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

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

Web Series review: Jade Dragon

“You all look Chinese to me”

Just a quickie for this web series which I’ve been meaning to get around to for ages now. Written by Rebecca Boey (with Daniel York contributing one of the nineteen short episodes), Jade Dragon is a mockumentary series set in a Chinese takeaway which does a couple of crucial things.

One, it represents a much-needed, and still all-too-rare, opportunity for actors of East Asian heritage to work in a British media that feels stubbornly resistant to crossing this particular Rubicon of diversity. But it also offers up a non-judgemental, matter-of-fact presentation of what that British East Asian experience looks like in all its varied racism from overt violence to subtle othering. Continue reading “Web Series review: Jade Dragon”

Hear some of the songs from The Grinning Man, done rather differently

“First you must come with me and see what I’ve found”

The producers of The Grinning Man must have been really really happy when Hamilton announced that it was delaying its opening night so that it would fall into the same week as theirs. Fortunately, The Grinning Man gets in first and has a few days’ grace and it is also taking a little inspiration from the hit Broadway show in the way it is presenting its score. So where Lin-Manuel Miranda called in mates like Alicia Keys, Usher, Kelly Clarkson and The Roots for The Hamilton Mixtape, The Grinning Man has released a set of clips of West End stars and celebrities singing their own versions of some of the songs from the show.
It’s an intriguing move, especially as Tim Phillips and Marc Teitler’s score is not yet widely known, but it is also a fascinating one as the likes of Matt Lucas and Hannah Waddingham, Kelsey Grammer and Louise Dearman put their own stamp on some of the best tunes whilst never straying too far from the gothic darkness of the source material.

Album Review: Rachel Tucker – On The Road (Deluxe)

“Will I ever be more than I’ve always been?”


Proving that you don’t need to win the reality show that you’re in to set your career, and that it’s your talent that matters, Rachel Tucker’s success is testament to just how far hard work and a hella big voice can take. Headlining shows in the West End and Broadway, including playing Wicked’s Elphaba in both, 2017 has seen her play a series of dates on a UK tour with musical director Kris Rawlinson, which in turn produced an album – On The Road – which has recently been digitally released with some bonus tracks in a deluxe edition.
Reflecting the diversity of a live show, the record opens with a potency and confidence that could see her take her place among the Rat Pack as she swings confidently through classics like ‘Miss Otis Regrets (She’s Unable To Lunch Today)’ and ‘The Candyman’. New musical theatre gets a look in with the searching emotion of Dear Evan Hansen’s ‘Waving Through A Window’ and then the intensity is dialled down for a moment with Randy Newman’s heartbreaker ‘When She Loved Me’.
And it’s a sense of variety that never lets up, from a finger-clicking, easy listening take on Oliver!’s ‘Where Is Love?’ to the growling determination of ‘That’s Life’ on which she partners with the marvellous Rebecca Trehearn. It means that highlights are many and mixed – the controlled fury of ‘The Man That Got Away’ is spine-tingling as is, in a completely different way, the haunting acapella take on Irish air ‘She Moved Through The Fair’
Personally, the restraint with which she explores new writing like ‘Another Life’ from Jason Robert Brown’s adaptation of The Bridges of Madison County is where she shines strongest. And we’re blessed with two numbers from Sara Bareilles’ gorgeously plangent score to Waitress (does this count as Tucker’s audition for Jenna…?!). ‘You Matter To Me’ sees her duet nicely with a good, if slightly too polite Lee Mead but she soars on ‘She Used To Me Mine’, all its fragility and self-doubt conveyed with utter conviction.
Naturally, there’s a nod to Wicked in a heavily re-arranged take on ‘No Good Deed’ but it is the subsequent ‘Goodbye Yellow Brick Road’, an astute bit of sequencing there, that lands with real heartfelt eloquence, rounding off an eclectic and entertaining collection (the less said about Ed Sheeran the better…). Rawlinson’s arrangements fit Tucker’s voice like a glove and the record has deservedly been nominated as one of CurtainUp’s solo albums of the year. You could do far worse than consider this as a stocking filler for the music fans in your life.
On The Road is available from iTunes here and is also on Spotify and Amazon Music


Midlife Crooner Crisis Album Reviews

With Top of the Pops cruelly taken away from us, I’ve rarely much of a clue as to what in the charts. But I doubt even the most knowledgable of experts could have predicted that one of 2016’s biggest albums would come from the presenter of The Chase. Chasing Dreams ended the year as the second biggest UK debut and perhaps unsurprisingly given his key demographic, achieved that with predominantly physical sales.

So the arrival of a follow-up was never in doubt but it brings with it competition, from a whole raft of middle-aged white male presenters seeking to tap into those CD sales. And me being the kind soul that I am, I’ve listened to some of them, mainly so that you don’t have to…as it’s not a field overflowing with the kind of music that floats my boat. Each to their own though. 
I already reviewed Jason Manford here, and now we have Bradley Walsh – When You’re Smiling, Alexander Armstrong – In A Winter Light, and Anton Du Beke – From The Top for your reading pleasure. (I’m not counting Michael Ball and Alfie Boe’s Together Again in this category as they’re singers by trade but I’ll link to the review anyway as that would be my pick of this bunch).

Album Review: Anton Du Beke – From The Top

“Is this the start of something wonderful and new?
Or one more dream that I cannot make true?”

There doesn’t seem to be anything that can stop the dead-eyed determination of Anton Du Beke to try and become the kind of all-round entertainer that his website proclaims him to be. Best known for his regular mid-season finishes on Strictly, he’s dipped his toes into the world of presenting (whatever happened to Hole in the Wall…) and now it is the record industry that has to avert its eyes politely for a wee while.
Released in time for Christmas, From The Top contains zero surprises. If you were thinking of getting for someone who likes him, then they are going to be satisfied. Du Beke has an inoffensive smooth tone that suits the more undemanding choices of standards here (‘Beyond The Sea’, ‘More’, ‘It Had To Be You’), Strictly singers Lance Ellington and Hayley Sanderson make guest appearances as does Connie Fisher, and there’s bags of that inimitable charisma of his.
It’s not my thing though – no one needs grunts and exhortations to the band as we get in ‘Fly Me To The Moon’, his diction is shockingly poor in places (it’s ironic that ‘Puttin’ On The Ritz’ is retitled ‘Putting On The Ritz’, given that it is sung ‘Puttin onna Ritz every single time) adlibbing might amuse live audiences but has no place being recorded as in the faux bonhomie at the end of ‘Me and My Shadow’. And for someone whose established shtick is of cheeky showman, there’s something of a desperation to be taken more seriously as a singer, which results in the album’s low points. 
A misguided trip through La La Land’s ‘City of Stars’ exposes a voice that doesn’t have the necessary emotional colour, (though Fisher almost aches enough for the both of them). ‘Moon River’ and ‘Pure Imagination’ are just painful, glibly superficial, though the swing-lite arrangement of ‘Don’t Rain On My Parade’ is the biggest crime here, wrangling the song out of shape in order to fit an interpretation entirely lacking in feeling and capped off with an arrogant ‘hey’ at the end.
Ultimately, the big band version of the Arctic Monkeys’ 2006 hit ‘I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor’ typifies From The Top. There’s a small amount of novelty value but even at 2 minute 42 seconds long, it outstays its welcome. But if it’s your kind of thing, then that’s absolutely fine!

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.
There are some beautiful moments here, mainly reflecting the years he has spent performing in choirs. The exaltation of ‘O Holy Night’ soars with the assistance of the Trebles of The Choir of New College Oxford, the simplicity of ‘Silent Night’ is enhanced by the big band of The Royal Air Force Squadronaires and his baritone suits ‘In The Bleak Midwinter’ perfectly.
But the Fleet Foxes’ gorgeous ‘White Winter Hymnal’ is rendered with a painfully enunciated precision and that same stiffness plagues the likes of ‘The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire)’ and ‘Let It Snow’, recalling nothing so much as a grim determination that show that he’s no fuddy-duddy. It doesn’t work. As for including the light jazz of ‘Little Girl Blue’, too much eggnog must have drink that day.
The sad thing is that it’s completely unnecessary too – there’s nothing wrong with the solemnity of choral beauty. The brief instrumental passages set the tone perfectly and if he’d played to his strengths, utilising the much-trumpeted classical training as in Herbert Howells’ ‘A Spotless Rose’ or even his own track ‘This Glorious Morrow’, In A Winter Light would have been a much more effective album. 

Album Review: Bradley Walsh – When You’re Smiling

“I’m living in a kind of daydream”
No-one could accuse Bradley Walsh of resting on his laurels. Between hosting The Chase, appearing in his regular Peter Pan panto and preparing to become one of the 13th Doctor’s new companion, it’s a wonder he’s managed to find time to record a new album. But such was the success of his first that you could guarantee this was a trick not to be missed and so When You’re Smiling is now selling well in the few places that still actually sell CDs.
And it is a perfectly serviceable album that is as enjoyable to listen to as these things get. Walsh has a richly strong voice but more importantly, a keen sense of what is suited to it. So we get an album full of standards from the likes of Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Ella Fitzgerald, Nat King Cole and Louis Armstrong, plus a smattering of hits from musicals such as Cabaret, The King and I, and Guys And Dolls.

Impressively, there’s no real clunkers here. The only thing that made me wince was the spoken credits, oh, and the misapprehension that so many of these crooners labour under, that anyone wants to hear them say ‘hey’ or ‘take it away lads’ or have any kind of embellishment beyond the lyrics. But from a chirpy ‘Get Happy’ with his band of Bradettes to an effectively impassioned ‘Maybe This Time’, you can’t fault him for doing what he’s good at and giving more to an audience hungry for it.

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.
Just edging it as a highlight is the hymn ‘Joyful Joyful’, made famous (to my generation at least) from the finale of Sister Act 2. Roof-raising and raucous, it imbues much of what you imagine Wallace’s personality to be in all its exuberance and, well, joy! And if the inclusion of Dreamgirls‘ ‘I Am Changing’ feels a little cheeky, this new arrangement makes it more than worthwhile, an extra little stocking filler to what is already a substantial gift.
And piggybacking onto the end of this review, it’s worth noting that Leslie Odom Jr has re-released his own festive album from last year – Simply Christmas. It was one of my favourite Christmas albums of last year (review here) and now features four new songs. A delicate duet on ‘Edelweiss’ with his wife Nicolette Robinson (a performer in her own right) is really lovely, as is ‘Christmas’ from The Who’s Tommy, and there’s also new versions of ‘Please Come Home For Christmas’ and ‘The Christmas Waltz’. That said, the album remains completely worth it for the slinkiness of his outrageously smooth ‘Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas’.

News: Iris Theatre’s Xmas Factor All Stars album is released

The weather outside might be frightful but new musical theatre is always delightful, especially when it is festive-themed. Following a target-smashing Kickstarter campaign this October, Iris Theatre’s Xmas Factor All Stars album is released today, just in time for the holiday season. Featuring performances by Olivier Award-winner Rebecca Trehearn, Jon Robyns, Tori Allen-Martin, the Italia Conti School Choir and many more, the album is packed full of music by selected winners and runners-up of Iris Theatre’s Xmas Factor from 2013-16.

Xmas Factor is Iris Theatre’s annual showcase of the very best new musical theatre, around the theme of Christmas. Writers are invited to send in a song which is selected by the programming team to continue in the competition, culminating in a Panel Award and Audience Award at the concert. This year’s event, All Stars, features the best of those finalists from across the last four years, including winners and runners up of the two awards – all of which feature on the album. Songs cover an eclectic mix of themes from Korean festivities in ‘Christmas in Pyongyang’ to the best Yuletide movies in ‘Christmas Films Again’ and the thoughts of Jesus’s dad himself in ‘Joseph’s Lullaby’.
And as an Advent treat, you can listen to Trehearn’s gorgeous contribution to the album right here – ‘The Little Match Girl’ written by Darren Clark.

The album rounds off Iris Theatre’s 10th anniversary year, which began with the award for Best Production for Young People (8+) for Treasure Island (2016). This summer, Iris presented Macbeth and Hansel & Gretel, and 2018’s summer season will be announced soon.
You can buy the album here and it will be released digitally tomorrow (Saturday 2nd December) and to further whet the appetite, the full tracklisting is below.
1. All the Angels Sang
Music & Lyrics by Joanna Karselis
Lead Vocals: Tori Allen-Martin
Ensemble: Philippa Rose, Emma Morgan,David Fearn & Alvaro Flores
Additional Musical Arrangement, Musical Direction & Piano: Adam Gerber · 
Violin: Hannah Morgan
Cello: Rosalind Ford
2. The Angel at the Top of the Tree
Music & Lyrics by Darren Clark
Lead Vocals: Annabel King
Musical Direction & Piano: Michael Baxter
3. Joseph’s Lullaby
Music & Lyrics by Sandy Callaghan-Hooks
Lead Vocals: Jon Robyns
Ensemble: Philippa Rose, Emily Jane Kerr,
David Fearn & Oliver Stanley
Musical Direction & Piano: Adam Gerber

4. Christmas Swapping
Music by Luke Bateman · Lyrics by Mary Evans
Lead Vocals: Stephen Oliver-Webb & Emma Sewell
Musical Direction & Piano: Candida Caldicot
5. The Snow Goose Song
Music & Lyrics by Ben Heneghan & Ian Lawson
Lead Vocals: Kate Hume
Backing Vocals: Emma Morgan, Philippa Rose & Laura Wickham 
Musical Direction & Piano: Candida Caldicot
6. Christmas in Pyongyang
Music by Joanna Taylor · Lyrics by Al Muriel
Lead Vocals: Lucy Park
Musical Direction: Joanna Taylor · Piano: Tania Park ·
Violin: Maria Oguren
7. The Endless Song
Music by Marc Folan· Lyrics by Adey Grummet
Childrens’ Choir: Italia Conti School Choir
Adult Ensemble: Emma Morgan, Philippa Rose, Laura Wickham, David Fearn, Alvaro Flores & Guido Garcia Lueches
Musical Direction & Piano: Adam Gerber 
Flute: Liv Spence
8. The Little Match Girl
Music & Lyrics By Darren Clark
Lead Vocals: Rebecca Trehearn
Musical Direction & Piano: Adam Gerber · Violin: Hannah
Morgan · Cello: Rosalind Ford
9. The Christmas Table
Music by Luke Bateman · Lyrics by Mary Evans
Lead Vocals: Emma Sewell
Musical Direction & Piano: Candida Caldicot
Cello: Rachel Dawson
10. January Roars
Music by Stu Barter · Lyrics by Louise Ainsley
Lead Vocals: Richard Lowe
Backing Vocals: Annabel King & Jamie Lee Pike
Musical Direction & Piano: Michael Baxter
11. Holiday Hook Up
Music & Lyrics by Eden Tredwell
Additional Musical Arrangement by Gus Tredwell
Lead Vocals: Jamie Lee Pike
Musical Direction & Piano: Michael Baxter
12. The Beautiful Game
Music By Darren Clark· Lyrics by Richy Hughes
Lead Vocals: Nigel Richards, Oliver Stanley, David Fearn
Musical Direction & Piano: Adam Gerber
Violin: Hannah Morgan · Cello: Rosalind Ford · French Horn: Josh Sneesby
13. At Christmas
Music and Lyrics by Julie Das
Lead Vocals: Ruby Campbell
Backing Vocals: Emily Jane Kerr & Tiffany Parker
Musical Direction & Piano: Candida Caldicot
Cello: Rachel Dawson
14. Christmas Films Again
Music & Lyrics by Richard & Carol Campbell
Lead Vocals: Carol Campbell & Richard Campbell
All instruments performed & arranged by Richard Campbell