Andrew Lloyd Webber celebrates 70 years with ‘Unmasked: The Platinum Collection’

In celebration of his 70th birthday this March, new compilation ANDREW LLOYD WEBBER: THE PLATINUM COLLECTION will be available March 16th through UMC / Polydor.  

The collection is personally curated and overseen by Lloyd Webber to include classics from his earliest work starting with 1968’s Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat through his most recent School of Rock. 

Newly recorded songs from superstar artists Nicole Scherzinger (“Memory”, Cats), Gregory Porter (“Light at the End of the Tunnel”, Starlight Express) and Lana Del Rey (“You Must Love Me”, Evita) add to the collection of his cherished works from the past five decades. 

The set also contains recordings by world-class performers such as Barbra Streisand, Madonna, Michael Crawford, Sarah Brightman, Michael Ball, and released for the first time, Beyonce singing “Learn To Be Lonely” from the 2005 Academy Awards with Lloyd Webber accompanying on piano. 

UNMASKED: THE PLATINUM COLLECTION is available as 2 CD and 4 CD editions. The 4-disc version contains an exclusive 40-page book with a personally penned introduction from Lloyd Webber and more in-depth notes on each track, written by respected theatre critic and Lloyd Webber biographer Michael Coveney, together with personally written tributes from Barbara Streisand and Glenn Close among others. 

Pre-order 2 CD Edition

Pre-order 4 CD Edition

Continue reading “Andrew Lloyd Webber celebrates 70 years with ‘Unmasked: The Platinum Collection’”

Album Review: Leading Ladies – Songs From The Stage

“Lock the door and stop complaining
Gather ’round and listen well”

Between them, Amber Riley, Beverley Knight and Cassidy Janson have racked up Olivier Awards and accolades aplenty and their mutual respect has led to them joining forces to create musical supergroup Leading Ladies. And working with producers Brian Rawling and Paul Meehan through East West Records (Warner), their debut album Songs From The Stage is about to be released.

Across the 14 tracks of the collection, there’s a variety of approaches as they tackle songs from a wide range of musicals. Each singer gets a couple of solo numbers, and they all chip in with backing vocals on some of those, but the highlights come when the trio sing together. And none more so than on an utterly transcendent version of Carole King’s ‘Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow’ whose close harmonies are goosebump-inducingly extraordinary, the marriage of their voices a perfect alchemy.

Interpretations of Rent’s ‘Seasons of Love’ and Once’s ‘Falling Slowly’ also capture a similar sort of spine-tingling feel, the vocal arrangements by Beverley Knight emphasising a restrained but no-less-emotional delivery, recognising that deep feeling can be just as effective as fireworks even from such powerhouse singers. Even in old stalwart ‘Memory’ from Cats, there’s a purity to the performance that is a refreshing counterpoint to the contemporary vogue for riffing. 

There’s also fun to be had here too, in more light-hearted numbers like the energetic ‘Raise The Roof’ from Andrew Lippa’s The Wild Party and the head-over-heels giddiness of Hamilton’s ‘Helpless’ (with the assistance of Sky Adams) – the delivery of “I’m just sayin’, if you really loved me, you would share him” is pretty much worth the price of the album alone. And those shimmering harmonies are used to great effect in a sparkling version of Dreamgirls‘ ‘One Night Only’

And though each performer revisits the shows that have made their reputations – Janson and Beautiful, Knight and Memphis – there’s arguably more interest in the other songs they pick. Janson’s breakneck race though Funny Girl’s ‘Don’t Rain On My Parade’ is genuinely thrilling and the album’s closer, Riley’s gentle ‘Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas’ (from Meet Me in St. Louis), showcases just how beautiful her voice is.

A tour-de-force from three remarkable singers then but most excitingly, the perfect example of something being greater than the sum of its parts, how authentic collaboration can reap such rich rewards. Just fantastic.

Album Review: Helen Power – Enraptured

“There is joy in the air
So be gone with dull care”
What to do to make your album stand out in a crowded marketplace of musical theatre-related albums? Get Auburn Jam’s Joe Davison in to do your arrangements, that’s what. A glimpse at the tracklisting of Helen Power’s new album Enraptured may not initially suggest a great adventurousness but on first listen, its playful and subtly daring nature soon become apparent.
A relaxed take on Porgy & Bess’ Summertime is a strong opener, full of bold musicality and Power’s confident soprano, but it’s the next of couple of tracks that set out the vision here. A Latin-inflected ‘The Sound Of Music’ has no right to be effective but as Davison introduces silky bossanova rhythms and elastic double-bass lines, it’s impossible to resist its easygoing charm. And if less radical, his Bond-esque re-arrangement of the title track from The Phantom Of The Opera is no less exciting, its duelling brass section and violins building to a breathless climax that thrills just as much as Power’s soaring top E.
As a crossover soprano and actor-musician (she plays several brass instruments on this record), Power straddles the worlds of easy listening and musical theatre and it is a balance that comes across perfectly on this record. Classical influences such as Giulio Caccini’s ‘Ave Maria’ and ‘Whisper Of Angels’, based on the timeless majesty of Fauré’s Pavane, rub shoulders with West Side Story (in a beautiful piano and cello version of ‘One Hand, One Heart’ with current Aladdin Matthew Croke) and Salad Days (a twinklingly beautiful skip through ‘The Time of My Life’) and through the innate musicality of the arrangements, they both work as well as the other.
I particularly loved the interpretation of ABBA’s ‘Thank You For the Music’, arranged by Kris Rawlinson from a concept by Power, which swings and sways through a light jazz treatment with Andrews Sisters-esque harmonies but the biggest treat for musical theatre lovers is a Howard Goodall exclusive, the track ‘More Than Rapture’ from A Winter’s Tale (in which Power starred as Ekaterina at the Landor in 2012). With featured vocals by Jamie Read, it’s a typically gorgeous melody from Goodall and beautifully orchestrated and makes me long for a revival of that musical. In the meantime, you could do a lot worse than buy this album as a stocking filler for a loved one or even for a treat for yourself!

Album Review: Michael Ball and Alfie Boe – Together Again

“I hang suspended

Until I know
There’s a chance that you care”

It is no secret that I am no great fan of a booming tenor and so it was little surprise that Michael Ball and Alfie Boe’s album Together was not really my cup of tea. But it was however what many other people wanted and following its success and reaching number 1 in the charts, the pair have collaborated again to produce the imaginatively titled Together Again. And in the spirit of open-mindedness, plus the acknowledgement that there’s a more adventurous tracklisting, I steeled myself to listen.
I have to hold up my hands and say I was pleasantly surprised by more than a few of the songs here. The first two-thirds of ‘The Rose’ are genuinely spine-tinglingly lovely and even when the bombast kicks in for the finale, it stills maintains a heartfelt sincerity. A stroll through ‘White Christmas’ is marvellously restrained and all the more effective for it. Even the big band swing through ‘Bring Me Sunshine’ has a gentleness to it that allows both men to demonstrate their performative range.
Wrapping themselves around the sinuous melody of Kismet’s Stranger In Paradise (based on one of my favourite pieces of classical music – Borodin’s Polovtsian Dances) works supremely well, as does the delicacy of Anastasia’s ‘Once Upon A December’. And even that stalwart duet ‘The Prayer’ glistens anew under this treatment, the beauty in both voices shimmering through in sotto voce. I also enjoyed the rousing spirit of ‘Evermore’, one of the new songs written by Alan Menken for the live action Beauty and the Beast.
Not all the song choices work quite so well. Including a version of Hamilton’s ‘You’ll Be Back’ hits the zeitgeist button but it comes off as rather glib here, and the power pop of ‘You’re The Voice’ feels strangely akin to a recruiting song for a cult. I don’t know if the world needs another by-rote rendition of ‘New York New York’ and though the West Side Story medley ticks the recognition factor, I’m not sure ‘Maria’, ‘Something’s Coming’ and ‘Tonight’ benefit from being mashed together like this.
The album’s highlight for me is the fun-loving tribute to The Lion King in ‘He Lives In You’ which typifies this album’s more relaxed approach to its material and as such, it can’t help but win you over with its easy-going nature. And even then, if you are a fan of the big belt, the duet on Sunset Boulevard’s ‘As If We Never Said Goodbye’ is very well done, especially if you imagine them singing it to each other in all its homoerotic drama! So an unexpected surprise then, in both Ball and Boe revelling in the opportunity to show that they can do a hell of a lot more than boom their way through standards.

Review: Sunset Boulevard Curve, Leicester

“Smile a rented smile, fill someone’s glass
Kiss someone’s wife, kiss someone’s ass”

Ria Jones’ extraordinary history with Sunset Boulevard might well be entitled The Norma Conquests – from originally workshopping the role of Norma Desmond for Andrew Lloyd Webber (music) and Don Black and Christopher Hampton (book and lyrics) in 1991 to her headline-grabbing stint as Glenn Close’s understudy in last year’s ENO staged concert version of the show to finally getting to play the leading role in her own right on this UK tour, premiering at Leicester’s Curve, some 26 years later.
And was it worth the wait? Jones certainly is making the most of her well-deserved moment, offering a different skillset for her markedly different interpretation. Jones is undoubtedly the better singer, the lushness of her voice soaring effortlessly to the impassioned heights of the score. And she’s a different kind of actress, offering a brasher, more manic kind of energy to this former movie star caught up in a fantasy world when a young screenwriter (Danny Mac) accidentally offers hope to her faded career. 
As for the rest of the production though, it didn’t quite hit the mark for me. Perhaps it is having seen the show so recently, that itch has been well and truly scratched for me and it doesn’t necessarily feel so strong a piece of theatre that will tempt people back which is what a classic musical needs to succeed on the road. So I wonder how the show will fare on its extensive tour without a name like Close to draw people (you sense producers releasing pics of Mac in his trunks recognises the work already underway).
There’s good work in the company from the likes of Molly Lynch as script editor Betty and long-time Lloyd Webber collaborator Adam Pearce as the loyal Max. And Nikolai Foster’s production works hard to look (Colin Richmond’s design) and sound (Adrian Kirk’s musical direction) a cut above your average touring musical. The main issue for me lies in a score overly reliant on pastiche and a book that has never heard of the term subtlety. I’m glad I’ve seen Sunset Boulevard, and in particular Ria Jones, but it’s hard not shake the feeling that I don’t think I want to see it again anytime soon.
Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes (with interval)
Photo: Manuel Harlan
Booking until 30th September then touring to…
THEATRE ROYAL, Newcastle – 09 OCTOBER – 14 OCTOBER 2017
PALACE THEATRE, Manchester – 23 OCTOBER – 04 NOVEMBER 2017
HIPPODROME, Birmingham – 13 NOVEMBER – 18 NOVEMBER 2017
HIPPODROME, Bristol – 09 JANUARY – 13 JANUARY 2018
REGENT THEATRE, Ipswich – 5 MARCH – 10 MARCH 2018
THEATRE ROYAL, Plymouth – 12 MARCH – 17 MARCH 2018
NEW THEATRE, Wimbledon – 09 APRIL – 14 APRIL 2018
MARLOWE THEATRE, Canterbury – 16 APRIL – 21 APRIL 2018
LYCEUM THEATRE, Sheffield – 23 APRIL – 28 APRIL 2018

Album Review: Shona White – I’ll Bring You A Song (2011)

“It is nothing to do with the wine

Or the music that’s flooding my mind”
Shona White is a rather under-rated (for my money at least) Scottish actress and singer perhaps most famous for stints in Mamma Mia which were 12 years apart, but whose musical theatre credits stretch far and wide. Her 2011 album I’ll Bring You A Song, produced by Richard Beadle reflects the breadth of her career and it is this variety which is both its strength and its slight weakness.
I have to admit to finding it hard to get too excited about tracks like ‘To Sir With Love’ and Tell Me On A Sunday’s ‘Take That Look Off Your Face’. They’re sung perfectly competently but familiarity breeds a certain measure of contempt. Where this type of song choice succeeds is where the interpretation dares to be different, the sharp emotion of Chess‘ ‘Nobody’s Side’ a case in point here, so too the slowed down take on ‘As Long As You’re Mine’ from Wicked with the ever-melodious Daniel Boys
Generally much more interesting are the trips into slightly obscure musical theatre – ‘Easy To Say’ from Christopher Hamilton’s Over The Threshold builds marvellously into leading lady territory and on a similar theme, ‘Easier’ from Dougal Irvine’s In Touch is delicately powerful. Throw in the sultry ‘How ‘Bout A Dance’ from Bonnie & Clyde and you wonder why White bothers with the mainstream when there’s gems like these to be unearthed.
The title track (an original song?) sparkles with a pop-rock edge and a supremely confident vocal, and it is perfectly balanced by the gentle folkiness of ‘Ae Fond Kiss’, proving White can do subtlety too. And for myself, my favourite track is the cover of the immortal Dusty Springfield’s ‘I Close My Eyes And Count To Ten, its drama as theatrical as any of the showtunes on here.

Album Review: Love Never Dies (2010 Concept Album)

“The world is hard, the world is mean

It’s hard to keep your conscience clean”
I hadn’t listened to Love Never Dies since seeing its very first preview (oh how we laughed when ALW ran furious from the stalls when the set broke down) and having popped on the concept album that was released in tandem, I was soon reminded why. The not-a-sequel to Phantom of the Opera too often feels like a lazy retread of familiar ground, demonstrating zero musical progression and revealing a stagnation where there once was innovation.
The Coney Island setting undercuts any attempt to get close to the gothic horror of the opera house, the ‘freak show’ elements are desperately tame there. The swerves into rock are ill-advised in the extreme. Lyrically, there’s no ingenuity here at all, the words play second fiddle to the music to their peril And above all, the interpolation of themes from Phantom serve as a constant reminder of what this is not, and also the ultimate folly of the enterprise.
There’s a strange imbalance to the writing, that pushes the female characters to one side. So having saddled Sierra Boggess’ Christine with a rewritten song from The Beautiful Game as the title track, the maestro doesn’t give her much else of memorable interest to do, whilst the book simultaneously robs the character of any real agency. Same with Mme Giry, sung here by Sally Dexter though played by Liz Robertson onstage, a great talent sorely underused.
The focus is squarely on the men and Lord knows Ramin Karimloo has the physique to cope with it. Sad truth is though, that there’s a large amount of bluster and not much ballast to what he has to sing (once more). He’s a mighty singer but these are substandard goods. Love Never Dies has been substantially tinkered with since I saw it, and since this recording was made, but it is hard not to feel that its problems are of a more existential nature.

Album Review: The Woman In White (2004 Original London Cast Recording)

“There’s only one thing one has to have

One has to have no shame”
Hitting the West End just before I moved to London and well before I started blogging, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Woman In White has the ignominy of being one of his less successful shows. With lyricist David Zippel and book-writer Charlotte Jones, this adaptation of Wilkie Collins’ novel failed to capture the ongoing attention of UK audiences, shuttering after 19 months, but downright flopped on Broadway where it lasted just 3. 
The Woman In White has now been announced as Thom Southerland’s major project over Christmas, running for 12 weeks at the Charing Cross Theatre with Laura Pitt-Pulford onboard, and it got me to thinking that I hadn’t actually ever listened to the show at all. The cast recording was made on the opening night and as the show underwent considerable redevelopment even whilst playing, the ending on this record does not reflect the ending that audiences saw in theatres.
I have a certain amount of affection for the selection of Lloyd Webber’s music that I listened to as a kid but it is hard not to feel that the majority of his output this millenium has been somewhat stodgy. And though there are moments of real elegance here – the harmonies on ‘Trying Not To Notice’, and Maria Friedman’s impassioned work on the self-lacerating ‘All For Laura’, too much of the music sounds uninspired and in some cases, highly derivative.
‘Evermore Without You’ might as well be titled as a leftover from Sunset Boulevard, ‘I Believe My Heart’ echoes any of Christine’s duets from Phantom and to exacerbate the problem, when things get a bit more original they go way off-piste – the faux-rusticana of ‘Lammastide’ is just painful. Michael Crawford’s ostensibly comic numbers are way off base, though I can see how they might have their fans – all in all, I’d say Southerland’s got quite the job on his hands but if anyone can do it, he can.

Album Review: John Owen-Jones – Bring Him Home

“Give me this moment, this momentous moment”

I was excited by the prospect of a new John Owen-Jones album but the reality of Bring Him Home – A Collection of Musical Favourites was, I have to say, a little disappointing. For it is something of a greatest hits affair, collecting together tracks from three of his previous albums – Unmasked, Rise and his self-titled album and adding in just the three new songs.
Those tracks are Miss Saigon’s ‘Why, God, Why?’, West Side Story’s ‘Maria’ and ‘Suddenly’, written by Claude-Michel Schönberg, Herbert Kretzmer and Alain Boublil especially for the filmed version of Les Misérables. Only the last of these has any real interest as something particularly new, although fans will enjoy the personal connection Owen-Jones has to the others (drama school audition song, and first show he was in onstage).
The rest of the collection focuses similarly on the mainstream and the shows in which Owen-Jones has risen to leading man fame. Phantom is represented by ‘The Music Of The Night’ and ‘Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again’, Les Mis by ‘Empty Chairs At Empty Tables’ and ‘Bring Him Home’; and there’s booming anthems aplenty elsewhere with the likes of ‘Till I Hear You Sing’ from Love Never Dies, ‘This Is The Moment’ from Jekyll & Hyde, Chess’ ‘Anthem’ etc etc
It’s all inspirational but rarely inspired, I always find more interest in Owen-Jones’ exploration of newer musical theatre and that is fairly thin on the ground here, along with the kind of subtleties that come across in live performance. A version of Wicked’s ‘For Good’ with Ruthie Henshall goes off at quite the lick but ends up coming across as glib, same too with the Bryn Terfel and Michael Ball-guesting ‘Pretty Lady’. Only William Finn’s ‘I’d Rather Be Sailing’ scratches that itch for me, so whilst this album reflects a powerful side of this supremely gifted singer, it is in his album tracks rather than these greatest hits that you’ll find his best moments.