Having skimmed through my diary I apparently managed to see 32 shows in 2011 and I’m quite impressed with that considering my theatregoing year did not really kick off until April. One thing I will not be doing, is counting up the cost of all those tickets (*shudders*) but I thought it would be good to reflect back on the shows that really stood out for me, those that will stay with me in years to come.
I saw some excellent one-off concerts by performers whose work in musical theatre I really enjoy and it was fantastic to see artists such as Kerry Ellis and Ramin Karimloo headlining their own shows to packed audiences. The 6th July 2011 also marks the date I saw the one and Liza Minnelli at the Royal Concert Hall, Glasgow. Seeing one of the true theatrical legends live in the flesh was quite magical for me and it was a very special occasion that I know I will remember forever.
Living in the North-West I am unable to get down to London as often as I would like, and sometimes I regret missing those shows that have only short-lived stints in the West End. I tried to rectify that in 2011, seeing shows that I knew would only be there for a limited time. I am so pleased I managed to get to Betty Blue Eyes before its sad early closure. I wrote a review here at the time about how much I loved the show and found it to be funny, charming and full of heart. I was sad to see such a show fail to become a commercial success in the West End but I still firmly believe that it was a wonderful musical and songs such as ‘Nobody’, ‘Another Little Victory’ and ‘Lionheart’ could well become all time favourites of mine.
I also returned to see End of the Rainbow at the Trafalgar Studios for a second time, after an initial visit in December 2010 left me utterly awestruck. Although it is virtually impossible to capture quite the same level of magic on a second viewing as the first, Tracie Bennett’s performance as Judy Garland remained absolutely incredible and undoubtedly one of the finest individual stage performances I’ve ever seen. With a fantastic performance from Hilton McRae as Garland’s pianist, ‘End of the Rainbow’ is another show that will stay with me for a very long time.
Another jaunt to London saw me catch Stephen Sondheim’s Road Show at the Menier Chocolate Factory, featuring another quite extraordinary performance, this time from Michael Jibson as Addison Mizner, who should surely be in the mix when award season comes around. Jibson was frequently heartbreaking as the sweet-natured, hard working Addison, the polar opposite to his charming but reckless brother Wilson (in another excellent performance from David Bedella). The show itself was both funny and moving in typical Sondheim fashion and I even managed to pocket myself quite a substantial sum of money as a memento of the occasion!
In regional theatre, three shows stand out for me. The first a show that was extremely short-lived and I feel privileged to have managed to catch it. The show in question is That Day We Sang, Victoria Wood’s ‘play-with-songs’ for the Manchester International Festival, based around the Manchester Schools Children’ s Choir 1929 record ‘Nymphs & Shepherds’. It was full of traditional Wood wit and was at times both hilarious and heartbreaking. I have not been able to find any of the songs again, but an ode to the Berni Inn (‘Black Forest Gateaux = cake in drag’) has stayed with me, as has a powerhouse solo performance from the always fabulous Jenna Russell bemoaning her name (‘Enid’) which was quite the masterclass in comic timing. With a touching performance from Vincent Franklin as Russell’s love interest ‘Tubby’ Baker and Raif Clarke as the ‘young Tubby’, backed by a new group of children and complete with an onstage appearance by Wood herself at the curtain call; I left the Manchester Opera House thinking that this show was everything that theatre should be.
In November came my trip to the Liverpool Playhouse to see the premiere of Graham Linehan’s new adaptation of Ealing comedy The Ladykillers, before it’s transfer to the West End. I should confess I haven’t seen the original film upon which it is based, but I found this stage adaptation genuinely fantastic from the opening mobile phone announcement to the last second (which I’m not giving away!). The cast were perfect; Peter Capaldi, Ben Miller, James Fleet, Marcia Warren, Clive Rowe, Stephen Wight all deserve an individual mention. The first act is pure farce and though it turns into more of a black comedy as the ‘atmosphere gets decidedly morbid’ in Act Two, every movement is perfectly choreographed and the script is so sharp and well constructed that every joke has a pay off. While trying not to give anything away, the ‘heist’ itself is ingenious and there are some genuinely hilarious moments of visual comedy (opening the cupboard. That’s all I’ll say!). All that and I haven’t even mentioned the extraordinary set design yet. It may seem clichéd to say that the set was like an extra character, but it is entirely true in The Ladykillers. It is possibly the best set I have ever seen and it is a good job the performances are so strong otherwise I would barely have been able to take my eyes off it!
My final theatre trip in 2011 rounded the year off perfectly; Company at the Sheffield Crucible. I have loved the music for a long time but had never seen the show live before; although I am sure I will see it again at some point in my lifetime, I find it hard to imagine another production bettering this one. Daniel Evans’ central performance was captivating although the show was almost stolen by Samantha Spiro’s Amy in ‘Getting Married Today’. Each member of the company (no pun intended) was excellent, the set transported you to 1970s New York and every aspect of the show seemed to fit together perfectly. The anthemic ‘Being Alive’ has been one of my favourite songs for some time, but this marked the first occasion I had ever heard it performed live and for me it was a genuinely thrilling moment. It may be 40 years old, but this production showed that Company is as relevant as ever and stands up as a truly great piece of musical theatre. (In a side note unrelated to the show itself, seeing Company on your own is a decidedly… odd …experience!)
So with that, my theatregoing of 2011 came to a close. These were just a few of my highlights and I ended up talking about them far more than I intended. I can’t help noticing that the shows that have stayed with me the most are the ones where tears have been shed; either with laughter, sadness or both, all six of the shows reduced me to tears at some point. Which only leaves me to say that I suppose I should hope for more tears in 2012?