SEARCH:  
Twitter Facebook RSS Feed
No Sacred Cows  
Toby Young
Saturday 5th July 2003

Mamma Mia! / The Violet Hour / Gypsy

The Spectator - 5th July 2003

I'm writing this from my room in the Soho House New York, having just come to the end of a nationwide tour to promote the paperback of my book. After criss-crossing America for the past two weeks, and telling the same anecdotes over and over again, I feel utterly exhausted. Still, it seems to have worked. My publisher has just emailed me with the news that How to Lose Friends & Alienate People is on the New York Times bestseller list.

I thought that going to the theatre would be a good way of breaking up the monotony of traipsing from one branch of Barnes & Noble to the next and, since the tour began in Las Vegas, my first outing was to Mamma Mia. For those who've been living in a cave for the past five years, Mamma Mia is the smash hit musical based on Abba's back catalogue which has grossed over $500 million worldwide. By my calculation, that means the author of the book, Catherine Johnson, has pocketed a cool $5 million. Several people asked me whether I have any more plans for How to Lose Friends, having turned it into a stage play earlier this year. The answer is yes. I now want to turn it into a musical.

The $5 million is particularly impressive given that it can't have taken Johnson longer than a fortnight to cobble the story together. Admittedly, Mamma Mia is 10 times better than the Queen musical and the Madness musical, but there's no getting round the fact that the book just functions as a length of chord along which the pearls of Abba's greatest hits are strung. In London, where Mamma Mia debuted four years ago, the audience sings along with the cast, giving the play a kitsch, Rocky Horror quality, but the Mandalay Bay Theatre is an irony-free zone and on the night I saw it the audience listened to the score with rapt attention. That didn't seem to diminish their enjoyment, which is remarkable given how bad the lyrics are. Then again, I suppose there was something rather appropriate about a song called 'Money, Money, Money' in Las Vegas, particularly as the tickets cost $99.

One of the difficulties I faced in trying to promote my book was having to compete with J K Rowling who--and here's another newsflash for the cave-dwellers--has just brought out the fifth volume in the Harry Potter series. This didn't prove to be an obstacle for my friend Mike Gerber, the author of Barry Trotter and the Shameless Parody, a huge bestseller. "This one's on Barry," he said, sweeping up the cheque after our steak dinner in Hugo's Frog Bar in Chicago. Fortunately, I was able to return the favour by taking him to The Violet Hour, the new one from Richard Greenberg, author of Take Me Out, one of last year's best new plays.

Set in 1919, The Violet Hour chronicles what happens when a kind of magic photocopier is delivered to a small, independent publishing house and starts churning out pages from books that haven't yet been written, including exhaustive biographies of all the major characters. Its real subject is whether the arts can survive the loss of innocence signalled by the death of modernism, whether the jaded self-awareness that characterises our post-modern age is a hindrance or a spur to creativity. There's no doubting Greenberg's brilliance--I'd place him among the top 10 of contemporary American playwrights--but this doesn't quite have the kick of Take Me Out. The problem is that the magic photocopier, while undoubtedly a clever gimmick, wreaks havoc with the plot and Greenburg ends up getting sidetracked by all the usual problems associated with time travel. Still, I felt privileged to see such a major work at such an early stage in its life and I'm sure Greenberg will have ironed out all the kinks by the time The Violet Hour reaches the West End.

On my last trip to America, a British Airways flight attendant very kindly allowed me to plug my computer in to one of the AC outlets in First Class, but only on the condition that I was as quiet as a mouse. "There's a very important person at the front of the plane trying to get some sleep," he whispered. The VIP turned out to be Sam Mendes and I'm glad I didn't wake him because he was in the process of casting Gypsy and needed all the rest he could get. His choice of Bernadette Peters for the lead was a controversial one--did she have enough oomph to follow in Ethel Merman's famous footsteps?--but his decision has subsequently been vindicated. The New York Times described her performance as "the surprise coup of many a season" and tickets to Gypsy are as scarce as hen's teeth.

Gypsy is considered by some to be the best musical ever assembled and I liked this production so much I actually bought the soundtrack. (I've developed such a passion for musicals my wife is convinced I must be gay.) This is the kind of Broadway experience that turns hardened cynics into lifelong devotees of musical theatre. If my book is ever turned into a musical, I want Sam Mendes to direct it.

[ FIXED LINK ] Bookmark and Share





Twitter RT @JoJohnsonUK: It's time to debunk the myth surrounding two-year degrees link  (6 hours ago)

BEST OF THE WEB

The Warlock Hunt by Claire Berlinski - the-american-interest.com
Is classical liberalism conservative? by Yarom Hazony - jerusalemletters.com
The Implosion of Western Liberalism by Patrick Lee Miller - quillette.com
The Eton of the East End - Daily Mail
The reactionary temptation by Andrew Sullivan - nymag.com
The book that scandalised New York intellectuals by Louis Menand - newyorker.com
To understand Britain today, look to the 17th Century by Adrian Wooldridge - economist.com
The crisis in France by Christopher Caldwell - city-journal.org
A Visit to Michaela School by Patrick Alexander - prospectmagazine.co.uk
Why parenting may not matter by Brian Boutwell - quillette.com
Trump Establishment's Cultural Significance Explained by Michael Wolff - newsweek.com
Branching histories of the 2016 referendum by Dominic Cummings - dominiccummings.wordpress.com
Putin's Real Long Game by Molly K McKew - politico.com
The Flight 93 Election by Publius Decius Mus - claremont.org
How the education gap is tearing politics apart by David Runciman - theguardian.com
What's wrong with identity politics by Graeme Archer - conservativehome.com
Grammars and the grain of truth by Jonathan Porter
Anti-Brexit: Britain's new class war by John O'Sullivan - nationalreview.com
The English Revolt by Robert Tombs - newstatesman.com
Democracies end when they are too democratic by Andrew Sullivan - nymag.com
Human beings really are making progress by Steven Pinker - edge.org
What ISIS really wants by Graeme Wood - theatlantic.com
A society ripe for Submission by Douglas Murray - quadrant.org.au
Beware the soft Stalinists of the campus by David Aaronovitch - thetimes.co.uk
Why I'm a Conservative Teacher by Jonathan Porter - conservativeteachers.com
Corbyn's Inconvenient Truth – He wanted the IRA to win - youtu.be
Corbyn's first seven days - theguardian.com
Corbin's cabinet chaos by Darren McCaffrey - news.sky.com
Why I've become Tory scum by Tony Parsons - gq-magazine.co.uk
Inside Westminster's free school - telegraph.co.uk
Jeremy Corbyn's politics are a fantasy – just like Alice in Wonderland by Tony Blair - theguardian.com
Robert Conquest obit - telegraph.co.uk
Jeremy Corbyn is not an anti-Semite – it's so much worse than that - news.stv.tv
In defence of free schools by Toby Young - standpointmag.co.uk
 

BLOGROLL

Andrew Lilico
Andrew Neil
Andrew Sullivan
Arts and Letters Daily
Bagehot's Notebook
BBC News
BBC Sport
Benedict Brogan
Brendan O'Neill
Bruce Anderson
Coffee House
Conservative Home
Damian McBride
Damian Thompson
Dan Hodges
Daniel Hannon
Ed West
Frank Furedi
Guido Fawkes
Harry Phibbs
Iain Dale
Iain Martin
James Delingpole
James Wolcott
Joe Murphy
John Rentoul
Labour List
Mark Steyn
Matt Drudge
Mehdi Hasan
Melanie Phillips
Michael Wolff
Nick Cohen
Nick Robinson
Nikki Finke
Normblog
Paul Waugh
Peter Hitchens
Political Betting
Right Minds
Rob Long
Rod Liddle
Slate
Sophy Ridge
Stephen Pollard
The Arts Desk
The Corner
The Daily Beast
The First Post
The Omnivore
The Onion
Tim Shipman
Tim Stanley
Tom Shone
 

COLUMNISTS

AA Gill
Aidan Hartley
Allison Pearson
Allister Heath
AO Scott
Boris Johnson
Charles Moore
Cosmo Landesman
Daniel Finkelstein
David Brooks
Fraser Nelson
George Monbiot
Giles Coren
Henry Winter
James Delingpole
Jan Moir
Janan Ganesh
Jeremy Clarkson
Jeremy Warner
Jim White
Jonathan Freedland
Lloyd Evans
Manohla Dargis
Martin Samuel
Mary Ann Sieghart
Matthew d'Ancona
Matthew Norman
Maureen Dowd
Michiko Kakutani
Owen Jones
Patrick O'Flynn
Paul Krugman
Peter Bradshaw
Peter Oborne
Philip Collins
Polly Toynbee
Quentin Letts
Rachel Johnson
Rod Liddle
Roy Greenslade
Tim Montgomerie
Trevor Kavanagh
 
UK Book Cover

  • Buy the book on Amazon.co.uk

  • Buy the book on Amazon.com


  • UK Book Cover

  • Buy the book on Amazon.co.uk

  • Buy the book on Amazon.com


  • Audio Book Cover

  • Buy the audio book from
    Whole Story Audio
  • DVD Cover

  • Buy the DVD from Amazon.co.uk

  • Buy the DVD from Amazon.com


  • IMdb Page on the film