Tuesday, 1 July 2008

REVIEW: "Divas"

(Reviews from the RZ’s continental excursion will follow shortly, but the standard rule of what closes first gets reviewed first is in effect.)

If one were to look at the 20th century’s most legendary singers, any number of performers may appear: Jacques Brel, Ethel Merman, John Lennon, countless opera leads. But if one were to look at the defining singers in popular music, the 1930s were an era rife with talent and larger than life characters. Divas, the newest offering from choreographer Peter Schaufuss is an attempt to pay homage to three of the greatest: Edith Piaf, Marelene Dietrich, and Judy Garland. The key word, really, is “attempt.”

It’s not that there’s anything particularly bad about Divas, per say, and the central concept is certainly a valid one worthy of exploration. However, Schaufuss’s choice of styles (heavily driven by ballet) doesn’t click with the songs. The RZ isn’t particularly well educated in dance, so he may be missing something obvious, but it’s certainly hard to describe in words the general feeling that things were close, yes, but not right. Perhaps it’s Mr. Schauffus’s desire to maintain a period look in most of the numbers but to avoid period dance, the fancy yet infrequently used LED backing board, or end of run apathy and the amateurish movements which invaded the evening, but the piece failed to click in a way that would take a dance enthusiast to properly explain. The use of Nazi imagery in the Dietrich segment also made the RZ feel unusually uncomfortable - perhaps a side effect of his recent visit to Germany - but the two numbers in question (one whose title the RZ can’t remember and the other being “Where have all the flowers gone” featuring a freshly scrubbed looking HJ wooing a girl) seemed out of place with the evening's overall tone.

So anyhow, the big question(s): Is Divas worth getting a ticket for? If you like the musicians in question , the RZ says yes, it is. The prices are reasonable and there are discounts a-plenty. None of the three acts is too long (each diva gets 30 minutes with two 20 minute intervals) though the Judy Garland segment features an early bow two shows before the end making it feel artificially long. If nothing else, it’s nice to hear these old tunes resurrected and, as always, there are far worse options at hand, though it certainly doesn't live up to, say, Susan Stroman's Contact.

Where: Apollo Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue
When: Until 5 July, 19:30, W/Sa @ 15:00
How Much: £16-36
Concessions: £20 on the day.
RZ Unofficial “Worth Paying”: £10. Divas is an amusing distraction but nothing to spend serious money on.
RZ Other Notes: Given the emptiness on the night the RZ went, he would recommend what he did: buy a £10 upper circle ticket on lastminute and hope for an upgrade. In his case, he wound up in the first circle, which had plenty of seats to spare as did the extreme sides of the stalls. Be aware that the rake is poor in the Apollo’s seating and the guard posts on the front of the circles are high, ditto the safety rails. Be warned that the music is also on the loud side and the recordings used are not as well remastered as they could be.

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