January 2000

I’m Back in London, Something’s never change ;o) Yes folks it’s that annoying guy back again, and hot foot from my first trip of the 21st Century to the wonders of the West End. As I type its 2:45pm and I’ve just got home, yes this morning I awoke in the West End and now I sit at this keyboard listening to the CD of STARLIGHT EXPRESS and prepare to tell you what happened so sit back relax [you know how long winded I can be] and I’ll begin…

Well I let the train take the strain again this time, surprising you may think after my last trip, but I decided to give it another go, and try first class this time, not so much flash as in the vain hope the seating may be better, well even before the thing moved two things hit me;

1: It was a “mobile phone free zone” carriage and

2: Although the seats were slightly more comfortable you still had the unnecessary table and the people you didn’t know sitting all around you, so, not a great improvement.
This for £42.00 return instead of £25.00, And this brings me to another little point, when I rang to book the ticket I knew about the “APEX” return which if booked 7 days or over in advance gets you these prices, but when I asked for a first class return I was told “certainly £135.00 please!” so be advised if you don’t tell them you know of the discounts available then they will usually NOT offer them, and the seating in first class is definitely NOT worth over £100.00! Even if you do get a “Steward(ess)” with a trolley to save you a walk to the buffet car, if it’s only snacks you need.

Anyway to London, I arrived at about 12:30pm and hailed a black cab to the Regent Palace, another place I considered wearing a disguise after my last review, but I needn’t have worried I guess they don’t read this particular web-page :o) I managed to get access to my room right away, and it was on the second floor which seems to be below the majority of the building work, and so a little quieter than my last stay.

So suitcase dumped, I ventured out, well I’m a Theatre nut not a Clothes horse ;o) and I decided to try the Half price ticket booth, a tip gleaned from Nikki a lovely fellow Theatre nut I’ve met from Germany, don’t ask me why I never tried this booth before as I don’t know. In defence of my stupidity all I can say is Cameron Mackintosh never gives seats to this outlet and as these were primarily the shows I wanted to see at the start this may be why I never thought to check it. I got a ticket for SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER for Monday evening and thought what can I do to kill time between now and then… I know the Cinema.

But first I needed a ticket for the West End Cares Cabaret, so I headed for Dress Circle, got there and as I was buying the ticket, “great value at £8.00 and available from here or on the door on the night of the show” I thought I’d plug this excellent entertainment one because it is excellent entertainment but two because it’s for “Charidy folks” and a worthy one at that, end of commercial.

And I digressed again, sorry if I do it again just shout out okay… Well as I was saying as I was buying the ticket the man arrived to collect them and I beat him to it :o), a great feeling for me as the last time there I missed him by two minutes and had to go on the night and hope there were seats left.

So I wandered around Leicester Square looking like someone who’s back of their neck had shrunk as I looked up at the display boards to see what was showing, and after a lot of deliberating as there’s quite a few films I’d like to see I decided on THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH, at the Odeon, or more to the point the Mezzanine [I think that’s what it was called] mini-plex this last word being something I missed when I booked. Well all I can say is after climbing enough flights of narrow stairs to give me flash-backs to my brush with the north facing well of the Covent Garden tube station I reached the room where the film was to be shown, and well I’ve been in bigger living rooms this place really is tiny, let’s put it this way there are 8 seats in each row four either side of the aisle! This coupled with the high seats and leopard print seat covers, was a visual experience in claustrophobia before the movie even started. The film the 19th in the Series is excellent and really is one of those “should be seen on the big screen first…” movies. Pierce Brosnan is for my money now equal with the Greatest ever Bond Sean Connery, and the role is his and should remain so for a long time to come.

After pausing to prevent the bends due to the drop in altitude on the way down the stairs I went for a wander just to revisit all my old haunts who said Kentucky Fried Chicken and the Pub, I HEARD YOU ;o) I meant the streets of the West End, China Town, Soho… and not Covent Garden still too many painful memories with that Big Red Sign gone I just couldn’t do it, though I will be making the effort in August when I’ve got tickets for THE WITCHES OF EASTWICK, for that I’ll face my daemons [ Pun intended ;o) ]

Quick change at the Hotel, and it was off down Regent Street towards where I remembered the Palladium being, sharp right up Carnaby Street left at the top and voila, for once I wasn’t lost :o). Now I’ve been to the Palladium before to see OLIVER and quite enjoyed it, so this time I thought well I Loved GREASE & MAMA MIA! So I should like this, and the fact you lot don’t want to read about the same show over and over and…well you get the picture, see what I do for you I even plan my nights around your pleasure, smarm, crawl, genuflect.

But seriously it was coming towards the end of its run and quite a few people said it was very good so I thought why not, The bar in that place is huge by the way on two levels and it even serves a beer that I know the name of which is always a good thing for me, so I bought a programme, had a drink and headed for my seat… one row from the back of the first level up, and it was here I had one of those life changing revelations that you can have only once….. you can’t use opera glasses with your normal glasses! Well it was the first time I’d tried and it made everyone look further away.

Well, to the show, as I said it is finishing at the end of this month, and will then be on a National tour. Produced by the Peter Pan of Theatre Paul Nicholas in his guise as the Rock n Roll Musicals’ answer to Cameron Mackintosh, well he did bring us GREASE in the West End And The ROCKY HORROR SHOW in Bournemouth, and it is a very well produced show, the cast currently has in the lead roles: Ben Richards “Tony Manero”, Joanne Farrell “Stephanie Mangano” and Nina French “Annette”. To be fair quite a number of the rest of the cast have larger than “support” roles but these are the 3 biggies in the story, and I was fortunate to see all these on the night I was there.

Based, obviously, on the film of the same name the musical is set in and around the 2001 Disco in New York, and tells the story of a young guy who works in a paint shop and lives only when he’s dancing at the Disco on Saturday Nights, where he is so popular the girls ask to mop his forehead after he finishes dancing, and how he falls for an “uptown” girl, well as I said this musical is very well done and the cast certainly can dance, can’t you just tell there’s a but coming here, but for me it fails to connect with the audience.

One of the main problems the producers had was unlike GREASE in the movie the characters don’t sing the songs, they just react to them. And this really tells in the show, most of the admittedly great songs are just there and not sold to the audience, a typical example being “Disco Inferno” which is performed by a character who for me almost stole the show “Monty” [the D.J.] played by Richard Calkin, here I must put in my usual disclaimer, I think these are the people who played these roles, as I missed part of the ” And at tonight’s performance the part of…” announcement. But while he’s singing most people are watching the dancers and he’s in a box at the side. For me when the show came alive was ” If I can’t have you” sung by “Annette”, “Tragedy” sung by “Bobby C”, “What kind of Fool” “Stephanie” and “Immortality” “Tonys'” solo, here the characters had something to say to the audience and the connection was there. Not wishing to be too down on the show because it was a good night out, but I looked and hoped for more, As a Dancing in the Aisles [which the audience were doing at the end ] crowd pleaser, this show delivers. But isn’t as good at it as say GREASE and MAMA MIA!

Well I left the Theatre and had some time to kill so I walked back to the Hotel and dropped off the programme and Brochure I’d bought and hailed a cab to the Talk of London for the cabaret. Here a nice comment for the Taxi drivers in London, they seem to me friendly and fair, with the exception of the one who took me to the Cabaret a few visits ago who picked me up, took me round the corner, dropped me off and charged me £3.00 for the pleasure! But on Monday even from my Hotel the driver said “well it is walkable from here…” but I was in a lazy mood so I went with him anyway.

When I arrived there I couldn’t help thinking of something I was told when I rang to check on ticket availability prior to leaving Wales ” These don’t sell out now…” well all I can say is this one came bloody close! They were queuing down the stairs and out to the door. I got in took my seat and waited. Well now this really is “one of my favourite things” and believe me it really hurts to use anything from the one musical you couldn’t pay me to go and see, in fact if I was forced to see it again I think I wouldn’t be able to resist shouting ” Their behind the gravestone” at a crucial moment. Sorry digressed again.

Well I think this was the first time that MAMA MIA! have done the cabaret, feel free to correct me if I’m wrong, but what a show. Now I’ve seen about 4 previously, but this was the best, even including the one by the cast of MISS SAIGON [which was also excellent ]

They put on a themed evening using A CHORUS LINE as the base and matching it to putting on MAMA MIA! well it was brilliant, with ” I REALLY NEED THIS JOB” cutting into in-jokes about the Director, and the ” Don’t Act so much…” mantra given by a faceless voice playing the off stage director. Leading to two members of the cast relating how they were married but in the process of getting divorced, hilarious Northern accents flowing joinlessly into a lovely song about the feelings involved, You then had ” the little Black Guy ” [and I’m not being racist saying that] bemoaning how he was typecast as “a little black guy”. An eye-opening moment was the costume worn [well almost] by the actress who played the “Man-Eater” character in the show, had to be seen to be believed.

Main cast wise I spotted the “Mother”, “Daughter” and “Man-Eater” from the cast I saw, but all the cast were the stars of this show. Oh and Amy if your reading this you really should have seen the song sung by the “Dresser” it was hilarious. Another excellent nights entertainment, and one “I REALLY NEED TO see again” soon. They’re on their break now until I think the end of March. And I don’t know when I’ll be able to get back but it’ll definitely be too long in my opinion, if I could, I’d drive up and back to see these shows.

Day 2: Well I got up early, well let’s be honest here I was woken early by a flamin’ great juggernaught parked below my window with its engine running, so I had a quick shower, and to be fair to them it was a quick shower with the attendant getting to me within 5 minutes of the phonecall, and I was on the streets again, deciding what to see I decided to push my luck and see new shows again, then I chickened out and decided on one of each, I queued at the half price booth and was all set for “the CHILTERN HUNDREDS” when someone in front of me asked about COMIC POTENTIAL and was given a brochure / flyer to look at and booked that so I thought why not I’ll give it a go so I booked for this as well [impulsive or what :o)] then stepped over to the next window and booked for a matinee of STARLIGHT EXPRESS.

Well I’d intended on seeing CATS, but I thought 2 out of 3 new shows in one trip wasn’t a bad average. I wanted to fit in the cinema before these shows but on checking I realised it would be too close time wise as the films didn’t start till about midday,

and finished 28 minutes before I needed to be in my seat at the opposite end of London for the Matinee of STARLIGHT. So I aired on the side of caution wandered a bit then retreated to the hotel for a quiet few hours and to iron my shirts for the afternoon and evening [ well I said I wasn’t a clothes horse not that I wasn’t a smart Welshman ;o) ]

STARLIGHT EXPRESS was all that I remembered, exhilarating, moving [now I know your thinking it’s about toy trains! But it is if you listen to the words of “I am the Starlight” ” Make up my heart” and “Next time you fall in love”]

The current cast, and again I was lucky with none of the main cast being understudied that performance included Adrian Hansel “Rusty”, Marissa Dunlop “Pearl” and Irene Warren “Dinah”, I can’t say I’ve seen any of these people before but they were very good in what is a long running and very demanding show.

A couple of quibbles why have they dropped one of my favourite songs “He’ll whistle at me” and moved another “Next time I fall in love” But this aside I thoroughly enjoyed this [another pun coming up I’m afraid] rollercoaster of a show, couldn’t resist it ;o)

To the evening and the proof that I was in London, it was hammering it down as I walked to where I thought the Theatre was, and guess what…. Wrong! I was right it was where I thought!

A cautionary note here, if you buy from the 1/2 price booth check your seats, I didn’t and I found myself in the front row! now in a musical with the pit to keep the actors away it’s okay,but in this show I was closer to David Soul than Paul Michael Glaser in one of Starskey’s death scenes in their show :o). This aside COMIC POTENTIAL is an excellent show and has reaffirmed my decision to not only see musicals. The story is of a future where “bit part” actors have been replaced by “Actoids”, robots programmed to replicate emotions on command, and primarily of a young man “Adam Trainsmith” Matthew Cottle [known mainly for the TV series “Game On”] who gets a job to watch his “hero” a burned out director of classic comedies “Chandler Tate” David Soul who now directs a local daytime soap Opera, and falls for one of the Actoids who seems to be developing a “life” of her own, Now the Actoid “Jacie Tripplethree” is played by Janie Dee, who I must admit I’ve never heard of, although according to her biography has been in LONDONS BURNING thought that’d get your attention Nikki ;o)] and quite a number of other Alan Ayckbourn plays. But it is definitely my loss as she is brilliant, playing the childlike “Jacie” as she “learns” of love, the most powerful of all emotions she really carries the show. Now it’s not fair to relate comedy, as you need to see it done properly to appreciate it, and well if I could write it then I’d have a play on in the West End and Alan Aykbourn may be working in a jobcentre :o)

But moments to watch out for include: The “Emptying” scene, the frequent “life switches” that Jaice goes through as she tries to relate to situations she’s never been in before, The Custard Pie and the “Wheelchair bound megalomaniac and his vocal henchman. And I’ll leave it at that, except to say go and see it, and Janie Dee deserved the award she got for best actress for the “simulated bed” and “emptying” scenes alone ;o)

A wonderful end to another great trip. ROB WILL RETURN……. [will mean nothing unless you’ve seen the end of the Bond films, I’m sorry :o)]…. August when I’ll be seeing The King & I, MAMA MIA! and the WITCHES OF EASTWICK, if I can’t get

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