What’s Hot in London: Critics Review Murder Ballad

News   What’s Hot in London: October 1-7
A London theatre becomes a home for new and old musicals, the Old Vic will stage a new show featuring songs by Bob Dylan, and critics review Travesties, Boys in the Band and Murder Ballad.
What’s Hot in London
What’s Hot in London

The St. James will be re-branded “The Other Palace” and become a home for musicals.
Victoria's St. James Theatre—a new-build theatre that first opened in 2012 on a site previously occupied by the Westminster Theatre—is to be re-branded the The Other Palace under Andrew Lloyd Webber's new ownership, from February 2017. The name is a reference to nearby Buckingham Palace and the Victoria Palace, but also presumably to the Palace Theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue that was the first theatre the composer and impresario owned. (That Palace has since been disposed of to the Nimax group, though Lloyd Webber continues to own several of London's most prominent musical theatre houses including the London Palladium, Theatre Royal Drury Lane and Adelphi Theatres.)

Andrew Lloyd Webber Opening Night Curtain Call Joseph Marzullo/WENN

The theatre plans to provide a home and breeding ground for musicals at various stages of development. Lloyd Webber has stated that he was inspired by his experience of producing School of Rock in New York in an unadorned try-out at the Gramercy Theatre before moving it to Broadway. In a press statement he has declared, “I very much hope that writers and producers will use The Other Palace as a space in the heart of London where they can try out and refine new material without the distraction of complicated sets and automation. I had a great experience trying out School of Rock at the Gramercy Theatre in New York in this way. It was a joy to work on the material without computers getting in the way. I hope my experience will be repeated by others in these exciting spaces.”

The main house theatre, that seats over 300, will house full productions, works-in-progress and festivals of new work. The already announced opening production slate will include a new production of Michael John LaChiusa’s Broadway version of The Wild Party, starring Tony winner Frances Ruffelle as Queenie and directed and choreographed by Olivier winner Drew McOnie (currently represented in London by In the Heights and soon to direct and choreograph a stage version of Strictly Ballroom, premiering at West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds in December). It will be followed by a new musical Whisper House by Spring Awakening composer Duncan Sheik.

The downstairs 120-seater studio will programme cabaret, music and musical theatre by night and will also be also available by day for musical theatre creators to discover and create new material.

The Old Vic announces a new play by Conor McPherson, featuring songs by Dylan, plus casting for Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead.
London’s Old Vic, where the Broadway bound Groundhog Day recently originated, has announced that Conor McPherson is to write and direct Girl from the North Country, a new work set in Duluth, Minnesota in the midst of the Great Depression. The play will feature classic songs by Bob Dylan and open in July 2017. It joins the already announced new productions of Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead —starring Daniel Radcliffe and Joshua McGuire in the title roles—and John Boyega in Jack Thorne’s new version of Woyzeck, in May.

Reviews: Travesties
Tom Stoppard is in the midst of a busy revival time of his early work. As well as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern heading to the Old Vic, this week a new production of his 1974 hit RSC play Travesties opened at the Menier Chocolate Factory October 4. The production stars Tom Hollander as minor consular official Henry Carr at the British Embassy in Zurich in 1917, where a giddying collision of Lenin, James Joyce and Tristan Tzara takes place.

In The Guardian, Michael Billington (who saw and loved the original production) admitted to being “a touch apprehensive” about seeing Hollander inhere the role originally played by John Wood, since that performance “is one of the highlights of my theatregoing life.“ But he replied to himself, “I needn’t have worried, since Hollander brings his own brand of spry mischief to the role and Stoppard’s play has lost none of its champagne fizz and buoyant energy.”

In the Daily Telegraph, Dominic Cavendish is also full of admiration for the play and production, too. “When people need to know why Sir Tom is now widely regarded as the brainiest – and best – living playwright in the land, they need simply refer themselves to this cryptic-crossword of a modern classic.... The artifice is fleet, funny and hooks you in even as you pant to keep up.“

Reviews: Murder Ballad
Juliana Nash and Julia Jordan’s 2013 musical Murder Ballad, originally premiered at Manhattan Theatre Club before transferring to the Union Square Theatre, has received its London premiere. It opened at the Arts Theatre October 5 in a production starring Ramin Karimloo (Tony nominated for Broadway’s last revival of Les Misérables, and to appear next year in Anastasia), Kerry Ellis (Wicked in the West End and on Broadway), Victoria Hamilton-Barritt and Norman Bowman.

Ramin Karimloo
Ramin Karimloo

In my own review for The Stage, I wrote, “The original Off-Broadway production at Manhattan Theatre Club’s studio space was staged in-the-round and brought the audience into close-up focus with its raw, exposed, needy passions. On an elevated stage at the Arts, it feels more distant. This staging is also a lot more physically explicit, with Ramin Karimloo’s Tom not once but twice going shirtless while Kerry Ellis’ Sara wears a black negligee. It ups the raunch stakes considerably. Meanwhile, Julia Jordan and Juliana Nash’s score pulses and throbs with desire and passion.“

In The Guardian, Lyn Gardner writes, “When you fall in love with someone you only have eyes for them. If they ignore you, it can feel as if you’ve been erased. It’s a kind of murder—or so it proves in Julia Jordan and Juliana Nash’s clever chamber rock musical which has plenty of sharp wit and the driving force of a noir thriller. Sam Yates’s staging boasts a quartet of spot-on performances.... It’s a pity that this isn’t staged in a more intimate space, which would bring the audience into the heart of the action and implicate us more.“

Reviews: The Boys in the Band
Mart Crowley’s Off-Broadway classic comedy of gay life in ’60s Manhattan has received a revival that opened October 4 at London's Park Theatre, featuring Mark Gatiss (co-creator of TV's Sherlock and an Olivier-winning actor) and his real-life husband Ian Hallard.

In a review for the Daily Telegraph, Claire Allfree writes, “It's not just the corduroy trousers and natty jumpers that are showing their age in Crowley’s waspishly funny comedy—which broke new ground for the way it explored the psyche of a group of gay men and which was made into an equally landmark 1970 film. Twenty-first century audiences might also balk at the toxic levels of self hatred that consume several characters in Adam Penford’s slick revival, however affectionately they might call themselves and each other faggot. Yet as the booze—and the blood—flows, Crowley’s excavation of the treacherous territory between self knowledge and self acceptance still has the power to wound. At times the emotional warfare on display resembles a gay version of Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf?

In The Guardian, Lyn Gardner also notes the affinity to Albee’s classic. “The acting from the entire cast rises above a play that often comes across like a gay, light version of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and which offers such an unremittingly bleak portrait of gay men—stereotypically bitchy, corroded with anxiety and self-hatred—that at times it is uncomfortable to watch,” she writes. “It is antiquated in both its attitudes and construction, but there’s no denying that The Boys in the Band was radical in its time, using boulevard comedy to stealthily open the way for gay lives to come out of the closet and take centre stage. Against all the odds, [director Adam] Penford and his cast make a reasonable case for it.”

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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