What’s Hot in London: April 10-16

Special Features   What’s Hot in London: April 10-16 Could Alexander Hamilton cross the pond? And, will Britney Spears take on Cinderella?
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Joan Marcus

Is Hamilton headed to the West End?
It’s not a question of if, it’s a question of when. In an interview with the New York Times magazine last weekend, it was revealed that Hamilton lead producer Jeffrey Seller “is working with the British producer Cameron Mackintosh on a Hamilton production to open in London in 2017, which will be followed by companies in Continental Europe and Australia.” There are, of course, never any guarantees with whether a show acclaimed on Broadway will play as successfully in the West End. Rent, Spring Awakening, Memphis and Once are just some of the Tony-winning titles that failed to replicate their Broadway successes. On the other hand, Legally Blonde was far more successful in the West End than it ever was on Broadway (and, just this week, has seen a major new production premiere at the regional powerhouse of the Curve in Leicester).

It will also be interesting to see if and when Finding Neverland and School of Rock, both of which have also announced intentions to come to London, make it across the pond and what happens when they do.

Arnold Wesker
Arnold Wesker Wikimedia Commons

The death of Wesker, whose own career was overshadowed by the death of Zero Mostel
Sir Arnold Wesker’s death April 12, aged 83, caused one unintentionally hilarious moment in the House of Commons. After the Leader of the Opposition, Jeremy Corbyn, paid generous tribute to his passing, the Prime Minister replied with one of his own—but couldn’t remember the name of the person he was supposed to be honoring. (Watch the clip here.) He replied, “Let me join the right honorable gentleman in mourning the loss of…the famous playwright, and all the work he did. He’s quite right to mention that.”

Actually, Wesker was an often overlooked figure. Though he found fame as the author of the Wesker trilogy, as it was known, of Chicken Soup with Barley (premiered in 1958), Roots (1959) and I'm Talking About Jerusalem (1960), as well as The Kitchen (also 1959), he would never repeat that run of success again. In the 1970s, he suffered what the Guardian dubbed "several professional catastrophes." The Journalists, a play that was accepted for production by the RSC in 1972, was aborted when the company refused to perform it after it went into rehearsal. He went vocal in the press in his anger at the RSC’s artistic director, Trevor Nunn, and sued the company for damages—finally “winning the battle but not the war,” as the Guardian also put it, when he won damages in court in 1980.

When I interviewed him in 2005, he was still holding onto that resentment, telling me, “Of directors that I think are very good, though it pains me to say so because I so dislike him as a person, Trevor Nunn is obviously a good director.”

Another catastrophe occurred in 1977 when his play Shylock did an out-of-town try-out in Philadelphia—and Zero Mostel, playing the title role, died shortly after the first preview—and the intended Broadway transfer was aborted. It did, however, lead to one of the most brilliant of all backstage theatre books, The Birth of Shylock and the Death of Zero Mostel, in which he chronicled in painstaking detail everything that went wrong. As the New York Times wrote in a review of the book, “Any number of backstage intrigues lend still more drama to the extended rehearsal and tryout history. It is fascinating to observe, for instance, how it gradually dawns on Wesker that an actress had been cast as a favor to Mostel (her stepfather was his lawyer). Wesker, who resisted pruning his script, describes the show’s director, John Dexter, as having an ‘electrifying mixture of inspiration and malice,’ perhaps because he made extensive cuts without consulting the author.”

When I spoke to Wesker in 2005, he had made some peace with these disasters. Asked if he felt neglected, he replied, “It’s very difficult to feel neglected when my plays are done so often around the world. When I keep getting commissioned to do things, such as writing Blood Libel for Norwich Playhouse or adapting Longitude for a new production, or there’s a film being made of The Kitchen, neglect isn’t a word I’d use. But like all writers, I’d like to have more exposure. I don’t feel that my work is fully known.”

David Gest and Liza Minnelli
David Gest and Liza Minnelli Joseph Marzullo

David Gest checks out while staying in a London hotel
A more sudden, unexpected and unexplained death also occurred in London last week. David Gest, former husband of Liza Minnelli, was also found dead in a London hotel at the age of just 62. Ironically, Gest—who was a U.K. resident at the time, living in the city of York—was about to embark on a U.K. tour called David Gest Is Not Dead But Alive with Soul, appearing with ten soul legends. The music promoter and manager had done a stint as a housemate on British TV’s Celebrity Big Brother, where one of his fellow housemates was Angie Bowie, whose former husband David Bowie died during the series. When Angie Bowie told another guest Tiffany Pollard that “David's dead,” Pollard thought she meant Gest.

Will Britney do panto?
Some U.K. news sources reported this week that Britney Spears was in discussions to play the lead in a pantomime version of Cinderella that will bring the beloved Christmas entertainment genre back to the London Palladium this year. But the show’s director and producer, Michael Harrison, told The Stage that casting celebrities for the sake of it was “the last thing” he plans to do.

As he said, “Yes, you want to talk to people who may be headline-grabbing, yes to people who maybe bring huge star quality. But if we are going to do this properly, all I really want is people that can do it. If this is an opportunity of saying to the world, ‘Hey, this is what pantomime is,’ the last thing I want is celebrity casting for the sake of celebrity casting.” Watch this space to see who ends up starring.

For further news…
Stay tuned to Playbill.com—and follow me on Twitter here, @shentonstage, for rolling news updates as they happen.

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