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: Heather Headley – Broadway My Way

Crikey, how I loved Heather Headley’s Broadway My Way, one of the best showtunes albums of recent years 

“I know that everything I need is in here”

I was unreasonably peeved at Heather Headley for a little while, taking her casting in the West End debut of The Bodyguard as a slight on UK talent, for which I was rewarded her not appearing when I saw the show! But on seeing this clip of her smashing ‘Memory’ out of the park, I realised I’d played myself in not trying to see the show again to witness her talent live.

The next best thing is her 2018 album Broadway My Way, which I’ve belatedly got round to listening to. And once again more fool me, as it is probably one of the best musical theatre albums I’ve had the privilege of hearing. A collection of songs both old and new, it is an absolute masterclass in reinterpreting material to make it so closely fit a voice as to suggest it was written just for it. Continue reading “Album Review: Heather Headley – Broadway My Way”

Album Review: Luke Evans – At Last

Luke Evans’ debut album At Last is full of emphatic pop covers and his powerful voice at full stretch, not always a winning combination 

“No one can tell us we’re wrong”

Luke Evans’ debut album At Last is a collection of mainly pop covers that range across the ages, with a focus on songs best known for being sung by female artists. As a budding actor, Evans starred in musicals such as Avenue Q and Piaf but upon establishing himself as a Hollywood movie star, has somewhat turned his back on the world of musical theatre (to the point where many were surprised at the revelation he could sing in the remake of Beauty and the Beast). But we remember…and he can really sing.

Album opener ‘Love Is a Battlefield’ is drenched in orchestral and choral bombast which does eventually wear you down with its forceful determination. But Evans’ tendency to open out his voice to a powerful belt means that his interpretative skills as a singer tend to get left by the wayside, reduced to the opening and closing 30 seconds once the booster button has been released. As such, his version of Ewan McColl’s ‘First Time Ever I Saw Your Face’ opens, and closes, with a beautiful subtlety that is missed in much of the middle. Continue reading “Album Review: Luke Evans – At Last”

Album Review: Emma Lindars – As We Grow Older

West End chanteuse Emma Lindars channels some seriously impressive vocal power on album As We Grow Older

“You were the one who said forever from the start”

Anyone who was in Made in Dagenham scores points with me, so spotting that Emma Lindars had released an album earlier this year – As We Grow Older – which features a mixture of musical theatre and contemporary pop. Lindars’ resume takes in all sorts of West End credits over the last decade or so, but I do remember being particularly impressed with her in cabaret act The IDolls

And that impassioned power I remember is on fine display throughout,. whether a gorgeous take on ‘With Every Breath I Take’ from City of Angels, or Céline-esque power ballads ‘Before I Fall’ and ‘As We Grow Older’. There’s a beautiful pairing with Alice Fearn on ‘When You Believe’ from The Prince of Egypt (though as ever, it’s the delicate interplay of that middle chorus rather than the epic finale that really captures the heart). Continue reading “Album Review: Emma Lindars – As We Grow Older”

Album Review: RE:arrangement – An Album by Nick Barstow

A musical theatre album with a difference, RE:arrangement – An Album by Nick Barstow is refreshingly bold

“I’ve been changed, yes really changed”

Nick Barstow is a multi-hyphenate of a different order – musical director, arranger, and composer, a behind-the-scenes triple threat if you will. And having made a success of his cabaret series RE:arrangement, he’s now released an album RE:arrangement – An Album by Nick Barstow which showcases his gift for reinventing musical theatre standards by the likes of Sondheim, Rodgers & Hammerstein and Kander & Ebb, with the help of some guest stars including Faye from actual Steps.

Perhaps unsurprisingly given the name of the album, some of these arrangements really are quite radical and really serve the purpose of making you look at these songs anew. So I can admire the decision to transpose the elegiac beauty of Ivor Novello’s ‘We’ll Gather Lilacs’ into full-on Jason Robert Brown territory (or is it more Jonathan Larson…?), delivered with real commitment by Noel Sullivan, whilst still craving the crystalline harmonies of Muriel Barron and Olive Gilbert.It’s just different is all. Continue reading “Album Review: RE:arrangement – An Album by Nick Barstow”

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 Review: Hayden Tee – Face to Face

A varied song selection means that Hayden Tee’s new album Face to Face should appeal to a wide range of musical theatre fans

“In a world of wondering, suddenly you know”

Fresh off a year in the sensible shoes of Miss Trunchbull in Matilda, New Zealand actor and singer Hayden Tee celebrates the world of musical theatre – and his path within it – with the intriguing new album Face to Face. Arranged by Nigel Ubrihien and assisted by the lushness of by a symphony orchestra, this collection covers Kander & Ebb to Jason Robert Brown and much more inbetween.

At just 9 tracks long, I might have had a touch of initial disappointment that there’s some heavily familiar material here. Les Misérables is represented twice with ‘Stars’ and ‘Empty Chairs at Empty Tables’, and the ubiquitous ‘Till I Hear You Sing’ from Love Never Dies. All are sung most competently, the controlled power at the top of Tee’s range is certainly impressive but on an entirely selfish note, I’m just tired of hearing these songs. Continue reading “Album Review: Hayden Tee – Face to Face”

Album Review: Alice Fearn – Where I’ve Been…Where I’m Going

I finally get round to listening to Alice Fearn’s 2016 album Where I’ve Been…Where I’m Going and enjoy it, a lot

“A late night ‘Yes sir’
leads to good press sir”

I’m always pleased to see musical theatre performers trekking a little off the beaten path when it comes to putting together the tracklisting for their albums. As deeply held a connection as they may have to this standard or that, it can get a little wearing to hear the same material regurgitated time and again. So Alice Fearn instantly gets brownie points for her 2016 collection Where I’ve Been…Where I’m Going.

Michel Legrand rubs shoulders with Andrew Lippa, there’s a deep dive into the Kander + Ebb archive, Sondheim is in there but he’s gender-flipped and there’s a track from Smash that reminds me I really need to get around to watching that show. And allowing her inspiration to draw far and wide just adds that extra level of interest, surprise even as in the case of the brassy delights of Frank Wildhorn & Jack Murphy’s ‘Big Time’ which was new to me and an instant fave. Continue reading “Album Review: Alice Fearn – Where I’ve Been…Where I’m Going”

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: Jon Robyns – Musical Direction

I’ve long admired Jon Robyns and his new album Musical Direction reflects on his career so far beautifully, as well as suggesting what fun lies ahead

“You can get what you want or you get old”

Having fallen in love with Jon Robyns in parallel with tumbling hard for Avenue Q, he really is the leading man of my (entirely platonic) dreams, so news of a new solo album was certainly up my strasse. And Musical Direction manages an excellent job of balancing many of the aspects of that come with musical theatre performers making their own recordings.

There are nods to his performance past – a chirpy take on The Last Five Years’ ‘Moving Too Fast’ and a delicately beautiful glide through Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’s Hushabye Mountain  – and a perfectly timed look to the future too. And this is where the cleverness kicks in as you may not think you really need another version of ‘Bring Him Home’ but this acoustic, cello-drenched arrangement is spine-tingling good, certainly whetting the appetite for his imminent debut as Jean Valjean when Les Misérables reopens the Sondheim Theatre. Continue reading “Album Review: Jon Robyns – Musical Direction”