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London Spotlight: June 2006

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Noel Coward
English theater's most famous 20th-century enfant terrible has to be Noel Coward, but that hasn't stopped producer Cameron Mackintosh from renaming the Albery Theatre on St. Martin's Lane after the playwright-director-actor-songwriter-cabaret performer. The newly-christened Noel Coward Theatre's first tenant will be Avenue Q, the American musical that won the 2004 Best Musical Tony. Lyricist Jeff Marx told TheaterMania that he believes the late theater legend "would have liked" their cheerful, puppet-populated tuner about twentysomethings on a rundown city street trying to figure out what to do with their uncertain lives. In anticipation of its arrival on the West End, only a few changes have been made in the award-winning script; for example, the character Gary Coleman is now just janitor Gary because non-American ticket buyers might not recognize the former sitcom star's name. The only original Broadway cast member crossing the Pond is Ann Harada. The rest are Brits, and Marx said that when he and colleagues held auditions a few months ago, they "were floored" by the caliber of the talent.

Tom Stoppard has written his first play for the Royal Court. Rock 'n' Roll weaves the intersecting stories of a Czech rock band performing during the Prague Spring and the goings-on in the life of a Cambridge philosophy professor. Sinead Cusack, Brian Cox, and Rufus Sewell will star under the direction of Trevor Nunn, who's worked with Stoppard many times. In fact, this one's already got so many theatergoers excited that it's booked to move to the West End in July. And while you're at the Royal Court, quickly book Marina Carr's Woman and Scarecrow, which stars Fiona Shaw and Brid Brennan. It doesn't get much better than that.

Except maybe if you're speaking of Sir Derek Jacobi, who is headlining a revival of John Mortimer's immensely charming and immensely touching Voyage Round My Father, co-starring Joanna David. The show is directed by Thea Sharrock, who's been working with the great Sir Peter Hall for a while and breaking into the big time under his encouragement. If you're looking for American movie actors dropping in for status-building West End exposure, Juliette Lewis decorates a revival of Sam Shepard's explosive Fool for Love at the Apollo.

Great things never stop happening at the National Theatre, where Anton Chekhov's The Seagull opens this month with Juliet Stevenson as Arkadina and rising star Ben Whishaw as her tormented son, Konstantin. Apparently, the new Martin Crimp translation is a pared-down version of the beloved script. Also opening at the National this month is The Market Boy, directed by Rufus Norris. The come-on copy for this one says, "A story about losing your innocence. And your cherry." I say, "your call." David Hare's new adaptation of Bertolt Brecht's Life of Galileo finds the renowned astronomer and physicist being impersonated by the magnificent Simon Russell Beale, fresh from his New York City stint as King Arthur in Spamalot.

Shakespeare's Globe, derided by the local hoi-polloi when it first opened as a mere tourist attraction, has proved its worth. Under Dominic Dromgoole in his first season as artistic director, Coriolanus and Titus Andronicus alternate through the month -- with many talks interspersed to wise up groundlings and those sitting as well, on the Bard and the theater built to his Elizabethan specifications.

Now for the oddest entry of them all. It'll happen at New Ambassadors on June 19 when producer Sonia Friedman presents the Channel 4 reality show called The Play's the Thing, which is meant to find a new playwright. It's sort of American Idol, theater-style in which he winner gets to have his or her chosen work appear in the West End for 12 weeks. More proof, if any is needed, that there'll always be an England.

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