When? Thursday 4th April 2013
Where? St. George’s Hall, Bradford, Stalls
Who? Brad Henshaw, Chris Chandler, Alexus Ruth, Janessa Qua, Jenny Fitzpatrick, William Hazell
There is something timeless and – dare I say – extremely cool about The Blues Brothers. John Landis’ iconic 1980 movie, spearheaded by memorable performances from John Belushi and Dan Ackroyd, is as firmly embedded in popular culture as any movie I can think of. Whilst the movie memorably boasted slapstick comedy, epic police car chases (and parody thereof), it is the fantastic score which sees the film rightly claimed as an important staple in the movie-musical canon.
The huge scale of the movie, with it’s lengthy action scenes and incredible stunts, has prevented the staging of a full-blown musical theatre adaptation. Instead, this production is one of many ‘tribute concert’ style productions over the years which gives a ‘best of the Blues Brothers‘ vibe. All Jake and Elwood’s best scenes from the movie are present and correct, encompassing the entire song catalog of the movie – and some. On the night, often simply quoting the movie verbatim gained better results with the slow-to-warm audience than the original in-character attempts at modern satirical humour. By Jake’s third reference of ‘horse burgers’ the joke had lost its snap somewhat.
Fully staged on a striking single-tiered set, a lot of concession is given to the theatrics of the production. The lighting and sound cues are tight to a fault and the way the production breathlessly zips along leaves little room for improvisation. I’d like to have felt I was in a smoky old bar watching the boys do their thing; instead I felt an impatient director was tapping his watch behind me and sighing every time the cast took a breather or the lighting stayed fixed. The extremely talented band of eight, on stage throughout, are forced to take choreographed swigs from beer bottles filled with water.
But there is no denying that, purely as a concert judged on the band, cast and incredible music, The Blues Brothers: Approved is a riot. It’s hard not to go wrong with the likes of “Soul Man”, “Think”, “Gimme Some Lovin’”, “Shake Your Tail Feather”, “Freedom” and the list goes on and on, to choose from. The cast are very able; Brad Henshaw (Jake) and Chris Chandler (Elwood) are certainly on the same page and share some lovely moments, working with great chemistry. The latter steals the show with the evening’s strongest number – with an impromptu and largely out-of-character rendition of ‘Under the Boardwalk’ rightly earning a huge ovation. It is ironic, then, that this moment of unashamed, melancholic musical theatre should win out in an otherwise far more raucous affair. The Bluettes backing trio: Alexus Ruth, Janessa Qua and Jenny Fitzpatrick, are all terrific throughout and don’t disappoint when given their chance to take centre-stage over the course of the evening. William Hazell has a touch of the blue-coats about him, but was visibly trying very hard in his supporting roles.
Undoubtedly fans (including myself) will come away happy enough – an evening of typical Blues Brothers fayre with everything you would expect from a production such as this. It is just a shame that, in my view, the production falls somewhere in the middle of a concert and a musical. A little more focus either way and this production would have a niche that I haven’t yet seen in any of the (three) previous Blues Brothers tributes I have seen. The involvement of Dan Ackroyd and Judith Belushi in the production (giving it the ‘approved’ status) will be enough to secure visits from casual fans to this decent Blues Brothers tribute.
- Harry Zing
When? Tuesday 19th February 2013
Where? Foxwoods Theatre, NY, orchestra landing zone
Who? Reeve Carney, Rebecca Faulkenberry, Katrina Lenk, Robert Cuccioli, Michael Mulheren, Stephen Lee Anderson, Isabel Keating, Dan Sharkey, Jake Epstein, Emily Shoolin, Jake Odmark, Dwayne Clark, Aaron LaVigne, Ashley Adamek, David Armstrong, Kevin Aubin, Gerald Avery, Julius C. Carter, Adam Ray Dyer, Drew Heflin, Dana Marie Ingraham, Kourtni Lind, Ari Loeb, Kevin C. Loomis, Kristen Martin, Jodi McFadden, Monette McKay, Jessica McRoberts, Kristen Faith Oei, Maxx Reed, Adam Roberts, Brandon Rubendall, Jennifer Sanchez, Josh Sassanella, Jamison Scott, Whitney Sprayberry, Cassandra Taylor, Brett Thiele, Christopher W. Tierney
In the continuing spirit of Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark’s troubled existence, writing this review has also been troublesome for me. Not my opinion of the show which, as you’ll soon see below, is pretty black and white. No, the difficulty has come in that I have reached the limit of my writing ability; I believe it simply takes a far more skilled wordsmith than I to accurately convey just how desperately, eye-stabbingly bad Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark really is. So I’ve decided to do something a little different to a standard review; instead I will be focusing on the pros and cons of what exactly makes Spidey the… product… it is today – as it enters its third excruciating year.
My Spidey Sense is Tingling (Pros)
- Ambition: Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark is a hugely ambitious project and one of a kind. The producers, of which there are seventeen listed in the Playbill, have spared no expense in the staging with many hugely costly effects being used sparingly, rather than bludgeoned on the audience with “wow, look at me” subtlety. In short, Britain got The Lord of the Rings, Broadway got Spiderman. Both are shows which will rightly never see the light of day again, but deserve merit solely for the scale and boundary-pushing that many producers would consider career-suicide. After all, if a cheapo revival of Anything Goes or Evita will do similar box office on a fraction of the price, why bother? Kudos to you all, misguided fools.
- The Sets: There is no denying that the sets are magnificently successful in creating original director Julie Taymor’s now largely decimated vision. The distinct styling of George Tsypin’s ‘work in progress’ comic book is simply gorgeous at times, and brilliantly and strikingly lit by Donald Holder. The Brooklyn Bridge is stunningly brought to life in true ‘pop up’ style, another huge undertaking and enormously expensive set piece which is used just twice, including in the (frankly epic) battle finale. In short, if you are able to ignore the other 99% of things which are wrong with Spiderman, and can sit and make up your own story with your own songs in your head while looking at the lovely scenery – I suggest after several pre-show drinks – then maybe you could enjoy yourself at this show.
- The Visual Effects: Not to be confused with the set pieces, the show boasts some terrific visual effects, if not perhaps the stage magic and trickery I had been expecting. The, again, scarcely used HD screens wheeled around the stage playing the pre-recorded video segments (it’s better than I’m making it sound) was particularly impressive, especially in the Act II ‘chaos’ scene.
- The Aerials/Stunt Performers: It had to come up. At least in classic theatre terms, I have never seen anything like it and Aerial Choreographer Daniel Ezralow and Aerial Designer Scott Rogers each deserve credit for at least this area of work. Yes, Chitty whirred and clunked ominously above the audience for a similar length of time per performance (roughly eight minutes), true, and aerials are becoming more common in mainstream theatre, but some of the stunts are truly remarkable and memorable in the show. The final battle sees Spiderman battling the villainous Green Goblin atop the Chrysler Building, fighting hand to hand in mid-air above the orchestra stalls, before landing on tiny platforms on the mezzanine/dress circle and upper circles, then swooping back down to the stage. Obviously, this requires a huge technical undertaking and I strongly recommend watching one of the many behind-the-scenes documentaries available on The YouTube and the like, to see just how much effort goes into staging each performance. Obviously, the performers are held safely (ish) with thick steel cables which are visible from the moon, so don’t expect miracles. From my seat in the ‘landing zone’ in the orchestra, I could see up to three Spidermans (Spidermen?) on occasion, hiding in the wings or being readied to perform a stunt. In my opinion, these performers deserve credit for putting their lives on the line each show, quite literally.
- The Theatre: The Foxwoods is a gorgeous modern theatre, actually built with the patron in mind. There are ample, clean toilets (although the queuing system used during the interval is poorly conceived, hundreds jumped the queue by entering through the exit while staff looked on) and even mirrors you could see your face in. Free WiFi (I think, we just guessed the password – it’s ‘Spiderman’) and the seats in the landing zone were terrific because for 99% of the show, you can practically lie down in your seat (handy for sleeping through the show). The staff are brutally honest about the show, too – but I don’t want to get anybody into trouble, so I won’t elaborate. The auditorium is huge and it is clear what the producers meant when they said the Foxwoods was the only show which could physically receive Spiderman.
- The Length: Without being at all pithy or sarcastic, I am genuinely delighted that this show isn’t much longer than two and a half hours with one fifteen minute interval. The most comparable show, The Lord of the Rings, ran at upwards of three hours, and for all the good in there, all anybody could realistically think about was getting the heck out of the theatre.
The Green Gobshite (Cons)
- The Book: Frankly it’s a disgrace. A dreadfully disjointed amalgamated mish-mash of the first two Sam Raimi Spiderman films, with some pop-mythology and shockingly poor and sporadic attempts at humour thrown in. The primary antagonist is a Deep South (why?) Norman Osbourne (Robert Cuccioli) who meets and seemingly falls in love with the dreamy “emo” Peter Parker (Reeve Carney – think Andrew Garfield in the superior 2012 reboot). Peter, who is being bullied by big tough and rough boys with less floppy hair than him, is in love with Mary-Jane (Rebecca Faulkenberry – channeling Kirsten Dunst), who loves him back (who wouldn’t? he’s dreamy). Parker is stung by a spider (hilariously lowered down on a string from the rafters) and turns into one overnight and becomes Spiderman. Oh, and there is some very elementary ‘here’s my motive!’ stuff involving his Uncle Ben. No, not THAT one. A change here, a splice there, but the first act is essentially the first half of Spiderman (2002) without Harry Osbourne. The confusion comes with the addition of a completely pointless new character, Arachne, a mythical Spiderwoman, who appears a couple of times floating in a web with mechanical legs. She sings a bit and leaves, and actress Katrina Lenk takes fourth-top billing. Which is probably fair, seeing as she managed to get through the performance without laughing. Norman Osbourne, being the Texan mad scientist type, is conducting crazy tests, messing around with DNA and such. He transforms into the Green Goblin (more on this later, he types with rage). Throughout this, the ‘action’ is interspersed with…
- The Music and Lyrics: Frankly they’re a disgrace. None – not one – of the songs written by Bono and The Edge are good enough. For once, I actually yearned for a jukebox musical and a tune I could remember by the time I’d left my seat. With the song list in front of me, I could not hum one of the songs from the dreadfully phoned-in score. But then, surely there is a huge conflict of interest here? U2, like them or loathe them, are hugely successful and the cynic in me says surely if they stumbled across another “Beautiful Day” during the writing process for Turn Off the Dark, it would be stowed safely away for their next album? In fact, one big hit from the next album would surely eclipse any possible fees, rights and royalties earned from a show that Julie Taymor and other sources have alleged U2 didn’t ever have their heart in? The songs have a repetitive, chiming, jarring nature to them which irritates too. The dreadfully poor ‘Bullying By Numbers’ seemed to consist of people shouting (rapping?) then repeating the phrase ‘Bullying By Numbers’ with cod-Californian beach boy accents. ‘Bouncing Off the Walls’ is similarly repetitive. The rest I barely remember. The only redeeming parts come when nobody is singing; during battles, video vignettes and during the curtain call. The lyrics are obvious, childish and do absolutely nothing to advance the plot through song. Rather, the songs just sort-of happen before another ‘acted’ scene. The music and lyrics could’ve been written for a completely different show. Awful, awful, awful.
- The Acting: Frankly it’s… look I can hand-on-heart say that you will be hard-pressed to pay less for a ticket and see worse. The acting alone is, at times, akin to a secondary school production or mediocre amateur dramatic society. This runs throughout the cast. Does the blame lie with ‘current’ Director Philip Wm. McKinley? It’s hard to say, I didn’t see the show under Taymor’s tenure, but I can say this, the acting is as bad as anything I’ve seen – and that includes The Lord of the Rings. Specifically;
- Reeve Carney looks like he’d rather be anyone else but Spiderman. His acting is beyond wooden. Aside from one minor hissy-fit with Uncle Ben (no, not that one) I can’t remember him showing any emotion in the entire duration of the show.
- Rebecca Faulkenberry sounds and looks the part, if she is perhaps does look slightly older than the role requires. Her delivery though seemed particularly forced and contrived, and she had no rapport whatsoever with Carney on stage. They barely made eye contact.
- Robert Cuccioli was a big disappointment for me, being excellent on the Jekyll and Hyde Broadway Cast Recording. Really struggled with a garbled Southern accent and complete lack of presence (especially as the Green Goblin).
- Michael Mulheren gets J. Jonah Jameson completely, horribly wrong. You know, the editor of the Daily Bugle. He doesn’t look like him. He doesn’t sound like him. He isn’t funny. He doesn’t talk fast. He doesn’t do anything. I’ve got absolutely no idea how this happened.
Whether the actors, the director(s) or the many interfering producers are to blame is unclear. But in short, there is not one noteworthy performance from the ensemble.
- The Singing: Isn’t horrible… but neither is it of a Broadway standard. Reeve Carney has a steady rock belt which is safe if unspectacular. Rebecca Faulkenberry is a touch on the shrill side. Across the ensemble, though, the singing was less than stellar. Due to the need for energetic, triple-threat performers (who often perform stunts, etc) this could be given if…
- The Dancing: …is a mess. In the opening ensemble scenes I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Some of the loosest, messiest dancing I’ve seen on Broadway and again, with no real excuse. It got no better.
- Laughably Bad Moments: There are a shed-load of these, the aforementioned spider sting, and Spiderman boxing an inflatable blow-up doll in the middle of the stage (yes, seriously, Spiderman boxing an inflatable blow-up doll in the middle of the stage) were my personal favourites.
- Just Plain Bad Moments: I’ve mentioned the musical numbers are universally dreadful. As are the acted scenes. But the Green Goblin’s character in particular is a train wreck in green tights. He is given the role of comedy Panto villain; breaks the fourth wall, is put on hold when calling up to make death threats, etc. I can hand on heart say, I don’t think I heard a single person laugh at any of the criminally poor attempts at humour. Why is the Green Goblin playing a piano atop the Chrysler Building? Why is he able to create “Swiss Miss”, a woman made of knives, by blending human DNA with… knives? Why does a snippet of U2′s “Beautiful Day” play? A treat for all the hundreds of U2 fans in the audience sickened by what they have heard so far? Why does the (rather good) previous actor to play the role, Patrick Page, still appear in the second act video vignettes, despite Cuccioli joining the cast eight months ago? Why at one point was I watching a guy dressed like a bee, a girl dressed like a Swiss Army Knife, and a guy with a giant prosthetic Dinosaur head on running around in circles on the stage?
- The Show Doesn’t Know It’s Bad: I’m under the troubling impression that those involved with Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark are actually unaware just how poor a show it is. It seems the show is now ‘locked down’ – i.e. no further changes will ever be made to change the mile long list of problems. If I were a producer of Spiderman and I’d invested $Xm into the show’s success, I’d be demanding improvements, even at this stage. Similarly, if I were a backer I’d be trying to get the hell out of there. Spiderman is well on its way to dying a slow, but inevitable death at the Foxwoods. The show is at TKTS for every single performance, and the show I attended was by no means full. Heavily discounted tickets are being sold on the show’s official website and the show is, allegedly, running at a sizable weekly deficit. In short, it’s a sinking ship – and nobody cares. They are ‘happy’ with the final product – dreadful as it is – and nothing more will be done until it crawls to a close either this year or next.
- How much?: A minor gripe but the price of merchandise is absolutely reprehensible. $40 for a wafer thin t-shirt; $25 for a brochure (compared to the $10 at The Phantom of the Opera). They are even charging children upwards of $30 for a printed photograph in the lobby with ‘Spiderman’. Absolutely scandalous.
And to summarise:
Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark is a rotten show which is offensive to fans of Broadway musicals and Spiderman. Flawed in nearly every single department, you would be better off watching the films, buying a comic or seeing anything else on or off Broadway. I can’t quite believe how poor the show was, or how it is still running.
And now I’m off for an Uncle Ben’s (yes, THAT one)
- Harry Zing
When? Saturday 15th December 2012
Where? o2 Academy, Leeds, stalls
Who? Ellie Goulding + band (support: Sons and Lovers, Yasmin)
Anybody who has been to an “o2 Academy” branded venue up and down the country knows exactly what to expect from this particular stable. The bar prices are standard for a regional live music venue (lager from £3.90 a pint, soft drinks £1.80 a half – December 2012) and the queues are manageable with three bars inside the auditorium, each well staffed. Security is never an issue and inside the auditorium there is little if any presence – somewhat predictably in this case for such ‘low risk’ gig. The venue is a decent size and holds approximately 2300 on two levels, with the more sedate upper balcony area proving the wiser choice for children and those who don’t enjoy being in smelling distance of other patrons. The sight-lines are generally good, with the auditorium raking adequately for even the smallest patron to comfortably see the action on stage from the sound booth backwards. Restrooms are intentionally scarce and require a trek through to the lower level bars, making not drinking too much before the act comes on a necessity!
A strong set from the indie pop stylings of Sons And Lovers kicked things off nicely, with their marquee single “Set My Heart on Fire” standing out. After a brief interlude, young DJ/singer-songwriter Yasmin, clutching a Macbook-Air, made her way to the stage and played a short set of remixes. Unfortunately, such is the lack of fanfare for support acts at live gigs that many in the auditorium – initially, myself included – were aware that she was actually an act playing a live set. Unlike Sons And Lovers, who leafletted after their act, constantly mentioned their band name during their set and so on, Jasmin didn’t utter a single word throughout her performance. Her set was almost impossible to differentiate from the ‘filler’ music that was being played by the venue between acts, which was a shame as Jasmin is an accomplished vocalist and established talent already, with two UK top 20 hits to her name. She has also supported the likes of Ed Sheerin and Example in the last year, but here her act came and went without most people in the audience even realising.
Ellie Goulding arrived on the stage seconds after her band, shortly before 8:30pm, and launched straight into three tracks from her outstanding 2012 studio album ‘Halcyon’: ‘Don’t Say a Word’ opens the show almost as a piece of musical theatre, with Goulding playing a basic, pounding beat on a downstage drum during the refrain, a gimmick that was to recur ad-nauseum throughout the evening. ‘Hanging On’, sees Goulding curiously singing with two microphones – with one set to an ethereal filter to replicate the post-processing effects heard on the studio recording of the track. It is not until ‘Joy’, the seventh number of the evening, that Goulding truly settles into her rhythm and the track – helpfully explained to us as being ‘about joy’ pre-song by Goulding, eventually proved the strongest of the evening.
The evening continued to improve with a strong rendition of ‘Explosions’, before the filters, vocal layers and production effects were briefly dropped for ‘Guns and Horses’ from Goulding’s 2010 debut album ‘Lights’, played and sung beautifully – and solo – by Goulding on electro-acoustic guitar. A new song premiered, ‘Without Your Love’, which is about – you guessed it – a break up. The song is an attempt at replicating the repetitive anthemic qualities which made ‘Anything Could Happen’ a chart and cultural success, but sadly fails to hit the mark. Goulding returns for the scripted encore, her cover of “Your Song” and “Starry Eyed”, both from ‘Lights’. The former was somewhat ruined by unavoidable audience participation, leaving the number just about the weakest of the evening. Leaving the stage at 9:50, Goulding played for approximately 80 minutes.
There is no doubt that Goulding offers the classic ‘package’; attractive and in great physical shape, Goulding is seen as something of a middle-class hero to a generation of young, predominantly female, fans and it is her image as both a serious artist and a fashionista which forms a large part of her artistic credibility with her target audience. Yet, it seems Goulding is so desperate to be respected that she can seem to be trying too hard. At one stage, having asked the audience if they were having fun – and naturally receiving a reply in the affirmative – Goulding forgets herself, replying back without an ounce of irony, ‘good-o!’. Goulding later explains between songs that she has a nervous vocal tick – one which makes her sound ‘like a pirate’, and her singing teacher had scolded her for it. A 2012 pop act ignoring her own ‘rule of cool’ by telling the audience that she has singing lessons was also quite a turn-up for the books. Goulding was keen to remind us she has just got back from touring in the United States and, at times, appeared to have adopted an American twang when she spoke, much like fellow British talent Joss Stone before her, whose career was undeniably damaged by trying to be something she isn’t. A lovely display of ego didn’t go unnoticed either, as Goulding scolds some badly behaved revellers; “Yeah, I really love how all you guys are just chatting away down there, it’s great”.
In fact, I was truly surprised just how awkward some of Goulding’s act was. For such an accomplished vocalist with songwriting skills – and being a performer who is keen to show her diverse musicality – her performance skills are surprisingly limited. Goulding doesn’t really dance per se, neither does she stand still. A nervous performer, she seems to go through a clutch of stock moves depending on the nature of the song. The recurring trait of brushing her hair down over her eyes then flicking it away becomes hypnotic (this resembles passion), the hip-hop style bopping/pointing at the audience (this means we are meant to dance) reminded me somewhat of Cerys Matthews. In a ‘emotional’ song Goulding keeps a lot more still; it really is performance by numbers.
Supported by an able band of four, Goulding is at least in good hands. There was no interaction or chemistry between Goulding and her band of note, aside from one slightly embarrassing attempt at flirting by Goulding to guitarist ‘Chris’, whom she ‘admits that she fancies’, before quickly reassuring the audience she is ‘just kidding’. Ouch. Incidentally, the band are not acknowledged again or even introduced by Goulding, so I will do so here;
- Christian “Chris” Ketley – Guitar, keyboard, midi fighter
- Maxwell Cooke – Keyboard
- Joe Clegg – Drums
- Simon Francis – Guitar
But that only tells half the story. This concert, like the studio albums – especially ‘Halcyon’ – is produced to an inch of its life. A quick scan of the production credits on the album is very telling, look at all those producers and mixers! Goulding’s style, a hybrid dubstep/electro-pop/folk mishmash of genres leaves little room for the real talent that makes Ellie Goulding a star – Ellie Goulding. The Halcyon Days Tour is, essentially, the album with some live vocals by the onstage Goulding sung over the top. Often, how much singing Goulding is actually doing is open to debate. Now, it is not uncommon for performers to use pre-recorded mixes and layering effects to get the desired quality in a live performance, but I mean her performance was identical at times to the studio recording. The middle of set acoustic ‘segment’ of the set proves, in earnest, the only demonstrable examples of Goulding’s sheer talent, of which I have no question.
At £25 a head, the ticket prices weren’t bad (and the venue was far from sold out, with tickets available on the door) but I can’t help but feel that Goulding would be better suited in a more sedate environ. The thought of seeing an acoustic Ellie Goulding set in a theatre, city hall venue or even small club is a very attractive – albeit unlikely one.
The Halcyon Days Tour runs until April 2013 with more dates set to be announced.
- Harry Zing
When?: Sunday 3rd October 2011
Where?: An undisclosed cinema complex, somewhere in the Yorkshire region
Who?: Ramin Karimloo, Sierra Boggess, Hadley Fraser, Wendy Ferguson, Barry James, Gareth Snook, Liz Robertson, Wynne “Go Compare” Evans, Sergei Polunin, Daisy Maywood, Nick Holder, Earl Carpenter, Philip Griffiths, Simon Green, Stephen John Davis, Garðar Thór Cortes, Heather Jackson, Ellen Jackson, Rosemary Ashe, et al.
Regular readers will know I was less than overwhelmed when this concert was announced. Having sensibly turned down the frankly criminal £525.00 price tag for two full price seats, I decided to settle on a £15 ticket for the cinecast of the event at the local cinema. I am glad I went – but even more glad I didn’t pay the ridiculous price quoted. Whilst enjoyable, the evening was essentially a standard performance from the West End production with a mediocre, larger-than-normal cast. Sacrifices were seemingly made to the effects budget having ‘splashed the cash’ on the likes of the Go Compare man and Swedish singing ‘sensation’ Peter Jöback (more on him later); the chandelier does not fall, certainly one of the most memorable moments in the show for most people, and copious use of rather grainy projections failed to set the scene as effectively as the late Maria Bjornson managed twenty-five years ago with her majestic, gloriously tangible designs in the original production.
The evening opened with a montage from Love Never Dies, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s latest flop musical (review here). The trailer looked, in fairness, extremely impressive with brand new sets, effects and a new cast. It promised Love Never Dies coming soon to DVD, Bluray and, interestingly, cinema. Perhaps with a new book, new cast, new lyrics, new title, and complete redesign right down to the lighting, Love Never Dies just might work one day. This trailer was followed by the usual EPK stuff and clips from existing Phantom documentaries, hyping the show as Cameron Mackintosh put it; “One of the most important things, ever”. Let’s not lose perspective then, Cameron.
There is no denying that the design team did a fairly impressive job of transforming the Royal Albert Hall into the Opera Populaire. The huge static sets look impressive and the chandelier, although stationary, does look quite spectacular when finally unfurled after the lengthy opening auction scene. Anthony Inglis leads the superb orchestra from the tiered set with gusto. Beneath them on the backdrop are projection screens as seen in the Les Miserablés 25th Anniversary Tour, also directed by Lawrence Connor, who is also to direct the new UK touring production next year. Undoubtedly, the tour will use similar projections as seen in this concert, if Connor’s previous productions are anything to go by. Projections provide a cheap, reasonably effective alternative to carrying actual set and Lloyd Webber is known to be a fan of them.
Now, on to the cast and performances*; firstly Ramin Karimloo as The Phantom, a performer I’ve seen numerous times in various musicals. He is certainly considered the ‘golden boy’ of musical theatre by bosses, but his casting was a controversial choice in the fan community. Karimloo has a strong association with the show, having played Raoul and both alternated and played the Phantom for a long spell in the West End. Indeed, it was his favourite show growing up in Canada and the reason he wanted to become an actor. But many felt his was uninspiring casting; he received mixed reviews from fans and critics during his London tenure, and made some rather regrettable, even controversial remarks during his run. In addition to this, the producers were essentially asking five times the cost of a top-price ticket in the West End production, to see exactly the same actor play the lead role on a different stage.
Karimloo is fine, if unspectacular as The Phantom. He has toned down the ‘rock edge’ he has tried to give the character since he first started in the show considerably, and it pays off. Karimloo is a wild card when it comes to vocals; unpredictable and at times unreliable, I’m not sure even he knows what will happen when he goes for the big notes. When they come off, however, they are spectacular and show exactly why he is so highly rated in the industry. Karimloo has a tendency to go flat when sliding up to higher notes which, when high-belting as he loves to do, can be painful on the ears. The first half of his ‘Music of the Night’ was shambolic. He appeared to be getting caught up in the moment and trying perhaps a little too hard, putting too much emphasis on Every. Single. Word. and perhaps not enough focus on staying on key. He didn’t falter, however, on the challenging ‘soar’ and ‘be’ notes, but even these weren’t a patch on other, stronger Phantoms who have played the role. His acting is good; he generally masks his Canadian accent aside from the occasional twang at the ends of phrases. His Phantom was generally quite warm and likable on the night (despite the murders, kidnapping and, if Love Never Dies is to be believed, unprotected sex with a girl half his age) and his Final Lair scene, the benchmark by which Phantoms are rated by fans, was generally good and at times even a little moving.
Hadley Fraser, wearing far too much eye-liner, played Raoul as a spoilt 30-something public schoolboy. Stiff and wooden, Fraser strikes me as a better choice for Javert in Les Miserablés, the role he is currently playing in the West End, than as a character who is meant to be charming and attractive to Christine. Fraser sounds strikingly like the late Steve Barton and I liked that he was an older man, as Barton was, rather than the very young men who play the role in the West End. He sang well, but it was hard not to focus on the eye-liner which, amusingly, kept getting topped up throughout the performance. By the curtain call, Raoul resembled a panda.
The star of the three leads was undoubtedly the American soprano Sierra Boggess, co-star of Love Never Dies and original Christine in the Las Vegas production. Boggess has an excellent – dare I say – world class voice and oozes quality whenever she is on stage singing. Note, I say singing – Boggess is a far, far better singer than she is an actress. It is therefore unsurprising that she has most the best moments of the night; her ‘Think of Me’ was beautiful with such clarity and beauty to her voice, her ‘The Point of No Return’ was dripping with innuendo and tension but one song stole the show – indeed, the lengthy applause even stopped the show – her performance of “Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again” was the performance of the night by a country mile and is probably worth the price of the DVD alone (if you can’t find it on Youtube). Having seen Boggess in The Little Mermaid on Broadway and now Phantom, her versatility is remarkable. In the former, she is does a perfect ‘Disney voice’ whilst still making the role her own (we won’t talk about her acting), but in Phantom she will rightly take all of the plaudits coming to her for her performance. Even in the cinema, she was the one who people actually clapped and came out praising the highest. Boggess sings in an operatic style, with the exaggerated vowels and quality from her highest to her lowest notes Boggess is a household name in the making.
Elsewhere in the cast I noticed an awful lot of scenery being consumed by excitable actors. Every line spoken by Gareth Snook and Liz Robertson’s incredible eyebrow acting spring to mind for all the wrong reasons. Wynne “Go Compare” Evans as Piangi is fine apart from a one dodgy moment in the opening ‘Hannibal’ scene, where something strange happened. I think the direction called for him to deliberately flub a high note for comedic effect, which he did, but nobody laughed. I cringed. Barry James has a campy, creepy charm as Firmin and wins a few laughs. Special praise must be given to Phantom veteran Wendy Ferguson as Carlotta, covering the American soprano Kiera Duffy, who pulled out at the last minute due to a ‘throat infection’. Originally in the ensemble, Ferguson performed on quite short notice and did a sterling job. The cast was full of familiar faces and names, Phantoms, Raouls and Christines past and present made up the ‘company of companies’, as with the Les Mis celebration.
It was simply too hard to shake that nagging feeling that they could have done so much more with just a little more ambition shown. That 25 year old ‘player piano’ which mysteriously plays all by itself in the Don Juan Triumphant rehearsal scene has looked ridiculous from day one. It is hard not to laugh as the actors all try to look shocked/scared by an item bought from ‘Player Pianos Inc’. Very supernatural. In fact, why is that scene there at all? After Boggess’ very beautiful and sincere ‘Twisted Every Way’, she storms out with a sincere ‘I can’t!’. Ten seconds later, she slinks back on in the next scene and happily sings her part at the rehearsal. There is no explanation as to what changed her mind in those ten seconds, I can only assume that the rather dim Christine simply forgot that it was the ‘Phantom’s opera’ and was led there by Raoul dangling something shiny in front of her. Then there is the following scene which features ‘The Point of No Return’, beautifully sung by Boggess in particular. The idea is that Christine knows it is the Phantom under that robe, but plays along in order to ensnare him in Raoul’s clever trap. A trap which they discussed loudly INSIDE the theatre. A trap which the Phantom knows about, as he taunts Raoul to ‘seal his fate’. Yet, when Christine puts her cheek against the Phantom’s and feels his mask, she reacts in horror and tries to escape – acting as if she has just discovered that the man who has lost 10st, gained six inches in height and developed a Canadian twang isn’t in fact the Go Compare man after all. Shock!
Then, there is the title track conundrum. The use of click track recordings in the show is one of musical theatre’s worst kept secrets; a necessity due to technical limitations. While the real Christine and Phantom are backstage scrambling up ladders, they can’t sing at the same time, so a recording is played. This makes perfect sense to preserve the quality of the singing. In this performance, a recording was played despite the fact that none of these technical limitations were in place to begin with, why not have the actors sing the song live? Then, as the Phantom leads Christine off the boat in his lair, a sudden shift in the sound quality (plus the fact that Boggess’s throat wasn’t vibrating – or even moving at all) tells me that the final section of the title track was again click-tracked. The original reason for this being done was to save the poor actress playing Christine’s voice from singing very high and difficult notes eight shows a week. Why then was Boggess unable to sing those high notes just once, in a once-in-a-lifetime anniversary performance that people had paid in excess of £250.00 a seat for? These are just little things which could have been fixed with just a moment’s thought and effort. I understand they wanted to document the West End production, but the West End production isn’t perfect. This, as with other more recent productions, was an excellent opportunity to ‘correct’ a few of the more stupid aspects, but one which has not been taken.
There were also technical problems on the night with microphone balance, particularly in the opening scenes and then again in the after-show performance. In the ‘Hannibal’ scene, the main dialogue was drowned out by the ‘incidental’ acting of poor old Gareth Snook, who could be heard gurning and chuntering away at twice of the volume of Lefèvre who gamely battled on, making the opening dialogue in that scene inaudible to cinema-goers. Later in the ‘Track Down This Murderer’ scene before the Final Lair, the singing was unbalanced and woefully out of time with the music – possibly due to the technical aspects of the stereo mix being produced, or possibly because they were singing out of time with each other.
The show naturally closed to a standing ovation as the cast took their curtain call, before the inevitable speeches and performance from former cast members that is the norm in events such as this. First out was Andrew Lloyd Webber, looking even more awkward and uncomfortable than ever. He introduced some of the surviving original creative team then, as they were half way through taking their choreographed bows, he introduced members of the original company to a rapturous reception almost causing a nasty collision between John Savident and Andrew Bridge, who was mid-bow, leading Cameron Mackintosh to come wading in and use his showbiz nous to rectify the situation.
A choral arrangement of ‘The Music of the Night’ was then performed by Colm Wilkinson (original Canadian cast), John Owen Jones (current London cast), the incredible Anthony Warlow, whose appearance was a complete surprise and one of the highlights of the night and finally Swedish pop singer and musical theatre star Peter Jöback, who I have since learned is to join the London production from March 2012 as The Phantom. The arrangement was quite nice, although the singing was a shambles, some holding notes, others dropping short – the lack of rehearsal was plain to see and it made the performance forgettable. Well, forgettable that is except for Jöback’s ‘contribution’. His high, nasal whiney voice had Cameron Mackintosh and, in particular, Andrew Lloyd Webber looking particularly worried, considering how far he looked from being ready for his six month stint in the show. His voice was comically inappropriate; a few around us in the cinema actually laughed when he sang his parts. Nasal, weedy and with a very effeminate demeanour, Jöback’s Phantom is certainly going to be memorable.
Finally, Sarah Brightman and the boys sang the title track live (until the final parts which were again click tracked) and the show came to a close and Michael Crawford took a bow but didn’t sing. I have attended numerous ‘anniversary’ and special performances, including this show’s 21st anniversary performance at Her Majesty’s Theatre and find in this case, Sierra Boggess aside, there was little difference in quality in terms of the performances. A ‘lamentable mess’? Definitely not. Worth a visit? Not at those prices in a million years. Buying the DVD? I think a trip to see Peter Jöback in March might be a more worthwhile investment – at least it will guarantee a few laughs.
- Harry Zing
When?: Saturday 17th September 2011
Where?: Alhambra Studio, Bradford
Who?: Julian Sands, dir. John Malkovich
Party poppers and novelty hats at the ready as the equally misguided Rebecca the Guest Writer and I headed to the intimate Alhambra Studio for this poignant celebration of the great Harold Pinter , the legendary playwright and poet, who sadly passed away on Christmas Eve 2008. The evening was essentially a collection of emotive readings of Pinter’s poetry, his often hostile musings on everyday life and numerous anecdotes from one of those who was closest to him, friend, fan and noted actor Julian Sands.
Sands’ admiration of the late Nobel prize winning playwright is evident from the off; Sands clearly knows Pinter and his works intimately and the attention to detail is remarkable. Sands, for the duration of the ‘performance’ was on-book; I didn’t consider this lazy performance etiquette under the circumstances, but rather reflecting Sands’ determination to not sully Pinter’s memory by misplacing a single word of his text. This was highlighted by Sands himself when telling an anecdote about a meeting with Pinter, believing he was pointing out an obvious typo in his latest poem, reading “Connects” instead of “Corrects”, Pinter firmly rebuked the young upstart; “I know the place/It is true/Everything we do/Corrects the space/Between death and me/And you”, the poem read. Interestingly, Sands has a particular reverence for this poem and reads it no less than three times over the course of the two act recital. The poem is considered a poignant reflection on mortality, which has become all the more significant to Sands since his good friend’s death.
I could not in all honesty finish this review without saying that the evening has to be considered more of an educational experience, akin to that of a guest university lecture, than a theatre experience. The audience, in fairness, reflected the type of fayre of offer – most were called Quentin or Hugo and I’d wager over half were aging academics and retired lecturers. Four were students who hadn’t done their homework! However, if you have more than a passing interest in poetry or Pinter himself, this is a more than worthwhile way to spend an evening.
- Harry Zing
When? Friday 17th June 2011
Where? King’s Hall, Ilkley (Bradford Theatres)
Who? Gervase Phinn
Well-known author and former Ofsted inspector Gervase Phinn brings his well loved theatre act home to Yorkshire, recounting amusing anecdotes and his unique spin on life in general, particularly focusing on his experiences in a wide variety of schools across the country.
Phinn has been an accomplished public speaker for many years and his easy delivery and charisma instantly won over the welcoming audience. After warming the audience up with a well-trodden round of familiar jokes, Phinn moved on to his aces – recalling a series of anecdotes from the poignant to the hilarious; particularly memorable are his recounts of conversations with children at a Harrogate public school and his time in his home town of Rotherham. It is in his gloriously enthusiastic re-telling of these occasions that I can see why he is so popular, particularly with education professionals (I am a teacher myself).
Many will undoubtedly find Phinn to be rather on the twee side, indeed my colleague Harry Zing – who while understanding Phinn’s appeal – found him not to be his cup of tea. In fact the one word scrawled on his notepad was ‘whimsy’, and yes, perhaps things got a little Sound of Music at times but I, as a member of the profession, related to his experiences and loved every minute.
As wonderful as Phinn is, this is not for everyone and it was clear that the vast majority of the audience in the sold-out King’s Hall were both familiar with Phinn and the education industry. Addtionally, as what Harry calls a ‘professional Yorkshireman’ Phinn was loved by the locals before he had even set foot on the stage, helping create a buzzing atmosphere for him to savour.
If this is your bag, it doesn’t get much better. Listening to Phinn is akin to listening to your favourite Grandad recalling the old days; homely, endearing and often very funny.
- Rebecca the Guest Writer
Hello and welcome to the 2011 Olivier Award Commentary brought to you by me, Harry Zing, on behalf of Chewing The Scenery. Join me from 17:30 for regular updates on all the action from the majestic Theatre Royal, Drury Lane – home of the finest theatre bar I’ve ever visited. Relax in luxury in front of your computer, whilst enjoying the action on the BBC Red Button, as those in the auditorium swelter (due to the air conditioning being out of service since 1962).
Remember to keep refreshing this page regularly for each new update – I will be here for the duration – and I’d love to hear from our readers all over the world with their views via the ‘comments’ section at the bottom of the page.
A word on last year’s awards;
Last year’s invite-only event, held at the Grosvenor House Hotel and broadcast live on the web, was a shambolic yet rather amusing affair. Hosted by an increasingly bumbling – and seemingly intoxicated – Anthony Head, we saw our fair share of shocks and snubs and displeased looking actors. We heard long, rambling speeches by well-respected gentlemen of theatre we’d never heard of, and sat through some frankly dire performances. Mel C, wearing a black bin bag, giving an awful rendition of “Easy Terms” from Blood Brothers took a lot of erasing from my memory.
This year – the 35th annual Olivier Awards – promises to be an altogether more joyous occasion. A welcome return to national television (you can follow the action live via the red button on the BBC) should enforce a huge raising of standards across the board with this year’s effort. The event will be hosted by Michael Ball and Imelda Staunton, to be seen starring together in Sweeney Todd at the Chichester Festival Theatre later in the year. We will call all the action and (where necessary) mock the unwary until the bitter, bitter end. We are not expecting the standard of the Tony’s, but with the vast array of talent to be on show tonight, we really hope the running order does them and the paying audience justice.
See you all from 17:30!
17:30 Good evening and welcome to the 2011 Olivier Awards live commentary brought to you by me, Harry Zing. And we LEAP into action with the end of an interview with ‘theatre legend’ Brian May. Next is Rachel Tucker of Wicked and television presenting fame – truly, all the big stars are on show for this one. Some shoddy camerawork seals the deal; the BBC have gone the whole hog on this one with Slovakian television production qualities..
17:32 And some two minutes in to the coverage, the director and the (American?!) voice over presenter have actually now arrived. Presumably his taxi was held up in traffic..
17:33 Good Lord! Jodie Prenger on the red carpet appears to be on some kind of drugs. This is truly diabolical!!! Prenger is slurring her words all over the place; it’s like Anthony Head all over again!!! Angela Langshhhbury is at the event, apparently..
17:43 Jodie Prenger yukking it up with various almost-celebrities is a bit vile really; everyone is a daaarling. It’s worth mentioning at this point we are actually seeing Ms. Prenger tomorrow night at the Bradford Alhambra in the current tour of Spamalot. Did Paul Gambaccini just call her ‘Tracey’?
17:58 Prenger is interviewing Brian May.. again! May is plugging his tour and defends the ‘much maligned’ Ben Elton..
18:00 The ceremony is about to begin..
18:06 An extremely naff opening dance number kicks things off, and the ever-reliable Michael Ball and Imelda Staunton arrive to a rapturous reception..
18:18 Some performances now. First up a snippet of Fela! – which really doesn’t look our cup of tea. The very talented Emma Williams and Michael Xavier sing a beautiful duet – making me wish I had made the effort to see Love Story! Ramin Karimloo enters and gives his stock rendition of ‘Til I Hear You Sing’ from Love Never Dies.. is this the performance which won him the Olivier? We’ll find out in the coming hours.. it certainly brought the house down. Legally Blonde – The Musical finishes the segment with possibly the weakest of the four acts performance-wise.
18:19 First award time! Sir. Patrick “I hate James Corden” Stewart to present Best Revival..
The nominees; After the Dance (National Theatre Lyttelton), All My Sons (Apollo Theatre), King Lear (Donmar Warehouse), When We Are Married (Garrick Theatre)
The winner is…..After the Dance!!
I had hoped this went to Lear, admittedly only because I didn’t have the chance to catch it at the Donmar (thank you very much new Donmar booking system) and have tickets to see it at the Salford Lowry later this month.
18:31 For some inexplicable reason, we are taken away to the studio for an interview with Thea Sharrock and Sir. Pat – meanwhile on stage at the OLIVIER’S Best Lighting Design has been won by The White Guard (Neil Austin at National Theatre Lyttelton) and Best Sound Design byKing Lear (Adam Cork at Donmar Warehouse). Why they chose not to show these apparently ‘meaningless’ awards is beyond me!!
18:32 Outstanding Achievement in Dance is won by.. Antony Gormley (Babel (Words) at Sadler’s Wells)
The nominees; Antony Gormley (Babel (Words) at Sadler’s Wells), John MacFarlane (Asphodel Meadows at the Royal Opera House), Yoshie Sunahata (Kodo) (For her drumming in Gnosis at Sadler’s Wells)
This coverage is appalling.
18:33 Best Actress in a Supporting Role is won by.. Michelle Terry (Tribes at the Royal Court Theatre)!!
The nominees; Anastasia Hille (The Master Builder at the Almeida Theatre), Gina McKee (King Lear at the Donmar Warehouse), Michelle Terry (Tribes at the Royal Court Theatre), Rachel Stirling (An Ideal Husband at the Vaudeville Theatre), Sarah Goldberg (Clybourne Park at the Royal Court Theatre)
I think that can be considered something of an upset; and thankfully a refreshingly short speech!
Best Actor in a Supporting Role is won by… Adrian Scarborough (After the Dance at the National Theatre Lyttelton)!
The nominees; Adrian Scarborough (After the Dance at the National Theatre Lyttelton), Hilton McRae (End of the Rainbow at Trafalgar Studios 1), James Laurenson (Hamlet at the National Theatre Olivier), Lee Ross (Birdsong at the Comedy Theatre)
That’s two now for After the Dance!
18:37 The presenters have now bothered to mention in passing that Best New Dance Production has been won by.. Babel (Words) (Sadler’s Wells)!!
The nominees; Babel (Words) (Sadler’s Wells), Mambo 3XX1 (By Danza Contemporanea de Cuba at Sadler’s Wells), Matthew Bourne’s Cinderella (By New Adventures at Sadler’s Wells)
18:39 It’s back to the studio for more mindless chatter. There will be letters about this, I am sure.
18:41 Best Set Design is won by.. The White Guard (Bunny Christie at National Theatre Lyttelton)!!
The nominees; Design For Living (Lez Brotherston at the Old Vic), Earthquakes in London (Miriam Buether at National Theatre Cottesloe), Love Never Dies (Bob Crowley at the Adelphi Theatre), The White Guard (Bunny Christie at National Theatre Lyttelton)
Again, untelevised. Shocking from the BBC, really.
They have now cut back to the coverage to show Alfie Boe sing ‘Some Enchanted Evening’ from South Pacific really rather well. This suits him far, far better than Les Miserables. That being said, he still is as entertaining to watch as ever – but I’m sure you know what I mean by that. Very well sung though, this.
18:47 Best Costume Design is won by After the Dance!! After the Dance now has a rather impressive three wins, including Best Revival.
The nominees; After the Dance (Hildegard Bechtler at the National Theatre Lyttelton), Design For Living (Lez Brotherston at the Old Vic), London Assurance (Mark Thompson at the Old Vic), Love Never Dies (Bob Crowley at the Adelphi Theatre)
18:48 Joss Ackland comes out to present Best Actress..!!
The nominees; Nancy Carroll (After the Dance at the National Theatre Lyttelton), Sophie Thompson (Clybourne Park at the Royal Court Theatre), Tamsin Greig (The Little Dog Laughed at the Garrick Theatre), Tracie Bennett (End of the Rainbow at Trafalgar Studios 1)
This really should be Bennett’s award; her performance is simply sensational.
The winner is…Nancy Carroll (After the Dance at the National Theatre Lyttelton)!!!
Wow!! Things just got very interesting with the biggest shock so far of the night – how Bennett has not won that I have honestly no idea. As Carroll steps up to make her speech, the coverage cuts away to – and I’m not making this up – GOK WAN in the studio.
18:54 Best Theatre Choreographer was won by.. Leon Baugh (Sucker Punch at the Royal Court Theatre)
The nominees; Bill T. Jones (Fela! at the National Theatre Olivier), Jerry Mitchell (Legally Blonde – The Musical at the Savoy Theatre), Leon Baugh (Sucker Punch at the Royal Court Theatre), Stephen Mear (Sweet Charity at the Theatre Royal Haymarket)
Although failing to win the Olivier, Stephen Mear’s choreography for Sweet Charity was certainly much better than this effort, created for the then-popular television programme “Showstoppers”;
18:55 Best Actor is won by… Roger Allam (Henry IV Parts 1&2 at the Globe)!!
The nominees; David Suchet (All My Sons at the Apollo Theatre), Derek Jacobi (King Lear at the Donmar Warehouse), Mark Rylance (La Bête at the Comedy Theatre), Roger Allam (Henry IV Parts 1&2 at the Globe), Roy Kinnear (Hamlet at National Theatre Olivier)
We at least were allowed to hear Allam’s speech, but they are even talking over the hosts now – interrupting Michael Ball mid-sentence to ‘break the news’ I broke at 18:54…
19:05 Now a lengthy Phantom of the Opera anniversary tribute vignette is aired; with archived interviews from the original cast and creative teams spliced together with footage from EPK’s past and present. It culminates with applause from the audience and a live performance of the title track from a costumed Sierra Boggess as Christine and John Owen-Jones as The Phantom. Boggess makes an incredible Christine and John Owen-Jones is legendary in the role – what a marvellous pair these two make. Cue months of speculation from ‘Phans’ about Boggess joining the London cast..
It is only a shame that Boggess was not allowed to perform the difficult finale live; I am very sure she has the ability and confidence to have done that live without resorting to the click track. Punters in the West End couldn’t tell the difference.. but this is the Olivier Awards.
We now quickly cut back to the studio for more boring interviews.
19:21 During the break we have been treated to a couple of actually very charming interviews; John Owen-Jones makes a very interesting individual when interviewed – he perhaps has a touch of the loose cannons about him – and just as things are closing up neatly without incident, the cannon misfires; a FANTASTIC top-drawer quote from Mr. Owen-Jones!!
PG: “Have you seen Love Never Dies?”
JOJ: “Yes, I saw the final preview before it opened, but I’d like to go back as I’ve heard it’s improved”
This about a show which is potentially being nominated – this very evening – for a Best New Musical Olivier Award! Sums it up, really.
19:36 Another cheesy dance routine during the entracte opening the second half; Michael Ball and a nervous Imelda Staunton introduce the casts of Sweet Charity, Passion and Into the Woods. First up is ‘Hey Big Spender’ which is excellent – especially considering the production has been long since closed. It dawns on me how hard it must be to revive a role – and often a whole cast – for one single one-night-only performance. Next up, Passion with the scary but phenomenal Elena Roger, one of my absolute favourite actresses in one of my most hated musicals. She makes it just about bearable – very muted applause, but I suppose it’s a hard song to get excited about. Finally it’s Into the Woods to close up this average segment; neither laughably bad or exceptionally good. At least we actually got to see the stage for an extended spell.
19:38 Up now is the Radio 2 Audience Award to be presented by Rachel Tucker, Louise “Confused.com” Dearman and the ‘sensational Elaine Paige’, well – yes, indeed.
The winner is.. errr, We Will Rock You! A lot of very confused.com faces in the audience. Talk about shock of the night!! Although it is a meaningless award, it just goes to show how much power the people have! It managed to beat Billy Elliott – The Musical, Jersey Boys and Les Miserables!
Brian May says ‘shittiest’ in his speech and gets a few jeers. Worst Olivier’s ever.
19:43 Best Director goes to… Howard Davies (The White Guard at National Theatre Lyttelton) – three awards now for The White Guard!!
The nominees; Dominic Cooke (Clybourne Park at the Royal Court Theatre), Howard Davies (The White Guard at National Theatre Lyttelton), Michael Grandage (King Lear at the Donmar Warehouse), Thea Sharrock (After the Dance at National Theatre Lyttelton)
19:46 Another interview with “Mr. Theatre” Brian May – that’s three for the evening now, and he has manged to mention Kerry Ellis in each of them!
19:49 Outstanding Achievement in Opera is won by Christian Gerhaher (Royal Opera’s Tännhauser at the Royal Opera House)
The nominees; Andrew Shore (ENO’s The Elixir of Love at the London Coliseum), Christian Gerhaher (Royal Opera’s Tännhauser at the Royal Opera House), Jonas Kaufmann (Adriana Lecouvreur at the Royal Opera House)
Absolutely nothing to say about this one, I’m afraid, other than it wasn’t televised. Surprised?
19:53 Best New Opera Production is won by La Bohéme (Soho Theatre)
Adriana Lecouvreur (Royal Opera House), La Bohéme (Soho Theatre), A Dog’s Heart (London Coliseum), Elegy for Young Lovers (Young Vic) were the other nominees, it was not televised and at the time of writing has not been announced on television still, nor has 19:49.
19:55 Best Performance in a Supporting Role in a Musical is won by……. Jill Halfpenny (Legally Blonde – The Musical at the Savoy Theatre)!!!!!
The nominees were Jill Halfpenny (Legally Blonde – The Musical at the Savoy Theatre), Josefina Gabrielle (Sweet Charity at the Theatre Royal Haymarket), Michael Xavier (Into the Woods at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre), Summer Strallen (Love Never Dies at the Adelphi Theatre)
Charming speech from Jill Halfpenny; a worthy winner.
Up next.. Best Actress in a Musical!!!
19:58 Best Actress in a Musical goes to Sheridan Smith (Legally Blonde – The Musical at the Savoy Theatre)!!!!
The nominees: Elena Roger (Passion at the Donmar Warehouse), Emma Williams (Love Story at the Duchess Theatre), Sheridan Smith (Legally Blonde – The Musical at the Savoy Theatre), Sierra Boggess (Love Never Dies at the Adelphi Theatre)
Sheridan Smith sheds the first tears of the night but it’s tolerable; she was certainly the popular choice and fully deserving of her win!!
20:02 Best Actor in a Musical award is presented by Amanda Holden, soon to be treading the same boards in the upcoming production of Shrek.
The nominees are; Alex Gaumond (Legally Blonde – The Musical at the Savoy Theatre), David Thaxton (Passion at the Donmar Warehouse), Michael Xavier (Love Story at the Duchess Theatre), Ramin Karimloo (Love Never Dies at the Adelphi Theatre)
Massive, enormous mountainous SHOCK UPSET ALERT here!!! The winner is David Thaxton (Passion at the Donmar Warehouse)!!!!! Ramin Karimloo must be devastated – he was the clear favourite and the judges have clearly snubbed Love Never Dies tonight – don’t expect it to be winning the Best New Musical…
20:08 Barry Manilow, consisting almost entirely of botox, takes to the stage and performs ‘Copacabana’; camptastic! He introduces his ‘new friend’ Kerry Ellis (isn’t that Brian May’s job? He’ll be jealous and smashing things backstage I imagine) who proceeds to do what she does best – singing beautifully. Certainly one of the highlights of evening as she sings ‘Look to the Rainbow’ as a duet with the slightly creepy Manilow.
20:16 Best Musical Revival goes to Into the Woods (Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre)!!!
Into the Woods (Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre), Passion (Donmar Warehouse), Sweet Charity (Theatre Royal Haymarket)
Well done! Now to quickly catch up with the awards the BBC didn’t deem interesting enough to broadcast..
Best Entertainment was won by The Railway Children (Waterloo Station Theatre) – other nominees were: Beauty and the Beast (National Theatre Cottesloe), Ghost Stories (Duke of York’s Theatre), Potted Panto (Vaudeville Theatre), The Railway Children (Waterloo Station Theatre)
Outstanding Achievement in an Affiliate Theatre went to Lyric Hammersmith (Blasted)!! Other nominees were: Soho Theatre and ATC (Ivan and the Dogs), The Royal Court and Drum Theatre Plymouth (The Empire at the Royal Court Theatre), Trafalgar Studios 2 and Donmar Warehouse (Les Parents Terribles)
20:21 Best New Musical goes to Legally Blonde – The Musical (Savoy Theatre)!!!
Also nominated were Fela! (National Theatre Olivier), Legally Blonde – The Musical (Savoy Theatre), Love Never Dies (Adelphi Theatre), Love Story (Duchess Theatre)
And that completes the snub: Love Never Dies will be the main talking point tonight losing in all seven categories in which it was nominated. Again, a fully deserved win in this category in my opinion – well done to all at Legally Blonde, especially the wonderful Sheridan Smith!
20:25 Best New Play is won by Clybourne Park (Bruce Norris at the Royal Court Theatre)!!!
The other nominees were.. Clybourne Park (Bruce Norris at the Royal Court Theatre), End of the Rainbow (Peter Quilter at Trafalgar Studios 1), The Little Dog Laughed (Douglas Carter Beane at the Garrick Theatre), Sucker Punch (Roy Williams at the Royal Court Theatre), Tribes (Nina Raine at the Royal Court Theatre)
Poor old End of the Rainbow, they will be devastated I am sure. The play wasn’t perhaps the best, but Bennett was nailed on for Best Actress – that remains the biggest shock on the night.
20:31 Before the final award of the evening, the special award to be given to Stephen Sondheim, we are treated to a performance of Sondheim’s great ‘Being Alive’, one of my favourite musical theatre songs, from the musical Company. This version, however, is pretty poor. It is performed Adrian Lester who is simply not a great Bobby vocally. I much prefer Raul Esparza, for instance (video below);
20:43 Cameron Mackintosh speaks at length about his (I assume) working relationship with the great Stephen Sondheim. He introduces living legend Angela Lanbury – Rebecca the Guest Writer’s favourite performer – who gets a standing ovation from the ecstatic Theatre Royal, Drury Lane audience. The show is literally stopped for Lansbury’s reception. Lansbury, humbled by the ovation, very quickly introduces her ‘dear friend’ Stephen Sondheim and they embrace. Sondheim in return receives another incredible ovation and the show is again stopped as the applause continues on and on.
We are very fortunate to have seen Ms. Lansbury twice, at a Jerry Herman gala performance in 2007 at the London Palladium, and latterly in 2010 in the Broadway production of A Little Night Music with Catherine Zeta Jones.
Sondheim gives a tearful – and wonderful – speech before Angie steps back up and delivers a word-perfect, flawless ‘Liaisons’ from A Little Night Music. Marvellous, simply marvellous. Lots of it may have been diabolical, but this Olivier Awards is ending as strongly as any I can remember.
20:52 Then a performance of ‘Our Time’ from Merrily We Roll Along sung by about 3,000 (probably about 40, actually) student performers.
20:58 Paul Gambaccini comes back from the dead to close up the proceedings and list about eight awards they hadn’t bothered telling us about yet. Worst Olivier broadcast since Inchon.
21:10 As we go back to the studio for a final interview with Sondheim and CamMac the action is now fully wound down.
All in all? Reasonable evening quality and decision wise, but the broadcasting was horrific and should never be repeated in this format.
And that’s all, folks! If you have enjoyed this live text commentary, please subscribe to my blog for the latest news, reviews and commentaries from Chewingthescenery.com – and bookmark us! I am also on Twitter (follow me!) and Facebook (like me!) and if you have enjoyed (or hated) this commentary drop me a line and let me know! You can find the relevent buttons on the right hand column.
Many thanks for stopping by,
- Harry Zing