There was a ‘wow’ factor in my first experience at the Alexandra Palace Theatre, but it wasn’t to do with the theatre space itself, which I was rather underwhelmed by, given that the result of a £27 million restoration project was an auditorium that could do with another £27 million being splashed out on it. The idea, it seems to be from seeing a video on the project on the Palace’s website, was to preserve the existing condition of the brickwork in perpetuity, rather than do anything to redecorate. Given the theatre fell into disrepair and was unused as a theatre space for eighty years (according to the Palace itself), this doesn’t, frankly, equate to ‘restoration’: the walls couldn’t possibly have looked this terrible when the theatre was first opened.
Signage in the theatre bar instructing patrons not to consume any alcohol until they were sat in the auditorium proper was ignored, at least by me: the auditorium hadn’t opened when I got through security and into the bar area, and I wasn’t going to stand there on a hot day, drink in hand, not drinking, waiting for an indeterminate period for the damn doors to open. Even when they did, I resisted going in straight away (this wasn’t a Ryanair flight, and I grasp the concept of numbered seating), and so I finished my glass of wine stood in direct line of sight to the signage saying I shouldn’t be drinking alcohol in the area. This was, mind you, in full view of the Palace’s staff, who did nothing to challenge me. Why have rules if nothing is done to enforce them?
Neither cast list nor programme for Sunset Boulevard in Concert was available, leaving me to find out who was who from cast lists provided to members of the matinee audience prior (a few of whom were kind enough to post photos of said list on social media). Being a concert production, one could hardly expect a staircase, or a car, or a film studio, but I’d seen three previous incarnations of it (West End transfer of the Watermill Theatre production, 2008-09; English National Opera ‘semi-staged’ run, 2016; Curve Theatre and subsequent UK tour, 2017-18) so it wasn’t like I didn’t know what was happening.
The atmosphere was electric, and rightly so, given the sheer talent on stage. I hadn’t seen a mid-show standing ovation of the kind Mazz Murray received at the end of ‘As If We Never Said Goodbye’ since a Saturday night crowd at Chichester Festival Theatre rose to their feet at the end of ‘Pick Out A Simple Tune’ in 2016. And no, there weren’t any ovations before the end of the show at any of the other Sunset productions I’d seen. A delightful evening all round, really: no weak links to report, and just the occasional microphone issue that is part and parcel of live performance.
There were several cast changes from the original announcement (the concert was to take taken place in February, then rescheduled to April, then re-rescheduled to June). Ramin Karimloo ended up in the role of Joe Gillis, replacing Kai Ushe (who had been cast in the West End production of The Lion King), with Zizi Strallen taking over the role of Betty Schaefer from Laura Baldwin. Jeremy Secomb took over the role of Max von Meyerling (minus the ‘European’ accent) from Alex Bourne. And for me, in the end, it was either this, or Hair at the London Palladium (at Palladium prices, for a production I’d already seen at a reduced price at an outdoor venue round the corner from the Turbine Theatre in Battersea last summer).
Finally, I followed the advice from David Shaw Parker, who played Cecil B. DeMille, and got the W3 bus from Finsbury Park (rather than Wood Green, which is the Palace’s own suggested route), which apart from the very warm (by British standards) weather, was reasonably painless. And at last, I can say I’ve been to Alexandra Palace.
London lad, loving life and all that it has to offer.