News Archive

Backstage Whispers overheard by Richard Andrews

Last updated : 12th November 1999

The West End presentation of the recent Broadway production of Rodgers and Hammerstein's The King And I will open at the London Palladium on 3rd May. Hawaiian actor Jason Scott Lee makes his musical theatre debut as the King, and Elaine Paige plays Anna, the I in question. The show is based on the true story of an English widow who became tutor to the children of the King of Siam in 1861, and found that her western ideas were too radical for the enclosed oriental society. The director is Christopher Renshaw, who first staged the show in Australia, and then in New York. David Ian is the producer. Saturday Night Fever will close at the Palladium on 26th February, but Producer Robert Stigwood is planning a regional tour opening in Edinburgh next October.

The BBC has formed a partnership with the Royal Opera House, which will result in much more of the company's work being broadcast on both television and radio. This will start with a preview, when the National Lottery Live comes from the new Linbury Studio Theatre on 24th November, in recognition of the contribution to the rebuilding made by Lottery funding. The Opening Gala is to be covered live on television and radio on 1st December, followed later that month by the first new opera production, Graham Vick's version of Verdi's Falstaff with Bryn Terfel. A documentary series called Covent Garden Tales will focus on the transformation of the building. There are also plans for televised masterclasses with international opera, choral and ballet stars, from the Linbury Studio.

Sadler's Wells Theatre is presenting a new production of Dick Whittington, written by Stephen Clark, from 16th December to 29th January. It features Nickolas Grace as Grimaldi, the great 19th century clown who originally established pantomime at Sadler's Wells, with Peter Polycarpou, Ross King, Royce Mills, Andrew C Wadsworth, Anna Francolini and Jonjo O'Neill in the title role. Gillian Lynne directs and choreographs.

The Royal Exchange Manchester is presenting the world premiere of Bats - "a Dracula spectacula" written by Braham Murray and Emil Wolk, from 24th November to 8th January. It features Ben Keaton as Van Helsing and Emil Wolk as Dracula, and will be an entertainment in the outrageous style of the Exchange's production of Animal Crackers. Braham Murray directs. The spring season will include a double bill of world premieres: Fiona Padfield's Snapshots is a tale of sisterhood, and Simon Robson's The Ghost Train Tattoo is about children dealing with divorce. Both plays will be performed by the same company of actors, and directed by Braham Murray with Sarah Frankcom.

Grey power is proving boffo biz in Boston, at the pre Broadway date for the American premiere of Noel Coward's Waiting In The Wings. The play is set in a retirement home for actors, with Lauren Bacall, Rosemary Harris, Barnard Hughes, Elizabeth Wilson, Dana Ivey, Patricia Conolly, Rosemary Murphy, Simon Jones and Helen Stenborg playing the residents. It tells what happens when two arch-rival actresses find themselves required to share lodgings. The production is also amassing a huge advance at the Walter Kerr Theatre in New York, where it opens on 16th December. Jeremy Sams has revised the text, which is directed by Michael Langham, and the grey powered producer is Alexander Cohen.

The London Bubble Theatre Company, which usually performs in parks during the summer, is coming indoors for Christmas to present Aladdin at the Cochrane Theatre, from 14th December to 15th January. Writer and director Jonathan Petherbridge has given the traditional story a London twist. The show will play daytime schools performances during the week, and there will be pantomime workshops on Saturdays. Further details from the London Bubble web site via the link from the UK Theatre Companies section of TheatreNet.

The full details of the Royal Court Theatre's reopening season in Sloane Square, under the title Bringing It All Back Home, have now been announced. Dublin Carol by Conor McPherson, directed by Ian Rickson, opens on 12th January, with Brian Cox as a man who has descended into alcoholism but is given a final chance by his estranged daughter. Hard Fruit by Jim Cartwright, directed by James Macdonald, about the bizarre obsession of a group of men with a karate machine in a depressed northern town, opens 21st March. The Country by Martin Crimp, directed by Katie Mitchell, revealing the unsavoury side of rural life, opens 9th May. Theatre Upstairs productions will be Breath, Boom by Kia Corthron, a portrait of a New York gang member obsessed with fireworks; The Force Of Change by Gary Mitchell, debating RUC Loyalist collusion; and Other People by Christopher Shinn, set among inner city drug addicts.

The Late Middle Classes, Simon Gray's latest play, which was famously beaten to a West End theatre earlier this year by the "musical" Boyband, has won an award. It took Best New Play in the 1999 Barclays Theatre Awards, presented by the Theatrical Management Association, which are the only national awards for theatre beyond the West End. The decision of theatre owners Stoll Moss to turn down Gray's work, originally produced by the Palace Theatre Watford, provoked a vitriolic attack on commercial theatre by its director Harold Pinter.

Yet more Christmas fayre, Circus Crimbo will be staged in the magnificent Victorian Great Hall at Blackheath Halls from 23rd December to 9th January. Musicians and entertainers will roam the stage and criss cross through an impossibly implausible plot, devised and directed by John Hole. Performances will be twice daily.

The Rumour Machine says: that the first production in the Linbury Studio at the Royal Opera House will be The Kissing Dance, a musical based on Goldsmith's She Stoops To Conquer, with book and lyrics by Charles Hart and music by Howard Goodall, originally commissioned and performed by National Youth Music Theatre; that the arrival of Frederick Forsyth's new book The Phantom In Manhattan appears to confirm that plans for the stage sequel to The Phantom Of The Opera (for which he was putative book writer) have finally been shelved; and that perhaps the reason why advance ticket sales for the Dome have been sluggish is that word has leaked out that the entertainment is not to be confined to the previously announced abseilers, but will include Morris dancing - come back Cameron Mackintosh all is forgiven. The Rumour Machine grinds on.