After our tour of the Royal National Theatre complex, cheered as the best tour so far, Nov. 21 was planned as an ad-lib afternoon and evening, in which the guests could do and go as they pleased.
One guest took a train to visit relatives near the Scottish border; a trio spent the day and evening in the castle town of Windsor and nearby Eton; a couple went with British friends to a classical concert at St. Martin-in-the-Fields.
One guest, a cigar, cheese and wine aficionado, spent the afternoon sampling all three at some of the specialty shops in the vicinity of the historic Seven Dials, where our hotel is located. Several guests blissfully tired themselves out wandering the winding but dazzlingly lit and bustling streets on the mildest, clearest evening so far.
Theatrically, people bought tickets for When We Are Married, Les Miserables and By Jeeves. Because other guests are seeing some of those same shows in the coming days, their reviews will be posted as part of the journey’s-end roundup the night of Nov. 24.
About a third of the group seized the opportunity offered by Playbill’s ticket broker to get in on the third night of the 25th anniversary revival of Jesus Christ Superstar at the newly refurbished Lyceum Theatre. As a special treat, two members of our party, Camille and Clifton Hieronymus, were among three dozen or so audience members who sat in special on-stage seats arranged Colosseum-like above and behind the action.
Here are selections from their reviews:
Camille Hieronymus of Ohio:
It was great sitting on the stage -- though I wouldn’t want to do it all the time. I was confused in the beginning. I didn’t realize he [Zubin Varla] was supposed to be Judas. My favorite performer was [David Burt] as Pontius Pilate. I thought he was Caesar. It was a very emotional experience. Cliff [her husband] and I were crying. It was very intense. I rate it #2 on the trip so far. Art was #1.
It’s interesting that the same person [John Napier] who did the sets for Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf did the costumes [and sets] for this. Overall I thought it was great.
Clifford Hieronymus of Ohio:
I enjoyed the hell out of it. The kid who played the part of Jesus [Steve Balsamo] had an emotional range and a lot of sensitivity in his voice, which served Jesus well. A delightful evening. It was an emotional experience, even though everyone’s seen it before. I liked it.
Sharon Ciano of New York:
Although Steve Balsamo who played Jesus was good, Ted Neeley [from the 1970s film version] is definitely the best Jesus ever. The theatre was incredible. The performance was very good and I would recommend seeing it.
Peggy Griffin of New Jersey:
I loved it. I loved the music. I liked Mary Magdalen [Joanna Ampil] and I liked Christ in the second act, when he was much more Christlike. I would go back and see it again.
James Simon of New York:
I was stunned by the theatre itself. The second you walk in the theatre, the architecture blows you away. It would be a fitting place for Phantom of the Opera.
The production was OK. I liked the fact that it was done in period. They didn’t try to modernize it. They kept it very simple. Minimalist is a good word. The Roman soldiers looked like real Roman soldiers. In a touring company I saw, they were selling t-shirts [during the Temple sequence]. Here they tried to give an accurate representation.
The performances were OK, a little disappointing. Judas was stiff. He has a good voice but his performances was rigid. Jesus lacked charisma. It’s hard to believe that the apostles would follow someone like that. Mary had a super voice. The Caiaphas [Peter Gallagher] was very strong. He underplayed it just a little bit to add to the believability.
"King Herod’s Song" was definitely not funny enough. He played it too seriously. Actually, I question a lot of the director’s choices. When Judas was walking around and around Caiaphas and the priests [in the "Damned for All Time/Blood Money" sequence] it was distracting.
Overall, I recommend it for the production values, certainly to see the theatre, and the music is terrific. The production was adequate. I would recommend it.
Playbill On-Line has been reporting from London throughout the week of Nov. 19-24. As a group we’ll be touring the working recreation of Shakespeare's Globe Theatre, as well as seeing the long-running musical hit, Blood Brothers. Also, on their own, members of the group plan to see Les Miserables, Miss Saigon Phantom of the Opera, Starlight Express, Scrooge, Laughter on the 23rd Floor, The Compleat Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged), By Jeeves, When We Are Married, A Doll’s House and others.Our next and final dispatch will be posted upon our return, Nov. 24.
Playbill is planning more exciting Preview Tours to London in spring and summer of 1997. We get the toughest tickets for the newest productions, and post guests’ reviews online. For inquiries, call Beverly Markman or Roberta Cohen at (800) 554-7513.
-- By Robert Viagas