NaNoWrimo: Day Thirteen

Words: 0 (but as I said, Friday is NaNoWrimo day so I was expecting to have anything written today)

Today I went to see the matinee of ‘Urinetown’ at the Apollo Theatre. I originally had tickets when it was at the St James Theatre but because of various circumstances, I ended up having to pass the ticket off to a friend. ‘Urinetown’ has been one of those odd little shows which has been on my radar ever since I was back home studying technical theatre at college (and back when I still liked musicals). I remember reading about it on the old Phantom of the Opera forums at she.net, then somehow I got hold of the cast recording (possibly through the early P2P sites…where someone would have a list and you’d trade them through the post…lots of bootlegs ;)).

I was fascinated by the idea of a meta-musical, and at the time it was my first exposure to such a thing. I would browse the Dress Circle website for hours, occasionally looking fondly on Tower Records (I think it was) who seemed to have all these obscure musicals I was just desperate to hear. One of my first trips on arrival in London (2002) was to the Dress Circle shop where I bought a copy of ‘Avenue Q’ and my musical theatre wishlist promptly became all about ‘Avenue Q’ and ‘Urinetown’.

I got my wish with ‘Avenue Q’.

Never thought I’d see ‘Urinetown’.

It’s a very, very good show and it’s been staged brilliantly. The cast were all fabulous (although I have my doubts over Officer Lockstock’s accent), the set was beautiful and I rather liked the lighting – they could have benefited from followspots though, there were scenes I were I was just aching to put a nice tight head shot on people (that sounds wrong if you’re not a followspot…sorry). Anyway, the theatre had about 80 people in it. Very disappointing for the cast and it’s a show which deserves a bigger audience but one of the biggest problems the show has is it’s not a West End show.

‘Urinetown’ was born on the fringe. It’s very much a fringe musical and I think by putting it in a commercial West End theatre it’s killed the show. It was a hit at the St James Theatre and they clearly thought that the audiences would be the same, they’re not. People going to the West End fringe are going because they want something not offered in the West End, those shows are not the ones the tourists are looking to see.

Musical Musings

When I was much younger I would devour musical cast recordings, I’d love to pick up the latest new musical (particularly if a performer I liked was in it). I remember picking up a copy of ‘Avenue Q’ from the Dress Circle about two years before the show transferred, by this time I’d lost interest in buying cast recordings as they were all so expensive and it became harder to find new musicals that sounded half decent.

It was part of the reason I decided to go see the ‘Dress Circle Benefit Concert’, it’s not very often you get to hear an array of musicals performed by top performers (sometimes the original!) with a thirty-piece orchestra. I’m pretty sceptical regarding the reasons behind the concert, I don’t really mind that it’s a benefit for a shop as why not? If it matters to you and you care about it I think you can have a benefit for anything, but I do think the Dress Circle has been struggling for too long to be able ‘saved’ by a tribute concert. Apparently most of the money raised has gone for paying for the orchestra so really it was a bit of a self-indulgent moment for the producers to do a bit of social networking and get their name on the map.

The concert itself I thought was a bit “meh”, it was amazing to hear the music played by such an impressive orchestra and there were really some great performances (Ellen Green singing Somewhere that’s Green for one, and Peter Polycarpu singing Bui-Doi) but it really did highlight why there aren’t as many ‘great’ musicals around as there used to be. Back in the late 80s/early 90s you had some super-star blockbuster musicals hitting the West End (‘Les Miserables’, ‘Phantom of the Opera’, ‘Miss Saigon’…) and I realised during the concert that those musicals that have endured and found lasting fame have great songs that can be sung out of context, just look at the songs that have hit the charts ‘One Night in Bangkok’, ‘I Know Him So Well’, ‘Memory’ (etc) – you don’t need to know the musicals in order to understand the song.

I started thinking about this because I was listening to ‘The Book of Mormon’, which sounds fine and I’d be interested in seeing it performed but to me it feels like ‘Jerry Springer the Opera’. Interesting concept, excellent performances and moments of brilliance but will struggle to find a long-term audience. Now, if only ‘The Addams Family’, ‘Memphis’, ‘Catch Me if You Can’ and ‘Wonderland’ were cheaper!

Les Thoughts Miserables

I watched the 25th Anniversary ‘Les Miserables’ concert the other night, it wasn’t even close to the 10th Anniversary concert but I did enjoy most of it.

It was fantastic seeing Lea Salonga playing Fantine, I thought Matt Lucas gave a good Thenardier and I did like Alfie Boe (no denying he has a great voice) but there were two quibbles – I didn’t really like the Javert (it all hinged on his suicide, I was a little underwhelmed) and Marius was dreadful.

I’m sure in an average cast (second cover understudy run), the Jonas Brother* is passable but against people who can sing? Not even close to okay. Very nasally, had one facial expression (slightly pained) and I don’t think he got near the notes in ‘Empty Chairs at Empty Tables’ (not even close… and I’ve spent the last five years on a musical learning about people who can’t reach the notes).

Normally, I wouldn’t mind because I find Marius a bit of a weedy character but when you bring on Michael Ball (and the original company) at the end it really does make you think. It’s a West End trend at the moment, cast adequate pop stars in musicals and hope they can cope – some can, I thought Gareth Gates was very good in the ‘Les Miserables’ tour and I think the guy from Blue is doing very well in ‘Legally Blonde’ – but I think it’s a huge gamble just to get bums on seats.

Anyway, at the end of the concert there was a message on the screen announcing that Universal are making the film of the musical, to be released in 2011 (I think it said 2011); I have a feeling that’s why the cast of the 25th Anniversary concert wasn’t very Les Mis.

It’s fairly rare (I think) to have musical performers doing the on-screen version of the musical, I imagine the casting for the feature film will be somewhat similar to the concert version – most likely including the Jonas Brother because they’ll want a “star”.

Thinking about how the musical film is likely to be cast I started thinking about the Les Mis films I’ve seen (the French epic series set in the 1940s, the Anthony Perkins one and the one with Geoffrey Rush) and kinda came to the conclusion that Les Miserables might be one of those truly filmable books – you have to loose so much and I think all the films concentrate on the storyline between Valjean and Javert (which is key, but it’d be interesting to get more of the Thenardier/Valjean storyline). I would love a mini-series to be made, ideally by someone like HBO or Showtime – I think they’d have the balls and the talent to carry it off.

I have got a copy of the BBC radio 4 drama series, it stars Roger Allam (I think as Valjean, but wikipedia seem to think he’s playing Javert) and I am very much looking forward to listening to it.

(*I don’t actually know who the Jonas Brothers are, I didn’t actually know the guy playing Marius was a Jonas Brother – someone at work told me but didn’t know which one and I am a little scared of getting hunted down by rabid Jonas Brothers fans if I single one out in particular… you know what Google Alerts are like.)