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


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).

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.

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!

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.