News Archive

Backstage Whispers overheard by Richard Andrews

Last updated : 20th August 1999

The first hit from the Edinburgh Fringe to reach London will be Gumboots, which is Tap Dogs in wellies. The "12 bare-chested hunky Sowetans" will take up residence at the Lyric Theatre from 22nd September to 9th October, prior to Alan Ayckbourn's Comic Potential. The boot slapping and a capella singing show is directed by Zenzi Mbuli, and the phalanx of producers numbers Fifth Amendment, Back Row Productions UK, Columbia Artists Theatrical Inc, PACE Theatricals and SFX Entertainment.

Next comes Al Murray - The Pub Landlord, who has achieved icon status by initially being declared ineligible for consideration for a Perrier Award, because he is too well known. On the crest of this, he will play Sundays at the New Ambassadors Theatre for three months from 28th September, presented by Avalon Promotions.

Peter Hall is to direct Minnie Driver in Romeo And Juliet, opening at Theatre Royal Norwich in February, prior to a prospective West End season. Hall seems to have found a new regular commercial partner in PW Productions, the company which not only produces, but also manages the Norwich venue. PW was the co-producer of Amadeus, assuming full control when Bill Kenwright withdrew, and is currently presenting Lenny, directed by Hall.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, featuring Isla Blair, Danny Webb and Mike McShane, opens on 14th September at the Churchill Bromley and tours until Christmas. The stage version of Ken Kesey's novel Merry Prankster, adapted by Dale Wasserman, was first performed on Broadway in 1963, predating the film version by ten years. It is set in a State Mental Hospital, where the iron rule of Nurse Ratched is challenged by a disruptive new patient, and a battle of wills ensues. The director is Joseph Blatchley, and the producer is The Touring Consortium.

The new Disney show Aida, with music and lyrics by Elton John and Tim Rice, has now confirmed its Broadway opening at the Palace Theatre on 23rd March, following a season in Chicago over Christmas. It features Adam Pascal, Heather Headley and Sherie Rene Scott, and is directed by Robert Falls. Since the disastrous tryout in Atlanta last year, when the entire creative team was fired (except for the writers) David Hwang has worked as "creative consultant" with original book writer Linda Woolverton. Only Headley and Scott remain from the previous cast. Beauty And The Beast will close at the Palace on 5th September, and reopen on 12th November at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre. This closing and reopening procedure, rather than simply transferring, allows Disney to scale down the production (both scenically and in personnel) for a smaller theatre. The West End production of. Beauty And The Beast is scheduled to close for good on 11th December.

Canadian Lee Macdougal's award winning play High Life, which recently played at the Bush Theatre, is looking for a West End transfer. The story of four drug addicted ex-cons' attempt to stage the ultimate bank raid in Maimi, it starred Paul Barber, Joe Mackay, Nigel Planer and David Schofield, and was directed by Richard Bridge. Richard Temple and David Johnson are the likely producers. They may also present a tour of Catherine Johnson's Shang-a-Lang, produced at the Bush last year.

Oxford Stage company's next production, the first major revival of John Whiting's unusual comedy A Penny For A Song, opens at Oxford Playhouse on 2nd September. It then plays two dates before joining the Whitehall Theatre season on 30th September. In a Dorset garden in the summer of 1804, the Bellboys family awaits a possible Napoleonic invasion. The cast includes Jeremy Clyde, Gabrielle Drake, Julian Glover, Brian Protheroe and Charles Kay, and the director is Paul Miller.

Lord Birkett has suggested that the Government should buy Stoll Moss theatres using Lottery money. The former deputy chairman of the National Theatre claims that he is not advocating nationalisation, and that the theatres should be run by an independent trust. Birkett's idea is to move English National Opera into Drury Lane, and turn the Coliseum into a full time receiving house for dance companies. However, ENO is not enthusiastic about relocating, and it is questionable whether the type of management structure envisaged is appropriate for commercial West End theatres. In any case, the government is more likely to spend the money in other areas which will buy more votes.

Waiting In The Wings: Regional and touring productions looking for a West End home include: Neil Simon's The Last Of The Red Hot Lovers with Tom Conti from Theatre Royal Bath; Willy Russell's One For The Road with Gary Wilmot from Bristol Old Vic; and Noel Coward's Easy Virtue with Greta Scacchi, Wendy Craig and Michael Jayston from Chichester Festival Theatre.

Moving in the other direction, is the recent Donmar Warehouse West End double bill of Tom Stoppard's The Real Inspector Hound and Peter Shaffer's Black Comedy. Currently at Oxford Playhouse, it will tour through the autumn. In "Hound" two critics become involved in the murder mystery which they are reviewing, and in "Comedy" the entire action takes place during a power cut - fortunately the audience can see what the characters can't. Some of the cast, which includes Jean Boht, Sara Crowe and Barry Stanton, played in London.

The Rumour Machine says: that Robert Stigwood is planning a West End production of Cry To Heaven, a new musical based on a book by Anne Rice, with music and lyrics by Matthew Wilder, and that he has acquired the rights for La Cage Aux Folles and will mount a major regional tour - both projects are for next year. The Rumour Machine grinds on.