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Posts Tagged ‘Harvey Fierstein’

I first saw this ground-breaking Harvey Fierstein trilogy, more a three-act play in my view, when it premiered in the West End in 1985 with Anthony Sher in the lead role (which the playwright himself had played on Broadway). It was very long – well over three hours. It wasn’t revived here until 2012 at the Menier Chocolate Factory with David Badella, by which time it had lost an hour or so, but I was a bit less positive about it (https://garethjames.wordpress.com/2012/07/23/torch-song-trilogy). Now it’s the inaugural production at the Turbine Theatre, a revised version without ‘trilogy’ in the title which was first staged in the US just two years ago, it’s lost another 30 minutes and it finds favour with me all over again!

Arnold is a drag queen, highly-strung, Jewish and insecure. We first meet him in his dressing room as he is about to begin a relationship with Ed, a bi-sexual teacher. This first act / play is a slice of NYC gay life in late 70’s / early 80’s New York. We then move forward five years or so to the visit of Arnold and his new young man Alan to now married Ed and his wife Laurel, where things start to get a bit sexually confusing and complicated for all three men. The third part sees the now ‘widowed’ Arnold with his precocious gay teenage foster son David getting visited by Ed, newly separated from Laurel, and his recently widowed mother, who struggles to come to terms with Arnold’s very modern life.

Strangely enough, it seemed less dated this time than it did seven years ago and if you forget the period clothes and settings, hardly dated at all. The first act promiscuity is certainly pre-AIDS, but Ed’s bi-sexuality and the fostering / adoption seem very contemporary and the sparring between mother and son timeless. Ryan Dawson-Laight’s design transforms well from dressing room to apartment with Part Two’s overlapping scenes in the same bed superbly staged by Drew McOnie. I would have preferred a more elevated stage, though – I had to move from the un-raked first four rows to see properly. Matthew Needham is excellent as Arnold, an emotionally charged performance that turns angry in the pivotal mother / son scene, as Dino Fetscher is as Ed, a less emotional, cooler character. There’s a superb third part cameo from Bernice Stegers as Ma and two impressive professional debuts from Rish Shah as Alan and Jay Lycurgo as David. Daisy Boulton completes this fine cast as Laurel.

The theatre is in a good location, easily accessible, with plenty of nearby eateries. It’s a bit noisier than other under-the arches theatres, like the Union (it is the mainline into Victoria, after all) but I suspect that’s something to get used to rather than rectify, but the air handling is good, unlike the Union! Anyway, it’s a welcome new venue, particularly for those of us us south of the river, and an impressive opening show.

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The adaptation of British feel-good films as stage musical continues. This is the third in the last twelve months, following Made in Dagenham and Bend It Like Beckham, and in my book it’s another successful transition. This time, like The Full Monty before it, it came via Broadway, but thankfully without being relocated to an American town. It suffers from a dose of typically American sentimentality in the second half, but that can be forgiven for the pleasures elsewhere.

Northampton shoe factory Price & Son is struggling when Mr Price dies suddenly and son Charlie becomes the reluctant heir. The family loyalty to their employees means it has been on its uppers for some time and Charlie isn’t initially well disposed to flog a dead horse. A chance encounter with a drag queen gives him the idea of transforming it into a niche supplier of, well, kinky boots, and drag queen Lola becomes his unlikely business partner.

You can see why they had the idea of turning it into a musical and it works well. Though it’s ten years since I saw the film, Harvey Fierstein’s adaptation seems faithful to Geoff Deane & Tim Firth’s screenplay (apparently based on a true story). Cyndi Lauper might seem an odd choice for the music and lyrics but I thought her score suited the subject matter and period. It could do with toning down a bit (a bit too brash for Northampton!) but there are some very good solos and choruses. 

The clever design by David Rockwell facilitates speedy transition from a dull factory to the brash colourful world of drag, and ultimately a Milan catwalk, and Gregg Barnes costumes (presumably including footwear) are delightfully eye-popping. Jerry Mitchell is the perfect choice as director / choreographer; his irreverent sense of fun proven by Hairspray, Legally Blonde and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. I thought the sound was too loud, losing some of the lyrics – this is unforgivable for a show four or five months into its run.

In his last two shows, The Commitments and Memphis, Killian Donnelly has shone vocally and here he adds acting honours, investing the role of Charlie with great passion yet every bit the boy next door. Matt Henry is terrific as Lola, again with exceptional vocals and very good acting, though I’m not sure how he can even move in those dresses and boots. There is a lovely performance from Amy Lennox as Lauren and excellent turns from Jamie Baugh as Lola’s nemesis Don and Michael Hobbs as factory foreman George.

An excellent, uplifting evening which I’m glad I caught up with at last and will no doubt re-visit.

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The musical theatre summer shows at the Royal Academy of Music were a real treat this year.

The day started with a rare revival of Cy Coleman & Neil Simon’s Little Me (like the proverbial bus, about to be revived again at Ye Olde Rose & Crown), a show I’ve never managed to catch before now. Belle is recalling her life to biographer Patrick Dennis, during which we flash back to scenes from her action & husband-packed life. A poor kid in love with a rich kid, she set about getting wealth, culture & social position in order to get her man. By the time she does, he’s taken a turn for the worse through drink.

It’s a really funny musical farce. The plot’s preposterous twists and turns provide plenty of opportunities for fun and a fresh & sprightly production by Karen Rabinowitz (well designed by Alistair Turner) makes the most of them. The 25- piece orchestra (so rare these days) made a magnificent sound and the performances were excellent, with Kristin Lindstrom a superb Young Belle.

Hey, Look Me Over was a revue of Cy Coleman songs which reminded you how good his 12-show back catalogue is. Some familiar, some new, the 12 performers packed a lot into 60 minutes, with some lovely lyrics about the performers themselves (and their pending job search!) bookending the selection.

The second show, John Bucchino & Harvey Fierstein’s very un-American American chamber musical, A Catered Affair, was a big contrast. Somewhat like Howard Goodall (so I liked it!), it was a very beautiful piece telling the story of a working class New York family in the early 50’s. Son Terence has died in the Korean War. His sister wants a quick & simple wedding to take advantage of an expenses paid trip to California as a honeymoon, but her mum’s having none of it. Things get out of control, as they have a habit of doing with weddings, and relationships are threatened and finances become precarious.

There’s another excellent and simple design, made up of ladders and washing lines, from Alistair Turner,  fine staging by Matt Ryan and a smaller but again gorgeous sounding orchestra. In another fine cast, Christine Allado & Blair Robertson stood out as Janey’s parents. Together they created a production as close to perfect as you’d get.

The future of musical theatre is clearly safe in the hands of RAM.

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Sometimes you look back on an old classic and it seems ever so of the moment, but on a more modern classic and it seems ever so dated. So it is with this 30-year old three-acter (not a trilogy i.e. three plays, in my view). Having said that, there was much to enjoy at this Menier Chocolate Factory revival.

In the first act we meet drag queen Arnold as he meets Ed. This takes place in his dressing room, in front of a row of light bulb bordered mirrors. In the second act, Ed is now in a relationship with Laurel and Arnold with the much younger Alan. This is brilliantly staged in one big bed as they writhe and turn into different combinations. In the third act, Arnold is in the process of adopting a dysfunctional youngster when Ed comes back on the scene and mother turns up.

The first act doesn’t get the play off to a particularly good start, but it hits its stride in the second. There are some great lines and the relationships between Arnold and his typical though somewhat stereotypical mother is nicely spiky and with David, the potential adoptee, very moving. Ed isn’t a particularly believable character though, and this proves to be a fatal law. Even though I saw the original West End production of Harvey Fierstein’s play (with Anthony Sher as Arnold), I’m not sure if this is the character or the characterisation of Joe McFadden.

Douglas Hodge stages the second and third act well and Soutra Gilmour turns this small space from dressing room into bedroom into virtually a whole apartment cleverly (using the same row of mirrors / windows). David Badella is very good as Arnold and there’s a lovely cameo in the third play from Sara Kestleman as his Jewish mom.

I enjoyed the evening, but more as an opportunity to check out the play after 30 years than anything else. 2 hours 50 mins is a long time to spend on the Menier’s unrelentingly hard seats (on a uncharacteristically hot evening), so perhaps it’s a tribute to it that it held my attention despite this. Worth a re-visit or a first visit, but don’t go expecting too much.

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