Wednesday, September 27, 2006

"HAT'S OFF, HERE THEY COME THOSE.. BEAUTIFUL GIRLS"

It can only be the Stephen Sondheim musical FOLLIES which I saw on Tuesday night with Owen and Angela, the third production I have seen of this landmark musical.

I couldn't believe my ogles a few weeks
back when I saw that this most lavish and cast-heavy show was going to be staged at the Landor Pub Theatre in Clapham... like how? The usual argument made for the non-staging of FOLLIES is the cost would be too prohibitive... and it's going to be staged over a pub?? After the Menier's excellent small-scale SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE which transferred to the West End and John Doyle's infuriating but very successful SWEENEY TODD I guess the artistic directors of small-scale venues have been eyeing up other Sondheim shows with a view to seeing how they can get a piece of the action. Enter Robert McWhir and his seemingly off-the-wall idea of doing this epic show in his theatre space.

However he has obviously studied the show and what is it really? A party on the stage of a derelict theatre for the former showgirls and featured acts from the Follies staged by Dimitri Weissman between the wars the night before the theatre is to be demolished. Surely you don't need a huge space for this... the only demands for a full stage are in the second act when the two couples whose fragile marriages come close to imploding at the party spin off into a fantasy version of the Follies and each of the four protagonists 'star' in a number which explains their predicament in song. This hurdle is overcome by making the four numbers front-cloth numbers as they probably would have been anyway.

The space is cleverly used, the first row of seats is broken up wi
th tables where some of the cast sit during the show thus taking the audience directly into the action. The Beautiful Girls number which usually features the former showgirls descending a huge staircase is cleverly done with a spotlight picking out the women in the throng after which they form a line-up on stage. There is also a clever use of b/w filmed sequences to show some of them as they looked when they performed the number originally.

As the old troupers reminisce about the old days and reprise their old routines, married couples Sally & Buddy and Phyllis & Ben are shadowed by ghosts of their younger selves, when they were dating and the promise of happy ever after was in the air. However even this is a fiction... Sally and Ben had an affair behind the backs of their fiancees but ultimately Ben rejected her for Phyllis. Sally has nurtured a love for Ben all through the years which has affected her marriage to Buddy who, despite a young mistress, still loves his maddening wife. Phyllis and Ben are similarly at breaking point in their marriage, Ben not able to shake the feeling that his success in politics and writing is built on sand and Phyllis hates herself for turning into a frosty bitch because of his emotional neglect.
It's hard to imagine four more negative people to ask the audience to care for but you do primarily through Sondheim's score which gives song to their pent-up fears and desires. None more so than Sally - played here by Claire Moore - who gets to sing three of his most yearningly romantic songs IN BUDDY'S EYES, TOO MANY MORNINGS and the classic LOSING MY MIND. A great song by any standard, when seen in the context of the show it's even more poignant as you know the character really is lost in a delusion. Phyllis is played by Sarah Payne who rather undersells her big number COULD I LEAVE YOU? but gives an excellent performance as the becalmed wife of a successful man who can't see her own pain for his own. Their respective husbands Buddy and Ben are played well by Bryan Kennedy and Leo Andrew.

The former showgirls are mostly played by musical theatre stalwarts of the 1970s and 80s, the standouts being Rachel Izen's swaggering BROADWAY BABY, Carol Ball's WHO'S THAT WOMAN? and Roni Page's ONE MORE KISS. Adele Anderson, erstwhile Fascinating Aida member, plays Carlotta, the showgirl who became a film star, with great style and paces her big number I'M STILL HERE admirably.

I had a great time afterwards too when in the bar Angela collared Rachel Izen who amazingly remembered me from 1982/3 as a front-row regular at the National Theatre's GUYS AND DOLLS. It was great to hear her thoughts on the production and to catch up with Carol Ball whose Drury Lane dressing room during her lengthy run in 42ND STREET in the 1980s was a frequent home-from-home!

Friday, September 22, 2006

What a busy bee I have been lately Constant Reader... film and a musical (two bits!)

On Wednesday Me and Tall Paul (I've never seen so much of the elusive bugger) went to see another double bill of Carmen Maura films which also marked the end of the brief 2nd Spanish Film Season at the Cine Lumiere. Again as on Sunday it was an evening of diminishing returns.

The first film was LA COMUNIDAD, directed by Alex de la Inglesia in 2000. I had missed it when it was first aroun
d - am I glad I finally caught up with it! A deliriously black comedy thriller which kept me on the edge of my seat when I wasn't rolling in the aisles. Carmen plays the temp estate agent Julia who, while attempting to sell an apartment in a crumbling block of flats, discovers that the flat above not only contains the decaying body of it's owner but also the 300 million Pesetas he won in the lottery. She retrieves the money and hides out in the vacant flat below. All her attempts at escaping with the money however are frustrated by the other occupants of the building who have all signed an agreement to share the money should the old man die... and they are getting more and more murderous in their desperation. Carmen won five Best Actress awards for her performance as the resourceful Julia, a role originally written for a man but changed just for her and she is quite wonderful.

I would have been more than happy to sit through it again but instead we got 800 BALAS (800 Bullets), also directed by de la Inglesia - but where LA COMUNIDAD held it's pace right up to it's cliff-hanging finale the tone of this film was so out of
whack I would never have believed it was from the same director. Carmen played Laura, a leisure promoter who is so busy closing deals with her business partner (Eusebio Poncela) that she has no time for her rebellious son Carlos (Luis Castro) so he runs away to stay with the grandfather he has never met. Julian (Sancho Gracia) is an old movie stuntman from the spaghetti western days of the 1960s who lives and works in a run-down wild west 'town' frequented by easily-pleased tourists. There he, his friend Cheyanne (Angel de Andres Lopez) and fellow old-timers stagger through their routines recovering from nights of drinking, shagging the local tarts and remembering the good old days when Julian was Clint Eastwood's stunt double. When Laura discovers Carlos is not on a ski-ing trip but with the man she holds responsible for her husband's death during a failed stunt, she and her partner exact revenge by buying the land the town stands on. The stuntmen view this as the chance to have one last stand and barracade the town for a good old-fashioned shoot-out with the police - using real bullets.

Why they picked this film to close the festival and to include it as part of the Carmen Maura retrospective is beyond me - she is genetically unable to give a bad performance but she disappears for the main part of the film. I was aware most of the
time of having to make a conscious effort to concentrate on the film but found my mind wandering all too easily. Fine performances from Castro and Gracia aside, it provided an opportunity to see two Maura co-stars from some of her Almodovar films: de Andres Lopez played her husband in WHAT HAVE I DONE TO DESERVE THIS? and the police detective in WOMEN ON THE VERGE OF A NERVOUS BREAKDOWN while Poncela was the detective tracking down the killers in MATADOR as well as the lead in LAW OF DESIRE playing Carmen's film director brother stalked by a murderously obsessive Antonio Banderas. Sadly de Andres Lopez has put on some serious beef and Poncela looked like he was botoxed to within an inch of his life! A disappointing end to my Carmen festival as there are loads of films where she played lead roles.

Tonight (Thursday) Owen and I made the long journey back to Oz by way of the Apollo Victoria to see WICKED which we saw on Broadway last November and which now looks settled into the west end for a long run. I still have doubts about the s
how - the second act gets bogged down in a welter of plot and too many songs that sound alike and the show could do with more humour - so often you feel the ideas of Be Yourself and People Who Look Different Are The Same As You Inside are battering you over the head. However the London cast is headed by Idina Menzel, re-creating her Tony Award-winning role as Elphaba, the misunderstood girl who becomes the Wicked Witch of the West and she is quite marvellous. She can raise the roof with the first act closer "Defying Gravity" but also turn in a restrained performance of the lovelorn ballad "I'm Not That Girl", she has excellent diction while singing too which is a rarity these days. Australian Helen Dallimore is also making her London debut as Glinda the all-too-good Witch and she is fine. I also enjoyed Miriam Margoyles as the formidable Madame Morrible but missed the nasty streak Rue McLanahan gave the role. Nigel Planer as the Wizard is a major mistake however. His role is written for an actor who although not on stage for very long should also have such a charismatic persona to keep him in mind when he's not. Ben Vereen who we saw on Broadway had this and I'm sure Joel Grey had it in the original cast... but Nigel Planer? Not that there was anything wrong with his performance per se just not in this particular major role. The show also managed to produce the same hysteria at the interval and curtain calls as we witnessed in NY - boffo mitt-pounding with mad screaming. It's a girl (and show queen) thing which I can't say I fully understand. I did sneak a photo on my mobile of the rather grand stage and frontcloth tho'!

Monday, September 18, 2006

Carmen Does A Monky!

Sunday, September 17, 2006

This weekend has been a celebration of the majestic actress Carmen Maura thanks to the 2nd Spanish Film Festival at the Cine Lumiere Cinema in the Institut Francaise.

Spanish Films at the French Institut? As the programmer pointed out, Cine Lumiere celebrates all European cinema so why not? The festival features a short Maura retrospective - very short when you realise she has made over 100 films and they are showing 8! - but the highlight was an onstage interview on her career which Tall Paul and I were very happy to be in the audience for on Satu
rday. Despite having an interpreter on stage with her and the interviewer Carmen gamely answered as much as she could in English, wobbly as it was. For some odd reason I felt so proud of her for doing that! She looked absolutely ravishing in the flesh and received a great reception. All areas of her career were touched on and of course a lot of time was devoted to her working and personal relationship with Pedro Almodovar. From her debut in 1969 Carmen worked steadily but her partnership with Almodovar - 7 films spanning 1978 to 1988 - launched both careers into international recognition. Sadly the relationship proved too exacting for Carmen, she said WOMEN ON THE VERGE OF A NERVOUS BREAKDOWN was the only film where she cried each day for real on set, and they parted on not-too-good terms. However this year saw them reunited with her performance in VOLVER and although she said they will never have the friendship they once had, their professional relationship is as strong as ever. Not that Carmen has needed the Almodovar seal of approval. Her career has soared since WOMEN ON THE VERGE and she has won in total 23 European acting awards - most for non-Pedro films. It was a real joy to see her as I have been a major fan since LAW OF DESIRE back in the late 1980s. When asked why Hollywood never beckoned she gave the perfect answer - she doesn't like Los Angeles! More seriously she knows that her 30+ years in European cinema would be wiped out and she would essentially have to rebuild an acting career for American cinema and why should she? Actresses her age in America complain there are no roles and she finds plenty in Europe. She also admitted her age proudly, she turned 61 the day before.

As I had booked a few tickets I was entitled to see one film free so plumped on Sunday afternoon for her 1990 film AY CARMELA! directed by Carlos Saura, based on a very popular Spanish play of a touring music-hall double act trapped behind enemy lines during the Spanish Civil War. Carmela (Maura) and Paulino (Andres Pajares) are released from jail on the condition they appear in the town's theatre performing their act which has been re-written by one of the occupying Italian Lieutenants for his troops as well as the Nationalists. Angry at the crude anti-Republican script, Carmela is also shocked to hear that the audience will also include captured Polish International Brigade soldiers who she befriended in the jail and who are likely to be executed the next morning. What is more important? To survive at all costs as Paulino urges or to remain true to her beliefs? Carmen's luminous performance won her four Best Actress Awards including Spain's Goya Award.

However even Carmen cannot save a film single-handed as was evident with the film from 2004, 25 DEGRES EN HIVER a lacklustre French comedy-drama which was billed bizarrely as "a screwball comedy". Agreed it had potential:
a Belgian work-shy go-fer working for his brother's travel company has his life turned upside down when his car is used as a hideout by a Ukranian asylum seeker who escapes from being deported because she is desperate to track down her husband who has gone to ground. Can he keep his job while racing around helping the mysterious woman find her errant husband? Will he be helped or hindered by the addition of his little daughter and his Spanish mother (Maura)? Will any of this make him reflect on his own wife who has left to start a singing career in New York? Sadly the pace of the film is so leaden none of the questions seem to actually warrent the audience's continued interest, Carmen wrestles all she can out of the role of the mother - initially skeptical but slowly sympathising with the Ukranian's plight as she herself was an emigrant seeking a better life - but she is fighting a losing battle against the dull performances of Jacques Gamblin and Ingeborga Dapkunaite. There was a nice turn by Aleksandr Medvedev as the missing husband but he arrived too late in the film to revive much interest and was only there to provide the springboard for the obvious plot resolution.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

It was announced today that Marianne Faithfull has been diagnosed with breast cancer. Oh no I thought... the same illness that took Dusty Springfield from us.

But it has been announced that it appears to have been caught early and her doctor is optimistic for a full recovery.

Her tour dates for the end of the year have been rescheduled for 2007. Oddly enough it's two years since she was diagnosed as suffering from exhaustion which meant her tour dates were rescheduled for the following year as well.

Get well soon Marianne...

Wednesday, September 13, 2006


ONANISTS OF BRITAIN - START FLOGGING IT!!

Supposedly the sperm banks of Britain are running dry according to the Beeb

So Onanists of Britain - don't fling it, flog it!

Get that manpaste up on eBay - Jaffa couples are gagging for it.

A View From The Couch....

Being parked on the couch with my wee chest I have been exposed to some bizarre sights. Thanks to the televisual tellyport.

Why do so many tragic feckers get on the tv? I have just watched something truly frightening... Kim and Aggie cleaning some mad old bag's house who hasn't cleaned in 18 years - so much so the plates in her kitchen had more bacteria than her bog seat. I had never been exposed to Kim and Aggie... I'm not sure which is which but they look like a double act of Danny La Rue and Julie Walters. Last night I also watched a bit of Supernanny with a Gor Blimey pair who couldn't control their two little shaggers. A frightening Scottish harpy appeared this evening called Gillian McKeith berating a huge porker of a mare who has chips for dinner - all done with a jokey voice-over tee-heeing over the lardarse.

Why don't they just shoot 'em - I'll leave it up to the powers that be whether it's the presenters or their all-too-gormless victims. Thank Gawd this stuff is usually on when I am making my way home.

Oh and another thing... has anyone else noticed the BBC are starting to sneak in the odd glorified trail into the News? Some random story will pop up usually two stories in and at the end it's announced "If you want to see more of that report watch The Price Of Chips on BBC1 on Thursday" - excuse me isn't the news supposed to be about.. like.... the news?

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Thursday, September 07, 2006


Dunno about you but I think these two deserve each other...

I have come to the conclusion that Blair has thought "Well as I ain't going to be around at the next election I shall make this shower of shits as unelectable as possible... THEN they'll know what they had."

And is Mr Broon such an appetising alternative? Someone who disappears when major shite is happening, preferring to outdo Cardinal Richelieu in areas of plotting and disseminating?

So now we know Blair is going to be gone in a year's time... but what sort of credible figure will he be at the dispatch box talking about policies and initiatives that will probably be allowed to wither on the vine anyway.

When the poo hit the fan on Wednesday about junior ministers resigning etc. the Blair faction wheeled out some the usual faces - so who should pop up on Newsnight but the vile Hazel Blears. I cannot quite understand why this creature turns me into a psychopath but let's have a go...

So remind me how long the Labour Party sat on there arses
watching the Tories almost wilfully make the public hate them with their frightening lack of awareness when confronted with public anger resulting from it's actions? But no... it's like a hackneyed horror movie where people are possessed by the long dead evil ghosts of the house they have moved into. They turn up on Channel Four News or Newsnight... with a strange fixed look in the eye and a superior smirk on their gobs and Stepford-like repeat the keywords that have been inserted in the latest initiative spouted by Blair or the Secretaries for Home, Defence, Health, Education etc. "Stakeholder", "War On Terror", "Weapons of Mass Destruction", "Asbo", "Choice", "Real terms" etc. while never answering any question even remotely doubting their view of the world. Or even worse... whining about "Media Speculation". The worst of all of these is the afore-mentioned Hazel Blears... even her name sounds ugly. Her sanctimonious air and condescending attitude within seconds have my hands turning to claws as my blood turns to bile. Hopefully her arse will be skidding down Whitehall when the man with the greasy cowlick eventually takes over.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Last night on da beeb there was an enjoyable documentary on a favourite subject... Girl Groups.

Like the earlier Glam Rock Kings/Disco Queens shows, it chose 6 groups - The Supremes, The Three Degrees, Sister Sledge, Bananarama, The Bangles, The Spice Girls - who mirrored different aspects of the same story of a group achieving success only for it to go awry. As usual there were some serious inaccuracies - I was hollering at the screen during The Supremes segment - like The Bangles being seen as unique for playing their own instruments with no mention of their forebearers The Runaways and The Go-Gos while the idea that The Spice Girls were the apotheosis of a group managing their own affairs was absurd. If ever there was a group so corporately controlled it was them. But it had some good footage including early shots of the film version of DREAMGIRLS which I am really looking forward to. It's one of my favourite Broadway scores so I can imagine seeing it and mumbling "It's not supposed to sound THAT way" through most of it. The idea of the Diana Ross character in the film being played by Beyonce Knowles is a lovely ironic touch.

The programme got me thinking about who my favourite girl groups are - so here you go with 3 favourite iPod tracks each:

1) The Supremes 1959 - 1970
(Come See About Me - Remove This Doubt - Stop! In The Name Of Love)

2) The Supremes 1970 - 1973
(Stoned Love - Up The Ladder To The Roof - Floy Joy)

3) Martha Reeves and The Vandellas
(Heat Wave - Jimmy Mack - In My Lonely Room)

4) TLC
(Creep - Girl Talk - Ain't Too Proud To Beg)

5) The Marvelettes
(Don't Make Hurting Me A Habit - On The Other Side Of Town - Beechwood 4-5789)

6) The Velvelettes
(Long Gone Lover - Stop Beating Around The Bush - The Boy From Crosstown)

7) The Shirelles
(Baby It's You - Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow - Thing Of The Past)

8) The Ronettes
(Be My Baby - Baby I Love You - Walking In The Rain)

9) Bananarama
(I Heard A Rumour - Love In The First Degree - Shy Boy)

10) All Saints
(Pure Shores - Never Ever - War of Nerves)