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Mark Shenton’s week: No Edinburgh Groundhog Day for me

Andy Karl in Groundhog Day at the August Wilson Theatre, New York. Photo: Joan Marcus Andy Karl in Groundhog Day at the August Wilson Theatre, New York. Photo: Joan Marcus
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I was supposed to be in Edinburgh last week, but instead, as I’ve already described here, I had to get myself checked out at A&E and found myself sent to the cardiology unit. I ended up having an angiogram on Monday afternoon, during which they also installed a stent into the right artery that was 95-98% blocked. So I had a lucky escape from something far worse (like suddenly dropping dead).

I’m sorry to have missed the theatrical party that is Edinburgh. However, I’ve been experiencing Edinburgh vicariously through the reviews I’ve been reading, and also clocking which shows I’ll be able to see in London as they variously announce transfers south.

For instance, How to Win Against History, which I missed at last year’s fringe and have now missed its return there this year, too, comes to the Young Vic from November 30, and Wild Bore, a show about reactions to critical reviews at the Traverse Theatre, comes to the Soho Theatre from November 21. The world premiere of Alan Ayckbourn’s The Divide – which has been dividing critics as part of the international festival – has also already announced its London transfer to the Old Vic next January. And Thrill Me – a musical I really want to see because it features two students graduating from Arts Educational Schools London that I taught there in their first year – will transfer to the Arcola Theatre from August 29 to September 2.

Of course its much better (and fresher) to make the discoveries in Edinburgh before they reach London. But if one thing my heart event has taught me already, it’s that I don’t need to rush around quite so much. All good things come to those that wait, and that includes Edinburgh’s best shows.
I have to say, though, that I enjoyed The Stage contributor @WestEndProducer’s tweeted request last week:

That seems an altogether more achievable ambition than finding good shows that haven’t been heralded yet, not to mention getting tickets for those that have already been acclaimed. Once a show starts to get the feel of a hit in Edinburgh, tickets can be impossible to find since everyone is chasing the same highs.

Broadway’s latest casualty

Last week I wondered aloud here if Groundhog Day and War Paint would last out the year, after closing notices had already been posted for both Bandstand and Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812 that week.

I was right to worry; last week Groundhog Day duly announced its imminent closure on September 17, following a run of 32 previews and 176 regular performances. As the New York Times explained, it “failed to find a large enough audience to support its running costs”.

Yet again, it proves how polarised Broadway has become: even a mostly well-received musical such as this can’t establish traction in such a crowded marketplace. On the other hand, it’s not just about reviews and awards: two new entries Anastasia and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory that hardly figured in the awards race, and didn’t get loved by the critics either, have so far survived the impending autumn chill.

But the story of Groundhog Day is not over yet. Producer Andre Ptaszynski wrote to me last week to thank me for my support of the show – and to say that he is not giving up and plans to bring it back to London within the next year. Of course, it never had a full run here – it was tried out at the Old Vic in a short summer season last year, which quickly became a sell-out hit. It has since won the Olivier for best musical. There’s still a large audience here who’ve not seen it.

I, meanwhile, am back in New York next month in the final week of its run – and have already booked to see it twice more then.

Is Audra McDonald the most talented person on this planet?

Every summer Ben Brantley – who now shares the title of chief theatre critic of the New York Times with Jesse Green – makes an extended trip to London and files regular reports from here for the paper. And last week he reported on revisiting the Tony-winning Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill in London, and said of its star Audra McDonald that she demonstrated “to London audiences why she is probably the most talented person on this planet”.

It’s a feeling I entirely concur with: as I put it in my opening paragraph to the Big Interview I did with her in The Stage earlier this year: “There is a quote that adorn’s Audra McDonald’s press pack: ‘It is no exaggeration to say that I regard her as the greatest singer to be born in my lifetime.’  I wrote that line myself for The Stage some years ago, so it is with a little rapture and awe that I sit beside the great Broadway actor and TV star, having coffee in the lounge of a central London hotel.”

Yes, even critics such as Brantley and myself get star-struck, or as I’d prefer to say, talent-struck.

I never tire of seeing this wondrous talent. I’ll be back to see Lady Day on its last night on September 9.

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