London Calling with Champaign Charlie!
LONDON to BROADWAY TRANSFERS to INCREASE (& vice versa)
As today’s economic crisis bites hard into the UK one theatrical entrepreneur has made plain that some things may never change.
‘In the last recession the only places there were queues were for the unemployment office and the theatre’ was Jon Smith’s take on things following his company’s acquisition of US theatre marketing giant SpotCo Inc
On this surface this may seem like another corporate raider building an empire.
But for theatre audiences this major UK funder - moving into the US will mean more shows will be moving sets and cast from one side of the Atlantic to the other more quickly if successful.
This means as soon as a show proves popular an on or off Broadway or the West End
They will open up faster the other side of the Atlantic.
This and news of an extension of their sell out London run is great news for hit Tony and Olivier award winning producers David Pugh and Dafydd Rogers.
Their selective eye have jointly brought shows like ‘Art’, ‘The Play What I Wrote’ and ‘Equus’ to stages on both sides of the pond.
Their latest UK production awaiting transfer to Broadway is director Emma Rice’s innovative ‘Brief Encounter’
Through her Kneehigh Theatre Group’ she has brought critic defying productions to the stage that mix film and theatre.
Her first outing mixing film and live actors on stage Powell and Pressburger's masterpiece, ‘ Matter of Life and Death’ A hit with the public but not wit the critics
‘That didn’t worry me’ she proclaimed down at her production office in Cornwall.
‘David Pugh one of my producers then wanted me then to do ‘Peter Pan’ but I had to say no’. Suddenly as I got up to leave his office I spotted a DVD cover of Noel Coward’s ‘Brief Encounter’.
‘I won’t do Peter Pan but if you ask me to do that I will’ pointing to the DVD box of the 1946 classic
‘And he did and that’s where we are now’ she joked.
Having just finished a few weeks playing one of the characters she fondly remembers re working Coward’s work for the stage
‘We had to get the whole audience involved’ That means in coming into the Cinema which was once a mainstream theatre, period dressed ushers show you to your seat Noel Coward songs play in the background. Then the lights go down and up comes the film only to have the opening characters burst through the stage and get us right into the show’s brilliant story’.
Clearly the rabid critical mauling she got before has not put her off doing another film / theatre show.
‘This WAS a play to begin with and it’s all just real storytelling when all’s said and done’ she insists. ‘It’s a live event and that’s what people love. When it comes to the scene played out in the Tea room the audience get offered cakes and sometimes apples and stuff fall out into the audience’. She comically recounts.
‘Of course we’ve had our moments when the film breaks down and we have to tell the audience but they love it even more’
‘I’d love to do the Broadway transfer in an original theatre / cinema that’s got the right size and design’ she muses ‘perhaps like the old Radio City Hall’. For now she has stepped out of the cast and is busy working on a darker but equally ‘innovative’ telling of Don Juan
SOUND OF MUSIC – RE CASTS & EXTENTION
Another show to extend is the reality TV cast ‘Sound of Music’, first brought to the public through Andrew Lloyd Webber or ‘The Lord’ as most of the UK’s TV public referred to him as.
As re casts take place for the hit Rogers and Hammerstein musical another reality TV cast show of his is in rehearsals in the form of Lionel Bart’s ‘Oliver’
Both now combine leads 'found' via reality show acting alongside mainstream UK ‘classical actors’ including US award winner Simon MacCorkindale.
He will now play Captain Von Trapp and was one of Lloyd Webber’s first choices for the part. Unfortunately contractual obligations held him back.
‘Even though I’ve never sung on stage before I think I’ve got the Captain now!’ he revealed. In deepest south London he took a break form rehearsals to talk to Broadway World, putting aside the singing lessons and the preparations prior to his debut in three weeks time
Now as a cast member MacCorkindale is busy working hard to get the role ‘right’ and at the time we spoke was busy absorbing director Frank Thompson’s notes.
He understands what it’s like as a director to watch and deliver criticism or praise and is sensitive to the whole process.
Indeed Simon MacCorkindale – the director has been well know and mostly done in the US a production of Sleuth and a Dramalogue Award for his work on ‘A Doll’s House’ as just two of his US based successes.
‘Despite the performing and directing theatre in LA I’ll always regret not taking up an offer of doing ‘An Ideal Husband’ on Broadway.’ he confessed. ‘But something just made me say no. I really don’t believe in ‘regrets’, everything is for a reason but there you are. Now I’m focused on the detail. After 3 weeks of rehearsal it’s all beginning to click. The Captain has come alive for me.’ he added.
‘When I took this on I made sure I went through every little line and nuance. The key was for me was answering this question…how do you convey this man is a person not with split loyalties but move from one attitude to another seamlessly?’ he confided.
‘I’d seen the film years ago but the Captain on stage is more complex than that.
After much practice at the part and ‘trying to find key movements and props that would give the right effect’, he finally now feels he’s ‘cracked it’.
‘After three weeks of work I finally found the moment when the Captain ‘worked’.
This now meant that he could see his role on stage as being completely defined.
‘The crux was when we were doing the scene where I have to propose to the Countess and then realising the politics was wrong and it would never work. I use props as a distraction and found that doing anything but seeming ‘present’ in the scene was a way of conveying how out of place or wrong things were. I would do things like read the mail while people were talking to me. Anything with props like playing with keys or fiddling with things….just to appear not connected to what was going on.’
However with the appearance and influence of Maria he comes to life and is completely focused and realises ‘it is fine to fall in love with a girl nearly half my age and vice versa’.
Confident but ever cautious audiences and the critics await his opening note from Monday October 25th onwards when he’ll first step onto the stage to act and of course sing.
‘I’M A MINGER’
With no pre opening hype has slipped from under the radar to become most talked about opening of the summer.
Already labelled by critics as a writer with ‘fury, passion and compassion about those whose voices are seldom heard" (Financial Times) and "A powerful new voice in the theatre" ( Daily Telegraph), Alex * new work is stealing media space and attention from more high profile work in progress including Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s new direction of ‘Rifleman’.
In this self penned work the themes are recognisable enough, teenage angst, bulimia, suicide etc.
But it really comes to life with the writers own portrayal of all 30 characters – male and female. Jones himself says he was so troubled by his own daughters’ experiences he felt the play had to be written. ‘The catalyst was my daughter being bullied and an article in the press about the girl committing suicide because she was fat. I saw her picture and thought, she’s not fat she’s like my daughter’ Getting the voices and mannerisms right were no problem. He just went around with his daughter and her friends carefully studying her mannerisms. The genesis of the work was when a director friend noticed he could impersonate and act out a girl’s voice and style so well this might be a way of building out a character - Mike Leigh style into a full work.
Summer always brings a hit show seemingly out of nowhere with very little if no profile or star billing. Judging by the attention it’s been getting this may well be this year’s hit.
CHAMPAIGN CHARLIE’S SCOTTISH ADVENTURES – A quick Sip!!!
Swapping my Tuxedo for a Kilt and box tie here’s a small ‘dram of the finest’ to be found at the world’s largest festival of theatre.
With this massive festival underway one show that is emerging as THE potential hit London and Broadway transfer is ‘Slick’.
This half human half puppet show makes Avenue Q seem cute and very clean!
In ‘Slick’ characters appear onstage as human heads within cartoon / puppet bodies in the comedy drama about an oil strike in a Glasgow tenement block. Critics are divided on the 'humour' with some re-naming it ‘Sick’. With Vox Motus as producer this tiny company featuring Candice Edmunds and Jamie Harrison updates early 20th-century vaudeville to stunning effect.
Their particular form of puppetry seems more innovative that Avenue Q as actor’s head is superimposed on a small puppet body. Each character’s arms are then operated by a puppeteer standing behind the actor.
The plot is simple enough as events unfold following the discovery of oil in this unlikely place.
On a small unfolding stage that reveals a range of locations this funny, disorientating and expressive the show if full of obscene and edgy humor skillfully and wittily crafted together into the plot
Selling out at the Festival further venues are now being sought around the world to exploit its rising popularity. Lead character ‘Malcolm’ is blessed with two self-absorbed parents, always threatening to put him into care. ("Care?” says Malcolm. "That sounds nice.")
The plot literally ‘thickens’ with when crude oil is discovered coursing through their bathroom pipes and poor Malcolm is given the job of smuggling it all the way to the
Simultaneously they must keep their discovery a secret from sex-pest landlord Jerko. Part political part cynical domestic comedy the Biggars happily cheerfully pimp out their son for oil until discovered. Critics are calling this ‘perversely endearing’ (The Guardian) and ‘ (The Times, London)
One agent bidding for the transfer rights told me in confidence that ‘if all goes to plan ‘Avenue Q’ may soon find it’s not the only show with a monopoly on ‘rude & funny’ puppets in London’s West End or Broadway’
Either way when the ‘ink is dry’ on the contract BroadwayWorld will be the first to know onto what stage and where ‘Slick’ will be ‘poured’ onto.