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Spring into Summer Theatre

What’s hot over the next few months in Theatreland? As the temperatures climb, Roger Foss dons his sunglasses and looks ahead to some of the choices on offer in a sizzling summer season in London.

West End

Jerry Springer looks as if he’s going to have a Bob Fosse spring in his step this summer when he makes his stage debut as bent lawyer Billy Flynn in Chicago. “I’ve a voice for newspapers and a face for radio. When I sing, the audience really get involved because they have to guess where the notes have been,” quipped the ex-mayor of Chicago, former lawyer and talk-show host as his six-week run (from 1 June) was announced at the Cambridge Theatre, where Jerry Springer - The Opera also played, adding that he will receive vocal training.

As if there weren’t enough respectful nuns on the London Palladium stage in The Sound of Music, along comes a whole sisterhood of nuns on the run in the big new musical opening in the West End this summer, the world premiere of Sister Act (opening 2 June). Based on the smash-hit movie starring Whoopi Goldberg, Sister Act features a brand new score by eight-time Oscar winner Alan Menken (Little Shop of Horrors, Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid). Goldberg is co-producing the show, in which her film role, disco diva Deloris Van Cartier, will be played by American actress Patina Miller, who stars alongside Sheila Hancock and Dad’s Army and EastEnders actor Ian Lavender as Monsignor Howard.

The inhabitants of Avenue Q thought they were all going on a permanent summer holiday when the puppets and humans show closed at the Noël Coward Theatre in March to make way for Calendar Girls. Fortunately, bookings were so good that Kate Monster, Princeton and co are being moved lock, stock and furry barrel to the Gielgud Theatre – in upmarket Shaftesbury Avenue – where the show (still starring Daniel Boys and Julie Atherton) reopens on 1 June to continue into its fourth year in London. Life may suck on downmarket Avenue Q, but being jobless, homeless and not wearing underpants has never been so much fun, especially on a sticky summer night.

Be prepared for a baffling, shocking and hilarious experience at the Adelphi Theatre after Joseph hangs up his Dreamcoat this month. Derren Brown, the master of psychological illusion, will take up residence there with a brand new show, Derren Brown: Enigma. The Olivier Award winner plays 30 performances only at the Adelphi (15 June-18 July) and he’s promised that “I will absolutely push myself to the limit. The challenge is to create new material that shocks, delights and defies explanation. The audience will be taken for a theatrical roller-coaster ride, and I hope it’s an experience that they will never forget.”

Another summer experience you’ll never forget is sure to be Maria Friedman starring in a new fully staged, in-the-round production of the Rodgers and Hammerstein Broadway classic The King and I, which will run at the Royal Albert Hall for 20 performances only (12-28 June). Friedman will be joined by Daniel Dae Kim, best known to TV fans from Lost, as the King of Siam, and the production is directed by Jeremy Sams, whose last West End credit was another Rodgers and Hammerstein classic The Sound of Music at the London Palladium, where The King and I, was last seen in 2000/1.

Musicals are not the only fruit in the West End this spring and summer. Plays are making a comeback. The Theatre Royal Haymarket revival of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, opened last week, is already leading the charge with Ian McKellen’s Estragon clowning around with Patrick Stewart’s Vladimir, Simon Callow as Pozzo and Ronald Pickup as Lucky. Sean Mathias’ production is booking until 26 July.

The next red-hot West End tickets come via the Donmar Warehouse. Jude Law’s Hamlet concludes the Donmar West End season at Wyndham’s Theatre (0844 482 5120, 29 May-22 August). Is Law destined to be or not to be another David Tennant? One thing’s for sure, with Michael Grandage directing and Law on top form, this is bound to be a Hamlet to remember. Incidentally, with the credit crunch in mind, the top-price ticket is £32.50, with over 130 tickets per performance at the lowest ticket price of £10.

And back at the Donmar’s 250-seat Covent Garden home base, there are two more classic plays cum summer sizzlers. First up, Gillian Anderson stars as Nora in a new version of Ibsen’s A Doll’s House from 14 May to 18 July. And that’s followed (23 July-3 October) by Rachel Weisz as Blanche DuBois in Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire, directed by Rob Ashford and co-starring Elliot Cowan as Stanley.

With war stories in mind, Prunella Scales stars in an adaptation of Nina Bawden’s classic 1973 novel Carrie’s War at the Apollo Theatre from 18 June. The production first played at Sadler’s Wells over Christmas 2006 and also stars Sarah Edwardson, who reprises the role of Carrie. The family drama centres on World War Two evacuees Carrie and Nick, who are billeted in the mining valleys of Wales.

Another stage version of a children’s novel will also arrive in the West End in time for the hols – Children’s Laureate Michael Rosen’s We’re Going on a Bear Hunt, which will play for a summer season of daytime performances at the Duchess Theatre from 9 July to 16 August. Suitable for children aged three and over, the show follows a family’s excitement as they squelch through a variety of squishy environments in search of a bear.

For grown-ups, Bear Hunt will play at the Duchess concurrently with evening performances of two Ronald Harwood plays, Taking Sides and Collaboration, which start performances on 20 May. Michael Pennington and David Horovitch lead the shared cast of the two plays exploring the fine line between collaboration and betrayal during World War Two.

Meanwhile, at the Old Vic, some of the finest talents of New York and London theatre will launch the London leg of the Bridge Project – a three-year, transatlantic partnership uniting the Old Vic with the Brooklyn Academy of Music and Neal Street Productions. Sam Mendes returns to the London stage to direct a formidable group of actors in a double-bill of classics – Tom Stoppard’s new version of Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard and Shakespeare’s tragi-comedy The Winter’s Tale. And with Simon Russell Beale, Sinead Cusack, Rebecca Hall, Richard Easton, Josh Hamilton and Ethan Hawke in the cast, who won’t be going to the Old Vic between 23 May and 15 August?

And beyond the West End, New Wimbledon Theatre is hosting the UK premiere of High School Musical 2 Live on Stage! (22 August-5 September). The show features all the songs from the movie, including “What Time Is It?” and “You Are the Music in Me” and focuses on the students of East High during their summer break.

National Theatre

Amongst the National’s summer repertory, there are two productions that are particularly hotly anticipated. In the NT Olivier, Marianne Elliott directs Shakespeare’s All’s Well That End’s Well, continuing the Travelex £10 Season (from 28 May). It’s the first production of this bittersweet comedy at the NT and the cast includes Oliver Ford Davies, Clare Higgins and Conleth Hill. And in the NT Lyttelton from 11 June, Helen Mirren returns to the NT to play the title role in Racine’s Phedre, in a version by Ted Hughes and directed by artistic director Nicholas Hytner. The cast for this titanic tragedy also includes Dominic Cooper as Hippolytus and Margaret Tyzack as Oenone.

Also at the NT, New Connections (1-7 July) returns with another short season of new plays for and about teenagers commissioned from some of the best contemporary playwrights for performance by schools and youth theatres across the UK. The festival will showcase pieces from the likes of David Mamet, Anthony Horowitz and Conor Mitchell. According to the NT, “tales of attraction, rejection, loyalty, loss, magic, mischief – plus the familiar ups and downs of first friendships – are at the heart of this year’s plays”.

Look out too for Watch This Space, the NT’s free festival of al fresco performance on the green astroturf arena outside the main entrance (1 July-27 September). This year’s rich variety of theatre, circus, dance, music and spectacle under a sunny sky includes week-long residencies by UK companies Upswing Aerial, the Gandini Juggling Project and Prodigal Theatre’s Urban Playground, plus the innovative Polish company Teatr Biuro Podròży returning with their sell-out production of Macbeth.

Shakespeare’s Globe

There’s no doubt the “wooden O” of Shakespeare’s Globe is where it’s at this summer for the young at heart. Indeed Young Hearts is the umbrella title for the 2009 season (23 April to 10 October), which, according to artistic director Dominic Dromgoole, celebrates “the heedless joy of youth, a love of life and the enduring passion of our audiences”.

Following Dromgoole’s opening salvo of Romeo and Juliet (Juliet is played by Ellie Kendrick, Anne Frank in the BBC’s recent The Diary of Anne Frank), the Shakespeare schedule will continue with As You Like It, Troilus and Cressida and Love’s Labour’s Lost. The season also includes a range of new work, including the Globe’s first excursion into full-scale Greek drama in Frank McGuinness’ new version of Euripides’ Helen; A New World, marking the 200th anniversary of the death of Thomas Paine, by Trevor Griffiths, and Che Walker’s just-returned tale of contemporary London life, The Frontline. To get to the heart of the Globe, go to the Globe Exhibition, which includes a fascinating guided tour of this unique theatre.

Playing in the parks

Follow the signs to the centre of Regent’s Park to reach the Open Air Theatre, where you’ll discover the buzz of an audience unpacking pre-show hampers on the lawn, clinking wine glasses and enjoying one of the best alfresco theatre nights. On stage, the 2009 line-up begins, as ever, with Shakespeare. Much Ado About Nothing (25 May-27 June) plays alongside The Tempest, re-imagined for everyone aged from six to 96 (5-28 June), followed by Oscar Wilde’s timeless masterpiece The Importance of Being Earnest (3-25 July). The season ends with a revival of Jerry Herman’s Hello Dolly! (30 July-12 September), starring Samantha Spiro in the title role. Naturally, if it rains, it’ll be “hello brolly”!

And, in another of London’s Royal Parks, Kensington Gardens, Ciaran Kellgren will be flying high in JM Barrie’s Peter Pan, staged in a specially commissioned 1,100-seat theatre pavilion from 26 May to 30 August. The new £2.75 million production uses state-of-the-art design to conjure up the backdrops to the adventures of Peter, Wendy, the Lost Boys, Captain Hook and that pesky ticking crocodile, promising to take audiences on a flight-path high over Edwardian London which takes in the Albert Hall, Buckingham Palace, Nelson's Column, St Paul's Cathedral and the Tower of London.

Design for Peter Pan is by William Dudley, whose innovative computer-generated stage designs have been seen in The Coast of Utopia, Hitchcock Blonde and The Woman in White, and involves groundbreaking use of the inside of the pavilion roof as a projection screen. Resembling a digital planetarium, the entire pavilion ceiling will be “dissolved” by seamless, high-resolution video, immersing the cast and audience in a 360-degree virtual world.

Sothere’s no need to go “second to the right, and then straight on till morning” – Peter Pan’s summer home will be situated in the meadow between West Carriage Drive and the Long Water, in the North East of Kensington Gardens near Lancaster Gate Tube!

Details for all the productions mentioned in this article can be found by searching our Show Listings database. A version of this article appears in the April issue of What’s On Stage magazine. NOTE: The print edition is now available bi-monthly on subscription only as one of the many benefits of our Theatre Club. To guarantee you receive all future editions, click here to subscribe now!!


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