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Posts Tagged ‘Dreamgirls’

The Best Theatre of 2017

Time to reflect on, and celebrate, the shows I saw in 2017 – 200 of them, mostly in London, but also in Edinburgh, Leeds, Cardiff, Brighton, Chichester, Newbury and Reading.

BEST NEW PLAY – THE FERRYMAN

We appear to be in a golden age of new writing, with 21 of the 83 I saw contenders. Most of our finest living playwrights delivered outstanding work this year, topped by James Graham’s three treats – Ink, Labour of Love and Quiz. The Almeida, which gave us Ink, also gave us Mike Bartlett’s Albion. The National had its best year for some time, topped by David Eldridge’s West End bound Beginning, as well as Inua Ellams’ The Barbershop Chronicles, Lee Hall’s adaptation of Network, Nina Raine’s Consent, Lucy Kirkwood’s Mosquitos and J T Rogers’ Oslo, already in the West End. The Young Vic continued to challenge and impress with David Greig’s updating of 2500-year-old Greek play The Suppliant Womenand the immersive, urgent and important Jungle by Joe’s Murphy & Robertson. Richard Bean’s Young Marxopened the new Bridge Theatre with a funny take on 19th century history. On a smaller scale, I very much enjoyed Wish List at the Royal Court Upstairs, Chinglish at the Park Theatre, Late Companyat the Finborough, Nassim at the Bush and Jess & Joe at the Traverse during the Edinburgh fringe. Though they weren’t new this year, I finally got to see Harry Potter & the Cursed Child I & II and they more than lived up to the hype. At the Brighton Festival, Richard Nelson’s Gabriels trilogycaptivated and in Stratford Imperium thrilled, but it was impossible to topple Jez Butterworth’s THE FERRYMAN from it’s rightful place as BEST NEW PLAY.

BEST REVIVAL – ANGELS IN AMERICA / WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF

Much fewer in this category, but then again I saw only 53 revivals. The National’s revival of Angels in America was everything I hoped it would be and shares BEST REVIVAL with Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. The Almeida’s Hamlet was the best Shakespearean revival, with Macbeth in Welsh in Caerphilly Castle, my home town, runner up. Though it’s not my genre, the marriage of play and venue made Witness for the Prosecution a highlight, with Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and Apologia the only other West End contributions in this category. On the fringe, the Finborough discovered another gem, Just to Get Married, and put on a fine revival of Arthur Miller’s Incident at Vichy. In the end, though, the big hitters hit big and ANGELS IN AMERICA & WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF shone brightest.

BEST NEW MUSICAL – ROMANTICS ANONYMOUS

Well, I’d better start by saying I’m not seeing Hamilton until the end of the month! I had thirty-two to choose from here. The West End had screen-to-stage shows Dreamgirlsand School of Rock, which I saw in 2017 even though they opened the year before, and both surprised me in how much I enjoyed them. Two more, Girls and Young Frankenstein, proved even more welcome, then at the end of the year Everybody’s Talking About Jamie joined them ‘up West’, then a superb late entry by The Grinning Man. The West End bound Strictly Ballroom wowed me in Leeds as it had in Melbourne in 2015 and Adrian Mole at the Menier improved on it’s Leicester outing, becoming a delightful treat. Tiger Bay took me to in Cardiff and, despite its flaws, thrilled me. The Royal Academy of Music produced an excellent musical adaptation of Loves Labours Lost at Hackney Empire, but it was the Walthamstow powerhouse Ye Olde Rose & Crown that blew me away with the Welsh Les Mis, My Lands Shore, until ROMANTICS ANONYMOUS at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse at The Globe stole my heart and the BEST NEW MUSICAL category.

BEST MUSICAL REVIVAL – A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC / FOLLIES

Thirty-two in this category too. The year started with a fine revival of Rent before Sharon D Clarke stole The Life at Southwark Playhouse and Caroline, or Change in Chichester (heading for Hampstead) in quick succession. Southwark shone again with Working, Walthamstow with Metropolis and the Union with Privates on Parade. At the Open Air, On the Town was a real treat, despite the cold and wet conditions, and Tommyat Stratford with a fully inclusive company was wonderful. NYMT’s Sunday in the Park With George and GSMD’s Crazy for You proved that the future is in safe hands. The year ended In style with a lovely My Fair Lady at the Mill in Sonning, but in the end it was two difficult Sondheim’s five days apart – A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC at the Watermill in Newbury and FOLLIES at the National – that made me truly appreciate these shows by my musical theatre hero and share BEST MUSICAL REVIVAL

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The weather hasn’t been kind to us this year at the Open Air Theatre. We managed to get through On the Town with delays and shivers, and this one with a thirty minutes unscheduled break in the first half. Though I’m a regular at OAT musicals, I didn’t book for this last year as I’m not that keen on Andrew Lloyd-Webber’s music (except Evita and his collaboration with Puccini, Phantom of the Opera!) and I’m an unbeliever (though if I was, I might take offence at some scenes). The reviews, awards and friends suggested I’d made a mistake, so we booked for this second run. Though there were things I admired, I think I was right first time.

It tells the story of the last year of Jesus’ life, sung through, more rock opera than musical, a year after The Who started the genre with Tommy. The music seems dated, much more so than other music of the period. The seriousness of the story doesn’t really allow Tim Rice to shine lyrically, with his trademark sharp wit. Timothy Sheader’s production seems more rock concert than musical theatre, returning the show to its first flash Broadway outing rather than following the more restrained London production.

Here we have Tom Scutt’s giant two-story metal structure with a huge fallen cross, something like 300 spotlights and smoke, flares and fire. I found myself admiring the spectacle, but not at all engaged with the story. The singing honours belong to Tyrone Huntly as Judas, who is as sensational, as had been suggested, and as he was in Dreamgirls, and there’s a terrific band under Tom Deering. Drew McConie’s choreography is bold and is the freshest aspect of the show.

Great spectacle, but I went to a musical not a rock concert, so not enough for me I’m afraid.

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The journey from Helena to Glacier National Park was shorter than I thought (I miscalculated the mileage) but it still managed to transform from mountains to fertile farming valleys to the shores of Flathead Lake just outside the park. Again, I was staying outside as it was fully booked within, in a lovely B&B called Bad Rock (which most importantly, by now, had laundry facilities!). My first day in Glacier was spectacular, driving the 50-mile  ‘Going to the Sun’ road from one end to the other, starting and ending at the lakeside (different lakes!) and rising and winding to over 6600 feet between, with spectacular views up to the glaciers and down to the valleys. Every time you turned a corner you encountered a different vista and had to stop continually to take it all in and to photograph it. One of my B&B companions mentioned a helicopter over breakfast and before you could blink, there I was linked up with four Belgians, up in the air seeing it all from a completely different and spectacular new perspective. By contrast, I followed this with a cruise on Lake McDonald where the small boat broke the perfect reflections and created extraordinarily beautiful effects.

The next journey was too long for a day, so I broke it in the university town of Moscow, Idaho, but before I got there I took an impulsive detour to Wallace in the Silver Valley, so called because it once contained hundreds of mines (and Wallace hundreds of millionaires as a result).  They’ve successfully reinvented themselves as a heritage site and I thoroughly enjoyed my visit down the mine, led by a retired miner (like Big Pit in Wales) who demonstrated equipment and techniques as well as showed them. A wander through the town was richly rewarding, with period architecture, a ‘bordello museum’ as an example of the miners leisure activities (I didn’t go in!) and an excellent lunch at the Fainting Goat, where the new managers were a couple passing through between Puerto Rica and the West and decided to stay!

From Moscow (nothing to say about it really, except that there are 17 Moscow’s in the US!) the journey continued through the rolling hills of Idaho, hay newly cut or still being cut, idyllic farms littering the landscape, until all of a sudden you’re confronted with a view down a big drop to the confluence of the Snake & Clearwater rivers with Lewiston, Idaho facing Clarkston, Washington, both named in honour of Lewis & Clark, Jefferson’s post-Louisiana Purchase explorers. From here, the journey to Joseph through an awful lot of gorges was slow and winding but really beautiful. The valley in which Joseph and Enterprise sit has Hells Canyon on one side, the Wallowa mountains on two others, and the gorges through which I travelled there on the fourth. If I’d known how inaccessible Hells Canyon was I might not have gone there, which would have been a shame as it was a lovely visit. My B&B was at the homestay end of the spectrum, but comfortable and welcoming. The drive to the canyon was through dense forest and the only part you could reach was the flooded and dammed part – the rest required serious hiking or even more serious upstream boat trips; but it was worth it and the stop made even better by a trip by cable car up Mount Howard for wonderful views and 2.5 miles of trails at 8000 feet!

The first part of the journey to Portland was pretty, but it got dull on the highway (despite a stop in Pendleton, an important stop on the Oregon trail, but closed as it was Sunday!) until we got to the Columbia River Gorge, at first a series of dams but later more rugged with waterfalls-a-go-go and lovely views. My B&B in Portland was a Victorian gem and my room had a sitting area in the turret! The neighbourhood of Irvington was both historic and cool with great restaurants but less than 30 mins by bus or tram to downtown. After three glorious weeks, the weather turned cloudy with showers but I was now in the first of two cities so there were indoor distractions, but before those there were the gardens – Chinese, Japanese & Roses! The Art Museum (like all others, so called because they combine art with historical and archaeological objects from around the world – I like this) was first class and there was a fascinating mansion that told the story of the Pittock’s, immigrants from Britain and self-made multi-millionaires. Portland’s downtown was very walkable with a blend of new and old architecture and also provided me with my one-and-only theatre trip, to see the musical Dreamgirls, based on the story of the Supremes. I’d seen the film but the show never made it to London. It didn’t really add anything to the film (well, it came first) but despite it being only the second preview, it was in good shape and the performances were outstanding.

I tried to get a tour to Oregon wine country but none were available (a bit late in the season) so I took an impulsive side-trip to Salem, Oregon’s capital, for a terrific visit to their art deco Capitol and a wander around the historic town. Another impulse took me into the Wild Pear Restaurant for lunch (at the counter) and when the owner clocked the accent the now customary ‘well, where are you from?’ solicited the equally customary ‘Wales, but I now live in London’. She said her husband’s family were from South Wales, so I asked the name, which was James – Geoff & Cecelia James. She treated me to a delightful lunch and planned my return through wine country with a winery and olive press to visit. Impulse wins again.

The shortish trip to my last base, Seattle, allowed me the luxury of two stops – the first in Olympia for yet another Capitol, the biggest and grandest if not the most tasteful! and the second in Tacoma to continue the Chihuly pilgrimage (a recommendation by a fellow Chihuly fan from Denver I met at the Bad Rock B&B – thank you!). The Art Museum had more of his work than the Glass Museum, though this did have live glassblowing demonstrations and a Chihuly Bridge to link it to the main street! The curator at the Art Museum was very welcoming to a British Chihuly fan (there weren’t many punters!) with discounted admission and a free gift. There were also works in the Courthouse (former Union Station), the University library and the Swiss pub (where he gifted them a handful of works in thanks for their hospitality!). Tacoma was a great example of a town re-inventing itself in style and I loved it.

Seattle is my only re-visit of the trip; I came here 14 years ago (whilst working on an e-commerce project code-named Seattle!). I stayed in the same B&B on Capitol Hill, the Gaslight Inn, in the same room (don’t fix it if it ain’t broke). In truth, the city isn’t as great as my memories, but there’s a new Chihuly ‘museum’, glasshouse and garden and having the car enabled me to cross over by car ferry to the Olympic peninsular for a final wonderful drive, a visit to the Olympic National Park, where the views of the mountain range of the same name from Hurricane Ridge were sensational, and the lovely old town of Port Townsend. The other newie was a bit of a disappointment. One of the founders of  Microsoft got architect Frank Gehry to build a perfect home for a rock ‘experience’, a crazy colourful affair, but sadly it’s a lost opportunity inside (unless you want to use the studios or you’re a Nirvana fan). The exhibition of Hendrix in London was nostalgic but the bolted-on SciFi & Horror presentations made Cardiff’s Dr Who experience (pre-facelift) look cutting edge!

The trip ended with a fascinating visit to the Boeing factory to see 747’s, 777’s and 787 Dreamliner’s being assembled, including watching the inaugural flight of a new 777 for American Airlines, followed six hours later my own flight on a BA Boeing 777! A suitably epic trip to celebrate 40 years of travel (Corfu September 1974 with Barbara & Mary!). 4750 miles driven (my normal annual mileage!) through 7 states, 9 national parks, 4 cities and 13 towns plus journeys by bus, tram, trolly, train, boat, car ferry, cable car & helicopter making it top the 5000 mile mark. When I’ve sorted the 2500 photos, there will be web albums!

In six months time, an even longer one to Australia – you have been warned!

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