With the news that the very public falling-out between sacked Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark director Julie Taymor and the show’s producers has finally been settled, I can’t help but feel there is a lot more to this story than meets the eye. Whilst we will we never know the details of the agreement between the two parties, it would appear to a layman that with an “agreement” being reached, Taymor’s initial lawsuit had at least some foundation. Spidey was an odd case full stop, of course. The lengthy list of big name producers involved, the strange attitude towards the critical press, the alleged ‘plan x’; it conjures images of clandestine meetings in candlelit back rooms at midnight – dozens of shifty-looking suits plotting Taymor’s demise. A fanciful, unrealistic image but one which the producers themselves have done nothing to dispel – perhaps because there was no clear figurehead. Taymor has proved surprisingly protective of a production which is not only her worst, but one of the biggest financial and PR disasters in Broadway history. I nearly managed not to mention money. Taymor isn’t concerned with money, either, according to her legal position.
So where exactly does this leave a) the individual artist Julie Taymor and b) the perception of theatre producers in general? Well, both could do with a serious charm offensive. If Spiderman was Taymor’s vision; whose fault is it that it’s absolutely dreadful? Who exactly are the ‘producers’, which one had the biggest share or executive involvement? Who was there at every rehearsal saying “this is really poor, I’m worried”? How much does the average suited-and-booted theatre producer know about creating quality theatre?
The question here, surely, is the role of the modern theatre producer as an influence on a production. Much like a ceremonial director or non-executive chairman of a large company is used to gain credibility, how much are ‘big name’ theatre producers just a name on a poster? And how much work are the individuals doing to cash those fat paychecks? In Spiderman’s case, was it enough to throw $75m at a show, hire the (then) biggest name in musical theatre and hope for the best? Evidently not. Spiderman got what it deserved and it certainly lacked leadership from the top – missing that person who stopped for a moment and said ‘wait a minute, this is rubbish’. With Spiderman conceivably going to close on a loss when it eventually grinds to a close, hopefully some lessons will have been learned.
Cameron Mackintosh, arguably the most successful producer in modern theatre history, jumps at the chance to tell the story of his rise to success. How he began sweeping the stage of Theatre Royal, Drury Lane and worked his way up the ladder thanks to an intense love of theatre, hard work and dedication. Is it any coincidence he has overseen some of the best musical theatre productions ever staged? Of course, the likes of Cameron Mackintosh. Bill Kenwright Ltd – even Andrew Lloyd Webber – are the names. La creme de la creme, overseeing productions worth millions of pounds and with CV’s to back it up. Okay, forget Lloyd Webber. He wrote some cracking tunes in the 1980′s, though. I’ve had the pleasure – and misfortune – of meeting numerous theatre producers of both AAA and ZZZ list productions. They have ranged from the bumbling, “isn’t it all marvellous, jolly good show” Etonian types, who I suspect know nothing about theatre whatsoever but have a bit of money and time to spare, a respected name in business and consider theatre producing a terrific gas – and wonderful opportunity to get drunk at press night parties. And there’s the Max Bialystock “please give my show a good review, I’m desperate” types who, believe it or not, are the more likeable, passionate variety. Normally with their own money invested, which they saved from working in the real world. #dear
Some theatre producers never cease to amaze me. It is like the old jokes about Fox television executives in the States: they consider every viewer to have the intelligence of a gnat. Some producers expect us to be starstruck by the latest Hollyoaks/EastEnders/X-Factor reject and favour a desperate stunt cast special to actually investing time in their own production. I know of producers in long-running shows who have literally not been to see their own product in years. Are some ‘theatre producers’ really doing any producing at all – or are they focused on chopping that extra £10k per week off the running cost. Do we really need a band of seven, when we could have four? Is theatre production solely risk management in 2013?
So, there are the hard-working theatre career progression types, the ‘fabulous show, darling’ brigade and the ‘I just want to make rent’ triers. And then there are some nasty pieces of work… I know of one unnamed producer who owes a well-respected and experienced West End performer over £5000. Despite sending countless e-mails, requesting payment of the monies due, the performer received no reply. After several weeks of silence, the performer resorted to visiting the local theatre playing host to the producer’s current show, in the hopes of speaking about the matter. Said producer then went on to publicly allege on Twitter that the performer was acting aggressively – making a potentially libelous accusation, that the performer is rightly prepared to dispute in court. What a way to treat a seasoned professional – and one who is still out of pocket. I suppose there will always be cowboys in all trades.
Maybe some lessons haven’t been learned after all.
- Harry Zing
When? Tuesday 5th February 2013
Who? Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway et al – full list here.
In my life, I’ve made no secret of my love – some could even argue obsession – with Les Misérables. If I had to, I’m sure I could recite the entire libretto (and, even more worryingly, many of the stage directions and technical cues) by heart. I’m certainly not alone in being a young(ish!) person whose affinity with theatre of all flavours began with “The Glums”. As a child, I found musicals somewhat unappealing; all that dancing around, bursting into song – it’s just not cricket. Or, in my case, football. Sure, The Sound of Music, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and even Mary Poppins are fun, carefree ways to spend a rainy afternoon for many, including my older self, but to me they aren’t the musical theatre that I fell in love with. Les Misérables doesn’t trifle with flying cars, magic handbags or
singing nuns in convents (Ed. have you seen the movie?). Les Miz is a dark, dramatic and hugely emotional three hour journey into a world of war, death and famine, with a cast of characters it is impossible to view as anything other than tragic heroes. Les Misérables transcends the ‘musical’ bit of musical theatre; I view it as a majestically scored, entirely sung through play. The original, finest and unquestioned masterpiece of the last three decades of British theatre.
This is why I can’t keep away. I have seen the West End production in excess of thirty times – on occasion simply to see a friend or highly rated cast give their take(s) on a character already performed by hundreds of other actors around the world. Every cast change I am there, every new production. I am incredibly blinkered and defensive about a show – sorry, a franchise – a multi-million pound brand to which I owe and am owed no affinity – simply because it stirs such strong emotions. But last year, the love affair ended, or so I thought:
In August 2012 I made a simply horrendous visit to the West End production, a little over a month into the run of the new (present, as of February 2013) cast and was left feeling angry and bemused. Practically the only show in town charging full price, understandably given that the Friday night I attended was a sell-out, was looking tired and frankly in the worst shape I’d seen it since the dark, dying days at the Palace. The cast were too young; only a few experienced heads dotted inbetween the drama school leavers and talent show runner ups. The direction was loose and erratic, the wide-eyed Duracell Bunny youngsters, full of beans and trying very hard atop the barricade simply looked lost. Unforgivably, some key lines were even lost due to the incidental over-acting of the keen-to-impress young turns, randomly crying out ‘in character’ with such gems as “Yeah, kill him!” (after capturing the undercover Javert), and, best of all, a truly Braveheartesque “FREEEEEDOOOOOMMMMMMM” during the ‘Final Battle’ from one over-zealous student). Ken Caswell wouldn’t have stood for such hijinx. The cast themselves were just okay (not helped by the fact that star turn Sierra Boggess was off sick, despite spending most of the same day tweeting about yoga classes, yoghurt and Yogi Bear – ed. careful of libel).
I felt disheartened. The cuts were one thing, the thin, stretched orchestra were another. These are sacrifices one has taken on the chin over the years since Les Mis Lite opened at the Queens Theatre way back in 2003. But it felt like the candle had gone out, the love affair had ended. Les Misérables was no longer the vast, beautiful, soaring masterpiece I remembered. It had become a watered-down love story about a group of attractive, similar looking twenty-somethings fresh from Arts Ed and Mountview, with triple-threat abilities and great physiques who couldn’t look anything less like a group of malnourished, down-on-their-luck revolutionaries. From memory, the only cast member who looked older than thirty was Jean Valjean, Argentine Geró Rauch, who unfortunately had an accent so thick it deemed his performance unintelligible to most.
And then, in December, I was sent a demo copy of the Les Misérables movie musical soundtrack, and I declined to review it, such was my negative reaction.
How wrong I was.
Coming tomorrow… Part 2: The Movie Review
- Harry Zing
2012 was an incredible year for Britain – and for our regional theatres. The biting recession certainly hasn’t slowed the thriving arts scene in our great country and 2012 saw some truly remarkable blockbuster productions visit our beautiful and historic Yorkshire theatres. Happily 2013 promises a lot more of the same! Here are some of the biggest shows coming up in the first quarter of 2013…
Until 13th January 2013 – Leeds City Varieties
Cinderella – The Rock ‘N’ Roll Panto
From press release; “Following the sensational audience reaction to our first rock ‘n’ roll panto, Aladdin, the team return with the most popular pantomime of all. Starring a cast of actor-musicians, singalong rock, pop and soul hits and of course the amazing boulder fight all the essential elements of traditional panto are all here.”
I was very disappointed to be unable to attend this production as it looks an absolute blast. The reviews are also very solid and hopefully a third Rock ‘N’ Roll panto will be in the offing for the 2013/14 season.
21st-26th January 2013 – Leeds City Varieties
Sex & Docks & Rock ‘N’ Roll
From press release; “From the team that brought Big Society! A new musical comedy with a riot of songs, cookery classes, cups of tea and class war, Sex & Docks & Rock ‘N’ Roll is a family comedy about love, change and solidarity set against the backdrop of the 1960 Liverpool dockworkers’ and seafarers’ strike.”
The second City Varieties musical theatre offering in as many years from the quirky Red Ladder Theatre Company. Expect politics aplenty and a fair few laughs.
27th January 2013 – Leeds City Varieties
From press release; “Tikaram is renowned for taking an age between albums – on average seven years – which has only added to the enigma.”
This one certainly one which has me intrigued as I must profess until now ignorance to Ms. Tikaram’s lengthy and – at times – bizarre career. A quick look on YouTube reveals that Ms. Tikaram is certainly not an unknown, in fact this video from a 1988 edition of “The Top of the Pops” has been watched by over 2.2 million people. Even the ticket price is enigmatic, the erroneous 60 pence just screaming intrigue…
29th-31st January 2013 – St. George’s Hall, Bradford
The Moscow State Circus – Babushkin Sekret
Along with Cirque, the Moscow State Circus are one of the most revered names in circus performance. Their latest production, Babushkin Sekret, is inspired by The Legend of the 12 Chairs, and promises the usual astounding collection of aerialists, clowns and acrobats in a setting a million miles away from the big top.
31st January 2013 – Leeds City Varieties
From press release; “Hansard is celebrated as the principal songwriter and vocalist/guitarist for the Irish group The Frames. He has a reputation for grounded, real life songs whether he’s busking the streets of Dublin or at the Hollywood Bowl.”
Another journey back to YouTube reveals another intriguing booking for the City Varieties. Hansard makes a folksified, mature Ed Sheerin, in closest comparison. A promising date in the diary.
Until 3rd February 2013 – Bradford Alhambra
It would be remiss of me to forget Cinderella, starring Billy Pearce, at the Alhambra. The annual pantomime’s mammoth run sees it occupy the theatre until 3rd February. This production is of the highest order, as detailed in my review here and is well worth a visit – even without youngsters in tow! *Must See*
Until 23rd February 2013 – Leeds Grand Theatre
Opera North: Otello/La clemenza di Tito/La voix humaine + Dido and Aeneas
Opera North’s new season sees no fewer than three new productions debut at the Grand.
Verdi’s Otello (16th Jan-16th Feb) “reunites the production team of director Tim Albery and designer Leslie Travers who created Opera North’s recent, widely acclaimed Giulio Cesare; Music Director Richard Farnes conducts.”
Mozart’s La clemenza di Tito (31st Jan-22nd Feb) sees “ John Fulljames, Associate Director of Opera at the Royal Opera House, directs Opera North’s first production of Mozart’s sublime opera seria.”
Finally, from 14th Feb-23rd Feb Poulenc’s La Voix Humaine shares a double bill with Henry Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas to conclude the season.
2nd February 2013 – St. George’s Hall, Bradford
Brendan Cole: License to Thrill
Brendan Cole, noted ballroom dancer best known for his appearances on “Strictly Come Dancing”, brings his brand new show “License to Thrill” to Bradford’s St. George’s Hall for one night only. The show promises a cast of 20 musicians and dancers in a “spectacular night of theatre entertainment”. Having watched a few press videos, this production looks an excellent dance show and one that looks well worth a visit.
2nd February 2013 – Leeds City Varieties
The Guestlist (A charity event in aid of Cancer Research)
From press release; “A two-hour set of MTV unplugged-style songs including those by Adele, Amy Winehouse, U2, Seal, George Michael, Paul Young, The Eagles, Snow Patrol, The Killers, Elton John, Michael Jackson, KT Tunstall, Alison Moyet, Otis Redding, The kinks, Bill Withers and Dolly Parton performed by an array of musicians who have performed with Justin Timberlake, James Blunt, Sting Squeeze, Joe Cocker, Jools Holland, JLS, Alexandra Burke, Ben E King, Ronnie Wood”
8th-21st February 2013 – Restaurant 1914, Bradford Alhambra
Fawlty Towers: The Dinner Show
Yes, I know what you’re thinking and no, I haven’t lost my mind. Situated in the completely redesigned upper circle bar area, the brand new Restaurant 1914 at the Bradford Alhambra looks very nice indeed. Having only peeked up there myself, I noted the privacy blinds segregating the smartly-dressed diners as waiters whizzed past me with plates of delicious-looking food. What better way to showcase this ambitious new investment than recoup some of that expense with a dinner themed show? Fawlty Towers: The Dinner Show sounds rather self explanatory; “A delicious three-course meal and interactive comedy is hosted by Basil Fawlty, his long-suffering wife Sybil and their confused but loyal waiter Manuel – all brought to life by a critically-acclaimed cast of professional actors!”.
As always, these events hinge on the quality of two things – the food, and the cast. If both are as good as they promise to be, this could be a fantastic evening and something a little different for adults young and old alike.
9th February 2013 – The Studio (Bradford Alhambra)
Paul Tonkinson: Fancy Man
From press release; “After storming the comedy circuits for years and much badgering from fellow professionals, Yorkshire man, and former (double award-winning) Time Out Comedian of the Year,Tonkinson takes to the road, with his eagerly anticipated debut tour”
12th February 2013 – Leeds City Varieties
John Shuttleworth – Out of Our Sheds
John Shuttleworth (created by comic Graham Fellows) is back with a brand new touring production “Out of Our Sheds”. From press release; “Shuttleworth ventures beyond the garden gate to tread the mean streets of Britain. Which is better: city life or country living? Supermarket or village shop? Or is it better to sit in your shed and count the cobwebs?”
12th February 2013 – The Studio (Bradford Alhambra)
Jethro: UK Tour 2013
From press release; “Always slightly on the edge, Jethro’s fruity Cornish humor is the perfect remedy to cheer everyone into cachinnation. Turning everyday events into farcical stories, embellished into hilarity with his trademark west country dialect.”
Jethro is of the “having a funny voice is funny” school of comedy, one which made Joe Pasquale into a star. The difference is, Jethro actually has some amusing material and, waffle aside, you are guaranteed a few laughs at this one!
12th-13th February 2013 – Bradford Alhambra
Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo
You can sum up Trocks (as the company are affectionately known the world over) in three words; really, really, funny. Essentially a comedy dance troupe, Trocks are an all-male dragged-up ensemble who believe they are the greatest ballet dancers in the world. Much like the late Tommy Cooper, who himself was a talented conjurer who sent himself up for laughs, Trocks’ act is funny because each member of the ensemble is actually a talented and accomplished dancer. *Must See*
13th February 2013 – Leeds City Varieties
Sadie and the Hotheads
From press release; “Downton Abbey star and Hollywood actress Elizabeth McGovern takes up lead vocal duties with her hotly tipped band Sadie and the Hotheads as they head out on a headlining UK tour.”
Another fascinating booking from the ambitious City Varieties team. Actress Elizabeth McGovern has become one of the most recognisable faces on television thanks to her performance as Cora in Downton Abbey. It seems music is a great passion of hers and, having listened to a few “Hotheads” songs, I must say I am impressed. Definitely worth a look.
15th February 2013 – Leeds City Varieties
From press release; “Totally offensive and he hates your guts. He once emptied a room with just his warm-up material.”
16th February 2013 – Leeds City Varieties
From press release; “World-class stand up from the internationally acclaimed star of Live at the Apollo and Michael McIntyre’s Comedy Roadshow. No gimmicks, just great craic!”
17th February 2013 – Leeds City Varieties
Russell Kane: Posturing Delivery
From press release; ‘What if I’m one of the guys who never has a baby? Why is this not a male subject? I plan to give birth live on stage then raise it – in front of you. Come along!”
18th February 2013 – Leeds City Varieties
From press release; “Celebrated virtuoso of the Flamenco guitar, Juan Martin has been voted one of the top three guitarists in the world. His latest project explores the roots of flamenco, with music including Moorish and Indian gypsy music, Sephardic song a well as his own inimitable flamenco style.”
19th February 2013 – Leeds City Varieties
From press release; “Famous for his role as founder member of rock group Del Amitri, Currie’s music is dominated by strong imagery and storytelling.”
21st February 2013 – Leeds City Varieties
From press release; “Hailed as the originators of British folk-rock music, Fairport Convention has just celebrated its 45th anniversary. The 2013 Winter Tour features songs from their most recent studio album Festival Bell. There will also be an opening set from John Watterson who will perform revivals of Jake Thackray’s quirky songs.”
21st February 2013 – Bradford Alhambra
Cannon, Campbell, Watchorn & O’Conner formerly of ‘The Dubliners’
From press release; “Sean Cannon, Eamonn Campbell, Patsy Watchorn and banjo virtuoso Gerry O’Connor continue the legacy of Legendary Irish Folk group THE DUBLINERS, celebrating 50 glorious years in the music business.”
22nd February 2013 – The Studio (Bradford Alhambra)
Tom Stade Totally Rocks
From press release; “Following last year’s sell-out debut UK tour, don’t miss Canadian émigré Tom Stade with his brand new live show”
23rd February 2013 – Leeds City Varieties
From press release; “The star of Everyone Quite Likes Justin (R4) goes back on tour with his stand-up romp.”
23rd February 2013 – The Studio (Bradford Alhambra)
WOW, A Celebration of the Music of Kate Bush
My only tribute act inclusion, simply because I am a big fan of Kate Bush and this production is a new one on me. The show promises “Kate’s greatest songs and a state of the art light and video show will ensure a fabulous evening of entertainment”. Worth a look simply because it is a little different.
24th February 2013 – Leeds City Varieties
Al Murray – The Only Way is Epic
From press release; “Britain’s most irrepressible innkeeper will be serving up his premier brew of ale-inspired acumen and bar-room buffoonery. Get your orders in now!”
26th Feb-2nd March 2013 – Bradford Alhambra
James and the Giant Peach
Roald Dahl is still a hit with children and this production, from children’s specialists The Birmingham Stage Company promises to pack them in. If your children enjoyed their previous production of George’s Marvellous Medicine, Horrible Histories and The Jungle Book, they will love this.
1st March 2013 – Leeds City Varieties
From press release; “Sharon Shannon has music at her fingertips….literally! The accordionist from Ireland has achieved legendary status throughout the world and has made the much-maligned accordion ‘cool’ in her home country. Renowned for her collaborations, not just in Irish traditional music, but through all musical genres, Hip-Hop, Cajun, Country, Classical and Rap. “
2nd March 2013 – Leeds City Varieties
From press release; “World Famous Hypnotist Andrew Newton makes a welcome return to the City Varieties after last year’s sell out tour of Australia and New Zealand. This show marks the 31st year since he first performed at the theatre and promises to be as funny as ever. It’s not just the people on the stage who will find themselves part of Newton’s carefully controlled insanity – someone at home will have an unexpected call!!!”
2nd-9th March 2013 – Leeds Grand Theatre
Northern Ballet: The Great Gatsby
From press release; “Discover the heady, indulgent days of New York’s Long Island during the glamorous 1920′s as Northern Ballet bring F Scott Fitzgerald’s classic novel The Great Gatsby to the stage. Nick Carraway comes to know his infamous neighbour Jay Gatsby – a mysterious millionaire with a secret past and a penchant for lavish parties and beautiful women. As the sparkling façade of Gatsby’s world begins to slip, Carraway comes to see the loneliness, obsession and tragedy that lies beneath. The seductive style of the era is recreated through stunning sets and costumes. Music by Academy Award nominated and BAFTA winning composer Sir Richard Rodney Bennett CBE (Four Weddings and a Funeral, Murder on the Orient Express), will be played live by Northern Ballet Sinfonia. With an unparalleled reputation for telling stories through dance, Northern Ballet are the perfect company to translate this popular American novel into ballet. As The Great Gatsby steps into the spotlight, don’t miss your opportunity to see what promises to be one of the most stylish adaptations of this classic work.”
3rd March 2013 – Leeds City Varieties
Pete Firman – Hoodwinker
From press release; “Don’t miss Pete Firman, ‘the new poster-boy for British comedy magic’ (The Telegraph), as he returns to the road with an all-new box of tricks. Fresh from BBC1′s ‘The Magicians’, with his own trademark blend of comedy and jaw-dropping magic, this is a show not to be missed!”
4th-9th March 2013 – Bradford Alhambra
The Woman in Black
I am not afraid to say it, The Woman In Black is a genuinely frightening experience. Forget the sub-par movie adaptation starring Daniel Radcliffe, the stage play is atmospheric, dark and moody – and bound to have you on edge throughout. Yes, it has been touring and playing the West End for decades – but it keeps on delivering. *Must See*
10th March 2013 – Bradford Alhambra
Richard Herring – Talking Cock
From press release; It’s an object of shame and pride; it inspires laughter and fear; it’s a symbol of power, yet it’s incredibly fragile; it can be a pound of flesh or an ounce of winkles, it can be used to express both love and hate; it creates life, it can condemn us to death… and it can do wees as well. How can one tiny flap of sponge and sinew be all these things? Richard Herring intends to find out in this tenth anniversary update of the critically acclaimed show that exposes the truth about men and their flutes of love. Sell-out at the Edinburgh Fringe 2002 and Melbourne Comedy Festival 2003, translated and performed in over a dozen European countries, published as a book by Ebury press.
Herring is a fine comedian and wordsmith and is at his absolute best when staying on-script.
11th-16th March 2013 – Leeds Grand Theatre
The Mousetrap – Diamond Anniversary Tour
12th-23rd March 2013 – Bradford Alhambra
Hairspray is an absolutely joyous musical and the tour is a triumph. I have seen this tour several times previously – as well as several visits to the now departed West End production and the novelty and sheer delight simply doesn’t wear off with repeat viewings. The current cast stars comedian Mark Benton as Edna, EastEnders’ Lucy Benjamin as Velma Von Tussle, X Factor 2011 competitor Marcus Collins and newcomer Freya Sutton as Tracy. *Must See*
13th March 2013 – Leeds City Varieties
From press release; “LipService, Britain’s favourite literary lunatics, are back with ’A Swedish self-assembly crime thriller’. Inspector Norse (orThe Girl With Two Screws Left Over). It is bitter mid-winter. Ex-popstar recluse Freya looks out of her log cabin at a rural winter scene. She smiles and turns back to her meatballs. but who is the stranger Nordic Walking across the frozen wastes? In a fur hat. With a chisel. Days later a man is found dead in a barn nearby with a bizarre message carved on his forehead. Enter Inspector Sandra Larsson in her authentic, rustic knitwear. With her own personal life unravelling before our eyes, it is up to her to follow the pattern of a mystery with many holes. Cast on multi-award winning comedy duo LipService, Maggie Fox and Sue Ryding. Cast off your preconceptions as they weave a web of mystery that will leave your nerves jangling!”
14th March 2013 – Leeds City Varieties
The Irish House Party!
From press release; “Dublin’s No’1 award winning music and dance show offers the warmest of welcomes to the finest house party in town.”
Also playing at Bradford St. George’s Hall on 16th March.
14th March 2013 – St. George’s Hall
From press release; “One of British comedy’s biggest stars comes to Bradford for one night only! Don’t miss Micky Flanagan at St George’s Hall!”
Limited availability remains on this one, so book early!
14th March 2013 – St. George’s Hall
Justin Moorhouse: Justin Time
From press release; “He won’t have his face painted as a tiger but we can guarantee laughs from Justin!”
16th March 2013 – St. George’s Hall
The Irish House Party!
From press release; “Dublin’s No’1 award winning music and dance show offers the warmest of welcomes to the finest house party in town.”
Also playing at Leeds City Varieties on 14th March.
17th March 2013 – Leeds City Varieties
From press release; “Gretchen Peters returns after rave reviews for her eighth album, ‘Hello Cruel World’ – a joke that, like the lovely melodies and deliciously textured arrangements framing these 11 songs, sweetens this captivating music spun from a year of turmoil. Her career kick started with Martina McBride’s 1995 recording of Peters’ ‘Independence Day’ which made her a songwriting sensation.”
18th March 2013 – Leeds City Varieties
From press release; “Folk rock pioneers, pop stars, an inspiration to generations – Steeleye Span have been many things, and are now a six piece again, This show will see them visit the classics that have made them one of the most successful British Folk Rock bands ever. 2012 finds Maddy Prior – the voice of Steeleye for 37 years – back at the helm of a line-up featuring band stalwart and fiddler extraordinaire , Rick Kemp on bass, Peter Zorn and Julian Littman on Guitars and Liam Genockey on the drum stool.
20th March 2013 – Leeds City Varieties
From press release; “Following on from their hugely successful 2012 tour, the girls return in 2013 with hilarious all-new sketches, as well as all the very best bits from last time round. Looking at everything that makes today’s woman tick (or ticked off!) – from the joys of teenagers, to the hell of IKEA, the madness of holiday reps and the insanity of DIY. Is your man more James May than Christian Grey? Then grab your girlfriends and head for a hilariously funny evening with the Hormonal Housewives – what they can’t teach you about modern womanhood isn’t worth knowing!”
21st March 2013 – Leeds City Varieties
From press release; “The Manfreds, with original front-man Paul Jones, will be performing many of the tracks from the highly acclaimed album The Five Faces Of Manfred Mann, re-released as part of their 50th anniversary celebrations, along with a mix of their biggest hits and the jazz and blues songs for which they are famous. Paul Jones, with his award winning harmonica sound, will be joined by Mike Hugg on keyboards, Tom McGuinness on lead guitar, Rob Townsend on drums, Marcus Cliffe on bass guitar and Simon Currie on saxophone/flute.”
21st March 2013 – St. George’s Hall
From press release; “Shakatak have enjoyed a level of success and career longevity rarely paralleled in contemporary music but then Shakatak is a particularly unusual group.”
22nd March 2013 – St. George’s Hall
Boogie Nights – The ’70′s Musical in Concert
From press release; “The original and best loved West End hit 70′s musical in an unmissable remixed one night concert event of the year”
It can be very hard to judge which of these tribute productions will be of the highest quality and which might leave a slightly disappointed feeling. This production certainly has some names in the “cast of 14 singers, dancers and live musicians” including The Osmond Brothers (Merrill, Jimmy and Jay), Gareth Gates, Andy Abraham and Butlins regular Chico, which might go a little way to justifying the £35.50 top price. I’ll reserve judgement on this one until I see it.
24th March 2013 – Leeds City Varieties
Jo Caulfield – Better the Devil You Know
From press release; “The minute Jo Caulfield hits the stage you know you’re in for a good time. Nominated as ‘Funniest Woman’ (LAFTA Awards) and ‘Best Female Stand-Up’ (Chortle Awards), Jo Caulfield is one of the most popular and successful female Stand Up comedians in the country. Star of Radio 4’s critically acclaimed It’s That Jo Caulfield Again and recently seen on Michael McIntyre’s Comedy Roadshow, Mock The Week, Have I Got News For You, Never Mind The Buzzcocks, Best of The Comedy Store and The Apprentice: You’re Fired. Expect razor-sharp observations and scandalous one-liners as Jo asks; Why are drunken girlfriends so much fun? Which hotel has the best porn? What constitutes an airtight alibi? Is friendliness overrated? The celebration of anger continues with acerbic stories about dating, relationships, bad service, wrestling with a self-scanner in Tesco Supermarket and humiliating herself in public. Come join Jo’s celebration of anger.”
25th March 2013 – Leeds Grand Theatre
Hairy Bikers – Larger Than Live 2013
From press release; “Last time round we told you our story, but this time, we’re taking you round the world. Starting with our northern roots, we’ll share our rip roaring tales of decadent do’s, big dinners and culinary catastrophes. There will be a bit of dancing, a bit of flirting, a bit of singing, and some downright hilarious stand-up comedy. Filled with plenty of surprises, expect the unexpected… and if you like us on the telly, you will love us ‘Larger than Live’.”
26th-30th March 2013 – Bradford Alhambra
Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty
From press release; “New Adventures’ 25th birthday culminates with the world premiere of Matthew Bourne’s latest re-imagining of a ballet classic. Sleeping Beauty sees Bourne return to the music of Tchaikovsky to complete the trio of ballet masterworks that started with Nutcracker! and the international smash hit, Swan Lake. Our story begins in 1890 at the christening of Princess Aurora, a time when fairies and vampires fed the gothic imagination, before moving forward in time to the modern day. Featuring designs by Olivier Award winners Lez Brotherston (Set and Costumes), Paule Constable (Lighting) with Sound Design by Paul Groothuis, which will take the audience into the heart of Tchaikovsky’s magnificent score in specially recorded surround sound.”
Fresh from Sadlers Wells and a deluge of glowing reviews, Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty has all the hallmarks of another world class production. Bourne’s new Sleeping Beauty is arguably his most modern ballet re-imagining yet, even going so far as to remove the orchestra and replace them with a pre-recorded score, a move which has caused much controversy in the industry but was deemed essential for the affordability of the show. I really can’t wait for this one. *Must See*
27th March 2013 – Leeds City Varieties
Ian Hunter + Guests
From press release; “Ian Hunter & Mott The Hoople recorded four crazed but critically-acclaimed and highly influential albums for Island Records and possessed enormous live prowess, but poor record sales led to a temporary split and a move to CBS/Columbia. With David Bowie’s ‘All The Young Dudes’ as the launchpad, Mott The Hoople hit superstar status between 1972 and 1974 – seven hit singles, four chart albums (including ‘Mott’ – still regarded as a seventies’ classic); they were the first rock band to sell out a week of Broadway concerts in New York’s theatreland, and Ian wrote his universally acclaimed book, Diary of a Rock ‘n’ Roll Star. Mott reunited for five nights at London’s prestigious Hammersmith Apollo in 2009 and were awarded Lifetime Achievement Awards from Mojo and Classic Rock magazines respectively.”
27th-28th March 2013 – Leeds Grand Theatre
Harry Hill: Sausage Time
From press release; “The self-styled floppy-collared loon is back with a live show that promises incontrovertible proof that God exists. Joined by showband ‘The Harry’s’, there’s a section exclusively for Tongans, a chance to catch up on Harry’s Nan’s latest ailments, the legendary Stouffer the Cat and a debut solo stand-up spot by Gary, Harry’s son from his first marriage and recognisable for his role as Alan Sugar in Harry Hill’s TV Burp. There’ll be expert-whistler-of-chart-hits grandson Sam and an all-singing, all-dancing finale. Oh, and a giant sausage.”
29th March 2013 – Leeds City Varieties
From press release; “The first album from folk-rock legends Strawbs, was recorded with Sandy Denny in 1967, a year before her first album with Fairport Convention. On the strength of this, A&M signed Strawbs as the first British band on the label. The band has a devoted fan base that continues to grow on the strength of both their recent recordings and classic hits. As Strawbs now move gracefully into their fifth decade of music making, the band comprises David Cousins, along with lead guitarist Dave Lambert, and the astonishingly versatile Chas Cronk, who together formed the front-line of the classic 1970s line-up. “
30th March 2013 – Leeds City Varieties
The Animals & Friends
From press release; “The Animals were the second British band to top the American charts after The Beatles with the multi-million selling and legendary anthem, House of the Rising Sun. The band subsequently achieved over twenty global Top Ten hit records, many of which reached No.1 in various parts of the world. Animals & Friends features original Animals’ members John Steel (drums) and Mick Gallagher (keyboards – The Blockheads, The Clash, Paul McCartney) plus Danny Handley and Peter Barton.”
30th March 2013 – Leeds Grand Theatre
The Solid Silver 60′s Show
From press release; “They say that if you remember the 60s you weren’t there! Fill that gap in your memory with The Solid Silver 60s Show and relive the 60s with original artists singing their greatest hits! Now in its 28th year the show features the unforgettable talents of Mike Pender (the original voice of The Searchers), Dave Berry and Wayne Fontana, all backed by New Amen Corner, and with special guests The Merseybeats. Hear the classic hits performed by the original hitmakers!
- Harry Zing
My recent experiences in the West End taught me one thing; our historic West End theatres© offer the kind of customer service that would make a budget airline blush. Hands up if you remember the fly on the wall documentary (or, as I like to call it, ‘self inflicted exposé) television series, ‘Airline’, a behind-the-scenes look at the incredibly unfair and sometimes downright outrageous policies of Easyjet? How we cringed as the gormless young ‘customer service managers’ would humiliate themselves on national television with their ‘customer is always wrong’ ethos. How we raged at their ‘make it up as you go along’ policies.
When you consider that a return flight to, say, Paris with Easyjet can cost as little as 10% of the price of a West End ticket for a major musical, all of a sudden Easyjet don’t seem so bad.
During my recent London theatre trip I noted aggressive bouncers, willfully obnoxious box office staff and a dizzying list of other shameful examples of the West End delivering an extremely poor customer experience. Some problems remain unacceptable, but are slightly more understandable due to each theatre’s limitations, and the enormous costs involved in renovation; only in the theatre could a person be charged in excess of £65 for a top-price ticket, yet spend the majority of the interval queuing to use the lavatory. I am incredulous still that we theatregoers still accept these low standards as ‘a quirk’ of our historic West End theatres©. When you do finally reach the front of the queue, what awaits you can be troubling; three urinals (often one has a bucket underneath – never a good sign), one cubicle, no soap, no hot water (or water so hot it leaves first degree burns) and one hand dryer is the norm for the gents; the ladies make do with three cubicles – God knows what happens at shows like Mamma Mia! or Ghost: The Musical where I imagine the ladies go in pairs, I suspect half the audience miss the second act! Mind you, in Mamma Mia!‘s case it is actually a blessing in disguise.
The bar prices are frankly disgusting; I noted a large white wine was a shade under £10 – for a glass. And not even a glass, a cheap plastic container. Make your evening at a ‘glamorous’ West End show that bit more special by using the ever-decreasing twelve minute interval to drink warm, cheap £9.80 chardonnay from a plastic beaker, stood up of course as there are only four small tables to sit at, which are immediately occupied by the frail and infirm.
If you work front of house and you are reading this, please understand; when you are wearing that little red uniform and are selling ice-creams and programmes you are not, I repeat not an actor. You are not part of the production. You are a customer service assistant and the theatregoer pays your wages, you are there to assist them. Not to look haughty and put on an affected ‘RP’ accent – frankly, I couldn’t care where you’re from as long as you have correct change, a good attitude and resolve any theatregoer’s issues as they inevitably crop up. That is what you are being paid to do, whether you like it or not. This is solely a West End affliction; I have encountered nothing but politeness and courtesy from front of house staff at regional venues. Perhaps theatres should focus on employing those from a customer service background rather than wannabe actors who simply don’t care about their work.
Tickets are a nightmare. All of the Really ‘Useful’ Group theatres use Seetickets – the ticketing arm of the business – to handle all of their sales and ticketing issues. The online arm is run separately to the telephone arm, and the telephone arm is run separately to the theatre box office (even though the box office uses the Seetickets system and prints out tickets with Seetickets written all over them). If you book online and have an issue, you need to call the online help team. The theatre will deny all knowledge and insist they cannot help you if you have an issue if you booked either online or by telephone – even if you have been queuing for the ‘online help team’ for over an hour and the show is due to start in twenty minutes. If you book on the telephone, the same applies. So, really, the only way to avoid paying the various booking fees, administration charges and levies – as well as guaranteeing to have someone in place to assist you if things go wrong – is to book in person. Ah, yes, booking tickets in person. At theatre box offices. What a ghastly, painful experience that always proves to be.
Front of House ushers, for all their posing, have nothing on some of these guys. Always rushed and harried – even when there is not another soul in sight – buying the seats you want from a box office assistant is very near impossible. I am reminded of a visit to see the (then brand new) production of Wicked some years ago. With the production completely sold out, I decided to slum it and queue for day seats outside the theatre, with the front row being sold at a discount. I don’t know if it’s the same now, but back then the queues started forming early – like, 5am early, ready for the 10am box office opening. After a drive down the M1 from Yorkshire, parking up and walking to the theatre we were the third in the queue and guaranteed seats. Five long hours later, arriving at the box office booth we were offered seats A1 and A24 – one on either end of the row. Asking how this was possible, having waited five hours outside the theatre to get central seats and being just third in line, we were told that it was ‘first come first served’ and that those were the only seats available. There was a maximum of two seats per person. Fortunately, we were able to swap tickets with a similarly bemused Asian couple and managed to sit together. A simple case of a box office employee making life as difficult and awkward as possible out of spite and bitterness for their (chosen) vocation, souring my experience before it had even started. The superb TKTS booth offers some respite, but for new shows the box office assistant remains an unfortunate reality.
The West End is no longer a glamorous, special night out at the theatre. It is a commercial moneyspinning honeypot for certain producers, with the rest simply trying to aspire to be just like them. Customer service is dreadful, the theatres under-furnished and, with theatres packed out by foreign tourists, we have let standards slip on the assumption that nobody cares any more. The theatre experience used to be part of the ticket price; now you are shoehorned in, shaken upside down until all your money drops out and then rushed out the back exit moments after the final curtain drops.
Why do we accept all this? Because it is never going to change. If you have a truly outstanding customer service experience in the West End then please let me know about it – and help me restore my faith in our historic West End theatres©.
- Harry Zing
Since I published this review back in October of last year, there has been one question on the fingertips of visitors to Chewing the Scenery. On the 5th of March 2012, the day the concert was shown in full by free-to-air American TV network PBS, no fewer than 2,562 people Googled ‘why didn’t michael crawford sing at the phantom anniversary’ or similar – and subsequently found my now six month old review. The piece has, in fact, received twice as many views since publication from people asking ‘The Crawford Question’ than every other search term related to the concert combined. The review is actually the top Google-ranked review (I wasn’t even at the event out of protest at the scandelous ticket prices!) but it is not a review my visitors seek – it is an answer.
So do I have a definitive answer? No. But I have heard plenty of theories! Crawford was performing in The Wizard of Oz on the day of the final performance and, by all accounts, it was a real rush for him to make it to even make it to the Royal Albert Hall in time. Many people had speculated that he and Sarah Brightman were to unite and perform at least one number from the show together. Brightman sang, but Crawford didn’t. Why?
He certainly still has what it takes; whilst his performance in The Wizard of Oz will perhaps not be remembered through the ages, his singing is still adequate and the sheer thrill of seeing him, however briefly, sing the part that arguably made the show such a success was seen as one of the main justifications of the insanely high ticket prices. Perhaps he didn’t want to risk somehow tainting the image of him as a younger man in his pomp singing the role? Perhaps he is not soundtrack perfect and wasn’t willing to commit himself to video performing as a man of nearly seventy? He is no Placido Domingo! But to not even sing a note unaccompanied must be considered a massive faux-pas for the producers – and perhaps even for Crawford himself.
I am reminded of a visit to the Palladium in 2009 for a special charity gala event in aid of Crusaid, fronted by Jerry Herman who was sadly unable to travel from the United States due to poor health. After Barbara Cook and other guest stars dropped out with varying degrees of notice, only one of the star names remained, a certain Ms. Angela Lansbury. Looking very frail, tired and with little or no rehearsal time (having arrived on a flight from New York City only hours previously), Ms. Lansbury not only sang a few lines from Mame but fulfilled all her obligations, meeting and greeting those who donated to attend a special champagne reception, taking the time to pose for photographs, sign autographs and just generally prove what a class act she is. At the age of eighty. Having flown for eight hours for a one-night-only unpaid charity event. It really puts things into perspective, at least in my mind.
The suggestions that Crawford should have played the part instead of Ramin Karimloo are laughable; but if there is one thing that people don’t like, it is feeling let down by their heroes. People search Google expecting to find a real reason why Crawford chose not to sing; laryngitis, artistic differences – anything. But six months later people are looking back and saying ‘why didn’t Michael Crawford sing?’.
I doubt that question will ever be truly answered.
- Harry Zing
As David Essex’s All of the Fun of the Fair arrives at the Bradford Alhambra from October 25-29, I caught up with director Nikolai Foster to discuss his latest projects, his return to Yorkshire and how he definitely didn’t sing “What a Feeling” under a water stream.
Q: All the Fun of the Fair is set to arrive at the Bradford Alhambra theatre, tell us a little more about the show.
In essence it’s a jukebox musical which uses David Essex’s back catalogue of music to tell this very dark and edgy story of life backstage at a fun fair and essentially it deals with the paternal relationship between David Essex’s character Levi and his son Jack and their turbulent relationship over the summer of 1979. I would say unlike the majority of jukebox musicals the story is paramount…many shows within the genre could be considered quite ‘light’ and fluffy – and there’s nothing wrong with that – but Fair offers quite a dark story in addition to…being a show which is entertaining and quite life affirming and fun at the same time.
Q: You also worked with David Essex on Aspects of Love…how do the two experiences compare?
I think when we first worked together (having first met at Aspects of Love) we were both quite terrified! Aspects was my first big commercial touring musical so I was quite nervous and I think David was also – perhaps (due to) dealing with another composer’s work and singing a style of music that didn’t sit as comfortably on his shoulders as his rock music does. So although we got on very well and were very proud of the project, I think we were both quite nervous, which is quite fun looking back in retrospect.
Obviously with Fair it is David’s own music and (although) the story isn’t the story of his own life, it’s a story that he certainly relates to and feels very protective and passionate about. (For Aspects) I was a director directing a leading actor in a big commercial show, this is much more of a collaboration, this time the boundaries are much more blurred, for example, David will offer me suggestions in terms of how I take the piece and how I might work with an actor, so it’s a much more collaborative, hands on process for both of us I would say.
Q: How do you feel about directing jukebox musicals in general?
I’ve never been a snob about anything in the arts, whether it’s theatre, pop music or contemporary arts. I think we’re lucky in this country, there is enough room for a plethora of musicals and plays and, although I did say ‘jukebox musical’, I never think of it as simply that. I approach jukebox musicals in the same way I would any of my work and try and get to the truth of it and treat the piece with integrity and respect by making the story and the book as strong as it can possibly be. I would say it’s about knowing your audience and knowing what the piece is about. (That said) doing a song like “Hold Me Close” has to be an infectious, uplifting, entertaining, tongue-in-cheek number – that’s what it has to be, and trying to turn it into anything more than that would be disrespecting the material.
Q: Are there any plays or musicals you would love to direct, given the chance?
Yes, there are many plays I’m slightly obsessed with – particularly in the American canon, I was lucky to do A Streetcar Named Desire a few years ago but I’d love to do some more Tennessee Williams. Eugene O’Neill’s Long Days Journey into Night is one of my all-time favourite plays, well, favourite sounds a bit corny like you’re choosing an ice cream, but it’s one of the plays I most respect. In terms of musicals, City of Angels and West Side Story (are) two of my all-time greats and although I did do a production of City of Angels in Germany a couple of years ago, it would be great to do a big tour.
Q: You grew up in Yorkshire but have directed plays all over the country – and the world – how does it feel when returning home?
I actually grew up just outside Bradford and from about the age of twelve my weekly babysitter was the Bradford Alhambra theatre. My step-dad would dump me at the door and I’d see whatever was on, every week I’d see a different show. It was the very first theatre I ever visited and that’s where I fell in love with and developed my passion for the theatre. Whenever one of my plays or musicals tours to the Bradford Alhambra, I feel incredibly honoured and very proud for my work to be seen in that incredible theatre – that’s on a personal level. On a professional level, having worked in most touring venues in the country, the Alhambra is, along with Birmingham Hip and the Bristol Hip by far one of the best regional touring venues. Actors, producers, stage management, crew – whenever they see Bradford Alhambra on their touring sheet they’re always very excited because it’s a fantastically well-equipped venue. It’s a perfect venue to play in and the audience are always fantastic, always very generous…it’s an enormous privilege to be back.
Q: When you directed Flashdance, were you tempted just once to stand underneath the water streams and belt out ‘What a Feeling’ when nobody was around?
A very, very good question (laughs), because I could answer in many different ways! Flashdance, as you can imagine, was a big show and while it was an incredible period in my life it was also a very stressful one. I could have probably, in moments of stress, just gone and stood under that thing and pulled the plunger and really enjoyed just standing there and screaming What a Feeling! and just letting out a bit of tension! However, it wasn’t until about week 3 of the run that we actually got the thing to work!
Q: Coming up you are also directing Annie at the West Yorkshire Playhouse…
Yes, we are very proud to be doing Annie because our production will be the first original production of Annie to be staged in a major theatre since the original Broadway production came over in the late 1970′s. We have been given the rights to completely start from scratch with the orchestrations, the design, the casting, the concept – it’s a fantastic privilege to be in this position. Obviously the piece is set in the late 1920s/early 30s in a time when America was in a great depression and the world was in economic meltdown so the parallels to today are obvious, one doesn’t need to worry about pushing that too much. I want to give Yorkshire audiences a big, old-fashioned Broadway production that they could be really proud of and know the whole family can go to this Christmas. I think in a time of economic gloom…it’s going be great fun and really celebrates the incredible kids that we’ve got from Yorkshire…it’s just so exciting.
All the Fun of the Fair runs at the Bradford Alhambra theatre from October 25-29, you can book tickets here.
Annie runs at the West Yorkshire Playhouse from 21st November 2011-21st January 2012, you can book tickets here.
- Harry Zing
Tickets went on sale yesterday for three special gala performances of The Phantom of the Opera, to be staged at the Royal Albert Hall to commemorate the show’s 25th anniversary. The last few weeks have proven something of an emotional journey for me; a horrible, horrible journey which I should have guessed from day one is destined to end in disaster.
My emotions in the weeks after these performances were officially announced have been a rollercoaster ride, which I am sure many fellow fans of Phantom have experienced; initial excitement, leading to fever pitch hysteria – the wondering, the waiting then.. the realisation. Then the anger. Right now, I am stuck on the ‘anger’ – and it doesn’t seem to be shifting.
First, the excitement. Phantom never gets gala performances – or come to that, any large-scale celebrations whatsoever. Compared to Les Misérables, Cameron Mackintosh’s baby, which has had two huge anniversary events – both filmed – as well as an epic 25th anniversary international tour, Phantom has essentially been ignored and left to, for want of a better word, decay in the West End. That’s not to say I don’t still enjoy seeing it, but a combination of uninteresting casting and a general tiredness with the material and aesthetic has kept me away for several years.
The announcement of this 25th anniversary gala was certainly exciting in that it is the first official British Phantom event (which discounts the likes of Earl Carpenter’s The Three Phantoms) outside of the West End since the UK tour, over a decade ago. Even the 21st birthday celebrations at Her Majesty’s were less than spectacular, I recall the dress circle being only half full due to touts being unable to shift tickets bought for profiteering – presumably even at face value. It was also exciting to hear officially that ‘over 200 cast members’ will feature; for many, fantasies abounded of a dream cast of casts from around the globe; the very best of Phantom past and present. Michael Crawford as a manager, Sarah Brightman singing Carlotta, the likes of the phenomenal Howard McGillin or Anthony Warlow as The Phantom – the possibilities were endless.
When the cast was announced, it is fair to say I entered the ‘underwhelming’ phase of my journey.
The cast is headed up by Lloyd Webber’s golden boy Ramin Karimloo, he of Phantom, Les Misérables and, ahem, Love Never Dies fame. Ramin is certainly considered by bosses the big star of British musical theatre. Although, exactly why remains unclear to me. Ramin is certainly a nice enough guy; he is unusual in that he has had no formal training and has a distinctive style and quality to him. It’s just he never truly seems to stop being Ramin, he is this generation’s Michael Ball, but to many, that is no bad thing. Ramin proved a very popular Phantom (but, in fairness, they all do with the legions of ‘Phans’) despite reports many found offensive about his approach to the role while working with director of Love Never Dies Jack O’Brien, which state he had tried to develop autistic traits for the Phantom. But is it an inspiring piece of casting? Certainly not for me. The rest of the cast is made up of the majority of the current West End cast (therefore considered by Lloyd Webber et al the best ever, or, perhaps, already under contract with Really Useful Group therefore cheaper – why pay agents fees twice?) including Gareth Snook as Andre, Barry James as Firmin and Liz Robertson as Madame Giry. Still not inspired enough.
Sierra Boggess, a wonderful singer and a good musical theatre soprano will join up with Ramin again post-Love Never Dies to play Christine, but whilst solid casting, it hardly blows my mind. Boggess was superb in The Little Mermaid on Broadway (Disney Princess® acting aside) but this is a whole other ball game. That said, hers is the only casting I feel is appropriate. Finally the big star draw; the one big name which needs to convince fence-sitters to part with their hard-earned – is.. Wynne Evans!!!! Wynne… Evans? We didn’t know either. Apparently, Evans is the bloke from the irritating Go Compare adverts. Yes, really – the big stunt casting for this once in a lifetime gala year is the one bloke we all go to the theatre to avoid seeing on television.
Unsurprisingly, Evans has been cast as the comic-operatic-Italian-du jour, Ubaldo Piangi. Evans is forever whingeing about being unable to escape his curly mustachioed persona, and now he is playing almost exactly the same role again? Truly inspired casting – if ‘inspired’ means the most ‘blatantly going to backfire’.
Raoul is yet to be cast, but short of it being Johnny Depp on stage lip-syncing to Placido Domingo singing live off-stage I have decided not to bother with this one either. Out of curiosity I checked the Royal Albert Hall website last night to check ticket prices and availability. Here is where the real anger starts..
Top price tickets are £250. Each. To see the Go Compare ad bloke, half of the current London cast and Ramin. Plus booking fees. And car parking.
All the cheapest seats have been snapped up for all three galas (priced at £45 plus booking of £6 each), leaving only second and top price seats left. I was offered, by the hurrendously complicated website, two £180 seats, plus booking fees of £11.20, plus car parking for £8. Forgive me for thinking that £379.20 is a bit steep for the two cheapest seats available for the first matinée performance, which will be treated like an open dress rehearsal anyway. Add to that travel costs, potential overnight accommodation, it will be closer to the £600 mark for many to see this performance. Or you could have a week all-inclusive in the sun. Or two tickets to the West End Phantom, with the superior John Owen-Jones in the mask, cut-price from TKTS for £40 each in the middle of the stalls, a slap-up steak, 5* hotel and enough left over to do the same the next week. Bit of a no-brainer really.
I am truly astonished by the greed of the producers and as a fan of the show, angry at how regular fans continue to be treated by these big, faceless ‘brands’. These events should not be about ringing every last penny from fans who have to choose between this event and a summer holiday; it is about promoting the show, rewarding the fans and putting on a bloody good night’s entertainment for those who are lucky enough to get tickets.
Again, as with the Les Mis 25th fiasco, there is no way I am paying that kind of money for that kind of standard – and more fool anyone who does so out of blind loyalty to the ‘brand’ – lets face facts, the only thing Lloyd Webber et al care about are their bank balances.
- Harry Zing