Sunday, 24 July 2016

CD Review: Cheyenne Jackson – I’m Blue, Skies (2013)

“Straight to my guts there you go again
You're killing me don't even know it when…”

I’m a bit of a sucker for a musical theatre actor releasing albums of original material as opposed to collections of the same old standards and so Cheyenne Jackson’s first album I’m Blue, Skies was already off to a winner with me. And by the time the joyous drive-time pop of the first two tracks ‘Before You’ and ‘I’m Blue Skies’ had passed, I was completely hooked. And peering closer at the credits offers at least part of the reason, empress of pop Sia co-wrote a bunch of the tracks.

She actually met him backstage after a performance of Xanadu and a fast friendship was born. And it was creatively fruitful too – ‘She's Pretty, She Lies’ folds in tinges of country into its pop and ‘Don't Look at Me’ is simple, stirring balladry at its best, thus one gets the sense that Jackson’s song-writing was further empowered to explore all points inbetween. So we get cheery duets like You Get Me (feat. Charlotte Sometimes) and the most positive break-up song ever in the soaring ‘Don't Wanna Know’.

Blogged: Theatre on screen July 2016

"Things are going to get, now and for the rest of your life, extremely difficult"

Well actually, things are getting easier to watch theatre in different ways and as I leave on holiday for a wee while, I thought I'd round up a few of the current offerings.

Mike Bartlett's smash hit Wild at Hampstead Theatre was livestreamed yesterday and is available until midnight on Tuesday. 

Talawa's touring production of King Lear is available on the iPlayer (I was a tiny bit disappointed with this to be honest)

And Phoebe Waller-Bridge's Fleabag has been developed into a TV series - not got round to watching it yet but could well be good

CD Review: Thérèse Raquin (2014 Original London Cast)

“You are not still, you are not still Thérèse”

There are times when listening to cast recordings can sometimes feel like a chore, and others when they are a glorious reminder of shows gone by. For me, hearing the utterly gorgeous waterfall of voices on ‘You Are Not Still Thérèse’ from Craig Adams’ Thérèse Raquin is very much in the latter category, one of those moments of musical theatre perfection that work as music, as drama, as theatre, as pure art.

Adams and Nona Shepphard’s adaptation of Zola’s novel played at the Finborough in 2014 and then transferred to the larger Park in one of those really sensible moments theatreland sometimes has. Musically complex and dramatically interesting as a radical interpretation of the book, it delved deep into Thérèse’s psychology and aided by a stunning performance from Julie Atherton, worked beautifully.

CD Review: The Fix (1997 Original London Cast)

“The economy, crime, taxes!”

I’ve seen The Fix twice now – once at the old Union and once at the new and to be honest, it’s not a show I particularly love. With a rock/pop score by Dana P Rowe and book and lyrics by John Dempsey, its political shenanigans schtick has now been overtaken by the real-life ridiculousness in the political spheres on both sides of the ocean and in any case, aimed for a kind of melodrama that never really worked for me as far back as the comparative calm of 2012.

A big issue for me is the score and its magpie nature, beginning with the power-pop chorus of ‘One, Two, Three’ with its forceful guitars and then dipping in and out of the worlds of vaudeville, lounge jazz, straight-up balladry, even folk songs. Sprawling in such a manner means we never really get a sense of the kind of world that the show is trying to conjure – only in Philip Quast’s charismatic ‘First Came Mercy’ with its Kander + Ebb sharpness does The Fix express its identity.

Friday, 22 July 2016

Review: The Fix, Union

"It's just me and me alone who knows the score"

The Union is dead, long live the Union. Southwark's Union Theatre has now moved into its new premises just across the way and for their debut production there, have returned to their 2012 production of John Dempsey and Dana P Rowe's The Fix. Michael Strassen returns to direct a new cast but I have to admit that I think this is just a show that I am not destined to ever get on with.

I struggled with it four years ago and this time round found it no less problematic, perhaps even more so given the current state of political affairs on both sides of the ocean. With the post-Brexit omnishambles and the continued rise of Trumpism so fresh in our minds, fictional political satire is barely needed and it would be flattering The Fix to label it so, for it's much more pulpy than that, soap opera-like even.

Thursday, 21 July 2016

Review: Jesus Christ Superstar, Open Air Theatre

"Could you ask as much from any other man?"

Andrew Lloyd Webber sure doesn't make it easy - for his support of new musical theatre in taking over the St James Theatre to making a transatlantic dash to the House of Lords to vote in support of tax credit cuts for the working poor, it's hard to know where to stand. His status in the British theatrical establishment remains largely unchallenged though and it is to the 46-year-old Jesus Christ Superstar that the Open Air Theatre in Regents Park have turned for their big summer musical, directed this year by Timothy Sheader. 

And how do you play a 70s rock opera for today? You bring onboard shit-hot creatives like Tom Scutt and Drew McOnie to reinvent it for 2016. Scutt's design choices make a virtue of the timeless iron structure that edges the stage. The company arrive in luxury sportswear, its loose silhouettes and muted earth tones akin to a Kanye West fashion show with which McOnie's contemporary choreography meshes perfectly. Later scenes feature the glitter-covered muscularity of something like a late night Brighton Pride, a smattering of Xerxes from the film 300 and all out Sink the Pink excess during the whipping sequence.

Review: The Bodyguard, Dominion

"Makes you go left, right, up, down
Got you spinning round and round"

For the longest time, Beverley Knight was most notable to me for being on the radio when Rachel from Cold Feet died (and also having this old-school jam which was a favourite of mine and my big sister way back when). So when it was announced that she would be taking over the role of Rachel Marron in The Bodyguard in the show's original West End run, I have to say I was sceptical and having already seen the show, felt little need to return.

But I saw Knight do very good work in Memphis and felt suitably admonished and as the fates would have it, she has returned to the role of Marron for The Bodyguard's return to the West End at the Dominion. And I'm mightily glad that she has, for it really is a stonking performance from her and a role that suits her to the ground - belting out classic Whitney hits in peerless style and camping up the thinness of the drama with an almighty amount of sass.

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

Review: The Stripper, St James

“Baby, you give me a hard-on”

If only, for Richard O’Brien and Richard Hartley’s The Stripper is a fantastically misjudged piece of theatre, an attempt at noir-ish convention dressed up in musical theatre clothing from 1982. This pair of Dicks give us a real dick, from Carter Brown’s pulp fiction story, in Al Wheeler, a detective trying to get to the bottom of the suicide of hot actress Patty Keller but do precisely nothing to address his dickishness. You could try and argue period detail with its 60s-set sexism but failing to interrogate it in this day and age is pretty much unforgivable.

Which is a shame as there’s the makings of something interesting here. Hartley and O’Brien’s score is an enjoyable mixture of period-appropriate musical influences that is toe-tappingly tuneful and catchy in places too. And director Benji Sperring has gathered a great cast of 5 who energetically cover a multitude of roles – Sebastien Torki and Gloria Onitiri both stand out. But where Sperring was able to tap into something with his most recent pulp project The Toxic Avenger, albeit still with a couple of tonal mis-steps, it’s much harder to reconcile what happens here.

Monday, 18 July 2016

CD Review: Ramin Karimloo - The Road to Find Out South

"Surrendering to a love that's pure
Will save the soul of a man I'm sure"

It's been a couple of years since Ramin Karimloo took The Road To Find Out - East and I was beginning to wonder if he'd gotten lost ;-) For the EP was announced as part of a series of 4, exploring the broadgrass fusion (Broadway and Bluegrass) that he has pioneered over recent years. But he's found his way, he's come back to us, and part 2 - The Road to Find Out - South “The Brooklyn Sessions” - has now been released. And following a similar musical path as "East", it's another entertaining collection.

Opening with Sheytoons (his folk-rock band with fellow thesp Hadley Fraser) track 'Wings' is again a statement of intent about where Karimloo's heart lies, its plucked banjo strings and sing-along chorus full of rousing warmth. 'Traveller's Eyes' feels equally at home in its dusty cowboy boots, though my favourite of the original tracks is the tender 'Letting The Last One Go', co-written with Victoria Shaw, a lovelorn tale of bruised and broken hearts.

Review: Ramin Karimloo, London Palladium

"Open up your mind, let your fantasies unwind"

To the casual viewer, Ramin Karimloo might seem like your average, insanely buff leading man with a voice of honeyed gold, but his artistic vision lies far beyond musical theatre into the world of music at large. For he's a singer/songwriter as well as a performer and as his tastes incline towards the folk and country side of things, the phrase Broadgrass has been conjured to capture his inimitable style - a portmanteau of Broadway and bluegrass doncha know!

And though a couple of less-well-informed reviewers were taken by surprise, it is far from a new venture in Karimloo's career. His band Sheytoons, formed with fellow MT star Hadley Fraser has been going since 2010, and he's released 2 EPs since then, The Road to Find Out East and The Road to Find Out South, so his commitment to the cause is most definitely sans doute and live at the London Palladium, it was abundantly in evidence. 

Sunday, 17 July 2016

Review: Beetles From The West, Hope

"Please don't google that"

Trapped inside a hospital waiting room that doesn't even have a television in it - only a pile of battered games like Uno and Monopoly - Boyd and Jenny anxiously wait for news of his father. A veteran of Afghanistan, his son angrily tells us he's a Crystal Palace man, the kind of man who never gets ill, but a severe seizure doesn't lie and as Henry, his doctor, arrives to take a medical history, it becomes clear that this is a household where the health of both the body and the mind has been neglected.

For it emerges that Boyd's dad has prostate cancer and so James Hartnell's Beetles From The West deals with the shattering news that a diagnosis can have on those around the patient. And at its elegiac best, the play delves into the memories of all three characters and dredges up their own experiences with their fathers, reflecting on how that has shaped who they are today. Ed Locke's striking lighting design pulls us out of Kitty Hinchcliffe's institutional design with poetic power for these sequences and they're very well done.

Saturday, 16 July 2016

Review: Shangri-La, Finborough

"Welcome to Authentic China"

What kind of holidaymaker are you? The type that looks for the first place to sell you a full English breakfast or the type that cringes when you hear another English accent in the place, usually over-emphasising at a sceptical waiter. If you tend towards the latter then you might have already heard of sustainable tourism, heck, even booked a trip wanting to fully embrace the authenticity of a place rather than its tourist-stuffed facade.

Amy Ng's Shangri-La questions the very notion of whether its possible though - whether a form of pure cultural tourism can exist or if it is all a sham, something cooked up to relieve all-too-easily proffered wallets and purses. Until 2001, the Chinese Himalayan city of Shangri-La was known as Zhongdian, its renaming aimed to capitalise on the vogue for all things Tibetan, and Ng asks at what cost such decisions are made.