"The fairer sex flourished on the London stage in 2006 in what is beginning to resemble a far larger trend," he began. (Hear, hear!) First on Wolf's list: that formidable dame, Judi Dench, who appeared "twice during the year to characteristically fine effect"--first in Noel Coward's "Hay Fever" and then in a new British musical called "Merry Wives-The Musical," based on Shakespeare's "Merry Wives of Windsor." She not only "stood out like the inimitable talent that she very much is," wrote Wolf, Dench (who's 72) also did a cartwheel at one point!
Other worthy turns: a "scorching" Jodhi May in David Hárrower's "Blackbird," Eve Best in "A Moon For the Misbegotten" opposite Kevin Spacey, Susan Brown in Eugene Ionesco's "The Chair," and, not least, Kim Cattrall--yes, Samantha of "Sex and the City"--who "brought a career-defining ferocity" to her role in "The Cryptogram."
In musicals, first plaudits went to "the Argentine spitfire Elena Roger, the main raison d'etre for the ongoing West End revival of 'Evita",'" said Wolf. (The Daily Telegraph called it "a socking great star performance." My colleague Lito Z., on official business in London last November, got to watch this show and texted me at 3 a.m. to rave about Ms. Roger.) Sheridan Smith was a "wistful" Audrey in "Little Shop of Horrors," Tonya Pinkins brought her "bravura" singing in Tony Kushner and Jeanine Tesori's "Caroline, or Change" from Broadway to the West End--as did Idina Menzel in "Wicked"--and "The Sound of Music" hit a jackpot with newcomer Connie Fisher, who was discovered through a reality show aimed at finding the musical's new Maria.
"Groans went up about the cheesiness inherent in casting a leading lady via reality TV," wrote Wolf. "That was until naysayers saw Connie Fisher in action, a tomboyish Maria who tapped into the unsentimental heart of a Rodgers and Hammerstein musical that seemed, in Jeremy Sams's astute staging, to be made newly whole."
Thanks to YouTube (not again!, you say), we can all enjoy Ms. Fisher's dulcet voice and spunky, warm presence. It's worthwhile pointing out that her turn (as far as I can tell from snippets on video) isn't really that far from the bright, engaging performances turned in by our own trio of homegrown Marias--Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo, Monique Wilson and Liesl Batucan--in Rep's just-ended revival of the musical. Ms. Wilson herself is a graduate of both the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art, and has increasingly called the British capital her second home.
One other London-Manila parallel: Jessica Lange is returning to the West End this year to star in a three-month production of Tennessee Williams' "The Glass Menagerie." Laurice Guillen, one of our most acclaimed stage and film actresses, is making her comeback in local theater via the same play (under Ricky Abad of Tanghalang Ateneo) this January. Her absence alone of some 30 years from the Manila stage automatically makes this the year's must-watch production.
(The play, co-starring Ms. Guillen’s daughter Ina Feleo and Arnold Reyes, runs Jan. 18-Feb. 10 at the Rizal Mini-Theater, Ateneo de Manila. Call 0927-7897563 or 4266001 loc. 5121 for tickets.)
How good is Ms. Guillen the theater actress? There's the rhapsody of Dulaang UP's Tony Mabesa to go by: "She's only about 5'2, but when she's onstage, she has this tremendous intensity and luminosity--she grows and becomes a much bigger presence before you!" He should know. He directed Ms. Guillen in "Trojan Women" a good three decades ago. Ms. Guillen also did Blanche DuBois in PETA's "Flores Para Los Muertos," Lino Brocka's adaptation of Mr. Williams' "A Streetcar Named Desire," and her portrayal is still remembered by the few blessed enough to have seen it as a high-water mark in their theatergoing lives. Stanley Kowalski? He was played by an intense young newcomer named Philip Salvador.
Lamberto Avellana, Rolando Tinio, "Katy," Ms. Guillen as Blanche DuBois--I was born too late for the greats. Sigh. I'm watching TA's "The Glass Menagerie" come hell or high coup d'etat, so help me God.