What’s Hot in London: July 23-29

News   What’s Hot in London: July 23-29
Reviews (and some of the secrets) are out for Harry Potter, and re-runs for two 1960s hits, Half a Sixpence and Breakfast at Tiffany’s, return.
What’s Hot in London
What’s Hot in London

Did critics #KeeptheSecrets on Harry Potter?
The two-part stage premiere of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child opens officially with a gala opening July 30, but unusually the reviews are already in, with critics allowed to see previews and publish them from July 26. Last week I wondered aloud here whether critics would be able to #KeeptheSecrets, and not allow their reviews to be full of spoilers. (A new batch of tickets goes on sale August 4, as reported here, but for those who can’t wait to see it—or can’t get tickets, the rehearsal script is being published at midnight July 30).

One blog has assessed the reviews for spoilers, and out of 21 surveyed, only four are deemed ‘Safe to read’—including, I’m pleased to say, my own!

But if you mostly can’t avoid spoilers, you also couldn’t avoid the reviews. They were everywhere, with an unusually strong contingent of leading U.S. critics making the trip over, including the New York Times’ Ben Brantley, the Chicago Tribune’s Chris Jones and USA Today’s Elysa Gardner. Other U.S.-based publications like Wall Street Journal, Time, Variety, the Hollywood Reporter and Entertainment Weekly all also had local stringers file reviews.

As Theo Bosenquet wrote for Time, “Anticipation has been feverish around the world; tickets are as hard to catch as a Golden Snitch, and producer Sonia Friedman has compared the endeavor to opening a Star Wars movie in a single cinema. And yet there’s been little advance word on the ground since previews opened. Rowling and her acolytes have successfully convinced early viewers to keep silent about the play’s story. Call the auditorium a chamber of secrets.”

He hits the nail on the head when he writes, “While many Potter fans might have preferred a new movie or a book, this is a story that feels made for the stage. Yes, it’s packed with effects as characters cast spells, fly and even transform, achieved through old school stagecraft rather than digital trickery. But [playwright Jack] Thorne and [director John] Tiffany also conjure up moments of intimate drama; it’s telling that the biggest gasp in Part One came not from a twist of the plot or a moment of magic but during a blazing argument between Harry and Albus where the father firmly crosses a line.”

In the New York Times, Brantley frets about crossing the line himself of exposing too much of the story: “Oh, for a wizard’s spell that would allow me to tell you everything, and then erase it completely from your memory. But though I paid rapt attention during the afternoon and evening I spent at Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, which opened in a blaze of outrageous enchantment on Monday night at the Palace Theater here, I failed to pick up on any recipe for inducing post-tell-all amnesia in Muggles, which is Potter-speak for nonwizards like you and me.” (His own amnesia evidently spreads to the opening itself; there was no performance on Monday.)

In a review for the new U.S. website Heatstreet, a young critic Charlie Prince shows off his Potter credentials vigorously in a review full of spoilers, signaled with a prior warning, but also comes up with a fiction entirely of his own: “The show’s opening and closing dates have been reshuffled so much in order to wrong-foot any potential terrorist activity,” he declares. There is, of course, no closing date (not for the next few decades, at least!), but the opening still stands on July 30. The only thing that was changed was when reviews could be published; and as lead producers Sonia Friedman and Colin Callender both spoke to me personally about the date shift, I know that terrorism wasn’t an issue, but a desire to have the reviews contextualise the show before the script was published.

Cameron Mackintosh overhauls a ‘60s British musical. Could the West End be next?
Producer Cameron Mackintosh has entered a new phase of his creative career. After originating such global hits as Cats, Phantom of the Opera and Miss Saigon, as well as re-launching Les Miserables in a completely different production that swept it to world fame from the original Paris version he was not involved in, he has gone back to previously made shows and given them a brand-new spin.

Mary Poppins, based on the film of the same name and the P.L. Travers novels, was augmented by new songs by Stiles and Drewe and a new book by Julian Fellowes; now the same team have overhauled the 1963 musical Half a Sixpence that was originally a vehicle for ‘60s pop star Tommy Steele, first in the West End and subsequently on Broadway, but never revived since.

It opened at Chichester Festival Theatre on July 26, where Mackintosh also attempted an overhaul of the Broadway show Barnum two years ago but which never made it to the West End after a national tour. Mackintosh is himself billed as ‘co-creator’ of this new version.

The critics are more than a little divided: In an ecstatic five-star rave for the Evening Standard, Fiona Mountford declares it to be “the undoubted hit of the summer, perhaps even the year,” perhaps forgetting that only the day before the paper’s lead critic Henry Hitchings had written of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, “For once the so-called theatrical event of the year really is just that.”

In The Guardian, however, Lyn Gardner concludes, “sympathy and heart are what this strenuous, old-fashioned enterprise utterly lacks.”

Breakfast at Tiffany’s with pop star Pixie Lott arrives.
A new stage version of Truman Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s has arrived at the Theatre Royal, Haymarket, just seven years after a previous version played there. This time it is being seen in Richard Greenberg’s 2013 Broadway adaptation, and stars pop singer Pixie Lott in her adult West End stage debut as Holly Golightly. (She previously appeared as a child actor in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.)

In my own review for The Stage, I declared, “a commercially cynical attempt to marry a well-known title to a star casting falls completely flat”.

In the Daily Telegraph, Dominic Cavendish writes of Lott’s responsibilities: “Much of the newbie actress’s energy is spent slipping in and out of beautiful dresses backstage. Her remaining vivacity is dispensed on flashing smiles, pouting lips and raising her eyebrows in an attitude of coquettish amusement.”

She also gets to sing. As Holly Williams writes for The Independent, “It’s billed a ‘stage play with music’—they’re obviously not gonna pass up the chance to hear a pop star croon ‘Moon River.’ And when that famous number comes, it is very much the X Factor version; big and tremulous.”

News and casting in London
David Bowie’s Lazarus, premiered at New York Theatre Workshop last year, is to have its London bow at the King’s Cross Theatre from October 25, with Michael C. Hall, Michael Esper and Sophia Anne Caruso set to reprise their New York roles. Esper is already in the U.K., preparing to star in John Tiffany’s transfer of the 2013 Broadway production of The Glass Menagerie, that runs at Edinburgh’s King’s Theatre from August 5-21 as part of the Edinburgh International Festival. Esper, who will play Tom, newly joins Cherry Jones who will reprise her Tony-nominated performance as Amanda Wingfield. Also in the cast are British actress Kate O’Flynn and Seth Numrich, who last starred in London in another Williams play Sweet Bird of Youth at the Old Vic, opposite Kim Cattrall.

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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