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The Brits On Broadway

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The Brits On Broadway#1
Posted: 10/8/08 at 8:23am
The Brits On Broadway

West End dramas and musicals area again the rage in New York, an American opera has a UK director and a Brit is running the Museum Of Modern Art.

According to Eleanor Roosevelt, 'No one can make you feel inferior without your consent'. The former First Lady made her remark in a different context, but her words resonate today as aBritish art and entertainment again dominate New Yorks cultural scene. For some American commentators it is as if there is still a collective colonial hangover in Manhattan, with audiences happy to prize talent from across the Atlantic above anything of their own,
Broadway's theatres are packed with UK drama, British music, British performers, even British history. The statistics match even the peaks charted in recent years. As Harry Potters alter ego, Daniel Radcliffe, triumphs in Peter Schaffers 'Equus' -directed by fellow Brit, Thea Sharrock- could there be more hardcore products for committed anglophiles than Maria Aitken's 'The 39 Steps', the high farce of 'Boeing Boeing' or Robert Bolt's deft appreciation of of Tudor dialogue in 'A Man For All Seasons'?
All of them are packing them in on Broadway. In fact culture, in the broader sense, blown in from England has never been held in higher esteem. The next two weeks will prove a point when British filmmaker Penny Woolcock makes her opera directing debut at the Met with a new production of 'Dr Atomic'. Meanwhile, on Fifth Ave, the Oxford educated Brit Thomas P.Campbell, is preparing to take over as director of the Metropolitan Museum Of Art.
But this newest surge of the British artistic invasion is not just for the high-brow, Next month New Yorkers will have the chance to watch as police riot shields flash and donkey jackets rip in a violent recreation of a minors strike riot in the Broadway production of the hit musical 'Billy Elliot', set in County Durham in the mid 1980s'.
The show is directed by Stephen Daldry, who also made the movie, and should ne be lucky enough to win good notices again, the excitement of the opening week may very well give him a sense of deja vu. Fourteen years ago he was hailed as a theatrical genius in the earliest of all the recent waves of British entertainment to hit Broadway. His production of 'An Inspector Calls' was given an almost unprecedentedly good reception. The praise heaped on his reimagining of a 1945 play set Edwardian England managed to almost entirely overshadow rival British production of Jim Cartwright's 'THe Rise And Fall Of Little Voice', already a winner of an Olivier Award in London.
The success of these plays and those that came in their wake, whetted the appetite for British talent. In 1999 the line up of shows brought in from London was so overwhelming that one New York writer set himself the task of living for a whole weekend entirely on British food and drink, while ricocheting from one auditorium to the next. That year he could have chosen between acclaimed productions of David Hares 'Amy's View' and 'Via Dolorosa', Patrick marbers'Closer and Connor McPherson's 'The Weir' -plus adding insult to injury, of two American plays, 'The Iceman Cometh' by Eugene O'Neil and Tennessee Williams's rediscovered 'Not About Nightingales'.
It has been excepted in New York that many of the big theatrical events of the season, those with the most kudos, like, for example, the opening of Hares 'Vertical Hour'in 2006, will have been shipped in, first class, from London.
"The war of American Independance was lost on Broadway,'John Heilpern, theatre critic ofthe New York Observer said this weekend. 'Brits on the Anglophile Great White Way are as normal as apple pie. As Wall Street goes down the toilet, it's as well to remember that people like to go shopping and New York theatre producers go shopping in London's West End to bring back the goods (or the proven hit) along with the Turnbull And Asser shirts.
At worst, it is part of an American aesthetic snobbery, Helipern suggests, nothing that British stars, playwrights and directors regularly win armfuls of Tony awards-'Brit plays are seen as serious 'theatah' with posh accents as are musicals-even with working class accents. The Irish playwrights have always counted as British, of course. Which makes it worse. Or better, depending who's side your on'.
In 2006, the phenomenon was in evidence yet again. That years Tony nominations were bemoaned by some Manhattan cultural pundits. The four nominees for Best Play include three that premiered in Britain- Allan Bennett's 'The History Boys', Martin McDonagh's 'The Lieutenant Of Inishmore' and McPherson's 'Shining City'- and most successful Off Broadway production was Hare's controversial 'Stuff Happens' British writer Peter Morgan's 'Frost/Nixon' performed a similar trick last year.
This autumn Daldry was elected to take on an even bolder risk when he offered streetwise New Yorkers the moralising gothic plotting of Priestley in 1994. Lee Hall's book of 'Billy Elliot' is grittier and more esoteric fare for a foreigner to cope with. Unlike the stage version 'The Full Monty', which transfered to Broadway in almost unrecognisable form in 2000 , Daldry is keeping much of the dark and dirty Northern mise-en-scene. For 'The Full Monty', Sheffield became Buffallo, a town in New York State's declining 'rust belt', despite the fact that the quirky British film had taken 45M at the US box office. In direct contrast, with 'Billy Elliot' Daldry has stuck with the West End original, allegedly keeping even the Spitting Image style puppets of Michael Heseltine that appears on stage briefly-no doubt to the future mystification of elderly musical theatre fans from Queens.
The Brits are back on Broadway- did they ever go away?

Vanessa Thorpe

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re: The Brits On Broadway#2
Posted: 10/8/08 at 4:01pm
"The Irish playwrights have always counted as British, of course."

I doubt the Americans would see it that way, particularly the Irish Americans.

I do think that Americanising The Full Monty was an insult to the American audience, as well as the good citizens of Sheffield.

And I also think the success of British theatre on Broadway has far more to do with the higher commercial certainties of importing a hit, than anything to do with anglophilia. Considering this success, it is a shame that successive desultory governments in this country continually fail to give the profession the recognition it deserves

Who is Vanessa Thorpe and where did she write this?
Broadway Legend
Broadway Legend
re: The Brits On Broadway#2
Posted: 10/8/08 at 4:09pm
I'm not too surprised by this. General opinion on both sides of the pond is that you (being the natives on this wonderful island) have always done a far better job of creating straight plays and dramas while we (the upstarts who revolted) own the musical genre. Billy Elliot and a few directors are the exception these days, and not the rules.

But for traditional dramas and comedies? The UK is absolutely top notch.
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re: The Brits On Broadway#3
Posted: 10/8/08 at 6:29pm
Scripps2, I know someone who saw The Full Monty and found it insulting that the producers thought that Americans wouldn't understand it if it was based in England. He said that it gave off the impression that Americans were stupid and weren't going to understand it otherwise when that simply wasn't the case.

Also, the article made it seem like Americans get Irish playwrights confused with British ones when that isn't the case. If a play is by a British playwright they say that it is by a British playwright. When it is by an Irish playwright they say that too. They make it sound like we don't know the difference between British and Irish when that isn't the case at all.

And, I agree that the better dramas come from England. To be honest with you, the only good American drama I have seen in years was August Osage county.
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