Sunday 30 September 2007

He deserved better

We were all looking forward to the tribute gala for the late John Inman at the Lyric Theatre tonight, but...

Although it was nice to be there among the audience of extremely elderly luvvies and their grans, and to see creaking appearances by the likes of Danny LaRue, Frank Thornton, Trevor Bannister and the criminally under-used Wendy Richard - people who actually appeared to know and like John - the whole thing was just so stagey and distant and end-of-the pier that it seemed like the "John Inman bit" was sort of tacked on as an afterthought.

Reminiscent at times of watching a revival of New Faces of 1972, we were "treated" to music and jokes from faded old acts like Jess Conrad, Johnny More (who?), Craig Douglas, Julie Rogers and some woman who apparently appeared in Last of the Summer Wine - a show that has no perceptible link to John Inman at all, but he used to take the piss out of her clothes so that was sufficient for her to be there and read a poem about it. Among the acts, one Rose Marie - bizarrely billed as a "singer" - actually got the audience laughing at her terrible performance, despite trying to be serious!

On it went, as they dredged up Henry Cooper (!) to add to the list of wobbly old people on stage, and Frank Thornton tottered on again, looking for all the world like he was about to join John in his grave. Then he introduced the worst thing of the whole evening - Bobby Davro. I never liked him - he ranks with the likes of Jim Davidson, Jim Bowen and Ted Rogers in the hall of infamy of old school unfunny, sexist, racist and unpleasant "comedians". And true to form he resorted to the kind of routine that wouldn't be out of place thirty years ago at a Pavilion somewhere awful like Ilfracombe or Rhyl, or Benidorm perhaps.

After about an hour of "jokes" about dwarves, boobs and toupees we realised that this was indeed it - big names that had been advertised to appear were not going to turn up after all. We had been expecting Barbara Windsor, and rather hoped that one of the "surprises" might have been someone who would actually talk about John's life. But no - the mentions of John Inman amongst the acts were few and far between, and throughout the evening just one (rather dull) photo of him was projected as a backdrop. [Even Phil Starr got a selection of Powerpoint slides when Maisie Trollette did a tribute show at the Quebec pub.]

All in all an unsatisfactory tribute to a really talented man.

John Inman website

Saturday 29 September 2007

One of the most talented people who ever lived

The much missed Madeline Kahn would have been 65 today. Her long-time collaborator and friend Mel Brooks summed her up thus "one of the most talented people that ever lived. I mean, either in stand-up comedy, or acting, or whatever you want, you can't beat Madeline Kahn".

I loved Miss Kahn. She was a key player in so many of my favourite films, including the classic role of "Eunice Burns" in What's Up Doc with Barbra Streisand and Ryan O'Neil. But by far the most memorable were her appearances in a succession of Mel Brooks' best comedies: Blazing Saddles, Young Frankenstein, High Anxiety and History of the World Part I.

For two decades Madeline was a hugely popular regular on the US hit TV show Saturday Night Live, a show that made little impact elsewhere in the world but was responsible for launching the careers of John Belushi, Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Chevy Chase, the late Gilda Radner, Eddie Murphy, Mike Myers, Adam Sandler, Jim Carrey and Billy Crystal, and had a myriad of big-name hosts over the years including Steve Martin, Milton Berle, Candice Bergen, Alec Baldwin, Christopher Walken and Danny DeVito - whew!! And even at the very end she was still appearing at the top of the TV ratings, with a regular part in The Cosby Show.

Madeline Kahn was diagnosed in early 1999 with ovarian cancer, and sadly died on December 3rd that same year. A huge loss to the entertainment industry, and we shall never see her like again!

Madeline Kahn on Wikipedia

Wednesday 26 September 2007

Something for Everyone indeed

Remarkably, it is thirty-five years since the multi-Oscar winning musical Cabaret arrived on the big screen! Definitely my favourite film ever, it made a legendary star of our own Liza Minelli, for which we are eternally grateful... The brilliant Joel Grey as "Emcee" is forever etched on our musical psyche too.

But as a young gay lad growing up in closeted Welsh society, for me it was the glowing screen presence of the superbly sexy Michael York that made the film as a whole that bit more special. I was truly, madly, deeply in love with him, and to this day even as a veteran of more than 130 screen appearances he still makes me quite weak at the knees...

And it was not just Michael's appearance in Cabaret that made me realise my true destiny was to be with him, but also a little-known film of his that I vividly remember seeing on TV in the 80s called Something for Everyone, in which he starred alongside the marvellous Angela Lansbury.

The plot of the film - one of only two directed by theatre impresario Hal (Harold) Prince - is an extremely camp and very twisted melodrama about a Machiavellian pretty-boy (played by Michael) who literally "turns the screws" on an aristocratic German household. A stunning movie that (scandalously) has never been released on DVD, I would dearly love to see it again after all these years, and just drool...

Something for Everyone on IMDB

Tuesday 25 September 2007

The Best Of Times Is Now...

Coinciding with the announcement that the Menier Chocolate Factory's showpiece musical this November will be a revival of La Cage Aux Folles, we went to a special BBC Friday Night Is Music Night gala celebration of the life and work of Jerry Herman on Sunday.

The gorgeously flamboyant Mr Herman is almost single-handedly responsible for some of the most brilliant and memorable musicals to hit Broadway and the West End (and in many cases the big screen too): Hello Dolly, Mame, Mack & Mabel and La Cage among them...

For anyone who loves musical theatre, Sunday's show (recorded for broadcast on BBC Radio 2 this Xmas) was a real treat. The beautiful John Barrowman was both Master of Ceremonies and performer, singing the gay anthem I Am What I Am among others, and was joined by stalwarts of the stage Maria Friedman, Debbie Gravitte, Clarke Peters and Don Pippin, accompanied by the BBC Concert Orchestra and the chorus Capital Voices. Whew! Even Jerry himself joined us live (by phone, unfortunately being too unwell to travel to appear in person, as had been advertised).

Jerry Herman is a phenomenal writer of big showtunes as well as pithy torch songs, and provided a career boost to luminaries like Barbra Streisand, Angela Lansbury, Louis Armstrong, Carol Channing, Barbara Cook, George Hearn, Gloria Gaynor and Michael Crawford among many others. All our favourite hits were here, including Put On Your Sunday Clothes, Before The Parade Passes By, I Won't Send Roses, Tap Your Troubles Away, and of course my all-time favourite The Best of Times is Now.

A brilliant night (needless to say)!

Jerry Herman on Wikipedia

Menier Chocolate Factory

Monday 24 September 2007

Lacroix, sweetie...

A really jaw-dropping televisual feast tonight - BBC4's documentary The Secret World of Haute Couture...

Probably screened to coincide with the opening of the V&A exhibition The Golden Age of Couture, which opened on Saturday, and the London Fashion Week, this insight into the world of those face-lifted sunglasses-wearing ladies who form the "inner circle" of the high fashion world is amazing.

Ateliers, Baronesses, rare feathers, Parisienne salons, sequins, Mitfords, dodgy hairpieces, Wallis Simpson, former air hostesses who married rather well, a plethora of old queens - this programme has it all!

Catch it on replay if you can! It's worth it.


Victoria & Albert Museum

Saturday 22 September 2007

Everything you see, I owe to spaghetti

"You have to be born a sex symbol. You don't become one. If you're born with it, you'll have it even when you're 100 years old."

"Everything you see, I owe to spaghetti."

Sophia Loren

Happy Birthday Sophia Loren! Widely considered to be the most popular Italian actress, the diva was 73 this week.

Sophia Loren was born Sofia Villani Scicolone in Rome. Her father Riccardo Scicolone was an engineer and her mother Romilda Villani was an aspiring actress and piano teacher. Loren grew up in poverty in wartime Pozzuoli near Naples, sharing a small flat with her sister Maria, her grandparents and her uncles and aunts.

Loren was discovered by her future husband, the much older and already-married film producer Carlo Ponti, and they wed on September 17, 1957, three days before her 23rd birthday. Their first marriage had to be annulled in order to keep Ponti from being charged with bigamy. The couple remarried on April 9, 1966, but only after Sophia, Ponti, and Ponti's first wife all obtained French citizenship, thus enabling Carlo to divorce his first wife and marry Sophia in France, where at the time Catholic doctrines regarding divorce did not prevent legal civil marriage. The couple remained together until Ponti's death on January 9, 2007.

Sophia has made more than 90 films, and won the Best Actress Oscar for Two Women in 1960 - the first awarded for a foreign film. With her voluptuous figure, she became one of the major sex symbols of the 1960s, competing with Marilyn Monroe, Brigitte Bardot and Jane Fonda. Even in her sixties she was chosen by Empire magazine as one of the 100 Sexiest Stars in film history, and in 2006 at the age of 72 she became the oldest woman to pose seductively for the Pirelli calendar! She was a very close friend of major stars such as Cary Grant and Peter Sellers, with whom she performed two duets, Goodness Gracious Me and Bangers and Mash which were major hits in the UK pop chart.

In 1991, Loren received an honorary Academy Award for her contribution to world cinema and was declared "one of the world cinema's treasures". Long may she reign, and continue to delight her many many fans!

Sophia Loren on IMDB

Friday 21 September 2007

The little girl with the powerful voice

Friday Night is Music Night on BBC Radio 2 tonight is dedicated to the 50th anniversary of the musical West Side Story.

Leonard Bernstein's masterpiece, based upon the Shakespeare love story Romeo & Juliet, was a ground-breaking "modern" interpretation, radical in its day and remains an all-time classic. With lyrics by a young Stephen Sondheim, everyone still loves such timeless songs as Tonight Tonight, Maria and America.

On Monday we went to the Mermaid Theatre in Blackfriars to see the BBC live recording. Wow! What an experience. I have not been quite so close to an orchestra before, which was fascinating in itself, as they seemingly effortlessly battled through the incredible complexities of Bernstein's music. A whirl of violin bows, brass, flutes and cymbals.

But the real surprise was the singers. The chorus was fab (the sassy ensemble Capital Voices), and soloists such as Jacinta Whyte and Jon-Paul Hevey were great. But the true stars were gorgeous tenor Michael Xavier, playing Tony, and as Maria the New Zealand soprano Hayley Westenra.

Looking about twelve years old, this teeny tiny figure has an incredibly deceptive voice. And when the two leads duetted together on the lovely ballads from the show like Tonight and One Hand, One Heart, the theatre audience was completely stunned by the emotion conveyed. Could such a small person sing so powerfully?

Who would have thought I would suddenly become a Hayley Westenra fan?

Don't miss the show on Radio 2 tonight at 7.30pm, or you can listen again after tonight's broadcast for one week: Friday Night is Music Night page.

You might even hear me cough...

Hayley Westenra on MySpace

Friday 14 September 2007

All that to advertise a phone

The fact that David Beckham, who apparently is supposed to play football or something, has done a series of poster ads for the new Motorola razor phone provides me with the perfect opportunity to show one of the shots. All in the interest of "news", of course...

Wednesday 12 September 2007

Melodrama is dead, unfortunately

The death of Jane Wyman at the age of 90 serves to remind fans of the classic days of Hollywood, and how much has changed in this modern age.

Famed for her icy beauty and exuding class at every turn, Ms Wyman made 83 films during her long career, and later famously brought the mega-villain Angela Channing to the small screen in Falcon Crest. Her back catalogue of stiff-backed wives, high society ladies in love with (inevitably) the wrong man, and matriarchs is enviable - even if her shining light was always eclipsed by bigger names like Bette Davis, Olivia de Haviland and Katherine Hepburn.

Melodramas were largely her forte, however, and let's face it - they just don't make films like this any more. There just aren't any genuine stars left to make them nowadays, unfortunately...

Jane Wyman on Wikipedia

Tuesday 11 September 2007

Get him off our screens!

Jim Davidson a homophobic fascist unfunny c**t?

Is the Pope a Catholic? Do bears shit in the woods? Who would have believed it?

Let's hope this time his "career" is well and truly over.

Read the story

Monday 10 September 2007

A lark in the park

Well, what can I say about Saturday's Proms in the Park? A most bizarre evening indeed...

The early section of the day's entertainment (if it can be called that) was devoted to a younger audience - yawn - and, hosted by the ineffably smug Dick and Dom, began with the unintentionally hilarious Chico! This talentless parody of all things Hispanic lurched aimlessly into an awful cover of La Vida Loca, which met with complete bafflement as the audience as one wondered how it was he ever got on TV in the first place. Then, after begging us all to buy this heap of rubbish he gave us a sneak preview of his latest single - for which he had apparently mortgaged his house (he might have said "his arse", but it was difficult to understand his accent) - the godawful Curvy Cola Bottle Body in which the Latin lovely managed to rhyme "Marilyn Monroe" with "J-Lo". Words fail me at this point, so why not watch the video instead?

After some dreadful karaoke from some act inventively calling themselves "Ryandan" (cos they are brothers named Ryan and, er, Dan) and the passable yet pointless tribute band "T-Rextasy", we were then treated to the rare opportunity to hear yet another comeback attempt by former Spandau Ballet frontman Tony Hadley, who plodded through the worst of his ex-band's back catalogue - you can guess; all the middle-class wedding reception faves such as Gold, True and Through the Barricades - before my jaw completely dropped. It can't be? He is! Crooner Tony Hadley decided to re-interpret none other than the Kaiser Chiefs' suburban angst classic I Predict A Riot!! Good grief...

Sir Terry Wogan arrived and we breathed a collective sigh of relief; now everything appeared to be alright with the world. The rest of the evening's acts were at least slightly classier (if veering slightly away from the strict definition of "classical"). The much-anticipated appearance of Will Young (the BBC's prize act of the day, and probably the real reason why many in the audience actually bothered to sit uncomfortably on the rock hard earth of Hyde Park for hours) was OK, if occasionally a bit flat and a bit warbling. I groaned out loud, however, at having to sit through Leave Right Now without being able to run shrieking to the "off" switch as I am usually wont to do.

Lesley Garrett was fab, and for once didn't try and pretend she was Montserrat Caballé with a Yorkshire accent. She just stuck to performing some arias within her range, and did them very well - including an emotional version of Come What May from Moulin Rouge. Her patter between songs was unforced and kept people in the spirit of what the evening was really meant to be all about - the Last Night of the Proms - including a well-judged tribute to Luciano Pavarotti. She alternated with two other genuinely classy classical performers, the magnificent Peruvian tenor Juan Diego Florez and Young Musician of the Year clarinettist Mark Simpson.

And of course, the atmosphere really took off (and so it should, with the amount of wine that flowed in our, and everyone else's, picnics) once we joined the live screen link to the Royal Albert Hall. After the awkwardness of the traditional conductor's speech, given as it was by Jiri Belohlavek whose struggle with public speaking in English made it difficult, we got to the grand finale.

Waving Union Flags till our arms hurt, we sang, hummed and jumped around to Land of Hope and Glory, Fantasia on British Sea-Songs, No Place Like Home, Jerusalem, Rule Britannia and the National Anthem. Finishing off with fireworks and riotous applause, the whole thing was an unforgettable rush of emotion, pride and sheer exhausting exuberance.

Definitely a case of "the whole being more than a sum of its parts".

Friday 7 September 2007

Wild about Harry

The news today that the acclaimed West End production of Peter Schaffer's Equus is planning to open on Broadway next year provides me with another perfect (and purely gratuitous) chance to show a picture of the lovely Harry Potter star Daniel Radcliffe, star of the show...

Read the news article

Thursday 6 September 2007

The big man with a big voice

Sad news indeed about the death of Luciano Pavarotti. One of the world's greatest ever tenors, his repertoire spanned four decades - from his ground-breaking entry into the opera world in the 60s, performing definitive versions of Puccini operas like Tosca to later "popular" collaborations such as the huge selling Three Tenors CDs and concerts, to his chart success with Nessun Dorma, and duets with the likes of Celine Dion, Zucchero, James Brown, U2 and even Grace Jones...

The world has lost a magnificent musical talent, but his voice will live on forever.

Pavarotti obituary on the BBC

Tuesday 4 September 2007

Oh, the irony

Eurostar is set to make its inaugural journey today from Paris to London travelling at 186mph on a new high-speed line.

When it gets to Kings Cross St Pancras, however, any passengers or crew will find it bloody difficult to get anywhere as London is currently in the stranglehold of the odious Bob Crow and his RMT friends who have called a 72 hour strike on the tubes!

Yet another example of the sheer schizophrenia of British industry - on the one hand, we are proud inventors and builders of some of the greatest innovations the world has ever seen, from the Industrial Revolution to the World Wide Web, and on the other hand we continue to be crippled by the archaic bully-boy tactics of unions and money-grubbing laziness of employers who prefer to battle each other and make life generally miserable for us, the innocent citizens.

It is no wonder that amongst some of our European "partners" this country continues to be a laughing stock.

Saturday 1 September 2007

Men with dirty fingers

Just watched the 40th Anniversary of Gardeners' World on BBC replay. What a fabulous programme, one I have watched avidly for many years...

It is quite amazing what a huge impact the show has had over the years - one of the earliest colour broadcasts on the BBC, a regular audience of millions every week for four decades, and a constant supply of no-nonsense horticultural advice that has fed the nation's obsession with gardening and even dictated a number of trends, such as the move towards organic gardening.

Monty Don

And (surprisingly) Gardener's World provides another fascination - a regular supply of rugged totty! Now I am sure that no-one would possibly have moistened their pants over the likes of Percy Thrower or Peter Seabrook, but among the more recent crop of presenters there have been a few who have provided a bit of a tingle for many. The late great Geoff Hamilton had his fans, as have Alan Titchmarsh, Joe Swift, Andy Sturgeon - and I have to admit that Monty Don has masses of sex appeal, in a big-handed earthy sort of way.

But my all-time favourite is the gorgeous Chris Beardshaw. With his cheeky-chappy smile and his well-filled tight jeans, he could take me behind the potting sheds, whip out his dibber and show me the art of propagation any day!

And I'm not alone...

Happy 40th birthday Gardeners' World - long may this comforting, visually beautiful half hour of relaxation on a Friday evening continue!