Thursday, December 30, 2010

It wouldn't be Christmas without a Matthew Bourne show at Sadler's Wells and this year I was thrilled that finally he has revived his 1997 version of Prokofiev's CINDERELLA.

I missed that production but here it is again: all revised and specially timed to tie-in with the 70th anniversary of the Blitz which is utilised in the plot. Needless to say, Bourne's CINDERELLA was a triumph, by turns (no pun intended) moving and thrilling.

The story is set in London, 1941 and Cinderella is the picked-on daughter of Robert, an ineffectual cripple. Sybil, her alcoholic Joan Crawford-esque stepmother rules the household with her five grown children allowed to run riot.

Into Cinderella's life crashes Harry, a disorientated and wounded RAF pilot but when Sybil throws him out onto the dangerous streets, Cinderella follows him. Luckily the lovers have help on their side in the shape of an Angel who is overseeing their fortunes and who certainly has a lot to contend with to see them through to a Happy Ending.
It is the Angel who provides Cinderella with the means to attend the ball - a glamorous night which Bourne stages in the shattered ruins of a dance hall, based on the 1941 bombing of the London's Cafe de Paris.

Bourne gives you image after image that captivate you while his choreography whips you along through his story. Indeed it's his plot that is most at risk with his love of a great stage image or sequence, the Second Act in particular is a bit difficult to follow - is the ball and her romantic tryst with the Airman in his garret just a dream of Cinderella's and if it is, how does she end up wearing the sparkling shoes? And why does the Stepmother want to kill Cinderella? I saw him in the foyer after the show, I really should have asked him!However who needs a cohesive plot when you have wondrously evocative sets and costumes by his regular collaborator Lez Brotherston who summons up so many memorable stage images: the austere family home and outfits, all black and grey; the view from Harry's lodgings utilising the famous photo of St Pauls, the drab Underground, the dreamy fantasy world of the club and a romantic train station. CINDERELLA is also awash with the sumptuous lighting of the great Neil Austin, swamping the stage with icy blues or lustrous ambers.As usual Matthew Bourne has many eye-catching characters which give the ensemble a chance to shine: Cinderella's oldest step-brother is a waspish gayer who meets his own love, another step-brother is a covert foot fetishist, when Harry descends to the underground platforms searching for Cinderella he instead finds aggressive prostitutes and pocket-jiggling rentboys and at the final wartime railway station, there are Alec and Laura from BRIEF ENCOUNTER, stealing another stolen moment between their respective train timetables.A special mention must be made of Brett Morris' wonderful leadership of the 82-piece orchestra which is actually recorded, all the better to make Prokofiev's score so full and encompassing the audience as is the production soundscape of sirens and shattering bomb blasts.

The company we had seemed to be the alternate cast and while Noi Tolmer (previously seen as Kim in EDWARD SCISSORHANDS) and Neil Westmoreland certainly danced up a storm, particularly in the Act One 'dummy' scene I didn't feel a particular emotional connection to them which might have been different with the delightful Kerry Biggin and Sam Archer.

No such problem with the wonderful Michaela Meazza (Sugar NUTCRACKER; Lana CAR MAN; Lady H DORIAN GRAY) as the villainous Sybil or Shaun Walters (Fritz/Prince BonBon NUTCRACKER) as Malcolm her gay son. Adam Maskell also stood out as the Angel always on hand to turn back time or bring the chance of love to the lonely.The production runs at Sadler's Wells until 23 January and is followed by a short tour so click here to book your ticket for the chance to fall under the spell of Matthew Bourne's CINDERELLA.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Oh yes - it's THAT time of the year again!

My Top 10 Gigs of the year....

Saturday, December 18, 2010

I can't say I am feeling Christmassie (I never know how to spell that) yet but Constant Reader I am on my way musically thanks to three gigs that have left me wreathed in smiles. I have seen all three acts before so I knew I was in for three class acts.

First off the rank: The Human League at the Royal Festival Hall.We saw Phil, Joanne and Susan Ann /Susanne 2 years ago when they headlined the Steel City Tour at Hammersmith and this show was to promote their new single NIGHT PEOPLE (which sadly hasn't bothered the dreary shite in the charts) and of course give us wave after wave of their Electro classics. Well - apart from the ones I wanted to hear...

White stage? Check! White mic stands? Check! Huge video screen? Check! Excitable fans? Check! Cue Mr. Phil Oakey in his big top coat... pacing across the stage like a pacey thing possessed. He does not stop! No wonder he is as thin as a whip. The bugger. After every few numbers another layer would come off until he was a vision in black shirt and black trews.I must say I do prefer Phil's appearance now - but that WAS one fierce 'do.

Needless to say most of the time my gaze (and my gays) were fixed on the gloriousness that is Susan Ann Sulley. Even back in the day she was my favorite Humaness which was ignited by a moment during a performance of DON'T YOU WANT ME on Top Of The Pops. As the camera tracked back at the end, Sooz who was doing her usual shimmy with arms outstretched shot the camera a look of such knowing pleasure, she was having the time of her life and enjoying every second. And time and again on stage all those years on, her attempts at haughty disdain where dispelled by a massive smile - still there, still dancing, still exactly where she wants to be. With her slinky black halterneck, trousers, red shoes and blonde backcomb & plait she looked like a disco Medea and then she changed it up to be a vision in white with sculpted shoulder-pads and a peplumed front and deliciously sequined ankleboots! The encore saw her in black again with a domino mask - she is Unstoppable!

Joanne wasn't too shabby either first in black trousers and waistcoat then a black mini with suspenders, stockings and boots - someone in the front row was no doubt happy - but Susan Ann is just too damn magnetic to ignore for long! Both of them looked a lot more in trim than when we saw them last.Oh and they did songs too! I won't list them, y'all know them, but particular favorites were BEING BOILED, EMPIRE STATE HUMAN, SECONDS, MIRROR MAN, THE SOUND OF THE CROWD, THE LEBANON (they once had shops you know), LOUISE, HEART LIKE A WHEEL, TELL ME WHEN and of course DON'T YOU WANT ME and TOGETHER IN ELECTRIC DREAMS.

But where were HUMAN and LOVE IS ALL THAT MATTERS? What *is* it with them (and even worse that Moyet hag who has stated she will *never* sing INVISIBLE again) who are happy to use the creative input of Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis and Lamont Dozier respectively to get hits then *refuse* to sing them live? It all looks a bit racialist but I suspect it boils down more to not wanting to pay any royalties. It would be great to hear them sometime.

Next up was a schlep to the wastes of Bethnel Green - the things you have to do, as Julie Covington sang in ROCK FOLLIES OF 77. It was worth the tsouris though, as it was the second time seeing the glorious David McAlmont in almost as many weeks.

All year David has been finding new ways of getting his music to the people who want to hear it and with collaborator Guy Davies he has been performing in a variety of locations - both ordinary stage spaces and smaller, more intimate gigs - and this was definitely one of the latter as the People's Show Studios seats 80! In keeping with the intimate feel of the show we were greeted on arrival with a choice of tasty bite-size pies and much-needed mulled fruit drinks - David even worked the room with the pie-trays before the show!

Then it was time for a delightful show - including a singing drag Xmas tree - where David and Guy took a leisurely stroll through his favorite songs - his own and a healthy sprinkling of covers. I was over the moon he included Bessie Smith's KITCHEN MAN and even more so to hear him wax lyrical about Tammi Terrell before singing a lovely version of MY HEART. He did a second Motown song with a heartfelt version of Stevie Wonder's SOMEDAY AT CHRISTMAS.As usual there were tears and smiles along the way - his voice is such a glorious gift. He generously turned the stage over to two other performers, the fractured New Orleans blues of Todd Sharpville and the new singer Jake Emlyn who when he drops the Kate Nash-style Mockney singing should have a bright future.An extra encore involved a solo from Guy which was great and a delicious impromptu version of DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER. David has announced a tour at the start of 2011 to promote his Leicester Square Theatre cd/dvd package so do yourself a favour and see this most special of singers - and I'm not just saying that because I got a huge hug from him before the show!

The trio of shows was completed - by a trio! Yes it was time to see again Motown legend Martha Reeves and The Vandellas at the Jazz Cafe.
We first saw Martha and siblings Lois and Delphine there in 2007 (see above) and have managed to see them every year since! We had 2008: Bloomsbury Ballroom; 2009: Wembley Arena (on the night Michael Jackson died) and now back to the Jazz Cafe (still with the same over-priced, under-whelming food).

I have just checked my blog for that first show and not surprisingly there wasn't too much deviation from that set list - we still got COME AND GET THESE MEMORIES, HEAT WAVE, DANCING IN THE STREET, NOWHERE TO RUN, LOVE (MAKES ME DO FOOLISH THINGS), I'M READY FOR LOVE, THIRD FINGER LEFT HAND, JIMMY MACK, ONE WAY OUT, FORGET ME NOT, GOD BLESS THE CHILD, WATCH YOUR BACK and the 1960s MOTOWN/SOUL MEDLEY - and why not? It's one Hell of a musical legacy.

But we also were treated to a lengthy but captivating version of Marvin Gaye's WHAT'S GOING ON? , A LOVE LIKE YOURS (DON'T COME KNOCKING EVERYDAY) and the real Christmas present for me was them singing NO ONE THERE - a song I have truly adored from the first time I heard it on their 1972 album Black Magic.There are songs you just never expect to hear your favorite singers sing in concert - especially when they have such a well-honed Greatest Hits show as Martha - but this was the best Christmas present they could have given me. I told Martha afterwards and she said she was a little worried about singing it as her voice is not what it was. Which is very true - but NO ONE THERE sounded great!

One more thing about Martha, she always names the writers of the songs, fully believing they deserve the credit she can give them. She also namechecks most of the artists who covered DANCING IN THE STREET - she misses out The Kinks! - and always gives pride of place to "My dear friend Dusty Springfield" which always gets the biggest cheer - which always brings a tear to my eye.

Despite their quite lengthy set Martha handled the after-show signing session with great dignity and grace even though she must have been tired, Lois and Delphine looked more than happy to sit it out behind her! They all liked the copy of the photo of me with them from after the 2008 Bloomsbury Ballroom show - oddly enough another pre-Christmas event - and no, I ain't blogging it, some things HAVE to remain private Constant Reader.

But here's me and the magnificent Martha from 2007!So there you go - three great acts - three great gigs.

The live Human League and Martha Reeves shots are by the one and only Owen McConnell and the McAlmont shots were taken by his good friend William Willcox - who I sat behind at the gig and was too shy to thank for the photo he took of me and David at Leicester Square Theatre. I must work on my bashfulness.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

A few weeks ago I was given a great dvd called BROADWAY:THE GOLDEN AGE which is one man's attempt to interview as many actors, composers and directors from the Golden Age of Broadway in the 1940s and 1950s.

He is surprised when he asks his interviewees what was the single greatest performance they saw on stage expecting it to be either Marlon Brando, Ethel Merman or Mary Martin - no, more often than not they replied "Laurette Taylor in THE GLASS MENAGERIE".All of them remember vividly the naturalness she brought to the stage, Martin Landau indeed said she gave you the impression that someone had wandered in off the street through the stage door and was making up the lines as she went along.

The same cannot be said of Deborah Findlay in the Joe Hill-Gibbins' Young Vic production as the whole enterprise is pitched at a highly theatrical level but that only adds to the power of this revelatory production.THE GLASS MENAGERIE was Tennessee Williams' breakthrough hit in 1944 when it opened first in Chicago then on Broadway the following year. The highly autobiographical play transcends it's inspiration and hits a universal chord of longing and loss which has ensured it's enduring popularity down the years.

Tennessee's narrator and theatrical incarnation is Tom Wingfield, in his early twenties in the late 1930s and sharing the genteel poverty that his family have been reduced to following the disappearance of his father some years previously. He shares the apartment with his overbearing mother Amanda, forever harking back to her Antebellum youth, and his sister Laura, made chronically shy due to her self-consciousness at school from having a brace on her crippled leg.

Tom - as did Tennessee - works in a dead-end job in a shoe factory and longs to make a career as a writer but is burdened with the guilt of being his family's only means of support with his pay-cheque. When Amanda reveals she knows he has made overtures to the US Navy she pressures him to find a man for his sister so she will be provided for in the future. For once Tom complies with his mother's demands and invites a work colleague to dinner. The Gentleman Caller is Jim O'Connor who Tom vaguely knew in High School when Jim was the hero of the sports field but what he doesn't know is that Jim was the boy that Laura had an unrequited love for. Jim's visit will have a life-changing effect on the Wingfields....Jeremy Herbert's design takes over most of the open auditorium - a right-angled stage with metal walkways surrounding it with the dining table on a riser surrounded by the bric-a-brac of the house including Laura's beloved collection of glass figurines, her glass menagerie. The acts are ushered in by a curtain that stretches around the playing area and that can be raised above or below the stage level.

The stage is also dominated by the WWI photo of the absent Mr Wingfield, castigated at by Amanda but a potent symbol of escape to Tom. Although wide and empty the space also feels claustrophobic as soon as mother and son start their eternal bickering. It actually works remarkably well aided by James Farncombe's lighting.As I said, Joe Hill-Gibbins' has directed the play in a slightly larger-than-life way but he also shows remarkably well how there are no villains in the piece - although Tom's actions can seem heartless and while Amanda can seem to be smothering her children with her vaunted dreams for them they are not villains, just people who find themselves trapped by circumstances somewhere other than where they want to be.

Leo Bill as Tom was the one I felt least able to transcend the shoutiness of his character. He certainly plays the fact that Tom is on course for a nervous breakdown - Tennessee suffered a nervous collapse while working at the shoe factory - but only occasionally let the character have three dimensions. I did like the way he changed his style in his scenes with Jim, suggesting that maybe Laura wasn't the only one under his All-American spell at High School.Being Tennessee Williams the roles for the two actresses are the most defined and the production is graced with two memorable performances from Deborah Findlay as Amanda and Sinéad Matthews as Laura.

Sinéad was quite heartbreaking as the pathologically shy Laura, one truly can imagine how she would haunt the dreams of her brother. In the magnificent duologue between Laura and Jim, with only the smallest of calibrations she charted a course from mortified terror at being confronted with the boy of her dreams to her blossoming under the warmth of his kindness to all her hopes being as broken as her favorite figurine. I saw her play a similarly devastating role as Hedwig in Ibsen's THE WILD DUCK a few years back at the Donmar and she really is an actress of rare subtlety.Deborah Findlay has an absolute field day as Amanda, not for her the fluttery relic of the South but a woman resolutely hanging on to life in reduced circumstances. She certainly didn't attempt to play the character for sympathy and one can truly understand the exasperation of Tom at her relentlessness but she certainly came into her own in the second act, first with the beautiful speech where she tells Laura of her magical summer of Jonquils and meeting her future husband and then with her flirtatiously gracious welcoming of the all-important Gentleman Caller, her crushed hopes on hearing of Jim's status was beautifully pitched. After seeing Findlay play a couple of dowdy, starchy roles recently it was a joy to see her rip it up as Amanda.

I also liked Kyle Soller as Jim O'Connor. Along with Jim's breezy good humour he also suggested the inner life of the former Boy-Most-Likely-To whose life has not turned out so rosy and for all his attendance of night classes you know his life when married will turn out to be as equally mundane.As familiar as I am with the play I still got caught up in the emotional pull of the story and was quite an emotional wreck by the end - proof positive that the production worked.

The play stands as a testament to Tennessee and to his guilt over his older sister Rose who did not have the physical affliction of Laura but was mentally unstable for most of her life. The intention behind the play is fully realised when one knows that, unknown to Tennessee, his mother consented to Rose having a lobotomy which went wrong leaving her irretrievably brain-damaged.

Tennessee's guilt was that he had grown distant from her in the years leading up to this, in part due to Rose informing their mother of his homosexuality. He couldn't save her but the following year he wrote THE GLASS MENAGERIE and the success of this and A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE a few years later ensured he had enough money to keep Rose in private nursing care for the rest of her life. She outlived him by 13 years.

In a year that has seen some excellent revivals, THE GLASS MENAGERIE is one of the very best. It's run at the Young Vic has been extended until January 15th - rush to see it!

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Constant Reader I am only now reclaiming the power of speech after having some face time with the Pope of Trash himself John Waters.

I have seen him twice before live and his droll take on his career and life in general always makes him great value. He was interviewed on stage by professional gay Philip Hoare who at times seemed to be trying to make it "Me And My Friend John" but Waters has been to that rodeo before I am sure and carefully maneuvered the talk back to himself deftly.

He was promoting his latest book ROLE MODELS and at the signing session afterwards I could not resist doing the fanboy thing after he signed the book and my paperback copy of CRACKPOT, a collection of his magazine articles. I am sure ROLE MODELS will be a blast.

I have been on such a Watery wave - see what I did there - I finally got round to watching his 1998 film PECKER that mate Michael had found cheap for me a few weeks back. Despite having the wonderful Christina Ricci in it I never saw it when it came out, probably down to the fact that "it wasn't Pink Flamingos".

Well it's not Pink Flamingos - but then what else is! - but it is a charming and delightful film, packed with enjoyable performances particularly from Ricci and Martha Plimpton as Baltimore's ultimate bar-room faghag!

Of course it also boasts a director's commentary and no one gives as good commentary as John Waters!