Author Archive for phayward – Page 2

Remembering Sir Peter Hall – a true hallmark of British Theatre

The National Theatre have issued the following statement today. The National Theatre is deeply saddened to announce the death of its former Director, Sir Peter Hall, one of the great names in British theatre.

Sir Peter died on 11 September at University College Hospital, at the age of 86, surrounded by his family.

Peter Hall was an internationally celebrated stage director and theatre impresario, whose influence on the artistic life of Britain in the 20th century was unparalleled. His extraordinary career spanned more than half a century: in his mid-20s he staged the English language premiere of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. In 1960, aged 29, Peter Hall founded the Royal Shakespeare Company which he led until 1968. The RSC realised his pioneering vision of a resident ensemble of actors, directors and designers producing both classic and modern texts with a clear house style in both Stratford and London.

Appointed Director of the National Theatre in 1973, Peter Hall was responsible for the move from the Old Vic to the purpose-built complex on the South Bank. He successfully established the company in its new home in spite of union unrest and widespread scepticism. After leaving the National Theatre in 1988, he formed the Peter Hall Company (1988 – 2011) and in 2003 became the founding director of the Rose Theatre Kingston. Throughout his career, Sir Peter was a vociferous champion of public funding for the arts.

Sir Peter Hall at the South Bank Sky Arts Awards at the Dorchester Hotel, London.

Peter Hall’s prolific work as a theatre director included the world premieres of Harold Pinter’s The Homecoming (1965), No Man’s Land (1975) and Betrayal (1978), Peter Shaffer’s Amadeus (1979), John Barton’s nine-hour epic Tantalus (2000); and the London and Broadway premieres of Alan Ayckbourn’s Bedroom Farce (1977). Other landmark productions included Hamlet (1965, with David Warner), The Wars of the Roses (1963), The Oresteia (1981), Animal Farm (1984), Antony and Cleopatra (1987, with Judi Dench and Anthony Hopkins), The Merchant of Venice (1989, with Dustin Hoffman), As You Like It (2003, with his daughter Rebecca Hall) and A Midsummer Night’s Dream (2010, with Judi Dench). Peter’s last production at the National Theatre was Twelfth Night in 2011.

Peter Hall was also an internationally renowned opera director. He staged the world premiere of Michael Tippett’s The Knot Garden (1970) and was Artistic Director of Glyndebourne Festival Opera (1984 – 90) where he directed more than twenty productions. Peter Hall worked at many of the world’s leading houses including The Royal Opera, the Metropolitan Opera and Bayreuth where, in 1983, he staged Wagner’s Ring Cycle to honour the 100th anniversary of the composer’s death.

Hall has been married four times. He has six children and nine grandchildren. His first wife was French actress Leslie Caron, with whom he has a son, Christopher (b. 1957), and a daughter, Jennifer (b. 1958). With his second wife, Jacqueline Taylor, he has a son, Edward (b. 1966), and a daughter, Lucy (b. 1969). Hall married American opera singer Maria Ewing in 1982 with whom he has one daughter, Rebecca (b. 1982). He is now married to Nicki Frei and they have one daughter, Emma (b. 1992).

Hall has worked with all his children: for the National Theatre, Jennifer played Miranda in The Tempest 1988; Rebecca, aged nine, played young Sophie in the Channel 4 adaptation of The Camomile Lawn, for The Peter Hall Company she played Vivie in Mrs Warren’s Profession (2002), Rosalind in As You Like It (2003), Maria in Gallileo’s Daughter (2004) and, for the NT, Viola in Twelfth Night (2011); Emma, aged two, played Joseph in Jacob (2004, TV Movie); for the Peter Hall Company, Lucy designed Hamlet (1994), Cuckoos (2003) and Whose Life is it Anyway? (2005); Christopher produced the Channel 4 television drama The Final Passage (1996); Edward co-directed the stage epic Tantalus (2000).

Hall was diagnosed with dementia in 2011 and retired from public life.

Rufus Norris, Director of the National Theatre, said: ‘We all stand on the shoulders of giants and Peter Hall’s shoulders supported the entirety of British theatre as we know it. All of us, including those in the new generation of theatre-makers not immediately touched by his influence, are in his debt. His legendary tenacity and vision created an extraordinary and lasting legacy for us all.’

Sir Nicholas Hytner, Director of the NT 2003 – 2015, said: ‘Peter Hall was one of the great figures in British theatrical history, up there in a line of impresarios that stretches back to Burbage. Without him there would have been no Royal Shakespeare Company, the National Theatre’s move to the South Bank might have ended in ignominious failure, and the whole idea of the theatre as a public service dedicated both to high seriousness and popularity would not have seized the public imagination. He was a man of great warmth, and mischievous wit. When I became Director of the National Theatre in 2003, he was unstinting in his support and always generous with his advice. He was the great theatrical buccaneer of the 20th century and has left a permanent mark on our culture.’

Sir Trevor Nunn, Director of the NT 1997 – 2003 said: ‘Peter Hall’s achievement defies definition, except that perhaps, it allows us to understand why we have the word ‘great’ in our language. Peter’s greatness lay in his astonishing originality, his charismatic leadership, his unparalleled daring, his profound scholarship, his matchless articulacy and his visionary understanding of what we call ‘the theatre’ could be. In originating the RSC, he created an ensemble which led the world in Shakespeare production, but which triumphed to the same extent in presenting new plays of every kind. Not only a thrilling and penetrating director, he was also the great impresario of the age. He alone had the showmanship and energy to establish the three ring circus of our unique National Theatre on the South Bank. Peter Hall is a legend, whose legacy will benefit many generations to come. And yes, he was my beloved friend for fifty years.’

Sir Richard Eyre, Director of the NT 1988 – 1997 said: ‘Peter created the template of the modern director – part-magus, part-impresario, part-politician, part celebrity. He was – and is – the godfather (in both senses) of British theatre and like countless directors, writers and actors of several generations I have much to be grateful to him for.’

Memories from the Vivian Ellis section of our British collection

Today we tend to think that Noel Coward and Ivor Novello hugged the limelight and were the major composers of the period between the two World Wars.  But there were others who were just as successful.  Vivian Ellis was one who was riding high and his career continued after the Second World War.  He was born in 1903 destined for a career as a concert pianist.  But his talent as a composer and some-time lyricist was recognised at an early age and at 22 he had songs in the revues By the Way and Still Dancing as well as an interpolation in the American import Mercenary Mary.

It was success at an early age but it followed an apprenticeship in Tip Pan Alley where he rose from a song demonstrator to that of house composer.  This had happened after a planned career in the City was abandoned by mutual family agreement.  He knew instinctively the types of songs the public wanted and his ability to write a memorable melody line held him in good stead.  His first major success for which he wrote the entire score was Mr Cinders in 1929. 

When we interviewed him back in 1979 (when he was 75) he had strong feelings about the musical.  When asked about a future golden age he replied” The last ‘golden age’ disappeared with the departure of the great theatrical Impresario.  They had a policy of continuity.  Some may remember George Edwards’ string of musical Comedies at Daly’s and the Gaiety Theatres, and the Cochran revues at the London Pavilion.  Composers like Lionel Monkton and Paul Rubens were in constant demand.  Others will recall the Cochran-Coward partnership, the Herbert-Ellis collaborations and the Ruritania of Ivor Novello.  Today (and this comment was made almost forty years ago) with colossal costs, the expenses of a provincial try-out and every home with its own television stage – things a far more difficult.”

On public taste he commented: “Public taste is always changing. First the George Edwards’ English Musical Comedies. Which he replaced with Viennese Operetta such as The Merry Widow and The Dollar Princess, in turn ousted by the arrival of No, No, Nanette in the Twenties and the flow of American Musicals that followed ever since.  For the manager of today it is simpler, as well as safer, to reproduce a tried and tested Broadway hit.  Believe me, they too have their flops and very expensive ones too.  Yet the majority of American Musicals are ahead of ours in many ways.  Being slicker, they give the audience and critics less time to dwell on any weaknesses, yet they are old fashioned in at least one respect – most American musicals have melody.

The successes in the twenties and thirties brought a few international hit songs but his shows tended to remain home based.  During that period he more often than not had three shows, for which he wrote the score or contributed to, on at any one time.  He became closely associated with Cicely Courtneidge and Jack Hulbert and their string of hits.

He actively served in the Second World War and so his theatre career was put aside and it was not until 1946 that he joined A P Herbert to write a number of musicals (sometimes called light opera) that included the hits Bless the Bride and The Water Gipsies.  He also wrote his own lyrics several times including the hit And So to Bed and one of his favourites, Listen to the Wind.

By the time the fifties had arrived and teenagers were changing popular music he changed careers and started to write books, often with a comic slant.  He became the president of the Performing Rights Society and initiated the Vivian Ellis Award for aspiring musical theatre composers and lyricists.  It was that award given the Charles Hart that led to Hart being asked by Andrew Lloyd Webber to help write the lyrics of The Phantom of the Opera.

In the eighties Dan Crawford at the King’s Head Theatre revived Mr Cinders to great acclaim and successfully transferred it to the West End.  A song from that show, ‘Spread a little happiness’ was recorded by Sting and became a hit once again.  The King’s Head also presented a revue of his songs using that song’s title and that too  transferred to the West End with, unfortunately, not a great deal of success.

Vivian Ellis was a multi-talented man taking up gardening and painting in his retirement at his Somerset home where he lived with his sister, Hermione.  He knew everyone in musical theatre, many like Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein from his visits to the States in the thirties.  He quoted Rodgers as saying “One can but try to write a good theatre score.  If one gets a song hit, that is something extra”.   Hammerstein had introduced him to the young Stephen Sondheim, who he admired.  Though he commented: Some find Sondheim’s work ‘uncommercial’.  They said the same about mine and I recall Jerome kern’s advice to me – ‘go on being uncommercial.  There’s a lot of money in it!’”

Rexton S Bunnett                                                                                             Illustrated from the Overtures Archive

The Latest News This Weekend

Leslie Bricusse announces “Sunday Dallas”, a big musical, for London world premiere in 2019. His “Doctor Dolittle” is set for a West End revival next summer, utilising the puppetry skills of the ‘War Horse’ team. Emma Rice’s musical “Romantics Anonymous” runs at Shakespeare’s Globe from 27th  October to 6th January with previews from 20th  October, starring Carly Bawden, Dominic Marsh, Joanna Riding, Marc Antolin, Gareth Snook and Natasha Jayetileke. “Strictly Ballroom”, the Baz Luhrman musical take on his movie got the Drew McOnie treatment at the West Yorkshire Playhouse for a short run last Christmas and during the year had a try-out in Toronto; now after more work it is coming back to the UK and will open in London at the Piccadilly Theatre in March. Charlie Stemp has pocketed his half a sixpence and will set off to Broadway where he will be part of the recast of “Hello Dolly!” replacing Taylor Trensch as Barnaby Tucker joining Victor Garber and Bernadette Peters. The London production of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “Hamilton” will open two weeks later than originally planned on 21st  December  rescheduling 16 performances, totally down to the complexities of the theatre reconstruction. Olivier Award-winning cabaret troupe “La Soirée” will have its West End debut this winter at the Aldwych Theatre from 24 November. Bernadette Peters is set to takeover as Dolly Levi when Bette Midler leaves “Hello Dolly” in the New Year. “An American In Paris” has announced a three month extension to its booking period, the show is now scheduled to run through to the end of April, 2018. It had to happen…after “Dirty Dancing” prepare yourselves for the UK premiere at Leicester Curve  of a new musical “An Officer and a Gentleman” based on the 1982 Oscar winning film which has been adapted directly from the film and created in collaboration with original screenwriter Douglas Day Stewart and Sharleen Cooper Cohen who wrote  the book (Need to point out that this is a completely new show and has nothing to do with the 2012 disastrous Australian production). “A Super Happy Story (About Feeling Super Sad)” at the Pleasance Courtyard has won Musical Theatre Review’s inaugural Best Musical Award at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

NEWS HEADLINES – 4th September

Bernadette Peters is set to takeover as Dolly Levi when Bette Midler leaves “Hello Dolly” in the New Year. “An American In Paris” has announced a three month extension to its booking period, the show is now scheduled to run through to the end of April, 2018. It had to happen…after “Dirty Dancing” prepare yourselves for the UK premiere at Leicester Curve  of a new musical “An Officer and a Gentleman” based on the 1982 Oscar winning film which has been adapted directly from the film and created in collaboration with original screenwriter Douglas Day Stewart and Sharleen Cooper Cohen who wrote  the book (Need to point out that this is a completely new show and has nothing to do with the 2012 disastrous Australian production). “A Super Happy Story (About Feeling Super Sad)” at the Pleasance Courtyard has won Musical Theatre Review’s inaugural Best Musical Award at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. “9 to 5 The Musical” continues at Upstairs at the Gatehouse, London until 1 October. London entertainment hub Live At Zédel will follow up the success of “After You”, the venue’s first full-length musical with a series of musicals written by new writers produced specifically for the popular venue. BBC tv’s Casualty star Suzanne Packer will be heading home to Cardiff to take on a leading role in the premiere of “Tiger Bay” the Musical at Wales Millennium Centre this November, where she will join the previously announced West End and Broadway actor John Owen and former Hear’Say singer and musical theatre star, local boy Noel Sullivan. Screen and stage actress Susan Penhaligon will join Louise Redknapp and Will Young in the new nationwide tour of Rufus Norris’ acclaimed revival of “Cabaret”. The star-studded principal cast for this year’s London Palladium pantomime “Dick Whittington” is complete with the additions of Lukus Alexander and Emma Williams playing Alice Fitzwarrren and reuniting with her Half a Sixpence leading man Charlie Stemp who takes on the title role, Williams will be returning to the theatre where she made her West End debut in “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang”.

Before Hamilton there was Ben Franklin In Paris – Overtures was there

The Broadway season of 1964 / 1965 brought Fiddler on the Roof, Golden Boy, The Roar of the Greasepaint and the London import Oh! What a Lovely War plus Funny Girl and Hello, Dolly! were still playing.  Yet, Ben Franklin in Paris was highly anticipated as it was bringing back to Broadway Robert Preston in his first show since The Music Man.   With so many major hits playing it never really had a chance and lasted only 215 performances.  It is a show that basically disappeared after its New York showing but it is a show that deserves to be looked at again.  Why?  Well it is a piece about American (and of course British) history – the happenings behind the 1776 Independence of America declaration – now the province of mega hit Hamilton and 1776 before that.

There is no particular musical theatre pedigree in the men behind the show.  The book and lyrics are by Sidney Michaels who had a hit play in Tchin –Tchin and another in his dramatisation of the life of Dylan Thomas called simply Dylan starring Alec Guiness.  The music is by Mark Sandrich Jr. whose claim to fame was a rich and famous Hollywood father.  Ben Franklin in Paris was to be their only show. 

There were, in that great Broadway tradition of shows on the road, problems.  The original director and choreographer left to be replaced by Michael Kidd – a scoop as great as getting Robert Preston for the title role.  The libretto was revisited and Jerry Herman brought in to do some doctoring – two of his songs survive (‘To be alone with you’ and ‘Too charming’).

The tale they told was based on the trip that founding father Benjamin Franklin took to Paris to get support for the colonies fight against the English crown.  There is, of course, a love interest which enables him to get close to the court of Louis XV1 and then it follows the successes and failures in the struggle taking place.  The happy ending is the recognition of the United States of America by the French court and Dr Franklin being named the Ambassador of the new country.

If it had not been the good advance ticket sales it may well have closed even earlier.  Luckily there is an original cast album and that has been re-issued on CD.  It proves the score to have charms and is a pleasant listen.  What is evident is that the score bends towards the operetta, something that was not popular on the Broadway of the sixties, but is less a problem now.  Also the published libretto shows the piece to have a solid traditional feel, it tells the story well.

There has not been a British production and only one American revival.  But with the frenzy over Hamilton it would be interesting to see a Ben Franklin in Paris revived for us to compare a more traditional musical comedy treatment of that period in our history.

Rexton S Bunnett                                                                             Illustrations from the Overtures Archive

News Of The Week

The 2005 Broadway musical adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s novel “Little Women” will have its European premiere at the Hope Mill Theatre this November, with a score from Jason Howland, a book by Allan Knee and lyrics by Mindi Dickstein, the production will be produced Katy Lipson and the team behind Pippin. London Musical Theatre Orchestra’s production of “Mack and Mabel” at Hackney Empire in September will star David Bedella, Natasha J Barnes and Tiffany Graves as Mack, Mabel and Lottie. A full cast recording of Conor McPherson’s musical play Girl From the North Country, based on the music and lyrics of Bob Dylan, will be released on 29 September. More casting announced for “Cilla, The Musical”; joining Kara Lily Hayworth as Cilla will be Andrew Lancel as Brian Epstein and Carl Au as Bobby. “Bat Out Of Hell” has finished it’s limited run at London’s Coliseum and is heading off to Toronto where it will play until December, but it is coming back to the West End and it is rumoured to be lining up the Dominion replacing “An American In Paris” when its current booking period finishes at the end of January 2018. Gordon Greenberg (Guys and Dolls) will direct the first major London revival of Cy Coleman, Michael Stewart and Mark Bramble’s Tony Award-winning musical “Barnum” with choreography by Rebecca Howell, design by Paul Farnsworth and musical direction by Alex Parker, will play at the Menier Chocolate Factory from 5th December to 3rd March, with previews from 25th November. Really Useful Group is to partner with Shanghai Media Group Live in a new initiative pairing the UK and the Chinese musical theatre industry and have announced the first Chinese language and Chinese produced staging of the composer’s “Tell Me on a Sunday”.

Remembering Bruce Forsyth and Jerry Lewis on the London Stage

Two giants of the business called show have left this world within days of each other.  They may or may not have met each other, but both came from the same background of variety / vaudeville.  One owed his initial fame to television, the other film.  One was American the other English.  Neither had extensive legitimate theatre credentials, but what they did was memorable.

English Bruce Forsyth was a man of television and a past master of hosting family orientated quiz games and inventing catch phrases.  Jerry Lewis made his name on film but hosted a marathon of charity fund raising on television.  Lewis was a knockabout, child-like comedian gaining his stardom in a duo with the singer and straight man Dean Martin.  Forsyth was multi-talented and earned the title of an all-round entertainer as well as becoming a ‘Sir’ late in life.

Film made Lewis a star on both sides of the Atlantic, and in the fifties he and Martin topped the bill at the London Palladium with huge success.  Forsyth attempted success on Broadway with his one-man show but left without succeeding.  Americans will only know him through his limited film spots such as playing Julie Andrew’s father in Star. 

Sir Bruce starred in two West End shows, the American import Little Me and a semi-revue of Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse songs called The Travelling Music Show.  The first was a terrific hit for him, as it had been on Broadway for Sid Caesar.  Having to play many characters played to his talents.  These talents unfortunately could not save the other.

Jerry Lewis was to appear in a Broadway revival of Damn Yankees playing Applegate, the Faust character.  He took over from Victor Garber in the 1994 production and then toured with it around the States before bringing it to London in 1997.  He cleverly wove into his solo number ‘Those were the good old days’ a Vegas like cabaret act that landed right back into the story proper.  Unfortunately Lewis’s performance was not committed to disc.

The world of entertainment has lost two great and unique performers.

RSB       

David Heneker – The Man Whose Show Is Half A Sixpence

Of the post Second World War home grown shows one of the more successful was David Heneker’s Half a Sixpence and the Chichester revival and its West End transfer has proved successful.  David Heneker died in 2001 at the age of 94 (he was born on 31 March 1906 in Southsea, Hampshire). 

A true English gentleman, he had risen to the rank of Brigadier in a long career in the Army both in active service and in the War Office.  A career soldier, as his father had been, he studied at Sandhurst where his love of films began.  But he also had a love of music and played the piano.  His playing and song writing ran alongside his army career but really blossomed after he left the army in 1948.  Prior to that he had a song in the 1934 Merle Oberon film The Broken Melody and war-time hits: ‘The thing-ummy bob’ sung by Gracie Fields and ‘There’s a new world over the skyline’ for Vera Lynn sung in the film One Exciting Night.

David was a talented pianist and singer and he used these attributes at London’s famed Embassy Club where he became a well-known figure in the West End.  It appeared that he had found his slot in life but that changed in 1958 when playwright Wolf Mankowitz recognised his song writing talent and asked him to work on a show he was working on.  That show was Expresso Bongo for which he worked side by side Monty Norman.  It was a satire on the pop business of the day set in the seedy Soho of yesteryear.  Starring Paul Schofield and a young Millicent Martin in was a success and was made into a watered down film that introduced Cliff Richard to the screen.  

In Expresso Bongo he had written both lyrics and music but for his next venture, the Anglicisation of Marguerite Monnot’s musical Irma la Douce, he just worked on the lyrics.  A hit in London and on Broadway it put him at the top of his trade. 

His English roots led him once more to a musical with a strong London theme called Make Me an Offer which, again, was written by Wolf Mankowitz and again he joined forces with Monty Norman to write both music and lyrics.  It opened in 1959 and ran for over 200 performances, but did not travel.  Also with Norman he wrote The Art of Living, a 1960 revue.   

David caught the eye of Harold Fielding, one of the great British producers and a man with a vision of making the pop star Tommy Steele into an all-round star.  Fielding had starred Steele in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella and it had been a huge success in a limited Christmas season.  The astute Fielding had watched the success of Lionel Bart’s Oliver! in 1960 and had the idea of bringing H G Well’s novel of Kipps to the stage as a star vehicle for Tommy Steele.  David worked on it as sole song writer with Beverly Cross writing the book.  Half A Sixpence opened in 1963 and was a hit both in London and on Broadway, Steele became an international star and David had written a glorious score, perhaps his best.

David Heneker’s success with Fielding continued with Charlie Girl in 1965.  A simple play on the Cinderella story it brought together a mix that the time.  A pop star (this time Joe Brown), a much loved older star (Anna Neagle) and a strong comedy lead (Derek Nimmo).  This David wrote jointly with John Taylor.  It ran for over 2,000 performances and was later revived but to a far less friendly welcome.

1966 brought Jorrocks which was only mildly successful (view the full article on this show via the ‘search’ button).  By now the shows were starting to slow.  In 1969 came Phil the Fluter, another Harold Fielding show built up on aging star (Evelyn Laye), pop star (Mark Wynter) and comedian (Stanley Baxter).  It told the story of the successful song writer Percy French, using some of his songs but mainly new ones by David Heneker – it failed. 

In 1972 came Popkiss, an adaption of Ben Travers’ famed farce Rookery Nook.  It also failed and yet, the play on which it was based was to go on and have two more successful revivals.  It looked as though he was prepared to sit back on his laurels and retire.  But he was encouraged to come back to the stage in 1980 by Harold Fielding for a new show about the Hollywood and its change from the silent to sound movie.  The show, The Biograph Girl, had a book by Warner Brown who also worked on the lyrics with David.  It is a delightful show with a charming score but it could not find its audience.  There was an Off-Broadway production some years later under its original title of Flickers. 

There was one more, and sadly it was not a hit.  This was in 1984 and the show was Peg, an adaption of the ancient play Peg O’ My Heart.  It had book problems and while billed as ‘a romantic musical’ it lacked that spark to make it a hit.  It was recorded, as was The Biograph Girl, and these recordings are well worth revisiting. 

Rexton S Bunnett                                                                             Illustrations from the Overtures Archives

CoCo the musical – a recording rarity in the Collection

Coco is remembered more for its star than the show itself.  The star, of course, was Katherine Hepburn (although the still alive Coco Chanel on whose life the musical is based may have mistakenly thought it was that other Hepburn, Audrey.  Other that THE star it had what looks like a solid pedigree: book and lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner, music by Andre Previn, musical numbers and fashion sequence staged by Michael Bennett with sets and costumes by Cecil Beaton (who also did the Coco art-work).

It opened on Broadway on 18 December 1969 and was recorded on 8 January the following year – the Christmas and New Year celebrations ruined the traditional fist Sunday after opening recording date. The issue was rushed out, the sleeves having been already printed.  The sleeve note states: ‘refer to label for exact sequence.  Selections accurate as of 12/ 9/69’ (9 December).

When Miss Hepburn received her rushed copy she did not like what she heard – after all she was not the strongest singer – and stopped the album issue for it to be re-mixed and ‘improved’ and re-issued.  That was done.  However, some copies of the original issue managed find their way to other people.  

How do you know if you have the ‘original’?   On the plastic next to the label there is a hand etched number – for this it is: LPS 76957 – 513 on the A Side and LPS 76958 – 5 on the B Side.  The issue sold in the shops was etched: LPS 76957 on the A Side – 6 and LPS 76958 – 6 on the B Side.

RSB                                                           Illustrations from the Overtures Collections

NEWS OF THE WEEK

“Bat Out Of Hell” has finished it’s limited run at London’s Coliseum and is heading off to Toronto where it will play until December, but it is coming back to the West End and it is rumoured to be lining up the Dominion replacing “An American In Paris” when its current booking period finishes at the end of January 2018. Gordon Greenberg (Guys and Dolls) will direct the first major London revival of Cy Coleman, Michael Stewart and Mark Bramble’s Tony Award-winning musical “Barnum” with choreography by Rebecca Howell, design by Paul Farnsworth and musical direction by Alex Parker, will play at the Menier Chocolate Factory from 5th December to 3rd March, with previews from 25th November. Really Useful Group is to partner with Shanghai Media Group Live in a new initiative pairing the UK and the Chinese musical theatre industry and have announced the first Chinese language and Chinese produced staging of the composer’s “Tell Me on a Sunday”. With Neil Eckersley’s Speckulation Entertainment allegedly in financial difficulties leading to the curtailment of the “Wonderland” tour, its been announced that their next production a tour of of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “Bring It On” has been put on ice. Stephen Sondheim will be in London to talk “FOLLIES” at the National Theatre on 22nd August. Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “STARLIGHT EXPRESS” is to make a return to London  in  three concert-style workshop performances at The Other Palace from 14th-16th September. Aaron Sidwell (Grey Gardens, American Idiot, Loserville) will play Fiyero on the forthcoming major UK and Ireland tour of “WICKED” across all 2018 dates. U.S.-based musical theatre stars Kevin Hack and Jenna Burns lead the triple threat cast of the 60th-anniversary production of “WEST SIDE STORY”, which premiered in Germany and is now playing in Paranaque City, The Philippines before touring across Asia. X Factor’s Stevi Ritchie and Stacey Franks are to star in the musical “THE SWORD AND THE DOPE” at the Waterloo East Theatre from 5th Sept to 1st Oct.

Follies – the jewel in Sondheim’s crown – ahead of the NT revival

The National Theatre is about to present its version of Stephen Sondheim’s Follies – one of the most awaited theatrical events of the year.  To some, Follies is one of the most assessable Sondheim scores being one that is part a tribute of the great American composers that have gone before him.  It is not difficult to find the Irving Berlin influence or the Gershwin or the Romberg.  You are meant to recognise them, it makes you, the audience, become part of the celebration of the past.  But Sondheim’s score, perhaps his best, is far more than a set of pastiche numbers, it goes far further than that, it presents some of the best theatre songs ever written.  

The premise of the show is simple, a reunion in 1971 of cast members of Ziegfeld like revues some 30 or so years after the last was presented.  In fact it was inspired by an actual Ziegfeld Follies reunion that had been reported on in the New Yorker.  The theatre where the party is being held is being demolished but before it is, it is time to revisit the ghosts that inhabit the place and the ghosts that still inhabit those who were in the revues together with the dreams of youth and the reality of age. 

The core of Follies is rather intimate.  Two couples, the wives ex chorus girls and their husbands, youthful friends who had wooed the girls and had since gone their own ways in very different life styles.  The problem being that one of the girls always loved the other boy.  After years apart the desperation of the situation comes into the open at the night of the reunion in a mix of truth and fantasy.

This intimate story, fashioned by James Goldman, became in the hands of Harold Prince, who directed and was involved in its conception, a physically large show glorifying the past and mixing fact and fiction.  Remember this was in the days in the early seventies when theatrical dreams could become reality and originality was a joy, a time before the accountant and multi producers were needed to produce a show.  However, Follies took its time in getting to the stage.  Its first conception was as called The Girls Upstairs which was to have been a mystery musical but gradually the themes expanded to become the Follies we know today.

Follies opened on Broadway on 4 April 1971 and ran for 522 performances.  Not quite the hit it should have been.  Virtually all the original cast took off to Los Angeles where it played the Shubert Theatre (and where I first saw it).  It went nowhere else.  It was a show that could boast a wonderful score, sets of perfection by Boris Aronson and stunning costumes by Florence Klotz.  Prince’s direction was enhanced by the choreography of Michael Bennett which mingled vaudeville and Broadway – has there ever been a more perfectly staged number than the Mirror dance?  The problem was that Follies is not a comfortable show, it is adult, it has leading characters that are not easy to warm to and it ends in what is close to a nightmare.  James Goldman’s book was blamed for the show’s relative failure – totally unfair when you get close to the intimate core of the show.

When Follies eventually arrived in London under the Cameron Macintosh banner.  Macintosh ordered a revisit to the plot and a new song appeared.  The changes were not radical but tried to make the couples more in tune with the audience.  It made little difference in the long run and now revivals go back to the original.  The London run was longer than the Broadway one but it was not a show to put on the road and it has now only reappeared mainly in Concert form.  There was a successful brave production on the small South London’s Landor stage which allowed Goldman’s book to shine and make the characters more accessible. 

What the National Theatre production has to offer we await to see.  What itself is a revisit to the past and the uncomfortable reality of the present has become a precious piece itself and that is being revisited – welcome to the reunion.  

Rexton S Bunnett                                                     Illustrations from the Overtures Archive

Leave It To Jane – listen to Musical Theatre Melodies

The next “Musical Theatre Melodies” broadcast on 96.5 FM on Tuesday, 29th August will feature a Centenary tribute to Jerome Kern nd P.G. Wodehouse’s “Leave It to Jane”, (based on The College Widow by George Ade), from the 1959 off-Broadway revival cast recording starring Kathleen Murray, Dorothy Greener, Angelo Mango, Jeanne Allen, Art Matthews, Ray Tudor, Jan Speer and George Segal.

The remainder of the programme will feature selections from the CD Lost Broadway and More: Volume 6 – Jerome Kern with songs from such Kern musicals as Fluffy Ruffles; Nobody Home; Have a Heart; Toot Toot; Good Morning Dearie; Dear Sir; Criss-Cross; Lucky and Centennial Summer.

The broadcast will go “to air” between 9 – 11 p.m. EST local Melbourne time; (= 12 noon – 2 p.m. BST in Britain; = 11 p.m. – 1 a.m. NZST; = 7 – 9 a.m. EDT New York time; = 4 – 6 a.m. PDT Los Angeles time.) For those listening in via the Internet on 96.5 Inner FM’s website the webpage link for the Inner FM Web Radio player is  http://right-click.com.au/rcPlayer/index.php?c=innerfm or go to the Inner FM homepage at www.innerfm.org.au and follow the links.
ILLUSTRATIONS FROM THE OVERTURES ARCHIVES