You don’t expect to find the musical “Hair” in a 65-seat venue with a 20-strong company (16 players and a band of four). But starting Sept. 12, west London’s tiny Gate Theater will make a new production of the American counterculture classic its first musical. (Opening night is Sept. 22.) What better time, says Gate a.d. Thea Sharrock, than now?
“We’re taking this particular musical back to its roots,” Sharrock says of the production, to be directed by Daniel Kramer, an Ohioan now resident in London, where he is a Gate associate. “(Tuner) was written originally for a very disillusioned generation who did not understand why their country had taken them to war.”
Lots of afros and bellbottoms, then? Not at all, says Sharrock, pointing out Vidal Sassoon will be styling the cast’s hair. “Our vision is very New York and Gucci and stylish and good-looking.” Hippies, she says, need not apply.
Sharrock has a busy fall herself. In October, she returns to the West End for the first time since “Blithe Spirit” to direct Richard Griffiths, John Hurt and Ken Stott in Tom Stoppard‘s English-language version of French play “Le Vent des Peupliers.”
After that, it’s back to the Gate and another dip into the American canon: Eugene O’Neill’s rarely seen “The Emperor Jones,” opening Nov. 21.
Ball bounces to B’way
It’s Tony time, which means U.K. tuner star Michael Ball is once again taking Britons through the previous Broadway song-and-dance season in his fourth annual “Ball Over Broadway” series for BBC Radio 2. (The first of six weekly shows aired June 3.)
The original London and Broadway lead in Andrew Lloyd Webber‘s “Aspects of Love” most recently won raves for taking over from Michael Crawford on short notice in the West End’s “The Woman in White.” So what did a man so steeped in London tuners make of the current Broadway array?
“It looks like a lot’s happening,” says Ball, who returns to New York starting Sept. 10 to headline Gilbert & Sullivan’s “Patience” at New York City Opera, “but I wasn’t as excited as I have been in seasons before.” Why not? “There’s a lot of fairly safe material going on. Everyone’s been raving about ‘Spamalot,’ and I had a really nice visit there, but it wasn’t ‘The Producers’ by some measure.”
Ball is devoting a program each to “Monty Python’s Spamalot,” “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels,” “Brooklyn,” “La Cage aux Folles,” “All Shook Up” and “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” — “I loved it, but I don’t think it will work in England,” he says of that last entry. (He also saw “The Light in the Piazza,” which missed out on a radio slot because, at the time of Ball’s visit, the run had not yet been extended.)
His favorite: “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.” “It was an original score, and I like that,” Ball told Variety . “It’s not one I anticipate will be running in five years’ time, but it’s a good piece.”
Series guests will include “Spamalot’s” Eric Idle and “All Shook Up” stars Jenn Gambatese and Cheyenne Jackson. Even better, Ball gets to be first in line if and when any of these ventures cross the pond. Is this series one way of putting his hat in the ring? Ball laughs. “My hat’s in every ring.”
Road to recoupment
Speaking of “The Woman in White,” the £3.8 million ($6.9 million) tuner has recouped half its production costs so far at the Palace Theater, says lead producer Sonia Friedman.
The remaining 50%, of course, is the more difficult bit, since that will have to take place without Crawford (who dropped out ahead of schedule, apparently for medical reasons) or Ball and with other, newer productions (“Billy Elliot,” “Guys and Dolls”) hogging the limelight.
En route to a similar percentage recoupment early in July is “Mary Poppins,” where business has only been slowed, says co-producer Cameron Mackintosh, by a downturn in door trade. “There aren’t many people on the street at the moment,” says the impresario. “I’ve never known it to be so quiet on walkups.”