Another (relatively) slow week in London’s theatreland ahead sees only the official arrival of From Here to Eternity, the new British stage adaptation of the book and film of the same name that features music by Stuart Brayson and lyrics by Tim Rice (opening Wednesday at the Shaftesbury, but to which the press have been invited in early so I am going tonight), and actor-turned-writer Simon Paisley Day’s Raving at Hampstead on Thursday.
The press, naturally, are trying to stir a little controversy around the fact that Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice are going head-to-head with major new shows this autumn – Lloyd Webber will follow Rice with the premiere of his own latest show Stephen Ward at the Aldwych this December.
Over the weekend, I commented on a story for Sky News about the fact that the stakes will be high for both of them – but not because of any perceived or actual rivalry, but over the fact that the stakes are always high for new musicals. And the destructive impulse around town has already kicked in, of course, with wags already dubbing From Here to Eternity as From Here to November.
I, as usual, hope only for the best – I’d like nothing more than two great new shows from these titans of British musical theatre. I love Lloyd Webber’s restlessness in continuing to write them, and equally Tim Rice’s more casual take it-or-leave it approach. (On the Sky News piece, he replied diplomatically to the question of whether he and Lloyd Webber would ever work again by saying, “It’s unlikely we’ll work together again because, well, it’s unlikely I’ll do another show after this one. But I said that after the previous one.”)
Besides this opening and that at Hampstead, the week offers plenty of opportunities for experiencing the breadth and range of London’s suddenly thriving cabaret season, not least thanks to the umbrella of the inaugural London Festival of Cabaret which has already launched but gets into fuller swing this week with seasons starting tomorrow by KT Sullivan and Karen Kohler at Crazy Coqs and the brilliant Barb Jungr at Soho Theatre.
Weirdly enough, I was at the Hippodrome last night, too, and both Pasek and Paul were there in spirit – and Liz Robertson in person! The show was the latest edition of If It Only Even Runs a Minute, a cabaret invention that revisits neglected and forgotten flop musicals with the help of a young ensemble and invited guest appearances by members of the original companies.
You may already know that I’m an inveterate collector of flop musicals myself, and in fact I was quietly pleased by the fact that of the 13 shows extracts were presented from last night, I’d actually seen the original London or New York runs of 11 of them (including a screening of Sondheim and Goldman’s pre-Follies TV musical Evening Primrose, and which I then saw the London stage premiere of when it was presented as part of Ian Marshall Fisher’s Lost Musicals seasons at Sadler’s Wells – and my Stage review of which ended up being quoted last night!)
Pasek and Paul were represented by a couple of songs from their 2012 off-Broadway musical Dogfight (not exactly a flop, it only had a limited run at Second Stage where I saw it last year). But Liz Robertson, mentioned in reference to Dance a Little Closer, the 1983 musical that had been written for her by her late husband Alan Jay Lerner, was only the audience last night, not an invited guest onstage, but she delivered the evening’s single most memorable moment: when co-host and co-producer Ollie Southgate referenced her as Lerner’s 9th wife, she corrected him by shouting out, “Eighth! I’m here!”
And that’s one of the singular joys of cabaret: absolutely anything can happen.