Film Review: Last Christmas (2019)

Any film with Patti LuPone has to be a winner, even if Last Christmas only features her for 90 seconds or so. Nowhere near as bad as they’d have you believe…

“Before we eat lesbian pudding…”

There’s always a measure of slight disappointment when something doesn’t live up to its billing. To look at most of its press coverage, you’d think Last Christmas was ZOMG WORST FILM IN THE WORLD™ (a title it might have held at least for the four weeks before Cats came out…). But the reality, as per usual, is something much more mundane – it’s a perfectly serviceable piece of festive fluff, hardly ground-breaking but then what rom-com is?

Obviously I’m biased since the great Patti LuPone makes a random cameo early on, but I found the whole thing to be quite watchable. Its guest cast is a winner from start to finish – Michelle Yeoh! David Mumeni’s inexplicably rebuffed pub guy, Anna Calder-Marshall’s spiky homeless woman, Lydia Leonard and Jade Anouka as a lesbian couple, Amit Shah’s bumbling estate agent…and that joy of trying to work out which bit of London is being used at any given time. Continue reading “Film Review: Last Christmas (2019)”

Film Review: Nativity Rocks! (2018)

The fourth instalment in the Nativity film series, Nativity Rocks! restores a little of the goodwill squandered by the previous two sequels

“I’m wishing Father Christmas doesn’t forget where I live like he did last year”

I can’t think of a film franchise that has squandered such promise as the Nativity series. Debbie Isitt’s original film was such a sweetly unexpected success, but its magic sadly proved rather elusive as its subsequent sequels lost any of its sense of purpose or improvised charm. So the arrival of a third sequel in the shape of Nativity Rocks! (released in cinemas in 2018) came with a healthy dose of apprehension, even if the musical adaptation has rescued some of its lustre (though is that also now in danger of oversaturation , as the musical is now in its third consecutive winter tour).

For all my reservations though, Isitt had zero problem in attracting a quality ensemble as the cast undergoes something of an overhaul. So Marc Wootton’s Mr Poppy is dispatched to Australia and replaced with Simon Lipkin’s Mr Poppy (his long-lost brother), Daniel Boys is the fresh-faced teacher taking St Bernadette’s school choir through the rigours of yet another competition, with Helen George as the putative love interest, Gabriel Vick as the posh rival schoolmaster. Plus there’s Hugh Dennis and Anna Chancellor as some well-to-do parents, Ramin Karimloo as a refugee father, Meera Syal and Celia Imrie too, plus Craig Revel Horwood… Continue reading “Film Review: Nativity Rocks! (2018)”

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”

Review: White Christmas 2019, Dominion Theatre

The reliable charms of White Christmas reappear at the Dominion Theatre

“When what’s left of you gets around to what’s left to be gotten, what’s left to be gotten won’t be worth getting, whatever it is you’ve got left.”

White Christmas is a show that keeps returning and consistently attracts casts that I can’t quite resist. I’ve seen it in Manchester, Leeds and in this very theatre five years ago. So NIkolai Foster’s production holds little surprise for me now, insomuch as any production of White Christmas can surprise. Instead the feeling is more of cocoa-warm comfort, a reliability underscored by fun performances from leads Danny Mac, Dan Burton, Danielle Hope and Clare Halse. Read my 4 star review for Official Theatre here. 

Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 4th January

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”