Tag Archives: london theatre

Experiencing Bat Out of Hell the Musical

26 Jun
bat out of hell the musical londonJune 8, 2017.
The lights go out and Strat is standing center stage talking into the microphone.

“I remember everything!” he booms.

“I remember every little thing as if it happened only yesterday.” My eyes inexplicably begin to water. “I’m here, I’m really here,” I think to myself.

“I was barely seventeen, and I once killed a boy with a Fender guitar.”

OK, I’ve never killed anyone with a Fender guitar, but I do remember every word to Love And Death And An American Guitar, or Wasted Youth as it’s known on Bat Out Of Hell II. When I was barely seventeen I was reading Jim Steinman’s musicals Neverland and The Dream Engine, precursors to the Bat Out Of Hell musical, and downloading every mainstream and obscure song Steinman had ever written. I knew Bat Out Of Hell the Musical was in the works — it has been for 40 years — but I never dreamed Steinman would finish it and it would be performed in the very city I just happened to be living.

But there I was, watching Bat Out Of Hell the Musical unfold from the front row, wearing the Bat Out Of Hell T-shirt I bought on eBay when I was 17. And yet I somehow felt out of place. The women next to me were fully decked out in leather like they literally road in on the motorcycle displayed in the lobby. (A line from The Dream Engine comes to mind. “The revolution likes leather. The revolution wears leather to survive in the streets.”) They were dressed exactly like the members of The Lost wandering about on the stage a few minutes before showtime. My first thought was “Oh god, is this some kind of immersive theater? Am I going to have to interact with them?” (Another line from The Dream Engine: “Quiet. It’s only theater. It’s nothing to be afraid of.”) But no, they were not members of The Lost, just super fans who had seen the show in Manchester and came down to London to see it again. They waved their hands in the air and sang along to every song. Meanwhile I was completely still, “silently shrieking,” feeling every word and note in my heart and on every inch of my skin. (I’m trying to be poetic, but there was a speaker directly in my face. It obstructed my view a tad, but man, could I really feel the songs!). Those who know me are always surprised by my love for all things Jim Steinman and Meat Loaf. Steinman’s songs are about teen lust, going over the top, breaking the rules, and well, murdering people with Fender guitars. At 17 I was a straight A student who was president of the Latin club and played flute at Mass. I had barely slow danced with a boy, Paradise by the Dashboard Light was a completely foreign concept to me. And yet maybe that’s what attracted me to Steinman’s music — it allowed me to escape my top-button buttoned life and wear some auditory leather. (To quote one of his songs: “You’ve been nothing but an angel every day of your life, and now you wonder what it’s like to be damned.”)

The show was everything I could have dreamed it to be. There were certainly elements of Neverland and The Dream Engine in there, but it had been cleaned up and polished for a mainstream audience. The Dream Engine was pretty dark and outrageously sexual. Reading it as a good Catholic school girl was one of the most rebellious things I did back then. I’m not sure I even understood all of it, but I kept going back to it, even plastering lines from it all over my school notebooks. (Lines like: “Reality’s in agony and it’s about time it stopped. It’s about time we put reality out of its misery. And there are only a few of us left with the grace to try euthanasia.”) Even before I saw the show I had a feeling it wouldn’t be one I could see just once (even though my one ticket practically cost more than the 7 other shows I’ve seen this year combined). And when I realized the guy playing Strat was actually the alternate, I knew I had to go again to see the lead (though Ben the alternate was brilliant!). That, and it was the 49th show I’ve seen in London. I couldn’t let just any show be my landmark 50th.

Then like a sinner before the gates of Heaven, I’ll come crawling on back to you…

So I’m seeing it again this week. Front row center this time.

You know nothing, Dr. Faustus

26 May

I can’t believe The Great Walk of London was already a week ago. I was not as sore as I thought I would be on Friday, though I did spend most of the day sedentary catching up on work. I’m lucky that my freelance assignments are due weekly, not daily, so I didn’t have to email my bosses and ask for a day off to walk. I did manage to get 10,000 steps in, because that’s another goal I have this year — walk at least 10,000 steps every single day. I haven’t missed a day yet in 2016, though I did come close the day I flew back to London. I faintly remember waking up and walking around my living room at 11:30pm. Not my proudest of moments.

dr faustus jon snow london.png

But speaking of steps, I got 23,000 today because I walked to Duke of York’s Theatre and back to see Jon Snow — er, Dr. Faustus. I went in with low expectations — the only reason I was even there was because the bad reviews meant I could score a £99 ticket for £29.50. I was front row centre about five rows back. A perfect seat for gazing upon Kit Harington — because let’s be honest, that’s why I (and probably 95% of the audience) was there. I didn’t know anything about Dr. Faustus so I quickly googled the plot line the night before. It was first performed in 1592 so of course it’s in Elizabethan English, though this particular adaptation included some modern scenes (featuring President Obama and referencing a President Trump!). The basic plot is that Dr. Faustus is bored with life so he sells his soul to the devil in return for the ability to perform absolutely anything he pleases with the power of black magic. The only catch is that it’s only for 24 years, after that he’ll be damned to hell. To quote the Jamie Lloyd Company, which put it on, “The story of this 400-year-old play is transported to a celebrity-obsessed society of greed and instant gratification, offering a fresh, new perspective that chimes with our times.”

Kit Harington was brilliant. It took a few minutes for me to see him as Dr. Faustus and not Jon Snow, but he was a believable tortured soul (even if at times his voice sounded eerily similar to Bane from The Dark Knight Rises) . The only problem with having such a big name star in a show is that everyone tries to sneak a photo of him. 5 minutes before showtime he came out on stage and just sat on the bed drooling and staring at the TV. The few times I’ve seen big stars in shows there’s usually a bit of a reaction from the audience the first moment they step on stage. But no one was prepared for it this time because the show hadn’t started. And because it hadn’t technically started, it was a grey area for taking photographs — was it or was it not allowed? I decided to respect the sanctity of live theatre and not snap a photo, but the girl next to me and seemingly everyone around me had their phones out trying to get a shot.

Then suddenly the house lights went down and the show officially began. And right off the bat there was full frontal nudity. Now I’m no prude when it comes to nudity in the theatre, but I couldn’t figure out why these particular chorus members needed to be completely naked. After a few scenes they returned with clothing on. Kit Harington was wearing sweats, though he did spend most of the second half of the show stripped down to blood-soaked skivvies. The few times my mind did start to wander during the show I wondered how uncomfortable that must be and how they wash the blood, dirt and satan diarrhea (yes, that was a thing) off the stage and all the costumes after the show. Does the brain splatter on the wall just easily wipe off before tonight’s evening performance?

As you may have guessed, it was a gruesome show. So much blood!
bloody kit harington
Photo credit

But it had its humorous moments too. It turns out Dr. Faustus’ first name is John. When this was revealed a soft chuckle erupted from the audience since we all know Kit as Jon Snow. During the interval the demon Mephistopheles came out and karaoked and riffed on the audience. All the songs she sang were about hell, obviously, and the biggest smile came over my face when I heard the opening bars to Bat Out of Hell. (I was the biggest Meat Loaf fan in high school.) She absolutely killed it (though at the end when he takes it up an octave she said “F— it, that’s too high!”).

Now the ultimate test of whether it was a good show: Would I have enjoyed it were it a no-name in the title role? I think the answer is yes. Though the material was heavy, I mostly understood what was going on, and the lighting, sound and special effects were amazing. But without Jon Snow, the show would be worth a £10 or £15 ticket, not my maximum £29.50. (Yes, I’ve seen 39 shows in London now and have never paid more than £30 for a ticket).

You can’t trust theatre reviews, hand to god

24 Feb

I should know by now to take theatre (and movie) reviews with a grain of salt. A few weeks ago I saw Harold Pinter’s The Homecoming because it got rave reviews and the description sounded interesting. I went home in a funk and didn’t even understand half of it. And then I realized all the shows I haven’t LOVED in London have a common theme: Harold Pinter. First Old Times, then The Homecoming. Then it occurred to me that my high school junior drama class performed a series of short plays that didn’t make sense to half of us, all written by, you guessed it, Harold Pinter. Am I allowed to call myself a theatre fan and not enjoy Pinter?

hand to god london

You know what I do enjoy though? Foul-mouthed puppets. And that’s what I saw today in Hand to God. It was described as Avenue Q meets The Book Of Mormon, two shows I adored, so I was all in. The New York Times called it “Kinda Sesame St meets The Exorcist” which was true. It’s the story of a Lutheran puppet ministry that goes south when one of the boy’s hand puppets appears to be possessed by the devil. It was certainly raunchy and scandalous, but it was also laugh-out-loud funny (in the literal sense. I laughed out loud multiple times, which I rarely do at the theatre). Naturally it got panned by critics, which may explain how I was able to get such a good seat for such a good price. It’s a shame, but I can’t really complain too much.

If only I had seen it in NYC, where Bob Saget played Pastor Greg. I saw Bob Saget’s stand up show in college and it was so raunchy my first guess was that Saget would somehow be playing the possessed puppet. Though I distinctly remember someone waiting in line for the Saget show all those years ago shouting “Bob Saget is God!” so maybe playing the pastor isn’t too far off.

The Curious Incident of the Day Seat Queue in the Morning-Time

15 Oct

Once again I found myself standing in the cold in a queue full of strangers at what someone who works from home considers an ungodly early hour in the pursuit of theatre magic. One ticket to “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time,” to be exact. Yes, the other day I decided to try the day seat thing again for the third time.

After the show is over and I’m riding the live theatre thrill, I always ask myself “Why don’t I do this more often?!” And then I remember how much of a hassle getting day seats is. There’s the waking up early part, riding the Tube like a sardine during rush hour part, then seeing the massive queue and kicking myself for not waking up even earlier part. But then there’s also the meeting new people part and collective “Will we or will we not get tickets?” exciting part. And then once that ticket is in hand it all seems worth it… until it’s time to wait for the bus to go back home, eat lunch and change, then take the Tube back to the theatre. I think I spent £10 just in bus and Tube fare that day.

But I met a delightful old British lady in the queue, who continuously phoned her elderly mother and said delightfully British things like, “Enjoy your morning cuppa, Mum!” And then there was the nice older couple from Portland who assumed the old British lady was my mum or grandmother because we arrived around the same time. I guess my obvious American accent didn’t give it away. They were nice company while we waited. There were at least 50 people ahead of us and we were beginning to lose hope. But the National Theatre had three productions going on that day, so I guess not everyone was waiting for the same show. I was able to get a restricted view matinee ticket, which meant I had to lean forward for most of the show, but it was worth it.

I read the book “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” a few years ago. I remember I enjoyed it, but I also didn’t remember much about it. It didn’t seem like the kind of book that would easily translate to the stage, but it did, and brilliantly. It was in a small, 360-degree theatre and the use of props, actors, lights and sounds were out of this world. No wonder all performances were sold out! The story also meant more to me now that I live in London. I think some of the plot was lost on me when I first read the book because I had never been to London before. I didn’t understand why, “Take the Tube to Willesden Junction.” “What sort of tube?” “Are you for real?!” was funny.

While I was walking to the theatre I saw a horde of teenage girls talking loudly and pointing towards a young man standing outside the theatre. Eventually groups of them ran over and had their photo taken with him. When I was in the bathroom I heard girls saying things like, “I fancy him so much!” And “What’s he doing here? I think he’s friends with the guy in the show.” Apparently the guy was some British teen heartthrob and I had no idea who he was. He was sitting in the front row with his girlfriend and the girls seated in front of me spent more time staring at him than watching the show. I tried to eavesdrop to hear his name, but they never said it. I guess I’ll never know who he was.

I enjoy going to shows alone, even if it’s not culturally customary. Though you’re sitting in a quiet dark room, I guess people like to have someone to turn to to share a smile, a laugh, a tear. But I think there’s also something special about sharing that with an entire room of strangers for 2 hours and 40 minutes, and then going home with that experience all to yourself. It’s what got me through waiting 15 minutes for the bus home in the rain.

The British equivalent of Black Friday: queuing for theatre day seats

22 Feb

I have a somewhat embarrassing confession — I’ve been in London over a year now and I have yet to see a West End show. That’s embarrassing to me because I really like theatre — I saw “Wicked” twice in Chicago and had season tickets to Broadway in Cincinnati. But sometimes living in London compared to just visiting for a week is a problem — you start putting things on the “Things To Do Eventually” list and then you never actually do them. At least not for awhile. When my Anglophile friend from Chicago visited me in September she told me about the play “One Man, Two Guvnors” starring James Corden. She had also just gotten me into the show “Gavin and Stacey,” created by and starring James Corden. The play got rave reviews but I promptly forgot about it. Until this week, when Stephen left on a business trip and I decided I should do more than sit around and watch TV and bury myself in work. I live in London and it’s high time I start experiencing it. So I looked up the play only to find Corden is leaving the role on Feb. 25 and every show is completely sold out. But there was a glimmer of hope — this crazy phenomenon known as Day Seats, in which theatres sell off the front row and cancelled tickets to a show the morning of. It would be my only chance of seeing my favorite British actor on the stage (yes, apparently I have a favorite (favourite?) British actor now), so I decided to go for it. Here’s the story in unnecessarily detailed and long narrative form.

This theatre bug hit me last week, but after careful consideration of my work schedule and the play schedule, I decided Wednesday would be the day to go. There are two performances on Wednesdays, so I would double my chance of getting tickets. All week I anxiously anticipated Wednesday. I obsessively checked the website, read reviews, I even picked up the phone to call the box office to ask them how many day seats they have and what time people start to queue, but the box office doesn’t have a phone number. Plus, what fun would waking up early to queue be if I had all that information?

The big day finally arrived this morning and it felt like Black Friday. I was excited, but tired and found myself asking if I really wanted to do this — it would be so easy to go back to sleep and work and watch TV all day like any other day. But I was determined to do this — for the experience and the blog post that would surely come out of it. So at 8:40 a.m. I left my flat, five minutes earlier than expected, and earlier than I believe I’ve ever walked down the High Street. (I know, I know, 8:40 is only early to someone who works from home on her own schedule). I passed dozens of kids scootering to school wearing uniforms reminiscent of Madeline, with their matching scarves, coats and hats. I even passed my old buddy Guinness Guy, so named because he drunkedly wanders the neighborhood, often carrying a can of Guinness, and talks to anyone who passes by him, often with a funny comment about the weather (“It’s a balmy 5 today, I’m gonna go sunbathing!”) or a catcall. I have no idea where he lives or why he wanders the neighborhood drinking only Guinness, but that’s beside the point. I got on the Tube and got off at Charring Cross station, headed towards the Adelphi Theatre. I couldn’t stop the questions from popping up in my head — “What if there are no more tickets? What if ‘completely sold out’ means ‘completely sold out?’ What if there’s a line around the block, should I still wait? Should I try to get tickets to another show? Will I even be able to find the theatre?”

That last one was easy to answer — I stepped out of the Tube station, looked down the street, and saw my buddy James Corden on a giant banner above the theatre. There was also a queue out front. At least the promise of tickets was still alive. I speedwalked from the station, maneuvering around every pedestrian as if they were a potential threat to my spot in line. Finally I had my spot in the queue, about 25 people back.

It was hard to capture the queue in a photo

It was 9:10 and the box office opened at 10 a.m. As I stood there contemplating how I was going to spend the next 50 minutes standing there in the cold, Crazy Guy approached.

“The queue doesn’t seem too bad,” he said with a slurred incomprehensible English accent. “I spoke with the girl at the front of the queue — she’s been here since 4 a.m.!” he nearly shouted.

“Wow!” I said, and the guy in front of me agreed. I asked them if they knew how many tickets were available. They didn’t.

I got out my iTouch and attempted to go through my Chinese flashcards, but Crazy Guy did not take the hint. He kept on talking. I understood about every fifth word he said, so I gave him the old smile and nod, coupled with the occasional “Really?” and “Wow.” He was reading a newspaper and talking about Adele. The queue starting filling in behind me and Crazy Guy starting chatting up the girl behind him. He asked her if she would hold his place while he ran to the cash machine because he didn’t have any money. She said that was fine. The group of women behind her laughed after he left. “He’s a smart guy — got his spot in the queue first, then goes to get the money!” I couldn’t help but wonder how “Can you hold my spot, I forgot to bring money” would fly on Black Friday at Wal-Mart. I think he would have been punched. He was gone for at least 20 minutes. I was starting to think he had stopped for a coffee, knowing full well his spot was safe. Maybe he wasn’t so crazy after all.

I overheard the woman behind me say they usually have 20 tickets per performance and this was her third time trying. “Oh wait, is it 20 per performance or 20 total between the two? I can’t remember. I just know I got here at 10 a.m. last time and I was way too late,” she said. I was getting nervous — there’s a big difference between 20 and 40 tickets, especially when there’s over 20 people queued in front of you and each person can buy 2 tickets. Maybe 8:40 wasn’t early enough after all.

Crazy Guy returned and told the girl behind me the entire story about how he lost his bank card. I heard her giving the same polite but please-stop-talking-to-me one-word answers I had.

At 10 a.m. on the dot they rose the gate of the theatre and we filed into the heated lobby. Crazy Guy was rambling on to no one in particular about all the shows he’s seen and what he was thinking about seeing tonight if he didn’t get a ticket. “I hear if you sit in the front three rows of ‘Singin’ in the Rain’ you need an umbrella!” he said, laughing to himself. I have to give him credit — there was definitely something not right with the guy, but at least he spends all his time at the theatre.

The queue was moving impossibly slow, as each person had to show ID and fill out a detailed form. To prevent resale they hold the tickets until showtime when you must present your ID and receipt. I saw 4 a.m. Girl leave, ticket and pillow in hand. I wonder if this sign on the casino next door was directed at people like her:


“I got them! I got front row tickets to the show!” a woman shouted to someone on the phone. The anxiety was building as we collectively watched more and more people and tickets walk out the door. Less left for us. One of the box office guys stood up. “Ladies and gentleman, the evening performance is now sold out.” There was a collective grumble as many people got out of the line, including the man in front of me. I was hoping for a matinee ticket anyway, as I didn’t want to go home at 11 p.m. by myself. I moved up and started chatting to the couple in front of me. This was also their third attempt at getting tickets for this show.
“I think we’re further up than last time,” the wife ensured her husband. We were getting closer — there were only five people ahead of me now.
“I wish they would announce how many tickets are left,” I said. “There are people way back there who are probably wasting their time waiting.” The people in front of me agreed. The lady four people ahead tapped the woman buying her tickets. “Ask them how many are left,” she whispered. I heard the attendant say “3 or 4.” My heart sank. I was so close!
“What should we do if there is only one?” the husband in front of me asked.
“Are you alone?” his wife asked me. “Then it’d be your lucky day!” I smiled.
“Or we could flip for it!” the husband joked.
The lady in front of them approached the window. We were crossing our fingers — no “Sold out” announcement yet.
The couple in front of me were up and I couldn’t help feeling happy that they finally got theirs. I just hoped I could get mine. The husband turned around and looked at me with a smile, “You’re good!” he said. Victory!
It was finally my turn to approach the window. The front row day seats were long gone, but they must have had some cancellations in the upper circle — nosebleed seats, but cheaper than what I was expecting to pay, and most importantly, it was a ticket. I didn’t wait an hour in the cold for nothing. As I was getting out my money I felt a tap on my shoulder — it was the husband giving me a thumbs up as he and his wife left with their receipt. I smiled and gave a thumbs up back. As I left, glorious receipt in hand, I heard Crazy Guy at the window shouting and spelling his name as the woman asked for his ID. I prayed he wouldn’t be seated next to me.

Wow, this post turned out a lot longer than I had anticipated so I won’t go into a detailed review of the show. It was definitely worth the time and money. James Corden was brilliant, even more than expected. It was amazing to see him in action, even if it was from the upper circle. My seat was directly in the center, which was an added bonus. It was an old theatre and the seats were ridiculous close together. As I squeezed my way to my seat, I heard an “Oh, hi!” — it was the couple from the queue, they were seated right next to me. We exchanged pleasantries, agreeing that few people probably got tickets after us, then there was that awkward silence that happens when you have nothing else in common besides standing in the same queue for the same show and someone (*cough* me) is shy and bad at keeping conversations going.

So my first London theatre-going experience was a success. I finally had a real, true London experience, from the Black Friday-esque queue for tickets, to seeing a genuine British play with genuine British humour (OK, I’ll admit I didn’t get some of the cultural references and for the first minute of the play I feared it was going to be like this:

But the accents eventually grew on me, although I had to put a lot of effort into listening.

Now that I know about day tickets and matinees, I have no excuse for sitting around watching TV on a slow work day.