As Nathan Rothschild proclaims in The Rothschilds: "Mother, Father, I'm here! I'm in London!"
Seventeen guests joined Playbill On-Line Managing Editor Robert Viagas and guide Alan Gutterman in raising the yellow and black banner of Playbill On-Line over London's West End on the inaugural Playbill Preview Tour of London.
We flew out of New York's Kennedy Airport into the clear evening sky July 21 and arrived, with the time change, at dawn July 22, and retired to the four-star Waldorf Meridien Hotel to work off our jet lags.
By six that evening we were dining with theatre critic (and Playbill correspondent) Sheridan Morley, who painted a lively picture of the current London theatre scene, and offered thumbnail previews of the four scheduled show's we're to see this week -- Martin Guerre, Oliver!, Julius Caesar and By Jeeves.
Afterward we mingled with the theatregoing throngs in the narrow streets leading to the Prince Edward Theatre, where we saw the first show of our trip, Martin Guerre, which just opened July 10. The musical is written by Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schonberg, the team responsible for Les Miserables, and Miss Saigon. Both previous shows were familiar to the passionate theatregoers who comprise the majority of our expedition. A subcommittee of the group soon found itself sipping Ruddles Best Bitter from Little Nell's Pub on Catherine Street at the steps of the Royal Drury Lane Theatre, debating the show's merits. A meeting of the full membership convened the following morning in the Palm Court for a breakfast post-mortem. Here are some of the minutes of those gatherings. The general opinion on Martin Guerre among the 19 Guerreillas was 13 thumbs up, six thumbs down. The story and score came in for special praise, though some felt the former needed clarifying, and the latter sometimes sounded similar to Les Miz. The singers, especially the leads, were criticized for lacking vocal power and personal charisma.
Milton Demel of Studio City, CA:
"It could be extraordinary, but the [vocally inadequate] cast kept getting in the way. I kept thinking how I'd love to hear that score in New York with really incredible singers." His proposed cast for the U.S. production: Anthony Crivello as Arnaud, Judy Kuhn as Bertrande, Alison Fraser as Madame de Rols.
Kenneth Robbins of Poughkeepsie, N.Y.:
It's got one of the all-time great second acts I've ever seen in a musical. I liked the power, the [Jonathan Tunick] orchestrations, the tension and the emotional buildup. That song, "The Imposters," is just fabulous.
Frances Lamburini of Queens, N.Y.:
"I enjoyed the music but the voices [of leads Iain Glen and Juliette Caton] weren't carrying it." She felt the show could have been 15 minutes shorter, and that the Act II scene ("The Madness") in which the Catholic villagers mime killing Protestants could profitably be shortened.
Robert Hatem of New York City:
If they'd had highly-trained singers it would be right, but I feel him [Glen] reaching for the notes. With stronger singers this could be a great show.
Arnold Sundel of Brooklyn, N.Y.:
I keep hearing similarities with Les Miz in certain ways. The lights and sets are very good, but the singing is not operatic. It's good, but it's almost as if they were trying to do a carbon copy [of the two previous shows].
Annette Jacobs of East Lansing, MI:
"I liked it. It had focus. You could empathize with the characters. The scene where [the fool, Benoit's] "girlfriend" [a scarecrow he's named Louison] was burned is the emotional center of the show." She especially admired the percussive dances by Bob Avian, which she compared to those of the Celtic troupe Riverdance.
On the second day of our trip, we'll be touring London, choosing add-on shows to see later this week, and then, in the evening, seeing Oliver! at the London Palladium. Check in tomorrow for our reviews.
The second Playbill Preview Tour to London, Nov. 17-24, is booking quickly. For details, jump London in November, or call Beverly Markman or Roberta Cohen at (800) 554-7513.
-- Robert Viagas