What’s On Stage

Lots of comedy is on offer in London now. That includes a big new musical, The Witches of Eastwick, at Drury Lane (020 7494 5060). A Gothic tale set in an imaginary American small town, it was a movie, and now it’s a monster musical. It emerges in luridflower in a new retelling of three bored women who unwittingly raise the Devil. It certainly is spectacular; the three flying women (wonderfully played by Maria Friedman, Lucy Arnaz, and Joanna Riding) add the necessary magic, while, alas, Ian McShane as the Devil just doesn’t. He tries hard but every move he makes he opens a can of squirms. Look for Peter J?back as the sweet young lover who sings ardently. See Witches for a real Drury Lane spectacular, though. There’s lots of dance and it’s exotically set and very theatrical.

Pageant has come into the Vaudeville (020 7836 9987) from popular runs in the U.S. It’s a look with a slant at America’s beauty contests through the years. This “Miss America contest” takes place every night, with the audience voting on the star. The laugh is that the “girls” are all fellas, and not copy-cat impersonators–it’s all great fun as fuzzy chests and hairy legs in high heels are paraded as well as a set of dizzy costumes.

The revival of The King and I from New York is an undoubted triumph for the London Palladium (020 7494 5020). Rodgers and Hammerstein made a marvel 50 years ago, and it’s staged here with spectacular design. As the governess who teaches the many children of the King of Siam, Elaine Paige sings charmingly and looks wickedly young. As the sexy king, Jason Scott Lee starts slowly but gathers pace and eventual charisma.

A Busy Day at the Lyric (020 7494 5045) is a comedy by the great 18th-century diarist Fanny Burney. A visual feast, the production tells a tale of the Regency period. Snobbery is rampant, making for a lot of witty comment. Costumes range from Greek Revival fashions to robust and vulgar cartoons, after the great satirist George Rowlandson.

The courtyard at Somerset House, an 18th-century palace off the Strand, will play host to outdoor opera and ballet by its new fountains, and a splendidly grand London palace will live again after decades as offices and a parking lot for tax officials. Stroll around, take tea on a terrace with river views, discover two great museums–the Courtauld and the newly opened GilbertCollection.

Stones in His Pockets at the Duke of York’s Theatre (020 7836 5122) is a comedy from a new voice, Marie Jones. She crafts a clever play using but two Irish actors to convey the mayhem of a Hollywood movie being shot in a remote Irish village.

Notre Dame de Paris clangs doom-laden bells at the Dominion (0870 607 7460). This musical version of the Victor Hugo novel The Hunchback of Notre Dame must have the original author cowering in the crypt. The music (Richard Cocciante) is notable, as are spectacular dances from a large, hard-working cast. But it’s a heavy version–tedious and poorly developed. The painful lyrics (the translations anyway, by Will Jennings) have to be heard to be disbelieved.

Gilbert & Sullivan rollicks into the Savoy Theatre (020 7836 8888) with The Mikado until January. This popular spoof of Japanese fashions in Victorian England is a new look at a favourite operetta by the D’Oyly Carte Company. More serious opera in on tap at the vast Albert Hall (020 7589 8212) with Aïda on 26th October and Tosca on 26th November.

Recommended is The Reduced Shakespeare Company. Three crazy Americans speed thro’ comic cuts on Shakespeare and American history Tuesdays. Criterion (020 7413 1437).

Michael Leech