Review: Ramin Karimloo with Seth Rudetsky , Leicester Square Theatre

Lots of fun at Leicester Square Theatre for Ramin Karimloo’s intimate concert with Seth Rudetsky and a whole load of special guests

“I knew where I needed to be”

The Broadway @ The Leicester Square brand is one which surfaces infrequently but always pays rich rewards when it does. Having attracted Patti LuPone, then Audra McDonald and John Barrowman into the intimate surroundings of an informal chat and sing-song arrangement with Seth Rudetsky, it is now Ramin Karimloo’s turn to deliver such a boutique concert.
 
The particular joy of these concerts is their slightly chaotic nature, the way in which no-one seems entirely sure what is going to happen, least of Karimloo and Rudetsky themselves. Tonight we all recorded a rendition of Happy Birthday for Jenna Russell and got an impromptu duet on ‘Confrontation’ with Jeremy Secomb who was dragged out of the audience – who knows what the next two shows will bring. 
 
And these are just the bonuses on top of a programme which dips in and out of Karimloo’s impressive career to date. Anecdotes about the awesome inspiration Colm Wilkinson provided sit alongside a haunting rendition of ‘Music of the Night’; memories of The Pirates of Penzance segue into a gloriously ripe ‘The Pirate King’; his recent forays into Evita represented by ‘High Flying Adored’.  

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Album Reviews: Renée Fleming – Broadway & The Quentin Dentin Show

Two new music releases – Renée Fleming tackles Broadway classics in style, and The Quentin Dentin Show releases its cast recording

“Life is what you want it to be”

No matter what you think of Renée Fleming, you can’t accuse her of resting on her laurels. At this point in her career, she could well be taking the easy route but this decade alone has seen her tackle Broadway (most recently receiving a Tony nomination for Carousel) for the first time and release an album that featured interpretations of three Björk songs. Her newest release cleaves closer to musical theatre though, and Broadway is available now from Decca Classics. Continue reading “Album Reviews: Renée Fleming – Broadway & The Quentin Dentin Show”

Review: John Barrowman with Seth Rudetsky, Leicester Square Theatre

This weekend only, John Barrowman and Seth Rudetsky deliver conversation and concert realness at the Leicester Square Theatre in London

“Passionate as hell 
But always in control”

I hadn’t originally intended to go and see John Barrowman in this intimate concert setting but my Aunty Jean is a big fan and so decided to make a day trip out of it, and I got to go along for the ride. This micro-run of three performances fell under the aegis of Seth Rudetsky’s intermittent Broadway @ Leicester Square Theatre series, mixing performance with conversation to create a unique and relaxed vibe.

Barrowman’s force of personality means the anecdotes flow out of him with barely any prompting from the wonderfully acerbic Rudetsky but with such a storied career, he’s certainly earned the right to tell them. Continue reading “Review: John Barrowman with Seth Rudetsky, Leicester Square Theatre”

Review: Mack and Mabel, Hackney Empire

“I’ll pull the greatest stunt this business has seen”

I can’t be doing with supermarkets who are already starting to stock mince pies but it was hard not to feel that Christmas had come early, such were the heady delights of the London Musical Theatre Orchestra’s latest venture Mack and Mabel, directed by Shaun Kerrison. Ostensibly, these are concert presentations of musicals but the joy in what you actually get, the bonuses that get incorporated into the creation of genuine one-off experiences makes LMTO one of the more valuable recent additions to the London theatre ecology.

So you’ve got your cast of West End names (David Bedella, Natasha J Barnes, Tiffany Graves headlining), you’ve got your orchestra of 32 (conducted by Freddie Tapner, led by Debs White), you’ve got a chorus of 16 too. And of course you’ve got the marvellous musical, written by Michael Stewart and composed by Jerry Herman, in the atmospheric surroundings of the Hackney Empire. But not content with such riches, we also get cream pies, chorus lines, and two properly gobsmacking coups de théâtre that brought the audience to their feet. Continue reading “Review: Mack and Mabel, Hackney Empire”

Review: Songs and Solidarity, Trafalgar Studios

“We could see this was a bad one immediately. The sky was glowing.”
 
Touted as an evening of song, dance and poetry, Songs and Solidarity was a remarkable event indeed. A fundraising gala evening pulled together in the space of a week by the superhuman efforts of actor Giles Terera and producer Danielle Tarento, it was a concert for the hundreds of families made homeless and the relatives of those who lost their lives in the Grenfell Tower fire. Hosted by Claire Sweeney, musically directed by the enormously talented Tim Sutton, 
 
The balance of the programme was just right too. From pure musical loveliness like the gentle harmonies of Tyrone Huntley and Jon Robyns on Cyndi Lauper’s ‘True Colors’ and the simplicity of Rachel Tucker’s acapella take on ‘She Moved Through The Fair’, to the more intense emotion of Terera’s own ‘Ol’ Man River’ and a visibly moved Clare Foster’s ‘Don’t Worry About Me’ (a song with which I wasn’t familiar but rather destroyed me). From the much-needed comic relief of Stiles & Drewe skipping through ‘A Little Bit of Nothing On A Big White Plate’ to the soul-warming ‘Indiscriminate Acts Of Kindness’ performed by the ever excellent Julie Atherton.

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Review: Jingle Bell Christmas, Royal Albert Hall

“With those holiday greetings and gay happy meetings”

Just a quickie for this slice of Christmas party fun at the Royal Albert Hall. Never having been to one of these before, and so not realising quite what a tradition it is for some people as witnessed by the level of tinsel, fairy lights, and light-up Christmas jumpers and hats on display, Jingle Bell Christmas was an unexpected delight in its unashamedly retro way. A concert made up of Christmas pop hits from yore, plus the inevitable Mariah Carey, its non-stop festivity proved pretty much impossible to resist.
An energetic John Rigby conducted the London Concert Orchestra and vocal ensemble Capital Voices to great effect in this iconic venue, and there was something rather wonderful about being inside the Royal Albert Hall in party mood. The times I’ve been, like for Björk, Follies, even a Christmas carol concert six years ago, have always been more serious affairs and so it was just nice to be in there with such an informal, and fun, atmosphere for once, something akin to what the last night of the Proms might feel like.
Soloists Laura Tebbutt and Tim Howar took us through a selection box of Christmas treats – ‘Do You Hear What I Hear’, ‘Winter Wonderland’, ‘Mary’s Boy Child’, ‘Jingle Bell Rock’ etc etc but for me, the best moments were the more participatory ones. The traditional run through ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’ with different sections of the audience doing the actions was huge fun and the entire place belting out ‘Last Christmas’ along with Howar with shining mobile phones aloft was an unalloyed pleasure.
My only real quibble came with the Jingle Belle Dancers, a dance troupe whose choreography (perhaps deliberately) aped 70s variety shows with a lot of floaty wafting, that didn’t always fit with the music or feel needed tbh. And with the women dressed in bum-skirting tunics while the men flashed nary an inch of skin in long-sleeved shirts and trousers, there was something weirdly retrogressive about their presence – is this really what people are nostalgic for? The 70s rather than the actual classic Broadway feel that would have worked better (for me at least). Who knows, it was all good fun in the end – Merry Christmas!

Music Review: Björk, Royal Albert Hall

“Moments of clarity are so rare

I better document this”

It takes something special to get me to a gig rather than a play these days, but Björk is that something special as I racked up my 8th time seeing her live in nearly 20 years of concert-going (here’s reviews of number #6 and #7. This acoustic concert was billed as a one-off (though due to the speed with which it sold out, a second date at Hammersmith Apollo was added) and marked the first time that the Icelandic singer has taken the stage at this austerely beautiful venue.

The show coincided with the launch of the Björk Digital exhibition at Somerset House, featuring her groundbreaking forays into virtual reality videos but in contrast with the high tech there, this concert stripped things back to just strings. And for the heart-sore, emotionally bruising material of most recent album Vulnicura, this was a marriage made in heaven, the arrangements making you appreciate just how complex a composer she has matured into.

Consequently this isn’t the kind of music that will win over new fans, but Björk has never been the kind of artist to cater to any form of commercial impulse, pursuing instead the sort of artistic vision that is hardly seen in the world these days. And from the extraordinary costumes to her inimitable way with a lyric – “Family was always our sacred mutual mission which you abandoned”, “Every single fuck we had together is in a wondrous time lapse” – she is aurely one of the most charismatic performers out there.

The second act sees her come as close to crowdpleasing as she does, incorporating some of the back catalogue hits like an ecstatic ‘Jóga’ and the glorious multi-layered ‘Pagan Poetry’, and the closing ‘Pluto’ was a genius way to end the set, repurposing its industrial tumult to fascinating effect. On this evidence and this ever-inventive vein of creativity, I can see myself coming back to watch Björk for another 20 years and more.
Setlist

Stonemilker
Lionsong
History of touches
Black Lake
Family
Notget
Aurora
I’ve Seen It All
Jóga
Pagan Poetry
Quicksand
Mouth Mantra
Anchor Song
Pluto

Review: Ramin Karimloo, London Palladium

 “Open up your mind, let your fantasies unwind”

To the casual viewer, Ramin Karimloo might seem like your average, insanely buff leading man with a voice of honeyed gold, but his artistic vision lies far beyond musical theatre into the world of music at large. For he’s a singer/songwriter as well as a performer and as his tastes incline towards the folk and country side of things, the phrase Broadgrass has been conjured to capture his inimitable style – a portmanteau of Broadway and bluegrass doncha know!

And though a couple of less-well-informed reviewers were taken by surprise, it is far from a new venture in Karimloo’s career. His band Sheytoons, formed with fellow MT star Hadley Fraser has been going since 2010, and he’s released 2 EPs since then, The Road to Find Out East and The Road to Find Out South, so his commitment to the cause is most definitely sans doute and live at the London Palladium, it was abundantly in evidence.  Continue reading “Review: Ramin Karimloo, London Palladium”

Review: Audra McDonald, Leicester Square Theatre

“Make just one someone happy,
And you will be happy, too”

It’s hardly Audra McDonald’s fault that the audience for her long-awaited return to the London stage with these two concerts was so de trop but for me, the adulation was exactly that, too much. For the (relative) intimacy of the Leicester Square Theatre, for the cultivation of a cabaret atmosphere, for the genuine appreciation of this her performance here as opposed to the bottled-up idolisation for a body of work from over the ocean.

Which is not to say that the reputation isn’t well-deserved, not at all. A hugely accomplished actor and singer, her record six Tony Awards unprecedently span all four acting categories. And her choice of material here, along with MD Andy Einhorn, demonstrates a real commitment to American musical theatre, delving back into the classic songbook but showcasing newer composers too, never letting an opportunity to explore her social conscience. Continue reading “Review: Audra McDonald, Leicester Square Theatre”

Review: Hey, Old Friends, Theatre Royal Drury Lane

Stop worrying where you’re going—move on”

Theatreland does like to make sure every anniversary gets marked somehow and so following on from the celebrations around Les Misérables’ 30th birthday earlier this month is a similar hoohah for Stephen Sondheim’s 85th year on this planet. As is de rigueur for these events, a gala concert has been put on for the occasion with the kind of rollcall you could only normally dream of and naturally, Hey, Old Friends! had the price tag to go along with it.

As with Les Mis (which donated to Save The Children’s Syria Children’s appeal), the show benefitted charitable purposes, specifically The Stephen Sondheim Society and telephone helpline service The Silver Line, harnessing the major fundraising potential of such events. That said, these tickets tend to be so expensive that there’s a nagging feeling that they’re serving a limited audience with few opportunities for regular theatregoers to be a part of them. Continue reading “Review: Hey, Old Friends, Theatre Royal Drury Lane”