10 August 2009

Shall We Dance[?] - Sadler's Wells - Wednesday 12th August 2009

Synopsis (official version):

Set to a score comprised entirely of melodies by Richard Rodgers, Shall We Dance[?]tells the story of one man's extraordinary quest to find true love. His panoramic voyage transports us from the Orient to the Wild West by way of Russian folk dance, New York jazz and the delirious waltzes of a Viennese ballroom.

Synopsis (actual version):

The Guy works in a nightclub. There is a lot of dancing. The Guy can't find a decent shag, not realising that The Right Girl is nearby. He is picked up by a cute-looking drunk who becomes His Friend. Awwww! They join the Navy and sail off round the world. They land in Vienna [which is nowhere near the sea. The backdrops all show Notre Dame so this is obviously Vienna, France]. They gatecrash a ball; there is a lot of dancing. The Guy snogs a princess, not realising that The Right Girl is nearby. The Princess's boyf isn't best pleased. The Guy and the Cute Friend get chucked out. Boooo!

They go to Russia where some creepy puppet show is being performed at a fair; there is a lot of dancing. The Guy snogs a peasant girl, not realising that The Right Girl is nearby. The Peasant Girl's boyf isn't best pleased. The Guy and the Cute Friend get chucked out. Booo!

They go to Some Oriental Place [with a Chinese Dragon and music from The King and I, so this is obviously Beijing, Thailand]. They gatecrash a betrothal ceremony; there is a lot of dancing. The Guy snogs the bride-to-be, not realising that The Right Girl is nearby. The bride-to-be's boyf isn't best pleased. He seals The Guy inside a barrel and throws it in the sea. Booo! The Cute Friend disappears completely from such plot as there is. Awwww!

The barrel is washed up on the coast of Oklahoma [which is nowhere near the sea], where there is a Hoe-down in progress; there is a lot of dancing. The Guy snogs a Cowgirl, not realising The Right Girl is nearby. The Cowgirl's boyf isn't best pleased. The Guy gets chucked out. Boooo!

The Guy returns to Noo York and goes to a seedy club. There is a lot of dancing. The Guy snogs the Mafia Boss's moll, not realising that The Right Girl is nearby. The Mafia Boss isn't best pleased. He shoots at The Guy but misses and kills The Moll. The Guy isn't best pleased. He kills The Mafia Boss. The Guy finds The Right Girl! She has Loved Him All The Time and The Guy Never Realised! Hurrah! There is a lot of dancing!

Adam Cooper: The Guy
Emma Samms: Swing Girl
Lorraine Stewart: European Girl
Rachel Muldoon: Russian Girl/Dance Captain
Noi Tolmer: Eastern Girl
Pip Jordan: Wild West Girl
Sarah Wildor: Slaughter Girl
Ebony Molina: The Right Girl
Tom Dwyer: The Friend

Creative Team:
Director, Choreographer and all round luvvie: Adam Cooper
Musical Supervisor: Richard Balcombe
Designer: Paul Farnsworth
Lighting: Paul Pyant
Video projection: Thomas Gray
Sound: Matt McKenzie
Associate Director: Kenn Burke
Mr. Cooper's muscles lovingly buffed up with: Johnson's Baby Oil

I'm on the warpath, filled with righteous anger. I'm writing to The Daily Mail, Watchdog, Lynne Truss and anyone else who will listen. The title of this show is a quotation, taken from the great number in Rodger's and Hammerstein's The King and I, "Shall We Dance?" You know the one (altergethernaw):

"Shhhhaaall weeeee dance? pumpumpum

On a bright cloud of music shall we fly? pumpumpum

Shall we dance? duh um pumpum

Shall we both say 'Goodnight' and mean 'Goodbye'? umpumpum

Or perchance pumpumpum when the last tiny star has left the sky deedeedee

Shall we still be together with our arms around each other

And will you be my new romance?

On the clear understanding that this kind of thing could happen

Shall we dance? Shall we dance? Shall we dance?" duh um pum pum

and, as you can see from the context of the verse, the use of the word "shall" means this refers to a possibility and is therefore clearly a question, not an imperative. And as we all learned on practically our first day at school, along with our teacher's name and the location of the toilets in case of emergency, questions are followed by a question mark. So where's the question mark, Mr. Cooper? Harrumph!

Even without punctuational indignation, the evening got off to a rocky start. It pissed down with rain (we're talking 40 days and 40 nights here) and we discovered that our favourite pre-Sadler's Wells greasy spoon caff now closes every day at 4pm, so we were cold and wet and there was no chance of a lovingly-crafted friedeggsbeanschipsandacuppateathreefiftydarlincheers. I could have cried. So I wasn't really in the best frame of mind when the curtain went up. Still, things could have been worse. I could have actually been in this. Honestly, what a crock of banal shit.

This was just a lame excuse for a rummage through the dressing-up box (Oooh look, here's a stetson. We can do a cowboy dance! I've always wanted to do a cowboy dance! And a peasant blouse. Can we squeeze in a Russian section somehow?) and a chance to throw together some well-known (and some considerably more obscure) show choonz, cobble them together with some vague semblance of a plot that requires a lot of dancing and stalk around the stage looking moody, wearing a black vest so that we can all see your biceps. And, preferably, adulate.

Well, there seemed to be plenty of people in the audience last night prepared to adulate at the shrine that is Adam Cooper. But I'm not of one of them. Sure, Cooper can hoof it up. But choreographer or dramatist he ain't. You would have thought that someone with all his classical training, who spent many years perfecting his craft under Matthew Bourne (no sniggering at the back, please) could put a few dance steps together and come up with a decent storyline. But Shall We Dance [?] just shows the truth of the Oriental proverb: The Pupil must become better than the Master in order to become a Master himself, Grasshopper. But the Pupil hasn't learned, preferring outward show for inner depth. The choreography is flashy yet uninspired, empty and repetitive (the same lifts occur time and time and time again). The "storyline" would disgrace Jackanory and has the dramatic shape of a plate of cabbage. There's no characterisation, just Adam Cooper. The one inspired section of the entire evening - the tapdancing Hoe Down - comes too late to save the show from banality. Cooper, carefully togged out entirely in black to draw the eye, places himself both outside and above rather than of the company throughout the entire evening. The craving for adulation is almost palpable, but as Dorothy eventually discovers in The Wizard of Oz, if you pull back the curtain and look past the smoke and mirrors, The Great and Powerful Oz is a bit of a humbug, a false idol. And one that can't punctuate.

GEEKERY: Rodgers is one of only two persons to have won an Oscar, a Grammy, an Emmy, a Tony Award and a Pulitzer Prize (Marvin Hamlisch is the other).

Rodgers was considering quitting show business altogether to sell children's underwear, when he and Hart finally got their first hit in 1925.

05 August 2009

Too Close to the Sun - Comedy Theatre, Wednesday 5th August 2009


In the summer of 1961 on the Hemingway ranch in Ketchum, Idaho, Ernest Hemingway's young secretary, Louella, is plotting to become his fifth wife and heir to his estate. Rex De Havilland, an old friend of the author and now a struggling Hollywood producer, arrives to secure the film rights to Hemingway's life. Anxious to achieve his goal by any means possible, he tries to convince Hemingway's wife Mary the project will give the ailing writer a new lease on life. Hemingway, however, fails to succumb to the charms of either Louella or Rex, and he banishes both from his home before committing suicide with a shot to his head.

Creative team:
Music: John Robinson
Lyrics: Roberto Trippini and John Robinson
Libretto: Roberto Trippini
Director: Pat Garrett*
Set and costumes: Christopher Woods
Lighting: Mike Robertson

* not the Pat Garrett killed in the shoot-out with Billy the Kid. Unfortunately for us all

Rex: Christopher Howell
Mary: Helen Dallimore
Ernest Hemmingway: James Graeme
Louella: Tammy Joelle

“It’s like asking a fire hydrant what it thinks of dogs”

Well, when so many people are so disparaging of something, you’ve just got to go see it really, haven’t you? When its being referred to not as Too Close to the Sun but To Close on the Sunday? When the closing notices go up three days after the opening night? When the writer’s other hits are such popular and long-running works as Leonardo!, Which Witch?, Behind the Iron Mask and Botero Forever? Hold me back!

Actually, yes, please hold me back. Preferably hold me back in my seat with broad leather straps so that I can cope with the rising tide of hysteria engendered by lyrics such as “Make Yourself One With The Gun” and lines such as “My whang-dang-doodle needs a crankshaft to get it going” or “I’m not going to stop living until I’m totally dead”.

Honestly, this was so painful that writing a review becomes quite difficult. I want to pour scorn on the writers at the same time as pouring pity on the cast. Even the fact that its running (but hurry, not for long!) at The Comedy Theatre is embarrassing to point out. Because, really, this one should never have got past the “Let’s write a musical about Ernest Hemingway committing suicide” conversation (a conversation that in all likelihood took place about 3am while some damned good skunk was being passed round the table). Roberto Trippini deserves a round of applause and an award for his sheer self-deluded arrogance, if nothing else. Hemmingway was a dinosaur, a macho shithead who shot, smoked, boozed and screwed his way through life, before sticking a shotgun into his mouth and splattering his brains all over the walls (“Hello? Is that the E-Z-Clean maid service? This is Mrs. Hemmingway. Can you come early tonight? And bring some extra scrubbing brushes. And a lot of Cilit Bang”). I doubt that he was a big fan of show tunes, Hollywood musicals or people tapdancing round his living room. Especially those doing jazz hands at the same time. Had he met anyone doing such a thing, their head would probably have been mounted on the wall between the elephant and the bison, with an engraved plate saying “Faggot, Ketchum, Idaho” underneath. So writing a musical about Hemmingway is bizarre, to say the least. Writing a musical about him committing suicide is off the doozy-scale, wouldn’t you agree? Mount said musical in the West End during the worst recession since the 1930s and its as much commercial suicide as Hemmingway rug-splattering version. The other 38 people in the auditorium last night thought so too. In fact, so gripped by the action was the woman in the row behind us (note, not a woman – the woman; she was the only person in it) that she had time to take a call from someone at home and advise them that “There should be a squeezy bottle of Marmite in the cupboard. Go to bed and I’ll see you tomorrow”. Real thrilling stuff. Did they find the Marmite? Why were they going to bed so early? Was there a connection between them wanting both Marmite and an early night? Alas, we will never know, because the people on stage were talking too loud for me to hear properly.

Honestly, either work in the acting profession is so shit-scarce at the moment or the cast had been liberally plied with Mogadon before the first read-through but I really don’t know why any of the people concerned hadn’t dug their eyes out with spoons rather than have this on their CV. Helen Dallimore was good enough to create a major role in Wicked a couple of years back, so what is she doing in what could be subtitled Ernie, Get Your Gun? Tammy Joelle will presumably disappear from sight and never be heard of again until her neighbours complain about the smell coming from her flat and she’s found dead having been eaten by her dogs.. Having read a review of her performance which said that her singing would best be appreciated by canine members of the audience, I thought that might be a little harsh, but having actually heard her last night, I’m somewhat inclined to provide the dogs with forks, a plate of fava beans and a nice chianti, just to save time. Jay Benedict, who was to have played Rex, at least had the good sense to “injure his knee” at an early preview and send his understudy on, putting him on a par with the man who cancelled his booking on the Titanic after having had his palm read at the fair. And James Graeme was quite the happiest, jolliest suicide this town is going to see until another banker snorts 8 grams of coke and throws himself off the balcomy at ChinaWhite.

Certainly one for the dustbin of history. Lovers of absolute twaddle should hurry along to the Comedy Theatre before the show’s 10th (and final) performance. But don’t hurry too fast. You might get there in time for curtain-up. As we left, a woman whose face had the pallor of someone staggering up a railway embankment after a derailment clutched wildly at my arm and stammered “Well, that was an experience, wasn’t it?!” It soitonly was, Ernest, it soitonly was.

What the critics said:






01 August 2009

Hello, Dolly! - Open Air Theatre @ Regents Park, Friday 31st July 2009


It's the turn of the 20th century, and all of New York City is excited because widowed but brassy Dolly Gallagher Levi is in town Dolly makes a living through what she calls "meddling" – matchmaking and numerous sidelines, including dance instruction and mandolin lessons . She is currently seeking a wife for grumpy Horace Vandergelder, the well-known half-a-millionaire, but it becomes clear that Dolly intends to marry Horace herself. Ambrose Kemper, a young artist, wants to marry Horace's weepy niece Ermengarde, but Horace opposes this because Ambrose's vocation does not guarantee a steady living. Ambrose enlists Dolly's help, and they travel to Yonkers, New York to visit Horace.

Horace explains to his two clerks, Cornelius Hackl and Barnaby Tucker, that he is going to get married. He plans to travel with Dolly to New York City to propose to the widow Irene Molloy, who owns a hat shop there. Dolly arrives in Yonkers and "accidentally" mentions that Irene's first husband might not have died of natural causes, and also mentions that she knows an heiress, Ernestina Money, who may be interested in Horace. Horace leaves for New York and tells Cornelius and Barnaby to mind the store.Cornelius decides that he and Barnaby need to get out of Yonkers They blow up some tomato cans to create a terrible stench and a good alibi to close the store. Dolly mentions that she knows two ladies in New York they should call on: Irene Molloy and her shop assistant, Minnie Fay. She tells Ermengarde and Ambrose that she'll enter them in the polka competition at the fancy Harmonia Gardens Restaurant in New York City so Ambrose can demonstrate his ability to be a bread winner to Uncle Horace. Cornelius, Barnaby, Ambrose, Ermengarde and Dolly take the train to New York.

Irene and Minnie open their hat shop for the afternoon. Irene wants a husband but does not love Horace Vandergelder. Cornelius and Barnaby arrive at the shop and pretend to be rich. Horace and Dolly arrive at the shop, and Cornelius and Barnaby hide. Irene inadvertently mentions that she knows Cornelius Hackl, and Dolly tells her and Horace that even though Cornelius is Horace's clerk by day, he's a New York playboy by night; he's one of the Hackls. Minnie screams when she finds Cornelius hiding in an armoire and Horace storms out, realizing there are men hiding in the shop, but not knowing they are his clerks.Dolly arranges for Cornelius and Barnaby, who are still pretending to be rich, to take the ladies out to dinner to the Harmonia Gardens to make up for their humiliation. Alone, Dolly decides to put her dearly departed husband Ephram behind her and to move on with life. She asks Ephram's permission to marry Horace, requesting a sign from him. Dolly catches up with the annoyed Vandergelder, and convinces him to give her matchmaking one more chance. She tells him that Ernestina Money would be perfect for him and asks him to meet her at the swanky Harmonia Gardens that evening

Cornelius and Barnaby are determined to get a kiss before the night is over. As the clerks have no money for a carriage, they tell the girls that walking to the restaurant shows that they've got "Elegance". At the Harmonia Gardens Restaurant, Rudolph, the head waiter, whips his crew into shape for Dolly Levi's return. Horace arrives with his date, but she is not as rich or elegant as Dolly implied; and bored by Horace, she soon leaves, just as Dolly planned.Cornelius, Barnaby and their dates arrive, unaware that Horace is also dining at the restaurant. Irene and Minnie are excited by the lavish restaurant and decide to order the most expensive items on the menu. Fearful of being discovered, Cornelius and Barnaby become increasingly nervous as they have less than a dollar left.

Dolly makes her triumphant return to the Harmonia Gardens and is greeted in style by the staff. She sits in the now-empty seat at Horace's table and proceeds to eat a large, expensive dinner, telling him that no matter what he says, she will not marry him. Barnaby and Horace hail waiters at the same time, and in the ensuing confusion each drops his wallet and inadvertently picks up the other's. Barnaby is delighted that he can now pay the restaurant bill, while Horace finds only a little spare change. Barnaby and Cornelius realize that the wallet must belong to Horace, who recognizes them and also spots Eremengarde and Ambrose. The ensuing free-for-all riot culminates in a trip to night court. Cornelius and Barnaby confess that they have no money and have never been to New York before. Cornelius, Barnaby and Ambrose each professes his love for his companion.Dolly convinces the judge that the only thing everyone is guilty of is being in love. Everyone is found innocent and cleared of all charges, but Horace is declared guilty and forced to pay damages. Dolly mentions marriage again, and Horace declares that he wouldn't marry her if she were the last woman in the world.

The next morning, back at the hay and feed store, Cornelius and Irene, Barnaby and Minnie, and Ambrose and Ermengarde are each setting out on their own. A chastened Vandergelder finally admits that he needs Dolly in his life, but she is unsure about the marriage until her late husband sends her a sign. The sign comes in the unlikely form of a roll of wallpaper in Dolly’s favourite colour, and all ends happily

Creative Team:
Director: Timothy Sheader
Designer:Peter McKintosh
Choreographer: Stephen Mear
Musical Director: PhilipBateman
Lighting Designer: Simon Mills
Orchestrator: David Shrubsole
Sound Designer: Mike Walker
Casting Director: David Grindrod Associates
Dialect Coach: Majella Hurley

Samantha Spiro : Dolly
Mark Anderson : Ambrose Kemper
Allan Corduner : Horace Vandergelder
Oliver Brenin : Barnaby Tucker
Clare Louise Connolly : Ermengarde
Daniel Crossley : Cornelius Hackl
Josefina Gabrielle : Irene Molloy
Akiya Henry : Minnie Fay
Andy Hockley : Rudolph
Annalisa Rossi :Ernestina
John Stacey : Judge

“We’re gonna find adventure in the evening air……”

July was a complete no-go area as far as theatre trips was concerned, so it was nice to be able to get tickets for a preview of every gay boy’s favourite musical. And, for once, we cheated the weather, which has bedevilled practically the entire season at the Open Air Theatre this year. OK, it wasn’t blisteringly hot, but at least it wasn’t raining. There was, as expected, a very high PPSI (Poofs Per Square Inch) ratio, and unfortunately a high NGPSI ratio too (Noisy Germans Per Square Inch) – four extremely Aryan ladies of a certain age (methinks they had all just visited their good friend Miss Clairol) who sat next to us explaining the plot details to each other, hooting and pointing and singing along in direct inverse volume to the amount of wine left in their communal bottle. I gritted my teeth until the interval when I asked them to keep it down please, ladies, but this only meant that they spent the second half doing their best stage whispers, shushing each other loudly and giggling. Still, at least they didn’t urinate on the stage, which I gather happened at a performance of A Little Night Music recently:


Hello, Dolly! is a strange musical if you only know it from the film. The beginning is very, very muted compared to Ms. Streisand’s frenetic opening number and I admit that I was feeling a bit disappointed. Even the fantabulous pull-apart set (resembling a cross between a Grecian temple and a paddle steamer) couldn’t cheer me up. But I enjoyed the way that Dolly appeared from a door right up in the back of the auditorium and “worked” the audience, handing out business cards left, right and centre. And Ms. Spiro, despite her lack of inches, really did seem to be giving it her all, like a mother hen on speed. But she has a very strange voice; by no means is she a singer and I foresee vocal problems ahead for her during the six week run – her voice isn’t deep enough to hit the low notes, and not high enough to hit the high notes, and so it sounded like she was really struggling to get enough power through anything but the mid-range stuff. Not that what she sings isn’t well sung – its just that it was extremely obvious that she can’t belt out a big number. One exchange of dialogue which I don’t think appears in the film was a bit of a wake-up call for me to Dolly’s real character and occurred just before this section – she only makes a pretence of paying for her train ticket then manages to wheedle someone else into paying for it. And there were lots of other little touches that made her rather less sympathetic than she should have been. In fact, the more I listened, the more I heard that was inconsistent with other characters as well. There was a distinct suggestion that the first Mr. Molloy didn’t die of natural causes, and Horace Vandergelder’s sudden assertion near the end that “Money is like manure; its no good unless you spread it around” seems distinctly at odds with his tight-fistedness throughout the rest of the show.

For me, the show didn’t really get going until “Put on your Sunday Clothes” when the chorus almost literally burst onto the stage. Their energy level was amazing, their costumes very well designed and – importantly – appropriate in colour and style to the entire production. They also hoofed like maniacs – full marks to the choreographer. Their number was full of simple but very effective moves and the section where they became the train, with Dolly up in front on a luggage trolley, was deservedly applauded. But the bit I liked best was when the walking canes of the men got slotted into holes in the back of the shop counter and became stands for the hats in Mrs. Molloy’s hat shop. Very simple, very effective and showing that the production had been directed with an eye to detail, which always gets full marks from me. In fact, I think that the chorus numbers really make this particular production special. When the Parade Passes By, which closes Act I, for all that Ms. Spiro should be screaming her tits off and throwing top Gs all around the stage (and couldn’t) was made really something special by the fact that the chorus were all working overtime to get the number across. The big number danced by the waiters in the second act practically stopped the show and I would have happily stood up on my seat and called for an encore of this had I not wanted to draw attention to myself for fear of being labelled A Rowdy Element and chucked out.

Other elements of the performance grated rather – the hat shop scene always falls a bit flat for me; not only because it slows the action down to walking pace, but the elements of farce bore me. I always find Ribbons Down My Back rather a tedious little song – Josefina Gabrielle seemed to be another one having problems with her pitching, which made it doubly difficult to sit through, and I could have happily slapped Akiya Henry who was playing Minnie Fay rather in the fashion of Butterfly “I doan know nuffin’ bout birthin’ babies, MizzScarlett” McQueen.

Now, there are certain readers who I know are going to roll their eyes at this point, but I have to say that I do like a well-choreographed walk-down at the end of a show, and if you are also of this ilk, then do get yourself a ticket for this production because the curtain calls are wonderful – although the lighting box need to be considerably tighter with their follow spots because it looked for a moment like the entire stage was under attack by a squadron of killer fireflies. A fine show nonetheless, and one which deserves to be seen. And nobody urinates on the stage.

Theatre Geekery:

The show was originally entitled Dolly, A Damned Exasperating Woman. It ran on Broadway for 2,844 performances, garnering 11 Tony Awards.

Ethel Merman, who had originally turned down the role, citing exhaustion from a long run of Annie, Get Your Gun, agreed to take on the role for the final two months of the run.

Both Barnaby and Cornelius make several references to the stuffed whale at Barnum’s Museum, although the museum had been long gone by 1890, the year the action takes place ,as it burned down in 1880.

The 1969 film version, in which Dolly was played by Barbra Streisand, was directed by Gene Kelly. In the Harmonia Gardens scene, the wall of Captain Von Trapp’s ballroom from The Sound of Music can be seen behind the hat-check desk.

During filming, Walter Matthau (Vandergelder) and Michael Crawford (Cornelius) took a trip to a nearby racecourse. Discovering that there was a horse running that day called Hello Dolly, Crawford put his entire fee for the film on it. Matthau called him a fool and there was an argument. The horse won. Crawford made a lot of money. Matthau never spoke to him again, on set or off.

What the critics said: