Louder Than Bombs:
Column Inches #9 in The West End
by Tony Phillips
The director of the West End smash Billy Elliot-The Musical parted the curtains of the Victoria Palace Theatre and stepped out onto the stage. "There's been a lot of talk about London getting back to normal," Stephen Daldry told the sold-out house, "but I don't think that's quite right. After yesterday, there can never be another normal, especially for the families who lost loved ones in the terror attacks."
And with that, the curtains parted again and the dapper Englishman made way for the raucous, Thatcher-era entertainment based on his surprise 2000 sleeper film with music by an uncharacteristically restrained Elton John and a book and lyrics by the film's original screenwriter Lee Hall. I expected to like this musical a lot less than I did, especially considering it was playing the day after terrorist bombs brought London to a standstill, but for three-hours little Billy Elliot took the audience away from dire terror warnings and loss of live. All we wanted to do was watch little Billy dance, joyously dance. Egged on by his chainsmoking dance instructor — the sublime Haydn Gwynne — his cross-dressing best buddy and a chorus line of dancing frocks, Billy delivers.
Another hoofer tearing up the West End is New Jersey native Jane Krackowski, who's warming up for her turn as Liza Minnelli in Dan Minahan's big screen bio-pic Simply Halston by tackling the Broadway staple Miss Adelaide in the classic Guys and Dolls at the Piccadilly Theatre. The amourous Adelaide is probably the only one waiting longer for her wedding vows than we gays and quite literally stops this Donmar Warehouse production in its tracks as the sneezy, breezy 14-year finance of Nathan Detroit. If you can't hold out for the Broadway transfer, Jane's up next as an amourous newscaster in the Sundance hit Pretty Persuation snogging Thirteen alum Evan Rachel Wood.
One more no-nonsense babe on the London boards is Mary Poppins in the Cam Mackintosh reimagining of the Disney classic at the Prince Edward Theatre. Laura Michelle Kelly is not your grandmother's Mary Poppins, but rather plays the parrot-parasoled nanny as a cross between Fran Drescher and Angie Xtravaganza in this dark take on the timeless classic. If you're expecting a Chitty backfire from this material, think again. This Mary is one of ours. She turns the Banks household on its ear and gets the Banks children to stepping as co-director Matthew Bourne of boy-on-boy Swan Lake fame literally dances chimney sweeps up and around the proscenium arch of the theater. Here's hoping a good wind blows Mary our way, spit-spot.
The tired, bio-musical gets set on its ear by Anonymous Society in their Lyric Hammersmith production of Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others. This new musical based on the domestic dirges of UK legends The Smiths begins with a gunshot and doesn't let up until Shakespeare's sisters are massacred. In the space between, we get bunny suits, flamenca, a trapeze act, drag and an intensely theatrical family boffing each other on any number of furnishings, including the dining room table, all to the gorgeously morose melodies of Morrissey and Marr and some of the more domestic dramas that make up The Smiths' back catalog like "How Soon Is Now," "Barbarism Begins at Home," and "I Won't Share You," but also a doo-wop meets Tom Waits take on "I Know It's Over."
The Smiths once boasted being Louder Than Bombs and that's the British resolve all over. It's not about holing-up indoors glued to color-coded terror alerts, but rather having tea during the air raid. So yes, like Stephen Daldry said, there's no normal to get back to, but the show, indeed, goes on.
The Angry Inch: We'll be the first to admit, we laughed when Dara O'Brian read Elton John on the BBC. The comedian commented, "Elton sees a little bit of himself in Billy" when asked about the singer's involvement in the musical. We'll also admit we thought the queer UK watchdog Outrage! was being a tad reactionary when they issued a statement claiming the jibe "taps into prejuidices that cast all gay people as sexual predators and a threat to children." But then we saw the show, and you know what? Outrage! is 100 percent, spit-spot on. This musical is not only hummable, but also overtly policital and largely gay-owned and operated. It takes away from its significant achievement to make snipping comments toward Sir Elton. So here's to Outrage! We're outraged too.