Tuesday, 29 August 2017

Review: Apologia, Trafalgar Studios

"We have just elected our first African-American President
'Let's see what happens in the long run...'"

It is tempting to think that this revival of Alexi Kaye Campbell's 2009 play Apologia was mooted simply so that the above line could get the laughs it richly deserves for its prescience. As it is, Jamie Lloyd has fashioned it into the vehicle that has tempted Stockard Channing back into the West End for the first time in 25 years or so (although she did make it to the Almeida in for Clifford Odets' Awake and Sing). 

Perhaps the word should be refashioned, as the play has been subtly adapted to make its central character an American (I find myself entirely intrigued about the process of this happening - rewrites over accents) but what a character she is. Kristin Miller is celebrating both the publication of a memoir about her career as an eminent art historian and her birthday but gathering folk around the dinner table proves far from a game of happy families.

Monday, 28 August 2017

Review: Edward II, Tristan Bates

"Why would you love him who the world hates so? 
'Because he loves me more than all the world'"

Modernised, intensified, eroticised - this isn't Marlowe as you know him but you kinda get the feeling that Kit would have approved of Lazarus Theatre's re-imagining of Edward II. From the atmospheric parade of its opening to the desperate brutality with which it ends, Ricky Dukes' production immerses its audience in a world of toxic masculinity and political power-play that rings as true today as it surely ever did. 

Edward II's first act upon becoming king - after donning a sharp gold suit and the most luxurious of fur-lined robes - is to reclaim his lover Gaveston from exile and install him in his court, against the express wishes of the vast majority of his court, not least Edward's queen Isabella. And so a battle royale begins, not just for the crown itself but for the right to live the life you choose, regardless of how society perceives it.

Round-up of August music reviews


Though I might not have been away for my usual month-long sojourn to France, I kept up with a glut of album reviews to cover the (relatively) quiet period for those of us who don't put themselves through Edinburgh ;-)


Recommended titles
Alan Cumming Sings Sappy Songs - Live at the Cafe Carlyle
Before After (2016 Studio Cast Recording)
Cabaret (2006 London Cast Recording)
Finding Neverland (2015 Original Broadway Cast Recording)
Salad Days (2013 Live London Cast Recording)
The Bridges of Madison County (2014 Original Broadway Cast Recording)
The Hired Man (2007 UK Tour Cast)
The Last Ship (2014 Original Broadway Cast Recording)
The Visit (2015 original Broadway Cast Recording)
War Paint (2017 Original Broadway Cast Recording)


Album Review: Salad Days (2013 Live London Cast Recording)

"Oh yes it's not that I want to stay. 
It's just that I don't want to go"

My heart jumped for joy when the Union Theatre announced their revival of Salad Days as the Julian Slade and Dorothy Reynolds classic is probably one of my favourite musicals (and following on from their production of The Hired Man too, another of my absolute faves). I loved being being able to revisit the evergreen perkiness of the show onstage and it also reminded me that I hadn't gotten round to listening to this cast recording in a while.

My love for Salad Days started upon seeing Tête à Tête’s production of the show at the old Riverside Studios in 2010 which was such a success (eventually) that it returned in subsequent years and it is from that 2012/3 reprise that this live recording was made (which sadly means no Sam Harrison or Rebecca Caine) but it does capture so very much of what worked so well in Bill Bankes-Jones' production and under Anthony Ingle's musical direction.

Album Review: The Hired Man (2007 UK Tour Cast)

"Hear our thrilling and willing awakening"

It is no secret that Howard Goodall's score for The Hired Man is one I consider to be one of the most beautiful in all of British musical theatre, and so any opportunity to see the show - from orchestral concerts to fringe productions - is one I'll gladly take. This cast recordings errs very much towards the latter, taken from New Perspective's chamber-musical interpretation which cast just eight people.

Richard Reeday's musical direction sees the orchestrations similarly refined down to piano, trumpet and violin and so it offers something of a rough-and-ready approach which has both merits and demerits. A limited ensemble means that the choral power of tracks like 'Song of the Hired Man' don't carry quite the heft that the vision of a community as one demands to meet the scope of Goodall's work.

Sunday, 27 August 2017

Full cast of A Woman of No Importance announced

Despite having little interest in a season of Oscar Wilde plays, the predictably excellent cast for A Woman of No Importance means that my resistance will be utterly futile as the full cast joining the previously announced Eve Best from 6th October at the Vaudeville Theatre has now been announced.

Joining Best is Anne Reid, Eleanor Bron and William Gaunt, and now completing the cast is Emma Fielding, Dominic Rowan, Crystal Clarke, Harry Lister-Smith, Sam Cox, William Mannering, Paul Rider and Phoebe Fildes.

Directed by Dominic Dromgoole, the play is the first in his new company’s year-long season celebrating the work of Irish playwright Oscar Wilde and it has also been announced that a series of talks will take place before certain performances of A Woman of No Importance. Oscar Wilde’s grandson Merlin Holland will give the first pre-show talk on 14th October, offering an insight into Wilde’s life and work. On 19th October, Stephen Fry will reflect on his time plying Oscar Wilde in the 1997 film Wilde. On 11th November, Frank McGuinness will consider Wilde alongside Ibsen and Strindberg in ‘Wilde the European’, and on 7th December, Franny Moyle will explore “Wilde’s women.”


Full cast of the RSC's Imperium announced

The Royal Shakespeare Company has announced casting for the upcoming productions of Imperium parts one and two. Richard McCabe will take on the role of Cicero in Mike Poulton's adaptations of Robert Harris' novels alongside Siobhan Redmond as Terentia, Cicero's wife. Joseph Kloska will play Cicero's servant Tiro, who narrates their adventures.

The rest of the cast includes Nicholas Boulton, Guy Burgess, Daniel Burke, Jade Croot, Peter De Jersey, Joe Dixon, John Dougall, Michael Grady Hall, Oliver Johnstone, Paul Kemp, Patrick Knowles, Hywel Morgan, Lily Nichol, Piero Niel Mee, David Nicolle, Patrick Romer, Jay Saighal, Christopher Saul, Eloise Secker and Simon Thorp.

Album Review: Before After (2016 Studio Cast Recording)

"What's a few more minutes to wait...a little longer"

Confession time - I've had this album for an unforgivably long time, mainly because I managed to forget about it, despite the fact I was meant to be reviewing it. D'oh, and sorry Mr G. And more fool me, because Before After is just lovely, a tragic but hopeful love story, an unconventional timeline and swooning piano and strings orchestrations throughout, it might as well have been tailor-made for me!

Written by Stuart Matthew Price and Timothy Knapman, Before After follows the love story between Ami and Ben through all its trials, as the meet-cute we're presented with at the top of Act 1 is actually at the mid-point of their story. She recognises him as the love of her life; he hasn't a clue who she is due to a car accident that wiped his memory; and though she keeps schtum, she asks him out for a drink to see what might happen.

Album Review: Comrade Rockstar (2017 Studio Cast Recording)

"Just call me the Soviet cowboy"

Try as I might, the words 'rock musical' can't help but give me a little shiver of discontent, such is my preference for piano and strings over an electric guitar. But I do try and test my preconceptions (Lizzie probably being the last time I proved myself wrong!) and so I sat down to listen to recent SimG release - Comrade Rockstar, a new musical with book & lyrics by Julian Woolford and music by Richard John.

It's based on the properly fascinating tale of Dean Reed, an American singer known as the Soviet Elvis after he defected to the other side of the Iron Curtain at the height of the Cold War. And sure enough, it is much more musically varied than the moniker 'rock musical' might suggest, stretching its wings far past any connotations of solely Elvis-lite content too, to create a gently beguiling musical that you can certainly visualise on a stage somewhere near you soon.

Saturday, 26 August 2017

Album Review: The Bridges of Madison County (2014 Original Broadway Cast Recording)

"I can't tell you I know what the future will be.
Who knows anything?"

Though often cited as one of the titans of new musical theatre writing, I think it is fair to say that Jason Robert Brown has never managed to nail a proper commercial hit on Broadway. Despite the critical acclaim and cult status that has built up around shows like Parade and The Last Five Years, the Great White Way has resisted his charms and in 2014, it was the turn of his musical adaptation of The Bridges of Madison County to last barely even 4 months the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre.

And as is so often the case, it is hard to tell why, just from listening to the Original Broadway Cast Recording. Based on the Robert James Waller novel, further popularised by an Academy Award-nominated film adaptation, it is a sweepingly romantic story and it is given the sweepingly romantic treatment here by JRB. And with a cast led by Kelli O'Hara (possibly too young for the middle-aged disillusionment meant to characterise the tale) and Steven Pasquale, it sounds just gorgeous.

Album Review: The Last Ship (2014 Original Broadway Cast Recording)

"For what are we men without a ship to complete?"


The logic of theatre being what it is, an original musical by Sting about the decline of the shipbuilding industry in the north-east of England opened on Broadway in 2014 and has still yet to be seen here in the UK. I saw it at the Neil Simon Theatre and whilst The Last Ship didn't have the strongest book, I did think the brooding melancholy of the folk-inflected score would carry it further than the four months it managed.

Its primary delight is Rachel Tucker's Meg, a dynamic vocal presence who can't help but stand out in everything she sings, whether the delicacy of 'August Winds', the tearjerking 'It's Not The Same Moon', or the bawdy fun of 'If You Ever See Me Talking to a Sailor'. Along with the excellent Michael Esper (now familiar to us in the UK thanks to Lazarus and The Glass Menagerie), she makes a real highlight out of 'When We Dance' (a re-purposed track from Sting's back catalogue).

Cast of The Last Ship (2014 Original Broadway Cast Recording) continued

Cast of The Last Ship (2014 Original Broadway Cast Recording) continued

Friday, 25 August 2017

Review: The Host, National Youth Theatre of Great Britain at the Yard Theatre

"She's white, like us"

Rounding off the National Youth Theatre of Great Britain's inspired residency at the Yard (read my review of last week's Blue Stockings here) is a new play from Nessah Muthy called The Host. Picking at the scab of the Brexit vote and the ongoing refugee crisis, Muthy reveals the kind of festering wound that is shocking to see, even as it has infected so many levels of our society and so much of our contemporary discourse.

Yasmin is the most responsible of four half-sisters who are grieving the loss of their mother and the relative security she provided for them on their Croydon council estate. For times of austerity are biting hard and Yasmin finds herself supplementing her job as a cleaner by acting as debt collector for a local loan shark. But it is only when she takes in Syrian refugee Rabea and offers him her couch that objections are raised. 

Round-up of news and treats and other interesting things

With Son Of A Preacher Man about to start its epic UK tour at the Churchill Bromley in 10 days or so, here's a sneak preview of what we can expect from star Diana Vickers.




The Lorax is marching back into the Old Vic this autumn (check out my rhyming review from the previous run) and the cast has now been announed. Simon Paisley Day reprises his role as The Once-ler, and David Ricardo-Pearce will play The Lorax along with puppeteers Laura Caldow and Ben Thompson. The full cast includes Michael Ajao, Joseph Alessi, Josh Baker, Jack Beale, Hannah Fairclough, Owain Gwynn, Wendy Mae Brown, Kirsty Malpass, Kerri Norville, Ellena Vincent and Silas Wyatt-Barke.


Jane is coming back. Following a critically-acclaimed season and UK tour, the adaptation of Charlotte Brontë's novel returns to the Lyttelton Theatre and a new trailer has just been released. Learn more and book tickets for Jane Eyre here.




Eleanor Lloyd Productions and Rebecca Stafford Productions have announced casting for their major new production of Witness for the Prosecution by Agatha Christie, opening on London’s South Bank this October. Catherine Steadman, best known for her role as Mabel Fox in Downton Abbey and nominated for an Olivier Award for her performance in Oppenheimer will play the role of Romaine, while rising star Jack McMullen, whose recent work includes hard-hitting TV drama Little Boy Blue, Waterloo Road and Noel Clarke’s Brotherhood, will play Leonard Vole. David Yelland (The Crown, Foyle’s War) will play Sir Wilfrid Robarts, Philip Franks (Art, Noises Off) will play Mr Myers, Patrick Godfrey (Half Life, Mr Turner) will play Sir Justice Wainwright and Roger Ringrose (Broadchurch, Mr Selfridge) will be playing Mr Mayhew. The cast will also include Richard Attlee, Elliot Balchin, Alexandra Guelff, Miranda Horn, Jon House, Jules Melvin, Hywel Simons and Alex Stedman.



And last but by no means least, leading lady and recording artist Madalena Alberto has released 'Train Tracks', a new collaboration with songwriter Peter Wickström and producer J Rokka.

Recorded in the mystical town of Glastonbury by J Rokka Music, 'Train Tracks' is a story-driven, pop-inspired, love-learning song, that will most definitely stick in your head and you can listen to it on Spotify here.

Regarding this new music release Madalena Alberto says: 
‘I'm very excited to be collaborating with another songwriter! It just shows clearly new avenues that we never thought we could take on our own. And Peter is a very clever and accomplished musician so I learnt a lot from him. It was also a challenge to come up with solutions of how to work together being in different countries, so I can't wait till we spread the result all over the world.’









Not-really-a-review: Loot, Park

"You've been a widower for three days, have you thought about a second marriage?"

I ummed and aahed a bit about what to write about this one - I saw what I think was the final preview of Loot before a few days to retool before opening night on Wednesday and as with any comedy, especially farce, there's nothing like doing it live to help it bed in. At the same time, I'm not much of a fan of farce (my fault I fear...) and only really booked for two reasons. 1 - it's on the list. And 2 - Sinéad Matthews, future queen of all our hearts. She really is fantastic and it's nice to see a shift in gear from her customary electrifying intensity.

So yeah, I thought Michael Fentiman's production was funny in parts (though nowhere near as funny as most everyone around me) and impressively sharp-edged and dark for a play that is celebrating its 50th anniversary. But the writing, in its targets, does show its age and there's no attempt to show Loot as anything but a period piece, which may well tickle the fancy of those a generations on from me but ultimately left me feeling cold on occasion. And if the attempts at laughs come thick and fast, well they have to as much of the humour is dated. Sorry, my dear.

Running time: 2 hours 
Booking until 24th September, then moves to the Watermill in Newbury from 28th September to 21st October

Album Review: Alan Cumming Sings Sappy Songs - Live at the Cafe Carlyle (2015)

"How could I behave as if we'd never met?"

Recorded just after he completed his 2014/5 return to Cabaret at Studio 54, Alan Cumming Sings Sappy Songs - Live at the Cafe Carlyle is one of the best cabaret records I've had the pleasure of listening to. Surprising but superb song selection, threaded through with a real sense of personality and personal revelation, draws the listener in right from the off, even if he storms just a fraction too quickly through Annie Lennox's glorious solo hit 'Why', he next invests Keane's 'Somewhere Only We Know' with a genuinely rueful quality that hints at what is to come.

And if the label 'sappy' might suggest something inconsequential, make no mistake that this is deeply emotional work. From Miley Cyrus' 'The Climb' to the plangent 'Complainte de la Butte', to showier material that Cumming more obviously has an affinity with, like Kurt Weill's 'How Do Humans Live' and the utterly gorgeous 'You You You' from Kander and Ebb's The Visit, to the almost unbearable emotion underpinning the likes of Billy Joel's 'Goodnight Saigon' and Rufus Wainwright's 'Dinner at Eight'.

Album Review: Shona White - I'll Bring You A Song (2011)

"It is nothing to do with the wine
Or the music that's flooding my mind"

Shona White is a rather under-rated (for my money at least) Scottish actress and singer perhaps most famous for stints in Mamma Mia which were 12 years apart, but whose musical theatre credits stretch far and wide. Her 2011 album I'll Bring You A Song, produced by Richard Beadle reflects the breadth of her career and it is this variety which is both its strength and its slight weakness.

I have to admit to finding it hard to get too excited about tracks like 'To Sir With Love' and Tell Me On A Sunday's 'Take That Look Off Your Face'. They're sung perfectly competently but familiarity breeds a certain measure of contempt. Where this type of song choice succeeds is where the interpretation dares to be different, the sharp emotion of Chess' 'Nobody's Side' a case in point here, so too the slowed down take on 'As Long As You're Mine' from Wicked with the ever-melodious Daniel Boys

Thursday, 24 August 2017

Album Review: Bombay Dreams (2002 Original London Cast)

"Contradictions, city of extremes, anything is possible in Bombay dreams. 
Some live and die in debt, others making millions on the internet"

True story, until last week I thought Bombay Dreams was written by Andrew Lloyd Webber. Not having seen it onstage nor listened to it before, all I knew was the Lord's name was attached to it and assumptions were thus made - it's even his name that appears first on the album cover. But peruse a little closer and you see he's just 'presenting' as one of the original producers, cast your eyes a little further down and A.R. Rahman is revealed as the composer. This may of course be old news to you but for me, it was a revelation before I'd even started!

This was multi-award-winning composer Rahman's first effort for the stage and the palpable effort to mesh his unique take on Indian music with the world of musical theatre is obvious from the off. The musical soundscape that begins 'Bombay Awakes/Bombay Dreams' is layered and intriguing but the mood is shattered as soon as Don Black's lyrics crash in (see the quote up top for a sample) and the combination is cringeworthily fatal. And across the score as a whole, the sense of compromise, of trying to serve two masters whilst pleasing none is too evident.

Cast of Bombay Dreams (2002 Original London Cast) continued

Album Review: Love Never Dies (2010 Concept Album)

"The world is hard, the world is mean
It's hard to keep your conscience clean"

I hadn't listened to Love Never Dies since seeing its very first preview (oh how we laughed when ALW ran furious from the stalls when the set broke down) and having popped on the concept album that was released in tandem, I was soon reminded why. The not-a-sequel to Phantom of the Opera too often feels like a lazy retread of familiar ground, demonstrating zero musical progression and revealing a stagnation where there once was innovation.

The Coney Island setting undercuts any attempt to get close to the gothic horror of the opera house, the 'freak show' elements are desperately tame there. The swerves into rock are ill-advised in the extreme. Lyrically, there's no ingenuity here at all, the words play second fiddle to the music to their peril And above all, the interpolation of themes from Phantom serve as a constant reminder of what this is not, and also the ultimate folly of the enterprise.

Cast of Love Never Dies (2010 Concept Album) continued

Wednesday, 23 August 2017

Review: Knives in Hens, Donmar

"I have no name for the thing which is in my head. It is not envy. It is more than envy. It does not scare me. I must look close enough to discover what it is"

It's no secret that Yaël Farber creates the most immersive of worlds in her theatre but it is still a sensory thrill to allow yourself to submerge entirely into it. The growling rumble of Isabel Waller-Bridge's score is a thrumming backdrop to the striking splendour of Soutra Gilmour's set - all stone and earth and timber, an elemental space for the almost ritualistic unfolding of this pre-industrial play.

And if it seems grim and dark (Tim Lutkin lights with remarkable economy), Farber introduces a repeated motif of flashes of white - the scattering of plucked feathers, plumes of flour billowing through the air, the gentle fall of snowflakes caught just so in the light, hell even the pale sculpted muscularity of a (surely anachronistically tattooed) bare arse establishing early on the internal dynamics.

Bat Out Of Hell is coming back in 2018

"It's so hard to believe but it's all coming back to me now"


There are (still) no words to say about Bat Out Of Hell that can really do it justice (here's my attempt from the first viewing) and in any case, even if I wanted to I couldn't, as it really is a show that demands to be seen having partaken of a beverage or seven. And believe me, last night I partook! So I guess I'll see you at the Coliseum next year then, you can get the first round in ;-)

Cast of Bat Out Of Hell continued

Cast of Bat Out Of Hell continued

Album Review: Marguerite (2008 Original London Cast Recording)

"Come see the show,
She will neither know nor care"

It is always fascinating to listen to the cast recordings of shows that are regarded to have flopped, to see whether the writing was always on the wall or if some reason was responsible for the magic not happening. Lasting just four months at the Theatre Royal Haymarket in 2008, Marguerite is one such musical, despite (or maybe because of) the weight of expectation behind its writing team.

With a book by Alain Boublil, Claude-Michel Schönberg and Jonathan Kent (from the the Alexandre Dumas, fils' novel La Dame aux Camélias) lyrics by Alain Boublil and Herbert Kretzmer, and music by Michel Legrand, the demands on these Gallic grandees were nothing short of recreating the exceptional success of Les Misérables (on which Boublil, Schönberg and Kretzmer collaborated) but it wasn't to be.

Cast of Marguerite (2008 Original London Cast Recording) continued

Album Review: The Sound of Music (2006 London Palladium Cast Recording)

"Today you have to learn to be a realist"

I wanted to love the London Palladium Cast Recording of The Sound of Music, I really did, but there's just something missing, a magic ingredient or two gone awry which means that you can't imagine it ever replacing the version of the score that you fell in love with, no matter which one that is.

This 2006 production was the first to use reality TV to cast its leading role - the BBC's How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria? proving to be a headline grabbing success and resulting in Connie Fisher winning the part of Maria, which she played for around 18 months in the end. She did experience the beginnings of vocal problems during the run, which have now pretty much put the kybosh on her musical theatre career, and it is hard not to feel that this recording does not capture Fisher at her best.

Cast of The Sound of Music (2006 London Palladium Cast Recording) continued

Tuesday, 22 August 2017

Album Review: War Paint (2017 Original Broadway Cast Recording)

"She's coming, she's coming...she's here!"

The rivalry between beauty moguls Helena Rubinstein and Elizabeth Arden has proven a rich one for theatrical exploitation, impressively so given that the pair never actually met. So though the UK got the play Madame Rubinstein and the US got the musical War Paint, both had to find their way into creating a narrative that somehow brings them together whilst respecting their individual strengths.

I'm not so sure John Misto's play achieved that, despite the best efforts of Miriam Margoyles and Frances Barber but on the evidence of the cast recording, I think War Paint (currently running at the Nederlander), with book by Doug Wright, music by Scott Frankel, and lyrics by Michael Korie, with the mighty Patti LuPone and Christine Ebersole at the helm gets a darned sight closer.

Album Review: Anastacia (2017 Original Broadway Cast Recording)

“What dream hold the key to your heart?”


I may be the wrong target audience for Anastasia, currently doing decent business on Broadway, being 18 when the film came out and never having made the effort to see it since. And I have to say the prospect of seeing the musical treatment fills me with even less enthusiasm, having now listened to the Original Broadway Cast Recording.

Composed by the seemingly tireless Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty, it is a relentlessly chirpy and traditional score that didn’t excite me for one Cossack-kicking moment (and given the number of tracks here, it is a substantial moment). Its Russian influences are worn so heavily they drag down much of the first half, a lack of subtlety that is carried through with real consistency.

Monday, 21 August 2017

Review: Against, Almeida


For

Against

  • Amanda Hale being excellent in an all-too-rare excursion to the stage
  • Ben Whishaw being Ben Whishaw in his Whishawy way, even if it's not quite enough to enliven the play
  • Whishaw briefly in his pants, if you like that sort of thing
  • An intelligently sparse design from ULTZ
  • Did I mention Amanda Hale? She comes close to making it all worthwhile

  • The running time
  • The comparative lack of depth to Christopher Shinn's writing which in no way justifies the above
  • The range of issues which touched upon but not interrogated despite the above
  • The structure of the play which exacerbates the above
  • The inherent misogyny in the writing which only allows men to talk about these issues, however unsatisfactorily
  • The cheap potshots at political correctness, seemingly designed for the Cavendishes and Purves of this world
  • Did I mention the running time?



Running time: 2 hours 45 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 30th September

Album Review: USHERS: The Front Of House Musical - (2014 Original London Cast Recording)

"I'll be an inspiration
A musical sensation"

The cast recording for USHERS: The Front Of House Musical was released in advance of its 2014 run at the Charing Cross Theatre but ever the trail-blazer ;-), I saw the show a few months before when it played at the then newly inaugurated Hope Theatre. There, its homespun charms won me over, with its tales of drama in the theatre but not the onstage kind, rather it is the Front of House staff in the spotlight here.

Written by Yiannis Koutsakos, James Oban and James Rottger, and simply orchestrated for Lee Freeman on the piano, it is a short and sweet cast recording but one which wisely makes a virtue of it. These aren't particularly epic songs or grand stories but intimate pieces and personal tales of love and betrayal, audience members and interval ice-creams, and so they suit the smaller focus that they're given here.

Album Review: Songs From The Musical Wolfboy (2010)

"So tell me what are you in for?

Russell Labey and Leon Parris's musical adaptation of Brad Fraser's play Wolfboy played at a short run at Trafalgar Studios 2 in 2010 after an Edinburgh run the year before and afterwards, for reasons best known to themselves, an EP was released with just four songs from the show on the tracklisting. It's an odd decision but on listening to the album, perhaps it is something of a blessing in disguise.

I returned to Wolfboy mainly to listen to Daniel Boys' performance but the main takeaway is how dull and wannabe-goth the songs end up sounding. The overall aesthetic is teenage boys who have just heard Placebo do a slow song for the first time and trying to replicate the sound does precisely nobody any favours at all. And presenting excerpts like this does even allow you to grasp the story that is unfolding. making it hard to see the logic behind this release.

Sunday, 20 August 2017

Cast of Marguerite (2008 Original London Cast Recording) continued



 0909 23rd

Review: Salad Days, Union

"I'm gay and I'm breathless and I'm jubilant and I'm dancing"

As fizzy as a sherbet dip, as baffling as the rules of cricket, as delightful as the finest afternoon tea, Julian Slade and Dorothy Reynolds' Salad Days is quite possibly the best classic British musical you haven't heard of. I only came across it for the first time myself with Tête à Tête's superlative production at the old Riverside Studios in 2010 but instantly tumbled for its many charms and when the show came back in 2012, so I giddily went back. Now it is the turn of the Union Theatre to revive the musical and hopefully win over some new converts.

And it well could do so, given how successful Bryan Hodgson's production is here. Much of its beauty comes from the thoroughness of his vision, the detail and thought that has gone into its every aspect. Creatively, Catherine Morgan's design wisely maximises space, the better to let Joanne McShane's gorgeous choreography with its cherry-picking of early twentieth century dance influences let rip. And placing the band at the rear addresses a good deal of the sound issues that affected The Hired Man, as well as providing a nifty solution to getting into outer space.

Album Review: Big the Musical (2016 Original UK Cast Recording)

"When we must cross over

Who knows what we'll find"

A 90s musical of an 80s film - nostalgia has a lot to answer for but it was to Maltby Jr and Shires' 1996 adaptation of the Tom Hanks-starring film that producers turned for their big Christmas musical at Bord Gais Energy Theatre in Dublin. Morgan Young's production also had a short run at the Theatre Royal Plymouth and with the creation of this UK cast recording, you wonder whether further plans were in the pipeline for the show.

I'm not holding my breath though, as it doesn't really sound like that much of a winner. Shire's score is painfully dated, Maltby's lyrics provide little spark and as a whole, Big the Musical just sounds a bit twee, a bit inconsequential. There's little sense at all of the songs driving the narrative, they're more an inoffensive, intermittent distraction, taking way too long to inch over to even just to 'pleasant' on the scale.

Cast of Big the Musical (2016 Original UK Cast Recording) continued

Album Review: Noel Sullivan – Here I Go Again (2014)

“Don’t be afraid, to let them show”

Noel Sullivan will forever be a member of Hear’say first and foremost to me, the product of one of first of this generation of Saturday night music talent show - Popstars – but since then, a career in musical theatre has beckoned and it is on that, rather than his pop star life, that his debut album concentrates. At a swift 9 tracks, he runs the gamut of his theatrical CV (What A Feeling, Grease, Rock of Ages, Flashdance, Priscilla...) but also throws in a couple of singer-songwriter moments lest we forget his versatility.

It’s nice to see Sullivan maintain strong links with his cast-mates from various shows as he’s a generous duet partner who really shines when sparking off someone else. A funky scratched-up take on ‘You’re The One That I Want’ with Lauren Samuels is sultry indeed, a powerful rendition of ‘Here And Now’ features the glorious Victoria Hamilton-Barritt in fine form, and Cyndi Lauper’s evergreen ‘True Colors’ twinkle once more with the added participation here of Richard Grieve and Graham Weaver.


Saturday, 19 August 2017

Album Review: The Visit (2015 original Broadway Cast Recording)

"A ghost on a visit from the past"

The final musical written by Kander and Ebb together before the latter's passing in 2004, The Visit has had a bit of a troubled history trying to make its way to Broadway. Original star Angela Lansbury having to withdraw due to her husband's ill health, Chita Rivera stepping in but the hopes to transfer the out of town tryout in Autumn 2001 scuppered by the post 9/11 climate, consistent issues with financing...

But Rivera stuck with the show through various readings, concerts and mini-runs, culminating in a new one-act version directed by John Doyle, which eventually landed at the Lyceum Theatre on Broadway for not even two months. Musicals - who'd do em?! Fortunately though, this cast recording was created to help its legacy live on and hopefully, one imagines, inspire Thom Southerland to put on a production over here sometime soon!

Album Review: Chicago (1997 London Cast Recording)

“A lot of people have lost faith in America”

I quite like the film version of Chicago but was surprised by the extent to which I had internalised its soundtrack upon listening to this London Cast Recording from 1997. Part of that lies in the fact that it is good few years since I’ve seen it onstage but there’s no excuse really, for a theatre nut like me. And sure enough, surrendering to the thrill of Ruthie Henshall and Ute Lemper here was a genuine pleasure and a great way to revisit Kander & Ebb’s score.

Henshall’s Roxie and Lemper’s Velma are surely among the best that these characters have ever been sung. The unrelenting stunt casting that kept the show a West End presence perhaps devalued the music a bit but in these hands, with these voices, you come to really appreciate the emotional complexity and proper darkness of these women and what they’re forced to do in order to keep their head above water and then some.

Friday, 18 August 2017

Review: Blue Stockings, National Youth Theatre of Great Britain at the Yard Theatre

"A woman who expends her energy exercising her brain does so at the expense of her vital organs, leaving her unfit for motherhood"

I'd forgotten how enjoyable Jessica Swale's Blue Stockings was though more fool me, as we've long been big fans of hers chez Clowns. The play - her first - premiered at the Globe back in 2013 and since, has become deservedly beloved of GCSE syllabuses and drama groups up and down the land. So it is not an unsurprising pick for part of the National Youth Theatre of Great Britain's East End residency at the Yard Theatre but what may surprise is just how damn good this production is.

Blue Stockings is set at the turn of the last century in the hallowed grounds of the University of Cambridge, Girton College to be precise, the first to admit women. But they're only allowed to study, not actually graduate like their male compatriots who they are matching grade for grade, academic achievement for extracurricular exuberance, and under the tutelage of Principal Elizabeth Welsh, a quartet of students are determined to use that foot in the door to blow it right off its hinges. 

Cast of Blue Stockings continued

Re-review: Yank! A WWII Love Story, Charing Cross

"I know it's difficult to imagine it now
Here in a world that's going mad
But picture the two of us
On some lazy day
When bombs away
Is just a game kids play"

Not got too much more to say about the gorgeous Yank! A WWII Love Story that I didn't already say in my rave review from the beginning of the run (but blimey how those lyrics up top resonate in a different way now!). It's been great to see the show getting such good reviews and fantastic word of mouth, not the easiest of things for an original new musical to achieve, and I always knew that I'd be paying a second visit to the show before it finished. You've got a couple more opportunities yourself and as if you needed any more convincing - here's a video of the lovely Andy Coxon singing one of the show's more emotional numbers. 


Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes (with interval)
Photo: Claire Bilyard
Booking until 19th August

Full cast announced for Saint George and the Dragon


A village. A dragon. A damsel in distress.

Into the story walks George: wandering knight, freedom fighter, enemy of tyrants the world over. One epic battle later and a nation is born. As the village grows into a town, and the town into a city, the myth of Saint George, which once brought a people together, threatens to divide them. Rory Mullarkey creates a new folk tale for an uneasy nation.

John Heffernan plays Saint George; the cast also includes Suzanne Ahmet, Jason Barnett, Julian Bleach, Luke Brady, Paul Brennen, Joe Caffrey, Paul Cawley, Richard Goulding, Gawn Grainger, Tamzin Griffin, Stephanie Jacob, Olwen May, Victoria Moseley, Conor Neaves, Amaka Okafor, Sharita Oomeer, Jeff Rawle, Kirsty Rider and Grace Saif.

Directed by Lyndsey Turner (Chimerica, Light Shining in Buckinghamshire), with design by Rae Smith, choreography by Lynne Page, lighting design by Bruno Poet, music by Grant Olding, sound design by Christopher Shutt and fight direction by Bret Yount.

Hundreds of Travelex tickets at £15 available per performance.

Saint George and the Dragon is a recipient of an Edgerton Foundation New Plays Award

Full cast announced for Young Marx


1850, and Europe’s most feared terrorist is hiding in Dean Street, Soho. Broke, restless and horny, the thirty-two-year-old revolutionary is a frothing combination of intellectual brilliance, invective, satiric wit, and child-like emotional illiteracy.

Creditors, spies, rival revolutionary factions and prospective seducers of his beautiful wife all circle like vultures. His writing blocked, his marriage dying, his friend Engels in despair at his wasted genius, his only hope is a job on the railway. But there’s still no one in the capital who can show you a better night on the piss than Karl Heinrich Marx.

Rory Kinnear plays Marx and Oliver Chris, Engels. The production reunites the creative team behind Richard Bean’s smash hit One Man, Two Guvnors, with direction by Nicholas Hytner, design by Mark Thompson, music by Grant Olding, sound by Paul Arditti and lighting by Mark Henderson.

And joining Kinnear and Chris is Nancy Carroll (Jenny von Westphalen), Laura Elphinstone (Nym), Eben Figueiredo (Schramm), Nicholas Burns (Willich), Tony Jayawardena (Gert "Doc" Schmidt), Miltos Yerolemou (Barthélemy), Duncan Wisbey (Fleece/Darwin), Scott Karim (Grabiner/ Singe), Alana Ramsey (Mrs Mullett), Sophie Russell (Librarian), Fode Simbo (Peter), William Troughton (Constable Crimp) and Joseph Wilkins (Sergeant Savage).

And in an interesting move to collaborate with what seems like a major new competitor, National Theatre Live will be broadcast Young Marx on 7 December.




Album Review: Memphis (2014 Original London Cast Recording)

"Open your eyes, I got a surprise!"


It was fascinating to revisit Memphis, a show that I enjoyed on seeing but in all honesty, isn't one I've given much thought to since it left the West End after just over a year at the Shaftesbury Theatre (I went back once). I remarked then that David Bryan's score was "highly tuneful if not instantly catchy" so was surprised that a fair few of the songs had managed to work their way into my subconscious and so provided that 'ping' of recognition which is always nice.

It was also interesting to listen to the songs in isolation from the show, as more of them than I remembered felt somewhat disconnected from the narrative, just happy in their sprightly pop song-ness. And thanks to the quality of the cast assembled here - leads Beverley Knight and Killian Donnelly, supported by the likes of Jason Pennycooke, Tyrone Huntley and Rolan Bell plus Claire Machin, it is a consistently enjoyable record to listen to.

Cast of Memphis (2014 Original London Cast Recording) continued

Cast of Memphis (2014 Original London Cast Recording) continued

Album Review: The Halcyon (Original Music From The 2017 Television Series)

“We knew the excitement was bound to begin
When Laura got blind on Dubonnet and gin
And scratched her veneer with a Cartier pin
And I couldn't have liked it more”

The main reason for getting your hands on the soundtrack to the ITV series The Halcyon is for Beverley Knight’s highly spirited and hugely seductive take on Noël Coward’s ‘Marvellous Party’. I start with this, lest you think that I’m recommending Jamie Cullum to you (he has two tracks on here, specially recorded for the show) - his appeal having long eluded me. 

The rest of the album is filled with Kara Tointon’s rather lovely voice sliding over classics from the first half of the twentieth century and Samuel Sims’ original compositions for the 1940s drama. You might not think it’s particularly worth searching out if you didn’t see the show but in all honesty, even if you’re just a bit a fan of the era then it is worth a listen and a download or three.

Thursday, 17 August 2017

Album Review: On The Town (2014 New Broadway Cast Recording)

"I try hard to keep detached,But I get carried away"


On The Town is an undoubtedly frivolous show, a plot as light as gossamer,but seeing it recently at the Open Air Theatre reminded me just how tuneful a musical it is, Leonard Bernstein's 1944 score full not just of classic songs but gorgeous instrumental passages too, to allow the many dance sequences to really pop. This recording comes from the 2014 Broadway revival which received good notices but barely lasted a year altogether.

Who knows why it didn't last. It has a strong trio of men as its sailors on 24-hour ship leave in New York - Tony Yazbeck, Clyde Alves, and Jay Armstrong Johnson - and some women who steal the show from them, most notably Elizabeth Stanley's Claire de Loone, and Jackie Hoffman too for good measure. Stanley's portrayal in particular really shines through, matching a strong soprano with serious comic skills and making her someone I want to find out more about. 

Album Review: Surrounded by the Sounds - the music of Tim Prottey-Jones (2011)

"She screamed, I think – it was hard to hear"

Surrounded by the Sounds - the music of Tim Prottey-Jones is the second of actor/writer Prottey-Jones' albums featuring a whole array of his West End pals, but the third that I've reviewed (see reviews of More With Every Line and To Do. To Be.) It features songs from two of Prottey-Jones musicals - Once Bitten and After The Turn - and has a decidedly more pronounced rock feel to it than either of his other collections.

As such, it didn't quite tickle my fancy in the way that I might have liked, especially since To Do. To Be. had impressed me. And it's not that this is a collection of bad songs, they're just not my cup of tea. Such guitars, much rock, so not wow. Even when the tempo slows a little into ballad territory, as with Michael Xavier's Chance In A Lifetime or Jodie Jacobs' Colour Me, it is still just too monotonely guitar-heavy for my liking.