Saturday, 29 September 2012

Broadway vs. West End

We hear all the time how West End shows are transferring to Broadway and vice versa due to their popularity with the original audience, and it is assumed that when crossing the pond, they will be just as popular.


An example of when the two musical capitals of the world were poles apart is the Broadway version of Shrek The Musical. It opened in December 2008 to mixed reviews but closed in January 2010 after just over a year, because the show wasn’t financially viable – basically wasn’t selling enough tickets, (and it was the most expensive Broadway production of all time costing an estimated $25million!)
broadway, new york's theatre district
However, over in the West End it is now one of the most popular family shows which has had continuing success here since May 2011 and is taking bookings until March 2013. What British critics called a “well-crafted show”, the Americans described as a “pretty bare-bones fairytale”. Oops, didn’t seem like we saw eye to eye on that one!

Viva Forever: The Next Chapter for the Spice Girls

The Closing Ceremony of the London Olympics saw the Spice Girls take centre stage in the world’s biggest show. It had been a while since they last performed together, and we hear that it may have been the last. At least we have their musical, Viva Forever to keep the girl power alive!
Take a look what each Spice Girl has been up to since the band’s split.

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Sleepless in Seattle – The Musical

Sleepless in Seattle, the 1993 romantic comedy is in the process of becoming a Broadway musical. Following in the footsteps of other film-turned-musicals such as Ghost, Sleepless in Seattle is getting a stage makeover.

sleepless-in-seattle-musical
Copyright Jim Cox
Originally written by the now late-Nora Ephron, Sleepless in Seattle starred Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks. It told the story of widower Sam bringing up his young son, Jonah in Seattle. Sam is persuaded to speak on the radio about his loss which causes hundreds of women to write to him. One woman, Annie, a newspaper reporter, inspired by the film An Affair To Remember, decides to write to him too, despite her engagement to Walter. They arrange to meet at the Empire State Building, but like all romantic comedies, it doesn’t go to plan.

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Big Interest in London’s Art and Culture

It was assumed that the London Olympics’ presence over the summer was going to to negatively affect sales of other London attractions, such as galleries, museums and theatre. However, a Guardian article suggests otherwise.
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(photo courtesy of santabanta.com)
The newspaper collated figures from a survey conducted by Aka, an entertainment marketing agency. 1600 adults in the UK were asked about their attitudes towards London’s arts and culture, and the results were very positive.
66.4% of those surveyed said they “would like to go to a museum or experience London theatre” when visiting London.  This is a promising amount of interest for arts organisations.
Of the five cultural activities people were most likely to see, the survey showed the following figures:
  • Pop concerts (54% interest)
  • Stand-up comedy (52% interest)
  • Musicals (52% interest)
  • Exhibitions and museums (51% interest)
  • Plays (46% interest)
These strong figures suggest that people want to visit some of London’s arts and cultural offerings. It also means that organisations should do more to make their attractions visible because the demand is clearly there.
There were also interesting results regarding reasons why people did not attend, or have not attended, these activities. A third of those surveyed admitted to missing a performance/exhibition because they:
  • forgot to buy tickets
  • assumed the event would be sold out
  • were too time pressured
  • had too much choice!

Jumpy Review – Our Reader's Review

Our reader Josh went to see Jumpy at the Duke of York’s - and laughed all the way through!  Here is his Jumpy review – the critically acclaimed show starring Tamsin Greig.  
jumpy-play-west-end

It is easy to see why April de Angelis’s new comedy Jumpy enjoyed such success in its original run at the Royal Court last year. Now playing in the West End, it is a hilarious and pertinent show, clearly written with today’s audience in mind. Tamsin Greig leads the cast with her fantastic portrayal of Hilary, a middle-aged mum whose job prospects and marriage are slowly fading away. The play focuses on the strained relationship between Hilary and her teenage daughter Tilly (Bel Powley), who develops an acute sense of sexual awareness and a tendency promiscuity, to the shock of her mother.
Friday, 21 September 2012

Woman In Black – Our Reader's Review

Our reader Karl was lucky enough to get The Woman in Black tickets, at the Fortune Theatre last week. Here’s what he thought about it!  
The publicity boasts that over 7 million people have paid to see The Woman in Black: this show is clearly a success. But it is heartening to see a popular, long-running production and to find it so fresh.
‘toys with the notions of illusion and performance’
Horror is a genre heavily dependent on manipulating the gaze. Theatre, a fixed-perspective spectacle before a static audience, might not seem like its natural home. Stephen Mallatratt’s smart adaptation of the original Susan Hill novel succeeds by acknowledging and embracing the limits of the medium. It toys with exactly the notions of illusion and performance that theatre can deal with.
‘Barriers between identities begin to break down as the Actor becomes Mr Kipps, and Mr Kipps becomes everyone else’
Mr Kipps comes to a haunted mansion on an island with a terrifying history. Weird things start to happen to Mr Kipps, alone in the spooky house. The simple ghost story becomes more complex and satisfying with the meta-theatre that surrounds it. The young Actor (Adam Best) enlivens the manuscript bought to him by Mr Kipps (Ken Drury), and the two of them begin to act it out together.  Barriers between identities begin to break down as the Actor becomes Mr Kipps, and Mr Kipps becomes everyone else.
‘deeply accomplished piece of entertainment’
The meta-theatre never overwhelms this deeply accomplished piece of entertainment. At first the design and dressing seems minimal; a single wicker chest serves as a carriage, a desk, a bed. More elaborate sets are half-glimpsed through gauze, suggested into being with artful lighting as the illusion grows to swallow the framing device. Some scenes include excellent film noir-esque constructions in the shadows.
‘excellent chemistry between Best and Dury’
Whilst certainly the play has scares (mostly of the sudden-jump variety), there is a light comic touch, particularly in the opening scenes. This is thanks to the excellent chemistry between Best and Drury, and Drury’s skilled performance of an unskilled performer. This comedy never failed to delight the audience. The frights come so much more successfully because the audience have been endeared to the characters through a little humour.
The Woman in Black is a smart, solid, unpretentious and thoroughly enjoyable piece of theatre. What is all the fuss about? Just see for yourself.
Have twitter?  If you want to be in with a chance of winning tickets to The Woman in Black, enter competwition!
Thursday, 20 September 2012

UK Average Theatre Ticket Price Up To £47

There has been much talk over the predicted sales of West End theatre tickets in 2012 being lower than normal.
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However, the West End box office has made a record £528 million over the last year and has seen the average audience capacity rise from 760 to 770.
This is very positive stuff indeed. People are obviously interested in theatre-going.
These figures come from a recently released report call the Box Office Data Report 2011 which evaluates how much London box offices make over the year, looking at which months, shows and theatres draw in the most revenue.
What is a little less exciting is the average face-value ticket price which has risen by 2.8% to £46.40, which is a little discouraging (but still less than the 4% inflation rate.)
The average price customers actually pay is almost £9 cheaper than the face value average at, £37.97 due to discounts on tickets. This is a difference of 22%, which has dropped from a little more impressive 25%, suggesting that discounts given on tickets aren’t as great and as popular as before.
Generally, the outlook is pretty positive. The average weekly earnings in London theatres is £50.9 million which is up from £45.4 million in the previous year’s study. Big name actors such as Kevin Spacey, James Corden and Sienna Miller are said to have been big draws in terms of audience numbers.
There is no telling to how things will change in the next coming year but there could be a possibility that the average ticket price may reduce due to many theatre productions predominantly plays, charging the majority of their tickets at £10, to encourage a new audience to theatres.

Viva Forever! – Cast & Plot Announced

The title role of ‘Viva’ for the upcoming Spice Girls-inspired musical Viva Forever! will be played by actress, Hannah John-Kamen. Viva’s mother, Lauren will be played by Mamma Mia!’s star Sally Ann Triplett.
viva-forever-spice-girls-musical-london
As well as the cast announcements, we now know the story of Viva Forever! Viva, a young ‘wannabe’ singer puts together a girl band and they enter a TV singing competition. Lauren, Viva’s adoptive mother, who lives on a houseboat, has her doubts about her daughter entering the music industry.  The show follows the girl band through their rise to fame and how they handle the limelight.
The plot came at a bit of a surprise, we had assumed that the musical would be all about the 5 Spice Girls themselves, but we like this different approach of creating the completely new character of Viva.

Monday, 17 September 2012

Rufus Hound to Star in One Man, Two Guvnors – The Tour

The Celebrity Juice, 8 Out Of 10 Cats and Nevermind The Buzzcocks star, Rufus Hound is to play the coveted role of Francis Henshall in the UK tour One Man, Two Guvnors. The role, now famously played by Tony Award winner James Corden will be Hound’s second theatre achievement, as he is currently playing in Utopia at the Soho Theatre.
One Man, Two Guvnors is currently played at the Theatre Royal Haymarket with Corden’s previous understudy, Owain Arthur playing the lead role, whilst he has been taking the show to Broadway.
Rufus has James to thank for introducing him to the play, as it was Corden who first got tickets for him.  This ultimately sparked his desire for the role. Hound said the day after he auditioned for the part, he got the phone call confirming he would be Francis Henshall on the UK tour!
We wonder what doors this role will open for Rufus, he seems to be well on his way to becoming a stage star!
The tour, which will run from October 2012 – February 2013 will travel to 11 theatres, including Leeds, Glasgow, Norwich and Nottingham.
Thursday, 13 September 2012

Loserville Comes to the West End

Loserville is joining the new London musicals, in the West End! It will soon be coming to the Garrick Theatre, replacing Chicago which is set to close in September.
The writers are James Bourne and Elliot Davis. James Bourne (no, not Jason Bourne!), is best known as a member of the boy band Busted. In an ear of manufactured music, the group wrote all their own songs, an played their own instruments.
After their split, he formed Son of Dork. It is this band’s 2005 album, ‘Welcome to Loserville’ on which the Loserville musical is based. Like The Who’s Tommy, the musical turns a story-telling concept album into a stage show.
Lil Chris Hardman will reprise his role for the West End, but Gareth Gates, who played Eddie, will be replaced by Stewart Clarke for the transfer. Eastenders star, Aaron Sidwell will play the young lead, Michael Dork.

We Will Rock You Arena Tour – 2013!

Next year, the London musical of Queen’s hits, We Will Rock You, will have played for 10 years in the West End. To celebrate, the show will be embarking on a worldwide arena tour.
The We Will Rock You Arena Tour will kick off in Nottingham in March. It will then visit Dublin before doing a European tour of  Finland, Denmark, Holland, Luxembourg, Czech Republic, Turkey and Bulgaria. It will return to Sheffield at the end of May, and go on to more venues in the UK. The tour will continue in Japan, South Africa, New Zealand and Australia, dates will soon be announced.
The UK venues that have been announced so far are as follows:
March 27 – 30: Trent FM Arena, Nottingham, UK
April 4 – 6: O2 Arena, Dublin, Ireland
May 30 – June 2: Motorpoint Arena, Sheffield, UK
June 5 – 9: Leeds Arena, Leeds, UK
June 12 – 15: Odyssey Arena, Belfast, Northern Ireland
June 18 – 22: Metro Arena, Newcastle
Rachel Tucker, of I’d Do Anything fame, will be playing the part of Meat. Other casting decisions are yet to be announced.
Tickets to the We Will Rock You Arena Tour will go on sale this Autumn.
Throughout the Arena Tour, the We Will Rock You London Musical will continue to play to audiences at the Dominion Theatre – buy tickets now!
Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Our Essential Theatre Guide to Buying Tickets Online

The online ticket booking process can be daunting if you’ve never done it before.  But in actual fact, it can be much easier than buying from the theatre directly.  Here are some points consider before purchasing.

Booking Online

  • Book ahead – Buying theatre tickets in advance will ensure you get the best price.
  • Ensure ‘STAR’ membership – Ensure your ticket-buying service belongs to ‘STAR’ (Society of Ticket Agents and Retailers). This means that they follow the code of practice designed to protect customer’s rights. For more information visit the star website.
  • Consider where you sit – Stalls and the dress circle give the best views and the most legroom. Look out for next week’s Seat Choosing Guide for lots of tips!
  • Booking fee – A fee is added to the ticket price which covers operational costs of ticket agents. This is standard practice in the UK. At some websites the displayed price of tickets includes the booking fee so there are no surprises at the checkout! However, some are sneaky so watch out for last minute fees added on at the end.
  • Know your method of collection  - Most of the time the tickets can be collected from the theatre’s box office up to 1 hour before a performance – handy so you don’t lose or forget your tickets!

If something goes wrong…

  • In the event of cancellation – The theatre will contact you and offer you a refund or exchange. If the show is cancelled during the first half, you will also be offered a refund or exchange.
  • Refunds and exchanges – Each ticket agent will have a different policy, but most agents and box offices do not offer refunds. Your booking confirmation email should contain the information of the ticket agent to contact and/or what their exchange policy is.

Wicked & Jersey Boys: The Movies!

We can’t believe this hasn’t happened before now but, finally Wicked and Jersey Boys are to be turned into feature length films.


Universal have finally given Wicked the green light and come 2014 Wicked will be seen by audiences on stage and on screen. Some big names have been approached as potential directors including JJ Abrams (Cloverfield, Mission: Impossible, Ryan Murphy (co-creator of Glee) and Rob Marshall (director of Chicago).
Universal had the chance to turn Gregory Maguire’s bestselling book into a film years ago, but they chose to turn it into a musical instead, which in hindsight was a very good decision!
wicked-musical-london

The musical has a very strong and vocal fanbase, and the fans have already started campaigning to get the original Broadway leads, Idina Menzel, who is currently performing her solo concert,  and Kristin Chenoweth to reprise their roles as Elphaba and Glinda respectively.
This probably won’t happen (sorry Wicked fans!) but we can picture Glee star, Lea Michele as the bad witch, with perhaps Carrie Underwood as Glinda.
Let’s hope they do the original musical justice though, there won’t a better advert for the production as a Hollywood movie!
As for the Jersey Boys movie, Frankie Valli and Bob Gaudio, two band members of The Four Seasons, will be producing the movie! GK Films have the rights to create the film and will have the help of the writers of the Jersey Boys musical, Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice to help create a screenplay. It seems that in true Italian style, they are keeping it within the family!
Frankie Valli and Bob Gaudio talking about the movie said, “We are extremely excited about the passion and commitment expressed by GK Films to take Jersey Boys to another level. Graham King has been a believer from day one. We are in good hands”.
jersey-boys-musical-london

Both movies should be instant hits with existing fans and hopefully people who haven’t seen the stage shows too!
Who can you see playing the witches? Which actors could play The Four Seasons?
Tuesday, 11 September 2012

We talk about... Sister Act

Culture vulture Georgia Halston saw Sister Act recently – and was pretty impressed!
sister-act-musical-london

Toplondonshows:  So, Sister Act… is the musical exactly the same as the movie?
GH: Not exactly the same, obviously there are changes in the dialogue and there are more musical numbers but the story runs mainly true to the film. Voice over from Whoopi Goldberg made it more reminiscent of the film too.
Toplondonshows: You seem to be pretty active on Twitter – review Sister Act in 140 characters or less.
GH: Energising, engaging and utterly entertaining, one of the best musicals I have seen.
Toplondonshows: You did it with 56 characters to spare – impressive! How does Sister Act compare to other theatre productions you’ve seen before?
GH: Sister Act is just completely entertaining from start to finish, the production of the stage and settings is amazing, and you get so amazingly lost in the engaging story. Some musicals can run a little dry between musical numbers but Sister Act keeps you involved throughout.
Toplondonshows: Time to fess up, did you sing along to any of the tunes?Is audience participation is a key part of Sister Act’s appeal?
GH: Yes definitely! There were a couple of songs from the original movie, so you already knew the words. I guess this is one of the attractions as the audience can’t help but participate in the numbers they are already familiar with. By the last song the whole theatre was on their feet, singing, dancing and clapping, it was an all round experience.
Toplondonshows: Which is better…the movie or theatre version of Sister Act? Don’t sit on the fence!
GH: Oh, the theatre version is much better. This might have more to do with the setting, no-one in a cinema or in their own home would spontaneously break into song and dance but the atmosphere created on the night is truly contagious!
Toplondonshows: Do you have a best bit?
GH: I think when Deloris is running from Vince in the closing scene. The way they flip from one setting to another while the nuns are running from one place to another is seamless through the onstage pandemonium created by the actors.
Toplondonshows: Give it a five-star rating…
GH: 5
Toplondonshows: Wow. Finally, would you consider yourself to be more like Mother Superior or Deloris Van Cartier?
GH: Ha! Definitely Deloris, she’s a good girl at heart but it doesn’t mean she can’t have a little attitude!
Toplondonshows: We hear you sister! 
Tickets for Sister Act, Manchester, in September-October 2012 are on sale now!
Sunday, 9 September 2012

Ghost the Musical Review

Simply, Ghost is story of a love which transcends death. When Molly’s devoted boyfriend, Sam, is killed, he remains on earth to save Molly from the same fate. The original movie’s true sense of grief, frustration, and overwhelming love puts it in the top ten list of movies of all time for most of the female population of the English speaking world. It won’t be hard for the new Ghost musical to draw an audience - it has one, teary-eyed and readymade, right here. How does it live up to the expectation derived from the hit film?

ghost-the-musical-review
Ghost’s design relies largely on digital projection and screens to simultaneously depict the ethereal nature of the ghost story, and the commercial bustle of professional New York. It's all very impressive, thank you Jon Driscoll, the technical mastermind behind the brilliant visuals. Especially spectacular are the dynamic train sequences, which ingeniously mix film projection and live acting to recreate a moving train on a still stage.

Unfortunately, its all too much: we wonder when theatre became cinema. Some touching scenes between Sam and Molly, including the classic pottery-wheel scene, are swallowed by the intrusive technological designs, and flashy special affects, which try to give the ghosts their powers. Attempts to be modern, American and ghostly sacrifice the poignancy of what should be one of the greatest tear-jerkers.

Individual performances are commendable. We find Cassie Levy, as Molly, moving, and Fleeshman’s portrayal of Sam’s frustration powerful. They cope well with some unremarkable songs, but excel in the good ones: ‘Here Right Now’ is Levy’s finest moment, and ‘I Had a Life’ Fleeshman’s. However, in general the music has too much of a pop, techno feel, and would sound more familiar from home stereo than a West End stage. The other exceptions to this are the songs of Sharon D Clarke, the seer Sam uses to save Molly. Her songs are uniquely those which sound right on a stage. While the glizty, show number ‘Outta Here’ sits badly alongside the slick, modern style of the rest of the musical, it still felt the most like a musical. Clarke’s hammy performance is welcome, and steals the show.

Ghost is the epitome of ‘all style, no substance’. If the bright New York lights could be reigned in, this might allow Levy and Fleeshman to shine: both great actors, they may have on-stage chemistry if only it were allowed to blossom. It is, after all, Molly and Sam’s transcendental love which made Ghost, the movie, a winner.

ghost-the-musical-show


Saturday, 8 September 2012

Finding Neverland Musical to Star Julian Ovenden

A musical version of Finding Neverland, the film starring Johnny Depand Kate Winslett, is coming to Leicester this September, and then to thWest End.  The story follows J. M. Barrie, as he finds his inspiration for his most famous children’s play, Peter Pan.
Julian Ovenden will star as Barrie, and Rosalie Craig will play Sylvia, the mother of the Llewellyn Davies boys, who were Barrie’s main inspiration. Craig is hot stuff in London at the moment, and has had roles in Ragtime, London Road, Swallows and Amazons, and Aspects of Love, for which she was nominated for the Whatsonstage.com Best Actress in a Musical Award. Julian Ovenden has just finished a run as Butley, in the West End and on Broadway. Prolific choreographer and director Rob Ashford, who has just directed the Broadway production of Evita, will direct.
One meeting in Kensington Gardens in 1903, between the Llewelyn Davies and J. M. Barrie, sparks the play which has spellbound children for over a century. It even featured in the Olympics opening ceremony on Friday!
Finding Neverland opens at The Curve, Leicester on 22nd September. The production company has eyes on the West End, for after the run at Leicester comes to an end.
Friday, 7 September 2012

New Musical – Top Of The Pops Live

A New jukebox musical we previously mentioned, Top Of The Pops Live, has been given dates and a venue!
top-of-the-pops-musical

The show will open at Eastbourne’s Congress Theatre on 18th – 20th October 2012. The unique concept and popular hit songs are sure to draw in the crowds and it is hoped to transfer to the West End after it’s first run.Top Of The Pops Live will pay homage to the hugely successful music chart television show that ran for over 40 years. It is assumed that the stage show revival will be just as popular, as hit songs from the 70s, 80s and 90s will be featured which is likely to entertain a wide range of audiences.The stage show will be classed as something very unique, combining classic songs with cutting edge technology which will allow the audience members to vote for their ‘number 1’ song, which will ultimately get performed on stage as the finale.Along with the interactivity of the show, vintage clips of the programme throughout the 4 decades will also be played, capturing some of the UK’s most iconic performers such as David Bowie, Blondie and Oasis.
The BBC have allowed the production to go ahead, having signed a licensing agreement with Flying Entertainment who will work with them to create the show. Thriller Live! director Gary Lloyd who will also be helping creating Top Of The Pops Live said, “Bringing Top of the Pops to the stage has been an exciting process. With today’s technology and using all of the iconic moments Top of the Pops brings, this show will excite audiences old and new.”
There has seemed to be a big surge of jukebox musicals recently but it is clear they are popular with audiences. Lloyd’s aim to persuade new as well as old audiences to the theatre is too an important subject, that should rightfully be encouraged.
The idea of an interactive audience sounds pretty cool to us, what do you think? Do you hope that Top Of The Pops Live will make it to the West End?
Wednesday, 5 September 2012

We Talk About… Chariots of Fire

We interviewed Mitch, who saw Chariots of Fire at the Gielgud Theatre last week.  Take a look to see what he thought.
chariots-of-fire-gielgud-theatre

Did you have any preconceptions of Chariots of Fire?
No, I was only aware that is was a film and to be honest the most I knew about Chariots Of Fire was the soundtrack!
How well did you feel the stage/auditorium was used to combat the obvious lack of 400m track space?
I thought the set was brilliant. The rotating centre stage helped a lot as it took the focus away from the figure of 8 running routes and helped create those epic photo finishes in the races.

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Is Theatre Finally Becoming More Accessible?

There are more and more arguments to support the view that theatre audiences are becoming an exclusive club, and because of this, people are being put off from particularly West Ens shows, especially plays.
It could be argued that the price of theatre tickets is the biggest turnoff to audiences and rising prices are excluded a large potential audience.
However, things may be changing.
Over the last few months we have reported many ways shows, theatre companies and producers are changing the ways they are offering theatre and ultimately giving potential audience’s more reasons to go.
Michael Grandage’s theatre company are selling most tickets for £10 to his upcoming play series, along with ‘A Chorus of Disapproval’ which is also selling £10 tickets. Theatre company, Theatre Deli are giving you the chance to pay what you want for their shows, while The Northern Ballet are giving audiences a taste of ballet by allowing them to watch rehearsals.
Now a local theatre in Essex has decided to stream their new series of shows online, with a charge of £2.99 per performance!
The Broadway Theatre, in Barking has come up with an ingenious way to encourage more people into the theatre. With technology company, Ipercast’s help, the theatre will be streaming plays from its new season of shows. These shows will be available online to watch at a cost of just £2.99. It is hoped that the integration of new media and traditional theatre-going will help draw audiences into the theatre, and learn that there is something for everyone to enjoy.
The Broadway Theatre’s new season includes two new plays. ‘Doorman’, an adult comedy about bouncers which will feature cameos from the cast of The Only Way Is Essex, who are hoped to be another draw for the audience. Soap star, Kirsty Leigh Porter and Shameless actor Ciaran Griffiths will also be starring. Other shows include ‘Airport’, and ‘All The Single Ladies’, a stand-up comedy show about dating featuring comedian Andi Osho.
These are all great ways to encourage people to try theatre. Lowering price seems obvious; lower price = bigger audience. The arts industries are constantly facing funding cuts, so in some ways it is understandable that theatre prices are rising to compensate this however annoying it for us who want to see as much theatre as possible!
Live streaming has its perks but also it may have its drawbacks too. Are we now that lazy, that we can’t even drag ourselves down to a local theatre to watch live a performance? Yes, the price is an obvious positive, but what if everybody starts streaming theatre?
Audiences will become smaller and eventually disappear and then lose even more money!  Everyone will be tucked up in bed with a cuppa watching theatre on their laptops. And at that point, you might as well as just watch TV – resulting in the theatres having the same problem they started with!
Do you think live online streaming is the way forward for theatre? Or does it detract from the ‘theatre experience’? Tell us your thoughts.
Monday, 3 September 2012

Are New Musicals in the West End Learning From Jersey Boys?

At the end of summer, there will be a bunch of shows closing in the West End, including the long-running Blood Brothers (24 years) and Chicago (15 years). They will be replaced by some new musicals including Viva Forever! and Soul Sister, featuring music from the Spice Girls and Tina Turner, respectively. So many original musicals giving way to new musicals with pre-existing music, that follow the true story format of Jersey Boys musical!  We must ask: how is the the now-prevalent ‘jukebox’ musical being fine-tuned? How is this changing the scene for musical writers?
london-musicals
Musical lyrics are better if written with a musical in mind
The storylines of Blood Brothers, by Willy Russell, and Chicago, by the musical duo behind Jersey Boys, Bob Fosse and Fred Ebb, are teary, moving and complex. It is hardly a surprise that both have captured attention for such a duration. But it is not just the original stories that make them so impressive as musicals. It is also the original music, created with a musical production of some sort, be it film (Chicago) or stage (Blood Brothers) in mind.
There is no doubt that the songs from these musicals work well in their respective plots. The Cell Block Tango could never have been conceived outside of the Chicago plot, and it is so much the better for it. Tell Me It's Not True is the tear jerker it is because of Mrs Johnstone’s situation in the telling. The stories have infinitely more warmth and scope thanks to the music and lyrics that fit the book like a glove.
Which is why looking at the list of shows which is replacing the summer closures makes for initially depressing reading.
Accommodating pre-existing hits makes for dodgy plotting
Soul Sister, Let It Be, and Viva Forever! each rely on the pre-existing hits of a band. Such an approach, employed by Mamma Mia! and We Will Rock You musicals in the West End at the moment, makes the expense of a songwriter unnecessary, but also tests the plotting skills of the book writer. That is, coming up with a credible plot to fit pre-existing hits is tough. Any line of the book can become a corny musical intro.
Although Mamma Mia! and We Will Rock You have a large, ready-made fanbase (and this is why they are big, modern box-office successes), their plotting is essentially weak. In contrast, Priscilla, Queen of the Desert also takes pre-existing songs, but works them more loosely into a ‘drag-act’ plot which has performance at its centre. It works much better because the songs are being sung as performance, rather than worked into plot.
A musical plot that tells ‘the story of the band’ is the best fit with any pre-existing songs
But the ‘jukebox’ musicals that work best are those that take the true story of a band, and explore that – like Jersey Boys.
It is for this reason that we are most looking forward to Soul Sister, which has just come to the West End this week. We love Tina Turner’s songs, and her personal history with abusive husband Ike is interesting. We think the personality behind the diva image could be really engaging. Surely in this context, the Tina Turner hits we all know and love will fit perfectly, just as do Oh, What A Night and Rag Doll in Jersey Boys.
Let It Be, the Beatles musical, also relies predominantly on the hits, concerts and history of the band itself. It will incorporate real video footage, a concert structure, and will retell the story of the band’s rise to fame from modest Liverpudlian roots. It is described on their official website as a ‘concert-jam’ to celebrate 50 years of the band. It sounds to us like a British Jersey Boys, and – since we loved Jersey Boys – that is a real compliment.
The plot of The Spice Girls musical, Viva Forever! also has performance and an artist’s development at its centre. It is not the direct story of the Spice Girls, but does take its inspiration from their zero-to-hero pop journeys.
Jersey Boys got it right
Does this mean that musical producers are learning their stuff about the controversial jukebox musical? It's not hard to see that they are here to stay, as they bring large audiences keen to hear songs they already know and love. However, the way to go, in order to clean up the act on the messy plots of We Will Rock You and Mamma Mia! (both big hits, but neither recognised as particularly tightly written) is to stick with true, touching stories that the public know.
The Jersey Boys marked the beginning of a change in the way new musicals are developed – hits that act as a net, catching a ready-made audience, and a true story that won’t run the risk of being non-credible. It looks like the new musicals in town have learned from this American import.
It is sad news for music and lyric writers themselves, and doesn’t even leave much space for talented plotters and book-writers (there must be some out there, the team behind Mamma Mia! and We Will Rock You aside). As for the new musicals themselves? We're hopeful. If they are anything like the Jersey Boys musical, we can’t wait to see them.

We Happy Few: The Faces of Henry V

Full of the spirit of patriotism, London is going mad on Shakespeare’s Henry V this summer.

Theatre Delicatessen

The craze started at the disused London BBC headquarters, in Marylebone High Street, where the Theatre Delicatessen ran a production in June.  It was  a morden day war scenario, showing glory and controversy together in the character of Henry, played by Philip Desmueles.  Innovative stage and sound design turned an old office block into a war scene, full with helicopters, aeroplanes and bomb explosions.  Theatre Delicatessen shows that anywhere can provide a good place for theatre.

The Hollow Crown

Tom Hiddleston
Last week, a superb Henry V was broadcast on BBC, as the last part of the Hollow Crown series, covering Shakespeare’s second tetralogy. Tom Hiddleston played a fractious, dynamic Henry, and the battle scenes were full of real blood and real gore.

The Globe

Henry V is currently showing at the Globe, with Jamie Parker (History Boys, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead) in the title role.  Fraternal, though prvoking, bloody and humorous all at once, the Globe is the perfect venue for instilling extreme reactions in the audience.  Its as immersive as the Delicatessen Theatre experience, but in an entirely different way.
Showing Henry V at the Globe this year, it is also the perfect choice in terms of patriotic spirit in the Olympic season.  Last year I saw All’s Well That Ends Well’ which, while interesting and stimulating, was a ‘problem play’ which left you disenamoured with human nature.  Despite all the jollying-up the Globe attempted, it was still a dispiriting experience. Right now, ‘we few, we merry few, we band of brothers’ is just what the Globe needs.

Jude Law, Noel Coward Theatre

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Jude Law as Henry V
So, its a bit of a cheek to put this one in a list of this summer’s London Henrys, since it doesn’t preview until late 2013, but we’re already selling tickets!  After all, it is Jude Law.
Jude Law is a very versatile actor.  He’s great in chick flicks such as the Holiday, action films like Sherlock Holmes, and on stage – such as Hamlet, in 2009.  So we can’t wait to see him on another of Shakespeare’s best.

Propeller, Hampstead Theatre

The famous all male theatre company did Henry V and The Winters Tale, this June.  Henry V, like the Delicatessen production, was present day dress, all balaclavas, military attire and the sound of helicopters.
As is usual with Propeller, it was hugely testosterone filled.  Where the irony of this worked in the Taming of the Shrew production I saw in 2007, here is was arch, and satirical – a little too arch and satirical for purpose?  Fun, full of bombs, but treading the same, up-to-date, all-male path as ever.

Rob Brydon’s West End Debut

Rob Brydon is following the footsteps of fellow Gavin and Stacey star, James Corden and is heading to the West End for his debut in the famous theatre district.
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He will be starring in A Chorus of Disapproval, at the Harold Pinter theatre later this year.
The play, written by Absent Friends writer Alan Ayckbourn will also star Olivier award-winner Nigel Harman, currently playing in Shrek The Musical, as well as Ashley Jensen, whose previous theatre roles include Attempts On Her Life and King Lear.
A Chorus Of Disapproval is set around the rehearsals for an amateur production of John Gay’s The Begger’s Opera, the plot of which is interwoven with and reflects the action of the play.
Although not Brydon’s stage debut, as he has previously played at the Belfast Lyric Theatre alongside Kenneth Branagh in The Painkiller. His turn in the West End could lead to a similar success of his former co-star James Corden, who is currently starring in the play, One Man, Two Guvnors on Broadway.
The play will also follow the £10 ticket price trend, set by Michael Grandage’s series of plays due to start in November. 100’s of tickets for each performance will be priced at £10 to entice a new audience to the theatre.
A Chorus Of Disapproval will be showing from 17 September 2012 to 5 January 2013 at the Harold Pinter Theatre.

Julius Caeser Play Review

There was no better time than the London 2012 Festival for the Royal Shakespeare Company to produce Gregory Doran’s contemporary version of Julius Caesar, as part of the World Shakespeare Festival. This is Shakespeare with a twist: the play has been taken from its original setting in the Ancient Roman senate, and placed in a volatile, modern day African state. For the first time we see Julius Caesar being played by an all-black cast. This attracts modern audiences, and may interest people who do not normally enjoy the traditional versions of Shakespeare’s plays. Strong parallels can be drawn between the conflict in the play, and that of modern countries.

The shining light of the cast was undoubtedly Ray Fearon in his role of Mark Anthony. He was simply brilliant. He delivered the famous ‘Friends, Romans, Countrymen’ speech with insatiable energy; it was easy to see how he managed to turn the crowd against the conspirators and towards Caesar. Paterson Joseph was also masterful at playing Marcus Brutus. Concerned that Caesar had too much power, Brutus leads a group of noblemen to assassinate him, with the help of Caius Cassius (Cyril Nri). However, this is not just a play concerning politics; there are also prophetic dreams, ghosts and a Soothsayer to add to the intrigue of the play.

While the African dialects add to the African feel of the play, set in a country torn apart by civil war, they do occasionally make the Shakespearean language a bit harder to understand. Nevertheless, this never took away from the excitement of the play, even for those familiar with the play. Another wonderful touch was the band of musicians who played traditional, rustic African instruments. This contrasted harshly with the contemporary violence in the war scenes. The set, lighting and sound effects were subtle, which allowed all the attention to be focused on action and word.

Doran’s Julius Caesar is a poignant and exciting play thanks to both the power of Shakespeare’s poetry and the skill of the actors. Doran successfully turns Ancient Rome into sub-Saharan Africa, and does not lose the play’s messages of power and ambition. Although uprooting Shakespeare’s plays from their original contexts can prove controversial, in our opinion this thrilling production is a must-see for any student or fan of Shakespeare.