Musical

Mamma Mia!

Last night we went to see 'Mamma Mia!' at the cinema. Now, I like Abba as much as the next 'secure-in-my-masculinity child-of-the-seventies-and-early-eighties' - but I had seen the trailer... and Meryl Streep wearing Dungarees and prancing about didn't fill me with confidence. 'Chick Flick', thought I.

It was, however, good. To my surprise.

Yes, it was contrived, yes it was corny. In a few places it was toe-curling - but nonetheless it was fun. Some of the sequences were genuinely great - Julie Walters in particular stole the show in a few places, notably the 'Take a Chance on Me' number at the end, a very understated start to it... 'Chiquitita' was also well done.

We burst out laughing in a few places. One memorable occasion was when Pierce Brosnan sang for the first time (S.O.S.), unfortunately it wasn't appropriate here - but we just found a singing James Bond to be a little odd. The good thing was that it didn't matter, you get the sense that people just went with it and enjoyed the experience - Pierce Brosnan in particular must have known when he signed on that it'd play on his existing profile.

If you see the film, do stay for the end titles (at least the first part of them). Meryl Streep, Christine Baranski and Julie Walters do some Abba numbers in full 70s Abba jumpsuits - joined for 'Waterloo' by Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth and Stellan Skarsgård. This got a big reaction from the audience. However, Meryl Streep looking out of the cinema screen saying 'Do you want some more?' was clearly not designed for a British audience - we were not dancing in the aisles - we were sitting there waiting for the recorded image to stop trying to be interactive.

It was silly, it was a chick-flick.... but it was also an enjoyable 108minutes.

Do watch out for Cameos by Bjorn and Benny.

Other Websites on this film

My verdict? Leave your dramatic sense at the door, don't expect 'art' - though it's enjoyable in a kitsch way. Stay for the end credits (at least until the credits scroll upward).

Doctor Horrible's Sing-Along Blog

Annoyingly, I simply cannot watch Doctor Horrible at Doctor Horrible.Com .

Doctor Horrible is the latest project from Joss Whedon. Made without backing from a studio and released online.

When I try and view it I get the message 'This Video is not available at this site' message - I think that hulu.com, the video hosting service, have restricted it to US subscribers only, at least that's what I thought until I saw that people all over the world have been commenting on how great it is.

Ack. There's a buzz out there about this Joss Whedon project, and I'n stuck on the other side of the glass looking in.

Whaaaaa!

Hang on a cotton picking second.... I wonder..... if... No... it can't be that simple....?

Fantastically, I've just worked it out - it was something to do with Firefox. It opened in the dreaded MSIE (browser conflicts are pretty rare these days, previously it would've been the first thing I'd have checked).

Nice opening - the evil laugh - and I want one of those big chairs at the end of Act 2.

It's really good stuff, musically very similar to a certain well known episode of Buffy (of course) - thoroughly enjoyed it.

Felicia Day played a novice slayer in Buffy, and has recently starred in the online series, 'The Guild' - the first episode of which is here.

Doctor Horrible, played by Neil Patrick Harris was the lead in Doogie Howser MD. Nathan Fillion appeared as a bad guy in Buffy, has 'Mal' in Firefly and Serenity, and as one of the leads in the ill-fated 'Drive'.

Doctor Horrible is free to watch online for a few days, and then it's gone - having built the hype it'll then re-emerge on DVD and itunes.

Random Reviews:

Cats

Last night we went to see Cats at Woking's New Victoria Theatre. We'd never seen Cats before - despite it being in the West End for many years. We were familiar with much of the music, as well as the book of poems by TS Eliot.

The first thing about Cats is that the plot is thin. Paper thin - but knowing the plot won't spoil the show for anyone, so I'll lay it out here.

The Jellicle cats have an annual ball, at which various cats are introduced (such as The Rum Tum Tugger and SkimbleShanks the Railway Cat). At the ball, Old Deuteronomy picks a cat to ascend to the Heaviside Layer and be reborn. Grizabella, and old and decrepit cat is chosen.

(The Heaviside layer is an atmospheric layer of ionised gas, about 90-150km up, used in the musical to symbolise death)

The musical frankly isn't about the plot. It's about the spectacular that is Cats, and it's very enjoyable. I particularly liked Skimbleshanks the Railway Cat - it gave me a big grin, as my cat is named for this cat (by the RSPCA). I also enjoyed Rum Tum Tugger and The Magical Mr. Mistoffeles, both big showstoppers, though some of the flashing pyrotechnics in Mr. Mistoffeles were so bright that they were uncomfortable.

Rum Tum Tugger in particular went down well with the audience, with the characters tendency to say 'look at me, aren't I fantastic?' every time he appeared on stage, even if just in the background. That man could strut.

Some of the supporting cats were simply excellent, ooziing cattiness. There was one woman, a ginger and black striped cat on a white body who really let loose, and just captured the eye (she reminded me vaguely of a young Lulu, made up as a cat) - she just seemed to be really in the moment. She's (currently) shown on the second image on the introductory page from Lloyd Webber. On the other hand the actress playing the white cat, though very good, did appear to relax a little too much when not centre stage. A few times when she was away from the focus of the audience her face dropped and she just looked bored. I think she had a bit of a cold, which can't have helped.

For me, the only real disappointment is the famous 'Memory', it's not from TS Eliot (though Grizabella is a TS Eliot creation) - and to me it sticks out like a sore thumb - it somehow doesn't 'fit' with the rest of the show. It's the only thing giving the show structure though - otherwise it'd be just a series of cats being introduced - but I wouldn't have minded that too much.

It seems that I was in the minority on this, it got one of the biggest rounds of applause (superceded by Rum Tum Tugger and possibly Mistoffelees).

Fiddler on the Roof

The Savoy Hotel, LondonWith the wife on a business trip, I took myself off to see 'Fiddler on the Roof' at the Savoy Theatre today. Whilst I've seen the film (which in turn was based on the show) - I'm not that familiar with it, and so it was as a new show to me. And what a Show.

The staging was simple, yet effective, with one central piece of scenery which was reused in many ways. Tevye (the role made famous by Zero Mostel, and later by Topol) was played by Henry Goodman, and he was the perfect Tevye, just the right amount of Yiddish charm... oh vey!

The show opens with a big number, 'Tradition' and carries on with a good mix of humour, music and tragedy. The famous 'If I were a Rich Man' is dispensed with in the second scene, with great relish by the leading man.

My favourite scenes were all probably in the first act - the second act is darker. I loved the wedding scenes, the arguments between Tevye and Lazar Wolf and the dancing was great. You can't go wrong with a bit of cossack thrown in! I also loved the Inn scene, where Lazar Wolf and Tevye have a misunderstanding about a meeting.

In the more tender moments, I would pick out Tevye and Golde's duet, 'Do You Love Me', which Henry Goodman (who looks nothing like his programme photo) injects with some lovely humorous touches.

Miriam Elwell-Sutton, who was understudying for Tzeitel was very good indeed, as was Alexandra Silber and Natasha Broomfield (Hodel and Chava). Simon Delaney's Tom Lorcan's 'Motel' was very well pitched, I thought. He had a lovely sequence with Tevye, when he asks Tevye not to shout at him.

The flavour of the piece is maintained throughout, and the curtain call is done in the style of a yiddish dance, a lovely touch.

Comparing this to Lord of the Rings, which I saw on Thursday.... the Lord of the Rings has more of a 'wow' factor, but 'Fiddler on the Roof' is just so damned enjoyable, I'd say this is out in front by some margin.

I'd be interested to hear if you've seen this show, and have any thoughts upon it, if you're considering going (perhaps based on this post), or even if this post has put you off!

Lord of the Rings (Musical)

Before I launch into this, please note that it's 1am, and I apologise for any typos or poorly phrased things. When I first heard that they were doing The Lord of the Rings as a musical, my first reaction was one of wry amusement, surely it wouldn't transfer?

When I heard about the actual performances in Toronto, these impressions seemed to be confirmed, and so when it came to London I wasn't too keen.

However, I'd read that they learned from Toronto, and tightened things up a bit - and so on a whim I took myself into London to see the show.

It's good. It's very good.

It's not 'Lord of the Rings' complete, but the major highlights are there. For example, the Rider of Rohan don't appear at all, nor do the elephaunts or the army of the dead, but the Ents do, as does Shelob, Saruman, the Black Riders, the Elves, Moria and others.

The set spreads into the theatre, with branches covering the boxes, and the stage itself is absolutely chock full of hydraulics - sections rise and fall, and the whole thing spins.

There are several points which were simply incredibly well done. Firstly there was the ring disappearances. Bilbo's eleventy-first birthday is a great application of Physics - it's a variant on Pepper's ghost. It'll leave some people in amazement.

The disappearance in the prancing pony was astounding, though possibly mainly due to my inattention. I was expecting a cheat with the stage lights (but that wasn't it) - one minute Frodo was there, and the next he wasn't. Now, I may have blinked and missed it - in fact I know I did, as I don't know how that was done. Frodo's disappearance it was very swift (he probably just merged with some people moving cross stage) - but it was very smooth.

The first real appearance of Gollum, at the start of act 2 was the perfect entrance. A really good piece of stage engineering. The black riders were very effective too... Shelob and the Balrog also made an appearance. Some smaller audience members will have nightmares about Shelob.

I liked the rendering of the orcs, where can I have a go on some of those bouncy stilts?

Large sections of the book are removed, I think this won't disadvantage anyone unfamiliar with the material (indeed, it is probably more problematic for those familiar, as they're more likely to be thinking 'that bit should be next... where was it?') It'll annoy people who are 'precious' about the book, but for everyone else, it's good. The stage show restores the 'in one bound he was free' escape from Saruman by Gandalf (I know it gets filled in later in the book - but in the film the filling in is pretty quick, and I think that's better for live action).

Tom Bombadil doesn't appear (yay!) though he does get a mention.

The music is actually well done, this could have easily been handled badly. There's a nice duet with Sam and Frodo which was getting a bit too slushy for me - and then Gollum subverts it. Nice.

Opening night isn't for a few weeks yet, these are the previews, so there's still a few things to iron out, for example, when Gandalf knocks on the door of Bag End, he really does need to ensure he doesn't knock the door right open. Also the Bag End set is a bit wobbly. There were a few other little foibles, some on stage, some technical (e.g. during a quiet bit, there was a yellow flash above the stage which was out of place). There was a bit of a mishmash of accents, which could be offputting, and the elves (especially Arwen and Galadrial) kept doing weird jerky things with their hands, not continuously, but from time to time.

These were minor points, in an otherwise excellent production - and it is still in previews, with one of the main actors currently with an injured leg after an accident last week.

Generally, it was very good, and I could really see where the millions were spent!

Tip: There is one full interval, the second interval is a pause, you have only a couple of minutes. Things start on stage 15 minutes before curtain.

Finally. I'd like to remind you of the opening sentence....

Footloose

Yesterday, we went to see 'Footloose' in London. It had David Essex in it, Cheryl baker was on the poster but we didn't see her - her day off? The numbers were good, 'Footloose', 'Holding out for a Hero' (it got a bit Chippendale for my liking in there... I turned to Monica and asked where the Village People all came from), 'Let's Hear it for the Boy' was a great number, however, the overall effect was unsatisfying.

It's hard to put a finger on it, everything was executed to a T, but I found it to be a predictable and by the numbers show.

As a case in point, just prior to 'Holding out for a hero' there are several women at the diner, to paraphrase, one says something like 'I need a man with style and intelligence', another says 'I need a man with good looks and charm... and then the other says, in a sad voice and with the inevitability of Superman saving Lois Lane, 'I need a man'.

David Essex plays the Reverend, who is adament in his support for a law banning dancing, and is then turned around in an instant by rather feeble arguments to the contrary. I thought that David Essex looked rather bored in places, and he's only been in the show for a short time.

It all seemed, well, 'thin'. The medley at the end was the best bit!

I found myself mentally replacing cast members with various celebrities to stave off boredom - for instance, there is one bit where the protaganist (who bears a resemblence to Kevin Bacon) sings a sappy duet with the love interest gal. They were mentally replaced by Kylie and Jason (it was still a bit Sappy).

The woman who sang 'let's hear it for the boy' became Jane from Coupling (BBC2) for her ability to stand in front of her love interest looking keen. The headmaster was a sort of cross between Mr. Bronson from Grange Hill and Harold from Neighbours. There were others, I forget them all.

As we left, we overheard one woman saying 'the people in front of us went out at the interval and didn't come back'. Her friend replied, 'Ooh, that's really bad' - thereby completely missing the point that the audience is under no obligation to stay.

Overall: It really is a well executed piece of theatre, the cast were good, the effects too (the opening to the show was very effective - the lights worked very well), and the medley at the end was great. Nevertheless it doesn't satisfy - the basic premise is rather thin. I've not seen the film, but Monica said that the show doesn't live up to it.

So far this year, we've also seen Avenue Q and Stomp. Both knock Footloose out for the count. I preferred Avenue Q, and Monica preferred Stomp - although for both of us it's a close call.

Avenue Q

Before Curtain up at Avenue QMonica outside the theatre where we saw Avenue QToday we finally got to see Avenue Q in London. I've been looking forward to it for some time. Quite simply, the show is excellent, absolutely wonderful. It's pure class from the start. Nicky was my favourite character, rather reminiscent of Ernie from Sesame Street. The cast were well practiced, very slick. The puppets were handled well, with some cast dealing with several characters (and as a result the puppets were not always handled by the same puppeteer). Sometimes the puppets changed puppeteer mid scene - and we didn't notice until long after the handoff when the original puppeteer walked in with the new character.

I made this sketch to commemorate seeing Avenue Q in London, a fantastic show.

This show is one that I can't recommend highly enough. I had high expectations of it given that it won Tonys on Broadway, and it surpassed them.

Significant contributions have been made to theatre by people of fur...

Future adventures in the West End: Stomp - Footloose - The Bolshoi Ballet.

Update:Avenue Q en français

Update: Footloose will feature David Essex. Your love light shining... Every cloud's got a silver uh-lining......

Avenue Q approacheth.

I got my Avenue Q cast album CD today. It's roughly a fortnight until we see the show in London, and I'm quite looking forward to it.

Avenue Q got a mention on BBC's 'Breakfast' the other day. That was quite a surprise. Here's the BBC report.

A quick search reveals that it'll be discussed on the BBC 'Culture Show' on the 10th June, at 8:20pm, BBC2 (with a repeat in the early hours).

Found on Google Video: 'I wish I could go back to College', and 'It Sucks to be Me' (from the Tony Awards)