The Week Ahead: Mamet and Malkovich's Bitter Wheat, opera superstars and Ben Forster's musical biography
On Tuesday (18th June), Adam Guettel and Craig Lucas's 2005 Broadway musical The Light in the Piazza, which won its composer that year's Tony for best original score, receives its long-overdue London premiere at the Royal Festival Hall in a new fully-staged production by director Daniel Evans. Running for just 20 performances, it stars international opera superstar Renée Fleming and Dove Cameron (best-known for her role in Disney’s The Descendants trilogy) as mother-and-daughter Margaret and Clara Johnson. The cast also includes West End regulars Rob Houchen (Les Miserables), Celinde Schoenmaker (The Phantom of the Opera), Liam Tamne (Les Miserables and Wicked), Alex Jennings and Malcolm Sinclair. They are joined by a 35-piece orchestra from Opera North under the baton of Kimberly Grigsby, conductor of the original Lincoln Center production.
David Mamet's play Bitter Wheat gets its world premiere at the Garrick Theatre on Wednesday, with Mamet himself directing a cast led by John Malkovich as what the publicity material describes as a "depraved Hollywood producer". It goes on to state, "It rips the pashmina off the suppurating wound which is show business, and leaves us better human beings, and fitter to once more confront the horror of life. Our hero, Barney Fein, is a bloated monster – a studio head, who like his predecessor, the minotaur, devours the young he has lured into his cave. His fall from power to shame is a mythic journey which has been compared to The Odyssey by people who claim to have read that book."
When it was first announced, some critics - sight unseen and hearing only the bare outline of this plot - wrote columns and tweets denouncing the play, as some kind of apology for Harvey Weinstein and stating that this was not a man's story to tell. The Stage's Lyn Gardner wrote a column that was headlined: "Back off, Berkoff (and Mamet) – women own the #MeToo story".
But as I wrote in a column at the time: "Mamet is one of the few playwrights of either gender that any producer would trust with the budget to open a play cold in the commercial West End... The objections are about more than numbers or money – they are about content or what that content is imagined to be, with people pointing to Mamet’s past form of underwritten female characters. Some of those expressing outrage were critics, who should be waiting to see the play before passing judgement." Now they finally can.
Also on Wednesday, the Maly Drama Theatre of St. Petersburg returns to London with a ten-performance only run of Chekhov's Three Sisters, directed by Lev Dodin.
Then on Friday, this year's Greenwich+Docklands International Festival, an annual free outdoor festival featuring over 130 performances and 15 UK premières, kicks off in Woolwich with a specially created version of Cristal Palace, a new high-flying, immersive production from French company Transe Express.
This year's West End Live turns Trafalgar Square into a giant outdoor showcase for the West End this weekend, with appearances from current and future shows, from long-runners like Les Miserables, Mamma Mia! and Tina - the Tina Turner Musical, to shows that are yet to open, like & Juliet, and Falsettos. You can find the full schedule here.
The week concludes with Ben Forster bringing a personal musical biography Me, Myself and Musicals to the Theatre Royal Haymarket for one-afternoon performance only on Sunday. He will be joined by guests Ramin Karimloo, Carrie Hope Fletcher, Celinde Schoenmaker and Mazz Murray all accompanied by the 15-piece London Musical Theatre Orchestra, conducted by Freddie Tapner. Forster, who won the ITV casting contest Search for a Superstar which led to him playing the title role in the arena stage production of Jesus Christ Superstar, has also appeared in such shows as The Rock Horror Show, Phantom of the Opera and Elf.
Top musicals of the week
British musical theatre star Lucie Jones, who represented the UK at the 2017 Eurovision Song Contest and was also a contestant in the 6th series of the X Factor, takes over from on Monday 17th in the lead role of the London transfer of the ongoing Broadway hit Waitress. I love this show and I can't wait to see her in it!
Maria Friedman and Anita Dobson respectively take over as Golde and Yente in the hit revival of Fiddler on the Roof that has transferred from the Menier to the West End's Playhouse Theatre, beginning performances on 18th June. In my original review of its West End opening, I called it "a gorgeous production of a simply glorious musical", and I'm looking forward to having an excuse to revisit it now.
It’s the final four weeks to see the original production of the West End's longest-running musical ever, which will close on 13th July to make way for an all-star concert version for a few months at the Gielgud Theatre next door, before the current touring production is installed back in the Queen's in December.
Top plays of the week
In the midst of LGBT+ Pride month, the UK premiere of this Off-Broadway hit play offers a eyeful, in every sense, as it portrays three young gay men engaged in a polyamorous relationship. As I wrote in my review for LondonTheatre.co.uk: "Yes, they inhabit a slick and youthful gay world where their good looks give them immense currency; but there's still plenty to identify with as they variously wrestle with states of depression and abandonment, lust and longing."
Shakespeare's enduringly popular play of summer romance gets a circus-based makeover from director Nicholas Hytner, with a cast led by Game of Thrones star Gwendoline Christie and Oliver Chris. As I wrote in my review for LondonTheatre.co.uk: "There are still some innovative touches, like having Oberon and not Titania fall for Hammed Animashaun's Bottom when he is transformed into a donkey. Oliver Chris and David Moorst undergo more sprightly transformations as Theseus/Oberon and Puck respectively, with a bare-chested Chris finding a sexual charge in his seduction by Bottom and Moorst bringing a playful energy to Puck as he hangs upside down from the bungee rope."
A highly deserved West End transfer for Lynn Nottage's play, in a production first seen at the Donmar Warehouse last Christmas. As I wrote in my original five-star review for LondonTheatre.co.uk: "Nottage's play is a piercing portrait of a community placed under intolerable strain, as their loyalties and self-interests are challenged. Alternately desolate and gripping, it is acted with a piercing, documentary-like truthfulness, particularly from Clare Perkins and Martha Plimpton as the respective mothers to Osy Ikhile's Chris and Parick Gibson's Jason."