So, to the new Dorfman Theatre (née Cottesloe) for its opening show.
We oft whinged about its previous incarnation, but we are happy to report that the foyer is more spacious and though there’s a sense of déjà vu in the auditorium – which seems only slightly different – the seating is more comfortable, but there are still some fairly crap sightlines.
Too be fair, our seats were sold and marked as “Semi Restricted View”. We’re cheap and weren’t prepared to pay a load more money to stand and be herded around the unseated area below, or as the website off-puttingly states, “Dress comfortably, and come ready to dance!” Oh no, not us. You wouldn’t want to see us busting our grooves.
For this was The Public Theater’s Here Lies Love, a hit rock musical from New York; the glittering love child of David Byrne*, Fatboy Slim and Evita which tells “the astonishing journey of Imelda Marcos, First Lady of the Philippines, from her meteoric rise to power to descent into infamy and disgrace” in an auditorium reconfigured as a “pulsating club”. Why? Byrne’s inspiration came when he found out that Imelda loved the night life, she got to boogie on the disco ’round, oh yeah. Apparently. A regular at Studio 54, she installed a disco ball in her New York apartment and built a dance floor on the roof of her palace in Manila. Who knew?
We didn’t. But her disco obsession was about all we really learned about her during the “pulsating” 90 minutes of this show. Our seats may have been classed as “Semi Restricted View”, perhaps they should have been sold as “Semi Restricted Sound” too.
We probably caught less than 20% of the lyrics, a percentage bumped up by a rather charmingly performed harmony from a trio towards the end, which came without the thumping disco beat that drowned out much of the show. Despite this we nodded approval for the music, it’s rather catchy and Phil and Andrew (even he couldn’t resist the lure of an Imelda Marcos musical) came out humming the title track before they simultaneously morphed it into Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline”.
Phil initially found the staging pretty impressive until it became a little tiresome; Andrew declared it “gimmicky”. Pink jump suit clad ushers coerce the standing patrons around as moving platforms (design David Korins) spin or plough through them. That’s when the staff are not energetically urging them to cut the rug or corralling them into line dancing pens. Some were so caught up in it all they even applauded Ferdinand Marcos’ election win. Can’t wait for a Mrs Nigel Farage musical.
Alex Timber‘s production certainly keeps things on the move. The lighting (Justin Townsend) produces a convincingly clubby atmosphere and there’s a liberal use of projection and monitors which at least affords those in the cheaper seats (we must assume the sound was better balanced below) to read captions telling us when and where we are. Occasionally the lyrics were projected too, allowing us to understand the often indecipherable songs.
We’re taken from her poor early start, through her beauty pageant days to her meeting and snaring of F. Marcos until rising unrest in the Philippines forced her and her family to leave the country. In between, as you’d expect, there’s an array of enjoyably hideous and spectacular frocks (Clint Ramos), especially her wedding dress – which is a thing of wonder – with shoulder pads that could have drilled the Crossrail tunnel. Apparently and disappointingly there’s no mention of her infamous shoe collection, though, somehow, we think we heard her pining for shoes before she met her
shoe meal ticket.
Natalie Mendoza (who had to leave Broadway’s infamous Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark due to injury) and Mark Bautista make a glamorous Mr and Mrs Marcos, she almost appears to age with the aid of some enjoyably convincing big hair for the latter years and we grasped that she was a bit of a spendthrift (we knew that bit) and that he had an affair as we see and hear (this was dialogue – though most of it’s sung through) a transcribed text of some telephone conversations.
Perhaps it’s a better experience from the sweaty-looking mosh pit, or the sound upstairs will be sorted by the opening. We will never know. From above we could enjoy the spectacle of the audience struggling to pick up dance moves, confirming that some, at least, are much more coordinated than us.
Still, even though it didn’t really work for us we appreciated the roomy new loos, now sensibly positioned on entrance level and it’s good to greet an interestingly staged new musical with an original score, especially given the news that Thriller Live has just become the 20th longest running musical in West End history. That makes 5 jukebox shows now on the list ousting classics like The Sound of Music and My Fair Lady. WTF?
* Name droppy footnote
Phil once went to a David Byrne concert at the fabulous Art Deco Pantages Theater in yer actual Hollywood. On approaching the venue he and his companion were approached by a giggling woman who offered them her spare ticket. They actually did want a spare for a friend, but these being pre mobile days, sadly had to turn her down. The woman was an Academy Award-winning actress. Phil, of course, always tells the story that he once turned down a date with Diane Keaton.