News: Make Your Own Musicals launches pantomime activity packs

Make Your Own Musicals, a company started in lockdown, has been making musical activity packs for children to write their own original mini-musicals at home. Now, for the festive season, they are branching out into family pantomime packs to fill the void many families will be feeling this year.

Make Your Own Musicals was designed as a way of offering original theatrical activities for children to do at home. Each activity pack contains child friendly writing guides, original backing tracks, and corresponding sound effects, as well as fun extra pages such as print-out tickets and cut-out costumes and props. The packs are crafted to inspire confidence and creativity at a time when it can seem hard to find. Continue reading “News: Make Your Own Musicals launches pantomime activity packs”

Album Reviews: Mazz Murray – Midnight Mazz – Here We Go Again / Mascherato the Musical / Howard Goodall’s Songs from the Musicals Vol. 1

This set of album reviews covers Mazz Murray – Midnight Mazz – Here We Go Again, Mascherato the Musical (Original Studio Cast Recording) and Howard Goodall’s Songs from the Musicals Vol. 1

“You thrill me, you delight me
You please me, you excite me”

If anyone gets to follow Cher in making an album of ABBA songs, then it is probably the West End’s Donna Sheridan, Mazz Murray.  Midnight Mazz – Here We Go Again sees her interpret 10 of Agnetha, Björn, Benny, and Anni-Frid’s best with an unexpectedness tenderness that you don’t necessarily always associate with the band. Handclaps guitar arpeggios adorn ‘Chiquitita’, a solo ‘My Love My Life’ feels packed with more yearning than ever, so too a delicately layered ‘I’ve Been Waiting For You’ which is making a late case to be one of my all-time favourite ABBA songs. A lovely way to revisit some of those oh-so-familiar songs. Continue reading “Album Reviews: Mazz Murray – Midnight Mazz – Here We Go Again / Mascherato the Musical / Howard Goodall’s Songs from the Musicals Vol. 1”

Album Reviews: Sleeping Beauty the Musical / 9 to 5 the Musical / Girlfriends

This trio of musical theatre album reviews features Sleeping Beauty the Musical, 9 to 5 the Musical – West End Cast Recording and Girlfriends (London Musical Theatre Orchestra)

“When life seems uphill, remember you’re still ascending”

A bit of googling about Joel Harper-Jackson (what, you don’t do it too…?) came up with this studio cast recording of Sleeping Beauty the Musical. A musical adaptation of the fairytale with book and lyrics by Ian Curran and music by Simon Hanson and Peter Vint, it is a rather amiable treatment of the story and a perfectly serviceable set of tunes. Truth be told, this isn’t a score to really set the world alight but then not everything has to, especially when allied to as classic a tale as this. Harper-Jackson and Maria Coyne both impress as the central couple of Prince Perrault and Princess Aurora whose growing relationship is the cornerstone of the show and ultimately quite affecting here. Continue reading “Album Reviews: Sleeping Beauty the Musical / 9 to 5 the Musical / Girlfriends”

Review: The Hired Man, Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch

One of my favourite musicals – Howard Goodall’s The Hired Man receives a well-realised new revival courtesy of Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch and Hull Truck Theatre

“I can peel my own orange”

From the Landor to the Mercury to the Union, via the NYMT and all-star Cadogan Hall concerts, there’s no doubting that Howard Goodall’s British folk musical The Hired Man is one of my all-time faves. Musically, it is so beautiful that you can’t really argue against the marketing material claims that it is “the best British musical in 40 years” (though I might demur and say Top 5…).

It is now the turn of Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch and Hull Truck Theatre to revive the show, some 35 years old now, in association with Oldham Coliseum Theatre. And Douglas Rintoul’s fully actor-musician production is brimming with good ideas which serve the material well, teasing out a universality to its message which can sometimes feel hemmed into its Cumbria setting. Continue reading “Review: The Hired Man, Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch”

20 shows to look forward to in 2019

So many of the recommendations for shows to see next year focus on the West End. And for sure, I’m excited to catch big ticket numbers like All About Eve, Come From Away, and Waitress but I wanted to cast my eye a little further afield, so here’s my top tips for shows on the London fringe (plus one from the Barbican) and across the UK.

1 Medea, Internationaal Theater Amsterdam at the Barbican
Simon Stone’s sleekly contemporary recasting of Euripides is straight up amazing. Anchored by a storming performance from Marieke Heebink, it is as beautiful and brutal as they come. It’s also one of the few plays that has legit made me go ‘oh no’ out loud once a particular penny dropped. My review from 2014 is here but do yourself a favour and don’t read it until you’ve seen it.

Macbeth, Watermill Theatre
2018 saw some disappointing Macbeths and I was thus ready to swear off the play for 2019. But the Watermill Ensemble’s decision to tackle the play will certainly break that resolve, Paul Hart’s innovative direction of this spectacular actor-musician team will surely break the hoodoo…

3 Noughts and Crosses, Derby Theatre, and touring
Pilot Theatre follow on from their strong Brighton Rock with this Malory Blackman adaptation by Sabrina Mahfouz, a Young Adult story but one which promises to speak to us all. Continue reading “20 shows to look forward to in 2019”

Album Review: Helen Power – Enraptured

“There is joy in the air
So be gone with dull care”

What to do to make your album stand out in a crowded marketplace of musical theatre-related albums? Get Auburn Jam’s Joe Davison in to do your arrangements, that’s what. A glimpse at the tracklisting of Helen Power’s new album Enraptured may not initially suggest a great adventurousness but on first listen, its playful and subtly daring nature soon become apparent.

A relaxed take on Porgy & Bess’ Summertime is a strong opener, full of bold musicality and Power’s confident soprano, but it’s the next of couple of tracks that set out the vision here. A Latin-inflected ‘The Sound Of Music’ has no right to be effective but as Davison introduces silky bossanova rhythms and elastic double-bass lines, it’s impossible to resist its easygoing charm. And if less radical, his Bond-esque re-arrangement of the title track from The Phantom Of The Opera is no less exciting, its duelling brass section and violins building to a breathless climax that thrills just as much as Power’s soaring top E. Continue reading “Album Review: Helen Power – Enraptured”

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. Continue reading “Album Review: The Hired Man (2007 UK Tour Cast)”

Review: The Hired Man, Union

“We’re not hurried, or flurried, or worried, for ourselves”
 
The Hired Man remains one of my all-time favourite British musicals, the lusciousness of Howard Goodall’s score simply gorgeous to listen and so any opportunity to hear it is one gladly taken. The Union Theatre’s Goodall festival a couple of years ago featured the dreaming, Love Story, and Girlfriends and you wouldn’t put it past them to host the fringe premiere of Bend It Like Beckham sometime soon, but it is the show based on Melvyn Bragg’s novel that takes the spotlight for now.
 
Set at the turn of the previous century in the unforgiving rural landscape of Cumbria, The Hired Man himself is the hard-working John Tallentire, a man who will turn to any aspect of working the land – above in the field or below in the mines – to support his family, but in difficult times and with the Great War approaching, life is tough. From love triangles to family tragedies, organised labour disputes to the brutal realities of war, a laugh-a-minute musical comedy this is not.

Continue reading “Review: The Hired Man, Union”

Review: The Hired Man in concert, Cadogan Hall

“We are worth your shillings”

Marking the first major concert presentation of the show in over 20 years, The Hired Man in concert saw Howard Goodall and Melvyn Bragg’s 1984 musical take over the elegant surroundings of Cadogan Hall, for a glorious evening celebrating one of the all-time greats of British musical theatre writing. With a boutique orchestra conducted by Andrew Linnie, an ensemble of over 20 singers and a lead cast of bona fide West End and Broadway stars, it was a powerfully effective treatment of the material.

The Hired Man is based on Bragg’s 1969 novel, part of his Cumbrian Trilogy, following the lives of labourer and miner John Tallentire and his wife Emily as they battle first the hardship of agricultural life in a fast-industrialising world and then the impact of the First World War on their whole community. And supporting it, Goodall’s music and lyrics draws on English folk tradition, as well as his own melodious style, to create a soulful, stirring score that lingers long in the mind with its hummability and heartbreak. Continue reading “Review: The Hired Man in concert, Cadogan Hall”

Album Review: Caroline Sheen – Raise the Curtain (2010)

“It’s been fun hitchin’ up with a psycho like you”

Caroline Sheen is one of those performers you feel ought to be better known, having starred in some pretty major shows throughout her career yet never quite managing that breakthrough moment – no matter, she’s thus one of British musical theatre’s secret pleasures. Her debut album Raise the Curtain saw her capitalise a little on her bigger gigs – Mary Poppins, The Witches of Eastwick – but it also pleasingly gives plenty of airtime to new musical theatre writing too.

In fact there’s no less than 5 tracks which received their first ever recordings here, Sheen opting to use her talent to really shine a light on the contemporary scene, showcasing the music she clearly loves. So the likes of innovative composer Conor Mitchell gets his striking ‘What Did You Want From Love?‘ featured, Richard Taylor (now represented in the West End with The Go-Between) gets a beautiful song called ‘Higher’ on there, so too Grant Olding with ‘Carrie Makes A Decision’ from his show Three Sides. Continue reading “Album Review: Caroline Sheen – Raise the Curtain (2010)”