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A Lionel Bart flop, a Sondheim hit, plus the week ahead

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First an apology: I was missing in action on Friday from my usual spot here. And although I try to be here every weekday, sometimes I become just too busy to do so.

Not an excuse, but here’s an explanation: on Friday I travelled out to Guildford’s GSA  to be part of an afternoon seminar on the work of Lionel Bart and in particular hosting a session about the extraordinary history of his notorious 1965 flop musical Twang!!, before GSA students performed a completely revised new version of it in the evening, thus continuing this show’s remarkable odyssey.

The new version of the show was specially commissioned by John Cohen, executor for the Lionel Bart’s estate, and this was its first public outing, courtesy of its new book writer Julian Woolford (who happens to run the MA course at GSA) and additional music and vocal arrangements by Richard John. And although I’m not convinced that this panto-like version of the Robin Hood story – by way of Carry On – could ever make a viable return to the West End stage, Ian Talbot’s production and his eager troupe of GSA students turned it into a likable romp.

Meanwhile, though, it was fun to be reminded of some of the stories behind the original run, too, in the afternoon seminars. During its chaotic rehearsals Ronnie Corbett left to answer a call of nature, and when he returned and wondered why no one had given him his next cue, he was told his line had been cut. He apparently said to director Joan Littlewood, “Don’t ever let me go for a shit, or you’ll cut out my entire part!”

And Bernard Delfont, its original producer before he pulled out but who still let the production go ahead at his Shaftesbury Theatre, once told this story: “At one point in the show BarbaraWindsor had to say, ‘I don’t know what’s going on here.’ As one, the audience responded, ‘Neither do we’.”

On Saturday, I took part in another set of seminars as part of the The Rest is Noise Festival at the Royal Festival Hall themed around American art, culture and politics between 1960 and 1990, and found myself talking about Broadway musicals over the period (and into the future, as well, needless to say a favourite topic of mine) in between more learned academic dissertations on the American Jewish novel, John Coltrane and native Americans. Inevitably, my own talk touches of course on the pervasive influence and impact of Stephen Sondheim – whose work was being celebrated at the Queen Elizabeth Hall yesterday afternoon in a concert called Sondheim: Inside Out.

Recorded by Radio 3 for broadcast on December 20, this BBC Concert Orchestra event featured a stellar line-up, including Maria Friedman reprising Dot’s title song from Sunday in the Park with George that she did the 1990 UK premiere of at the National next door! Though there were no other surprises on offer, who needs an excuse to wallow in the genius of Sondheim – especially as accompanied by a massed ranks of the BBC Concert Orchestra, and soloists that also included Michael Xavier and Laura Michelle Kelly, plus (stepping out from behind the Maide Vale Singers) Stuart Matthew Price?

In between, my weekend also took in fringe productions of new plays at Southwark Playhouse and the Park Theatre in Finsbury Park, so I was hardly idle. And I won’t be this week, either, with major openings every single night.

Tonight (November 4) brings a new production of the Reginald Rose’s classic court-room thriller Twelve Angry Men to the Garrick, with an all-star line-up that includes Martin Shaw, Jeff Fahey, Nick Moran and Robert Vaughan.

Later tonight, I’ll also be at Crazy Coqs for an evening of emerging writers being presented as part of the London Festival of Cabaret, featuring Madelena Alberto, Tamar Broadbent, Stuart Matthew Price and Tim Sutton.

On Tuesday (November 5),  Matthew Macfadyen and Stephen Mangan star as Jeeves and Wooster respectively in Perfect Nonsense, a new play at the Garrick adapted from the works of PG Wodehouse.

Also on Tuesday, Chiswick’s ArtsEd (where I also teach the first year students myself every Monday) launches its new Andrew Lloyd Webber Foundation Theatre with a 3rd year student outing of Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s 1978 musical Evita, directed by Broadway’s Joey McKneely.

On Wednesday (November 13), Ian Rickson revisits Mojo, the Jez Butterworth play he directed the Royal Court premiere of in 1995, to direct a cast that includes Brendan Coyle, Rupert Grint, Daniel Mays, Colin Morgan and Ben Whishaw at the Pinter Theatre. (Pinter coincidentally appeared in Butterworth’s own 1997 film version of the play).

On Thursday (November 14), we get the second stage version of Ingmar Bergman’s Scenes from a Marriage in London after Trevor Nunn’s one seen recently at the St James, when Toneelgroep Amsterdam bring their production to the Barbican for a run thorugh Sunday only.

On Friday (November 15),  Barry Humphries returns to the London Palladium as part of his farewell tour in Eat Pray Laugh!, with Sir Les Patterson, Sandy Stone and Dame Edna Everage making appearances.

On Sunday (November 17), this year’s Evening Standard Theatre Awards – now in their 59th year – will be presented at the Savoy Hotel. But I’ll be at the St James Theatre myself to see Broadway composer Andrew Lippa in concert, joined by guests that include Wicked’s new Elphaba Willemijn Verkaik, Jenna Russell and Carrie Hope Fletcher.

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