Archives for posts with tag: Les Miserables

Last week I went to the opening night of Miss Saigon at the Prince Edward Theatre. CLANG. Sitting in the front row, I was overwhelmed – and helicopter-windswept – by what I had seen. As I dabbed the tears from my eyes (no, I was not the woman mentioned in Michael Billington’s review) I reached the conclusion that it was one of the (if not the) greatest shows I’d ever seen. I left that theatre elated. In fact, the fireworks over the Thames at the after-party were an accurate visual representation of how happy I was feeling. (NB: I wasn’t at the after-party. I was on a bus driving past. Not so CLANG.) Then, being of the social media obsessed generation that I am, I began scrolling through my feed on the aforementioned bus home to see what everyone else had to say. I anticipated a lot of re-tweets – surely everyone would have been as thrilled as I was!? However, I was saddened when this wasn’t the case. Everyone seemed to be of the opinion that I was born in the wrong decade and should have seen the Drury Lane production. WHAT!? 

I understand, of course, that many people would have seen the 1989 production and had the response that I had on Wednesday night all those years ago. I also understand that it’s impossible not to make comparisons when forming an opinion on a piece of theatre. But what confounded me is how those comparisons went on to be the overriding thought in a number of reviews released that night. Who do those comparisons help? What’s the point of telling someone that something they can no longer see is better? It felt like the polish had been unfairly stripped from my first Saigon experience. So, because I’m dramatic (and I still had “This is the hour…” underscoring my thoughts in my head) I declared to my friend “I’m going to write about this” and went to bed.

The following day, social media had gone a bit ‘comparison’ crazy and the Public Reviews twitter posted this as their topic of discussion for the day:

Public Review

Great minds think alike, Internet?

 

And Mark Shenton wrote a brilliant blog for The Stage on the subject:

“I realise that, as I discovered on Twitter last night, some of my readers* would not even have been born when the show first opened 25 years ago. So they will be taking it in for the first time, and comparisons, for them at least, are pointless. They have to take the production, as it now stands, purely on its own terms.” 

*RIDOUT!

Now, I’ve had nearly a week to think on this, after my heated (awful pun intended) Saigon reaction, and these are my thoughts:

I think reviews should be written about the piece in hand and should provide current, potential audience members with an educated response to the piece that they are able to watch. So until time travel exists, I don’t care for multiple references to ’89’s superiority.

However, the Public Reviews topic mentioned that perhaps people should hang up their critical hat if they can’t avoid comparing new productions to the past. This I do not agree with, and mostly because their use of the term ‘critical hat’ threw me. To criticize is to express a judgement and when we form judgments, we compare. Everybody does it. It’s really a question of who those criticisms and consequent comparisons serve. Perhaps the creative and production teams will welcome the comparisons to the original production in looking for ways to improve but potential audience members gain nothing other than resentment for this kind of ‘review’. This is where, I believe, the confusion lies. Is there a difference between ‘theatre critics’ and ‘theatre reviewers’ and should there be? In terms of content, there’s a huge difference between the academic and specialized pieces that ‘critics’ write and the audience focused works of ‘reviewers’ – increasingly found online. That’s why we see so many online review sites and bloggers being used in the promotion of pieces at the moment whilst broadsheets tend to stay on the stands and online criticism remains unshared. Critics are still part of the discussion of a show (eg. “I’ve read great/awful things…”) but the opinion of the audience and their subsequent tweets seem to be of a far higher value. The Les Mis Effect, if you will.

Personally, I avoid reading reviews until I have seen a show myself because I want to be able to form my own opinion without the influence of another’s thoughts. But I always read reviews by other bloggers/online publications afterwards and always read the pieces by theatre ‘critics’ too. I like to see how my thoughts matched, or differed, from those of the critics and I love the debates that ensue. I have adored the discussions I’ve had over this past week about what people think about all these Saigon comparisons and widely ranging reviews. Surely that’s what it’s all about – getting people talking about theatre and thinking about it critically.

But some criticism – whilst being valuable in its provocation of debate – is not, in my opinion, reflective of the piece. Case in point – a 2* review of Miss Saigon in The Observer:

http://www.theguardian.com/stage/2014/may/25/miss-saigon-review-celebration-masquerading-tragedy

Now, love ’89 or not, a 2* review of the production currently gracing the stage at the Prince Edward is not called for. I wouldn’t wish a 2* on the worst shows I’ve ever seen (and I have some in mind). This could have been someone’s first impression of Miss Saigon and it’s pieces like this that make me reach for the phone and tell my Dad (the only person I still know who actually judges whether to buy a ticket based on reviews he reads in the paper) to ignore what critics say. It doesn’t make me feel good – telling people to ignore theatre criticism – but it’s a painful necessity if it means that people will go and see something that is thrilling packed houses but wasn’t necessarily a critic’s cup of tea.

Perhaps the future holds the need (or just a want, in my case) for a clearer line to be drawn between ‘reviews’ and ‘criticisms’ in publication. I’d still read both and both need to exist but it could be hugely beneficial for prospective theatre goers to only see the opinion of people who’ve attended the theatre for enjoyment (rather than with a critical eye) before they’ve seen the piece themselves. I know, I’m not being very realistic in thinking that we can keep people from reading critical comment before buying theatre tickets but hey, this is Dreamland (second awful pun intended)! You never know, it could be the support that new writing needs before it gets snubbed by critics at the first hurdle – but that’s a whole other debate for another day

Until then, I think reviewers need to take a leaf out of my Dad’s book. His ‘Miss Saigon’ review read: 

I can’t fully remember the original (it was 1989!!) 
Take note people, it was 1989! Move on. 
cont…
It was every bit as good. All of the leads were excellent, particularly The Engineer and Kim. The audience were so enthusiastic. You’ll definitely love it (and you’ll blub – no question!).
Nailed it, Dad. When in Doubt, ask a Ridout. 
Happy seeing Miss Saigon!
(Day seat queue for £20 front row tickets. Arrive before 7am – it’ll be worth it. I promise.)
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Pre-show.

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Post-show.

 

“But I know, I have a heart like the sea. A million dreams are in me…”
“Good Jesus, John, who is she? “
Eva Noblezada, THAT’S WHO.
– Rebecca Ridout

Right, sorry about all that, Ridout is back. I’ve been hoarding all-things-theatrical in my head for the past month now and I have finally found the time for it all to spill out onto a page. I bought a new notebook (I thought a new notebook would help) and sat down and just wrote. It was pages of absolute ramblings and will inevitably still read as ramblings despite my best efforts to hone it all in. So here is one of the things I’ve been thinking about a lot over the last few weeks: (just three little words…) new musical theatre. Ah, I almost had you there didn’t I? It’s not a post about those three little words or inspired by a topless man playing guitar. Sorry. I’ve been surrounded by new musical theatre writing recently and I don’t know if it’s partly down to the Christmas spirit, but I’m feeling ever so hopeful for the future of musical theatre. I strongly believe I was born in the wrong decade and wish I was in America during the ‘Golden Age’ but I’m similarly passionate about what lies ahead for our ever progressing industry. I have been comforted by what I’ve been lucky enough to be privvy to recently and so I thought I’d share some of my thoughts with you so we can leave our longing for the twenty-teen’s answer to ‘Showboat’ behind us.

I’ll start first by saying that back in May I was thrown into panic mode when a visiting director at school told us that musical theatre, as an artform, was dead. It wasn’t a point that was open for discussion, it was a statement of fact. I had nothing to retort, I just sat with arguments swimming round my head that never found the courage to leave my mouth. Everyone that did jump on modern musical theatre’s defence was shot down by the ‘Golden Age’ trump card. Yes, perhaps we’ve moved away from sweeping Rogers & Hammerstein overtures to pop megamixes but it’s not dead. My beloved art form is not dead. The direction of our industry has been out of our, albeit jazzy, hands for a long time now. It has to answer to what the general public – the bums on the seats – want and unfortunately that isn’t what it used to be but why does that have to be negative? I know that my taste (I adore a good revival) isn’t the same as everyone else’s. There has to be room and, most importantly, support for the new – someone has to pave the way for the future of musical theatre. In every other walk of life, letting go of the past is advocated so why do we need to strive for a dated style of writing in our industry? My belief is that all the creative talent required for a new golden age is out there, it just isn’t receiving the support it so deserves – people just don’t know it’s there.

This was drawn to my attention recently when I sang at a fundraising gig for Pitgems Creative Theatre Company in November. The founder, Emma Trow, is a composer/director/tutor/wonderwoman who made the company in order to create a platform for new work – admirable, I know. The fundraising gig was taking place so that all the profits from a forthcoming production can be donated to the National Aids Awareness Trust – even more admirable. Naturally, a lot of people wanted to help this cause and a huge amount of talent rocked the boat, quite literally*, in Vauxhall that evening. It turned out to be an evening of education for me due to the amount of new material that was performed – including original pieces from Emma Trow and the fabulous Tamar Broadbent, amongst many others. I laughed (hard) at some, nearly cried at others and still find myself humming various tunes from those talented composer’s creations. As Sondheim rightly says through his lyrics in ‘Merrily We Roll Along’: “You need a tune you can bum-bum-bum-di-dum..” and there are an abundance of hummable musical theatre composers that just aren’t getting heard.

*it was on the Battersea Barge. If you’ve never been, do go – it’s a great venue.

I’m so lucky that my next involvement with new writing for the month was as a ‘public assessor’ for the Pefect Pitch awards. It sounds very official but it was just an excuse for me to sit down for hours and sift through lyrics, read book extracts and listen to some fantastic work by sixteen of the 318 applications that Perfect Pitch received. I was getting to know some incredible new work, like I had on the Battersea Barge, with the added joy that at the end of this process some new emerging talent would be given the opportunity to show their work professionally to a much wider audience through Perfect Pitch*. As an assessor I had to pick my favourite 3 submissions in each area (book, music & lyrics) and send them back for my choices to be matched up against others. The shortlist of 44 writers has now been chosen and I was thrilled to see writers I loved the work of and some friendly faces on the list. I am already eagerly awaiting the event on March 14th at the St James Theatre to see what the teams (selected from the shortlist) will pitch. Hurrah, some new writing is being given a foothold in the industry so more people can hear those hummable tunes! Obviously, Perfect Pitch aren’t the only people helping new writers (I could, or someone with more time than me could, write a book about the possibilities of exposure for new writers and the companies that are dedicated to helping them but I won’t be doing that. I’m sure you don’t mind.) but I was so pleased to be involved, even in the smallest capacity, so it had to be mentioned!

*more information on the Perfect Pitch award can be found HERE.

One of the people in the shortlist for the award is the fabulous Dougal Irvine who is responsible for the last bit of exposure to new writing I’ve had in the last month. We will be singing his song ‘We need Love’ from the (granted, not new) musical ‘In Touch’ at the National Youth Music Theatre Christmas Concert on the 21st*. In summer, when we were busy doing West Side Story, another third of the 2013 company were putting on ‘The Other School’ at the St James Theatre – a brand new show by Dougal and Dominic Marsh which was commissioned by NYMT. It was a storming success and is a show that you haven’t seen the end of yet. It’s had its youth theatre springboard and now it is going to fly (I don’t know how I feel about that metaphor but I’m rolling with it). Youth companies provide one way in which writers can get their (PG rated) shows on their feet** and this method proved very successful for Dougal. As I sat learning this new version of ‘We Need Love’ I was all too aware of his incredible writing talent and in that moment I concluded that the future of musical theatre writing is going to be just fine. Don’t worry Dougal, I’m not putting all that pressure on just your shoulders but that’s when the ol’ epiphany happened.

*Dougal is singing the solo and he’s rather good…just in case you wanted to come…click here.

**As alumni, I must tell you that NYMT has a new commission for the 2014 season to commemorate the outbreak of WW1. If you’re 13-23 you can audition for the three productions next year and the new commission ‘Brass’  will provide the opportunity to be part of an original cast. How bloomin exciting. Apply for an audition here.

So after the month I’ve just had, I know the writers are out there and I hope after reading about my month of blog absence you might go looking for them too. They can be found in small fringe theatres, cabaret venues, my recent research hotspot soundcloud and on good old Youtube. I won’t tell you where they all are though, as half the fun is finding them but start by searching the names mentioned above! Step into new territory and see if you like what you hear/see and please report back on any gems that you find.

To try and conclude my ramblings I’ll finish on this:

I mentioned earlier that I wished I was present during the ‘golden age’ of musical theatre but who says we aren’t? About two years ago now I read ‘Musical Theatre: A History’ by John Kenrick and I’ll always remember the introduction (I took notes on the entire book, don’t judge) in which he talks about how the ‘golden age’ is constantly being extended. It used to be thought to have ended in the 50’s, then the next generation of writers pushed it to the mid 60’s, and the next to the 70’s etc etc. It will always get pushed further so that the current generation speak as if the really good stuff happened about 30 years ago. I think I’d agree with that. After all, the 80’s gave us: Dreamgirls, Nine, Cats, Blood Brothers, Sunday in the Park with George, La Cage Aux Folles, Starlight Express, Les Miserables, The Phantom of the Opera and Into the Woods to name but a few. It was Sondheim vs Webber. It was glorious. I believe, and history proves, art always gets appreciated later down the line. In musical theatre, flops get a fanbase and revivals break records – as we saw this year with Merrily We Roll Along. It’s not dead, we just aren’t able to appreciate what is in front of us yet.

Happy appreciating the now and embracing the new!

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On the Battersea Barge with Emma Trow (left) and a brownie (right).

Dear new musical theatre writers:

“Just keep moving on. Anything you do, let it come from you, then it will be new. Give us more to see…”

– Rebecca Ridout