The Caesar Twins

January 27, 2006

Oh, the Caesar Twins.  How do I even begin writing this review?  There’s nothing I could say here that could possibly capture the inane cheesiness of their act… but I’ll try.

As with half the stuff I end up seeing in London, I first saw an ad for the Caesar Twins as I was waiting to reach the top of a tube station escalator.  I have to admit, they looked hot, and I was in the mood for some hunky half-naked acrobatics.  Especially as it involved them splashing around in a giant Plexiglas “fishbowl” on stage.

I had seen acts of this type before.  In Zumanity, the “risque” Cirque du Soleil show in Las Vegas, they have two “lesbians” (ie: two woman who dance erotically together) swimming around in a big Plexiglas fishbowl.  And in Mystere, another Cirque show up the street (there are 4-5 of them now in Vegas), they have an act called “Hand to Hand”, which is basically two “twin” bodybuilders who stand on stage alone together and balance off each other in the most homoerotic display of gymnastics you’ll ever see.

So basically, I was expecting a combination of those two things, and maybe a few other Cirque-y things as well.  I guess I don’t have to tell you that the audience was half middle-aged gay men, half middle-aged straight women, and us.  It’s still better than your average Cirque audience in Vegas, full of elderly midwesterners and their grandchildren who wish they had gotten tickets for Lance Burton instead.  Incidentally, the venue for the London show was the Comedy Theatre.  All too appropriate, as it turned out.

So, the show begins… 15 minutes late.  And it begins with slideshow images of the twins (Pablo and Pierre, by the way) looking as Abercrombie as possible.  After another 15 minuts of loud annoying new-agey music, we finally get the twins (fully clothed, dammit) doing a sort of comedy act where they text-message each other from computers at opposite ends of the stage.  It was neither funny nor acrobatic nor nude, so I lost interest.

More loud music and video graphics that look like something out of a The Matrix screensaver announce “Stage 1”, and we go into the acrobatics part of the show, which is okay, but nothing to write home about.  You quickly learn that the twins are “cute” but not really “sexy”.  In fact, their act would probably work better if performed by a trio of 12-year-old Chinese girls instead.  But hey.

The show was officially billed as The Caesar Twins and Friends.  Somewhere around “Stage 3”, we meet the “friends”: a pudgy guy who’s there basically as a stagehand, and a slender woman who apparently operates under the delusion that she can sing.  I can’t remember what she was attempting to sing.  It sounded like it was somewhere between Enya and Celine Dion (with a nod to Florence Foster Jenkins)… a musical no-man’s-land I’d never wish on my worst enemy.

As the show labored on… “Stage 5”, “Stage 6”, “Stage 7”, I began to realize that cool, sexy acrobatic acts which are amazing to watch for five minutes as a small part of a larger variety show… well, they don’t hold up well on their own.  By the time the fishbowl got wheeled on stage (“Stage XVIII”, I think it was), my immediate thought was: they better get buck-ass naked in there.

Sadly, it was not to be.  Even though they were wearing white pants that looked like the were made of shredded Weetabix dipped in plaster (I was kinda hoping the pants would dissolve in the water.), not a stitch of clothing came off, ever.  What a ripoff!

But the “best” parts of the show (which is to say the worst parts of the show) were…  an extended “interpretive dance” combined with video that allowed us to relive the real-life moment when one of the twins fell 50 feet during a stunt and was told he’d never walk again, so we get to “see” brother helping brother re-learn how to walk (although it looked more like “Acting 101: Intro to Mime”). 

And the “best of the best”… a real-life Mortal Kombat-style video-game sequence, where in the twins dressed up in colorful ninja gear and did mock streetfighting moves, complete the actual video game mimicing ther moves projected above, and cheesy 80’s videogame sound-effects.  Whap! Whap! Whap! Ka-pow!  Now, if one brother had reached into the other’s chest cavity, pulled out his still-beating heart, raised it over his head and shouted “Fatality!”… that would’ve been something to see.

More info: The Caesar Twins


The Woman in White

January 17, 2006

The plot of Lord Andrew Lloyd Webber’s latest stage spectacle was complex enough that I’ve already forgotten it.  Suffice to say there’s a new tutor, a prophecy of death, two daughters, one ghost (who looks just like the blonde daughter), an evil suitor, his comic-relief sidekick, a painting, an insane asylum, and a deep dark family secret about bastard children.  I’m not sure of the time period, but I’d bet it’s around whenever The Village was supposed to have taken place.

However, if you’re seeing this play, you’re not seeing it for the “suspenseful” (heavy quotes there) story.  Most likely you’re seeing it for the million-dollar technological marvel that is the set… or isn’t the set, as the case may be.  Instead of a conventional “set”, there’s just a curved blank wall on which is digitally projected whatever “set” is needed for the scene.  It’s Greenscreen: The Musical.

There are problems with this technique.  The biggest being that the computer-generated sets look computer-generated.  And while that might be fine if this were Tron: The Musical, they look particularly out of place for something set in ye-olden-days.  The fuzzy computer graphics have prompted more than one critic to write (and I have to agree) that it’s like you’re watching a giant-screen version of the video game Myst.  It got me wondering, can a musical presented in IMAX-3D be far behind?

The pinnacle of this gimmick comes at the end, when the prophecy of death is fulfilled and the evil suitor is run over by a “train” that (if you’re seated in the center of the stalls) appears to come right toward the audience.  If you’re not seated in the center, the effect is a little less exciting.  “A little” less because the full effect isn’t that exciting to begin with.  Never did I think I’d long for the days of the giant flying Uniroyal tire.

The songs are familiar because they sound basically like the songs from Phantom of the Opera and forgettable because they’re not the songs from Phantom of the Opera.  When you exit the theater humming tunes from another show… well that’s a problem.

The performances, with one exception, were all remarkably bad.  The exception was Ruthie Hensall as the (non-blonde) sister, who thankfully was the central character.  She was a great actress with a strong stage presence and a great voice.  Unfortunately, she was flanked by women and men who couldn’t hold a note.

Aside from the “3D” train effect, there is one other gimmick in the show.  Count Fosco, the comic-relief sidekick (who looks exactly like Snidely Whiplash from the Dudley Do Right cartoons, and was originally played by Michael Crawford in a fat-suit) sings a humorous number called “I Can Get Away with Anything”, with the added cultural element of… a trained rat that runs back and forth across his shoulders.  No, I am not making that up.  And even sadder, it’s the highlight of the show.


Spencer House

January 14, 2006

Today we visited Spencer House, described in the guide books as, “London’s only surviving 18th-century private townhouse.”  Actually, it was sort of a last-minute thing since Apsley House, our first choice, was already closed.  It turned out to be a stroke of luck, because while Spencer house is considerably smaller, the tour was more intimate and more interesting.

Built shortly before the American Revolution, this was the private home of John, the first Earl of Spencer (who is of course an ancestor of the late Diana, Princess of Wales).  Apparently it was all being used as offices for a while until one of the Rothschilds decided to restore it to it’s former glory… or at least half-restore it.  The other half is still office space.

It’s an impressive house, and it made me a little embarrased to think of the squats our Founding Fathers were living in at the same time this thing was being built.

There were four rooms on the ground floor and four upstairs available to see.  Our guide was a very amiable grandmotherly-type woman who seemed to really love her work, even if it did mean putting up with dumb questions from Texan Americans.

On our tour a quartet made up of two middle-aged Texan couples joined us, and asked questions like, “Those picture hangin’ rails… Is that how they woulda done it back then?”  I mean, who cares?  Really.  In a house where most things have been “restored” anyway,  nit-picking on the authenticity of picture rails seems, well, nit-picky.  Unless you’re making notes for your college thesis on 18th-century London townhomes, shut up already.  At least he wasn’t wearing a cowboy hat.

As we climbed upstairs, there was an enormous guilt Venetian “lantern” that apparently was part of a set of four from a royal barge.  “How could you put four of them on a boat?” came the drawling question.  I’m guessing they were thinking of something on the order of a modern sailboat.  It’s a humorous image, considering the lantern is about 14 feet tall and must weigh as much as a Buick.

Notwithstanding the Americans (we tried to look British), it was a great tour of a little gem tucked away next to Hyde Park.  Well worth a look.

More info: Spencer House


Night of the Iguana

January 7, 2006

This is the first play I’ve seen in London.  That’s “play”, not “musical”.  It’s the first play I’ve seen in a long while.  For some reason, it hadn’t occurred to me until after I arrived that London’s “fabulous West End” was fabulous because of the theatres.  It wasn’t until I was riding up the escalator in a tube station and saw an ad for Ewan McGregor appearing now in Guys and Dolls.  Unfortunately, I also discovered that most of the ads in London tube station escalator shafts are months out of date.  So, no Ewan for me. 

However, it got me to wondering about whomever else might be playing here that I’d heard of and would want to see live.  At the time, I had my choice between Richard E. Grant, Bob Hoskins and Kristin Scott Thomas.  Being a homesick American, I went with the only American in the only American play.  Woody Harrelson in Tennessee Williams’ Night of the Iguana.

Oh, it was a decent show.  Woody played the drunk defrocked priest turned tour-guide for a truckload of American women in Mexico.  Richard Burton played it in the move.  It’s a fair bet that Burton actually was drunk during the filming of the film.  I kind of wished that Woody was smoking lots of pot for his performance.  As it was, it was a little stilted.  It was one of those plays where everyone seemed too conscious of the blocking and everyone was anticipating their next line.  When the rain effect is the most exciting part of the play, (and this is supposed to be a Tennessee Williams play, right?) you know you’re being cheated.

See, in Tennessee Williams plays it’s always 110 degrees in the shade, sweat glistening on everyone.  And the nature of humans dictates that a lot of hammocks will be snoozed in and a lot of iced drinks consumed.  But Wiliams’ genius is that in the midst of these lazy summer days and nights, he interjects loose women and racism and hunky shirtless men with names like Rance, Lance, Vance, Chance, etc.  And lots of sweaty sex.

Maybe it’s a fault of the play.  Williams was going off his game, it’s true.  But then it becomes the job of the director and the actors to not lie in the hammock sipping lemonade through the whole play.  Everyone on stage has an obligation to, well, make it interesting.  Unfortunately, no one here did, and the effect was more like a staged reading than an actual play.

I guess this is a bad review.  It really wasn’t that bad.  Jenny Seagrove was quite good, though sometimes it was hard to tell whether her halted delivery was part of the character, part of her normal speech, or just her struggling to remember the next line.  I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt and go with the former.  No, the play wasn’t bad at all, but when you’re going for Tennessee Williams steaminess, it’s disappointing when the result is basically lukewarm.