Phil Willmott travels through theatreland
Give my regards to Broadway… and Southwark!
A touch of Broadway comes to SE1 this month when the gorgeously scruffy little Union Theatre, under a railway arch by Southwark Tube Station, shoehorns a classic musical from The Great White Way* onto it’s stage.
Actually they’re very good at this and I’ve had some enjoyable nights recently at their other musical re-inventions; an unexpectedly charming all male HMS Pinafore and a rough and ready “lets do the show right here in the barn” Annie Get You Gun.
This time the clever director Thom Southerland strips back 1950’s favourite The Pajama Game so effectively that you wonder what it ever gained from a big stage and full orchestra.
The enthusiastic cast create the militant workers of a mid-west Pyjama factory right under your nose and in and around the cluster of audience seats. If that doesn’t sound like the promising premise for a musical comedy…well it isn’t really. The plot barely holds water as the new management guy, Sid, falls for Babe, head of the Union’s grievance committee. There’s virtually no will they/won’t they tension and most of the surrounding characters are silly, but the songs are glorious including deserved classics like Hey There, Once a Year Day, Steam Heat and Hernando’s Hide Away. If you don’t already know ‘em shame on you. Grab the nearest granny or musical theatre queen and they’ll set you right.
At the press night Stephanie Nielson pluckily stood in for an indisposed Kate Nelson, Gillian McCafferty makes a hilarious ditsy vamp and male leads Graham Weaver, Nicholas Cass-Beggs and Sean Pol MCGreevy are all appropriately cute and sassy.
And if that wets your appetite for NYC theatre fare, now is a great time to drop in on some real Broadway Shows. Flights are very cheap, there’s virtually two dollars to the pound, and cut price tickets are available to pretty much all the top shows from the half price booth off Time Square before the tourist season really kicks in.
Last week in the Big Apple I admired expressionist new musical The Adding Machine, although not recommended for the jet lagged! Legally Blonde is a hilarious, shocking pink, Barbie dolls’ house of a show with an infectious opening song you can catch before a London cast sedate it here. A Catered Affair, the new show by Harvey Fierstien (who wrote Torch Song Trilogy), is short, gentle and a bit of a yawn despite some clever touches from Brit director John Doyle. It was great to see how Broadway Master Director Harold Prince tackled Candide, a clever-clever musical that has always baffled me. Meanwhile, legendary leading lady Patti Lupone in Gypsy is everything she should be – there’ll be talking about that one for years. Rent-lite teen hit Spring Awakening is as innovative and stirring as you’ve heard. And finally the family melodrama/soap August is gripping and hilarious…
….oh and I especially enjoyed watching the cute waiter I picked up in a bar act out his new musical, along with his friends, in their front room in Washington Heights. It’s a hell of a town!
*Or “Broadway”, for those of you not au fait with thesp rhyming slang.