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: Lea Michele – Christmas in the City

Jonathan Groff and Darren Criss elevate Glee star Lea Michele’s first holiday album Christmas in the City

“In the air there’s a feeling of Christmas”

It’s definitely that time of year, as Christmas albums start to pop up left, right and centre and getting in there early is actress and singer Lea Michele with her debut holiday album Christmas in the City. It’s a very New York take on the festive season, tending towards the secular than the sacred, and the result is smoothly satisfying, especially in its strong choice of collaborators.

Michele sounds at her best when partnered by former Glee co-stars Darren Criss and Jonathan Groff. On their respective duets of ‘White Christmas’ and ‘I’ll Be Home For Christmas’, there’s a beautiful lightness of touch to these interpretations of such familiar material. Trading lines and harmonies with all the elegance of Torvill and Dean, the musical beauty here is just lovely. Continue reading “Album Review: Lea Michele – Christmas in the City”

Album Reviews: Kristen Chenoweth – For The Girls / Idina Menzel – Christmas: A Season of Love

A pair of album reviews for the OG Wicked stars – Kristen Chenoweth’s For The Girls and Idina Menzel’s Christmas: A Season of Love

“You know the Queen of hearts is always your best bet”

No matter how they’ve diverged now, the careers of Kristen Chenoweth and Idina Menzel will forever be connected by Wicked and so you wonder whether their respective 2016 albums being released at the same time was ‘just’ a coincidence. And those ties just won’t quit as late 2019 sees them both dropping records, albeit with a month or two inbetween this time.

Chenoweth’s album is For The Girls, a concept album of sorts, produce by Steve Tyrell and Jon Allen, focusing on tracks either written or performed by female artists. She might not exactly reinvent the wheel with her covers, but there’s something impressive about the way in which she draws the connecting line between the country pop of her upbringing – ‘Desperado’, ‘Crazy’ – to the standards for which she’s now famed – a glorious ‘The Man That Got Away’, ‘The Way We Were’. As diverse a collection it gets, it always coheres effectively.  Continue reading “Album Reviews: Kristen Chenoweth – For The Girls / Idina Menzel – Christmas: A Season of Love”

Album Review: The Norm Lewis Christmas Album

In all its variety, The Norm Lewis Christmas Album proves an eclectic but beguiling confection

“Man it doesn’t show signs of stoppin'”

I’m not sure who we apply to for these things but I really would like to see Norm Lewis return to the West End stage – I didn’t catch him in Les Mis but I did get the briefest taste of him at a Lance Horne concert so Santa if you’re listening… In the meantime, we have to make do with the many pleasures of The Norm Lewis Christmas Album

And my are they plentiful. Lewis is certainly generous, offering up a Christmas stocking packed full with 18 tracks and as much variety as a family-sized bag of Revels. Produced by Lewis with Richard Jay-Alexander and Lewis and accompanied by MD Joseph Joubert, with band members George Farmer and Perry Cavari, it makes for an eclectic but beguiling confection. Continue reading “Album Review: The Norm Lewis Christmas Album”

Review: Elf, Lowry

The Lowry Theatre's 2017/8 production of Christmas show Elf

“Make it Sparklejollytwinklejingley”

First things first, it’s a really poor show on behalf of those in charge of this production at the Lowry that there was no announcement or any mention of the fact that the understudy for the main part was on. Not for any sniffy reason about wanting to see Ben Forster but rather that it denied Colin Burnicle his spot in the limelight on the first occasion that he got to play the role of Buddy the Elf.

I don’t think Burnicle will mind me saying he had an understandably slightly nervy beginning but he soon settled into the green felt boots of Buddy, working a slightly more frantic Jim Carrey-esque vibe than one might expect from a role originated on screen by Will Ferrell but it was one that worked. And he connected well with former Atomic Kitten Liz McLarnon as his putative love interest Juvie, as under-developed a part it is. Continue reading “Review: Elf, Lowry”

Review: A Curmudgeon’s Guide to Christmas Round Robin Letters, Hope

“Jamie stayed and explored Peterborough, which has a Waitrose. He can’t resist a good Waitrose”
 
From the minute you walk into the Hope for A Curmudgeon’s Guide to Christmas Round Robin Letters, you know something special is afoot. Chairs are draped with blankets and cushions, bowls of Quality Street twinkle like fairy lights, and we’re heartily greeted like old friends by the couple whose front room we’re entering. It’s a warmly convivial beginning to a warmly convivial show.
 
A Curmudgeon’s Guide… is based on a book by the late, lamented Guardian diarist Simon Hoggart, where he collated some of the more extreme examples of the Christmas round-up-of-the-year letter that people have received. Gently poking fun at the humblebrags and hubris they contain, Scott Le Crass has fashioned an intimate two-hander which looks lightly at that all-too-human need to share.

Continue reading “Review: A Curmudgeon’s Guide to Christmas Round Robin Letters, Hope”

Review: Thirty Christmases, New Diorama

“Don’t be a prick at Christmas”

As many of us lurch from swapping random Secret Santa gifts at office parties to necking eggnog at pantos (just me?!) in preparation for the culinary bliss that is my dad’s Christmas dinner, it is easy to forget that the festive season is necessarily a happy one for everyone. And it is this feeling that Supporting Wall’s Thirty Christmases (in association with Arts at the Old Fire Station and the New Diorama) is concerned with exploring, through this bittersweetly wry and affecting comedy.

Written by Jonny Donahoe and directed by Alice Hamilton, it’s the story of siblings Jonny and Rachel who haven’t spent Christmas together in nearly ten years due to a big falling out. Through the efforts of their mutual friend Paddy, they’ve come together to delve into their shared past to try and work out their issues, for it turns out they’ve never actually had a conventional Christmas at all, due to a chaotic upbringing by their single-parent socialist firebrand of a father. Continue reading “Review: Thirty Christmases, New Diorama”

Album Review: Alexander Armstrong – In A Winter Light

“I was following the pack”

Alexander Armstrong has many a string to his bow – actor, comedian, presenter and singer – and following a couple of albums that have hit the Top 10, he now makes the move that seem de rigeur for the middle-aged male entertainer this year, in releasing his first Christmas album In A Winter Light

The album is nearly completely stymied by its song selection, misguidedly mishmashing its genres so that we’re taken from traditional carols to easy listening to the Fleet Foxes to original compositions pastiching them all. A different kind of performer might have been able to tie such a collection together but there’s a stiff formality to Armstrong’s singing that means he is not the one. Continue reading “Album Review: Alexander Armstrong – In A Winter Light”

Review: The Box of Delights, Wilton’s Music Hall

“The wolves are running, Kay Harker”

There’s a wonderfully rough magic to Justin Audibert’s production of The Box of Delights that makes it the perfect choice for Wilton’s Music Hall’s festive show. And it is one that will have extra resonance for those of a generation similar to my own, whose childhood TV watching centred on a VHS copy of the 1984 TV adaptation, whose use of graphics and green screen hasn’t necessarily aged all that well (see around 14.30)…

The nods to the occasional naffness of that design (a car that turns into an aeroplane!) were much appreciated but such is the warmth and wit of the theatrical invention here, that it is hard not to be won over by Piers Torday’s adaptation of John Masefield’s 1935 fantasy novel whether you’re familiar with it or not. And though it flirts with the odd sinister undertone, the abiding feel is one of adventurous derring-do and festive cheer, fit for whatever family you have around you.

Set in the depths of Christmas 1938, we’re in the world of plum puddings and hot possets, where schoolboy Kay Harker finds his journey home from boarding school disrupted by falling into the middle of a battle between two mighty magicians. Given the precious Box of Delights by one of them, he’s charged with protecting it – and by extension, the very future of Christmas itself – but little can prepare him for the magical power that is contained within. Continue reading “Review: The Box of Delights, Wilton’s Music Hall”

Album Reviews: Marisha Wallace – Soul Holiday / Leslie Odom Jr – Simply Christmas (Deluxe Edition)

“Drive the dark of doubt away”

By all accounts, Marisha Wallace has had quite the couple of weeks. Taking over as Effie White in Dreamgirls, delivering a cracking performance on the Strictly results show and somehow finding the time to fit in two solo concerts to support the launch of her debut album Soul Holiday. I was otherwise occupied on Sunday but I have been able to listen to the album and it is a delightfully warm and happy collection, destined to put smiles on faces this Christmas.

As the title suggests, the dominant mood is a soulful one and it is one which reinvigorates this familiar material with a fresh spirit. Festive standards like ‘I’ll Be Home for Christmas’ and ‘The Christmas Song’ shimmer with new feeling, ‘Do You Hear What I Hear’ somehow becomes more glorious, and a subtle take on ‘Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas’ with British jazz pianist Ross Stanley is a truly beautiful affair, deeply heartfelt throughout. Continue reading “Album Reviews: Marisha Wallace – Soul Holiday / Leslie Odom Jr – Simply Christmas (Deluxe Edition)”