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Wednesday, 16 March 2022

REVIEW: Cock at the Ambassadors Theatre

At a time when gender, sexuality and identity are at the forefront of politics, Mike Bartlett’s 2009 play COCK is more relevant than ever before: The world is changing, people are listening and educating themselves, representation onstage and in the media is increasing, and folk are questioning and exploring who they really are.

We find ourselves witnessing the end of John & M’s relationship and - through a few snapshots - learn that John has had sex with a woman. What follows is a rollercoaster of inner conflict, hysteria, identity dysmorphia, and some very awkward moments. The text lends itself to Noel Coward’s Private Lives, with John & M sniping at each other constantly, and taking it in turns to land a real scorcher. Bartlett’s text, coupled with the brilliance of Marianne Elliott’s direction, fizzes away until breaking point, where something has to give. As the tension builds towards the end of the play, Elliott isn’t afraid to eke out the silences, to really create an unpleasant dinner party. Trust me, it’s worth it.

Sunday, 21 February 2021

REVIEW: West End Musical Drive In starring Shan Ako, Maiya Quansah Breed, Shanay Holmes and Layton Williams

Last Summer, when theatres were closed and audiences were desperate for their fix of musical theatre, households flocked to car parks and fields across the country for a COVID-safe drive-in alternative. Here, West End Musical Brunch presents a concert somewhere between Glastonbury Festival and West End Eurovision.

Founder Shanay Holmes opens the show with Fabulous, Baby from Sister Act, and comperes throughout. Filmed during the height of the Black Lives Matter movement, she references BAME industry representation throughout and proudly welcomes an all-black cast for this particular concert. She encourages the audience to be actively anti-racist whilst singing This Is Me, all the while providing brilliant vocals. Her hosting skills could be honed but she does a great job and is incredibly warm.

Layton Williams is the headliner this time around and delivers material from Everybody’s Talking About Jamie (joined by his West End and UK tour castmates), Rent, Hairspray and Kinky Boots. He definitely feels at home in this environment and is clearly enjoying performing in this kind of setting.

Thursday, 19 November 2020

REVIEW: Marry Me A Little, The Barn Theatre, Cirencester

A catalogue of songs largely cut from Sondheim shows; Marry Me A Little follows an estranged couple, now living in separate apartments, dreaming of a connection outside their four walls - something we can all relate to more than we’d like this year. The Barn was one of the first regional theatres to re-open and stage socially-distanced productions in their outdoor space over the Summer. Each of those shows received huge praise, and this is no exception.

It’s incredibly refreshing to see both performers in a different light. Celinde Schoenmaker (a seasoned Christine Daae), and Rob Houchen (a veteran Marius) are both given the opportunity to play with a broad range of different emotions throughout the sung-through piece. They make a formidable partnership and deliver exceptional performances.

We hear a wonderful, fuller voice from Schoenmaker in Can That Boy Foxtrot, beautifully contrasting her famous soprano, whilst Girls Of Summer is sultry and full of yearning. In the show’s title number, she teases big, belted notes and then quickly switches to a soprano sound. Finally, in There Won’t Be Trumpets she opens fire, and it is absolutely worth the wait. Thrilling!

Friday, 6 November 2020

REVIEW: Mary Poppins: Live at the Prince Edward Theatre, 2020 Cast Recording

Live albums of any genre always pack an extra punch, and musical cast recordings are no exception. Cameron Mackintosh seems particularly fond of this approach, with both the Miss Saigon revival and Les Miserables Staged Concert immortalised in this way. Now, Mary Poppins joins the lineup, and right from the off the album delivers pure magic. An amalgamation of several of PL Travers’ stories, it’s a refreshing take on a screen-to-stage adaptation, and proves that there is always room for fresh ideas.

The combination of the original Sherman Brothers’ music, and the works of British Musical Theatre pairing George Stiles and Anthony Drewe results in a perfect score. The opening sequence (Prologue / Chim Chim Cher-ee / Cherry Tree Lane / The Perfect Nanny) is bursting with nostalgia but also finds its own identity, rather than replicating previous productions. In fact, that tends to be the theme for the entire album, which is decorated with new songs, orchestrations, harmonies, lyrics and dance breaks. It’s such a treat to hear a large orchestra nowadays, particularly when shows like The Phantom of the Opera and Les Miserables (the concert being an exception) have scaled back over the years, and new shows like Dear Evan Hansen and Everybody’s Talking About Jamie use just five or six pieces. For this production, William David Brohn’s orchestrations are pure joy.

Thursday, 5 November 2020

REVIEW: Les Miserables: The Staged Concert, CD & DVD

In a time when COVID-19 didn’t exist, and we had no idea of the chaos coming our way, the West End was host to the behemoth concert version of the world’s longest running musical, Les Miserables. Whilst the Queen’s (now Sondheim) underwent a huge renovation, Les Mis popped next door to the Gielgud for it’s sell-out 16 week run, with Cameron Mackintosh assembling the crème de la crème of the show’s alumni.

This semi-staged production features a company of over 65, with cast and orchestra sitting on a huge barricade-like structure. At the top of the show, the lighting rigs are floating just above the stage, to then unfold throughout the overture. The combination of lighting, design and automation deliver constant drama, and it really is thrilling to watch.

Alfie Boe returns to the role of Valjean following performances in the West End and Broadway productions. Whilst his classical voice is undeniably impressive, it doesn’t thrill in the same way as that of his musical theatre colleagues. It’s a crying shame that John Owen-Jones is overlooked in this release, especially as he played Valjean for almost fifty percent of performances at the Gielgud due to Boe’s frequent illness. Jones appears on the 2010 cast album, but in this mammoth production and setting, bonus tracks of Valjean’s Soliloquy, Who Am I?, Bring Him Home and One Day More would be most welcome.

Thursday, 30 April 2020

REVIEW: A Million Miles from Broadway: Revised and Expanded Edition, by Mel Atkey

Composer, writer and lecturer Mel Atkey’s tome is a look at musical theatre around the world, from birth to the present day. Not for the faint-hearted, this book introduces the reader to new practitioners left, right and centre, from all around the globe. From (operetta’s) The Magic Flute to Come From Away and Hamilton, no stone is left unturned.

Whilst exploring where musical theatre originated (writer Peter Stone believed that musicals did not exist outside of New York City) during the prologue, Atkey mentions that one rarely leaves a show “humming the tunes” unless it were a jukebox musical. This is a bold statement, especially when you consider the global success of Dear Evan Hansen and Six, both original scores with phenomenal album sales. Atkey moves on to acknowledge that musicals have evolved through various forms, and that writers are constantly re-examining what audiences want to see and hear; “perhaps in the future, there will be another element that musicals will require that we are not now fulfilling”.

Friday, 13 March 2020

REVIEW: Once Upon A Mattress at Upstairs At The Gatehouse

Mary Rodger’s musical adaptation of the Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale, The Princess and the Pea is rarely revived in London, so Mark Giesser’s production of Once Upon A Mattress is welcome, but ultimately disappointing.

In a kingdom ruled by Queen Aggravain, none shall marry until Prince Dauntless The Drab finds a bride, who must pass the Queen’s test to prove she is a genuine Princess. As the show begins, Princess number 12 is found to be unsuitable, and the search continues. Enter Princess Winifred, a gutsy tomboy who arrives by swimming the moat, proving that Princesses need not fit the stereotype. The show carries a strong message, and has great subtext, but this production tends to linger on the surface, offering a two-dimensional view.

Thursday, 10 October 2019

REVIEW: Grease at the Churchill Theatre, Bromley

Grease. A word that has many meanings but always makes you instantly think of the 1971 hit musical before anything else. It is arguably one of the most famous musicals to date and is regularly performed all around the world to sold out venues and no specific target audience. 

Grease; The Musical is currently being staged at The Churchill Theatre in Bromley until Saturday October 12th. However, it’s a slightly fresh take on the classic and being honest - it’s about time! 

I was immediately taken aback by the size of the stage at this side street theatrein Bromley. The stage is absolutely massive and luckily, thanks to scenic designer Colin Richmond, does not swallow the set and the production. In fact - quite the opposite. The, rather large, set consists of the obligatory set of bleachers, school gym apparatus and an elevated recording studio for Vince Fontatine amongst other pieces that move around to create different environments. The set also includes the most famous car in the world - Greased Lightning! 

Wednesday, 9 October 2019

REVIEW: Gentlemen Prefer Blondes at the Union Theatre

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes is the show that made Carol Channing a star, and London has been due a revival for quite some time. Lorelei Lee is a retired Follies girl with a secret, and a penchant for money, champagne and diamonds. The plot follows her journey to Paris, the pursuit of a tiara, and various courtiers along the way.

Jule Styne’s score is full of bold and brilliant numbers, enhanced by the additional arrangements of Musical Director Henry Brennan. His command of the score is masterful, and he and the percussionist are perfectly in sync, the sound perfectly balanced.

Abigayle Honeywill pays homage to Marilyn Monroe, and there are elements of Megan Hilty with a dash of Ellen Greene, but she is never an imitation. Her vocals pack a real lunch when required, and there is real beauty in the sad, reflective encore of Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend, another of Brennan’s contributions, which comes immediately after the glitz and glamour of the full song.

Monday, 30 September 2019

REVIEW: Tootsie - Original Broadway Cast Recording

Tootsie is the latest in a long line of successful musical adaptations. This year, it stormed the Tony Awards with 11 nominations, winning for Best Book of a Musical and Best Leading Actor, and is headed to the West End in 2021. The original film starred Dustin Hoffman and was revolves around a soap opera, whereas the stage version focuses on a musical. Leading man Michael adopts a female persona, Dorothy, to bag the best role, and hysteria ensues as Dorothy befriends Julie, who can’t stand Michael.

David Yazbek's score begins with a big, brassy Overture and vibrant Opening Number but by the second half the electricity wanes, resulting in a somewhat lacklustre finale. As with any composer, you can hear Yazbek's classic motifs and progressions, with homages to Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and The Full Monty.

One of the highlights, which will definitely resonate with anyone with a creative streak is What's Gonna Happen, brilliantly sung by Sarah Stiles. The song tracks the downward spiral of struggling actress Sandy, overthinking every second of her castings. It is a relentless patter song, crammed full of witty lyrics, tricky rhythms and numerous key changes.

Monday, 2 September 2019

ALBUM REVIEW: Ramin Karimloo, 'From Now On'

Iranian-born Canadian singer and actor Ramin Karimloo has become one of the best-known talents in the world of Musical Theatre, building a CV of impressive productions worldwide. He made his West End debut at 26, making history as the youngest Phantom in The Phantom of the Opera, and then reprised that role for both the 25th Anniversary concert, and the sequel musical Love Never Dies. Broadway credits include Les Mis (Tony Award nomination), Anastasia and Chess at the Kennedy Centre.

The theme of this record is reflection, and each track fits the brief perfectly. Karimloo turned 40 last year, and it is clear that this milestone prompted him to look at his journey thus far. A broad spectrum of work is covered here, with songs from The Bridges of Madison County, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Dear Evan Hansen, Chess and The Bodyguard.

From Now On is the second full-length album from Karimloo, and covers a series of Musical Theatre and film favourites with his “Broadgrass” band, adding an unusual folk twist to these classics, with instruments like banjo, and fiddle. Perhaps the most different from the original is Frozen’s Let It Go, which would not feel out of place on a folk album, rather than an all-singing, all-dancing Disney cast recording.

Thursday, 8 August 2019

REVIEW: The Indecent Musings of Miss Doncaster 2007 at the Camden People’s Theatre

Ice-skating, cacti and a feline who catches more than a mouse are just some of The Indecent Musings of Miss Doncaster 2007. In the years since she was crowned, things haven’t quite gone to plan for Annabel York. The show is candid, and at times cuts deep, teaching us that it’s the difficult times in life that shape who we are.

York is hugely versatile, and would not be misplaced in the casts of Derry Girls, Sex Education, or Doctor Foster. Her characters, regardless of their eccentricities, are genuine and perfectly judged. Sometimes the brilliance comes by way of a glance, an eye roll or a sigh. The performance never feels forced or exaggerated, and the audience hangs on York’s every word.

Rebecca Loudon’s direction keeps a tight grip on the bubbling cocktail, ensuring the pace never drops, but also allowing a breath when the more poignant moments hit home. This is a partnership that really works, and I’d be very interested to see other collaborations between Loudon and York.

Thursday, 4 July 2019

REVIEW: The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 ¾: The Musical at the Ambassadors Theatre

For almost forty years, Sue Townsend’s books have delighted readers of all ages. Adrian Mole and his friends have been translated into 33 languages and sold over twenty million copies worldwide. Despite being set in the 80’s, these beloved characters and the world they live in are timeless. Composer-lyricist duo Pippa Cleary and Jake Brunger quickly earned the trust of Townsend, despite not being the first to pitch a musical version. So taken with their ideas, she sold them the necessary rights for just £1. Townsend very sadly passed away in 2014, never seeing the musical premiere in her hometown of Leicester for the following year.

The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 ¾: The Musical is a constant thrill. We follow Adrian’s quest to win the heart of new girl Pandora Box, and the collapse of his parents’ marriage, with Mole himself narrating through his regular diary entries. Cleary and Brunger supply an original score packed full of numbers that feel like classics by the time the second chorus comes around. Gone are the days where child actors sing nursery rhyme lyrics and give two-dimensional performances. In this show, the juvenile leads are intelligent and sink their teeth into complicated material, clever lyrics, and melodies that often stray from the beaten path. Shows like Matilda and School of Rock have proven just how much our youngest stars are capable of nowadays, and this show certainly allows them to soar.

Thursday, 20 June 2019

REVIEW: The Light in the Piazza at the Southbank Centre

The original Broadway production of The Light in the Piazza thrust Kelli O’Hara into stardom, but it is difficult to imagine that anyone would have the same fortune in this rather limp production, currently playing at London’s Royal Festival Hall.

Margaret Johnson (Opera star and Tony-nominee Renée Fleming) brings her daughter Clara (Dove Cameron) to Italy for a summer holiday, showing her the sights and teaching her the history. Clara however is more interested in Fabrizio Naccarelli (Rob Houchen). The rub? Clara was kicked in the head by a pony as a child, and is therefore emotionally and mentally undeveloped.

Daniel Evans has assembled a stellar cast, but unfortunately the piece itself never allows them the opportunity to really show us what they can do. The ensemble are severely underused, with just a few bars of the opening to sing, before spending the rest of the evening milling about like scene fillers in an opera.

Friday, 17 May 2019

REVIEW: Summer Street at the Waterloo East Theatre

A show about an axed musical Soap making a comeback, with a live broadcast, which is actually staged by the lead actress/Executive Producer in a bid to create a reality television show about the casts’ lives which have crumbled since the soap came to an end. Confused?

The concept of a musical parody of Neighbours and Home And Away has real potential, but Summer Street misses the mark at almost every level. This couldn’t be further from Victoria Wood’s Acorn Antiques masterpiece. The book is poor, the score needs work, and the lyrics are cringe-worthy. Don’t get me wrong; the characters are there, and each has their own bizarre storyline and exit (plane crashing into a hotel, deadly virus wiping out the whole town, trapped down a mine), but the text needs to be much more intelligent, rather than obvious and playing for cheap laughs. The famous comedy rule of three only works if a joke is a hit the first time; if it doesn’t the second and third times it is rolled out are painful.

Friday, 10 May 2019

REVIEW: Amour at the Charing Cross Theatre

Despite closing after just two weeks on Broadway, Amour, a beautifully sweet piece, garnered several nominations at the Tony’s. Endlessly romantic, this musical adaptation of Marcel Ayme’s Le Masse-Muraille follows the tale of Dusoleil, a nobody who becomes the talk of the town when he develops the ability to walk through walls.

Amour harnesses a perfect balance of romance and comedy, with some of the funniest lyrics hidden within delicious ballads. Michel LeGrand’s score is meticulous, with constant changesof time-signature and style, and lyrics that rival that of Sondheim. It takes a while to acclimatise, but by the end of the show we are left yearning for more of its twists and turns.

The entire company is a joy, expertly assembled by Danielle Tarento. This is a real ensemble effort and Hannah Chiswick’s direction allows every cast member to shine throughout. She and choreographer Matt Cole ask a lot of their cast, cycling and climbing walls, all whilst delivering stunning vocals.

Wednesday, 1 May 2019

REVIEW: Man of La Mancha at the London Coliseum

It says an awful lot when a show hasn’t been seen in London for over 50 years, which is the case with the English National Opera’s latest production, Man of La Mancha.

Michael Linnit and Michael Grade mention in their programme notes that they consider the piece to be on par with West Side Story, My Fair Ladyand the works of Rodgers and Hammerstein, but I just don’t see it. Despite the sensational talents of the orchestra, Mitch Leigh’s score doesn’t thrill, and its famous “The Impossible Dream” fails to enthrall on both occasions; Kelsey Grammer’s Act I finale, and the full company reprise that closes the show. It should be electrifying, but something is missing.

Tuesday, 30 April 2019

REVIEW: West End Eurovision 2019, in aid of the Make A Difference Trust, at the Adelphi Theatre

Never mind Avengers: Assemble, this epic TheatreMAD fundraiser is West End: Assemble, as heroes from all departments give their best Eurovision-inspired performances, in the hope of lifting the glittering trophy at the end of the night.

Back for its 9thyear, this highlight of the theatrical calendar boasted another fabulous panel of celebrity judges; Love Island and 9 to 5 star Amber Davies, television’s Tim Vincent, ballet impresario Wayne Sleep and stage and screen royalty Bonnie Langford. Throughout the night they treated us to hilarious patter, particularly Sleep, and the audience lapped it up.

Host Richard Gauntlett is a marvel. Each year, he has the audience eating from the palm of his hand with his lightning-quick wit, and this year was no exception. Special mention must also go to Musical Director and Arranger Matheson Bayley, perhaps the hero of the night, leading the seven-piece band through all of the performances. Events like this can easily fall apart without careful planning and rehearsal; with Gauntlett and Bayley at the helm, there is certainly no danger of that.

This year, the shows competing for the trophy were Only Fools & Horses, Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, Aladdin, Mamma Mia!, Follies, Wickedand reigning champions The Phantom of the Opera. Everyone involved devotes their time voluntarily, and an extraordinary amount of time and energy goes into creating the idents, costumes, choreography, vocal arrangements and technical work on and offstage.

Thursday, 28 March 2019

REVIEW: Calendar Girls The Musical at the New Victoria Theatre, Woking

Inspired by the true story of a group of ladies who decide to appear nude for a Women’s Institute calendar to raise money to buy a new sofa for their local hospital, in memory of one of their husband’s (and have raised almost £5 million for Blood wise to date), Gary Barlow & Tim Firth’s Calendar Girls The Musical is currently touring the UK.

For those who saw The Girls(as it was known in the West End previously), it is difficult not to compare the two productions, produced by theatre veteran David Pugh. I’d go as far as to say that it’s previous incarnation is one of the best things I’ve seen in the West End for many years. 

This version, rebranded as Calendar Girls The Musical, feels confused. It now feels like a play with songs, but the songs don’t pack enough of a punch in the way that they do in Blood Brothers.What were once big showstoppers are now lackluster and sung-spoken fillers with simple harmonies and adequate singing. I’ve Had A Little Work Done is mostly spoken, but then has a big finish tacked onto the end, which feels bizarre.
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