Bye bye, Bourne

LONDON — Director-choreographer Matthew Bourne has bowed out of helming chores on the forthcoming Disney stage version of the Mouse House’s 1989 film “The Little Mermaid.” The director told London friends and colleagues that the project was apparently proving “too time-consuming,” not least for someone who has a new company, New Adventures, successfully up and running.

Between an ongoing “Nutcracker!” revival, last summer’s widely acclaimed National Theater piece “Play Without Words” and his commitment to a stage musical of an altogether separate film, “Edward Scissorhands,” Bourne would seem to be showing an understandable reluctance to commit to the kind of high-intensity franchise that any Disney project represents (and which Bourne previously balked at when plans to clone his work worldwide helped contribute to his split from longtime producer Katharine Dore).

His departure from “Little Mermaid” brings with it the departure of designer Lez Brotherston, whose scenic contributions to “Swan Lake” and “Cinderella,” among other Bourne ventures, have proven invaluable over time.

Speaking from Los Angeles, Thomas Schumacher, prexy of Disney Theatricals, told Variety Jan. 8 that he wasn’t surprised by Bourne’s decision. “We all got together in December in London,” says Schumacher, “and you get a sense of these things. There was the time it would take to do (Bourne’s) vision vs. the timeline we’re on, and I don’t think they matched up.”

At the same time, says Schumacher, adding that “Mermaid” will continue sooner rather than later with another director-designer team, “I want to work with Matt; I adore him and think he’s really smart. (But) it’s just not going to be on ‘Mermaid.’ ”

‘Cirque’ sell-by date

I’ll say this for starting 2003 London theatergoing with a revival of the 1992 Cirque du Soleil extravaganza, “Saltimbanco”: The year’s offerings can only improve. No disrespect intendeded to the fearless performers — ranging in age from 6 (!) to 49 (! again) — whose high-wire acrobatics, derring-do and physical feats are guaranteed to make any spectator seem hopelessly out of shape.

And yet, returning to this lugubrious concoction Jan. 7 at least five years since it last packed out the Royal Albert Hall, I can’t be alone in finding the whole thing vaguely creepy. It’s not just the relentlessly thudding New Age music. Or the veiled homoeroticism that dares not announce itself (sometimes none-too-veiled in the second-act piece of aerial frottage, “Hand to Hand”). Or even the body-hugging costumes of the beaky cast that collectively resemble nothing so much as Malcolm McDowell’s thuggish friends in “A Clockwork Orange.”

Perhaps it’s just time for “Saltimbanco” to be put out to pasture — or, at least, its so-called “clown,” one Jesko Von Den Steinen, whose reliance on one particular audience member for some sustained second-act shtick was downright shameless. (Let’s hope that fellow is on the payroll.) Sure, the opening crowd stood and cheered at the end; that’s how cults work. But there are sure to be those who pay their £49.50 ($80) and are similarly nonplussed. In which case, as they say, if you can’t join ’em, beat ’em.

A fond farewell

It wouldn’t be right to begin the New Year without honoring the passing at the end of the one just gone of Pit, aka Jack Pitman, my predecessor as Variety’s London theater critic — as well as much much more. Newly arrived as I then was in Britain, I first met Jack late in 1983, at which point Jack was among the first to offer me work and to suggest how a fledgling American arts writer in London might actually earn his keep.

From the outset Jack — a Chicagoan by birth — impressed me with his warmth and wit, not to mention his absorption of any and all English locutions, starting with the now-ubiquitous “mate.” And when he retired in 1992 after 23 years in London, he was the first to wish me well covering a beat that he had chosen to put to one side in favor of time at his lovely home in Highgate, north London, with his wife, Ruth, and their three children.

Jack died in the family home Dec. 14 after a long struggle with cancer, but memories of his kindness and distinctive drollery live on. Requiescat in pace, Pit.

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