I just wasn’t able to get into this show. There’s some good songs, but … I couldn’t find much to empathize with in any of the characters. The dance numbers mostly didn’t pull me in … I don’t know. I was ready for a good night out. What did I miss?

(This review is for the first preview performance which took place on April 9, 2015. It’ll probably be booking for a very long time.)


Review- Wink the Other Eye – Wilton’s Music Hall

August 4, 2008

What a grand time I had on Saturday when I went to Wilton’s to see Wink! I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect given the one review I’d read, but since I’m a fan of sing alongs and I like the old theatrical traditions (vaudeville, burlesque, and music hall), I wasn’t about to miss this, and rushed through a meal at the tasty and nearby “Bon Appetit” Lebanese restaurant (133 Leman Street, really very close and in a neighborhood that’s a bit of a wasteland) to be there on time. The format was a sort of loose story (the history of the hall combined with the life story of a few of the characters) framing the performance of a variety of songs. I was in very good luck as the audience the night I went was very much up for it, and shouted right back at the performers (or just made slightly off color comments) and were over all just very participatory, almost at the level I’d expect of Rocky Horror Picture Show (but not quite at panto level). The audience also sang along with every number, which was especially impressive given that only a quarter of the songs had their lyrics in the program.

Of the performers, my favorite was Kali Hughes, whose voice as she sang on a swing completely transfixed me, reminding me of of the power of Eva Tanguay and her “I Don’t Care.” It was really nice to see all of the actors just hamming it up to their maximum extent, though – Mike Sengelow didn’t take being the waiter as meaning he had a bit part – he was fully in the role and then seamlessly switched into the role of a young boy later on, doing such a smooth job I missed noticing it was the same actor (though later on I put two and two together). And even though the “showgirl” character (Suzie Chard) and the “sweet innocent” (Lulu Alexandra, blonde curls and pink cheeks, my!) were hardly deep, they had great stage presence and were really fun to watch. On top of that, the singing from everyone was really great. Good job, guys!

I realize some people may wonder why I so highly praised this in some ways amateurish show – it was very much lacking in polish and the plot, such as it was, existed mostly as a device to fit songs around – but all I was looking for was a good night out and this gave it in spades. If you like singalongs, cockney culture, and/or the history of theater, I would highly recommend seeing this show. If you want to practice ahead of time, here’s the songlist (starred ones are in the program – you can see how there’s not nearly enough lyrics to get you through the evening!):

Wotcher ‘Ria*
Birmingham Bertie
Never lost her last train yet
Oh! Mr Porter*
Champagne Charlie*
Have some more, Mrs. Moore
A little fancy does you good
Father come home with me (“Mother’s been waiting since tea”)
Don’t Dilly Dally on the way*
It Really Is a Very Pretty Garden
It’s easy to be a lady if you try
That’s the little bit the boys admire
They made me a present of Mayfair Crescent
Joshua (“nicer that lemon squash you ‘a”)
Ta ra ra boom de a
She’s lost her honest name
Come into the Garden
Swing me just a little bit higher (the very sexy song Kali Hughes performed)
The man on the flying trapeze*
Enemy of Agar (? – can’t read)
Keep the Home Fires Burning*
My Mother Said
God Save The King (I sang “America the Beautiful since this was the song I knew to this music)
Standing at the Corner of the Street
The girl I left behind
Stairway to Devon (joke)
Hinky Dinky Parlez Vous
One of the Ruins that Cromwel Knocked About a Bit*
Bless Her Name/Champagne Charlie
I live in Trafalgar Square

Apologies for not knowing the correct names for many of these songs. Fact was, I’d never heard most of them before so I was just guessing about the titles. I was in the minority, though!

(This review is for a performance that took place the night of Saturday, August 2nd.)

King Lear at the New London Theater or: I saw Gandalf’s willie last night

November 26, 2007

Last night was what shall be known as the Ian McKellan King Lear at the New London Theater (where my uncle saw Cats “back when they were just kittens”), which the three of us saw with Wechsler. I wish I could go on and on about how brilliant it was, but it was as brilliant as a Lexus or something – really well designed but not, somehow, compelling. Yeah, Sir Ian handled Lear’s entire mental arc very nicely, but I just didn’t really care. I was bizarrely caught up in the Gloucester story, which, truth (and uncle) be told, could have been utterly excised and left the plot intact. It was neat to really catch Cordelia’s humiliation, and Goneril and Regan were just brilliantly evil, but … I don’t know. We had good seats. I was not moved. (Wechsler was moved to leave during intermission due to post-new-flat exhaustion. I was a bit sorry I hadn’t just been able to scalp his ticket, but there you go.)

Also, it appears “the second Doctor” or some such was in this show as the Jester, but I don’t know one from the other and didn’t buy a program so can’t say for certain. At the end there was a bit of a standing ovation, but I’m not going to clap for Sir Ian because he’s Sir Ian, I would only clap for the actor who played Lear last night, and he was good, but he didn’t move me. Maybe the show’s just been running for so long that it’s lost all of its energy. God only knows I’ve lost most of mine.

(This review is for the performance of Monday, November 26th.)