Wednesday, April 30, 2008

As a filmbuff in the 1970s Julie Ege was unavoidable.

Her pneumatic figure, explosion of honey blonde hair and classic European looks exuded from the pages of Photoplay and Film Review magazines, forever promoting a new or upcoming film and always seemingly free for a photo shoot. The former Miss Norway and Penthouse model's appearance in ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE earned her the Gaumont-goers most
prestigious female honour: A Bond Girl.

She could never be accused of being an actress but she was a definite presence and could have been given a bit more to handle than the sexy siren roles she was given in a run of British comedies and horror movies in the 1970s.

She later turned her back on acting to become a nurse in her native Norway. Julie had battled breast and lung cancer since the 1980s and sadly she succumbed to the illness yesterday at the age of 65.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Well I've sucked it twice already since this afternoon...
There are enough tracks on HARD CANDY to make my mouth water for a new tour but... but...

Are Madonna and Guy Oseary *this* keen on getting back on top of the singles chart?

None of the singles off CONFESSIONS... made the US Top 5. Enter The Neptunes and Timbaland to bring their trademark sounds to HARD CANDY. And there's the problem for me. Too many of them sound like Pharrell Williams or Timbaland tracks that Madonna is guesting on and that's not right.

What I am loving are the 80s influences - I can hear echoes of Luther, Pet Shop Boys, Shannon, Italian House, Jam & Lewis, Change - I can even hear Donna Summer and a whiff of UK Garage.

But... but... too often I am just hearing Kelis or Justin Timberlake cast-offs.

I'm sure after another few listens I'll be more receptive but all I can think of is come back Stuart Price... there is nothing to forgive.

ps. The track SHE'S NOT ME is a bizarre listen for any Madonna fan... I can't remember her ever singing a song where a relationship is being threatened by another - THIEF OF HEARTS maybe... but M definately has the upper hand there. It sounds very odd to hear her so threatened!

Saturday, April 26, 2008

This month I have had two theatrical events. Well... sort of theatrical... Owen and I made the journey out to Greenwich to the main O2 auditorium to see DELIRIUM yet another production by the always-busy Cirque de Soleil boys and girls. The big surprise was that the stage went across the length of the auditorium giving us a 'widescreen' production. As usual for their productions the arena looked fairly well sold out.
This show is built around music which has featured in previous Cirque productions but remixed and given a more tribal, drum-based performance. The main character in the show is a man dangling from a huge balloon - as you do - slowly drifting back and forwards across the stage while the standard acrobatics took place below and around him. On each side of the stage were enormous video screens which were utilised every so often to give it a real avant-garde multimedia vibe. Needless to say it was all set in the floaty man's dreams.

It was all very entertaining in that there was always something to gawp at but I can't say I was fully connected to the show primarily because despite the fact it was only 90-odd minutes long there was the usual constant stream of people up and down the arena aisles. What is it about arena auditoriums that make it impossible for people to stay in their bloody seats for any length of time without nursing a plastic glass of drink? I mean I know these places are impersonal hanger-like spaces but it does my head in every time!

I did enjoy some of the turns though but they are the Cirque acts that I always enjoy. We had two Chinese lads who went twanging up to the flies and back down again on elastic straps who gave us a bit of a chance to go Oooo and Ahhh and best of all were the four East European lads who balanced on each other - practically holding themselves upright by one hand on the one of the others' head. They would be handy to have about the house if there was nothing on the telly. It all came together for an all-hands-on-stage uplifting finale which culminated in huge inflated orbs being bounced over the front stalls. The shadow of Slava hangs over Le Cirque obviously. On Wednesday I went to the National Theatre - courtesy of Angela who could not use her ticket - see a new play called HARPER REGAN by Simon Stephens. It was all rather glam as it was the opening night with critics and actor-y types dotted about which, from my 2nd level eyrie at the side of the Cottesloe, made for occasional viewing when the play started to lose my interest. I looked at the audience quite a bit.

Harper's father is dying and she is desperate to
see him one last time. When she is told by her boss that she cannot have the time off she simply leaves her job and her home in London but arrives in Stockport too late. She has a bit of a wander, encountering a boorish journalist in a pub who gets a glass in the neck for his attempts to pick her up, a married man she meets in a hotel room after scanning an online singles site, has a confrontation with her estranged mother then goes home having faced her demons and ready to challenge the particular elephant-in-the-home that is affecting her marriage.

Dear God was it wordy. From it's Pinteresque opening scene where Harper nervously asks for time off from her creepy boss to it's countless two-hander scenes in various locations it just kept striking me that this could easily have been done on radio and not lost anything in translation. It would appear all the strands of the playwright's oeuvre are here, I just wish it wasn't all so damn predictable. If you haven't guessed the problem that is eroding Harper's relationship with her husband after their first scene then you just ain't trying hard enough. I was second-guessing this play all down the line.
Lesley Sharp is a fine actress but here, although handling with skill the taxing demands of a role which requires her to be onstage for the entire running time, I can't say with all honestly that I enjoyed it. Her delivery in a flat hesitant monotone conjured up the excesses of Mr. Michael Leigh and I frankly couldn't give a toss whether her profoundly slappable character found out anything about herself on her walkabout.
I did enjoy Marianne Elliot's direction however and as usual she elicited nice turns from various supporting actors - Troy Glasgow (a porn name if ever I heard one) is good as a young black lad she connects with, Nick Sidi was also fine as her husband as were Jack Deam and Brian Capron as the bad and good men she meets on her Stockport visit. As forceful as Susan Brown was as Harper's mother the scene smacked too much of soap opera confrontation. Within that scene though there was a delightful cameo from Nitin Kundra as her builder step-father's assistant. But ultimately there was less to this play than meets the eye.

Friday, April 25, 2008

I have been to see two singers in the past few weeks - both hugely enjoyable.
Owen and I went to the always swanky Bush Hall to see and hear the honeyed vocals of Beth Rowley (Row as in arguing not something you do with a couple of oars - ahem!)

We saw her last year at the IndigO2 where she was the opening act on a bill headlined by Kiki Dee and this is what I thought of her
"Imagine a Joss Stone without the hype and a liking for Billie Holliday. I really liked her, great voice, a couple of good songs and how good to hear a new Brit girl singer with a BIG voice - unlike the Mockney twitterings of the Allen and Nash bints". Since then she has recorded her debut album which is out in May. This was her first official headlining act and it bodes well for the future.

She has a really great natural voice - a mixture of Etta
James, Rachel Sweet and Ronnie Spector - and has some great tracks: the Motown-y "So Sublime", the rolling "Oh My Life", "Angel Flying Too Close", "Almost Persuaded", "You Never Called" and "Beautiful Tomorrow". She sang a nice reggae version of "I Shall Be Released" and a soulful "I'd Rather Be Blind".

If there is a problem with her it's that she is still hiding behind her hair, the microphone and her hands. It's nice to see that she still sees herself as a singer with a band but come on girl... it's time to step out into the spotlight.
The next evening was spent in the Vauxhall Tavern for a special performance at Vauxhallville of chanteuse Adele Anderson of Fascinating Aida fame. With names on the guest list and a free bottle of no-frills fizz thanks to Dawn Right Nasty (it's handy having a birthday sometimes) we were treated to Adele giving us a whirlwind recap of her life. Highly fictional sadly as lord knows she has a tale to tell!
I was hoping Adele might have treated us to "I'm Still Here" - she was a memorable Carlotta Campion in FOLLIES at the Landor Theatre in 2006 - but I guess Mr. Sondheim might have had his hand out. I enjoyed her tart but hugely entertaining show and it was nice to meet her afterwards.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

NY round-up

Here are some scattered moments from our trip:

The first view of the NY skyline from the cab from JFK Airport and the delightful combination of laxatives and rubcream at Duane Reede.

Me outside one of many spiritual homes the Brill Building and Owen and I and our
best new friend Tara the Radio City Rockette who pestered us for a photograph when we did the Radio City Music Hall tour.

On the Friday we went to see Owen's favourite singer Buffy Saint-Marie at the Highline Ballroom down on W. 16th Street. She was great showcasing songs from her new cd due out in the summer and - much to my relief - not only did we get a front row table but she came out so Owen could get his photo of the two of them from the Canada trip signed. I had been worried she might not come out and O would be disappointed which simply wouldn't do. Here I am with Buffy and yes... I do look a bit relieved that the evening had been a success all round!

Here is the lovely lobby of the Algonquin and also me walking up 5th (as opposed to Walking Down Madison)

One day I will stop taking pictures of the same things in NY - Times Square, the ice rink in Rockefeller Plaza, Central Park and the cityscape from high up... but I like this one from early evening at the Top Of The Rock and here is me in the room also on the TOTR where lights follow the movements of people as they walk around it.

From our last day when the lowering clouds matched our moods, my obligatory Bathesda Fountain photograph and a view of the park from Fort Belvedere. Oh and my obligatory photograph of the Central Park ice rink

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Our final Broadway show was a preview of CRY-BABY, the second show to be crafted out of a John Waters film. However everything that HAIRSPRAY is, this isn't.

It started promisingly with a rockabilly overture with
shouted instructions like "Turn off your cell phone", "Thank the ushers" and "Stop rustling". However as one unremarkable 50s pastiche song followed the other I fought hard against the sinking feeling that this was a show that just wasn't going anywhere at all.

The film has a lot going for it but does rather coast a bit with several dud scenes and performances. What it does have however is a great pastiche score, a nice performance by Amy Locane as good girl Alison and of course a huge star role for Johnny Depp as Wade 'Cry-Baby' Walker, the town bad boy who of course is just mis-understood. He is charismatic and always watchable.

Here the role is played by James Snyder and he almost blends into the bright dayglo sets. He sings, he dances, he
acts - but he is totally uncharismatic and forgettable. And that is a major problem. The role of Alison is played by Elizabeth Stanley who was ok but she too wasn't given much to do in the second act.The supporting performers seemed to fair better. In the first act there was a scene set in a drape jukejoint outside town and here two minor characters finally put some fire on stage. Chester Gregory II channeled Little Richard for the raucous "Jukebox Jamboree". This was soon followed by Alli Mauzey as Lenora, Cry-Baby's crazed stalker who sang the arse off "Screw Loose". Again however the material was fairly generic.This was also demonstrated in the second half when Harriet Harris playing Alison's grandmother Mrs. Vernon-Williams - who up until then had the best of the script's gags - stopped the show with a solo number "I Did Something Wrong Once". When I say stopped the show I mean it did just that. It went on and on and on for no other reason than to give her a solo - and a damn poor one at that. The fact the song was a musical confession for wrongly accusing Cry-Baby's parents of treason which lead to their being executed also seemed totally out-of-kilter with the show.

You can overlook any book or cast oddities in a musical if the score works but here... I suspect the problem lies in the fact that the composer Adam Schlesinger and the lyricist David Javerbaum have tried to write a Broadway score... sadly they have not written the score that CRY-BABY needs.

If I had known how disappointed I would be by this show I would have gone to see XANADU again instead!
I forgot to mention I met a NY celebrity while staying at the Algonquin. Matilda, the hotel cat.

The Algonquin Hotel has had a resident cat for 70-odd years and the lovely M is the present resident feline.
You can usually find her sitting on the baggage trolley by the main door making sure the new arrivals are up to snuff for New York's oldest hotel, on the hotel desk memorizing credit card numbers or padding around the dark, well-upholstered lobby making sure the carpet is cleaned how she likes it.

While there I raised a glass to her with a cocktail named after her. The Matilda consists of Belvedere Pomarancza (Orange Vodka), Cointreau, freshly squeezed lemon, orange juice and finished off with Perrier Jouet Bruit champagne (Owen dislikes cats so that's his JD & Coke).

Friday, April 18, 2008

Our next show was an old favourite. It was a particular pleasure to follow SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE from the 150 seat Menier Chocolate Factory to the famous, 972 seat Studio 54 where it is currently playing having opened to rave reviews.

The show still stars Daniel Evans in the roles of George Seurat and his fictional great-grandson George a conceptual artist and Jenna Russell is repeating her role as Dot that she first played
when the show transfered to the Wyndhams Theatre for it's award-winning run last year. It was particularly nice to see these two performers who I have seen over the years in various west end shows having such an impact on Broadway.
To be honest I thought the supporting cast were not as good as the original Menier cast - they didn't seem to be as individualistic and didn't seem to grasp the opportunities to make their supporting characters live although their were exemptions to this: Michael Cumpsty as Jules, George's friendly artist rival, Jessica Molasky as his wife Yvonne and Mary Beth Peil as George's mother.
It was great to see again the excellent stage design by David Farley and the digital projection design by Timothy Bird & The Knifedge Creative Network. It's simple elegance echoes George's own striving for "colour and light".

Evans and Russell have built up a fine on-stage relationship making the central one resonate and I liked Jenna Russell playing Dot with a Manchester accent which hints at her eventual outsider status in George's world. Her second act role as Marie, the modern George's grandmother and the daughter of Dot was pitched just right and her singing of "Children and Art" was particularly fine. It is to Daniel Evans' credit that he keeps one interested in his roles of George Seurat and the 20th Century George as on the page they are both fairly unsympathetic characters. At least Seurat is given the songs "Color & Light" and "Finishing The Hat" to illustrate his solipsism.
And as before, Stephen Sondheim's beautiful score had a profound effect on me. For the life of me I don't understand why the song "Sunday" makes me blub but it's gentle, hushed introduction and the lovely choral refrain yearning for one perfect day which will live on forever gets me every time. The closing rendition, with Dot drawing the 20th Century George into the world of A SUNDAY AFTERNOON ON THE ISLAND OF LA GRANDE JATTE again had me choking hard but I am happy to say I wasn't alone.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Owen and I had another big expedition to his favourite clothes shop in New York Macy*s. Now this usually involves me wandering around glazing over slightly but this time I actually went a bit spendy.
Macy*s always seems a bit old-fashioned for such a landmark store but we were lucky to catch it looking better than usual as it was having an indoor flower show with real flowers and plants causing their own colour riot above the counters on the ground floor - there was even a gazebo and a guided tour of the different displays.

The Herald Square entrance was even more spectacular with their huge windows given over to lifelike mannequins of famous models wearing outfits made out of flowers.
Among others we had Twiggy (as the 1960s of course), the ubiquitous Kate Moss looking like a floral Marie Antoinetteand the best of all was one of Carmen dell'Orefice, one of the first models to became a household name in the US, who came to prominence as a teenager in the late 1940s and who still occasionally works at 77!

Saturday, April 12, 2008

The next show was the one I'd been most excited about, the latest revival of possibly the best musical after GUYS & DOLLS, GYPSY. A perfect marriage of great score & book and in Rose a role considered the King Lear for musical comedy actresses and here it was Patti LuPone's turn. It had it's opening night while we were there - we walked past the cordoned-off cameramen and the red carpet - so all the ingredients were there for an unforgettable event: the cast on a high from their great reviews 2 nights before and a sold-out Saturday evening audience buzzing to see a hit.

For the uninitiated GYPSY is the rags to jewelled-pasties story of the famous stripper Gypsy Rose Lee and her fearsome, driven stage mother Rose with music by Jule Styne and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, a book by Arthur Laurents and choreography by Jerome Robbins. Originally a vehicle for Ethel Merman in 1959 it has since been played on Broadway by Angela Lansbury, Tyne Daly and Bernadette Peters, all have been nominated for the Best Actress Tony award although only Lansbury & Daly won.
Laurents has directed this production and unsurprisingly the book here is shown to be the real motor of the show. The character's inner lives are brightly spotlit. All the main protagonists have dreams that drive them - Rose needs her children to become stars to make up for her own mother leaving her, Louise wants the notice and love her mother lavishes on younger sister June, Herbie wants Rose to stop dragging her children around the dying vaudeville circuit and marry him and June dreams of getting away from her suffocating mother and becoming an actress.

The show also boasts the best ever Broadway overture which is given it's due by the curtain rising on the orchestra who are seated at the back of the stage behind a scrim betraying this production's origin as a semi-staged production last year as part of the Encores! series from which the current production of CHICAGO also sprung. The sets are minimal which also helps focus on the characters.

Leigh Ann Larkin was
effective as June - peppy and high-kicking 'on stage', sulking offstage and visibly chaffing at Mama's apron-strings, biding her time until she can run away to become the actress June Havoc.
One of the greatest songs from the score is "You Gotta Get A Gimmick" sung by the strippers Mazeppa, Electra and Tessie to Louise when her act is booked into a seedy Burlesque house by mistake and it was socked across the footlights by Lenora Nemetz, Marilyn Caskey and Alison Fraser. Again, Laurents gave each character a real personality - electifyin' Electra visibly crumbling and barely able to walk and Fraser's Tessie showed a self-awareness and genuine warmth to the struggling Louise. Nemetz also shone in a great featured role as a sarcastic secretary to a producer.
I was a bit disappointed in Boyd Gaines as 'Herbie'. I was never engaged by him and felt he played the role too softly - I mean the original was Jack Klugman! But maybe that is because he was easily overshadowed by the two female leads.

Laura Benanti was excellent as Louise, believably moving from a shy, gawky teenager aware of her limited talent - and not overdoing the pathos - to the terrified girl who is press-ganged by her mother into stripping in a Burlesque show when the top-of-the-bill spot is available to the self-assured and seductive Queen of the striptease Gypsy Rose Lee. Louise's famous solo moment when she sees herself in the dressing room mirror before going onto strip - "Mama I'm pretty... I'm a pretty girl" was genuinely moving and for once the confrontation with Rose at the end of the show seemed to be an equal fight between a mother and daughter.
And of course there was Patti LuPone as Rose. From her first noisy appearance through the stalls during her young daughters' audition to her final glance over her shoulder at an empty stage, she was in total possession of the character - or visa-versa. I must be honest and say Patti LuPone didn't surprise me, I got the performance I was expecting from her but I am glad I saw her at this stage of playing the role.

She made no attempt at softening Rose's unlikeable traits and even when being flirtatious with Herbie or a producer to get her girls a better slot on the bill she still had a core of steel and the pugnacious stance of a driven human being. She never relaxed but then Rose never relaxes - not when there is still the chance of star billing for her daughter. Even Rose's moments of humour had a desperate quality about them.

Rose has her two great moments at the end of each act. When June walks out on the act, she appears numb while Herbie and Louise reason with her that now it's time to forget show business and settle down but this only awakes in Rose the possibility of molding Louise into a star and launches into "Everything's Coming Up Roses". This famous song soon loses any upbeat associations one has with it when seen out-of-context, in context it's a song of scary self-absorption - Rose isn't even aware that Herbie and Louise are staring at her in shock - and LuPone delivered a searing version of it. She built and built and as she sang the final "Everything's Coming Up Roses for me and for...." she let out a howl of triumph on "youuuuuu" as the curtain descended. It was an electrifying moment of theatre which had the lights coming up on an audience giving thunderous applause.

Knowing what was going to be unleashed I watched the final confrontation between Rose and Louise in her dressing room - Rose angry that the now-famous Louise is shutting her out of her life and Louise responding that Gypsy is her own creation and that she is paying her mother back for years of neglect. Rose leaves incensed and alone on the stage finally let's loose with "Rose's Turn". Mocking Gypsy's strip routine she parades across the stage bumping, grinding and letting go of all her pent-up rage. But the song becomes a musical nervous breakdown with Rose finally confronting her own sense of abandonment by her mother, by June, by Herbie, by Louise and ends with another howl but this time of pain not triumph.

LuPone gave a truly scary performance of the song - cue *utter* bedlam by the audience with nearly a 3 minute standing ovation. But "Rose' Turn" is undercut by an important second scene between mother and daughter as Louise has been watching her mother from the wings. However the audience going insane totally threw this important coda off-kilter - the more LuPone did extravagant curtsies and blew kisses to the audience in Rose's head, the more the real audience clapped. Eventually Laura Benanti appeared slowly clapping from the back of the stage and the start of the scene was inaudible for most of the audience shuffling and taking their seats again. Grrrrr... like, they could have held back for the curtain call that was only minutes away.

So that was GYPSY. London has not seen a production of it for over 30 years. There was talk of Sam Mendes' production with Bernadette Peters transferring but nothing came of it. It would be great if this one finally put this wonderful show back in the heart of the