I turn my attention to the latest set of Broadway cast recordings with Frozen, Prince of Broadway and Mean Girls
My cynicism about the quick turnaround of megahit film Frozeninto a would-be megahit musical lasted for about 10 seconds as I popped on their cast recording. I mean, I loved the film and its songs by Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez and so who was I kidding?!
And it fulfils all of my Disney princess dreams. Caissie Levy (Elsa) and Patti Murin (Anna) lead the cast in fine full-voiced form, new songs from the Lopezes fit in well to the score though it does take a hot minute to get used to them. And the orchestral arrangement lends a note of excitement to the songs you know so well already.
Levy’s ‘Let It Go’ naturally takes the spotlight as the Act 1 closer (reprised to close the show as well) but Murin’s rendition of ‘Love Is An Open Door’ with John Riddle’s Hans gets my vote for its sheer warmth and joie de vivre. Of the new songs, Elsa’s ‘Dangerous to Dream’ probably ranks as my favourite. Definitely keen to see this once it hits the West End. Continue reading “Album reviews: Frozen / Prince of Broadway / Mean Girls”
A trio of West End cast recordings (well, one’s off-West-End…) show that it is sometimes hard to recapture the stage magic
Starting off with the best of this bunch, the Southwark Playhouse’s production of Working might not have seemed like the obvious choice for a cast recording but maybe the lure of a couple of new Lin-Manuel Miranda tracks was a real sweetener.
Truth is, it is the quality of the cast’s performances that make this a fantastic addition to the list of albums you need to hear. From Siubhan Harrison’s impassioned ‘Millwork’ to Dean Chisnall’s gleeful ‘Brother Trucker’, and the highly charismatic Liam Tamne nails both of Miranda’s contributions – the wilful ‘Delivery’ and a corking duet (with Harrison) on ‘A Very Good Day’.
Experience pays though, as Gillian Bevan and Peter Polycarpou take the honours with some scintillating work. The latter’s ‘Joe’ is beautifully judged, as is the former’s ‘Nobody Tells Me How’, both demonstrating the uncertainty that can come at the end of a long career, when retirement doesn’t necessarily hold the joyful promise it once did. Highly recommended. Continue reading “Album reviews: Working / Bat out of Hell / 42nd Street”
Casting my eye over some recent musical theatre album releases: Audra McDonald’s live album Sing Happy, Louise Dearman’s latest collection For You, For Me and the long-awaited cast recording for Everybody’s Talking About Jamie
There are few things as well-designed as Audra McDonald’s thrilling soprano to make you happy, so the title of her new album Sing Happy is apt indeed. Her first live album and her first backed by an orchestra (the New York Philharmonic). the gig was recorded just a few days ago on 1st May and no wonder they were so quick to turn it around.
Whether shimmering through Porgy and Bess‘ timeless ‘Summertime’, proudly getting her life in La Cage aux Folles’ ‘I Am What I Am’ or absolutely nailing She Loves Me’s ‘Vanilla Ice Cream’, McDonald’s velvety textured voice is always so exciting to listen to. And the drama of songs like ‘Never Will I Marry’ sound glorious with the richness of the orchestral backing (conducted by Andy Einhorn).
Though I might not have been away for my usual month-long sojourn to France, I kept up with a glut of album reviews to cover the (relatively) quiet period for those of us who don’t put themselves through Edinburgh 😉
My heart jumped for joy when the Union Theatre announced their revival of Salad Days as the Julian Slade and Dorothy Reynolds classic is probably one of my favourite musicals (and following on from their production of The Hired Man too, another of my absolute faves). I loved being being able to revisit the evergreen perkiness of the show onstage and it also reminded me that I hadn’t gotten round to listening to this cast recording in a while.
My love for Salad Days started upon seeing Tête à Tête’s production of the show at the old Riverside Studios in 2010 which was such a success (eventually) that it returned in subsequent years and it is from that 2012/3 reprise that this live recording was made (which sadly means no Sam Harrison or Rebecca Caine) but it does capture so very much of what worked so well in Bill Bankes-Jones’ production and under Anthony Ingle’s musical direction.
It is no secret that Howard Goodall’s score for The Hired Man is one I consider to be one of the most beautiful in all of British musical theatre, and so any opportunity to see the show – from orchestral concerts to fringe productions – is one I’ll gladly take. This cast recordings errs very much towards the latter, taken from New Perspective’s chamber-musical interpretation which cast just eight people.
Richard Reeday’s musical direction sees the orchestrations similarly refined down to piano, trumpet and violin and so it offers something of a rough-and-ready approach which has both merits and demerits. A limited ensemble means that the choral power of tracks like ‘Song of the Hired Man’ don’t carry quite the heft that the vision of a community as one demands to meet the scope of Goodall’s work.
At the same time, there’s an intimacy here that is hard to beat. I don’t think I’ve heard a more musically affecting version of the devastating ‘No Choir of Angels’, Richard Colvin and Claire Sundin packing their vocals with all the emotional ache of lives lived on the edge of despair and from from 2.40 onwards, tumbling piano arpeggios and soaring brass lines matching the complexity of all these feelings.
This album is also special for containing the first recording of ‘Day Follows Day’, a new song inserted into the show by Goodall and lovely it is too, reprising the themes that become so familiar even just on first listen. ‘Fade Away’ remains my melody-related highlight, almost always guaranteed to make me cry and ‘If I Could’ is another triumph of restraint over bombast. Gorgeous work.
“What’s a few more minutes to wait…a little longer”
Confession time – I’ve had this album for an unforgivably long time, mainly because I managed to forget about it, despite the fact I was meant to be reviewing it. D’oh, and sorry Mr G. And more fool me, becauseBefore After is just lovely, a tragic but hopeful love story, an unconventional timeline and swooning piano and strings orchestrations throughout, it might as well have been tailor-made for me!
Written by Stuart Matthew Price and Timothy Knapman, Before After follows the love story between Ami and Ben through all its trials, as the meet-cute we’re presented with at the top of Act 1 is actually at the mid-point of their story. She recognises him as the love of her life; he hasn’t a clue who she is due to a car accident that wiped his memory; and though she keeps schtum, she asks him out for a drink to see what might happen.
From there, we see how Ami and Ben’s relationship develops under these circumstances, whilst also witnessing how it developed in the past in flashback (there’s a useful synopsis and timeline in the booklet!) and it is achingly well done. Caroline Sheen and Hadley Fraser feel ideally matched as the pair, sharing a palpable chemistry but also able to convey the full weight of the emotional storytelling as it quickly twists and turns around the clock.
Her ‘Daddy I Met This Boy’, his ‘Before After’, pretty much every song they sing together, this is supremely accomplished writing and feels like a potent symbol of what musical theatre can achieve, especially in the strength and innovation of its storytelling. Please someone mount a production of this in the UK ASAP.
Try as I might, the words ‘rock musical’ can’t help but give me a little shiver of discontent, such is my preference for piano and strings over an electric guitar. But I do try and test my preconceptions (Lizzieprobably being the last time I proved myself wrong!) and so I sat down to listen to recent SimG release – Comrade Rockstar, a new musical with book & lyrics by Julian Woolford and music by Richard John.
It’s based on the properly fascinating tale of Dean Reed, an American singer known as the Soviet Elvis after he defected to the other side of the Iron Curtain at the height of the Cold War. And sure enough, it is much more musically varied than the moniker ‘rock musical’ might suggest, stretching its wings far past any connotations of solely Elvis-lite content too, to create a gently beguiling musical that you can certainly visualise on a stage somewhere near you soon.
There’s certainly a smattering of pop-rock which has its moments. There are shades of Jason Robert Brown on charismatic opener ‘Driving Ambition’ and the ‘driving’ narrative of the title track is engaging and energetic, Tim Howar on fine form in both as Reed. I really loved the incorporation of a gentle Americana on the likes of ‘Smallville Colorado’ and the gorgeous ‘Minnesota’, Howar and Andy Conaghan combining beautifully there.
There are also times where it feels a little under-orchestrated at times – Katy Secombe imbues ‘Pravda’ with much character but musically it sounds thin and this happens a couple of times. Elsewhere though, the presence of Caroline Sheen elevates the intriguing texture of ballads like ‘Happy Ever After’ and bonus track ‘The Mermaid Song’ to must-listen territory. So, worth a whirl then and don’t be too surprised to hear more about this musical some time soon in the future.
Though often cited as one of the titans of new musical theatre writing, I think it is fair to say that Jason Robert Brown has never managed to nail a proper commercial hit on Broadway. Despite the critical acclaim and cult status that has built up around shows like Parade and The Last Five Years, the Great White Way has resisted his charms and in 2014, it was the turn of his musical adaptation of The Bridges of Madison County to last barely even 4 months the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre.
And as is so often the case, it is hard to tell why, just from listening to the Original Broadway Cast Recording. Based on the Robert James Waller novel, further popularised by an Academy Award-nominated film adaptation, it is a sweepingly romantic story and it is given the sweepingly romantic treatment here by JRB. And with a cast led by Kelli O’Hara (possibly too young for the middle-aged disillusionment meant to characterise the tale) and Steven Pasquale, it sounds just gorgeous.
There’s swooning duets aplenty, in the likes of ‘Wondering’, ‘Falling Into You’ and ‘Before and After You/One Second & A Million Miles’; genuinely insightful solo numbers for each, O’Hara’s ‘Almost Real’ and Pasquale’s ‘Temporarily Lost’; and variety offered up in the contrasting emotions of the supporting players – Whitney Bashor’s plaintive ‘Another Life’ and Hunter Foster’s poignant ‘Something From A Dream’ giving us the perspective of the other partners,
And the hints of Americana lend almost a country-pop feel to some of the songs, blended with the Broadway sensibility feels like a strong mix, giving a real sense of identity to the piece that makes it stand out. Perhaps it is another show destined to gain cult status but there’s little here to suggest why it couldn’t find audiences at the time.
The logic of theatre being what it is, an original musical by Sting about the decline of the shipbuilding industry in the north-east of England opened on Broadway in 2014 and has still yet to be seen here in the UK. I saw it at the Neil Simon Theatre and whilst The Last Ship didn’t have the strongest book, I did think the brooding melancholy of the folk-inflected score would carry it further than the four months it managed.
Its primary delight is Rachel Tucker’s Meg, a dynamic vocal presence who can’t help but stand out in everything she sings, whether the delicacy of ‘August Winds’, the tearjerking ‘It’s Not The Same Moon’, or the bawdy fun of ‘If You Ever See Me Talking to a Sailor’. Along with the excellent Michael Esper (now familiar to us in the UK thanks to Lazarusand The Glass Menagerie), she makes a real highlight out of ‘When We Dance’ (a re-purposed track from Sting’s back catalogue).
The most handsome Aaron Lazar also shines as supporting male lead Arthur and if I can’t ever quite bring myself to be that enthusiastic about Jimmy Nail, he is well suited to the role here. It’s not so surprising that Sting can create such powerful solo and duet moments, what is/was pleasing to discover is how much he revels in the power of the ensemble, in composing such anthemic tracks as ‘Island of Souls’ and ‘The Last Ship’ to bookend the show.
Haunting and poetic, this is music to savour and I really hope the UK gets the chance to experience it in full in a theatre soon.