Monday, December 24, 2007

And to you Constant Reader I can only say....

Friday, December 21, 2007

Well that's That done then - work is over for 2007!

It's been a tipsy-tarty year for the business so I was nervously watching the clock today till I could leave JUST in case the computer crashed again and we had to start from Year Zero Day One for the fifth time. Luckily there was no such mishap and at 2.30 I practically skipped from the business centre - I don't think I have looked forward to an Xmas break so readily.

Now NUTCRACKER! on Wednesday kick-started the season and this afternoon locked it down. Owen and I went to the WINTER WONDERLAND event at Hyde Park. Now I was expecting it to be in the paddock where they hold the open-air gigs but no... it was on the southern gravel path along past the bandstand so in fact it was just a glorified parade of rides and kiosks and the ice rink dubbed London's largest outdoor one didn't seem to take too long to walk past... but after the initial shock wore off I started to enjoy myself!
As it was already late afternoon we deceided to go up on the large observation wheel to catch the light and also because the queue was quite short. We went round about four times which was nice as it gave us a chance to see the sky growing more pink-purple as dusk set in over Kensington with nice views over the park and The Serpentine which looks lovely from high up!

All in all we spent 3 hours there - eating, drinking, wandering around the crafts stalls in the German-style Christmas fair, picking up and putting down and sometimes buying. I managed to find a little something to top off someone's Xmas present and a nice large-ish ring for my index finger... and Owen? Let's just saw he is now on the Haribo Christmas card list after what he spent at the sweet stall.

He also bought something he will no doubt be blogging about himself
but here is a preview!

The evening was rounded off in grand big-kid stylee by a ride on the Carousel! I haven't been on one in years... it was great! I was on Diane and Owen was on Franky - 2008 should be the year of adults reclaiming the best rides at fairs.

The afternoon had been so entertaining that an evening slow promenade among the Oxford Street shopped-out zombies couldn't annoy me!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Oh very dear... What the good lord of the West End gives with one hand he takes away with the other....

The production of RENT at the Duke of Yorks Theatre is to close two months early after a run of four months. As I blogged when it opened this is the third attempt to inflect this over-hyped musical here.

To quote Thomas Beecham on Wagner RENT has "some wonderful moments but some dreadful half-hours" but hopefully the theatre producers of Britain *might* now get the hint that this show is a non-starter here.

But frighteningly there is a report in the New York Times that a new jukebox musical is likely to appear in London... SIMPLY THE BEST based on the hardly-new story of Tina Turner and her abusive relationship with the currently-dead Ike (which is handy).

"But I saw the film and read the paperback" I hear you cry Constant Reader... but no, the writer (and the person responsible for this has probably never been accused of THAT before) has come up with this:

The musical goes wacky when it shifts to Ancient Egypt…Tina believes she's the reincarnation of Hatshepsut, whose reign from 1479 to 1458 B.C. was prosperous and peaceful. Hatshepsut prevented her evil stepson, Thutmose III (that's Ike), from assuming the throne (though he seized it when she died). The Egyptian queen watches over Tina. When Ike pulls a gun on Tina, Hatshepsut shields her and the gun 'leaps' out of Ike's hand (special effects!)."

The idea of this being on a stage after the recent stillborn delivery of DESPERATELY SEEKING SUSAN set to Blondie songs is nine miles of wrong road.

After one of those flying-by-the-seat-of-your-pants days that seems to be happening all too frequently since we moved to E2 I was totally ready to be taken away from reality for a couple of hours... and luckily Matthew Bourne and his revised production of NUTCRACKER! at Sadler's Wells provided just the right vehicle.

This year has provided me with the opportunity of catching up with Bourne productions I have missed previously what with THE CAR MAN and now this revival of his 1992 reworking of the perennial Tchaikovsky ballet.
I have been a fan of Matthew Bourne since the early 1990s when Andrew invited me along to see DEADLY SERIOUS at the small Place Theatre in Euston and I immediately connected to his witty balletic tribute to Hitchcock. Since then I have seen THE PERCYS OF FITZROVIA, THE INFERNAL GALLOP, HIGHLAND FLING, SWAN LAKE, THE CAR MAN and PLAY WITHOUT WORDS and have enjoyed them all.

His qualities of witty irreverent choreography, strong narrative, excellent company work, individually delightful performances and moments of real pathos are all to be found in NUTCRACKER! allied to his always excellent choice of designers and lighting.

Kerry Biggin was a delightful Clara, the feisty but lovelorn orphan who escapes from a strict orphanage when a toy Nutcracker doll comes to life one magical Christmas night and effects her escape. The giant Nutcracker doll reveals himself to be a sexy man of her dreams and was wonderfully danced by Adam Vincent who also played the title role in THE CAR MAN earlier this year.

Apart from the two leads all the other dancers double up as related characters in Act 1 & 2 - the statuesque Michaela Meazzea was Sugar the spoiled daughter of the orphanage owner then the equally spoiled Princess of Sweetieland who steals the Nutcracker's affections from Clara; Shaun Walters was Sugar's equally horrid brother Fritz then the petulant Prince Bon-Bon while Adam Galbraith and Mami Tomotami were the nasty owner's of the orphanage then appeared as King Sherbert and Queen Candy.

All turned in delightfully characterised performances and among a strong supporting company a special mention to Ashley Bain as the extravagantly sensuous Knickerbocker Glory - all whipped cream hair with a cherry on top! I particularly like how in Sweetieland just being there meant you were liable to be licked by whoever you meet - indeed a frisson went through the audience when the King ran his hand up the Nutcracker's bum then licked his fingers!

The design by Anthony Ward was marvellous - ominous and grey for the orphanage, a lovely icy-blue for the frozen pond then an explosion of colour for Sweetieland - they should give out sunglasses in the interval! Howard Harrison's lighting also was wonderfully effective.

There is a fairly wide-ranging tour of the UK after it finishes it's run in late January so check out the website here - there's a nice video trailer on it - and catch it while you can. NUTCRACKER! is a delicious treat and a lovely way to (possibly) end my 2007 theatre going.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

A kinda catch up blog....

On Friday it was payback time. Owen has braved concerts by artists unfamiliar to him with me so it was only fair that I did one for him - bearing in mind the last two like this nearly turned me into a shut-in as the audiences were so vile (Steve Harley, Maximo Park). Yes Constant Reader, Friday found me in Croydon Fairfield Halls to see O's beloved Slade. Well the two original members who still perform as Slade, Dave Hill and Don Powell.

As I blogged back in April after seeing Petula Clark, the Fairfield Halls is a particularly dismal experience for any event. Built in 1962 it's almost like a parallel universe Royal Festival Hall - which is a pretty soulless joint too. Zero atmosphere, zero customer service from the geriatric and jobstart staff, no attempt made to make you engage with the building... it's remarkable it has survived to this day as a live venue.

Noting the pre-publicity that it was a great pre-Christmas party night you can kind of guess the ambiance in the half-filled auditorium - desperate gaiety mixed with a hint of retardation. By arriving late we missed the start of surprise support Atomic Blondie who I must admit I was willing to sit through but as O had tickets in the dead centre of the third row we deceided to sit that one out. Then it was time for Mud II which afforded me more time to soak up the Kremlin-like ambiance of the foyer as a donkey and a length of rope wouldn't have got me into the auditorium for that dog show.Needless to say after more than an hour sat in the morgue-like foyer I was willing to embrace any sign of life so we took our places for the headliners. Now it's always an odd experience to see a band who you are not emotionally connected to but I must say - while maybe not like Granny in MERRY CHRISTMAS EVERYBODY who was 'Up and rock 'n' rolling with the rest' - for the whole set I was clapping along to the thunderous whacking of Don Powell's drumming and joining in the choruses of their biggest hits - and we got most of them in a non-stop hurtle through such songs as TAKE ME BAK 'OME, GUDBYE T' JANE, CUZ I LUV YOU and SKWEEZE ME PLEEZE ME. They also did a fine sweeping version of RUN RUN AWAY and nice versions of their terrace ballads FAR FAR AWAY and MY OH MY. The obligatory MERRY CHRISTMAS EVERYBODY was played as an encore along with the only one of their songs I ever really liked CUM ON FEEL THE NOIZE.

So contrary to all predictions I enjoyed them. But it is an odd thing to see a band where the focal point is the guitarist - and not the singer, singing songs written by and for an obviously charismatic presence. Sadly the Noddy Holder soundalike is just that - he has a gravelly delivery but that's all - his voice isn't all that. It was peculiar to watch him belting out songs only to step back while Dave Hill did his joint virtuoso playing of guitar & crowd. All very off-kilter. I also was surprised that the audience response wasn't more raucous... maybe they were disappointed they were not as chicken-in-a-basket as the acts that had gone before.

Another curious experience was on Sunday seeing THE SNOWMAN at the Peacock Theatre - again it's a auditorium that doesn't have a particular vibe - in an odd way I always feel I should leave my coat on while sitting in it. Anyways we booked to see this as it was on a ticket deal with Matthew Bourne's production of NUTCRACKER at Sadlers Wells. I have managed to avoid this production for the past TEN Christmases at the Peacock and have skillfully managed to avoid the original tv animated film so was kind of coming to it new.

Within ten minutes I suddenly remembered why I don't go to more family shows... the inevitable white noise of children in a darkened auditorium. Now I am all for introducing kids to theatre at an early age and for them hopefully to be engaged with the imaginative leap needed but couldn't they all be given dummies to suck on? Preferably with Night Nurse in?? My appreciation of the piece was slightly hampered by the simultaneous commentary provided by the precocious girl behind me to her mother/grandmother/aunt/nanny/kidnapper.

"This is where they fly now".... cheers bitch.

It was an amiable way to pass an hour and 50 minutes but ultimately I found it too cutesy. The great things about any kid's story is surely the darkness that lurks within and that I remember I used to love as a kid - honest I was one once. The wicked queen in SNOW WHITE, Maleficent in SLEEPING BEAUTY, the White Witch in THE LION THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE (Yes they *are* all diva bitches!) - all genuinely disturbing presences. Here Jack Frost pops up when The Snowman and little James venture to the North Pole and tries to steal The Ice Princess from Father Christmas but is easily trounced. As I had just sat through a needless pas-de-deux between her and The Snowman with as much growing impatience as the kids around me I was actually hoping he would whisk her off somewhere. I guess The Snowman melts in the end which some might say is pretty dark!

So nice stage design by Ruari Murchison and notable performances from Aedan Day (James) and Jodie Blemings (Jack Frost). The choreography was a bit underwhelming.

On July 1st 2006 Owen and I saw Gladys Knight at the Royal Albert Hall. We hung around with the vague hope of seeing her afterwards along with a dwindling group of fans. Despite the protestations of her manager that she had gone we still hung around... as Owen opined, if she was gone what was he still doing there? Eventually he came out and said "If you leave your names with me I will see you will get a signature" so grudgingly we all wrote our details on the proffered sheets of paper.

After nearly a year and a half of admitting to ourselves it was just a ruse to get us to leave the stage door and thinking the pages were chucked in the bin, look what arrived this morning from America - even if it is a printed autograph!

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Congratulations to Jim Broadbent, Samantha Morton and Andy Serkis who have all received Golden Globe nominations for their excellent performances in LONGFORD which has also been nominated as Best Film Made For Television.

I saw this back in May and their performances as Lord Longford, Myra Hindley and Ian Brady have stayed with me, particularly Serkis who in three shortish scenes turned in a performance that easily rivaled Anthony Hopkins' Hannibal Lechter for pure compelling evil.

Other favourites who are up for awards are Jason Isaacs (up against Broadbent) for the confusing thriller THE STATE WITHIN, Sissy Spacek for the tv movie PICTURES OF HOLLIS WOODS, Bill Paxton for tv series BIG LOVE, Christopher Hampton for his masterly screen adaptation of ATONEMENT (sadly no nomination for Vanessa Redgrave but a nod to Saoirse Ronan's unnerving Briony) and Marion Cotillard for her take-no-prisoners performance as Edith Piaf in LA VIE EN ROSE.

SWEENEY TODD has received nominations for Best Film (Comedy/Musical), Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter and Tim Burton. I will be able to give my verdict on the film next month/year as I have nabbed tickets for a preview screening at the National Film Theatre.

Speaking of SWEENEY TODD.... feeling you need another stage musical-to-screen next year Constant Reader?

Click here for the new trailer for MAMMA MIA! Check Meryl Streep's vocal on the title song.... sounding good girlfriend. After having seen the show 3 times (twice in London, once in Toronto) I have a strange feeling I might see this... if only for Christine Baranski doing DOES YOUR MOTHER KNOW THAT YOU'RE OUT!

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Another Hollywood leading lady tribute... this time Lana Turner.

Famously discovered as a 16 year-old sipping a Coke in a drugstore she worked her way up from small eye-candy roles at MGM to become a popular leading lady during the 40s and 50s. While never a great actress she was effective in roles that hinted at a darkness under her blonde exterior, notably as the insecure actress in "The Bad & The Beautiful", the scheming 'Milady' in "The Three Musketeers" and, in her greatest role, as 'Cora' who inspires lover John Garfield to murder her husband in the classic Film Noir "The Postman Always Rings Twice". The sexual tension between Turner & Garfield still sizzles and easily puts out the damp squib that was the 1980s remake with Nicholson & Lange.

However her screen career had to compete with a private life which was not so private. Eight marriages to seven men and a starring role in one of the biggest Hollywood murder cases of the 1950s. In April 1957 Turner started a relationship with Johnny Stompanato, a smalltime gangster, which quickly turned into an abusive one. A year later while he was attacking Turner in her home one night, her 14 year-old daughter Cheryl stabbed and killed him. The media had a field day with the lurid details and Lana's hysteria in the witness box in the Coroner's Court. A verdict of Justifiable Homicide was passed. Lana's next film was IMITATION OF LIFE in which she played an actress unaware her teenage daughter has a crush on her lover. You guessed.... it was a box office smash, which not only helped her career but her bank account too as she had accepted a Box Office percentage in lieu of a salary.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Tonight Owen and I went to the London Coliseum to see a World AIDS Day benefit concert by the magnificent Barbara Cook which also celebrated her recent 80th birthday. The show was billed BARBARA COOK AND FRIENDS and I worried the guest stars would be attempting songs from Barbara's extensive back catalogue but luckily they didn't. But by and large they mostly made me realise how much I was missing our star.

Out of a mixed bunch the three who stood out as worthy of sharing the stage with her were Daniel Evans - and who would have thought I would ever say that back in the day? - who sang an impassioned and effortless interpretation of Sondheim's "Being Alive" and the delicious Sian Phillips had great fun with Coward's "Bar On The Piccola Marina" and later duetted with John Standing on GIGI's "I Remember It Well" to delightful effect. I had been looking forward to seeing Barbara share the stage with Julia McKenzie but the latter was a no-show.

The others were ok and didn't disgrace themselves. And then there was Elaine Paige.
Now I have never been a fan of ol' Slide-For-The-Note Paige but she was startlingly off. She sang a solo version of "I Know Him So Well" in a short-breathed way which made her not so much slide for notes as do a triple jump at it and still manage to fall short occasionally. I kinda told myself that maybe it was nerves but she then launched into a rendition of "Cry Me A River" which, seen against the effortless artistry of Cook, was frankly laughable. I must admit I admired her in the revival of Pam Gem's PIAF and maybe she was channeling
La Mome during this, only Piaf's histrionics would have come from the heart and not from some actorly "shtick" of singing the last verse/chorus in... a... fake... voice. Miss Paige is 59.

Barbara Cook is 80 and has no such need for such artifice. I first saw her in concert at the Donmar Warehouse in the summer of 1986 and over the years have seen her quite a few times in both large and small venues, both theatres and concert halls. She is never less than magnificent but tonight she really seemed to
hit some new highs. Although her gloriously warm soprano seems naturally given to uptempo and happy songs, she is actually never better than singing sad songs.

The emotional highpoint of her set is usually when she sings a medley of two songs that inform each other, my favourite being "He Was Too Good To Me" and Sondheim's "Losing My Mind". We had two such medleys tonight, both sung to a totally silent and rapt Coliseum audience. The first was a simple, sombre version of "I'm Through With Love" which was complemented by Chaplin's "Smile", not once did she fall for the inherent easy sentiment of the song. Her taste and reading of a lyric are impeccable.

To close the show she paired Maxwell Anderson/Kurt Weill's "Lost In The Stars" (which I had never heard her sing before) with Sondheim's "No More" from INTO THE WOODS. It was an inspired choice, 2 songs of quiet despair sung by characters at their lowest ebb - the first full of doubt, the second retreating from the misery of the world - which could be read as a response to the world we live in now or to a seemingly-unconquerable virus.

A revealing interview 2 years ago with the NY Times revealed a woman who had a troubled childhood and whose successful Broadway career tailed off into alcoholism and depression. It's into these areas she admits she goes to make these songs so painfully intimate.

The night ended however on a marvellous note (literally), perfectly fitting the mood engendered by "Lost In The Clouds"/"No More". Barbara sang with a massed choir "Make Our Garden Grow", the final song in the Leonard Bernstein/Richard Wilbur musical CANDIDE, the show in which she played her first Broadway leading role 51 years ago. The song's lyrics of quiet perseverance were the perfect end to the show.

Among Barbara's many awards is a citation as a Living New York Landmark. How lucky for us that this is one landmark that also has a passport.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

I was poking about the bedroom and after moving half a ton of books and cartons full of theatre programmes I discovered I had a chest of drawers - like.. who knew? In the bottom drawer were a ton of old cuttings which Constant Reader if you are very good I will share with you over the coming weeks. What the Hell... you're getting them anyway.

First off, a tribute to a woman who appears to have been before her time Jayne Mansfield. No photo op never knowingly refused, no opportunity to be the trashy centre of attention refused, a life lived for fame which came early and then the 24 hour attempt to hang onto it.
In case you were wondering what that strange high-pitched noise was you have been hearing recently... um that was me.

It looks like Madonna will be touring next year...

*starts looking down the back of the sofa for pennies*