London 2018

  

 

London 4th – 7th October 2018

Well it’s October so it must be my annual pilgrimage to the home of THEATRE, or more specifically my particular (although not exclusive) area of interest, Musicals.

So I decided to test my skills, nerve and peripheral vision, by extending my method of transport from the last few years, driving, to take me right into the centre of London. Thus taking out the need for the Tube.

Well I started my journey by dropping off my Cats to their holiday home, and I hit the M4.

I had a straightforward journey to the outskirts of London then girding my loins I let the satnav take me to the heart of the city. At various times having the fun of cyclist SO close behind me I thought he was on a unicycle, a bus playing chicken with me AFTER I was already in a lane and sandwiched between two taxis and various sundry pedestrians auditioning (or so it appeared) for the role of my hood ornament!

Oh and another thing I realised, London Black Cabs may be ‘the gentlemen of the roads’ if your a passenger or pedestrian, if however you’re driving “on their turf” they are more like the fat guy on his way to the buffet! … and I can say that as I am a fat guy who is partial to a buffet! 😉

Now about 35 minutes later when I’d not yet completed the last 8 miles, I decided two things:

1 – I’d proved to myself I could do it

2 – I NEVER wanted to do it again, as I didn’t gain anything. I mean it took me 45 mins to complete those last 8 miles, and I could have parked a little further out and caught the Tube and still made it in quicker, but as they say “every day is a learning day”

So leaving my car safely ensconced in it subterranean home I walked to my hotel, The St. Giles ( www.stgileshotels.com ), well again using the relevant cliché, if it ain’t broken don’t fix it. This hotel is central, 2 minutes walk to the Dominion Theatre and one end of Oxford St. about 6 mins to Soho and a few more to Leicester Sq.

 

I checked in, my room became available as the lady on reception filled in the details on the computer, I dropped off my bags and headed out on the search for two shows.

Now I had a few shows I wanted to try and see this trip, and after a faltering start I was lucky and managed to get them all.

So having driven passed it, I headed to the Gielgud theatre for Company to try and get a day seat for the matinee.

On the way I popped in to the Dominion as I knew I wanted to see Bat Out of Hell the Musical, so I asked about Day Seats and …. Row B Seat 20 middle aisle evening performance! Get In There!

Now I guessed this would be a chancy move with Company as it is still in previews and features one of the first ladies of Broadway Patti (don’t you dare have your phone on) LuPone. I was partly right, they had a Thursday matinee but it doesn’t start till next week!

So, due to my ‘scenic’ tour of central London I was now perilously close to missing out on a matinee, as one there was a limited selection, the majority appearing to be on a Wednesday, and some being ones I didn’t really want to see. So I decided on taking a chance and heading to one of the theatres a little further out, knowing if they didn’t have anything I would be stuck.

   

So I headed across the West End to the Gillian Lynne Theatre, formally the New London. I skid round the corner to see what appeared to be half the children in the south west of England stood in the street! So weaving my way through the little ankle biters, trying not to step on any, I get to the Box Office, It was now 2:15 with the matinee due to start at 2:30pm.

Do you have any day seats?

Sorry none left

Okay what seats do you have, preferably on the end of a row

(by this point I realised I would have to pay, as I couldn’t get anywhere else)

Well we have stalls here” (G31)

(now I just checked on the website and this seat is £99.50 for a Thursday matinee)

Okay and I can do that for £35

I’ll take it!

So I head to my seat, buying a programme on the way and my view was this

(and before anyone yells at me for taking photos, in this show they say at the end, “if you want to take photos now would be a good time”)

School of Rock –

Music: Andrew Lloyd Webber, Book: Julian Fellowes, Lyrics: Glenn Slater, Directed by: Laurence Connor, Musical Supervisor: John Rigby, Choreography: JoAnn M. Hunter.

Starring: Craig Gallivan, Laura Tebbutt, Alan Pearson, Michelle Francis and Jake Sharp, supported by a full company and a youthful team of musical prodigies.

Now regrettably I can’t tell you if all of these performed on the day I saw the show, as in my haste I didn’t see any boards, but there were no notifications in the programme or announcements prior to the show.

So I knew next to nothing of this musical. Having seen “Stick it to the man” performed on a couple of TV shows, and having quite enjoyed the movie with Jack Black years ago. So I settled down to see what happened … and what happened was I was thoroughly entertained for the next few hours.

The show was fun, the songs catchy, and the kids INSANELY talented. I mean come on, the confidence to get on stage is one thing but at the age of about 4ft 5” to be able to sing, dance, act AND play musical instruments to professional level is crazy.

I have to say for me the surprise and my favourite song was “Where did the Rock Go”, and of course “Stick it to the Man” and ‘You’re in the band’ are deserved show stoppers. Definitely worth a visit. Oh and don’t be put off if there’s a lot of kids in the audience, it’s great …. it means shorter queues at the bar! 🙂

So that’s the first show down. I head back to the hotel grabbing a burger on the way as it was 6pm and I hadn’t eaten since 12:30 the day before.

Evening, Show 2 Day 1 and we have

Bat Out of Hell – The Musical.

Book, Music and Lyrics Jim Steinman, Presented by: David Sonenburg, Michael Cohl, Randy Lennox and Tony Smith. Musical Supervisor and additional arrangements: Michael Reed, Choreography: Emma Portner, Director: Jay Scheib

Starring: Jordan Luke Gage ‘Strat’, Christina Bennington ‘Raven’, Rob Fowler ‘Falco’ and Sharon Sexton ‘Sloane’ with a full supporting cast.

How do I start this review … This show is … BONKERS! There really is no other word for it. Don’t get me wrong I loved it, really want to see it again and have bought the CD.

The story is set in a dystopian future where part of the population have been frozen at age 18 ish, sort of Lost Boys (and girls) on steroids. Then you have ‘Falco’, his wife ‘Sloane’ and daughter ‘Raven’ who are the rich elite living in a penthouse and seemingly with everything you could want. Unfortunately ‘Raven’ sees ‘Strat’ and that is where the trouble starts.

The staging for this production is worth buying multiple tickets in different parts of the theatre just to see it from different angles. I mean I was in the second row and I’m sure there are are bits I could enjoy from other vantage points in the theatre. That’s not to say I felt I missed anything major as the clever use of video cameras and large screens incorporated into the set meant all the main points were projected onto walls all over the place.

Oh it’s also VERY LOUD at places, I mean the young lady in front of me was a quivering wreck by the end of the third number and this was before the shootings, explosions, confetti cannons and other acoustic bursts. 🙂

I knew and already liked the Music of Jim and Meatloaf, so I knew I was on a safe bet, So for the “well known” songs, I’ll just say they are all here, performed wonderfully and incorporated into the narrative well.

So to the ‘others’, for me the revelations were the songs: “Who needs the Young” and “What part of my body hurts the most” both new to me, and I have to say, not taking anything away from the young cast but Rob Fowler and Sharon Sexton stole it for me. Their voices, comic timing and stage presence were mesmerising. As I say though this takes nothing away from Jordan and Christina who were great too, and Christina is also a gorgeous young lady, reminding me of Sophie Ellis Bextor and a young Frances Ruffelle.

So as a futuristic retelling of the Peter Pan story this is Rock and Roll theatre at it’s best.

So day one ends, and with a quick stop at the Flying Horse pub for a pint of Peroni I head back to my hotel and we get to day 2 – The first full day

Friday

So it’s 9:45am and I find myself stood outside Leicester Square tube station.

As I’d been told about something I hadn’t tried before, a walking tour of Soho (A Soho Saunter). They ( London Walks www.walks.com ). actually do a variety of walks in various areas of London on a range of subjects. There are other firms doing walks but the great bit about this one is you don’t pre-book, so if you’re running late just do something else and you haven’t lost any money.

You just turn up at a specified Tube Station at an agreed time and meet a guide who will be holding up a brochure for ‘London Walks’, you pay £10 cash and follow the guide around for about 2 hours. For this particular walk my guide was Peter G and very informative and friendly he was too. It was a small group, myself, another man (from the U.S. I believe) and a couple from Australia.

We covered the area around the top of Leicester Square (what I knew as Soho), Carnaby St. and the London Palladium. So not too taxing, but very informative. I mean I’ve been visiting London for over 30 years and I learned a lot! From the fact that Michael Caine’s story about getting his name was a miss-remembering to the story behind this plaque on a door in a side street off Soho.

 

This is not a Brothel there are no prostitutes at this address

ery interesting and as I said something I will definitely do again on my next visit.

As the weather was nice and almost none of the theatres do Friday Matinees, I decided to let the water take the strain, and booked a cruise on the Thames, from Westminster to Greenwich and back. Taking just over 2 hours and costing £16.75. The firm I used www.thamesriverservices.co.uk may not have the biggest boats, but the queue was shorter (actually non-existent) so it was worth it. I also learned some new stuff too, for example you’ve heard the word Wharf? … well I’ll admit to not knowing it’s an acronym for WareHouses on the Water Front … See educational too 🙂

    

Quick change at the hotel and it was out for the show of the day, and the only one I pre-booked before getting to London,

Bill Kenwright and Paul Taylor-Mills in association with Really Useful Group present

The Heathers – The Musical.

Book, Music and Lyrics by Laurence O’Keefe (no relation 😉 ) and Kevin Murphy, based on the film written by Daniel Waters, this production is directed by Andy Fickman, choreography by Gary Lloyd.

The show stars Carrie Hope Fletcher, with a small but extremely talented cast including: Jamie Muscato, Jodie Steele, Sophie Isaacs, T’Shan Williams, Jenny O’Leary, Charlotte Jaconelli and Lauren Drew.

Now this show has REALLY connected with the younger generation, I mean when they started the run at The Other Palace, they crashed the website, and when they moved into the West End and a much larger theatre … They CRASHED THE WEBSITE!

The musical is as I said based on a 1988 film that the youngsters in the audience would never had heard of prior to the show, that starred Winona Rider an Christian Slater.

The story is of ‘Veronica Sawyer’ a 17 year old who is starting her new year at Westerburg High, she is aware of the hierarchy of the ‘popular’ kids and all the other strata of wannabes. Through her skill for forgery she becomes one of ‘the Heathers’ THE cool girls in the school, but in doing so has to take on their cruel and savage ways. Then she meets ‘J.D’. Jamie Muscato who while resetting her moral compass at the start ends up taking her on his own extreme way of dealing with the ‘popular kids’ anti-social ways.

Now although the show has, as I mentioned, connected with the younger generation, it is not one for children. The story covering, teenage sex, drugs, suicide as well as bullying and gender issues. That said, it is a vibrant, fun and in places a very moving show. Performed by a very talented cast.

Stand out songs for me included: ‘Candy Store’, ‘Dead Girl Walking’, ‘Seventeen’ and ‘I am damaged’. I knew Carrie Hope Fletcher was going to be good, as I’d seen her in ‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’ and ‘The Addams Family’, but in this show, that she almost single-handedly carries she shows her star quality. She is almost literally never off stage, and is an integral part in virtually every number.

So after a great show here, I head for one of my regular stops on these trips, to the late show at the Comedy Store ( www.thecomedystore.co.uk ) Here I had another great late evening of comedy. Suffice to say I got ‘my’ seat and all the 5 comics were great.

Saturday

Last full day in London and a 2 show day with no shows booked! So it was a quick shower and out. Using the Tube to get out to Victoria I decided to chance my arm on THE popular show of the moment … Hamilton

So I exit the tube to be greeted with the promised rain, just what you don’t want when you’re going to try and ‘day seat’ in a queue outside a theatre, but my waterproof jacket worked and there was only 5 people in front of me, so I was onto as good a bet as you can have with this particular musical behemoth.

It was 9:20am and the doors opened at 10am, by which point there was another 8 to 10 people behind me. I walk in, already ‘knowing’ day seats would not be possible here, (they do a ticket lottery online) but knowing they did make standing ‘seats’ available (10 per performance) in the case of total sell outs, which basically means all performances. The 4 people in front of me asked for evening tickets so I went for matinee and for £12.50 got this view…

Firstly about the theatre the Victoria Palace. It has been totally rebuilt for this production, I mean I know this as I saw the documentary, and a very nice job they’ve done in all but one way. The place is spotless, there appears to be more toilets (also spotless) and the bars, decoration and facilities are second to none. So why oh WHY did Cam Mack shoehorn in so many seats, I mean if I hadn’t paid to stand I honestly don’t think I could have sat in the upper circle, the leg room is non-existent! And the rake to the front SO steep a lady I met was leaving before the show started, as she was too scared to get to her seat, now okay she did have a fear of heights, but it was one hell of a drop on your way down.

Hamilton – Book, Music and Lyrics: Lin-Manuel Miranda, Director: Thomas Kail, Choreographer: Andy Blankenbuehler, based on the book ‘Alexander Hamilton’ by Ron Chernow.

Cast: Jamael Westman ‘Alexander Hamilton’ Christine Allado ‘Peggy Schuyler’, Rachel Ann Go ‘Eliza Hamilton’, Rachel John ‘Angelica Schuyler’, Giles Terera ‘Aaron Burr’ Michael Jibson ‘King George’ and a full supporting cast.

I can’t be sure how many of this cast I actually saw in this particular Saturday matinee, as (with other shows too) I tweeted them to get confirmation of who was performing and didn’t receive a reply. I recognised Rachel Ann Go as I had seen her in Miss Saigon and Giles Terera from The Rat Pack Live. Suffice to say all the cast I saw were great.

Now if you’ve never heard of this show, you’re reading the wrong part of this blog. I mean it appears that Hamilton has taken over the world. It is a Hip-Hop Musical telling the story of one of America’s Founding Fathers.

Stand out numbers for me included: ‘Burn’, ‘Alexander Hamilton’, ‘My Shot’ and ‘ You’ll be back’. As I say at 51 I am almost certainly not the intended demographic for this show, and it is, for me, a little like Shakespeare, it takes a while to get your ear into what they are singing, so as I result I intend to buy the CD and listen to it a few more times, and will aim to revisit when the tickets settle down a little. But don’t let the Hip Hop description put you off ‘Burn’ for example is a classic musical theatre power ballad. I really loved the show.

Now I had popped back into central London after getting my ticket for Hamilton and tried to get a day seat for my evening show, Company. Unfortunately when I got to the box office I was informed they had none left and people had been queuing from 6:30am.

I did however manage to get back row of the stalls for £50. So after Hamilton I went back to the hotel, changed, and headed back out to my final destination the Geilgud theatre and the last show of the trip.

 

Company – Music and Lyrics: Stephen Sondheim, Book: George Furth, Director: Marianne Elliott.

Cast: Rosalie Craig ‘Bobbie’, Patti Lupone ‘Joanne’, Mel Giedroyc, Jonathan Bailey, and special mention to Jennifer Saayeng who stepped in at a few hours notice to play the lead role of ‘Bobbie’ at the performance I saw.

Company tells the story of Bobby an unmarried man facing his 35th Birthday party attended by his friends, all couples, and their wonderings as to why he’s not married.

Now the eagle eyed amongst you may have realised something with that synopsis, and yes this is the first gender swap production of this show where Bobby is now BOBBIE a female 30 something. All the rest remains the same, with the exception of one of the couples now being same sex.

I have to say, never having seen a full performance of this show before the changes didn’t affect the piece in any noticeable way.

Stand out moments / songs for me included: ‘Getting married today’, ‘Being Alive’, ‘You could drive a person crazy’, and ‘the ladies who lunch’

Jennifer Saayeng was brilliant in the role, I mean she is never off the stage and, normally plays the role of one of the friends, but I didn’t spot a single mistake. Her voice was great, and the life she brought to the role was exhilarating.

So that’s another trip over, I hope it won’t, but I expect it’ll be a year before I get back, as the costs involved make more frequent visits prohibitive, lottery win excluded!

Stay Stagey folks ! 🙂

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