Sunday, 20 August 2017

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.

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: 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. 

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. 

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Album Review: Bumblescratch (2016 London Concert Cast Recording)

"What is this that I see"

Robert J Sherman's musical Bumblescratch played a high-profile charity concert at the Adelphi Theatre last year and keeping up the energy behind this piece of new writing, the original band and cast made this London Concert Cast Recording at Angel Studios, under the auspices of the folks at SimG Records. It's a canny way to keep up the profile of a show that only a handful of people got to see and a useful tool for those that did to reassess the score.

Sherman's extensive family legacy (A Spoonful of Sherman) means that the family friendly ethos is never far from the surface and it is something that has emerged in his previous work (Love Birds). And in some ways it is a blessing and a curse. A blessing in that he clearly has a gift for melody, sometimes gentle, sometimes nagging (in the best way); and a curse in that it is so ingrained in his musical identity that it is hard to escape it.

Album Review: The Route To Happiness (2014 Original Cast Recording)


"Better we'd not met"

I saw a festival presentation of Alexander S Bermange's The Route To Happiness at the Landor back in 2013 and a year later, an original cast recording was made available through Auburn Jam, albeit with an entirely different cast. So in place of Cassidy Janson, Niall Sheehy, and Shona White, we get Kerry Ellis, Ben Forster and Louise Dearman taking on the roles of this three-hander.

The story follows the pursuit of fame, money and love and how the three intersect in the intertwined stories of Trinity, Marcus and Lorna. But where the show has maintained a fairly positive place in my memory, listening to the double-album of the score felt like a bit of a chore. Musically it is accomplished but far too similar-sounding, there's little sense of progression to carry you through.

And lyrically, it is rather thin, although there's plenty of witty lines peppered throughout. Ellis, Forster and Dearman all deliver committed performances but this rarely feels like a show that is craving to be put on again, in this format at least.

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Losing my mind over Losing My Mind - 10 top interpretations of the Sondheim classic

"Sometimes I stand in the middle of the floor"

With the National's highly anticipated production of Follies (Dominic Cooke directing a cast of 37 and an orchestra of 21, lest you forget) about to start previews in a week's time, I thought I'd listen to about a hundred different versions of perhaps its most famous song - 'Losing My Mind' - and try and decide on a top ten, with the assumption of course that whatever Imelda Staunton will do with the song will be completely, utterly, life-changingly extraordinary (no pressure Meldz).



Review: A Spoonful of Sherman, Live at Zédel

"Theyre bouncy, trouncy, flouncy, pouncy
Fun, fun, fun, fun, fun"

A Spoonful of Sherman was previously seen at the St James Theatre (as was) in April 2014 but such is the warmly nostalgic hold of the Sherman Brothers' songwriting, it is little surprise to see it re-emerge - this time in the plush surroundings of Brasserie Zédel's cabaret space. The show has slimmed down its personnel from 4 to 2, Helena Blackman and Daniel Boys taking up the singing duties, with third generation songwriter Robert J. Sherman stepping in once again as narrator.

And I have to say I felt largely the same about A Spoonful of Sherman - it is a stronger show when Sherman Jnr is on the sidelines. One can understand the justifiably enormous pride he has in his family's heritage, and in bringing this show to life, but the frequent interjections to sketch biographical insight don't quite work in this format - its the stuff of programme essays to be honest and you can't help wonder if his role might be more usefully reduced to a choice few bon mots.

Album Review: Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (2002 Original London Cast Recording)

“What a happy time we'll spend"

I’m
 pretty sure that if you could distil the warmth of Emma Williams’ voice, it would be the basis for the cure to the world’s ills. There are few singers who have that kind of effect on people and it is a travesty that isn’t better known to the world at large. Part of that is a consequence to her admirable devotion to new musical theatre writing which means that her projects haven’t always quite broken through to the mainstream but to those in the know, she’s a real champion of British musical theatre. 

Which is a long-winded but deserved introduction to the Original London Cast Recording of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, the production in which she made her debut as an 18 year old in 2002. The Sherman Brothers’ film has long turned into an enduring classic and its score here, enhanced by new numbers for the stage, remains a thing of unalloyed joy. The delicacy of lullabies like ‘Hushabye Mountain’ and ‘Doll On A Music Box’ are just beautiful and in the hands of Williams and Michael Ball, they shimmer gorgeously.

Album Review: Mary Poppins (2005 Original London Cast Recording)

"Children who refuse to learn will not return"

I only actually got round to seeing the 'new' musical version of Mary Poppins a couple of years ago at the Curve in Leicester, ahead of its mammoth tour, and so the novelty of finally seeing it onstage distracted me a little from the finer details of the score, which merged the original of Robert B Sherman and Richard M Sherman with new songs and arrangements from George Stiles and Anthony Drewe.

And listening to it a couple of times, I think I find myself slightly less enamoured of the interventions. That's not to detract from the quality of the performances - Laura Michelle Kelly makes for a vibrant Mary, Gavin Lee a perky Bert, and the supporting cast is blessed by the likes of David Haig and Linzi Hateley as the Banks, Rosie Ashe as the nefarious Miss Andrew and Jenny Galloway, Melanie La Barrie, and Claire Machin too.

Monday, 14 August 2017

Review: Dangling, Southwark Playhouse

"If I knew...
If I knew that...
It'd be ok."

Telling the contrasting but complementary stories of two young women who have gone missing - one from t'north, one from the capital - Abigail Hood's Dangling is a brutal, at times harrowing play to watch. The London-based strand is the stronger. Not-quite-16-year-old Carly's disappearance has left a huge hole in her parents' lives and Hood explores the myriad ways this impacts on them with a real questioning intelligence. In a devastating scene, Tracey Wilkinson's Jane finds herself driven to entertain thoughts of the worst kind about her husband and the fact is that Jasper Jacob's Greg does have touches of a moral queasiness about him. 

He's paying young women to dress up as his daughter and roleplay conversations with him, and he's under investigation at the school where he teaches for potentially inappropriate conduct with female pupils. He's also distraught about his inability to look after his child, haunted by dreams of her in some painfully authentic writing. Wilkinson and Jacob are superb together and those notes of ambiguity from the latter are beautifully effective, especially in his scenes with Hood's Charlotte - the lookalike - who has her own emotional issues with which to deal.

Review: Glorious, Frinton Summer Theatre

"If things don’t wobble when you walk, you should eat more dinner"

Between Maureen Lipman in the West End and Meryl Streep in Hollywood, the story of notorious singer Florence Foster Jenkins has become much more widely known over the last decade. It does however remain one that I had somehow avoided and so the chance to see see the Peter Quilter play Glorious! with the marvellous Stella Gonet in the lead was one I gladly took. It also meant my first trip to the Frinton Summer Theatre out by the seaside in Essex.

Foster Jenkins' insistence on pursuing a career as a soprano of note had one major flaw in her lack of singing ability but with a family legacy able to pay enough yesmen to shield her from any negative reaction and the force of her good nature, a striking journey was established. And in Quilter's play, it a journey we witness through the eyes of her new pianist Cosmé McMoon, taken on to accompany Foster Jenkins at her 1944 concert at none other than Carnegie Hall.

Album Review: Dirty Dancing (2006 London Cast Recording)

"Not a stress or strain is found here for it must be said
Here at Kellerman's you gladdened, stomach, heart and head"


Would that Kellermans was able to gladden anyone who has bought this cast recording... This album is a bizarre hodge-podge of original songs from the film in their original recorded versions combined with studio recordings of tracks from the musical adaptation, onto which audience noise has been spliced to give the impression of 'liveness'. And the result is about as good as you might imagine such a thing to be.


Sunday, 13 August 2017

Album Review: Take Flight (2007 Original Cast Recording)


"What is this impulse that drives otherwise sane men to attempt the impossible?" 

Take Flight was a 2007 musical that played at the Menier Chocolate Factory (before my blogging time) written by composer David Shire, lyricist Richard Maltby Jr and writer John Weidman. Weidman is known for his collaborations with Stephen Sondheim (Pacific Overtures, Assassins) and it is hard to avoid the comparisons to that style of musical theatre here, for it does come across as very much of the same school. 

The musical was inspired by the early history of aviation, weaving together the likes of "the Wright Brothers, Charles Lindbergh, Amelia Earhart, along with such sundry luminaries as Otto Lilienthal, the German "Glider King"; Commander Richard Byrd; French flying aces Nungesser and Coli, and various others", bouncing around three key narratives as they attempt to...take flight. 

Saturday, 12 August 2017

Album review: Gavin Creel - Get Out (2012)

"I got a classic beat on my boom box stereo
I'm tipping down the street in Nowhereville, Ohio"

Gavin Creel's third album (and last to date) is 2012's self-published Get Out, something of a return to the variety of his first but also building on the maturity of the second, to create a cohesive pop album that effectively shows off a different side of this musical theatre star. It is tempting to say that you see more of Creel's musical identity emerging on this record, and I can best describe that identity as a singer-songwriter take on Erasure.

And being a big Erasure fan since childhood (I know, right!), it means I found Get Out a very enjoyable record to listen to. There's an indulgence of the folk-inspired, acoustic sound of the Quiet EP on tracks like 'Sooner or Later', the crunchy guitars of 'U Can't Ignore Me' are a delight, and the lyrical playfulness of 'Whitney Houston' is wittily done indeed. And since Creel is so dreamy, I'll forgive him the spoken word bit in Get Out but boy ain't no rapper.

Review: Road, Royal Court

"We all felt special but safe at the same time"

As somebody who grew up on the outskirts of a depressed Lancashire town in the 1980s, I wasn't quite sure what to expect from the Royal Court's revival of Jim Cartwright's seminal debut play Road. I was only seven when the play was written (1986) and truth be told, we were far enough out of town to be on the right side of the road but still, there was a definite sense of intrigue to my anticipation.

Safe to say, the play did not reveal any biographical insight into the early life of Clowns (or anyone he went to school tbqh) but nor did it emerge as a revival with much to say to Britain today. This portrait of a society scarred by Thatcherite intervention remains very much that, contemporary allusions to a society once again divided and depressed remain unexplored, frustratingly so.

Review: Bodies, Royal Court

"As soon as we have our little girl, everything will make sense. As soon as you hold her in your arms, it will all make sense."

Between this and Yerma, theatreland would have us firmly believe that to be a childless woman in her 30s, or rather a woman wanting a child, is to be on the precipice of madness. I have liked, nay loved, much of Vivienne Franzmann's work (Mogadishu, The Witness, Pests) but with Bodies, her sure touch in delving into the trickier aspects of human nature doesn't quite feel as insightful.

Clem has tried several times to carry a child to term but sadly miscarried on every occasion and so, with husband Josh, has turned to surrogacy. Finding the right, white Russian egg donor and the perfect Indian surrogate womb does not come cheap and as Franzmann explores, it is a cost that is as much moral and emotional as it is financial - the ethics of this 'business' murky indeed.

Album Review: Crazy For You - (1993 Original London Cast Recording)

"Who could ask for anything more"

Gershwin musical Crazy For You was last seen in the West End in this Open Air Theatre transfer and on the fringe at Highgate's Gatehouse theatre but its opening run in London was a three-year stint at the Prince Edward from 1993. Credited as a 'new' Gershwin musical comedy, the show is an adaptation of their 1930 musical Girl Crazy sprinkled with some additional from the vast chapter of the Great American Songbook under the letter G.

And because of the quality of these songs, it's hard not to fall entirely in love with an album that collects so many of them together, no matter the framework, especially when the cast is led by the superlative talents of Ruthie Henshall. Jae Alexander's musical direction sounds sprightly and fresh throughout and real highlights include Henshall's "Someone to Watch Over Me" and Kirby Ward "They Can't Take That Away From Me".

Friday, 11 August 2017

Album Review: Ben Forster – Acoustic Covers, Vol. 2 (2013)

“So I can feel happier
To be safe up here with you”

Volume 2 of Ben Forster’s Acoustic Covers followed a year after the first, responding to its success and Forster’s rising profile. And in tribute to his fanbase, he crowdsourced suggestions for what songs might appear on this record, cherry-picking his selection from the most popular. And to mix things up even further, relatively speaking, he also added a pianist (Robert Eckland) in with the solo guitar (Luke Higgins) for these stripped-back arrangements.

The most successful track on this album is probably the most unexpected one – Björk‘s ‘Hyperballad’. I’m a Björk superfan and this is one of my most favourite of her songs and somehow, this is as good a cover as I’ve heard of it, capturing Forster’s ethos perfectly with an uncomplicated reading of the song which takes away from its strangeness but highlights its emotion too. An inspired choice and a compelling performance.

Round-up of news, treats and other interesting things

“Oh please, Mother, make it stop! It's hurting.”
The Exorcist will be unleashed onto the West End stage for the very first time in a uniquely theatrical experience directed by Sean Mathias and adapted for the stage by John Pielmeier.

The Exorcist will play a strictly limited run at the Phoenix Theatre from 20 October 2017 to 10 March 2018. Tickets will go on general sale at 4pm today.


Full casting has been announced for Frantic Assembly and State Theatre Company South Australia’s critically acclaimed Things I Know To Be True ahead of its return to the UK from 27 September 2017.

Album Review: Carousel (1993 London Cast Recording)

"The feelin' is gettin' so intense"


Nick Hytner's production of Carousel began life at the National Theatre at 1992 and was such a success that it transferred into the West End the next year, albeit without its entire original cast. So this recording does not feature the likes of Patricia Routledge and Janie Dee which is sad, but it did retain the incomparable Joanna Riding who delivers the kind of performance as Julie Jordan that should rightfully be lauded for aeons.

Frankly, it pisses all over Katherine Jenkins' efforts (Michael Hayden's Billy isn't particularly fantastic but I'd still take him over Alfie Boe), speaking as it does to the darker side of Rodgers and Hammerstein's musical, which Hytner was one of the first to really emphasise. Riding is superb from start to finish and in a treasure trove of riches, it is the rendition of 'What's the use of Wond'rin'' that really blows you away.

Thursday, 10 August 2017

EP Reviews: Gavin Creel – Quiet (2010) / Oliver Tompsett - Gravity (2013)

“You won’t be my angel”

I won’t be your guy

2010 EP Quiet by Tony winner Gavin Creel is really rather lovely indeed. Six tracks of acoustically-inclined folk pop co-written with Robbie Roth, it is a short but sweet album of real heart that emphasises the musicality of this musical theatre star, and also shows a wise progression from his first album. And if we’re to believe the lyrics here, that heart is a substantially bruised one which works out very well for fans of a melancholy ballad.

Such fans are particularly well served by the opening pair of tracks. The delicate ‘Green To Grey’ and the plaintive reality check of ‘Love Fell Down’ are desperately heartfelt and beautifully moving as Creel allows a husky tenderness to colour his voice to gorgeous effect. The collection is intelligently sequenced too, allowing a note of hope to creep in with the late realisation of ‘Small Words’ and the gentle humour of closer ‘Hot Ohio’. 

Album Review: Finding Neverland (2015 Original Broadway Cast Recording)

"But what I say is true
You'll be amazed"

I saw, and rather liked, the musical of Finding Neverland when it premiered in Leicester back in 2012 but given the extreme redevelopment it underwent thanks to Harvey Weinstein's involvement, the show that opened on Broadway in 2015 was substantially different. A new bookwriter (James Graham), a new lyricist (Eliot Kennedy) and a new composer (Gary Barlow) were brought onboard for a near complete overhaul.

And I have to admit to having had the Original Broadway Cast Recording on my to-listen-to list ever since it was released, the involvement of Mr Barlow not having the immediate attraction that it would to, say, my elder sister ;-). But more fool me, for having given it a spin, I tumbled instantly for its charms, hitting the replay button on several of the songs and declaring it one of my most favourite cast albums I've listened to this year.

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Review: Coming Clean, King's Head’s Queer Season

"We've shared each other round half the gay scene in London"

Between the news of its forthcoming move and expansion and the opening of a major nine week Queer Festival, there's quite the buzz around the King's Head at the moment, so I was keen to get stuck into the latter with a double bill of Kevin Elyot’s Coming Clean and a new play called Funeral Meats by Cradeaux Alexander.

The late Elyot is having a bit of a moment in London theatre. His final play - Twilight Song - is receiving a belated premiere at the Park Theatre and this production of Coming Clean marks the first major London revival for his first play, since it opened at the Bush in 1982. Thus the opportunity is there, should you wish to take it, to track the evolution of his writing, long dominated by his most famous play My Night With Reg.

Review: Funeral Meats, King's Head’s Queer Season

"It was necessary, normal, non-negotiable"

Cradeaux Alexander's Funeral Meats is a more oblique piece than Coming Clean, set in the aftermath of a funeral where the remnants of the wake come together and clash - "I thought grief was supposed to bring people together" someone laments at one point. The deceased is Luke and Laura's famous mother but the siblings aren't close, and also thrown into the mix are Luke's ex-husband Felix and the enigmatic Barbara, an old friend of the dead woman.

Over 5 short scenes running from 7pm through to midnight, they dig into their shared history and their fragmented present, a never-ending flow of booze loosening lips and inhibitions. Alexander coils his characters with all sorts of differing agendas, the legacies of the past having impacted on them in contrasting ways but in the relatively short space of time here, doesn't quite unpack them all sufficiently.

Album Review: Ben Forster – Acoustic Covers (2012)

“I lost my head
And thought of all the stupid things I said”

Winner of ITV’s Superstar and now well-established West End leading man, current Phantom Ben Forster has released two solo albums of acoustic covers called, well, Acoustic Covers. The first sees him singing just with a solo guitar (Joe Watkin) to accompany him and whilst it is clearly a deeply personal collection of songs for him, there’s a slight lack of variety over the 11 tracks which makes it a slightly less than essential record.

There are some lovely moments – the vocalisations that accompany Coldplay’s ‘Trouble’, the building power in the vocal of Jacko’s ‘She’s Out Of My Life’, and the sweet guitar playing that lifts the likes of ‘Cannonball’ and the incomparable Tracy Chapman’s ‘Fast Car’. And when Forster is just singing ‘em straight, really connecting with the songwriting, you can see all the musicality that has got him this far in his career.

Album Review: Cabaret (2006 London Cast Recording)

"No use permitting some prophet of doom"

Cabaret is a show which has had many a revival and many a cast recording made from those productions but it is Rufus Norris' 2006 interpretation that seems to have lingered the longest, a new touring version starring Louise Redknapp and Will Young starts at the New Wimbledon in late September, one of many such revivals of this revival (I caught it in the West End in 2012 and the 2013 tour). And just to be clear, my comments are UK-based, for it is Mendes' 1993 production that was most recently revived in the US (which I saw with Emma Stone at Studio 54).

And I have to say I love this particular cast recording - the sharpness of David Steadman's musical direction is captured brightly and well on the record, and the performances sound pointed and fresh, a real testament to the recording process here. It's a strong cast to be sure, led by the canny decision to cast Anna Maxwell Martin in the lead role of Sally Bowles. By no means a predictable choice, the decision to go for a shit-hot actress who can really focus on the character elevates the role entirely from all Liza Minnelli-based connotations and its notions that the role should be belted.

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Review: boom, Theatre503

"It's not just about the sound
It's about the event
A radical change in the state of things"

Though the quote above is taken from the play boom, it could also be about the epithet 'fag' which is casually and cruelly used a couple of times throughout. It's not used in a hugely dramatic way which is almost worse, as it goes entirely unchallenged, part of a normalisation of the language which I find hard to accept, knowing only too well the vitriolic power it has when it is wielded against you. 

It proved a rude awakening in Peter Sinn Nachtrieb's play but also one that was entirely unnecessary as its utterance doesn't bring anything substantive to the character, rather it just smacks of a lazy shortcut to characterisation. And it is perhaps symptomatic of a play that isn't entirely clear about its own identity, despite a strong production here at the Theatre503 from director Katherine Nesbitt.

Album review: Gavin Creel - Goodtimenation (2006)

"Most everyone goes the same way as you
Just love me as I go mine"

You gotta love a musical theatre performer who doesn't take the easy route into a recording career by making a record of the same old standards and pop songs that have been recorded by so many before, no matter how heartfelt their interpretations. And the Tony- and Olivier-award winning Gavin Creel is one such chap, going down the self-penned route with his 2006 debut album Goodtimenation.

And it emerges as a solidly entertaining pop record whose only real weakness is that it perhaps tries to cover too many bases in the spread of songwriting styles. So we go from gorgeous Beatles-inspired choruses on 'Rocket Ride' to the ill-advised aping of Madonna's rap from 'American Life', there's a smattering of frat-boy summer pop on tracks like 'Radio Lover' and more cheery radio-friendly material like 'Might Still Happen'.

Album Review: The Woman In White (2004 Original London Cast Recording)

"There’s only one thing one has to have
One has to have no shame"

Hitting the West End just before I moved to London and well before I started blogging, Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Woman In White has the ignominy of being one of his less successful shows. With lyricist David Zippel and book-writer Charlotte Jones, this adaptation of Wilkie Collins' novel failed to capture the ongoing attention of UK audiences, shuttering after 19 months, but downright flopped on Broadway where it lasted just 3. 

The Woman In White has now been announced as Thom Southerland's major project over Christmas, running for 12 weeks at the Charing Cross Theatre with Laura Pitt-Pulford onboard, and it got me to thinking that I hadn't actually ever listened to the show at all. The cast recording was made on the opening night and as the show underwent considerable redevelopment even whilst playing, the ending on this record does not reflect the ending that audiences saw in theatres.

Monday, 7 August 2017

Album Review: Annaleigh Ashford - Lost in the Stars: Live at 54 Below

“The little dark star in the wind down there”

Though she’s yet to pop her head over this side of the ocean, I’m pretty sure Annaleigh Ashford is an absolute darling. It’s part of the legacy of playing Lauren in Kinky Boots I think, such a lovable part and what I’ve seen and heard of her since has only confirmed that for me. Her acclaimed cabaret performances also won over new audiences, resulted in a live recording of Lost in the Stars: Live at 54 Below being released late last year.

Supported by the superb musicianship of Will Van Dyke and The Whiskey 5, Ashford is an effortlessly delightful performer, whether ripping through the vocal splendour of Dreamgirls' 'One Night Only' or a Donna Summer medley, nodding to Studio 54’s illustrious past. There’s actually a lot of pop on here, The Everly Brothers' 'Love Hurts', Adele's 'Someone Like You' mixed with Gnarls Barkley's 'Crazy' 

Round-up of news, treats and other interesting things


I'm not one to blow my trumpet too much, honest, but it was nice to discover that the blog has been named one of Feedspot's Top 50 Drama Blogs and Websites.


(c) Faye Thomas
This autumn the National Theatre will stage the world-premiere of Network, Lee Hall’s new adaptation of the Oscar-winning film by Paddy Chayefsky.

Directed by Ivo van Hove, Tony award winner Bryan Cranston plays Howard Beale and announced today is Michelle Dockery as Diana Christenson.

Michelle said: “It's a wonderful feeling to be going back to the National after eight years. To be working with Bryan Cranston and Ivo van Hove on an adaptation of this brilliant film is a rare and exhilarating opportunity, I am thrilled."

A very limited number of additional on stage seats will be released in the autumn – see the NT website for more information.

Album Review: Groundhog Day (2017 Original Broadway Cast Recording)

“Nobody cares what I'm talking about"

It is rare that I feel so completely out of kilter with the general reception for a show to the extent that I did with Groundhog Day. The signs were all there for it being a new musical to thrill me but I was just bored rigid by it, thoroughly disappointed at what I found to be exceedingly dull. But that was definitely an outlying opinion as it received a raft of 5 star reviews, its Broadway run was secured and a return to London is guaranteed.

I didn’t get to revisit the show at the Old Vic, or rather I chose not to try and get another ticket through the general scrum, and so the release of the Original Broadway Cast Recording offered a useful opportunity to revisit Tim Minchin’s score and see if I was able to locate anything of what has worked so well for so many. And like my own personal groundhog day, the three times I listened to this album revealed nothing new to me – I just don’t like it!

Sunday, 6 August 2017

Album Review: Laura Benanti - In Constant Search of the Right Kind of Attention - Live At 54 Below


"She speaks in sorry sentences
Miraculous repentances"

Appearances may be deceptive but the force of personality that Laura Benanti brings to all her work, whether tweeting or tearing up the Broadway stage, makes me think that she's just a top human. Witty and irreverent on the one, committed and forceful on the other - either way round, she's a one for forging her own path.

And that's in evidence on the song selection for her 54 Below cabaret show In Constant Search of the Right Kind of Attention. From showtunes to the showgirl herself Lana Del Rey, rewritten classics to self-penned ditties, it's undoubtedly an eclectic mix but one that is held together by the huge warmth that Benanti exudes, whether in performance or in the (frankly hilarious) patter where she proudly details her flops.

Review: Ink, Almeida

"I should warn you that nobody likes me"

Truth be told, I resisted seeing Ink for the longest time, mainly because I had zero desire to see a play about Rupert Murdoch. I feel the same way about Thatcher - I will never see The Iron Lady (sorry Meryl) or any other Maggie-based drama because I just damn well don't want to. These firmly held convictions can of course be bypassed by sourcing me a free ticket (I stepped in for an otherwise occupied colleague) and so I was able to get the best of both worlds - onto a winner if it was good, and easily able to sneer (cos yes, I am that person) if it was bad.

And as with so much in life, the truth was somewhere inbetween. I could see how good Bertie Carvel's performance as Murdoch was, naturally far more than a simple caricature, but I still felt uneasy whilst watching him - and the play in general - about what still felt like a tacit endorsement somehow, of an institution that I believe to be thoroughly reprehensible. Ink isn't straightforwardly about The Sun though, Graham is far too canny a writer for that. His target is journalistic ethics as a whole, using Murdoch's purchase of that paper in the 1960s as a tipping point for tabloid behaviour.

Saturday, 5 August 2017

Album Review: Marin Mazzie - Make Your Own Kind of Music, Live at 54 Below

"Love, soft as an easy chair"

Music, soft as easy listening. That's the somewhat surprising turn of events on Marin Mazzie's album Make Your Own Kind of Music, recorded live at her cabaret show at 54 Below. Performers often use cabaret turns to show off a more personal side to their musical influences, blending them with crowd-pleasing excerpts from the shows for which they have become well known. But here, Mazzie sticks with the former, taking us through a trip along her childhood listening to the radio.

Glancing at the playlist is an eye-opener in itself, Barry Manilow and The Partridge Family alongside standards like 'Son of a Preacher Man' and 'Anyone Who Had a Heart'. And in the best tradition of the top tier of musical theatre performers, Mazzie completely makes it work, delving deep into her well of interpretative skill to transform most, if not all of this music out of any perceived naffness into something interesting, engaging, even stirring.