Acquisitions Archive

Barbara Cook – a personal good-bye – Rex Bunnett reflects

Barbara Cook has died just before reaching the age of ninety.  For many, like me, it seems a very personal loss.  There are thousands of wonderful tributes out there and every aspect of her career and private life have been recounted in detail.  And, there is her own account of her life in the book Then and Now which was published last year.

Of the post war Broadway singing actors she without doubt was one of the most significant – certainly for her part in the golden age of the Broadway Musical – for that alone she will never be forgotten.  One simply has to think of three shows: Candide, The Music Man and She Loves Me to recognise her place in Musical Theatre history, and, of course, there were many more shows in which she starred.

Unfortunately she did not perform a book show in London but she did perform here in cabaret and in her theatrical one woman shows.  Her first appearance here was at a long lost venue called Country Cousins set in World’s End (the less salubrious end of Chelsea).  This courageous early London cabaret venue, remembered also for its dubious food, brought to London the likes of Cook.  It was there that I first saw her ‘live’ and I’ll never forget her singing ‘Ice cream’ from She Loves Me which brought tears of joy.  Her wonderful Marion in The Music Man singing ‘My White Knight’ still causes tingles down my back.

Her gradual move to cabaret was enhanced with her instinctive understanding of the importance of the lyric, a gift she shared with the great Mable Mercer.  Barbara Cook brought new life to many a song.  Age obviously caught up with her but she commanded a stage right up to the end.  Although by the end she may not have been able to reach the high notes of ‘Ice cream’ she made up of that in her immaculate style and lyrical warmth.

Barbara Cook is hopefully sleeping happily in the knowledge that she left so much love.

My last thoughts are simply ‘Goodnight MY Someone’.

RSB

Broadway Musicals – the ones that London has yet to see

Recently Mark Shenton, the Stage critic and Musical Theatre show buff came up with ten Broadway Shows he would like to see professionally produced in London.

The ten were as follows:

The Act – the 1977 Kander & Ebb vehicle for Liza Minelli.

Woman of the Year – the 1981 Kander & Ebb vehicle for Lauren Bacall.

The Will Rogers Follies – the 1991 Coleman, Comden & Green’s tribute to the great American vaudeville and radio artist.

The Boy From Oz – the 1998 Australian tribute to Peter Allen that played Broadway in 2003 starring Hugh Jackman.

Legs Diamond – the 1988 Peter Allen flop Musical.

Catch Me if you Can – the 2011 almost ran based on the film of the same name.

The Last Ship – the 2014 Sting flop that brought back memories of Lionel Bart’s Maggie May.

The Bridges of Madison County – the 2014 Jason Robert Brown award winning show based on Robert James Waller’s successful book that was also filmed.

Far From Heaven – the 2013 Off Broadway Scott Frankel & Michael Korie show.

The Tap Dance Kid – the 1983 Henry Kreiger flop starring the young Savion Glover

For Mark’s reasons for these 10, go to The Stage page:

https://www.thestage.co.uk/opinion/2017/mark-shentons-top-10-musicals-yet-to-be-seen-in-london/?login_to=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.thestage.co.uk%2Faccounts%2Fusers%2Fsign_up.popup

While not disagreeing with Mark’s suggestions we have come up with a further ten.  And, we would love to hear of other people’s ideas.  Producers should take note as there is no doubt that lingering out there are potential London hits. 

Let us know by clicking here and adding your suggestions – http://overtures.org.uk/?page_id=67

Our further ten, listed in no particular order, are:

 

Redhead – a 1959 murder mystery multi Tony award winning show set in London in Jack the Ripper time set in a wax works.  Written by Arthur Hague and Dorothy Fields for Gwen Verdon.   It is very much a dance show and the original choreography was by Bob Fosse.

 

Walking Happy – seen in 1966 and based on the ever popular play Hobson’s Choice.   This became a vehicle for Norman Wisdom on Broadway, although not actually written with him in mind.  The score is by Sammy Cahn and James Van Heusen and has plenty of openings for a choreographer.

Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder? – A more recent Broadway show, this musical comedy by Robert L Freedman and Steven Lutvah is based on the book that inspired the film Kind Hearts and Coronets and the original novel by Roy Horniman.  It was Tony winning and had respectable run.

  

The Girl Who Came to Supper – something for the National to think about!  A Noel Coward score to a Terrance Rattigan story (the Prince and the Showgirl) is crying out for a London production.  Not a great hit on Broadway when produced in the sixties but why not now? 

The Golden Apple – a 1954 cult ‘handle with care’ piece that requires a director with ’inspiration’.  It originally caused a stir Off-Broadway but an up-town transfer was not a success.  Recently revived in New York as a part of the Encore season.

Li’l Abner – a colourful, funny dance packed show seen in 1958 and later filmed using the Broadway production as its base.  The inspiration was a long running newspaper Comic Strip with a score by Gene de Paul and Johnny Mercer.

  

New Girl in Town – 1958 and subject to a recent article (use the search button to read it).  I think now we are ready for an adult musical – especially one that can home in on dance. 

Ben Franklin in Paris – 1964 show by Sidney Michaels and Mark Sandrich Jr (includes a couple of songs written by Jerry Herman) set at the same time as Hamilton and about another founding father.  However, this is told in a far more traditional Broadway way.  Perhaps a fringe venue would be a good starting point.

Carmelina – 1979 – based on the movie Buena Sera Mrs Campbell (available on DVD in Spain) about a girl with three guys believing they are her father and set in a Mediterranean setting.   However, it doesn’t have a score by ABBA just a delightful one by Alan Jay Lerner and Burton Lane.

 

Jelly’s Last Jam – a strong 1992 Broadway hit based on the songs and story of Jerry Roll Morton it could be another Dreamgirls in waiting.  This piece boldly talks about race and colour within the creole community ‘down south’. 

RSB                                                                                 Illustrations from the Overtures archive

 

Looking at Wind In The Willows in musical theatre

Like Peter Pan there have been many stage versions over the years.  But unlike Peter Pan which was written as a play this was originally a book.  Wind in the Willows was written by Kenneth Grahame and published in 1908.  Grahame had retired from The Bank of England and was living by the side of the Thames, his inspiration for stories he would tell his son and later the book.  From the start it was a remarkable piece, perhaps only equalled in its use of animal characters to show human foibles by Animal Farm many decade later.

 

England in 1908 was a joyous place.  It was re-finding itself after the long Victorian period and was a period of many changes, especially in the field of entertainment and travel.  The book itself was a celebration of modernity and the central character, Mr Toad, wealthy enough to partake of all the new things devised to enhance his life.  He is indeed lucky to have friends that care and stick with him while he does unacceptable things – he is a naughty boy in a man’s clothing.

The story meanders along the river and brings to life the animals that inhabit it.  They represent river life in human form.  It was a messing about in boats tale in a way that Jerome Jerome’s Three Men in a Boat had been.  It was not until 1929 that the first stage adaptation arrived and that was by the astute children’s writer A A Milne who is still remembered for his Christopher Robin tales.  His adaptation centred on Toad and was indeed called Toad of Toad Hall.  It was a play that would be performed year after year.

There have, of course, been American versions but, perhaps, the subtlety of the original is lost in its three thousand mile journey and there have been no real successes. 

On the other hand Alan Bennett’s 1991 adaptation for the National Theatre, which stayed true to the original, was an outstanding success and was revived and toured.  This no doubt this will remain the classic version.

Film and Television especially has revisited the story many times without producing a classic.  It is a case that the original was so perfect it has been difficult to improve.

The latest version has attempted to bring in what is almost a love interest, the invention of the character Portia, the daughter of Mrs Otter, the originals are a male Otter and his son Portley.  Now the daughter is flighty and forever disappearing (quite the average teenager) and eventually gets caught with the invasion of Toad Hall.  She is eventually saved from ‘a fate worse than death’ or, as it would seem, a simple fatting up to death.  In fact the ending of the show does not leave one thinking that the animals can live in peace together – a great shame and not the moral of the book.

Like Harry Potter, the original book may appear a children’s novel but in truth is for all ages and one can read into it more as one ages.  But perhaps the thing to remember is that it should remain a ‘read into’ and not one to add to.

RSB 

 

Ashley Day talks about his journey to An American In Paris

Ashley Day, one of Britain’s most accomplished young performers in musical theatre is settling into his lead role as Jerry Mulligan in the West End’s latest hit musical An American In Paris. Garnering more five star reviews than any other production in living memory, An American In Paris is probably the most demanding of shows on its cast members – it’s not just singing, dancing and acting in one of London’s largest theatres (the huge Dominion, where We Will Rock You played for 10 years), it’s singing to new arrangements of some of Gershwin’s best loved classics, it’s dancing that embraces the most challenging techniques of the ballet stage and it’s acting that requires the projection of emotions from the body as well as the voice and the face. It is a show that places huge demands on the physical and mental make-up of its cast, 8 times every week.

For Ashley Day this is no overnight success, it is something that he has worked for all his life. Although, going into this show he may not be the best-known star in the West End, he has certainly been part of some of the most successful shows of the past decade. Here he talks to Overture’s CEO Pat Hayward about his journey which for now, ends with him in an ice bath in the star dressing room of the Dominion, which many of his theatre and music idols have used before him.

“My first introduction to An American In Paris was when I was 9 or 10 and I sat down and watched the video of the film. Even at that age, I recognised that this was different and that for me ‘An American In Paris’ was Gene Kelly and I formed an emotional attachment to the film. I saw it before ‘Singin’ In The Rain’, and only say that because people talk about Gene Kelly and Singin’ In the Rain; whereas my Gene Kelly film is ‘An American In Paris’.”

Ashley went on to say, “In fact I’ve never really had an emotional attachment in the same way to ‘Singin’ In The Rain’. What gave me the relationship with the film was the ballet, which was unlike anything I had ever seen before and then “I Got Rhythm” with the kids, it was him tapping, just funny and being a kid myself, I guess.”

“My next exposure to An ‘American In Paris’ was when I saw it advertised as a stage production in Paris and I can remember being really angry and thinking why didn’t I know about this, why didn’t my agent tell me about it or get me an audition? I can remember the first poster for the Chatelet production and thinking that looks cool, like it doesn’t look like a commercial West End or Broadway show. I then looked into it and saw who was playing the roles and who was directing it, Chris Wheeldon, and thought okay, now I understand.”

“I knew about Chris, in fact I’d seen his ‘Alice’ which was probably the first ballet I had actually sat down and watched on tv. It seemed to have a lot in common with the musical theatre world and that is what excited me. It was funny, the Red Queen and the tapping Mad Hatter and the set was, wow, an amazing design by Bob Crowley who has done a lot of ballet but his main focus is theatre. I can remember googling everything about Chris Wheeldon and seeing footage of the Paris rehearsals, not knowing that the show would move to Broadway and then on to the West End.”

“When the show did move to Broadway my mum was over there and I said that the first thing she had to see was ‘An American In Paris’. She called me straight after seeing the show and told me that this was the show for me. Because I knew about the show and who was playing the lead roles, principal dancers from the world’s leading ballet companies, I thought it would never happen for me and so I told her to see another show, one that I thought I would stand a good chance of appearing in if it did make a transfer. I didn’t see the show myself until the 6th July 2016 and I wasn’t disappointed. In fact by that time, I had already secured the role and so when I sat down in the Palace, 7 rows from the front, I thought “right this is what I’m about to do”, a scary thing watching a show you are going to be in and in unknown territory. Garen Scribner was playing the Jerry role and I kept thinking is he going off? No; is he going to take a water break? No; gosh this part is bigger than they told me. The whole thing inspired me, it was very different from what I thought a musical interpretation of ‘An American In Paris’ would be like.”

“It was just over a year ago when I secured the role, the spring bank holiday at the end of May in 2016. When I registered my interest in the show, as soon as it was talked about making the London transfer, I considered it a long shot, but one I would be prepared to move mountains to get. The audition process was arduous; we were at Rambert, Sadlers Wells, Pineapple and other spaces, all in London, I think there were 9 auditions in total. The first audition I had was with 7 musical theatre guys who all dance, so they were sussing out who could do it or had classical technique and could develop through a project. For the first six or seven auditions, I just went along with the process, enjoying them and having a laugh with the other candidates. They were seeing all these guys from the Royal and other major ballet companies, ones that might fit the casting profile of the Broadway show. So, I don’t think I’ve ever been as relaxed as I was through this process. Believing that if I made it as far as meeting Chris, he would take one look at me and say no, you are not the classically trained ballet dancer I need.”

“I learned ballet a long time ago and I thought in my head, ballet choreographer, they are a certain way and they want a certain thing. When I did meet Chris for the first time, we had a morning; there were six boys and six girls, all from leading ballet companies apart from me who was the only one from a musical theatre background. It was one of the strangest days of my life because I was in a holding room with a bunch of people that don’t belong in musical theatre, yet I was the one that felt very out of place. There was little talking and I was trying to be the clown and calming everyone down as the tension was horrendous. They were confident through the morning dance sessions but by lunchtime, the nerves kicked in as they prepared for the acting scenes in the afternoon.”

“So the first time I danced for Chris it was the first solo in ‘Beginners Luck’ and I did it having been with Emma Harris, the resident dance supervisor and we’d spent a lot of time getting everything as technical and clean as possible. I was thinking very much as I’m a ballet dancer for this and then I did it once for Chris and he said, “Great, now let’s do it your way, just relax and forget about your technique and just dance”. That was the first moment that I thought, interesting, all the others here are ballet dancers and here I am being asked to do something different.”

“He was so open to seeing someone do it a different way, which I don’t think the others could do. In the afternoon I sung and did the scenes; I can remember going in there and thinking here I am the token musical theatre boy, you’ll probably all having a laugh at my expense. They then made a cut, which left two boys and one girl. I popped out to Pret to grab some water, thinking this is crazy I’m still here, I got back and then Leanne Cope appeared (the original Lise, who happened to be in town on a 4-day break from the Broadway production). Apparently, she’d been in a café waiting to be brought up to read with whoever and I went in and read with her and sung. At that moment something happened, it felt right and it felt like a partnership.”

“The following day I was called back and I danced, I was there for about 50 minutes, just me and a table of 15 people, sweating like I’ve never sweated before and then a nervous week later I got the call. That’s when it all began, the training, the reshaping and a complete restructuring of my regime. I had a week’s break when I went to New York and saw the show and on my return I had a couple of week’s intense preparation before having to focus 6 days a week on being Jimmy for a new production of ‘Thoroughly Modern Millie’. I did manage to keep up my training and pilates, as well as doing Millie rehearsals, which were in the heart of Leicestershire, and then once we opened I’d come back to London on Sunday and see ‘An American In Paris’ choreographer, Jackie Barrett on Mondays, to set out the week’s routines for me to follow.”

“I’ve always been super fit, but for this role I needed to be fit in a different way and so every aspect of my life had to be changed. Jackie was so strict with me from the outset, now I couldn’t get off that plan. She has taught me so much about nutrition, health, my body and life – she is just the best what I call ‘Ballet Doctor’. She has incredible experiences looking after the dancers in The Royal Ballet and has built me into the performer that can handle 7 performances a week in what is the most demanding role in the West End.”

“We have a daily routine which culminates with a 30 minute ballet bar routine ahead of the evening performances, a normal day involves ballet classes, pilates and specific gym exercises. The physical aspect of the show does not allow you to ignore the fitness programme. Only occasionally, do I allow myself a day off and have a lie in. There is also Moira McCormack, a physio from The Royal Ballet, who is part of the team and is with us every day, a luxury that probably no other West End show has. She looks after us and can coach us through injuries.”

“With Robbie returning to the States, some say the pressure is really on me to carry the show; but I find that exciting and I’m more than ready to take the weight on my shoulders. I know I can do it; it’s been a long time coming and the grafting that I’ve put in has prepared me for this like nothing else I’ve ever done.”

The NEW trailer for the London production of An American In Paris

“People ask me what am I, a dancer, a singer, an actor? Well over the past 10 years if someone had called me a dancer I would have been offended, just because in musical theatre the term can be deemed as degrading, referring to individuals in the ensemble. It’s somewhat sad that I think like that and probably that is why I haven’t danced for a while, but also I couldn’t make a career out of what I really want to do just as a dancer. But now I am proud to call myself a dancer, knowing that the world is beginning to recognise all the other skills I can bring to the stage”

“However, dance is where it all started for me. I was three and pushed my way into my older sister’s dance class. There was never any doubt in my mind that I wanted to dance, there were no pressures, if anything my parents tried to calm the enthusiasm. The class was ballet, tap and jazz and I must admit that ballet was my least favourite, but that’s what we all did every week at Mrs Blake’s little studio down in Bexhill. She was great and had a lovely school. I made my stage debut aged four at Bexhill’s splendid De La Warr Pavilion, a venue that holds so many wonderful memories of my exposure to musical theatre. I think the show was called ‘That’s Entertainment 93’ and Mrs Blake was very proud of us.”

“Every year for my birthday treat I would be taken on a trip to the West End to see a show. I think it was my ninth birthday and we’d been to see Oliver! at the Palladium and upon making enquiries I was invited to audition and I was in the show. I was still at primary school and I remember my whole class came up to see me in the show, my first professional gig. Its where I discovered that I could sing and so an elderly lady, local to where we lived, Mrs Margerson, who was a vocal coach, put me through my paces with her musical theatre repertoire, learning vocal disciplines that would stand me in good stead for the future.”

“It was around this time that I started going once a month to Junior Associates at Royal Ballet on a Saturday, I could have gone twice a month but that would have meant missing jazz class in Bexhill. I enjoyed the Royal Ballet class, as it was all boys, a change from Mrs Blake’s where I was the only boy, so it was good to see that I was not on my own.”

“When I was eleven, there was the crazy period of changing school and I already knew I wanted to pursue performing arts and that academia was not high on my personal agenda and so the local comprehensive school was not up for consideration. It was a choice of White Lodge, The Royal Ballet School or ArtsEd, all of which meant that I would have to leave home. We then found this little school in Brighton and decided to give it a go.  Stonelands School Of Ballet And Theatre Arts was such a quirky individual school and I think my focus, ambition and characteristics were developed there; probably not something that would have been nurtured in one of the larger environments. I was able to study and practice every aspect of performance being encouraged to stretch myself to become a complete performer. I had two important tutors in school, Kay Shepherd, who taught jazz and tap and was a choreographer and so was very encouraging about musical theatre and I consider an important mentor. The other was Fleur Jones, who was my ballet instructor and for the first time I began to enjoy ballet – it’s a very black and white discipline, it’s either right or wrong and I think for the first time I got to understand that.”

“Later on, in the last year of school, when I was supposed to be preparing for GCSEs, I couldn’t wait for Thursday’s edition of The Stage to see if there were any open auditions. I just wanted out of school and get on with the real business of performing in musical theatre. Finishing school at 16 meant that decisions had to be made on next steps, everyone in my class were going onto to traditional colleges and I did know that was not what I wanted. I ended up going to Birds in Sidcup where I told them I didn’t want to do three years, so they let me join their second year programme. It was whilst there I wrote to Matthew Bourne and he accepted me into his company and I performed in The Nutcracker both in London and Tokyo. It is the only time I have been in a dance company and for me it was great, as it was still very much like being in a school environment with classes every day and being focused and then my eyes were opened suddenly to the world. When I found out that Matthew Bourne was going to do ‘Mary Poppins’ I asked him for an audition and got a part, opening in a brand new stage musical in the West End.”

“Of all the shows I’ve been in I guess ‘Book Of Mormon’ did most for me. It followed a period of disappointment and growing personal disbelief, so this opportunity came at exactly the right time. There was such a huge buzz around the opening and within a week I was there playing the lead character Elder Price, a role I played more than 250 times. I loved that show and it was good for my confidence, it was a big singing role, something I hadn’t really done before and proved that I can do this.”

“’Mormon’ led to the lead in the very successful 2015 tour of ‘Oklahoma!’ where I was able to act, sing and perform the Agnes De Mille ballet scene and now it’s ‘An American In Paris’, all very different types of roles and shows. And that’s what I want more of, it’s tough in the theatre but unlike tv you get the challenges of playing to a live audience, you get the opportunities of playing diverse roles in very different productions and you continue to learn from everyone around you. I love theatre and whilst I can continue performing, I will. Next, I would like to step into something that is being written, a new show, a new role and something that I can mold. So, keeping my eyes and ears open for that opportunity; But now it’s back to the business in hand, entertaining 2,000 people in what critics have labelled the most exciting, exhilarating show London has ever seen.”

Patrick Hayward talked with Ashley Day – June 2017  – on behalf of Overtures

 

Mayflower Theatre announces the availability of its newly digitised archives

Mayflower Theatre have lauched a new digital archive as the culmination of its “My Story” Archive Project. The project has been running since June 2016 and now members of the public and theatregoers will be able to access the new archive through digital interactive access points in the theatre initially and then on the theatre’s website.

The project which was generously funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund involved the theatre reaching out to customers to share their experiences, putting together a team of young people to capture these memories and creating a film.

Sara Scott, Head of Creative Learning said “We have been working with a team of young people since September to film and interview members of the public who shared their stories about their memories and experiences at the theatre. We have also had 14 volunteers working each week on a sample of materials from our archive, sorting and creating a digital record of programmes, leaflets and memories. I am delighted to celebrate and share this work in our new digital archive and look forward to adding to and developing the archive of our theatre’s heritage over the coming years.“

In addition to our archive and film work, we have also been able to visit local community groups and projects, such as Southampton Dementia Café’s and Southampton Pride of Place project, to share our history, and encourage the local community to share their stories.

Michael Ockwell, Mayflower Theatre Chief Executive added, “I am thrilled that we have created a living history of our wonderful theatre which is accessible to all through the website and at the theatre. Mayflower Theatre is at the heart of our community and this project has enabled us to record and celebrate its rich history – very timely with our upcoming celebration of our 90th birthday in 2018”.

Overtures would like to add it’s own congratulations to Mayflower Theatre and welcome them to the national community of performing arts archives .

Tony Nominations – The Biggest Snubs and Surprises

With a crowded field of contenders and no clear front runner, Broadway’s busy 2016-17 season was packed with potential for the Tony nominations. But with so much competition for so few slots, there were bound to be disappointments — not to mention a few impromptu celebrations.

war paint

Who surprised? Who got snubbed? Here are the big ones:
SURPRISE: “Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812”.

Dave Malloy’s quirky electropop opera had long been expected to do well with the nominations — just not so well that it would rack up a dozen noms, outpacing obvious favorites “Hello, Dolly!” and “Dear Evan Hansen.” The show’s nominations for new musical and score seemed assured, as did directing and design nods, but a nom for book wasn’t a shoo-in, and it wasn’t clear how many of the cast members would make the cut in acting categories. Even topliner Josh Groban wasn’t a sure thing, since his title role of Pierre is an odd, retiring one, playing a major part in the proceedings (and singing a couple of big, notable songs) but lurking in the background for a lot of the show. Despite all that, the idiosyncratic show took the lead — thereby lending the musical a promotional boost that could help at the box office once its big-draw star, Groban, finishes off his stint in the show in July.

SNUB: “War Paint”
The compelling real-life story of dueling cosmetics titans, “War Paint” comes from a formidable team: songwriters Scott Frankel and Michael Korie, whose “Grey Gardens” was a Tony contender in 2007; Pulitzer and Tony-winning playwright Doug Wright (“I Am My Own Wife,” “Grey Gardens”) and “Dear Evan Hansen” director Michael Greif (“Rent,” “Next to Normal”). In another, less crowded season, the show would have vied for a lot more awards. But this year, with the best musical category sticking at four (rather than a possible five), “War Paint” was left out of the big race, as well as competitions for score and book (which went to the new musical nominees). “War Paint” claimed the two noms of which it was assured — acting nods for Patti LuPone and Christine Ebersole — plus design slots for set (David Korins) and costumes (Catherine Zuber).
SURPRISE: Denée Benton and Eva Noblezada
Both Benton (“Great Comet”) and Noblezada (“Miss Saigon”) had been tipped as possibilities for the lead actress race alongside sure-things LuPone, Ebersole,and Bette Midler (“Hello, Dolly!”). But the thinking in the industry was that at least one of the two open slots, if not both, would go to faves from previous seasons, Laura Osnes (“Bandstand”) and Phillipa Soo (“Amelie”). Instead, nominators chose two newcomers, making headturning Broadway debuts, to round out the race.
SNUB: “Sunset Boulevard”
The biggest award contender for the current revival of “Sunset Boulevard,” Glenn Close, wasn’t even eligible, since she’s reprising a role for which she’s already won a Tony. But the strong-selling staging was also left out of the mix for musical revival when nominators opted to reduce the category from four to three titles. The production was shut out of the nominations entirely.

SURPRISE: Cast sweeps
It’s no secret that the four-actor ensemble of “A Doll’s House, Part 2” is uniformly strong, with Laurie Metcalf, Chris Cooper, Jayne Houdyshell, and Condola Rashad each giving distinct, memorable performances in Lucas Hnath’s best play nominee. Still, it’s a pleasant surprise to see all four of them snag nominations. Ditto the most prominent players in the now-closed “Falsettos” revival, with Christian Borle up for lead actor and Andrew Rannells, Stephanie J. Block, and Brandon Uranowitz in the mix in feature races.
SNUB: Allison Janney, Mark Ruffalo, and Gideon Glick
Janney, who was a well-liked stage actor before she was an Emmy winner, is a favorite in the theater community, and she’s perfectly cast in “Six Degrees of Separation,” playing the role originated by Stockard Channing. She seemed a shoo-in for an acting nod. Among lead actors, Ruffalo, as the central character in “The Price,” and Glick, playing the charming wallflower who is the protagonist of play “Significant Other,” seemed likely to be celebrating this morning, too. But neither they nor Janney made the cut in formidable fields. The slots for lead actress in a play, for instance, went to five other notable names: Cate Blanchett, Sally Field, Jennifer Ehle, Laura Linney, and Metcalf.
SURPRISE: Dennis Arndt for “Heisenberg”
Simon Stephens’ quirky play “Heisenberg” was almost a stealth candidate this season: The Broadway production opened way back in the fall, and it was transfer of a show that many in the industry had seen back when it played Off Broadway. Still, both its actors, Tony winner Mary-Louise Parker and Arndt, earned raves in the tale of an unlikely May-December sorta-romance. Nominators made a point of remembering Arndt, the veteran actor who made his Broadway debut in the Manhattan Theater Club production.
SNUB: “Anastasia”
When a five-nominee race for best musical seemed a possibility, “Anastasia” looked like a real contender for that fifth slot. It’s shaped up into a strong earner at the box office, drawing on an unexpectedly broad fanbase, and it comes from a team of Broadway veterans including songwriters Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty (“Ragtime”), playwright Terrence McNally (“Love! Valour! Compassion!”), and director Darko Tresnjak (“A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder”). Lead actress Christy Altomare also seemed to have a shot at lead actress. But nominators made other picks, and the show emerged with two noms, one for featured actress Mary Beth Peil and the other for costume designer Linda Cho.

SNUB: “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”
It’s not that “Charlie” had been expected to do well with the nominators in a season jam-packed with new musicals. But it nonetheless seems significant that the high-profile and large-scale musical, a big bet by Warner Bros. Theater Ventures, was shut out completely. (Its lead actor, Borle, did get a nomination — but did it for his performance in another show, “Falsettos.”) On the other hand, “Charlie” probably doesn’t need the awards season love. The title alone is one of the strongest around, and the musical’s box office has only grown in the weeks since it’s started performances.

Lord Andrew Lloyd Webber reflects on the state of British musicals

This week the Sunday Times Magazine ran a feature by Josh Glancy which we reproduce here:

Here’s a good piece of trivia: what film or play has the highest box-office takings in history? It’s not Titanic, or The Lord of the Rings, ET or Avatar. It’s not even Star Wars. The answer, by a quite astonishing distance, is Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera, coming in at $6bn, or roughly the same as the first six Star Wars films put together. It’s been running on Broadway for 29 years and in London for 31. Nothing else comes close.

Lloyd Webber’s musicals are relentlessly, impossibly popular. As of February he has four of them showing simultaneously on Broadway: Cats, The Phantom of the Opera, School of Rock and a reboot of Sunset Boulevard, with Glenn Close reprising her famous role as the faded Hollywood diva Norma Desmond. He shares this record only with the great Rodgers and Hammerstein, and it hasn’t been done for 60 years.

We live in an age of Snapchat memes and 15-second videos of people with superimposed rabbit ears eating carrots. Yet, every evening, thousands in both London and New York still pay exorbitant prices (up to $300 for a premium ticket on Broadway) to cram into giant, faded music palaces and be regaled by Christine Daaé and Macavity the Mystery Cat.

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PHOTOGRAPH BY GREG FUNNELL

Lloyd Webber, then, is in many ways one of the great pop-culture figures of the modern age. Generations of children have grown up listening to his music, often set to lyrics by Tim Rice. He has written and produced, but his essence is a composer with a unique ability to intertwine meaningful stories with memorable showbiz tunes. Yet somehow, he never quite seems to have attained national treasure status.

I meet him for the first time in the Winter Garden Theatre on Broadway, where he cuts a diminutive figure, sitting alone in the stalls wrapped up in a giant furry black parka, to protect him from the biting New York cold.

What, I wonder, is the secret of his work’s extraordinary durability? Why do successive generations continue to fall in love with his musicals?

“There’s no one answer, of course,” he says after a long pause. “But I think the story’s probably the most important thing. I think School of Rock or Sunset Boulevard work because they are simple, primal tales, very good stories. Joseph [and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat] works because it’s a very simple story. A great story can carry a musical. But a great score without a great story can struggle — apart from Cats, of course.”

Once you get past the initial hint of reserve and pomposity, it’s hard not to like Lloyd Webber. I can honestly say I have never met anyone as culturally prominent who is so resolutely uncool. He’s a music geek with a taste for high camp. He dresses a little oddly, he sounds frightfully, anachronistically posh, and he’s a dyed-in-the-wool Tory. It’s not exactly rock’n’roll, but there’s also refreshingly little artifice. No aspirations of hipness or prefab luvvie politics. He’s successful not because he’s created a cool brand, but because he has that rare combination of deep talent and an obsessive work ethic.

school of rock

Music lesson: Alex Brightman in School of Rock

Lloyd Webber’s deepest passions are musical theatre and historical buildings — his childhood dream was to become England’s chief inspector of ancient monuments. On the rare occasions he takes a day off, his idea of a good time is nerding out over architecture. “My real relaxation is looking at buildings, that’s what I love,” he says. “A lovely day in Margate and Canterbury and I’m away.” His other passion is also “deeply unfashionable”: Victorian and pre-Raphaelite art, of which he has an extraordinary collection that went on show at the Royal Academy in 2003. There are bright and colourful works by Holman Hunt, Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Edward Burne-Jones, all of which reflect Lloyd Webber’s own love of history and beauty. The art critic Jonathan Jones described seeing the collection as “like waking up in the grandest, most pointless BBC costume drama of all time”.

Despite his prodigious success, there seems to be a vulnerability to Lloyd Webber that you don’t often find among those who have dominated their field. The people close to him are unusually protective, which I discover in the evening after our interview when he invites me to a party being held in his honour by the American Theatre Wing, to mark his remarkable quadruple-header of Broadway productions before the premiere of Sunset Boulevard.

It’s a typically camp Broadway affair: velvet tuxedos and champagne and lots of small old men squiring very tall and beautiful young women. Famous producers and art directors abound; there are actors you recognise from Mad Men. But I also meet his racehorse manager, Simon Marsh, who has flown over from Berkshire especially. Wilfred Frost, son of David, is there: Lloyd Webber has kept in touch with the television impresario’s children since the death of his old friend Frost in 2013. I have a chat with Jan, Lloyd Webber’s longtime personal assistant, and his wife, Madeleine. All of them speak fondly and loyally of Lloyd Webber as a friend, employee and partner. But there’s a distinct note of defensiveness too. They’re tired of bitchy profiles in British newspapers that call him ugly, tacky or weird.

I think they’re right to be. It’s easy to take the mickey out of Lloyd Webber, but that’s a playground instinct. If his naffness has prevented him from becoming a national treasure, well, that’s our oversight. He provided the soundtrack to most of our childhoods. He’s the creative force behind a million road-trip singalongs and birthday trips to theatreland. Aided by the marketing genius of his friend Cameron Mackintosh, he pretty much invented the modern British musical. Mackintosh, he says, is the only Brit he’s ever met who shares his “passion” and “single-mindedness” about musical theatre.

On Broadway they either revere Lloyd Webber’s work or they despise it, depending on who you ask. But no one ignores it. On the billboards outside the Winter Garden, his name is projected in bright lights, making it very clear: this is a Lloyd Webber show.

In Britain, though, we’re still a bit snooty about the whole thing. I wonder how frustrating this is. “I still think that somewhere engrained in Britain is the thought that ‘we don’t do musicals’,” he says. “It’s very much considered to be the American form. Whereas here in New York, you know, everybody lives, breathes and talks them.”

As for Lloyd Webber, he has been living and breathing musicals since he was a child. Born into a musical, middle-class family, he was composing his own pieces before he was 10 and putting on “productions” in the living room with his brother, Julian, a cellist. He studied at Westminster and won a place at Oxford to read history. But, with the rare freedom granted to someone who knows exactly what they should be doing in life, he quickly abandoned Oxford and moved to London to study music.

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Play possum: even though it’s not ‘a great story’, Cats is a hit again in New York

What came next is the stuff of showbiz legend. Still a teenager, Lloyd Webber received a letter from a 21-year-old law student called Tim Rice, expressing admiration for his work and suggesting the two meet up. A couple of years later the pair were commissioned to write a musical for Colet Court prep school in London. The result was Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat, which will turn 50 next year.

His father taught at the Royal College of Music, but the young Lloyd Webber’s populist tendencies took him away from his family’s high musical tone and from the fashions of the time.

He ploughed on regardless, though, and his father supported him, seeing his son pursue his fondest ambition in a way that he’d been unable to. “Dad loved musicals, and he was overjoyed that I did,” he says. “He was from a very working-class background and got scholarships everywhere. So to not pursue a serious music career would have been like letting the side down. But I think he really, really could have had a major career as a film score composer.”

Lloyd Webber’s main home has always been England, where he splits his time between a grand Hampshire estate, Sydmonton Court, and a flat in west London. He says he doesn’t have much money in the bank, mostly because he spends it all on beautiful things: theatres in the West End, a renowned wine cellar, his art collection and his other passion, racehorses. In 2012 his filly The Fugue won the Nassau Stakes at Goodwood. He cashed in after by reportedly selling its mother to the Qatari royal family for £1.7m.

His professional home is still the West End, where he owns a number of venues and first made his name as the 22-year-old prodigy who composed Jesus Christ Superstar. But it is New York where he has really been given his due. “They seem to feel that I’m part of the community here, you know …” he says.

He recalls coming to New York a couple of years ago after a horrifying period. He had survived a virulent form of prostate cancer, which was followed by a routine back operation that went wrong and led to 14 procedures under general anaesthetic. The struggle to survive drew him into a deep depression and helped convince him of the wisdom of assisted dying.

But the first thing he did once he recovered, was, inevitably, another musical. “As soon as I was well again, I thought, ‘Right, back to business,’ ” he says.

It’s hard not to like Lloyd Webber, but I can honestly say I have never met anyone as culturally prominent who is so resolutely uncool

He’d been without a truly successful musical in more than a decade, so it was far from a sure thing when he announced that he would debut a musical, School of Rock, on Broadway. “There was an extraordinary feeling here that they actually wanted to embrace it,” he smiles. It was a hit.

Lloyd Webber’s always done his best to change Britain’s mind about musicals. His latest gambit is turning the St James Theatre in the West End into a “breeding ground” for new musicals, somewhere young writers can go to try out material and find collaborators.

“We’ve got to get young writers in Britain interested in the musical again,” he says, pointing out that in the past year only two new productions have opened in the West End, which has fallen far behind Broadway. One of them, Groundhog Day, was a try-out for Broadway. The other was by Gary Barlow. “There are 13 new musicals opening on Broadway this season,” he adds. “And the reason is that there are so many places in America where you get an opportunity to work and develop material.”

The obvious, monumental example is the success of Hamilton, the hip-hop interpretation of the life of the American statesman and founding father Alexander Hamilton, which has been perhaps the biggest musical phenomenon ever on Broadway. Lloyd Webber liked it so much that he befriended its creator, Lin-Manuel Miranda. But Hamilton, he points out, was six years in development. “Lin wanted to start it as a concept album like Jesus Christ Superstar, and nobody was interested. These things need time.” He hopes its success, along with that of the musical film La La Land, will be a springboard to get people in Britain “back into thinking about musicals again”.

Hamilton, he says, reminds him of The Phantom of the Opera. They are entirely different in style, but both are rare examples of musicals where every single element has come together perfectly. “The set, the design, the choreography, it all coalesces and the whole thing is 100% right,” he says. “It’s very unusual. For a musical to really, really happen, a tremendous amount of stars have to collide.”

I think to myself, what would have happened if I’d met Mandy Rice-Davies when I was 24 … Maybe that’s a line of inquiry we won’t go down

He knows this all too well, having had plenty of flops amid the hits. There was The Woman in White (2004), Love Never Dies (2010) and Stephen Ward (2013), a quixotic attempt to put the Profumo affair to music that was panned by critics and audiences alike; it barely ran for four months in the West End. He doesn’t regret it, though, primarily because he got to know Mandy Rice-Davies, the good-time girl at the heart of the Profumo scandal, who was “the most life-enhancing woman” he’d ever met. “The musical should have been about her, really,” he says, reflecting on her death in 2014. “I keep thinking to myself, what would have happened if I’d met Mandy when I was 24 years old?” he says. I laugh nervously. What would have happened? “Maybe that’s a line of inquiry we won’t go down. But I would have loved to have met her, let me tell you that …”

Of course he’s no longer a priapic 24-year-old. Instead he turns 70 next year and is now a grandfather. With £715m of assets, according to the last Sunday Times Rich List. He has been married three times and has five children. Two from his first marriage to Sarah Hugill — Nicholas, 37, and Imogen, 40, who is a political commentator and author based in New York. And three, Alastair, 24, William, 23, and Isabella, 20, from his most recent marriage to Madeleine Gurdon, a retired three-day eventer who used to ride with Princess Anne. The couple met through equestrian pals in Hampshire.

He is “not a great believer in inherited wealth” and doesn’t intend to pass on much of his fortune. His art collection, he believes, should go “somewhere it can be seen”. As for the rest, he thinks inherited money can be a “very, very great damage to a child, to spoon-feed them”. Having to make your own money means there’s “something incredibly wonderful” about your first paycheck. “You know … I’m jolly glad I didn’t have any inherited money.”

That’s about as left-wing as his politics get, though. He sits as a Tory peer in the House of Lords. He was ambivalent about Brexit, but came down narrowly against. Trump, on the other hand, baffles him, for he knows the president from his time in Trump Tower (he bought an apartment there in 1985 for his second wife, the singer Sarah Brightman, who was starring in The Phantom of the Opera on Broadway).

In fact, Trump invited him round for coffee during the primary campaign. The pair discussed Brightman and her voice, which the president is a huge fan of. And of Trump’s unlikely march on the White House, “I got the impression that he was incredibly surprised about it all … He didn’t look like a man who was passionate to become president. He looked like somebody who was going along with it.”

You only need a few minutes with Lloyd Webber to realise that he isn’t likely to slow down as he approaches 70. He recalls walking past the old Clapham Grand Theatre recently, which long ago transitioned from being a playhouse to a nightclub for paralytic Aussie expats. “I go in there and — oh my God, you know, I think let’s write something for this … I just, I’m afraid I just love musicals. I can’t imagine a life without them. So of course I’m going to go on. I love them and that’s what I do.”

The last time I speak to him is on the phone from Barbados, where he has a holiday home. He is recuperating after having Jeremy Clarkson to stay, which he says he’s “getting too old for”. He’s stayed on for a few days to write in peace, but is taking his time over his next project, acknowledging that perhaps his biggest flaw over the years has been to “plough into subjects that weren’t actually right”. The next one he wants to be immaculate.

I suspect he’s got at least one more hit in him, and can’t help but wonder again if he’s been a little shortchanged by the British public. He demurs. “I always feel if in life you’re lucky enough to know what you want to do and make a living out of it, and then if you’re as lucky as I’ve been … well then, you don’t complain.”

Still, surely more people should know that Phantom is bigger than Star Wars? “Yes, maybe,” he says. “But you wouldn’t expect anybody to know that. I mean, why would you? You don’t sort of say ‘bigger than Star Wars’ outside the theatre.” Actually, I’m starting to think that’s exactly what he should do.

They are in and what a set of reviews for London’s An American In Paris

An American in Paris in London. That’s the situation at the Dominion Theatre for the time being, as Christopher Wheeldon’s acclaimed musical, having played in Paris and on Broadway, takes up residence in the West End until at least late September.

AAIP

Wheeldon’s production, which weaves music and lyrics from George and Ira Gershwin together with a new book by Craig Lucas, was nominated 12 times at the 2015 Tony Awards, scooping up four wins, notably for Wheeldon’s ballet-infused choreography and Bob Crowley’s design. It arrives in the West End with both its leads in place: New York City Ballet’s Robert Fairchild and the Royal Ballet’s Leanne Cope.

Can Wheeldon’s production survive its hop across the pond or should it jump on a plane back to New York a.s.a.p? 

Does An American in Paris fill the sizeable shoes of its predecessor at the Dominion, The Bodyguard? 

Does Crowley’s design paint a picturesque portrait of Paris, or do the charms of the City of Lights elude him?

Fergus Morgan rounds up the reviews.

An American in Paris – A musical in London

The lightweight plot of the 1951 film – an ex-soldier sings and dances his way around Paris, falling in love with a Parisian as he does so – has here been fleshed out by Lucas.

“Craig Lucas’ book does everything to give substance to the movie’s paper-thin story”, explains Michael Billington (Guardian, ★★★★★). “We still see an ex-GI and would-be artist, Jerry Mulligan, falling in love with Parisian Lise. But there are now two rivals for Lises affections, in the shape of an aspiring nightclub singer, Henri, and a war-maimed composer, Adam”.

For some, this added meat is essential. Mark Shenton (The Stage, ★★★★★) relishes its “wistful romanticism”, Henry Hitchings (Evening Standard, ★★★★) enjoys the way it “adds notes of darkness to its joie de vivre”, Billington is just thankful for a “radically improved” storyline, and Eleanor Bley Griffiths (Radio Times, ★★★★★) is thrilled that “An American In Paris has gained new depths”.

But for others, it jars. Marianka Swain (Broadway World, ★★★★) praises Lucas for “creating a stronger theatrical structure and adding period-specific elements, like haunting memories for former GI Jerry and a French Resistance subplot”, but is disappointed that “he’s unable to leave anything in the subtext”.

Siobhan Murphy (Time Out, ★★★) agrees, opining that “Craig Lucas’ earnest attempts to plump up the thin original plot make the action stutter”, as does Dominic Cavendish (Telegraph, ★★★★), who remarks that “meaty drama is still dismayingly subject to rationing” and that “emotion is telegraphed with brisk economy”.

This isn’t really a plot-driven show, though. As Sarah Hemming (Financial Times, ★★★★★) explains, “it’s got a plot as cheesy as Brie and several characters as thin as tulle but, poof!, who cares?”

Or, as Quentin Letts (Daily Mail, ★★★★★) wails, “dont lets gripe about the staleness of the story and the formulaic characterisation. Lets celebrate the repeatedly inventive staging of director/choreographer Christopher Wheeldon and his designer Bob Crowley.

An American in Paris – City of lights, songs and dance

It’s true, most cannot hurl enough superlatives at Wheeldon and Crowley. As Sarah Crompton (What’s On Stage, ★★★★★) asserts, “it is the design and the direction that give An American in Paris its unique texture and tone.

Crowley’s Tony Award-winning design – a enormous, impressionist evocation of Paris in stage flats and projections – is lavished with praise in particular. According to Ann Treneman (Times, ★★★★★), it is “magnificent”, and Libby Purves (TheatreCat, ★★★★★), calls it “astonishing.” For Shenton, Crowley’s designs “ingeniously conjure a gorgeous, completely enveloping portrait of post-war Paris”.

“You leave with barely a worry in your head, a spring in your step, and an ache for Paris pumping so feverishly through every vein”, gushes Cavendish, “that if a representative from Eurostar were to lie outside, you’d follow them to St Pancras with no thought for your bank balance”.

And what about Wheeldon’s direction and choreography? Well, according to Treneman, “The dancing is, if not the star, then certainly the moon here”. Which means it’s good. Really good.

Both Billington and Crompton delight in the ease with which Wheeldon slides the show from drama to dance. He “lets dance emerge out of daily life”, according to Billington, while for Crompton, “his steps and his conception have deep refinement, but allow the emotion to emerge naturally from the action”.

Their admiration is matched elsewhere. Shenton enjoys “a dance framework that simultaneously serves the emotion and wit of the lyrics but also lets the company fly with movement to underpin it with its own effortless grace”, while for Purves, Wheeldon’s dexterity is simply “astonishing”.

Jenny Gilbert (The Arts Desk, ★★★★) labels it “the work of a seasoned master”, and Philip Fisher (British Theatre Guide) is not alone in noting that “for any dance lover, the long ballet at the end featuring the sizzling duo of Jerry and Lise at their passionate peak is likely to cause raptures”.

There’s only one small hiccup in this feast of Parisian panache, according to some. Rob Fisher’s Gershwin score, although acknowledged as packed to the gills with stone-cold stonkers by most – “beyond classic” is Ian Foster’s (There Ought To Be Clowns) phrase – is, for Swain and Hitchings at least, a little clunky.

“The extra helpings of Gershwin aren’t seamlessly integrated”, grumbles Hitchings, while Swain complains that what is “essentially a Gershwin jukebox musical” has moments of “awkward shoehorning”.

An American In Paris – Pas de Deux

And what about Fairchild and Cope, the ballet-trained protagonists in this dazzlingly designed tale of French fancies and Parisian passion? Do they catch fire or fizzle out?

It’s the former, on the whole. Shenton lauds them as “effortless singers as well as dazzling movers”, Hemming praises them both as “utterly beguiling”, and Gilbert asserts that “together, Fairchild and Cope are glorious”.

“He is ballet royalty”, writes Crompton, “a principal at New York City Ballet, yet with the sly, sexy instincts of a Broadway hoofer, soft-shoe shuffling with easy grace and burning up the stage when he jumps and turns”.

Cope, meanwhile, “oozes charisma and charm” according to West End Wilma (West End Wilma, 5 stars), is “lithe and lovely” to Treneman, “a miracle of grace” for Purves, and “gives a glorious show its gentle heart” for Crompton.

Blown away by the style and athleticism of Fairchild and Cope though most are, there are soft murmurings of scepticism over their singing and acting ability from some corners.

Letts finds Fairchild “a touch deciduous at the acting lark”, Murphy calls the pair’s singing “competent and polite rather than transporting”, while Hitchings finds them “assured rather than thrilling” performers.

An American in Paris – Is it any good?

An American in Paris has been plastered with five-star reviews, from Shenton in The Stage, Billington in the Guardian, Letts in The Daily Mail, Treneman in the Times and Crompton at What’s On Stage, among others. Tres bien, is the general conclusion.

There were a few harrumphs, but these are drops of doubt in an ocean of applause.

London’s debut of An American In Paris set to be theatrical event of the year

What started out as a symphonic tone poem with elements of jazz and realistic Parisian sound effects in 1928 has developed over the years into a full blown stage musical the likes of which we have never seen before. On March 24th London will witness the UK premiere of the Broadway musical, An American In Paris, at the huge Dominion Theatre, (having previewed since March 4th). This show is so much more than a stage adaptation of a 1950s screen musical, it goes back to the elements of Gershwin’s symphonic tone poem and, cleverly using his songbook, pieces together the emotions, the sights, the sounds and the wonders of that City in a classy mix of song and dance, the likes of which the musical stage has never seen before.

And now, 89 years, later An American In Paris reaches the London stage in a format that Gershwin could only dream of.

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                                                         A unique picture of London’s two Jerry Mulligans – Robert Fairchild (left) and Ashley Day (right)

The story starts back in the 1920s when a young George Gershwin visited Paris. He was bewitched by Paris and everything that was happening around him. The images, sounds and feelings stayed with him long after he returned to New York City and in 1928 he was able to put these to music.

g gershwinGeorge Gershwin

Gershwin composed An American in Paris on commission from the conductor Walter Damrosch for the New York Philarmonic. Inspired by his time spent in Paris during the 1920’s, Gershwin noted, “My purpose here is to portray the impression of an American visitor in Paris as he strolls about the city and listens to various street noises and absorbs the French atmosphere.” He scored the piece for the standard instruments of the symphony orchestra plus celesta, saxophones, and automobile horns. He brought back some Parisian taxi horns for the New York premiere of the composition, at approximately 20 minutes in length,which took place on December 13, 1928, in Carnegie Hall, with Damrosch conducting the New York Philharmonic. Gershwin completed the orchestration on November 18, less than four weeks before the work’s premiere. The piece was hailed by the critic Isaac Goldberg as being an “American Afternoon of a Faun”.

Gershwin collaborated on the original program notes with the critic and composer Deems Taylor, noting that: “My purpose here is to portray the impression of an American visitor in Paris as he strolls about the city and listens to various street noises and absorbs the French atmosphere.” When the tone poem moves into the blues, “our American friend … has succumbed to a spasm of homesickness.” But, “nostalgia is not a fatal disease.” The American visitor “once again is an alert spectator of Parisian life” and “the street noises and French atmosphere are triumphant.”

Gershwin always considered An American in Paris a ballet, and dancers eventually pirouetted into the picture. It began with a “considerably abridged setting” in Gershwin’s musical Show Girl. In 1936, Chicago choreographer and dancer Ruth Page created a two-person ballet, Americans in Paris. Fourteen years later, she revised it into Les Américains à Paris. Sadly, Gershwin did not live to see the show’s full impact. He died in 1937 at age 38.

arthur freedminnelli-vincente

                   Arthur Freed                                                                                                                                          Vincent Minnelli

In 1949, MGM set their sights on a Gershwin musical. According to film critic Emanuel Levy, producer Arthur Freed, got the idea for  An American in Paris  when he attended a concert of George Gershwin’s An American in Paris. Representing the studio, he envisioned the movie revolving around “an expatriate Yank living in Paris” with a finale that featured a full-length ballet set to Gershwin’s An American in Paris. Musical director master/Liza’s dad Vincente Minnelli (Meet Me in St. Louis), a friend of the Gershwins and a Francophile, jumped on board. All they needed was a script, actors, and studio support for An American in Paris. No problem!

gene kellyGene Kelly

Song-and-dance star Gene Kelly joined Minnelli’s cause, but MGM executives didn’t understand the ambitious undertaking the duo had in mind, so the pair arranged screenings of The Red Shoes and a 1934 cartoon, La joie de vivre. Freed got the film rights to An American in Paris from George’s brother, Ira, during another friendly pool game; Ira also agreed to consult on new lyrics, according to George Lucas’s Blockbusting. Freed also convinced a super-busy Alan Jay Lerner (Royal Wedding, Brigadoon) to write the script. Lerner did so in three months, finishing the final draft the night before his wedding.

Leslie caronLeslie Caron

Freed built the musical with Gershwin tunes after months of negotiations with Ira Gershwin, estate trustees, and two different music publishers. In approaching the film’s choreographic sequences, Kelly took the opportunity to make cinematic choices that broke new ground, including the legendary 17 minute final ballet sequence. He also discovered co-star Leslie Caron after seeing her in Paris’s Ballet des Champs Elysees.

alanjaylernerAlan J. Lerner

As further developed by the artistic triumvirate of choreographer and star Gene Kelly, director Vincente Minelli and screenwriter Alan J. Lerner, An American in Paris became one of the most famous film musicals in the history of Hollywood and went on to win six Academy Awards in 1951 with Kelly being given an honorary Oscar “in appreciation for his extreme versatility as an actor, singer, director and dancer, and specifically for his brilliant achievements in the art of choreography on film.”

The magnificent legacy that originated with George Gershwin’s composition in 1928 and continued with the breakthrough 1950 motion picture has inspired a generation of artists and audiences.

Take a look at how the original was presented to the public ahead of the film’s opening with the original screen trailer:

The original An American In Paris 1951 film trailer

The story of the film is interspersed with dance numbers choreographed by Gene Kelly and set to Gershwin’s music. Songs and music include those featured in previous shows and films including “I Got Rhythm”, “I’ll Build A Stairway to Paradise”, “ ’S Wonderful”, and “Love is Here to Stay”. The climax of the film is “The American in Paris” ballet, a 17-minute dance featuring Kelly and Caron set to Gershwin’s original An American in Paris. The ballet alone cost almost half a million dollars.

stuart van kaplan                         Stuart Oken                                                                                                                                 Van Kaplan

The film is considered to be the best original screen musical of all time and it is amazing that bringing it to the stage has taken over 60 years. This episode of the story starts in the ’90s, when the success of another Gershwin Broadway musical, Crazy for You, prompted the estates of Ira and George Gershwin to approach producers Stuart Oken and Van Kaplan with a question: what about staging An American in Paris? The answer: grand skepticism. “We couldn’t get our heads around how to take this iconic film to the stage,” Oken told The New York Times. “The one thing we agreed on was that for this piece you needed a unified vision, not a choreographer doing one thing and a director another. The list of people who had those tools was very short.”

Christopher WheeldonChristopher Wheeldon OBE

One guy definitely had the tools, British choreographer Christopher Wheeldon. Called ballet’s hottest choreographer, Christopher Wheeldon has choreographed more than thirty ballets in five years. His productions have almost always received high marks from critics, and ballet companies across America consider it an honor to work with the forty three year old. Wheeldon has been compared to ballet masters George Balanchine (1904–1983) and Jerome Robbins (1918–1998) almost since he began choreographing. A comparison that has never left him.

Christopher Wheeldon was born in Somerset, England and began lessons at the East Coker Ballet School when he was eight years old. At 11 he was enrolled in London’s Royal Ballet School and trained until he was eighteen. And though he was a dancer in those early days, hints of his future as a choreographer shone through. “I enjoyed being the centre of attention, being bossy,” Wheeldon has said. While still a student, Wheeldon won prizes for his choreography. In 1991 at seventeen, he was one of five dancers chosen to compete at the Prix de Lausanne, an international dance competition held each year to help dance students kickstart their professional careers. One hundred and twenty dancers are chosen to compete; only fifteen make the final round. The winner is awarded a study scholarship with the finest schools and dance companies in the world and he won the Gold Medal in 1991. That same year, he was accepted into the Royal Ballet Company (RBC) where he stayed for just two years.

Then an unusual opportunity presented itself. While recovering from a dance injury in 1993, Wheeldon was lying on his sofa with a bag of frozen peas on his ankle to keep the swelling down, watching endless hours of television. A commercial played that promised a free plane ticket to New York City for everyone who bought a Hoover vacuum. Wheeldon bought the Hoover and claimed his ticket. He visited the New York City Ballet (NYCB) during his trip and participated in a couple of classes as a guest. Even before leaving the city to return home, Wheeldon was invited to become a member of their company. The twenty year old accepted and was promoted to the rank of Soloist in 1998. During his years as a dancer, Wheeldon worked with some of the most famous choreographers of all time, including Jerome Robbins and George Balanchine. Years later, his innate feel for choreography and his willingness to reimagine and rework traditional ballets would be favorably compared to these dance masters.

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Although he enjoyed dancing, Wheeldon never forgot the advice given to him by Sir Kenneth MacMillan, a respected British ballet choreographer who had more than forty ballets under his belt by the time he retired. Wheeldon shared with John Percival of The Independent, “I was summoned to the presence, and he told me, ‘You seem to have some talent for choreography; you should take every opportunity you have to practice it and make ballets’.” Wheeldon did as he was told and choreographed student-led productions for the Royal Ballet School, the London Studio Centre, and the School of American Ballet. He proved himself capable of working with large ballet corps (groups), a talent that set him apart from other young choreographers.
Wheeldon quit dancing at the end of the spring season in 2000 to focus his attention and energy on choreography. Peter Martins, director of the NYCB, hired Wheeldon to be the company’s first artist in residence, a position created just for him. Wheeldon was just twenty-eight years old. His first choreographed ballet as resident artist was Polyphonia. It premiered in January 2001, Clive Barnes of Dance Magazine wrote, “There is not a step in Polyphonia that doesn’t progress naturally from the step before it. The dance—prickly, angular—moves with the force of nature like the wind.” Anna Kisselgoff, dean of American dance critics, wrote in the New York Times, “No ballet choreographer of his generation can match his imaginative use of the classical vocabulary.” And that is what the budding choreographer became known for: his ability to modernize the classical ballet without sacrificing its strength and beauty.   Wheeldon won the London Critics’ Circle Award for Best New Ballet for Polyphonia. A production in 2002 by the NYCB earned the Olivier Award for Best New Dance Production.While choreographing ballets for the NYCB, Wheeldon had his creative hands in projects for other organisations, including the Boston Ballet, the Royal Ballet, and the San Francisco Ballet and more than one New York critic called him “the best thing to happen to ballet for 50 years.”
In 2002, he participated in a reading for a potential musical version of An American In Paris with playwright Wendy Wasserstein. Three years later, he choreographed an An American in Paris ballet to Gershwin’s score for the New York City Ballet. He quickly developed a reputation as a talented choreographer, and several other eminent ballet companies, such as the San Francisco Ballet, the Bolshoi Ballet, and the Royal Ballet, London have commissioned dances from him. As of May, 2005, Wheeldon had composed at least 28 works.

chris wheeldonChristopher Wheeldon

In November 2006 Wheeldon announced the formation of Morphoses/The Wheeldon Company, a transatlantic company with a US base at New York City Center and in the UK at Sadler’s Wells Theatre, London. In its first season, the company performed in Vail, London and New York. Wheeldon completed his tenure as Resident Choreographer of New York City Ballet in February 2008. In 2009 the City Parks Foundation commissioned Wheeldon and contemporary singer/songwriter Martha Wainwright to create a new work. The piece, entitled “Tears of St. Lawrence,” premiered at Central Park SummerStage on 14 and 15 August. The fifteen-minute ballet, choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon and Edwaard Liang, featured twelve dancers accompanied by live music and song by Wainwright, who sang while intermingling with the dancers. In February, 2010, resigned from Morphoses, which will continue to produce ballets without his name.

craig lucasCraig Lucas

It was in the fall of 2010, when Stuart Oken asked Wheedon to direct American In Paris, the musical. Wheeldon declined, citing his lack of directing experience. Months later, he reconsidered. Wheeldon officially committed after passing muster with the Gershwin estate — he presented a 60-page treatment of the show developed with author Craig Lucas.

The task was now set to find the performers that had all the necessary requisites for this, the most demanding of shows. Not only do the cast have to be great dancers that have graced the world’s finest ballet stages, but they must be able to act and, on top of that, be able to sing some of the most respected and loved tunes in musical theatre’s vast catalogue.

robert fairchild 1Robert Fairchild

The audition processes were long and arduous, but Christopher Wheeldon knew exactly what was required and he was not prepared to compromise on any aspect of this production. As in the film the story revolves around Jerry Mulligan (the Gene Kelly role) and Robert Fairchild was offered this role.

robert fairchild 2Robert Fairchild

Fairchild was born in Salt Lake City, Utah, and began his formal ballet training at the age of ten at the Ballet West Conservatory with Sharee Lane. He attended the 2002 and 2003 summer courses at the School of American Ballet (SAB), the official school of New York City Ballet, and enrolled as a full time student in the fall of 2003. In June 2005, he became an apprentice with NYCB, and the following June, he joined the Company as a member of the corps de ballet. He was promoted to soloist in May 2007, and again in October 2009 to principal dancer. In 2010 Fairchild appeared in the film NY EXPORT: OPUS JAZZ, a scripted adaptation of the Jerome Robbins ballet of the same name, which aired on PBS and won an Audience Award at the 2010 South by Southwest Film Festival.

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Wheeldon had a problem, he was in desperate need of a female triple threat for the lead female role of Lise, the young French woman who in the musical,  is an aspiring ballerina who is also Jewish, and has lived through a horrible past. He needed an extraordinary performer who could dance, sing and act brilliantly, and his auditions hadn’t yet yielded the right person. So one day when he was visiting the Royal Ballet he was struck by the performance of Leanne Cope. He pulled Cope aside between the matinee and evening shows of “Swan Lake.”  He’d heard she sang in school,  she was in her warmup clothing, no makeup on. …they went into the female ballet staff dressing room, into the shower, and she sang ‘The Man I Love.’

leanne cope 2Leanne Cope

Wheeldon knew that at the Royal Ballet School, which developed Cope into the professional company, singing is part of the curriculum. “The music department believed it was important for us to learn to sing,” says Cope. She sang in the school’s choir throughout in her teenage years. “We sang ‘Porgy and Bess,’ ‘Carmina Burana,’ ‘West Side Story.’ They felt it was very good for us to learn about music, that it added to our knowledge as dancers to learn about music.” Cope had previously been singled out by the Royal’s Resident Artist Liam Scarlett for her musicality and dramatic ability: “She is just the most brilliant actress,” he says in a video interview on the company’s website. “Her versatility is wonderful, her musicality; the kind of sheer joy that comes from watching her dance is breathtaking.” But until Wheeldon asked her to sing, Cope says, she never saw herself as having a theatre career beyond dancing.

Despite its pedigree of rich source material and talent, the production was also seen as one of the year’s biggest risks: inevitable comparisons to a beloved classic, shepherded to the stage by a first-time Broadway director and starring a guy with obvious dancing chops, but whose biggest fans had never even heard him speak. “It’s crazy to think that I’ve been on stage for 10 years with a ballet company and never opened my mouth,” says Fairchild. The show would have a big Broadway opening, but because this show was going to be like no other, it was considered essential that an out of town try-out would be essential. With a cast that include:

So, more than eight decades after Gershwin travelled to France for inspiration, the new musical interpretation of An American in Paris premiered at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris on November 22, 2014.

 

Take a look at the original Paris production at the Chatelet

The production at Paris’ Chatelet Theatre got rave reviews and completely sold out. It’s not hard to see why: London’s Telegraph reported –

“This is emphatically not a stage version of the much-loved 1951 film but a thorough-going rethinking. The original was put together by writer Alan Jay Lerner, choreographer and star Gene Kelly and director Vincente Minnelli from a selection of George Gershwin classics 14 years after the composer’s death. Though colourful, its plot was as thin as mille-feuille.

Directing his first musical, the choreographer Christopher Wheeldon, with writer Craig Lucas, has added extra sustenance in the shape of a back story that explains the relationships of its protagonists and additional songs that fit seamlessly into a reworked plot. The result is bold, satisfying and witty, greatly helped by the fluency of Bob Crowley’s virtuosic designs (and wonderful projections from 59 Productions) which bowl around Paris, creating everything from boats on the Seine to the interior of the Galeries Lafayette. In routines such as I’ve Got Rhythm (which starts as a funeral dirge and becomes a life-enhancing whirl of movement) and I’ll Build a Stairway to Paradise (as grand and splashy as a Busby Berkeley extravaganza), Wheeldon writes a love letter to the great American musical itself.

There are a few small structural problems that hold up the first act but don’t diminish the night’s sense of triumph. By the time this show lands on Broadway in April, it should be ready to run and run.”

The new and nuanced musical opened at Broadway’s Palace Theatre on April 12th 2015, after previewing from 13th March with Cope, Fairchild and more of the Paris production’s original stars reprising their roles. The production had undergone a number of changes as it made it’s way across the Atlantic and all to the good. “It plays on two fronts,” Wheeldon said. “It’s the friendship and the bonding and the love story, and also the creation of art and the struggle to create art.” And of course, there’s the music and lyrics by George and Ira Gershwin. “You hear the music and you hear that orchestra swelling, and you can’t help but have chills,” Fairchild added.

See how the show was promoted for Broadway:

Hard hitting NY Times critic Charles Isherwood wrote: “The city of light is ablaze with movement in the rhapsodic new stage adaptation of “An American in Paris” that opened at the Palace Theater on Sunday, directed and choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon, a gifted luminary of the ballet world. This gorgeously danced — and just plain gorgeous — production pays loving tribute to the 1951 movie, to the marriage of music and movement, and to cherished notions about romance that have been a defining element of the American musical theater practically since its inception. Just about everything in this happily dance-drunk show moves with a spring in its step, as if the newly liberated Paris after World War II were an enchanted place in which the laws of gravity no longer applied. Even the elegant buildings on the grand boulevards appear to take flight.

Musicals based on classic movies, or not-so-classic movies, have become a familiar staple on Broadway. Just last week, “Gigi,” another show based on an Oscar-winning MGM movie set in Paris — also featuring a screenplay by Alan Jay Lerner — opened a few blocks away. Dance, on the other hand, has become the wallflower at the Broadway prom in recent decades, which makes Mr. Wheeldon’s triumph all the sweeter.

Still, unlike the shows directed and choreographed by Twyla Tharp — “Movin’ Out” being the most successful — “An American in Paris” is very much a traditional Broadway musical, with a book by the playwright Craig Lucas that amplifies the movie’s thin story line, mostly to witty and vivifying effect. And while its two radiant leading performers, Robert Fairchild and Leanne Cope, are ballet dancers by profession, they also sing (quite well) and deliver dialogue (more than quite well).

 
Jill Paice as Milo Davenport and Robert Fairchild as Jerry Mulligan, who has caught Milo’s eye. Credit Sara Krulwich/The New York Times

An almost equal collaborator with Mr. Wheeldon and Mr. Lucas is the great designer Bob Crowley, who provides both the sets and costumes, and whose work here outshines anything currently on Broadway in its blend of elegance, wit and sophistication. With its shimmering, poetic renderings of one of the world’s most beautiful cities — boats floating in the Seine awash in starlight, pink clouds scudding over the rooftops at dusk — the musical is as rich a visual feast as it is a musical one.

Speaking of music, by now I should probably have tipped my hat to the artist who inspired all this affectionate invention: George Gershwin, whose songbook and concert compositions provide the whirring engine that drives all the exuberant motion onstage. (Not incidentally, the music has been adapted and arranged with incomparable finesse by Rob Fisher, the founding music director of the Encores! series.) As in the movie, the titular composition is employed for the show’s climactic ballet, but the musical also includes a good dozen Gershwin tunes, classics and rarities alike (“The Man I Love,” but also “Fidgety Feet”), most newly interpolated into the story.

This begins just after the Nazis have been routed, although the shadow of the occupation still hangs over the city in the opening scenes. Mr. Crowley paints the streets in grisaille compositions that suggest flagging spirits just beginning to revive, and Mr. Wheeldon depicts Parisians standing sullenly in bread lines, or descending angrily on a collaborator.

Jerry Mulligan, the ex-G.I. portrayed by Mr. Fairchild, is an avid witness to the city’s reawakening. An aspiring painter, he drinks in everything he sees with bright, inquisitive eyes, and the joy that springs from his new sense of freedom is translated into ebullient movement. A principal dancer with New York City Ballet (who, incidentally, is used to dancing to Gershwin in George Balanchine’s “Who Cares”), Mr. Fairchild has exemplary classical technique, but he also possesses some of the earthy sensuality that Gene Kelly brought to his dancing. (Nor does it hurt that he’s movie-star handsome.)

                                                 Robert Fairchild, airborne, in “An American in Paris.” Credit Sara Krulwich/The New York Times

Jerry’s turns and leaps gain velocity when he captures glimpses of a beautiful brunette, Lise Dassin (Ms. Cope), slipping quietly through the streets of Paris with a concentrated expression. By coincidence — O.K., by sheer contrivance — Jerry and Lise are brought together when Jerry’s pal, the aspiring composer Adam Hochberg (a dryly funny Brandon Uranowitz), invites Jerry to sketch dancers at the ballet, where he works as a rehearsal pianist. Lise, it turns out, is a dancer who earns a living as a shopgirl. (In the movie, Leslie Caron just sold perfume.)

Also in attendance at this audition is Milo Davenport (Jill Paice), an American heiress who promptly whips out her checkbook and persuades the ballet impresario to commission Adam to compose a score for a new ballet to star Lise, whose sinuous movement and intuitive connection to the music dazzles just about everyone. And why shouldn’t Jerry, who has caught Milo’s lovelorn eye, create the designs?

Yes, this development has more than a whiff of hokum about it, but once this hurdle is leapt, the musical charges ahead like a swift horse in a steeplechase, with one vibrant song or dance number following another in heady succession. Jerry woos a diffident Lise at the department store where she works to the jaunty “I’ve Got Beginner’s Luck” (with a winking nod to “Singin’ in the Rain” as umbrellas twirl) and later jokingly suggests she drop her French name when she’s in his company, to the tune of “Liza.” With each new meeting, Jerry and Lise draw closer, as expressed by the increasing intricacy and intimacy of the steps Mr. Wheeldon creates for them, classically based but imbued with a subliminal sexuality.

As in the movie, Lise’s reluctance to admit her attraction to Jerry stems from her allegiance to another man to whom she is attached: Henri Baurel, the heir to a textile fortune who secretly aspires to be a nightclub singer. (Just about all the characters in the show aspire to something, which may be viewed as a beloved showbiz cliché or an expression of the spirit of hope sweeping over Europe after the dark days of war.)

                                  Robert Fairchild and Leanne Cope in “An American in Paris.” Credit Sara Krulwich/The New York Times

Henri is portrayed by Max von Essen, a gifted actor with several Broadway credits who here gives a hard-earned breakthrough performance of great sensitivity and charm. Although Mr. Fairchild and Ms. Cope have fine voices, Mr. von Essen’s rich tenor is in another class. In one of the splashier numbers, “I’ll Build a Stairway to Paradise,” a small jazz club blooms into Radio City Music Hall, replete with a high-kicking chorus line, as Henri’s fantasies carry him away. (Mr. von Essen, who uses a French accent, like the other actors portraying Parisians, at times brought to mind the great French-Canadian tenor Léopold Simoneau.)

Mr. Lucas’s book can sometimes get a little jambon-handed, if you will, when it insists on giving some ballast to Lerner’s featherweight story. Henri’s mother, played with droll imperiousness by Veanne Cox, asks if perhaps Henri’s hesitance to propose to Lise may derive from his homosexuality. Jerry, Adam and Henri engage in the occasional argument about whether art should reflect life’s darkness or dissipate it.

But while these elements occasionally feel like dutiful attempts to inject contemporary gravitas into a nostalgically romantic musical, they certainly do not bring this airborne show down to earth for long. Mr. Wheeldon’s buoyant dances and the heat-generating performances infuse the evening with the headlong energy of youth in the process of self-discovery, through love, through art or, for those left without dance partners when the curtain falls, through loss.

But why conclude on a blue note? “An American in Paris” weds music and movement, song and story with such exhilarating brio that you may find your own feet fidgeting under your seat before it’s over, and your heart alight with a longing to be swept up in the dance.”

and the performance at the 2016 Tony Awards :

American In Paris concluded it’s Broadway run on 1st January 2017 and  had played 29 previews and 719 regular performances at the time of its closing. The musical was capitalised for up to $11.5 million, according to a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission; the producers — Stuart Oken, Van Kaplan and Roy Furman — said the show recouped it’s investment before closing.

Plans for a London transfer and a US National tour were underway by early 2016. The US tour opened in Boston on 25th October 2016 with Gary Scribner and Sara Esty recreating roles they both played on Broadway and is set to tour through 2017 and into 2018.

AAIP

Mid-2016 and the focus switched to London, securing a theatre that could accommodate the vast on-stage production and large orchestra may have presented a problem. However, co-producer James Nederlander had such a theatre and it had availability in March 2017 for 6 months with an unconfirmed show slated for the latter part of the year, the Dominion in London’s Tottenham Court Road. A 6 month run with the potential for an extension was ideal, a decision was taken that the Broadway leads would transfer to the West End for the opening.

With Robert Fairchild having limited availability, he’d left the Broadway cast a year previously for new challenges, but with a 3 month window which coincided with the London opening. Wheeldon decided that he would find a British lead that initially would share the role of Jerry Mulligan and then takeover the role on June 19th for the remainder of  the run. After an exhaustive search through the summer of 2016, Wheeldon had found his British Jerry Mulligan, musical theatre/dancing star Ashley Day.   

ad uENL9MVIAshley Day

Two years ago when Ashley Day was playing the lead of Curly in the Music and Lyrics production of Oklahoma! I had just returned from New York where I had seen Hamilton and An American In Paris. I mentioned to Ashley if that there was one show he would be perfect for, it would be An American In Paris, the ideal role for someone that is an accomplished dancer (ex Matthew Bourne), a star singer (Troy in High School Musical) and actor (The Book Of Mormon). At the time he said that it would be the realisation of a dream and that he would strive to be ready should the show move across the Atlantic. Now that dream is coming true and the world will get to see want a really talented artist he is and that the producers of this iconic musical are putting their trust in. Read the conversation with Ashley Day – http://overtures.org.uk/?p=7527 .

Using the Broadway production the show was launched to the British public. The London cast also stars Leanne Cope as Lise Dassin, Haydn Oakley as Henri Baurel, Zoe Rainey as Milo Davenport, David Seadon-Young as Adam Hochberg and Jane Asher as Madame Baurel. 

london cast

An American In Paris is one of the biggest musicals to grace the London stage in a long while with a company of more than 50. The production was invited to participate in the 2016 Royal Variety Show, which gave all members of the cast the opportunity to rehearse a compilation from the show.

And then on the night stun the audience with this amazing performance:

This was the best possible way to bring the show to the attention of the British theatre-going public.
Rehearsals for the production started in earnest, right at the beginning of January as the publicity machine began to roll ahead of the March opening.
And now here is London’s theatrical trailer.
Previews began on the 4th March and the feedback has been rolling in ahead of next week’s opening night. Suffice to say that London is loving the show and when comparing An American In Paris to the highly rated musicals already running, including Half A Sixpence and The Girls, have set it at a level above – a great “musical” with phenomenal class.

Finally, if you haven’t got tickets yet, suggest you hurry while there is still some availability.

International Musical Theatre star Earl Carpenter looks to the future

EarlCarpenter is undoubtedly one of the leading musical theatre stars of our generation, taking on the most iconic roles in the West End and on Broadway. But as the Southampton-born leading man embarks on another exciting chapter in his career he opens up about about how his performances as Inspector Javert in Les Miserables affected his health, leaving him with five slipped discs and fearing he was having a heart attack.

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The drama forced him to terminate his Broadway contract with Sir Cameron Mackintosh but has led him to re-evaluate his life. And despite a period of recovery and a decision to “take a sabbatical” he remains frantically busy with projects that will take him everywhere from the Mayflower Theatre to theatres across the globe.

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Anyone who has seen Earl live will vouch he is an extraordinarily talented performer. There has not been a finer Javert or Phantom. Over the last 25 years he has performed leading and title roles in pretty much all of the world’s greatest musicals.

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He is also creative director for Ginger Boy Productions, and has devised and directed the concert phenomenon, The Three Phantoms that has toured extensively throughout the UK, Scandinavia and the United Arab Emirates. What’s more he has accepted the role of Patron to the Mayflower Theatre and their Musical Youth Theatre programme. It was here that the local audience first got to know Earl when in 2002 he played the role of Gaston in Disney’s Beauty An The Beast for a 10 week run at the Mayflower.

But in 2015 all this looked as if it was to come crashing down when he woke up on the fateful morning in New York fearing for his life, let alone his career. He revealed the physical strain of playing Javert had finally taken its toll: “I’d done nearly 2,000 performances as Javert . If you are taking punches and moves that require a physical reaction the repetition and strain of that takes its toll. I woke up one morning in October 2015 and I honestly thought I was having a heart attack. I had pain all down my arm and crushing pain in my chest and I felt like my shoulder had disintegrated.”

An MRI scan and various tests revealed he had herniated five discs – four in the upper thoracic and one in the neck. “Basically, the gel that sits between each vertebrae had ripped and released a liquid that is so volatile with the rest of the body affecting massive nerve tissue. I lost a lot of muscle and couldn’t do anything. At first it was a case of letting it heal naturally. “

Earl was told his recovery would take a year but then he received some brilliant advice: “I was told I should switch to a good plant-based diet because it increases the blood flow and whatever your injury, it is like honey that heals you.  “Earl turned vegetarian and says instead of taking a year to convalesce, he recovered in three months. He even took up running and says his health is “dramatically improved”. Earl says: “Central Park was my saving grace. Two weeks after the injury I was walking every day round the park and then fast walking and then running and I loved it.

“Cameron (Mackintosh) was adorable about it. I’d done eight or nine months of my contract and he just wanted me to get fit. The parting advice of the doctors was “whatever you do for the rest of your life never fling your head backwards”.

“I just thought I’m through. 2,000 performances as Javert was enough. It’s been an incredible opportunity and it’s given me the chance to see the world.” But he adds: “Doing 2,000 performances got claustrophobic – like Groundhog Day. I thought I can’t do this anymore.”

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Despite this, life has not got any quieter for now. Earl plans his work to be in the same country as his partner Samantha Brown, who is assistant choreographer and dance captain on the Wicked international tour and was choreographer for The Three Phantoms. “We met in Belfast in panto. She loves motorbikes and travelling so it’s been brilliant. Part of my ‘sabbatical’ has been planning to be near every city she was in and trying to do something (work wise) in every city. It’s been great.”

As we chatted over lunch Earl, 46, looking lean and fit, was jetting off to Manila the following day to be with Sam for two weeks. They have been together for two years: “The last two years have been extraordinary… scary because I don’t know where I fit in in this industry any more.” Incredibly Earl doesn’t miss the status and expectations of being a leading man, revealing it left him feeling very lonely:

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“I recently did Ragtime at Charring Cross Theatre and it was wonderful being part of an ensemble sharing with 12 other guys. It was great having that dressing room banter as usually you have your own dressing room and you are stuck on your own. Being a principal is one of the loneliest jobs in the world because everyone treats you differently. You don’t get the same social interaction that someone in the company would. You spend a lot of time in the dressing room just thinking oh well. The effect it has on you isn’t good. There’s an unwritten rule about your responsibility and how you behave with the rest of the company and you just think I’m really lonely.”

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The fun he had inspired him to take a sabbatical this year to explore more of his own projects again, including his first one-man show in Singapore just before Christmas. Now he is re-investing in his production company again – Ginger Boy Productions. After lying dormant for three years The Three Phantoms is enjoying a four week run in the Far East. Earl is at the Parisian Theatre in Macau. He has taken an orchestra, all the technical staff and a company of 40 doing ten performances. They are then going to Singapore for three dates in May.

 

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He presents Encore – An Evening With a Broadway and West End Star, at The Shanklin Theatre on May 6 before returning to Singapore to do The Three Phantoms, and then he does the same show at Shelley Theatre in Bournemouth on June 9 and 10: “It gives my mum chance to come and see me in something!”, says the globe-trotting star!

Straight after the Bournemouth shows he is at Singapore Repertory Theatre in a musical called Forbidden City playing the baddie.

Now Earl says: “I hope doing The Three Phantoms will allow me to do a big tour that would start at the Mayflower and go on an international tour. It’s appeased my not knowing where I fit in. I’m 47 this year and I can’t keep singing for a living; I must look at some sort of deviation.

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“I’ve devised and directed The Three Phantoms – my company Ginger Boy Productions is the producer and Michael Ockwell (Mayflower Theatre chief executive) is the operating general manager for this next ‘branch’ for Singapore and Macau. It’s been lovely to understand the venue and everything it’s trying to achieve for the audiences. Michael’s a great guy.”

 Earl has played leading and titled roles in The Witches of Eastwick (West End), Sunset Boulevard (UK Tour), We Will Rock You (UK Tour), Disney’s Beauty & the Beast (West End and UK Tour) and Evita. He played the title role in The Phantom of the Opera in the West End and on its last visit to Southampton, and is renowned for his portrayal of Inspector Javert in Cameron Mackintosh’s Les Misérables which he has played in the West End, on Broadway, Southampton and around the world.

On 13th April at the Mayflower there will be An Evening with Earl Carpenter for a unique and intimate show as he performs songs and shares incredible stories from his 25 year career. Earl  will be joined on stage by current and previous members of MMYT and the Mayflower Summer Youth project. With Earl harnessing the talents of the musical youth theatre and performing extracts from his major shows: “I’m quite excited that I can steal them as my ensemble ! I do love the creative side and everything that’s going on is fuelling that.”

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But Earl admits there is still one iconic role he has his sights on: “I’d love to play Trunchball in Matilda. There’s a UK tour and I’d love to do it because it’s a challenge and it’s a great role: it’s clever, complicated, busy and athletic. I don’t like the idea of sitting back and playing the dad in Mamma Mia! I’m a physical performer and always will he.”

In terms of maintaining his fitness he says: “I must be doing something right. I do lots of running – at least 30km a week – and lots of core exercises and I’m complementing it with Insanity [high impact] pilates yoga. Its been great. I’m not a guru – I still like my cake – be it glutton free!” he laughs.

As for the future, he says: “It’s not just about the West End – there’s such a massive world out there. As an actor who believes in longevity, why not explore different projects around the world. I’ve always enjoyed popping back to Southampton. I’m just trying to fathom where I fit and what’s the next move. I’ve been incredibly lucky with the roles I’ve had. I’ve achieved as much as I can as a performer. Trunchball would be amazing. I don’t know how much more I can offer as a performer. There’s a shortage of roles and in musical theatre world I’m about 104! I’m automatically catapulted into older roles and I’m easily bored. I’m enjoying the process of seeing where the creative, directing, producing journey will take me.

Has Earl any favourite roles? “All of them have given me something. Javert has obviously give me the chance to travel. Gaston is high up there (having played both Gaston and Beast), and also Darryl Van Horne in the Witches of Eastwick.” As for Phantom he says: “It’s a bloody hard role. It’s relentless. It’s all or nothing and you spend half your time being put in that mask. I did 1,000 performances in the West End and then the UK tour – 1,800 in total. Only John Owen Jones has done more.”

He added: “We are thinking of putting out the female equivalent to The Three Phantoms – The Three Witches . There is something about empowered women on stage and it appeals to the audience in a different way. I’m exploring it for next year. I’m going to be über busy!

Thanks to Hilary Porter and The Daily Echo.

New York applauds Pie Factory’s Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

Hollywood Reporter writes that Stephen Sondheim’s murderous musical classic about bloodthirsty revenge and crafty corpse disposal is staged in a recreated British pie shop in this clever revival that comes to New York following two sold-out London runs.

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In the atmospheric new revival of Sweeney Todd, the Grand Guignol musical masterwork by Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler that never gets old, you might find your scalp being massaged with Pirelli’s Miracle Elixir to promote hair regrowth. Or maybe you’ll have the wits scared out of you when “The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” pounces on your seat, waving one of his trusty silver razors just inches from your face. All while you’re still digesting your pie and mash. That was this reviewer’s experience, and though I’m not surprised that four days later, I’m still as bald as I was before, the chilling intimacy of this ingenious site-specific production has stayed with me.

Actually, calling it site-specific is cheating a bit since the site was created for this New York transfer rather than the other way around. The production debuted in 2014 at Harrington’s Pie & Mash Shop in Tooting, South London, the city’s oldest continuously operating pie shop, before moving to the West End.

For its off-Broadway run, designer Simon Kenny has transformed the Barrow Street Theatre in Greenwich Village into an uncanny facsimile of the original setting. The walls are artfully aged in jaundiced yellow mottled with water damage, and the rusty air vents serve more to hide the modern stage lighting than to expel the acrid smoke wafting up from imagined furnaces in the bakehouse below. The optional extra of traditional fare is even served on old-fashioned enamel plates.

As a concept, it holds together remarkably well, with resourceful use of candlelight and lanterns to enhance the period illusion. We’re drawn into a squalid world in which Mrs. Lovett (Siobhan McCarthy) — the widowed shopkeeper purveying “The Worst Pies in London,” as her first song delicately puts it — finds a crafty solution to the prohibitive cost of meat. That arrives thanks to the slow-boiling murderous rage of her new tenant, Sweeney Todd (Jeremy Secomb), the escaped former convict once known as Benjamin Barker. Back in Fleet Street and resuming his old barbershop trade, he’s determined to exact revenge on corrupt Judge Turpin (Duncan Smith), who had him sent away 15 years earlier on trumped-up charges. Anyone else who crosses his path in the meantime is gravy. Literally.

With long bench-style dining tables reducing the playing space, director Bill Buckhurst’s production can at times feel cramped, but that claustrophobia works to the show’s distinct advantage. The cast of eight move amongst the audience, often scrambling over the tables, to implicate us all in the grisly deeds we’re witnessing. And Secomb’s Sweeney, cadaverously pale and gaunt, with a death stare that scalds, makes us share the fury of a working-class man trampled by the obscene privilege of wealth and power. Robbed of his family by the outwardly respectable Turpin — a villain in the great tradition of contemptuously pompous British upper-crust entitlement, played with lip-smacking relish by Smith — Sweeney is as much a tragic figure of pathos as a terrifying monster hollowed of all mercy.

Getting up close and personal with this bloodlust-obsessed antihero and his deliciously amoral enabler Mrs. L. heightens both the horror and the coal-black humor, creating a potent sense of dangerous confinement that puts everyone at risk once Sweeney’s one-man rampage spirals out of control. Hearing the death gurgle of a murder victim with a freshly slit throat just a few feet away, or seeing the light catch a razor, sends a cold chill down the spine. Likewise the screeching whistle blasts and floods of red light coming from the room at the top of the stairs every time another customer is dispatched.

But the compression also intensifies the show’s depiction of love in its many forms: radiantly hopeful or shattered, pure of heart or ugly and twisted, reciprocated or misplaced and sadly self-deluding. That covers Sweeney’s undiminished feelings for the wife he believes is long dead and for the daughter, Joanna (Alex Finke), he’s set on rescuing; the swooning passion of innocent young Anthony (Matt Doyle) for Joanna, adopted by Judge Turpin; the Judge’s pedo-creepy plan to transition her from ward to wife; and the willfully blind fantasies of Mrs. Lovett, dreaming of connubial bliss “By the Sea” with a man consumed by vengeance.

Even the obsequious devotion of Turpin’s muscle, Beadle Bamford (Brad Oscar), is a kind of love. And the filial affection of young urchin Toby (Joseph Taylor) for Mrs. Lovett, who shows her soft maternal side in return, feeds the musical’s most poignant thread in their mutual promise of protection, “Not While I’m Around.” That vulnerability makes it all the more affecting when the horrors he witnesses prompt Toby’s descent into madness.

All these clashing sentiments burn bright in an accomplished ensemble combining London holdovers with newcomers. (New York stage favorites Norm Lewis and Carolee Carmello rotate into the lead roles April 11.) They may not eclipse memories of the show’s great Broadway casts, but they work together as a tight unit in the service of Buckhurst’s concept to tremendous effect, both dramatically and musically.

The same cohesion applies to the musical components, with a tiny band that yields a surprisingly robust sound. Music director Matt Aument on piano is accompanied only by violin and clarinet, but Benjamin Cox’s arrangements fill the small space with full-bodied music. Superb use is made of the higher vocal registers in the cast of Finke and Betsy Morgan (as Pirelli and the Beggar Woman) to capture the feverishness and fear that course through the show like a barely stifled scream. And the lyrics are clear as a bell — many of them, like those for the hilarious “A Little Priest” or Sweeney’s grim “Epiphany,” among Sondheim’s cleverest.

There have been countless scaled-down productions of Sweeney Todd since Harold Prince’s industrial-size 1979 original, but this fiendishly immersive reworking seems just right for millennial theatergoers who like to get in on the action. The urgency and immediacy of its storytelling make it a terrific introduction to a glittering musical by a composer at the peak of his powers, and also an invigorating new spin for audiences who know and love this brilliantly conceived Victorian nightmare.

Funny Girl finally makes it’s mark – the tour is best yet

Following smash-hit runs at the Menier Chocolate Factory and the Savoy, Funny Girl has embarked on its nationwide tour. Musical Theatre News visited Milton Keynes Theatre this week and wrote this:

The show stars Sheridan Smith as singer and comedienne Fanny Brice, spanning the performer’s life and career from hopeless chorus girl to star of The Ziegfeld Follies and her turbulent relationship with troubled husband Nick Arnstein (Chris Peluso).

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The Cilla and Mrs Biggs star was forced to withdraw from the role for a portion of the show’s run at the Savoy due to illness, and there were a few murmurs of concern before curtain up as to whether or not the star would be appearing on press night. But as the overture came to an end and Fanny took to the stage, it wasn’t long before every concern was quelled and the audience was sitting comfortably in the palm of her hand.

With Jule Styne and Bob Merrill’s legendary score boasting such standards as ‘People’ and ‘Don’t Rain on My Parade’, Smith has faced no mean feat in tackling the much-coveted role.

Backed by a potent 11-piece band, she demonstrates an impressive vocal ability and, while she doesn’t always make it look easy, Smith delivers her numbers with such warmth and genuine charm that it is near impossible for anyone in the room not to root for her.

Each beat is played with such a combination of expressiveness, heartbreaking honesty, comic timing and charisma that even in Fanny’s darkest moments it’s hard not to raise a smile at the sheer moxie on display here.

Though one could be forgiven for seeing this merely as a star vehicle for the much-lauded Smith, there a few standout performances amongst some of the more incidental characters.

Rachel Izen puts in a particularly memorable performance as the hearty Mrs Brice, Fanny’s firm but supportive mother, and Joshua Lay impresses as the hapless Eddie Ryan, the comedienne’s friend and dance coach.

The pair shine brightest during their duet ‘Who Taught Her Everything She Knows?’, a rare non-Smith centric highlight in which Eddie and Mrs Brice share their mixed feelings about Fanny’s stratospheric rise to stardom.

Elsewhere Chris Peluso, fresh from his portrayal as the eponymous Death in the musical version of Death Takes a Holiday at the Charing Cross Theatre, provides a smooth foil to the boisterous Fanny as her lover Nick Arnstein, the professional gambler with dwindling luck. He is let down only by a slightly awkward gait not in keeping with his superb skill as a dancer.

Michael Pavelka’s set (a series of lopsided mirrored proscenia) lends the production a striking visual flair, each arch reflecting and amplifying the effect of Lynne Page’s spectacularly choreographed dance sequences, particularly during the showstopping ‘Henry Street’.

This is surely one of the tightest ensembles that can be seen in the musical theatre today, and from curtain up to curtain call you’d be hard pressed to not be enthralled by the remarkable individual performances on display here and the sheer scale of it all.

And with Smith on fine form, this is a production that others will have to go some lengths to reckon with.