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London Spotlight: August 2007

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Susan McFadden and Danny Bayne
in a publicity image for Grease
Musicals here have suddenly become the province of reality television shows, thanks in large part to the success of Connie Fisher in The Sound of Music. This month's instant celebrities are Danny Bayne and Susan McFadden, who prevailed on the boob-tube competition Grease is the Word and now get to play Danny and Sandy in producer David Ian's revival of Grease at the Piccadilly.

No stranger to television, Tony Award winner Stockard Channing headlines Clifford Odets' Awake and Sing! at the Almeida (August 31-October 20), under the direction of Michael Attenborough. One of the most important American plays of the 20th century, Awake and Sing! tells the story of a Jewish family trying to make it through the Depression without entirely sacrificing dignity.

There are only a few more recognizable names on a marquee than Dame Diana Rigg, who is starring in Samuel Adamson's stage adaptation of Pedro Almodovar's award-winning film All About My Mother for the Old Vic (August 25-November 24). A host of local favorites, including Eleanor Bron and Lesley Manville, co-star in this provocative comedy-drama.

The name value of We The People at the Globe (through October 6) belongs to the United States of America's Declaration of Independence. Playwright Eric Schlosser has run up a drama based on speeches, letters, and official documents from the pens of George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, James Madison, and other founding fathers of the nation that in 1776 tired of being an English colony. The other new play at the Globe this month is Holding Fire! (through October 5) by Jack Shepherd, which follows the adventures of a slum girl during the Industrial Revolution in England.

The National Theatre, which is having a hot streak under artistic director Nicholas Hytner, is serving up Eugene O'Neill's Emperor Jones (August 22-September 8). Sizzling young director Thea Sharrock directs Paterson Joseph in the title role of an ex-con who rises to the dictatorship of a West Indies island. The other new entry at the National is The Enchantment (through August 21), a fresh adaptation of Victoria Benedictsson's play that was so potentially scandalous at its Swedish debut that the author replaced her name with the made-up one of Ernst Ahlfors. Nancy Carroll plays the central figure, a free-love advocating woman, and Niamh Cusack also appears.

Those still seeking serious challenges are directed to the Soho for a pair of intriguing offerings. Tanika Gupta's White Boy (August 10-September 1) concerns racial issues, and Marcy Kahan's 20 Cigarettes (August 15-30) concerns smoking issues -- cigarette smoking, that is.

Sounding slightly more comic, even if dealing with grave matters, is Richard Bean's In the Club at the Hampstead (now through August 25), which follows an MEP (member of the European Parliament) who's having a difficult day during his attempts to rise to the organization's top post. James Fleet is the befuddled club member, and David Grindley, now famous for his Journey's End revival, is the director.

Buddy Holly, one of the many early rock stars who died young, is known for his songs and performing acumen, but he's also known around these parts for inspiring Buddy, a musical that had a long, long run not too long ago. The show's return at the Duchess (August 3-January 5) means you can thrill to "That'll Be the Day" and other Holly delectables.

Another popular musical being revived -- but with 20's music as reimagined in the 50's -- is Sandy Wilson's irresistible pastiche, The Boy Friend (Open Air in Regent's Park, August 28-September 15).

Lastly, the always-busy director-producer Peter Hall has conjured up another rewarding season at the Royal Theatre, Bath. The month's attraction (August 7-25) is Alan Ayckbourn's How the Other Half Loves, directed by Alan Strachan and starring Nicholas le Prevost.

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