Backstage Whispers overheard by Richard Andrews
Culture Secretary Chris Smith has announced the national roll-out of New Generation Audiences, a £2.5m project to boost access to the arts among young people. All publicly funded arts organisations will now be required to produce an access policy for young people which includes some free or concessionary tickets. The aim is for one million young people and one hundred venues or events to register for the initiative by the end of the year. Already 30,000 free tickets for events have been made available. Teachers and students will be able to use the internet to share knowledge, discuss performances and events, and prepare for visits. Schools actively engaged in the scheme will receive reward points which provide increased priority for free tickets. Students will be encouraged to write about their experiences and enter for a "Critic of the Month" award and win prizes for their school. Pilot schemes have been operating in outer London boroughs since last summer. Schools can register their interest at The Learning Circuit web site via the link from the Information section of TheatreNet.
Pete Townshend's rock opera Lifehouse, which recently received its world premiere on Radio 3, is to reach the stage at Sadler's Wells on 25th February. The performance will feature Pete Townshend and "friends". The work combines computer technology, science fiction and eastern mysticism, in a vision of a future world where people experience life only through virtual reality, but are awakened to real life through the discovery of 20th century rock'n'roll. Townshend started writing it in 1969 as a follow up to Tommy, but although some numbers were recorded at that time, it was not completed until recently.
On The Casting Couch: the leads in The Witches Of Eastwick, opening at Drury Lane on 13th June are to be Michael Crawford, Lucie Arnaz, Joanna Riding and Maria Friedman.
Woody Allen may spend some time in London from next autumn working on a theatre project. Plans for him to direct a season of short run productions with star names in New York have foundered, partly because of the cost, and partly because Hollywood actors feared the wrath of Broadway critics. An "off Shaftesbury Avenue" London venue could address both these problems. Allen has three one act plays of his own, God, Sex and Death, which could form part of the project. For Allen it would be a return to his roots, as he had an early success on Broadway in Play It Again Sam which he later filmed.
A Perfect Murder, by Hugh Janes, adapted from a story by Jeffrey Archer plays a world premiere season at Theatre Royal Windsor from 18th January to 5th February, prior to a tour. When a man quarrels with and accidentally kills his mistress, having seen another man leaving her flat, he tips off the police about the other man, who is arrested and charged. Has he achieved the perfect murder? It features Tony Britton, Michael Elphic, Nyree Dawn Porter and Ray Lonnen. Mark Piper directs and the producer is Bill Kenwright.
Toni Collette will make her musical theatre debut on Broadway on 6th April at the Virginia Theatre, in the company of Mandy Patinkin and Eartha Kitt, in The Wild Party. The show is based on the 1928 jazz poem by Joseph Moncure March, which was recently broadcast on Radio 4. Music and lyrics are by Michael John LaChuisa, and book by LaChuisa and George C Wolfe, who also directs. The language of the tabloids, and the lyrics and rhymes of hot jazz, capture the hedonism of Manhattan in the twenties, telling the story of two vaudeville performers who throw a party that gets out of hand, and ends in murder. A rival Off Broadway show based on the same material steals a march by opening on 5th February at the Manhattan Theatre Club. Book, music and lyrics for this one are by Andrew Lippa, and the director is Gabriel Barre.
Like myself, David Juritz, the leader of the London Mozart Players, applies for Lottery funding by the direct method - buying a ticket. Unlike me, he came up with five numbers and the bonus, and has received £91,000 for his trouble. As a result he has ploughed more than £15,000 into his own recording of The Four Seasons, accompanied by several of his LMP colleagues. It is released on the Bonus label - named after the lucky bonus ball.
Tangomania is hitting London again, with return of two companies. Tango Por Dos is back at the Peacock Theatre from 23rd February to 1st April with the UK premiere of Una Noche De Tango. The show charts the evolution of tango from backstreets and dance halls, through Hollywood silent films, to its modern rebirth. Pitched against it will be Tango Pasion which pays a visit to the Dominion Theatre on 21st, 22nd and 23rd March.
The Edinburgh Festival Fringe, running this year from 6th to 28th August, has launched its nationwide seminars for would be producers. Dates and locations are: January 22nd London, 23rd Bradford and Brighton, 24th Newcastle, 29th Birmingham and Oxford, 30th Liverpool and Bristol, February 26th Edinburgh and March 11th London. Further information and contact details to request a registration form can be found on the Fringe web site via the link from the Festivals section of TheatreNet.
Graeae Theatre Company is presenting Steven Berkoff's version of The Fall Of The House Of Usher at the Oval House from 3rd to 19th February. Edgar Allan Poe's macabre tale is a stark portrayal of forbidden love, and a man's struggle to face his demons. Director Jenny Sealey will incorporate British sign language and audio description in a unique production. Graeae is the only full time professional theatre company of disabled people in the world.
The purchase of Stoll Moss theatres by Andrew Lloyd Webber's Really Useful Group for £87.5m seems to be the best available outcome, as the theatres remain in theatrical, rather than business hands. However the venture is an equal partnership with NatWest Equity Partners, the bank which foreclosed on many of the businesses it had helped to get started, when the economic going got tough in the early '90's, and is itself currently the subject of a takeover bid. Together with its existing two and a half theatres, the deal makes RUG by far the biggest operator, with one third of the seats in the West End, and a virtual monopoly of big musical houses. But the balance will change over the next few of years. With the stealth for which he is famous, Cameron Mackintosh has acquired the new leases of the Gielgud and Queens (currently Stoll Moss) plus Wyndhams and Albery (currently Associated Capital Theatres) to join his existing group of Prince Edward, Prince of Wales and Strand. By the time this has been completed he will operate the second largest group. The sale of ACT, which has been on the market for some while, is believed to be near completion. RUG has stated that it will seek further property acquisitions in Europe and North America.