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No first night for Twelfth Night?

The press night diary is already so full already that we hardly search out shows that we are not actually invited to see. It barely entered my radar that the return of an all-male production of Twelfth Night to Shakespeare’s Globe, with Mark Rylance reprising his award-winning turn as Olivia that he first played there, when he was the theatre’s artistic director, in 2002, was not being offered for review at the Globe.

Instead, a press day has already been announced for the transfer to the West End’s Apollo on November 17, when we’ll see the already-reviewed Richard III again in the afternoon, then see this incarnation of Twelfth Night in the evening.

It what is turning out to be the most gripping — yet also tragic — behind-the-scenes scenes to happen in modern musical history, Rebecca - the Musical is in serious trouble again. It was originally being talked up for a West End opening at the Shaftesbury two years ago.

It was even ‘announced’ on a major theatre website, as I wrote here at the time: “The information came from a press release from the show’s original Austrian producers. But no release had been issued here, so I checked with the show’s general manager (as good journalists might be expected to do), and he replied, ‘Discussions are continuing for Rebecca to open in London next year but at this stage there are no confirmed plans.’ Of course, those discussions are no doubt with the Shaftesbury (being one of the few available West End houses capable of housing a major musical) so it may well turn out to be true, but until it is officially announced by the London producers, it seems a bit premature to act on information coming from Europe.”

Privacy -- offstage and behind-the-scenes

How much do we give away and how much do we keep of (and to) ourselves? It’s a question that arises when you’re writing a regular blog or conversing frequently, as I do, on Twitter; you’re effectively giving permission to the world to have (a little bit of) access to your life. But you can and do ultimately control just how much you give away.

On Sunday evening, for example, my partner (now husband) and I threw a private party in London to celebrate our wedding that took place in New York this summer, and also our respective birthdays earlier this month. Afterwards, I decided not to tweet the guest list, though some were performers and producers whose work I particularly admire but more importantly I also value as friends. (Stick around this business long enough and you inevitably forge friendships with actors whose work you follow closely enough).

Taking Jesus Christ Superstar back to the rock arena

The rock world has been doing it for ages, of course; though I don’t go to many, concert tours regularly seem to turn into fully-fledged theatrical presentations. The Pet Shop Boys, for instance, have regularly sought to make more of a show of their live appearances than just concerts, employing people like the late Derek Jarman, ENO’s David Alden and David Fielding, Sam Taylor-Wood and theatre designer Es Devlin (who did the Olympics opening ceremony) to hep create their live concert shows.

That, in turn, has meant that shows like American Idiot (coming to the UK next month, to open in Southampton then tour), The Who’s Tommy and We Will Rock You have embraced the rock arena style of presentation to bring rock music back to the theatre. Just tonight Let It Be, the latest Beatles tribute show, opens at the West End’s Prince of Wales.

Where does the restoration levy go?

One of the great mysteries of the theatrical universe is just how the restoration levy is spent that most theatre chains, both in the West End and on Broadway, now routinely charge. There’s no transparency at all, despite the fact that theatregoers are forced to cough up this small but ultimately significant sum on top of their ticket price, and that’s before they’ve paid other add-ons like booking fees (per ticket) and transaction and delivery charges. (Surely the most puzzling delivery charge is the one you’re charged by the providers of the ticketing services for Broadway theatres for selecting the ‘print your own tickets’ at home option; you’re using your own printer ink to do so, yet somehow the fact that they send you an e-mail to print out the ticket incurs a $2.75 fee).

Just this week ATG — Britain’s largest theatrical owner, with 39 theatres in its control either as owners and/or managers — announced that by the end of 2013 it will have spent some £15m in capital projects across its venues.

Not to be passed by

The true path towards acceptance and integration of minorities isn’t made, of course, when special pleading is made for them but they’re happily, healthily and naturally integrated into the way of things.

It’s why colour-blind casting in the theatre is so brilliant; both Derek Jacobi and currently Jonathan Pryce, playing the title role in King Lear at the Donmar Warehouse and Almeida Theatres respectively, had one of their three daughters played a black actress — respectively Pippa Bennett-Warner (as Cordelia) and Jenny Jules (as Regan), without comment or surprise.

Creating a true theatrical ensemble

The family that prays together, stays together, goes one adage. You could also say that the family that plays together, stays together, too. There’s always a lot of idealistic talk about the idea of creating theatrical ensembles, as witness the RSC attempts to put together companies that work together for two years. But what about twenty? Forty?

Last week I visited Cornwall to see the return to its roots of Footsbarn, a company founded there some 42 years ago, performing their latest show, Indian Tempest. Footsbarn may no longer be based in that far-flung county — like Peter Brook, they long ago decanted to France, but like Brook, too, the entire world is their stage now, as they have travelled to and gathered partners and associates from India to Australia.

A matinee, a Pinter play....

In Sondheim’s immortal “The Ladies Who Lunch” from Company, Joanne famously sings of a certain type of women’s desperate attempts to fill their days:
Another long exhausting day,
Another thousand dollars,
A matinee, a Pinter play,
Perhaps a piece of Mahler’s.
I’ll drink to that.
And one for Mahler!

Notwithstanding Elaine Stritch’s hilarious admission that when she first sang the song, she thought Mahler’s was a type of cheesecake, I always think of the song when I go to matinees — not least when they’re Pinter plays.

The costs of star rating inflation

There’s always a lot of debate around the subject of star ratings, and the necessarily shorthand way they have of reducing a show’s worth to a simple visual reference without allowing room for much critical nuance. There’s no universal standard for what the star ratings mean, either, so it really depends on which critic you’re reading and who is applying them. 

One critic’s two stars for effort is another’s more generously disposed three stars; yet another critic’s four star rave is someone else’s five. The problem is particularly acute in the middle-ground of three stars, which a producer once told me he and his colleagues hate — it’s neither one thing nor another; yet it’s truthfully somewhere in the middle that most productions should naturally occupy.

The Mousetrap has, after sixty years in the West End, gone on what its producers are billing its “first ever UK tour.” That ignores entirely the history of the play which, before it ever reached the West End, was premiered at Nottingham Theatre Royal, then played six further regional dates (Oxford, Manchester, Liverpool, Newcastle, Leeds and Birmingham) on a pre-West End tour, before arriving at the Ambassadors. 

I caught the first matinee of the tour earlier this week at Canterbury’s new Marlowe Theatre, which was almost entirely rebuilt on the same site that a theatre of that name has occupied in a former 1930s Odeon Cinema since 1984 and which re-opened in a brand-new building last year.

No such internal or external refurbishments, however, have happened to the venerable warhorse of The Mousetrap, which — after it was originally revealed that this production would be directed by Angus Jackson — saw it merely put a new version of the West End original back onstage, directed by Ian Watt Smith, who directed the 58th and 59th years in London. Anthony Holland’s 1965 set has also been replicated, and even one London cast member is back: Jan Waters, who first played Mrs Boyle in 2001 and has played her three times in the West End since.

I saw it on my birthday on Wednesday, which happened to be my 50th, and I now feel like I’m rapidly closing the gap with The Mousetrap, which when I first saw it in the early 80s had only been running for around 30 years, when I was only twenty myself. How time flies!

Goodall and Guettel: A Tale of Two Composers

Arguably the two best musical theatre composers of the last 30 years are both writers that have become famous for other things: the first, Howard Goodall for his TV theme music and documentary hosting, as well as classical compositions as Classic FM composer-in-residence for whom he also presents weekly radio shows; the other, Adam Guettel for his own musical theatre heritage (as the grandson of Richard Rodgers and son of Mary Rodgers), but to which he has made his own decisive and important contribution.

But seeing a show by the first receive its US premiere in Philadelphia last week, and he other himself appearing in cabaret in London this week, was to be reminded, if one needed to, that there is a life for British musical theatre beyond Andrew Lloyd Webber, or for Broadway beyond Oklahoma! and The Sound of Music.

Broadway celebrated on (and off) Broadway

I’ve just returned from a quick trip to New York, and crammed a lot more in three days than even I am usually accustomed to. I feel like I’ve seen pretty much every single show currently playing on Broadway — or due on Broadway in the next eight months — from Spider-man - Turn off the Dark (twice over, in addition to the various incarnations I’d seen three times before) to the upcoming Scandalous and Motown - the Musical; and I did it all in just one day on Sunday!

Let me explain. On Sunday morning, I joined the eager throngs in Times Square — though I was able to watch from the relative comfort (and proximity) of the press bleachers right beside the stage— for the annual free Broadway on Broadway concert.

The how, why and wherefore of Broadway misses

Flop shows aren’t born; they are made. And mad as well as bad. But often truly unforgettable, in a way in which the merely mediocre erase themselves gently from the memory bank. No one who ever saw it, for instance, will ever forget The Fields of Ambrosia, and its immortal corresponding lyric, “Where everyone knows ya”.

But my favourite moment, quite possibly of any musical ever, was the song sung by the travelling executioner’s assistant after he’s been gang-raped in prison: “If it ain’t one thing, it’s another.” No wonder that Paul Taylor, reviewing its short run in 1996, dubbed it “a reprehensibly enjoyable new musical”.

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