Holding the Man May 2010

london west end

It’s hard to write about a play that is so raw, so honest and heartwrenchingly brilliant without making everyone think I’m paid by the theatre. Well, I wish. ūüėČ

The play covers a span of 15 years, a lifetime for both Tim Conigrave and John Caleo. The two boys meet in the late 70ies and keep their love alive even though their lives drift apart at some point. And even though John, the beautiful, gentle soul in the body of a Football Captain, is hurt more than once by the infidelities of outgoing Tim, who lives his life openly and to the fullest, yet always returns to the love of his life.

Guy Edmonds and Matt Zeremes, both “on lease” from Australia, where they’d played Tim and John before, are absolutely stunning as the two boys in love – four more actors cover 40 supporting characters, most important among them:¬†Simon Burke.

Australian Simon Burke shows his versatility by covering an actor in his 30ies¬†in a shopping mall “saving up to go to New York”, as well as 16-year-old beach bum Derge, who’s unimpressed by Tim’s admission that he and John are lovers. Because “cercle jerk buddies don’t give a damn”. At that point the audience is more or less rolling on the floor over the antics of the boys in the cabin, fumbling in their sleeping bags. He’s also Woody, the activist student, who a couple of years later lures Tim into political gay protests and other – temptations.

But he also plays¬†both fathers – the ¬†helpless, in over his head, frustrated Dick¬† (Tim’s) and the hatefilled, hardened Bob. And he manages to make the audience cringe over totally different versions of “assholeness” –¬†for lack of a better word.

When Tim and John are finally diagnosed with HIV, it is John whose health is¬†rapidly declining – as if the gentler man hadn’t much fight left in him. At the point when he finally succumbs to an Aids-related infection not only Tim is in tears. He is being left out of his lover’s death because Bob, full of hate, has taken over, stuffing what he perceives as “his” into a garbage bag and then brokenly and with tears¬†declaiming his son’s eulogy in the paper – no mention of Tim in there.

At that point the whole audience is crying – four tough men sitting next to me in one of the shows were sobbing just as much as I myself.

Alone, Tim travels back to Italy (where John’s ancestors had been from) and – too lonely for words – writes his autobiography – a memoir of his love for John, a last gift to the man who was still in his heart. He dies only months later.

The actors are all on an emotional roller coaster ride for the whole performance. They all acknowledged that this particular play was more taxing than any other shows they’d been in. And Jane Turner (brilliant in the parts of the totally frustrated mothers, but also hilariously funny as the old queen and the hysteric actress) and Simon Burke graciously¬†both shared personal experiences at a Q&A after one of the shows.

Also the whole cast is incredibly friendly and patient at the stage door, writing autographs and posing for pics even after two shows in a row (how they manage to hold their concentration and emotions is beyond me – tho I think it’s called brilliant acting).

Therefore – it’s on till July 3rd – go see it! It’s fantastic, it’s challenging, it’s important. I’m contemplating to go back…

Prequel, set right after returning home from London:

Gimme time to recover. I saw the show five times and was in tears and a total wreck five times. It doesn’t help when grown men, tough and tall, cry like babies next to you.

Simon Burke was fantastic.

The rest of the cast was brilliant, too.

And I was incredibly lucky to sit next to Gabe for all five shows, even tho we had booked our tickets separately! That way we could hold onto each other during the cathartic final moments of the play.

So this for now: RUN, don’t go, and SEE this play! It’s terrific, moving, heart breaking, and absolutely brilliant!

Then go to the stage door and tell the cast I sent you! LOL

La Cage aux Folles April 2010

ny broadway

Let’s make this short and sweet.

I have seen the ultimate La Cage-show in London with John Barrowman and Simon Burke as Zaza and Georges.

It was clear no other production would ever live up to what those two created with their chemistry, their marvellous voices and their looks. When two truly gifted actors come together, sometimes magic happens and it did at La Cage in London.

It certainly didn’t in New York, even tho the Menier Chocolate Factory took their London production to the big white way. Yes, it’s a nice idea to have luscious drag queens entertain the waiting crowd in front of the theatre. Yes, it’s great to have the Dance Master imported from London (Zaza, komm!) and train the new Cagelles. But neither Douglas Hodge (a great actor) nor Kelsey Grammer have any voice at all. Which is kinda sad when you want to listen to “I am what I am” and get a kind of a sing-talk. “Song of the sand” doesn’t even sound half as good when it’s more or less spoken.

The chemistry between the two main characters was basically non existent and it escaped me why Zaza has been THE most famous Drag Queen at the Cote d’azur ever. mh. All in all – the story is still good, the Cagelles are a hoot, but both leads are less than convincing. Not something I would want to see ever again.

Oh, Kelsey Grammer – famous for his part in Frasier – is going to take on the part of Zaza later on in the NY-run of the show. Him in a dress is probably just as hideous as Douglas Hodge. But the Tony committee obviously saw something more in the play: they gave it and Kelsey Grammer a nomination. shrug. don’t ask me why…

Addendum: at least Grammer didn’t get the Tony he so obviously wanted. It was Douglas Hodge who earned it – and the show as best revival of a Musical. Ah, had it only been with John Barrowman and Simon Burke!

Lend me a Tenor April 2010

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Hilarious. Brilliant even in German (where it’s called Othello darf nicht platzen, Othello must not be canceled).This Broadway production is just amazing. Tony Shalhoub is the impresario who¬†is¬†suddenly confronted with a lothario of a tenor – and his jealous Italian wife – who then obviously proceeds to die before he can deliver his masterpiece, Othello at the Cleveland opera house. The way he is trying to save and protect his show – that would mark the 10 year anniversary of the opera house – is pure slapstick and screwball comedy complete with the spitting of fruit (grapes), the slamming of doors and the scream attacks. Toni Morelli, the ego laden tenor with the troubled digestive tract is played by Anthony LaPaglia, who came out of early retirement to have fun on stage. (the retirement thing obviously because of his damaged hip which has been replaced some years ago and is acting up again. Right after the show he is supposed to get himself into hospital to have another hip replacement. Poor guy). Even though he has to be in pain he is keeping up with the high tempo the performance demands and races around, slamming doors with the best of them. He has a decent, yet not grand voice and tends to mumble a bit, just like he did on Without a trace. He is outdone tho by Justin Bartha, the broadway newbie, whose panicked face is absolutely brilliant. He too has perfect comic timing and obviously nerves of steel.

When during one of the shows a mouse scattered along the stage and audience in the first couple of rows started to snicker, he deadpanned “this hotel has mice”, while Tony Shalhoub immediately got on the “phone” with the clerk to inform him of the rodent infestation. By then the mouse had escaped and the play could commence.

The next day, tho’, PETA tried for some cheap publicity and sent a “humane trap” to the theatre’s manager. The theatre had the better publicity departement tho: they created a facebook-page for the mouse, aptly named Tito Mouse-relli, and had the cute rodent protest against any traps at all – it is, after all, a highly regarded Broadway actor who can’t just be locked away! snort!

The play itself is terrific, easily providing everyone with the recommended weekly dose of healthy laughter in just a bit more than two hours.

And after the show the cast readily writes autographs at the stage door, most friendly Tony Shalhoub who gives proof that he really IS a great actor when he’s doing Monk. He’s giving out hugs as if they’re gonna be banned tomorrow. Marvellous.

Anthony LaPaglia is a little more withdrawn, probably because of the pain he has to be in. But he too joins the cast at the stage door – thank you for that!

A Steady Rain Nov.2009

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That Hugh Jackman knows his way around any stage I knew (I’m still miffed I didn’t see him in Boy from Oz – till I get my name in lights!) – I had only heard that Daniel Craig had started out on british stages as well, but never even read a review.

But then, come on: Wolverine and James Bond? Please! It’s a given. Every red blooded girl has to see it.

Now, “A Steady Rain” is a two-person drama that’s rather gritty, even cumbersome – while it is constantly raining, two police detective reminisce in mostly monologues about how and when their lives went wrong. There’s the hot headed, brash one who’s happily married, or so it seems, as he does have various girl friends on the side and doesn’t take the law too seriously. And there’s the awkward one, who doesn’t have any luck with women at all, who lives alone in a ratty apartment and tries to cover up the muck ups of his partner, who – in exchange – tries to set him up with girls from time to time.

Like in a greek tragedy where fate is inevitable and cruel, events take a turn for the worse, when because of his girlfriend, the brash cop (Jackman) makes enemies with the wrong people. At this point, his partner (Craig) is already filling in as the fatherfigure for his friend’s kids. He seems to fit in seamlessly and even comforts his partner’s wife when one of the children takes ill while his friend falls deeper and deeper into a spider’s web of violence and despair.

The play ends when the rain finally stops – but by then one of the cops is dead and the other one has stepped in as a protector, even a lover.

Thanks to the talents of both Hugh Jackman and Daniel Craig (who is an amazing stage actor and absolutely brilliant in the portrayal of the closed off, lonely policeman!) the drama unfolds in a gripping, frighteningly predetermined way that causes one to shiver! Standing ovations all over the place, sold out theatre – even tho the tickets for the first few rows were disgustingly expensive VIP tickets!

The real fun tho started after the show when the two performers collected money for Equity Cares, Broadway against Aids. At both shows they started to auction off their undershirts, Jackman opening up and slipping out of his shirt to show off muscled arms, Craig being a bit more modest, only showing off his chest …

At one show a lady in the audience yelled, Daniel, auction off your pants, to which Craig haltingly, hesitatingly answered – well, first we’d have to clarify do you mean my pants or my knickers (in his best London voice and no longer the Chicago lilt he had to have going throughout the play). Also funny: Jackman, all big gestures and wide arms like a true Broadway veteran, announced Craig (who was significantly more drawn in and is a total gentleman, a bit overwhelmed by all the fan adoration and very polite and friendly at the stage door) as a Broadway virgin – roars of laughter!

They got loads of money for their undershirts and autographs, which was why they didn’t autograph anything at the stage door – but they talked to everyone who mustered up the courage to speak to them, and they shook hands, lots of hands.

And that’s how I can say: James Bond shook my hand!