Round-up of August music reviews


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 😉

Recommended titles
Alan Cumming Sings Sappy Songs – Live at the Cafe Carlyle
Before After (2016 Studio Cast Recording)
Cabaret (2006 London Cast Recording)
Finding Neverland (2015 Original Broadway Cast Recording)
Salad Days (2013 Live London Cast Recording)
The Bridges of Madison County (2014 Original Broadway Cast Recording)
The Hired Man (2007 UK Tour Cast)
The Last Ship (2014 Original Broadway Cast Recording)
The Visit (2015 original Broadway Cast Recording)
War Paint (2017 Original Broadway Cast Recording)


And the rest!
9 to 5 (2009 Original Broadway Cast Recording)
Anastacia (2017 Original Broadway Cast Recording)
Annaleigh Ashford – Lost in the Stars
Ben Forster – Acoustic Covers 
Ben Forster – Acoustic Covers, Vol. 2
Betty Buckley – Quintessence
Big the Musical (2016 Original UK Cast Recording)
Bombay Dreams (2002 Original London Cast Recording)
Bumblescratch (2016 London Concert Cast Recording)
Carousel (1993 London Cast Recording)
Chicago (1997 London Cast Recording)
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (2002 Original Cast Recording)
Comrade Rockstar (2017 Studio Cast Recording)
Crazy For You – (1993 Original London Cast Recording)
Dirty Dancing (2006 London Cast Recording)
Fame (1995 Original London Cast Recording)
Gavin Creel – Get Out
Gavin Creel – Goodtimenation
Gavin Creel – Quiet  / Oliver Tompsett – Gravity
Groundhog Day (2017 Original Broadway Cast Recording)
Half A Sixpence (2016 London Cast Recording)
Helena Blackman – The Sound of Rodgers and Hammerstein
Laura Benanti – In Constant Search of the Right Kind of Attention
Love Never Dies (2010 Concept Album)
Marguerite (2008 Original London Cast Recording)
Marin Mazzie – Make Your Own Kind of Music
Mary Poppins (2005 Original London Cast Recording)
Memphis (2014 Original London Cast Recording)
Noel Sullivan – Here I Go Again
On The Town (2014 New Broadway Cast Recording)
Shona White – I’ll Bring You A Song
Songs From The Musical Wolfboy (2010)
Take Flight (2007 Original Cast Recording)
The Halcyon (Original Music From The 2017 TV Series)
The Route To Happiness (2014 Original Cast Recording)
The Sound of Music (2006 London Palladium Cast Recording)
The Woman In White (2004 Original London Cast Recording)
USHERS: The Front Of House Musical (2014 London Cast Recording)

Album Review: Salad Days (2013 Live London Cast Recording)

“Oh yes it’s not that I want to stay. 

It’s just that I don’t want to go”
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.
The score was orchestrated for two grand pianos (played by Ingle and Paul Maguire) and this provides a real lushness to the sound, subtly abetted by Harriet Scott on double bass and Fred Beer’s percussion. So many of these songs are just bouncy and fun yet the precision of the playing here never lets you forget how eminently tuneful and musically well-constructed they are, and with a fair bit of dancing being done, the instrumental passages are a joy to listen to. 
Leo Miles and Katie Moore are corkingly good fun as the central couple Timothy and Jane in all their earnest spiffingness, the latter’s ‘I Sing In The Sun’ a real highlight, Kathryn Martin and Gemma Page sound gorgeous in ‘We Don’t Understand Our Children’, and Tony Timberlake is a hoot in all three of his roles. As it is live, you get the laughs of pleasure from the audience which I didn’t mind for once, reminding me of my own joy in watching the show. And at just £7, it’s a real bargain!

Album Review: The Hired Man (2007 UK Tour Cast)

“Hear our thrilling and willing awakening

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.

Album Review: Before After (2016 Studio Cast Recording)

“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, because Before 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.

Album Review: Comrade Rockstar (2017 Studio Cast Recording)

“Just call me the Soviet cowboy”

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 (Lizzie probably 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.

Album Review: The Bridges of Madison County (2014 Original Broadway Cast Recording)

“I can’t tell you I know what the future will be.

Who knows anything?”
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. 

Album Review: The Last Ship (2014 Original Broadway Cast Recording)

“For what are we men without a ship to complete?”

 

 

 

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 Lazarus and 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.

 

 

Album Review: Bombay Dreams (2002 Original London Cast)

“Contradictions, city of extremes, anything is possible in Bombay dreams. 

Some live and die in debt, others making millions on the internet”
True story, until last week I thought Bombay Dreams was written by Andrew Lloyd Webber. Not having seen it onstage nor listened to it before, all I knew was the Lord’s name was attached to it and assumptions were thus made – it’s even his name that appears first on the album cover. But peruse a little closer and you see he’s just ‘presenting’ as one of the original producers, cast your eyes a little further down and A.R. Rahman is revealed as the composer. This may of course be old news to you but for me, it was a revelation before I’d even started!
This was multi-award-winning composer Rahman’s first effort for the stage and the palpable effort to mesh his unique take on Indian music with the world of musical theatre is obvious from the off. The musical soundscape that begins ‘Bombay Awakes/Bombay Dreams’ is layered and intriguing but the mood is shattered as soon as Don Black’s lyrics crash in (see the quote up top for a sample) and the combination is cringeworthily fatal. And across the score as a whole, the sense of compromise, of trying to serve two masters whilst pleasing none is too evident.
The score feels like it works best when the mix is turned down – the balls-out Bollywood would-be-breakout-hit Preeya Kalidas’ ‘Shakalaka Baby’ has a cocksure tilt to it, and the Hindi-language ‘Chaiyya Chaiyya’ is gorgeous. And to be fair, there is some good music in here – Rahman is far too accomplished a composer for there not to be. Raza Jaffrey’s ‘Like An Eagle’ soars with its pop sheen and ballads like Raj Ghatak’s ‘Love’s Never Easy’ have a hypnotic quality that draw them close to earworm territory. 
Combined with strong visual work, I can see the show working onstage so maybe it is time for an adventurous fringe theatre to tackle Bombay Dreams. But with a judicious edit.

Album Review: Love Never Dies (2010 Concept Album)

“The world is hard, the world is mean

It’s hard to keep your conscience clean”
I hadn’t listened to Love Never Dies since seeing its very first preview (oh how we laughed when ALW ran furious from the stalls when the set broke down) and having popped on the concept album that was released in tandem, I was soon reminded why. The not-a-sequel to Phantom of the Opera too often feels like a lazy retread of familiar ground, demonstrating zero musical progression and revealing a stagnation where there once was innovation.
The Coney Island setting undercuts any attempt to get close to the gothic horror of the opera house, the ‘freak show’ elements are desperately tame there. The swerves into rock are ill-advised in the extreme. Lyrically, there’s no ingenuity here at all, the words play second fiddle to the music to their peril And above all, the interpolation of themes from Phantom serve as a constant reminder of what this is not, and also the ultimate folly of the enterprise.
There’s a strange imbalance to the writing, that pushes the female characters to one side. So having saddled Sierra Boggess’ Christine with a rewritten song from The Beautiful Game as the title track, the maestro doesn’t give her much else of memorable interest to do, whilst the book simultaneously robs the character of any real agency. Same with Mme Giry, sung here by Sally Dexter though played by Liz Robertson onstage, a great talent sorely underused.
The focus is squarely on the men and Lord knows Ramin Karimloo has the physique to cope with it. Sad truth is though, that there’s a large amount of bluster and not much ballast to what he has to sing (once more). He’s a mighty singer but these are substandard goods. Love Never Dies has been substantially tinkered with since I saw it, and since this recording was made, but it is hard not to feel that its problems are of a more existential nature.

Album Review: Marguerite (2008 Original London Cast Recording)

“Come see the show,

She will neither know nor care”
It is always fascinating to listen to the cast recordings of shows that are regarded to have flopped, to see whether the writing was always on the wall or if some reason was responsible for the magic not happening. Lasting just four months at the Theatre Royal Haymarket in 2008, Marguerite is one such musical, despite (or maybe because of) the weight of expectation behind its writing team.
With a book by Alain Boublil, Claude-Michel Schönberg and Jonathan Kent (from the the Alexandre Dumas, fils’ novel La Dame aux Camélias) lyrics by Alain Boublil and Herbert Kretzmer, and music by Michel Legrand, the demands on these Gallic grandees were nothing short of recreating the exceptional success of Les Misérables (on which Boublil, Schönberg and Kretzmer collaborated) but it wasn’t to be.
Musically speaking though, I have to say I loved this score. I’ve a flair for the French and a penchant for the mélodramatique, and so Marguerite is right up my boulevard. Legrand’s luscious orchestrations are beautifully played under John Rigby’s musical direction and there’s swooningly romantic melodies aplenty, ‘Time Was When’ is probably up there among my favourites, especially for the drama of Julian Ovenden’s intervention as Armand.
Armand is the third part of the show’s love triangle of sorts, Alexander Hanson’s Nazi general and Ruthie Henshall’s ex-singer and sympathiser – lover of the first, mistress of the second – completing the set. Lyrically, there’s a fair bit of clunkiness which might have been due to the translation but as already established, these are not inexperienced hands. Fortunately, the glory of the music and these performances elevates where necessary.
Henshall shines throughout and matches well with the vocal power of Ovenden on tracks like ‘Intoxication’, the latter impressing with his piano playing, and there’s good support from the likes of Annalene Beechey and Simon Thomas at key emotional moments. (Also nice to see recognisable names like Siubhan Harrison and Jon-Paul Hevey in the company too). The number of reprises means you can’t help but have these tunes ingrained in your mind after one listen and for that reason alone, it’s time someone put a fringe revival on tout suite. (PS I know there was one at the Tabard, I was stupidly remiss in not booking myself in).