As Remembrance Sunday approaches I am minded to consider those musicals that set themselves either directly in wars or, if not, then in the context of recent or impending conflict.
Even in 2008 a West End musical about the Holocaust caused eyebrows to be raised and ran briefly.
Marguerite is the beautiful and notorious mistress of a high ranking German officer. Despite Michele Legrand’s music and with book by Alain Boublil, Claude-Michel Schönberg and Jonathan Kent, it also closed early.
Noel Coward commented after seeing the Lionel Bart show that it was louder than the real thing!
There have been many excellent productions (in recent times both Julian Clary and Will Young have received plaudits for their performances in West End productions). But, perhaps unfortunately for every subsequent version, it’s the Liza Minelli film that defines how this should be done.
Oh! What a Lovely War
Richard Attenborough’s film is such an achievement in its own right that it’s somewhat overshadowed Joan Littlewood’s original stage version which saw early performances from Brian Murphy, Victor Spinetti and and Barbara Windsor.
Time for another Five on Friday – this time celebrating some of the most striking, and strikingly successful, cross dressing leading men. And I’m thinking of proper musicals – not Pantomime dames!
Five – Matt Henry as Lola in Kinky Boots
He’s been playing the lead in this show since it opened in London and still seems to be having a roaringly good time.
Four – Jason Donovan as Tick in Priscilla, Queen of the Desert
Brilliant both in and out of the drag in the West End and on tour, I guess we should not be surprised that Jason Donovan, as usual, gave an excellent performance. Time to see him in another musical, surely!
Three – John Partridge as Albin in La Cage Aux Folles
OK, so this in anticipation of Mr Partridge delivering the goods in the recently announced UK tour. The picture above features John Barrowman who took the part at London’s Playhouse Theatre in 2009.
Two – Craig Revel Horwood as Miss Hannigan in Annie
Sharing the role with fellow Strictly Come Dancing star Lesley Joseph in the most recent UK tour, Craig Revel Horwood joins a growing list of men who’ve played this classic part, not least Lily Savage.
One – John Travolta as Edna Turnblad in Hairspray
Exceptionally I’ve included a movie star in this list of otherwise exclusively theatrical cross dressers. But for me John Travolta provides a hilarious benchmark performance, helped by his crazy accent (‘I’ve got the iron on’ is a standard quote in our house!).
Even the most unlikely subject matter can become a musical. Take Carrie, for instance which I saw in its original Stratford production before it went on to lose millions as a notorious Broadway flop. These are my thoughts on some TV shows which are just right for musicalisation!
Five – Poldark
No re-casting need here. We’ll stick with the stars of the current BBC series, although probably cut the horses.
Four – The Great British Bake Off
Here’s a free idea for Channel Four now they’ve lost most of the stars. Re-imagine the Bake Off as a musical. I would have loved Victoria Wood to write it, so am not sure who could do her justice now. As for casting, we’ll have Dame Judi Dench as Mary and George Clooney as Paul. After that it writes itself!
Three – Dad’s Army
They’ve already proved it can survive a fresh incarnation with only the vicar (Frank Williams) from the original cast in the 2016 film (Ian Lavender appears but not as Pike). Now it’s time for the musical. With plenty of opportunities for a chorus of middle aged men who can’t all keep in step, this would also be ideal for amateur groups after what’s sure to be a hugely successful West End run.
Two – Frasier
Steinway gets a credit in every episode and both Frasier and Niles regularly get to play the piano and sing. Add to that the series penchant for farce, which suggests a modern-day Gilbert and Sullivan is what’s needed to bring this to life. I suggest Stiles and Drew, who have form in adapting non musicals ( the brilliant Betty Blue Eyes being adapted from A Private Function) and musicals (Mary Poppins and, opening soon, Half a Sixpence).
One – Gavin and Stacey
I’m not sure Gavin and Stacey isn’t in fact a non-musical version of Grease. So all that’s needed is to take Grease and transpose the setting to Barry and Essex. I can just see Gavin in Essex and Stacey in Barry doing the ‘Summer Loving’ duet. With Nessa in the Rizzo character (only this time she really is pregnant) and Smithy as Kenickie. This one does more than write itself. It’s practically already written!
Welcome to the first in my series of ‘Top Fives’ for a Friday. First up it’s the top five dogs in musicals – all shows seen by Sue in the Stalls as it happens. And I’m talking about dogs with named parts – not just those who walk on as an extra!
Five – Bruiser, Legally Blonde the Musical
The original Bruiser from the Reese Witherspoon film was played by a Chihuahua called Moonie who died earlier this year.
Four – Rufus, Legally Blonde the Musical
Monty and Ronny played Rufus the bulldog in the London production, coming from the same trainer and at the same time as…
Three – Toto, The Wizard of Oz
Razzle was one of four different West Highland Terriers who played Toto in the 2011 Palladium production. Toto in the film was played by a female Cairn Terrier called Terry.
Two – Bullseye, Oliver!
An English Bull Terrier called Butch played Bullseye in the 1968 film. His owner was Cindy Sharville, who went on to provide show business dogs for numerous productions, including the West End productions of the previously mentioned Legally Blonde and The Wizard Oz.
One – Sandy, Annie
Is there ever a time when Annie isn’t being produced somewhere in the UK? The most recent professional tour starring Lesley Joseph ended in the summer but there are amateur productions at the Theatre Royal Windsor this month and the Stag Theatre Sevenoaks in November to name but two. The first Sandy was played by a dog actually called Sandy and trained by Bill Berloni for the 1977 Broadway production. He also trained the dog in the 2014 film.
Sue in the Stalls has seen all these shows – and their canine stars – and can’t think of any other musicals which have named parts for dogs. Can you?