Mark Shenton’s week: Would it be so wrong for men to play female leads in musicals?
We’re in a welcome era of gender-blind Shakespeare, with the recent triumphant opening of Michelle Terry’s Henry V at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre, Harriet Walter soon to add Prospero to her CV for the Donmar, and Glenda Jackson to play King Lear at the Old Vic. But no man has (yet) sought to set out his stall to play Momma Rose in Gypsy or Elphaba in Wicked.
Not quite, anyway. During one wonderful West End Recast show, I did get to hear Nick Holder sing a truly stirring Defying Gravity. And last week, the Broadway star Jeremy Jordan made his London debut with a cabaret set at the Hippodrome that opened with him tearing into Momma Rose’s Everything’s Coming Up Roses – and he proceeded to sing so many songs that had been originated by women that it could not have been an accident: Sally Durant’s Losing My Mind from Follies; Don’t Rain on My Parade from Funny Girl; Over the Rainbow from The Wizard of Oz; even snippets of Memory from Cats and Celine Dion’s hit It’s All Coming Back to Me Now.
But even more interesting than the choices were his interpretations: he did them without an ounce of irony or apology, but with total sincerity and conviction. It was an object lesson in owning the repertoire. There was also a bravura confidence that Broadway’s finest always exude.
Yet on Broadway, while not exactly two a penny, he’s just one of a generation of younger performers who made their mark young and are now turning into leading men themselves: the role call also includes Matthew Morrison, Aaron Tveit, Gavin Creel, Will Swenson, Steven Pasquale and Chad Kimball. Right now London has Broadway’s Andy Karl about to open in Groundhog Day, and Creel of course originated The Book of Mormon in the West End. Can we please have some of the others over here soon? And if not in a show, then at least at the Hippodrome? Paging producer Darren Bell, who was behind the Jeremy Jordan concerts.
I went to see Jeremy Jordan’s late night show last Thursday after a day on which I’d spent six hours on a train, travelling to Scarborough and back, as part of an unusual mission. Critics are not typically privy to the rehearsal room: the closest I usually get to them is when I go to interview actors in their lunch breaks. But last week Scarborough’s Stephen Joseph Theatre – the theatrical home of Alan Ayckbourn, who for nearly 50 years has been premiering at least one new play a year there – invited me to attend a run-through of Ayckbourn’s latest show for the theatre, The Karaoke Theatre Company.
It wasn’t so much to observe the process, as to take part in it. There is a serious amount of audience participation – in fact it can’t happen without it – and they needed guinea pigs. So spectators were being invited daily to be part of it. I won’t give away what happens, but suffice it to say that my husband ended up having a starring role (and seized it with gusto).
Ayckbourn handily has his own rehearsal studio attached to his house, about 15 minutes from the town centre, so he doesn’t have far to go to work. It was also wonderful to observe the genius writer/director watching his own creation come to life in front of this select audience. I can’t wait to see it again in the theatre itself, where it runs in rep from July 8 to October 7.
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