Tony Awards 2011: a glimpse of shows coming our way, perhaps

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The Tony Awards were handed out last week and from the quality of the ceremony performances, the next few years will be exciting for theatre lovers as the best of Broadway trickles onto our shores.

With Mary Poppins already sliding up the banister at the Capitol Theatre and Hairspray opening officially at Star City this week, Sydneysiders are currently spoilt for choice. Add Jersey Boys to the mix, and the competition for your hard earned theatre dollars is fierce. Interestingly enough, there weren’t any tickets available last week for Mary Poppins but plenty for the Hairspray perviews. Jersey Boys continues to be popular but a new promotion with discounted tickets is a good sign that the pressure is on.

Andrew Lloyd-Webber’s Phantom of the Opera sequel, Love Never Dies, is playing in Melbourne and will surely travel north eventually. With the poorly received London production about to close, the revamped Australian version will soon be the sole production in the world. From Oz, it will head to Broadway.

The eighties hair band jukebox musical, Rock of Ages, is also likely to come our way once it has closed in Melbourne. Unfortunately, Xanadu, the intentionally cheesy musical based on the roller skating Olivia Newton John movie and the music of Electric Light Orchestra’s Jeff Lynne tanked badly there and closed early.

Our new Premier, um, you know, that guy, has also seemingly made securing musicals for Sydney his first priority and has recently announced that The Addams Family musical and a stage adaption of Strictly Ballroom (There are no new steps!) will premiere in NSW.

Rumours abound of the Legally Blonde musical coming to Australia in the near future as well as a remount of Annie. The stage mothers of Oz must be wetting themselves in anticipation.

As for the Tony Award nominees, Daniel Radcliffe surprisingly impressed with some fancy dancing and singing in the 50th anniversary revival of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. This very American musical is unlikely to transfer to Australia. Also with poor odds of coming our way is The Scottsboro Boys, an all black musical performed in a minstrel style, which was nominated for twelve awards despite the fact that it had closed after a disastrous 49 performances. It won none.

I managed to catch Sister Act on the West End last year, which has since transferred to Broadway. The all singing, all dancing nun chorus line in the finale is a must see but the musical itself is so-so. Think The Sound of Music in sequins. I give it fair odds of playing here.

Speaking of movie adaptations, a stylish musical version of Catch Me If You Can was nominated for four Tonys and looks very promising.

The most exciting show of the Broadway year has to be The Book of Mormon, a musical comedy from the makers of South Park. Following the adventures of two Mormon missionaries who are sent to Uganda and encounter a local warlord, this satire has become the must-have ticket on The Great White Way. I suggest you start writing to the Premier to bring this brilliant show to Sydney.

The future looks bright for musical theatre lovers. Let’s just hope we don’t get flooded with shows all at once because Sydney can only sustain one or two mega-musicals at the one time. I know my wallet feels the same way.


Les Miserables: 25 years of revolution

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 19th October 2010.

One of the world’s most successful musicals celebrates its twenty fifth anniversary this year and plans are already underway to mark the occasion.

Les Misérables is based on the classic 1862 novel by Victor Hugo. It was originally written as a French language production in 1980 by composer Claude-Michel Schönberg and lyricist Alain Boublil. Produced by theatre impresario Cameron Mackintosh, the English adaption opened in October 1985 at the Barbican Centre in London. Initially receiving largely negative reviews, the production was warmly embraced by theatre goers and the show was a major box office success.

Twenty six years later, that original London production is still running at the Queen’s Theatre, where it celebrated its ten thousandth performance on January 5 this year. Hundreds of musicians and performers have passed through the London production. Only one musician, the drummer from the original London cast album, Peter Boita, remains with the production.

Of course, the show soon spread worldwide. On Broadway it ran for 6680 performances over sixteen years. In Australia, the original production, which starred Normie Rowe, Debra Byrne, Anthony Warlow and Philip Quast, ran between 1987 and 1989. In the early nineties, the production was made available to amateur companies and Orange Theatre Company was one of the first to produce the show in 1994, and again in 2002.

On October 3 this year, Les Misérables set another record, with an amazing three productions being performed at different venues in London. Besides the standard West End production, a UK touring 25th Anniversary Tour production was also playing at the original home of the London show, the Barbican Centre. At the immense O2 Arena (formally the Millennium Dome), which seats 23000 people, a 25th Anniversary Concert was also being staged.

The concert was certainly an all-star affair with a cast that included Filipino singing sensation Lea Salonga as Fantine, Nick Jonas of Jonas Brothers fame as Marius, current Phantom in Love Never Dies Ramin Karimloo as Enjolras and Little Britain’s Matt Lucas as Thénardier. With a cast of over three hundred performers and musicians, the concert also featured appearances from the original 1985 cast, the 25th Anniversary Tour cast and the current West End production cast.

Australian Les Misérables fans will also be able to participate in the celebrations with the 25th Anniversary Concert being shown on the big screen in cinemas this Thursday, October 21. Shot in high definition, the concert version should be spectacular, in particular the second encore which features four Jean Valjeans leading the ensemble in One Day More. If sitting in the cinema for three hours is not appealing, the concert is also scheduled for release on DVD and blu-ray disc in the UK in November with a subsequent Australian release also very likely.

Whilst Les Misérables may not be my favourite show, it was recently voted the UK’s favourite musical, receiving forty percent of the vote. There certainly is something embedded in the show which is very powerful thematically and musically. It has a strange way of rousing the human spirit in an audience. The longest running musical in history shows no sign of ending.

Published in: on October 19, 2010 at 11:03  Leave a Comment  
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Theatre Review: Love Never Dies

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 1st June 2010.

“Love Never Dies”

Adelphi Theatre, London

Fans of the seminal 1986 musical, The Phantom of the Opera, were sent into a frenzy in 2007 with the announcement that Andrew Lloyd-Webber was planning a sequel. Reaction amongst fans was extremely divided. Many were of the opinion that a follow-up would tarnish the original’s place in theatre history, whilst others couldn’t wait to see what happens to the Phantom, Christine and Raoul after the rather inconclusive finale of the first musical (and later movie).

On 9th March this year, Love Never Dies opened in London. Featuring a new score by Lloyd-Webber, lyrics by Glenn Slater and book by Lloyd-Webber, Slater and Ben Elton (who has a chequered past with musicals, having written the script for hit We Will Rock You, and the failures Tonight’s The Night and The Beautiful Game), this production is the first ever musical sequel to be performed in the West End.

 Earlier this month, I was fortunate enough to secure tickets to see the original cast at the Adelphi Theatre.

Without spoiling the story, Love Never Dies picks up ten years after the events of The Phantom of the Opera. Madame Giry and her daughter Meg have assisted the Phantom to relocate to Coney Island in New York where he runs the theatrical attraction known as Phantasma, under the alias of Mr Y. Still enchanted by his muse, Christine Daaé, the Phantom lures her to America along with her husband, Raoul, now bankrupt and an alcoholic, and their son, Gustave.

What is most striking about this new production is how far stage technology and special effects have evolved since the original show. The impressive (at the time) tricks of the 1986 musical have been replaced by spectacular projections onto fog, moving silhouettes of roller coasters, chandeliers made of animatronic heads and a horse and coach in which sideshow freaks appear out of thin air. The clever casting of a contortionist in the show also allowed a table to move across the stage, seemingly propelled only by two human legs.

The score itself features less memorable tunes than its predecessor, however the title track and the Phantom’s solos Til I Hear You Sing and The Beauty Underneath are standouts. The transition from the operatic style of Paris to vaudeville numbers at Coney Island may also grate with some.

Being a Tuesday night performance, I did not get to see original Christine Daaé, Sierra Boggess in action. Fortunately, the rest of the original cast was onstage that night and Ramin Karimloo (Phantom) was in very fine voice. Having played the Phantom for two years on the West End, Karimloo certainly has developed the perfect combination of gravitas and fragility to portray him again in Love Never Dies. Also impressive were Summer Strallen as Meg Giry and Liz Robertson as Madame Giry.

The Phantom of the Opera was a worldwide phenomenon, drawing crowds into theatres, many of whom had never seen a musical before. For musical theatre lovers and Phantom fans, Love Never Dies is worth the price of admission for its sumptuous staging, impressive special effects and remarkable performances. The mildly disappointing storyline and score are secondary.

Despite an impressive box office advance and sell out performances, Love Never Dies has received mixed reviews from the UK theatre critics. It should have a long and successful run as “Phans” clamour to get tickets. A show with such widespread brand awareness is virtually critic proof, however, I doubt it will ever be regarded as an equal to the original.

Love Never Dies is scheduled to arrive in Australia in 2011.