Tuesday, May 19, 2009

It's not often you get close encounters with divas but the past few days have seen me trembling in front of two of the fiercest!

On Saturday I finally made it through the doors of the Purcell Room next door to the Queen Elizabeth Hall - how have I managed to go all this time without visiting it? We were seeing the unstoppable Justin Bond in his "Rites of Spring" show with musical direction by Our Lady J whose Amazonian figure is matched only by her talent.

Justin is always Out There when it comes to his outfits and he didn't disappoint tonight with a floor-length gown made from small laminated pages of tranny porn - you watch, this time next year....

Justin has *finally* got a cd out albeit an e.p. PINK SLIP and he sang all 5 songs featured on it. They are good songs but there is a definite feel of "right let's be grown up" so there is no feel of his particularly anarchic stage persona. His voice is something else... imagine a tree bark smoothie. Warm and enveloping but with a rawness that could give you splinters. He appeared after Our Lady J's fun solo "Pink Prada Purse" in a little black dress which was perfect for his torch song "The Puppet Show" - imagine Judy Garland being possessed by Edith Piaf while singing an unknown Jacques Brel song... and you're halfway there.

He and Our Lady J were signing in the foyer so Owen and I made it clear to OLJ that we had bought hers at the Soho Theatre last year - it would be great if she could do an album - and got Justin to scribble on a few cds reminding him of our last meeting at the Retro Bar pop quiz with Dawn Of The Red.

We first saw JB's solo show in 2005 and it has been great to follow his career since - he really has found the perfect stage partner in Our Lady J.

Yesterday we toddled along to HMV Oxford Street where Siouxsie was signing the dvd of her Mantaray tour which we saw twice. I was surprised that it wasn't Totally mobbed but that was good for us as we were in the first group to get ushered into Herself's presence.

We had a bit of a wait while she was fashionably late so it gave me a moment to muse on me and la Sioux... how I had bought HONG KONG GARDEN the day it was released in the long-gone Our Price in Tottenham Court Rd, THE SCREAM in the long-gone Virgin at Marble Arch, seen The Banshees on the Join Hands tour at Hammersmith supported by the first incarnation of The Human League... and here we both were all these years later.She was delightful - like who knew from The Goth Ice Queen? I apologised for asking the question she must be fed up of hearing but when could we expect a follow-up to Mantaray and she said it won't be till at least next year.

Now that is something to look forward to!

Friday, May 15, 2009

It's well known I wasn't the biggest fan of Rob Marshall's film of CHICAGO - too flashy, over-edited, missing the sheer theatrical fun of the piece.

In the race to make Broadway shows into films Marshall has picked a not-so-obvious candidate, Maury Yeston's NINE, a musical based on Fellini's "8 1/2".

It's not a well-known show but it has a score of intriguing solo numbers, a big star role for an actor and a plethora of roles for all the women in his life.

Although the trailer suggests Marshall has utilised a lot of his CHICAGO flashy shtick, I am suitably intrigued by the cast of Daniel Day-Lewis, Penelope Cruz, Nicole Kidman, Marion
Cotillard, Sophia Loren and Judi Dench to look forward to the film's release at the end of the year.
On the subject of movies, I went with Owen to see X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE on Saturday.

Now you know Constant Reader that I'm not the world's biggest Summer movies fan but I enjoyed the previous X-MEN films due to the fine playing and the whole 'mutant' outsider vibe.

Here Hugh Jackman reprises his star role as Wolverine giving him a stonking star vehicle to show off his oddly shaped shoulders and to show how his character came to be. It had been covered vaguely in the second X-MEN film but here we had the added seasoning of sibling
hatred as it reveals he has a nemesis in his evil step-brother.

Wolverine is Logan who has been a soldier down the ages from the American civil war but finally decides to settle on a Clint Eastwood 1971 look circa "The Beguiled". He fights through the years with his more psycho brother Victor until they are recruited by General Styker (smirk) to join his band of merceneries which also features Dominic Monaghan as a guy who can control electricity mentally and Will.I.Am as the token black badass who can vanish at will. Logan grows sick of the violence and leaves to return to his Canada homeland with his robotic schoolteacher wife. Until Stryker and Victor come back in his life.

The film moves along at a rare old clip - not dwelling on anything - so it ultimately feels like a very long trailer and as such I was never bored as it never wanted me to be. Among the crashing metal and bone-crunching a couple of performances peep through to catch the eye: Liev Schreiber has great fun with the evil Victor aka Sabretooth - a mocking, wry villain who steals the film from the dull Jackman; Danny Huston makes a good hissable villainous General Styker and Will.I.Am made the most of his scenes with an unhurried cool.
The trouble is, when you have a character whose USP is that he can recover from anything and is immortal - where is the tension? The glorification of Jackman involves all his lines being growelled to the screen in close-up in a "I'll be back" sort of way, while the lead actress has one expression - like the director smacked her in the gob with a wet fish before the cameras turned - but of course it's a totally thankless role and again, the same old problem I have with all these films, the over-reliance on cgi means I totally disengage with any of the action sequences.

With all these films now they aim to make you go "wow how did they do
that" but the trouble is... you know how they did it. Someone pushed some buttons.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Well here's one Spring that won't see a Summer... the multi-hyped Broadway import SPRING AWAKENING is closing at the end of the month. It's sad that an original show - not based on a pop act's songbook or a film - has not found an audience.

But how telling that once again a big Broadway import has died on it's arse... the most obvious comparison being the dreaded RENT - and that's had three attempts in the west end!

Ok... time for number-crunching - 'cos God knows I've got the time on my hands.

Broadway is the home of The Musical but how are we at accepting it's supposed best? The following are the shows nominated for Tony Awards in the 2000s... let's see how many made it here.

2000: CONTACT won Best Musical along with 3 other awards, it ran on Broadway for over 2 years - and here for 7 months.

Although I wanted to stick to just original shows KISS ME KATE! won the Best
Revival and also ran for over 2 years - and here for 10 months.

We have yet to see AIDA (which won Elton John Best Score), JAMES JOYCE'S "THE DEAD", MARIE CHRISTINE, PUTTING IT TOGETHER, SWING! or THE WILD PARTY staged in the West End (although the latter turned up recently at the Bridewell by an amateur company)

2001: THE PRODUCERS won practically everything and ran for 6 years - here it ran for just over 2 years - so a success there! THE FULL MONTY ran for 2 years in NY and 8 months here.


2002: THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE ran for over 2 years - here it managed 8 months.

We have yet to see URINETOWN (which won the Best score), SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS and THOU SHALL NOT.

London transfers included OKLAHOMA and MAMMA MIA! - which didn't win anything!

2003: This was the year of HAIRSPRAY and low and behold - the show is still running in London after a year and a half. The hugely hyped MOVIN' OUT - a show built around Billy Joel's songbook and which won a Tony for Twyla
Tharp's choreography - ran for over 3 years in New York. In London it limped in under 2 months.


2004 : This was the year covered in the excellent documentary "Show Business". It was also the year of two shows that bucked the trend and have been successful on both sides of the pond - WICKED and AVENUE Q.

CAROLINE OR CHANGE played 4 months in NY to London's 3 months although it had played 4 months off-Broadway.

There has been no sign of THE BOY FROM OZ (a Hugh Jackman vehicle) and NEVER GONNA DANCE. It also saw the year of BOMBAY DREAMS and TABOO moving from London to New York, sadly not repeating their successes here.

2005: SPAMALOT ran for nearly 4 years on Broadway while in
London it made over 2 years.

As yet there has been no sign of DIRTY ROTTEN SCOUNDRELS, A LIGHT IN THE PIAZZA (which won the Best Score award), LITTLE WOMEN or THE 25th ANNUAL PUTNAM COUNTY SPELLING BEE (gasp!).

CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG went from London to NY.

2006: This was the year when the Best Musical Tony went to JERSEY BOYS, the first time a 'jukebox' show has won and both shows play on in New York & London.

THE DROWSY CHAPERONE won for Best Score & Best Book and ran a year and a half - London welcomed it with closed arms and it closed after 2 months.

We have yet to see THE COLOR PURPLE, LESTAT. TARZAN or THE WEDDING SINGER (although this has toured regionally).

SWEENEY TODD and THE WOMAN IN WHITE went from London to Broadway - SWEENEY TODD won John Doyle the Best Director Tony... and WOMAN closed after 3 months.

2007: Ah yes - the year of SPRING AWAKENING... Best Musical, Director, Choreography, Score, Book... a run of over 2 years on Broadway... 2 months in London.

LEGALLY BLONDE managed a year and 5 months on Broadway so let's see what happens when it opens here in December.


MARY POPPINS flew from London to New York!

2008: The Latino musical IN THE HEIGHTS won Best Musical and Best Score and is still running. The autobiographical PASSING STRANGE won Best Book.

These have not appeared over here and neither have A CATERED AFFAIR, CRY-BABY (thank God for that), THE LITTLE MERMAID, XANADU (yaaaay!) or YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN.

SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE made the move to Broadway from London.

Not that the Best Play winners have fared much better. This decade has seen four of the winning plays originate in London and of the others?

PROOF had a sell-out run of over a month at the Donmar but that was due in no small part to the casting of Gwyneth Paltrow, the play didn't transfer. THE GOAT opened at the Almeida with Jonathan Pryce in the lead and transfered to the West End. I AM MY OWN WIFE opened in the west end but closed early. DOUBT played at the fringe Tricycle Theatre with no transfer and AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY enjoyed a limited run at the National Theatre.

Nice to see our Special Relationship is as wonky in the theatre world as in the real world!

Monday, May 11, 2009

You can't keep a good Boy bad...

Boy George looked great emerging today after 4 months of his absurd prison sentence.

Allegedly he is tagged and has to abide by a curfew!! Ah well hopefully it will give him the time to write some more fierce songs.

Friday, May 08, 2009

I'm a bit delayed with my May artist so apologies Constant Reader - my May Queen is Kim Weston.

Kim never really broke through to the front rank of Motown artists despite having the notable hits TAKE ME IN YOUR ARMS (ROCK ME A LITTLE WHILE) and HELPLESS. Despite these stomping, classic Studio A tracks, Kim preferred to sing the soulful ballads which suited her rich honeyed vocals. Just hear her sing the deep soul ballad A LITTLE MORE LOVE and I guarantee you will swoon!

Kim was married to the Motown A&R man and songwriter Mickey Stevenson which was both a help and a hindrance to her career - she had first refusal on DANCING IN THE STREET co-written by Stevenson and Marvin Gaye but she refused it! Step forward Martha Reeves & The Vandellas... Her biggest hit was the classic duet with Marvin IT TAKES TWO co-written and produced by Stevenson but by then they were both disenchanted with the company and left in 1967 for MGM Records.

We saw her at the Jazz Cafe a few years ago which was a great thrill.
The O2. The new arena of choice for the world's top acts which boasts of it's success at every turn.

A fat lot of good when the only bleedin' underground station close by is closed due to the Jubilee line being closed over the weekend for - I don't know what - needing new bog rolls in the ticket office lavs.

I endured a ride on a train groaning with loud Spurs fans, a crowded rush hour Central line to Stratford then a bone-shaking bus ride through the bombsite desolation of Docklands with a bulge of overweight fat girls and women all in varying degrees of pink.

Why? Because we were off to see the raucous, ever-bouncing P!nk on her Funhouse tour.

Despite buying GET THE PARTY STARTED on cassette single - yes THAT long ago - I hadn't really followed P!nk's ascent to the higher echelons of Divadom but Owen is a fan and a few months back he did an expert Best Of compilation cd which have got me up to speed with her best tracks so we thought we'd have a dollop of her live.

Well she certainly puts on a show! The Funhouse theme of her last cd was fully reflected in the show with Carnival mirrors, 2 slides, a wonky Waltzer, inflatable scary clowns, several costume changes and - wait for it - a trapeze!

Owen was surprised that I was clapping along and singing but several of her songs are great pop/rock anthems - GET THE PARTY STARTED; JUST LIKE A PILL; WHO KNEW and U + YOUR HAND all had me boinging about. She also sang my two favourite tracks from her new cd: the crunchy, glitter-stomp of title track FUNHOUSE and her magnificent "me" song SO WHAT - a work of genius!

She also has a fine line in muscular ballads too - muscular being the operative word for her live version of SOBER, which she performed on a trapeze! Yep P!nk had a wire on - but it was also P!nk who was doing the somersaults from trapeze to the catcher! Respect!!!

In fact the P!nky lass - as she is sometimes called - has a definite love of the aerial life. Her first appearance was being winched up out of the runway trapdoor and carried towards the stage with her long pink gossamer train floating behind her, GET THE PARTY STARTED ended with her doing a bungee-jump to within inches above the runway - eeeek! - and the last song of the evening, the lovely ballad GLITTER IN THE AIR had her wafting again in a see-through hammock over the audience, dripping glittery water over their heads.
There were a few songs that I wasn't familiar with and, although I'd probably have been more engaged had I known them, they sounded a bit like Cher late-80s album tracks... theatrical Rawk.

The letdowns? There was a mistimed acoustic set that went on for too long and which concluded with a ballad rendering of her stomping hit TROUBLE which kinda didn't work. I think also we need a moratorium on dancers going up on the silky rope thing. That is kinda dreary now!

Even worse was her over-reliance on cover versions... there was a good version of The Divinyls I TOUCH MYSELF which she sang as she writhed on a chaise with hands popping out of it to caress her but a Led Zepplin song was included for the sole purpose in giving the guitarist a solo to cover a costume change. My heart sank lower than a snake's chuffhole when it dawned on me that no... she wasn't just singing the opening verse of BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY - the most over-rated cock in music history - as an intro into one of her songs... she was going to sing the whole damn thing. P!nk also ended the show with a cover of Gnarls Barkley's CRAZY... I mean... c'mon! That is SO September 10th! What made this annoying was perfectly fine songs from her own career - STUPID GIRLS, GOD IS A DJ - were dropped for these covers. If she had to do a cover version - why not LADY MARMALADE which won her a Grammy in 2001 and would have fitted in with the whole Funhouse vibe?

P!nk is certainly a powerhouse performer tho' I didn't particularly connect with her as a person - maybe I need to see her again?

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Barcelona Day 5:

Our last day started with initial packing then having a basic but filling breakfast by the
Cathedral. We crossed the square and while persuading Owen to go into the pharmacy to buy the sun block that our beetroot faces cried out for - I was crapped on by a bloody pigeon. Christ knows what this little sod had eaten by it practically burned a hole through my French Connection cardy. Needless to say I had the bang hump over this but I was slightly mollified by finally replacing my sodden NY trainers with a lovely pair of black Puma trainers from our shoe shop of choice S'carpa on Avinguda del Portal de l'Angel.

We went back to the hotel and finished packing, leaving the cases at the desk and facing the world again.
We headed up to the FNAC shopping centre to meet up with David and John who were in town from Sitges and after ascertaining that we probably knew more places to go than they did, we ended up in the square by
Santa Maria del Pi - a stone's throw from the hotel! It was good to catch up with them and luckily I had remembered the various holidays they had been on so was able to keep the conversation going.

We didn't eat that much so we could expore one more new place... but wow what a place! Yes Constant Reader I finally got to eat at Els Quatre Gats. The original cafe opened in 1897 and survived until 1903. Opened by painter Ramon Casas and his friend Pere Romeu with financing coming too from fellow-painter Santiago Rusinol, the cafe/bar became a focal point for local modernisme artists and is most famous for being the location of Picasso's first exhibition in the main drawing-room. Restored to it's louche glory in 1978, I have tried to find it on each visit... and I had been walking back and forwards past the top of the narrow street each time - doh!
We had a nice lunch with big mugs of beer while soaking up the ambience of the busy restaurant with waiters whipping past us to get to the bar, the service was... well... serviceable but I would like to go back again... if only to try and get into the big room where Picasso exhibited.

After that, we had one last afternoon tea at d'Estiu - soaking up the late afternoon atmosphere to remember until we return. Then it was back to the hotel, into a cab and whisked to the airport - all luckily very quickly so there was less time to dwell on the wonderful city we were leaving behind.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Barcelona Day 4:

Another sunny day demanded more outdoors stuff so we headed off to La Boqueria, the huge daily market off the Ramblas, where we stocked up on some fruit segment boxes and took to the hills... well Montjuic actually.

We walked down Carre l'Hospital and unsurprisingly found ourselves outside the Hospital de la Santa Creu which was the city hospital for a staggering 500+ years until 1930. The buildings are now used as an art school and libraries and made for a diverting few minutes rest - will have to explore there again. We walked through The Raval which is an area I have avoided in the past but it seemed ok in daylight - and I made the acquaintance of a big cat too! We reached the Paral-lel Station which has a funicular train up to Montjuic and on the other side of the road was the Theatre Apollo with a production of SWEENEY TODD playing - if we had a couple more days I would love to have heard Sondheim in Spanish or Catalan!Soon we were up on Montjuic and started a slow amble down the winding road which leads to the Olympic Stadium, stopping off to enjoy the lovely terraced gardens and have our fruit picnic! We continued onto the Stadium and the strange Thunderbirds-like landscape which is home to Santiago Calatrava's fantastic construction which served as the communications tower for the Games in 1992. It was great wandering around this area, it reminded me of my first visit to Barcelona that made me eager to get to come back.And the day wasn't over yet! We still had the massive Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya to explore in the Palau Nacional. A massive space with large galleries covering Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque and Modern Catalan art movements. We had a look at most of the galleries and probably there are works there which might reward you if you were willing to put the effort in but we both felt that although there was ample proof of Catalan artistry there was very little that was truly unique.

The gallery I found most interesting was the Modern Art section although again, it appeared that the influence of French impressionist and post-impressionist work was too obvious. Odd too that they only had two Dali painting - and both from his early portrature years. It did make me very interested in finding out more about Ramon Casas and Santiago Rusinol but frustratingly the bookshop had no books on either of them - bizarre when Casas' painting of him and Pere Romeu is illustrated on everything else in the shop!
We wandered back through the rush hour passengers on the Metro back to the hotel and for our last night meal in Barcelona it had to be Citrus! It was quieter than on Sunday so it was a nice way to celebrate our stay.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Barcelona Day 3:

Just as Sunday was rainy Monday was glorious - sunny and warm with a deep blue sky so today had to be an outside day... so we headed back up Paseig de Gracia to queue for nearly an hour to gain access to another old favourite of ours, Casa Mila aka La Pedrera aka The Wibbly-Wobbly house. Luckily the queue threaded up past an ice-cream shop....

We have been so often we forgo the cool of the vaulted brick attic Gaudi museum and pelt straight for the doors to the roof. I really can't say anything more than I have said previously about La Pedrera but it never fails to make me smile like a loon all the time I am atop it, enjoying it's absurd majesty all over again and the special trick of making any adult feel like a great big kid exploring it's nooks and crannies... so what if you have hundreds of pictures of the chimneys and landmarks... this time you just might find a new way of looking at one! We were up there for ages resulting in big lobster faces for us the next day but it was worth it. We finished off with a visit to the open apartment which shows you how it would have been the height of modern living to have bought an apartment there in 1910.

Having got the taste for roof-life we then visited the Cathedral and after looking around the interior for a while we headed up to the roof! Owen - whose middle name is Vertigo - was very good walking about the scaffolding platform. You don't actually get much a view of anything
other than Montjuic but it's still a thrill to know you are on top of La Seu.

After the roof we walked around the cool shadows of the Cathedral's cloisters and said hello to the 13 geese who are kept there, symbolic of the age of the martyr Saint Eualia who is buried under the main altar.

That evening we made it third time lucky with re-visiting old favourites by having a dinner at the delightful La Pizza Nostra just down from the Picasso Museum. A small restaurant with an interesting menu - Italian with a Catalan twist - we go to savour the most obvious pizza idea that I have never found anywhere else - a half & half pizza. Mine was 50% ham & pineapple, 50% smoked salmon - 100% lovely!

Barcelona Day 2:

It's not every day you wake up by being bonked over the head with a red balloon. Yes Day 2 was April 12th my birthday. The day I had escaped to Barcelona to forget. And I would have possibly if Owen hadn't sneaked some presents over too. The hap'peth.

It was also Easter Sunday so we attempted a look into the Cathedral but it was packed to the gargoyles but a bit of local colour was going on outside as the old folks were doing the impenetrable Catalan dance the Sardana. Holding hands in various-sized circles, they do tiny steps left and right, back and forwards, hands up, hands down, while their band plays on the steps of the Cathedral. Fascinating and frustrating as I want to know how they know what comes next!
After a quick stop at Cafe d'Estiu where I had the thickest hot chocolate ever - it was like a melted Cadburys! - we took a leisurely stroll up Laetana for more food. This restaurant was Mussol - part of the same group as Citrus and Attic - but not a patch on either. As it was Sunday lunch and we had not booked we had to sit in the smoking section - and soon the deserted no-smoking area started filling up with families - loud bawling kids 'n' t'ing. So what's a little smoke? My food was ok but the Catalan menu hardly gave Owen much to eat and the service was negligible so there is one to be crossed off the list.

Afterwards we came out to the rain and to cheer ourselves up we walked up to Gaudi's magnificent Casa Battlo aka the Dragon House. It was as busy as ever but it was lovely to walk around it again, revelling in the epic sweep and tiny details of Gaudi's genius. The warm, fluidity of the interiors giving way to the blue tiles on the stair well walls suggesting cascading water. Then up to the roof which despite the rain proved as photogenic as ever. Another joy is the attic room which you pass through on the way out... a room I could happily live in for ever. The walk back to the hotel were the death of my NY trainers which started leaking like buggery.

Wearing Owen's trainers it was time to cap off the day with a visit to our favourite restaurant Citrus which we have been visiting since discovering it in 2003. With a sweeping first floor view of Passeig de Gracia, Citrus is the perfect place to relax in a lovely three course meal and a reassuringly expensive bottle of Cava. It was a lovely way to forget my age.
And the evening ended on a high when I realised that we were transported up to our room by Schindler's Lift!