Tag Archives: west end

How is it mid-November already?

17 Nov

Is it just me, or does the time between the end of August and Thanksgiving go by in about 10 minutes? I swear we were just getting back from our summer holiday, and now I’m looking at the massive amount of Christmas presents I’ve purchased over the past few weeks and am wondering how I’m going to fit them all in my suitcase when I head back to the U.S. on Tuesday. I’m seriously contemplating not packing any clothing — I have a closet full of sweaters at my parents’, and we already have plans to hit the outlet mall on Black Friday. The only thing I need to bring is running clothes for the Thanksgiving 10K. I keep checking the Thanksgiving Day forecast for Cincinnati hoping for it to warm up. It has changed from snow to rain to sun, so we’re headed in the right direction, but my body is definitely not used to running in freezing temperatures. A PR would be nice, but I’m not sure I’ve trained enough for one, so I may have to settle with just finishing.

I was hoping to fit in one more West End show before my trip back, but I couldn’t manage to score lottery tickets to see Natalie Dormer (Margaery Tyrell from Game of Thrones) in Venus in Fur and didn’t want to see it badly enough to queue for day seats. I only managed 3 day seat queues this year, which is impressive considering I saw 16 shows. I finally got out of the 9 shows a year slump! 16 is a nice even number to go out on, and is setting the bar high for next year. And while I may be done with London shows for 2017, I’m not done with theatre for the year — my friend and I got tickets to see Hamilton in Chicago next month! We’ll see if it lives up to the hype (and believe me, at the insane ticket price and the non-stop “OMG HAMILTON!!” on social media, my expectations are sky high).

As per tradition, I walked around Oxford Street yesterday to take in all the Christmas lights. It’s the same display they had last year (and possibly every year), which is beautiful, but like most things in life, would be even more beautiful if there weren’t so many people everywhere. I was particularly intrigued by the conversation this couple walking next to me was having.

“Look how impressive this is now, just imagine how it will look once they turn the lights on!” the guy said to his girlfriend.

I did not take any photos of the Oxford Street lights, so I’ll post one from Time Out.

oxford st lights

That’s what the street looked like. As the American saying goes, “It was lit up like the 4th of July.” From the stores to the hanging bulbs above the street, the whole area was awash in light. No bulb remained unlit.

What was he talking about?!

He kept repeating it too. “It’s gonna look so cool with all the lights on!”

“All the lights are on, you nitwit!” I wanted to shout.

Perhaps he was confusing Oxford Street with Regent Street. Oxford Street turned their lights on on November 7, while Regent Street waited until yesterday. I walked down Regent Street in the early evening yesterday and the lights weren’t on yet, and it was very obvious to tell. I’m not sure what additional lights he was hoping would be turned on on Oxford Street. He certainly needed to turn on the light in his head.

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Another day seat queue character

13 Oct

ink play londonOf the record-breaking(!) 14 shows I’ve seen in London this year, I surprisingly only got day seats for 2 of them. So I was due for a good queue.

I decided to see Ink, a new play about Rupert Murdoch and The Sun newspaper, because I feel like I don’t know enough about the London newspaper scene, and it was a transfer from the Almeida Theatre, and every Almeida West End transfer I’ve seen has been nothing short of phenomenal.

The play has been getting rave reviews, but it doesn’t seem to be extraordinarily popular, so I arrived at the theatre 30 minutes before the box office opened. There were only a handful of people queuing. I proceeded to kill time on my phone until the character arrived. Every day seat queue seems to have a character.

This one was a full-blooded New Yorker who would have been a prime contestant on a Buzzfeed “Homeless Man or Aging Hippie?” quiz. He wore a tie-dye Bob Dylan T-shirt, an “Impeach Trump” button on his hat, had a scraggly beard and walked with a cane. And he was a talker, as only Americans can be. Every once in a while queuers will strike up conversation, but most keep to their phones, books, magazines, or even use their laptop whilst standing up like the guy in front of me. But this character wanted to talk and he didn’t particularly care who wanted to listen. The Australian woman in front of him wasn’t biting, so he tried the man next to me. He was properly British, giving polite responses and appeasing the character, but I could tell he’d much rather be reading the magazine in his hand.

“So how does this work?” the character asked to no one in particular. I wanted to say, “What do you mean how does this work? Are you so New York that you just saw a line of people and decided you must queue?” (Wait, New Yorkers don’t say “queue” or even “wait in line.” They wait “on line.” And yes, that scene about New Yorkers waiting on line from The Gilmore Girls reboot is still fresh in my mind.) He lamented about how he must have an aisle seat, but doesn’t want to spend too much money. Eventually I couldn’t handle it anymore and had to jump in.

“Front row day seats are £15,” I said. And just like that I was roped in. Luckily the box office doors had just opened, but there was only one window and each transaction seemed to last 5 minutes, so I had plenty of time to hear about why I absolutely must see Bob Dylan live, what it was like to see Anthony Hopkins play King Leer at the National Theatre back in 1986, and how badly the Bengals are playing this year. By the time we got to U.S. politics, it was my turn to buy my ticket.

“See you later, Cincinnati!” the character called out after me when I left. I smiled, thinking I would never see the guy again, but sure enough there he was on the aisle, 3 seats away from me at the matinee. Though he didn’t seem to recognize me with makeup on and my hair down as I crawled over him to get to my seat, so the poor English guy next to him had to hear all about his thoughts on how Rupert Murdoch ruined the New York Post.

At the interval I jumped up to use the ladies room, but because I was sitting front row center and there was little leg room, I wasn’t able to bolt there first like I normally do. So I had to queue. There were only 4 stalls, so naturally it was a long queue. In fact, it somehow became two queues, as women poured in from both sides. An outspoken American (of course!) devised a plan.

“We will merge just like we’re on the highway,” she announced. “One person from this line, then one person from your line.” Everyone within earshot agreed, and for a while the merging technique worked surprisingly well. Until a lady from the other queue got talking with her back to us, and so no one from her queue was moving, so my queue slowly became the main queue. An American woman 5 people behind me apparently did not see this occur, and jumped in front of the woman behind me.

“I’m sorry, what are you doing?” the British woman behind me asked her politely.

“We’re merging, isn’t that what we’re doing?” The American woman said, rather hostilely.

“Yes, we were, but you were behind me. We’ve all been waiting much longer than you have.” She smiled and continued to be incredibly polite. The American woman realized her mistake, but in typical American fashion, was not about to admit it. She jumped back a few people in the queue.

“Is this OK?” she said with an attitude. The British lady smiled again. “As long as you’re behind me.”

“Whatever” the American woman muttered under her breath.

It would be hard to make up a more stereotypical exchange between the two cultures if I tried!

Besides that little bathroom kerfuffle, the show was excellent. My seat was so good I had fake money thrown at me (of course I saved one of the notes!) and was even splattered a bit with ink. (It was only when I got home that I realized it was on my face. Good thing I was wearing dark colors!) The world of London newspapers during the 1960s is a fascinating one, but watching the show made me glad I’m no longer in that industry.

Breaking records and winning the Friday Forty

3 Jul

It’s funny how people always say “I never win anything.” Because none of us win anything, until of course we do, and then we can never say “I never win anything,” because we have won something, but “I only win things occasionally” just doesn’t sound as good.

When it comes to the theatre ticket lottery, I only win occasionally. When TodayTix first launched I won almost every lottery I entered, but that was likely because there were fewer names in the pot. When it first launched I entered the Book of Mormon in-person ticket lottery 10 times and never got lucky. I’ve entered the Dream Girls, Aladdin, and Harry Potter lotteries more times than I can count and I never won. Until now.

From the Harry Potter and the Cursed Child website:
Every Friday at 1pm we release 40 tickets for every performance the following week, for some of the very best seats in the theatre, at an amazingly low price. These tickets are known as ‘The Friday Forty’.

I have a weekly reminder on my phone to apply for the Friday Forty. Not winning has become such a habit that I almost didn’t enter last week — what’s the point? I thought. But since I was home I clicked on the “Buy tickets” button when it appeared promptly at 1pm, then walked away to get dressed for my run. When I came back I noticed the bar with the little wizard at the bottom of the screen was actually moving — I don’t remember it ever doing that before. Then suddenly I was in — it was asking me which dates I wanted to book! I got front row centre tickets for Wednesday’s shows for £20 each. Unbelievable! Wednesday is going to be a long day of theatre — part I at 2pm then part II at 7:30pm. But I’m sure it will be worth it!

friday forty tickets

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child will be my 52nd and 53rd shows in London (it counts as two, right?). That’s right, friends, I did it — I hit 50 shows, and of course I did it with Bat Out Of Hell the Musical. Dare I say it was even more amazing the second time around? Partly because Andrew, the main Strat actor, was born to play the role, and partly because I had a cheeky pre-show glass of wine. (That sounded really British, didn’t it?). Then the day after I saw Bat, I saw Rotterdam, an emotional play that was absolutely nothing like Bat and actually made me a little depressed for the rest of the day, but it was an incredibly moving show about relationships and the struggle of being trans. Rotterdam was my 10th show of the year, which means I finally broke my 9 shows a year record! And it’s only July! I hate the central London traffic and crowds so, so much, but being able to witness world-class theatre regularly makes it all worth it.

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.

Weekend theatre extravaganza

24 Jan

Remember how I said I wanted 2017 to be the year I see more than 9 West End shows? I’m off to a good start.

Last Monday I saw BU21, a play about how six people cope with a [fictional] London terrorist attack. While it was heavy and all too realistic, it was also quite funny. Life (and theatre) isn’t often only comedy or tragedy — as my favorite band Over the Rhine often says, it’s a head-on collision between both.

So I started my week with some “tragedy porn” (as one of the actors described it while breaking the fourth wall), and needed to end it with something a little more fun. One of my friends from university has been working in London for a few months, so I asked her if she wanted to go see School of Rock the musical on Friday. When I explained the concept of day seats to her, she was all in, especially since I volunteered to do the queuing for tickets.

homer-do-what-i-do-best

My first day seat queue of 2017! And it consisted solely of …me. The entire time. When I’m the first to arrive in a day seat queue, two thoughts go through my head: 1. Am I in the right place? Is there some secret side door to the box office where everyone else is queuing? And 2. Ah man, I could have slept another 10 to 40 minutes! It was particularly cold on Friday, too, and my touchscreen gloves were not cooperating with my phone, so I had to alternate between being bored & warm and entertained by my phone & cold. I brought my overnight oats and ate that while watching the workmen load an abundance of god-knows-what into a van right in front of the theatre, while I’m sure they watched me wondering what on earth I was waiting for and what on earth I was eating that was pink. (For the record, raspberry overnight oats.)

A taxi driver pulled up and asked if I was waiting for a taxi. I told him no, I was waiting for tickets. He then informed me that the theatre was closed, as if I hadn’t noticed. I told him I was aware that it was currently closed and that I was waiting for it to open at 10am. I’m sure I would have looked a lot less silly if there were other people queuing with me. But considering how London black cab drivers claim to be experts about the city — way more than Uber drivers, of course! — you’d think they’d know about the concept of day seats. If I were a taxi driver my number one tip for tourists would be theatre day seats (though maybe not, I wouldn’t want the queuing competition!). Finally the box office doors opened and I was able to buy my front row tickets. As annoying as waiting in the cold is, when I’m sitting in the front row knowing I only paid £20 or less, it’s always worth it. My friend and I loved the show. I loved the movie as a kid and it transferred well to a live musical. All the kids actually played the instruments, which was amazing!

At the interval my friend told me she was free the next day, Saturday, so we looked up shows we could see. We settled on The Kite Runner, since they offered day seats. I read the book and saw the movie, so I was curious how they’d adapt the story to the stage.

So the next day I got up and did it again — arrived at the day seat queue too early. At least this time there were three people in front of me, but when we went to pay they all went for the matinee. So at least it meant we got the best front row center seats. Even though I knew the plot and what was coming, the show was heavy. Good, but emotionally draining. So naturally we went for gelato afterward to recoup. And while we hacked on the giant shave-your-own block of dark chocolate, we got a crazy idea.

“Should we see another show tomorrow?” my friend asked.

“I’m always down for another show!” I replied.

cant wait for sunday.gif

Our options were limited for a Sunday performance, but we settled on Peter Pan Goes Wrong. If it was good enough for Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, it was good enough for us. Plus, tickets were cheap on TodayTix (hooray for not having to get up early to queue!) and we needed to end our crazy weekend of theatre with a comedy. It was a comedy alright, full of slapstick and humor that bordered on cringey, but it was a good time. I’m glad I went with a friend though, as it seemed like a show best enjoyed with company.

So I saw 4 shows over the course of a week. Not a bad way to start the 2017 theatre season. My friend goes back to the US in a couple weeks, but we’re hoping to fit in a couple more shows before she goes. If only we could have some luck with the Aladdin and Dream Girls ticket lotteries!

The time I saw Prince Charles, Jesse Eisenberg,Theon Greyjoy and Raj Koothrappali in one day

10 Jun

Things that happened yesterday:

– I carried a banana peel over a mile because there were no trash cans on the street. A couple days ago there was a “What was ruined for everybody by one person?” Ask Reddit thread. What should have been my contribution: easy access to public garbage cans in London. Thanks, people who put bombs in litter bins. (Though I guess technically more than one person ruined it because there were multiple bombing incidents over the years and now *fun fact* the few litter bins in London are actually bomb-proof.)

– I saw Prince Charles! Or rather I saw him drive by… or rather be driven by. I was walked along Wigmore St just north of Oxford St when I heard a policeman on a motorcycle whistle. He stopped traffic and then a Bentley followed by a Range Rover zoomed by. The Bentley’s glass was surprisingly not tinted, but I only got a quick glimpse of an older gentlemen and a chauffeur with a sweet hat. I’m assuming it was Charles (for the sake of a good story), but otherwise it had to have been some important old dude.

– I saw my 40th London show. 40 plays and musicals! Feels like yesterday I was experiencing my first day seat queue. I saw Jesse Eisenberg’s play The Spoils, starring Mark Zuckerberg, Theon Greyjoy and Raj Koothrappali (aka the guy from the Social Network and a crapload of other movies, the guy from Game of Thrones who has it really rough, and the Indian guy from The Big Bang Theory). It got so-so reviews, so obviously I was just seeing it because of the star-studded cast. And they did not disappoint, every one of them was brilliant, especially Alfie Allen. (Holy crap, I just realized his sister is the singer Lily Allen, thanks Wikipedia!). He is an English actor, but was playing an American Wall Street douche, so it was hilarious! The play itself was a bit depressing, but had plenty of laughs. I’d probably give it 3 1/2 out of 5 stars, but would recommend it solely because of the cast. I scored a rush ticket on the Today Tix app, which seems to be quickly replacing my need for day seat queuing. I can’t complain.

the spoils.png

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).