Mamma Mia! recently marked its 22nd anniversary in the West End (it premiered at the Prince Edward Theatre on 6 April 1999, subsequently moving twice — first to the Prince of Wales, and then its current home, the Novello).
We are just over a month away from the cautious re-opening of indoor theatre venues from 17 May, which will restore theatres to their pre-lockdown condition last December of being able to operate at 50% capacity, up to a maximum of 1,000 people.
On Friday the resumption of theatre life began in New York; meanwhile, today is the 50th anniversary of the Broadway opening night of Stephen Sondheim’s Follies, his jagged and shattering tribute to the musicals as well as the marriages of yesteryear, as James Goldman’s characters confront their current predicaments as middle and old-aged people looking back on their lives through the prism of the nostalgia of their theatrical pasts — all set to a score that gently pastiches the songs of the period while actually improving on them.
It’s been announced that Howard Panter & Rosemary Squire’s Trafalgar Entertainment are joining forces with regional theatre operator HQ — who currently operate 11 venues from Bromley and Dartford to Southend, Swindon, Crewe and Guildford.
Today, for the first time since the mid-December lockdown brought the shutters down on most forms of social interaction in public, including the closure of non-essential shops, pubs, restaurants, theatres, cinemas, museums and galleries, Britain is beginning the process of edging out of those some of those restrictions.
A constantly recurring theme as we hopefully start emerging from this pandemic — and even long before it actually happened — was about creating space for new voices and talents, and preferably younger and more diverse voices, whether as writers, directors, producers, designers, actors or even theatre critics.
It’s both surprising, and not, in the light of this that Phantom — a fictional character whose physicality is almost entirely shrouded by a cloak and whose face is 50% covered — has never been played by a black or Asian actor yet in its 35-year run in the West End.
It was just after 5pm on 16 March 2020 that Boris Johnson made his heart (and business) stopping announcement: “Now is the time for everyone to stop non-essential contact with others and to stop all unnecessary travel. We need people to start working from home where they possibly can. And you should avoid pubs, clubs, theatres and other such social venues.”
There’s no question that, apart from his undoubted brilliance as a composer of instantly memorable melodies, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s greatest gift is as (self) publicist. He’s just wonderful at getting people to speak about him and his shows; and thereby promote them.
Tonight is the first anniversary of the last performances that were given on a Broadway stage; a year ago tomorrow, Six was due to open on Broadway, but that afternoon the governor of New York State, the currently beleaguered Andrew Cuomo, announced that public gatherings of more than 500 people would be immediately suspended.
Voting has just begun for last year’s Tony Awards. Yes, you read that correctly. And no, there is no date for the actual (or even virtual) ceremony yet. In the topsy-turvy world that Covid-19 has wrought upon us, we’re wrestling with all sorts of improbabilities and impossibilities, but few events epitomise the very strangeness of this time and its repercussions than this weird situation.
Glory palaces of cinema that became theatres — and vice versa — that Mark Shenton longs to visit again.
Theatre may have migrated online for now (though here’s hoping that we’ll be back in the stalls and not just our armchairs or desks soon). Even though online theatre has created a much more level playing field in terms of opportunities for people and productions to be seen, with the smallest theatres like the Barn competing with the biggest like the National for audiences, star casting is STILL a thing.
On Monday Boris Johnson announced his (apparently irreversible) plans to take us out of lockdown forever. He even provided a detailed timetable of dates when each stage should be implemented.
Setting a timetable requires Johnson to be a clairvoyant, predicting the future way of a virus that, to be honest, is only really getting started. Yes, vaccines are being done fast (I got my first dose on Saturday), but lifting the lid on Pandora’s box too quickly — by setting a timetable for reopening — won’t benefit anyone’s mental health, if it simply exacerbates the virus and leads to the necessity to shut down again.
It won’t be until the vaccine programme has been fully and successfully rolled out throughout the nation, and any necessary tweaks established for mutant strains, that there may be enough confidence to begin to even think about going indoors again to sit amongst strangers.
Yes, Covid has changed all of our lives — probably forever. At the very least, we will never take the freedoms we used to have – to travel, to meet friends, to socialise in public spaces and gather indoors to watch live performances and other events – ever again.
If, as Monty Python famously urges, we should always look on the bright side of life, then the brighter side of death are obituaries. They’re one of my absolutely favourite forms of journalism, and I read them just as avidly as I read the best critics; and it’s for the same reasons.
Mark Shenton welcomes headlines featuring Stratford East, the National, the British Library and community involvement from Waterloo to Wales.
Radio 2’s Greatest Show could — and should — have been a platform to celebrate more British musicals, especially here, especially now, with the industry floundering so badly. A show of support for our own creators of new musicals would not have gone amiss.