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A True Child of the Sixties


SHIRLEY RATCLIFFE at a John Adams London première

John Adams' much maligned venture into the genre of Broadway entertainment, I Was Looking At The Ceiling And Then I Saw The Sky exploded onto the London stage at the new Linbury Studio Theatre in Covent Garden on 2 March.

Adams acknowledges Porgy and Bess and West Side Story as the 'models' but if you're expecting Ceiling | Sky to inhabit the identical sound world, forget it!

Confronting the issues of racial conflict, authoritarianism, immigration, sexual identity and voyeurism through the eyes of a television lens set against the backdrop of an earthquake, Adams was well-served by his librettist June Jordan, Professor of African American Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. She is an award-winning poet, essayist, playwright and political activist.

Written in 1995 after the elegiac Wound Dresser and Klinghoffer, it came as an auditory culture shock to serious minded critics. Pulsating, driving rhythms entwined with, but moving beyond minimalism set amidst tender lyrical arias often accompanied by delicate orchestration and influenced by pop culture make an intriguing and for some, bewildering mix. Much of the writing comes out of Blues, Gospel and Motown.

Adams couldn't have hand-picked a better group than Southwark Playhouse in association with Modern Music Theatre Troupe, to present his work. They gave it everything they've got - and more! Although unfair to single anyone out, watch out in future for Shelagh Ferrell, Ysobel Gonzalez and Katina Kangaris who had the plum parts - how this man can write for the female voice! Director Caroline Sharman guided the action along in the true spirit of the times.

This is not an easy score to perform for anyone and the instrumentalists under conductor John Jansson were amazing. They brought the house down at the end.

At the age of 48, Adams had the courage to return to the influences of his youth combining it with his own inimitable mix in 1995. Don't try to categorize him, he'll outwit you every time. Adams is one of the most versatile composers around. In the 60s, the name of the game was versatility. I know, I was there.

Performances at the Linbury continue on 3 March at 7.30pm and 4 March at 2.30 and 7.30pm. It then tours to Newcastle Playhouse, Cambridge Corn Exchange, The Anvil, Basingstoke, Mansfield Leisure Centre and Gardner Arts Centre, Brighton. Catch it if you dare! Linbury Studio Theatre Box Office +44 (0)171 304 4000.


Copyright © 3 March 2000 Shirley Ratcliffe, Holt, Norfolk, UK




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