Category Archives: Europe

“La Cage aux folles”

Volksoper, Vienna (Austria) • 10 June 2007 • 4:30pm
Music & lyrics: Jerry Herman. Book: Harvey Fierstein, based on the play by Jean Poiret. Translated into German by Erika Gesell & Christian Severin.

Musical director: Michael Tomaschek. Directed by Dennis Callahan, Heinz Ehrenfreund & David Scala. With Erwin Windegger (Albin/Zaza), Kurt Schreibmayer (Georges), Sascha Oskar Weis (Jean-Michel), Isabel Weicken (Jacqueline), Klaus Ofczarek (Edouard Dindon), Sigrid Martikke (Marie Dindon), Johanna Arrouas (Anne Dindon), Ferdinando Chefalo (Francesco), Norman Stehr (Jacob)…

This production of the Vienna Volksoper has been playing intermittently in repertoire since 1991 and it looks as if it may be leaving the stage for good as there are no performances scheduled during the 2007/2008 season. I’ve had the 1993 CD in my collection for ages and the plan to see the production had never materialised, so I ran to see this very last performance.

It was apparent from the onset that this would be a very enjoyable production. Most notably, the 30+ musicians in the pit gave an enthralling rendition of Jerry Herman’s beautiful score and Jim Tyler’s glorious orchestration, with violins aplenty, a big and generous brass section, a seductive harp, two enchanting flutes and a most beguiling oboe… That sort of sound just isn’t heard any more on Broadway these days, and it is striking that one must go to Austria to hear a Broadway score in its full glory.

The production itself is very faithful to the show and it is, as far as I can remember, the first production of La Cage I’ve seen that uses a revolving set, which in retrospect appears to be a pretty obvious choice given the demands of the numerous changes of locales. A strong and committed cast gave justice to what, in my book, remains one of the most enjoyable musicals of recent times. Well worth the trip.

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“Sweeney Todd”

Gate Theatre, Dublin • 2 June 2007 • 7:30pm
Music & lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. Book by Hugh Wheeler.

Director: Selina Cartmell. Musical Director: Cathal Synnott. With David Shannon (Sweeney Todd), Anita Reeves (Mrs. Lovett), Simon Morgan (Anthony), Lisa Lambe (Johanna), Robert Bannon (Tobias), Camille O’Sullivan (The Beggar Woman), Barry McGovern (Judge Turpin), Kenneth O’Regan (Beadle Bamford), Mark O’Regan (Pirelli/Fogg)…

Without doubt the best production of Sweeney Todd I’ve seen… and also one of the most thrilling experiences of my theatre-going life.

It’s a shame that we have to be content with seven musicians… and also that some dialogue has been cut, but the achievements of this production are such that those quibbles are quickly forgotten. The depth of Director Selina Cartmell’s work on the text (both dialogue and lyrics) is outstanding. Combining Brechtian grittiness with metaphoric representations and a solid dose of humour, the end result may be the best exploration of the work to date.

This production also shines through its use of space on the somewhat cramped stage of the Gate Theatre. It benefits greatly from the set design of David Farley, who has designed most recent productions at the Menier Chocolate Factory in London. Even the last scenes, notoriously difficult to stage due to the fast-changing locations, are a master-class in the clever usage of space.

One highlight follows another: the virtuosic staging of the first act quartet, the breathtaking “Epiphany,” a perfectly hilarious “Little Priest,” the way Johanna is represented in the asylum as a caged bird, etc… Even the two curtains are awe-inspiring.

The cast is talented and dedicated. Anita Reeves, in her purple wig, is irresistible as Nelly Lovett. David Shannon is a great Sweeney. And Pirelli is given a first-rate treatment by the excellent Mark O’Regan.

“The Sound of Music”

Volksoper, Vienna (Austria) • 16 December 2006 • 7pm

Performed in German, with supertitles in English.

The Volksoper’s production of The Sound of Music (which has played in repertory for a while) might not be as lavish as the current London revival, but it is a decent, honest production well worth seeing. It remains relatively faithful to the original, although “Something Good” has been added.

One might think The Sound of Music, with its affirmation of Austrian pride, could have become a staple of the Viennese musical theatre repertory, and that “Edelweiss” could have become a sort of secondary national anthem. No. My friends assure me it is viewed as “just another American musical.”

Well, neither Les Misérables nor Irma la Douce have become French national treasures… (and they were written by French people…)