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
When? Tuesday 18th September 2012
Where? Alhambra Theatre, Bradford, stalls
Who? Dave Willetts, Marti Webb, Bruce Montague, Jessica Punch, James O’Connell, Carol Ball, Graham Hoadley, Graeme Henderson, Stephen Weller, Rebecca Marks, Lucy Ashenden, George Bray, Tabitha Camburn, Felicity Chilver, Daniel Clift, Abigail Climer, Katy Day, Anouska Eaton, Jamie Harris, Jenny Jones, Josh Kiernan, Stevie-Jean McGuire, Holly Mitchell, Marios Nicolaides, Ben Palmer, Debbie Paul, Claire Rickard, Hollie Sorelle, Sebastian Sykes, Billie-Kay
“Think of the two most glorious words in the English language; musical comedy!“, enthused ‘King of Broadway’ Julian Marsh before the Act II showstopper ‘Lullaby of Broadway’; in the case of UK Productions 2012 tour of 42nd Street, it is hard to disagree. 42nd Street is the ‘Broadway musical’ at its purest; huge production numbers see swathes of tap-dancing, top-hatted chorus boys vying for attention with a similarly handsome chorus line of young ladies, each offering notable talent in addition to the Broadway T&T combination, which was the backbone of musical theatre for the majority of the 20th century. Indeed the 1980 musical, set in 1930′s New York City during the Great Depression and re-worked from a 1933 novel, is an unashamed homage to the era – and a show which is still very much loved today.
The story is a classic scenario; Broadway diva Dorothy Brock (Marti Webb) breaks her ankle shortly before opening night of a new Broadway show, ‘Pretty Lady’, leaving the production without a star – and leaving the entire company, including legendary director Julian Marsh, out of desperately needed bread money in Depression-stricken New York City. Step forward bubbly Peggy Sawyer, (Jessica Punch) an unknown from Allentown, Pennsylvania who is making her professional debut in the chorus line. Can she step into the spotlight and become a star?
The musical is a blast from start to finish; a combination of warm humour, the light-hearted and fluffy narrative, and some wonderful song and dance numbers makes 42nd Street one of the best of its kind. Indeed, large chunks of the show are lifted and used for comic effect in other productions such as Spamalot, The Drowsy Chaperone and most notably The Producers, which watches as a love-letter to the likes of 42nd Street, which is evidence of the genre’s enduring appeal. The book is also surprisingly relevant and engaging for such a marshmallowy show; Act II’s ‘Sunny Side to Every Situation’ was particularly moving, the simple direction allowed the poignancy of the moment to shine through beautifully, as the redundant chorus girls fearfully contemplate their respective futures. The production numbers are an absolute joy to watch; the dancing is largely impeccable – particularly from the female ensemble – and the footwork outstanding as you would expect from a show which features a triple-threat dance-centric cast of over twenty dedicated hoofers, plus principal roles, tap dancing in unison. The show has camp in spades; early on, the fourth wall is very quickly and knowingly broken as Maggie suggests with a knowing smile that the chorus girls tap dance their way to the local restaurant, before putting musicians to sword: “We put them in a pit for a reason, you know”.
The sizable budget for the production has been very well spent on filling the stage with performers, both plentiful in number and quality. Gareth Williams’ cracking little orchestra of nine are a pleasure to listen to throughout and an unexpected luxury. To put things into perspective: the UK touring production of 42nd Street boasts a larger band than the West End production of Les Miserables. The costumes (Roger Kirk) are fitting and terrifically striking throughout, the wig work is similarly impressive for such a large undertaking. Douglas W Schmidt’s designs are surprisingly grand; the second act train station scene is given its own impressive set, as is the theatre dressing room; by the time the finale comes we are treated to the full company tap dancing in shimmering gold, on the iconic lit staircase. It is hard not to be impressed by the efforts of the producer and design team who spared no expense. Even the downstage backdrop projections and lighting work (David Howe) were impressive throughout and the projections used sparingly alongside actual, physical sets. Director/Co-author and 42nd Street regular Mark Bramble does a fantastic job of ensuring the action flows along nicely.
The cast is headed up by two British musical theatre veterans and household names in the industry in Marti Webb and Dave Willetts. Webb is decent enough as Dorothy Brock and she sings reasonably well. Her character is written to be outshone by her younger, more generously talented ensemble member colleague; and she duly is. Dave Willetts, previously outstanding in The Phantom of the Opera and more recently Craig Revel Horwood’s 2008 Sunset Boulevard, has something of a spark on stage which is hard to quantify. He can create a tension in the air that very few performers can muster and again achieves this as a gruff Julian Marsh. ‘Lullaby of Broadway’, the stand-out number of the performance, is his crowning triumph in the role, which he sings and acts with gravitas and dignity throughout. The quality throughout the ensemble is very high, Jessica Punch does very well as Peggy, with a wide-eyed excitability and charm which is impossible not to find endearing; James O’Connell shamelessly hams it up as Billy Lawlor to great comic effect; O’Connell, like Punch, is also an excellent dancer and had the technical skills to back up the comic elements of his role. Carol Ball starts very strongly as Maggie, helping carry ‘Go Into Your Dance’ with gusto. The dance ensemble all looked the part and had the ability to match, credit must be given to choreographer Graeme Henderson for his fabulous work and dance captain Hollie Sorelle for ensuring the dancing was as tight and focused as it was on the night. Slightly less focused, however, were the accents which were a curious mixture; for every Brooklyn there was an erroneous Texan or ropey General American. Not distracting, but not brilliant.
If you missed this tour in its original 2007 outing, you have a second chance; 42nd Street is a slice of classic Broadway on your doorstep and this production from Martin Dodd on behalf of UK Productions is thoroughly enjoyable for young and old alike.
- Harry Zing
Interview: Actor/Director Cameron Jack on leaving the South Pacific, The Dark Knight Rises and a blossoming movie career..
Fresh from Bartlett Sher’s incredible production of South Pacific – which came to an end this week after a very successful UK touring spell – I caught up with cast member, Scottish actor/director Cameron Jack to discuss the show, his directorial work and the little matter of a featured appearance in The Dark Knight Rises…
You’ve recently been playing and covering Luther Billis in the fantastic UK tour of South Pacific, with the tour coming to an end, can you tell us about your experiences on the show?
When I got the South Pacific offer I actually had two other offers on the table, I could’ve gone out to Germany to do Rocky Horror for seven months, or I could’ve done All the Fun of the Fair – I was desperate to work with director Nikolai Foster, I still am! When the South Pacific offer came in, I did my research and saw it had won so many awards; obviously you want to be associated with a show that you know is quality.
Working with (director) Bartlett Sher was an amazing experience, it didn’t get any better than that. The guy is a theatrical genius, he’s brilliant – one of the most intelligent people I’ve ever worked with, and also with Christopher Gattelli who’s just won the Tony Award for Newsies on Broadway, they made the whole job worthwhile. I’ve always liked working with Americans coming over to the UK. Bart had done his research on the show inside out; his direction was all about the trip of the piece as a serious story; unfortunately for me, that meant I had to cut back on the comedy which, playing Stewpot, I found quite difficult, because I like to do new stuff every night! But I thought it was beautifully staged and incredibly well cast, Sam (Womack) was brilliant and Alex (Ferns) was great too. Alex made a fantastic job of the comedy playing Billis – he unfortunately got a back injury in Birmingham which meant I got a couple of weeks on – it’s a really high energy, up-tempo role and as an understudy you can never ever tell just how hard it’s going to be when you’re playing it – but you learn soon enough! I think it was a real classic R&H show and touring audiences absolutely loved it.
You have a very illustrious CV, you’ve originated roles in We Will Rock You and The Drowsy Chaperone as well as appearing in Les Miserables at the Palace Theatre. Away from musicals, you have acted in and directed numerous plays, appeared in a variety of television shows and now you can be seen on the big screen; how much importance would you put in a varied CV?
What you’re looking for an as actor are good credits and good directors; where I think some actors can fall down, particularly in musicals, is staying in the same show too long or staying in the same genre too long. What I’ve always tried to do is mix it up a bit; I always tell younger actors that if you want an interesting career, try and mix genres up. I was fortunate that my first job out of college was at Regents Park, so that my first two roles were Shakespeare and the next one was a musical, then I got a telly role, then I got a Christmas show then another telly, then a straight play… what happens is casting directors can’t say “well, that’s a musical theatre actor”, they have to look at you and take you a little more seriously, because you’ve covered different genres.
You have considerable directorial experience on the fringe..
I’m directing Lord of the Flies at Catford Broadway Theatre in September; which I think is my fifteenth play. I have directed bigger budget productions, but what I most enjoy are plays on the fringe – you can just step off the stage and pass what you’ve learned throughout your career onto younger actors.
Which aspect of performing do you enjoy most?
If I had to pick one single thing, it would be acting for camera. That’s what I’ve always absolutely loved. When I did my first telly role in 1995, I kind of realised that was where my heart lay. But as an actor, unless you’re very lucky or you evolve in a certain way, you have to move around to keep working. I’ve had a lovely and varied stage career, but perhaps now at 40 it doesn’t fill me with as much excitement as my other ventures.
I want to congratulate you on being the first movie star we’ve ever interviewed at Chewing the Scenery! How did your role in the new Batman movie, The Dark Knight Rises, come about?
I felt like I needed a new challenge, that I was repeating myself month after month – year after year – I was directing a lot, I was doing a lot of musicals.. My agent, Claire Saunders – who is fantastic, said to me, “What sort of thing would you like to do?” and I said “Get me into a film. It’s been a while!”. It’s no secret that when you audition for Chris Nolan, you don’t know what you’re auditioning for when you go in. The Dark Knight Rises had the working title of Magnus Rex - and when you’re auditioning for him, the whole thing is top secret! So I went along to Spotlight in Central London to meet a lovely casting director named Toby Whale, who I’d never met before. They’d sent me a scene where I had to mug somebody and basically I had to do this scene two or three times, while they moved around with a camera. I must’ve been in for maybe five minutes before I left; you know when you leave whether you’re right for something or not and I felt I’d done well. I’ve got nine tattoos, I’m 5’6”, I’m Glaswegian and I’m stocky. In film you tend to work in the area you look like, and since I left Mountview (Theatre School) at 24, every so often I’ve played these darker roles. Thugs, drug dealers, wife beaters, junkies, whatever, so it’s not an area I’m unfamiliar with!
How did the process compare to casting calls for the stage or television?
This is what I find bizarre, you’re working at the very top level in the world of entertainment, yet they make decisions so quickly! For example, when I did We Will Rock You, I had six call backs – I had five call backs for South Pacific.. and it gets more and more difficult the closer you get to the job. When I got The Dark Knight Rises, Chris Nolan saw the tapes and made the decision within a few days. I auditioned on the Tuesday, I was given the job the following Tuesday and I was on set the Tuesday after that. It’s mind-blowing!
It must have been a very special experience…
It was an amazing experience just to be in the film and see yourself up there. To be honest, when I was in the cinema watching these Hollywood blockbusters I always hoped that I would one day get the opportunity. It wasn’t everything I hoped it would be – it was like 250 times more! It was an incredible experience and we were unbelievably well treated. I worked with Anne Hathaway and Tom Hardy and they were absolutely fantastic. The highlight for me was working with Gary Oldman – he’s an absolute hero of mine. I remember seeing him in an Alan Clarke movie called The Firm in the eighties thinking ‘This guy is just incredible’ – he lit the screen up, and has done in every single thing that he has done since. To stand next to someone like that, to be able to act with them, to pick up tips, was amazing – he is a genius. We had the cast and crew screening in Leicester Square; it was so well put together, beautifully shot, tied up and written. I absolutely loved the film, it was just a fantastic experience.
Are you a fan of the Batman franchise?
I had seen Batman Begins and The Dark Knight – obviously Heath Ledger’s performance was probably the most memorable part of that movie. I am generally a fan of good directors – and good movies, I loved Inception, I loved Insomnia, I loved Memento... (all Christopher Nolan movies). I’m a massive, massive fan of Chris; people forget he produces, which is not to be underestimated, and he also co-writes the movies with his brother.
I was only on set for a week, but I learnt so much. What I noticed about The Dark Knight Rises was how high the stakes are – how important it is that you get it right. There’s not a lot of mucking around or laughing and joking as there are on some other types of job, it’s a very high stakes set and that’s exactly how it should be, because there’s a lot riding on it.
You have a featured role in a record-breaking Christopher Nolan Batman movie; your stock in the casting room must be high right now…
I’ve just had an audition for a new Ridley Scott movie, which I’m keeping my fingers crossed for! It’s playing a hitman – the usual! (laughs), it’s called The Counselor and it has an unbelievable cast. It proves to me that I’ve done the right thing already. I’m waiting to hear about Kick-Ass 2 and I was also cast by Tom Hooper in the Les Miserables feature film which was due to film in February/March while I was doing South Pacific, so unfortunately that didn’t work out.
Most actors I know tend to go the small independent route first…
I’d really love to! There’s a couple of those that haven’t come off, because I’d been working in theatre or the dates didn’t fit. I’d love to do some independent film – it doesn’t always pay well – often, it doesn’t pay at all! But fortunately my agent has helped me cross into different areas and they would be perfectly happy for me to do an independent film or a television role, as long as it felt like it was the right move.
Classic cliché question time – which roles would you love to play on the stage?
I suppose I might be a little different to some actors you might come across in that I don’t really covet any of the musical theatre roles – although I did when I was younger. I can give you a favourite role I played on stage; I was fortunate enough to play Begbie in the stage version of Trainspotting in 1996 opposite Gerard Butler. That was the pinnacle on the stage for me, very early – only a year out of college, but I loved it because I could identify with that type of writing, being Scottish and working class – and also being a huge fan. I loved the book, I loved the play, I loved the movie – to play Begbie was brilliant. There are rumours they might be doing a prequel to Trainspotting called Porno on stage; if they ever brought Begbie back to the stage, I would love to play him again. I’d also love to do another Shakespeare, maybe The Scottish Play – I’m not gonna say it – but I’d like to play that part. I also like discovering new shows – We Will Rock You. was my favourite experience of doing a musical; everything you do as a cast, and bring to the performance, people are still doing ten years later. It is a very weird experience! I wouldn’t find as much thrill now in taking over in a musical, because the template is already set and I might feel restricted by that. I wouldn’t rule out a new musical, but because of my height and build, unless it’s a comedy part or an understudy role, I don’t fit into the classic leading man thing, that’s not where I’m put, which in the end means you can play the more interesting parts!
Cameron Jack is currently appearing in The Dark Knight Rises in cinemas worldwide and Lord of the Flies opens in September at the Broadway Theatre, Catford. Follow him on Twitter @rentathug
Hello and welcome to Zing’s Record Collection – join me as I run my eye over the latest cast recordings and musical theatre album releases. Today I’ll be giving a listen to the full debut album from one of British musical theatre’s top talents, John Owen-Jones, titled ‘Unmasked’ released April 2012 by Sain.
John Owen-Jones has been one of the top names in the West End for a decade. He has donned the mask as The Phantom of the Opera over 2,000 times in several different stints in the West End and, currently, the new touring production – and has donned Marius a similar number of times, carrying the felled student from the barricades as Jean Valjean in Les Misérables, a role he has played to much critical acclaim on Broadway and beyond. In ‘Unmasked’, ignoring the punny title, Owen-Jones chooses songs from a wide spectrum of musical theatre which includes all of his greatest hits, such as ‘The Music of the Night’, ‘Bring Him Home’ and ‘Hallelujah’ – the latter being a remix his 2006 debut EP’s title track. With his strong fanbase duly appeased, Owen-Jones can focus on showing off his fabulous voice in a number of songs new to his repertoire.
The vocal bravado of Frank Wildhorn’s ‘This is the Moment’ is perfect for Owen-Jones’ powerhouse style and he duly delivers, with the number proving the stand-out track of the album. ‘Til I Hear You Sing’ is beautifully realised and Owen-Jones really tries to make the number his own. ‘All I Ask of You’, with pop-opera soprano Natasha Marsh, is as well sung as any rendition I have heard over the years.
‘Down to the Sea’ from Kristina is a moment of understated clarity and beauty and a superb, if unexpected, choice. Kander/Ebb songs seem to be like buses; you wait an eternity for a quality singer to record one, then two come along in as many months; The beautiful ‘I Don’t Remember You/Sometimes a Day Goes By’ medley from the duo’s underrated musical revue And the World Goes ‘Round was also featured on Martin Dickinson’s debut EP, drawing a rave review from yours truly. Owen-Jones boasts a big name joining him the shape of opera singer Bryn Terfel, the result is a very well sung medley, which, whilst different in style from ‘storytelling’ approach of Dickinson/Abigail Jaye’s rendition, is equally as enjoyable in its own way and is supremely well sung.
It is not all plain sailing, however. The album gets off to an underwhelming start with two curious choices, the drab ‘Nature Boy’ from Moulin Rouge and a slightly bizarre resurrection of Tom Jones’ 1786 hit ‘Thunderball’. Owen-Jones has publicly stated his admiration for countryman Jones and I just hope he doesn’t try and audition for ‘The Voice’.* Sondheim’s ‘Being Alive’ – possibly my favourite song from musical theatre – is nicely sung, but perhaps lacking in the required emotive qualities required for the part and by definition the song. I must also confess to being a little bit disappointed that Owen-Jones opted not to record his singing live with the orchestra, which leads to some albeit minor errors with rhythm and slightly elongated notes to match the music. This is particularly noticeable in ‘The Music of the Night’ but is present throughout.
‘Unmasked’ is a hugely successful and enjoyable album and shows what Owen-Jones is capable of, outside of the two roles for which he is almost exclusively known. Hopefully, now ‘unmasked’, we will see Owen-Jones expand his horizons and explore other stage opportunities to no doubt further critical success.
- Harry Zing
*It would be very uncomfortable to see another top British musical theatre star get rebuked by the likes of William “Bill”.i.am.
*UPDATED 26/04/2012 – The Phantom of the Opera 2012 Review Comparison: UK Tour vs. West End (April 2012)
When? Tour: Saturday 6th April 2012. West End: Thursday 12th April 2012 (matinee)
Where? Tour: Palace Theatre, Manchester, stalls. West End: Her Majesty’s Theatre, London, stalls
Who? Tour: John Owen-Jones, Katie Hall, Simon Bailey, Angela M Caesar, Andy Hockley, Simon Green, Elizabeth Marsh, Vincent Pirillo, Hannah Cadec, David Phipps-Davis, Ben Sleep, Greg Castiglioni, Lee Ormsby, Claire Platt, Rosie Bell, Henry Grant Kerswell, Richard Woodford, Leigh Rhianon Coggins, A C Garcia, Kirk Jameson, Olivia Brereton, Sarah Joyce, Sam Harrison, James Bisp, Caroline Crawley, Cindy Ciunfrini, Rachael Crocker, Sophie Hartley, Lauren Lotz, Emma Roberts-Simms, Liesl Dowsett, Alistair Barron, Michael Diana, James Pullum, Hannah Grace, Siani Owen West End: Peter Jöback, Sofia Escobar, Nadim Naaman, Wendy Ferguson, Barry James, Gareth Snook, Cheryl McAvoy, Jeremy Secomb, Anna Forbes, Tim Laurenti, Michael Kerry, Nicola Rutherford, Duncan Smith, Marc Vastenavondt, Joseph Claus, Ellen Jackson, Simon Rackley, Matthew Powell, Carmen Vass, Claire Doyle, Joanna Loxton, Richard Munday, Annatt Bass, Nicole Cato, Alison Croft, Layla Harrison, Charise Renouf, Anna Shircliff, Claire Tilling, Fiona Morley, Eleanor Blythman, Lyndsey Gardiner, Simon Shorten, Patrick Smyth, Colin Zammit
*This review contains spoilers!
Another year, another visit to The Phantom of the Opera. In fact, so under-dosed on the campy capers of the masked supervillain did I feel that I even managed to squeeze in visits to two different productions within a week. First on the agenda was a visit to the brand spanking new blockbuster tour, which has landed at the Manchester Palace from 5th April-19th May. The brand new non-replica production – a UK first – promised a new take on Andrew Lloyd Webber’s classic musical. A subsequent visit to the West End production was inevitable for the purposes of this review, primarily to cast my good eye over new cast member Peter Jöback, who will don the mask until September 2012.
Having seen both productions in the space of a week, I feel perfectly positioned to directly compare the two productions in various areas before finally choosing a ‘victor’, the production, I feel, is most deserving of your hard-earned. And yes, I am fully aware that the money is all going in the same pot making me, essentially, a freelance unpaid member of the RUG marketing team.
Our historic West End theatres© collectively offer an absolutely atrocious customer experience in every facet of a patron’s visit. I will be writing a more detailed piece detailing my experiences when my review backlog is cleared; but, suffice to say, having worked in a West End theatre in various capacities I continue to find a disproportionately large percentage of the West End’s front of house staff surly, arrogant and unhelpful. The genuinely intimidating security door staff at the matinée performance of Phantom we attended actually clicked his fingers at us and pointed at the door when we reached the front of the queue. Does Her Majesty’s Theatre truly have such a serious issue with rowdy audiences during midweek matinée shows that it needs two burly bouncers being extremely rude to the punters, who have paid a considerable sum to be there? Then there are the drinks prices; in the interest of drawing comparison for this review I noted the price of a 330ml bottle of Coca-Cola was £3.00 and a large (250ml) glass of house white wine was £9.20. I noted the uppity front of house ushers literally screaming “NO FLASH PHOTOGRAPHY INSIDE THE AUDITORIUM”. Twenty minutes before curtain up. I sat in Row F (£39.00 each, TKTS) which has recently been refurbished and I must say, undoubtedly these are some of the best seats in the house, row F is the start of the rake and the seats are also boosted a clear foot above the row immediately in front.
Manchester Palace Theatre is a very grandiose regional theatre, similar in style to many West End theatres in size and feel. We were welcomed inside the busy foyer and quickly and easily found our seats. I noted a 330ml bottle of Coca-Cola was £2.00 and a large (250ml) house white wine was £5.80. Ample subsidised NCP parking is available five minutes walk from the theatre. I sat in row BB (£53.00 each, box office) which should really be sold as restricted viewing. Whilst it didn’t hinder my enjoyment of the production, it was impossible to see the floor of even the very front of the stage, which impinged on my party’s view of some crucial scenes including the finale.
Winner: Tour (sit in at least row F or beyond)
The production design forms the biggest deviation between the new production and the original. In the West End production, the late, great Maria Björnson oversaw the entire production design encompassing the famous sets and costumes, which are synonymous with the Phantom brand. In my opinion, it is Maria Björnson’s incredible designs which make Phantom what it is. Phantom is to me a feast of delectable imagery with a bit of a plot and some rather decent music woven in. Tim Rice, when accepting his special Olivier Award gong last week said – and I paraphrase; “Andrew Lloyd Webber and I were lucky – we were surrounded by a team of very clever and talented people when we started out”. Whilst Rice did not work on Phantom, this quote certainly rings true of the West End production of the show; everything simply comes together. Hal Prince and Gillian Lynne’s work with Michael Crawford, creating the famous blocking and imagery used in scenes such as ‘The Music of the Night’ is famous in its own right, the image of the Phantom thrust against the portcullis backdrop is one of the most fondly remembered. Andrew Bridge’s wonderful lighting design compliments every nook and cranny of Björnson majestic sets. Lynne’s choreography takes the hum-drum of ‘Masquerade’ and, with Prince, turns the Paris Opera’s staircase into a shifting wall of colour.
The sets and costumes in the original production are still a joy to behold. Björnson’s shimmering ethereal world is heightened to dreamlike levels; magic takes place before our eyes as the chandelier rises poltergeist-like above the audience, the Phantom rows his beloved Christine across a ‘vast, glassy lake’. It is intentionally stylised in a very fitting way.
The new touring production offers a far more literal depiction of the same Phantom universe. The biggest difference being Paul Brown’s new set designs; gone are the lavish backdrops and curtains, instead we have unobtrusive projections (Nina Dunn) and a large revolving multi-purpose drum with doors, which most notably replaces the ‘travelator’ on the journey to the Phantom’s lair. It also rotates to show the swish new manager’s office, complete with embossed red wallpaper and prop-heavy decor. There is no doubting the drum – which made use of the resident revolve – is impressive, most particularly when staging the first journey down to the lair. The drum serves to fill many of the gaps left (intentionally?) by Björnson and on this level succeeds, however, I would argue that in filling these gaps, much of the imagery that the audience creates for themselves is destroyed. Given the choice between the two stagings, the minuses outweigh the plusses in the tour. The original staging the lake scene, in particular, I don’t believe can be bettered; we gain a drum and we lose our ‘vast, glassy lake’.
It is worth stating now; the chandelier does not fall and yes, it is very disappointing in direct comparison to the West End. It lights up and wobbles a bit and a pyro goes off (with shards of plastic landing on us) but ultimately is tame. I’m sure the production team would rather have done something more spectacular, such as the chandelier falling on the stage (as seen in the Hungarian non-replica production), but with the show being non-resident this is a technical impossibility. The lack of trapdoors is a constant issue in many of the famous scenes such as the lake scene and the finale, with many workarounds in place. The ‘angel’ post-’All I Ask of You’ scene is also notably unimpressive in comparison to the West End; once again the far more literal or ‘realistic’ approach loses lots of the magic.
Some changes have been made for the better; the most notable example is the on-stage murder of supporting character Joseph Buquet which is shown in full gory detail and excellently executed (pardon the pun!). It was a rare chance to see The Phantom at his most evil and sadistic. When arriving at ‘Il Muto’ in the West End production, I found myself yearning to see the newly imagined scene from the tour. The ballet scene in the original production, was in hindsight, crying out for this improvement and the scene is better for it. However, many of the weaker scenes have been given little or no attention and I can’t help but feel, much like I did with the Vegas production which I reviewed last year, this is an opportunity missed. WHY is there still a player piano in this show?
The costumes, when changed, are done for the sake of it with no visible benefits. The comedy robe and glittery mask that the Phantom wears in the ‘Point of No Return’ scene are just ridiculous. The famous fedora hat is also entirely absent, much to the chagrin of hat fans in the audience. ‘Masquerade’, curiously, being the number with the most opportunity to explore interesting costumes, is almost an exact replica of the West End with a couple of notable exceptions. The Phantom’s appearance as the Red Death at the end of the number was faintly stupid due to his less-than-spectacular exit (he turns around and strolls off the stage at a medium walking pace) – the West End costume, whilst a bit cheesy with the giant rubber head and less-than-subtle use of a double is at least entertaining in an over-the-top kind of way.
Winner: West End
*UPDATED* Directional Changes:
After receiving literally a couple of requests, here are my thoughts on the hotly debated changes made to a few key scenes in the touring production. The one which has divided fans the most is the newly choreographed ‘The Music of the Night’ number. Gone are the classic steps devised (and, allegedly copyrighted) by members of the original cast and creative team; instead, the new ‘Music of the Night’ is an altogether seedier and frankly stranger affair. Possibly with one eye on foreshadowing the events of Love Never Dies, the new direction sees the Phantom first blindfolding the (willing, it must be said) Christine, before eventally laying her still blindfolded sleeping body in his bed as the lights fade. The insinuation is less than subtle, but hardly as ‘offensive’ as being suggested in some – predictably obsessive – quarters; the half-dozen rabid hardcore ‘Deserted Phans’ I have spoken to have their own theories as to the reason for the newly-imagined blocking, including (but not limited to): avoidance of paying royalty fees, alien invasion, attempting to sexualise the show to support Love Never Dies, the double dip recession and weapons of mass destruction. In my opinion, the changes made are done without cynicism to try and make the show fresh and interesting for those tired of seeing 26 year old choreography repeated ad infinitum in what is a ‘new production’. Or it could be crop circles, who knows?
The newly directed ‘first unmasking’ scene is amended; rather than Christine unmasking the Phantom as he composes, she now snatches the mask while the Phantom is dabbing down the oozing massive hole in the side of his head with what appears to be a handkerchief. The Phantom’s reaction is almost exactly the same as the original. I can’t say what the point in that particular change was, but I am all for handkerchiefs in the theatre. And strolling around with parasols with a big hat on – and ‘a bit of tap’, but sadly these changes are yet to be made.
Aside from the vastly improved ‘Il Muto’ scene, I can’t think of many moments which have been changed for the better; a slight change of blocking here, a slightly different expression there. But aside from The Phantom being a bit less magicky and a lot more like a normal, albeit psychopathic, bloke with a massive hole in the side of his head there is little to report. All the same emotions remain, the romantic connection between the characters is neither better or worse – the changes to direction are a lot less damaging to the show’s alluring appeal than the changes to the production design.
Winner: West End
Phantom is of course an ensemble piece, but in my experience the success or failure of a performance hinges on the abilities of the three leads, The Phantom, Christine and Raoul, played in the tour by John Owen-Jones, Katie Hall and Simon Bailey respectively. All three performers have Phantom previous in the West End production and it is little surprise to find them perfectly capable. Owen-Jones has over 2,000 performances in the mask to his name, yet his performance has never felt fresher in this new production. He manages to bring a softer side to his performance – which is welcome – and sings as beautifully as ever. The well-built Owen-Jones can lack in a certain finesse required for the role at times, making him look a touch clumsy in comparison to the likes of Crawford, or even his generally inferior predecessor Ramin Karimloo, but such is the sacrifice for casting a particularly good singer in the role. Katie Hall is good enough as a very young Christine and sings nicely; her chemistry with Bailey’s weak-willed Raoul was convincing, though not perhaps as convincing as with Gareth Gates in the UK Tour of Les Misérables. Her standout number, ‘Think of Me’ was warmly received, but she struggled somewhat with her second act ‘Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again’, perhaps trying too hard on the acting side and forgetting her vocal basics. Bailey sings well enough for the part but can seem a touch wooden with his acting; but I suspect this may be directed as the character is more similar to his reincarnation in the depressingly trite Love Never Dies. The supporting cast are all capable and Greg Castiglioni does particularly well with the expanded part of Monsieur Reyer. The performance was very tight all the way through, the dancing impeccable as you would expect from a new blockbuster production. One particular cause for amusement was the terror of the harnessed actors as they descended the ‘pop out’ staircase on the exterior of the drum; the panic in their eyes as they slowly stepped down was genuine – it must be particularly nervy for Owen-Jones wearing the mask!
A lot of people, including myself, were very excited to see Swedish pop star Peter Jöback in the role. His performance at the 25th Anniversary Concert was spectacular for all the wrong reasons, but he is the first truly different Phantom to don the mask in ages and brings a buzz of excitement back to the West End. Well, he is certainly different! I really do have to commend Jöback; he tries so hard and actually attempts to make the role his own throughout. However, I couldn’t stop thinking about The Producers. Franz Liebkind falls and breaks his leg (“I broke my leg!“) forcing the uncontrollably camp Roger DeBris to step into the title role; what follows is a hilariously camp parody of a role which was written to be quite serious, no matter how melodramatic or over-the-top he may be in reality. I’m sure you follow my drift; Jöback is a laugh-a-minute and thoroughly entertaining in the role. Effeminate yet graceful, he moves like a Goddess; seducing Christine with a barrage
of tightly choreographed dance steps in ‘Music of the Night’. Jöback has worked so hard on perfecting his ‘Phantom’ voice he is almost indistinguishable from the real thing (if you close your eyes), except when trying to sing at the very top or very bottom of his register. He looks simply fabulous in the role; a freak of nature, more make-up than man. The truth is, I actually really enjoyed Jöback’s performance; shamelessly showbiz but entirely effort-driven, he is certainly a curio which is worth a look, just don’t expect miracles. Incidentally, he missed the previous two performances due to a throat infection, I would strongly recommend if you must see him then do so now; I have a feeling he may not last until September.
Understudy Nadim Naaman played Raoul with aplomb, looking confident and assured. He has a powerhouse voice which he was keen to show off when given the chance; keep an eye on this one. Wendy Ferguson and Jeremy Secomb gave their all as Carlotta and Piangi respectively; two actors who looked happy to be there. Elsewhere, I was a little disappointed. There were quite a few actors on autopilot, which I find unforgivable considering the number of actors desperate for work who would give their all every performance. I think the cast could do with a freshening up before it gets truly stale, as several looked tired and bored in the ensemble and supporting roles. The dancing was awful. I think they may have been missing quite a few cast members as I spotted every swing on. Energy levels were below an acceptable standard in some scenes such as ‘Masquerade’, which was a shame as this is purely down to the cast’s efforts on the day. The ‘ballet’, for what it was worth, was completely out of time and needs remedial action.
The tour takes away more than it gives; whilst the new effects are impressive and as technically astounding – if not more so – than the original production, it simply lacks the magic Prince, Björnson et al created at Her Majesty’s Theatre over twenty-five years ago. Much like the Les Mis tour, sometimes filling the gaps can destroy the suspension of disbelief. As with the Las Vegas production and the 25th Anniversary Celebrations, I don’t feel that the production team quite understand what – if anything – is wrong with the show and end up changing the wrong aspects, leaving the dodgy areas intact.
The more abstract, stylised West End production remains a better proposition in terms of production. Just not at the moment. Jöback is enjoyable in the role – not always for the right reasons – but the rest of the cast are generally off-colour and in need of redirection. If I had to pay £40+ to see either of these two shows again in the immediate future, I would undoubtedly choose the tour which is, at the moment, a tighter, better cast and more energetic affair.
Winner: The tour currently offers a better all-round experience as of April 2012.
Hello and welcome to ‘Zing’s Record Collection’; join me as I review the very best (and worst) of musical theatre recordings, past and present.
In the next two editions I will be taking a closer look at the solo recorded work of the darling of British musical theatre, Ramin Karimloo (Love Never Dies, The Phantom of the Opera, Les Misérables). In this first part I will be specifically reviewing his independent début solo LP ‘Within the Six Square Inch’, released in 2004 by Ramin K Productions/Shellwood Productions. Join me in the coming days for Part 2 – an exclusive review of his upcoming full début album, ‘Ramin’, to be released on the 5th of March by Sony CMG.
In 2002, Ramin Karimloo was a jobbing but promising young Canadian actor performing in the ensemble of Cameron Mackintosh’s Les Misérables. Whilst he did understudy and play the role of Marius on several occasions (I saw him perform in the role and found him excellent), it was not until he was cast by resident director and soon-to-be longtime collaborator Lawrence Connor as Raoul in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera at the end of the following year, that he would establish himself as a major upcoming talent in British musical theatre. In 2004, whilst still at Phantom, the ambitious Karimloo released his début LP titled ‘Within the Six Square Inch’, an eight track CD.
The most striking thing about this CD is just how strange the song choices are. At the time, Karimloo was a relative unknown with only two previous professional roles to his name in the West End. One would not have blamed Karimloo for simply turning out an album of popular showtunes. Often, a solo album is used as an opportunity for a performer to showcase their cast-ability for numerous roles he or she would like to be considered for; essentially a commercial audition tape – Karimloo decided to try something completely different by delving into the back catalogues of lesser-known musicals with some interesting choices..
Opening the album, Karimloo gives a powerful and emotional ‘Buddy, Can You Spare a Dime?’, Harburg/Gorney’s jazzy 1931 Broadway number about an angry young man’s hopelessness after the Great Depression. Switching less-than-subtly from the moody early 1930′s to the grungy late 90′s, Karimloo gives us his ‘One Song Glory’ from Rent. In the context of the musical, the character Roger is fantasising about writing a great song to leave as a legacy, as he is dying of AIDS. Karimloo fancies himself as a bit of a rock star but it has to be said, this number is not his finest hour. His ‘rock edge’ vocal which he affects at will feels a touch contrived and unnatural to me. I have never been a fan of Rent and it is the only number on the album which sounds identikit. Up next is another, very different track about AIDS titled ‘At Least I Know What’s Killing Me’, a truly ghastly song from The Last Session, a failed Off-Broadway musical. Steve Schalchin, about whom the story is based (according to sources) is ‘credited’ with the awful lyrics Karimloo hollers out as he shouts his way through the turgid mess. Lines like: “I’d rather be me with AIDS, than to have to be you without it!” have no place being sung, sorry – shouted – on a CD like this, especially when completely out of context of any narrative drive.
Karimloo is joined by friend and future collaborator Hadley Fraser (The Far Pavilions, The Pirate Queen, Les Misérables) for a beautiful rendition of Billy Joel’s ‘New York State of Mind’. Both singers nail this number and their voices compliment each others wonderfully well; it is no surprise that they have since formed a band together and perform semi-regularly, when other engagements allow. Although not really a musical theatre number (it did feature for a time in Billy Joel’s flop musical Movin’ Out) it is the strongest number on the album and shows Karimloo’s versatility in a much more positive way than the previous track! Up next is some pure stock musical theatre, a lovely rendition of ‘Maria’ from West Side Story. Karimloo would make a wonderful Tony and this song stands out for all the right reasons; individual but believable, Karimloo even manages to nail the tricky higher parts where other singers often struggle. For Elton John’s ‘Written in the Stars’ from the musical Aida, Karimloo is joined by Sophia Ragavelas (Les Miserables, Mamma Mia, Never Forget) herself once a superb Eponine in the early days of the show’s switch to the Queen’s Theatre. Karimloo appears to struggle a little here, his high belt straining a little, particularly on the ears. Ragavelas is fine and fares a little better than Karimloo, but the song isn’t particularly memorable. In fact, the album rather tails off from here; ‘Lullaby’, another Billy Joel number is not even one of Billy Joel’s better songs, so why Karimloo chooses to coo it is beyond me – perhaps it had a special meaning to him. Either way, by the time we reach the finale – and second song from Aida – ‘Radames Letter’, the album has almost run out of puff; rather than going out with a rock n’ roll bang, Karimloo purrs his way through the short number perfectly ably but forgettably.
As I said at the start of the review; one can’t help but come away feeling a little confused by the song choices and, as a result, maybe a touch underwhelmed by the LP as an experience. For the most part, Karimloo sings well, but is let down by the material he has chosen to sing; whilst ‘Buddy Can You Spare a Dime?’, ‘New York State of Mind’ and ‘Maria’ impress, ‘At Least I Know What’s Killing Me’ is offensive and the album goes rather go out with a whimper.
Karimloo does deserve credit for choosing songs which perhaps are rather less commonly recorded, but I feel a full album of popular musical theatre songs would have perhaps given those who bought the album a lot more to enjoy as well as being a good deal more flattering to Karimloo’s considerable talents.
In Part 2 I will be reviewing Karimloo’s upcoming full début album release, ‘Ramin’.
- Harry Zing
Hello and welcome to ‘Zing’s Record Collection’; join me as I review the very best (and worst) of musical theatre recordings, past and present.
In the last edition, I took a retrospective look at Ramin Karimloo’s 2004 debut solo EP ‘Within the Six Square Inch’; whilst I found it perhaps not the finished article, it is certainly an album which showcased Karimloo’s unique vocals and future recording potential nicely. In this second and final part, I will be giving a listen to Karimloo’s full debut album titled ‘Ramin’, which is set to receive a major release on the 5th of March by Sony CMG.
After leaving the West End production of The Phantom of the Opera in 2004 for stints in Les Misérables (Enjolras) and Miss Saigon (Chris, UK Tour), Ramin Karimloo was to return to Phantom to fulfill a career-long dream: to perform the role of the masked mad man himself. During his time at Phantom, Karimloo arguably succeeded in attracting a new generation of fans to the show – and certainly won his own dedicated fan base along the way. After a cameo in the dreadful 2004 Phantom movie adaption (thank you, Joel Schmacher), Karimloo was given the opportunity by long-time mentor Andrew Lloyd Webber to originate the role of ‘The Phantom’ in the long-awaited sequel Love Never Dies. Whilst the show was perhaps not the commercial or artistic success Lloyd Webber had hoped for, Karimloo was given a unique opportunity to showcase his talent, and the hype and exposure which surrounded the production certainly helped thrust him into the mainstream in his own right.
‘Ramin’, an upbeat pop-rock inspired album certainly reflects Karimloo’s long-held determination to be recognised outside of musical theatre. Indeed, for the most part Karimloo steers well clear of the typical musical theatre standards one would expect to hear, opting instead for a real variety of styles ranging from the radio friendly pop-rock of the first single to be released ‘Coming Home’, written by Ryan Tedder (recently Leona Lewis’ ‘Bleeding Love’, Beyoncé’s ‘Halo’), to Muse’s ‘Guiding Light’. The audience-friendly power-ballad comes in the shape of Bryan Adams’ record-breaking ‘Everything I Do (I Do It for You)’.
Unfortunately, the songwriting credits have not been made public. I do know though from various press releases pieced together from across the internet that Karimloo has song-writing credit for at least four of the album’s tracks, including ‘Constant Angel’, a heartfelt ballad with seemingly religious connotations; ‘with every prayer I am constantly there with you’, is one such lyric which doesn’t help to avert the feeling of an (albeit fairly passive) religious message which is carried throughout the album. ‘Show Me Light’, the album’s opener is one such example; a song which sounds fresh from any one of many Christian-rock bands which are so popular in the United States.* The aforementioned ‘Coming Home’ sounds somewhat like the X-Factor’s ‘winners song’ – just give it a listen, you’ll see what I mean! But it is when Karimloo is singing from the soul that he is most potent; the final track on the album, ‘Cathedrals’, is actually a single recorded track so good it deserves to start its own paragraph.
‘Cathedrals’ feels like the accumulation of an album’s hard work. A cover of ‘Jump Little Children’s stirring ballad, a song made famous by Joan Osborne, ‘Cathedrals’ is beautifully and emotionally sung by Karimloo as he manages to soften his notoriously powerfully brash tone and truly give the most tender and memorable performance of his career to date. Fans of Karimloo’s stage work will not be disappointed however; there is a quickened pop version of ‘Music of the Night’ and, perhaps unsurprisingly, one of the strongest songs from Karimloo’s stage repertoire ‘Til I Hear You Sing’, from Love Never Dies, makes an appearance.
‘Ramin’ provides a satisfying twelve tracks of listener-friendly pop rock without necessarily pushing any boundaries in the genre; Karimloo, must be praised however for giving such a heartfelt and high quality performance with this, his first professional recording with Sony CMG. Karimloo has been equally brave and business savvy in choosing to co-write several tracks on the album, giving him a certain credibility which cross-over artists vie for. The album as a whole sounds alike to the modern day ‘Take That’, inoffensive, marketable and with musical integrity, an album which is sure to appeal to Ramin’s existing fans and, if marketed right, a certain record-buying demographic.
Karimloo is currently playing Jean Valjean in the West End production of Les Misérables and is known to be persuing other ventures both in and away from the theatre. Whilst the quality of the works in terms of both effort and performance is without question, whether or not the album is to be a success is an answer only his key target demographic can provide.
‘Ramin’ is available to purchase from 5th of March, released by Sony CMG.
- Harry Zing
*After discussing this album with a arts professional colleague it occured to us just how ‘American’ this album feels. Having travelled across the US extensively, I contend that many of this album’s tracks with the religious overtones / soft-rock accessibility would make ‘Ramin’ perfectly accessible to the US radio airwaves. Perhaps this was the intention at least in part for ‘Ramin’s sound?
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