Thursday, May 31, 2007

WHAT HAVE I DONE TO DESERVE THIS?

In August of this year I will celebrate 25 years of proper theatre going. How is it possible that GUYS AND DOLLS at the National Theatre was 25 years ago? I have stayed loyal to Theatreland through those years, now it's the only art form I look forward to going to... no matter what the production.

And now see how the West End is repaying me... with stage versions of two of my favourite films.

ALL ABOUT MY MOTHER is to be staged at the Old Vic in September. To sweeten the pill allegedly Pedro Almodovar will have final script and casting approval with talk already that Lesley Manville is up for the role of Manuela, played luminously in the film by Cecilia Roth.

And even more destressing, DESPERATELY SEEKING SUSAN: THE MUSICAL is pencilled in at the Gielgud in November. Among the producers are Old Vic Productions.

Remind me to pop a note though to bloody Kevin Spacey.

The ...SUSAN musical - perish the thought someone in the West End have an original though - will be set to the back catalogue of Blondie which I guess fits in with the New York scene of the 80s. I can just see it... Roberta dreams of Susan's life singing (I'M ALWAYS TOUCHED BY YOUR) PRESENCE DEAR or chasing her round Manhattan to the strains of ONE WAY OR ANOTHER.

Yeesh.

But just to show potential disasters are a two way street... Tim Burton's screen adaptation of Stephen Sondheim's SWEENEY TODD is due to finish principal photography soon.

The role of Sweeney has in the past taxed the vocal limits of such actor/singers as Len Cariou, George Hearn, Alun Armstrong and Denis Quilley and is now to be immortalised on the big screen by... Johnny Depp who by his own admission has a voice like "the mating call of a rutting stag".

And as Mrs. Lovett which in the past has been played wonderfully by such greats as Angela Lansbury, Sheila Hancock, Julia McKenzie and Patti LuPone?

Helena Bonham-Carter.

Yes.. THAT Helena Bonham-Carter.

Who just happens to be Tim Burton's girlfriend.

Pass me the razor when you're done with it Sweeney...

Monday, May 28, 2007

DEADLIER THAN THE MALE?

Quite by accident the two films I watched over the weekend both dealt with real-life women whose names have becomes infamous.

I finally caught up with Channel 4/HBO's LONGFORD starring Jim Broadbent as the eponymous Lord and Samantha Morton as Myra Hindley. I remember back in the early '70s the furore when it was revealed that after years of prison visits, Lord Longford was pressing for the chance of parole for Hindley, mainly I think because it was the first time I had heard what The Moors Murderers had actually done. I also remember Longford appearing on the current affairs programme Brass Tacks with the mother of Lesley Ann Downey which certainly made for gripping tv - they have even included it in the film with Broadbent as Longford cleverly spliced into the real broadcast.










It's a natural for screenwriter
Peter Morgan who is making a speciality of scripts which feature confrontations between real-life characters - David Frost & Richard Nixon, Tony Blair & The Queen, Tony Blair & Gordon Brown - but the film could have done with maybe a more insightful director than Tom Hooper as it's pace eventually seemed a bit plodding. Longford was also painted whiter than white - his recorded homophobia could easily have been brought in to the few scenes showing his anti-pornography campaign.










What made the film watchable were the excellent performances - Jim Broadbent was superb as Longford, it's hard to think of another actor who could have made his strange, old-fashioned, demeanor sympathetic. He was matched by a fascinating performance by Samantha Morton - not an actress I usually care for - as Myra. Like Longford you are thrown at her first appearance in a prison visiting room, not the blonde from the famous police photo but a dark-haired mousy woman hunched over a corner table. Her watchfulness broken only by occasional shots of impatience she makes a convincingly supplicant trying hard to atone.

These scenes of intellectual seduction are shattered when Longford receives a letter from Ian Brady, played in a malevolently evil performance by Andy Serkis. In three short scenes Serkis revels in his role, toying with Longford each time until he delivers news of Myra's duplicitous nature. It is after the last of these scenes - when Brady announces that he will talk to the police about the two missing victims - that Morton has her best scene. After letting Longford prattle on Myra interrupts him to tell him she too will admit to the killings and that a new lawyer has advised her to drop Longford like a hot potato. Morton's cold reading of the scene is perfectly matched by Broadbent's utter devastation. An invented scene of them meeting again a year before their deaths is unnecessary, giving the film a neat button that it really doesn't need. If you haven't seen it though I recommend it for the three excellent central performances.

My other femme fatale was in the 1931 MGM film of MATA HARI starring Greta Garbo.

Although 89 minutes it's hard to sit through now without wincing. Although Garbo is never less than watchable, several times she appears to be in a silent film, her responses are so broad. Amazingly it was one of her most successful films. This despite a clunky script, a truly bizarre storyline and now laughable performances by co-stars Ramon Navarro - playing a Russian in his thick Mexican accent - and Lionel Barrymore chewing the expensive scenery. It's odd that despite two silent films and later ones starring Jeanne Moreau and Sylvia Kristel no one has yet taken the plunge and made a film of the real story behind Mata Hari.

Margaretha Zelle was born in the Netherlands and at 18 she married a naval officer who was then posted to Java where Margarethe bore a boy and girl. In the first bizarre twist in her life the son was poisoned by an ex-employee. Divorced a few years after and back in Europe she moved to Paris working as a circus act, an artist's model and finally becoming an 'exotic' dancer under the Javanese name Mata Hari claiming to be an Eastern princess. She was soon the talk of Paris and naturally took the next step in becoming a courtesan of men in high places. When WWI broke out, being neutral Dutch, she was able to pass easily over borders which eventually aroused suspicion. When interviewed by British military intelligence when travelling via London she informed them she was employed by their French counterparts, which the French vigorously denied. No firm evidence has ever been found to say she was or she wasn't so perhaps she was simply embroidering the truth as she had done before.

In 1917 a coded message was sent from the German army in Spain to Berlin commenting on the success of a French double agent named H-21. The code - which the Germans knew had been cracked by the French - also pointed to the identity being Mata Hari. A month later she was arrested in Paris and put on trial at a time of great demoralisation about the progress of the war and the huge death toll of troops. Again no lasting proof has ever been found as to her guilt but she was found guilty and shot in October of the same year aged 41. So was she the deadly spy of legend, responsible for the deaths of hundreds of soldiers or a fantasist over her head in dangerous times, tried as much for her sexual mores as for any alleged treason?

What I do know was her real life is a damn sight more interesting than the one cobbled together for Garbo - exotic mantrap spying for both the Russians and Germans falls in love with a young Russian pilot, shoots her Russian spymaster as he is about to indict her lover as a traitor and is arrested for his murder. Her lover is blinded in a plane crash, she is sentenced to be executed for treason, but not before being visited in the condemned cell by her blinded Russian who is led to believe he is visiting her in a hospital where she is about to go and have surgery!! She goes to her death smiling at finally having known true love.

Believe me there are times one should be grateful they don't make them like that anymore!
Sunday Night Is Pet Shop Boys Night

I have been so busy with theatre-going and work shenanigans that I hadn't had to time to work myself up into a suitable state of PSB excitement. I was getting a bit worried that even with ten minutes to go I was still in a resolutely un-excited mood - despite buying merch, being in a nice central position and standing in the Hammersmith Apollo stalls with the seats all taken out - all live venues should have such a precipitous rake even if it's eventually killing to the small of the back. But all was put to right when the lights went down!

The last time I saw them was at Brixton Academy in 2002 on their RELEASE tour when they eschewed the lights and costumes and were performing as a 'straight' band. I had heard nothing about this tour so was a bit worried that they might still be into their 'unplugged' vibe but luckily no! The setting was a neon square surrounded by dark curtains and a keyboard on a neon stand to one side. After a tease of having first two backing singers then two dancers come out dressed as Neil and Chris, the real ones appeared and it wasn't long before the neon square was shown to be neon poles that went up and down or expanded to a 'cinemascope' screen with projections behind to fill the stage with glorious pulsing colour.

It wasn't long before full PSB service was fully resumed with the appearance of the magnificent Sylvia Mason-James to provide her soaring backing vocals so missing on the RELEASE tour. Neil was in good voice, Chris even smiled a few times and the crowd were suitably in good voice. The only dodgy aspect of the show were the two body-popping hip-hop stylee dancers who certainly added to the onstage traffic but who didn't add much to the show artistically.

There were so many great songs although they did relatively few from the new album FUNDEMENTAL. We got "West End Girls", "Opportunities", "Suburbia" (with an enormous twitching lace curtain behind them), "Paninaro", "Shopping", "Rent", "It's A Sin", "Heart", "Left To My Own Devices", "Domino Dancing", "Always On My Mind" (against huge cut-out heads of themselves), "Being Boring" (and yes I did get moisty-eyed), "Where The Streets Have No Name", "Can You Forgive Her?", "Dreaming Of The Queen" (wonderful, against grainy film of Diana's funeral car driving through a rainstorm of flowers), "Go West", "Se A Vida E", "Home And Dry", "Flamboyant", "Integral", "I'm With Stupid", "Numb", "Minimal" and "The Sodom and Gomorrah Show".

I hope it's not 5 years before seeing them again.

Owen supplied the nice photos!

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Tonight was the last of mine and Owen's marathon theatre-going month and, like THE ENTERTAINER, I finally got round to seeing a famous play I had never seen on stage or film... Peter Shaffer's EQUUS at the Gielgud Theatre. In the front row yet!

As Mr and Mrs World knows it stars Daniel Radcliffe as Alan Strang, a 17 year-old boy who has blinded 6 horses with a spike and Richard Griffiths as Martin Dysart the psychiatrist assigned to his case who is determined to understand what brought him to doing it. In the course of his interviews with the taciturn teen he uncovers the boy's fixation with horses, seeing them as all-seeing and god-like.

Premiered by the National Theatre at the Old Vic in 1973 the play was a huge hit both in the West End and Broadway - and certainly had a huge effect on someone I could mention (hi Suzanne!). in 1977 Sidney Lumet directed Richard Burton and Peter Firth in the film version. Amazingly this production directed by Thea Sharrock is the first London revival since then.

I enjoyed it much more than I was expecting. The play might have one or two niggling faults: under-developed supporting roles; the boy's parents are rather too obviously textbook cases being stern Atheist father / emotional religious mother while the ultimate question posed by Dysart - should he 'cure' the boy thus rendering him ordinary and neutered or does his fixation and passion lift him out of ordinary experience - is a bit woolly. But one and the same it is still a fascinating piece of writing and a powerful theatrical experience.

The original designer John Napier revisits the play and gives us a haunting dark space with shadowy horse stables surrounding the central raised platform while above two rows of audience seats on the level of the dress circle give the impression of a courtroom or old operating theatre.

Napier's design masterstroke however is the horses, six tall actors dressed in brown, hands clasped behind them, wearing metal platform-hooves and wrought metal horse's heads. They are led by the marvellous Will Kemp who plays not only Nugget the horse the boy most reveres but also the horseman who gives him his first experience of touching horseflesh. This scene in particular was nerve-jangling as it involved Kemp giving Radcliffe a piggy-back then racing around the stage - a tribute to his upper-body strength if nothing else. Napier's design, John Hershey's atmospheric lighting and Fin Walker's choreography combined to make them fully believable as Alan's objects of worship and desire.

Richard Griffiths seems an odd choice for Dysart bearing in mind some of his predecessors - Alec McCowan, Colin Blakely, Anthony Hopkins, Anthony Perkins, Burton - but he certainly made the psychiatrist a humane man all too aware of his own failings.
Jenny Agutter is inspired casting as the Magistrate who elects to send the boy to her friend Dysart as in the film she played Jill the stable-girl. However she was only fitfully impressive and in her major scene in the second half, arguing with Dysart as to what the boy needed from those in authority, frankly it was hard to believe she has over 30 years stage experience. Admittedly it's a thankless part, only ever appearing so the Dysart character can voice his concerns about his life. In the two tricky roles of the boy's parents, Jonathan Cullum was fine and Gabrielle Reidy was particularly moving - her Irish brogue making the character's devoutness believeable. Joanna Christie was also good in the role of Jill the stable-girl who unwittingly is the catalyst for Alan's horrific action.

Which leads us to Daniel Radcliffe as Alan Strang. I suspect the role is a bit like Juliet - difficult to cast exactly to age as it's a rare actor who can have the stagecraft required at that stage in their career. But on the whole I was impressed with his performance. Certainly as some reviews have pointed out he does not have a particularly wide vocal range but then he IS playing an emotionally-damaged teenager! He certainly has a presence however and bearing in mind the production's publicity is all centred on him and not Griffiths - despite his recent Tony Award - he is obviously an actor who can draw a crowd. It will be interesting to see where he goes with his stage career now.

Of course all the press has been about the scene towards the end of the play where Alan strips off to have sex in the stable with Jill. All I can say about this is what a lot of fush about - ah - nothing.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

I'm in Theatre Queen heaven....

Vanessa Redgrave and Angela Lansbury - in the same photograph!!! - at a press junket for the Tony Award nominees in New York.

*swoon*

Friday, May 18, 2007

Went to the Roundhouse tonight (Thursday) with Owen to see Patti Smith and she was in majestic form. Somehow we managed to have tickets in the back row of the circle but it's only about 6 back and we had a good face-on view of the stage between two of the columns.

Sure enough about 8:15 the band materialised on stage and there she was in her regulation skinny-leg jeans, boots. long white shirt and dark jacket, a big grin on her face and waving waif-like at the crowd. She stepped up to the mike and sang "Jesus died for somebody's sins.... but not mine" as we looked at each other saying "Eeeeeeek" and the audience roared. After G-L-O-R-I-Aing our way through that it was onto a very loose skanky REDONDO BEACH and the first song from her new 'covers' album, Jimi Hendrix's ARE YOU EXPERIENCED? I was a bit unsure of TWELVE when I first heard it but listening to it again at Owen's on Sunday it seemed to come together more and all of the songs she did tonight from the album fitted in easily with her own classic songs.

In an exciting two hours she powered through great versions of PRIVILEGE (SET ME FREE), FREE MONEY, AIN'T IT STRANGE, PISSING IN A RIVER, BENEATH THE SOUTHERN CROSS, WITHIN YOU WITHOUT YOU (I can feel Owen almost pop with excitement she included this) and SMELLS LIKE TEEN SPIRIT. A long, loopy story about the British Museum led into WHITE RABBIT and she threw in for us that little-heard song from her back-catalogue BECAUSE THE NIGHT. While happily joining in with the chorus it suddenly struck me that I was doing the same thing roughly 29 years ago up the road at the Rainbow in Finsbury Park.
Me and my girl Patti go way back.


And she sang FREDERICK. I've never heard her do this live and watching her dancing along with the Godlike Lenny Kaye during the instrumental break - like a shy pupil and a geography teacher at the school disco - it suddenly occured to me that this was a great unclaimed Disco classic - suggested no doubt by Jay Dee Daugherty's powerhouse thumping drum beat! Oh and I also realised I had tears in my eyes from pure pleasure.

The encore was a rather free and easy EVERYBODY WANTS TO RULE THE WORLD - she came in early on the first line and late at the end - and I thought what an odd unassuming song to pick for the encore. But I had underestimated wor Patti who started riffing on the theme of bastards who do indeed want to rule the world and how you must never be like them... better to be free... outside of society.. yep after a snarled "You're not afraid of a fuckin' pop song are you?" to the front row she ripped the ring-piece out of ROCK N ROLL NIGGER - it was fantastic.

And after trying to get my head around climate change these past few years, Patti managed to explain it with "Mother Earth.... she is screaming... I am dying.... come and help me... or I'll take you down with me".

The woman is a genius. It's an honour to see her.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Now is the Monday of our discontent made glorious summer by this son of Nokia!
Yes Tuesday found a nice man at the front door delivering my new moby.
Now don't get me wrong I ain't putting the diss on my Sony Ericsson which is a lovely little phone but the navigation joystick really wasn't made to last 18 months... and it did have an annoying habit of connecting to the Internet willy-nilly so now I have this shiny sleek number. I am enjoying getting to know the way around it and all it's uses but already am missing the Sony Ericsson's extra-bright light - so handy for reading labels on the poster tubes at the bottom of the piles at work - and also this new phone leaves a big border all around the pictures chosen as wallpaper. Pah.

It is also a bit pissy that a phone that revels in it's music-playing and photo-taking possibilities does not come with a USB cable to facilitate same. Mrs. Vodafone is sending me one for an extra £10. The knobbers.
Later that evening the walking miracle that is Owen and my own self went to the Old Vic to see the 50th anniversary staging of John Osborne's THE ENTERTAINER. Now thereby hangs a tale...

When I heard it was to be revived with Robert Lindsay and Pam Ferris I thought that's one I can happily avoid but then my GUYS AND DOLLS hero John Normington was cast in the role of Billy Rice and I badgered Owen into getting tickets for later in the run. Two days after booking them John pulled out of the production for the remainder of it's run due to an undisclosed illness. I cannot tell you how disappointed I was, especially as he had received some of his best ever notices when it opened (here he is with the rest of the main cast).
I was in two minds whether to go or not but as I had never seen it before - either on stage or the film - I thought I might as well. I must admit to not being a big Osborne fan. LOOK BACK IN ANGER in particular has always left me cold and suspect that the further we get away from 1956 and the impact that play had on British Theatre the less his plays will be performed.

THE ENTERTAINER is by far a better play than LOOK BACK.. with at least some depth given to the female roles. Robert Lindsay takes on the main role of Archie Rice the bankrupt - morally and financially - fading star of a tatty Music Hall show playing to half-empty houses in his own home town at the time of the Suez crisis. His children are all affected by the war, his daughter Jean (Emma Cunliffe) who lives in London has returned to stay a few days after arguing with her stuffy fiancee about her attending an anti-war rally, his son Frank (David Dawson) is drifting since serving a jail sentence as a conscientious objector and his other son Mick is being held prisoner by the Egyptians. Also living in the cramped flat is his doddery querulous father Billy (now David Baron) who was a genuine Music Hall star in it's glory years and his boozy rattled wife Phoebe (Pam Ferris). Like the married couple in CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF Archie's family don't so much live together as inhabit the same cage.

I have always found Robert Lindsay a strangely unlikeable actor so this part is tailor-made for him but his larger-than-life personality seems to also work against the role, his scenes onstage cracking lame gags and supposedly dying on his arse were met by huge laughs and large rounds of applause. I also couldn't believe that Lindsay's Archie had the character's self-awareness of his own artistic mediocrity and so the famous last lines "You've been a good audience. Let me know where you're working tomorrow night and I'll come and see you" had none of the curdling sarcasm they deserve.

Emma Cunliffe was also a bit of a worry playing the troubled daughter Jean with an emphasis as if aware that her projection wouldn't make it to the Dress Circle. She did get better towards the end though. Sadly David Baron played Billy with a
deliberate stageiness too, at times he seemed to be playing him like an old brigadier-colonel. I was watching him but imagining John in the role and I know he would have not been afraid to play up Billy's unlikeable traits and brought a shabby, cantankerous, needling quality to the character.

More of an impression was made by David Dawson's Frank,
flinching every time Archie moved towards him and obviously more damaged by his stint in prison than anyone around him can recognise. But the real star of the show is Pam Ferris who makes Phoebe a tragic cartoonish mess. Knocking back the gin as sedately as she thinks she can get away with, forever on the verge of hysterical laughter or maudlin tears, she delivers several memorable moments - sudden bursts of volcanic anger, first at a perceived slight from Jean and then at Billy for daring to touch the cake she has bought specially for Mick's return; her reminiscences of Archie's more refined brother who always said her name so exquisitely and finally, in the middle of a drunken nerve-frayed party for the absent Mick she sings "The Boy I Love Is Up In The Gallery" with a tender simplicity that she diffuses with a shrug and a return to the gin bottle.

Sadly director Sean Holmes' pace is fairly pedestrian and in particular the main second act scene of the party to celebrate Mick's imminent return home seemed to have no motor to it despite the many arguments and plot revelations. The end of the scene, Frank's anguished announcement that Mick has been killed, would suit most dramatists but Osborn gives us a further act which given the further dramatic events within it still seems to drag. A pity really as at times it was easy to imagine just how disturbing the play must have been 1n 1957 a year after Suez.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

So what can you say about a weekend that involved:
  • rain
  • being threatened with physical abuse by one of Maximo Park's drunken mong fans
  • rain
  • your Other Arf getting a phone call from the Chelsea & Westminster Hospital on Sunday morning telling him that his recent MRI scan was the worst the surgeon had seen and he was to be there on Monday morning to be operated on
Oh and a Monday that involved a nervous and tense Other Arf being made to wait 50 minutes before being told he was being operated on in 2 and a half hours, that they had lost the all-important MRI scan and all his notes, being warned about the potential dangers of the surgery - and then abruptly sent home and told to come back in 2 weeks?

No I don't know what to say about it... all I know is I never want a weekend like it again.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

I guess it was only a matter of time...

The New York Post reported today that the Broadway stage musical of John Waters' CRY-BABY will open next March after a premiere in California at the end of the year.

After the huge success of HAIRSPRAY, now in it's 5th year on Broadway, I guess this was bound to be next.

The book will be written by the HAIRSPRAY writers and the score will be by Adam Schlesinger of the band Fountains Of Wayne and lyrics by David Javerbaum who was head writer for Jon Stewart's The Daily Show. The press blurb states that Waters has taken a more active hand in this production and chose the songwriters.

I wonder when they'll get round to PINK FLAMINGOS?

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Owen and I had a double dose of musicals to end the week off, one small, one big, both Broadway legends, one better than the other.

On Friday we went with Angela to see the new revival of SIDE BY SIDE BY SONDHEIM at the Venue Theatre. Somewhere I saw it billed as the 30th Anniversary production but any fule kno it was first staged in London in 1976 at the Mermaid Theatre with the unbeatable cast of David Kernan, Julia McKenzie, Millicent Martin and with Ned Sherrin narrating. It transferred to the Wyndhams where it started a run of nearly two years (transferring down the road to the Garrick during that time) before the original cast took it's coals to New York for a run of nearly a year.

The idea for SBSBS came to David Kernan while appearing in the original London cast of A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC. He thought that Sondheim might be a worthy successor to recent compilation shows such as COWARDY CUSTARD and COLE. It is widely accepted that this show was the one that first made UK audiences see just how gifted a composer and lyricist he was. One has to bear in mind that of the six shows he had composed music and lyrics for when SBSBS was written, only three had been seen in London. There have been quite a few Sondheim compilation shows since but this is the one that has been most revived - last seen at the Donmar in 1986 - even though it has never been re-written to include songs from the seven Broadway shows he has written since.

I wasn't too keen when I heard a revival was due. Although I liked Alasdair Harvey as the vulgar Boatman in the Menier's SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE I had not heard of Abi Osman or Josie Walker so was unsure of their abilities. Well I know 'em now and they, I am happy to report, were excellent.

Sondheim's songs offer such rich material to work with that the three performers all displayed a wide range of emotions and styles. Abi Osman's sweet soprano was used to good effect in "Another Hundred People" and "Barcelona" from COMPANY and she later stepped up for a wrenching "Losing My Mind" from FOLLIES - the second in as many weeks as Petula Clark sang it in concert. Alasdair Harvey was great, particularly fine with the ballads "I Remember" from the 1960's tv musical EVENING PRIMROSE , MARRY ME A LITTLE dropped during try-outs of "Company" and the title song of ANYONE CAN WHISTLE. He turned in a blistering "Could I Leave You" from FOLLIES but the staging of him singing it at a wincing Abi O pulled the focus away.

By far the star of the evening was Josie Walker, a quite remarkable performer. She mastered the difficult speedy patter of "Getting Married Today" from COMPANY with ease, turned "I'm Still Here" from FOLLIES into a great Eleven O'Clock number - tho' in FOLLIES it's more like a Nine Thirty - and her spare and rueful "Send In The Clowns" from A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC had both her and me wiping away a quick tear at the end! Christopher Cazenove handled the narration with his easy charm amid the odd mispronunciation.

Hannah Chissick's production zips along but the Adam Cooper choreography is at times intrusive and seems somewhat unnecessary for this particular show. On the whole tho' I loved it - and of course it made me want to see all the individual shows again particularly GYPSY.

Then onto bigger if not necessarily better things. On Friday we saw the English National Opera's production of ON THE TOWN at the Coliseum. Some time ago I saw a production of this at the Guildhall by the final year students - among them was Alistair MacGowan playing the various club MCs in the second act - and of course I saw the film yonks ago. There are several songs I really like in the score but I've never felt the urge to splash out on a cast recording. I still don't think I want to as I'm afraid this production by the inexplicably well-thought-of Jude Kelly left me a trifle becalmed.

The simple story of three sailors on a 24 hour furlough in New York should, by the very nature of the story, zip along through their frantic attempts to find fun, sightseeing and girls - not necessarily in that order - but this production seemed to be strangely ponderous and took forever to get warmed up. The production was designed by Robert Jones whose central motif was iron girders moving around the stage to form parts of the scenery as well as standing sets trucked on from the sides. In all this I never got a sense of New York which after all is almost a character in the show itself. The choreography by Stephen Mear was certainly effective in the three large dance/ballet numbers but I finally got to thinking that maybe you can have too much of a good thing.
The performances too varied wildly - Caroline O'Connor as the man-hungry taxi driver Hildy, while popular with the audience, was guilty of more shameless mugging than Brixton on a bad night. It's the best part in the show which has been reflected in the previous casting of the role - originally played in 1944 by Nancy Walker (later famous as Valerie Harper's screen mother in RHODA), in the two unsuccessful Broadway revivals since it's been played by Bernadette Peters (1971) and Lea DeLaria (1988). Here O'Connor dominated every scene she was in but not always to best effect.

Unsurprisingly it was just over halfway through the first act when June Whitfield appeared as the soused music teacher that I perked up. Finally a performer who simply inhabited the role without signalling like mad to the auditorium and who seemed totally comfortable on stage. Sadly she and Janine Duvitski as Hildy's flu-ridden flatmate were in very small roles. Of the three sailors the only one who made any impact was Joshua Dallas as the love-lorn Gabey, his nice singing voice and warm personality really selling LONELY TOWN and LUCKY TO BE ME. When it comes to Leonard Bernstein musicals give me WEST SIDE STORY any day. I must say however the orchestra at the English National Opera made the score sound fantastic.