There’s still a reason Mame hasn’t been seen in the UK for 50 years but this lavish Hope Mill Theatre production and a spectacular Tracie Bennett give it a damn good try
“Your special fascination’ll
prove to be inspirational
we think you’re just sensational”
In some ways you have to admire the ambition in reviving a show that hasn’t been seen professionally in the UK for 50 years. In others, you wouldn’t be blamed for blurting ‘what are you thinking’! The ever-adventurous folks at Manchester’s Hope Mill Theatre have done just that with this revival of Mame, hoping to find a glitzy neglected diamond in the rough. (And when oh when will they transfer their lovely take on Little Women to London like so many of their other shows.)
Director Nick Winston’s wisest decision is to mount it with a lavishly decadent production that you don’t often see on the fringe, especially with the likes of Tracie Bennett (so excellent in Follies recently) heading the cast. Getting to see a performer of the calibre of Bennett, with a voice like that, in such intimacy as this, is a rare treat and even singing a minor Jerry Herman score, is a genuine theatrical thrill.
Continue reading “Review: Mame, Hope Mill Theatre”
A pair of album reviews for the OG Wicked stars – Kristen Chenoweth’s For The Girls and Idina Menzel’s Christmas: A Season of Love
“You know the Queen of hearts is always your best bet”
No matter how they’ve diverged now, the careers of Kristen Chenoweth and Idina Menzel will forever be connected by Wicked and so you wonder whether their respective 2016 albums being released at the same time was ‘just’ a coincidence. And those ties just won’t quit as late 2019 sees them both dropping records, albeit with a month or two inbetween this time.
Chenoweth’s album is For The Girls, a concept album of sorts, produce by Steve Tyrell and Jon Allen, focusing on tracks either written or performed by female artists. She might not exactly reinvent the wheel with her covers, but there’s something impressive about the way in which she draws the connecting line between the country pop of her upbringing – ‘Desperado’, ‘Crazy’ – to the standards for which she’s now famed – a glorious ‘The Man That Got Away’, ‘The Way We Were’. As diverse a collection it gets, it always coheres effectively. Continue reading “Album Reviews: Kristen Chenoweth – For The Girls / Idina Menzel – Christmas: A Season of Love”
Casting my eye over some recent musical theatre album releases: Audra McDonald’s live album Sing Happy, Louise Dearman’s latest collection For You, For Me and the long-awaited cast recording for Everybody’s Talking About Jamie
There are few things as well-designed as Audra McDonald’s thrilling soprano to make you happy, so the title of her new album Sing Happy is apt indeed. Her first live album and her first backed by an orchestra (the New York Philharmonic). the gig was recorded just a few days ago on 1st May and no wonder they were so quick to turn it around.
Whether shimmering through Porgy and Bess‘ timeless ‘Summertime’, proudly getting her life in La Cage aux Folles’ ‘I Am What I Am’ or absolutely nailing She Loves Me’s ‘Vanilla Ice Cream’, McDonald’s velvety textured voice is always so exciting to listen to. And the drama of songs like ‘Never Will I Marry’ sound glorious with the richness of the orchestral backing (conducted by Andy Einhorn).
An affinity for Sondheim comes into play twice, a medley of ‘Children Will Listen’ with South Pacific’s ‘You’ve Got To Be Carefully Taught’ and in a showstopping take on ‘Being Alive’, still manages to surprise with the heights to which she lifts the song. An unalloyed, absolute pleasure. Continue reading “Album Reviews: Audra McDonald – Sing Happy / Louise Dearman – For You, For Me / Everybody’s Talking About Jamie cast recording”
“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”
“One of your old favorite songs from way back when”
Seeing Hello, Dolly! at the Open Air Theatre still ranks as one of my all-time favourite theatrical experiences, tied up as it is with memories of my Aunty Mary, so it was only really practicality that held me back from booking to see the show on Broadway once the casting of Bette Midler was announced (heck, even Donna Murphy as her alternate was a seriously tempting proposition). But resist I did, in the anticipation of the inevitable Cast Recording that would offer a peek into Dolly’s new world.
It’s always a tricky thing, to embrace a new version of something so beloved and for me, every note, riff and chuckle of Barbra Streisand’s interpretation for the film soundtrack is ingrained on my memory. And so to hear someone else do it, no matter how well, always requires something of a readjustment. So it took me a couple of listens to really get into the groove of this album but in the new arrangements by Larry Hochman (orchestrations), and Don Pippin (vocal arrangements), the score feels familiar but fresh. Continue reading “Album Review: Hello, Dolly! (2017 New Broadway Cast Recording)”
“It’s rather gaudy but it’s also rather grand”
It doesn’t feel like that long since La Cage aux Folles was strutting its stuff in London as I made several visits to the Playhouse as it rotated its main cast on a regular basis (Douglas Hodge and Denis Lawson, Philip Quast and Roger Allam, John Barrowman and Simon Burke) but it has a good few years. So the time is clearly ripe for a revival and Kenwright and co clearly agree as they’ve mounted the show’s first ever UK tour.
And with John Partridge and Adrian Zmed at the helm, it remains as gloriously entertaining and heart-warmingly lovable as ever. A story about love and acceptance always has things to teach us, gay or straight, now more than ever and the story of St Tropez nightclub owners Georges and Albin is a touching one as through dealing with Georges’ son’s fiancée’s parents’ homophobia, they learn more about themselves and their own identities. Continue reading “Review: La Cage aux Folles, New Wimbledon”
“She’s not that innocent, she keeps rabbits”
This is actually the UK premiere of Jerry Herman’s 1969 musical Dear World and reading the programme notes about the tortured history of the show – the unhappiness of the writers at how the first production was taken out of their hands, the subsequent numerous rewrites, the competitive and changing musical theatre environment of the time – one could justifiably ask why the decision has been made to put it on now. Seasoned director/choreographer Gillian Lynne has been the one to take it on though, providing a refreshed take on both book and score, and in perhaps the biggest coup, attracting musical theatre legend Betty Buckley to the lead role of the Countess Aurelia.
The story is based on a 1945 play by Giradoux called The Madwoman of Chaillot and is a rather whimsical, you could say bonkers, tale of ecologically-minded community action rising up against exploitative capitalism. A group of avaricious financiers have been led to believe that they can excavate oil from beneath the boulevards of Paris and are willing to do anything – including knocking down the Café Francis – to get at it. And plotting to stop them and save their café, city and the world they hold so dearly, are a ragtag band of odd individuals with the not-quite-as-eccentric-as-all-that Countess Aurelia.
The air of whimsy that prevails is a difficult one to get accustomed to and I am not sure that I ever really got there with this show. It feels dated and insubstantial and more than once, I was left feeling that perhaps this show should have been left on the shelf. Its message is a naively compelling one though and Herman can certainly compose a decent ditty or three and along with Lynne’s choreography, the show is rarely dull. Buckley commands the stage wonderfully and has an elegant presence which finally lets rip at the end of Act 1 when she unleashes that famous belt and demonstrates why she has such a reputation as she does.
But so much of the show is indubitably quirky, almost to distraction. The story doesn’t necessarily strain credibility but the garishly outlandish characters that populate this world are somewhat baffling. The show describes itself as a fable but doesn’t quite feel fantastical enough to really fly to such fairytale-ish imaginative heights in the way that say, Salad Days does. Instead the feel is more of a slightly warped version of our own reality, generally full of batshit crazy people and thus rather ridiculous. It may seem a little harsh but it is symptomatic of a show that doesn’t really know what it wants to be even after 40 years’ worth of tinkering.
Dear World is not without charm though, especially in the efforts of much of its company. Despite the remove of the idea of the fable, moments of real emotion come shining through, most frequently with Buckley’s Countess and And I Was Beautiful, a heartfelt duet with Stuart Matthew Price’s kindly Julian, is a gorgeous moment. Katy Treharne’s Nina also impresses. And on the comedic side, there is neat work from Annabel Leventon and Rebecca Lock as a pair of batty friends of the Countess but the whimsy reached overload for me with the overtly vaudeville stylings of Paul Nicholas’ Sewerman which felt largely uninspired.
The show does gather steam in the second half and though I was sceptical for large swathes of it, the finale, which brings together excerpts from so many of the songs that have preceded and a jaunty full cast dance routine which would challenge any of the Globe’s jigs, has a persuasively delightful quality that ensured I left the theatre smiling. It’s by no means a classic, but an intriguing curio that is worth hunting down a bargain for for its charm and cast.
Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes (with interval)
Programme cost: £3
Booking until 30th March
“I feel the room swayin’ for the band’s playin’ one of my old favourite songs from way back when”
There’s something about Dolly. When I first saw Jerry Herman’s Hello, Dolly! at the Open Air Theatre back in 2009, I’d’ve happily sat through the show again straightaway despite being incredibly cold and damp. And though struggling to shake off the effects of an annoying bug, the same feeling caught me as we got to the end of Paul Kerryson’s production of the show for Leicester’s Curve Theatre, it is just one of those shows. This was a matinée preview full of incident though. A woman taken ill just before the end of the show was dealt with efficiently by the theatre staff, though its timing was most unfortunate as it all took place right under my nose in the final moments of the show. And a wayward underskirt threatened to topple Janie Dee mid-performance but ever the consummate professional, she whipped it off mid-song and carried on regardless. It all added to the undoubted charm of a gorgeously mounted show that is full of great heart.
Dee’s Dolly Levi is a marvellous confection, making this professional matchmaker less of an overtly comic whirlwind than one might expect. Her performance is full of subtlety: a deep sincerity in her beliefs, a minor note of melancholy that creeps in every time she mentions her late lamented Ephraim, but also a wonderful wit which makes the glint in her eye all the more playful whether she’s teasing audience members or pulling the strings of her clients. And though not necessarily the strongest singer, the arrangements have been cleverly reworked to suit her rich contralto and there’s something touching in having these songs delivered with a modicum of vulnerability rather than being belted out in the manner one assumes Caroline O’Connor would have done, her being originally cast in the title role but later withdrawing. Continue reading “Review: Hello, Dolly! Curve”
“I’d be the first one to agree that I’m preoccupied with me”
Mack and Mabel reunites much of the creative team from last year’s very well received Parade at the Southwark Playhouse but sadly it also sees them go back into the same space of the Vault there. Despite its cavernous nature, it has become the default space for musicals at this London Bridge venue, although mystifyingly so as its first one – Company – was brilliantly played, unmiked, in the main house. To overcome the echoing acoustics of the Vault, shows tend to be heavily amplified and this has been something of a learning curve to say the least and for me undoes much of the point of going to see fringe musicals as it robs shows of the immediacy of hearing amazing voices up close and personal.
The show – book by Michael Stewart and revised by Francine Pascal – centres on the on-off relationship between Keystone Cops creator and silent film director Mack Sennett and the waitress he spotted, Mabel Normand, and turned into a star. Problem is, it isn’t a particularly gripping story, not even in its revised version, which tends towards a rather gloopy sentimentalisation, complete with annoying narration device, which never really addresses the fact that Mack is not someone you could imagine anyone ever giving the time of day to. Thom Southerland’s overlong production never really manages to overcome this deficiency in the story. Continue reading “Review: Mack and Mabel, Southwark Playhouse”
“So close to reaching that famous happy end”
I should be careful what I say about this week’s CD, John Barrowman’s album John Barrowman from 2010, as practically all the women in my family are ma-hoo-sive fans of his and so there could be recriminations. I don’t have quite the same feelings but enjoyed his turn in La Cage aux Folles and am a big fan of Torchwood so am generally favourably inclined towards him. Focusing on musical theatre but with a sprinkling of pop songs too, this is exactly how one would imagine a Barrowman album to sound and in some respect this is both its strength and weakness, appealing to his core audience and offering frustrating hints of what an interesting artistic album he could create.
In a nutshell, my opinion is that I like the first half of most of the songs where both vocal performance and arrangements remain simple and uncluttered, allowing Barrowman’s clear gift for interpretation to shine through. But almost invariably, grandstanding kicks in alongside key changes, long sustained notes and over-processed backing which creates a rather repetitive feel across the whole record. The opening of songs like ‘The Winner Takes It All’ and ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ are just lovely but midway through lose what is making them special, robbing the subtleties that a little restraint would give, even if just to a couple of the songs. . A Celtic-infused take on ‘Memory’ from Cats actually emerges as the unexpected place where he curbs the excesses for the most part to interesting effect. Continue reading “Music Review: John Barrowman – John Barrowman”