Once in a Tony lifetimeDate: 11 June 2012
Congratulations to Once, the little Irish movie-into-musical that has swept the board at the Tony Awards, winning eight prizes, though missing out on the key one for a musical, perhaps, the gong for best original score and lyrics - that went to Newsies.
James Corden winning out over Philip Seymour Hoffman as best actor in a play must have come as a bit of a shock, too, to the Tony audience - described by their own compere as "fifty shades of gay" (Fifty Shades of Grey is a phenomenally successful soft porn chick lit novel of quite embarrassing awfulness; and, yes, I have read it) - while the triumph of Clybourne Park owes everything to Dominic Cooke's revival at the Royal Court; Bruce Norris's play came and went unnoticed off-Broadway six years ago.
With the success of Once and Newsies - Newsies, too, was a little movie, as long ago as 1992, but nobody noticed - you begin to wonder how many other tiny acorns there are waiting to sprout into sturdy commercial tree trunks. Newsies is based on a historic newspaper boy strike - not even a newspaper strike - while Once is simply a love story between a Dublin busker and a Czech flower seller who meet on Grafton Street. Sounds like an upgrade of that delightful David Greig Edinburgh romance, Midsummer.
Musical theatre producers must be on permanent alert at obscure film festivals and pub theatres all over Europe for their next surprise Tony winner. There might even be a musical lurking in Vivienne Franzmann's new play, The Witness, in the Theatre Upstairs at the Royal Court.
The play itself is a severe disappointment following Franzmann's award-winning Mogadishu last year, but I can easily see that her three characters - a hot shot, hot spot photographer, his adopted black daughter from Rwanda and a mystery man who comes calling - might have a few impassioned songs inside them. And the subject is unlikely enough for a new musical these days: the relationship between the media and the bad news it covers. The show's set in Hampstead, naturally enough.
The Royal Court was buzzing on Saturday, the last day of Mike Bartlett's Love Love Love on the main stage, and the first weekend of The Witness upstairs. A musical version of the Bartlett play would have to combine the hippy dippy rock pop of the baby boomer generation with the disaffected post punk of their children, something the play already hints at in its inter-act soundtrack.
One strand of musical theatre that has surprisingly not taken off in recent years is that based in the music of London itself, continuing the tradition of Lionel Bart in Fings Ain't Wot They Used T'Be and Oliver! There have been attempts to mobilise the music of the Kinks and Madness, but nothing has really gelled.
Just how great is the music of Kinks and Madness, and where it is rooted in our culture, was explained in a truly wonderful BBC2 television programme on Saturday night, Jools Holland: London Calling. In just seventy five minutes - catch it on BBC i-Player - Holland took us from medieval bell-ringing to Dizzee Rascal, via Handel, Little Tich, Max Miller, Leslie Sarony, calypso, reggae, Joe Brown and Ian Dury.
The Victorian/Edwardian music hall was the historic nub of it all, and Holland sensibly enlisted Roy Hudd to give us a quick tour d'horizon in the perfect setting of Wilton's in Grace Alley, where the two of them (Jools on piano) performed a beautiful, forgotten song in the atmospheric gloaming of the not too distant past.
It was one of those programmes you wanted to go on for ever. Surely the BBC should have commissioned a six-part series from Holland on this subject of London's musical heritage; it was the perfect marriage of subject and presenter and worth a whole raft of arts stuff fronted by Alan Yentob or, for that matter, maestro Melvyn Bragg himself; imbued with love and knowledge, devoid of deference or sucking up.
The result was both touching and unusual, rather like Denmark's victory over Holland in the opening round of games in the European soccer championship to which, needless to say, I am instantly addicted. There have already been three classic games out of four. This afternoon, England play France. Anything could happen, though an England victory is highly unlikely.
The same air of agitated expectancy applies to tonight's opening of A Midsummer Night's Dream in Regent's Park. Will it happen, or won't it? The rain has been torrential and unforgiving, and the forecast for later in the afternoon includes thunderstorms. Not for the first time at the Open Air theatre, those lovers will indeed be lying on the dank and dirty ground. Brolly good show!