Enough!  Director John Doyle needs to stop his intrusive, gimmicky destruction of good material.  Currently, his production of Ten Cents a Dance is on stage at McCarter’s Berlind Theatre. His conceit is that performers who play a variety of instruments while performing on stage in some way enhance the performance.  How? The instruments and the necessity to pick-up, carry, play, and put them down again, generally has nothing to do with the material.  To many, this intrusion of instruments just appears to be a cheap way of doing a musical without an orchestra.  In this piece especially, those instruments get in the way of the performance, and the result is that the proceedings appear aimless and unfocused and the integrity of the material is severely diminished if not destroyed.  What he has done to some of the most iconic music of the theatre by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart is criminal.

Doyle won a Tony Award for his misdirection of Sweeney Todd on Broadway, but for some, it was a case of being dazzled by the “emperor’s new clothes.”  In London, where this production of Todd began its life, it was ridiculous that Mrs. Lovett would pick up a trumpet and play as Toby sang “Not While I’m Around,” and it was equally disturbing for Anthony and Johanna to sing sweetly to each other while seated on either side of the stage with celli in their crotches.   This gave new meaning to the concept of “safe sex.”  Many people in the audience lost the plot, literally, as the minimal staging did nothing to support Sondheim’s often superbly dense language.

He is also guilty of a splendidly inept production of Mack and Mabel in London.   Once again, a down-sized cast running around with various instruments got in the way of the staging.  The action that drives the show came in second to the necessity to get somewhere else on stage to grab something to pluck, bang, or blow.  There are musicals where this works, but these are shows about bands of some sort.  The excellent Pump Boys and DinettesCowgirlsOil City Symphony, andSmoke on the Mountain need the instruments because they are based on stories about people playing them.  They are written in as part of the script; they are not imposed where they do not belong.

This is the case with Ten Cents a Dance.  Supposedly, the setting is an empty bar.  It looks more like a musical instrument storeroom or the bargain basement of a large music shop.  Dreary lighting by Jane Cox does not add to the necessary clutter of the set by Scott Pask.  The program relates that Doyle is a story teller.  It would help if the audience could possibly figure out what that story might be.

Before I go further, please let me assure you that I felt the cast was excellent, and they were committed to the material – which is superb.  Malcolm Getz shows that he fully understands these songs, and he presents them well even with awkward orchestrations and unfounded thematic concepts are thrust upon them.  From what I can gather, five women play “Miss Jones,” the woman he has loved and lost – maybe?  I was told that they represent the “women” in his life, but they are all named Miss Jones, and they are all versions of the same woman which does not support this claim.  I was also wondering, at points, if he might have been a musical mass murderer, and these were the women he had killed and hidden in a variety of double bass cases or something.  If this were the case, one of the songs in the evening, the lovely “Dancing on the Ceiling” from a long forgotten musical entitled Evergreen, may have served the cause better by changing the lyrics to “She dangles overhead from the ceiling by my bed…”

In essence, the evening can be summed up as:  Man plays piano, progressively aging women in rather ugly dresses descend a spiral staircase, play a variety of instruments, sing some songs, and climb back up the staircase.  You fill in the story.

Joining Getz as Miss Jones 5, and I considered her to be the lead Miss Jones, is Donna McKechnie.  I must say, it was a thrill to see her on stage again.  She can “sparkle” just as brightly here in this train wreck as she did when I saw her in London in Can-Can or back in A Chorus Line.  She is one of those people whose personality draws attention for all of the right reasons.

None of this is to diminish the other Miss Joneses as they all show good presence and talent, but it seemed obvious that some of them may have been hired because they could play a variety of instruments and not because they sang well.  Some of the voices are not bad; they are just not strong or full enough to do justice to the wonderful songs here.  The respective Miss Jones, from Miss Jones 1 through 4 (if this helps in any way) are: Elisa Winter, Jane Pfitsch, Jessica Tyler Wright, and Diana DiMarzio.

Since the program does not give a song list with credits as to who sings what, it is a bit difficult to give credit where it is due.  All five women wear variations on the same dress by costumer Ann Hould-Ward with variations on the same red hairstyles created by Paul Huntley, so the middle three Miss Jones blended together at times.  Also, why the dresses and hairstyles seemed purposefully based on 1940’s designs and are made from a fabric whose ugliness defies description begs questioning.  The busy floral pattern of the material and brown/blue coloring does not read well from the back two-thirds of the house.  They just look like messy blobs as several of the dresses have intricate pleating and draping which further contorts the patter.  For variety, wouldn’t it have been better if it was more of a similar dress pattern but with a progressive color change that would indicate the station in life of each Miss Jones?  This too would give the audience some visual variety.  As it is, these dresses are just more clutter in an already cluttered set.

The songs that work the best in this scant 80 minute one-act are the songs that Doyle has allowed to simply be sung.  Most of the time, the Miss Joneses wander aimlessly around stage, the piano spins for no apparent reason, or Mr. Getz takes off his coat, vest, shirt, for no apparent reason – actually, it almost appeared at one point that he was rolling up his sleeves as if to exorcise these demonic women who have come back from the grave to attack him.

I honestly believe that I had more fun making up my own storyline which, like the proceedings on stage, also had nothing to do with these thirty-plus wonderful songs than I did trying to figure out what was happening on stage…but I digress.

The songs that work best are “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered” from Pal Joey and “Sing for Your Supper” from The Boys from Syracuse.  Because the ladies did not have to move quickly from one side of the set to another or climb the stairs to play in some half-lit area or drape themselves over the piano to play instruments from positions that are too awkward to describe, the songs retained their integrity and were joyous reminders about just how good Rodgers and Hart were/are.  Doyle has imposed his bizarre vision on these songs and no one has won.  What should have been an uplifting reminder of the glory of one of America’s true original art forms is a blurry, enigmatic mess.

The movement of the women on stage also destroys the opportunity to fully appreciate Hart’s often biting and always clever lyrics.  The lyrics to one of Hart’s most inspired songs in particular, “To Keep My Love Alive” from A Connecticut Yankee are almost totally lost, and the delightful “Little Girl Blue” from Jumbo is turned into a game of musical freeze-tag here.  It’s all too aggravating.

All of this saddens me as I was very much looking forward to seeing this show.  I have enjoyed Getz in his other shows and films, and the chance to see Donna McKechnie again is one I would not miss.  I was happy to have seen them; I just wish they had been allowed to do the material as it was meant to be performed: straightforward and from the hip.  There is no pretense in a Rodgers and Hart song.  In this production by the misguided John Doyle, there is nothing but pretense and the resounding thud of pretentiousness masquerading as thoughtful art.


Ted Writes a Letter to God

September 18, 2011

Dear God,

I need a favor – again. This time it’s not for me; it’s for someone named John Doyle. Please, please inspire him to do something with his life that does not include directing musicals. He’s the director of McCarter Theatre’s season opener, Ten Cents a Dance. I’ve seen three other musicals he directed, and all of them have left me feeling disappointed . No, that word isn’t strong enough. Let’s try outraged.

I know that you’ve already blessed him with supreme self-confidence and a monumental ego. He’d need those to put himself and his concepts ahead of the obvious and established talents of Stephen Sondheim, Jerry Herman, and now Rodgers and Hart.

I wonder if he’s ever really listened to the wondrous creations that Rodgers and Hart offered us, sometimes as long ago as eight decades. So many of those lovely ballads, like the title song, look into the human heart and see regret, resignation, hope and joy in the most simple and direct ways imaginable. Those songs have stood the test of time and, hopefully, will survive the disrespect and trivialization his concept and this show have subjected them to. He squandered or misused the talents of six fine performers who wandered the stage aimlessly, rushing about to pick up and discard various musical instruments to no purpose I could fathom.

I know that some people see novelty as automatically better than tradition. I sometimes do, and I have the feeling that You do as well.  Mr. Doyle has awards and a sheaf of good reviews, so it must be a matter of taste. You could give him some of that too as long as it’s closer to mine. Or Sondheim’s. Or Herman’s.  Or, especially and regretfully, Rodgers and Hart’s.

OK, So I still harbor the desire to make my living as an actor, and my Equity card is burning a hole in my pocket.  Actually, it’s just a dull-thudding reminder that I haven’t made any of my career goals – yet.  However, it would be nice if I could manage to go to an audition where I didn’t meet up with some of the world’s most interesting, if unprepared, casting directors.  I’ve been to many auditions in my life, and as a teenager, I was “typed out” of more auditions than I care to remember.  (To be “typed out” is to not make it through the door of the audition.  Some miserable sod walks down the line of hopefuls at a cattle call, looks, and simply says, “No.”  Some are nicer; they’ll add an “I’m sorry,” but the inevitable “No” will be forthcoming.)

Ravishingly Dapper Headshot of Michael Tomas Otten

Just so that you have a point of reference, this is one of the headshots I use most often.  I honestly do look like this, and you must keep this in mind as I relate the following anecdotes about the fun world of theatrical auditions.

I think I must first explain that an audition can take place absolutely anywhere.  I have been in ballrooms, on stages, in a kitchen, in an empty office that echoed worse than the Grand Canyon, and, among others, a room so small, the three of us were touching knees.  Often, there is a table or two with an assortment of people who generally do everything except watch the audition.  These can be assistants, designers, boyfriends, etc.  It is extremely annoying when the entire row of people are all on their phones, texting furiously while one is pouring his or her heart out.  In any event, I think you get the picture.  Here are just a few of the interchanges that have taken place after I have not gotten the job:

1. Casting Director (CD): “Who called you for this audition?” (Definitely not a good sign.)

Me (Knowing full well that I have not gotten this job): “Well, since I sent my picture and resume to your office, and I received a telephone call from your office to come here today, I am assuming that you called me in for this audition.”

CD: “Why would I call you in for an audition for this show?”

Me: “Because you wanted to hire me is the only reason that springs to my mind.”

CD: “No, I don’t think it was that.”

Me: “Oh.  Well, do you want me to read anyway?”

CD: “No, I don’t think so,” Then, turning to the young man on his left, “What show are we casting today?”

Me: “Well then, I hope you find whatever you’re not looking for.” (Exuent)

2.  CD (Digging through a pile of photos scattered across the table in no particular order): “Who are you?”

Me:  “My stage name is Michael Tomas Otten.  You just missed me on your left.”

CD:  “OK, thank you… Ah – Um, You look like your headshot.”

Me:  “Pardon?”

CD:  “You look like your headshot.”

Me (Looking at the others seated at the table to see if this is a joke or an ice-breaker or something): “I thought that was the purpose of headshots – to be “looked-like” and all.”

CD:  “Well, you’re a character actor aren’t you?”

Me:  “I do and have played ‘characters,’ but I have also done leads.”

CD:  “…But everyone knows that the headshots of character actors are always fifteen years out of date.  This looks recent.”

Me (Knowing once again that this audition is going nowhere): “Oh, I’m sorry.  I must have been absent that day in character actor school when they told us that our headshots should always be fifteen years out of date.  I should have gotten the notes from a classmate.”  (At this point the CD just looked at me, and the director turned and left the room by a side door.  I could hear him laughing in the hallway.  The CD just looked at me, so I left.)

3. (a personal favorite!) CD: “Thank you for coming in today.  This is a brand new play, and we’re very pleased to be mounting it.  What role are you reading for?”

Me:  “I’m sure I don’t know.   I was told to prepare a monologue as you didn’t have a character breakdown yet.  You said you would supply script pages if needed.”

CD:  “Well, I can’t give you a script if I don’t know what the part is.”

Me:  “…But I don’t know what the characters are, so I wouldn’t know what to ask for.”

CD:  “Well, we’re writing characters in and out of the show all of the time, so you need to tell us.”

Me (After standing quietly for a few seconds):  “I just think I’ll go outside and try this again later.  Thank you.”  (I was always told to be polite, even to those who are obviously deranged.)

4. CD:  “Wow, thank you.  You gave a phenomenal reading; the best we’ve had today, but I’m sorry; you aren’t what we’re looking for.”

Me:  “I know I shouldn’t ask this, but I would like to know for future reference.  What is it about me that ‘is not right’?  Am I too fat, too short, too tall, or is it the mustache or hair color?  I only ask so that I can better prepare.”

CD:  “No, that’s an excellent question.  You don’t need to change anything.  If we were looking for someone like you, you’d be fine.  However, you just don’t look like anybody.”

Me:  “Pardon?”

CD:  “You don’t look like anybody.”

Me:  “Ah, I look like – me.”

CD:  “Yes, but you’re not somebody else.”

Me (OK, by this time, I was totally confused, and I’m afraid that I said the first thing that came into my mind.):  “Who’s on first?’  (…And with that, I gathered what dignity I had left, performed a rather graceful turn, and sauntered out of the room.)

5. (One last one –  a vocal audition when I was through singing) CD:  “Wow!  Thank you.  That was wonderful.  That’s the way that song should be sung!  That’s exactly what we’re looking for.”

Me (…feeling as though I have it this time – he really seemed to mean it.):  “Thank you.”

CD: “Now, if we could just get some other actor to sing it the same way.”

Me:  “…but you just said that I did it extremely well.”

CD:  “Yes, you did, but I wouldn’t hire you.  You don’t have enough credits.”

Me (suddenly feeling like a pinball machine with not enough quarters in it):  “…but if I did it well, why not take a chance with me if it was exactly what you were looking for?”  (Actually, I wanted to ask how many credits I needed, but…)

CD:  “No, it’s too risky.  I’d rather have someone I know who won’t be as good than take a chance on someone I don’t know who may or may not be phenomenal.”  (Looking back, I can applaud his candor, but I still want to throw a chair at him.  He cast a known “friend” in the role.  He was terrible and got the worst reviews I’ve seen in quite a while.  I was too upset to gloat.)

The moral of all of this is: “Leave the ego at the door.”   I have been to many good auditions where I did well, but I knew I was wrong for the role.  They don’t hurt that bad.  It’s the auditions where I know I’m right for the role, and I see someone who is not nearly as good as me get it that hurt.    Just once, I want to look like “someone” or be known or have the correct headshot.  Ah, well…

This is a short posting today. It’s been a while since I have been able to write. Summer school has taken its toll, and I was very happy to find a recording that made the last week bearable.

I have long been a fan of Readers Theatre – I mean true Readers Theatre, not poetry slam or rhapsodic utterances that get lost in an imposed rhythmic pattern alien to the pieces. Readers Theatre, or Oral Interpretation, has its roots in the Dithyramb of ancient Greece – this was the festival to Dionysus, the demigod who was born of Zeus’ thigh, twice. It’s one of those fun stories worth reading. The Romans took Dionysus and turned him into Bacchus, and you know the stories about him, but that is enough of that.

Modern Readers Theatre seemed to originate in the 1940’s, somewhere around 1945. Some credit a Chicago theatre troupe who wanted to do Shakespeare but did not have the cast or money for costumes and sets. Others suggest that it was with the group that called itself Readers Theatre. Inc. who presented a production of Oedipus Rex in New York City. This is immaterial for this posting too, but it makes for good fodder to liven up dull cocktail party conversation. Really, look up the Dithyramb – those Greeks knew how to party!

Readers Theatre is basically taking text that was or was not initially meant for performance and performing it. It embodies all of the various forms of theatre and gives the actors involved the challenge of performing different characters in often split-second shifts. One performer can also portray a variety of characters using off-stage focus and different focal points. It really is a great deal of fun, but first and foremost, there is a respect for the material being performed. It is acted; characters are defined; it is not merely spoken to a strident rhythm in the same manner of the rhapsodes of ancient Greece who traveled the ancient world with their various tales which were augmented by anyone with a few drachmas to spend.

What does any of this have to do with a modern day CD? Not much really, excepting that it’s a wonderful Readers Theatre production of a text written by novelist E.B. White. The piece in question is The Trumpet of the Swan, and it’s wonderful. Marsha Norman of Night Mother fame has voiced this material for a stellar cast that includes John Lithgow, James Naughton, Kathy Bates, Jesse Tyler Fergusen, Mandy Moore, and Martin Short, and the results are simply charming.

The story centers on Louie, a Trumpeter Swan who is born without a voice. Through a series of events, he is befriended by a young boy who teaches him to write on a chalkboard that is hung around his neck, and eventually, his father steals a trumpet from a nearby music store, so Louie gets his “voice.” I don’t know why this story has affected me as it has. It is gentle, positive, and reassuring in some way, and the performances are just wonderful.

Even though Lithgow is excellent as both the boy involved in helping Louie and the narrator (the boy’s older self), I find James Naughton’s commitment to the role of the father to be the most endearing. The scene in which he steals the trumpet along with the voicing of his self-recriminations for a lack of morality still make me laugh on the fifth hearing.

It’s a wonderful example of what Readers Theatre should be. This was a text that was written to be read, but Norman’s care in scripting it leaves the listener with a sense of joy that is sadly missing in today’s world.

This is all beautifully scored by Jason Robert Brown with some wonderful trumpet work by Christopher Michael Venditti. Peter and the Wolf has long been a favorite of children, but that obnoxious brat and the stupid duck are no match for the lessons being taught in this piece that contains the moral of “Be true to your dream, and you can overcome any obstacle.” I defy anyone not to smile when they listen to this recording.

This took me back to my years in college and the many performances of Readers Theatre I was in under the direction of my dear friend Dr. Annette Mazzaferri whom I miss very much. This is so beautifully simple and effective that it reminded me of how unnecessary it is to have million dollar sets and over-the-top costumes. They are not needed as long as the source material is superb, the adaptation intelligent and moving, and the performances sublime. This is a CD that will be played many times in my home. I need the reinforcement that good can happen; I teach English composition.

Among the trends in theatre lately is another frightening one.  Some directors seem to feel that it is acceptable to impose any theme or idea they want on an existing script regardless of that concept’s validity.  For example, recently I saw a production of MACBETH where the director decided that all of the actors, male and female, would take turns playing both Macbeth and Lady Macbeth.  Each passed the crown to the next performer in line to express the theme that “there is evil in everyone.”  MACBETH does not contain the theme “there is evil in everyone.”   The major theme of “blind ambition corrupts” has been good enough to make the play successful for almost four hundred years, but that’s not good enough for that production’s director.  The result was annoying for those who knew the play and totally incomprehensible to those who did not.  This can also be seen as a lack of trust in the material or in the audience’s ability to understand it.

Shakespeare has long suffered from the frenzy to make his work “more accessible” and “more relevant.”  Once again, the works have survived and have been constantly performed, and the fact that these plays have survived in spite of all of the meddling by many misguided directors is a testament to the quality of the work.

Over the years, I have seen operas fall prey to the same treatment.  At times, these unusual treatments work.  Quite often, they don’t.

I have almost always enjoyed going to English National Opera productions.  They often do operas that I would not otherwise get to see, and they often approach the material in interesting ways.  Although not all of these approaches are successful, the singing and playing are generally first rate, so any visit to ENO is worthwhile in one way or another.

Recently, Terry Gilliam of Monty Python fame staged Hector Berlioz’s THE DAMNATION OF FAUST, and he imposed his own theme on the piece, a theme that is not in the original, and a theme that overshadowed the themes and story already decided upon by Goethe or Berlioz.  To be fair, this version of FAUST is not generally considered an opera.  Berlioz himself considered it a légende dramatique while many others consider it an oratorio.  However, it still has its basis in the Faust legend which had absolutely nothing to do with Nazi Germany or the Holocaust.

I want to make clear that Gilliam is responsible for three of my favorite films: THE ADVENTURES OF BARON MUNCHAUSEN, TIME BANDITS, and BRAZIL.  I generally like his approach and off-center attitude towards things, but here, he has allowed his “vision” to overpower what the work’s creators provided, and he does a disservice to the material as a result.  It really looked as though he did not trust that Berlioz’s glorious music would continue to carry the original, simplified plot along as it has since the work was written in 1846.

Before going too deeply into the problems, credit must be given to the superb cast and musicians.

I was thrilled to see and hear Christine Rice again after enjoying her as Carmen last year.  Her Marguerite is simply glorious from her soaring highs to earthly chest-voice.  Her most famous aria, “D’amour l’ardente flame” (“Love is an ardent flame”), is absolutely stunning even though it was bizarrely staged.  She is obviously a talent with few limits as I have now seen her handle beautifully two very diverse women’s roles, each requiring entirely different approaches.  I can hardly wait for my next opportunity to see and hear her.

Her Faust, Peter Hoare, has a huge hurdle to overcome in this production, but Hoare, who has had an interesting and varied career, is still able to shine.   Because of Gilliam’s concept, Faust almost become secondary or even tertiary to Marguerite and Mephistopheles.  Hoare’s clarion voice effortlessly presents Berlioz’s emotionally drenched music, and as long as you don’t look too closely at him (as he resembles a cross between Eraserhead and a member of the Irish Band Jedward with a ridiculous shock of red hair that makes him look the fool), he’s quite effective as the impetuous lover.

I was also impressed by Christopher Purves who sings Mephistopheles as I remember Purves as one of the members of Harvey and the Wallbangers in the 1980’s, and he is an incredibly impressive force on the opera stage.  It may sound elitist, but one doesn’t expect a rock’n’roll singer to make the transition to opera so beautifully.  He’s had quite a varied operatic career, and he not only sings Mephistopheles beautifully, but his acting is also first-rate with just the right touches of malice and irony.

Edward Gardiner conducts the glorious ENO orchestra with a deft hand here and supports the singers beautifully.  There is never any conflict between the two groups which is imperative.  When adding the committed and adroit ENO chorus, the musical portion of the evening is delightful and even more so if one just listens and does not look at the production.

Why this treatment has gotten such rave reviews is beyond me.

Gilliam has decided to impose the rise of the Nazis and the Holocaust on this fabled love story which is simply unnecessary and removes the focus from the fall of Faust and the seduction of Marguerite while often ignoring the text, and I have always found this kind of distortion unconscionable.

Here, Marguerite is a Jewess and is not sentenced to death because she accidentally kills her mother by overdosing her on a sleeping drug so that Faust can visit her.  In fact, as far as I remember, it isn’t even mentioned here.  Instead, Marguerite is taken to a death camp after what appears to be Kristallnacht.  There is alsosubstantial staging dedicated to the anti-Semitic dealings of the Nazis which further detracts focus from Faust’s quest and Mephistopheles’ conquest.

Now, the original libretto by Hector Berlioz, Almire Gandonanière and Gérard de Nerval does not include very much of a story, so it might be a temptation to directors to “flesh it out.”  However, some common sense with the libretto should prevail.

I was not taking notes during the opera, but a few awkward moments were so jarring that they remain fresh in my memory.  During the “love scene” between Faust and Marguerite, they both sing about the rapture of being in each other’s arms.  This is a lovely moment except for the fact that Faust is inexplicably washing Marguerite’s feet at that moment.  Why would he wash her feet?  He shows no other signs of a foot fetish.  They both sing repeatedly about this, so I guess the audience is supposed to ignore that aspect.

Another moment that is ruined is when Marguerite waits in vain for Faust to return to her.  She clearly sings about “standing at her window,” but because of the imposed themes, she is sitting on a suitcase in a darkened boxcar on the way to a death camp when she sings this.  She shows no other signs of insanity, so why she should be singing about waiting for Faust to come at this point is unclear.  Hugo Macdonald translated this version of the libretto, so why Gilliam did not work with him to alter the text to fit the Gilliam vision and remove such irregularities is a wonderment.

The final scene is also problematic.  As Faust is dragged to hell and Marguerite makes her ascension to heaven, Marguerite sings what is arguably the most beautiful aria of the evening.  Here, Marguerite is lying atop a pile of dead bodies from the Nazi death camp.  This not only goes against the libretto, but it also lessens the horrific situation it is representing.  Judging from the comments I overheard at the end of the opera, it also confused quite a few of the audience members who simply did not realize what was happening.  This, coupled with Faust in a straightjacket being strapped and suspended upside down to a swastika, seems to get further away from the sources and overwhelmed the intentions of both Goethe and Berlioz.

I’m afraid that this approach is a bit to “Emperor’s New Clothes” to me.  No, it is not acceptable to do anything one wants to a script.  As far as I’m concerned, directors and designers have a responsibility to uphold the integrity of the material while making a production interesting.  The saving grace here (no pun intended) is that the glorious singing and playing are still there when your eyes are closed.

Well – I have a post script – unfortunately.

A disrespect for material far greater than this production of THE DAMNATION OF FAUST has also been perpetrated by ENO.  Christopher Alden has staged a repugnant MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM that voids every aspect of Shakespeare’s most magical play.  Set in a dingy gray boys’ school devoid of color, soul, and humor, this DREAM keeps much of Shakespeare’s text as delivered by Benjamin Britten’s music and simply ignores it.  This has been called intelligent by some critics, but it must be one of the most dismal productions I have ever seen.

Alden’s Puck is a damaged school boy who was seemingly abused by the callous Oberon as headmaster.  His Titania is an oversexed music teacher who ends up in a basement “bower” with Bottom who is made to look like an ass but he wears no ass’ head.  The purple flower that causes people to fall in love seems to be a joint, but it’s hard to tell since everyone, children’s chorus and all, seem to be lighting up.

This production is a travesty.  Why bother to use an existing libretto if you’re just going to ignore it?  I pity the singers as once again, the singing is lovely, but they’re forced to perform such ludicrous actions.  Some seem decidedly embarassed.  The promo from ENO promises a “richly romantic and fantastical score,” but the fine orchestra as conducted by Leo Hussain delivers a sound as tedious, grey, and soulless as Alden’s production.

Didn’t anyone in administration have the sense to say, “No”?  The entire production and design staff should be ashamed.

…Sorry – One more.

SIMON BOCCANEGRA at the ENO is equally as gray as the MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM.  I guess when one modernizes an opera, it’s “hip” if it’s black, white, and gray, and one cannot possibly pick the leads out in any crowd scene.  Someone mentioned that the set looked like a “job center in Lewisham.”  This is not a complement, and I agree with it totally.  The famed Council Chamber Scene is reduced to a disjointed mob scene without any of the grandeur it demands.  I don’t even want to go into why Boccanegra ends up with a folded newspaper “hat” on his head.  What a farce this production is!

Ah well…  Now I am getting off the soapbox.  I need a rest.



In London, one of the shows that’s opening this summer seems to be getting most of the attention.  That show is a musical version of the hit film GHOST with a book and lyrics by Bruce Joel Rubin who won an Oscar for his original film screenplay and music and additional lyrics by Dave Stewart and Glen Ballard who have been fixtures in the music world for quite some time.  Word of mouth is that it’s excellent and will no doubt follow in the footsteps of BILLY ELLIOT, SISTER ACT, and PRISCILLA QUEEN OF THE DESERT and will be seen on American shores soon.  When I heard about this show, I began to realize that there has been a trend, a somewhat unsettling trend if one thinks about it, in musical theatre lately.  Although there are still totally original shows, there are far more musicals, especially in London, that spring from non-musical films.

This is not a new phenomenon – over the past few years Broadway has seen it in shows such as DIRTY ROTTEN SCOUNDRALS, LEGALLY BLONDE – THE MUSICAL, and SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS, but there just seems to be more of them now.  Not only are there shows based on live action films, but stage musicals based on animated features like SHREK – THE MUSICAL and THE LION KING are popping up with more frequency.

While I was thinking of this, I realized that a recent trend that is fortunately dying out was the “and then we wrote” musical where a show was cobbled together about a singer or group using their music.  Shows like BUDDY and JERSEY BOYS have been around for a while, but this type of show was generally in a revue format.   Often, when a story is imposed on a group of songs like this, it is either extremely weak or superfluous; It’s only there to frame the songs.  Since people are basically going to hear the music anyway, audiences don’t seem to miss plot.  BUDDY is one such musical, the brief story only linked songs by The Crickets and people like Richie Valens and the Big Bopper.  It ran for 13 years in London while other, much better musicals failed.  Many audience members made annual pilgrimages to see the show because they loved the music so much.  It wasn’t so much a “musical” as it was a concert, often with the audience singing along – obscuring the “show” for anyone who was there for the joy of a book show.  JERSEY BOYS is a better for us “traditionalists,” but it is still not a “musical” in the truest sense.  Here, the show is only a reason to hear the songs.

MAMMA MIA! is different.  The music ABBA made famous has been interestingly interpolated into an existing story.   This story was adapted from a 1968 film and a failed 1979 musical.  The original film, BUONA SERA, MRS. CAMPBELL, was written by Melvin Frank, Denis Norden, and Sheldon Keller and was then taken by Alan Jay Lerner and Joseph Stein for CARMELINA, a Broadway musical that ran for only 17 performances.  They got it right with MAMMA MIA!, and the show is currently playing in eight cities around the world and touring on three continents.  Here, a way has been found for the ABBA music to be a part of the story, and it works beautifully.  Of course, it is wonderful music, and that doesn’t hurt.

…But I digress.

Now, we’re facing more movies being adapted for the stage as musicals.  This is moderately risky since even film musicals adapted for the stage haven’t always worked.  Productions of SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS, STATE FAIR, GIGI, and CALAMITY JANE all failed at the box office although they sometimes do well touring.  However, adaptations such as BILLY ELLIOT and SISTER ACT are mostly intelligently done, so they work.  ELLIOT is the more successful of the two from an artistic standpoint because all aspects of the music (with the excepting of one number that is cheap in comparison – a song and dance done with large dresses that just doesn’t fit with the rest of the show) are more intrinsically combined.  The nuns in SISTER ACT are sublime as is their music by Alan Menken and Glen Slater; however, the music for the secondary characters, especially the “thugs” gets tiring and is just too silly and trite.  On the whole, however, the show is joyous and leaves one’s face sore from smiling so much.

The other films to musicals that started in Britain include: DIRTY DANCING (which is closing soon in London and has no new music, just rehashed “classics.”), MARY POPPINS (which seems a little long but is still fun and wonderfully staged – especially Burt tap dancing around the proscenium.), and PRISCILLA.   The United States has added its share with THE LION KING (currently in seven cities around the world.), LEGALLY BLONDE, SHREK: THE MUSICAL, and XANADU (which was more of a nostalgic comment on the trendy elements of an era – sweat bands, roller disco, and leg warmers) than it was an attempt to retell the original film’s story), and the latest film to musical on Broadway which is receiving good notices, CATCH ME IF YOU CAN.  Terrence McNally based his book on the 2002 film and Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman of HAIRSPRAY (Oh, wait… I forgot about that well adapted John Waters film to musical – There are far more than I first thought!  IT’S AN INVASION!) fame did the songs.  It’s received five Tony nominations and mixed reviews.

Oh, in London, there is also an upcoming production of a musical based on Roald Dahl’s MATILDA which started at the RSC in Stratford and has a score by Tim Minchin, an Australian comedic musician.  The show got excellent reviews, and it will be interesting to see how it travels.  Currently, on stage in London is BETTY BLUE EYES, a musical by Dave Stiles and Anthony Drewe (of HONK! fame) that has also received excellent notices.  I hope to see that show soon, and I’ll let you know what it’s like.  Oh, I failed to mention that it’s based the quirky 1984 film starring Maggie Smith and Michael Palin, A PRIVATE FUNCTION, that has to deal with 1947 Britain and a pig that isn’t quite up “to code.”

One last show that has come to mind is THE WIZARD OF OZ.  This has been kicking around as a stage musical with varying degrees of success for generations.  About twenty years ago, the RSC did a charming production featuring Imelda Staunton as Dorothy.  I only wish they had recorded her instead of the following year’s cast.  Now, Andrew Lloyd Webber has used this iconic film as his latest reality program to find a “star.”  Previous musicals subjected to the public voting for leads were OLIVER, JOSEPH, and THE SOUND OF MUSIC.  Webber drums up publicity for the show by having an extremely nasty competition for leading parts where the TV audience gets to “vote” for the winner(s).  The TV shows draw huge watcher shares, and millions of Brits vote. I was told that the next one up is JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR.  Is there really a need for a revival of SUPERSTAR?  The last one in London was chaotic and seemed very dated even though they tried to modernize it.

In any event, my issue with OZ is that Webber did not leave this score alone.  He’s cut some of the Arlen / Harburg songs and replaced them with his own.  I’ve not seen this one either, but to remove “If I Were King of the Forest” is tantamount to sacrilege in my book.  Also, the Wicked Witch of the West has been given a song.  There was good reason why she didn’t get one in the first place.  She’s the bad “person”; we don’t want to care for her.  I was also told, and I will see this for myself, I hope, that the song given to her is not particularly good.  One friend said it sounded more like something one would expect to hear the orphans singing in ANNIE.  I think I’d like to see this.

As they say on those “as seen on TV ads,” “But wait!  There’s more.”  Broadway also saw some other film to musicals that only hat short stays in recent years.  Shows like ELF with a book by Thomas Meehan and Bob Martin, lyrics by Chad Beguelin and music by Matthew Sklar lasted only for 57 performances.  Dolly Parton’s 9 TO 5 seemed to be a hit with audiences, but it still only ran for 148 performances.  Finally, WOMEN ON THE VERGE OF A NERVOUS BREAKDOWN based on the film by Almodovar might have seemed an odd choice for a musical, and the show with a book by Jeffrey Lane and music and lyrics by David Yazbek played only 69 performances.  The film itself seems to have been forgotten, and it looks like the musical will soon be forgotten too even though it boasted a cast headed by Sherie Rene Scott, Patty LuPone, and Brian Stokes Mitchell.

Are/were there new, new musicals?  Yes, and many have been good according to reports.  (I really must get out more.)  I think I’ll just list these:

  • THRILL ME, which is currently making the rounds In London and around the world it seems, is a “two-hander” about Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb with music and lyrics by Stephen Dolginoff – a disturbing story that is well told.
  • BLOODY BLOODY ANDREW JACKSON got some very interesting word of mouth notices, but the show with music and lyrics by Michael Friedman only lasted 94 performances.
  • NEXT TO NORMAL ran for 733 performances in New York and won the Pulitzer Prize.  The book by Brian Yorkey deals with the trials of a disjointed family as the mother loses her battle with bi-polar disorder.  The lyrics are by Yorkey and music by Tom Kitt.
  • THE BOOK OF MORMON is wowing audiences in typical Trey Parker and Matt Stone fashion, and it garnered 14 Tony nominations.  The book by Robert Lopez, Matt Stone, and Trey Parker deals with two young Mormon missionaries who are sent to Uganda, and they try to bring scripture to a people who are more concerned with staying alive in a world run by a brutal warlord and are overwhelmed by extreme poverty and diseases like AIDS.  The missionaries aren’t the brightest pair, but they somehow survive.  Robert Lopaz of AVENUE Q fame joins Parker and Stone in creating the music and lyrics.
  • THE PEOPLE IN THE PICTURE stars Donna Murphy as a grandmother who looks back at her life in a resilient Yiddish theatre troupe and the horrific events of the Holocaust.  Murphy is also up for a Tony.
  • THE STORY OF MY LIFE ran for only five performances.  Neil Bartram’s and Brian Hill’s musical followed two friends from the age of six to thirty-five.  It was described by some as a “sweet little show” and, as such, was derided by many critics.  It’s difficult for a two-hander to survive on Broadway with negative to dismissive reviews.  Many, however, thought it an incredibly moving show.
  • THE SCOTSBORO BOYS was the last collaboration for Broadway legends John Kander and Fred Ebb.  The book by David Thompson deals with the infamous trial and injustices done to the nine young black men in Alabama.  As with many musicals and shows that deal with sensitive issues, audiences and critics were divided.  Some thought it brought the issues into new light; others thought it trivialized a horrible event and period in American history.  As a result, the show ran for only 49 performances.
  • I don’t think I have to go on about WICKED based on Gregory Maguire’s novel with a book by Winnie Holzman and songs by Stephen Schwartz which continues to do well on Broadway and in England and Australia.  There are also two touring companies in the United States and two in Canada.  Is there anyone remotely interested in musicals who doesn’t know that the leading character, Elphaba (a.k.a. The Wicked Witch of the West), got her name from the name of her creator, L. Frank Baum? However, shouldn’t it have been Elphraba?

My little tirade is over.  Don’t get me wrong; I love most of these shows, and I love musicals in general.  It just scares me to think that this may be the trend, and we’ll see fewer original shows on Broadway or in the West End.  I just finished an argument with someone regarding these being “original” shows, but this just doesn’t ring true somehow.  I know it takes the same amount of effort to write these shows as it does those with original books, but I’ve seen these stories already.  I think audiences deserve more than the same stories with songs added.

I know I’ve missed some, and for “re-hashed music,” I didn’t mention WE WILL ROCK YOU which has defied the odds and played for ten years at London’s Dominion Theatre.  It’s a futuristic story with some of Queen’s best known and loved songs woven into it much like MAMMA MIA! but with a little more difficulty.  It’s still great fun.

I’ll get off of my soapbox now – for a little while.

The best performances do not always have to occur on a stage, and I had the joy of watching a true “pro” at work in Disney’s Hollywood Studios.  Her name is Evie Starlight, and from her incredible magenta heels to her feathered hat, she is a rare bird indeed.

For me, since it seems that I can no longer go on roller coasters and since they have increased the drop on Tower of Terror to continually go up and down in a nauseating frenzy, there is little that I generally expect to do at the Studios.  It was a hot day when we were there last month, so we did a great deal of sitting.  During one of those sits, we met and were accosted by Evie and had the most enjoyable twenty minutes in the park.

Evie has a back story; I am sure that she has several.  In one, she was valedictorian of her high school where she was voted “most likely to win the Nobel Peace Prize.”  While she was bird watching – because she could not get a date with any boys – she was hit by an albatross and fell out of a tree onto her head.  Unfortunately, this rendered her useless for her chosen profession in rocket science, but from then on, she walked with a “wiggle” which proved to be highly profitable.   One could really love a woman like that.

Evie is so committed to being “Evie” that she handles any situation effortlessly – at least, those situations we were fortunate enough to see.  With a voice that ranged from a gurgling, shrill nails-on-blackboard mania to a husky baritone, Evie dealt with a blushing young man who was celebrating his twenty-first birthday – he blushed more when Evie was through with him – to a group of giggling pre-teen girls where she managed to make each one “special” for a few seconds.   I absolutely adored it when she told a woman who wanted a picture with her about her latest film.  When the woman tried to explain that she did not “speak English,” Evie immediately countered, “That’s alright honey, neither do I!” which she followed with an uproarious cackle.

Her memory is incredible.  She stopped in the middle of the street to size me up, and when she saw my “anniversary” button, she congratulated me and asked me how many years I was celebrating.  When I told her it was twenty-seven, she screamed and very loudly exclaimed, “Twenty-seven?  That sure ain’t a Hollywood marriage.  They don’t last a year!”  She kept this going for the next twenty minutes or so by stopping in the middle of a conversation with someone else to look over at me and scream, “Twenty-seven?”   Her timing is impeccable.

Apparently, I’m not the only Evie fan as there are videos of her all over the internet, so her vocal talents can be appreciated as well as her improvisational skills.

Unless one is born to it, improve can be deadly, and there are varying degrees of successfulness in the park inhabited by Evie and the other citizens of Hollywood with some of them being forced and unconvincing.   I don’t know how much of Evie is a background given to her and how much is her creation, but the result is joyful and not to be missed.  I hope that I don’t ever meet a real person like her,  but I will happily look for this creation the next time I visit the park.


February 22, 2011

I wanted to post this review of THE HOW AND THE WHY after we saw it, but after reading it, I felt that it might cause people not to go see the play. New plays need audiences, especially during talkbacks and the like, so I decided to hold back on the posting. Unfortunately, life got in the way, and I am very late in getting it on the blog. In any event, these are my views of this new play and the recent McCarter Theatre production.

     Two women faced many unanswered challenges in Princeton’s McCarter Theatre Center’s world premier production of Sarah Treem’s THE HOW AND THE WHY in their intimate Berlind Theatre which ran through February 13. The main difficulty facing this script is that there is more “how” than “why,” and the unanswered questions overwhelm the situation. It is not a bad play, and it offers a great deal of information and impetus for discussion; however, it simply does not offer the audience any kind of cohesive sense regarding why it happened.
     This two-hander featuring Mercedes Ruehl as Zelda and Bess Rous as Rachel Hardeman begins with the extremely uncomfortable first meeting of a mother and daughter twenty-eight years after the mother gave the daughter up for adoption. Rachel has become an evolutionary biologist like her mother and the man by whom she was impregnated – he never knew about Rachel. Coincidences multiply rapidly as the two women talk, and it is revealed that they both developed theories concerning menstruation in humans. Zelda’s theory, which came when she was twenty-seven, is based on an actual 1957 theory by George C. Williams called the Grandmother Hypothesis which outlines that women go through menopause in order to become caregivers in the community and ensure its continuation.
     Rachel’s theory in the play is based on the 1993 theory by Margie Profet which contends that menstruation is a woman’s body’s defense against “pathogens transported by sperm.” In other words, a woman cleanses herself against the onslaught of germs carried by sperm in order to survive. Shortly after Rachel and Zelda discuss this near the opening of the play, the first “why” question begins to form. Why, if Rachel’s theory deals with the concept that a woman’s body is repelling germs introduced by a man and is, in a sense, protecting itself from that man, does Rachel’s character sublimate herself to a man, her boyfriend Dean who is also an evolutionary biologist, and is willing to give him half of the credit for this discovery so that she can keep him?
     The insight that could have come from the discussion between these two women as to why the woman who developed the theory regarding nurturing gave up her child and never married and the woman who looks at menstruation as a defense against the invasion of men seems desperate to keep one would have been so much more interesting than some of what is discussed but never answered here. The psychology which would have given these two characters so many more shades of meaning is sadly never approached.
     Zelda gave up Rachel when Rachel was six days old. No reason was given. It is intimated by Rachel that Zelda put her career first, and, I suppose, that a lack of denial from Zelda is supposed to stand as affirmation. However, there is so much missing from this back story. Zelda was twenty-eight, unmarried, and because of complications with the birth, had to have a hysterectomy – which also seems coincidental – so she might not have felt that she could keep Rachel. She might have felt that she was not the right mother. The audience never knows. No, it is not necessary for all questions to be answered because life does not offer answers for everything, but it does offer answers for some things. Zelda knows why she gave up Rachel. Couldn’t the audience?
     Rachel appears in Zelda’s life a short while before a major conference is to occur at the college where Zelda teaches. In fact, Zelda is on the board of the conference to which Rachel applied but was not accepted. Rachel tells Zelda that she “called” the adoption agency and found out who Zelda was which seems highly unlikely, possible, but unlikely, and all of this occurred after Rachel was rejected from the conference. Did Rachel know who Zelda was and only now chose to find her for her own gain? Rachel is filled with anger towards the woman whom she says “gave her birth” but is not her mother, and their meetings are terse with Rachel being highly uncommunicative except about her theory. Also regarding Rachel’s theory, it was supposedly championed by a former student of Zelda’s who then attacks Rachel when she delivers her paper. Was it championed so that this third woman could also make a case for her theory which has something to do with menstruation in other animals such as chimpanzees?
     One last why, although there are several others, is why Zelda worked to get Rachel a conveniently vacant spot in the conference. Zelda seems neither happy nor upset with Rachel’s arrival. Could this, however, be Zelda’s way of punishing Rachel for ferreting her out after twenty-eight years? Zelda sees some possible problems within Rachel’s theory and briefly mentions them but does not stress Rachel’s need to address them. Rachel does not, of course, and she suffers from the attack as a result. Rachel loses Dean because Zelda tells her to deliver her theory alone, and Rachel believes she has been ridiculed by the conference attendees. She is demoralized, but Zelda does not seem to mind.
     Treem seems to be trying to use the biology the way Tom Stoppard has used math, science, and physics in plays such as ARCADIA and JUMPERS. They are similar here in that the biology seems to be the reason for this reconnection and all that follows. However, the characters are not realized deeply enough to be able to fully understand them. Even their basic motivations seem shrouded in too much mystery. It’s difficult to root for a character one doesn’t know or fully understand. Rachel just seems to be a miserable woman who never matured. Zelda is a true cipher who seems, at times, to enjoy manipulating Rachel only to offer caring advice. Which is it?
Rous does a creditable job with Rachel. She does look for levels and variety in the character which is mostly written to skulk around the stage in fits of pique. Rous does work to make her vulnerable and agreeable at times. On opening night, Ruehl seemed a bit unfocused and often had to struggle for lines, so it was difficult to tell what her motivations were. Perhaps those motivations and some of my whys were cleared up when Ruehl became more comfortable with the role. As it is, the pacing of the evening lurches as Ruehl works to retrieve a line. She does, however, have some excellent moments which seem to center around some of Treem’s more “Neil Simon-esque” lines.
     The star of the evening is the set by Daniel Ostling. The first act set of a university office, not unlike Princeton’s in feel, is extremely well detailed and beautifully realistic as is the second act “seedy bar” set that even includes cluttered tables and mismatched furniture.
     Is THE HOW AND THE WHY a bad play? No, definitely not. There are many positives in this evening that still make it interesting. It is, however, a play that needs development and focus. For some in the audience on opening night, it was a thought-provoking exercise. For others, it was “tedious” and “un-eventful.” I found it interesting and filled with promise which it doesn’t quite deliver – yet.

The Off-Broadstreet Theatre in Hopewell, NJ has been a part of the regional theatre family for the past twenty-six years.  It was the first dessert theatre in New Jersey, and its fare generally leans towards the lighter side of the spectrum.  One such play is currently on stage through October 2.  SOUTHERN COMFORTS by New Jersey playwright Kathleen Clark is an enjoyable two-hander that is a bit above the usual slight comedies one generally expects in regional theatres.  The evening also boasts a splendid performance by local actress Lois Carr.

Aging is an unavoidable aspect of life; aging alone is not, but it is often a difficult choice.  SOUTHERN COMFORTS is the story of a widow and widower who meet by accident and work through their various difficulties in the hopes that they might have a future together.  Into the sparse Victorian home of Gus Klingman (Dennis McGeady) in Morris County, NJ sweeps an irrepressible Tennessee grandmother named Amanda Cross (Carr).  Gus’ life is a spare as his home.  Gus and his wife never seemed to get along in their 45 year marriage, and he never brought himself to ask why.  He has an estranged son who may stay away from him for the same reason his wife moved into a separate bedroom: Gus is a difficult man who is sedentary and set in his ways.

Where Gus would never let his wife into his world, Amanda was shut out of her husband’s.  Both men brought the terrors of the war back with them, but Amanda’s husband could not cope with nor talk about his.  He was killed in a car accident, and Amanda has made herself believe that it was an accident, but the audience is lead to believe otherwise.  Amanda who loves to travel now spends her time driving from her home in Tennessee to her daughter’s family in New Jersey.  She loves to travel; besides the war, Gus has never really left his home town.  He and his wife lived in the house next door to this one until his childhood home became available, and they moved into the house where the evening takes place.  He sees no need to travel; he has everything he needs.

There is something about the energy Amanda exudes that awakens something in Gus.  At first, he resists, but he cannot help succumbing to his feelings for her.  However, it is not all smooth going.  Amanda brings her furniture into Gus’ house along with all of her books with which she cannot live.  Gus feels trapped and rebels.  Amanda sees change as a necessary part of living; Gus abhors change, and the difficulties begin.

Clark’s dialogue is telling; she must have known these people.  There is a naturalism to the dialogue that makes these people easily recognizable, and the difficult Gus is understandable and even likeable. 

McGeady has a difficult task with Gus because he could be immediately disliked.  His performance on opening night was a bit wooden and cautious, but he may loosen up enough to find some levels to Gus that will keep him human and still be the curmudgeon he has become.  Carr, on the other hand, is simply charming from her first entrance throughout the evening.  Her accent is consistent and spot on, and she has found many nuances to this woman whom Gus compares to “a good cup of coffee” because she keeps him “awake.”  McGeady does loosen up a bit when the conversation turns to sex, a topic with which he apparently thought he was through.  Carr’s contortions as Amanda tries to broach this difficult subject are wonderful.

The evening is a relatively short one coming in at about 100 minutes with an intermission, but it’s 100 minutes spent with two charming people for whom one really wants the best.  This doesn’t happen often in theatre today.

SOUTHERN COMFORT runs weekends through Oct. 2. Friday and Saturday evenings doors open at 7 p.m. for dessert, with curtain at 8 p.m. Sunday matinees feature dessert at 1:30 p.m. with curtain at 2:30 p.m. Admission Friday and Sunday is $27.50, Saturday is $29.50 and there is a senior rate of $25 available on Sundays only. Admission includes dessert and show. For reservations contact the Off- Broadstreet Theatre at 5 South Greenwood Ave., PO Box 359, Hopewell, NJ, 609-466-2766. Visit online at www.off-broadstreet.com.

Leake Street before the blight.

I remember a book from the 1970s where some “learned person” decided that graffiti was “art” and should be embraced.  The type of graffiti showcased in that book was little more than vandalism on the sides of public buildings and train and subway cars.  Although graphically interesting, the sameness left a question regarding artistic value.   However, there are a few gifted people who have taken to the streets, especially in London, to use art as the springboard for social commentary as well as some just great visual puns.  Is it still vandalism?  Yes, but it’s not mindless vandalism.   In fact, I have been told that shopkeepers often ask for paintings on their security gates or walls to promote their shops.  This is especially true with Banksy.  Like the bubble figures of Keith Haring, Banksy’s grayscale images are immediately recognizable.

Back to Leake Street which is a strange, partially underground access road that runs off of York Road in London.  When the Eurostar (which has been dubbed by some pessimists as “The World’s Longest Crematorium”) used to leave from Waterloo Station, this road was the hub for cabs to pick-up and drop-off travelers.  When the Eurostar moved to King’s Cross / St. Pancras, it shut down.  Now, there’s only a hand car wash underneath this “tunnel.”  At times, it can be a little frightening to walk through, but it’s the fastest route from the London Eye to the shops on Lower Marsh. 

When it first became redundant, the usual vandalism occurred, but shortly after that, something wonderful happened.  Street artists moved in and brought some interesting visuals to the walls.  It became an interesting place to walk through; a chance to see what topics were important to the artists.  Of course, there were simply some very good “pieces” on the walls, but some of them really worked towards statements as can be seen in some of the pictures below which were taken in June of 2008. 

To be honest, I was amazed by the dexterity shown and the product delivered by the people who were using only spray cans as tools.  I eagerly looked forward to going through this new gallery on subsequent trips.   Sadly, the blight moved in, and the vandals who were celebrated in the aforementioned book took over.  Much like the rest of the world, if someone should try to add something of merit to this “urban fresco,” another is ready to deface it.  Often with an unintelligible scribble as if to say that an image of a name, whether readable or not, is more important than anything else.   The “self” wins again.  I believe that this is the problem facing the world today: individuals are being brought up to believe that their importance stems simply from who they are, not what they achieve or create.  Right, wrong, or ludicrous, a person’s beliefs wants and beliefs should be glorified and respected.  No one needs to earn respect today; it’s guaranteed – as long as those ideas stay in line with “the majority.” 

I’m sorry; I digress.  I don’t know why I was so taken with something that I normally dislike.  I am against defacing buildings and the property of others.  I can only believe that I enjoyed this because this was an otherwise dark and somewhat derelict spot that had been reclaimed by artists.  It could not be seen from the street; it did not detract from the surroundings.  Because it was a closed in spot, it did seem that this was a new form of gallery.  It almost felt like one of the social movement I remember from the 1960’s.  Now, sadly, it’s mostly an eyesore.  At least, I still have the pictures since all of these pieces are now under several layers of paint.

I really loved this one for some strange reason.

This one used damages in the bricks for relief.

...What superb commentary.For some reason, I found this haunting.




I can only think that this is a personal statement regarding the artist's beliefs. In any event, it is a strong image.



I know they probably used stencils, but the results are still startling.

These were on station emergency exit doors.



I found this incredibly intriguing...

 If any of the artists represented here would like me to remove their image(s), please e-mail me.   Conversely, if I can credit you for your work, I will happily include your name with a piece as long as you can send me proof of your ownership.