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September 2018

Posts from August 2018

“On the Town” (Prom 57)

Royal Albert Hall, London • 2018-08-25 • 19:30

WikipediaProduction

Pure, unadulterated bliss, about as wildly enjoyable as the legendary 1992 concert, which also featured the London Symphony Orchestra in Olympic form.

Same concert version with narration… although the narrator’s name is nowhere to be found in the programme. [I finally found it when I watched the TV broadcast, his name is Kerry Shale.]

Very good cast, but the acoustics of the hall is not great for voices, even with amplification. However, I was in the “golden area” in the side stalls where the sound of the orchestra comes across beautifully. I swooned repeatedly upon hearing what I consider to be Bernstein’s most blissful score (on a par, maybe, with Wonderful Town).

Chorus and secondary roles were provided by a bunch of talented ArtsEd students. Their joy at being a part of such an event was obvious (especially the guy in the short-sleeved red shirt in the last row)… and contributed to making the concert even more special.

 

 
 
 
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“Little Shop of Horrors”

Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre, London • 2018-08-24 • 14:15

WikipediaProduction

A fun staging, although the overall aesthetics with all those fluorescent colours probably pays off a lot better when the show is performed at night. Matinee audiences are a bit shortchanged. Sadly, the allergy warning in the lobby about the finale using latex balloons in the auditorium gives away one of the fun surprises.

Good performances, especially from Marc Antolin as Seymour and from Jemima Rooper as Audrey — she went the Ellen Greene way by underplaying the humour a little bit… which always works wonders. The choice of having a Drag Queen, Vicky Vox, play Audrey II seems pretty natural, in a way, given the tone of the character’s songs.

Not overly impressed by the choreography. As usual, the amplification at the Open Air Theatre is a bit hit-or-miss, but it was a pleasure to hear the bongos so clearly in the title song.



“Comédiens !”

Théâtre de la Huchette, Paris • 2018-08-23 • 21:00

Production

An unexpected delight, solidly written and exquisitely performed, although neither dialogue nor lyrics sounded very 1948 to my ears. Discovering the play was a free reinterpretation of Pagliacci halfway through was an added bonus — I was reminded of the day I recognised the plot of Murder on the Orient-Express in a randomly chosen Taiwanese opera set in a mountain inn in Taipei.

Too bad the song that contains my favourite lyric (“Tu m’enivrais, Gaston, mais là / Tu me soûles.”) is marred by some prosodic monstrosities (“Tu te souviens / J’aimais bien ça”). Hearing the very nice song written for Desdemona sort of made me long for a revival of Catch My Soul, the rock opera based on Othello which played the Théâtre Marigny in 1972 as Othello Story.

 

 
 
 
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“Hello, Dolly!” (with Donna Murphy)

Shubert Theatre, New York • 2018-08-12 • 15:00

WikipediaIBDB

Fifth time seeing this production... the second time with Ms. Murphy in the title role. Some variety is provided by the fact that understudy Amanda Lamotte is in playing the part of Ermengarde, possibly the most boring character in the play.

As with Ms. Midler the previous day, there is a tendency to play everything more broadly… but the show holds together better. Not only that, but it reaches several peaks, both emotional and comedic.

Not only does Ms. Murphy respect the songs by never straying too far from the score, she also brings depth and meaning to her character, in particular whenever she addresses her late husband Ephraim. In doing so, she makes Dolly human, frail and loveable.

When she allows herself a little bit of ad-libbing, she never gets out of character and never breaks the fourth wall, an example Ms. Midler would be well advised to follow.

Her commitment to her character seems to lift everybody else. The ensemble, in particular, outdo themselves in the big numbers, which are hugely entertaining.

There are, however, still signs of sloppiness. David Hyde Pierce’s mic situation is even worse than the previous day. He has to carry the beginning of his first scene almost without amplification. Does anybody even care?



“Hello, Dolly!” (with Bette Midler)

Shubert Theatre, New York • 2018-08-11 • 20:00

WikipediaIBDB

Fourth time seeing this production... the second time with Ms. Midler… and the first time with audience darlings Gavin Creel and Charlie Stemp both on stage at the same time.

Shows sometimes go adrift a few months into their run if the stage manager and musical director don’t manage to keep things under control. In this case, the show has become a strange sort of farce. 

Ms. Midler, who showed a lot more restraint at the beginning of the run, has broadened her gestures, rushes through her lines like a record played at the wrong speed and speaks with a weird accent that makes her sound somewhat demented. She has also started “interpreting” her songs, changing both rhythm and melody when she pleases.

Sadly enough, Ms. Midler has contaminated most of her fellow players (although David Hyde Pierce always played with a heavy Brooklyn-type accent). With so much indiscipline on stage, some scenes play like they’re out of The Benny Hill Show.

The audience’s enthusiasm seems to increase with the amount of tastelessness on stage. Which only encourages the actors to follow their weird instincts. In the middle of a dance break in “Hello, Dolly!,” Ms. Midler looked at the audience and said “This goes on for a while, so I hope you like red.” A few moments earlier, she had literally “danced like an Egyptian,” much to the audience’s delight.

In my book, that is pretty unacceptable. I couldn’t help thinking of Danny Kaye’s widely reported stage antics when he was in Two By Two. I suppose stars find it impossible not to cater to their audiences’ lowest instincts — “Give Them What They Want,” as they sing in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.

There are other signs that the end of the run is near, like the fact that David Hyde Pierce’s voice sounds muffled every time he wears a hat. But why bother when every remaining performance is sold out?

 

 
 
 
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“Gettin’ the Band Back Together”

Belasco Theatre, New York • 2018-08-11 • 14:00

Wikipedia • IBDB

Formatted to death; ticking up boxes to appeal to GenX audiences:

  • corny sitcom New Jersey humour, although some jokes do land,
  • entrances & exits through the auditorium,
  • generic rock score, loud amplification and the now obligatory rap song,
  • audience participation & occasional breaking of the fourth wall,
  • cartoonish aesthetics.

Many instances of deja vu:

  • the audition scene (The Producers, The Full Monty),
  • the moment of doubt before the final scene (The Full Monty again),
  • the Les Misérables reference (Crazy For You & too many others to name),
  • the updated “Dance at the Gym“ (Something Rotten!).

Very good performances, even though Marilu Henner seemed to be a little bit unsure of her lines.

Embarrassing curtain intro by Ken Davenport, which started the show on a Club Med kind of note.

Claims to be a rare instance of an original musical but ends up feeling like an ultra derivative product that never takes the risk of trying something different. Give me a good revival of a classic any day.

Best moment of the performance was hearing “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” on the theatre’s sound system during intermission.