Friday Briefing: The new rhythms of (musical) life, turmoil at ENO, and how the Oliviers are evolving
Finding new rhythms of life...
According to the sizzling Dorothy Fields’ lyric to Cy Coleman's melody in a song from Sweet Charity: "The rhythm of life is a powerful beat, Puts a tingle in your fingers and a tingle in your feet, Rhythm in your bedroom, rhythm in the street, Yes, the rhythm of life is a powerful beat." And that song is being interpreted by a rotating series of guest actors in the Donmar Warehouse's new revival that opened last week - I missed the opening when Adrian Lester played the charismatic preacher who sings it, but I'm looking forward to seeing the fantastic cabaret performer Le Gateau Chocolat do it next week.
But that's not the only - or indeed biggest - innovation in Josie Rourke's production. As Michael Billington noted in his Guardian review: "The difficulty with this show lies in finding an alternative to Bob Fosse’s original dance style, but Wayne McGregor's choreography does that with great elan." Fosse's hugely distinctive choreographic style has cast its influence not only on this show but also a whole generation of dance makers; his angular movements and hip-and-hat tilting signatures are difficult to escape from, so all credit to this production for seeking to do so.
Another show long and forever associated with its original choreographic footprint is West Side Story, not just because Jerome Robbins's work has been forever immortalised in the film version, but also because its meticulous recreation was long required by the terms of the licence granted to perform the show. But those restrictions have recently been lifted, and a new film version with new choreography is now being prepared. So is a new Broadway staging, to be directed by Ivo van Hove. As I reported earlier this week, versions with new choreography are also currently being staged at Manchester's Royal Exchange (which has just been announced will return next year) and at Leicester's Curve in November.
More turmoil at English National Opera
One of my very favourites of any London theatres is the London Coliseum on St Martin's Lane, a grand theatrical palace originally designed as a variety house by the great Edwardian theatre architect Frank Matcham (who also created the London Palladium, Victoria Palace, Hackney Empire and many theatres up and down the country). It has been home to ENO for over 50 years now, since the Sadler's Wells Opera Company (as ENO was up to 1974) took it over in 1968.
I also love ENO: it makes opera genuinely accessible, both by performing classic opera in English but also by promoting a stable of mostly British singers. It also does something I've long personally appreciated: it invites theatre critics to its opening nights. So I've seen a lot of shows there. (And I particularly love that it’s a night at a theatre where I'm not specifically working).
Over the years, I've also come to take on occasional professional responsibilities here, hosting opera preview talks for its supporters and benefactors. Earlier this week, for example, I hosted an event for ENO's latest musical theatre co-production venture (with Grade/Linnit) on Man of La Mancha that runs from tonight, interviewing director Lonny Price, costume designer Fotini Dimou, lighting designer Rick Fisher, and star Nicholas Lyndhurst. (I'll be reviewing the opening for LondonTheatre.co.uk on Tuesday).
But the management of the company has regularly been in turmoil, and now Daniel Kramer - appointed artistic director only three years ago - is set to depart after programming only his second season that was announced recently. In a press statement, he said he was proud to leave after “a season that has broken box office records, innovated and challenged, while delivering commercial success", and ENO's CEO Stuart Murphy who joined a year ago declared: "His energy, sense of humour and passion for bringing new stories to life and nurturing new talent has been completely contagious."
Evolving the Olivier Awards
The Olivier Awards were presented on 7th April; now comes news that several categories are being revamped, reshuffled and/or renamed. The awards for best new comedy and best entertainment/family are being merged into a new best entertainment or comedy play category.
This follows a year in which there were only three nominees for best new comedy (from just four eligible productions), and each were of wildly different stripes. Ditto for the entertainment category. Family shows are being given their own unique recognition - and their own unique way of being judged, too, by a newly appointed panel comprising five pairs of judges, each made up of one adult and one child.
Similarly, the outstanding achievement in music category - only introduced a few years ago - was brought in as a catch-all for different kinds of musical achievement; now it will honour only best original score or new orchestrations. This means that the work of musical directors and/or supervisors will remain the sole leading members of a creative team not to have Olivier recognition, and is a disappointing ongoing omission.