Saturday, 19 August 2017

Album Review: Chicago (1997 London Cast Recording)

“A lot of people have lost faith in America”

I quite like the film version of Chicago but was surprised by the extent to which I had internalised its soundtrack upon listening to this London Cast Recording from 1997. Part of that lies in the fact that it is good few years since I’ve seen it onstage but there’s no excuse really, for a theatre nut like me. And sure enough, surrendering to the thrill of Ruthie Henshall and Ute Lemper here was a genuine pleasure and a great way to revisit Kander & Ebb’s score.

Henshall’s Roxie and Lemper’s Velma are surely among the best that these characters have ever been sung. The unrelenting stunt casting that kept the show a West End presence perhaps devalued the music a bit but in these hands, with these voices, you come to really appreciate the emotional complexity and proper darkness of these women and what they’re forced to do in order to keep their head above water and then some.

Friday, 18 August 2017

Review: Blue Stockings, National Youth Theatre of Great Britain at the Yard Theatre

"A woman who expends her energy exercising her brain does so at the expense of her vital organs, leaving her unfit for motherhood"

I'd forgotten how enjoyable Jessica Swale's Blue Stockings was though more fool me, as we've long been big fans of hers chez Clowns. The play - her first - premiered at the Globe back in 2013 and since, has become deservedly beloved of GCSE syllabuses and drama groups up and down the land. So it is not an unsurprising pick for part of the National Youth Theatre of Great Britain's East End residency at the Yard Theatre but what may surprise is just how damn good this production is.

Blue Stockings is set at the turn of the last century in the hallowed grounds of the University of Cambridge, Girton College to be precise, the first to admit women. But they're only allowed to study, not actually graduate like their male compatriots who they are matching grade for grade, academic achievement for extracurricular exuberance, and under the tutelage of Principal Elizabeth Welsh, a quartet of students are determined to use that foot in the door to blow it right off its hinges. 

Re-review: Yank! A WWII Love Story, Charing Cross

"I know it's difficult to imagine it now
Here in a world that's going mad
But picture the two of us
On some lazy day
When bombs away
Is just a game kids play"

Not got too much more to say about the gorgeous Yank! A WWII Love Story that I didn't already say in my rave review from the beginning of the run (but blimey how those lyrics up top resonate in a different way now!). It's been great to see the show getting such good reviews and fantastic word of mouth, not the easiest of things for an original new musical to achieve, and I always knew that I'd be paying a second visit to the show before it finished. You've got a couple more opportunities yourself and as if you needed any more convincing - here's a video of the lovely Andy Coxon singing one of the show's more emotional numbers. 


Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes (with interval)
Photo: Claire Bilyard
Booking until 19th August

Full cast announced for Saint George and the Dragon


A village. A dragon. A damsel in distress.

Into the story walks George: wandering knight, freedom fighter, enemy of tyrants the world over. One epic battle later and a nation is born. As the village grows into a town, and the town into a city, the myth of Saint George, which once brought a people together, threatens to divide them. Rory Mullarkey creates a new folk tale for an uneasy nation.

John Heffernan plays Saint George; the cast also includes Suzanne Ahmet, Jason Barnett, Julian Bleach, Luke Brady, Paul Brennen, Joe Caffrey, Paul Cawley, Richard Goulding, Gawn Grainger, Tamzin Griffin, Stephanie Jacob, Olwen May, Victoria Moseley, Conor Neaves, Amaka Okafor, Sharita Oomeer, Jeff Rawle, Kirsty Rider and Grace Saif.

Directed by Lyndsey Turner (Chimerica, Light Shining in Buckinghamshire), with design by Rae Smith, choreography by Lynne Page, lighting design by Bruno Poet, music by Grant Olding, sound design by Christopher Shutt and fight direction by Bret Yount.

Hundreds of Travelex tickets at £15 available per performance.

Saint George and the Dragon is a recipient of an Edgerton Foundation New Plays Award

Full cast announced for Young Marx


1850, and Europe’s most feared terrorist is hiding in Dean Street, Soho. Broke, restless and horny, the thirty-two-year-old revolutionary is a frothing combination of intellectual brilliance, invective, satiric wit, and child-like emotional illiteracy.

Creditors, spies, rival revolutionary factions and prospective seducers of his beautiful wife all circle like vultures. His writing blocked, his marriage dying, his friend Engels in despair at his wasted genius, his only hope is a job on the railway. But there’s still no one in the capital who can show you a better night on the piss than Karl Heinrich Marx.

Rory Kinnear plays Marx and Oliver Chris, Engels. The production reunites the creative team behind Richard Bean’s smash hit One Man, Two Guvnors, with direction by Nicholas Hytner, design by Mark Thompson, music by Grant Olding, sound by Paul Arditti and lighting by Mark Henderson.

And joining Kinnear and Chris is Nancy Carroll (Jenny von Westphalen), Laura Elphinstone (Nym), Eben Figueiredo (Schramm), Nicholas Burns (Willich), Tony Jayawardena (Gert "Doc" Schmidt), Miltos Yerolemou (Barthélemy), Duncan Wisbey (Fleece/Darwin), Scott Karim (Grabiner/ Singe), Alana Ramsey (Mrs Mullett), Sophie Russell (Librarian), Fode Simbo (Peter), William Troughton (Constable Crimp) and Joseph Wilkins (Sergeant Savage).

And in an interesting move to collaborate with what seems like a major new competitor, National Theatre Live will be broadcast Young Marx on 7 December.




Album Review: Memphis (2014 Original London Cast Recording)

"Open your eyes, I got a surprise!"


It was fascinating to revisit Memphis, a show that I enjoyed on seeing but in all honesty, isn't one I've given much thought to since it left the West End after just over a year at the Shaftesbury Theatre (I went back once). I remarked then that David Bryan's score was "highly tuneful if not instantly catchy" so was surprised that a fair few of the songs had managed to work their way into my subconscious and so provided that 'ping' of recognition which is always nice.

It was also interesting to listen to the songs in isolation from the show, as more of them than I remembered felt somewhat disconnected from the narrative, just happy in their sprightly pop song-ness. And thanks to the quality of the cast assembled here - leads Beverley Knight and Killian Donnelly, supported by the likes of Jason Pennycooke, Tyrone Huntley and Rolan Bell plus Claire Machin, it is a consistently enjoyable record to listen to.

Cast of Memphis (2014 Original London Cast Recording) continued

Cast of Memphis (2014 Original London Cast Recording) continued

Album Review: The Halcyon (Original Music From The 2017 Television Series)

“We knew the excitement was bound to begin
When Laura got blind on Dubonnet and gin
And scratched her veneer with a Cartier pin
And I couldn't have liked it more”

The main reason for getting your hands on the soundtrack to the ITV series The Halcyon is for Beverley Knight’s highly spirited and hugely seductive take on Noël Coward’s ‘Marvellous Party’. I start with this, lest you think that I’m recommending Jamie Cullum to you (he has two tracks on here, specially recorded for the show) - his appeal having long eluded me. 

The rest of the album is filled with Kara Tointon’s rather lovely voice sliding over classics from the first half of the twentieth century and Samuel Sims’ original compositions for the 1940s drama. You might not think it’s particularly worth searching out if you didn’t see the show but in all honesty, even if you’re just a bit a fan of the era then it is worth a listen and a download or three.

Thursday, 17 August 2017

Album Review: On The Town (2014 New Broadway Cast Recording)

"I try hard to keep detached,But I get carried away"


On The Town is an undoubtedly frivolous show, a plot as light as gossamer,but seeing it recently at the Open Air Theatre reminded me just how tuneful a musical it is, Leonard Bernstein's 1944 score full not just of classic songs but gorgeous instrumental passages too, to allow the many dance sequences to really pop. This recording comes from the 2014 Broadway revival which received good notices but barely lasted a year altogether.

Who knows why it didn't last. It has a strong trio of men as its sailors on 24-hour ship leave in New York - Tony Yazbeck, Clyde Alves, and Jay Armstrong Johnson - and some women who steal the show from them, most notably Elizabeth Stanley's Claire de Loone, and Jackie Hoffman too for good measure. Stanley's portrayal in particular really shines through, matching a strong soprano with serious comic skills and making her someone I want to find out more about. 

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Album Review: Bumblescratch (2016 London Concert Cast Recording)

"What is this that I see"

Robert J Sherman's musical Bumblescratch played a high-profile charity concert at the Adelphi Theatre last year and keeping up the energy behind this piece of new writing, the original band and cast made this London Concert Cast Recording at Angel Studios, under the auspices of the folks at SimG Records. It's a canny way to keep up the profile of a show that only a handful of people got to see and a useful tool for those that did to reassess the score.

Sherman's extensive family legacy (A Spoonful of Sherman) means that the family friendly ethos is never far from the surface and it is something that has emerged in his previous work (Love Birds). And in some ways it is a blessing and a curse. A blessing in that he clearly has a gift for melody, sometimes gentle, sometimes nagging (in the best way); and a curse in that it is so ingrained in his musical identity that it is hard to escape it.

Album Review: The Route To Happiness (2014 Original Cast Recording)


"Better we'd not met"

I saw a festival presentation of Alexander S Bermange's The Route To Happiness at the Landor back in 2013 and a year later, an original cast recording was made available through Auburn Jam, albeit with an entirely different cast. So in place of Cassidy Janson, Niall Sheehy, and Shona White, we get Kerry Ellis, Ben Forster and Louise Dearman taking on the roles of this three-hander.

The story follows the pursuit of fame, money and love and how the three intersect in the intertwined stories of Trinity, Marcus and Lorna. But where the show has maintained a fairly positive place in my memory, listening to the double-album of the score felt like a bit of a chore. Musically it is accomplished but far too similar-sounding, there's little sense of progression to carry you through.

And lyrically, it is rather thin, although there's plenty of witty lines peppered throughout. Ellis, Forster and Dearman all deliver committed performances but this rarely feels like a show that is craving to be put on again, in this format at least.