Your Weekly Guide to the Internet
Every week I have more fun putting this blog together (what a horrible word ‘blog’ is, has anyone got a better description - newsletter? column?) because finding the items to include are giving me such pleasure. I have a tendency to click on an item I didn’t think would interest me and there I am, still watching two hours later. I hope all of you are enjoying the internet during this peculiar time without theatres and cabarets as much as I am. Don’t hesitate to help out by sending me items you think I might be able to use here. In the meantime, here are this week’s offerings.
We are NOT going to get into one of those boring arguments about which is your favourite Sondheim musical (mine is Sunday in the Park) which can end, if not in actual blows, then with a lot of cutting remarks about each other’s taste, and often, in one friend not talking to another for months. Sometimes it’s not about conflicting shows as about differing views on different productions of the same musical. I was thinking about one such quarrel, not yet ended, which has been going on for years and that is over the different productions of Company, especially since the latest London revival in which Bobby became Bobbie and a lot of harsh words were delivered on the gender reversals and concomitant lyrical changes. This conflict has not, as yet, included New York theatregoers as the production transfer was on the brink of opening when the coronavirus hit and the opening was cancelled.
And then, scouring the internet as I now do weekly for nuggets to recommend to you, I came across this full length recording of John Doyle’s 2006 Broadway Company, clicked on it, and got hooked all over again. This one stars, you may remember, Raul Esparza as Bobby and, as usual with Doyle directed shows, the cast is the band as well as the actors and singers. This approach has been widely debated so let’s not do it again here. Let’s just enjoy Sondheim’s infinite wisdom about relationships and marriage, his control over his material, and, yes, his emotional heart, and if, as I do, you still love New York, waft yourself back into a time when your biggest worry was how to get Bobby married.
Moliere in the Park
Staying with Raul Esparza in a totally different context, here he comes again starring with Samira Wiley in a free live performance of Moliere’s most theatrical comedy, Tartuffe, presented by the French Institute Alliance Francaise (FIAF). This is the English translation by Pulitzer Prize-winner Richard Wilbur although there are English and French closed captions available if you register. Starting on Saturday, June 27th, there are two performances, at 2pm EDT (7pm BST) and 7pm EDT (midnight BST) Register for the one you want and there’s a Q&A with the cast and director following both performances.
I should have put this in last week as we’re a bit late for Bloomsday – June 16th – but when I heard what Fiona Shaw can do with James Joyce’s Ulysses I had to share it. Even if Joyce has never made sense for you before, he will now. By the way, this date, June 16th 1904, was when he met his wife, Nora Barnacle, and they had their first romantic and sexual assignation. Unfortunately, though, she didn’t like the great novel that he wrote about it. Fortunately, she did continue to like him until the end of his life.
Met Opera - Donizetti’s L’Elisir d’Amore
I mentioned last week that I’ve never watched so much opera in a lifetime of opera-going than I have in the past two months, largely because the Metropolitan Opera in New York has been pouring goodies over us every night during lockdown. Generously, they have been streaming their best, a different opera every night, and leaving them up for 24 hours so that we in Europe can see them even when the broadcast is at 7.30pm US time. This is not to ignore the Royal Opera and the Royal Ballet which have, slightly more intermittently, been streaming some wonderful material too. I find it all irresistible. What I’m finding most exciting is the opportunity to see some legendary historical performances that I missed or couldn’t afford to see in the theatre. For example, last week I watched Shirley Verrett’s Tosca and this week on Friday, June 26th at 7.30 US time and all day Saturday, the Met is streaming Donizetti’s enchanting L’Elisir d’Amore starring Kathleen Battle and Luciano Pavarotti. To be able to see these great singers after they have died or retired is a special treat and I’m willing to exchange less polished production techniques for the beauty of the singing.
Tate Britain - Dr James Fox
There is something slightly creepy about an empty museum. Your mind’s eye is seeing it teeming with people while your lockdown eye is seeing something completely different – Tate Britain devoid of art lovers while the paintings you love are clearly still there. And suddenly you realise that nobody else is jostling for the best position in front of your favourite Constable or Hockney. It’s yours, full frontal, in all its glory. You can even pause the video so you can linger on it. The BBC has done a series of four programmes called Museums in Quarantine. We looked at the one Simon Schama did on Young Rembrandt from the Ashmolean a couple of weeks ago. This week I’ve been wallowing in the Tate with a voiceover from Dr James Fox whose mellifluous voice and obvious enthusiasm transmit themselves into his commentary on the artworks. He’s an expert on 20th Century British Art but he can talk equally knowledgably about paintings going back to the 17th century. Obviously, the programme can only look at selected works, not the entire museum, but what is chosen is definitely worth your time.
The Last Five Years
Jason Robert Brown’s beautiful two-person musical has been produced all over the world but I must admit that I can’t think of a better candidate for a lockdown musical than one which has only two characters, re-enacting their passionate love affair from opposite ends of the chronological spectrum. Jamie starts the narrative from their first meeting, Cathy tells the story from their breakup. They only interact with one song in the middle of the show when their timelines connect. The cast is Danny Becker and Lauren Samuels, with Samuels making her directorial debut. The show will be streamed live on June 25/26/27 at 7.30 and tickets are £8. The actors will be recording their roles in isolation and the two parts will be subsequently edited into a whole. It should work.
The Grinning Man
Based on The Man Who Laughs by Victor Hugo and brought to life by director Tom Morris and writer Carl Grose for the Bristol Old Vic, this digital revival, available for 1 week from June 26th at 7pm BST, features an original score by Tim Phillips and Marc Teitler and puppetry from the original puppeteers of War Horse. It’s an odd and compelling story, set in a fairground, of an abandoned child with a terrible secret, a disfigured youth who is desperate to hide and a sightless girl who longs to be discovered.
Julie Andrews and Angela Lansbury
I’ve been debating as to whether to include this next piece because, frankly, the technical quality is dreadful. But finally, I couldn’t leave it out. It’s an excerpt from a 1965 Steve Lawrence TV special sent to me by a friend. I’d never seen it before and I bet you haven’t either. What it illustrates is what it means to be a star and I don’t mean Steve Lawrence. These two ladies didn’t get to be international household names with an occasional starring role, they got to be exemplary and much loved with a combination of talent, good looks, stamina, versatility, and unbelievably hard work over a lifetime. If you can do that, you too can get to be Julie Andrews and Angela Lansbury.
Ruth Leon is a writer and critic specialising in music and theatre.