Posts Tagged ‘palace theatre’

Review – Singing in the Rain – Palace Theatre

February 9, 2012

So what do you do if you have the stage rights to one of the most popular musicals of all time? Turn it into a mostly faithful reproduction of the original, with all of the sparkle sucked out, seems to be the answer these days. While I appreciate the sentiment to move to strong, story-driven work rather than jukebox musicals, I’m really questioning the motivations that brought horrors like The Wizard of Oz to the stage. But before I go into too much analysis of this question (can the answer be anything but “money” when it comes down to it), let’s have a look at last night’s trip to the Palace to see Singing in the Rain – the fourth night of what will likely be a long run (and fully reviewable in my book as it already had a solid session in Chichester).

So: plot. It’s the end of the age of silent movies, and stars Lena Lamont (Katherine Kingsley) and Don Lockwood (Adam Cooper) are at the top of their universes. While both have outsized egos to match, they’re about to be brought down a notch: for Lena, by the arrival of talkies; for Don, by the arrival of a sassy yet sweet blonde (Kathy Selden, played by Scarlett Strallen) who makes him think he isn’t really the center of the universe. Love (inevitably) ensues between Don and Kathy, but when Lena realizes Kathy is taking away Adam – and horning in on her own fame – she decides to ensure her own distinctive stamp on their first talkie, The Dancing Cavalier. Can the picture (and the studio) be saved? What about love? Don’s best friend Cosmo (Daniel Crossley) has ideas to make sure both happen … and with this being a Hollywood original, you can be sure there’s a happy ending.

I knew little about this other than it had some positive buzz and, well, of couse, I remembered the plot and songs from the movie (which I love without being obsessive about it). But, as ever, I was prepared to experience it on its own terms. Adaptations frequently must give up a lot in order to succeed in a new medium, but I figured the distance between me and my last viewing of the original would mean any removed (or added) songs/choreography/characters/plot lines would fuzz into my vague memory of the story seamlessly. I was sure Lina Lamont didn’t have her own number, but as I was loving Katherine Kingsley’s characterization, I was more than willing to have her take a star turn.

What I didn’t expect was that the lead, Adam Cooper, would have so little charisma or zing of his own. Was it because he was trying to play Gene Kelley (playing Gene Kelly), rather than playing Don Lockwood? Don is a caricature of a character, mostly just a name to hang Gene Kelly’s face on, but Cooper doesn’t seem to get that what this character needs to work is not an actor playing an iconic actor (in a role as an actor): he needs to give it his own special something. And while he worked his way through the dance scenes with well-rehearsed skill, he didn’t succeed in creating that feeling of A Star. Did he need to be “Adam Cooper, Totally Amazing Dancer, I Own This Show,” or did he need to be “Don Lockwood, Song and Dance Man Who Rose To The Top (but still has a heart of gold)?” I was willing to be sucked in and amazed, but instead I was surprised at how very wooden Cooper was. Is it because the show had just started at the Palace and he hadn’t settled in? Had he spent his time working on his dance moves rather than creating chemistry with his costars? Whatever it was, I found myself focusing on Cosmo and Lena, who were really shining in their roles as laugh generators, but I knew it was just wrong that Cooper was not owning the stage.

Meanwhile, the various song and dance routines were entertaining but similarly lacking in pizazz. I wanted more wow, more new, more now, to be overwhelmed with the gorgeousness of it all and the thrill of the dance. It’s actually not that hard to do this to me (witness my tears at Crazy for You). But only in the final scene, when the cast came out to reprise “Singing in the Rain” with multi-colored umbrellas, was I finally swept away in it all. And when Scarlett Strallen stood there at the very end, smiling her heart out, wanting us to love her as she stood between Cooper and Crossley, I thought, damn, girl, you’re a real professional and you just got short-changed … not just by Cooper but by a production team that thought what they needed to do is make the two of you play Kelly and Reynolds rather than letting your own star quality shine through. They didn’t trust the material enough as a stage show; they just wanted a faithful, live reproduction of a musical that would draw in the bus fulls of silver haired theater patrons, night after night.

And I suppose, really, my dreams of art aside, this is just, really, a commercial venture, a way to put butts in seats, and the fact that sometimes something truly beautiful is produced amidst all of this worship of the almighty dollar (or pound in this case) is merely a side product and not the main goal. And enough of the theater was full (and happy enough) that they’ve probably made it all safe enough to get those tickets sold. But I wanted to see at the end of this night was the feeling that I’d seen two amazing performers burning up the stage, connecting with each other, sparks flying everywhere. And maybe it was all the water coming down from the rafters (I have to say I was a bit worried about someone possibly getting electrocuted through their microphone – no one can apparently sing well enough to fill the house without one these days), but Singing in the Rain was a damp squib for me.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Tuesday, February 7th, 2012. It’ll be booking into the far, far future, I’m sure. Meanwhile, don’t forget to catch Crazy for You before it closes – it’s a really top musical that has way more bang for the buck if you’re a fan of traditional song and dance shows. Note that the upper seats in this theater have a very restricted view, are small and uncomfortable and unsuited for those with vertigo or a desire to see all of the stage from their seats.)

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Review – Priscilla, Queen of the Desert: The Musical – Palace Theatre

April 1, 2009

Monday night J and I went to the Palace Theatre to see the much hoo-hahed “Priscilla: Queen of the Desert the musical. I was quite chary of seeing this show for many reasons, the first being that with as much money behind it as it has, I figured it would be the kind of wide-appeal, commercial clap-trap I usually avoid like the plague; the second being that it was at The Palace, home of the worst seats I’ve ever experienced in London. But then I saw the West End Whingers’ drooling review. My God, I thought, I may be mistaken! In fact, their review filled me with an incredible desire to drop everything and see the show. However, I was further discouraged when I read that premium seats were going for £95. I mean, Jesus Christ, what do these people think they’re selling? The only 20 seats with an unobstructed view in the entire theater? And for me, these last two months have been ones of theatrical penury as I penny-pinched in a somewhat backwards-looking attempt to cover the cost of my recent move.

Fortunately, LastMinute.com came through with a sweet little £40 sale that was *erk* a bit out of budget but doable with an extra-added dedication to home cooking and staying out of pubs. And I read somewhere (sorry I can’t quote it!) that the costumes are fantastic but likely to start wearing down quickly with heavy use and that it might be a good plan to see the show early in the run while they are still fresh. So rather than waiting for affordable tickets to pop up in another eight months or so, I was able to see the show only a week after opening night! I even got main floor tickets, though Row F seats 28 and 29 meant we were a bit far to the edge, yet not sitting under the overhang like poor 30 and 31 (though 31 got to go on stage and dance with the cast, so there ARE advantages)! However, I was able to see all of the stage clearly – even though a tiny bit of the curtain waaay up in the left corner that said “you are here” (next to a map of Australia, in the center). So, overall, I was happy with my seats.

And the crowd was good, too – the house seemed packed and everyone was very “up” – and of course there were lots of gay men there and people of both genders with bottom-lit cocktails in their hand acting like they were ready to have a good time. Unfortunately some of them appear to have not been taught their “company manners,” as the woman sitting beside me insisted on TALKING OVER THE SONG that opened the second act. Jesus Christ woman, if you can’t shut your yap, maybe you oughta stay home, huh? There are LIVE PEOPLE ON STAGE SINGING and I am PAYING TO HEAR THEM, not you. However, people were generally so cheery -laughing and radiating energy – that for once I did not turn around and give her the shit-eye because I didn’t want to ruin the mood.

But, I digress.

I have still not seen this movie despite being in many ways part of its target audience, so I was unfamiliar with the story behind it, which appears to be as follows: A mediocre drag queen (Tick, played by Jason Donovan, whom I also had not heard of, but please remember that before I moved to the UK I had also never heard of this Kylie girl), decides to drive from Melbourne to Alice Springs to meet his 6 year old son, and convinces his old friend Bernadette (Tony Sheldon), a retired transsexual of the old-school drag regime, and Adam/Felicia (Oliver Thornton), a white-hot newcomer, to join him with the promise that they will have a gig at a casino. But first, they need to cross the Outback in a giant silver bus (Priscilla), going through one after another hick town on their way to the middle of nowhere. Hilarity ensues.

I mean, seriously, that was pretty much the plot. Character development? An increase in self-knowledge? Nope, none of that here, and certainly no political statements of any sort (other than a bit of “why do these people hate us,” but even that was thin and only came up once), which was actually a bit of a relief. No, this show was all about big silly costumes, sight gags, and fun disco tunes, as performed by the leads and a cracking cast that were truly diverse. Actually, I wanna do a shout-out to Wezley Sebastian (Miss Understanding) and the other tall drag-queen looking person who were in so many of the ensemble scenes, because even at the very end these workhorses were performing every scene like they were the stars and they expected people to be watching them. It was really quite impressive!

But … really … it still wasn’t … it just wasn’t as good as Anything Goes. I mean, I realize I have different standards for musicals than other people, but I found the songs didn’t compensate for plot. I mean, it would have all been fine in a disco, but I can’t get excited about a night of watching people lipsynch to songs that have mediocre lyrics at best (though I appreciated that they had the lovely divas overhead actually singing). The opportunity to hear songs that brilliantly illustrate a story is actually a major reason I enjoy musicals, and this just wasn’t happening for Priscilla. Also, the voice of the women singers was positively tinny. I think this is just a problem with the whole “people singing through microphones” phenomenon – I mean, basically, if they’re not trained to sing to the back of the stage, they’re going to sing with this weak little head-voice that just has no power to it. This is not the kind of voice that would inspire today’s drag queens – and it sure as hell didn’t inspire me.

There was a fair bit to laugh about (such as the completely crude scene with the mail-order bride and the ping-pong balls and a hysterical pair of sagging falsies) and truly amazing costumes (the dancing cupcakes about made me cry, but basically anything that Oliver Thornton put on suddenly looked much better than it had any right to), but I just wasn’t caught up in it like I was hoping to! I’ll blame a bit of this on Mr. Donovan, whom I thought was just flat out dry and not really either an exciting performer or even a slightly gifted singer. Tony Sheldon was quite good, a perfect incarnation of the role (and an actor I’ll be watching out for in future productions) and talented as all get-out, and Oliver Thornton was just a brilliant shining star who shone across the stage with super-nova intensity, but with so much of the action focused on Tick … eh, well, I guess that’s why there were so many dance numbers. At any rate, if you’re looking for a good night out with the boys or a great hen party activity, this would probably be a great show for you to catch, but it wasn’t quite what I was hoping for. I probably just ought to go see that bare-bones Cole Porter show they’re doing at Sadler’s Wells so I can get what I need out of a night of musical theater.

(The reviewed performance took place Monday, March 30th, 2009. The bus did break down at one point and they had to entertain us while they fixed it. Remember, if you have an aisle seat toward the front of the stalls, you may get to dance on stage. Pity I missed my chance for my big West End debut!)

Mini-review – Spamalot – Palace Theatre

January 4, 2007

Spamalot last night was fun, despite the fact our seats were so far up I felt like I was in another building. However, neither nor I were too terribly amused by having jokes we’d heard a million times (both on film and by American Python fans) quoted on stage (except for maybe the French scene with all of the insults), the songs were generally not that witty, and most of the stuff they added was mediocre. Sure, yeah, disco Lancelot funny, Camelot as Casino with showgirls funny. I spent the entire “You’ve Got to Have a Jew” scene cringing, though. Is there some kind of trend for being ethnically/racially rude making you hipper or something? I mean, at least “If You Could See Her Through My Eyes” wasn’t hiding what it’s real attitude toward Jewish people was. At any rate, I was amused enough for what we’d paid, and W was about falling out of his chair (doubtless in part due to suffering terribly from a lack of sleep the night before). I was thinking he was getting a lot more out of London since I moved here; he does ten times as much stuff now.

(This review is for a performance that took place on January 3rd, 2007. It was migrated from another blog.)