What’s Hot in London: April 24-30

Special Features   What’s Hot in London: April 24-30
 
Glenn Close had to take a brief leave from Sunset Boulevard, and critics sound off on Doctor Faustus and Show Boat.
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Glenn Close and Michael Xavier

Illness interrupts Glenn Close’s run in Sunset Boulevard
Glenn Close earned rave reviews from the London press for her return to the role of Norma Desmond that she originated in the American premiere run of Sunset Boulevard in L.A. before reprising it to Tony-winning glory in the show’s New York bow in 1994. But last week she missed four consecutive performances, and she was due to miss a fifth on Monday (English National Opera, the presenting company, revised its earlier tweet that she was still unwell and issued another that she would sing after all).

On Monday night, a house manager told the audience before the performance that Close has been very ill with flu and, nevertheless, had insisted on performing, but that she asked for the audience’s understanding.

On the classical music blog Slipped Disc, it had been reported that Close’s understudy Ria Jones—a Welsh born veteran of Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals—got a five-minute standing ovation after her first performance in the role. (She has form with Lloyd Webber shows: now 49, she had, 30 years ago at the age of 19, been the youngest performer ever to play the title role in Evita and had subsequently appeared in the West End as Grizabella in Cats. She had sung the role of Norma Desmond during an early workshop version of the show at Lloyd Webber’s private Sydmonton Festival.)

One theatregoer who had made the trip to see Close specially from Italy posted a comment saying, “I was disappointed, because I made thousands of kilometers and spent a lot of money to see a dream come true, my first time in London, my first time to see Sunset Boulevard on stage with my favourite Norma, Glenn Close. But she was ill. Amen. In any case, I saw a great performance, an amazing show, a wonderful orchestra, and a lovely rising star, the beautiful Ria Jones, that now I love so much because her Norma has been simply marvelous. Brava, Ria!”

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Game of Thrones star Kit Harington divides critics as Doctor Faustus
Directly across the street from the London Coliseum where Sunset Boulevard is playing, another star of the small screen is returning to the theatrical stage: Kit Harington, best known as Jon Snow in TV's Game of Thrones, was last seen in the West End in the premiere of Laura Wade’s Posh at the Royal Court—a play subsequently made into a feature film without him. Now he’s starring in the title role of Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus, in a revised version that lends a modern contemporary setting to the play.

In a review for the Daily Telegraph, Dominic Cavendish remarks, “There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with this sort of star-driven ‘event’ theatre (how neatly apt too that the actor was named after ‘Kit’ Marlowe by his folks). But alas there’s little that’s intrinsically right about Jamie Lloyd’s revival…[that] verges on being totally incomprehensible in this dismally conceived rehash.”

The production also stars Jenna Russell—the Tony-nominated Dot of the last Broadway Sunday in the Park with George that transferred from London’s Menier Chocolate Factory—as Mephistopheles, who, says Cavendish, provides the show’s most memorable moment, when she “gives a tongue-in-cheek rendition of Meatloaf’s Bat Out of Hell after the interval. Anyone sensible would have got the hell out before that.”

In Variety, Matt Trueman pertinently asks, “Must theater sell its soul for new audiences? Director Jamie Lloyd has made it his mission to bring a new generation into theater, but at what price? Canny casting pulls in a young crowd; flashy productions send them out breathlessly excited…. Lloyd is bringing a new generation to the theater, and deserves credit for that. This is theater you blu-tack to your bedroom walls; Marlowe as a two-hour music video. The flip side is superficiality, and it often feels as though Lloyd isn’t chasing down ideas so much as dressing them up.”

But there’s some compensation, and Trueman applauds Harrington’s transformation “convincingly from superhacker to superstar—a feat few actors could pull off. His lank hair now looks stylish; his hoodie hangs opens on a gym-toned body—one he parades, for most of the second half, in tight white trunks.”

Is he giving Benjamin Walker, the star of another flashy London director Rupert Goold’s Broadway production of American Psycho, a run for his money?

Show Boat makes a five-star return to the West End
Kern and Hammerstein’s Show Boat, like Ol’ Man River that comes from it, just keeps rollin’ along. The latest production to come to the West End—after a previous RSC staging came to the London Palladium in 1990 and Hal Prince’s Broadway revival for producer Garth Drabinksy came to the Prince Edward in 1998—was first seen at Sheffield’s Crucible Theatre last Christmas, where director Daniel Evans (a Tony nominee as a performer for playing the title role in Sunday in the Park with George, opposite the aforementioned Jenna Russell) is artistic director and helmed it in an abbreviated version first seen at Goodspeed Opera House.

It has now earned five-star raves in the West End, including from Dominic Cavendish in the Daily Telegraph, who nevertheless fretted about its commercial chances, writing: “It would be an absolute crying shame if theatregoers in the capital, so indulged with rival offers, didn’t press this big ambitious treat close to their hearts. This is an evening that radiates not only immense talent across the board but also supreme confidence in its material.” My own five-star verdict for The Stage declared, “This exhilarating update of a true classic is now one of the West End’s most gorgeous shows.” And, in The Guardian, Michael Billington writes, “There are many factors that make Show Boat a great night in the theatre. Not the least of them, however, is Evans’s realisation that this is a musical that joyously looks to the future without wholly eradicating the past.”

London news of the week
The Donkey Show, the immersive club house disco show that puts the audience at the center of the party, is to return to London and play another real-life nightclub, Proud Camden, from June 9-August 21. American musical theatre writer Adam Gwon is to present a cabaret night at London’s St. James Studio May 12. And, Broadway star Tituss Burgess (currently best known for playing Titus Andromedon in the Netflix comedy series Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt) is to make his London debut with three concerts at the London Hippodrome September 22-23.

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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