January 2, 2023

Dateline: London, UK

And now on to the important part of any trip to London, cramming in as many West End shows as possible given the vagaries of ticket availability, holiday scheduling and the like. Over the years I have seen Lena Hone, Rex Harrison, the original never replicated staging of Starlight Express, the original production of Noises Off, Les Miz, the musical version of The Lord of the Rings, and various other productions – both exceptionally good and of the ‘what were they thinking variety’. Today and tomorrow are both two show days before packing up my bags and winging my way back across the pond to some semblance of my normal life. I need another week here. Fortunately, that’s already scheduled and is due to happen at a time when the weather is likely to be a bit better.

Prior to curtain, up and breakfasted and then headed to Buckingham Palace to watch the ritual of the Changing of the Guard. Large crowd, fancy medieval costumes, and for reasons that surpass understanding, the Horse Guards band playing ‘Diamonds Are A Girls Best Friend’. I looked at David Pohler quizzically asking ‘is that what I think it is’ before we both started singing along. Any other show queens in the crowd would have gotten it but it seems to have flown over the heads of most of those assembled. I could not quite understand the choice (the piece immediately prior was Non Piu Andrai from The Marriage of Figaro which was also a bit odd given its plot function in the opera). I surmise a music director with a cheeky sense of humor or some political points to make whose superiors aren’t smart enough to get it.

From there, David and I had a few hours to kill so we headed over to Mme Tussaud’s . I had not been there for some years. It’s expanded and taken over the planetarium building next door as well as its traditional headquarters. I was disappointed that most of the historical figures from the 18th century that she sculpted from life (Ben Franklin, Voltaire) were not on display as they have been in the past, replaced by the likes of the Kardashians and Taylor Swift. But it was still good fun and we took lots of pictures. I’ve always wanted to have breakfast with Audrey Hepburn as Holly Golightly.

We then marched from Marylebone to the West End for our matinee. It was a bit longer distance than I had calculated so we had to race walk the last half mile or so but we arrived at the theater with five minutes to spare to take in the new musical version of Back to the Future. I booked tickets as I was interested in the stage craft, not because I thought that was a property that called out for musicalization. It’s supposed to arrive in NYC this summer at The Winter Garden. It needs a bit of work if it’s going to succeed. The score is pedestrian – the few musical bits interpolated from the film (The Power of Love, Johnny B. Goode) being much stronger than any of the new material. The lyrics are downright clunky – a myopia/utopia/hopin’ ya rhyme made me audibly groan causing the family in front of me to turn around and stare at me in disapproval. The first act has a number of completely unnecessary musical numbers like a big gospel production number for Goldie Wilson (the African-American guy in the diner who ends up as mayor), a minor character who has absolutely no bearing on the plot. There’s also a big song for the father when he’s being a peeping tom on the mother that’s a complete misfire. It’s no ‘Someone in a Tree’. The second act is better structured and paced and redeems the show which also ends with an impressive coup de theatre that I’m still puzzling out how they did.

Life of Pi Production Photos New Cast – taken on 7th September 2022 in London

Met up with others of the Alabama gang for a pub dinner in Covent Garden and then on to our second show, the new stage version of The Life of Pi. This was a triumph of staging with the animal puppetry being absolutely stunning and seamlessly integrating the animal and human characters. The basic design concept of the animals was driftwood sculpture fitting in to the sea setting of most of the story. It has not yet come to New York, but when it does, it’s very definitely worth seeing. I’ve never been terribly fond of either the book or the film but this production is making me rethink my relationship with the material.

And so, as Samuel Pepys says, to bed… One more full day before this week draws to a close.

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