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REVIEWS from My West End Trip (10 Shows. 5 Days. July 2023) - LONG POST

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REVIEWS from My West End Trip (10 Shows. 5 Days. July 2023) - LONG POST

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quizking101
#1REVIEWS from My West End Trip (10 Shows. 5 Days. July 2023) - LONG POST
Posted: 7/30/23 at 7:48pm

PART 1

Hey All,

I just got back from my trip to London and a whole bunch of West End theatre. All I can say is WOW WOW WOW. The quality of shows I saw really put Broadway to shame a bit for me in terms of ingenuity and content. I’m going to write a little review for each one, but I won’t put a quantifiable score for it since there wasn’t a single show I wouldn’t recommend to anyone.

TUESDAY 7/25:

Operation Mincemeat (matinee): I had absolutely no idea what this was going to be about aside from some cursory research and the strong recommendation of a friend who works in the theatre on both sides of the Atlantic. This was honestly one of the most ingeneous, hilarious, heartwarming, and original musicals I’ve ever had the pleasure of seeing. To take one of WWII’s most successful secret operations and make a full out vaudevillian comedy musical a la “Springtime for Hitler” out of it was a gamble that paid off in spades and I hope that this comes stateside with the original cast (some of whom also wrote the show) because this should be required viewing.

 

Cabaret (evening): Obviously, I knew the musical going in so my focus was on staging and performance and I’ll be darned if that didn’t take the Mendes revival, turn it up to 11, and create a far darker and haunting experience, especially with everything taking place dead center of the theatre. I unfortunately had to stand for the first act (nearly 1:45) because I couldn’t fit in my purchased seat, but I was able to move to an empty cabaret table near the stage for Act II. Mason Alexander Park was BORN to play the Emcee and I strongly advocate him to come to the Broadway production in some capacity, maybe as an alternate/standby for whoever assumes the main role. Chris O’Mara was on as Cliff and he was as well-sung and heartbreaking as he was remarkably sexy (which was a little distracting since I think Cliff to be more nebbishy). Finally, Maude Apatow – she did the role just fine. I know many people were saying that she couldn’t sing and was miscast in the role etc., but I’m of the camp that believes that Sally shouldn’t necessarily be the best – she’s delusional about her current life and her future, so why give the audience reason to think that she actually has the potential. She acted the hell out of it and sang her biggest numbers just fine. Also, that choreography is ATHLETIC!!!

WEDNESDAY 7/26:

Oklahoma (matinee): I went into this production fairly skeptical because I saw a preview of the 2019 revival (same director/concept) and I found myself more confused and befuddled by the whole affair (despite great performances). My travel buddy wanted to see this so I was willing to give it another shot. Maybe its because the concept has refined itself a bit, or maybe I just have a keener eye for off-beat concepts, but I enjoyed this version far more by a country mile. The whole cast was unilaterally excellent with Sam Palladio as Curly (miles better than Damon Daunno), Patrick Vaill as Jud (one of the best parts of this production’s whole journey), Anoushka Lucas as Laurey, and Sally Ann Triplett as Aunt Eller all turning in nuanced performances that lent themselves to the piece appropriately and didn’t feel miscast or misplaced. Also, this production works fine in a proscenium setting, and I think I enjoyed it more that way than when it was in the round.

 

A Strange Loop (evening, also on Friday evening 7/2REVIEWS from My West End Trip (10 Shows. 5 Days. July 2023) - LONG POST: This is the one review I’ve racked over the most because you all know I am a superfan of this show (My whole trip revolved around this show) and thus have not only an inherent bias, but high expectations of the performing company. The first night I saw this was very emotional for me, but also I had a little bit of brain jam because, having seen the OBC 45 times, I knew that staging inside out, and so there were quite a few changes that immediately stuck out to me, but the most promiment three were 1) “Whitney” no longer emerges from a coffin in “Tyler Perry…” and instead stylish dances from the behind the doors before entering, 2) A lyrical change in “Second Wave” that removes a reference to “Designing Women”, and 3) “Nala” (Thought 3) now wears a little frilly dress after “AIDS Is God’s Punishment”, instead of just the bow. I do think the Barbican is too big for this show though, and the sound design cut off or drowned some of the Thoughts at times (noticeable both nights when I sat in the rear and front stalls), which hurt some of the jokes.

The production is in solid hands with this cast. Kyle’s performance has deepened and there were many new nuances and choices he made as Usher that were very observable, and I feel that’s because the production was built around his characterization and not someone else with him swinging in as needed. Tendai Humphrey-Sitima as Thought 4 had the same high-strung maternal energy of John-Andrew Morrison, but also had a surprising rock edge to their voice that came out during the end of “Periodically”, and Eddie Elliott (#6) and Danny Bailey (who I saw only once on Friday) as #5 was a solid butch queen who was the perfect mix of (respectively), Antwayn Hopper, Jason Veasey and Jon-Michael Reese. Nathan Laryea found new laughs as #2, but I did find myself missing James Jackson Jr. a bit since that Thought to me always needs “older queen” energy. Sharlene Hector (#1) was in great voice and definitely more in the earthier vein like Zachary Meyers or Mars Rucker were. Finally, the biggest adjustment was Yeukayi Ushe as #3. Whereas John-Michael Lyles is rather petite, Yeukayi is a whole MAN and that made moments like the Nala scene at the end so much funnier, but he also retains that plucky energy. It’s truly the ensemble together that makes this sink or swim and this is a truly great ensemble.

 


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Updated On: 7/31/23 at 07:48 PM

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ggersten
#2My West End Trip (10 Shows. 5 Days. July 2023) - LONG POST
Posted: 7/30/23 at 8:12pm

Thanks. Looking forward to the next six. Did you book all of these shows ahead of time? Or did you get deals (at the box office, today tix, lotter/rush/day seat)?

 

Also, Mason Alexander Park has a steady part on Quantum Leap if and when WGA/SAGAFTRA strikes end.

Updated On: 7/30/23 at 08:12 PM

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quizking101
#3My West End Trip (10 Shows. 5 Days. July 2023) - LONG POST
Posted: 7/30/23 at 9:13pm

PART 2

 

THURSDAY 7/27

Guys & Dolls (matinee): This could easily have been just another dusty old revival of a dusty old musical, and yet the immersive experience has made this feel like, if I was just hearing about this for the first time, I would’ve thought it was a brand new musical. The entire flashy and seedy world of 1920s NYC happening all around you is truly a marvel, and there are quite a few moments of audience participation, including being able to grab a cabaret table during intermission, ordering a drink, and pretending to be a Hot Box patron for the first 15 minutes of Act II (which is an INCREDIBLE “Take Back Your Mink&rdquoMy West End Trip (10 Shows. 5 Days. July 2023) - LONG POST. While every performance was strong (there were understudies for Andy Richardson (Sky) and Cedric Neal (Nicely), this show SQUARELY belongs to Marisha Wallace’s Adelaide. Every note, glare, gesture, and movement was musical theatre gold and she is up there as one of the best stage performances I have ever seen. I was standing nearby her while she sang the end of “Lament” and her belting in my face made me feel like I was seeing God. I wanted to give her a Tony, an Olivier, and Oscar and a Nobel Peace Prize. Although they do have traditional seats, standing is the only way to truly get the full best experience and getting their early lets you wander the set and engage with the surroundings.

 

Brokeback Mountain (evening): This was a screen-to-stage adaptation that seemed to go the opposite direction of all the others, in that it stripped away from what was in the film and refocused the show as a memory play where Older Ennis is looking back on his younger self and Jack, with the action punctuated by musical interludes. It was almost like BM by way of “Girl From The North Country”. I think the performances elevated the material itself – with Mike Faist throwing everything into his Jack and Lucas Hedges being able to demonstrate that wisdom-beyond-his-years acting range that makes his alter scenes more believable and also makes me forget that he’s a few years younger than I am (I’m 29). The efficiency of the storytelling did succeed in focusing the framing more on Jack and Ennis than the subplots, but you could also tell where the play made the cuts.

FRIDAY 7/28

The Choir of Man (matinee): More than a few people attempted to dissuade me from seeing this and dismissed it as a “tourist trap” – however I figured I’d give it a shot since it was the only show with a Friday matinee. Yeah, it’s touristy in nature and doesn’t do anything to dissuade that notion, but I found the entire experience to be not only rousing good fun, but also very touching and I was able to connect to it quite a bit. Beneath the pop songs and beer is really just a thread about how there are spaces in the world where people from all different ages, spaces, and walks of life come to commiserate and forget about (or talk about, or sing about) their troubles. It made me think of a bar I used to go to where it was an assortment of different queer men not dissimilar to the group onstage, and when that bar closed during the pandemic, I felt that loss of community there. Also, the actors basically telling their own personal stories through these skeletal archetypes in the book also made the experience feel more authentic. The understudy for the “The Poet” (Sam Ebenezer) also sang a remarkably heartfelt version of Luther Vandross’ “Dance With My Father” that moved me to tears.

A Strange Loop was my Friday evening show – so technically I saw 10 performance of 9 different shows).

SATURDAY 7/29

Heathers: The Musical (matinee): I was already quite familiar with the movie and I knew of the musical’s existence, but never really dug into it despite it being a cult hit for the millennial audience, so I essentially went in blind. This show was dark, profane, uncomfortable and I LOVED EVERY MINUTE OF IT. It’s actually a bit sad how what was considered comically dark in the 1980s (film) is now a little too close to home. But that aside, this is a screen to stage adaptation that hits the target head on with pinpoint precision. It knew what to keep from the movie and how to properly write an original score into the action. Plus, the cast sang and acted their FACES off and never once did my mind wander or my eyes glance at my watch for the time. The intimacy of The Other Palace definitely increases the intimacy and therefore the discomfort that comes with laughing at some of the darkest, blackest humor ever put into the musical theatre canon. “Candy Store” and “My Dead Gay Son” were the two biggest highlights for me, and also having the actors playing Ram and Kurt (the football players) running around in their skivvies for pretty much all of Act 2 right in front of me in the front row was…definitely enjoyable.

La Cage Aux Folles (evening): This was the first preview for the Regent’s Park Open Air Production. My only prior experience with this show was the 2010 revival with Kelsey Grammer and Douglas Hodge, which has a grittier and less opulent presentation. It took me a little bit to remember that the original 1980s production was to the hilt with glitter, glamour, kitsch, camp, and opulence, and that’s exactly to what this production paid homage. The costumes and choreography were, like for most productions of La Cage, unilaterally excellent and Billy Carter and Carl Mullaney had excellent chemistry as Georges and Albin, with Mullaney’s Albin naturally stealing the whole show and had half the audience on its feet in ovation after “I Am What I Am”. Debbie Kurup also was a scene stealer as Jacqueline, more than I remembered Christine Andreas to be. I will say my one quibble was with the accents as sometimes the actors couldn’t decide whether they were using an English or French accent, and John-Owen Jones – a Welshman playing a Frenchman, sounded like he was German at times, which threw me. But overall this was a great production and definitely benefits the audience by not being inhibited by a proscenium staging.


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quizking101
#4My West End Trip (10 Shows. 5 Days. July 2023) - LONG POST
Posted: 7/30/23 at 9:20pm

ggersten said: "Thanks. Looking forward to the next six. Did you book all of these shows ahead of time? Or did you get deals (at the box office, today tix, lotter/rush/day seat)?

Also, Mason Alexander Park has a steady part on Quantum Leap if and when WGA/SAGAFTRA strikes end.
"

Since it was my first time going to the West End and I was buying for myself and my friend, I decided to buy all in advance instead of running the risk of getting shut out of things I wanted to see or relegated to shows I have already seen/no interest in seeing. I went out of my way to try to avoid shows that are also on Broadway (Wicked, Hamilton, Six etc) or shows that didn't seem to be doing anything novel (the Grease revival).

I know TodayTix is ubiquitous over there and now I know for the future. I kinda wish it was the same here


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quizking101
#5My West End Trip (10 Shows. 5 Days. July 2023) - LONG POST
Posted: 7/30/23 at 10:10pm

Also, I did see firsthand that stagedooring was very free-range and the actors are usually pretty cool about it, so I ended up meeting TONS of people (and sing every praise I had).

This includes the most of or the whole casts of Operation Mincemeat, Oklahoma, A Strange Loop, The Choir of Man, and Heathers, as well as Mason Alexander Park, Maude Apatow, Mike Faist, and Lucas Hedges.

The Guys & Dolls cast didn't stagedoor after the matinee (because their turnaround was QUICK), but I did get to chat and grab a photo with Owain Arthur (Nathan), Marisha Wallace, and Celinde Schoonmaker (Sarah) as the floor was letting out and they were all in costume and chatting with everyone. Also, didn't do La Cage because I wasn't sure how it worked at the park, so I didn't bother.

Fun bonus was that I ended up meeting and talking to Jennifer Coolidge at CABARET. She was a total sweetheart and she was asking me for show recommendations after her assistant (who I had been chatting with while she Jennifer was inside) told her about my trip. I also got to meet Billy Porter again at ASL the second time I went. My friend and I went to say hi to the cast again and, after a party they had, Billy came out and was quite sweet and sassy and thanked us for supporting the show. Also, he was rocking platform boots for the ages.


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jkcohen626
#6My West End Trip (10 Shows. 5 Days. July 2023) - LONG POST
Posted: 7/31/23 at 12:57am

An Operation Mincemeat/Cabaret two-show day is the type of day one could only dream of. Glad you enjoyed your trip!

Updated On: 7/31/23 at 12:57 AM

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quizking101
#7My West End Trip (10 Shows. 5 Days. July 2023) - LONG POST
Posted: 7/31/23 at 10:19am

jkcohen626 said: "An Operation Mincemeat/Cabaret two-show day is the type of day once could only dream of. Glad you enjoyed your trip!"

It was a long day but the whole WWII era/Nazi theme was really a perfect pairing 


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