Angela Lansbury and company share dry martinis and dryer wit in Noël Coward comedy.
Kinky Boots is a study in how to do a musical adaptation right.
For some reason, or for no reason at all, there’s a whole lot of Peter Pan going on in San Francisco at the moment. Custom Made Theatre Co. is presenting the West Coast premiere of Jeremy Bloom’s adaptation Peter/Wendy while SHN has brought the post-Broadway tour of Rick Elice’s Peter and the Starcatcher to the Curran Theatre. Starcatcher is actually a prequel to Peter Pan, detailing how the Lost Boys and the pirates got to Neverland in the first place. (As such, it has the odd problem of becoming less surprising as it goes along, because you know how things have to end up for everybody.)
One of the great things about SHN’s season of shows at the Curran, Orpheum and Golden Gate theaters—what used to be called the Best of Broadway series, just as SHN used to be called Shorenstein Hays-Nederlander—is that in addition to all the hit shows fresh from Broadway, we occasionally get to see future hits on their way to Broadway. Wicked was one notable example, as were Mamma Mia and Legally Blonde—and then there are the ones that didn’t fare as well. (Lennon, anyone? Anyone?) Part of the thrill of getting the first look at these things is that you really never know what you’re going to get.
Priscilla Queen of the Desert—The Musical combines the two main trends of Broadway musicals: It’s based on a cult movie, and it’s a popsical, with the entire song list made up of preexisting pop hits. When I first heard about it I just assumed that it would include most of the disco tunes from the 1994 Australian cult classic The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, with original songs filling out the rest of the show. Wrong on both counts. Yes, you have the Village People’s “Go West,” Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive,” Peaches & Herb’s “Shake Your Groove Thing,” CeCe Peniston’s “Finally,” and the Jerome Kern classic “A Fine Romance,” but Abba’s “Mamma Mia,” which is pretty prominent in the film, was already taken by the Abba popsical of the same name. Added in are a whole bunch of random ’80s hits that clash only slightly with the disco-era ones.
It’s interesting looking at The Lion King now, in the aftermath of the colossal creative implosion that was Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, the most expensive Broadway musical in history and one of the worst received. The latter show’s director and coauthor Julie Taymor left that production amid massive rewrites moving away from her original concept, and she’s been in the courts with the producers over royalties and fees ever since. The Lion King was a huge triumph for director Taymor; the 1997 adaptation of the 1994 Disney flick (itself seemingly a ripoff of the animated 1960s Japanese TV show Kimba the White Lion) is the highest-grossing (and fifth longest-running) Broadway show in history and won Tony Awards for best musical, best direction (Taymor), choreography and scenic, costume (Taymor again) and lighting design. So the question is, how does it hold up now, in its 15th year?
There are two ways of looking at War Horse. Both points of view are equally true, but it comes down to a matter of taste. One is that the puppets are easily the best thing about the play. The other is that the show would be pointless without them.
I wasn’t planning to go to Les Misérables. Not that I have anything against the blockbuster 1985 musical of Victor Hugo’s classic 1862 novel—I’d never seen the one nor read the other, so I couldn’t really have an opinion about it. It’s just that my friend Kaya Oakes was having her book launch for her excellent new book Radical Reinvention: An Unlikely Return to the Catholic Church at the same time as SHN’s press night for the touring 25th-anniversary production of Les Miz at the Orpheum, and my friend’s event took precedence. However, my wife absolutely loves Les Miz, having seen a previous touring production many years ago, and it happens that Kaya has another reading tonight that we could go to instead, so off we went to the barricades.
The Broadway musical based on the album of the same name by East Bay punk band Green Day, American Idiot has walked a lonely road since it premiered at Berkeley Repertory Theatre in 2009. It headed off to a smash Broadway run that saw Green Day frontman Billie Joe Armstrong join the cast, and it picked up a couple of Tony Awards for set and lighting design. Now with a feature film adaptation in the works, American Idiot comes home to the Bay Area on its post-Broadway tour sounding a little different after a few rounds of rewrites, landing at the Orpheum Theatre courtesy of SHN.
The last time SHN brought screen icon Kathleen Turner to the Bay Area, in 2007, she was costarring with Bill Irwin in a superb production of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, straight from Broadway. Turner’s current SHN show at the Curran Theatre, High, is also fresh from Broadway, but the difference is that this one did very poorly there last April, opening on a Tuesday and closing by that Sunday. But the producers must figure there’s life in the old dog yet, or at least that Turner’s star wattage would be able to sustain it on tour. The current Curran run is only five days, but at least this time it was planned that way, clearing out just in time to bring in Jonathan Pryce in Harold Pinter’s The Caretaker next week.