Posts Tagged ‘The Curse of LowRow’

Review – Die tote Stadt – Royal Opera House

February 12, 2009

Last night I went with J and Cate to see Die tote Stadt at the Royal Opera House. I was attracted to this opera for two reasons; first, it was the first ever UK production of this show; second, it was a 20th century opera written in the early part of the century, when things were more musical. I like new shows and I liked the possibility of an opera that I’d actually enjoy – because, I must be honest, I am really just not much of an opera fan. I keep trying and trying but I’ve failed to create a passion for the art form, though I do enjoy listening to people sing.

Anyway, I found Die Tote Stadt really quite fun. It started slowly, in the house of a man who’s created a massive fetish about his dead wife – his house is full of pictures of her and he sits around caressing her hair (ew!). But he’s convinced he’s found her again, in the person of a dancer he’s run into on the streets of Brussels.

At this point, I am forced to quote Robyn Hitchcock, whose song “My Wife and My Dead Wife” played over and over in my head during the course of this show. I’ll refer to it again during the review as it just seemed to appropriate for the show not to share.

“My wife and my dead wife
“Am I the only one that sees her?
“My wife and my dead wife
“Doesn’t anybody see her at all?”

While listening to Paul (Stephen Gould) wax poetic about his love for his dead Marie, either to himself or to his friend Frank (Gerald Finley), I was a bit creeped out, but also not very interested – it seemed all so sterile and dull, like even when Marie was alive there was something extremely non-physical about their relationship. I feared for the evening. The staging was reminding me way too much of almost everything I’ve seen at ENO, where the singers stomp back and forth from one end of the stage to another with no apparent purpose but to demonstrate the size of the venue.

But when dancer Marietta (Nadja Michael) appeared on stage, the show gained momentum. She was full of life, dressed in yellow and full of passion and love for herself. While she was willing to play with Paul’s obsession, she made it clear that she was herself, and not anyone else, and ran off into the night to attend her show rehearsal.

“My dead wife sits in a chair
“Combing her hair
“I know she’s there.”

At this point Paul appears to pass out in a state of exhaustion, and has a conversation with his dead Marie, who appears in a room that’s behind the one in which he sleeps (and a copy of it). I found this trope quite cool – Marie sitting in the same chair in the living room that’s now empty, addressing a man whom in the dream world is sitting up (while Paul sings in the front room, apparently asleep). Marie chides Paul for not being faithful to her, then says she’s going to warn him about what will happen if he tries to renew his love for her with this other woman. What? A jealous ghost? It all seems to be Paul’s subconscious handling his guilt poorly. It all builds up to this triumphal/spooky moment where all of these top-hatted dancers come onto the stage to reveal …

WHAT? While my ultra cheap, very very very back of the opera house tickets did manage to let me read the supertitles, the climax of this scene (like “Diamonds Are A Girls Best Friend”) was invisible from where I sat as the person who was revealed within the circle of dancers was only visible from the waist up and thus completely obscured by the top of the set. Wah. Was it a gowned or bejeweled dancer, the dead woman, or perhaps a skeleton? I will never know!

However, at this point the set went even wackier, as the ghost attempted to illustrate for her husband the ill things that would occur to him if he hooked up with Mariette. This part left me somewhat confused as to whether or not it was reality she was showing or just his fevered dreams, but I loved the energy and surrealism, with houses floating across the back of the stage (a la Wizard of Oz), nuns marching by carrying a crucified Mariette (or was it Marie?), and white garbed dancers (Mariette’s troupe) who suddenly flip the 6 foot portrait of Marie around to show it as WHOOP WHOOP a gaping skull! (It seemed really obvious that this would happen.)

“And I can’t decide which one I love the most
“The flesh and blood or the pale, smiling ghost”

At some point it appears that Paul has actually hooked up with Mariette in reality, but by the end of the scene he’s guilting about how he’s ruined his pure love for his wife. Mariette reproaches him for not accepting his love for her, and it seems that things are going to go well … but no, it’s German culture 1920 and women who embrace their sexuality can pretty much only be vampires, a la The Blue Angel. Mariette parades aroudn stage with no hair at all and Paul gives in and admit it’s she he loves – and his reward is to get stuck wearing the Pucinella/”Dumbo” costume. Bah. Can’t it be a good thing that he’s finally decided to move forward with his life instead of living in the past? Is all of this just his wife attempting to control him from beyond the grave?

“My wife lies down on the beach/She’s sucking a peach
“She’s out of reach/Of the waves that crash on the sand
“Where my dead wife stands/Holding my hand”

“Now my wife can’t swim/but neither could she/And deep in the sea
“She’s waiting for me …”

At this point, 90 minutes in, the interval occurs … and I realized I didn’t really have any curiosity about Paul and what else might happen to him, and I felt emotionally satisfied by him accepting his love for Mariette, and I was worn out and not looking forward to getting home after 11 and being exhausted all day at work. Cate proposed that we go home – and so we did. That said, I did enjoy the opera, and I recommend it as fun to watch, though I can’t say the music was too exciting – but that’s probably more about me than about the music, not that Erich Wolfgang Korngold would really care one way or another.

(Cast list here. This performance took place Wednesday, February 11th, 2009. Die Tote Stadt’s last performance is February 17th.)

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Review – “Zorro” (the musical) – Garrick Theater

October 16, 2008

Also known as “The Boots of Zorro” if you were so unfortunate as to be sitting with us in the back of the stalls. Entire songs were sung during which we mostly only saw Zorro’s feet!

While this was a really fun show, I’d like to warn people off of the bad seats. While my £23 tickets from LastMinute were perhaps appropriately priced for what I got (and it was still entertaining all the way back in the crap seats), I was personally embarassed when I realized I’d bought seats that hid about a third of the action (we could only see about seven feet up from the floor of the stage, and much is done in the upper levels of the set, such as Zorro flying in on ropes and such, and people singing and talking to people elsewhere). I thus looked about to confirm which seats are crap so that you can know what you’er getting into – I mean, it’s not really a “half priced” seat if there’s no way in hell you would have paid £55 for it in the first place, right? So:

Row Q back to Z: rotten sightlines, 1/3 of the production is not visible.
L forward decent, except on the far sides: avoid H 1-3 and 21-23, and K and L 1-4 and 20-23 – these are obstructed by the overhang.

Anyway, grousing aside: Zorro is basically a staged B movie, with bonus flamenco music and some very English panto-y songs tossed in. It is not deep, it is not attempting to copy any movie version I know of, it is not trying to Phantom or Cats, and there’s not a lot of concern about historical accuracy (and, my God, the very English pronunciation of “Los AnGuhLeez” by the “Alcade” at the beginning of the show made me laugh – it was like listening to Bugs Bunny).

The songs are mostly forgettable (other than the one about how women “like a man who can thrust”), but the flamenco is actually quite decent for staged (i.e. non-improv) stuff and, combined with the quite good Flamenco singing (something I seriously did not expect), really added a lot to the show. (I quite like Flamenco and was expecting the worst, but my only real complaint was the costuming not being right for the music.) They even found a way to make it make sense to have Flamenco (and gypsies) in a show set in California – they came over from Spain with Zorro! The dancing overall (which had far more than just flamenco) was fine enough, though occasionally it veered into bad Martha Graham slash Pat Benatar music video territory.

I must say, though, that the cast really made this show in a way that surpassed all of the cheese elements and turned it into a really good night out. Matt Rawle, our Zorro, had that Johnny Depp “yum” factor that made me think the movie could really have been so much better. His swordplay wasn’t so great, but hey, I blame the person who designed the fight, not him. Emma Williams as romantic lead Luisa was fun – she managed to not get into the whiny prude element of the character (whew!) (and had a bit of a Grease/Sandy makeover at the end of the show), and masked her lack of Flamenco skills well enough by being carried over the heads of the other characters during a key scene.

My favorites, though, were Nick Cavaliere as “Garcia,” the nerdy guy working for the bad guy, who started off looking like a spineless bootlicker but displayed more roundess as a character (rather than just pulchritude) as the evening wore on (as well as providing the most comic moments). Head scene stealer was Inez (Leslie Martinez), whose gypsy bad girl was just a pile of fun to watch. I don’t think she is a brilliant dancer, but she definitely showed star power and made the night a good one. Without these two characters, who could have been played/written in a very two dimensional way, the show would never have been such a good time.

If you’re considering seeing this, I would encourage you to do so. Pretty well from the first appearance of the “Mark of the Lesser Than Sign” (as that’s all I could see from my seats), I was enjoying myself. There was a wee bit of nudity (a booty flash from a lady), but other than some double entendres, I consider it fairly suitable family fare, and a fun night out to boot. Have a glass of sangria or two before the show, avoid the crap seats in the second half of the stalls, and I think it will be just about a perfect evening! (Thanks to the Westend Whingers for the recommendation – I would never have bothered otherwise.)

(This review was for a performance seen on Wednesday, October 15th. Note that later a friend of mind teased me about the Curse of LowRow, which is when I get what I deserve for being so cheap with my theater choices, but the occasional utterly crap seat is well worth the opportunity to see so many shows which I could otherwise not afford. And hey, I can – almost – always go back, and in this case I will.)