Monthly Archives: May 2011

Beware!!! Wet Paint

Theatre Review:

LOVE NEVER DIES.

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s eagerly anticipated (not by me) sequel to his megahit blockbuster musical Phantom Of The Opera has arrived in Melbourne – opening tonight at the Regent Theatre.

After receiving very mixed notices when the show opened in London in March 2010,  Sir Andrew has decided to re-tool it and Melbourne, Australia was the chosen city to stage the new incarnation, prior to landing on Broadway. If he approves of this version it could be heading to the great white way.

The Melbourne production is being “re-imagined” by an all-Australian creative team led by director Simon Phillips, designer Gabriela Tylesova and acclaimed choreographer Graeme Murphy.  They have replaced the London originators – Jack O’Brien (director), Bob Crowley (sets & costumes) and Jerry Mitchell (choroeographer).  O’Brien & Mitchell were responsible for the smash hit feel good musical Hairspray and Crowley designed Mary Poppins. An odd choice for a dark gothic sung through musical, but Sir Andrew knows best. So out with the old and in with the new!

Simon Phillips is responsible for another feel good musical – Priscilla Queen Of The Desert (me thinks another odd choice) but Gabriela Tylesova has a decent resume of clever designs in both Opera and drama. Alas the book writers (all 3 of them!!- Sir Andrew, Frederick Forsythe & Ben Elton??) remain the same, along with the lyricist and composer – well of course they would Sir Andrew has his hand in 2 of those paint tins.

So what do I think of the show? (I attended the final preview last night).

To borrow from the phrase penned by the wonderful bloggers The West End Wingers – the paint is still wet and dripping. The show is still like watching paint dry, and as we all know, “paint never dries” !!!!

Love Never Dies advances the Phantom story by 10 years and is set in New York’s Coney Island fairground in 1907. Christine Daaé is invited to perform at Phantasma, a new attraction in Coney Island, by an anonymous impresario. Along with her husband – the downtrodden Raoul (now a drunkard and gambler) and her 10 year old son Gustave (surprise surprise there is a revelation at hand – long into the show but very obvious from the beginning) they arrive in Brooklyn. Madame Giry and her daughter Meg (more Phantom alumni) turn up performing in and running a weird burlesque- come freak show at the aforementioned Coney Island, brilliantly realized in the set design. It turns out the mysterious man is of course the Phantom who wants Christine to sing for him one more time. It all sound familiar? Well it is, almost a carbon copy of the original. I was bored instantly by the storyline – or lack of it. The set kept me rapt for most of the running time (1 hr first act – 50 mins 2nd thank heaven!!). The music was derivative and no surprise, I can’t even recall a showstopper, perhaps the title song was supposed to be the one, the lyrics were incredibly banal – Glenn Slater (Sister Act – The Musical!!! and a few Disney films!!!) – well he ain’t no Sondheim that’s for sure.

The cast led by Ben Lewis as the Phantom and Anna O’Byrne as Christine are mostly fine of voice but of dubious acting talent. Sharon Millerchip as Meg Giry is a highlight, but stage veteran Maria Mercedes as Madame Giry is wasted and has a very strange end of first act moment. The small child playing Gustave was ok but Simon Gleeson as Raoul lacked acting chops. There is also a trio of freaks who comment from time to time, but they made no impact whatsoever.

I must mention that I was gobsmacked when the Phantom takes Gustave on a journey to his weird freak show lair, the synthesiser rock score pumped up and the set moved around a bit here and there, it was a blatant attempt to recreate the famous trip to the underground lair in Phantom (the boat and candle sequence) this time with Christine’s spawn. It was visually interesting but made no sense, a lot of the time the “freaks” just wandered around aimlessly on the vast stage not knowing what the hell was going on – as was I. And as for the stupid finale well go see for yourself if you dare. I was disappointed that the rollercoaster ramps and bridges didn’t produce a coaster, they just got moved around a lot rose and fell, I was expecting a “chandelier” style effect but it was not so. Overall the sets are quite beautiful and spectacular and the costumes exquisite, the lighting and sound design first rate. The choreography was not really anything to write home about.  The direction by Simon Phillips – well he does corn very well and this show is as corny and unoriginal as they come. I don’t think anyone has a chance to make the paint dry on this work of non-art.

As for the title Love Never Dies, well maybe that is so, I just wish the career and ego of Sir Andrew might succumb!!

 

 

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For fans of the Abbey…..

For fans of quality English period dramas a- la “Downton Abbey” comes news of a new series on its way. Screenwriter Andrew Davies who has adapted many fine classic novels into quality TV productions (Pride & Prejudice, Emma, Northanger Abbey) is adapting Lindy Woodhead’s nonfiction bestseller “Shopping, Seduction & Mr Selfridge” for ITV Studios who are hoping that the story of how American retailer Harry Gordon Selfridge who opened the world’s first purpose-built department store in London in 1909 will repeat the success of “Downton Abbey”. No casting announcements yet but  there’s a plum role for an American actor playing Selfridge, who blew his fortune on mistresses and gambling before dying destitute. Selfridge’s girlfriends included dancer Isadora Duncan and ballerina Anna Pavlova. His massive overspending eventually cost him control of Selfridges.

In the meantime production on the second series of “Downton Abbey” began in March on location at Highclere stately home in Berkshire, Endgland. Filming continues until July. Airdates have not been announced.

Dame Maggie Smith as Violet, the Dowager Countess of Grantham  heads a suberb cast in Downton Abbey

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The Trailer to NBC’s Musical Drama “Smash”

As reported in a previous post, now you can check out the trailer to the upcoming TV series “SMASH”. It looks like a winner to me.

Click on the link:

The Trailer to NBC’s Musical Drama “Smash” (Video) – Playblog.

Christian Borle (composer), Debra Messing (lyricist), Anjelica Huston (producer) watch audition.   Photo © NBC

Megan Hilty & newcomer Katherine McPhee as the 2 rival “Marilyns” – photo © NBC

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A smashing idea for a series.

There is exciting news for lovers of musical theatre.

NBC TV in America have greenlit the pilot for “Smash” into a series. An hour long drama about the making of a Broadway musical.

Playwright-screenwriter Theresa Rebeck (Mauritius, Our House, “NYPD Blue”) wrote the pilot, which launches the series about the bumpy development of a multimillion dollar Broadway musical. The brainchild of Steven Spielberg the series is to be shot in NYC as was the pilot. It will give many NYC theatre actors a lot of work and exposure.

In the pilot Christian Borle, a Tony Award nominee for Legally Blonde, played a composer, and Debra Messing (“Will & Grace”) played the lyricist, in a story about  the making of a new Broadway musical about the life of screen icon Marilyn Monroe. Anjelica Huston played a producer in the pilot. Casting has not been announced but usually holdovers from the pilot are considered.

What a stellar team behind the series – Spielberg will executive produce along with Justin Falvey and Darryl Frank (of DreamWorks), Craig Zadan and Neil Meron (“Chicago,” “Hairspray,” Broadway’s Promises, Promises and How to Succeed…) and Theresa Rebeck, Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman. Tony Award-winning songwriters Shaiman and Wittman (Hairspray, Catch Me If You Can) will write the songs of the show within the series.

The series will trace the process of creating a new musical from concept to songwriting, the recruitment of investors, through to casting and the rehearsals. One season would focus on one musical. Subsequent seasons would address other musicals. The project is expected to be a drama with humor, with the season finishing up with the musical’s opening night.

I love the concept and can’t wait to see the series which is expected to premiere in the US – Sept/October 2011.

Christian Borle plays the gay composer of the musical featured in “Smash”

Debra Messing plays the lyricist

Academy award winner – Anjelica Huston plays the a Broadway producer.

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Sneak peek, new ALMODOVAR

Watch A Teaser Of Pedro Almodóvar’s New Thriller iThe Skin That I Live In/i.

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House of Horrors

Film review – INSIDIOUS

The creators of the mega success horror franchise “Saw” are back. Writer Leigh Whannell & director James Wan have fashioned a new horror film playing with the old aged haunted house theme.It stars Patrick Wilson & Rose Byrne with an appearance from Leigh Whannell as one half of a of ghostbuster team. This time though it isn’t the house that is haunted………….

Insidious is a scary haunted house flick first and foremost. Old fashioned in its tone and style, calling on lots of classics of the genre. I found it gripping, aside from the conventions bestowed on films made by American major studios. Think Poltergeist, meets The Exorcist meets Amityville Horror, with a bit of Carnival Of Souls thrown in, a tapestry of frights and genres to please most horror film buffs.

No need for plot explanation it is fun and scary, what more do you want.

INSIDIOUS opens in Australian cinemas this Thursday May 12

Leigh Whannell & Lin Shaye encounter the spooks of Insidious

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Babs at the beach

A I am spending a relaxing weekend in a beachside town – Anglesea, Victoria, and after a lovely walk on the beach, I thought I would recall a few movies with either memorable beach scenes or a setting at the beach.

Urquharts Bluff Beach – Anglesea, Victoria

And here they are…..

FROM HERE TO ENTERNITY (1953)

Burt Lancaster & Deborah Kerr frolick in the surf.

AIRPLANE (aka) FLYING HIGH – 1980

Julie Hagerty & Robert Hays parody the above scene from Here To Eternity in this comedy classic.

JAWS (1975)

Panic on the beach in the original summer blockbuster movie

GREASE

Olivia Newton-John & John Travolta share some summer loving

BEACH BLANKET BINGO (1965)

MUSCLE BEACH PARTY (1964)

Annette Funicello, Frankie Avalon and the boys show some muscle

BEACHES (1988)

Barbara Hershey & Bette Midler in the chic flick tearjerker soak up some rays

PSYCHO BEACH PARTY (2000)

Charles Busch starred in and adapted his hit off- Broadway play

THE BEACH (2000)

Leonardo DiCaprio starred in Danny Boyle’s disappointing film

BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS (1970)

The stunning Edy Williams featured in a memorable beach scene in Russ Meyer’s camp classic.

PLANET OF THE APES (1968)

Who can forget the memorable ending to this all time classic film.

PAULINE AT THE BEACH (1983)

A little gem from French auteur Eric Rohmer.

Of course there are many many other classic, and not so classic, films with beach settings – too many to mention.

So in the coming Winter months check out a few beach movies on DVD to warm your cockles.

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Grey Gardens – Pure Gold

When I heard that there was to be a local Melbourne production of the Broadway musical “Grey Gardens” I became very excited. I love the documentary it is based on and was an admirer of the telemovie that starred Drew Barrymore & Jessica Lange. Also I have seen a pirated copy of the Broadway show. I am a HUGE Grey Gardens fan.

But I was baffled as to who would be cast in the roles of Big Edie & Little Edie Bouvier Beale???

For those who are unaware of the story, Big Edie and her daughter Little Edie were the aunt and first cousin of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis. The two women lived together at a house called Grey Gardens in the Hamptons for decades, with very little money, living in squalor and  isolation. A 1975 documentary made by David & Albert Maysles revealed the everyday lives of the codependent mother & daughter socialites, it became a cult classic and was rediscovered a few years back spawning the musical and telemovie.

In the musical the first act imagines the early years of the women and explores the reasoning behind the later years of their lives. The second act features the later years and includes the documentary makers as characters. The actress who plays Big Edie in the first act goes on to play Little Edie in the second. It is the role of a lifetime for an actress. The part of Big Edie in the second act is also a meaty part. So who has been cast you may ask?

As Little Edie we have the wonderful Pamela Rabe, arguably a first lady of the Melbourne theatre scene, and as Big Edie stage veteran and an immense talent – Nancye Hayes. Inspired casting I say – I can’t wait to see it.

The Production Company (Melbourne’s equivalent of NY’s Encores series) will present the musical at the Playhouse Theatre for 12 performances November 25 to Dec 4.

The real life Little Edie

The real Big Edie

Drew Barrymore & Jessica Lange as TV’s Little Edie & Big Edie.

Pamela Rabe as Little Edie

Look!!! a Little Edie dolly 🙂

Look again!!!! a Big Edie dolly 🙂

Entrepreneur Jeannie Pratt head of The production Company who is presenting GG.

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Almost Next To Normal.

“Next To Normal” is an excellent piece of musical theatre. A rock musical with book and lyrics by Brian Yorkey and music by Tom Kitt. It’s about a mother who struggles with a bipolar disorder and the effect that her illness has on her family. It also addresses such issues as grieving, suicide, drug abuse, psychiatry and suburban life. It certainly is no Mary Poppins

The musical was a hit on Broadway a year or so ago  and considering the subject matter a huge triumph for its creators. It also won the Pulitzer Prize for drama in 2010. I was fortunate to see the show on my trip to New York last July starring Alice Ripley in the lead role of Diana for which she won the best actress Tony award. She was brilliant,the production was smart, high tech and very moving. The only fault was that the music was very loud and sometimes the lyrics were hard to follow.

The Melbourne Theatre Company have launched a local version of the show and I must say I was underwhelmed.

I was at the first preview so I must try and be kind, but I am afraid this local misconcieved version disappointed. Why?  Well I must first and foremost blame the set, therefore I must blame the director – Dean Bryant (a protege of Simon Phillips) who agreed to the set, second I must blame the leading male actor – the husband, as played by a miscast Matt Hetherington who is not up for such a demanding role, his musical comedy roots showing, not his acting chops.

It is hard not to compare it to the NY show as it is still very fresh in my mind. The 3 tiered setting of a house with large Lichenstein-like eyes of the mother watching over you was masterful in making you feel like you may be in the mind of the troubled heroine – well that was my interpretation of it anyway. The scaffolding set was full of lights and action, constantly on the move, shifting shape to accommodate all the various settings within the house and other locations, even though it was constantly in motion the set never distracted from the storytelling. This can’t be said of the MTC version. More realistic in style , you know you are in a middle class American home with its slatted projected leafy walls, and Victorian staircase. It still moves at a frenetic pace but you notice every movement and it is very distracting. Cut the sliding walls by half and maybe it may work.

It is admirable when a local production tries its own version but sometimes you wish they wouldn’t try and tamper with it too much – Simon Phillips certainly didn’t do it in the past!!!! Alas the sound problems of inaudible lyrics repeats like the NY show, perhaps it is the intention of the composers to bombard you, just like Diana and her demons inside her head.

The New York production of N2N

MTC production of N2N Photo by Jeff Busby

Kate Kendall and cast in the MTC – N2N, photo by Jeff Busby

Aside for the miscasting of Matt H the rest of the cast are all very good, especially Kate Kendall in the lead role of Diana, she has a good voice and once she settles into the role will nail the mixture of madness and pathos required, she was 3/4 of the way there on the first preview.

Perhaps the show will be best to see towards the end of its short run (if you can get tickets) then the kinks will be ironed out and perhaps Mr. Herrington might get a grasp of the material, as for now the show is almost Next To Normal.

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Slap Happy Babs is back!!

After being slapped around in the past few months, Babs is back.

I have had very few posts since I began work on the ABC adaptation of Christos Tsiolkas‘  award winning novel “The Slap”.  It was exhausting work but I am proud to say that I believe it will make for excellent television by Australian standards.  With a stellar cast including Oscar nominee Sophie Okonedo (a lovely lady indeed) and returning home after being away – Melissa George (prepare for a knockout performance). Joining them is Alex Dimitriades as the “slapper” and Anthony’s younger brother – Jonathan LaPaglia, not to mention the divine Essie Davis as my favorite character – Anouk, and the lovely Diana Glenn. Anthony Hayes, Sophie Lowe, Blake Davis and Lex Marinos round out the talented bunch. With a gaggle of AFI award winning directors – Jessica Hobbs, Matthew Saville, Tony Ayres and Robert Connelly it will surely be landmark quality TV from Australia – here’s hoping!! Best of luck in the post production period and expect it to be on our TV screens later in the year.

Author Christos Tsiolkas – photo by Wayne Taylor

Alex Dimitriades, Melissa George & Sophie Lowe

The boys of “The Slap” – Anthony Hayes (Gary), Jonathan LaPaglia (Hector) & Alex Dimitriades (Harry) – photo by Jason South

Jonathan LaPaglia (Hector) & Sophie Lowe (Connie) – photo © Matchbox Pictures/ABC

The beautiful & very talented Sophie Okonedo (Aisha) Photo by Matt Carr

I must say that it did prove difficult to blog and decorate at the same time.

Hopefully in the next few weeks I will be back at speed informing you of my very own opinion of all things entertainment.

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