Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Last night's Academy Award ceremony garnered the lowest viewing figures for 20 years in the USA.

Could it be because all the odds on favourites and eventual winners were European?

You watch... next year Europeans will only be cast as villains.

Oh no, that was this year - Javier Bardem played a nasty killer, Tilda Swinton played a nasty lawyer and Daniel Day Lewis played a nasty oil baron!

Monday, February 25, 2008

Congratulations to Marion Cotillard who has just won the Best Actress Academy Award for her tour-de-force performance as Edith Piaf in LA MOME (LA VIE EN ROSE). I feared she would lose to the favourite Julie Christie for AWAY FROM HER but as fine as Christie was I was disappointed in the film which suggested that the depth of her character's Alzheimer's Disease was little more than a sweet bafflement.

Cotillard on the other hand gave a performance which was dazzling in it's bravery, depth and commitment.


Sunday, February 24, 2008

Owen and I spent a few hours this afternoon with some of the famous people of the 20th Century. I didn't know who to spend the most time with... these people have some serious egos innit? Yes Constant Reader we went to the National Portrait Gallery to see the Vanity Fair Portraits Exhibition and I enjoyed it a lot.

Vanity Fair was initially published from 1913 to 1936 when it closed partly due to the Great Depression and in it's time sought to combine the written word with the work of the finest contemporary portrait photographers Edward Steichen, Baron De Meyer, Man Ray and George Hoyningen-Huene.

In 1983, 47
years after it's closure, the times were right for the magazine to be re-launched catching the 'me generation', a new monied class and the rise of the Celebrity culture. Again the written word has been allied with today's finest portrait photographers Herb Ritts, Mario Testino, Steven Meisel and Annie Leibovitz, the photographer most associated with the magazine.
When you consider the phenomenal talents who were either established or coming through in the first VF 23 year period it's no wonder that the exhibition, as Owen pointed out, starts with innovators, trailblazers and genuine legends and ends
with celebrity - a telling tale of our times. Indeed it is rather jaw-dropping that the biggest-seller in VF's history is the edition with Jennifer Aniston on the cover.

I ordered the catalogue when I booked the tickets as I knew it was going to be worth dipping into and I'm glad I did. With iconic images of Vaslav Nijinsky, Isadora Duncan, Virginia Woolf, Josephine Baker, Noel Coward, Jean Harlow as well as the fact that Madonna and Vanessa Redgrave are represented twice in the exhibition I was well pleased with it.

One small quibble is they could have picked a more representative solo
portrait of Madonna rather than the Testino portrait of her during the filming of EVITA... she has appeared on the most covers after all... either of the above would have been more to my liking.

Still... along with Jean Harlow, how nice that it is M who is the 'face' of the exhibition.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

So what next for Amy Winehouse? I think it's time to move into films... but what could a North London Jewish female singer with a big voice play?

How's about just that?

Amy Winehouse in THE ALMA COGAN STORY... think it'll play?

It's official Constant Reader... I am now excited. O and I are going to NY for a week at the end of March to see Owen's birthday girl Buffy Saint-Marie at the Highline Ballroom.

But we are also seeing shows that have me buzzin' including two in preview that are among the season's most anticipated!.

Thursday: CURTAINS - The last ever John Kander/Fred Ebb score for a musical whodunnit set backstage in a touring show.
Saturday: GYPSY - Patti LuPone takes on one of the greatest roles in musical theatre as Momma Rose.
Sunday: SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE - from London's Menier Chocolate Factory, this has just opened to a rave review from the NY TimesMonday: CRY BABY - the new musical based on a John Waters film and hoping to duplicate the massive success of HAIRSPRAY.
I have just booked CRY BABY... so excited as the J centre stalls tickets were only $54 as it's in preview and it's also the year the show is set.

*skips around room*

Friday, February 22, 2008

Now Constant Reader... if you are wondering what to get me for my birthday in April... I would kill to have one of these!

I know he's been called the Light of The World but who knew where he kept the switch!
An advance poster for Kylie Minogue's last elpee has been up in Old Street Station until quite recently and it has bugged the life out of me about what it reminded me of.


Sunday, February 17, 2008

On Saturday Owen and I saw Gabrielle at the Royal Festival Hall.

It was the first time I have seen her live despite being a fan since 1993, the start of her career when "Dreams" went to #1. It's one of the songs that most reminds me of the First Call parties which seemed a fortnightly occurrence at Molloy's. I bought most of her singles - and of course RISE - up to her Greatest Hits collection but somehow never felt the urge to see her live.

A new album ALWAYS has provoked this tour so it seemed a good opportunity to break the duck if only to celebrate her 15 years career, remarkable for a British female black singer - Beverley Knight's is slightly shorter as her first single came out two years after "Dreams".
On the whole I enjoyed it but there was something missing... that all-important wow factor. The fact she was obviously battling against a throat problem I guess was part of it. But I think the major contributing factor is that she doesn't really have a lot of stage presence. Certainly not enough to remove the dour feeling the Festival Hall always projects. Owen said afterwards that the set didn't seem to be sequenced right and I think that might also be true. She certainly has enough great songs but they didn't really seem to work well against each other so occasionally I thought "Ah another finely crafted mid-tempo pop/soul ballad... so soon after the last one". Oh and it didn't help having my view blocked for about three songs by some tall carthorse in a hidjus frock who stayed dancing in her aisle seat despite her friends going down to dance by the stage - cheers.

The set list was:

Show Me Love (an odd choice as it kept the audience firmly rooted in it's seats) - I Remember - Sunshine - Ten Years Time - Every Little Teardrop - When A Woman - Tell Me What You Dream - Why - Out Of Reach - Give and Take - Falling - Heartbreaker - Fallen Angel - Always - Rise - Give Me A Little More Time; encore: Closure - Dreams
Sadly no room for two huge favourites of mine "If You Really Cared" and "If You Ever" (I am sure she could have managed without East 17!) but it was good to bounce about in my seat to "When A Woman" and "Falling". Now here's the thing... I have just listened to those songs while typing and had to stop to sing along and do full Supremes/Vandellas/Marvellettes/Velvelettes moves... but in the gig... no. Singing and bouncing in seat. I put it down to being in a section of seated punters allied to the Festival Hall's lack of atmo and maybe a touch of underwhelming stage presence.

But "Dreams" got everyone to their feet and rightly so... it's a magnificent song. It also includes one of my favourite 'moments' - occasionally a song has a moment in it that
always remind you of the first time you heard it. "Dreams" has one for me: when Gabrielle sings the last line of the bridge "So hold me so tiiiiight" the strings swell up and carry you into the end of the song. Gets me every time!

Thursday, February 14, 2008

As a special Valentines Day present for you Constant Reader.... my 10 favourite Sugababes singles. I know... I spoil you.
Right about now *the funk soul brother* I should have been staring at the screen wondering how to start my blog about tonight's Angie Stone gig at the Shepherds Bush Empire.

But she cancelled, the mare.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Happy birthday to the wonderful Kim Novak who is 75 today.

Here are a couple of portraits from her haunting performance as Madeleine / Judy in Alfred Hitchcock's VERTIGO.

From the Broadway World website:

Ryan J. Davis and Adam Wagner presented "Broadway For Barack: The Voices Of Hope", a one-night only benefit concert for Senator Barack Obama's Presidential Campaign, featuring young songwriters & Broadway singers on February 11 at 9:30 PM at The Zipper Theatre.

Wagner said: "Barack Obama is a well-made song. He starts out in dorm rooms, an under appreciated gem shared amongst friends - the verses and choruses of his speeches force us to pause and imagine. Humming along, the Voices of Hope spread the gospel, and soon the country cannot help embracing the sweet melody of "Yes, we can."


Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Even Cher jokingly referred to her near three year Farewell Tour as the "Never Can Say Goodbye Tour".

Well whaddya know... three years on she's back!

Cher will be playing Las Vegas in May and August.

Not sure about the tie-in publicity shot tho'... wrong wig, 1980s frock, naff gothic backdrop...

In America Democrats are choosing between a black man and a blonde woman...

Why not have both?
You better vote!
Ok time for a quick catch-up...

Last week I went with Owen to see the lavish Cirque du Soleil show VAREKAI at the Royal Albert Hall.

We lost out on a lot of the face-on spectacle as we were in end -of-the-aisle seats looking across the stage but there was still plenty to marvel at. The 'plot' was of Icarus falling into a magical forest or something like that but, as with the last show of theirs we saw, it was a bit tedious and invariably featured clowns whose shtick went on for a bit too long. Oh and underscored with rather annoying new-agey music.

However... when the "turns" get to do their stuff is when the wow factor kicks in.

I am a sucker for aerial daredevelling and we got two great acts - the first was Hungarian Mark Halasi as Icarus circling and tumbling above our heads with only a white mesh net wrapped around his arms and even more thrilling England's Andrew and Kevin Atherton on the aeriel straps... but who were quickly dubbed by myself the two gay flyers!

They delivered a real jaw-to-the floor performance - twanging up and out around the vaulted space above the audience with just rubber ropes attached to their wrists before doing pretty shapes together high above the stage. It was great and I was gagging for the chance to have a go on one of them. The ropes I mean.

There was some fierce juggling from Mexican Octavio Alegria (great name) gobbing ping-pong balls high in the air and catching them while hurtling around the stage - then buzzing hats across the stage and racing to catch 'em. Whirling Georgian dancers, guys lying flat and juggling other guys sitting on their feet... oh and a good routine with a crooner racing around the auditorium trying to stay in the elusive spotlight. Great fun.

The weekend saw a trip to the Streatham Odeon to see NATIONAL TREASURE: BOOK OF SECRETS. It made me realise how the Hollywood writers' strike might actually have been a good thing - if it stopped them writing shit like this. The - for want of a better word - script is credited to The Wibberleys. It gave me the fucking wibberleys just watching it.

Who knew that the cryptic clues Ted Rogers used to read out on 3-2-1 would turn up in a Hollywood movie? Various clues that have baffled people for several hundred years were solved by Nicolas Cage in a trice. How could anyone NOT guess that "rain from a cloudless sky" actually means sprinkle bottled water over a rock to reveal a hidden clue and that "two twins standing resolute" actually meant two desks made from the timber of the HMS Resolute that now stand in Buckingham Palace and The Oval Office.. cue an absurd sequence in Buckingham Palace which seems to think that a couple would be allowed to have a lengthy argument on the main stairway of the visitors area - closley followed by a lengthy and dull car chase around the city... lucky Ken brought that congestion-charge in I say.

This dog show dares not pause for a second in case you might start to question it's flawed inner logic so it is like watching a 2 hour trailer. Yes I know it's supposed to be check-your-brain-at-the-door stuff but we are being asked to do that a bit too much now. A film which would have you believe that Britain actively supported the Confederate cause, that General Custer was killed by the Indians to stop him finding out about a lost Aztec city of gold in North Dakota - go fuckin' figure - and that the US President is also the guardian of a Book of Secrets which actually details the truth about the Kennedy Assassination and countless other conspiracy theories is to be viewed with some suspicion.

Needless to say the film ends with the threat of a sequel so I expect Nicolas Cage, Jon Voight, Harvey Keitel et al with hucker down and suck the corporate Disney knob just one more time. How much money do these people need??

Luckily a third viewing of SWEENEY TODD the next evening restored my faith in film... even with the couple noisily making out in the back row. Oh to have had one of Sweeney's 'friends' to silence their belt-jangling, lip-smacking noise.

Friday, February 08, 2008

My Blog Brother David Daily-Drama (one of the Brighton Daily-Dramas I believe) has discovered an online questionaire which I think I'll have a go at. It is primarily aimed for Broadway audiences - amazingly I have only seen 14 musicals there but here goes...

1. The first musical I ever saw on Broadway was: INTO THE WOODS by Stephen Sondheim (Martin Beck Theatre 1988)

2. The musical I would most like to see again is: (from the West End) SPEND SPEND SPEND at the Piccadilly - I enjoyed it a lot and would like to refresh my memory of it.

3. The musical I never want to see again is: MISS SAIGON - sentimental patronising crap.

4. The best performance in a Broadway musical by a woman I’ve ever seen is: Karen Ziemba in CONTACT (I am hoping this will change by the start of April)

5. The best performance in a Broadway musical by a man I’ve ever seen is: Harvey Fierstein in HAIRSPRAY

6. The person I wish they'd never cast was: Paula Wilcox in the Bridewell Theatre's ANYONE CAN WHISTLE attempting to sing the Angela Lansbury role in the key of off.

7. The person they should have cast was: Take your pick... Angela Richards, Diane Langton, Josephine Blake, Jessica Martin...

8. My favorite Broadway choreography was in the show: A CHORUS LINE

9. The lyric/line that always brings a lump to my throat is: “Sunday.... By the blue purple yellow red water” SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE

10. The stupidest lyric/line I’ve ever heard is: “Silent music starts to play" - SUNSET BOULEVARD

11. The first musical I had to go back and see twice was: GUYS AND DOLLS - my theatrical light on the road to a life of seeing shit movies.

12. The first musical I ever walked out of was: Never have.

13. The most under-praised musical in my opinion is: The London production of Kander & Ebb's THE RINK boasting two of the finest performances I've seen on the musical stage Josephine Blake and Diane Langton.

14. The most overly-praised musical in my opinion is: RENT.

15. The show tune I’m most likely to sing while I’m dancing around at home is: DREAMGIRLS... I mimed to it in El Piano, Sitges... and only I know where the photographs are.

16. If I could recast any role in a current Broadway musical with a performer of the past it would be: GYPSY with Judy Garland - I saw Sondheim interviewed once where he said that the producers of the original production nearly had her signed to either take over from Ethel Merman or to fill in when she took a break but she withdrew at the last minute.

17. If I could recast a current actor in a Broadway musical that was before their time it would be: Jennifer Hudson as Carmen Jones.

18. The show they should never change a word of because it is already perfect is: GUYS AND DOLLS.

19. The show I'd most like to get my hands on and rewrite is: CLOSER TO HEAVEN - fine score by the Pet Shop Boys, lousy book by Jonathan Harvey.

20. The role I was born to play on Broadway is;: Mrs. Lovett
The Archbishop of Canterbury today said that it was "inevitable" that parts of Muslim Shariah law would be made legal in this country.

This idiot says that giving Islamic law official status in the UK would help to achieve social cohesion because some Muslims did not relate to the British legal system.

I hazard a guess that a large percentage of people don't relate to the British legal system but mostly they abide by the laws of the land.

How much fuel is this going to give the National Front and BNP... and frankly who can blame them?

Bloody woolly liberals.... they'll be the death of us.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Constant Reader, I have the packed lunch and the mobile is fully-charged up in case of emergencies. I am goin' in... Yes I have put it off long enough.... it is time to tackle all the Kirsty MacColl cdrs I have collected over the years.

Live ones, disparate rare tracks that have since been released commercially, remixes and track running times to be checked, live tracks listened to for a tell-tale giveaway to identify it against others... It's a tough job but someone has to do it.

What is curious is that whoever owns the Polydor back catalogue has never seen fit to issue her first ever album DESPERATE CHARACTERS on cd.

Notable for being the album containing her hit single THERE'S A GUY WORKS DOWN THE CHIP SHOP SWEARS HE'S ELVIS, the other tracks while not matching CHIP SHOP's obvious appeal are all worth a listen and await rediscovery. Personal favourites are the racing CLOCK GOES ROUND, SEE THAT GIRL, HARD TO BELIEVE, HE THINKS I STILL CARE and TEENAGER IN LOVE.

Fleshed out with a few b-sides it could make a nice addition to any fan's collection. After the recent re-issues of KITE, ELECRIC LANDLADY & TITANIC DAYS it would also help to keep her section at HMV looking healthy. Owen drew my attention to an Amazon listing for a 10th Anniversary release of TROPICAL BRAINSTORM but as Alan, the all-seeing eye of the Kirsty website FREEWORLD pointed out, that was actually released in 2000!

Friday, February 01, 2008

The theatre-going wagon trundles on... tonight stopping outside the Theatre Royal Haymarket where Jonathan Kent's inaugural season as Artistic Director has now reached it's second production, Edward Bond's 1973 savage black comedy THE SEA.

I guess the season's remit was to stage productions that might not ordinarily get a chance on the West End stage. That's certainly the case with Bond. This is the first actual West End production of a play of his in a writing career that spans 46 years. I suspect it will be a while before we see another.

I was really looking forward to this as it stars two of my favourite actors Eileen Atkins and David Haig. Also in the cast is Marcia Warren - one of the best supporting actors we have.

It started promisingly enough with a turbulent crashing sea projected on a scrim and
a drowning man seen behind it being shouted at by two others - effective but not very coherent.

The play takes place in 1907 in an unnamed East Anglian coastal town. Nearby an army barracks keeps up a practice barrage which rattles the nerves of the town but life continues in it's ordered manner as dictated by Mrs. Rafi (Atkins), a formidable widow of some wealth. Her niece's fiance has been drowned in the opening storm and it is soon revealed that he could have been saved but the town's draper - and part-time coastguard - Hatch (Haig) refused to save him as he believed this was the first sign of the forthcoming invasion he knows will happen from aliens from outer space - I guess he read a lot of HG Wells.

When she learns from the friend of the dead man that Hatch refused to help them she confronts him with this and also refuses to pay for the large velvet order she placed with him which has left him near bankrupt. The scene escalates as Hatch - torn between grovelling and fury - slowly loses the plot and ends with him maniacally cutting the bolts of material and cutting her with his shears. Eventually Hatch sinks into insanity, the scattering of the dead man's ashes ends farcically and the play ends with the vague promise of a new start for the niece and her dead fiance's friend.

There is a lot going on in the play and it's certainly brave to stage it but it seemed strangely - um.. - becalmed. I am not sure whether it can work in a theatre of this calibre. It just about worked at the National Theatre where Judi Dench and Ken Stott played the forces of "discipline and madness" but here an air of bafflement hung over the audience for a lot of the time who were eager to laugh at the
Wildean excesses of Mrs Rafi and the Basil Fawltyesque rages of Hatch but the laughter petered out especially when Hatch is seen to be genuinely insane. It's an odd audience that would continue laughing when Hatch finding the washed-up body of the fiance starts to stab it again and again with his shears eventually cutting it's throat.

The half-empty house didn't help either. This is a worrying sign as the production is scheduled to run till April and it's only in it's second week. I think the main problem
was Kent never found a rhythm for the play - the high comedy, philosophical ramblings and insanity in Sam Mendes' National Theatre production seemed to flow easier. Here the gears shift so wrenchingly that it's difficult to stay focused, there was also alarming longeurs - there is a scene at Mrs. Rafi's where they are rehearsing amateur theatricals which seemed to last for hours.

The joy of the production was Eileen Atkins. She stamped her authority on the production - every withering glance, every muttered put-down, her total stonewalling of those 'beneath her' made it fully believable that the town's people may mumble about her behind her back but crumble when faced with her cold stare. Then, just when you feel you have seen everything this broadly-drawn character can give, Bond gives her a final speech which pulls the rug from under your perceptions. In it she reveals how self-aware she really is, of her class, of her life and of her future. It was worth sitting through the confusing and confused proceeding scenes for this moment of pure acting gold.

David Haig was as usual wonderfully splenetic as Hatch, breaking down under the internal and external pressures on him but I have seen him now in three productions back-to-back which have seen him hurtling around the stage going into meltdown and as great as he is playing these roles it is developing into a shtick. Marcia Warren brought her fluffy daftness to the role as Rafi's companion but it was a performance that probably belonged to a different play. Russell Tovey again proved an actor to watch as the young villager who comes under the crazed wing of Hatch and David Burke was ok as the beachcomber, despised by the townfolk but - of course - is the one person who is sane enough to see into the future pre-figured by the booming guns. It's just a shame his final speech was so - wordy.

Ultimately I felt, like Dorothy Parker once said, there was less to this than meets the eye.