Thursday, March 5, 2015

R&R 2014, Part 1: West End Boys

Just as had been the case with our assignment in Guadalajara, Jerusalem came with a built-in option for Rest and Recuperation time...and it is an understatement to say that it was very appreciated in the aftermath of the summer war.

If you are are technical writer by trade, curious as to who qualifies for R&R, or just like opening links that you find in random blogs across the Interwebs, feel free to click here and learn more about R&R.    

For those assigned to Jerusalem, the designated R&R destination is either London or your home city of record (In our case, Orlando).  No surprise which we chose.

Shakespeare, Leicester
Square, The West End
TJ and I spent August 29 - September 14 exploring London, Edinburgh, and all sorts of places in between.  We ticked the box on a lot of historic sites, visited an amusement park, encountered friends new and old, ate some delicious food, imbibed a bit too much, and took in a show or two.  Okay, it was an even dozen.  And those shows are the focus of today's posting. 

Theatre is life.  It opens up a world of song, dance, and story that you just can't find on the television or silver screen.  Unless it's an adaptation, but then it's never the same.  TJ and I love theatre, and gobble it up whenever possible.  We've managed to find a few local productions here in Jerusalem, but none have had that sense of wonder one finds on Broadway or even in big-budget traveling shows.  It was in preparation for this drought that I planned our 2013 anniversary trip to New York.  We devoured theatre so eagerly then that I feel we spent more time seeing shows than we did seeing New York.  The same almost happened in London.  And it was worth (almost) every second.         
London's West End is the commercial and entertainment heart of the city.  Picture New York's Times Square and Broadway and you'll arrive at a close approximation.  It is here that we experienced all of the wonderment that is London theatre.

(For the sake of giving credit where credit is due, the "About the Show" sections are all taken from the shows' websites, as are the production photos.  The "My Review" sections as well as the exterior shots are mine.)

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Theatre Royal Drury Lane

About the Show:  
Roald Dahl’s deliciously dark tale of young Charlie Bucket and the mysterious confectioner Willy Wonka comes to life in a brand new West End musical directed by Academy Award winner Sam Mendes (American Beauty; Jarhead; Skyfall).

When Charlie wins a golden ticket to the weird and wonderful Wonka Chocolate Factory, it’s the chance of a lifetime to feast on the sweets he’s always dreamed of.  But beyond the gates astonishment awaits, as down the sugary corridors and amongst the incredible edible delights, the five lucky winners discover not everything is as sweet as it seems.

Featuring ingenious stagecraft, the wonder of the original story that has captivated the world for almost 50 years is brought to life with music by Mark Shaiman, and lyrics by Scott Wittman and Marc Shaiman (Grammy winners for Hairspray; Smash), a book by award-winning playwright and adaptor David Greig (The Bacchae; Tintin in Tibet), set and costume designs by Mark Thompson (Mamma Mia!; One Man, Two Guvnors) and choreography by Peter Darling (Billy Elliot The Musical; Matilda The Musical).

A chocolate garden, an army of squirrels and the curiously peculiar Oompa-Loompas must be believed to be seen in this gigantic new musical that is choc-full of fantastical treats to dazzle your senses.

My Review:
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory has been entertaining children and adults alike for years, whether by book or film adaptation.  When we began planning our trip to London, this was one of the must-see shows for both of us, as it hasn't made landfall in the USA yet.  Now, we all know that Film-to-Musical adaptations can be tricky to pull off, and Book-to-Film-to-Musical adaptations can be downright atrocious.  There was definitely a morbid curiosity about this one:  would it be great, terrible, or so fantastically bad that we couldn’t help but love it?  In the end, it was simply enjoyable.  That’s not so bad a thing, is it?  We walked away feeling that it was a good opening gambit for the week of theatre-filled goodness to follow.  The sets were incredible.  The cast was engaging.  The song and dance was certainly entertaining enough.  But if you’ve read the book or seen either movie, this production doesn’t bring anything particularly new to the table.  Recommended for children of all ages…or adults who are still kids at heart.  Just don’t expect your world to be changed in the aftermath. 

Once, Phoenix Theatre

About the Show:
A heart-warming, hilarious, and bittersweet love story that celebrates the power of music, performed live on stage by an extraordinary cast of actor-musicians, Once dazzles with invention, wit and unforgettable songs.

Winner of two 2014 Olivier Awards, eight Tony Awards and a Grammy Award this is the show everyone's falling for. Featuring all of the magical songs from the original film, including the Oscar-winning "Falling Slowly," this achingly beautiful, thrillingly inspirational show strikes an unforgettable chord and truly dares to be different. How often does a musical like this come around...

My Review:
This is the one holdover from our trip to NYC that I had really wanted to see but was unable to, so I
was thrilled to be able to see it now.

As stated above, Once is adapted from the film of the same name.  TJ told me just as the show was beginning that we had tried to watch the movie and had hated it.  Oops.  Why didn’t he mention that before?  This was gonna suck.

Only…it didn’t.  It was heartbreakingly beautiful from start to finish.  We’ve since tried to watch the film again...and failed.  The stage is where it’s at for this one, folks.  Had we just one more day to spend in London, I do believe we would have seen it again.  Recommended for anyone with a soul.  

The Lion King, Lyceum Theatre

About the Show:
Set against the majesty of the Serengeti Plains to the evocative rhythms of Africa, this spectacular production explodes with glorious colours, stunning effects, and enchanting music to tell the timeless story of Simba and his epic journey to fulfill his destiny as King of the Pridelands.

Julie Taymor, one of the world’s most innovative directors, brought a vast array of disciplines to The Lion King, including extensive experience staging epic theatre and opera productions, exploring classic myths through ritualized puppetry, mask, and movement. 

My Review:  
I actually saw this one during my college years.  I didn’t particularly enjoy it then, and I wasn’t in a hurry to see it now.  I just find it kind of...icky.  It's pretty faithful to its cartoon roots...minus one pseudo-sexual moment between two characters that I normally wouldn't care about, save for the fact that this is basically for children.

I’d been avoiding this for ten years though, so it was time to stop denying TJ the experience.  To my…disappointment?  delight?...he didn’t particularly enjoy the show, either.  Like Charlie, it’s too similar to the source material to provide anything very original.  Costumes are gorgeous though.  I did notice an alteration since the last time I saw the show; “The Morning Report” has been removed.  Pity, as the original songs were always my favorite part.  Recommended for anyone who thinks Disney can do no wrong.        

Jersey Boys, Piccadilly Theatre4

About the Show:
Winner of 55 major awards worldwide, including the Olivier Award for BEST NEW MUSICAL.

Jersey Boys, the internationally acclaimed hit musical, tells the remarkable rise to stardom of one of the most successful bands in pop music history.

Discover how four New Jersey boys from the wrong sid of the tracks invented their own unique sound, were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and sold 100 million records worldwide.  With spectacular performances of of all their this, Jersey Boys is the electrifying true life story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons; the mob, the heartaches, the triumphs and the music.

My Review:

This is one of those shows that has been out for so long that, sooner or later, you just have to get it over and done with.  And we never should have waited.  My initial thought upon leaving the theatre was "Ooh! Finally, a musical I could bring my parents to."  Not a bad thing.  This is the music I grew up with.  This is the music my parents grew up with.  This is a part of entertainment history.   Recommended for fans of the pre-autotune wonder years.  

Miss Saigon, Prince Edward Theatre

About the Show:
This epic musical love story tells the tragic tale of young bar girl Kim, orphaned by war, who falls in love with an American G.I. called Chris - but their lives are torn apart by the fall of Saigon.

Cameron Mackintosh's acclaimed new production has made its highly anticipated return to the West End, and is breaking box office records.

Since Miss Saigon's sensational record-breaking run at London's Theatre Royal Drury Lane 25 years ago it has played in 300 cities in 15 different languages, winning awards around the world.

My Review:  Whoah.  I was not expecting that.  This show has been around forever, but out of circulation for a number of years.  It's one that I heard of almost the very moment that I first became interested in musical theatre, but somehow the plot synopsis always eluded me.  Perhaps that's for the best, as it couldn't possibly have carried the same emotional impact in my earlier years.  No spoilers here, but check out the photo directly above to see why it may hit so close to home.  Recommended for every diplomat (and family) in the world.    

The 39 Steps, Criterion Theatre

About the Show:
Alfred Hitchcock’s classic thriller, The 39 Steps, brilliantly and hilariously recreated for the stage as the smash hit Olivier Award Winning Comedy.
Follow the incredible adventures of our handsome hero Richard Hannay, complete with stiff-upper-lip, British gung-ho and pencil moustache as he encounters dastardly murders, double-crossing secret agents, and, of course, devastatingly beautiful women.
This wonderfully inventive and gripping comedy thriller features actors, playing 139 roles in 100 minutes of fast-paced fun and thrilling action.

My Review:  
This was the first of four plays that we would see over the course of the week.  I seemed to have enjoyed this outing more than TJ, who was put off by the cast of five running back and forth playing multiple roles in rapid succession.  I thought it was cute and quirky.  It certainly kept my attention...but for the life of me, I cannot recall how the mystery resolved itself.  Recommended for mystery lovers who don't take themselves (or the plot) too seriously.  

Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap, St. Martin's Theatre
About the Show:
If The Mousetrap were a public figure, it would be a national treasure – a Judi Dench, perhaps, or a Stephen Fry. You wouldn’t pass up the opportunity to spend an evening with those two, so why put off your visit to this vintage whodunnit from mistress of suspense Agatha Christie?
There really is nothing quite like the thrill of peeking into a remote house, sizing up its rum residents and pondering the mounting pile of red herrings as you try to crack one of the most celebrated cases of all time. 
Five guests arrive at a country hotel, only to find themselves snowed in. A policeman turns up, warning of a murderer on the loose. One by one, the guests are investigated until a trap is laid to catch the killer.
To tell you any more would not only spoil the surprise but also upset the tradition that no one who’s seen the show ever reveals the murderer’s identity – which means there really is only one way you’re ever going to find out.

Also, TJ wanted me to note the he successfully deduced "whodunit?" before play's end.  Show off.  

My Review:
Sorry.  Guests are sworn to an oath of secrecy at the end of the play.  But I liked it.  A lot.  Recommended for everyone.  It's the longest running show of any kind in the world.  This thing's an institution, people! 

Matilda, Cambridge Theatre

About the Show:
Inspired by the twisted genius of Roald Dahl, with book by Dennis Kelly and original songs by Tim Minchin, Matilda is the captivating musical masterpiece from the Royal Shakespeare Company that revels in the anarchy of childhood, the power of imagination and the inspiring story of a girl who dares to change her destiny.

My Review:
Woof.  No, I mean WOOF.  This…was…BAD.  TJ and I went in with such high hopes for this show, particularly after having enjoyed Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Dahl’s other masterpiece come to stage, just a few nights prior.  We had seen performances during the Tony Awards and
Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade that led us to believe it would at least be entertaining.  Instead, we found that the set design was cute but not altogether original.  The acting was weak.  The singing was practically inaudible.  Perhaps this is the show that bucks the trend of musical theatre always being weaker in the second act….but we’ll never know.  We left at intermission.  Never in my life have I walked out of a stage production, but this truly was a special occasion.  Recommended for no one.  Go to a pub instead.

September 6th
King Charles III, Wyndham’s Theatre

About the Show:
The Queen is dead: after a lifetime of waiting, the prince ascends the throne. A future of power. But how to rule?

Directed by Rupert Goold, this ‘bracingly provocative and outrageously entertaining new play’ (The Independent) explores the people underneath the crowns, the unwritten rules of our democracy, and the conscience of Britain's most famous family.

My Review:
I had seen the posters all over town, coaxing me over the course of several days to give in attend a performance.  I somehow just knew I'd be full of regret if I missed it.  It was an odd choice, and definitely not world famous, but we took a shot and were glad we did.   

It was, by far, the best play I have ever seen.  No member of the royal family is safe in this tale of a perennial prince finally getting his chance to shine.  As Americans, I think we find ourselves mystified by the royal family.  Maybe it's because royalty is beyond us.  Maybe it's because, in another life, royalty could have ruled over us.  Or maybe it's because we read too many fairy tales.  Whatever the case, this deliciously scandalous production is probably the closest we will ever get to knowing how the other half live.       

It appears that the run has ended, but if there's ever a revival, I'd recommend it to anyone that enjoys a good political spoof.     

Les Misérables, Queens Theatre

About the Show:
Seen by more than 70 million people in 43 countries and in 22 languages around the globe, it is still breaking box-office records everywhere in its 30th year.
Set against the backdrop of 19th-century France, Les Misérables tells an enthralling story of broken dreams and unrequited love, passion, sacrifice and redemption – a timeless testament to the survival of the human spirit.
Ex-convict Jean Valjean is hunted for decades by the ruthless policeman Javert after he breaks parole. When Valjean agrees to care for factory worker Fantine’s young daughter, Cosette, their lives change forever. 
Featuring the songs “I Dreamed A Dream”, “Bring Him Home”, “One Day More” and “On My Own” – Les Misérables is the show of shows.

My Review:  
Really?  It's Les Mis!  Go see it already.  

The Woman in Black, Fortune Theatre

Susan Hill’s acclaimed ghost story comes dramatically alive in Stephen Mallatratt’s ingenious stage adaptation. Now celebrating 25 terrifying years in the West End, Robin Herford’s gripping production is a brilliantly successful study in atmosphere, illusion and controlled horror.

A lawyer obsessed with a curse that he believes has been cast over him and his family by the spectre of a Woman in Black, engages a sceptical young actor to help him tell his terrifying story and exorcise the fear that grips his soul. It all begins innocently enough, but then, as they reach further into his darkest memories, they find themselves caught up in a world of eerie marshes and moaning winds.

My Review:  
This was another one where TJ said "You know, we tried to watch this movie and couldn't.  In fact, you fell asleep."  


Unlike Once, this dud did not surpass it's cinematic sibling.

It was so bad that, by the end, TJ was mad at me for making him watch it.  

Sorry, boo.  I love you!  

West End Bares 2014 – Nude Dunnit?, Café de Paris

About the Show:
A classic take on the much loved genre featuring the usual suspects! Who is the MURDERER? What was their WEAPON of choice? and what was their MOTIVE?! All will be revealed at this one-off event at London’s most glamorous venue, CAFE DE PARIS. Featuring performers from all the West End Shows and, as ever, a handful of Celebrity Guests, this is going to be another night of cheeky, sexy, fun and flesh! It would be a CRIME to MISS IT!!!

All money raised goes to support the Make A Difference Trust, which brings together the British Entertainment community and its audiences to raise funds to support people living with HIV and AIDS, and those in the entertainment industry facing hardship as a result of a long-term medical condition.

My Review:
Many, MANY thanks to our friend Anwarul, who not only 
suggested attending this charity event, but
treated us to the price of admission, freeing up our own cash for stripper tips.  Now, now.  Don't judge.  The "strippers" were professional actors and actresses from West End shows, and all of the money went to charity.  

I suppose I'll keep it classy and refrain from sharing the more provocative photos from the event, but if you ever find yourself in London (or New York, for the equivalent Broadway Bares), I would encourage you to give it a go.  It's all in good fun, and all for a truly worthy cause.

And with that, our time in London ended.  There were still many adventure to be had before returning to Jerusalem.  I'll get to those soon, but next time, how about we actually step outside of the theatre district and see a bit of London?

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