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Menier in Manhattan

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It must be a proud moment in the life of the Menier Chocolate Factory to have two of their hit musical revivals facing each other across the street on Broadway.

But this pride must be tinged with anxiety. La Cage aux Folles at the Longacre, starring Kelsey Grammar and Douglas Hodge, is only playing to half full houses.

And A Little Night Music in the Walter Kerr, doing much better with Elaine Stritch and Bernadette Peters, having replaced Catherine Zeta-Jones CBE and Angela Lansbury, has coarsened since London almost beyond recognition.

Lansbury was rumoured to be taking prompts through an ear piece. The inimitable Stritch, now in her mid 80s, is struggling in one of those performances where, each time she opens her mouth, you never know what (if anything) will come out.

Peters is an even bigger disappointment, flirting with the audience outrageously, mugging like a stand-up and sending in clowns with a misty-eyed fake bout of sobbing.

The setting looks wrong for the theatre and the invisibility of the band is a nonsense in a big house. And what distinguished Trevor Nunn's direction in London, the psychological continuity of the performances, is completely missing.

None of this bothers the audience who leap to their feet in that depressing Pavlovian manner that is now de rigeur on Broadway.

The show rambles on well past the three hour mark -- and that's after cuts -- and is then followed by ill-prepared speeches of nauseating obsequiousness -- how dare they! -- by Stritch and Peters on behalf of Aids and other charities.

Not least among the considerable pleasures of Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown -- which is fresh, funny, brilliantly designed by Michael Yeargan in the spirit as much as the style of the Almodovar film, and continuously engaging -- is the half-heartedness of the standing ovation (you get the impression the show is too clever, and too European, for Broadway) and the lack of a charity spiel at the end.

London agent David Watson, who represents designer Bob Crowley, agreed with me on this.
He's in town for Bob's Metropolitan Opera debut Monday night, alongside Nicholas Hytner (his Metropolitran bow, too), with Verdi's Don Carlos, the revival shared with Covent Garden and Oslo.

While it's true some of the leads in Women, notably Brian Stokes Mitchell, are a little under-used in what one critic unjustly dubbed Women on the Verge of a Coherent Musical, Patti LuPone is outstandingly camp as the wronged Lucia, her big number "Invisible" an instant standard, and the whole show carried effortlessly by the brilliant, super sexy Sherie Rene Scott as Pepe.

Music and lyrics by David Yazbek (also responsiblke for The Full Monty and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, both underrated scores) couldn't be wittier or more Spanish. 

Nor could they be less like Sondheim, another very big thing in the show's favour.



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