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American Musicals Dominate London’s West End


Broadway is big business on London’s West End, and not just because of U.S. and Asian tourists. Soon there’ll be 11 musicals which originated here.

Currently on the boards are: Disney’s Aladdin and The Lion King; An American in Paris, which just opened to across-the-boards raves; Beautiful; The Book of Mormon; Dreamgirls, in its West End premiere; Kinky Boots; Motown; Wicked; and, not to be forgotten, StompJersey Boys just closed after nine years. The first revival of 42nd Street is in previews and opens in a week.

Coming in May is a Annie revival; Audra McDonald in Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill, a 12-week engagement beginning June 17; and, on September 28, Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein, choreographed and directed by Susan Stroman.

In November, and quite eagerly anticipated, the groundbreaking Tony-winning Hamilton opens at the 1,500 plus seat Victoria Palace, now undergoing a multi-million pound top-to-bottom renovation and reconstruction.

The two American musicals currently all the buzz are former Royal Ballet dancer Christopher Weldon’s An American in Paris, which one critic called “an instant classic”; and the first revival of Gower Champion’s 42nd Street.
It appears the West End will have a highly competitive battle of American musicals.

The Tony-nominated Best Musical (with 14 nominations) An American in Paris stars Broadway and Paris leads New York City Ballet's Robert Fairchild, Royal Ballet principal Leanne Cope, and a company of 40 plus, is at the former large cinema, the Dominion. Fairchild, Cope, and the production received rapturous notices. It won for Choreography, Director, Orchestrations, Scenic Design (Bob Crowley), and Lighting (Natasha Katz). In addition, there were thirteen Drama Desk nominations, including for Musical -- with, among its three wins, Weldon for Choreography.
Joyous, and sometimes dark, it’s a blend of ballet, jazz, and tap, stunning design, and memorable Gershwins’ classics such as “I Got Rhythm,” “But Not for Me”,  “Liza,” “The Man I Love,” “Shall We Dance,” “'S Wonderful,” “They Can’t Take That Away from Me,” and the soaring Mittyesque fantasy filled with ostrich-plumed chorus girls, “Stairway to Paradise.” 

Amermusic1UntitledSet in post-war Paris, it takes liberties with the 1951 Academy Award-winning film that inspires it. Army veteran Jerry Mulligan falls in love with the City of Love, where he’s keen to begin a new life and nurture his passion as a painter, especially after he falls for ballerina Lise, who’s spoken for by Henri, the son of the family who protected her from the Nazis.

The musical co-stars David Seadon-Young as the war-maimed, acerbic Jewish composer Adam Hochberg (one of his great lines: “Who says music needs to cheer people up?”), who’s also in love with Lise; Haydn Oakley as Henri Baurel, who hides a secret passion to be a nightclub singer; Zoë Rainey as rich American arts patron Milo Davenport, who has eyes on Jerry; and former child star with a later career on TV (including Doctor Who) and in film (including 1966’s Alfie) and best-selling author Jane Asher as Madame Baurel (she was formerly engaged to Paul McCartney, whom she met at 17 when she interviewed the Beatles).

AmerMusic2Untitled42nd Street, billed as “Broadway’s biggest show on London’s biggest stage,” opens next week at the historic (1812) Theatre Royal Drury Lane, where it premiered in 1984, winning the Olivier for Best Musical. 

Its score of Tin Pan Alley hits include “About a Quarter to Nine,” “Boulevard of Broken Dreams,” “Dames,” “Getting Out of Town,” “I Only Have  Eyes for You,” “Keep Young and Beautiful,”  “You’re Getting to Be a Habit with Me,” “With Plenty of Money and You,” and those four showstoppers “42nd Street,” “Lullaby of Broadway,” “Shuffle Off to Buffalo,” and “We’re in the Money.” 

Based on the 1931 musical film noir directed by Lloyd Bacon with groundbreaking
choreography by Busby Berkeley, it’s headlined by two-time Grammy winner with over 200-million records sold Sheena Easton as Dorothy Brock. The plot is set against a producer’s comeback effort with a big musical, which on the eve of its opening loses its leading lady – portrayed by former chart-topping recording artist Sheena Easton; and how the ingénue steps in and becomes a star.

There’s a stage-filling cast of 55 plus, which includes the largest dance ensemble ever, and orchestra of 20 plus. Co-stars are Clare Haise as Peggy Sawyer; Tom Lister as Julian Marsh; Stewart Neal as tapper Billy Lawler; Jasha Ivir as brassy  co-composer Maggie Jones; and Christopher Howell as her partner.

Directing is Mark Bramble. Todd Ellison is music supervisor, with music direction by the lively veteran Jae Alexander. Sets are by Douglas Schmidt.

To say it’s is merely a revival would be incorrect. It features enhanced production numbers, more songs, bigger sets, non-Depression era lavish costumes, and an unforgettable tap finale that explodes in razzle dazzle. 

There’s Champion’s choreography and new choreography by four-time Tony and three Drama Desk-nominee Randy Skinner, who with Karin Baker, was Champion’s tap associate on the Tony-winning 1980 Broadway premiere. Skinner was choreographer for the Tony and DD-winning 2001 Broadway revival, as well as national tours and numerous international productions.

American musicals received just-announced Olivier Award nominations: Best New Musical: Dreamgirls at the Art Deco Savoy Theatre, with Amber Riley getting a nod as Best Actress; and Groundhog Day [in previews here], which played at the Old Vic – with Andy Karl and Andrew Langtree nods for Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor, respectively. In the Best Actress category, Glenn Close was nominated for the Sunset Boulevard revival, which played at the huge Coliseum, and is now on Broadway at the Palace. The Awards are announced April 9.

London’s West End, Equity not-for-profit, and first-class Fringe theatres total over 75, compared with 50 here [which would include the top Off Broadway houses]. At the moment, American/Broadway musicals are dominating the West End. Where plays in smaller houses are concerned, limited runs are the thing. Before one production is loaded out, another loads in. 

Revivals, especially of the works of stellar British playwrights, are always on; and London boasts some prestigious Fringe houses, such as the Royal Court and Really Useful Company’s The Other Palace [formerly the St. James (it’s neighbor is the historic Victoria Palace)], which focuses on new musicals and revivals. They just closed a revival of Michael John La Chiusa and George C. Wolfe’s The Wild Party. April 4-15 will be This Joint is Jumpin’, a celebration of Fat Waller’s music, which will headline Tony winner Lillias White. From May 30 – July 8, TOP will present Belgrade Theatre Coventry’s production of Benji Bower’s La Strada, based on the Fellini film (not to be confused with Lionel Bart/Charles Peck’s 1969 one-night-only Broadway production which starred Bernadette Peters and Larry Kert). Directing will be Sally Cookson (National Theatre’s Jane Eyre).

The Royal National on London’s South Bank across Waterloo Bridge, which was founded by Sir Laurence Oliver, is publicly-funded as is the Royal Shakespeare Company and Royal Opera. In that vicinity, across Blackfrairs, Millennium, and London Bridges, you’ll find the Young Vic and Shakespeare’s Globe. In the area is also the Menier Chocolate Factory, known for its innovative revivals (most recently: Into the Woods; Funny Girl, which transferred to the West End; and She Loves Me).

A Dramatic End to the Cinematic Award Season


End of the month and end of this awards season. The Oscars and Indie Spirit Awards consumed cinematic consciousness — all dovetailing into last weekend’s monumental fuck-up for the ages. During the Feb. 26th ceremony on ABC, actors Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway, who were set to present the Best Picture category, were accidentally given the wrong envelope — it was a duplicate of the one listing Emma Stone as Best Actress for the musical “La La Land” rather than the one for “Moonlight” as Best Picture. A confused Warren passed it on to Faye, who announced “LaLa Land” as the winner. 

Wrong! While the gaggle of producers, cast and creators of the film started their thanks, an Academy person hustled onto the stage to say, “Oops, it was really ‘Moonlight.’”

Certainly it wasn’t planned this way but it offered a sort of a philosophical/metaphorical twist to a contest that pitted a small film hitting several bugaboos with a bigger film which also addressed some bugaboos. But in this case the politically-charged progressive challenger won — against the odds.

Maybe it wasn’t quite the surprise that the presidential election turned out to be but it certainly packed a wallop. It will certainly mean that the accounting firm PwC partner Brian Cullinan and his associate will never get backstage at the Oscars ever again. And it will make this year’s low ratings not so insufferable because everybody’s has now been talking Oscars afterwards.

Youthful director Damien Chazelle’s “LaLa Land” had gotten enough props winning various awards and landing on about 20 Best Of critics’ group lists. But it just wasn’t that good a musical, let alone that great a film. 

Okay, so the darn song “City of Stars” did stick in my head — and frankly did deserve its win for Best Song — but dammit, actors Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone didn’t rock my world, and just weren’t that great as dancers or singers. As the end-all and be-all of films this year, it’s a sad statement as the one getting all those accolades. Nonetheless, Chazelle got his directing win and so did Emma Stone for Best Actress (and okay, neither of those scores being so annoying).

Though “LaLa Land” is a nice movie with a treacly storyline saved by an unexpected ending, it does more damage than good by being a perfect anesthetic in this age of Trump. It’s a conservatively-styled film that does what it does safely. So very vanilla. More importantly, it didn’t make me feel any sorrow for these silly white people as they have their faux drama about trying to make their art “authentically” — especially when it came to Gosling’s character as jazz’s true savior versus John Legend’s pop music, C’mon. There was nothing authentic about this and their paucity of singing and dancing skills made the inauthenticity even more telling.

Having now dismissed that film for getting so much attention — I might have been less severe had it not gotten such inordinate praise — this Oscar season was so important for the films up there that did matter. Take for example, “Moonlight.” As ghetto gangs get demonized ever more by Trumpian tirades, this film humanizes and, even moreso, details the depth of the complex, emotional lives of the inhabitants of one such ghettoized housing project in Miami, Florida. Telling it through a tryptich of young Chiron’s coming of age — as both a gang survivor and gay man on the down low — Barry Jenkins’s film of the play “In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue” by Tarell Alvin McCraney decidedly deserved its win for Best Adapted Screenplay as well.

Moonlight” was the Indie Spirit Awards’ big scorer Saturday, and pulled in Oscar wins as well with Mahershala Ali taking home the award for Best Supporting Actor. But its biggest win is that it joined a raft of films which not only broke the color barrier but did so solely on merit. “Hidden Figures,” “Fences,” and even “Lion” told real tales of people with mixed ethnicities as if to point them out even moreso at a time when insightful or inspiring stories counterbalance dark political jabs.

What’s incredible about the doc picks is that three of them — “O. J. : Made in America,” “13th” and “I Am Not Your Negro” — are profound political indictments about how mainstream America has treated its people of color; and “Weiner” is an indictment of celebrity culture and politics; only “Gleason” is a simply life-affirming film.

And even in the Short Docs category — including winner “White Helmets” — addressed the crisis in Syria like never before.

So this proves that people out there looking at screens, either in the theaters or in their hands, can still find that most of this year’s award choices offer some truly interesting and satisfying stuff.

A Documentary that looks at the Spiritual Effects of Trump-ism

“I simply awoke one morning and asked myself, ‘What does God think of Donald Trump?’” declared  director Martin Dunkerton. “It was such a powerful and amazing question, yet I didn’t know the answer. So decided I’d try to find out the answer in my own particular way.”

dunkertonWell, of the many documentaries that have been spewed out thanks to this arduous and contentious election season possibly the most off beat — even wacky — is director Dunkerton’s God vs. Trump - Only Love Wins. In order to find out some kind of answer he decided to turn to a very unique constituency — various spitualist and mystics that he knew or knew people he knew. “I love meeting amazing psychics, and I thought they’d be a brilliant source of discovery.”

Riffing off the disruptive even disputatious campaign driven by rich businessman Donald Trump — an outlier in comparison to Hillary Clinton's more traditional politician persona — spurred this former BBC doc director to knock out a set of interviews with several people he could easily approach and get enough answers that could comprise a taut but intriguing movie.

“The psychics and spiritual leaders in the movie were often friends of friends. I gave a room in my house to an Australian singer called Ryan Whitewall last summer who led me to Iolani Grace, The Heart Alchemist in Australia, who in turn led me to the Aboriginal voice of Jingki, an award-winning visionary singer — and a tough cookie. Jingki has read law and is viscerally powerful on camera. People love her and her views on Trump... and American politics.”

Urgency was the order of the day. In order to rush out this hard-traveled set of interviews Englishman Dunkerton had get going to destinations from one end of the globe to another.

As he explained “My father died on August 17, and I heard about it less than an hour after my first psychic interview. The movie took a U-turn to England, where upon I met another psychic in GlastonburySarah— who gave more than brilliant powerful insights into Trump. From the UK, I leapfrogged to Iceland, which was a total surprise.”

godHowever it is skewed with Dunkerton’s core feel-good philosophy, this film is clearly a critique of Trumpism’s negative versus God’s positives.

“Trump wields words of fear, and this has attracted millions. Yet, people want to be healed and loving, so it seems like a conundrum. Underneath everyone is so desperate for change. The USA quite obviously is ready and requires an overhaul; sadly ‘people’ are clearly desperate, which offers an opening for such an allegedly misogynistic, xenophobic man like Trump. It’s tragic he is so close to power.”

For this 40-something director, the film was rushed out to debut November 3rd so audiences could add his spiritual take away for voters to consider -- either before the election or in the wake of its results. “We are powerful beings. We hold the spiritual keys of grace and love in our own hearts. These politics are of our own making. Trump is a mirror to our soul, sort of like a Darth Vader as was in Star Wars. The film shows that in the end if God vs Trump, then Only Love Wins."

God vs. Trump - Only Love Wins is available for purchase or rent on Thursday 11/3 at:

Social Links:
Instagram @GODvsTRUMP
Twitter @GODvsTRUMP


Oscar Race 2016 — The Key Categories

Once again the lack of diversity in the Oscar race grabs headlines from really important things — for example, what gowns the stars will wear — but here’s my take on who should win accolades and even a golden statute or two.

Instead of engaging in what really should be my best choices — so many of mine didn’t even make the short lists — I’ll just look at the nominees and address what I’d like to see happen on Oscar night.

There are some omissions on my part; sadly I haven’t seen The Big Short and Creed, or 45 Years yet.

Still I’ll tackle the biggie first: The Best Picture award. I don’t get this — they have room for 10 films so why didn’t they add two others they were entitled to add. It might have deflected the whole diversity conversation. I would have preferred Carol or Beasts of No Nation be on that august list.

Danny-boyle-directorAcademy members feel Spielberg can do no wrong; his films usually get into the running. But Bridge of Spies is not top flight Steven S. The Tom Hanks helmed spy thriller makes for serviceable drama and tells of an interesting chapter in the history of the Cold War.

Of the batch,  Spotlight and the scifi-oriented The Martian are best constructed. Their storytelling and pacing fulfill and both offer intriguing tales that unravels with twists and turns that may be expected but unfold predictably.

The one-word-titled Room and Brooklyn are female-centric films deserving accolades and nominations. Both offer looks into worlds we never want or can’t experience and do it in convincing and compassionate ways, aided by sterling performances by their female leads (both of whom have been nominated for Best Actress).

Nonetheless, Mad Max: Fury Road and The Revenant lay down the tough dramatic challenges with grit. But given director George Miller’s long rep (as the creator of the Mad Max/Road Warrior saga) and his unlikely chance of making it on this list again, I'd throw to him the award for either the Best Picture or Best Director. Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu’s The Revenant is equally powerful — lead Leo DiCaprio is tested in many ways throughout and equits himself throughout — but since it he’s likely to win Best Actor, the to picture and director awards should land elsewhere.

There’s a further caveat: Miller was also nominated for best director so he could take that award; Best Picture could then go to veteran Ridley Scott for the Martian — easily one of the year’s best films. And since Scott wasn’t recognized by his peers for best director — where he should have been acknowledged — the statue deserves to be in his hands one way or another.

kurt-jenSadly Tom Hooper’s The Danish Girl and Todd Haynes’ Carol, should have been on this Best of 2015 list — and would have helped eliminate the Oscars’ diversity gap. And for unfathomable reasons, Beasts of No Nation also escaped this august acknowledgement (as did Creed and Concussion).

Which brings us to the Directing Nominees. Adam McKay’s The Big Short notwithstanding, I’ve already acknowledged the others choices — Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road, Iñárritu’s The Revenant, Lenny Abrahamson’s Room and Tom McCarthy’s Spotlight. In an ideal world, the award would be split between several of these directors, but I would lean towards Spotlight, if Miller doesn’t get the big paperweight on February 28th.

S-Ronan brooklynNext are the key actor nominations. The two biggies — Best and Best supporting — really should be two non-sex specific 10 person categories called nominees for Actor in a Leading Role but this isn’t an ideal world where gender, sexual preference and ethnicity is only incidentally an element of a person or the character they play.

So, that a'int where we’re at.

Back to the five facing a win on that Sunday in February. The Best of Actor crew includes Trumbo’s Bryan Cranston as Dalton Trumbo; The Martian’s Matt Damon as Mark Watney; The Revenant’s Leonardo DiCaprio as Hugh Glass; Steve JobsMichael Fassbender as Jobs and The Danish Girl’s Eddie Redmayne as pioneering transexual Einar Wegener/lili Elbe.

And since I’m tired of British actors seizing jobs that A-list American actors could handle, I’m inclined towards Cranston for his uncanny transformation (or for the matter of transformation, Will Smith in Concussion). But if it goes to DiCaprio — as is expected — I won’t be disappointed; the trials his character endures tax the best of actors and audiences, and Leo lives to smile about it.

For actor in a supporting role, the contenders list includes: Christian Bale as Michael Burry in The Big Short; Tom Hardy as John Fitzgerald in The Revenant; Mark Ruffalo as Michael Rezendes in Spotlight; Mark Rylance as Abel Rudolph in Bridge of Spies; Sylvester Stallone as Rocky in Creed. I’m weakest in this category not knowing Creed or The Big Short, but the general money is on Stallone and mine is on Hardy for disappearing into his character. Nonetheless, Ruffalo is equally deserving for being the moral center of a film that profoundly questions conventional judgements.

alicia-vIn the best lead actress category, there’s Brie Larson as Joy "Ma" Newsome in Room; Saoirse Ronan as Eilis in Brooklyn; Cate Blanchett as Carol Aird in Carol; Jennifer Lawrence as Joy Mangano in Joy and Charlotte Rampling as Kate Mercer in 45 Years.

What a conundrum — to give it to Rampling for one of her finest roles or Ronan for her sensitive portrayal? Bets are on for Larson to win for her portrayal of a rape/kidnapping survivor — which she does handle with aplomb.

Winding down to the final key category, best supporting actress. From Rooney Mara as Therese Belivet in Carol to Rachel McAdams as Sacha Pfeiffer in Spotlight; Kate Winslet as Joanna Hoffman in Steve Jobs; or Jennifer Jason Leigh as Daisy Domergue in The Hateful Eight.

But the accolade really should go to Alicia Vikander who plays the all-suffering wife Gerda Wegener in The Danish Girl (though some cognoscenti felt her nom should have been for Ex-Machina). She’s been this year’s it-person and getting an Oscar would be her just reward for all the work.

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