An American in Paris final performance announced

An American in Paris is now playing its final 14 weeks at the Dominion Theatre. The last performance of this celebrated engagement will be on Saturday 6 January 2018.

The London production of An American in Paris has been filmed for future release in cinemas, featuring the original cast led by Robert Fairchild and Leanne Cope. Further international engagements of the musical are planned and a major North American tour is currently playing.

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An American in Paris premiered in 2014 at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris to ecstatic reviews before transferring to the Palace Theatre on Broadway, where it received 12 Tony® nominations and won 4 for Best Choreography, Best Orchestrations, Best Set Design and Best Lighting Design. The musical also won four Drama Desk Awards, four Outer Critics Circle Awards including Best Musical, the Drama LeagueAward for Best Musical, three Fred and Adele Astaire Awards and two Theatre World Awards.

Jerry Mulligan is an American GI pursuing his dream to make it as a painter in a city suddenly bursting with hope and possibility. Following a chance encounter with a beautiful young dancer named Lise, the streets of Paris become the backdrop to a sensuous, modern romance of art, friendship and love in the aftermath of war…

For those of us that keep an eye on theatre this isn’t a huge shock. Discounts all over the theatre ticket outlets and the fact that Bat Out of Hell hasn’t been discreet about the fact it is looking for a new home means that the end would be sooner than later.

An American in Paris has had a successful run on both Broadway and London but I had a lot of issues with it. I felt it was marketed as a big old show, it was far more subtle than that. Even the set was very basic, which looked odd in such a cavernous space. When I reviewed it for London Theatre Direct earlier this year it did not feel like the big glitzy West End production.This is no bad thing, except when you are paying West End prices in a West End theatre. I stand by that this would have been exceptional had it been staged in Sadlers Wells or the Peacock, smaller theatres focused on dance. An American in Paris doesn’t have the musical numbers, which you expect from Gershwin and it doesn’t have the story. The dance sequences had some beautiful moments but also a tendecy to go on. Robert Fairchild (who left the production earlier this year) and Leanne Cope were great finds and have a great musical theatre career ahead of them but I failed to care for the other characters, not helped by ropey accents and baffling storyline where our narrator makes out he has a chance with a character who barely notices him.

The audience reaction was interesting too. On the night I saw it a large group walked out because they found it “boring”- a musical theatre sin. Anecdotally the response from a few has been that they had a lovely time but wouldn’t go back. Musical theatre survives long runs due to repeat custom if audiences are telling friends “it was nice but I wouldn’t see it again” it won’t attract new audiences either.

Not everyone wants a flamboyant show but you want a show that has universal appeal. It was too much of a musical for ballet fans and too much of a ballet show for musical fans.  An American in Paris was an interesting and successful venture but in a city with many foreign audiences and high expectations to meet high prices this was never going to run as long as some West End shows had.

 

Ballots and theatre; Are critics required anymore

Punchdrunk (The Drowned Man, Sleep No More, Masque of the Red Death) is to stage a brand new production inspired by the remaining fragments of Aeschylus’ lost play The Kabeiroi this Autumn. Directed by Punchdrunk artistic director Felix Barrett, Kabeiroi will take place across London from 26 September – 5 November 2017.

Punchdrunk is committed to developing new ways to engage with culture. In a break from the company’s recognised format of mask shows played in found spaces in front of big audiences, Kabeiroi will take place in multiple locations across London and audiences will experience the show in groups of just two.

The ancient Greek tragedy about the women of Lemnos, written between 499 and 456 BC, is the middle play of a trilogy by Aeschylus and survives in just three mysterious fragments. Using what remains as a starting point, Punchdrunk will place audiences at the heart of the narrative over an extended six hour period.

Tickets for Kabeiroi are extremely limited. To ensure they are allocated as fairly as possible, audiences are invited to enter a ticket ballot which will open on 5 September at 12 noon. The ballot will close on Sunday 10 September at 6pm.

Please see www.punchdrunk.org.uk for more information.

So another day, another high price production accessible by ballot. Like RADA’s Hamlet it is going to be a hot ticket and is, on initial appearances, worth every penny. RADA were fundraising when they charged £95 and immersive theatre is not cheap, if we are going to anal about the cost then £9.16 per person, per hour is great value if this is anything like Punchdrunk’s previous efforts.

As a reviewer I, once again, cannot get free (press) tickets. Boo Hoo I don’t hear you cry. Neither RADA or Punchdrunk need to good reviews because demand will exceed supply but increasingly the reviewer feels redundant. As theatre gets more and more popular it means more hits for even small fry like this blog but it also means that people are more aware, booking in advance of reviews and leading to sold out shows.

Why bother with the traditional press night if you’ve sold 80% plus of allocation? Critics are, over time, becoming less of a key marketing tool and I am strangely fine with it. One of the things this blog has taught me, that general punter Shanine wasn’t always aware of, is that not only can I not see everything, it is not possible. I am sad I can’t get press tickets for my very loyal team of bloggers but reviewing isn’t just about the critic having a lovely time and a glass of wine. It is a record of a production that may never be seen again (Is it really crucial to keep a record of plays that will be digitally preserved), not a boast of all the must see shows that theatre fans have not been able to access.

The Critic, or who is Helena?

Guardian critic Michael Billington recently brought back his bizarre alter-ego, a young woman named Helena, for his review of Fatherland at the Manchester International Festival. It is a completely baffling tactic and something quite creepy about it, especially at a time when women feel underrepresented as critics in the mainstream media, though Andrew Haydon argues that across 1st/2nd string it is more equal than it seems.

Andrew Haydon also tackled Billington’s odd relationship with his imaginary mentee but I struggle with the concept as well as the execution. I would oddly be more sympathetic is Billington just said “This woman is real, she is my mistress and I take her to theatre” then this roundabout way of contradicting himself. Tabard at The Stage described Helena as “his Sasha Fierce…”, which is the issue. This is basically Billington being able to talk in a way his readership don’t expect him too and that he isn’t bold enough to say “This is me reacting to a work in a way I didn’t expect to”. Putting aside that male and female voices aren’t and shouldn’t be that different it looks like a man either desperately trying to spice up a format or someone who wants to be able to write in a different style than expected of him and the least controversial option is making Helena a woman (Imagine if Billington had an imaginary BME counterpart for when he goes to see Hamilton, East is East or A Raisin in the Sun)

My advice to Michael is maybe try using some gifs, young people like gifs. I think.

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Crucially why isn’t he supporting an actual exisiting woman in becoming a critic to “offset the male bias” instead of just imagining how young Oxbridge women sound and talk about theatre to men old enough to be their grandfather. I pretty much ignored Helena’s first appearance in his book 101 Greatest Plays but if she will continue to appear and re-appear when Michael gets a bit lonely in other cities then I look forward to her appearances and my continued bafflement.

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KlangHaus – 800 Breaths, Southbank Centre

For some time now, artists and performers (uneasy distinction notwithstanding) have been challenging us to rethink public and private spaces, championing the idea that if you repurpose a hitherto redundant or strictly functional area, you change its meaning. This in turn clads to your piece, adding a transformative specificity. The Klanghaus company, a collaboration between alternative outfit, The Neutrinos and Sal Pittman, a visual artist, have created a “promenade” gig, adapted to and utilising the crawl space and unfriendly, claustrophobic confines of the Royal Festival Hall’s roof cavity, home to its electricity generators and heating systems. The result is something like an avant-garde edition of the Crystal Maze.

As you’re silently guided around, led into areas that become intimate stages for thumping, mesmerising, industrial electronica, you’re conscious of a sound perfectly partnered with the surrounding aesthetic. Scant lighting, abstract artwork projection and pinpoint sound design helps of course – it fundamentally alters the encompassing structures, giving them the feel of a moody underground club where the price of admission is a black double breasted jumpsuit and sunglasses. But there’s a unity of design here that adds a sensory layer to the music’s appropriating methodology.

The group don’t waste anything – they employ bells, barn saws, non-recyclable waste bins as drums, their laps when the space doesn’t allow for a chest mounted guitar – even the programme, which folds into a “breath box”. That methodology doubles for every inch of roof they inhabit. The space has seen a lot of workmanship over the years but, I’ll wager, very little beauty and reflection until the band moved in. It’s a shame they can’t take up residence.

Ultimately, what you get is wrap around art – an affirmation of the show’s key themes and ideas on introspection and non-conformity, foreshadowed by your guide, later understood as lyrical grabs from the pieces performed. Said lyrics are scrawled in pen on sheet metal wire housing, visible in bursts from pre-programmed lighting synched to the rhythm of deep breathing – in and out. The show’s title, “800 breaths”, likely refers to the resting average of a person over an hour, the show’s duration. Immersive theatre is now an established theatrical sub-genre, but the active musical journey is not yet that. Consequently, Klanghaus grabbing the audience by the dick and pulling them close, feels like a progression; live music that constructs a world around itself, shaped by itself, narrowing the divide between artist and listener to the width of a cigarette paper.

There are flaws. The format isn’t particularly practical – attendees have to think on their feet not to get in the band’s way, and some spaces are so tight that the instruments barely fit – the bassist could just about erect his instrument (but we’ve all been there). That’s the problem with artistic conversions, the space may not be fully adaptable. That begs the question, what are the limits? Some would argue that art and theatre have become so self-referential and aware that there’s little left to do but consume and transform every outcrop of unimaginative, that is to say, strictly utilitarian space. But if you do that, where will all the unimaginative people go? The army, you say? Well, alright.

Viewpoint on Hamilton London Casting

Following Baz Bamigoye’s exclusive news that Jamael Westman and Michael Jibson will join the previously announced cast as Alexander Hamilton and George III I had mixed feelings. This wasn’t the big name casting that some of us had hoped for, despite Lin-Manuel Miranda ruling out his presence it was a hot role for a hot ticket, this is very much in keeping with what Hamilton is about; multi-cultural casting and showcasing new talents.

The previously announced cast are Christine Allado (Peggy Schuyler/Maria Reynolds), Rachelle Ann Go (Eliza Hamilton), Tarinn Callender (Hercules Mulligan/James Madison), Rachel John (Angelica Schuyler), Jason Pennycooke (Marquis de Lafayette/Thomas Jefferson), Cleve September (John Laurens/Philip Hamilton), Giles Terera (Aaron Burr) and Obioma Ugoala (George Washington).  At certain performances, the role of Alexander Hamilton will be played by Ash Hunter.

Westman and Jibson are not big names but both are very experienced actors; Westman was recently in Torn at the Royal Court, London and Jibson has many stage and screen credits behind him. The excitement behind Hamilton is that it is different from your usual musical theatre repertoire focusing on rap and hip hop. It reminds me of the excitement surrounding Bat Out of Hell. Whilst Bat… on paper is another jukebox musical the genre of rock musical in the style of Tommy and We Will Rock You seems to have gone out of fashion and as a result it genuinely seems new and interesting again in a world of Mama Mias, Thrillers and Phantoms.

As interesting as the casting of someone like Riz Ahmed or even Miranda changing his mind would have been it wouldn’t have been in keeping with the spirit of Hamilton to be a platform for new and less well-known talents. Why does a show, which has sold out its initial booking period even need big names.

Let’s look at the character descriptions from a casting call

I doubt even the finest drama schools are training their talented pupils to be “Eminem meets Sweeney Todd”. The excitement around Hamilton is still about the fact BME people are underrepresented in the theatre. Forgive us for getting excited about a show that takes the utmost liberty when it comes to colour blind casting. Will the audience be made up similarly? Personally, I doubt it, with premium tickets going for £200 (though there were options of £20-40 to be found) At best the audience will be made up of rich people of all colours.

Though I won’t lie I share the disappointment of those who were hoping this would be announced.

Public booking opened on 30 January 2017 and the initial release tickets for the first booking period from 21 November 2017 through to 30 June 2018 is now sold out. In the autumn nearer the time of completion of the theatre’s refurbishment the producers hope to make further tickets available for booking period one. Further ticket releases will be announced at a later date via official HAMILTON channels. Full ticketing information can be found on the official website at hamiltonthemusical.co.uk and details of how to apply for the daily and weekly lotteries will be announced closer to performances.
In order to protect patrons from paying highly inflated prices, the producers of HAMILTON are determined to combat the unauthorised profiteering of third party resellers and ticket touts. Delfont Mackintosh Theatres has pioneered for the West End a paperless ticket system for this production – HAMILTON Paperless Ticketing, powered by Ticketmaster. No physical tickets will be issued in advance. Upon arrival at the theatre on the day of the performance, patrons will be asked to swipe the payment card they used to originally purchase their tickets to gain admission to the theatre. Patrons wishing to pay by cash can only do so once the Box Office at the Victoria Palace Theatre reopens in the autumn. Additional security measures to prevent profiteering of tickets purchased by cash customers will also be in place.

Hamilton opens on 21 November at Victoria Palace Theatre, booking until 30 June 2018

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Comment on Limehouse, Donmar Warehouse

I initially thought I wouldn’t write a review on Limehouse, Steve Waters take on the emergence of the SDP Gang of Four in an East London kitchen, so as this was seen a month after press night this is very much a comment on the production rather than a review.

I loved Water’s Temple, a story about St Paul’s Cathedral’s lock down as part of the Occupy London protests, it was one of the finest performances from Simon Russell Beale I have ever seen and I also love politics so Limehouse was going on my to see list, the addition of Roger Allam was a bonus.

Waters once again focuses on a real-life event, the emergence of the SDP after a disastrous Labour Party Special Conference in January 1981, where it was clear that those on the centre-left (right) were no longer welcome. Sound familiar? The biggest laughs come from the fact that nothing has changed. Labour once again has an elderly, left-wing leader with bad press and the unions/militants rule and Labour is still is divided about what it should do about Europe but Waters, as in Temple, looks as the emotional impact of the story rather than the facts.

lime2The Gang in question are Bill Rodgers (Paul Chahidi), Roy Jenkins (Allam), Shirley Williams (Debra Gillett) and David Owen (Tom Goodman-Hill), who after much persuading from his wife Debbie (Natalie Armin) decides to invite his colleagues to his Limehouse home. Debbie’s determination initially makes her seem a Lady Macbeth figure, buying Jenkins’ favourite wine, cooking up a Delia Smith (one of her literary clients) Macaroni Cheese and writing minutes for the meeting but it becomes clear she is very much an outsider, An American who isn’t in politics she is aware of the importance of Shirley if the project is to succeed and offer voters an alternative.

David Owen, who along with the surviving characters attended the press night, must be mortified but also rather pleased with Goodman’s swaggering portrayal of him. He is charmless, stubborn and I wondered if he was influenced by Owen’s Spitting Image puppet rather than the man himself. His intense hatred of the Liberals, a party he later had to work closely with, is both in keeping and at odds with a man who doesn’t seem to bleed Labour like others, who were all older than him and had been MPs longer. The real outsider in this David, not Debbie because she can relate whereas he struggles to truly belong anywhere.

The key performances are Gillet, Chahidi (with an incredible wig) and Allam as the rest of the gang. All have their doubts and as history shows all were right to, Waters portrays them with much less vanity than Owen but ultimately as people with as much to gain as to lose. Rodgers knows he will lose friends, Williams has worked hard to remain close to the party despite the electorate rejecting her in 1979 and Jenkins know his time has probably been and gone (He was European President) but he wants one last shot of the dice. It reveals the interesting dynamics between the three and the question that hovers over the story is “Should they have gone with Shirley as the leader?” She was a woman, she was a woman that talked like a normal person and understood where Labour’s base came from but when the leadership election came in 1982 Williams was nowhere to be seen and the much older, much more experienced Jenkins beat Owen.

This is a stunning production and understandably sold out but I will be very surprised if this isn’t transferred to a bigger venue because there is not only demand for this story but for a production of this calibre.