Sunday, 31 July 2016

CD Review: Promises, Promises (2010 New Broadway Cast Recording)

“What do you get when you fall in love?
A guy with a pin to burst your bubble”

One of the criticisms levelled at Close To You: Bacharach Reimagined was that it, well, reimagined Burt Bacharach’s songs. Well for those who prefer a more traditional approach to his music, his one foray onto Broadway Promises, Promises will be making its way to the Southwark Playhouse early next year, following on from the successful Broadway revival of 2010, which was the show’s first since being written in the late 1960s.

And I suppose if traditional is what you are looking for, then you won’t be disappointed here. Neil Simon’s adaptation of The Apartment sits loosely on a collection of Bacharach and David songs, augmented by the inclusion here of some of their other hits to beef up the recognisability quota, and it’s all rather cutesy and undemanding and depending on your viewpoint, either nicely retro or insufferably twee.

CD Review: Kristin Chenoweth – Coming Home (2014)

“A most unusual coloring book”

Kristin Chenoweth has been delighting audiences across musical theatre, television shows and concert tours for many years now and so one can forgive her the indulgence of a live album. Coming Home was recorded in her hometown of Broken Arrow, Oklahoma and covers the widest range of musical influences that have shaped her life and career.

So we get songs from her Broadway hits, wish fulfilment of songs she’s always wanted to perform, a dip into the country and Christian music of her upbringing, not to mention some disco and Dolly Parton too. It’s an eclectic mixture but one which proves revelatory, not just because of the many spoken interludes included here but because of the sheer joy of Chenoweth’s extraordinary soprano voice.

Saturday, 30 July 2016

CD Review: Shuffle Along, Or, The Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed (Original Broadway Cast)

“Sons and daughters of the long dark night
Our time has come to glow in the light”

Bit of a cheeky one this as this 8-track sampler of Shuffle Along, Or, The Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed was recorded live for Tony voters but hey, why should they get all the fun, especially now that the decision was made to close the show allegedly in the light of Audra McDonald’s pregnancy making it a less saleable prospect.

The show takes a little unpicking - a musical with a 1921 score by Eubie Blake and Noble Sissle and a contemporary libretto by George C. Wolfe, based on the original book of the musical revue Shuffle Along, by Flournoy Miller and Aubrey Lyles. The story thus focuses on the challenges of mounting the original production of Shuffle Along and its effect on Broadway and race relations.

CD Review: Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill (2014 Original Broadway Recording)

“All I know is that I'm in love with you”

Not a huge amount more to say about Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill that wasn’t covered in my review of the show when I caught up with on HBO in lieu of it actually opening in the West End. The two-disc cast recording replicates Audra McDonald’s stunning performance as Billie Holiday at the addiction-addled tail-end of her career in Lanie Robertson’s play with music. McDonald is striking indeed as the chanteuse in all her mood swings governed by the level of drink and drugs she’s imbibed and she sounds considerably different as she fully inhabits the character. 

With the song patter included, in all its sad and sorry story-telling though, it’s not the most dynamic of things to listen to. Maybe if I hadn’t seen it on screen so recently I’d feel differently but it really does seem like something is missing – without the visuals to complete the show, it is exposed as an impersonation - no matter how good that impersonation is - of jazz when the real thing is so easy to come by. I’d recommend tracking down the HBO recording rather than this album in all honesty.

CD Review: Close To You – Bacharach Reimagined (2016 Original London Cast Recording)

“Don’t make me over…”

One of my happiest theatrical memories of 2015 was the sheer joy that Close To You: Bacharach Reimagined brought to my heart. Having opted not to bother with the production at the pricey Menier, the subsequent West End transfer to the Criterion brought more opportunities to see it and as I sat my sceptical posterior down on the seat, I was little prepared for the musical revelation that was to follow and now very happy that it has been preserved in this Original London Cast Recording.

My low expectations have initially had something to do with it but there’s something undeniable about the way in which Kyle Riabko and David Lane Seltzer have devised the show, reinterpreting a vast array of Burt Bacharach’s catalogue into a near-continuous mix which interpolates key themes and melodies throughout its tracklisting, melding its own structure out of its defiantly non-traditional approach. And its one that survives well without the visual poetry that director Steven Hoggett brought to the show.

CD Review: Kelli O’Hara – Always (2011)

“Do you feel the kind of grace inside the breeze?"

Though my tastes are broad, I am an old-fashioned soul at heart and little fills me with as much joy as a classic soprano, characterising so much of what I love about musical theatre. One of Broadway’s finest is Kelli O’Hara, an actress so good that since her first Tony nomination for The Light In The Piazza in 2005, she has been so nominated for every role she has played since, culminating in a win last year with her sixth nomination for The King and I.

Her 2011 album Always reflects something of the choices made by her contemporary and fellow singer Audra McDonald in the way that it delves into the Great American Songbook with chapters both old and new. There’s several classics in there - Rodgers and Hammerstein, Lerner and Loewe, Sondheim - from shows she has been in and others besides, but also a fair few new musical theatre writers too, reflecting the breadth of the career she has pursued.

Friday, 29 July 2016

CD Review: The Color Purple (2006 Original Broadway Cast Recording)

“Hey, sista, whatcha gon’ do?”

The Color Purple has become a bona fide hit after John Doyle’s revival took Broadway by storm but you might not realise the level of the pop credentials that its composers Brenda Russell (‘Piano in the Dark’, ‘Get Here’), Allee Willis (‘Boogie Wonderland’, ‘What Have I Done To Deserve This’, ‘I'll Be There For You’) and Stephen Bray (classic Madonna hits like ‘Express Yourself’, ‘Into The Groove’ and ‘Causing A Commotion’) brought to the table.

And that Doyle revival being the first experience I had with the show when it originated at the Menier Chocolate Factory, it’s kinda hard to believe that the original Broadway run in 2006 wasn’t an equivalent critical success. The issues must have lay with Gary Griffin’s production as for me, this Original Broadway Cast recording is a superb rendering of the score and one which is at least the equal of the revival and in some places, its better.

CD Review: Renée Elise Goldsberry – Beautiful EP (2006)

“I just can’t let her go”

Renée Elise Goldsberry is probably now best known as the Tony-winning Angelica Schuyler from Hamilton, deliverer of one of the most earth-shattering moments of musical theatre ever in 'Satisfied'. But this is no overnight success, Goldsberry has been working away for the last 20 years across theatre, music and television starring in shows like Ally McBeal (she was one of Vonda Shepherd’s back-up singers) and The Good Wife (the ever-present Geneva Pine) as well as shows like The Color Purple and Good People.

In amidst all this, she’s also carved out a path as a singer-songwriter, although her works now seem to be out of print. In this digital age though, I was able to track down the six tracks of her 2006 EP Beautiful on YouTube and very glad I was of it too. The collection is really rather lovely, offering up an eclectic range of gently funky RnB (the title track, which delightfully recalls something of Des’ree) to piano ballads (the classic simplicity of the Elton John-ish We’ll Love Through). 

Thursday, 28 July 2016

Review: Exposure the Musical, St James

"It's just a photograph"

Despite their best attempts to pull the wool over my eyes with distraction techniques (see pics below), I'm afraid I wasn't too much of a fan of Exposure the Musical. Stay tuned for my 2 star review for Cheap Theatre Tickets as soon as it goes live.

Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 27th August


Writers of Exposure the Musical

CD Review: Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812 (2013 Original Cast Recording)

"Gonna have to study up a little bit
If you wanna keep up with the plot"

It might seem a little disingenuous to wish that Hamilton had won one more Tony than the eleven it scored but the deserving Philippa Soo stood no chance against the juggernaut that is Cynthia Erivo’s Celie in The Color Purple for the Lead Actress award, despite her name being part of a Beautiful South lyric (Jennifer, Alison…). So I was interested to listen to the only other cast recording I could find with her on it, 2013’s Off-Broadway production of Dave Malloy’s Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812.

Described as an “electropop” opera (although electropop evidently means something different across the ocean) and with a story filleted from the mid-section of War and Peace (Volume 2, Part 5 to be precise), it’s a rather startling but hugely imaginative piece of writing that folds in musical influences far beyond that descriptor. There’s elements of electro-pop and other contemporary pop sounds including indie rock and they’re somehow combined with Russian folk and classical music in some unholy alliance.

CD Review: Leslie Odom Jr – Leslie Odom Jr (2016)

“Who can say what dreams are?"

Leslie Odom Jr first released his self-titled debut album in 2014 but he opted to re-release it in June 2016 switching out three of the tracks for four new ones - quite why he didn’t just record a new album I’m not sure, but there you have it. It was certainly well-timed in any case, coming hard on Odom’s victory in the Best Actor in a Musical Tony award category for his iconic role as Aaron Burr in Hamilton

Perhaps deliberately, this 10-track album eschews Lin-Manuel Miranda’s striking musical masterpiece to instead mark out Odom’s own territory as a performer. Thus the collection flows with a contemporary jazz feel that is ideally suited to the warm cadences and tender elasticity of his vocal, which is pretty much joyous throughout, feeling as it does, as if it is on the precipice of seducing you (just wait ‘til you hear him croon in Portuguese…).

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

CD Review: In The Heights (2008 Original Broadway Cast Recording)

“Reports of my fame
Are greatly exaggerated
Exacerbated by the fact that my syntax
Is highly complicated cuz I emigrated from the single greatest little place in the Caribbean”

The massive success of Hamilton didn’t come as too much of a surprise to those of us who saw and loved In The Heights, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s preceding show which took Broadway by storm in 2008 and lit up the Southwark Playhouse in 2014 before transferring to the King’s Cross Theatre in 2015 where it continues to delight audiences with its heady mixture of sensual heat and community spirit – and its ideal listening in the middle of a roasting summer.

Quiara Alegría Hudes’ book may not be the most dramatically exciting – the story is set over 3 days in a heatwave in the Dominican-American neighbourhood of Washington Heights in New York – but for me, that’s why it works so well. It’s a genuine ensemble piece and the beauty of the show is that we get a snapshot of so many peoples’ lives and how they all intersect during both everyday moments and more crucial ones.

CD Review: Bring It On: The Musical (2012 Original Broadway Cast Recording)

"Even mocking cheerleaders cannot hide the emptiness in my soul"

Before Hamilton, but after In The Heights, Lin-Manuel Miranda found the time to write the score to the musical adaptation of one of my legit favourite films, the Kirsten Dunst-starring high school cheerleader classic Bring It On. With Tom Kitt and Amanda Green, Miranda brings a defiantly 90s feel to the sound of Bring It On: The Musical, an interesting choice that doesn't always necessarily work but is fascinating with it.

The story has been changed a little from the film from what I could make out but the bones of it remain the same - intense rivalries both within high school and with other high schools culminating the cheer-off of all cheer-offs at National where everyone has to 'bring it'. And reflecting the urban diversity of this world, elements of pop, RnB and hip-hop are easily folded into the Broadway template make this modern, if weirdly dated, score.

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Review: Half A Sixpence, Chichester Festival Theatre

“Don’t forget your banjo”

Take a deep breath… the 1963 musical Half A Sixpence by Beverley Cross and David Heneker, based on the HG Wells novel Kipps: The Story of a Simple Soul, has been adapted anew for Chichester audiences with Julian Fellowes writing a fresh book and George Stiles and Anthony Drewe adding new music and lyrics to Heneker’s original songs. And because Cameron Mackintosh is Cameron Mackintosh, he gets a co-creator credit.

Originally written as a star vehicle for Tommy Steele, Half A Sixpence is the story of Arthur Kipps, an orphan who dreams of a better life whilst earning a pittance as a draper’s assistant in Shalford’s Bazaar, Folkestone. An unexpected bequest thrusts a fortune into his hands but his meteoric rise in society leaves him conflicted about his place in life as his heart is pulled between two very different young women (and a banjo).

Cast of Half A Sixpence continued

CD Review: Hamilton (2015 Original Broadway Cast Recording)

“Let me tell you what I wish I'd known"

I can understand why people might be feeling a little Hamilton-ed out with more than 12 months to go until it opens at the Victoria Palace and no let up in the hugely successful Broadway run, even as the original cast members are beginning to scatter. I even sometimes think I feel that way myself but the minute I pop the cast recording on to listen to a song or 3 or even the whole damn thing because I can't resist, I am swept up once again in Lin-Manuel Miranda's genius.

Part of this comes from the care and attention that was put into creating the Official Broadway Cast Recording, multiple recording sessions over several days were put in with The Roots on production duties, ensuring the layered complexity of every aspect of the score was preserved on record. And it is densely packed, it needs, nay demands, multiple listens to unpack not just the lyrical content but also the musicality, the richness of the orchestrations and how detailed they are.

Cast of Hamilton (2015 Original Broadway Cast Recording) continued

Cast of Hamilton (2015 Original Broadway Cast Recording) continued

CD Review: Samantha Barks – Samantha Barks (2016)

“Remember the glass we charged in celebration”

Samantha Barks has come a long way from Saturday night BBC talent shows – to the West End to blockbuster film musicals and performing at the Oscars, even appearing on Bear Grylls: Mission Survive. It’s taken her a little while to get around to releasing her self-titled first album – a mixture of original tracks, pop songs and stagier fare – but on this evidence, it has been well worth the wait with a beautifully assured, intimate collection.

There’s nothing forced about Barks’ approach here – the fireworks of Moulin Rouge’s ‘One Day I’ll Fly Away’ and Disney charm of Hercules’ ‘Go The Distance’ are delivered with a real restraint, and the less theatrical choice of song come slightly from left-field – the elegant piano and strings of Burt Bacharach and Elvis Costello’s ‘This House Is Empty Now’ is strikingly mature and yet superbly heartfelt, The Band Perry’s ‘If I Die Young’ delicately affecting too. 

Review: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Palace - totes spoiler free!

"It's because you love him too much"

So a slightly odd position to be in, as we saw Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Parts 1 and 2 nearly 7 weeks ago at their first previews. And with the #keepthesecrets campaign already in full force then, I didn't write up a review, opting instead for this preview of sorts. And even now, I'm loathe to write too much about it, for it really is the kind of play, and production, that benefits from the multiple elements of surprise contained within.

And it really is packed full of them, from all aspects. Based on an original new story by JK Rowling, Jack Thorne and John Tiffany, Thorne's play revels in the richness and full depth of the Harry Potter universe to the point where the named cast are described as playing "roles include..." so as not to spoil what's to come. This does have the knock-on effect of making this a play not really suitable for newcomers but I can't imagine too many of them will have booked!

Cast of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child continued

Cast of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child continued

Cast of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child continued

Monday, 25 July 2016

CD Review: Prodigy (Original Cast Recording)

“I wanna play my own kinda song
With no one to tell me its wrong”

Jake Brunger and Pippa Cleary’s musical Prodigy was commissioned and developed by the National Youth Music Theatre and received its premiere last summer, inconveniently whilst I was on holiday, and so I’m glad to say that an Original Cast Recording has now been released in cahoots with the good folk of Auburn Jam Records. It was a busy year for Brunger and Cleary as their musical of The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 ¾ also opened in Leicester and even more so when you discover how Prodigy was developed.

Set behind the scenes of a barely fictional reality TV show to find Britain’s best upcoming classical musician, we delve into the lives of the five young finalists in all their teenage awkwardness, social stuntedness and parental pressure. And drawing on the talents of the NYMT available to them, the writers tailored the material to actor-musician roles, allowing the leads to play off their skills and not just them, more than half of the cast of 27 play some kind of actor-musician part, not bad for a bunch of 11-23 year olds.

Cast of Prodigy (Original Cast Recording) continued

CD Review: Cheyenne Jackson – Renaissance (2016)

“Never seemed so right before"

Cheyenne Jackson’s first album I’m Blue, Skies was an unexpectedly shiny and effective pop-fest but Renaissance sees him move a little closer to his acting roots. This album has been adapted out of his one-man show ‘Music of the Mad Men Era’ and so heavily features music from the 50s and 60s in all their brassy, bossa-nova throwback charm into which Jackson, in all his elegance and ravishing vocal prowess, slides beautifully.

It’s almost criminally smooth at times - from the opening big band sound of ‘Feeling Good’ which sounds amazing to multitracked vocal of ‘Angel Eyes’ to spring in the step of ‘Walkin' My Baby Back Home’, it’s impossible to resist its huge geniality. And by the time he throws in the lighter touches of ‘Americano’ (with a cheeky interpolation that will please fans of his American Horror Story role), the sway of ‘Bésame Mucho’ and a delightful, gossamer-light duet with Jane Krakowski on ‘Somethin' Stupid’, you’ll be utterly seduced.

Sunday, 24 July 2016

CD Review: Waitress (Original Broadway Cast Recording 2016)

“I feel something needs to change"

It’s funny how your relationship to a show can change so dramatically. When I first heard Sara Bareilles’ concept album for her musical adaptation of Waitress, I thought it was pleasant without being particularly memorable. And whilst seeing it on Broadway, my mind got preoccupied with what I found to be pretty big issues in the book to the exclusion of pretty much everything else. 

But getting the cast recording in my hand and spending a rainy afternoon just listening to it over and over, I realised I had missed out on just how musically special it is. The lushness of the harmonies flesh out the songs in the most gorgeous way imaginable and somehow, it feels easier ignore the apparently lifelong questionable decision-making of our heroine and her lack of agency.

Cast of Waitress (Original Broadway Cast Recording 2016) continued

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.

Cast of Jesus Christ Superstar continued

Cast of Jesus Christ Superstar continued

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.

Cast of The Bodyguard continued

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.

Thursday, 14 July 2016

Review: Mumburger, The Archivist’s Gallery

“Was the death expected? Yes or no"

The clues may be there but I was still astounded by Sarah Kosar's Mumburger, an arresting new drama that has set up residence in The Archivist's Gallery, a venue tucked away by the canal in Haggerston. Described as a play about "family, grief and red meat", this world premiere of a hyper-local piece of writing (Broadway Market, Rich Mix and Columbia Road flower market all get a mention) from The Archivist's inaugural writer-in-residence certainly makes for an interesting beginning for Kosar's tenure here.

After a tragic car crash, an Anglo-American family is shattered by grief and their differing responses to their loss. Father Hugh retreats into himself, at a loss for what to say or do; daughter Tiffany is conversely a torrent of words and action, a whirlwind of activity as a distraction technique. But 72 hours after the loss of the wife and mother they miss so dearly, an unexpected act of "environmental performance art" throws up a bizarre but searching challenge.

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

Review: I’m Getting My Act Together And Taking It On The Road, Jermyn Street

“I'll find my way again
And I will sing my song”

Written in 1978 by Gretchen Cryer and Nancy Ford, it’s a little bit depressing that I'm Getting My Act Together and Taking It on the Road still has the resonance that it does nearly 40 years later. The show may not have been seen in the UK for nearly 40 years but its commentary on how the music business – indeed culture at large, even society as a whole – treats middle-aged women remains as incisive as it surely ever has done.

Heather Jones is a pop singer who has just turned 39 and is on the cusp of launching a refreshed act in front of a bunch of music biz luminaries in a New York cabaret club. The only problem is, her manager Joe isn’t keen on her new image, her new sound, her new lyrical honesty, he wants the safe, same old same old, unthreatening Heather back because he doesn’t believe he can sell a mature woman as a commercial prospect.

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

Brexited Review: Faith Healer, Donmar

And who is there to lead into...well, god know where?

The Donmar's Faith Healer has a lot of rain pissing down in it and given the voting record of our own new faith healer, it May well feel like its pissing down for the foreseeable.

Brexited Review: Guys and Dolls, Phoenix

What a collection of Guys and Dolls eh

Rebel Wilson is actually hugely successful as Miss Adelaide, finding the perfect balance between playing the role as written and bringing enough of her own personality to firmly put her stamp on the part. An impressive West End debut. As for this motley crew, someone should tell them to sit down, sit down, sit down...

Turns out luck really is a lady tonight.

Cast of Guys and Dolls continued

Brexited Review: Austentatious, Udderbelly

The improv guys at Austentatious are back with a smattering of London dates and an Edinburgh residency in August

We were treated to "By Gove, You Cheated Me" and best of all, some next level corpsing which made an already funny show hilarious
A consistently entertaining night out, get thee to the purple cow now.

Brexited Review: How The Other Half Loves, Duke of York's

How The Other Half Loves indeed...

A rather unexpected transfer for this Alan Ayckbourn play (losing Tamzin Outhwaite in the process) and apt for these post-Brexit times - Ayckbourn's enduring popularity acts as a salutary reminder that there's plenty of folk out there who don't think like I do... ;-)  

Why did I go then? Look no further...
(c) Alastair Muir

Monday, 11 July 2016

Review: Cargo, Arcola

“We’re all in the same boat…”

One of the shrewder observations of recent weeks has been the puncturing of the declamatory announcements that the UK has become impossible to live in and that emigration was now necessary after just a few days of turmoil. For when you compare that to the issues that cause immigration now, for example more than five years of civil war, huge swathes of towns and cities - even Syria's largest city Aleppo - literally bombed out, then you see the sense of perspective that is sorely needed.

Issues like this ran around my head as I sat down to watch Tess Berry-Hart's new play Cargo (a snippet of which I was able to see at the excellent Refugees Welcome event in May). Among the many strings to Berry-Hart's bow is her role as a key co-ordinator for Calais Action and so this is clearly a writer who knows of what she speaks when it comes to refugees. But taking a different spin on the subject, Cargo imagines (or should that be slightly embellishes...) a near-future dystopian Britain that is the land people are trying to flee.

Review: After Miss Julie, Richmond

“Don’t confuse my appetites”

After a momentous political decision, some people celebrate whilst others ponder the uncertainty of their situation. You don’t have to strain too hard to find touches of resonance in the opening scenes of After Miss Julie even if the subject matter is ultimately quite different, the febrile atmosphere of that moment of the beginning of huge political change proving to be recognisable no matter the period.

Patrick Marber’s reimagining of August Strindberg’s tragedy Miss Julie moves the story from Sweden in 1888 to England in 1945, maintaining an environment where the class struggle is real but is on the cusp of great change after Labour’s landslide victory. And in the country house that her father has left for the night, the aristocratic Miss Julie has set her sights on a cheeky pas de deux with her father’s chauffeur John, scandalising the whole household with this transgression of the social order.

Guest Review: Sally Phillips and Lily Bevan - Talking To Strangers, Soho

A stalwart face in British comedy for over 20 years, Sally Phillips first ascended into immortality as one third of the on-screen talent for Smack The Pony, Channel 4’s landmark female-centric sketch show. Since then she has become a sort of watermark for quality in comedy - whether she’s turning up in the Bridget Jones movies or in HBO’s Veep, you know you’re in a safe pair of hands.

Such is the case with Talking To Strangers, which is co-written and performed with RADA alum Lily Bevan. A series of monologues in which characters talk to, you guessed it, strangers, Talking To Strangers originally aired on Radio 4 as a sketch series. As a stage show, it makes for a surreal hour packed with sharply observed character detail.