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Tag Archive | "Broadway"

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Feature: How to Describe a Plague: Dan Phillips on directing Safe Sex and On Tidy Endings

Posted on 10 April 2014 by Billy Barrett

safesex

The weekend of our first same-sex weddings, Dan Phillips started rehearsals for the UK premier of Safe Sex and On Tidy Endings. Harvey Fierstein’s 1987 plays depict a darker chapter in the lives and loves of gay men – the AIDS epidemic. Part of a blackly comic trilogy, their original Broadway run closed after just a few performances amidst a media frenzy surrounding the disease; perhaps the reason why Fierstein is better known today for musical theatre – he wrote the books for La Cage aux Folles and Kinky Boots – and we tend to turn to writers like Tony Kushner and Larry Kramer for plays on the subject.

Besides, says Phillips, a young Director from Swansea, “these are plays about AIDS, but none of the characters have AIDS. Unlike The Normal Heart or Angels in America where you watch healthy young men onstage wear away as the virus eats them alive, Fierstein looks at the people it leaves behind – and that’s very rarely done.” Safe Sex studies the psychological damage wrought by the epidemic; the fear that the spectre of HIV drives into one couple’s intimate life. On Tidy Endings is a post-mortem of two relationships, as a gay man and a straight woman react to the death of the man they both loved. The opener is “very much about how AIDS changed gay relationships, whereas the second play is about loss, whether you’re gay, straight, male or female,” Phillips says. “There’s the undercurrent of a certain period, and a certain tragedy that hit a community and then started to spread.”

Our cultural encounters with AIDS are almost always through the prism of this particular time. Stock footage of Reagan and Thatcher, synth pop and pink triangles bearing “Silence = Death’”: for many young people today, these are our immediate associations with the disease – the world captured in the recent documentary How to Survive a Plague. Yet new HIV infections are on the rise. Doesn’t focusing on the past perpetuate the misconception that the danger’s over? “That’s a good question,” Phillips considers. “But these plays don’t really feel like 80s plays… and it gets people talking about it, which I guess is the main thing.”

He’s also keen to fill in gaps people might have in their knowledge of LGBT history. This starts young: “I trained as a teacher before I became a director, and worked with a lot of kids in schools. You see the amount that’s taught on the civil rights movement and the bloodshed there, yet nothing about the LGBT community’s fight.” Phillips experienced first-hand the legacy of Section 28, the Tories’ local government act that forbade the “promotion” of homosexuality in schools – something he’s spoken about with his cast in rehearsals. “I was teaching in a school recently, and sent out an email to highlight the importance of this weekend. I was told not to spread my personal opinion throughout the staff. I’ve also taught sex education in schools, and been told that I’m not allowed to talk about certain things.”

Phillips hopes his staging will speak directly to a contemporary British audience. “I have a feeling about accents in theatre, especially American,” he says. “They create distance, separate you from the reality of the play.” With the blessing of the plays’ literary agent, he’s anglicised the dialogue, re-set the references and swapped San Francisco for London – our own “gay mecca”. America was hit harder by the epidemic, but “because it wasn’t as dominant in this country,” Phillips suggests, “what you got was the fear of something much bigger”. He’s set his version in 1986, the year of the government’s infamous ‘Don’t Die of Ignorance’ campaign – tombstones on leaflets through every letterbox, John Hurt’s voice thundering over prophetic TV ads. “It was the point that there was the most fear, without really understanding what this thing was; you didn’t see it wherever you went but you heard about it, which is a lot more frightening.”

Two years in the making, Phillips’s spin on the plays has been “a real passion project”. As well as tweaking the dialogue, he made the decision to drop the trilogy’s third play, Manny and Jake. “I felt it had dated, in a sense – it was very abstract, quite a forward thinking and strong piece of writing in its time, but I didn’t feel that it conveyed the message it wanted to anymore. Rather than try and force it to be something that it’s not, it made more sense just to drop it.”

This summer, he’ll also revive Fierstein’s International Stud at the Edinburgh Fringe. What draws him to the playwright’s work? “He resonates with me. I just love the way that he can create gut-wrenching emotion and laugh out loud humour in the same piece. So many AIDS plays are just bleak. But there’s something about Fierstein’s work – he lived through it and he lost people, yet he still manages to find the humour in it.”

The production of Safe Sex and On Tidy Endings opens this month at the Tristan Bates Theatre, and benefits the Make a Difference trust, raising funds for people in the theatre and entertainment industries living with HIV and AIDS. “I’ve always wanted to do something for MAD, and I feel so privileged that I finally have the chance to get these plays on”, Phillips says. “Human nature is to deal with things by humour. And the more we rehearse these plays, the more we’re finding that. It makes for an evening of not just education, but also entertainment – you can’t get away from the fact that whatever else theatre does, it has to entertain.”

 

Safe Sex and On Tidy Endings will be at the Tristan Bates Theatre from 22 April until 17 May. For more information and tickets, visit the Tristan Bates website.

Billy Barrett

Billy Barrett

Billy currently studies English and Theatre at Warwick University. Between reviewing and reading for his course, Billy writes, directs and acts in theatre. He tries to see everything in London, Warwick and beyond!

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Blog: The Wicked Stage: Andrew Lloyd Webber – is he friend or foe of musical theatre?

Posted on 07 October 2013 by Sarah Green

6687987361_ea4f077ae3_nGrowing up, my first experience of musicals was from a tape of Andrew Lloyd Webber songs that me and the family played in the car almost continuously the summer I turned 10. This was added to by VHS tapes of Cats, Joseph and his Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and the fiftieth birthday celebration which we owned. Once I went to university to study musical theatre I found a snobbery regarding these songs I had spent a childhood loving and there was an anger towards Lloyd Webber and his big musicals. So which is it? Is he an innovator and worthy of a statue in his honour, or is he to blame for an apparent decline in the quality of musicals?

Norman Lebrecht is very clear on where he stands regarding the composer: in his blog he claims that whilst Lloyd Webber may know how to sell a show he “has trashed down the genre to a series of musical clichés and pop tunes”. Whilst I might agree that Lloyd Webber’s influence on scale and technology is evident, I disagree that he has caused musical theatre to be a form “that barely engages the brain”. Lloyd Webber is merely one facet of a widespread genre. It is still a predominantly American theatrical form and, in their hands, engaging and thought-provoking musicals abound. However, I also believe that British writers can be up there, too, if given the chance to nurture their shows. Lebrecht also harks back to the early musicals that sat between grand opera and low brow music hall. We have now lost the music hall tradition and as such new parameters have been set; I could argue that musical theatre has merely expanded to hold the middle ground as well as filling a niche in the more low brow entertainment.

In regards to this statue I do agree it is a mistake in so far as it comes across as very narcissistic. Regardless of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s involvement, there is an arrogance around a statue of a someone still alive. I believe they mean more when given retrospectively and in memorial of a life. Who knows what Lloyd-Webber might still do? He may squander everything and we won’t want to have a memorial to him, or he may produce his best work yet. Additionally, if Broadway is not giving Harold Prince or Stephen Sondheim statues then Lloyd Webber doesn’t deserve his yet, either. What I would agree on though is that he should have one at some point because, love him or hate him, there is no denying he has brought audiences to musical theatre and helped place the West End in the history books of musical theatre.

Therefore, whilst I agree a statue may be apt I believe it premature to erect one just yet. All I really know for sure though is that if a statue is put up it won’t cause me to want to leave the country like Lebrecht.

Photo by Flickr user Robert Couse-Baker under a Creative Commonc Licence.

Sarah Green

Sarah Green

Sarah is a musical theatre graduate now studying for her Masters in theatre practice with hopes of going onto a PHD. She has been writing for A Younger Theatre since September 2011 on all things musical theatre related.

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Blog: The Wicked Stage – Newsies

Posted on 29 July 2013 by Sarah Green

7284868320_fe45cb18dc_bSo this is perhaps my guiltiest pleasure musical of the moment, but who doesn’t love a cast of athletic men singing and dancing their faces off? The show is a Disney Theatrical Productions show and as such my excitability is playing right into the hands of the corporate machine, but let’s be honest, I have been doing that since I spent my childhood singing along to Andrew Lloyd Webber songs in the car and I regret nothing.

The show is based on the 1992 cult classic Newsies, with music by Alan Menken and Jack Feldman, and details the Newsboys Strike of 1889. They have re-arranged the songs from the film as well as adding new material. The original Broadway production transferred from the off-Broadway Papermill Playhouse in 2012 and lost out on the Tony Award for Best Musical to Once (a worthy winner). However, it did win for choreography (which is no great surprise if you have seen these boys tumble, spin and tap their way through the show) and for Best Original Score. What I also liked about the production and how they generally work in New York is that you go through open auditions as part of the casting; there is less need for an agent to submit you for work. Therefore, the majority of the young cast had their Broadway debuts when their show transferred to The Nederlander in March 2012. Even when it transferred it was only for a limited run, which they extended, before announcing in May 2012 that the show now had an open-ended engagement.

So as the show prepares to transfer to London in spring 2014, I was very excited to read that they held open auditions in June for the show. Whilst you do need to have strong technical dance ability and be able to sing well, you also need a playing age of 16-22. So there is a chance a young performer, who might find it difficult to break into the industry, will have gone and shone at these auditions. So say whatever you want about the ethics of commercial theatre and big corporations like Disney, but it is hard not to be excited at the possibility of nurturing young talent. Plus, it’s hard to ignore yet another show promoting dance and masculinity – seriously I’m going to need a fan or a hose when I watch it live next year.

My only concern is perhaps that British performers won’t be at the same level. I’m not sure what they feed them on in America, but some of the US cast seem almost superhuman in what they can do. This video of their Tony award performance last year is proof of that, particularly Ryan Steele as Specs (stripy shirt and glasses) who, for any nerdy fact gatherers, is now in the original Broadway cast of Matilda. I do hope it is a surprise hit here as it was for Broadway despite its very New York story and I am excited to see the casting for the London production.

Photo by Flickr user Ashley Rehnblom under a Creative Commons Licence. 

 

Sarah Green

Sarah Green

Sarah is a musical theatre graduate now studying for her Masters in theatre practice with hopes of going onto a PHD. She has been writing for A Younger Theatre since September 2011 on all things musical theatre related.

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Review: Patti LuPone

Posted on 20 June 2013 by Lucy Cave

Patti LuPoneIf you do not know who Patti LuPone is, it is quite possible that you have been living on a different planet for the past 30 years. Broadway and West End star LuPone originated some of the greatest roles that musical theatre has to offer, including Eva Peron in Evita and Fantine in the original London cast of Les Miserables. 

LuPone’s piano player and Broadway journalist Seth Rudetsky takes the stage first, warming up the crowd with his great videos of Tonys and Variety performances from the past. He rips into everyone, from Andrew Rannells in Book Of Mormon to Patti LuPone herself. But his stories are much funnier because he has actually talked to the stars about their onstage goofs. Rudetsky’s videos make the crowd roar with laughter, and it is a great warm up for the night of Broadway classics ahead.

It is a different set up than the typical West End show, it is feels more like a night out with Patti. She takes the stage, sipping water out of a wine glass, and she tells the audience about her stories from her incredible career. She takes about everything, from her “camera rant” in Gypsy when an audience member had a rapid flash camera and started taking pictures, to how she got the role in Evita. The greatest thing about LuPone is that she does not hold back, either, she lets everybody know that she did not originally want the role as Eva Peron and she is still convinced that Andrew Lloyd Webber hates women because of it.

But of course, it is the music that everybody has come for. There is no fancy set up for this show, just a piano and a vase full of flowers on top to make it look pretty. But LuPone shows that she does not need that fancy set up, all she needs is her voice. Rudetsky puts her on the spot many times, asking to perform songs that she has not seen the lyrics for since she first performed them, but she takes the challenge on like a trooper, and knocks it so far out of the ball park she hits a satellite up in space. You usually find that Broadway legends tend to have a bit of a wear on their voices after years of performing, but not LuPone! She can still all of her songs in the original key (even if she does protest to Rudetsky not to, but all he says is higher!) and it is absolutely flawless.

The highlight of the show was the Les Miserables segment of the show. Patti grabs an audience member from the crowd to sing Valjean’s part in Les Miserables‘s ‘Come To Me’, and the audience member gets into it, closing Patti’s eyes in a Jean Valjean-esque manner, earning the most laughs of the show. However, all the laughs are stopped when the opening keys for ‘I Dreamed A Dream’ start. The house comes to a complete stand still: fanboys are crying, hearts skipped a beat, and even LuPone started to cry when she sang the famous “Life has killed the dream I dreamed” line. Never have I seen a crowd go so wild in my life.

Patti LuPone’s show is an absolute must-see for any lover of musical theatre or just great music in general. With a different set list every night, the fans will be getting a true one-of-a-kind experience with LuPone. We do not need to tell you how great it is, you have to go down to see it yourself because there are just no words to describe this amazing experience.

Patti Lupone is playing at Leicester Square Theatre until 23 June 2013. For more information and tickets, see The Leicester Square Theatre website.

Lucy Cave

Lucy Cave

Lucy is a 2nd year Media Writing student living in South East London. When she's not blogging you can find her working on her scripts or novel.

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