Review Roundup: Ivo Van Hove, Rufus Wainwright Musical OPENING NIGHT Opens In London

The production is a world premiere adaptation of the John Cassavetes’ film of the same name.

By: Mar. 26, 2024
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Read reviews for the World Premiere of John Cassavetes’ OPENING NIGHT a new musical with book by Ivo Van Hove and music and lyrics by Rufus Wainwright, starring Sheridan Smith.

The production stars Sheridan Smith as Myrtle, Hadley Fraser as Manny, Shira Haas as Nancy, Nicola Hughes as Sarah, Amy Lennox as Dorothy, John Marquez as David, Ian McLarnon as Leo, Cilla Silvia as Carla, Jos Slovick as Gus, Rebecca Thornhill as Kelly and Benjamin Walker as Maurice.

The cast is completed by Robert Finlayson, Daniel Forrester, Jennifer Hepburn, Issy Khogali and Chrissie Perkins.

Based on John Cassavetes' legendary film, OPENING NIGHT follows a theatre company's preparations to stage a major new play on Broadway. But drama ignites behind the scenes when their leading lady is rocked by tragedy, and her personal turmoil forces everybody to deliver the performance of their lives. 

OPENING NIGHT has a Book by Ivo Van Hove with Music and Lyrics by Rufus Wainwright. It is Directed and conceived by Ivo Van Hove, has Scenic and Lighting Design by Jan Versweyveld, Costume Design by An D’Huys and Sound Design by Tom Gibbons and Alex Twiselton. Orchestrations are by Rufus Wainwright, with Musical Supervision and Musical Direction by Nigel Lilley. Movement and Choreography is by Polly Bennett, Casting by Julia Horan CDG and the Associate Director is Daniel Raggett.

Review Roundup: Ivo Van Hove, Rufus Wainwright Musical OPENING NIGHT Opens In London Aliya Al-Hassan, BroadwayWorld: Now a stage musical, John Cassavetes’ 1977 film Opening Night was a commercial flop when it was released, later becoming something of a cult classic of American independent cinema. Director Ivo van Hove specialises in bringing work to the stage that may be called “challenging”. Challenging can be hugely successful, but I’ve rarely seen a production more determined to confuse and frustrate an audience.

Review Roundup: Ivo Van Hove, Rufus Wainwright Musical OPENING NIGHT Opens In London Houman Barekat, The New York Times: In a London auditorium, a work of art is being desecrated. “Opening Night,” John Cassavetes’s understatedly stylish 1977 movie about an actress struggling with midlife ennui, has been reimagined as a musical by the Belgian director Ivo van Hove, and the result is a travesty.

Review Roundup: Ivo Van Hove, Rufus Wainwright Musical OPENING NIGHT Opens In London David Benedict, Variety: At the start of the second half of Ivo Van Hove’s production of his own musical version of John Cassavetes‘ ultra-Seventies backstager “Opening Night” — with music and lyrics by Rufus Wainwright — the words “the aftermath” (in fashionable lower case) appear on the large screen that dominates the stage. The trouble is, the preceding storytelling has been so muddy, and the emotional temperature of the staging so leadenly unchanging, that audiences may well be asking, “The aftermath of what?”

Review Roundup: Ivo Van Hove, Rufus Wainwright Musical OPENING NIGHT Opens In London Arifa Akbar, The Guardian: Unadventurous musical adaptations of films comprise a crowded corner in the West End, but this one seems to shake up musical theatre itself. It may be the most unusual thing on the London stage right now and is captivating in its glittering strangeness.

Review Roundup: Ivo Van Hove, Rufus Wainwright Musical OPENING NIGHT Opens In London Sara Hemming, Financial Times: For a film that was panned at its own premiere, John Cassavetes’s 1977 Opening Night is experiencing a remarkable extended life. Now recognised as an audacious masterpiece, it was the inspiration for The Second Woman — the 24-hour-epic delivered by Ruth Wilson last year — and it drives this similarly ambitious and conceptually complex, though, alas, less successful, musical. That’s a shame for the whole team — director Ivo van Hove, composer Rufus Wainwright — but particularly for Sheridan Smith, who gives a terrific performance at its heart.

Review Roundup: Ivo Van Hove, Rufus Wainwright Musical OPENING NIGHT Opens In London Kate Mossman, The New Statesman: London theatre is in an artistic crisis, obsessed with movie adaptations and casting famous people in one man shows to lure in audiences. How exciting in theory, then, to have a new musical by Rufus Wainwright, with his dual talent of big tunes and lyrics often so poignantly mundane. The story of Myrtle Gordon could be a musical if the music were tender enough – and there is thankfully no dancing. There are some moving moments, like the repeated refrain, in one number, of “she’s not even a housewife!” – what a great line. But the tunes are unmemorable, hookless, adding to the sensory onslaught. There’s a fantastic performance from Nicola Hughes, who starred in Trevor Nunn’s Porgy and Bess: she gets a close up on the big screen, tears rolling down her face, belting her heart out, yet I honestly have no idea what she was upset about, and I was really trying to concentrate.

Review Roundup: Ivo Van Hove, Rufus Wainwright Musical OPENING NIGHT Opens In London Alice Saville, The Independent: Anyone who bought tickets to Opening Night in the hope of seeing its star Sheridan Smith treating us to a bit of thespy, Funny Girl-style razzle dazzle is in for a serious shock. Belgian avant-garde theatre director Ivo Van Hove’s musical, set backstage during a show, is determinedly unflashy and oblique, dimly illuminated by singer-songwriter Rufus Wainwright’s operatic torch songs. In fact, it feels a bit like the whole cast is trolling musical theatre fans: they linger like bedraggled pigeons in the corners of a vast unornamented stage, capturing the inertia, rather than the glamour, of backstage life. It’s flawed, but intermittently haunting.

Review Roundup: Ivo Van Hove, Rufus Wainwright Musical OPENING NIGHT Opens In London Andrzej Lukowski, TimeOut London: There are no dance numbers, power ballads, lavish sets, or cute romantic storylines. By entering the West End, ‘Opening Night’ is almost inevitably inviting an audience that will be confused by it. And yet: there’s a palpable warmth to it. Maybe it’s a musical, maybe it isn’t, but under all the avant-garde bells and whistles, it unquestionably has a heart – a buoyancy and belief in humanity that’s lacking in the original film.

Review Roundup: Ivo Van Hove, Rufus Wainwright Musical OPENING NIGHT Opens In London Sam Marlowe, The Stage: A strange adaptation of a strange film, for a show with so many cameras onstage, this new musical displays a maddening lack of focus. Directed and written by Ivo van Hove, with songs by singer-songwriter Rufus Wainwright, it’s based on John Cassavetes’ avant-garde 1977 movie, in which a famous actor preparing for the opening of a new Broadway-bound play loses her grip on reality and runs amok. The wayward plot involves a ghostly girl, the spectre of old age, hunger for love, and copious amounts of booze – all laced with lashings of meta-drama. But if Cassavetes’ original succeeds in compelling, thanks largely to striking cinematography and a raw performance from Gena Rowlands, this version, which features live video footage, is so aimless and tonally muddled that it feels downright weird. Which might be less of a problem if it were not ultimately a bit boring.

Review Roundup: Ivo Van Hove, Rufus Wainwright Musical OPENING NIGHT Opens In London Sarah Crompton, WhatsOnStage: In transferring the film to the stage, Van Hove, who is adaptor as well as director, deliberately disrupts an already jagged story still further – introducing a documentary film crew who beam the cast’s reactions onto huge screens. Sometimes the screen shows what we are seeing on stage, sometimes it is a little behind. And sometimes, confusingly, it moves our attention to an action that is happening at the edge of things. The focus is always shifting, so that there is never an opportunity to get to understand any character before the next development lands. At the same time, Jan Versweyveld’s cluttered set, with mirrors and a table where the crew meet and chat, often doesn’t differentiate between scenes onstage in the play within the play that is being previewed to an audience, and the chaos backstage that is caused by Myrtle’s meltdown.

Review Roundup: Ivo Van Hove, Rufus Wainwright Musical OPENING NIGHT Opens In London Stefan Kyriazis, Express: Talk about tempting fate... This show actually opens with a car crash. Oh, the irony. The production is more like a multi-lane pile-up, complete with overturned leaking oil tanker, giant sinkholes and possibly an earthquake, asteroid or charging rhino or two.

Review Roundup: Ivo Van Hove, Rufus Wainwright Musical OPENING NIGHT Opens In London Greg Stewart, Theatre Weekly: But it is a musical, and one where everyone is angry, characters shout at each other constantly and it very quickly becomes irritating. Sarah Goode, played by Nicola Hughes is in a permanent state of bad temper, so much so, that by the act one finale the character comes across more like an embittered villain in a Disney movie, ‘is it supposed to be like pantomime? Should we be booing?’ asked the lady sitting next to me when the interval eventually arrived.

Review Roundup: Ivo Van Hove, Rufus Wainwright Musical OPENING NIGHT Opens In London Patrick Marmion, The Daily Mail: Thank God also for Rufus Wainwright's music. True, it sometimes dwindles into semi-tonal burbling. But it also explodes with the singer-songwriter's gift for doomed glory. A spectacular duet with Nicola Hughes as an exasperated writer character even brought to mind the brassy swagger of All That Jazz, the 1979 film starring Roy Scheider. More than anything though, it's thanks to the emotional wattage of Smith's voice that the show really soars. To quote the lyrics of one of her early numbers, she makes 'magic out of tragic'.

Review Roundup: Ivo Van Hove, Rufus Wainwright Musical OPENING NIGHT Opens In London
Average Rating: 38.5%


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