Thursday, July 20, 2017

Theatre Pilgrimage - 9 Shows in 2 Cities

I rarely travel during summer as it is the peak season in my work. This time however, I snuck out for a week. Apart from the operetta Die Fledermaus that I saw at the Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff, the rest of the shows were musicals in London. As usual, I tried to book everything in advance except for two shows that I feel I can do without or I do not mind replacing it with something else at the last minute. 

Given that I am very busy, I will make this post very brief with just a concise impression of each show. Before I left Hong Kong, this is the order of shows based on my expectation, expectation in terms of quality and therefore my enjoyment:

  1. Aladdin
  2. Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill
  3. Dreamgirls
  4. Die Fledermaus
  5. An American in Paris
  6. School of Rock
  7. On The Town
  8. The Girls
  9. The Wind in the Willows
Instead, this is the actual ranking based on my enjoyment of the show:

  1. Dreamgirls - Savoy Theatre (London), Wednesday June 28 - Glee star Amber Riley alone was worth the ticket. However, the best part was that the whole cast was very good and the production was sleek. It has that cinematic fluidity and the songs flowed through the narrative.
  2. On The Town - Regent's Park Open Air Theatre (London), Thursday June 29 - This show was not even in my radar! I left this night open with the possibility of either seeing Half a Sixpence or 42nd Street. I didn't even consider On The Town because it will be in an open air theatre AND because I have seen several production of this and none really stood out. Luckily, my friend was offered the ticket and she instead offered it to me that morning as she was going to a ballet. What really made this production work was the cast. They were absolutely superb. They sang, acted and danced tremendously well. Also, the container-look set design was spot on without it looking heavy. The worst part, however, was that it was ruined by the big thumping sound from the nearby home of USA ambassador. Apparently, they were having a party and they have exceeded the pre-agreed sound levels... were I surprised? Kudos to the cast and crew for putting up with it. 
  3. An American in Paris - Dominion Theatre (London), Tuesday June 27 - I heard a lot of good things about this show from friends in NYC and London. However, mentally, I thought the movie has glorious dances and camera works, but I just can't see how it can work on stage. I was so wrong. In this case, it was more like a full-length ballet with singing. The additional Gershwin songs did help. More importantly though was that once again, the cast was amazing... singing, dancing or acting!
  4. Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill - Wyndham's Theatre (London), Friday June 30 - My expectation was high. Come on, we are talking about Audra McDonald!!! Well, she didn't disappoint at all. Audra McDonald as Billie Holiday was a masterclass for sustained characterization. Absolutely captivating performance!!! As for the script and format, it was blah.
  5. Die Fledermaus - Wales Millennium Centre (Cardiff), Saturday June 24 - This is my first time to hear Die Fledermaus in English! This Welsh National Opera production was big fun! As a proof, my 12 year old nephew totally enjoyed it! The cast was very even. While this is not the first time I heard an opera translated into English, this must be the first time that I can actually understand the singers! The enunciation was excellent. Having said that, I think I will remember this operetta all the more because Charles, Prince of Wales, attended and was seated not far from me! Haha! Now that is what you call a British experience!
  6. The Girls - Phoenix Theatre (London), Thursday June 29 -  It was fine and adequately entertaining. Apart from the performers though, everything else looks and feels a bit amateurish. Yes, that includes the music and the book. The biggest let down was the chunky elaborate swinging wall that delivered nothing to the progression of the narrative. I kept expecting that it will unfold and reveal something, yet, it is just a wall!
  7. Aladdin - Prince Edward Theatre (London), Saturday July 1 - Okay, the flying carpet was absolutely magical! What else? Not much really. The cast was okay, except for Jasmine... she was pretty and that's pretty much what she was.
  8. School of Rock - New London Theatre (London), Wednesday June 28 - it was okay. Entertaining, but show no real stage wonder. Gary Trainor as Dewey Finn pretty much carried the whole show. The kids were surprisingly not as polished as one expects given the standard shown in other West End show (hint: Matilda).
  9. The Wind in the Willows - London Palladium (London), Tuesday June 27 - I never like The Wind in the Willows. I don't understand it. So why did I go and see this? Well, it is the only musical (that I haven't seen) that has a Tuesday matinee. So why not give it a try, right? It is the best "Wind" I have seen. It has lovely cute little songs... good for matinee and children...