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Sunday, 5 September 2021

REVIEW: Breaking Into Song – Why you shouldn’t hate Musicals by Adam Lenson

Adam Lenson is a Theatre Director and Producer who specialises in musical theatre. As such he has showcased the work of hundreds of writers in his attempts to broaden the mix of what musicals can be. So this book, which seeks to challenge our expectations of musical theatre and demand more from those who write, produce and go to see it, comes from someone who is not an armchair critic, but who is doing something practical to address what he sees as the challenges and opportunities facing the medium.

The book is really an extended essay, pleading the case for musicals to be allowed the same artistic status as other forms of theatre, whilst also stating how musical theatre itself needs to change for this to happen. As an essay, though, it lacks supporting evidence. Lenson makes a lot of assertions. For example about ‘those’ musicals (without stating which ones), about writers, about producing theatres, and about audiences. 

A key element in his argument is that a significant proportion of people hate musical theatre in a way which they would not claim to hate paintings or hate films. So the subtitle (‘Why you shouldn’t hate musicals’) is an appealing tease, but ultimately perhaps misleading. Because this book isn’t aimed at people who hate musicals but rather more, it seems, at those who produce, write and enjoy them. It’s a stern ticking-off for years of complacency and repetition – as Lenson puts it re-papering the same room rather than inventing something new.

Monday, 12 July 2021

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Hamilton And Me; An Actor’s Journal’ by Giles Terera

Recently, Olivier Award-winning Giles Terera collected his MBE from St James’s Palace for services to theatre. As if his phenomenal range of acting credits isn’t enough to garner respect, he is also a writer, producer and director. His new release ‘Hamilton and Me’ delves (in journal format) into the creative process of originating the role of Aaron Burr on the West End in ‘Hamilton’; the musical you’ve either seen and adored, or are still desperate to see! If you don’t know anything about the show, you may want to hit Google (and Spotify) hard before continuing on with this review!

This book is made up of refined entries which were written in Terera’s journal throughout his Hamilton journey; from pre-audition through to opening night, he provides the reader with the gut-punching reality of being a performer and the sheer volume of research and work which went into bringing this character to life. 

His memoirs include an array of stories about his creative brainstorming and rehearsal alongside the iconic Hamilton Team (including Lin Manuel-Miranda, Alex Lacamoire, Thomas Kail and Andy Blankenbuehler) as well as naming the stellar West End cast one by one and how they impacted his journey to creating Aaron Burr. 

Wednesday, 5 May 2021

REVIEW: Key Change – A musical memoir by Denis King

I know of Denis King for two things. I first came across him as a much put-upon accompanist and sometimes actor in Hello Cheeky, the Radio 2 comedy sketch show which starred John Junkin, Barry Cryer and Time Brooke-Taylor. I was also aware of him as the composer of, as he puts it himself, the world’s favourite equestrian TV theme, Black Beauty.

This delightful and hilarious memoir also reveals something which escaped my attention, which is his earlier career as a member of The King Brothers, a very early boy band that achieved notable successes in the 1950s and 60s, even appearing on the same bill as Frank Sinatra.

What I also didn’t know was that Denis King is not only a gifted musician but has a sly, self-deprecating and utterly British sense of humour about both himself and others, which shines through every sentence in the marvellous book. You hope you’re in for a good read when the endorsement on the back cover from the aforementioned Barry Cryer says, “I’ve known Denis King for many years but in spite of that I would strongly recommend this book.”

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”.
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