View from The Royal Box (a.k.a. Ian Taylor’s sofa)
2020 has wrought havoc with our beloved live theatre. Not only was BLOC’s production of Kiss Me, Kate shelved for 12 months, but countless others have been cancelled altogether. Personally, I’ve had to reschedule 29 theatrical bookings because of the ongoing pandemic and have only managed to watch six live performances - Book of Mormon, Mame, Six, Legally Blonde, Camelot and Betrayal.
As a result, this year’s theatrical fixes have had to be experienced from the comfort of my own sofa – watching streamed productions or hidden gems found on You Tube. I’ve watched all the NT live productions, Netflix and Disney specials but have not included any of them in the list. I thought instead that I’d recommend some more unusual highlights, all of which I enjoyed in very different ways. I highly recommend each and every one of them.
Flowers for Mrs Harris
Available to stream via the Chichester Festival Theatre website, this is the 2018 Chichester Festival production directed by Daniel Evans, with a cast led by Clare Burt, Joanna Riding and Gary Wilmot. The beguiling musical Flowers for Mrs Harris is the story of Ada Harris, a charlady in post-war London whose drab life of dusting and scrubbing is transformed when she glimpses a Christian Dior dress in one of her client’s wardrobes and sets her heart on going to Paris to buy one for herself.
She Loves Me
Currently available to watch on Broadway HD and starring Zach Levi, Laura Benanti, Jane Krakowski and Gavin Creel, She Loves Me is one of Broadway’s best kept secrets. It’s an almost perfect romantic musical comedy with a soaring score written by Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick. Amalia and Georg work together at a modest Hungarian parfumerie and have disliked each other from the very beginning. He thinks she’s stuck up, and she thinks he’s arrogant and mean. But each rapturously writes unknowingly to the other as a lonely-hearts pen pal when the work day is done, and it doesn’t take long for the audience to see that they’ve fallen in love without realising it.
The Hired Man
Streaming courtesy of the Hull Truck Theatre Company, Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch and Oldham Coliseum, this is a soaring and foot-stomping musical by Howard Goodall based on Melvyn Bragg’s novel. Set in Cumbria in 1898 – where whippet racing and hiring fairs collide with hunting and drunken antics - this is a passionate story of John and Emily, a young married couple, and their moving struggle to carve a living from the land. It is also an epic and heroic tale of love, betrayal and loyalty, set against a backdrop of English country traditions being swept away as a new century arrives and brings with it the gathering storm of a world war.
Live from Lincoln Center / Lincoln Center at Home (You Tube)
The Lincoln Center theatre in New York - America’s equivalent of the National Theatre - has streamed a number of outstanding productions free of charge, some of which are still available to watch on their You Tube channel:
Nominated for three Tony Awards, this celebrated play by Douglas Carter Beane is both a love letter to the grand old days of burlesque and, before its time, a story of forbidden love. Nathan Lane gives the performance of a lifetime as Chauncey Miles, a burlesque comedian caught between the tug of his heart, the calling of his art and the increasingly harsh realities of Depression era politics and contemporary social norms.
A semi-staged concert version of the R&H classic wife-beater musical epic, this beautifully sung, danced and ultimately uplifting production stars Kelli O-Hara, Jessie Mueller and Shuler Hensley.
Act One (+ Act One pic)
Growing up in an impoverished immigrant family in the Bronx, Moss Hart dreamed of being part of the glamorous, magical world of show business. From dropping out of school to becoming the toast of the town, his autobiography Act One recounts the making of a Broadway legend. Wonderfully adapted for the stage by James Lapine, a cast of 22 delivers the goods in this funny, heart-breaking and suspenseful portrait of the artist as a young man.
For the next edition I’ll choose one or two productions to review in more depth – but for now, I hope you enjoy the recommendations as much as I did.
Gin, tonic, nibbles and velvet housecoats at the ready… I wish you happy viewing.