July 2002

THANK YOU LONDON … No I haven’t turned into a pop star, it’s just that as I was being transported from Paddington to Central London the driver was telling me that they had forecast rain for the full week. And guess what, a few spots on Wednesday morning and this morning on the taxi ride back to the station but apart from that, nothing, glorious weather. And some excellent shows…

Well the main purpose of this trip was to catch the new batch of musicals that had recently opened, WE WILL ROCK YOU, BOMBAY DREAMS and CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG, the latter from here on in referred to as CCBB to save my little typing fingers :o).

The trip started on a Tuesday morning as I caught the train to London, full of great expectations, there’s a book title in there somewhere :o). With some pre-booked tickets as well, well as I’ve said in the past I didn’t as a rule pre-book but it is becoming more of a necessity these days, as shows seem to be following the “star” theory, they burn brightly then vanish, some without a trace. An uneventful trip up which was good, on what looked like a brand new train, all purple livery and less leg-room, that’s progress for you. London Paddington to the hotel was to show me a glimpse of the new “in thing” in London these days … ROAD WORKS ! They really seem to be trying to join the roads to the underground… by digging a direct route; almost every street you went along was being dug up somewhere.

I arrived at the hotel, received my usual friendly greeting checked in, and went out. To be greeted by a surprise, the Half Price Ticket Booth was now called the TKTS Booth, and the tickets there weren’t necessarily half price. With various offers, including 25% off. Oh and they now accept credit cards as well. Plans for today, meet with Nikki for a drink and then to a show, now I wanted to see WE WILL ROCK YOU, but Nikki was unsure, so when we eventually met the delay caused by me missing the fact that she was inside the All Bar One pub, we decided to wander to the Dominion and check out ticket prices.

When we got there I was pleased to learn that tickets were very sparse but available, so the show seemed to be selling okay. I decided on a £40.00 stalls seat and Nikki still a little unsure of the show went for the £10.00 standing option, now I’ve never tried this but it seems a great way to see a show your not too sure of, you don’t spend out a load of money but you see the show. So to kill some time we decided to head for the Theatre Museum, for three reasons:

1 – I’d never been there

2 – Nikki wanted to check it out again

3 – It’s free now! And all I can say is … just as well, I was really under-whelmed by it all. There was no mention of the great modern musicals, which is why most people venture to the Theatre these days. Okay it’s a museum so will show items from the past, but surely some modern history warranted a place there. After this we wandered around Covent Garden for a while and I was left wondering why shop “Past Times” specialising in bygone days, and selling items from past eras would have it’s own web site! Ironic or what.

WE WILL ROCK YOU – IS written by the members of QUEEN and Ben Elton. The show is one of the new generation of productions that use music already composed, and fit the story around it. This of course started with MAMA MIA, and in the case of WWRY (We Will Rock You), Well come on gimme a break I’m not a Typist and these show titles are getting longer, uses the music of QUEEN as it’s core.

The show stars: Nigel Planner “Pop”, Tony Vincent “Galileo” and Hannah Jane Fox “Scaramouche”, okay so modern realism it ain’t but I enjoyed it. Other cast members of note include Alexander Hanson “Khashoggi” and the towering presence of Sharon D. Clarke as “Killer Queen”.

The story is set in the distant future when all music has been banned except that of Global Corp. a giant company that produces computer generated performers who now completely occupy the charts. But a small group of Bohemians believe in the coming of “the Dreamer” who will find Musical Instruments hidden by the Rock Group QUEEN when they foresaw the end of Rock. And will bring back free will and real music.

What you are treated to is a night of VERY LOUD rock music and stunning visuals, using plasma screens, rotating platforms from the stage and some excellent voices. The music of Queen and especially the vocals of the late Freddie Mercury aren’t easy to imitate but Tony Vincent is excellent, he really brings the comedy out of the role, well come on you can’t take this seriously, but when he really comes alive is when he is singing. Most if not all of the great QUEEN tracks are included: Killer Queen, We Will Rock You, We Are the Champions, Radio Ga Ga, Crazy Little Thing Called Love and the brilliantly moving Only The Good Die Young. And here in lies the only possible problem. If you don’t know the music of Queen then you may miss some of the links to the songs and not realise why they are taking the story in this particular direction at this time.

As I said I saw this show with Nikki my German friend, I mention her nationality as she said during the interval that although she was a great Ben Elton fan, and she speaks better English than me half the time, she felt she was missing out on some of the points being made, and as she continued, which only managed to rub salt in the wounds that had just developed in readiness for the sentence that I knew would follow this statement… she was too young to remember QUEEN really… OUCH ! I mean I’m not geriatric but I have a single of We Are the Champions in the house.

So stand out numbers / performers for me: Both the male and female leads were excellent, with wonderful voices, Alexander Hanson brought the right amount of “pantomime villainy” to the role of the enforcer for Global Corp. and Sharron D Clarke as the Killer Queen, anyone who can rise through the stage to the opening bars of “Fat Bottomed Girls” and carry it is worth the price of admission alone. Ben Elton has again proved what a great talent he is with some great one liners, and I’ll break the habit of a lifetime here and relate one – “Pop” is telling the youngsters the story of QUEEN and how they were killed for trying to save Rock, and says that they were offered one final wish before they were executed, to which “The one they called B R I A N asked to play one last guitar solo … and was so able to delay his execution for a further 3 and a half days” Brilliant and definitely makes me want to get a CD of the music of QUEEN.

After this show it was a busy day alone for me, Nikki had other plans so I set out to fill the day. I booked to see NOISES OFF, for a second time before it closed, as a matinee. Got a ticket for SPIDERMAN at the Odeon West End and already had my ticket for BOMBAY DREAMS that evening. SPIDERMAN is a great movie, it’s a movie that nearly killed me, not strictly true, my inability to check the small print nearly killed me, but more of that later. SPIDERMAN stars Tobey Maguire, excuse the spelling I don’t have a magazine with me that I can check it in, and tells of the high school “geek” who when bitten by a genetically enhanced spider starts to develop super human powers. Also starring Willem Dafoe as the Green Goblin this is the perfect summer block-buster. Go and see it. The titles role on the movie I look at my watch and my heart stops, the movie ticket said 12.00 start, I checked… the film was two hours long, my matinee starts at 2.30pm at the Comedy Theatre, 30 mins to get to the Theatre and luckily I know where that is, so why does my watch say 2.20. Oh crap the trailers! I forgot to allow for the trailers, so here we go “the blur” is off again, check review for first New York Trip, on my web site www.theatricalreviews.co.uk for an explanation, no plug of course :o) … across roads, leaps small puddles in a single bound, dodges small children… oops well most of them… sorry son, and I make it to… The Whitehall Theatre Crap!

My finely honed sense of direction strikes again, I ring the Theatre, no answer at the stage door, ring the Box Office “ Help I’m lost and I have a ticket for the matinee in… 4 mins” Crap! They give me directions I head back past the roadwork’s, past Trafalgar Square and back almost practically to next door to the Cinema I was just in, I skid into the Theatre everyone already seated, am run down the stairs by one of the ushers and get to my seat with, thanks to a delay in the start of the show, 3 minutes to spare. Makes me enquire even louder why don’t cinemas in this busiest of areas have morning shows. I mean certain shops stay open till gone midnight, Virgin, HMV etc. so why no movies in the morning then?

NOISES OFF – I’ve reviewed before so check out that review for the plot etc. The cast this time was primarily unknowns, at least to me. With the exception of Derek Griffiths “Frederick Fellowes” ( Sorry if the name is wrong but you know how bad I am with names ), and Selina Cadell as “Dotty Ottley”. The role of the director was played by I think, as there’s no photos in the programme, Nigel Nobes who was excellent.

An hour or so to get my breath, and then to Victoria Station for BOMBAY DREAMS. Luckily this is only a three stop trip from the tube station at the bottom of the road where I stay. So let the tube take the strain and I arrive.

BOMBAY DREAMS – the current incumbent of the Apollo Victoria Theatre, long the home of STARLIGHT EXPRESS. It is produced but not written by Andrew Lloyd Webber, has music by A. R. Rahman who I’m reliably informed has sold more records in India that Madonna and Brittany Spears combined, Lyrics by Don Black and a book by Meera Syal. It was cast entirely from the British Asian community, with a cast of largely unknowns, at least outside the Asian entertainment industry. The leads are played by: Raza Jaffrey “Akaash”, Preeya Kalidas “Priya”, Ayesha Dharker “Rani” and Raj Ghatakn “Sweetie”.

The story tells of the rise of a local “slum boy” to a major Bollywood movie star, and of his love for a famous movie director’s daughter. It is a simple love story told with a back-drop of the Bollywood movies, and uses they’re stylised look. The show is certainly spectacular, with full scale Bollywood Dance routines, water fountains on stage and the now “normal” large scale “truck effects”.

But for me it lacked something. It took me a while to tie down exactly what and I think it was the decision to cast purely from the UK, as for me the male lead Raza Jaffrey wasn’t quite up to the role, his acting was spot on but I felt that his voice wasn’t strong or more to the point reliable enough for the role, but this could have been just an off night. As many others have raved about him.

Well as a friend is seeing the show on Saturday I will reserve final judgement till after that, and offer this as a “first impressions review”, The two female leads were excellent, and Raj Ghatakn steals every scene he is in as “Sweetie”. Who although could be classed as the “comedic lead” is wonderful in the role and brings real emotion to the part. The audience for this new style of musical was I’d say a fifty-fifty split between your stereo-typical musical fans and members of the Asian community who were seeing in effect a live action movie, and who I believe got even more out of the show with the in jokes about the movies. So a brave attempt at opening up the field of musical theatre, which I believe almost works, but again I’ve been known to be wrong and to completely revise my views of a show, and as I’ve bought the CD I’ll see if it grows on me. So far stand out moments / songs for me: “Loves never easy” and “Shakalaka Baby” with its catchy tag and spectacular staging. The later thanks to the input of Farah Khan a famous Bollywood movie choreographer who shares the title in this show with Anthony Van Laast.

So to the last day, and it was quite full again, I booked to see BLOOD BROTHERS at a matinee and had tickets for Chitty for the evening. So off I set from my hotel towards the Phoenix theatre dressed for an evening out cuff-links an all, I know I know suave or what! ;o) Why was I dressed or more to the point over-dressed like this well read on kind reader. Again I immediately realised it was a mistake to see BLOOD BROTHERS as a matinee, as for some reason it’s a favourite amongst school groups. So I was treated to short queues at the Bar. But then sat in the middle of two school groups.

So in-front I had loves young dream, and behind a group of four or so young gents who proceeded to talk through most of the show. In fairness they did have one slight problem, they couldn’t see around me, sorry about that. But it would have bothered me more if they were even slightly interested in what was happening on the stage. The show was as good as I remembered and the current cast excellent, with Linda Nolan taking the lead as Mrs Johnston, and giving a wonderful performance, full of energy and emotion to the extent that even on the 3rd curtain call she was still visibly crying. A great performance, from a great professional.

Well I knew that I’d booked this a little finely with only 15 mins to get from the Phoenix to the Palladium at 6pm, so it was a taxi and fingers crossed and I made it… just.

So we went for a drink at an O’Neills pub just across the road, and then to the show. Now I’ve been telling everyone how great it is that Michael Ball has announced in advance the dates he won’t be performing, and that this is the way it should be done. So of course I’d witched myself, and was greeted at the door by the dreaded signs “ Due to the sudden indisposition of Mr. Ball …” So there you go. Now that’s not to criticise Michael, as real unavoidable problems arise and they did make it very clear in advance that he wouldn’t be performing. What I didn’t agree with was the fact that they announced some other changes in the supporting cast and made no mention of the fact that Brian Blessed wasn’t performing. Well at least I’d bet money that it wasn’t him I saw.

To the Show CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG – well obviously it’s based on the movie. Well I say obviously, but as Nikki hadn’t seen the movie and felt she was missing out a little on some of the story, obviously may be overstating the fact.

I think that the narrative of the show tells all it needs to, but as for the first time ever that I’ve seen, the audience were clapping along and singing to the overture, you could feel a little left out if starting with no background with the story.

With or without Michael Ball it was a spectacular show, I mean the performances from Nichola McAuliffe “The Baroness”, Emma Williams “Truly Scrumptious”, Anton Rogers “Grandpa” and Richard O’Brien as the child-catcher were faultless, and Peter Bishop as “Caractacus Potts” was brilliant. And to go on knowing the disappointment that most of the audience were not only feeling but expressing vocally must have been daunting in the extreme, but he was excellent in the role.

Now to the “real star” of the show “Chitty”. Well spectacular is an over used word these days in Musical Theatre but in this case it’s richly deserved. I mean even though you “know” how it’s done I couldn’t see, and the effect was breath-taking, the inventions on stage and the factory sets were brilliant but the car effects, and yes they did behave on the night I saw it, were unbelievable, I mean … it … flew! Go and see this show you’ll love it.

The story for those of you that don’t know, is about two children, incidentally played by two great actors the night I saw the show, who live with their father “Caractacus Potts” a failed inventor, and their grandfather in a windmill. They spend they’re time in a scrap yard with a wrecked car that they love. The owner of the yard tells them that he has to sell the car so, after a little time their father raises the money to buy it for them. Then the bad guys from Vulgaria come to steal the car for their Baron, when they fail they kidnap Grandpa, believing he is the inventor, and are followed to Vulgaria by Caractacus, Truly and the children, in the by now flying car. In Vulgaria all children are outlawed and captured by the horrible Child Catcher played wonderfully by Richard O’Brien of “Rocky Horror” fame. His demise offering one of the best-received parts of the show. The twins are … Hang on I’m spoiling this, go and see the show and let me know what you think.

Now to the only negative The seats must be amongst the most uncomfortable I’ve ever been in, okay I’m big but I was pleasantly surprised to see I could still walk at the end of the show, as the circulation had been cut off for so long. And in a replay of earlier in the afternoon when I sat down I was greeted from cries from behind of “ DADDY… I can’t see round this big man” followed closely by stereo choruses of SSSSSSHHHHH :o), so the daughter moved to my left, behind an empty seat and the nice people and I laughed about it, and then the person sitting on my left arrived and he was almost my size and couldn’t for the life of him understand why 2 people to his side and 3 behind laughed uncontrollably as soon as he sat down. Last show over a very pleasant Indian meal with Nikki and it was to the hotel and next morning back to Wales as I have a Wedding to film and work on Monday.

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