It’s been a while – here are some more theatre and dance memories! December 2007 to March 2008

  1. The Country Wife – Theatre Royal Haymarket, London, 29th December 2007

A great cast assembled to do justice to William Wycherley’s terrific Restoration Comedy, with Toby Stephens as Horner, Patricia Hodge as Lady Fidget, David Haig as Pinchwife, and Janet Brown as Old Lady Squeamish. Directed by Jonathan Kent, it provided a lot of seasonal fun!

  1. The Seagull – Royal Shakespeare Company at the New London Theatre, London, 1st January 2008

Something of a challenge to go and see Chekhov on New Year’s Day, and there’s no doubt about it, there was definitely a lethargic feel to the audience, if not the performers. In fact the most memorable thing about this show was seeing Simon Callow in the front row nodding off all the way through. Trevor Nunn’s production had a super cast, with Frances Barber as Arkadina and Ian McKellen as Sorin.

  1. King Lear – Royal Shakespeare Company at the New London Theatre, London, 12th January 2008

Largely the same company that performed The Seagull were also in King Lear, with Ian McKellen as Lear, Frances Barber as Goneril, William Gaunt as Gloucester, and Sylvester McCoy inspired casting as the Fool – and a very down-at-heel, sad fool he was too. Sir Ian went all exhibitionist, taking literally all his clothes off on the blasted heath (“every inch a King” went the reviews at the time) – the best memory of this show however was holding a door open for Joanna Lumley during the interval and she gave me the most beaming smile in gratitude.

  1. Henri Oguike Dance Company – Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 12th February 2008

Moving past a production of Godspell at Dunstable’s Grove Theatre, to which we took our nieces as a treat, our next show was the Spring Season show by Henri Oguike Dance Company, and for some reason it’s the only time we’ve seen this company perform. They had six different programmes for their tour – we saw Programme A, which comprised of Little Red, to the music of Vivaldi, then Touching All and All Around, Oguike’s latest pieces at the time and finally Green in Blue, a collaboration with saxophonist Iain Ballamy. All the dances were choreographed by Oguike. I remember it being very enjoyable.

 

  1. Othello – Donmar Warehouse, London, 16th February 2008

A rare trip (for us) to the Donmar, to see Michael Grandage’s production of Othello, with just about as stellar a cast as you could imagine. Chiwetel Ejiofor played Othello, with Ewan McGregor as Iago, Edward Bennett as Roderigo, Tom Hiddleston as Cassio and James Laurenson taking on both Brabantio and Gratiano. It was every bit as good as you might have hoped.

  1. Rafta, Rafta – Milton Keynes Theatre, 29th February 2008

Notable for being the first time I’d been to the theatre on a February 29th (the only other time was in 2020) – this was the National Theatre’s touring production of Ayub Khan-Din’s Rafta Rafta. Wikipedia helpfully tells us this is a comic tale of close-knit Indian family life in England; useful because I cannot remember a thing about it apart from the fact that I enjoyed it.

  1. Never Forget – Milton Keynes Theatre, 7th March 2008

This new musical based on the songs of Take That was written by Danny Brocklehurst, Guy Jones and Ed Curtis, and had four very talented performers playing the four lads whose group echoes Take That without being Take That. I remember it having an absolutely woeful book, which was a shame because this could have worked well – but it really didn’t, despite the efforts of Dean Chisnall, Craige Els, Tim Driesen and Eaton James. It only came to life at the finale when they abandoned all pretence and did a fifteen-minute medley of Take That songs. If they had done that for the rest of the show it would have been brilliant.

  1. I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change – Westside Theatre Upstairs, New York City, 25th March 2008

We went to New York to celebrate our twentieth wedding anniversary, and whilst there we saw three shows. The first was this brilliant revue that has been playing off-Broadway for yonks. Extremely funny and insightful, full of great tunes and superb performances.

  1. A Chorus Line – Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre, New York City, 26th March 2008

Targeted specifically for the exact date of our twentieth anniversary, I had always wanted to see A Chorus Line on Broadway, because it’s my favourite show and where could there be a more perfect place to see it? This was the same revitalised production that would come to the London Palladium five years later. At the end of the show I bought as much merchandise as I could, including a signed poster which hangs on my wall above my computer! And how was the show? Absolutely perfect.

  1. Curtains – Al Hirschfeld Theatre, New York City, 28th March 2008

For our final Broadway show, we followed the local recommendations and saw Kander and Ebb’s Curtains, which had never been seen in the UK (indeed, not until a few years ago). It starred Frasier’s David Hyde Pierce as the detective, Lieutenant Cioffi, and Debra Monk as Carmen. It was alright, but we just couldn’t really get on with it; and Mr Hyde Pierce just phoned it in. On reflection, the UK production with Jason Manford as Cioffi was quite a lot better.

Review – Curtains, Royal and Derngate, Northampton, 25th February 2020

87361732_614958972684057_4884451827958939648_nUnlike most Brits, Mrs Chrisparkle and I had the pleasure (we’ll come back to that word) of seeing Curtains before its current UK tour, when we caught it at the Al Hirschfield Theater in New York in 2008 – I know, so cosmopolitan. I remember it reasonably fondly; Mrs C less so, and she took some convincing to see this first major British production. I recall I was perplexed at the time that the Broadway production didn’t transfer to the West End. With the benefit of hindsight, I think I understand why.

Jason ManfordCurtains comes with a massive pedigree: primarily its composer and lyricist, Kander and Ebb, whose back-catalogue shines with highlights such as Cabaret and Chicago, as well as The Scottsboro Boys, Kiss of the Spider Woman, and the movie Funny Lady. Fred Ebb died whilst writing Curtains, as did book writer Peter Stone, so Rupert Holmes (he of The Pina Colada Song, Him, and The Mystery of Edwin Drooooood) stepped in to complete the task. Nevertheless, all of us can have our off days, and, musically, you can’t deny that Curtains is a severe disappointment. No memorable songs, no songs that have taken a life of their own outside the show, no great tunes. We all know people who say, that whilst they like “the theatre”, they can’t stand musicals. To my mind, musicals are an incredibly versatile art form, capable of creating sheer magic on a stage, exploring characters, revealing truths, deconstructing dilemmas in their own unique way. However, Curtains is the kind of musical that people who hate musicals think all musicals are like. If this was the first musical I’d ever seen, I’d dismiss the genre as kinda woeful.

The CompanyThe trouble with Curtains is (and I’m talking about the bare bones of the show here, not this production) that it’s trying to be a number of things but fails at them all. It wants to be taken as a serious musical in its own right, but the songs simply aren’t up to it – in fact this is far and away the worst score by Kander and Ebb that I have come across. It wants to be a comedy whodunit, but it completely lacks suspense. In its attempt to parody/pastiche landmark musicals like Oklahoma! or Finian’s Rainbow, it concentrates on their trademark scenes, such as big hoedown stomps or dream ballet sequences, but, taken out of the context of their original shows, they just slow down the natural development of this show. It also makes the show feel immensely dated. Whereas in Cabaret and Chicago the music and the style instantly gives you a time-setting without having to spell it out, you forget that Curtains is meant to be set in 1950s Boston, primarily because there’s no obvious reason for it. Musicals and murder are timeless, so why isn’t this?

The CompanyChrisparkle’s first law of musical theatre is that each song should progress either the plot or our understanding of the characters, or at least the general setting of the show. There’s nothing more frustrating than a stop-start musical where the story takes a break each time an ensemble assembles to sing something. Unfortunately, so many of the numbers in Curtains consist of the audience passively viewing the performance (or rehearsal) from another show (in this case the fictional Robbin’ Hood) which have no meaning or significance for us the audience. Take, for example, the lengthy Thataway that closes the first Act; it’s all bluster and no content, a very repetitive tune that never soars even when you think it might. It’s just an excuse for some swirling skirts and cowboy high-kickin’ (which, to be fair, the cast perform extremely well). But there’s no drama to it, no character development, nothing with which to lead you into the interval with a greater understanding of what’s going on.

Jason Manford & Leah Barbara WestTalking of intervals, it didn’t help that, technically, the performance was a bit of a disaster. The interval climax big effect, where murder victim #2 is found suspended noose-first from the curtains, simply didn’t happen. The characters told us all to “look up there” (or words to that effect) but there was nothing happening “up there”. Then, after Jason Manford’s Cioffi yelled “blackout!” to signify the end of the Act, the curtain fell, only to part rise again to reveal what looked like a degree of backstage consternation at the fact that the effect hadn’t worked. First night in a new theatre, yes, sometimes things go wrong. It happens.

Jason Manford & the boysSurely there were some good things? Yes indeed. Let’s start at the top with Mr Manford. I’ve not seen him in a musical before, and I thought he was excellent. The characterisation of musical-loving Detective Cioffi, hankering romantically after the ingénue Niki Harris, fanboying the writers and the director, worked extremely well. The Broadway production we saw starred David Hyde Pierce in the same role and he camped it up rotten. Jason Manford’s performance, however, was much more nuanced, more considered and more believable. And of course he has excellent comic timing, which he used to great effect.

The CompanyRebecca Lock also gives a fine, beefy performance as the no-nonsense, hard-nosed producer Carmen Bernstein, chucking out savage one-liners whilst belting out her numbers; think Ethel Merman meets Joan Rivers. It’s just a shame that her one-liners weren’t a little funnier and less predictable, but that’s not her fault. Carley Stenson looks and sounds great as Georgia Hendricks, parachuted in to play the lead role when the actress who was going to play Madame Marian suffers a terminal first-night curtain call. Ore Oduba was good, if a little clinical, as Aaron Fox, the composer, and his voice was a little under-amplified in the singing department.

Samuel HolmesThere’s great support from the rest of the cast, especially Emma Caffrey as the show-off Bambi, and understudy Robin Kent who débuted the busy and important role of Bobby Pepper and did a terrific job. Capping it all, there’s a prize performance from Samuel Holmes as the flouncy director Christopher Belling, bitching his way around the stage, side-stepping blame and trouble like a slalom expert. I last saw Mr Holmes as Lord Farquaad in Shrek, where he stole the show; he really does this kind of spoilt brat incredibly well.

Rebecca Lock The other person who drags this show up by its bootstrings and does his best to redeem it, is choreographer Alistair David. An alumnus of so many brilliant lavish shows in Sheffield and Chichester, his dance routines for Curtains throughout are exciting, cheeky, and simply enjoyable. And it’s a testament to the great boys and girls of the dance team that they’re more than up to the task and make those otherwise bland set numbers watchable.

It's loveMrs C started to nod off during Ms Stenson’s performance of Thinking of Him – nothing against Ms Stenson at all, just the fact that the plot had stopped in order for her to sing an irrelevant song, and it’s a cue to the audience to take their mind off the story and let their minds wander. I tried to pull her back to consciousness a few times during the first Act but she’d already lost interest, and was only vaguely sentient at odd moments. She experienced more of the Second Act and even laughed at Mr Holmes’ retort to Bambi: “the only thing you could arouse is suspicion” (winner of Best Line in Show). I stayed awake, but, have to admit, felt pretty bored for much of the time.

The CompanyAlas, the most glittering of casts would have difficulty jump-starting this old banger of a show. After this week, the tour valiantly continues to Blackpool, Glasgow, Leicester, High Wycombe, Wolverhampton and Southampton. Go for the performances and the dancing; look away for the rest.

Production photos by Richard Davenport

3-starsThree-sy does it!