My Stagey Week 44
Updated: Dec 22, 2019
On Monday I completed filming on a new series called Strike that will be out next year.
I then made my way across to the beautiful Boulevard Theatre to meet Nathaniel Morrison who was between rehearsals for his cabaret show at the Boulevard Theatre later in the week and performing in Waitress that evening.
I’ve known Nathaniel for a number of years, and, like me, what he lacks in height he definitely makes up for in presence. He has a huge personality and incredible humour.
Waitress is currently playing at the Aldephi theatre. Before joining the production earlier this year, Nathaniel played one of the brothers in Joseph and his Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat at the Aldephi theatre opposite Lee Mead in 2007.
Between that he has toured with Jersey Boys, was in Five Guys Named Moe, and Sister Act with Whoopi Goldberg at the London Palladium, set up the West End Gospel Choir, and was one of the original 100 judges in BBC’s All Together Now.
We discussed all of this in my interview which you will find on my YouTube page.
📺 YouTube https://youtu.be/fN58m000Eh8
I stayed around at the Boulevard Theatre to watch Ghost Quartet, the brand new theatre’s inaugural production.
Written by acclaimed Dave Malloy the writer of Natasha Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812, that was nominated for 12 Tony Awards.
His other work Preludes recently ran at the Southwalk Playhouse, where I thought it was brilliant.
Ghost Quartet is. song cycle that has extensively toured America since 2014 and had a short run at Edinburgh Fringe in 2016.
Malloy describes it as a mixture of Broadway commercialism and downtown experimentalism. It’s essentially a ghost story to be told around a camp fire, and here in the Boulevard Theatre, it fits quite neatly.
Although it is a very bold choice for an inaugural production that goes towards establishing the theatre’s style and taste.
It is directed by Bill Buckhurst who will be directing Whoopi Goldberg in the revival of Sister Act next year with musical director Benjamin Cox.
This is a four piece actor-muso production with Carly Bawden. Niccolò Curradi. Maimuna Memon and Olivier nominated Zubin Varla.
The four are incredibly talented actors and musicians, and are thrilling to watch.
I first met Niccolò Curradi in 2016 when he appeared in a production called Hotel For Criminals he then went on to appear in the stunning production La Strada at The Other Palace. He has an incredible stature.
Ghost Quartet is an incredibly intoxicated and alluring production and Dave Molloy’s majestic shore is captivating. The performances are rich and compelling, however the whole piece lacks clarity, which renders it hard to fully engage with. Carly and Maimuna deliver spell binding and emotive performances, but it’s difficult as an audience to lock on to these, as the narrative is so ambiguous and surreal.
Although I loved the music and the performance, and was swept up by the beauty of the piece, I felt undernourished, wanting more to invest in than just my own imagination to fill in the blanks that this story does leave.
Ghost Quartet runs until 4th January. To book visit https://boulevardtheatre.co.uk/whats-on/ghost-quartet/
With guest panelists Susan Cole-Haley, author of Straight Jacket Matthew Todd, and prolific activist Jonathan Blake, who was one of the real life inspirations for the film Pride.
Theatre director and activist Andrew Keates was originally booked to appear however pulled out due to a bereavement.
The event was enlightening and scheduled as part of the build up to World AIDS Day on December 1st.
It was a bold and commendable effort by Wallis Despres to initiate conversation and to continue to raise awareness for people living with HIV and AIDS. However, with all best intentions, the event was modest in attendance, with the small turn out large made up of a few friends and family.
The talk was incredibly interesting with important messages coming through, however I have to be honest, I felt the event would have been better recorded and released as a podcast or video, where at least it could reach a wider and broader audience. I felt that the select audience it had were already very knowledgable about this topic and perhaps didn’t serve the purpose of the discussion. Having said that any efforts to share the message and remind people to continue discussing this subject is very welcome.
I stayed for the drinks reception afterwards and was introduced to some incredible people as well as catching up with some friends who were also there.
I have to commend and thank Wallis Despres for putting the event together and for continuing to care about this topic.
Following this, I attended the press night for the much anticipated Dear Evan Hansen.
It has been impossible to escape the build up surrounding this new musical by Benj Pasek, Justin Paul and Steven Levenson that opened in Washington in 2015 before transferring to Broadway the following year where it won six Tony awards.
Pasek and Paul, who I first met at the Southwalk Playhouse in 2014 during a run of their earlier work Dogfight, starring Jamie Muscato. They went on to achieve global success and an Oscar for La La Land and The Greatest Showman.
Dear Evan Hansen became globally revered too thanks to its brilliant collection of songs. It’s probably impossible now to attend any cabaret without some of Pasek and Paul’s music being performed.
The musical attracted a strong fan base and acclaim largely thanks to its handling and addressing of social anxiety and teen depression. It’s undoubtedly one of the first and most accomplished musicals to focus on these issues.
Ben Platt, who originated the titular role and was involved in all the workshops within the year before the first production, went on to win Best Actor in a musical. Speculation and anticipation as to who would play Evan in the london production dominated social media until it was announced that new graduate from Italia Conti, Sam Tutty had been offered the part after thirteen rounds of auditions.
Opposite him, graduating from Mountview this year, Lucy Anderson plays Zoe.
The pair are both brilliant, and appear accomplished and comfortable on the stage in their West End debuts.
Having recently played the mum In Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, Rebecca McKinnis has again been cast as Evan’s mum which she does not only with ease but brilliance. Of all the performances I felt Rebecca’s was the most truthful.
The well known songs were all performed well, and it was brilliant to see them in context with the story, and it is brilliant and commendably to tell a story about teenage anxiety and suicide. However, I have to be completely honest the script does at times feel very much like we are watching a soap opera, in fact the whole production felt to me like it had been adapted from a TV movie.
I wasn’t a huge fan of the staging or minimal set, or with the direction which for the most part restricts the actors to turning their lines out to the audience rather than facing each other. I often find this style restricts any truthful connection.
As well as this, there is a huge overriding flaw within the story and the message it ends on. Without giving away the ending or revealing any spoilers for anyone who hasn’t seen the show or know the story, all I will say is that if Evan had actually done what he did, he certainly would not have got away with it or have been forgiven. I also suspect it would have made his entire life even worse, and yet we’re encouraged to believe everything ends happily ever after for him. It’s optimistic if some what delusional.
Afterwards, I joined the cast and other guests at the after party. It was incredible. With a huge main hall where they served hot dogs and Thai food, and had a dessert counter. Then downstairs they had a pop up ice cream parlour.
As well as Courtney Stapleton I caught up with Michael Xavier, Jonny Bailey and Christina Bennington who looked gorgeous. Jonny is sporting a pair of long sideburns as he is currently filming the title role in a new Netflix series called Bridgerton with Julie Andrews.
It was also nice to see Tracie Bennett. Kevin McHale and the writers of Six, Lucy Moss and Toby Marlow.
I also caught up with Rebecca McKinnis and met Sam Tutty who was lovely, and the writers Benj Pasek and Justin Paul.
On Wednesday it was the press night for &Juliet.
I was still recovering from all the food and drink I ate the night before, and hadn’t fully caught up with my sleep, but I was so excited to see this new show.
I had first heard about &Juliet when Jordan Luke Gage told me earlier this year that he had been cast as Romeo.
I was skeptical as he began to describe what sounded like another terrible juke box musical. We all remember Knights of the Rose. Right?
Written by David West Read and using songs from Max Martin’s back catalogue, it is astounding how many pop anthems this Swedish writer has produced.
Jordan assured me that this juke box musical was different, and that having read the script he was confident it would be brilliant.
Along with Jordan the incredible cast was led by Miriam-Teak Lee. Oliver Tompsett. David Bedella. Cassidy Janson. Arun Blair-Mangat. Melanie La Barrie and Tim Mahendran.
With the ensemble featuring Jocasta Almgill. Josh Baker. Alishia-Marie Blake. Ivan De Freitas. Rhian Duncan. Danielle Fiamanya. Kieran Lai. Nathan Lorainey-Dineen. Jaye Marshall. Grace Mouat. Antoine Murray-Straughan. Kerri Norville. Christopher Parkinson. Dillon Scott-Lewis. Kirstie Skivington and Alex Tranter.
A preview of two of the songs from the show was presented at West End Live in June, before the show opened in Manchester in September for four weeks before transferring to London.
Directed by Luke Sheppard, who directed the Olivier winning In The Heights, and choreographed by Jennifer Weber, the show is an updated spin on the classic Romeo and Juliet story, asking what if Juliet didn’t kill herself at the end. What if that was the beginning of her story. It’s a clever slant.
As I took my seat for the gala performance, I was immediately impressed by the colourful and vibrant set, and costumes as some of the ensemble began to emerge. A cross between Hamilton and Six the costumes have a classical design with a contemporary twist.
The show opens with Oliver Tompsett playing Will Shakespeare ascending onto the stage performing Larger Than Life by the Backstreet Boys. I was instantly hooked.
He is followed by the brilliant Cassidy Janson, portraying Shakespeare’s wife Anne Hathaway. I first saw Cassidy portray Carole King in Beautiful, and was blown away by her acting as well as her incredible voice. I went on to watch her in Chess and at her own cabaret at Zedel earlier this year. Cassidy has a passion for classical music, but in & Juliet she demonstrates her brilliance as a versatile performer, conquering Jessie J’s Domino and Celine Dion’s That’s The Way It Is. Beyond her incredible voice, it was Cassidy’s impeccable comic timing and subtle acting choices that defines her performance. This is a brilliant role and one that she dominates.
Playing the titular role of Juliet is Miriam-Teak Lee. Having trained at Arts Ed, Miriam-Teak won best actress in a musical at the stage debut awards in 2017 for her role in On The Town at Regent’s Park Theatre. She was then part of the original London cast of Hamilton. To say Miriam-Teak is fierce is an understatement. She is an incredible and dynamic performer who ensues confidence and power. Perfectly cast in this new interpretation of Juliet, Miriam-Teak delivers pop star vocals and slick dance moves. Her performance bursts with energy and sass as she leads the company with enormous gusto. Simon Cowell who was in the audience, looked suitably impressed, that it would not surprise me if Miriam-Teak were to one day sign a recording contract and become a global sensation. She certain has the talent.
David Bedella gives a joyous performance. I first met David shortly after he won his second Olivier for In the Heights. He had previously won for Jerry Springer the Opera. David went on to deliver an intoxicating performance as Frank N Furter in the Rocky Horror Show. His deep voice, dark smouldering eyes and impressive physique are to be marvelled, and all return with him here in & Juliet.
David is paired with Melanie La Barrie who admitted recently feeling some trepidation about returning to the stage for this vocally strong role, which she brings everything to. Her comic timing is perfectly suited to the role of the nurse which is amped up and topped up with a perfectly pitched rendition of P!nk’s F****** Perfect.
Tim Mahendran and Arun Blair-Mangat deliver superb performances too. With Arun playing what is possibly the West End’s first non-binary character. It’s refreshing and groundbreaking and incredibly welcome.
Elements like this are handled with consideration and care and tenderly introduced with subtlety. It is what sets this West End show apart from any of show I have seen and completely changes the landscape of the West End. It’s a huge move forward for recognition and visibility.
Jordan Luke Gage finally makes his scene stealing grand entrance, portraying Romeo as a slightly dense and vacant fool. It’s brilliant, and Jordan demonstrates his broad abilities as an actor. I first met Jordan when he played a cross dressing Marilyn in Taboo, he then went on to earn huge acclaim as Strat in Bat Out of Hell. His voice and looks speak for themselves but as Romeo, Jordan’s humour and charm are able to shine through, reaffirming his statue as one of the West End’s newest and much loved leading men, with huge promise.
Adding to the strengths of the lead cast it’s the brilliant collective force of the ensemble that elevate this show. In keeping with the music the choreography is current, and fresh and feels like it was created for a pop concert. The talented ensemble have so much energy and are incredibly slick. It’s hard to keep your eyes off them.
Alex Tranter, in particular, I have known for a few years since he was in Eugenius! At the Other Palace, and boy has he been working out. Wearing sleeveless shirts his arms are looking incredible.
For Ivan De Freitas, who is married to Waitress star Charlotte Riby, this is his staggering fifteenth West End show which is unbelievable.
The after party was held at the Bloomsbury Big Top. A specially installed marque put up specifically to host Christmas parties. I ran around telling everybody how brilliant they all were and couldn’t resist getting a couple of selfies with Liam Tamne and Liam Payne who were both there as well as Courtney Act.
On Thursday morning, a little hungover, I went to meet Stephanie Martin, the writer of Rage, But Hope a new play written in response to the Extinction Rebellion movement.
I knew of Stephanie’s work as I had seen her play Alkaline at the Park Theatre, which was very good.
Stephahie had invited me to her home to interview her along with two members of her cast Dior Clarke and Emma Davies and her director Scott Le Crass, a friend of mine.
The new piece of writing went on to be performed at Streatham Space Project.
It was an interesting conversation about climate change. The full video can be found here:
📺 YouTube https://youtu.be/QkEnHCcU4mw
On Thursday evening I went to watch Stop Kiss produced by Kylie Vilcins for Above the Stag.
I first met Kylie when she worked with Paul Taylor Mills producing some of his best work including Bare: A Rock Opera.
Kylie is incredibly lovely, and I was excited to hear that she has been brought in by Above the Stag’s new artistic director Andrew Beckett.
It hails a much needed move forward to produce a more diverse range of plays and musicals, which Above the Stag have desperately needed to do.
Under their former AD, Peter Bull I always felt that they had a very narrow vision, and that their output definitely did not cater for every one in the LGBTQIA+ community, which the theatre proclaimed was it’s mission.
In particularly plays featuring lesbian characters and stories were hardly ever produced, and the majority of the work was written and directed by men.
Directed by Rafaella Marcus, Stop Kiss is written by Diana Son and is about a violent homophobic attack on two women for kissing in public.
Although it could seem to have been written in response to the widely reported incident that happened on a London bus earlier this year, this play was actually written in 1998.
Although a timely revival, the play itself was incredibly dated, and I just didn’t think it was very well written.
The capable cast that consisted of Kara Taylor Alberts, Suzanne Boreel, Matt Brewer, Ashley Gayle, Alfie Webster, Rebecca Crankshaw made the best of awkward dialogue and clunky scenes.
It’s a shame, because stories like this do need to be told. But they deserve to be told well.
While in the larger space the Above the Stag adult panto Pinocchio -No Strings Attached played, Stop Kiss utilised the studio space, and seemed to be successfully drawing in a new audience.
The normally male dominated bar area felt more balanced when I arrived, with more women than I had ever seen at one time at Above the Stag.
It’s a much welcome change, and nice to see, and the precise reason that programming this range of work is necessary.
I really look forward to seeing what Above the Stag will produce next year, now that Andrew Beckett is steering the ship, and Kylie Vilcins is on board.
After this, I returned to Boulevard Theatre for Nathaniel Morrison’s Finale cabaret.
I was sad to see that only a handful of tickets had been sold, despite my attempt to help push sales by releasing my interview with Nathaniel earlier in the week.
It’s still very early days for this new and capable theatre, but yet they haven’t seemed to have got a handle on their marketing and PR. Very little advertising has been done to promote this new cabaret series. It is also fair to note, that launching a late night ticketed show is going to struggle more than a cabaret in an earlier slot or if it was free.
Never the less Nathaniel was defiant to give him small audience the show they deserved, and came out full of gusto and energy performing a range of musical theatre, Disney, gospel and soul music.
He was joined by members of the West End Gospel choir, Gregory J. Cox. Simone Miller. Orama Saukila and special guest Idriss Kargbo with Michael Webborn as musical director.
Gregory performed For Forever from Dear Evan Hansen brilliantly, while Idriss performed Quiet by Natalie Weiss and sounded phenomenal.
Nathaniel has an incredible soul and is the ultimate show man, and delivered a fabulous show.
Some of the videos can be found on my YouTube page.
Nathaniel Morrison performing ‘Soft Place To Land’ from Waitress.
📺 YouTube https://youtu.be/NjnulLMkq_8
Idriss Kargbo performing Quiet by Natalie Weiss
📺 YouTube https://youtu.be/6fphMJ_s7n8
On Friday I made a return visit to watch Afterglow at the Waterloo East.
Having already seen it when it opened, as well as previously at the Southwalk Playhouse, the reason for my third visit was that my friend Kane Surry who understudies all three characters, was going on for one of them.
Acting opposite another friend Peter McPherson with Benjamin Aluwihare. It was all the more reason to see it again.
As with Peter when I watched him act for the first time, I was a little nervous about whatching Kane. Worried incase he wasn’t any good, and I’d have to lie. But he was brilliant, and more than that, I can’t commend him enough for being able to learn all three parts. It’s an incredible talent.
The play has a nice arc for all three characters with each accessing an emotional depth, which Kane did brilliantly. I sat with his boyfriend who was also watching and a few of his friends, and even knowing we were all in didn’t throw his performance.
After the show we all went for a few drinks, which was nice.
Afterglow is booking until 22nd December.
To book visit
On Saturday I managed to catch the last performance of The Green Fairy at The Union Theatre.
The production was on my list of things to see thanks to it’s star power Julie Atherton. I first met Julie through her friendship with Daniel Boys, after performing together in Ordinary Days.
Julie made a name for herself with her distinctive voice and comic timing, with roles in Sister Act and Avenue Q.
She bowled me over with her performance as a sexed up Janet in Shock Treatment, the sequel to the Rocky Horror Show, with bleached blond hair and a leather mini dress. Proving how versatile an actress she is.
Most recently she was incredible in the brilliant production of The Grinning Man at Trafalgar Studios.
As well as Julie, I was attracted to this show by David Perkins a very handsome young actor who I saw earlier in the year in The Bridges of Madison County, as well as the gorgeous Harry F Brown who was part of the BBC series Let It Show, going on to tour in the Take That musical The Band.
The Green Fairy describes itself as a “Queer pub musical”. It is a new British musical that had a workshop at the Kings Head theatre starting Declan Bennett and Lucie Jones in February, where I had not seen it.
Produced by Fools & Kings, a production company founded by Jessica Campbell and Jack Sain whilst at university and subsequently in London with productions at the Southwalk Playhouse, Edinburgh Fringe and most notably Four Play at Theatre 503, a fantasist play that incidentally is to be revived at Above the Stag in the new year.
Not to discount a small start up company formed by Oxford University students, Fools & Kings boasts having Judi Dench and Celia Imrie as patrons. It is of course hugely enterprising for young students to start up their own production companies and create their own work.
Most recently Lucy Moss and Toby Marlow have proven with Six that it is possible to make huge waves and to be recognised as new writers by starting out in this way. Lucy and Toby met and wrote Six whilst at Cambridge before taking it to Edinburgh in 2017.
Jack Sain trained at LAMDA and was Resident Assistant Director at the Donmar Warehouse and has directed many works. As well as co-producing The Green Fairy, Jack directs, and wrote the book music and lyrics.
Yes. It’s that murky territory I have seen so many time before to varying degrees of success, with individuals taking on too many roles. Of course, I never discount it does sometimes work, but is often a huge signpost to why it normally doesn’t.
On paper this production had huge credentials, and the team have certainly done an impressive job of mounting a full production within less than a year of workshopping it.
With lyrics by Stephen Libby, and dramaturg Hannah Hauer-King, Jack hasn’t attempted to go it completely alone.
The actor-muso production also stars Emma Whittaker, Emma Kinney, Georgina Helier, and describes itself as “an ode to queer parenting and overcoming anxiety, The Green Fairy is an immersive pub musical following one woman’s struggle to take back control of her own life before it’s too late.”
Centring around Julie Atherton playing an alcoholic, her character is never fully established as lesbian, but rather teeters with her sexuality flipping between her marriage to a man and her infatuation with a women.
We are introduced early to her daughter as they meet for the first time following an estrangement, played by Emma Kinney. But this strand of the story is underdeveloped with Emma and the character being rested for the majority of the show, perching Emma on a piano to play the bass guitar.
Openly admitting to drawing inspiration form the iconic Green Fairy from the film Moulin Rouge, in which Kylie Minogue plays the mythical character conjured up as an hallucinogenic vision brought about by drinking absinthe. In The Green Fairy, Georgina Hellier plays a scrubbed down version of the Green Fairy who serves to guide Julie Atherton’s character Jo to reexamine her past, and guides her through recreation and flashback, playing also Jo’s love interest in the stories.
Around this, the cast perform the varying collection of songs with the capable cast playing their own instruments.
It’s a nod to great musicals like Once and has premise and structure, however struggles to find it‘s way and never fully realises it’s promise.
The music simply didn’t grab me and a lot of the dialogue was very soap-like. Characters were severely undeveloped and the overriding promise of a “queer led” story is squashed by the dominant focus on Jo’s marriage to Daniel.
Also the immersive element is similarly unsatisfactory, limited to a couple of extra chairs placed on the stage, with Julie occasionally throwing an aside to whichever audience member happened to be sat there.
Julie along with the likeable cast are this show’s saving grace. Julie tackles and portrays an alcoholic convincingly and produces genuine moments of authenticity and empathy.
As I’ve said, I have always found Julie Atherton to be a formidable actress and this performance really does do her credit. It’s just a shame that she has to navigate some ropey dialogue and a patchy story.
The music might serve well on an album but as musical theatre it becomes forgettable and depleted.
The set, however, was beautiful and well designed, with bottles ascending from wires from the ceiling and a bar jetting out from the centre of the stage, although this is mainly used by Georgina Hellier to hide behind whilst slipping in and out of her tacky fairy costume.
Although all this might sound unkind of me, it is only because it really do love musical theatre and new writing and I really do want to see new British writing thrive. But for me, the Green Fairy really didn’t cut it, and I feel this production could have done with a lot more work and a lot more refining before staging it fully.
On Sunday I attended the Evening Standard Theatre Awards at the London Coliseum.
I was seated next to Daniel Perks, the contributing editor from What’s On Stage.
This prestigious and lavish award ceremony is now in it’s 65th year, and is still structured around a formal dinner for all the nominees and special guests before an audience is brought in and the ceremony itself begins.
All the seats were removed from the stalls and replaced by tables. Waiters wore crushed red velvet jackets.
Although trying desperately not to be elitist, the ceremony is still slightly pretentious. In an effort to counter balance this Cush Jumbo was chosen as the first actor of colour to host the ceremony in it’s 65 year history.
Although obviously a welcome move, and Cush certainly did a great job, she did seem on occasion to relish this and made one too many jokes and references to the fact that she wasn’t the typical choice for host. Although her barbed quips were directed to acknowledge this brilliant move forward by the Theatre Awards to be inclusive, Cush’s continued remarks did begin to feel awkward and continued to identify a huge gap between the fractures within the industry rather than reinforcing inclusion and serving to bring everyone together. Cush’s appointment and presence as host served the changing tide alone without the need to reinforce it by making the majority of the invited audience uncomfortable.
It was testament itself that best play went to Sweat written by Lynn Nottage in a category led by three female writers to one.
Amongst the predictable nominees and wins. I was happy to see the stunning Regents Park production of Evita take home Best Musical, although I would equally have been happy with Come From Away.
The formidable Dame Maggie Smith won Best Actress for A German Life which I didn’t get to see. It marked her fifth best actress win.
My friend, the brilliant Andrew Scott deservedly won Best Actor for his role in Present Laughter which I adored.
Anne-Marie Duff won best musical performance over Andy Nyman and Sheridan Smith.
Sir Ian McKellen won the Editor’s Award for his touring show “On Stage”. His acceptance speech can be found on my YouTube channel:
Stephen Mangan presenter a touching tribute with the Behind the Scenes Heroes award going to all the Stage Door Keepers throughout the West End.
The two musical performances of the night came from Sam Tutty and the cast of & Juliet led by Miriam-Teak Lee.
Both performed brilliantly seeming unphased by the enormity of performing at the Coliseum infront of this prestigious audience.
The party continued after the awards were all handed out, with drinks being served on the stage. I got to meet Damien Lewis as I caught up with Andrew Scott and Olivia Colman and chatted to Sam Tutty, Fra Fee, Layton Williams, Giles Terera and Drew McOnie.
I also had photos taken with Sir Ian Mckellen, Martin Freeman, and Frances Barber.
It was a gorgeous yet incredibly lavish evening, which served to celebrate the incredible work done throughout the industry and to recognise the ongoing achievements made in theatre.
I was very lucky and honoured to attend.
The accompanying video for this week’s journal can be found on my YouTube channel here:
And the audio version can be found as a podcast here: