Sunday, March 23, 2008

March Snow

Being from Los Angeles, I've been hoping to see snow all winter. Now, finally, here it is, as seen from my flat.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Apollo Victoria Theatre

Just opposite Victoria Station and the Victoria Palace Theatre is the Apollo Victoria. It's rather hard to miss at night with its appropriately green neon lights (its current production is the Stephen Schwartz musical, Wicked.)
To the right and left of the entrance nearest Victoria Station are Art Deco murals. Note the guy enjoying a smoke just left of center. Now he'd have to go outside. The theatre opened as a the New Victoria Cinema in 1930 (and still very much looks like one in a Radio City Music Hall vein), a so-called 'super cinema' with the stalls below ground level and the first balcony off the central lobby, reached by identical twin entrances. I hope to see Wicked there soon.

Victoria Palace

Just opposite Victoria Station is the Victoria Palace. The current production, Billy Elliot, has been playing for nearly three years. Little Ben, a 20 ft version of Big Ben, erected in 1891, stands in the traffic circle in front of the theatre. Because it was a gift from France, the time is one hour ahead of GMT.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Carlton Theatre

The Carlton was built as a legitimate theatre and cinema. I saw a few movies here when it was the Cannon Theatre on Haymarket, including Planes, Trains and Automobiles. In 1978, it was partially demolished, losing its stage. Despite the large number of theatres in London's West End, it appears there are still not enough. After decades of use as a cinema, the Carlton (though still known as the Cineworld Haymarket) has reopened as a live theatre. See this page for more information. It's part of the excellent website,, detailing the history of UK theatres, past and present.

Phoenix Theatre

Relatively speaking, the Phoenix is one of the newer West End theatres, built in 1930 with the premiere of Private Lives with Noel Coward, Gertrude Lawrence and Lawrence Olivier. Noel returned with Tonight at 8:30 in 1936. I myself was here in 1989 for Stephen Schwartz' superb (and underappreciated) The Baker's Wife. Blood Brothers seems to have found a permanent home here. The picture above is the secondary entrance (which I personally find more attractive) on Phoenix Street. The main entrance is on Charing Cross Road.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Picadilly Theatre

The Picadilly, as the name suggests, is just off Picadilly Circus. A revival of Grease has been playing since July 2007. Prior to that a revival of Guys and Dolls played for three years. It was briefly a cinema in 1928, introducing the talking picture to Great Britain with The Jazz Singer, known here as The Singing Fool.

Palace Theatre

The Palace was built as an opera house by Richard D'Oyly Carte (who also founded the famous Gilbert and Sullivan opera company and built the Savoy Theatre for the British light opera). The Palace is an impressive structure. This is where Les Miserables played for nineteen years. Now playing is Spamalot, which I intend to see in the next few months.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Chinese New Year Oxford Circus

It's the invasion of the giant Chinese lantern UFOs, seen hovering above busy Oxford Circus!

Dominion Theatre

The Dominion stands prominently, dazzlingly at night, at the Tottenham Court Road tube stop, easily found as it's across the street from the mid-century skyscraper Centre Point. If you're lost wandering around Theatre Land, look for Centre Point and you're there. The current production is We Will Rock You, using the music of Queen, playing since 2002. I personally would have liked to have seen the Leslie Bricusse musical Scrooge, which played here in 1996-97. I've never been in it, but I hope it's still as flamboyantly deco as its exterior. It opened in 1930 as a cinema and for years was used for movie premieres.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Criterion Theatre

The statue of Eros stands just in front of the Criterion in the very center of Picadilly Circus. It opened in 1874 with a piece by W.S. Gilbert (with music by Alfred Cellier) called Topsyturvydom.

The current production is a theatrical adaption of The 39 Steps.

Wyndham's Theatre

Next door to the Leicester Square tube stop and across the street from the Noel Coward Theatre is Wyndham's Theatre. Its storied history includes Tallulah Bankhead's stage debut in 1910.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Prince of Wales Theatre

The Prince of Wales is in a high profile location in Picadilly Circus. Mamma Mia has been playing for nearly four years, so for the West End, that's relative newcomer! I've seen Mamma Mia in LA, so I'll pass. As you can see, it has a rather distinctive Art Deco tower.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Her Majesty's Theatre

Phantom of the Opera has been playing at Her Majesty's Theatre continuously since 1986 -- twenty-two years! By this time the place must have a few new phantoms of its own. It's certainly beautiful on the outside but I guess I'll go to my grave without seeing the interior. I'll try to remember to check on my deathbed to see if it's still playing. It'll give me something to talk about to those visiting me. "I see Phantom is entering its fiftieth year, imagine that," I'll say. They'll probably nod and give the nurse a knowing glance "It won't be much longer, he's cracking up."

I saw the Phantom that would not die a very long time ago in Los Angeles. I will admit that generally speaking, I enjoyed it, despite the silly slow-moving chandelier. That being said, once was enough. Fortunately for Andrew Lloyd Webber, the population of the earth is expanding at an alarming rate. Thousands of potential new ticket buyers around the world are born every minute! I will say, Sir Andrew could not have chosen a more appropriate venue in London, with its French Renaissance architecture and interior based on the Opera at Versailles.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Queen's Theatre

Next door to the Gielgud is the Queens Theatre. Les Miserables moved here four years ago after eighteen years at the larger Palace Theatre. One wonders, just how tired can something be after twenty-two years? Are the leads now being played by the children of the original cast members? London is the place to be if you're an actor and want a steady job, I guess. At least Cats finally closed. That gives me some comfort. I guess everyone on earth saw it at least twice. Anyway, I'm not going. If I don't see a play within the first century of its run, I just don't bother. As for the theatre, it opened in 1907. According to Wikipedia, it has its original Edwardian interior but a modern shell after being hit by a German bomb in 1940. That also explains the modern lobby.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Lyric Theatre

The Lyric Theatre is one of four major theatres on Shaftesbury Avenue, and the oldest. The current production is the perennial favorite, Cabaret.

Apollo Theatre

The Apollo is between the Gielgud and the Lyric on Shaftesbury Avenue just off Picadilly Circus. Currently playing is Noel Coward's The Vortex.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Comedy Theatre

When my friend Cindy was in town in October, we went to the Comedy Theatre to see Boeing-Boeing , a modern French farce about a playboy with three European stewardess fiancees. I'd remembered the 1965 Tony Curtis movie (with Jerry Lewis in a supporting role). The revival wisely did not attempt to update but embraced the dated nature of its material. The wise-cracking Rhea Perlman fit well into the part of housekeeper Bertha (who played it as dryly as Thelma Ritter had in the movie) but the hilarious Doon Mackichan stole the show as the Lufthansa stewardess.
The theatre itself was built in 1881, and is more intimate (796 seats) than many of the larger West End houses. Because it has three balconies, no one is terribly distant from the stage. Currently playing is Harold Pinter's The Lover and The Collection.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

London Palladium

I've been to the London Palladium several times over the years, most recently to see Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and The Sound of Music. I was truly impressed with the latter (as for the former I was only truly impressed with the car). It's a first class production every step of the way. Maria even sings on a mountaintop which floats above the stage (I have a hunch it uses similar hardware that flew Chitty a few years ago). Most assuredly this was not at Mary Martin's disposal in the original Broadway production! My favorite moment came when the entire theatre was transformed in an instant during the Trapp's concert, making for a surprisingly fun climax. The songs Something Good and I Have Confidence, written for the film, are included, while No Way to Stop it and How Can Love Survive are back in. During the curtain calls, the nuns played leapfrog taking their bows -- rarely have I seen a cast so clearly enjoying themselves. Highly recommended.
The Palladium is a grand old palace with fairly good sight lines and decent acoustics.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Noel Coward Theatre

About a month ago my friend Judy was in town. We ended up getting half price tickets to Avenue Q here at the Noel Coward. I had heard the cast album and was encouraged to see it by one of my workmates but I was still a little wary -- it seemed a little too quirky for me. But it's hard to dislike, it's so cheerful and good-natured. I was surprised that it's been transplated to London with all its Americanisms intact -- including the Gary Coleman character -- though unlike Broadway, he's now played by a man. I wondered what Gary must think of this, because they're pretty mean to him. A little search on the net proved what I suspected -- he's not happy but he can't find any lawyer to sue -- no doubt because it's considered satire. Still, people seem to sue for much less all the time.
The Noel Coward, like seemingly every other theatre in London, did not start out as such. It was originally the New Theatre. I seem to recall that the last time I lived in London in 1989-1991 Blood Brothers had just started its run here (when it was the Albery). Blood Brothers, by the way, has entered its twentieth year, though it is currently at the Phoenix, which I'll get to later. The structure itself is a typical London theatre and has such a tiny men's room at the back of the stalls it's barely big enough to turn around in. Since being rechristened in Noel's honor, Avenue Q is the only production to have played here thus far. I can imagine his ghost being very perplexed should he wander in some dark, damp night.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Prince Edward Theatre

I was here a few months ago to see Mary Poppins. The Prince Edward was one of two major Cinerama theatres in London, at that time named the Casino. I didn't know that when I was there, but that certainly explains the Cinerama posters displayed in one of the staircases. Here's a shot of the Cinerama screen at the Casino.
See the Coliseum post for an ad when the Prince Edward was the Casino Cinerama.

Inside, the balconies seem reach into the upper stratosphere, which is where we sat for Poppins. When Mary flew over London at the end, it wasn't terribly impressive since we were above her. But I wasn't terribly impressed with the play itself. It's not the books, and it's not the movie but an unsatisfying combination of the two. I really didn't see the need to tamper with the superb Sherman Brothers score by dropping great songs and mixing in some new ones that weren't half as good. However, it does surprise me that it closed -- big musicals (good or not) tend not to just run years in London, they run decades.
As for the exterior, it appears to have been at least partially remodeled.

Gielgud Theatre

Last night I saw Pirates of Penzance at the Gielgud. It is a very pretty theatre, with an oval-shaped gallery on the second floor. Getting to the stalls is a rather odd experience, with a twisting, stepped corridor, but in walking around I discovered there's no way to get from the two lower floors to the balcony. It has its own entrance on the street, which apparently someone has to explain to the arriving crowd at every performance.

I saw the closing performance of Pirates, which was a limited run of a Gilbert and Sullivan series (including a traditional version of The Mikado as well as Iolanthe) from the Carl Rosa Opera Company. I'd not seen it since the Joseph Papp production on Broadway, which I found too twee and kidding the material too much. This one was more reverential, probably closer to the original production, with energetic performances and for the most part, well sung. The standout was Beverley Klein as Ruth, who sang well but also was quite funny. I didn't particularly care for Jo Brand as the Sergeant of Police. There was a bit too much elbowing in the ribs and winking at the audience for me. She is clearly well-loved, pleasing those around me a great deal but it took me out of the play. I prefer these things to be played straight. Overall, however, it was bright and jolly and my hat is off to the Carl Rosa company for keeping these things alive.

As it states on Wikipedia, the Gielgud was originally built as the Hicks Theatre after actor-playwrite Seymour Hicks, but just three years later was renamed the Globe. Poor Seymour -- so much for immortality. Along the twisting corridors were many framed photos, caracatures and posters of Gielgud, Noel Coward and Beatrice Lillie. The great Coward plays of the 1930s played here. One could just imagine the smart crowds in their furs and tails having cocktails in the upper bar.