Chilly Autumn, Warm Stages…
by Mel Cooper
The past, in London, isn’t another country – it’s alive and on-stage! What seems to me a fairly dreary West End Autumn still looks good to people who aren’t living in or near London simply because so many shows, especially musicals, are still running and, with name recognition and big reputations, they continue to be crowd-pleasers. So, you can head for any of the long runs you haven’t managed to see yet:
Before it ends in late October, you might want to catch Sister Act at the Palladium, with a few performances still of Whoopi Goldberg as the Mother Superior. But the real news in that show is the performance of Patina Miller as Deloris. This production will be traveling to Germany, and then opening in New York in March, where it’s bound to be much more expensive to see (though the wondrous Patina will remain on as Deloris).
Jersey Boys, Phantom of the Opera, Billy Elliot and Legally Blonde are all going strong still, some with interesting cast changes; and Les Miserables (which refuses to die) is having lots of publicity, hoopla, and special performances for its 25th anniversary. I hope to report back on some of these again soon, catch up with the state of the shows; as well as to see a successful new production of Ira Levin’s comedy thriller, Deathtrap, with the ever-resourceful and fascinating Simon Russell Beale in the lead.Sweet Charity is still at the Theatre Royal, Haymartket, in the low-key, excellent Menier Chocolate Factory production with the startlingly good Tamzin Outhwaite. It ends on November 6th, and that suits by me because it’s making room for a new production by Sir Peter Hall of Sheridan’s The Rivals with a finely nuanced yet hilarious performance by Penelope Keith as Mrs Malaprop. The production got fine notices in Bath and is much anticipated. I would book tickets now!
Also anticipated is the new play by Martin Sherman that has just arrived at the Novello Theatre in London. Called Onassis and focusing on an astonishing connection between the tragic Greek millionaire and the assassination of Robert Kennedy, Robert Lindsey takes the title part. Hear about the play from the author himself in our interview: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vLJLs5MQpGk
Finally, I want to draw your attention to the play at the Old Vic, Noel Coward’s Design for Living, directed by Anthony Page and with Tom Burke, Lisa Dillon and Andrew Scott as the frolicsome trio. I have not yet seen it, but I hear only good things, especially about Andrew Scott, who turned up on the recent BBC Sherlock series as a very chilling and hypnotic Moriarty, a powerful and darkly sour rival to Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock. Scott is a young actor with a large range, who’s already won two major awards for acting in the West End. (See my post of December 18, 2009.) Catch him now and follow him henceforth. I predict his career will be a major one
If opera is your thing, then the ENOis doing a new production of Gounod’s French grand opera, Faust, once the most popular opera in the world. This production may be the breakthrough for Toby Spence (Faust) and Melody Moore
(Gretchen). As always, there is much to be learned about the score from listening to the interpretation of conductor Edward Gardner. And still at the ENO, try not to miss the timely revival of Jonathan Miller’s fine, updated version of La Bohėme. Note that Rufus Norris has been asked to direct the new Don Giovanni. I will hold my judgment in reserve until I see what he does with it. For me, an even bigger attraction of this Don Giovanni will be a chance to hear, live, the young Ukrainian conductor, Kirill Karabits, the new leader of the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra.The Royal Opera House has been revisiting superb Jonathan Miller productions too, this autumn: namely, his delightful and startlingly staged Don Pasquale with its wonderful multi-level set and action; and his never-passé Cosi Fan Tutte. A very good thing for us fans! Dmitri Hvorostovky’s going to be giving a few performances of his powerful Rigoletto in the rather louche David McVicar production, which is very popular; but my interest at the moment is focused on the ROH revival of another Gounod – Romeo et Juliette – largely because it’s a chance to compare the two most famous Gounod operas one after the other, and also because Daniel Oren is conducting.McVicar returns to direct a new production of the rare Adriana Lecouvreur by Cilea with a stellar cast, conducted by Mark Elder whose reliably idiomatic approach to any work he undertakes is always intellectually and musically illuminating. This is one I want to see and tickets will not be easy to get. Angela Gheorghiu and Angeles Blanc as Gulin are sharing the run as Adriana, Jonas Kaufmann (who can do no wrong!) is Maurizio, and Michaela Schuster and Olga Borodina are sharing the role of the Princess of Bouillon. With even small roles cast from strength (Janis Kelly as Madame Jouvenot, for instance) this one’s very promising. It used to be done by the likes of Renata Tebaldi and Montserrat Caballé and is long overdue for reassessment.Frederic Ashton production of Prokofiev’s Cinderella that’s being revived for several performances. I remember when Ashton and Macmillan danced the Ugly Sisters! This is in fact an upmarket British Christmas Panto with a truly magnificent score.Theatre Royal Stratford East to see Red Riding Hood, because they not only create consistently terrific pantos each year, but have one of the most responsive audiences with whom to enjoy it! Audience participation is developed to a fine art at the TRSE. Book now. Like Cinderella and Adriana Lecouvreur at the ROH, it’s selling out already!Battersea Arts Centre, the Lyric Hammersmith, the Young Vic, the Soho Theatre and the Royal Court. Of which more anon!
Among concerts this autumn in London, a sure-fire standout is the Janacek Glagolitic Mass performed by the LSO under Sir Colin Davis on 10 and 12 October in their usual home at the inaccessible Barbican. It’s not the getting there that’s the problem, because you have all the fun and anticipation of the evening ahead of you. But getting away afterwards is murder unless you’ve brought your chauffeur- driven car; and even then the car parks are not the most accessible! Public transport is way hither and yonder and the walk from the venue to the tube or bus is actually quite depressing. My word!
If there’s only one chance to see something at the Wigmore Hall in October, then I would choose the Stephen Kovacevich 70th Birthday Concert. He’ll be playing Brahms, Liszt and Bartók from 7:00 PM on that day. And if you can manage two Wigmore visits, consider Gerald Finley accompanied by Julius Drake in an all-Schumann programme.
Or you might also want to consider attending the hall twice on Sunday, 31 October as well: at 11.30 AM for the excellent Hagen Quartet playing Janacek and Schubert; and then again at 7.30 PM for a concert by the always-wonderful Jonas Kaufmann, who can do no wrong!
But it’s that time of year again for lovers of the art song: the Oxford Lieder Festival, organized annually by Sholto Kynoch. This year it runs from 15 to 30 October. The line-up of artists and programmes is enticing, and you have a perfect chance to augment them with a stroll through the city’s past. Above all, do not miss the newly re-opened Ashmolean Museum. The rebuilt galleries are stylish and comfortable; the collection is brilliant; and the Pre-Raphaelite Exhibition that runs until early December is truly worth a visit to Oxford all by itself. So leave time for the Oxford Experience, and choose your lieder at http://www.oxfordlieder.co.uk/