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Wednesday, 17 February 2021

REVIEW: The Future Ain't What It Used To Be, the new album from West End star Danielle Steers

Danielle Steers debut album is a mix of nine cover versions of Jim Steinman songs from the last forty years of his catalogue. Steers is an established musical theatre star creating the role of Zahara in the wonderful Bat out of hell which I saw first in Manchester and then in London at the Coliseum and The Dominion Theatre. She is a Steinman fan herself and the Bat out of hell fans adored her strong stage presence. More recently before Lockdown she was in Six as Catherine Parr and was due to perform in concert herself. 

The album title “The Future ain’t what it used to be” (5 minutes) is taken from a track on the 2006 Meatloaf album. Its name suggests the 1942 Duke Ellington Jazz song “Things ain’t what they used to be” or perhaps the 1960 Lionel Bart musical “Fings ain’t wot they used to be” but this is a soaring powerful rock and roll song which shows off her clear powerful vocals. it makes a great opening track to the album.

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.

Wednesday, 30 January 2019

REVIEW: Eden Espinosa’s Revelation

Eden Espinosa is well known in the theatre community as one of the most celebrated “Elphabas,” having been part of the Broadway, San Francisco, and Los Angeles productions of the acclaimed musical Wicked. Espinosa’s latest album, Revelation,is comprised of all original material and Eden has written eight of the ten tracks herself. Although this may be her first experience writing music, she clearly has a talent for telling provoking stories through her songs.

I would be hard pressed to describe the genre in which Revelationfalls. The album has a unique sound that is a combination of pop, rock, and soul, with elements that are reminiscent of the music of the 80’s and 90’s. The style suits her voice perfectly and shows her versatility as a performer. At no time while I was listening to the album did I think that this was a musical theatre voice trying to fit itself into an ill-fitting, cookie cutter pop style. 

Wednesday, 23 January 2019

REVIEW: Head Over Heels (Original Broadway Cast Recording)

What do you get when you mix the most successful female rock band of all time with musical theatre? The answer is Head Over Heels, a new musical comedy featuring the iconic songs of the Go-Go’s that recently closed on Broadway. It was described by Time Out New York as “a saucy and boisterous celebration,” and the cast recording certainly conveys that feeling.

The album suffers from some of the same pitfalls as most “jukebox musicals.” One being that when a recording artist’s existing canon is used as the score, there generally isn’t a narrative that can be discerned by listening. The songs stand on their own and if you haven’t seen the show, you won’t have any idea how they move the story forward. A few of the tracks on Head Over Heels feature bits of dialogue from the production, but out of context they are just confusing. Also, tonally, there isn’t much variation. Almost all of the songs feature the same pop rock, synth sound that the Go-Go’s are known for. 

Wednesday, 12 December 2018

ALBUM REVIEW: Renee Fleming - Broadway

Earlier this year, internationally renowned soprano Renée Fleming made her Broadway debut as Nettie Fowler in the revival of Carousel. Her acclaimed performance wowed audiences and critics alike and even earned her a Tony nomination. In that spirit, Fleming has recorded Broadway, an album that celebrates musical theatre with a range of song selections from classic composers like Rodgers & Hammerstein to modern classics like Pasek & Paul. 

Fleming’s voice soars on each track as you would expect. “Fable” (Light in the Piazza), “Something Wonderful” (The King and I), and “Till There Was You” (The Music Man) all show off the grandeur of Fleming’s voice and display an unsurprising beauty, however, from a musical theatre perspective, there is a lack of emotional context and they fall rather flat. With purely classical arrangements as well, they don’t bring anything new to the table, offering very little to get excited about. 

Broadway is heavy on the ballads, but the few upbeat numbers and those that veer from the sound you would expect from Renée Fleming are the real stand-outs. “Wonderful Guy” (South Pacific) is a nice change of pace with a quirkiness that makes you smile. “The Glamorous Life” (A Little Night Music) is by far my favorite track with a new arrangement that turns it into a solo for Fleming. She hams it up brilliantly and offers a superb performance. Her ability to act through the song comes through and it is a really fun listen.

Monday, 17 September 2018

ALBUM REVIEW: 'The Quentin Dentin Show' Original Cast Recording

Musical Theatre concept albums are a powerful way of testing the interest and showing the potential of new works for the stage and were very successfully used by Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber in the seventies to launch both Jesus Christ Superstar and Evita. Of course there have been concept albums since that have failed to grab the listeners imagination. The challenge of reviewing an album like this without having seen the show or without a script or detailed narrative is to try and piece together the characters and story line from tunes alone. The question that poses is whether the music strong enough and the fragments of story enough for the listener to want more.

Writer Henry Carpenter and Originating Producer Hannah Elsy just about manage to tempt me to want to see the show in its next incarnation with their concept album which contains fifteen tracks running to around thirty five minutes of music. Carpenter's writing seems to delve back into a broad range of musical styles from the fifties to the nineties with simple orchestrations and clear vocals and borrows from many styles of that period. The idea seems to be that an alien has arrived on earth, presumably having absorbed these musical influences over the space airwaves and seeks to persuade the humans he meets that he can make them happy. It is a sort of Dr Faustus meets The Rocky Horror show, creating a bizarre, absurd world where Quentin Dentin seeks to offer happiness for their souls by reaching out to them through a radio show and then a TV game show. The overall feel is of a Richard O'Brien narrated clipped vocals with bursts of rock and roll, rock opera, Abba, pop, Conga and techno sounds, all with a strong drum rhythm. It starts to feel like a singalong party atmosphere. This style is what made The Rocky Horror Show the cult show it is today but it was the performances and outrageous characterisations that made that a success and we only get a sense of that from the album of two characters.

Monday, 29 May 2017

ALBUM REVIEW: Golden Days - A Collaboration of Brian May and Kerry Ellis

The Queen of the West End, Kerry Ellis is back with a new studio album – Golden Days. In collaboration with her long-term creative partner Brian May, of Queen fame, this exciting new album brings to the fore an exciting array of soft-rock, musical theatre and new original numbers sure to delight die-hard Ellis fans everywhere. 

However, this album is very eclectic and won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. 

We start with “Love In A Rainbow” and this pretty much sets the premise for the rest of the tracks. One of five new original songs on this album, its Grecian style chant at the beginning then turns into soft-pop before the introduction of sitars and a chorus. It’s mad but somehow it works... I think. 

Not every song pulls of this new wacky style of creative expression. Whilst listening to “Parisienne Walkways” I was hoping to be transported back to the days of Gary Moore and his iconic live performances, but I was left simply wanting more. May plays his best classic style on this track, but Ellis’s vocals just cannot match up to the original. 

Friday, 11 March 2016

ALBUM REVIEW: Hamilton, Original Broadway Cast Recording

While at the moment, the show can only be seen on Broadway (for those who are fortunate enough to be able to spend up to $300 for a single ticket), for the majority of people, we are limited to this album to involve us in the musical phenomenon. Anyone who has heard it will understand the cultural significance. 

This is the first hip hop/rap musical to ever grace Broadway. David Cote of New 
York’s ‘Time Out’ described Hamilton as “a sublime conjunction of radio-ready hip-hop (as well as R&B, Britpop and trad showstoppers)”, and I totally agree. This cast recording is explosive. 

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

ALBUM REVIEW: New Broadway Cast Recording of GIGI, starring Vanessa Hudgens

This week’s album review is of the cast recording of the 2015 revival production of Gigi, the musical, adapted by Heidi Thomas and directed by Eric D. Schaeffer – starring Vanessa Hudgens as Gigi, Corey Cott as Gaston, Howard McGillin as Honoré and Victoria Clark as Mamita. The production closed on June 21st 2015 but the soundtrack is still available to purchase.

Based on the 1944 novella by Colette, Gigi was first adapted for the Broadway stage by Anita Loos in 1951, with an unknown Audrey Hepburn in the title role. My understanding of Gigi is that it is a tale of “high-end grooming and prostitution” which is supposed to be very French; by this I mean very sexual yet classy, Parisian in its feel and driven by a real je ne said quoi. This soundtrack is missing all of the above. It sounds asexual, über American and carries no real spark or joie de vivre.  If anything, it’s demonstrably un-sexy, which was a real disappointment to me.

Saturday, 8 August 2015

ALBUM REVIEW: Confessions of a Justified Sinner, the debut album from Will Barratt

Will Barratt is launching his debut album of self-penned songs, ‘Confessions of a Justified Sinner’. Featuring 14 original songs written by Will over the past 15 years, the album includes a song co-written and performed with Nadim Naaman, plus a solo and a duet from Rebecca Trehearn.

“If you like songs with a flavour of musical theatre, you’ll like this… but this is more than musicals. Great original tunes and great performances. I really enjoyed it!” – John Owen-Jones

Friday, 24 July 2015

ALBUM REVIEW: The Original Broadway cast recording of Finding Neverland

Inspired by the 2004 film of the same name, Finding Neverland, follows the Scottish author J.M Barrie as he creates his most famous work, Peter Pan. 
The music, written by Gary Barlow and Eliot Kennedy, evokes a sense of awe and wonderment throughout the album. Although some rock inspired tracks do feel a little out of keeping with the period in which the musical is set, they also help to create an exciting vibe and adds an unexpected element of edginess to a story which on paper seems a little bit dry. 
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