EXCLUSIVE: Summer’s going to be a scorcher in London. Tarantino Live: Fox Force Five & the Tyranny of Evil Men is coming to town in June.
The cabaret-style stage show, a huge hit in Los Angeles where it’s still running after 13 years, heads to the Riverside Studios in Hammersmith from June 6 for a 10-week season through August 13.
Definitely fair to point out that there are as many Tarantino aficionados here in Blighty as there are in Tarantino’s manor in LA. Spend any time in the less trendy parts of Hackney in East London or across the river in Peckham and you’ll hear teens discuss their attire or their fast-food snacks while referencing a line from a Tarantino movie. Some of these kids weren’t born when some of these movies first came out yet they know them. They know them scene-by-scene, line-by-line. They’ll be queueing, in an orderly fashion, one hopes, to see this one.
It’s the brainchild of Shane Scheel, the founder and executive producer of For The Record, and Anderson Davis, who adapted and directed the show. Tarantino Live is “like you’re stepping into the mind of a famous Hollywood director” Davis told me, except in this case ”it’s very, if I may say so, a very f***ed up world.”
That’s the Tarantino cinematic universe, for sure. All of the auteur’s pictures from Reservoir Dogs to Once Upon a Time in Hollywood with everything in between including the biggies like the two volumes of Kill Bill films, Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained are referenced in the stage production.
What Scheel and Davis have done is to sort of flip Tarantino’s world where his movies are powered by electrifying dialogue, but for the show they use the eclectic range of popular songs the filmmaker used in his films to propel its meta-narrative.
“We’re putting the music in the forefront,” Davis said, while letting the various characters from Tarantino’s movies; Uma Thurman’s Mia from Pulp Fiction and The Bride from the two Kill Bill films, for instance, give context and make a story. “You’re going on little tangents left and right, but you’re following the Tarantino cinematic universe from beginning to end,” he added.
The show is a mashup of a lot of different cinematic inspirations that Tarantino himself was drawn to like Kung Fu movies; Blaxploitation pictures, Spaghetti westerns, horror films and the like. “Quentin mashed up movies and we’re doing the same thing to him,” Davis explained. “We’re mashing up his films with the music from his films.”
There have been various iterations of Tarantino Live since 2010 when Scheel launched the original show in a 50-seater cabaret bar in LA.
Scheel had the idea to just get some New York transplants and some singers who were bored sitting in their trailers filming their TV shows who wanted something fun to do at night. Their talent was being wasted sitting in these trailers and waiting for their calls, Davis said, as he recounted the Tarantino Live origin story.
“And all it really was, was just get up there and sing a really cool arrangement of a song from a Tarantino soundtrack,” said Davis.
One of Scheel’s friends, Tracie Thoms (Truth Be Told, Rent, 9-1-1), who totally by coincidence just happened to have been in Tarantino’s Death Proof movie – she played s stunt car driver – suggested they add some dialogue between the songs to set up each number.
Davis helped Scheel evolve the cabaret concert into a much more complex, and fully imagined theatrical concept. “It’s a new genre, sort of a jukebox musical, but sort of a variety cabaret-review show, but all inspired by the movies,” Davis told me.
The show took off and has progressively moved into bigger venues, it even played Las Vegas and on a cruise ship. But London’s its first venture outside of the U.S. In fact, Tarantino Live gets to play London before it’s had a run in New York.
That‘s down to London being more back on its feet post pandemic than NYC. Many of my U.S.-based friends by-pass Broadway and head straight to London for their theatrical adrenaline rush. They’re here to see the terrific Guys & Dolls revival with Daniel Mays at the Bridge Theatre or Sheridan Smith playing to packed houses at the Duke of York in Shirley Valentine or Paul Mescal in A Streetcar Named Desire at the Phoenix. And the National Theatre and the Royal Shakespeare Company have been on good form of late with more goodies to come.
Scheel did a recce of London’s theater spaces and fell for the Riverside which is on the former site of a Victorian iron works, which was converted into a film studio in 1933. The Seventh Veil and The Happiest Days of Your Life were made there, as was the Hammer horror film Quatermass and the Pit, which might be more up Tarantino’s street, though there can’t be a picture in existence that Tarantino’s not on nodding terms with.
Inspired by Tarantino’s restoration of two cinemas in LA, the studio 2 auditorium at the Riverside will be transformed into an old abandoned film palace in the throes of refurbishment. “We’re going to do a kind of grindhouse cinema special event inside that room,” said Anderson, with cabaret tables.
No word as yet as to whether punters will be served a Royal with cheese.
There will be sword fights, there will be gun shots (fake), there will be martial arts and singing.
“It goes crazy with music,” said Anderson. There are over 40 songs overlapping, mashed up together. Numbers include: “Stuck in the Middle With You” (Pulp Fiction), “Didn’t I (Blow Your Mind This Time)” used in Jackie Brown all the way to “You Keep Me Hangin’ On,” the Vanilla Fudge hit Tarantino featured in the filmmaker’s 2019 hit Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood. Every time there’s a new Tarantino film “we change the show” Scheel laughed.
Tarantino visits and checks out new iterations of the show.
Is he a producer? Scheel shakes his head on the Zoom video call. “Quentin Tarantino says it’s very strange to produce your own tribute show. So we don’t really call him a producer,” Scheel noted. ”But he has a deal for his IP.”
And expect to see Tarantino wandering along the towpath of the River Thames at Hammersmith in between performances of Tarantino Live. I’d happily pay just to observe him watching his universe unfold on the stage. Surreal but funky fun.
Davis underlined the show’s subtitle Fox Force Five and the Tyranny of Evil Men. ”It’s called that because we put a little extra focus on the power of his female characters. There is a really strong moral core to his movies. Like yes, there’s tons of violence. Yes, you can object to the language. Yes, there’s so many things that you could take offense to, but at its core is the battle against the tyranny of evil men,” Davis argued.
He added that it’s the female cast members who bring on the fight.
To that end, new fight sequences are being developed at pre-production workshops in New York, the results will be introduced during rehearsals with the UK-based cast that begin in London next month.
One of our best fights in the whole show, Davis told me, is two women going at it with Samurai swords. “There’s a third woman singing an incredible song in Spanish that was from the Kill Bill soundtrack. All three of them are mashing up together and it’s an amazing moment,” he said.
Scheel and Davis want to fully integrate the London company into the Tarantino universe with the hope that they can travel to other European cities, and further still, to help put on international productions.
Tarantino Live is produced by For The Record founder Shane Scheel, UK executive producer Paul Crewes and UK producer Gareth Richards.
The show’s adapted by Anderson Davis and Sumie Maeda. Directed by Davis with Maeda as associate director and choreographer. Musical supervision and arrangements are by Jesse Vargas with vocal design by AnnMarie Milazzo; scenic design by Matthew Steinbrenner; lighting design by Chris Davey; sound design by Ben Harrison, costume design by Steve Mazurek, and video design by Perry Freeze.
Tickets go on general sale April 25. Avid Tarantino fans can sign up now with entertainment forum Fever.