Album Review: John Barrowman – A Fabulous Christmas

John Barrowman release his festive album A Fabulous Christmas and like Christmas dinner, there’s bits I love (everything apart from the sprouts) and bits I really don’t (the sprouts)

“Well I’m all grown up now
And still need help somehow”

A relatively late entry into the festive album market (Idina Menzel released back in October!), John Barrowman’s A Fabulous Christmas burst onto the scene last week, complete with a neck injury that jeopardised the opening nights of its accompanying tour. Intensive rehabilitation seems to have got him back on the road but how is the album? Can Barrowman convince me that spoken adlibs are ever a good thing on record…?

As it often the case with Barrowman as a performer, for me at least, there are moments of pure loveliness and others when it is all just a bit too much. When he turns down the power in his voice and allows its character to shine through, you understand why he is such a popular singer. The tender restraint of ‘Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas’, the gently swinging fun of ‘Happy Holidays’ with The Puppini Sisters, the hushed beauty of the medley of ‘Be Thou My Vision’ and ‘Away in a Manger’, these are seasonal classics in the making. Continue reading “Album Review: John Barrowman – A Fabulous Christmas”

Album Review: Michael Ball & Alfie Boe – Back Together

Michael Ball and Alfie Boe get back together for Back Together, their third album as a duo, which I ultimately find hard to resist

“The more you refuse to hear my voice
The louder I will sing”

First they were Together, then they were Together Again and now they’re Back Together – there’s no separating Michael Ball and Alfie Boe as their double act has become an extraordinary success, managing that all-too-rare-nowadays feat of actually selling albums. 

And you can see why, especially in a spell-binding trio of musical theatre classics early on. The unexpected harmonies speckled throughout ‘Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again’, the delicate interplay in Fiddler’s ‘Sunrise, Sunset’ and the always rousing ‘Circle Of Life’ (with the assistance of Shaun Escoffrey) all imbue the familiar material with real interest, making the case for Ball & Boe as more than just your average crooners cranking out a new album. And the inclusion of a Pasek & Paul song is predictably de rigueur for a 2019 release, even if neither man quite has the suppleness of voice or diction to really get away with the energy of ‘The Greatest Show’. Continue reading “Album Review: Michael Ball & Alfie Boe – Back Together”

Not-yet-a-review: Fairview, Young Vic

The Young Vic’s mind-expanding and mind-blowing Fairview makes me shut up, for once. You should book now. 

“I don’t have drama.
‘Girl you got drama. I got drama'”

I’m opting out of writing about Fairview, for now, for a number of reasons, most of which will become apparent when you see the show. And you should really see this show, Jackie Sibblies Drury’s drama is a Christmas gift of a different sort, destined to make you really think and really want to debate the issues it raises. I’ll be back, and I’ll be considering the right way to respond, if at all. Until then, get booking.

Running time: 90 minutes (without interval)
Photo: Marc Brenner
Fairview is now booking at the Young Vic until 23rd January, a returns queue is in operation every night

Review: Gypsy, Royal Exchange

Because nothing says Merry Christmas like a stage mum going off the rails….! Gypsy offers a different festive treat at Manchester’s Royal Exchange

“If the cow goes, I go”

The choice of the festive musical is a big one for many a venue, and they don’t come much bigger than Broadway classic Gypsy, which director Jo Davies has tackled for the Royal Exchange (returning to Manchester after a really rather excellent Twelfth Night). It also feels a bit of a bold choice given that the shadow of Imelda Staunton looms large for many, though that was over four years ago now. And if we consider Mama Rose to be the ne plus ultra of female MT roles, well you rarely hear people complaining about the endless succession of Hamlets and Lears, so it is more than time for a new Rose to bloom.

Davies gets a lot right, particularly in terms of her collaborators. Andrew Wright’s choreography makes considered use of the space, brilliantly exploiting the intimacy of being in the round (this is definitely a show to splash out on stalls seats for) as Leo Munby’s musical direction delivers a bright, if fairly traditional rendition of Jule Styne’s iconic score. The bulb-bright flashes of Colin Grenfell’s lighting are showstoppingly effective throughout, particularly when allied with the mobile rig that dominates Francis O’Connor’s set. The sequence where ghosts of the past come to bear witness to a crucial decision by Rose is stunningly, hauntingly effective. Continue reading “Review: Gypsy, Royal Exchange”

2020 What’s On Stage Award nominations

The nominations for the 20th Annual WhatsOnStage Awards have been announced and I have a thought or two #justiceforAnneHathaway

As a publicly nominated affair, the What’s On Stage Awards always throw up an interesting set of nominations, as fanbases engage alongside theatregoers to produce an idiosyncratic reflection on the year. This year though, the nominees for the nine creative categories (Choreography, Costume Design, Direction, Graphic Design, Lighting Design, Musical Direction, Set Design, Sound Design and Video Design) have been decided by an independent panel of industry experts appointed, which has resulted in some pleasing inclusions for the likes of Equus and Small Island

Acting-wise, the focus does land a little heavily on the more famous names (plus ça change) and that Supporting Actress in a Musical category is super-crowded (the Dear Evan Hansen mothers would have been a shoo-in for me there). My only real point of issue comes with the categorisation for the & Juliet players – are you really going to nominate Oliver Tompsett as a lead and then put Cassidy Janson in the supporting category? Did you not see the show, or get any of its message at all?!

Voting for the winners is open now and closes on 27th January 2020, with the winners being revealed at a ceremony on 1st March 2020.

Best Actor in a Play, sponsored by Edwardian Hotels

Tom Hiddleston – Betrayal – Harold Pinter Theatre
Andrew Scott – Present Laughter – The Old Vic
Matt Smith – Lungs – The Old Vic
Wendell Pierce – Death of a Salesman – Young Vic / Piccadilly Theatre
Laurie Kynaston – The Son – Kiln Theatre / Duke of York’s Theatre

Best Actress in a Play, sponsored by Tonic Theatre

Claire Foy – Lungs – The Old Vic
Zawe Ashton – Betrayal – Harold Pinter Theatre
Hayley Atwell – Rosmersholm – Duke of York’s Theatre
Sharon D Clarke – Death of a Salesman – Young Vic / Piccadilly Theatre
Juliet Stevenson – The Doctor – Almeida Theatre Continue reading “2020 What’s On Stage Award nominations”

Review: The Boy Friend, Menier Chocolate Factory

As light as a madeleine and as frivolous as a macaron, Sandy Wilson’s The Boy Friend proves a festive treat at the Menier Chocolate Factory

“Clap-a your hands and slap on your thighs
Grin like a goon and roll up your eyes”

As light as a madeleine and as frivolous as a macaron, Sandy Wilson’s The Boy Friend belongs in the same delightfully daft bracket of musical theatre as the likes of Salad Days and as such, is the perfect kind of frothy fun that offers a little respite from the darkness of winter nights and politicians’ empty promises. Written in the 1950s as an homage to the 1920s and with a plot that can be summed up in one character’s aside “poor little rich girl”, Matthew White’s production for the Menier Chocolate Factory sees him renew a richly fruitful relationship which has included such successes as She Loves Me and Sweet Charity.

Keeping the original three act structure, complete with two intervals, pushes the evening a little towards the episodic, but any sense of slightness is banished by the thrilling choreographic content from Bill Deamer (also associate director). From the gobsmacking elasticity and unflagging energy of Jack Butterworth and Gabrielle Lewis-Dodson’s first act charleston, to the explosive passion of Bethany Huckle and Matthew Ives’ fiery carnival tango, the quality of the dancing really is second to none. And as the full company join in time and again, it’s hard not to be swept up in the joyous atmosphere and just join in with their beaming grins. Continue reading “Review: The Boy Friend, Menier Chocolate Factory”

2019 BroadwayWorld UK Awards – Winners’ list

Best Actor in a New Production of a Musical
Andy Nyman, Fiddler on the Roof, Menier Chocolate Factory
WINNER – David Hunter, Waitress, Adelphi Theatre
David Ricardo-Pearce, Kiss Me, Kate, The Watermill Theatre
Kayi Ushe, Kinky Boots, UK Tour
Tom Bennett, Only Fools and Horses: The Musical, Theatre Royal Haymarket
Tyrone Huntley, The View UpStairs, Soho Theatre

Best Actress in a New Production of a Musical
Amara Okereke, Oklahoma!, Chichester Festival Theatre
Audrey Brisson, Amélie The Musical, UK Tour
Caroline Sheen, 9 to 5 The Musical, Savoy Theatre
Rebecca Trehearn, Kiss Me, Kate, The Watermill Theatre
Samantha Pauly, Evita, Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre
WINNER – Sheridan Smith, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, London Palladium Continue reading “2019 BroadwayWorld UK Awards – Winners’ list”

Re-review: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Palace Theatre

Just the three years between visits to Harry Potter and the Cursed Child at the Palace Theatre and its impact is no less

“So you’re telling me that the whole of history rests on . . . Neville Longbottom? This is pretty wild”

It’s over three years since Harry Potter and the Cursed Child opened at the Palace Theatre, in which time it has won pretty much every award going both here and on Broadway and gone through three major cast changes. So I thought it was high time I paid a return visit and hopefully get a better view than last time (when we saw the two-parter from the very back row of the balcony, a veritable steal at £10 a pop).

And I have to say its holding up really rather well, the storytelling feeling less complex than I’d initially feared. All sorts of details about the plot came back to me while watching but there was still gentle surprise aplenty, not least from being able to see so much more detail from the rear stalls. And there’s always the great thrill of anticipation in knowing what’s to come in certain key moments… #keepthesecrets. Continue reading “Re-review: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Palace Theatre”

Review: The Boy in the Dress, Royal Shakespeare Theatre

Some seriously big names – David Walliams and Robbie Williams – can’t save the RSC’s new musical The Boy in the Dress at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre

“Don’t eat my cheese”

There’s no lacking for big names behind the RSC’s big new musical The Boy in the Dress. Based on the novel by David Walliams and adapted by Mark Ravenhill, and with a score by Robbie Williams, Guy Chambers and Chris Heath, the pedigree is certainly there in this story about Dennis, a young football-crazy boy who decides, one day, that he’d quite like to go to school wearing a dress. But Gregory Doran’s production ends up hitting the crossbar – literally so… – and it is a little difficult to work out exactly why.

Is it in Walliams’ book, where absent mothers get entirely short shrift (as do most women, the character of Darvesh’s mum, who even gets a song, is called…Darvesh’s mum) and notions about celebrating difference only go so far – it’s OK for boys to wear dresses and win football matches, but if you buy a copy of Vogue, then you’re the target for homophobic jokes in the script. Or is it in the score which is full of strangely low-impact numbers, until an Indian man appears – cue the Bollywood song! Or someone puts on a dress – cue the disco number! It can feel that there’s not much sophistication at work here. Continue reading “Review: The Boy in the Dress, Royal Shakespeare Theatre”

Review: West Side Story, Curve

No doubt about it, Nikolai Foster’s production of West Side Story for Curve Leicester is damn close to musical theatre perfection

“Could it be, yes it could
something’s comin’, something good”

The Royal Exchange may have gotten there first this year but Nikolai Foster’s production of West Side Story for Leicester’s Curve proves an absolute triumph. Going down a similar route of featuring brand-new choreography, here by Ellen Kane, the familiar becomes something refreshing and new and hugely emotionally satisfying. From its opening moments which set the anti-immigrant tone like never before, through Musical Supervisor Sarah Travis’ incredible treatment of this iconic Bernstein score, to Kane’s sensational set-pieces which fill every inch of the Curve’s stage, this is damn close to musical theatre perfection.

It works so well because for all of the epic sweep of its Romeo and Juliet-inspired story, this is a very intimate reading of it. Jamie Muscato and Adriana Ivelisse really are exceptional as the ill-fated lovers Tony and Maria, delivering an unforced chemistry that is sweetness personified. Theirs is a heady, instant passion that feels so natural as to be entirely captivating. Their flirting is delicately but determinedly done – there’s no mistaking what ‘Tonight’ holds here – and something ignites in them when together. And as understated as their acting is, magic happens when they start to sing. Muscato’s ‘Maria’ is as good as I’ve ever heard in my life, as natural as breathing and then taken up to the heavens with a touch of wonder with his deeply expressive tenor. And Ivelisse’s thrilling soprano imbues ‘I Feel Pretty’ with just the right amount of character to refresh its familiar rhymes. Continue reading “Review: West Side Story, Curve”