I discovered Carrie Hope Fletcher’s album ‘When The Curtain Falls’ via Spotify’s Discover Weekly ‘recommendations’ playlist designed specifically for my taste. I guess they thought I would like the albu, based on whatever metrics they use to calculate my likes. And this time, they were right. I did enjoy ‘When The Curtain Falls,’ even if I knew diddly squat about Ms. Fletcher. and from a quick internet search, I discover she is quite popular in the West End theater community. And she has a famous vlog! But. I do like that she is one of those big-voiced theater divas, just exactly my kind of theater singer. And she has great repertoire here from mostly modern musicals. I read that she was in teh West End production of Les Miz, so naturally she sings ‘I Dreamed A Dream,’ and while the arrangement here is a bit far out, I am fine with it. The calypso ‘Journey to the Pat,’ though is jarring, and needless, but she saves that by doing a tender ‘Burn,’ from Hamilton. And she does the beautiful ‘Times Are Hard for Dreamers,’ from Amelie, which I think is a gorgeous score. But the best for me is her ‘You Matter TO me,’ and she gets just the right tone for ‘No One Else’ from ‘Natasha, Pierre and The Great Comet of 1812.’ I really enjoy this album, and I thank Spotify for recommending it.
In one of Charles Isherwood’s Facebook’s postings, he recommended ‘The Girls’ as the one show to see if you ever found yourself on West End, and I remember liking their performance at The Oliviers early this year. So when I was at the TKTS booth in Leicester Square, I asked the very knowledgeable clerk there what she thought of the production. I told her that it was either this or the new London production of ’42nd Street with Sheena Easton. (My baby takes the morning train) She told me ‘The Girls’ s an original London musical and is not playing anywhere else. She made sense, and went ahead and purchased tickets.
Meh. I wanted to like it much more than I did. This material comes from successful film version (which I loved) and it also had a straight play version, which I didn’t see. I mean, I imagined the musical to be somewhat of a Golden Girls kind of comedy. But seriously it had quite a few golden moments. This incarnation of the material focuses more on the back stories of these women before posing nude for the calendar. The first act was so generic I was beginning to think I wasted my time picking this show – though I did like ‘Yorkshire,’ the opening choral number. I wanted to like the score, written by Gary Barlow with Tim Firth. Half of it was appealing but really, the whole show sounds like one whole song, and I though some numbers were useless and was done so each character gets a solo. Things pick up on the scenes where they photograph their calendar entries, but they were close to losing me halfway through the show.
On my recent visit to London, the one show I really wanted to see was Casey Nicholaw’s production of ‘Dreamgirls’ at The Savoy Theater. I have never seen a proper production of the show, and this particular production has been revered and slated to be moving to Broadway later this year – its first Broadway revival ever. After purchasing tickets, I fully immersed myself into the cast recording, and based on that alone, had several questions. Firstly, why does Deena here have a really weak singing voice, especially along side Amber Riley’s. I mean, is this an obvious directorial choice? Also, I observed that Amber Riley’s performance seems a little too clean, based on the cast recording anyway. But I still was so looking forward to seeing the production, and to say I was excited would be am understatement.
Enter a horrific experience getting in from Heathrow – long lines at passport control, an Uber ride from hell, and found myself rushing to theater late. And adding insult to injury, realized that Amber Riley was on vacation that week, so I was doubly crestfallen. But make no mistake, Marsha Wallace, her understudy, did a more-than-competent Effie.
So what did I think of the production? Nicholaw is more than competent as well, and I loved several directorial touches (There’s a ‘reveal’ in ‘I Am Changing’ that made me utter ‘wow) Gregg Barnes’ costumes do wow, and the lighting by Hugh Vanstone, set by Tim Hartley impress. But they impress, at times, just for the sake of. I did not find a lot of synch because each item is to sleek, too shiny, too polished. I always imagine Michael Bennett’s staging – all sleek towers that ebb and flow, and the only thing I can wonder is if he would approve of the modernness of this production.
Plus. this seems too influenced by the movie version. The addition of ‘Listen’ never did anything for me, and here as performed as a duet by Effie and Deena, still seem lifeless – all sound no fury. And the super amplification doesn’t help it. And while we are on the subject of Liisa Lofantaine as Deena, I was still bothered by her sometimes pitchy singing. As an actress, she was fine, but I honestly had cringey moments while listening to her singing.
As for my disappointment on not seeing Riley? When I was on TKTS booth in Leicester Square the next morning, the very knowledgeable young lady recommending shows told me that she thought Amber Riley was much too young to essay the role of Effie, and felt her performance hollow. Well, maybe I am just being bitter but perhaps in this production, it really doesn’t matter which Effie you see in the role. Even in her viral performance singing ‘And I Am Not Telling You,’ I felt disconnect with her character. Of course, I cannot definitely say that because I did not see her performance, but it did make me pause.
I am a Broadway super fan, everyone knows that. But I am a Miss Saigon duper duper fan, if such a thing exists. It is one show I truly love – I know every word of its score, and it is the one musical I have seen probably close to fifty times. I am at that age now when I see a show that gets a revival, I can say “I saw that when it first came out’ But yes, I did see Miss Saigon in 19189 with the Original London Cast, and in 1991, with its original Broadway cast. So yeah, the show and I have major history.
When I saw the London Revival Cast in 2014, I was, again, awed by the show, though if I must be honest, the scaled-down production seemed just a tad cheap compared to its earlier production. But, it worked well with what it got. There were some changes that annoyed me, but all in all, I think it got right everything that needed to be improved from the original.
So here we are, and that production has been filmed for theatrical cinema release. This performance was from September 22, 2014, and I realized that I saw the show three days before they filmed this. (I found out that the film version was culled from a couple of performances) The big ‘get’ from this release is that it was filmed on its 25th Anniversary, and on that night, original cast members Jonathan Pryce, Lea Salonga, and Simon Bowman show up to ‘celebrate.’
But first, the show. I was kind of skeptical about this film, because, really, one can never capture the energy and heart of a live performance on film. But about five minutes into a film, I realized that this was thought of as a film, and it is astonishingly brilliant. We get closeups, and strategic camera angles that draw us in vividly into the story. The staging, frankly, is almost non-existent, and the frame is brought out enough to make the show cinematic. You never feel caged in, and you will notice details you never would have thought of if you were watching this on stage. (Did you know Kim holds Chris’s name plate while they sing ‘Sun And Moon?’) And the performances feel even more intimate – Eva Noblezada is a wonder – her subtlety here is even more powerful – and the pain in her eyes is more piercing. Alistair Brammer is photogenic, and their love is bigger, more brilliant, so it consequence is more painful. The engineer’s role is a stage conceit, and Jon Jon Briones’ big performance is dwarfed here, and suffers, but you still get it. This is still the show, and I even told myself, after all these years, after all these performances, this is still a piece that never fails to make me cry. Again, I wept. When Pryce and Salonga show up after the curtain, you get swept into a fine air of nostalgia.
In a lot of cases, the film is even bigger than the show. On screen, its flaws are masked by the medium’s slickness. This ‘capture’ is excellent, and I suspect, will be a template for future stage-to-screen transitions.