Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Review: Unfaithful, Found111

"We need to talk about this"

As interesting as Found111 is as a pop-up venue, and an intriguingly programmed one too, attracting a strong calibre of actor thus far, it remains extremely problematic to me that a new venue - the issue of whether London is lacking in theatres aside - can be opened without any access to wheelchair users, as there's no way to get to the auditorium without climbing 71 steps. For me, accessibility isn't something you get to pick and choose and so no matter how atmospheric this old Central St Martins building may be, just shrugging that it is "regrettably inaccessible" feels an inadequate response.

It's more of a shame given that the latest production is arguably the best of the three that Emily Dobbs Productions has mounted here - Owen McCafferty's Unfaithful blisters its way through the world of relationships with his unmistakable gift for excruciatingly sharp dialogue and the messy way in which we so often end up treating the ones we love. Middle-aged Tom and Joan have hit something of a rut, their uni-going daughter isn't talking to them and they're not talking to each other. And the substantially younger Peter and Tara are in the midst of their own crisis, suffering their own communication difficulties.

Tuesday, 30 August 2016

Review: Made In Dagenham, Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch

“Don't treat us girls like a poor relation

Made in Dagenham, in Dagenham - it seems like a no-brainer but it's quite the statement of intent from incoming Artistic Director at the Queen's Theatre Hornchurch, Douglas Rintoul. It's also a bit of a departure for a director who has previously won awards for writing hard-hitting monologues about gay Iraqi refugees (the exceptionally good Elegy) but taking a West End musical that didn't quite become the hit it deserves and taking it home, refining it into an actor-musician production along the way, turns out to be quite the treat.

I can't deny that I loved the show when it played at the Adelphi - heck, I saw it four times (review #1, review #2, review #3, review #4 of the final night) and I believe it deserved better treatment from the critics. But the past is the past and coming to the show with fresh eyes, and ears, too Richard Bean's book and David Arnold's score, it responds powerfully to the new treatment here (co-produced by the Queen's and the New Wolsey Ipswich where it heads next), smaller in scale obviously but more intimate too, rawer in its emotions to an ultimately devastating effect. 

Cast of Made in Dagenham continued

Monday, 29 August 2016

Review: Into the Woods, Menier Chocolate Factory

"I'm not nice, I'm just right"

Fiasco Theater's production of Stephen Sondheim's evergreen Into the Woods was a big success over in the US and its actor-muso ethos seems ideally suited for this transfer to the Menier Chocolate Factory. It's also an approach that pays dividends with the material, Sondheim and James Lapine's interrogation of the world of fairy tales and what happy ever after really means.

Stripped back and doubled up, Noah Brody and Ben Steinfeld’s fully actor-musician production makes a virtue of the communal spirit and really makes you notice how much of an ensemble show it really is. Not just in how each of the storybook characters get their chance to shine (or not, as the case may be) but in the relationships, of both family and friends, with which we surround ourselves, just to save us from those moments in the woods.

Saturday, 27 August 2016

Review: Much Ado About Nothing, reFASHIONed Theatre

"Is it not strange..."

The Faction weren't kidding when they said they were breaking out of the rep model that has characterised their output for the last few years. Earlier this summer saw them take Vassa Zheleznova to the Southwark Playhouse and now they're appearing at the reFASHIONed Theatre. What's that I hear you cry, why it's a pop-up space on the lower ground floor of Selfridges just past the luggage where a newly commissioned version of Much Ado About Nothing is paying its own tribute to Shakespeare400.

Director Mark Leipacher and co-director Rachel Valentine Smith have slimmed the play down to a neat 90 minutes, without too much damage (unless you're a big fan of the Watch) and with a nod to the sleekly contemporary surroundings of the reFASHIONed space, introduced digital cameos to supplement their 9-strong cast. So Simon Callow and Rufus Hound pop up on CCTV footage as Dogberry and Verges, and Meera Syal appears regularly onscreen as a reporter for Messina News, filling us in on the breaking news whether on TV or on Twitter-streams.

Friday, 26 August 2016

Review: Steel Magnolias, Hope

"My work gets a bit poofy when I get nervous"

One of my favourite things to experience in the theatre is that sweet spot of just being happy to spend time with the characters presented to you. Much of that is down to the writing but a good deal of it also comes from how the production interprets it and so I'm delighted to report that I happily spent a couple of hours with the ladies of the Hope Theatre's Steel Magnolias, and could easily spend a couple more, with my cup of ice tea, my fan with a pastel-coloured parrot on it (available to buy at the box office) and much love in my heart.

Robert Harling's 1987 play found fame in the film version that was released a couple of years later but works exceptionally well here as a study in multi-generational female friendship. Over the course of 4 scenes in 3 years, we experience the trials and tribulations of the patrons of a Louisana beauty salon but despite the drama - and what tear-jerking drama it is - the beauty of Steel Magnolias comes in the everyday relationships and interplay of these women, their fallings-out and friendships, their sharing of recipes and gossip alike, the minutiae of life writ large.

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

The Complete Walk, from the comfort of your sofa #7

Love's Labour's Lost

Gemma Arterton and Michelle Terry (almost) in the same play, how my heart doth beat. Sam Yates' Love's Labour's Lost combines Arterton and David Dawson dashing delightfully through the corridors of the Royal Palace of Olite of Navarre, Spain as Berowne and Rosaline, whilst drawing in elements from the gorgeous 2009 production at the Globe - one of my favourite clips from the whole Complete Walk.

Review: The Past Is A Tattooed Sailor, Old Red Lion

"I don't 'do', I exist"

Catching up on openings I missed whilst away, The Past Is A Tattooed Sailor had the type of title I couldn't ignore so I booked myself in at the Old Red Lion. Sadly though, Simon Blow's new play failed to lived up to the promise of its moniker. Its based on Blow's relationship with his great uncle Stephen Tennant - one of the Bright Young People - and other aspects of his own life, but rarely elevates those experiences into engaging, dramatic theatre - there's the distinct sense that a more seasoned writer might have been able to deliver on the potential here.

For there is potential. The delving into the eccentric end of the world of the English upper classes is intriguingly set up as the young, pretty and poor Joshua decides to visit his great uncle Napier to secure his position in his will. He takes with him his labourer boyfriend Damien, immediately endearing him to the older gent who also was a fan of a bit of rough, and in the dusty realms of this country house, ghosts of the past come to life to (presumably) illuminate the truth of the future.

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Review: They Drink It In The Congo, Almeida

"Give me the history of the Congo in four and a half minutes"

There's an ingenious moment in the middle of They Drink It In The Congo when a PR guy has to step in for an ailing colleague at an imminent press conference and utters the line above. The answer he gets exposes not only the vast complexity of the socio-political issues in the Democratic Republic of Congo but also the way in which Westerners seek to reduce them to manageable soundbites so that they can be dismissed as problems easily solved

Which in a nutshell is the key issue at the heart of Adam Brace's new play for the Almeida. Aware of the impossibility of doing Congolese history justice in a couple of hours, he approaches the issue from an alternative angle, the impossibility of "doing something good about something bad". Daughter of a white Kenyan farmer, Stef now works for a London NGO and is excited to be given the opportunity to organise 'Congo Voice', a new arts festival raising awareness of the issues there.

Review: Little Shop of Horrors, New Wimbledon

"When the light came back this weird plant was just sitting there"

Sell A Door
 Theatre Company have built quite the reputation for touring plays and musicals the length and breadth of the UK and that reputation will surely only grow with this cheerfully good-natured production of evergreen cult musical Little Shop of Horrors. Director Tara Louis Wilkinson may not do anything dramatic to the classic Alan Menken/Howard Ashman show but her small-scale production captures its spirit perfectly and ought to please audiences across the country until Christmas.

This 1950s spoof musical, based on the iconic B-movie of the same name, follows the travails of Seymour Krelborn, an orphan scraping a living in a run-down florists whose luck seemingly changes when he finds a strange venus flytrap-like plant which he names Audrey II after his colleague with whom he is in love. But the plant has very particular dietary requirements and Seymour finds himself suckered into a Faustian pact as the fast-growing Audrey II brings him fame, fortune and Audrey's love, just as long as he feeds him blood.

RSC release new Cymbeline trailer

Cymbeline is one of Shakespeare's more rarely performed plays and it is a thought that seems to have struck several artistic directors as 2016 has seen three major productions announced. Dominic Dromgoole included it in his outgoing season of late plays at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse (my review here), Emma Rice is transforming it into Imogen at the Globe later this autumn, and Melly Still is currently tackling the play for the RSC at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon until 15th October.

The RSC's production will then transfer to London's Barbican for a limited season from 31st October until 17th December 2016 so you have no excuse not to do a compare and contrast exercise between the Globe and the RSC's approaches to the romance, power, jealousy, love and reconciliation of this surprising play. A trailer for Still's contemporary adaptation can be found below and all ticket information for both Stratford and London can be found here.


Monday, 22 August 2016

Review: Screens, Theatre503

"I'm a second generation immigrant, the generation that makes it or breaks it"

In its opening quarter, Stephen Laughton's Screens manages to be that rare thing indeed, a play that actually comes close to capturing the way in which technology has utterly transformed both our everyday behaviour and interpersonal relationships. Georgia Lowe's smartly spare design allows for Richard Williamson and Dan English's projections to take us through Al's faltering first steps into gay online dating on Grindr, Ayşe's hashtag-heavy documentation of her teenage strife on Instagram and crucially, a peek into their mother Emine's inbox on her brand-new smartphone

It's an ingenious route into the lives, both online and off, of this British Turkish Cypriot family living in Harlow but we soon come to see that Laughton's scope is wider, much wider, than this, as he folds in issues of the immigrant experience, splintered cultural identity, homophobia, post-Brexit racial antagonism and much more besides. Thus Screens becomes a highly ambitious piece of writing about the difficulties in finding your self when personal and political circumstances are in such flux. 

Review: The Collector, Vaults

"There are two sides to every story"

Based on the novel of the same name by John Fowles, The Collector is a psychological thriller that ultimately sits rather uncomfortably in this theatrical form. Max Dorey's extraordinarily detailed set sits well in the atmospheric surroundings of Waterloo's Vaults, setting the scene for creepy goings-on, but Mark Healy's adaptation loses the dual perspective of the novel and thus fatally upsets the storytelling balance. 

The Collector is a kidnap drama - Lily Loveless' Miranda has been abducted by butterfly enthusiast Frederick, a bumbling young man who is new to the kidnap game and is well portrayed by Game of Thrones star Daniel Portman in all his needy awkwardness. But where Fowles deepened his narrative by giving us an account of the story from both perspective, Healy draws the focus in and loses much of what makes these characters interesting.

The Complete Walk, from the comfort of your sofa #6

The Merry Wives of Windsor

Dorney Court, Berkshire
I'm becoming less and less tolerant of men taking women's roles, especially when there's no reciprocity, and as much as I like Paul Chahidi - I don't see why he gets to be one  of the titular merry wives here opposite Mel Giedroyc. Rebecca Gatward's fourth-wall smashing direction is very much in keeping with the Globe's often broad sense of comedy but for me, it lacks any subtlety at all.





Sunday, 21 August 2016

Round-up of summer album reviews

To cover the holiday period, you may have noticed an album review or three - here's a round-up of them, including my top ten.

Recommended titles
Close To You – Bacharach Reimagined (2016 Original London Cast Recording)
Hamilton (2015 Original Broadway Cast Recording)
Kelli O’Hara – Always 
Leslie Odom Jr – Leslie Odom Jr 
Matt Doyle – Uncontrolled
Samantha Barks – Samantha Barks
Thérèse Raquin (2014 Original London Cast Recording)
The Last Five Years (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
The Scottsboro Boys (2014 Original London Cast Recording)
Waitress (Original Broadway Cast Recording)


CD Review: An American Victory (2016 Concept Album)

“No way to change that now"

The art of the concept album can be a tricky one, as is evidenced on An American Victory, an album of 21 songs from a new musical written by first-time composer Louis R Bucalo. The show is set in 1801 in a time of lawlessness on the seas, Thomas Jefferson's government struggling to deal with the piracy that continually holds their ships to ransom at a time when money is scarce and the US navy is not yet fully in existence.

At least that's what the detailed synopsis tells us. One of the crucial problems with An American Victory is that you'd be hard-pressed to work out what is happening from these songs alone, they lack any kind of narrative impetus which is close to a fatal flaw when it comes to storytelling in musical theatre. Too little drama emerges from both music and lyrics, which leaves vast swathes of it feeling inert despite its occasionally stirring nature.

CD Review: Funny Girl (2016 London Cast Recording)

“So 'stead of just kicking me why don't they give me a lift?”

The Menier Chocolate Factory’s extremely well-received production of Funny Girl has been as much beleaguered as blessed as it wound its way into the West End, garnering acres of extra publicity that the show barely needed given its impressive ticket sales and subsequently announced UK tour. But so relentless has the focus been on leading lady Sheridan Smith and her absences from the show whilst looking after her mental health, that you begin to doubt the maxim that all publicity is good publicity.

Doubtless, a conversation needs to happen about the expectations that are raised when a show is sold on the name of its star. You can argue convincingly that a production is always bigger than its star name, and understudy Natasha J Barnes deservedly got much acclaim for filling in for Fanny but the case is undermined somewhat when the producers put that name above even the show’s title on the publicity (on Broadway, you’re entitled to a refund or exchange if an above-the-title star is off…).

Cast of Funny Girl (2016 London Cast Recording) continued

CD Review: The Mystery of Edwin Drood (2012 Broadway Cast Recording)

“I know there must be love that’s yet to be”


Fun and games to be had with this surprisingly effective piece of music hall pastiche. Rupert Holmes’ 1985 musical The Mystery of Edwin Drood is less of a Dickens adaptation that one might initially expect, opting instead to use the source material of Dickens’ unfinished novel as a springboard into something daftly enjoyable, a meta-theatrical murder mystery event with a play-within-a-play and multiple endings which are determined by audience vote. This recording is taken from the 2012 Broadway revival which was mounted by Roundabout Theatre Company.

Holmes’ songwriting thus draws from a raft of old-school influences in harking back to a classic age. There’s a healthy dose of Victoriana in the music hall and a measure of pantomimic broadness mixed in with the Broadway-heavy musical language and it is an enjoyable cast recording to listen to even if you’re not exactly sure what it going on! For completeness, we get the eight possible endings, each with their own song, and this is just one of the aspects that makes this a more full recording than the original – others include the new Act II opener ‘An English Music Hall’ and the revised version of ‘Ceylon’ incorporating ‘A British Subject’, both strong additions. 

Saturday, 20 August 2016

CD Review: Departure Lounge (Original London Cast Recording)

“He was in a right state, well he’s a lightweight”

Dougal Irvine was recently in town with The Buskers Opera at the Park but the first of his shows that I saw was Departure Lounge, back in 2010 at the Waterloo East Theatre. A rowdy tale of four British teenaged lads delayed in Malaga Airport’s departure lounge, reflecting on the past week’s drunken shenanigans, the quartet come to realise that their trip has actually been a real rites of passage job, in more ways than one.

Scored for acoustic guitars yet still managing to pull in a wide range of musical influences, Irvine’s music stands up to the test of time pretty well. He clearly knows his way around a hummable melody with a raft of catchy choruses and with his four strong singers in Chris Fountain, Jack Shalloo, Liam Tamne and Steven Webb, takes full advantage of the close harmonies that simultaneously master and mock boyband clichés.

CD Review: John Owen-Jones – Unmasked (2012)

“You are going where I long to be"

I have really enjoyed John Owen-Jones’ recorded output – his self-titled debut and 2015’s Rise both impressing with their forays into new musical theatre writing and interesting arrangements. It’s taken me a little while to get around to his 2012 album Unmasked and I have to say it does feel like a little bit of a relative disappointment for me, not so much in terms of its quality but rather in its lack of adventurousness.

Three Andrew Lloyd Webber songs, a bit of Sondheim, West Side Story’s ‘Somewhere’, Les Mis’ ‘Bring Him Home’ again (it’s appeared in one form or another on all his solo albums), there’s little to really pique the interest above and beyond what one might expect from a musical theatre star who has delivered successfully in many of these key roles. Along with standards like ‘Nature Boy’ and ‘Hallelujah’, the template thus appears quite fixed.

Friday, 19 August 2016

CD Review: Bad Girls (2007 Original London Cast)

“We’re all banged up without a bang”

Maureen Chadwick, Ann McManus and Kath Gotts’ musical adaptation of long-running TV show Bad Girls only lasted a couple of months in the West End back in 2007 but they still managed to get out a cast recording (and a DVD too, though I’ve not been able to track that down yet). My first experience with the show was with the Union’s fringe production earlier this year and I have to say, I really enjoyed myself.

Sadly, I don’t think this recording quite captures the joie de vivre that the show gave me. It actually highlights the randomness of Gotts’ score, both musically and dramatically. David Burt’s Jim Fenner is a case in point here – Burt plays up the devilish charisma which is his forte in suavely slick numbers like ‘Jailcraft’ and ‘The Key’ yet for all his old-school Hollywood charm, we have to buy him as the sexually predatory villain of the piece.

CD Review: Sally Ann Triplett – Anything Goes (2003)

“I suddenly turn and see your fabulous face"

One might take a look at the track-listing for Sally Ann Triplett’s 2003 album Anything Goes and feel a little uninspired - does the world need another version of stalwarts such as ‘Get Happy’, ‘Maybe This Time’, ‘Memory’…? But as the opening notes of the first of those are plucked from a double bass, it’s clear that the answer is actually yes. For the album’s heart is in the jazz club and suitably new arrangements leave these standards sparkling.

‘Get Happy’ becomes a sultry delight, ‘Maybe This Time’ gains some of that desperation that it needs to really pop, and older classics like Cole Porter’s ‘I Get A Kick Out Of You’ and the Gershwins’ ‘Someone To Watch Over Me’ also benefit from orchestrations that highlight their musical genius. That these quieter moments dominate the album show off why Triplett is rightly confident as a powerfully nuanced singer – just listen to the hushed beauty of ‘Angel Eyes’.

Thursday, 18 August 2016

CD Review: Cool Rider (Original Studio Recording 2015)

“Don’t get sore when you lose tonight”

Cult status is a funny thing, depending on which side of the coin you fall, it can either rescue diamonds in the rough or just further expose them. For me, Cool Rider comes down heavily on the latter though it must be said, there’s plenty who would argue the former, not least those who contributed over £12 grand to the Kickstarter to get this recording made. Hey, it’s their money right?!

Cool Rider is perhaps better known as the stage adaptation of ill-fated film sequel Grease 2. Staged in a concert version in 2014, the popularity of which saw it return for a week of performances at the Duchess Theatre, the fans are clearly there but quite for what, I couldn’t really say. The plot is little more than an retread of the original but with the roles reversed but the main problem lies in an inconsistent and uninspired score. 

CD Review: Louise Dearman - You and I (2005)

“But still you steal each breath I'm breathing”

For a musical theatre star known for her big voice, there’s something gorgeous about listening to how beautiful Louise Dearman’s first album is in all its unashamed subtlety. From its opening Leslie Bricusse double-header – Goodbye Mr Chips’s ‘You And I’ and Jekyll and Hyde’s ‘Someone Like You’ (with Frank WIldhorn) – to restrained takes on classics like Les Misérables’ On My Own and Chicago’s ‘Funny Honey’, you can’t help but be taken by the beauty of her tone in all its colour and softness.

The stripped-back piano-based aesthetic is thus ideally suited here, paring back Lloyd Webber’s innate grandiosity to find real heart in ‘Whistle Down The Wind’, connecting perfectly with all the raw emotion of Ragtime’s ‘Your Daddy’s Son’, gently swinging through Show Boat’s ‘Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man Of Mine’. Jimmy Jewell’s work on the keys is superlative, ensuring there’s always musical interest in the arrangements whilst never forgetting the key role of accompanying Dearman.

CD Review: Louise Dearman – Here Comes The Sun (The Wicked Edition)

“I don't think you unworthy 
I need a moment to deliberate"

Louise Dearman’s second album saw her pivot away from the world of musical theatre to a collection of her favourite songs off the radio, ranging from The Beatles to Sara Bareilles but tending towards a slightly darker, more dramatic side of pop, even pop/rock as a Skunk Anansie cover also makes it onto the tracklisting. It’s a well put-together collection that clearly delivers what Dearman wants to do in broadening her musical identity, it could however stand to incorporate just a little more variation.

Here Comes The Sun is heavy on the vividly orchestral - Alanis Morissette’s ‘Uninvited’ and Randy Crawford’s ‘One Day I’ll Fly Away’ soar on swoops of strings, Bareilles’ Gravity and Dee C Lee's See The Day, more recently covered by Girls Aloud, comes in slightly less melodramatically, and uniting them all is the mightily bright voice of Dearman, clear as a bell whether the forceful anger of ‘Squander’, the Skunk Anansie track, the epic in miniature that is Alison Moyet’s ‘This House’ or the gentle gorgeousness of Bareilles’ ‘Gravity’. Across all the songs, Dearman’s talent for telling stories through music also comes across powerfully.

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

CD Review: Ghost The Musical (Original Cast Recording 2011)

“This is always such a rush"

Some musicals are slow-burners. They may not hit you with their full force on first viewing but rather repay revisits and repeated listens to cast recordings to unfurl the depth of their appeal. So it was for me with Legally Blonde, and also with Ghost the Musical – a show I saw twice in the West End and again on its 2013 tour, liking it more and more each time.

And a large part of that was the way in which Glen Ballard and Dave Stewart’s pop/rock-based score took its time to sidle its way into my affections, not necessarily the kind of music that would appeal to me but ultimately proving irresistible in its finest moments. And it is remarkably diverse too, pulling in from a wide musical palette whilst stamping out its own identity as something refreshingly different from your typical musical theatre score.

Cast of Ghost The Musical (Original Cast Recording 2011) continued

CD Review: Tony Yazbeck - The Floor Above Me (2016)

“When you dance, you're charming and you're gentle"

The Floor Above Me was a successful summer ’14 cabaret show for US actor, singer and dancer Tony Yazbeck, whose profile subsequently rocketed after his Tony-nominated turn in On The Town which opened later that year. He’s reprised the show a couple of times since then and it has now been immortalised on record. In some ways, it’s a slightly odd choice as Yazbeck is a genuine triple threat and this was a show designed to show that off. So there’s tap-dancing segments aplenty, including a special tap-dancing guest in Melinda Sullivan, which in all honesty just doesn’t necessarily come off too well when listening to it. 

Proving that the art of cabaret is a highly skilled one, his in-between songs patter lacks the vibrancy to really engage the audience outwith the club though. In person, one can imagine his sincere charm and understated passion coming across really well but here, it just ends up sapping pace and breaking the mood of the record. And the humble schtick about finding the girl of his dreams and being a performer born in the wrong era doesn’t really grab you, especially as his song choices don’t always necessarily reflect that professed notion. 

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

CD Review: Mrs Henderson Presents (Original London Cast Recording)


“We’ll never close…”

I was sad to see Mrs Henderson Presents close prematurely in the West End, having enjoyed it both there and in its first run at the Theatre Royal Bath, but pleased that we at least had a cast recording to remember the show by. I have to say though, that this was one of those occasions where just listening to the musical failed to capture what made it work on stage. 

The period charms of George Fenton and Simon Chamberlain’s pastiche-laden score feel rather old-fashioned on record – not simply in the age that they are trying to evoke but in its very nature. Without the visual, it soon becomes clear that there isn’t a huge amount of narrative drive in the songs, they set the mood of the piece well but don’t tell much of a story on their own.

Cast of Mrs Henderson Presents (Original London Cast Recording) continued

Cast of Mrs Henderson Presents (Original London Cast Recording) continued

CD Review: Oliver Tompsett –Sentimental Heart (2007)

“It’s like a rollercoaster”

Oliver Tompsett is currently rolling his dice 8 times a week in Guys and Dolls but across his career, he’s also stretched his singer-songwriter muscle, releasing a self-produced album called Sentimental Heart back in 2007. Containing 12 songs written by him, including a duet with Ashleigh Gray, it’s an impressively diverse album which incorporates a wide range of influences along its central pop-rock axis.

Opening with the relaxed funk of the title track then quickly moving to the upbeat vibe of ‘Femme Fatale’ establishes the general mood of uplifting fun – it’s impossible not to bop your head along to the infectious chorus of ‘Come On Back’ and the brassy musicality of ‘Rollercoaster’ feels like it could easily fit in with any of the songs in The Commitments.

Monday, 15 August 2016

Review: Groundhog Day, Old Vic

"I have not a bad word to say, 
about small towns. Per se."

Expectations were high, how could they not be. Following on from the extraordinary success of Matilda, Tim Minchin's next foray into musical theatre was to an adaptation of the 90s movie Groundhog Day, playing a two month run at the Old Vic ahead of a presumed Broadway transfer (a move that has had a little doubt cast on it by the withdrawal of major producer Scott Rudin). Now full disclosure, I saw it in its first week thanks to the PWC £10 tickets and the show went for a full month of previews before officially opening, so feel free to take my opinion with a pinch of salt.

For I did not enjoy Groundhog Day, at all. Worse than that, I was bored by it - at least hating something rouses some form of passion, but as Danny Rubin's book cycled round and round and Minchin's not unpleasant but in no way striking score dissipated into the ether, I wondered if Rudin might not have had the right idea. There's a stellar performance from US import Andy Karl as the central Phil, carved out of that leading man material that is particularly American, but for me there was just too little magic emanating from Matthew Warchus' direction to elevate the material.

Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 17th September

Cast of Groundhog Day continued

CD Review: Elf the Musical (2015 Original London Cast Recording)

“You gotta remember that December is the time for glitz"

I have to say I was sceptical about Elf the Musical, not least because it was Bonfire Night (5th November for you heathens) when I saw it but to my pleasant surprise, I was soon won over by its classic charms. If you’ve seen the film, then you’ll know that its soundtrack was a dip into the Christmas chapter of the Great American Songbook – Ella Fitzgerald’s ‘Sleigh Ride’, Ray Charles’ ‘Winter Wonderland’ etc – but the score for the musical is original yet pays great homage to those standards.

Matthew Sklar’s music and Chad Beguelin’s lyrics succeed by being entirely both warm-hearted and open-hearted and in this recording, is powered by the practically Duracell-bunny-like enthusiasm of Ben Forster’s Buddy, the kid who found his way into Santa’s bag of presents and ended up being raised at the North Pole. The heart of the story is his re-entry into the human world to find his birth father and in tracks like ‘World’s Greatest Dad’, you realise just how big and real his emotions are.

Cast of Elf the Musical (Original London Cast Recording) continued

CD Review: Kimberley Walsh – Centre Stage (2013)

“I follow the night"

Girls Aloud star Kimberley Walsh released her debut solo album in 2013 and eschewing the pop efforts of her colleagues Nuhdeen, Cheryl and Nicola, she opted for a collection of musical theatre songs. Centre Stage thus capitalised on her appearance in Shrek as Princess Fiona but aiming so firmly for the middle of the road with a tragically uninspired track selection leaves it a rather dull album to listen to, no matter how pleasant her voice is.

So we get the likes of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s ‘Memory’ (out of her range), Wicked’s ‘Defying Gravity’ (also out of her range), and Les Misérables’ ‘On My Own’ which pass by far too blandly with arrangements that are too close to muzak for comfort. They should be thankful though, as West Side Story’s ‘Somewhere’ and Oliver’s ‘As Long As He Needs Me’ are misguidedly given the cheesy easy listening treatment which may well actually be a criminal offence on Shaftesbury Avenue.

Sunday, 14 August 2016

CD Review: From Here To Eternity (2014 Live Cast Recording)

“All along knowing that no-one has returned to care”

Barely managing six months in the West End in 2013/4, I think it’s fair to say the musical adaptation of From Here to Eternity underwhelmed. And though I was reasonably fair to it at the time, I can’t say that it has aged well, upon returning the live cast recording that was made before the final curtain fell, blame seeming to fall evenly between composer Stuart Brayson, lyricist Tim Rice and book writer Bill Oakes. 

And with weaknesses on all sides like this, very much exposed in the medium of record, it’s not too hard to see why the show didn’t achieve anywhere near the levels of success it was aiming for. There’s so little sense of the main thrust of the story coming through, or indeed any of the strands put forward being sufficiently developed, to make you care about any of the relationships or the plight of the men. 

Cast of From Here To Eternity (Live Cast Recording) continued

Cast of From Here To Eternity (Live Cast Recording) continued

CD Review: Caroline Sheen – Raise the Curtain (2010)

“It’s been fun hitchin’ up with a psycho like you"

Caroline Sheen is one of those performers you feel ought to be better known, having starred in some pretty major shows throughout her career yet never quite managing that breakthrough moment – no matter, she’s thus one of British musical theatre’s secret pleasures. Her debut album Raise the Curtain saw her capitalise a little on her bigger gigs – Mary Poppins, The Witches of Eastwick – but it also pleasingly gives plenty of airtime to new musical theatre writing too.

In fact there’s no less than 5 tracks which received their first ever recordings here, Sheen opting to use her talent to really shine a light on the contemporary scene, showcasing the music she clearly loves. So the likes of innovative composer Conor Mitchell gets his striking ‘What Did You Want From Love?‘ featured, Richard Taylor (now represented in the West End with The Go-Between) gets a beautiful song called ‘Higher’ on there, so too Grant Olding with ‘Carrie Makes A Decision’ from his show Three Sides.

Saturday, 13 August 2016

CD Review: The Bodyguard – The Musical (World Premiere Cast Recording)


“Tell me what does it mean?” 

One of the more surprising recent returnees to the West End was The Bodyguard – The Musical – having played out about a year and a half at the Adelphi and then launching a subsequent UK tour, our appetite seemed sated. But where there’s an empty theatre, there’s a commercial hit to be planted therein and it arrived back in the capital at the Dominion, with Beverley Knight heading up the cast and it's a cracker.

But as the production set out on its UK tour, that was the point at which First Night Records decided to release the world premiere cast recording of the show, meaning that it was X-Factor star Alexandra Burke who got to lay her vocals on this score of classic Whitney Houston songs and be recorded for posterity. Now I can’t lie, I enjoyed the show with Burke, with the help of a couple of bottles of wine it’s an ideal bit of Friday fun but on disc, it’s not quite the same story. 

Cast of The Bodyguard – The Musical (World Premiere Cast Recording) continued

Cast of The Bodyguard – The Musical (World Premiere Cast Recording) continued

CD Review: Out Of Context: The Songs Of Michael Patrick Walker (2011)

“One night is sometimes all it takes"

Michael Patrick Walker is probably best known as the co-composer of Altar Boyz, a big off-Broadway hit, and though his 2011 album Out Of Context: The Songs Of Michael Patrick Walker contains a new version of one of the songs from that show, it contains much more besides, a collection of songs written for musicals in development, with other cut and stand-alone material, sung by the requisite company of Broadway colleagues doing their stuff.

On this evidence, Walker fits fairly neatly into the school of new musical theatre writing spearheaded by the likes of Jason Robert Brown - not in a particularly derivative way but rather in its fresh modernity and lyrical sparkiness. And as ever with these collections, the range of interpretations from singers both familiar and new to me brings a pleasing diversity to the collection which has been orchestrated and arranged by Walker in a real labour of love.

Friday, 12 August 2016

CD Review: Richard Beadle – Songs (2012)

“If we make it through together”

Songs was the debut album from Richard Beadle, a songwriter, composer and conductor of television and production music, as well as a well-established musical supervisor/director on a wide range of West End shows from Betty Blue Eyes, The Bodyguard to the forthcoming The Girls. I actually attended a concert showcasing Beadle’s music back in 2013 but it has taken me a little time to get round to properly listening to the album.

His style seems to sit somewhere equidistant between ‘traditional’ and ‘new’ musical theatre writing – the nervy angst of ‘The Wedding Song’, sung perfectly by Julie Atherton, owes a debt to Jason Robert Brown whereas Rachael Wooding’s beautiful declaration of love in ‘Here We Are’ has a much more classic feel to it. And what comes across these 12 tracks is a pleasing sense of confidence in musicality, these are songs that stand as well individually as in the musicals from which they come.

CD Review: Our First Mistake - The Songs of Kait Kerrigan and Brian Lowdermilk (2010)

"It not a love story, not a coming of age
It's not the kind of thing you put into a play.”

Good song-writing is good song-writing but it certainly helps if you have stellar interpreters of songs on hand to deliver what you’ve composed. And so it is on Our First Mistake - The Songs of Kait Kerrigan and Brian Lowdermilk which finds the likes of Kelli O’Hara mourning the death of a relationship on the pragmatic ‘Not a Love Story’ and Natalie Weiss on the equally bruised ‘How To Return Home’, both performers fully inhabit their characters within these songs and you’re instantly given to a sense of excitement at what a Kerrigan/Lowdermilk musical might sound like.

They’re a US musical theatre writing team who, like so many others, are patiently waiting for their big break. Shows such as Henry & Mudge and The Unauthorized Biography of Samantha Brown have raised their profile and in the latter case, show real promise from the tracks included here in their relaxed pop sensibility that Waitress is currently working so well. Vienna Teng’s delicate piano balled ‘Say The Word’ is a gorgeous opener to the collection and the way its tentative romantic inclinations are met with Michael Arden’s ‘Run Away With Me’, its quiet emotion slowly building in confidence, whets the appetite beautifully.

CD Review: Thirteen Stories Down – The Songs of Jonathan Reid Gealt (2011)

“If you wanted me to, I’d take a trip to the sticks, and tie her up in the back of a van”

As you can see from the release date, Thirteen Stories Down – The Songs of Jonathan Reid Gealt isn’t a particularly new album but it is one that I’ve had waiting on my ‘to listen’ list for a long time. Produced by Sh-K-Boom, Gealt is a New York composer who has been bubbling under for a while now and as is the way of these things, opted to put out his debut album by calling some of his nearest and dearest Broadway pals to showcase his work.

And on this evidence it’s quite the body of work. Gealt feels like a natural song-writer, connecting emotion effortlessly to his music which puts him in good stead for the world of musical theatre and there are some compelling moments here. Adam Chanler-Berat’s ‘I Won’t Have to Anymore’ is a gorgeously moving tale of a young gay lad escaping an abusive home, Bridie Carroll’s ‘Expectations of a Man’ ought to be a lesbian anthem by now and Lauren Kennedy’s wry ‘Alex...You're Fine!’ works well.

Thursday, 11 August 2016

CD Review: Love Birds (Original Edinburgh Cast 2015)

“Today is yesterday's tomorrow"

If anyone should be allowed to write a musical about the 4 penguins from Mary Poppins, then it makes sense that it should be a man who is the son and nephew of the composers from that film. For Robert J Sherman is very much continuing in the family business – his father Robert B and uncle Richard being the Sherman Brothers who are among the most successful film songwriters in history, a legacy explored by Robert J in his A Spoonful of Sherman show – with his own venture into musical theatre with Love Birds.

The show premiered to generally great acclaim in Edinburgh last summer and a cast recording was subsequently made, allowing the show to live on in hopeful anticipation of further life. And on first listen, it’s no grandiose claim, for Love Birds captures much of the easy but deceptively simple charm that served his forebears so well. The show centres on a 1920s avian vaudeville run by a dinosaur (stay with me…) struggling to deal with the necessary changes to stay with the ever-changing times.

CD Review: Matt Doyle – Uncontrolled

“Do you ever wonder who you're losing it for"

No word of a lie, the promotional pictures (see below…) that accompanied Matt Doyle’s Uncontrolled album had no impact on my decision to review the album. I’d already tumbled hard for him in Private Romeo, so there. And as he starts off with a tenderly lovely version of Broadway standard ‘You Made Me Love You’, you might think that you’re in for a familiar journey through a collection of musical theatre hits.

You’re soon disabused of that notion with ‘Moment’, a track co-written by Doyle with Joel Huemann which aims squarely for the chart with its stadium-ready chorus and woo-ooo’s and the album’s predominantly filled with original material. He’s unafraid of a personal lyric or three, ‘When I Let You Go’ and ‘8’ feel particularly heartfelt here, and there’s also a sense of Doyle exploring the limits of his song-writing with his collaborators – ‘Fall For Me’ aims for a 50-ish vibe which is highly appealing and ‘Love Uncontrolled’ finds him in somewhere in the soulful part of the 70s.

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

CD Review: Lord of the Rings (2008 Original London Production)

“Eä, Arda, Ainulindalë.
Aratar, Maiar, Rána, Nénar"

Believe it or not, there was a time when I lived in London and I only saw a handful of shows a month, actually making considered decisions about what I wanted to see. And I have to say the musical of Lord of the Rings did not make the cut (obvs I wasn’t aware of who Rosalie Craig was at that point, or else I would have gone!). The show lasted just over a year at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane and probably lost a shit-ton of money (it allegedly cost £12 million to make) but we do have a cast recording to remember it by.

And what a rather odd-sounding show it is, little surprise really when you consider that producer Kevin Wallace brought on three different composers to complement the book and lyrics by Matthew Warchus and Shaun McKenna. So Bollywood supremo A. R. Rahman, Finnish folk group Värttinä and Lloyd Webber-wannabe Christopher Nightingale all contributed to an altogether epic score, but one which sprawls in an unwieldly manner as these three strands struggle to cohere into an effective whole.

Cast of Lord of the Rings continued

Cast of Lord of the Rings continued

CD Review: Rebecca Caine - Leading Ladies (2007)

“Oh, how I'd adore it
If you would encore it”

As well as being one of the more entertaining and scathingly witty presences on Twitter, Rebecca Caine is the owner of a stupendous and legit soprano voice which she has forged a career in both opera and musical theatre. Her 2007 album Leading Ladies saw her focus on the latter, celebrating “leading ladies of the British musical theatre stage” from 1909 to 1960, such as Gertrude Lawrence, Jessie Matthews, and Julie Andrews.

Co-created with pianist and sometime singer Gerald Martin Moore, the repertoire may seem light, even frothy, but it is sung with such precise conviction in Caine’s classy, crystalline voice that you can’t help but listen to the music anew. So stalwarts like ‘Someone To Watch Over Me’ and ‘I Could Have Danced All Night’ sparkled as if newly minted, their emotion all the more acute for the poignancy thus revealed.

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

CD Review: Bright Star (Original Broadway Cast Recording)

“If it don’t work out

You can turn around”


The cut-throat world of Broadway musicals takes few prisoners and even with a better-than-expected raft of key Tony nominations, Bright Star was extinguished after just four months of performances. Developed out of a musical collaboration between Steve Martin and Edie Brickell called Love Has Come For You, Bright Star forged its idiosyncratic path of bluegrass and other American roots music with an admirable confidence in bucking the commercial norm.


Taking a risk is always, well, risky though, and though I’m quite partial to a bit of country and always keen to see people pushing the boundaries of musical theatre, the Original Broadway Cast Recording does offer up some clues as to why Bright Star might not have caught fire. There’s no doubting the truthfulness of the music, played with a vast array of finely stringed instruments from banjo to fiddle to autoharp, but adherence to such an authentic song-writing template means you do get a sense of repetitiveness kicking in.