Saturday, September 18, 2010

'Jersey Boys' Sing at the Prince Edward Theatre - The Review

The story of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons – Frankie Valli, Bob Gaudio, Tommy DeVito and Nick Massi – and how this group of blue-collar boys from the wrong side of the tracks became one of the biggest American and International pop music sensations of all time. They wrote their own songs, invented their own sounds and sold 175 million records worldwide – all before they were thirty.

This is the third production I have witnessed after Broadway and Toronto and will likely see other productions in the future. ‘Jersey Boys’ is a well devised crowd-pleaser. We get the story of the origins of the music group as the audience is teased with the group’s lesser hits. The auditorium then explodes once the familiar ‘Sherry’ is performed mid-way in the first act.

One thing that becomes obvious after repeated viewings is the reliance of narration. Not a bad thing and used to speed the story along. But it would be a clever writer to move the story with less one to one with the audience. It’ll be interesting how this works in a planned movie adaption of the musical.

Nevertheless, I am impressed each time with the talent on stage. After all, the purpose of going to this show is to see these songs performed live. Each time the group of actors chosen to play The Four Seasons do not disappoint including the actors on stage at the Prince Edward Theatre in London. This is a highlights version of the Four Seasons story and that’s okay.

At certain performances the role of Frankie Valli is performed by an alternate, Scott Monello, who performed at this evening's performance in lieu of Ryan Molloy.  Stephen Ashfield as Bob Gaudio, Eugene McCoy as Nick Massi, and James Winter (understudy) as Tommy DeVito normally played by Jon Boydon filled the remaining roles. Although it's always a slight disappoint that the original cast members are not performing, this is not a star vehicle show. Monello is one of the taller Frankie Vallis but he found the right style of performance to transition from youth to fatherhood. His singing was top notch.

So rather go on about this production, I’ll let this list of songs performed in the musical to show it’s going to be a good time. All these songs are available on the 2005 Broadway Cast Recording.  For the original versions, try the Very Best of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons.
Walk Like A Man
Dececember 1963 (Oh What a Night)
Big Girls Don’t Cry
My Eyes Adored You
Let’s Hang On
Bye Bye Baby
Can’t Take My Eyes Off You
Working My Way Back to You
Who Love you


All photos used for illustration purposes only.

Scenes from the 'Jersey Boys' - London Production

Trailer with the original London cast of 'Jersey Boys'

Prince Edward Theatre Sings with 'Jersey Boys' - The Venue

Click here for a brief description of the Prince Edward Theatre when 'Mary Poppins' played the venue. I noticed that I can never get a great evening shot of this theatre. The theatre is in the Soho section of the London so inevitably I'll be near the theatre again where I'll try to get some daytime pics of the facade.

Joe Allen Restaurant Hides in Central London

Discreet location is usually not something a restaurant is proud about but this location advertises it on their website. I asked my server about the discreet entrance. She said this helps to cater to the loyal clientele or those who are aware of the Joe Allen name rather than to the tourists walking off the street. I have to say the discreet location does no harm. Even though I chose to dine rather early at 5pm, almost every table in the main dining room was filled in an hour.

My friend Marc introduced me to Joe Allen in New York City and I have returned to that location in successive visits. The London location differs in the art work on the wall. Rather than the posters of failed Broadway productions, this location sports entertainment posters from New York City in general.

The restaurant is in the basement level so prepare to walk down a narrow stairway. Once at the base of the stairway, you enter the bar area and beyond a wall with arched windows is the main dining room. The ambience is casual with dim lighting.

The restaurant offers a three-course pre-theatre meal for £18 (US$27) not including gratuity and drinks. I started with lentil soup, then grilled tilapia and ended with a chocolate desert with a banana sauce. A tasty meal at a reasonable price for London. A Samuel Adams beer and coffee complemented the meal. Bread comes with the meal. The wait staff was efficient and all shared duties in servicing tables.

This location of Joe Allen opened in 1977 and is located at 13 Exeter Street. If you will be attending theatres along the Strand or in Covent Garden, this location is perfect. Restaurant hours is Mon-Fri 8:00am-12:45am; Sat 11:30am-12:45am; and Sun 11:30am to 11:45pm. More info can be found at

Photos: Above, the inconspicuous entrance to the restaurant; below top to bottom (note: all photos taken with iPhone which explains their grainy appearance), main dining room, grilled tilapia and chocolate desert.

'Legally Blonde' Colors the Savoy - The Review

On Broadway, ‘Legally Blonde’ was so loud and over-produced that it swamped any good performances or material in the story or score. It was almost downright distracting. But something happened on the way to London. The musical on stage at the Savoy Theatre is much better than one would expect.

Another stage musical adaptation of a hit movie, the story remains the same. College sweetheart Elle Woods doesn’t take no for an answer. So when her boyfriend dumps her for someone serious, Elle puts down the credit card, hits the books and heads for Harvard Law. Along the way, Elle proves that being true to yourself never goes out of style.

Sheridan Smith as Elle delivers the bubbly charm required for the role. Early in the show there’s a very slight giggle in her voice that serves as a nod to the audience: the joke is this show is ludicrous but it's funny and I’m going to show you a good time. And indeed she does. Pitch perfect from beginning to end.

The supporting role of Warner, Elle’s ex-boyfriend, has been elevated to a star vehicle. First with the lead singer of Blue (Duncan James) and now succeeded by UK actor/singer Richard Fleeshman. Much more suave than oily, his portrayal is that of a misguided soul. One more thing about Fleeshman. Obviously cut from the Di Caprio mold, it should be illegal for a guy to be this pretty.

Overall the musical is more focused on the performances than the design and that is this productions absolute strength. For example the role of Paulette (Jill Halfpenney) is subdued and not as brassy which explains explains her insecurities. The huge sets are still there but these actors know how not to be upstaged by a piece of scenery.

This is the third time I’ve seen this show (It was only slightly better on the US tour). The biggest disappointment is the continued inclusion of the first number for act two called ‘Whipped into Shape’. This number is filler and should be thrown out altogether. Despite some delightful songs in the score, this has to be one of the worst songs ever performed on stage.

But it’s the cast that makes this version of ‘Legally Blonde’ work. If the entire cast is really British I am further impressed. There is just the right amount of understatement that makes these characters feel almost real. Oh and by the way, the ‘Riverdance’ spoof is priceless.


'Legally Blonde' Clips from the Musical in London

Savoy Theatre Colors 'Legally Blonde' - The Venue

The Savoy Theatre originally was built and completed in 1881 to host the operas by Gilbert & Sullivan (‘Pirates of Penzance’). The main entrance is situated along the courtyard of the Savoy Hotel which was famously featured in the film "Notting Hill" where Hugh Grant and his friends drive up to interrupt a press conference for the Julia Roberts character. The theatre is decked out in silver splendor keeping with the stainless steel exterior of the hotel.

In 1990 while under refurbishment, a fire gutted the building except for the stage and backstage areas. It was rebuilt in 1993 with a seating capacity of over 1,100 on three levels. This is one of a few theatres in London where the entire auditorium is below street level. I was surprised when the usher directed me to the stalls (orchestra) level down three sets of stairways.

The large marquee of the current theatre tenant "Legally Blonde" obscures the Savoy Hotel facade while it undergoes refurbishment. The theatre and hotel are located along the busy Strand and a short stroll from Covent Garden.

Sweet Treats from Patisserie Valerie

Before a matinee play, I opted for something simple and quick with a visit to the Covent Garden location of Patisserie Valerie. Although busy with a lunch crowd I found seating in a comfortable lounge chair and table inside near the entrance. The restaurant does serve savory selections, but one cannot help to avoid at least trying some of their heavenly pastries. Along with my Americano coffee was a slice of Selva Cake (layers of chocolate cake, creamy filling and fruit on top). This sweet was delicious, airy and light (although I don't know if the calories would indicate so).

This Patisserie Valerie is located at 15 Bedford Street in Covent Garden and opened Mon-Fri 7:30am-9:00pm; Sat 8:30am-9:00pm and Sun 9:00am-8:00pm. More info found at Click here for a copy of their dining menu.

Photos: Above, facade of the Covent Garden location; below top to bottom: selection of sweets from the restaurant's street window; my 'light snack' and the bill (approximately $10 not including gratuity).

Nelson's Ship In A Bottle & The Fourth Plinth

After the crowds of the Covent Garden markets, I found myself among the much larger crowds of Trafalgar  Square. At the northwest corner of the square is this interesting installation called Nelson's Ship in a Bottle on the Fourth Plinth.

Some explanation. A plinth is a square base or pedestal. At Trafalgar Square, the Fourth Plinth was designed in 1841 to display an equestrian statue which was never completed due to insufficient funds. In 1998, three sculptures were commissioned to be displayed temporarily on the plinth. With high interest to these sculptures from the public, the Mayor of London declared a commission to continue the tradition. So in 2005 began a display of some of the world's innovative artworks on the Fourth Plinth.

Nelson's Ship in a Bottle by Anglo-Nigerian artist Yinka Shonibare is the latest of these sculptures installed in May 2010 and will be displayed for 18 months. Pictured below is the plaque at the base on the plinth commemorating the work. Of recent works, this is probably the most befitting to sit in Trafalgar to complement the column displaying Lord Horatio Nelson's statue as centerpiece of the square.

Other works are already being considered as the next installation on the Fourth Plinth. Visit for more information on the sculptures in contention. Who knows what unusual sculpture will greet future visitors to Trafalgar Square?

Further exploration of Trafalgar Square will have to wait until tomorrow as my busy Saturday in London continues.

Jubilee Market in Jubilee Hall in Covent Garden

The Jubilee Market is one of the must sees when in Covent Garden. There is something for everyone depending on the day of week. Mondays from 9am-5pm it's an antique market for every budget. Tuesday to Friday 9:30am-6:30pm it becomes a general market of 200 stalls with everything from household goods to novelties. On this Saturday and Sunday 9:30am-5:30pm it transforms into an arts and craft market featuring items from various skills.

The sellers here openly display their arts and crafts. If you find something you like, buy more of the same and bargain for it. I generally look for unusual posters or photographs of London. My purchases have included a Theatres of London poster which now hangs framed above my couch. In another visit I purchased several framed pictures of London from a local photographer.

If you don't plan to buy anything, this market combined with the markets and shops in the Covent Garden halls can make for an interesting visual experience. The market also houses an exchange bureau and vendors selling refreshments. Paths through the market can be congested as shoppers stroll slowly to peruse each booth. But be patient and look around. You may just find something unique and interesting to purchase.

Jubilee Hall which houses the market was constructed in 1904 and restored in 1985. It was officially opened by Queen Elizabeth II in 1988. More info at

The Largest Apple Store in the World Opens

Only a month old, I visited the newest Apple Store in London by accident. I did not know a new London location opened and I like to return to Covent Garden to soak up the atmosphere, find a bargain or dine at one of the establishments nearby. So it was surprise to find this huge branch of the store which I have learned is now the largest Apple store in the world. Yes, I am a user of Apple products.

Could there be a battle between London and New York City? The London store on Regent Street held the title of largest Apple Store. Then the 5th Avenue location in New York took the title in 2007 which it held until this year.

Exposed brick, polished wood and tons of glass add to the uniqueness of this location. The store is spread over three separate floors and contains two signature pieces of architecture found in other large Apple Stores: the shiny glass elevator and two glass staircases, a first for any store. The huge space allows for the display for every Apple product and many accessories not found at other stores. A store this size helps to even out the crowd and makes the space more inviting.

Spacious and full of light, the store offers views overlooking the store's glass covered atrium and the Covent Garden piazza outside.

The 300th location in the chain, more info about this specific store can be found by clicking here. More info about all things Apple at The store is opened Mon-Sat from 9am-9pm and Sunday from Noon-6pm.

Photos: Above, entrance from the Covent Garden piazza; below from top to bottom, view of piazza from second floor, the two-story glass-covered atrium, view through the second floor, the spiral glass staircase.

St. Paul's Church in Covent Garden

It's easy to get caught up in the excitement of the Covent Garden Piazza and miss this historical church. St Paul's Church (note: different from St. Paul's Cathedral) was completed in 1633 and almost 400 years later it still stands and still is a place of worship among modern shops.

Famously the side of the church that faces the Piazza is the setting for Robert Bernard Shaw's "Pygmalion" and its musical adaptation "My Fair Lady".  The first scenes in the movie musical takes place on these steps (in the film, actually a movie set). In 2002, the church was the host for one of two weddings for singers Gwen Steffani and Gavin Rossdale.

The garden that flanks the church on either side provides a tranquil escape from the hubbub of the market outside. With the Royal Opera House and the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane nearby, St. Paul's is associated with the theatre and commonly known as the actors' church.

Daily in front of the church's portico are street performers of all kinds: clowns, fire-eaters, musicians and acrobats. More info at

Return to Covent Garden Piazza

Lines long at this vendor selling paella.
Covent Garden is either referenced to the district in central London or more often to the shopping arcade and the streets that border it. More often the latter is referred to as Covent Garden Piazza or Square to distinguish it and is a must see in London. See my previous post about this shopper's and foodie's delight by clicking here.

Travel expert Rick Steves succinctly and humorously describes the Piazza in his London guidebook as follows: "The centerpiece of this boutique-ish shopping district is an iron-and-glass arcade. The area is a people-watcher's delight, with cigarette eaters, Punch-and-Judy acts, food that's good for you (but nor your wallet), trendy crafts, sweet whiffs of marijuana, two-tone hair (neither natural), and faces that could set of a metal detector."

The absence of vehicular traffic makes visiting extra attractive. On this Saturday morning, it is particularly busy with events for London Fashion Week and weekend shoppers. Since the matinee play was nearby I chose to make the area a day of it. More info about the district at

One of the shopping arcades (above) and views of the piazza surrounding the  shopping arcades.

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