Archive for April, 2017

When I plan a trip to London, one of the first things I do is check the theatre listings for what’s on in the West End – the home to London’s theatre scene ala New York’s Broadway. There is always a mix of long-running shows (Phantom, Les Miz, Lion King) and the latest hot shows (The Book of Mormon, School of Rock, Hamilton (arriving this fall)). However, I always look for the big productions that may be short runs and/or may never transfer across the pond.

On this recent trip I set my sights on two quintessentially British shows: a revival of Half a Sixpence and brand new musical, The Girls.

FF: Half a Sixpence

aa4First up is Half a Sixpence, a revival of a classic made famous by Tommy Steele. As a fan of musical theatre, I was totally charmed by the simple earnest story, and thoroughly impressed by the talent on stage whose energy sold the show and the wonderful production numbers.

About Half a Sixpence: “Starring newcomers Charlie Stemp as ‘Arthur Kipps’ and Devon-Elise Johnson as ‘Ann Pornick’ – alongside three times Olivier-nominated actress Emma Williams as ‘Helen Walsingham’ and Vivien Parry as ‘Mrs Walsingham’.Arthur Kipps, an orphan and over-worked draper’s assistant at the turn of the last century, unexpectedly inherits a fortune that propels him into high society. His childhood companion, Ann Pornick, watches with dismay as Arthur is made over in a new image by the beautiful and classy Helen Walsingham. Both young women undoubtedly love Arthur – but which of them should he listen to? With the help of his friends, Arthur learns that if you want to have the chance of living the right life, you need to make the right choices.”

Half a Sixpence continues through at least September 2017 at the Noël Coward Theatre on St. Martin’s Lane in London’s glittering West End.

FF: The Girls

aa3Next up is The Girls, a new musical based on the film Calendar Girls, which itself was inspired by the true story of a group of women from Yorkshire who created a charity calendar featuring themselves, well, in the nude. The Girls is very much a play with songs, as opposed to a traditional stage musical with big production numbers, which worked really well. The segment where the ladies finally “strip off” for their photo shoots is priceless.

About The Girls: “Gary Barlow and Tim Firth’s award-winning musical comedy The Girls is now at the Phoenix Theatre in London’s glittering West End having received fantastic 5 star reviews! Audiences are saying ‘I’ve laughed at musicals, I’ve cried at musicals, but I’ve never cried and laughed at the same time.’ The Girls is the true story of Yorkshire’s own Calendar Girls – a group of ordinary ladies who achieved something extraordinary.”

The Girls continues at London’s Phoenix Theatre through at least July 2017.

One of the best ways to get to know London, or any great city, is to wander around getting lost in its nooks and crannies. On my many trips to this great city, I have spent many hours just wandering around and never regretted it.

Of course from time to time it is nice to have an expert to take you on a walk, and that is what the fine folks at London Walks are all about. The guides of London Walks are experts in their respective fields and offer one of the best ways to get to know the city – often bringing you to places you would normally never see as a visitor.

London Walks offers several walking tours every day on many subjects in various parts of the great city. I have done a dozen or so of these walks over the years and have never been disappointed.

On this trip I went with the walked called Charles Dickens’ London – to see how much of the London he knew was still around – it turns out, a surprising amount, despite the megalopolis that have sprouted all around since his time.

About London Walks’ Charles Dickens’ London walk: “Dickens and London? ‘He knew it all,’ recalled a friend, and here are remarkable survivals from his life and works: Pip’s lodgings in Great Expectations (‘who enters here leaves noise behind’) and the bank which employed ‘resurrection man’ Jerry Cruncher in A Tale of Two Cities. Tulkinghorn’s chambers (‘where lawyers lie like maggots in nuts’) from Bleak House, even the original Old Curiosity Shop (or is it?). Dickens’ immortal Sam Weller had ‘extensive and peculiar’ knowledge of London, and this walk continues the tradition. Tradition and peculiar being the watchwords. Here we thread our way into a London of nooks and crannies and alleyways and gas lamps and 18th- and 19th-century houses – and no cars! It’s the London where Dickens lived and worked. It’s the London of David Copperfield and Pip and Pickwick. It’s ‘Inimitable’ – like Dickens himself.”

Plan your walk and learn more about London Walks here.

aa1One of my favorite things to do in London is take in some of the great theater city has to offer. London is well known for its theater, specifically the West End where the big theaters host major productions and is a Mecca for any stage lover like myself. I will be writing about some of the theater I took in on this trip in another post, but for my read this week I present a great primer on the early history of the London theater scene: The Making of the West End Stage by Jacky Bratton.

About The Making of the West End Stage by Jacky Bratton: “All roads lead to London – and to the West End theatre. This book presents a new history of the beginnings of the modern world of London entertainment. Putting female-centred, gender-challenging managements and styles at the centre, it redraws the map of performance history in the Victorian capital of the world. Bratton argues for the importance in Victorian culture of venues like the little Strand Theatre and the Gallery of Illustration in Regent Street in the experience of mid-century London, and of plays drawn from the work of Charles Dickens as well as burlesques by the early writers of Punch. Discovering a much more dynamic and often woman-led entertainment industry at the heart of the British Empire, this book seeks a new understanding of the work of women including Eliza Vestris, Mary Ann Keeley and Marie Wilton in creating the template for a magical new theatre of music, feeling and spectacle.”

In a city full of history, it is easy to overlook the history of the performing arts. However, in a book like this, you will discover the city’s theatrical history is as colorful and full of interesting characters as any Dickens novel.

Tucked in the Bloomsbury neighborhood of London is a little bit of Victorian-era heaven, the home of one Charles Dickens, now a museum honoring the great author. As a lifelong Dickens fan, I can tell you that walking into his home, where he wrote some of him most iconic works, is a truly awe-inspiring experience. A visit to the Charles Dickens Museum is a must for any admirer of his work or any fan of great books.

About the Charles Dickens Museum: “Welcome to the Charles Dickens Museum in London. This is where the author wrote Oliver Twist, Pickwick Papers and Nicholas Nickleby. It’s where he first achieved international fame as one of the world’s greatest storytellers. Visit us to discover the Dickens family home. Uncover the private world behind the author’s public image. Explore his study, the family bedchambers, and the servants’ quarters below stairs. See treasures including Dickens’s desk, handwritten drafts from the novels he wrote here, and his young wife’s engagement ring. Walk through rooms dressed with their furniture, table ware, portraits, marble busts, china ornaments and paintings.

Plan your trip and visit the Charles Dickens Museum online here.

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London is chock full of amazing museums. One can spend a whole month just touring the big ones, like The British Museum or the Victoria and Albert – both public museums with free admission. However, there are some really cool small commercial museums well worth a visit. Two nice finds are just outside Covent Garden: The London Transport Museum, and the London Film Museum.x

The London Transport Museum

aa4About The London Transport Museum: “London Transport Museum explores the story of London and its transport system over the last 200 years, highlighting the powerful link between transport and the growth of modern London, culture and society since 1800. We care for over 450,000 items – preserving, researching and acquiring objects to use in our galleries, exhibitions and other activities. As well as exploring the past, the Museum looks at present-day transport developments and concepts for urban transportation in the future, which includes a contemporary collecting policy for the benefit of future generations.”
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The London Film Museum

aa5About the London Film Museum: “The London Film Museum is the only film museum of its kind in Great Britain, supporting the Film Industry and the talent within it.”
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The London Film Museum is currently featuring the exhibition Bond in Motion: “Bond in Motion is the official exhibition of James Bond vehicles that feature in the renowned film series. It is the largest display of its kind ever staged in London. James Bond first hit the big screen in 1962, when Ian Fleming’s 007 was introduced to cinema audiences around the world as the double o agent in Dr No. Half a century and six Bonds later, the franchise is now one of the longest running in cinema history.”
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