The smash-hit Broadway musical HAMILTON has rolled into London Town and it’s the hottest ticket in the West End. Lin Manual Miranda’s hip hop retelling of the rags to riches story of America’s founding father Alexander Hamilton has moved into the Victoria Palace Theatre for the long haul.
One of the audience favourites is Michael Jibson in his scene-stealing turn as an exasperated King George III – a pantomime baddie with his show-stopping ‘You’ll be Back.’ Michael’s one of the UK’s most versatile stage and screen actors from his Olivier nominated role in OUR HOUSE at the the Cambridge Theatre in 2002 to the factory foreman in the film version of LES MISERABLES. I meet Michael after last Saturday’s matinee where he signed my drawing.
The multi-award-winning Broadway sensation, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s visionary hip-hop, rap and R&B musical HAMILTON has taken London by storm and every critic agrees, it’s better than the hype. Luckily we managed to get tickets for a matinee in early February.
It’s all about Alexander Hamilton, the ‘bastard, orphan son of a whore and a Scotsman’, who leaves the Caribbean to become the first secretary of the US Treasury and George Washington’s right hand man. It’s a thrilling salute to America’s immigrants and given the current administration in charge… enough said.
In the lead role, taking over from Lin-Manuel himself is 25 year-old RADA graduate Jamael Westman. In the programme he lists only two shows since his graduation two years ago… oh, and like most actors in the UK he had a minor role in CASUALTY.
Andrzej Lukowski in his five-star Time Out review wrote, “Relative newcomer Jamael Westman is a revelation in the title role: he can spit lines like a machine gun, sing like a dream and being both young and prodigiously tall he perfectly channels Hamilton’s gaucheness as the socially inept but relentlessly driven immigrant, sets about trying to liberate and reform America.”
I popped over to the restored Victoria Palace Theatre last Saturday after the matinee, where HAMILTON has taken up a long term residency, and luckily caught up with Jamael, who was very cool and more than happy to sign my drawing.
One of my absolute favourite actors is John Nettles, who I have had the pleasure of meeting at a couple of Theatre Press nights in London over the past decade. If his role as Jim Bergerac in the Jersey-based TV crime drama BERGERAC made him a household name in the UK in the 1980’s, his follow-up policeman DCI Tom Barnaby in the murder, mystery series MIDSOMER MURDERS made him a global household name.
After his final appearance in February 2011 he had the recurring role of Ray Penvenen in the second series of POLDARK. I must say Midsomer’s hasn’t been the same since he left but all the reruns have been welcomed.
Now I did this portrait of John as Tom, but how to get it signed? Then I discovered he was a guest at the Carols by Candlelight fundraiser for the Royal Brompton Hospital at St Luke’s in Chelsea just before Christmas. So I left it with the very friendly folk at the church with a stamped envelope and, to my delight, it arrived back last week with an immaculate autograph and dedication.
One of the stars of the Mariinsky Ballet from Saint Petersburg, Ekaterina Kondaurova returned to Covent Garden as part of the famous Russian company’s London season at the Royal Opera house last Summer.
After graduating from the Vaganova Academy she immediately joined the Mariinsky in 2001, where she has remained, rising through the ranks to Principal in 2012. Among her many awards was winning the prestigious Prix Benoit de la Danse competition in 2006.
I left this drawing at the Royal Opera House, which Ekaterina signed and returned for me.
The American classical cellist Alisa Weilerstein is one of the most popular performers on both sides of the Atlantic, appearing with all the foremost orchestras in the US and Europe. Among her many accolades is the 2011 MacArthur Fellowship or ‘genius grant’ which is awarded to American citizens or residents who show ‘extraordinary originality and dedication in their creative pursuits.’
While described as ‘classical,’ Alisa has expanded her cello repertoire and is an ardent champion of new music. She is renowned for her performance energy, ‘natural virtuosity, intensity, spontaneity and sensitivity of interpretation’.
Alisa signed my drawing after her recital with pianist Inon Barnatan at London’s Wigmore Hall last November.
Fifteen years after its Edinburgh Fringe beginning as LA CLIQUE, the Olivier Award-winning Australian-born variety show LA SOIRÉE has reached the West End. The traditional Aldwych Theatre has been transformed into an intimate cabaret club, described as a ‘head-spinning cocktail of sauce, silliness and spectacle – the thrill of the risqué upping that of the risky.’
One of the acts is Polish-born acrobat and circus artist Klodi Dabkiewicz. A former champion rhythmic gymnast who has performed around the globe, including Franco Dragone’s famous ‘House of Dancing Water’ in Macau, China. She is part of Syndicate Circus and a regular on the UK Cabaret circuit. Along with Leon Fagbemi they perform a steamy and seductive hand-to-hand, with ‘mind-bending flexibility.’ Klodi signed this sketch for me last week at the theatre.
Trinidadian-born British actor Donald Williams graduated from The Drama Centre in London’s Kentish Town, taking the stage name Don Warrington. His professional stage debut was at the Hampstead Theatre in 1973, playing Philip Smith in Eric Chappell’s THE BANANA BOX, opposite Leonard Rossiter and France de la Tour, which transferred to the West End and then became the classic TV sitcom RISING DAMP, making Don a household name. Since then he has carved an impressive stage and screen career, including his role as Commissioner Selwyn Patterson in the hit BBC series DEATH IN PARADISE since 2011.
He returned to the stage in 2012 with the UK tour of DRIVING MISS DAISY with Gwen Taylor and the lead in KING LEAR at Manchester’s Royal Exchange Theatre in 2016, which theatre critic Claire Allfree wrote was a ‘heartbreaking tour-de-force,’ in the Telegraph. Don is currently appearing at the Playhouse Theatre in the absorbing London revival of David Mamet’s GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS, playing the apprehensive George Aaronow, who has been left behind by the changes in the corporate world. Lacking confidence and self esteem he has plunged to the bottom of the heap in a ruthless hierarchical and cutthroat Chicago real estate office.
I met Don last Saturday when he arrived at the theatre for the matinee performance where he signed this drawing for me.
After a decade, Sir Ian McKellen returned to play KING LEAR at the Chichester Festival Theatre in a sold-out five-week season late last year. Having played the role in Trevor Nunn’s 2007 production for the Royal Shakespeare Company, Sir Ian felt that performing it in vast theatre’s meant he declaimed lines that should have been more softly spoken or even whispered.
The contemporary retelling of Shakespeare’s most unforgiving tragedy in the intimate 280 seat, wrap around Minerva stage gave him that chance and at 78 he is closer to Lear’s age, which helped him achieve his aim: not to act Lear, but to be Lear in what is “probably his last big Shakespeare part,” according to a recent BBC interview.
The critics agreed, after six decades of acting, Sir Ian ‘reigned supreme’. “McKellen is never less than astonishing,” wrote Neil Norman in the Express, “McKellen is in full command of a lifetime’s acting technique,” said Mark Stenton in The Stage and ‘McKellen meticulously explores Lear’s delusions of grandeur,” exclaimed the Metro’s John Nathan.
I left this drawing at the theatre, which Sir Ian signed and dedicated with a bronze sharpie complete with a metallic glow on his insignia.
Dominic Dromgoole’s ‘compassionate and emotionally engaging’ production of A WOMAN OF NO IMPORTANCE launched a year-long season of Oscar Wilde at London’s Vaudeville Theatre late last year.
The outstanding cast was lead by Eve Best, Anne Reid and Eleanor Bron, who played Mrs Arbuthnot and Ladies Hunstanton and Pontefract respectively. The Irish playwright’s 1983 society play examines the hypocrisy of Victorian society in which woman are shamed and stigmatised for their sexual conduct and men do as they please.
I met Eve, Anne and Eleanor at the stage door, where they signed this montage, arriving for the Saturday matinee a week before the production completed its run on 30 December.
Venezuelan pianist Gabriela Montero returned to London over the festive season with a lunchtime recital at Wigmore Hall.
“Whether she’s hurling ferocious social-media rebukes at the government of her native Venezuela or contouring fiery interpretations on the ivories, Gabriela Montero is never dull. You don’t come out of her recitals thinking, as you do with many modern pianists, ‘Amazing technique. Where’s the charisma?’ She had second helpings when the plates of personality were handed out,” wrote the Time critic Richard Morrison in his review intro.
Apart from her classical repertoire, Gabriela is also known for her real-time improvisation of complex musical pieces based on themes suggested by her audience. She signed this sketch for me before her recital at Wigmore Hall.