Tag Archives: Leicester Square Theatre

Cabaret Review: Sheila Simmonds’ Christmas Cracker (Leicester Square Theatre, London)

Richard Rhodes as Sheila Simmonds.

Richard Rhodes as Sheila Simmonds.

Rating: *****

In A Nutshell

A frantic festive frolic from our Aussie Queen of home shopping. The Christmas party you wish you could throw!

Overview

Richard Rhodes, also known as Cookie Monstar, brings his other drag creation, Sheila Simmonds, to the Leicester Square Theatre for a festive romp to end all festive romps. Party games, competitions, celebrity guests, and songs agogo, this sassy songstress, storyteller, and #busylady brings all the Christmas cheer to the yard.

Structure/Writing

Rhodes, in collaboration with Stuart Saint, has created a night of true variety: a one-lady music hall tour de force. The evening goes from camp indulgences to audience participation skits, all with meticulous kitsch aplomb. It means that no-one ever really tires of a particular sketch or skit before it moves swiftly onto the next. You’ve got everything from 1990s family entertainment throwbacks, to salacious (and sometimes beautifully blasphemous) Christmas tales, songs, canapes, prizes, a disco-dancing hunk, and even a spot of roller skating.

Most surprising about the show isn’t the wonderful tongue-in-cheek shocks that pepper Sheila’s act, but that, in comparison to the sin-sational Sleeping Bootybilled immediately before and other drag shows, Sheila Simmonds’ Christmas Cracker is surprisingly wholesome. Even though there’s plenty of cheek and innuendo, what Rhodes does marvellously in this show is bottle a wonderful sense of joy, celebration, and community that comes with the season. Yes, it’s more adult than Boxing Day lunch with the grandparents (or so I’d hope!) but the smut is second place to the abundance of old school festive fun and reminisce. Each step of the way, the show is an exquisitely gift-wrapped hoot.

There is also a great sense of satire here too, especially in the right royal send up of home shopping channels. This wit also runs through rapaciously fun songs such as “The Old Pound Shop in Croydon”, where you can’t help but laugh and smile from deely bopper to deely bopper as a result of Sheila’s scathing observations and knowing nods.

Performance

Rhodes is a superlative cabaret performer, having the honour of being the first male to be awarded the title of “Forces Sweetheart” for his work entertaining British Troops as Cookie Monstar. As Sheila, the same wit and warmth is still present, just dressed instead in an Australian accent and lots of pink polyester. As is critical with any cabaret act, Sheila is able to riff off the audience’s energy and interactions with inspired moments of improvisation and spontaneous wit, making them as just as crucial a part of the show as the scandalous quips and the Werther’s Originals. You can’t help but be charmed from start to finish by Sheila’s ineffable personality. Furthermore, Rhodes must be congratulated on the excessive energy he pours into Sheila and the show, both in charisma and physicality, never flagging and always exuding a brilliant sense of humour and hospitality.

Verdict

A Christmas variety show so glamorous and lovable it makes Kylie look second rate. A perfectly bonza capture of traditional Christmas mayhem with a twist of camp and cheeky flare. Expertly entertaining. #loveit.

Sheila Simmonds’ Christmas Cracker plays at the Leicester Square Theatre, London, WC2B 7BX, on selected dates until 3 January 2015. Tickets are £15 (concessions available). To book, visit www.leicestersquaretheatre.com.

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Panto Review: Sleeping Booty (Leicester Square Theatre, London)

Up and under! Leon Scott (centre) between Paula Masterton legs. Photograph: Courtesy of Marc Abe.

Up and under! Leon Scott (centre) between Paula Masterton’s legs. Photograph: Courtesy of Marc Abe.

Rating: ****

In A Nutshell

Filthy, puerile & disgusting, you couldn’t ask for a more expertly debauched adult panto. Laugh? I nearly wet myself!

Overview

Despite allusions to Sleeping Beauty and Maleficent, don’t expect there to be much correlation between the fairy story and this panto. Exotic dancer Booty! wants to make it big. In fact, she’s destined to “take” the mystical golden schlong and thrust herself to stardom in the Pantoverse. With the help of her fairy godmother, Fairy Muff, and foppish Prince Willie Wontie, they’re on their way to achieve just that. However, Muff’s evil sister, Mangelina, has other plans.

Miss Dusty 'O' as Mangelina. Photograph: Courtesy of Marc Abe.

Miss Dusty ‘O’ as Mangelina. Photograph: Courtesy of Marc Abe.

Writing

Stuart Saint returns to the Leicester Square Theatre for a third year running with an adult panto offering. This time, instead of reviving Dick! for a hat-trick, Saint has penned a brand new panto. His previous experience with Dick! has certainly steeled him for creating the most shocking and outrageous pantos the capital has to offer.

The bulk of the narrative is mostly wallowing in absolute filth with an obscene amount of joyous knowing kitcshe. There’s everything from blow-up dolls, dildos, twerking, dogging, to some brilliantly revolting applications of “sexual detritus”, all aimed and shot directly at the audience’s faces without mercy, and it’s a hoot! NOTHING is sacred and this is definitely not for the easily shocked, the overly sensitive, or the sexually queasy. Even Operation Yewtree, as woefully inappropriate as it is to poke fun at, doesn’t escape Saint’s no-holes-barred assault. You’ll feel guilty for laughing, but you won’t really care. But as tongue-in-cheek as it all is, Saint’s application of satire, unexpected and unprecedented, provides as much a raucous source of fun as his puerile and salacious gags.

However, what actually makes this a great panto is not the filth (as brilliant as it is), but everything else. The filth is actually very mindfully held back and rationed, being far from going from one cock-gag to the next, leaving room for variety and never squeezing dry the sexual-comedy juices. If anything it’s an expert panto. All the familiar elements are there, from the sing-a-long to the “it’s behind you” moment, all executed with as much child-like aplomb as any more family orientated show. In fact, the best moments of the panto is the times when it pays homage to or sends up the “traditional” formula and genre. The “old school pantomime”/chase scene had my cheeks (the ones on my face) moist with tears of laughter, chortling with as much, if not more, glee than any quip about fanny farts or Jimmy Saville.

The only issues is that some of the moments get drawn out a bit too long, losing comic momentum in doing so and not being as tight as other parts of the panto. Furthermore, whilst Saint has done his best to make sure that as many of the panto “requirements” are ticked off the list as possible, some feel a little more shoe-horned in compared to others and/or don’t bring in as big a laugh in comparison.

However, in essence, once you strip away the explicit references, it’s an excellent panto: just as good, if not better, than anything Babs could conjure up from her career. Ultimately, without the presence of children, the stage is ripe for the taking by twisted-minded grown-ups, and Saint pulls an absolute heist!

Paula Masterton as Fairy Muff. Photograph: Courtesy of Marc Abe.

Paula Masterton as Fairy Muff. Photograph: Courtesy of Marc Abe.

Direction & Production

The tiny lounge space might be seen as a hindrance, but with a bit of ingenuity and a smear of fairy dust, Saint and his team have done a wonderful job. It’s a simple stage adorned with ivy and fairy lights, with all but two entrances. The lighting, (low-budget) special effects, and music is enough to let the masters on the stage work their magic. Indeed, the entire production is just a splattering of scene and wonder that enables the talent involved to shine through. As much as technological spectaculars and outlandish sets are pulls for other pantos, Saint and his team have made sure that the essence of what makes a panto – the writing and performance itself – is what shines through, demonstrating that you don’t need a ridiculous budget or big names to make that happen.

A very special mention must also go to Miss Dusty ‘O”s costume designer, putting Ru Paul to absolute shame!

The cast of 'Sleeping Booty!'. Photograph: Courtesy of Marc Abe.

The cast of ‘Sleeping Booty!’. Photograph: Courtesy of Marc Abe.

Cast

Saint could not have pulled together a better company to do this. Combing a mix of cabaret performers, professional actors, and comedians, all take like a duck to water to panto. Miss Dusty ‘O’, the show’s top billing, blends drag banter and panto patter perfectly to become a villain not to be reckoned with. Every punch-line is delivered with precision timing and tone, but most wonderfully it’s her spontaneity and cast-away quips that really make her a comic supernova.

Leon Scott as Prince Willie Wontie is also an absolute dream. Even though he’s a professionally trained serious actor (he’ll be in Shakepseare’s Globe’s upcoming production of Othello), it doesn’t stop him from being a tightly packed and bulging package of panto perfection. He’s got the energy and the tone that panto requires down to a “t”. Not to mention he’s distractingly handsome and probably the hottest prince (not so) charming ever!

The same praises can be said for the other cast members too. Rachel Torn as Mangelina’s side-kick, Tit-Bit, is outrageously saucy; Alice Marshall’s Booty! is brilliantly brash; Paula Masterton’s Fairy Muff is deliciously deviant; and Alexander Beck as You Look Familiar is a slick tour de farce.

They all bounce energy and delight off each other, often causing themselves to laugh on stage. They embody the very essence of panto: fun, silly, and care-free, and it absolutely rubs off onto the entire audience.

Verdict

Leave the kids at home, shut the blinds, and lube up your funny bone for a panto so dirty and hilarious it makes Ann Summers look like the Disney Store.

Sleeping Booty! plays at the Leicester Square Theatre, London, WC2H 7BX, until 17 January 2015. Tickets are £22. To book, visit www.leicestersquaretheatre.com.


Theatre Review: Siro-A (Leicester Square Theatre, London)

unnamed (1)Rating: *****

In A Nutshell

Returning to London with a new show, Siro-A continue to phenomenally push the boundaries of technology and theatre, taking them beyond the standard that they themselves trail-blazed.

Overview

A miming, clowning, magic, acrobatic, and visual spectacular at the forefront of theatre technology, humour, and imagination.

Concept

Siro-A is like nothing you’ll have seen before. Even their tag-line of being “Japan’s answer to the Blue Man Group” doesn’t really do them any justice. This “technodelic entertainment” venture is all about combining lights, sound, images, and physical performance into a show that defies imagination and dazzles the senses. Essentially an exhilarating digital circus, they’ve met with rave reviews across the globe. Indeed, this time last year saw me gushing over their previous show, with a glowing 5* endorsement. So, already knowing just how good they are, the question for me was how they would be able to better the extraordinary bar they had set last year.

Thankfully, they’ve managed to outdo themselves, even managing to produce a show that contains a majority of brand spanking new content. Whilst toying with 3D projections still forms the basis of the show, where Siro-A have outdone themselves is by excelling in experimenting with new mediums that weren’t in their last production.

Particularly, there is are whole segments that utilises live video and video looping and modulation techniques. Their approach to these segments carries the same magnificent sense of invention and creativity that is inherent in everything that they do. Even though breaking new ground, it’s just as exciting as and meticulously executed as their tried and tested material and are as surprising and as astonishing as everything else.

Furthermore, there is a wonderful balance between humour and aesthetics. The more comic segments are wonderfully wry, such as the typographical/Bretchian treatment of popular films that’s an absolute hoot, as well as a face-pace and tongue-in-check montage of Japanese culture that’s as if Terry Gilliam had worked with the Osaka Tourist Board. But there are also moments of sheer beauty and high-aestheticism that are literally awesome and stupendously arresting. “Peacock” is an exquisite rainbow-clad ballet that is as mind-bogglingly kaleidoscopic as it is sumptuously psychedelic.

Production & Performance

Whilst I’m aware that my usual format deals with two elements individually, for this show it’s really difficult to separate them. Given the rigid technicality of the show, everything about what’s done on stage, from Daichi Norikane’s video and Kentaro Homma’s music to the cast’s movement and electronic interplay, has to be precise and meticulously executed. Without a complete harmony between all these elements, nothing would work or come off effectively. Yet despite the huge margin for error, Siro-A pulls off a miraculously slick concord. The only criticism that I could possibly give is that it’s impossible to get it right 100% of the time. A box might be narrowly an inch to far to the left or right, making you notice just how exact the entire production needs to be. Given that they don’t have the grace of a larger venue to make these less noticeable (something which I picked up on with their last show), their herculean effort is as close to perfection as you’re ever going to get, getting it right at least 97% (if not more) of the time.

The cast are also a lot more athletic and energetic, adding high octane acrobatics into segments old and new to keep the adrenaline pumping and audience’s jaws permanently on the floor. Given just how precise every single movement has to be in the show, you quickly find that Keiji Miya, Fumiya, Yohei, and Toshiya Arai are all unreasonably gifted physical performers of the highest pedigree.

As well as reaching out to incorporate new electric mediums, the Siro-A troupe have incorporated more interactive segments with the audience too. Whilst it might seem like the usual slightly awkward audience participation skit that you find in family shows, it’s a marvellous surprise to find that all of it is used and inputted into the technology of the show itself, making it joyously far more than meets the eye and making you a part of their world.

But the real joy is that the result of the show on a whole is how it obliterates the line between reality and virtual reality as you end up being unable to figure out where the tangible ends and the technological beings. It’s as if GameBoy cartridges were illicit drugs: exciting, audacious, and perception-bending.

Verdict

Adults and kids alike cannot failed to be wowed by this astonishing extravaganza. Literally awesome, and proof that magic still exists in a digitally mundane world.

[youtube http://youtu.be/yHsaXQUPheE]

Siro-A plays at the Leicester Square Theatre, WC2H 7BX, until 11 January 2015. Tickets are £20 (concession and family tickets available). To book, visit http://leicestersquaretheatre.com. For more information about the group, check out their official YouTube channel.


News: Seth Rudetsky Deconstructs Elaine Paige

Officially OBSESSED! Seth Rudetsky,

Officially OBSESSED! Seth Rudetsky.

Seth Rudetsky is BACK in London next month, returning to the Leicester Square Theatre with his show, Deconstructing Broadway. This one man show is all about being obsessed with musicals and the people who perform in them, seeing Rudetsky take iconic and “ah-MAH-zing” Broadway numbers apart bit by bit with fierce aplomb and crystal-tipped wit.

In honour of his return from the Big Apple to the Big Smoke, he’s taken to YouTube to deconstruct “the queen of British belting” – the ineffable Elaine Paige – in her celebrated role in Evita.

If you haven’t already seen Rudetsky’s show, then don’t miss this opportunity to watch him tear into Broadway with style and substance like no-one else can, having garnered 5* reviews from me, GT, and Mark Shenton at his last London appearance.

He’s still got it!

Deconstructing Broadway will play at the Leicester Square Theatre, London, WC2H 7BX, on 10th August 2014. Tickets are £15 – £25. To book, visit www.leicestersquaretheatre.com.


Theatre Review: Saucy Jack and the Space Vixens (Leicester Square Theatre, London)

Cheeky monkeys! Marcus Reevers (left) and David Malcolm (right) as Dr Von Whackoff and Boobie Shevalle. Picture: Georgie Gillard. Courtesy of Kevin Wilson PR.

Cheeky monkeys! Marcus Reevers (left) and David Malcolm (right) as Dr Von Whackoff and Boobie Shevalle. Picture: Georgie Gillard. Courtesy of Kevin Wilson PR.

Rating: ****

Innuendo and smut have long been the staple of British humour. Think seaside postcards, The Goodies, and Barbara Windsor’s camping trip. As a country that has given the world “Ooh, Matron!” and sweet transvestites galore, Saucy Jack and the Space Vixens continues this grand tradition of finding fun in being very very naughty.

Since its first appearance at the Edinburgh Fringe in 1995, the show, written by Charlotte Mann and Michael Fidler with music by Jonathan Croose and Robin Forrest, has gained cult status and a fanatic following. Therefore, this off-West End revival has been much anticipated and is incredibly appreciated, especially with Leanne Jones among its cast, who won the Critics Circle “Best Newcomer” award for her role as Tracey Turnblad in Hairspray. 

Directed by well known choreographer Stuart Saint, his sturdy portfolio of cabaret and variety means he knows exactly what this show needs, and how to do it well. He’s made every effort to ensure the show is as fun, energetic, and slick as possible, but also understands the need for informality and audience intimacy for the show: this is a wild affair that is notorious for plenty of audience interaction. The musical doesn’t pretend to be Lloyd-Webber or Sondheim, so making this more Madame Jojo’s than the Palladium is just what Dr Von Whackoff ordered. Saint turns the small “lounge” space into a convincingly dingy, gaudy, and sleazy nightclub, complete with catwalk, glitter balls, and a dancing pole. The audience sit on slinky leather poofs (steady on) as if you’re actually the intergalactic audience at Saucy Jack’s. Furthermore, even before the show starts, Saint employs a support act in the guise of ravishingly voiced Leanne Osbourne, to help the audience relax, limber up, and get into the mood.

As for the show itself, it’s absolutely mad. If you ever imagined what it would be like if Kenneth Williams did cocaine with Jane Fonda, this would be it. Although often compared to The Rocky Horror Show, it’s actually more like a sci-fi B-Movie crash-landing into a panto in 1969; campy, outrageous, retro, and unabashed. You’ve got everything from drag and effeminate German stereotypes, to the cast dry-humping bubblewrap, and even a bit of light lesbian necrophilia. Not to mention more glitter and glitz than you can shake your disco-stick at.

But for all its double entendres, single entendres, and general WTF-ness, it’s actually a well written and very knowing show. Those who are more familiar with popular musical and/or classic disco hits will pick up on the torrent of cheeky little references and in-jokes throughout. These go to show that Mann and Fidler are a pair of intelligent and well versed – if not just a tad shameless – writers. But it’s also well-paced and never runs away with itself, which, given the hedonistic and crazed nature of the show, is actually quite impressive. There really isn’t a weak moment or a scene that’s just a bit “too much” to grumble about.

As for the songs themselves, they’re incredibly catchy and aplomb with fun. You’ll be humming and dancing “All I Need is Disco” and “Glitter Boots Saved My Life” for days afterwards.

The cast are also truly behind the show, despite how ridiculous it is. There is a sense of wild abandon, frivolity, and talent that comes from each and every member. Jones, though downsizing from the Shaftsbury Theatre to something you can barely swing a dead vole in, takes to the production like a fish to water. Her voice and demeanour has the power, class, and sass worthy of Space Vixen, Bunny Lingus. Further more, actor and drag artist Marcus Reeves excels in his role as the randy and limp-wristed Dr Von Whackoff, effortlessly managing to consistently upstage his rather dashing wig, and Lisa Gorgin is sensational as the busty, lusty, but dangerous Chesty Prospects.

But it’s Ralph Bogard as Saucy Jack himself who really steals the show. A veritable ringmaster of this outer space peep show-cum-circus, he chimes to the tone of melodrama villain perfectly. His comic timing, and rapport and interaction with the audience, all feel perfectly spontaneous. He performs Act I finale “Tortured Plaything” with knock-out panache and power that really marks him as an actor to watch, as well as showing what he’s really capable of after his involvement in the rather unfortunate Mile High: The Musical.

The only issue with the show is the sound. Unfortunately, the equipment in the “lounge”, being such a tiny space, means it’s not quite adequate for the task at hand. With the cast sharing a number of microphones and singing along to a backing track, but with un-amplified dialogue, the balance is not quite there, meaning at points you loose some of the words to the songs. It begs for a live band and everybody radio-mic’d up. But then, the intimacy of the venue and the how this production is set up is really something special, and it would be a real shame to loose what ultimately adds to the whole experience. Style only just about covers for substance, but if it wasn’t for such fantastic material, this would be a serious issue.

But other than that, like a fetish number from nowhere, this is a scream of a night out; a supreme guilty pleasure that will leave you whooping, laughing, and begging for more. It’s time to strap on your glitter boots and book a space shuttle to Frottage III: the Space Vixens are waiting.

Saucy Jack and the Space Vixens plays at the Leicester Square Theatre, London, WC2H 7BX, until 15 September 2013. Tickets are £18.50. To book, visit www.leicestersquaretheatre.com.


Theatre Review: Luke Jermay: Sixth Sense (Leicester Square Theatre, London)

What a card! Luke Jermay himself. Photograph: Kippa Matthews. Courtesy of the artist.

What a card! Luke Jermay himself. Photograph: Kippa Matthews. Courtesy of the artist.

Rating: *****

Luke Jermay can read your mind. Or at least that’s the premise of this show. With the seal of approval from both Derren Brown and Dynamo, this was never going to be some tawdry penny dreadful, no matter how cynical you are of such feats.

To be clear, this isn’t a “psychic” reading where con-artists exploit the vulnerability of emotional adults by asking a series of leading questions: or ‘cold reading’ as the method is know. Neither is Jermay going to tell you whether or not you’ll meet a tall, dark, handsome stranger (they’re never ginger, are they?), or the winning lottery numbers. He’ll simply read your thoughts at that moment, and will do so with frightening accuracy.

Shows like these are always going to attract sceptics and nay-sayers eager to find some fatal flaw in the process that will expose the artist as a fraud. However, Jermay’s approach is fully aware of this, and his show is aimed specifically at them. Knowing that no amount of astonishing results he can pull out of a hat will ever convince them, Jermay’s approach is very clever; he’s not trying to convince just them, but instead makes everyone leave deeply unsure.

With a slightly sinister premise for the show, and the severe-looking posters of him sporting an encyclopaedia of tattoos, you’re not quite expecting the rather innocuous and slightly shambling Basildon boy that is Jermay. None the less, as he starts to warm-up and begins to get an unsettling amount of details correct from his volunteers, his harmless nature suddenly becomes uncomfortably disarming. As the show goes on, the thoughts he reads begin to get more and more detailed in nature, taking readings both frivolous and serious from a huge range of audience members; somewhere around 20 in total.

If this is all a ruse, it’s one of the most elaborate around. For starters, he lets images selected from a pack of shuffled tarot cards lead what nature of reading he’ll do next, adding a sense of spontaneity and caprice. Furthermore, if all the audience members he takes readings from are indeed planted, then not only must the show be costing a fortune to stage, but Jermay has monopolised some of the best off-West End actors going. Those he reads from seem genuinely taken aback by what he relays. Notably, one audience member who sat next to me was genuinely shocked that he correctly got the colour of her underwear correct. Needless to say, despite knowing the importance of verifying facts as a journalist, I decided not to check. However, that’s not to say that this is implausible. You only have the assumption that these reactions and their word that they have not been approached before the show are true. But if it is all as real as Jermay says it is, then it’s a mind-blowing.

But ignoring the arguments about authenticity, what makes this show brilliant is Jermay’s superb sense of theatre. He’s never 100% right with his readings, and this is the most interesting thing about him. Whilst this might initially seem unimpressive, this air of fallibility actually makes him and his purported gift all the more intriguing. These misreadings could well be part of a more meticulous execution than you could imagine. If they are, it’s an excellent and slick misdirection. If not, then it just adds more enigma to his talent than before. This is what really sucks you in as it creates an overwhelming sense of grand drama that drives the show and your interest.

Furthermore, he does a great job of really including you as an audience. Through a few participation exercises, he makes you feel as integral to the show as those he just happens to take readings from. This sense of involvement makes you fall even deeper in captivation. He also makes sure that as unsettled as you are, there are also plenty of laughs, adding to his artillery of cheeky charms and making him seem more human than superhuman.

In short, I’m unable to tell you whether this is coup of mere suggestion or the genuine article of something that is staggeringly supernatural. But none the less, this is a humdinger of a mystery show that is as marvellous as he is mystic.

Luke Jermay: Sixth Sense played at the Leicester Square Theatre, London, WC2H 7BX, 8 – 13 July 2013.


Theatre Review: Viva La Drag (Leicester Square Theatre, London)

Proud "Marys". The Supreme Fabulettes in action. Photograph: Courtesy of Kevin Wilson PR.

Proud “Marys”. The Supreme Fabulettes in action. Photograph: Courtesy of Kevin Wilson PR.

Rating: ****

The Supreme Fabulettes are back, and this time glitzier and more dazzling than ever. Their new show, directed by none other than Kylie Minogue’s Creative Director, William Baker, is a full length romp through the decades with close harmony singing tighter than their corsets and more impressive than their weaves. For this show, they chart the 50 year story of their group, shedding light on a disgraced fourth member, Silver Summers, and introducing their Aussie dresser and “Drag Mother”, Sheila Simmonds.

All the trappings of what’s expected of a drag show are there; catty remarks, dubious double entendres, high barnets, and glittering outfits that put QVC’s Diamonique hour to shame. But what’s truly astonishing is the mixing of slick musical numbers with the standard campery creating a combination that is both rib-tickling and genuinely entertaining.

What’s more, the group never mime any of their songs. Everything is sung live and sung brilliantly. It’s done so well that there are moments that are so pitch-perfect that you’re actually surprised that what you’re hearing isn’t pre-recorded or doctored in any way whatsoever.

As for the show itself, the shtick is more outrageous than ever, causing the entire audience to whoop and howl with laughter and delight throughout the entire evening. Some of the highlights are a marvellous tribute to Kander and Ebb classic Chicago, and irreverent swipes of Pierce Morgan and TV talent(less) show, The Voice.

But all is not perfect in this sparkling spectacle. The country music medley, which included new song ‘A Drag Queen is a Cowboy’s Best Friend’ penned by Boy George (which in itself is quite fun, see below), was the weakest part, being not as confident and feeling less inspired than any of the other routines. Also, the original trio of Vicky Vivacious, Portia de Fosse, and Vanilla Lush are sometimes upstaged by their guests. Sheila Simmonds’ entr’actes are side-splittingly funny with banter as marvellous as it comes, and Silver Summers is one of the most astonishing male vocalists I’ve ever heard in heels and a wig, with a rendition of ‘The Crying Game’ that will knock your socks off. Although both Silver and Sheila are incredible and superb additions to the show, it’s a shame that they distract from the rapport and candour of the founding members that has been one of the keys to their success thus far.

But overall, the Supreme Fabulettes take drag to dizzying new heights, redefining the art of female impersonation with all its kitsch and cliché sensibilities into something that is genuinely enthralling and original. A divine night out that is more fun than you can have with your shirt off.

Viva La Drag plays at the Leicester Square Theatre, London, WC2H 7BX, until 29 June 2013. Tickets are £22.50. To book visit www.leicestersquaretheatre.com.


Theatre Review: Patti LuPone and Seth Rudetsky: Deconstructing Broadway (Leicester Square Theatre)

Here's the lady who belts! Isn't she supreme? Patti LuPone. Photograph: Ethan Hill. Coutresty of Kevin Wilson PR.

Here’s to the lady who belts! Isn’t she supreme? Patti LuPone. Photograph: Ethan Hill. Courtesy of Kevin Wilson PR.

Patti LuPone: *****
Seth Rudetsky: Deconstructing Broadway: *****

A little bit of Broadway came to London last week, and boy, was it fantastic. The Big Smoke saw Big Apple legend Patti LuPone take to the stage at the Leicester Square Theatre…wait, the Leicester Square Theatre?!

On the face of it, it seems mad that one of the grande dames of the Golden Mile should be playing such a humble, albeit well known, venue, especially when Kristin Chenoweth (almost) played to a sold out audience at the Coliseum earlier this year. However, with New York musicals producer, musical director, and radio chat show host Seth Rudetsky compeering the evening, you soon figure out that it couldn’t have been a better venue for such a marvellously intimate and informal show.

Rudetsky opened the show explaining his love of “belters”, and therefore his obsession with LuPone, through some of his hilariously observant trademark “deconstructions” of famous, but mostly infamous, musicals performances. But at the same time, he also lets us know that this is a relaxed show where not only will LuPone sing but he’ll also sit with her and have a chat as if it were his own talk show.

After a chortlesome warm-up from Rudetsky, it was time for the real star of the show to come on, and LuPone did not fail to deliver. To use Rudetsky’s own catchphrase, she’s certainly “still got it”. Every song she sang brought the house to roaring applause, especially with plenty of numbers from Evita, the show that essentially propelled her to legendary status after winning a Tony Award for her performance.

But instead of taking the chance to revel in ego and ham up the songs like some artists do in shows like these, LuPone still ensures that none of the subtleties and emotions are forsaken, but at the same time not holding back on any of her acclaimed power despite being in such a humble venue. She made me fall in love all other again with ‘I Dreamed a Dream’ from Les Miserablés, for which she was the original Fantine in its world premier, after its over exposed butchering by Susan Boyle, and showing Anne Hathaway how it’s supposed to be done.

But she and Rudetsky also took the time to demonstrate her range and experience through doing songs from musicals she’s been involved in that have yet to reach London such as The Robber Baron and Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, adding a nice touch of variety. On the night I saw she also did a heart wrenching ‘Everything As If We Never Said Goodbye’ from Sunset Boulevard, which saw herself almost burst into tears during. This was contrasted with the shameless gusto of (my absolute favourite) ‘Ladies Who Lunch’ from Company.

But what was most enlightening about the show was the moments LuPone chatted to Rudetsky. Being so relaxed and comfortable with him meant that she was incredibly candid and honest, providing a real and unprecedented insight into the world of musicals and her own career. These include some rather juicy insider accounts from the wings, and a rather unexpected opinion of Madonna.

Furthermore, with Rudetsky never quite getting LuPone to sing the exact same songs on any two evenings, or even ask the same questions, there’s a real sense of dynamism and energy that runs through the entire thing; despite having gone on for a full week already it didn’t feel stale. The result was an incredibly intimate and joyous evening with an amazing performer.

Then, for one night only, Rudetsky treated London to his own show, Deconstructing Broadway. His “deconstructions” consist of him getting right into the minutia behind some “ahmaazing”, both bad and good, performances. However, instead of just pulling apart clips and recordings, he takes the time to explain how to “deconstruct” and also explain what goes into being a great musicals singer.

Rudetsky is a fantastic comic, but this was by no means a comedy show. What it actually was is a very very funny lecture on the ins and outs of performance and how to analyse it. Isolating certain idiosyncrasies of performances for their great or terrible examples of how and how not to do things, illuminates the audience to details that would otherwise go unnoticed and uncommented upon. He then puts his humour to glorious work giving a side-splitting commentary and dissection of these. This structure and approach meant the show never got dull as it was as engagingly educational as it was entertaining. It’s certainly wasn’t a cowardly swipe at celebrities or a snide exposé, especially as he himself didn’t escape criticism: it was a wholly humorous and academic look at aspects of the musical stage and the potential glory or train wreck of the human voice.

With two perfect personalities performing two perfect shows, anyone who saw either or both of these shows during their time in London will have left all the more enriched and enlightened for it. Ahmaazing.

Patti LuPone played at the Leicester Square Theatre from 16 – 23 June 2013, and Seth Rudetsky: Deconstructing Broadway on the 22 June. For more information on the venue, visit www.leicestersquaretheatre.com.


Comedy Review: Desperately Seeking the Exit (Leicester Square Theatre, London)

Rotten tomatoes. Peter Michael Marino. Photograph: Courtesy of the artist.

Rotten tomatoes. Peter Michael Marino. Photograph: Courtesy of the artist.

Rating: ****

Back in 2007 there was a show that was even more commercially and critically mauled than Viva Forever, which announced today that it’s to close in little over a month. The show was Desperately Seeking Susan, a jukebox musical based on the film starring Madonna and using the music of Blondie and Debbie Harry. 6 years after one of the most panned and shortest running shows in the West End (it lasted only 13 days) its creator, Peter Michael Marino, has penned a one man show to analyse just what went wrong. After its huge success at the Edinburgh Fringe, he brings it to London for several weeks.

Marino is flamboyant and energetic and it’s difficult not to get sucked in by his camp charm and humour. There’s a real sense of joyful abandon that doesn’t wane throughout the whole show, despite how bitter and twisted he could be about the whole affair. But it’s not just his wit that drives the show. Part of his wonderful arsenal of talents is his delightful ability to portray the various characters involved, from the high-art English director to the fretful diminutive chorus-line dancer. All are keenly observed and excellently executed with great comic force, making them as personable as they are comical.

One of the main staples of his routine is, unsurprisingly, comparisons between British and American sensibilities and language. Despite how tired such a device can be Marino’s observations are actually quite fresh and funny. Furthermore they aren’t included merely for cheap and easy amusements, as meandering as some of them are, but illustrate the very relevant problems of culture clash that contributed partly to the musical’s downfall. It’s all part of a very deliberate formula.

Though Marino does not need much direction, director John Clancy actually adds subtle touches that enhance the show. There are little details from the pattern on Marino’s handkerchief to the significance of his t-shirt, both really well placed to compliment Marino’s persona and story. There’s even a bottle of ‘fagners’ that turns from mere refreshment into a relevant talking point and a scandalous prop. But most importantly Clancy’s tempering of pace and control over Marino’s glorious wittering keeps the momentum going, preventing it from devolving into unstructured prattle.

The only issue is the same issue that I have with almost all American one-person shows: the element of rehearsed spontaneity. However Marino does carry it much better than most, meaning it isn’t as irritating as others. But it’s still a shame as the moments where he’s more himself rather than the best imitation of himself are much more endearing and charismatic. Also, being press night he started off a little shaky, sometimes forgetting what part of the show comes next and seemed a tad too aware of the audience’s reaction, which in fairness is a little unavoidable in such an intimate/cramped space such as the theatre’s ‘lounge’. But eventually he became more and more comfortable with the show and finished with a flourish of confident gusto.

Despite the inglorious name-dropping, scathing bitching, and the acerbic observations, what really marks the show’s success is that he takes us through the waddle the musical took towards disaster with a surprisingly deft objectiveness and humanity. It’s a hilarious yet astute essay about a train-wreck, demonstrating that a great idea can be turned into a catastrophe simply by consistently having the wrong people making the wrong decisions.

Desperately Seeking the Exit plays at the Leicester Square Theatre, London, WC2H 7BX, until 20 May 2013. Tickets are £12.50. To book, visit www.leicestersquaretheatre.com.


Comedy Review: Fruit Fly (Leicester Square Theatre, London)

Leslie Jordan himself. Photograph: Courtesy of Kevin Wilson PR.

Leslie Jordan himself. Photograph: Courtesy of Kevin Wilson PR.

Rating: ****

Star of cult film Sordid Lives, and better known as Beverly Leslie, Karen’s frenemy in Will & Grace, Leslie Jordan returns to the capital after his acclaimed show My Trip Down the Pink Carpet hit the West End two years ago. This time he asks the question, ‘Do gay men really become their mothers?’ Drawing on outrageous anecdotes from his childhood and family life, he attempts to answer this. He is also supported by the astonishing vocals of acclaimed drag trio The Supreme Fabulettes.

It’s strange to refer to Leslie as a comedian as he doesn’t technically tell any jokes, but what he ultimately is is an expert storyteller who is very very funny.

What drives the entire show is his charisma and exuberance which, for someone a mere 4’11” tall, is in abundance. But it’s just as well that the stories of his family, childhood, and breakout from the two are brimming with scandal, intrigue, and hilarity. Whilst the laughs don’t come constantly when they do they’re big ones. But between these you are held by Leslie’s infinite charm and wit – he’s a narrator of the highest calibre. His tale provides an unabashed insight into a bygone period of American LGBT life and also a very personal account of growing up gay and campy in the conservative Christian American south, and the turbulent, but loving relationship he has with his devout Baptist mother.

The only problems with the show are minor. Trying to hold an audience’s attention for a full 90 minutes is no mean feat. Whilst on the whole Leslie manages to do this with ease there are one or two occasions his story tips into rambling and you wonder if he’s forgotten the question he posed at the beginning. This seeming lack of structure causes the pace to drag slightly. Also, there are elements of rehearsed spontaneity (something which is oddly indicative of American one-person shows) which are a little irritating, but at least Leslie still manages to stay sincere and down to earth despite these.

On the whole, this is an evening of ineffable charm and laughter. You leave feeling delighted and warmed by such a sweet, if not a very naughty, story told by one of America’s sweetest, if not even naughtier, comic personalities. An exquisite grown-up bed-time ‘fairy’ tale.

Fruit Fly plays at the Leicester Square Theatre, London, WC2H 7BX, until 16 March 2013. Tickets are £20. To book visit www.leicestersquaretheatre.com.