Posts Tagged ‘Novello Theatre’

Mini-review – Noises Off – Novello Theater

June 26, 2012

I can’t tell you how much it pleases me after going to one or two duds to then finally hit a show that’s really in its groove. I’ve read nothing but positives for Noises Off all the way back to before it transferred from the Old Vic, so I was hoping for a good time (and chose it specifically because I needed a pick-me-up). Still, I had a bit of dread heading into a show that was closing two months earlier than expected: would it have that leaden feeling so many shows under the hangman’s axe have?

Walking into a lobby full of perky people, there was nary a whiff of failure in the air (a bit surprising considering how many shows I’ve seen there that have gone into the turkey annals despite my enthusiasm for them). Folks were cheerful, upbeat, and generally acting like they were expecting to have a good evening – which made me wonder why the show was closing early. But given that the theater has three different balconies and that two of them were closed, I can see where the producers had decided it was time to call last round – a fact which in no way had dampened the enthusiasm of a Monday night crowd. In the auditorium, people were chattering in an animated fashion, explaining what to look forward to and expressing enthusiasm for the evening ahead. Clutching my dreadfully expensive ticket (£35 – ouch!), I did my “man in seat prayer” and hoped they were right.

What I knew going in advance was this was a farce about actors in a farce, and that some scenes are set backstage, while others are set on stage (I had heard back, back, front, but it was actually front, back, front). I didn’t realize that one of the scenes is actually a final rehearsal, which meant that the three scenes were all quite differently textured and paced (though the first act was a bit long). I also didn’t realize that the comedy of people performing a farce was going to be part of the hilarity of this play. Yeah, sure, doors and boobies hah ha; but when you turn it into the wrong doors backstage, insanely jealous actors and the wrong girl’s boobies (panties, actually), it just all becomes much more hilarious. You’ll probably not be laughing about sardines by act three, and if you’re me you’ll find the bit with the cactus a little hard to support mentally, but the scene where a man is hopping upstairs in a race to make his cue because his shoelaces are tied together just had me busting out laughing.

And, mostly, after the first act act was over, the whole show was a bucket of fun. The energy onstage never dropped; the feeling of commitment to the script was 100%; and the audience was utterly ready for every moment. Was this a show about to close? From row G, I wasn’t seeing it. I was only feeling sorry because I knew how close to the end it all was; like about a third of the people there, I would absolutely go see this again. You’ve got a few days still and there are good seats going cheap (especially if you get them in the gods as you’re pretty much assured an upgrade unless you pick Friday or Saturday night); try to catch it while you can.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Monday, June 25th, 2012. The last show will be Saturday, July 30th, 2012.)

Review – Crazy for You – Novello Theater

December 15, 2011

Usually, when I go see shows I want to know as little as possible about them. This was hardly possible for Crazy for You, which I just saw this summer at Regent’s Park. But when I was offered free tickets to see a show I loved more than any musical I’d seen all year, how could I say no? Tap dancing! Wonderful costumes! Great songs and a light-hearted plot! I was more than pleased to see how the transfer had done now that it was all set up in the Novello Theater.

So, story: Bobby, a banker with dreams of dancing on the Great White Way, leaves behind New York and his friends at the Zangler Follies to go to Deadrock, Nevada, under orders from his mom to repossess a theater there. He falls in love with Polly, the theater owners daughter, who rejects him when she figures out he’s from the bank. As for the rest of it … well, it has a happy ending, and the rest is too much fun to reveal in my review.

I’m pleased to say that all of the energy of the original show is still there, and that the lack of a lovely sunset is more than compensated for by the removal of the terror of an evening squall. This time, I knew what to expect: this is not a musical where the songs really move the story forward, but more a show with musical numbers that provide an excuse for some truly outstanding dancing. And the end of act one, “I Got Rhythm,” just had me completely wound up as the tension got higher and higher and the tenuous connection with reality shot away like a balloon slipping its tether. Do cowboys play the bass fiddle? Is it possible to dance on a trash can lid? Thanks to the power of A Darn Fine Show, these silly concerns of “reality based theater watching” were no longer relevant. It all happened because it had to happen, because the girl needed to fall in love with the guy and the whole thing was just going to have to have a happy ending somehow. I gave up my criticizing and just went with the flow. It was lovely!

The second act had the number I’d most like to perform myself (“Naughty Baby”) and a great comedy moment with Bobby and Zangler as two drunks thinking they’re seeing their mirror image. However, there was a bit too long of an energy gap while Bobby and Polly were trying to figure out just where they should be (together, in New York, etc), which makes me think that about 10 minutes of the show (and Polly’s number “”But Not For Me”) should probably go just to keep it tight. But it all came together in the most amazing finale that was right out of the Busby Berkeley musicals I love – and right on stage in front of me. Wow. It was still just fantastic, the perfect cure for a London winter, a musical so full of joy you have to just give in and enjoy yourself. In some ways, it seems like something I could go see regularly, on Fridays after work, or just after a particularly down day when I wanted a pick me up. And I suppose I can, if I want to, since it’s booking through July 2012.

(This review is for a performance that took place on November 29th, 2011.)

Review – the James Earl Jones’ “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” – Novello Theatre

November 27, 2009

In a year full of mega-hype shows, the only one I really got excited about was the “all black” production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. There’s a lot of reasons why this wet my whistle way more than any star-crossed Hamlet. First, a cast with nothing but African-American (and Afro-Carribean) actors – my God, haven’t I been waiting for that for a long time! And (second) they were in a show by my favorite American playwright! And (third) in a play by this author that I’d never seen before! AND AND AND (fourth) with Voice of Darth Vader himself, James Earl Jones, in a starring role! Woo! No way was I missing this!

Of course, with big names like Jones and Phylicia Rashad, tickets weren’t going to be cheap – when they finally went on sale I dickered and dickered, trying to find some I could manage. At last I found a deal to get £10 off seats during previews, so I took £20 seats in the Grand Balcony and felt lucky to find them. (I actually got my seats on Lastminute.com, FYI.) And, as it turns out, the Grand Balcony views were just fine, even though the actors were rather small – but since most of the action was centered on the stage, once the woman in front of me finally sat back in her chair, I could see everything.

HOWEVER (note to management) the Novello had SOME NERVE letting about 20 teenagers in 15 minutes into the show, in a dialogue heavy scene that was UTTERLY DISTURBED by all of the clomping and “excuse me’s” and standing up et cetera. The show started late as it was; LATE ARRIVALS SHOULD NOT BE SEATED UNTIL THE INTERVAL. Teach them right and they’ll remember next time; the Novello owes it to the rest of us to respect our right to enjoy the tickets we paid for and showed up on time to use.

The plot is as follows (no major spoilers): married couple Maggie (Sanaa Lathan) – born poor and desperate not to be that way again – and Brick (Adrian Lester) – an alcoholic former football player – are gathered at Brick’s family’s plantation house to celebrate “bootstrapped my way to money” “Big Daddy” (James Earl Jones)’s 60th birthday. Maggie’s trying to find some safe ground between her husband, who doesn’t love her anymore but whom she loves desperately, and Brick’s brother and sister-in-law, who are scheming to remove Brick (and Maggie) from Big Daddy’s will and get it for their own huge brood of children. Big Daddy cuts his birthday celebrations short in order to try to get to the root of Brick’s drinking problem; by the end of the play, everyone’s dealing with the lies they’ve been telling each other and the compromises you have to make in order to get on with life.

While the trope of having this take place within a black family worked fine for me, unfortunately the acting itself wasn’t able to convince me of the “reality” of the story. The weak point was without a doubt Sanaa Lathan, who monologued for nearly all of the first act and left me looking at my watch as the minutes headed toward an hour and the dramatic tension failed to manifest. I can’t help but wonder if she didn’t understand the character herself, because she appeared to be nothing more than a sex kitten who wasn’t getting any. I certainly couldn’t muster any sympathy for her character, and found even less for the actress after listening talk unconvincingly about her (Maggie’s) time as a debutante. Afterwards, J and Amy and I all practiced talking about our time as debutantes, to see if we could do it better. I realize this was a preview production, and Sanaa had taken over from Anika Noni Rose (of the Broadway cast), but it was just bad and dull and enough to make me say to not bother seeing the show.

Adrian Lester, as Brick, was also new to the production, taking over the role from Terrence Howard. My biggest problem with Lester was that he just didn’t sound the least bit Southern. He sounded like he’d grown up in California. Well, no, this wasn’t my biggest problem with him – he also just seemed to be going through the paces, not in a way appropriate for the role of an alcoholic, but in a way that made me think he hadn’t really got into his role, either. Though he was generally rather flat – or silent – he really came to life in the long scene in act two in which he and Big Daddy thrash out just what has gone wrong with Brick’s head.

Jones himself tended to be a bit to comic and heavy in his role as patriarch, lacking the casual fluency at rudeness that the character needed to come together, but he was an expert at playing cat and mouse with his character’s beloved son – for me, this scene was the heart of the whole play and the section that made me not feel like I’d totally wasted my evening on a dud show. Unfortunately, Phylicia Rashad also failed to hold up her end of the sky; even though her Big Mamma is a lesser role, her upset at Big Daddy’s rudeness just wasn’t convincing.

I always wonder if TV and movie actors really get what it takes to make a role work on stage; this evening made me feel like, too frequently, they don’t. This seems to be less of an issue for English actors, who (despite frequently biffing American accents) tend to have pretty good training on the stage no matter where they earn their fame in the end; but my countrymen let me down on this evening. I just can’t think it was Mr. Williams; his later plays are often heavy handed, but this is from his golden era and I expected nothing but the best. I guess I’m going to have to go back and rent the movie so I can have another opportunity to see the text performed and see if Williams can be redeemed in others’ hands. Tonight, though possibly worth the £20 I spent, was too limp and unconvincing for me to feel anything but disappointed. The heavy handed lighting design (MUST we see the overhead fan every time someone has a “moment”), the pathetically literal sound design (Brick does not need to be accompanied by football noises while talking about his past glories) … it all makes me think responsibility for the failures of this show must fall squarely on the shoulders of director Debbie Allen. With such a long run scheduled (it goes until April 10th), I do hope the performances improve. Otherwise … wait until a better version comes by. This cat fell off the roof long before the three hour running time was over and it did NOT land on its feet.

(This review is for a preview performance that took place on November 25th, 2009. Opening night is December 1st. A review for the Broadway performance can be seen on the New York Times‘s website. The considerably more positive West End Whingers‘ review is also available. I side with the Times on this one.)

Review – An Inspector Calls – The Novello Theatre

September 23, 2009

I was highly intrigued by the thought experiments built into JB Priestly’s Time and the Conways, and thus was quite enthused that an opportunity to see another play he’d written nearly at the same time came just a few months later. An Inspector Calls is quite the warhorse, and I’d always assumed it was a lumbering beast very much of the Mousetrap variety – a heavyhanded mystery designed to please the punters.

What it is is sort of Shaw meets Albee with a heavy dose of George Grosz. The family at the center of this tale is the moralistic nouveau riche (circa 1910) who, in rising above their moderate origins, seemed to have become even more harsh and hateful to those they left behind; they’re joined by a young man of old money whose looking to marry the wealthy, flighty daughter.

And then, well, you know, “an inspector calls.” He’s researching the death of a young woman, though, of course, none of these nice people killed anyone! Or caused them to kill themselves. Or … well … maybe they’re not so nice as they like to think. Or maybe the girl never existed! Or maybe the inspector is just a figment of their collective imaginations! Really, who knows, but if you saw Time and the Conways you’ll have some idea of the kind of shenanigans that might be going on. It all makes for a very drama-filled two hours and guarantees lots of thoughtful post-show conversations on “what really happened.”

In some ways this script is so tight and powerful it seems likely to transcend any particular casting decisions, and yet I feel I have to single out the matriarch (Sandra Duncan) for providing the kind of bravura performance that leads me to declare London the English language theater capitol of the world. The woman packs more into a sniff than lesser beings throw into hours of simulated hysteria. Watching her go from utterly composed and coldly indifferent to the suffering of her lessers to childlike to positively demented is really just an incredible treat. I’d imagine this role would be one actresses would really fight for; but maybe it’s just that Ms. Duncan really knows how to own a stage.

I’m also thoroughly enchanted by the potentially heavy-handed set (by Ian MacNeil), which my husband felt too obviously represented the family’s fate. However, I adored its doll-house like proportions on the bizarrely perspectived stage (giant streetlamps in front, tiny ones and a truly wee little house in back), and I was thrilled when it opened down the middle to let the story take place inside. It made it even more fun that it continued to be a damned small house for full sized adults to be standing in. And then near the end, ZOW! I have to say (without saying) that I’ve never actually seen a set do quite that before. Finally, at the very end, the entire, utterly corrupt family is back in the house with their heads poking out the tiny windows, all laughing hysterically – like a scene out of a painting of the Weimar years. (The use of mixed semi-historical Edwardian clothes with 40s costumes on the non-family members just didn’t work for me at all, but, you know, with such solid acting, I couldn’t really get that worked up about it other than to note that it was a pigheaded decision that thankfully didn’t keep me from enjoying the show.) And, W00t, less than two hours running time, thank YOU Mr. Priestly for making it possible for me to go to a show on a school night.

Brief props have to go to LastMinute.com for giving me this show and a dinner for a mere 20 quid a pop. Dinner was good but I am miffed at the restaurant for “upgrading” J to a large beer and thus doubling the cost of our drinks bill (and then saying he should have sent it back instead of admitting any fault in assuming a large). That said, the Novello upgraded us to FLOOR seats when I was only expecting crappy 2nd balcony, so any foul taste in my mouth was utterly gone the minute I picked up the tickets, and by tomorrow all I’ll remember was what a top-notch show it was – really and truly what every person who comes to London and wants to see “a good show” ought to be seeing. I guess we’ll say that this one is recommended – it’s not life-changing but it sure was a good night out!

(This review is for a performance that took place on Wednesday, September 23rd, 2009. An Inspector Calls continues at the Novello through November 14th.)