I might have taken a break from reviewing for the last couple of months, but I didn’t stop going to the theatre. Here’s some brief thoughts on most of what I saw in August.
Queen of the Mist, aka the surprisingly affecting one
Appropriate, aka all hail Monica Dolan
Waitress, aka ZZZZZZZOMGGGGG STUNT CASTING oh wait, Joe Suggs hasn’t started yet
The Doctor, aka all hail Juliet Stevenson
A Very Expensive Poison, aka it was a preview so I shouldn’t say anything
Blues in the Night, aka all hail Broadway-bound Sharon D Clarke (and Debbie Kurup, and Clive Rowe too)
The Night of the Iguana, aka justice for Skyler Continue reading “August theatre round-up”
Round and round and round we go. La Ronde surfaces again as Michael John LaChiusa’s Hello Again at the Union Theatre
“I’ve been searching high and low
For you but then
What does it matter?
It is a universal truth that you’re never too far away from some adaptation or another of Arthur Schnitzler’s La Ronde. It’s been gay, it’s been musical, it’s been gender-neutral, it’s been Hollywood, and now it is back to being musical again, with the Union Theatre’s revival of Michal John LaChiusa’s Hello Again.
LaChiusa’s adaptation sets each of its ten scenes in a different decade of the twentieth century, aiming for a broad investigation of how, if at all, love and sex have changed over the years. This also allows him to cherrypick from a much wider range of musical styles than if he’d stuck with the original’s 1890 Vienna. Continue reading “Review: Hello Again, Union Theatre”
“Blame it on the gin”
There’s no doubting the visual flair that choreographer Drew McOnie is able to conjure in his work – In The Heights and Jesus Christ Superstar being just two recent examples – and so it is no coincidence that his move into directing has begun with dance-heavy pieces. Strictly Ballroom lit up the stage at the West Yorkshire Playhouse before Christmas and now The Wild Party opens up the programming at The Other Palace, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s rebranded St James Theatre.
Michael John LaChiusa’s musical version is not the first adaptation of Joseph Moncure March’s epic poem to hit London this year – that title goes to the Hope Theatre’s two hander from last month. But it does have its own tunes presented as a vaudeville, a real mish-mash of every 1920s style you can think of and more, which makes for a bold and brash evening – especially as performed by this lavishly assembled ensemble – but ultimately, one of little staying power. Continue reading “Review: The Wild Party, The Other Palace”
“Maybe someday I’ll get lucky”
It took seven years for Audra McDonald to get around to her fifth solo album Go Back Home but as the adage says, some things are just worth waiting for. As entertaining as her diversion into the world of singer-songwriters on previous collection Build A Bridge was, there’s real joy in hearing her return so whole-heartedly to the world of musical theatre, particularly when it is as gloriously well done as this.
As ever, there’s the mixture of old and new that has typified McDonald’s output – the dips into the classics, represented here by Rodgers and Hammerstein, Sondheim and Styne, and the showcasing of the new, the likes of Michael John LaChiusa, Adam Guettel and Steven Marzullo who have regularly received her patronage. Such intelligent support of her industry has longed proved invaluable and helped to establish her at its forefront. Continue reading “Album Review: Audra McDonald – Go Back Home (2013)”
“I double dare you to fall in love with me”
For her third album, and the first after the birth of her daughter, Audra McDonald’s third album saw her turn to Happy Songs. More specifically, it’s the music of the 1930s and 40s that is the focus of attention, Harold Arlen and Duke Ellington, Irving Berlin and the Gershwins, and McDonald proves herself the equal of the likes of Lena Horne and Judy Garland by taking on the standards they made famous and infusing them with a new lease of life.
It’s a seductive mixture and one which once again works perfectly under McDonald’s stewardship. Even if the title might suggest light-heartedness, the song selection soon puts you right – tracks like ‘Ill Wind (You’re Blowing Me No Good)’ and ‘Supper Time’, an anti-lynching anthem, bring real gravitas to the album, alongside the more frivolous but no less seriously intended ‘I Wish I Were In Love Again’ and the rapid-fire corker that is ‘I Double Dare You’. Continue reading “Album Review: Audra McDonald – Happy Songs (2005)”
“To whirl and to dance till the white day is done”
It’s easy to look back with hindsight on this kind of thing but it is remarkable to see what Audra McDonald did with her first solo album Way Back To Paradise. Eschewing the easy route of well-worn standards and crowd-pleasing hits, McDonald turned to her contemporaries, working with upcoming composer-lyricists in showcasing their little-known or unproduced work (in some cases , writing specifically for her) that was very much at the vanguard of new musical theatre writing.
And she chose wisely, for among that company are the likes of Jason Robert Brown, Michael John LaChiusa and Adam Guettel. And thus the tracklisting respectively features gems like ‘You Don’t Know This Man’ from Parade, now surely acknowledged as a modern classic but at this point yet to open on Broadway, the striking ‘Mistress of a Senator’ from Hello Again, and ‘Come To Jesus’ from Saturn Returns, on which Guettel appears too. Continue reading “Album Review: Audra McDonald – Way Back to Paradise (1998)”
“The bed was not my own”
Round and round and round we go, Arthur Schnitzler’s La Ronde has inspired many an adaptation, so much so that the Hope Theatre’s Hello Again can’t even boast of being the only one on Upper Street (F**king Men at the King’s Head newly extending into December). But it is the only musical version there, Michael John LaChiusa crafting the daisy chain of sexual encounters into a song cycle that moves from decade to decade just as much as it does from bed to bed.
The show is made up of 10 two-handers, connected by one character remaining in the next scene, so first we have The Whore and The Soldier, then The Soldier and The Nurse, The Nurse and The College Boy and so on until The Senator and The Whore completes the cycle. But the timeline is played non-chronologically, the characters aren’t necessarily the same person from scene to scene, the only real connection is the multitude of ways in which sex is used and abused in our daily lives, no matter how sexuality is perceived in that particular age. Continue reading “Review: Hello Again, Hope”
“I only told you the truth…”
After directing its European amateur premiere back in 2006, Adam Lenson now presents the London debut of Michael John LaChiusa’s See What I Wanna See at the Jermyn Street Theatre. Formally challenging and musically experimental, this modern musical is based on three short stories by Japanese writer Ryūnosuke Akutagawa, all circling around the elusive nature of truth and how faith and deception can shift and skew its perspective.
Set in Medieval Japan, the opening tale of Kesa and Morito is split in two, acting as a prologue to both acts as a pair of lovers come to the end of a tumultuous relationship. R Shomon fast-forwards to a film noir version of 1951 New York where a murder has been committed but multiple versions of what happened are muddying the picture. And in Gloryday, a disillusioned priest in 2002 New York sees a hoax snowball way out of his control. Continue reading “Review: See What I Wanna See, Jermyn Street”
“Where will you turn when the house of Bernarda falls”
After establishing quite the name for itself with its all-male interpretations of Gilbert and Sullivan’s work, the Union Theatre are now letting the women have their turn with Triptic’s production of Michael John LaChiusa’s chamber musical Bernarda Alba. Based on García Lorca‘s The House of Bernarda Alba set in 1930s Spain, this condensed version – directed by Katherine Hare in 90 minutes without interval – captures the claustrophobia and the knife’s-edge balance of this group of women with a score replete with Iberian influences and near-operatic intensity.
Following the death of her husband, Bernarda Alba rises to the position of head of her household of five daughters and team of female servants but her strict matriarchal rule is challenged by the arrival of a man – unseen – into their lives. In Hilary Statt’s wonderfully austere, white-washed design, we explore the repressed desires of each of these women, all bristling in their different ways under the harshness of their mother’s rule as old resentments simmer, sexuality promises to burst loose and mental fragility seriously threatened in this tale of “a happy, happy family”. Continue reading “Review: Bernarda Alba, Union Theatre”
“I had never known what I was really like until I stopped smoking, by which time there was hell to pay”
I was looking forward to this, if only because it was my first trip to the Finborough Theatre: tucked away in Earl’s Court, this tiny fringe theatre has a sterling reputation and always has a highly varied programme, so off I went along the District Line to see what all the fuss was about. The play in question was Little Fish, advertised as the European premiere of a new musical by Michael John LaChiusa (a great name for a playwright, obviously I need to change mine so that I too can write musicals, Foster just ain’t exciting enough!)
The story is based on 2 short stories by Deborah Eisenberg, and revolves around a single New York gal, Charlotte, whose decision to give up smoking leads her down a path of startling self-realisation, as she comes to terms with her troubled past to try and deal with her current unhappiness and finally learn how to enjoy life in the city. It is presented in an episodic form, with key scenes from Charlotte’s past being interspersed throughout the modern day storyline of her trying to find activities to help keep her off the tobacco. I loved this portrayal of urban life as it felt so much more authentic than any number of television shows would have us believe, and the difficulties in maintaining friendships in the face particularly rang true.
Continue reading “Review: Little Fish, Finborough”