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Mark Shenton’s theatre picks: May 14

Ellie Bamber and Jamie Parker in High Society at the Old Vic. Photo: Johan Persson Ellie Bamber and Jamie Parker in High Society at the Old Vic. Photo: Johan Persson
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Broadway composing giants Cole Porter, Frank Loesser and Jerry Herman are all being celebrated in shows big and small this week, among a busy week in London theatre. There are also new plays by British playwrights Richard Cameron and James Phillips to look out for, and I also recommend some other recent openings…

High Society – Old Vic, London

Two years after Maria Friedman’s debut production, Merrily We Roll Along, transferred from the Menier Chocolate Factory to the West End’s Pinter Theatre, the Olivier award-winning actress (and now a regular on TV’s EastEnders) is directing again. She takes the helm of the Old Vic’s new stage version of Cole Porter’s High Society, opening on May 14. (I will be interviewing her later in the month for The Stage).

The cast includes Jamie Parker (who wowed me in cabaret the other night at the St James), Kate Fleetwood and Rupert Young. Stage versions of the 1956 film musical High Society have been seen twice in the West End before – at the Victoria Palace and at the Shaftesbury (transferred from Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre). Will it be third time lucky for making it work on stage?

Jonathan Groff stars in How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying
Jonathan Groff stars in How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying

How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying — Royal Festival Hall, London

Also in the musical sphere this week, there’s a one-night concert version of Frank Loesser’s classic 1961 Broadway show How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying at the Royal Festival Hall on May 19, starring Glee’s Jonathan Groff. I interviewed Groff this week for The Stage (out on May 14 in print), in which he told me that he first played the same part he is now playing in the show in high school when he was 15 – exactly half his lifetime ago.

The production also features the soon-to-be-Broadway-bound Cynthia Erivo (when she recreates her Menier performance in The Color Purple there), plus Clive Rowe and Hannah Waddingham.

Jerry’s Girls – Jermyn Street Theatre, London

On the fringe, Jerry’s Girls – a celebration of the work of Broadway veteran Jerry Herman – returns in the production previously seen at the St James Studio for a run at Jermyn Street Theatre, opening on May 15 for a short run to May 31 only. Kate Golledge directs Ria Jones, Sarah-Louise Young and Emma Barton in a show that features songs from such shows as Hello, Dolly!, Mame, La Cage Aux Folles, Mack and Mabel (soon to be revived at Chichester this summer) and Dear World.

Stephen Wright in McQuuen. Photo: Specular
Stephen Wright in McQuuen. Photo: Specular

McQueen – St James Theatre, London

On the new plays front, McQueen is James Phillips’s bioplay about the late fashion designer Alexander McQueen, opening at the St James on May 19 under the direction of John Caird, featuring Stephen Wight in the title role (outstanding newcomer at the London Evening Standard Awards for his performances in Michael Grandage’s production of Don Juan in Soho and Samuel West’s production of Dealer’s Choice) and Dianna Agron (Quinn Fabray in TV’s Glee).

The Flannelettes – King’s Head, London

The Flannelettes (opening on May 15 at the King’s Head in Islington) reunites playwright Richard Cameron and veteran director Mike Bradwell, who previously collaborated on The Glee Club that transferred from the Bush to the West End. The play provides a portrait of a Yorkshire mining village in the 1960s, with songs from the era sung live.

As You Like It – Shakespeare’s Globe

Blanche McIntyre, who did such a good job at the Globe last year with The Comedy of Errors, returns to direct the wonderful Michelle Terry as Rosalind in As You Like It (opening on May 20).

Chiwetel Ejiofor in Everyman. Photo: Tristram Kenton
Chiwetel Ejiofor in Everyman. Photo: Tristram Kenton

Everyman – Olivier, National Theatre, London

Rufus Norris, whose previous directorial credits at the National include the groundbreaking London Road and The Amen Corner, is reunited with actors such as the great Nick Holder (from the first) and Sharon D Clarke (from the second) for his first production as the NT’s artistic director.

There’s also a star in the title role – Chiwetel Ejiofor, previously seen at the National in the original production of Joe Penhall’s Blue/Orange long before his Oscar-nominated performance in 12 Years a Slave. But this beautifully staged production is a fantastic ensemble show. It is booking in rep through August 30. Read the review

Cougar the Musical – Belgrade Theatre, Coventry

Dawn Hope (recently in The Scottsboro Boys in the West End) stars in the UK premiere of the Off-Broadway show Cougar the Musical, opening May 19, about three “divine but disillusioned” women who unleash their “inner cougar” by dating younger men.

The Producers – touring

It’s wonderful to have Mel Brooks’s The Producers back in the theatre – it’s at the Sunderland Empire to May 16, then at Woking’s New Victoria from May 18 to 23, with further touring dates currently booked through July. When I reviewed it for The Stage I said: “The musical about musicals remains an irresistible insider’s joy, but is executed with such comic flair that you don’t necessarily need to be in on the jokes to appreciate it.”

Sondheim Society Student Performer and Stiles and Drewe Song Award 2015 – Garrick Theatre, London

On May 17, the Garrick hosts the annual prize platform that showcases 12 student finalists from leading UK drama schools competing for the student performer prize. Each candidate sings a Sondheim song as well as a new musical theatre song written by members of Mercury Musical Developments, one of which is then awarded the Stiles and Drewe Song Award. This year’s event, hosted by Michael Xavier, will feature a guest appearance by Elaine Paige, who is also one of the judges.

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