Review: Tom Brown’s School Days, Union Theatre

A musical adaptation of Tom Brown’s School Days at the Union Theatre has some moments, and performances, to treasure

“Just don’t get caught”

It is now the fifth year that the Phil Willmott Company’s themed series of Essential Classics has taken over the Union Theatre and this year’s season takes on the mantle of V.E. Day, 75 Years On, looking at Britain and WWII through the lens of Noël Coward, musical theatre and this opening production of Tom Brown’s School Days.

Full disclosure, I have to admit to knowing basically nothing about Tom Brown…, Thomas Hughes’ novels and its subsequent adaptations never having figured in my childhood. So the fact that Willmott’s new version moves the action from the 1830s to the 1940s has no impact on my expectations, though it has raised an eyebrow or three from those to whom I’ve mentioned it. Continue reading “Review: Tom Brown’s School Days, Union Theatre”

Review: Six the Musical, Lowry

A belated report on a family trip to the Lowry to see the touring version of the ever-exciting Six the Musical

“It’s the end of the show of the historemix
We switched up the flow and we changed the prefix”

It’s not too often that I get to go to the theatre with my whole family, so a festive trip to the Lowry to see Six the Musical was a definite treat over Christmas. And to see it from the front row too…quite the experience. I’ve seen the show one and a bit times before so I knew what to expect, but the thrill of being that close really did make a difference (even if I was convinced that Katherine Howard was going to kick me in the face at some point or other!).

And it was great to see all 10 of us really enjoy ourselves, grandparents to grandkids (and me the middle child, what else?!). Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss’ anarchic history – sorry, herstory! –  lesson has lost none of its effervescence or energy in this touring version. It helps of course that it is a relatively lo-tech show to run but it has clearly settled well in Salford for this Christmas sojourn as it was packed out and an extra week has been added to the schedule too. Continue reading “Review: Six the Musical, Lowry”

The Curtain Up Show Album of the Year 2019 winners

Controversial perhaps, but I disagree with all three of these decisions! You can’t trust the public to vote for anything these days… congratulations to all the winners though

Best UK Cast Recording
& Juliet – Original London Cast Recording
Company – 2018 London Cast Recording
Follies – 2018 National Theatre Cast Recording
WINNER – Heathers (Original West End Cast Recording)
The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 ¾ – 2019 Original London Cast
Tina – The Tina Turner Musical Original Cast Recording

Best American Cast Recording
Beetlejuice (Original Broadway Cast Recording)
Hadestown (Original Broadway Cast Recording)
Jagged Little Pill (Original Broadway Cast Recording)
WINNER – Moulin Rouge (Original Broadway Cast Recording)
Oklahoma! (2019 Broadway Cast Recording)
Tootsie (Original Broadway Cast Recording)

Best Solo Album
Cassidy Janson – Cassidy
Ramin Karimloo – From Now On
WINNER – John Owen-Jones –Spotlight
Ben Platt – Sing To Me Instead
Jon Robyns – Musical Directions
Hayden Tee – Face to Face

The finalists of The Offies 2020

The finalists for the 2020 Offies (for performances in 2019) have been announced and congratulations to all 89 mentioned below. A tip of the hat too to the 400+ nominees who you can find here.

DESIGN

Design: Costume
Adrian Gee, Amour, Charing Cross Theatre
Emily Bestow, 42nd Street, Upstairs at the Gatehouse
Hannah Wolfe , Great Expectations, National Youth
Theatre, Southwark Playhouse

Design: Set
Diego Pitarch, Night of the Living Dead – Live!,
Pleasance
Justin Williams, Whistle Down the Wind, Union
Theatre
Lee Newby, The View UpStairs, Soho Theatre
Rachael Ryan, Thrill Me, Hope Theatre

Design: Sound
Benjamin Grant, The War of the Worlds, New Diorama
Lex Kosanke, Hunger, Arcola
Matt Eaton, All’s Well That Ends Well, Guildford Bard,
Jermyn Street Theatre
Xana, Blood Knot, Orange Tree

Design: Lighting
Christopher Nairne, Preludes, Southwark Playhouse
Clancy Flynn, An Act of God, Vaults
Jessica Hung Han Yun, Equus, English Touring Theatre,
Theatre Royal Stratford East
Nic Farman, Night of the Living Dead – Live!, Pleasance

Design: Video
Andrzej Goulding, The Unreturning, Theatre Royal
Stratford East
Ben Bull, Baby Reindeer, Bush Theatre
Douglas Baker, Moby Dick, Jack Studio Theatre Continue reading “The finalists of The Offies 2020”

Broadway Album Reviews: The New Yorkers / Kiss Me, Kate! / Beetlejuice

I tackle a trio of  Broadway cast recordings in the shape of Cole Porter’s The New Yorkers, Kiss Me, Kate! and Beetlejuice 

“Most gentlemen can’t be profound”

As it only played a handful of performances, the release of Cole Porter’s The New Yorkers (2017 Encores! Cast Recording) is a welcome chance to revisit this rarely seen musical. The recording is certainly aided by the presence of such musical theatre stalwarts as Scarlett Strallen and Tam Mutu (scintillating together on ‘Where Have You Been?’), the revelation for me is jazz singer Cyrille Aimée, who delivers a slinkily devastating rendition of ‘Love for Sale’ that makes it feel like the song was written for her.

Photo © Caitlin Ochs

Aside from the songs written by Jimmy Durante (his comic stylings at their best on Act 1 closer ‘Wood’ delivered with panache by Kevin Chamberlin), the prevailing aesthetic is one of classic Cole Porter elegance, Rob Berman’s musical direction finding just the right level of sparkling verve to blow off any lingering cobwebs and infuse real life into the material. Ruth Williamson’s witty ‘The Physician’, Mylinda Hull’s just-as-funny ‘The Great Indoors’, Strallen leading the ecstatic finale ‘I Happen to Like New York’…the pleasures here abound.

Sticking with the glorious Cole Porter, and who wouldn’t!, this year has also seen the release of Kiss Me, Kate! (2019 Broadway Cast Recording). It’s a show that I have a little difficulty with, never having seen a production that managed to sufficiently square its period gender dynamics with (my) contemporary sensibilities. But there’s no denying a songbook that contains the likes of ‘Too Darn Hot’, ‘So In Love and ‘Always True To You In My Fashion’.

Photo © Joan Marcus

And when you have the likes of Kelli O’Hara and Will Chase singing them, you’re in the territory of dreamily good. Whether together on the oom-pah-pah of ‘Wunderbar’ or separately on their respective renditions of ‘So in Love’, they’re both exceptionally good and utterly listenable. Also great value for money are ‘B’ couple Stephanie Styles and Corbin Bleu, pulling focus brilliantly wherever they pop up.

And last but not least, even if Mr Porter isn’t involved here, we have Beetlejuice (Original Broadway Cast Recording). From its opening minutes, (“Holy crap! A ballad already?”), it is clear that there’s a properly anarchic spirit at play here and Eddie Perfect’s score, led by a highly charismatic Alex Brightman who clearly is having a ball as he repeatedly breaks through the fourth wall (if there is one when you’re listening…?)

Photo © Matthew Murphy

‘The Whole “Being Dead” Thing is a genius opening number, prologue aside, and sets the tone for the Perfect’s pop-rock tunes, several of which feel like they have the potential to earworm their way into your brain (the refrain of ‘Fright of Their Lives is currently stuck in mine). Supported by vibrant work from Kerry Butler and Rob McClure and a cleverly sung performance from Sophia Anne Caruso as the Winona-waif Lydia, if Beetlejuice struggles to find a new home on Broadway then I’ll happily welcome it into the West End!

Broadway Album Reviews: Hadestown / Jagged Little Pill / Oklahoma!

Encouraged by their Curtain Up nominations, I take a quick look at the Broadway cast recordings for Hadestown, Jagged Little Pill and Oklahoma!

“I want you to know, that I am happy for you”

I’m not quite sure why I haven’t got around to reviewing the original Broadway cast recording of Hadestown since I listen to it at least once a week, such is the enduring strength of Anaïs Mitchell’s glorious score. I loved the show so much at the National, that I’d already booked to go and see it again before I got home that evening, and getting to dive deep into this recording is about as close as I’ll get to seeing it again (I doubt it’ll return here any time soon although the West End is crying out for its inventiveness).

Those of us who loved the show in London are blessed that the Broadway transfer retained its key cast. So the intense vitality of Amber Gray, the easy swing of André De Shields, the indie-pop sweetness of Reeve Carney and Eva Noblezada and the gravelly hotness of Patrick Page remain intact. And those tunes! The plaintive cries of ‘Wait for Me’, the slinkiness of ‘When the Chips Are Down’, the incredible prescience of ‘Why We Build The Wall’, the sheer glee of ‘Way Down Hadestown’, it is a winner from start to finish for me. Continue reading “Broadway Album Reviews: Hadestown / Jagged Little Pill / Oklahoma!”

My 10 favourite shows of 2019

I barely saw 250 shows this year, quiet by my standards! And as is the way of these things, here’s a rundown of some of the productions that moved me most…

1. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Southwark Playhouse
I haven’t lost it in a theatre as much as this in a good long while. I cry at all sorts but this superlative musical had me trying, and failing, to choke back huge, hacking sobs. And I can still sing some of the songs – it has to come back, surely. “It’s all just a matter of time…”

2. Call Me Fury, Hope Theatre
“This is the history we should be teaching, these are the stories we should be sharing”, this striking and soulful piece gave voice to so many whom history have ignored, and was bloody entertaining with it. 

3. West Side Story, Curve Leicester
A musical I love, in a production that I simply adored. Getting to see two WSSs in one year was a privilege and for me, it was the emotional heart of Nikolai Foster’s production that won out.

4. As You Like It, Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch
The second year of the Public Acts programme comes up trumps once again with this gorgeous musical version of the Shakespeare classic, community theatre at its finest.

5. Islander, Southwark Playhouse
The magic of musical theatre distilled into two voices and a loop pedal – a marvellously inventive and endlessly moving. 

6. Amélie the Musical, Watermill Theatre/UK Tour/The Other Palace
As sweet-sharp as a diabolo grenadine, something truly gorgeous emerges from this film adaptation that simply demands you come up with better words than quirky to describe it.

7. & Juliet, Shaftesbury Theatre
Tell me why… About as much fun as you can have in the West End right now, this is a particularly fine example of the jukebox model and I want it that way.

8. Sexy Lamp, VAULT
A standout piece in a standout festival, Katie Arnstein’s brutally honest monologue about navigating the patriarchy may be lightened with songs and sweets but is no less effective for it.

9. Karaoke Play, Bunker Theatre
Deeply confessional and subtly magical, Annie Jenkins’ inter-connected monologues combined to become so much more than the sum of their parts.

10. The Ocean at the End of the Lane, National Theatre
A magical family tale, perfect for kids of all ages. Not even reading the exit poll as I left could ruin the feeling! 

Shows 11-25 under the cut

Continue reading “My 10 favourite shows of 2019”

20 shows to look forward to in 2020

I look ahead to some of the 2020 shows exciting me most with an emphasis away from the West End, looking mostly instead at the London fringe and across the UK 

Sure, there’s all sorts of big ticket shows coming to London in 2020 (with big ticket prices too to go with their big names), like Sunday in the Park with George with Jake Gyllenhaal, Sister Act with Whoopi Goldberg, A Doll’s House with Jessica Chastain. But there’s so much more to discover if you venture away from Shaftesbury Avenue…

1 The Glass Menagerie, Odéon–Théâtre de l’Europe at the Barbican
Not that I want to be predictable at all but Isabelle Huppert! Acting in French! Right in front of you! I understand that van Hove-fatigue might be setting in for people but only a FOOL would pass up the chance to see one of our greatest living actors. A FOOL! 

2 The Glass Menagerie, Royal Exchange
And if you wanted to do a direct compare and contrast, Atri Banerjee’s revival for the Royal Exchange will be worth checking out too for an alternative perspective. 

3 The Wicker Husband, Watermill
Even before Benjamin Button tore my heart apart, I was excited for the arrival of this new musical by Rhys Jennings and Darren Clark but now, the bar has been raised even higher. And the gorgeous intimacy of the Watermill feels like a perfect fit.


4 Children of Nora, Internationaal Theater Amsterdam
Me: “I don’t need any more Ibsen in my life”
Also me: Robert Icke revisiting the world of A Doll’s House through the eyes of the next generation? Yes please.

5 Romantics Anonymous, Bristol Old Vic
I don’t think I thought this delicious Koomin and Dimond musical would ever actually return, so this short run in the UK ahead of a US tour feels like a real blessing. Now where did I put my badge?
Continue reading “20 shows to look forward to in 2020”

10 of my top moments of the decade

Ever behind the curve, I present 10 of my top moments in a theatre over the last ten years (plus a few bonus extra ones because whittling down this list was hard, and it will probably be different tomorrow anyway!)

© James Bellorini

Extraordinary Public Acts for a National Theatre

The establishment of the Public Acts programme at the National Theatre offered up something sensational in Pericles, an initiative designed to connect grassroot community organisations with major theatres, resulting in a production that swept over 200 non-professional performers onto the stage of the Olivier to create something that moved me more than 99% of professional productions.  A truly joyous and momentous occasion. 

Honourable mention: this year’s musical take on As You Like It proved just as heart-swellingly beautiful over at the Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch. Continue reading “10 of my top moments of the decade”

The Curtain Up Show Album of the Year 2019 nominees

You can now vote for the Best London Cast Recording, Best Broadway Cast Recording and Best Solo Album here. Then fill in your details and click Vote and one lucky voter will win £100 worth of Theatre Tokens!

Best UK Cast Recording
& Juliet – Original London Cast Recording
Company – 2018 London Cast Recording
Follies – 2018 National Theatre Cast Recording
Heathers (Original West End Cast Recording)
The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 ¾ – 2019 Original London Cast
Tina – The Tina Turner Musical Original Cast Recording

Best American Cast Recording
Beetlejuice (Original Broadway Cast Recording)
Hadestown (Original Broadway Cast Recording)
Jagged Little Pill (Original Broadway Cast Recording)
Moulin Rouge (Original Broadway Cast Recording)
Oklahoma! (2019 Broadway Cast Recording)
Tootsie (Original Broadway Cast Recording)

Best Solo Album
Cassidy Janson – Cassidy
Ramin Karimloo – From Now On
John Owen-Jones –Spotlight
Ben Platt – Sing To Me Instead
Jon Robyns – Musical Directions
Hayden Tee – Face to Face