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. 

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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’.

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.