News Archive

Backstage Whispers overheard by Richard Andrews

Last updated : 2nd January 2004

Elsewhere, it is customary at this time to look back over the year, and review triumphs and failures. Well we don't do that because we're more interested in the future than the past, so the tradition here is to look forward to what will happen in the West End - all based on hard, solid, um, er, rumour.

The Birmingham Repertory Theatre production of John Steinbeck's Of Mice And Men, which played recently at the Savoy Theatre, will return to the Old Vic Theatre . . . the Birmingham Stage Company production of Paul Lucas' The Dice House, inspired by Luke Rhinehart's 1970s novel The Dice Man, directed by Graeme Messer, will open at the Arts Theatre . . . the Royal Shakespeare Company production of All's Well That End Well, with Judi Dench, Claudie Blakely, Jamie Glover and Guy Henry, directed by Gregory Doran, will open to the Gielgud Theatre . . . a stage version of the 1989 film When Harry Met Sally, the romantic comedy that charts the relationship of two people as they go from enemies to friends to lovers to awkward friends before getting married, adapted by Marcy Kahan, starring Alyson Hannigan and Luke Perry, directed by Loveday Ingram, will receive its world premiere at the Theatre Royal Haymarket . . . Jonathan Pryce, Kate Fahy and Matthew Marsh will star in Edward Albee's The Goat, Or Who Is Sylvia?, about a man who in the same week as he receives an international prize, a lucrative contract, and celebrates his 50th birthday, is forced to reveal a relationship which will probably destroy his marriage, his career, and his life, directed by Anthony Page, which will receive its British premiere at the Almeida Theatre - all in February . . . Michael Gambon, Lee Evans and Liz Smith will star in Samuel Beckett's Endgame (the one where he's in a wheelchair and his parents are in dustbins) directed by Matthew Warchus, at the Albery Theatre . . . David Eldridge's Festen (The Celebration), an English language stage adaptation of a Danish film in which a dark family secret is revealed at a 60th birthday celebration, directed by Rufus Norris, will receive its world premiere at the Almeida Theatre . . . The Dark, a new play by Charlotte Jones, directed Anna Mackmin, will open at the Donmar Warehouse - all in March . . . Raymond Gubbay will launch Savoy Opera, his new commercial opera company at the Savoy Theatre, under the artistic aegis of director Steven Pimlott, conductor David Parry, and manager Sarah Playfair, with Rossini's comic opera The Barber Of Seville, in repertoire with the opera that inspired it, Mozart's The Marriage Of Figaro . . . Jailhouse Rock The Musical, based on the 1957 film that launched Elvis Presley's international career, the story of the transformation of a poor kid from the wrong side of the tracks into a rock'n'roll megastar, with a talent forged in the harsh environment of a State Penitentiary, with Mario Kombu, Lisa Peace, Roger Alborough and Gilz Terera, adapted by Alan Janes, directed by Rob Bettinson, and choreographed by Drew Anthony will open at the Piccadilly Theatre . . . the National Theatre production of Michael Frayn's Democracy, about the relationship between West German Chancellor Willy Brandt and his personal assistant Gunter Guillaume (who was actually a spy for the Stasi), with Roger Allam and Conleth Hill, directed by Michael Blakemore, will transfer to Wyndham's Theatre - all in April . . . Ian McDiarmid will play the title role in Tom Stoppard's new version of Pirandello's Henry IV, directed by Michael Grandage, at the Donmar Warehouse . . . Shakespeare's Globe will take the theme of Star-Crossed Lovers for its season, with Romeo And Juliet, Much Ado About Nothing and Measure For Measure - all in May . . . Andrew Lloyd Webber's new musical The Woman In White, adapted from the novel by Wilkie Collins, with book by Charlotte Jones, and lyrics by David Zippel, directed by Trevor Nunn, will open at the Palace Theatre in September . . . . Richard Dreyfuss and Lee Evans will star in the London production of Mel Brooks musical The Producers, directed and choreographed by Susan Stroman, opening at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane in November . . . and the stage musical of Mary Poppins, adapted from the 1964 film, based on the stories of P L Travers, with book by Julian Fellowes, and the existing score by Richard and Robert Sherman augmented by composer George Stiles and lyricist Anthony Drewe, directed by Richard Eyre, co-directed and choreographed by Matthew Bourne, with additional choreography by Stephen Mear, will open at the Prince Edward Theatre in December.

On the way from Broadway:

Baz Lurhman's contemporary (and youthful) production of Puccini's La Boheme, may arrive at the Prince Edward Theatre in June, with a West End all time high ticket price of 60 . . . the Terence McNally-Stephen Flaherty-Lynn Ahrens musical A Man Of No Importance, the story of a bus driver living in 1960's Dublin who wants to stage Oscar Wilde's Salome at his church, which premiered at the Lincoln Centre last year starring Roger Rees . . . and a British production of the musical Footloose, based on the 1984 film, about a big city boy who finds himself relocated in a small Bible belt town where dancing is banned as the work of the Devil (along with fun in general), so his rock'n'roll ways are frowned upon - a revised version of the 1998 original, with book by Dean Pitchford and Walter Bobbie, and songs by Dean Pitchford and Tom Snow and others, directed by Paul Kerryson, choreographed by Karen Bruce.

Looking for a West End home after regional productions/tours:

Ground breaking, award winning theatre company Cheek By Jowl back in action with Othello, starring Nonso Anozie, directed by Declan Donnellan, designed by Nick Ormerod and choreographed by Judith Greenwood . . . Simon Callow in Simon Gray's Holy Terror (a reworked version of his 1987 play Melon) . . . Victoria Hamilton and Diana Rigg in Tennessee Williams steamy Southern clash over the death of a poet, between his overbearing and protective mother and his 'girlfriend', Suddenly Last Summer, directed by Michael Grandage, from the Lyceum Theatre in Sheffield . . . the Howard Davies National Theatre production of Christopher Hampton's The Talking Cure, about psychoanalysts Jung and Freud, starring Ralph Fiennes . . . (although Fiennes may reunite with director Adrian Noble for a comedy) . . . Tara Fitzgerald in Ibsen's A Doll's House, in a new version by Bryony Lavery, directed by Rachel Kavanaugh, from Birmingham Repertory Theatre . . . the Carl Rosa Opera Company (with whom Hinge and Bracket claimed to have toured) and their production of Franz Lehar's The Merry Widow . . . Simon Corble and Nobby Dimon's adaptation of John Buchan's The 39 Steps, the very British 1930s spy adventure, which includes a multiplicity of characters, train journeys, a bi-plane flight and the hero's leap from the Forth Bridge, created by just four actors and very limited resources in a highly imaginative way . . . and the musical Billy Elliot, based on the 2000 film, adapted by writer Lee Hall, with music by Elton John, directed Stephen Daldry, and choreographed by Peter Darling, following its premiere in Newcastle in August.

In the pipeline:

Stephen Rea starring in Irish poet Derek Mahon's adaptation of Edmond Rostand's Cyrano de Bergerac, directed by Howard Davies, at the National Theatre . . . Maury Yeston's revised version of Frank Loesser's bio-musical Hans Christian Andersen . . . also the Loesser and Abe Burrows musical Guys And Dolls . . . a stage musical version of Frank Capra's 1946 Christmas film It's A Wonderful Life, with book by Francis Matthews, and music and lyrics by Steve Brown . . . a stage musical based on the 1993 film Backbeat, about the Beatles early years in Hamburg, adapted by writer and director Iain Softley (with 'rock standards' not Beatles songs) featuring the original stars Gary Bakewell, Stephen Dorff, Ian Hart, Chris O'Neill and Scot Williams . . . Lenny Henry and 'director to the stars' Laurence Boswell stage adaptation of the 1993 film Mrs Doubtfire, based on Anne Fine's novel about a divorced man who dresses as a woman and becomes a housekeeper in order to see his children . . . a Bollywood style musical based on the 2002 film Bend It Like Beckham, directed by Gurinder Chadha and produced by Deepak Nayar . . . Victoria Wood developing Acorn Antiques into a stage musical . . . and Herbert Kretzmer, Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus' musical based on Vilhelm Moberg's novels The Emigrants, about a group of people moving from Sweden to Minnesota in the 1850s to escape poverty and religious oppression.

On the plane from Hollywood:

Mariah Carey in Terence Rattigan's The Sleeping Prince, (filmed as The Prince And The Showgirl) on Shaftesbury Avenue in February . . . Calista Flockhart in Eugene O'Neill's Anna Christie, directed by Ian Rickson, in March . . . (although Flockhart may star in Ibsen's The Dolls House) . . . Julia Stiles in David Mamet's Oleanna, directed by Lindsay Posner, with John Cusack as possible co-star, in April . . . Holly Hunter reprising her role from the San Jose Repertory Theatre production of The Bog Of Cats, a new version of Medea by Irish playwright Marina Carr . . . Jake Gyllenhaal in Romeo And Juliet, staged by 'director to the stars' Laurence Boswell . . . and Guy Pearce in Tennessee Williams' The Night Of The Iguana.

Still possibly alive, and may yet start kicking, these were predicted for the West End in '03 (some even in '02, '01, '00, '99 or '98) and could make it in '04:

The Off Broadway hit Dirty Blonde, the 'comedy with songs' about Mae West, written by and starring Claudier Shear (as both a fan and the woman herself), directed by James Lapine . . . a musical based on Bad Girls, the television series set in a women's prison . . . lyricist Don Black and composer John Barry's musical based on Graham Greene's Brighton Rock, with book by Giles Havergal, directed by Michael Attenborough . . . the musical version of The Three Musketeers, with book by Peter Raby, music by George Stiles and lyrics by Paul Leigh, which was runner up in the 1996 International Musical Of The Year competition . . . Ray Davies (of The Kinks) show called Come Dancing . . . Susan Stroman's Broadway revival of Meredith Willson's The Music Man (the 76 trombones show) . . . Disney's first original musical Aida, based on the same legend which inspired Verdi, with book by Linda Woolverton, Robert Falls and David Henry Hwang, music by Elton John and lyrics by Tim Rice . . . composer Philip Henderson and film director Shekhar Kapur's musical adaptation of M M Kaye's weighty tome The Far Pavilions, set during the Indian Mutiny of 1857, and telling of a love affair between a British officer and an Indian princess . . . Michael Rose's musical adaptation of Whatever Happened To Baby Jane?, based on Robert Aldrich's 1962 film, with book by Henry Farrell (from his original novel) music by Lee Pockriss, and lyrics by Hal Hackaday, which has played in America with Millicent Martin. . . The Last Of The Mohicans, a musical based on James Fenimore Cooper's novel set in America in 1757 during the colonial wars, when British and French forces set the native Mohican and Huron tribes against each other, written by Julian Ronnie and Paul Miller, and directed by David Taylor . . . Peter Shaffer's play about the relationship between (Pyotr) Tchaikovsky and his brother Modest . . . the 1981 Tony Award winning musical Dreamgirls, previously unseen in this country, with book and lyrics by Tom Eyen, and music by Henry Krieger, portraying the backstage drama surrounding the rise to fame of a '60s Motown style girl group, originally staged by Michael Bennett, which S Hoebee is likely to direct here . . . and Jean de Florette, a musical inspired by the films Jean de Florette and Manons des Sources - but will it feature the famous theme which sold a million pints of lager?

The Last Word: "In an era when protozoan celebrity culture has debased the arts beyond belief, when Big Brother contestants can release albums and Martine McCutcheon can star at the National Theatre, when 29 year-old Robbie Williams's autobiography tops the best seller list and computers make our feature films, it's difficult to find anything cultural to believe in." - Stephen Armstrong.

So we should make 2004 the year in which we unashamedly proclaim that 'accessability' has no place as a factor in the judgement of the value of cultural events, and that describing something as 'elitist' ("belonging to the best or choice part of a larger body" - OED) should be regarded as praise not criticism.