Archives for posts with tag: Merrily We Roll Along

…still I’m clean’.

I had to just finish off the lyric of that title because it could easily be confused as a regular statement. That wouldn’t be very me now would it? It’s actually a line from Duncan Sheik’s new musical ‘American Psycho’ and it has been repeating in my head since I saw the show on Saturday. It seemed, almost poetically, coincidental that the final musical I saw in 2013 contained a lyric that would lead me into my final post of the year so I just had to use it.

As the curtain came down on the final piece of theatre I saw this year I turned to my friend Adam – who was a regular 2013 theatre buddy of mine – and said: “Best thing I’ve seen this year”. Adam was quick to say that that was a huge statement coming from me considering the amount of things I’ve seen this year. It’s true, it was a huge sweeping statement, but it popped out of my decisive mouth and I don’t just think it was just because of the adrenaline rush Act II had given me. ‘Mojo’ had stolen the 2013 theatrical crown.

“But Ridout, what about ______, _______, and, not forgetting, _______!?”*

*I’d be interested to know what shows you’d fill those blanks with. Go to the bottom of the blog post to use a contact form to tell me!

I’ve since had a few days to reflect on everything else I’ve seen this year and I thought I’d let you know what my favourites were. I’ll admit that my pen hovered a lot as I tried to write down definitive favourites. In the end I had to break it down into more categories (including making a few up) and most have a shared top spot between two pieces. It would seem my decisive brain – declaring ‘Mojo’ the best – from Saturday couldn’t do the same thing whilst recalling the 80+ things I’ve seen this year.

So, here are Ridout’s 2013 favourites:

Shakespeare: ‘Othello’ at the National Theatre and ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ at the Globe

Plays: ‘Mojo’ at the Harold Pinter and ‘Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time’ at the Apollo

Musical Revival: ‘Merrily We Roll Along’ at the Menier Chocolate Factory/Harold Pinter

Solo?: Liza Minnelli at the Royal Festival Hall and Patti LuPone & Seth Rudetsky at the Leicester Square Theatre

Regional: ‘Sweeney Todd’ at the West Yorkshire Playhouse and ‘Putting It Together’ at Glive

Musical: ‘The Color Purple’ at the Menier Chocolate Factory and ‘American Psycho’ at the Almedia

Performances: Cynthia Erivo for ‘The Color Purple’ and Rosalie Craig for ‘The Light Princess’

It took me a lot of strength to not create a mini Ridout award nominations list and put more pieces down. I’ve been ruthless. I’ve been lucky to see a lot of incredible theatre this year. Luckily for you too, you still have the chance to see a few of the pieces in my above list in the new year. Therefore, your theatrical to-do list for 2014 should be: Mojo, American Psycho, The Light Princess, Putting It Together (which is opening at the St James soon), Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time (when the Apollo is back in good health) and Merrily We Roll Along is also available to watch on Digital Theatre.

As a bonus category, I can’t ignore the fact that a significant portion of my theatrical visits this year have been to different drama schools to see their graduating year’s productions. I think it’s so important to see what the upcoming year of talent is like and you also get to see West End worthy performances, sometimes of some rarely seen pieces, for a fraction of the price. What is not to love? I would highly recommend making a few trips to see some student productions in 2014 – they’ve got some exciting seasons coming up. My drama school categories would be:

Best Production: ‘Kiss of the Spider Woman’ at Arts Educational Schools London

Best Performance: (in case you missed her name in the theatrical news) Mollie Melia-Redgrave in ‘Evita’ at Arts Educational Schools London and Scott Paige in ‘The Producers’ at Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts. Two names well worth a look out for in the future.

Considering all of the above I think I can safely say that my statement declaring ‘Mojo’ the best thing I’ve seen this year was a huge sweeping statement and I’ll retract it – all the above are equal in my eyes! It is also safe to say that 2013 was a pretty impressive year for theatre. There were record breaking revivals, box office smashing shows, we celebrated 50 years of the National Theatre (see previous post) and there was plenty of inspiring new writing (again, see previous post). I don’t know about you but I can’t wait to see what 2014 has in store.

Thank you for reading what I’ve had to say in 2013. I hope you return for more in 2014.

Happy New Year!

A few 2013 theatre photos:

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Giving our best ‘Bottom’s at the Globe.

A faulty sign at the Palace altering this MGM classic.

A faulty sign at the Palace altering this MGM classic.

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Adam in the standard day seat queue attire.

My 'patronus' moment. West Side Story with NYMT.

My ‘patronus’ moment. West Side Story with NYMT.

“How do you measure a year in the life?”

– 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

Last night I had my first night back in the theatre after a two week(ish) hiatus. Apart from when I was away doing West Side Story,* those two weeks were the longest I’ve been without theatre in a long time. I had been starved of my usual fix and, I think, because of this Wednesday’s viewing of ‘Romeo and Juliet’ at the Royal Opera House was all the more incredible (although any trip to the ROH is always inspiring). This has led me to think, in my pensive ways, if it’s possible to overdose on theatre. Do I go too much? Has the enjoyment of each visit been reduced because it has just become ‘the norm’? Will I be better off to go less frequently? I know that my bank balance, lack of sleep and social calendar would be relieved if I did. Somehow I can’t seem to agree.

*Even then I snuck to London one evening to see ‘The Ladykillers’. I just can’t help myself.

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A recent Facebook status in which…well…you get the drift. A normal three week timetable in the life of me.

Last week I substituted a theatre trip for a visit to the cinema. Granted, it was to go and see the Digital Theatre screening of ‘Merrily We Roll Along’ – I still count that as an alternative – but it didn’t hit the T (theatre) spot. Now, I could write an essay on the pros and cons of filmed plays/musicals but no one wants to read that and it simply boils down to the conclusion that what you see on film doesn’t do justice to the live version. I’d trade 10 (if not 100 – whilst I’m being dramatic) cinema viewings of Merrily for the one experience I had when I saw it at the Menier Chocolate Factory. You may also remember that I spoke in a previous blog about the fact that I love theatre because it is transient and I just think capturing it on a camera kills that. I think transience is what makes theatre addictive. It is only a passing moment between the audience and the actor and then it is gone – if you miss it then you miss out. If you don’t go to the theatre constantly then you are constantly missing out. Am I right or am I right!?

Whoa there, crazy Ridout. With that argument you could also say that unless you see every show playing in town every night then you are missing out on each brilliant, transient, performance. We all know that that is impossible so maybe I should just give myself a break and be selective. I (and you) should be able to see something just because I want to see it, not through fear of missing something. 

Okay, so if I’m being selective (which I think I am already) should I cut down on the amount I see? The danger with seeing so much theatre is that the level that I now see as ‘good’ theatre is actually, by most people’s standards, pretty bloody impressive. I have seen some incredible pieces this year: Othello at the National, Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nightime at the Apollo, The Color Purple at the Menier, Merrily We Roll Along at the Menier, A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Globe, Liza Minnelli at the Royal Festival Hall, Patti LuPone at the Leicester Square Theatre…to name but a few. It’s safe to say I have been well and truly spoilt. Amongst these beacons of theatrical hope I have also seen drama school productions, fringe, regional and even home grown amateur group theatre. When the long list above becomes my normal theatrical viewing then how can I sit back and enjoy all theatre in the same way? The answer is: I can’t. I don’t know how critics do it. I find it very hard to sit back and weigh up the circumstances of what I am watching (eg. how big the budget is, how long they rehearsed, are they being paid?) and view it for what it is. I just have a huge comparison chart whereby so much fantastic theatre ends up in the ‘I enjoyed it’ pile when really it deserves so much more than that. So I shouldn’t go as often? Simple. However, if I didn’t go as often as I do I would have missed some of those ‘theatrical beacons’ and, indeed, some of the incredible pieces I have seen off the beaten theatrical track this year.

It would seem that I do have a problem. I would like to stress though that there is one specific kind of theatre addict that I am not. That is the ‘serial show see-er’. Sure, I’ve seen a few shows a couple of times but never* the same cast twice and never an amount of times that would shock you (I have some friends that have seen shows enough times that make even my jaw drop upon hearing the number). I guess my transience argument could come back and bite me here by saying that no two performances will be the same so what is the harm in going for multiple visits? I think the harm comes when you can no longer distinguish one specific performance from the next. If you saw Rachel Tucker in Wicked 6 times but couldn’t tell me which time she did what riff in Defying Gravity (hats off to you if you can) then you’ve lost a bit of the magic. Your memories of the experience become generic and that is when I think you’ve overdosed on theatre. I may have seen a lot, but if you ask me I could tell you something specific that I remember from each production – no matter how low-key.

*well, seriously, very few.

So do I overdose on theatre? It is true that I am harder to please because I see so much but that just goes to show that I am seeing a lot of high quality productions. That is surely a great big “Yay!” for the industry. Keep going Rids, keep going! Oh well, if I must. It would appear that there is no solution to this vicious circle whereby I spend all my time in red velvet seats. I guess I’ll have to try and make my theatre trips feel more special by treating myself to the odd ice cream or G&T. On that note, I’m off to the Arts Educational School to see their production of Stiles and Drewe’s ‘Soho Cinders’ – maybe I’ll get myself a gin!

Happy frequent theatre visits!

“Come on guys enough hesitating, can’t you see your carriage is waiting…” – a bit of Soho Cinders there. “You shall go to the ball Cinderella” has been substituted in my mind for “You shall sit in the stalls please Rebecca”…I like it.

– Rebecca Ridout