Album Review: The Songsmiths – Tenors of the West End

Vocal group The Songsmiths’ Tenors of the West End offers up some fascinating harmonies on some classic pop tunes

“Everybody needs a little time away…from each other”

Simon Gordon, Benjamin Purkiss and Patrick Sullivan can boast 30 years experience in the West End and beyond and all spent some time in Obsidian as part of Bat Out Of Hell, so their teaming up together to form vocal group The Songsmiths makes sense. Their album Tenors of the West End, now available to download, draws on a wider range than Shaftesbury Avenue though – the mention of Chicago more likely to refer to soft-rock than Kander & Ebb.

This focus on pop-rock staples over musical theatre yields some fascinating results. There are no real surprises in terms of song choices but there’s no denying the exhilaration of hearing Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Go Your Own Way’ receive such a full-bodied treatment as this, so too with their meatier rendition of A-Ha’s classic ‘Take On Me’. The arrangement of ‘Hallelujah’ wisely keeps it out of mawkishness and some interesting harmonies emerge out of ‘Somebody To Love’. Continue reading “Album Review: The Songsmiths – Tenors of the West End”

Lockdown theatre review: Jesus Christ Superstar (2018 Concert)

Would Jesus have condoned such artistic thievery? Jesus Christ Superstar (2018 Concert) is full of great performances but borrows heavily from the Open Air’s production

“Would I be more noticed than I ever was before?”

The most striking thing about the US Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert from 2018, that will particularly stand out to those who saw the Regents Park Open Air Theatre production in any of its iterations, is that it is boldly credited to David Leveaux as director and Jason Ardizzone-West as production designer. There’s so much synchronicity between the two productions here that it is hard to believe that Timothy Sheader and Tom Scutt respectively didn’t deserve at least thanks if not full co-credits because original this is not.

A live television musical special – as the Americans did much more of than the Brits – this version of Jesus Christ Superstar is undoubtedly heavily influenced by the freshness of that iconic reimagining of the show. Released from its 70s origins but also any need to be particularly politically relevant (which tripped up the UK arena tour) it is a powerful piece of contemporary theatre which speaks to the cult of celebrity as pointedly as it ever has done. Continue reading “Lockdown theatre review: Jesus Christ Superstar (2018 Concert)”

Lockdown theatre review: Jesus Christ Superstar (2012 Arena Tour)

Jesus Christ Superstar takes to the “rock’n’roll” arena. It isn’t good.

“Why waste your breath moaning at the crowd?
Nothing can be done to stop the shouting.”

Amidst the deluge of theatrical content emerging online, it can be quite hard to make decisions about what to actually watch. Andrew Lloyd Webber’s release of the 2012 live arena tour of Jesus Christ Superstar stood out for me as though I did go and see it at the O2, we were seated at the back of the cavernous space and so the opportunity to actually see what happened on the actors’ faces was enough to tempt me. Plus it’s Good Friday…

Pre-dating the Open Air Theatre’s revelatory restaging by three years, Laurence Connor’s restaging of ALW’s 1971 rock opera lays its contemporary allusions thickly (Occupy, Guantánamo, reality TV) but right from the start, you can see how superficial it is. A busy prologue full of kinetic energy references the Occupy movement strongly but as soon as the show proper starts, it’s as if it never happens, you could cut it and never know the difference.

Continue reading “Lockdown theatre review: Jesus Christ Superstar (2012 Arena Tour)”

Review: (Wo)men Rule Broadway [West End Edition], VAULT Festival

(Wo)men Rule Broadway [West End Edition] sees women take on the male musical theatre songbook at the VAULT Festival

“If you strip away the myth from the man…”

There’s no arguing that the musical theatre songbook is skewed in favour of men and with theatre’s enduring love of a revival, that means the opportunities for women to express the fullness of their selves onstage have always been limited (hell, even as I write this a man has been announced to play Mother Superier in the Edinburgh run of Sister Act…). 

This is the world US performers Genevieve Flati and Kelly Rogers are trying to reshape just a little with their show (Wo)men Rule Broadway [West End Edition], making its international debut here at the VAULT Festival. More than just a gender-reversed concert, Flati and Rogers compere the evening with a running commentary of how and why these songs have been chosen, exploring and explaining the boundaries being broken here.  Continue reading “Review: (Wo)men Rule Broadway [West End Edition], VAULT Festival”

2020 Laurence Olivier Awards nominations

Award season kicks into another gear with the arrival of the nominations for the 2020 Olivier Awards – & Juliet, Fiddler on the Roof and Dear Evan Hansen lead the musicals pack, Death of a Salesman and Rosmersholm the plays

As ever, Laurence giveth and he taketh away and it’s all subjective anyway.

  • I’m really pleased to see the love for Amélie The Musical and The Ocean At The End Of The Lane but a little incredulous that Fairview received no nominations.
  • The weird category shuffle that often happens has landed on ‘Best Entertainment or Comedy Play’ and ‘Best Family Show’ this year, leaving Emilia and Fleabag in a weird place that isn’t ‘Best New Play’ (last year they were divided into ‘Best Entertainment and Family’ and ‘Best New Comedy’.
  • I had zero desire to see Fiddler on the Roof so can’t pass comment there but can’t help wishing the supporting role in a musical nominations weren’t quite so dominated by DEH.
  • & Juliet’s director Luke Sheppard could rightfully feel snubbed, given the wealth of recognition the rest of the production has received.
  • And whither Monica Dolan, Lucian Msamati, Melanie La Barrie, the cast of Three Sisters…(oh wait, they won the more significant award earlier in the year!)

Continue reading “2020 Laurence Olivier Awards nominations”

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”

Film Review: Cats (2019)

Against a barrage of bad reviews, I tried to give Cats a fair hearing. There may have been wine involved…

“I remember the time I knew what happiness was”

I wanted to like Cats, honest. But…but…everytime you look at a detail in this unexpected horror film, there’s something ungainly or odd that distracts you inordinately:

  • the scale of the damn thing. The mind boggles as the cats change from being tiny compared to railway tracks to almost human-sized at Nelson’s Column, bringing almost any object into screen ends up pulling focus as you try and work out wtf is going on
  • why do some of them wear shoes (the ‘street’ cats in trainers, TSwift in heels…?) and of those who don’t, what’s with the toes
  • in fact the whole anthropomorphic thing. There’s cleavage and six packs but no genitals or anuses. You wouldn’t think it would bother you so much but there’s so many lingering shots of these places…! 
  • the dancing cockroaches in danger of being eaten. Whyyyyyyyy?!
  • it’s rather amusing that pretty much every reaction shot of Dench is her looking aghast, we know how you feel Judi

An unfortunate waste of talent all-round I’m afraid.

Album Review: Michael Ball & Alfie Boe – Back Together

Michael Ball and Alfie Boe get back together for Back Together, their third album as a duo, which I ultimately find hard to resist

“The more you refuse to hear my voice
The louder I will sing”

First they were Together, then they were Together Again and now they’re Back Together – there’s no separating Michael Ball and Alfie Boe as their double act has become an extraordinary success, managing that all-too-rare-nowadays feat of actually selling albums. 

And you can see why, especially in a spell-binding trio of musical theatre classics early on. The unexpected harmonies speckled throughout ‘Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again’, the delicate interplay in Fiddler’s ‘Sunrise, Sunset’ and the always rousing ‘Circle Of Life’ (with the assistance of Shaun Escoffrey) all imbue the familiar material with real interest, making the case for Ball & Boe as more than just your average crooners cranking out a new album. And the inclusion of a Pasek & Paul song is predictably de rigueur for a 2019 release, even if neither man quite has the suppleness of voice or diction to really get away with the energy of ‘The Greatest Show’. Continue reading “Album Review: Michael Ball & Alfie Boe – Back Together”

2020 What’s On Stage Award nominations

The nominations for the 20th Annual WhatsOnStage Awards have been announced and I have a thought or two #justiceforAnneHathaway

As a publicly nominated affair, the What’s On Stage Awards always throw up an interesting set of nominations, as fanbases engage alongside theatregoers to produce an idiosyncratic reflection on the year. This year though, the nominees for the nine creative categories (Choreography, Costume Design, Direction, Graphic Design, Lighting Design, Musical Direction, Set Design, Sound Design and Video Design) have been decided by an independent panel of industry experts appointed, which has resulted in some pleasing inclusions for the likes of Equus and Small Island

Acting-wise, the focus does land a little heavily on the more famous names (plus ça change) and that Supporting Actress in a Musical category is super-crowded (the Dear Evan Hansen mothers would have been a shoo-in for me there). My only real point of issue comes with the categorisation for the & Juliet players – are you really going to nominate Oliver Tompsett as a lead and then put Cassidy Janson in the supporting category? Did you not see the show, or get any of its message at all?!

Voting for the winners is open now and closes on 27th January 2020, with the winners being revealed at a ceremony on 1st March 2020.

Best Actor in a Play, sponsored by Edwardian Hotels

Tom Hiddleston – Betrayal – Harold Pinter Theatre
Andrew Scott – Present Laughter – The Old Vic
Matt Smith – Lungs – The Old Vic
Wendell Pierce – Death of a Salesman – Young Vic / Piccadilly Theatre
Laurie Kynaston – The Son – Kiln Theatre / Duke of York’s Theatre

Best Actress in a Play, sponsored by Tonic Theatre

Claire Foy – Lungs – The Old Vic
Zawe Ashton – Betrayal – Harold Pinter Theatre
Hayley Atwell – Rosmersholm – Duke of York’s Theatre
Sharon D Clarke – Death of a Salesman – Young Vic / Piccadilly Theatre
Juliet Stevenson – The Doctor – Almeida Theatre Continue reading “2020 What’s On Stage Award nominations”

Winners of the 2019 London Evening Standard Theatre Awards

The winners of the 2019 London Evening Standard Theatre Awards have been announced, with Dame Maggie Smith, Sir Ian McKellen, Robert Icke and Andrew Scott among the recipients.

BEST ACTOR in partnership with Ambassador Theatre Group
K. Todd Freeman Downstate, National Theatre (Dorfman)
Francis Guinan Downstate, National Theatre (Dorfman)
Tom Hiddleston Betrayal, Harold Pinter Theatre
Wendell Pierce Death of a Salesman, Young Vic & Piccadilly
WINNER – Andrew Scott Present Laughter, Old Vic

NATASHA RICHARDSON AWARD FOR BEST ACTRESS in partnership with Christian Louboutin
Hayley Atwell Rosmersholm, Duke of York’s
Cecilia Noble Downstate, National Theatre (Dorfman) & Faith, Hope and Charity, National Theatre (Dorfman)
WINNER – Dame Maggie Smith A German Life, Bridge
Juliet Stevenson The Doctor, Almeida
Anjana Vasan A Doll’s House, Lyric Hammersmith Continue reading “Winners of the 2019 London Evening Standard Theatre Awards”