Album Review: RE:arrangement – An Album by Nick Barstow

A musical theatre album with a difference, RE:arrangement – An Album by Nick Barstow is refreshingly bold

“I’ve been changed, yes really changed”

Nick Barstow is a multi-hyphenate of a different order – musical director, arranger, and composer, a behind-the-scenes triple threat if you will. And having made a success of his cabaret series RE:arrangement, he’s now released an album RE:arrangement – An Album by Nick Barstow which showcases his gift for reinventing musical theatre standards by the likes of Sondheim, Rodgers & Hammerstein and Kander & Ebb, with the help of some guest stars including Faye from actual Steps.

Perhaps unsurprisingly given the name of the album, some of these arrangements really are quite radical and really serve the purpose of making you look at these songs anew. So I can admire the decision to transpose the elegiac beauty of Ivor Novello’s ‘We’ll Gather Lilacs’ into full-on Jason Robert Brown territory (or is it more Jonathan Larson…?), delivered with real commitment by Noel Sullivan, whilst still craving the crystalline harmonies of Muriel Barron and Olive Gilbert.It’s just different is all. Continue reading “Album Review: RE:arrangement – An Album by Nick Barstow”

Album Review: Hayden Tee – Face to Face

A varied song selection means that Hayden Tee’s new album Face to Face should appeal to a wide range of musical theatre fans

“In a world of wondering, suddenly you know”

Fresh off a year in the sensible shoes of Miss Trunchbull in Matilda, New Zealand actor and singer Hayden Tee celebrates the world of musical theatre – and his path within it – with the intriguing new album Face to Face. Arranged by Nigel Ubrihien and assisted by the lushness of by a symphony orchestra, this collection covers Kander & Ebb to Jason Robert Brown and much more inbetween.

At just 9 tracks long, I might have had a touch of initial disappointment that there’s some heavily familiar material here. Les Misérables is represented twice with ‘Stars’ and ‘Empty Chairs at Empty Tables’, and the ubiquitous ‘Till I Hear You Sing’ from Love Never Dies. All are sung most competently, the controlled power at the top of Tee’s range is certainly impressive but on an entirely selfish note, I’m just tired of hearing these songs. Continue reading “Album Review: Hayden Tee – Face to Face”

Album Review: Alice Fearn – Where I’ve Been…Where I’m Going

I finally get round to listening to Alice Fearn’s 2016 album Where I’ve Been…Where I’m Going and enjoy it, a lot

“A late night ‘Yes sir’
leads to good press sir”

I’m always pleased to see musical theatre performers trekking a little off the beaten path when it comes to putting together the tracklisting for their albums. As deeply held a connection as they may have to this standard or that, it can get a little wearing to hear the same material regurgitated time and again. So Alice Fearn instantly gets brownie points for her 2016 collection Where I’ve Been…Where I’m Going.

Michel Legrand rubs shoulders with Andrew Lippa, there’s a deep dive into the Kander + Ebb archive, Sondheim is in there but he’s gender-flipped and there’s a track from Smash that reminds me I really need to get around to watching that show. And allowing her inspiration to draw far and wide just adds that extra level of interest, surprise even as in the case of the brassy delights of Frank Wildhorn & Jack Murphy’s ‘Big Time’ which was new to me and an instant fave. Continue reading “Album Review: Alice Fearn – Where I’ve Been…Where I’m Going”

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: The Rink, Southwark Playhouse

Get your roller-skates on and over to the Southwark Playhouse for a croking revival of Kander & Ebb’s The Rink with a stonkingly good Caroline O’Connor

“Noisy boys, long and lean.
Giggles of girls in the mezzanine”

All sorts of thoughts pass through your mind as you watch The Rink, at least they do if you’re me. Wouldn’t Gemma Sutton be perfect casting in the lead of the inevitable Lindsay Lohan: The Musical; does Jason Winter have the longest legs in musical theatre; does Caroline O’Connor have any trace of a Lancashire accent at all; didn’t Kander and Ebb write fricking fantastic songs for women; and does an ability to roller-skate in a musical make you a quadruple threat?

That’s not to say I was distracted whilst sweltering in the Southwark Playhouse during this preview on Saturday, but rather that my mind was entirely stimulated (not least when Winter does some kind of windmill move on the floor…😃). The Rink is one of those musicals that history hasn’t treated too kindly, despite a premiere that starred Chita Rivera and Liza Minnelli but with Adam Lenson’s expert hand at the tiller, this is a revival to treasure. Continue reading “Review: The Rink, Southwark Playhouse”

Album Review: Janie Dee at the BBC

“Je veux changer d’atmosphère”

30 years or so into a career that has seen her win two Olivier awards (so far – I’d watch out for her to be at least nominated for Follies, if not more), it seems remarkable that Janie Dee at the BBC is actually Dee’s debut album. But though there may not be recorded evidence, she is a highly accomplished and experienced cabaret performer among her many skills, and it is from these shows that the material has been drawn for this record.

Recorded at BBC Maida Vale Studios with Auburn Jam Records, the track-listing thus embraces a broad array of songs and styles, all connected by the smooth consummate skill of one of our more under-rated Dames-in-the-making. From Kander and Ebb to Bacharach and David, Stevie Wonder to Spike Milligan, Dee takes us on a journey of hugely sophisticated charm that proves mightily hard to resist, marshalled by MD Steve Clark.

Continue reading “Album Review: Janie Dee at the BBC”

Album Review: Alan Cumming Sings Sappy Songs – Live at the Cafe Carlyle (2015)

“How could I behave as if we’d never met?”

 Recorded just after he completed his 2014/5 return to Cabaret at Studio 54, Alan Cumming Sings Sappy Songs – Live at the Cafe Carlyle is one of the best cabaret records I’ve had the pleasure of listening to. Surprising but superb song selection, threaded through with a real sense of personality and personal revelation, draws the listener in right from the off, even if he storms just a fraction too quickly through Annie Lennox’s glorious solo hit ‘Why’, he next invests Keane’s ‘Somewhere Only We Know’ with a genuinely rueful quality that hints at what is to come.

And if the label ‘sappy’ might suggest something inconsequential, make no mistake that this is deeply emotional work. From Miley Cyrus’ ‘The Climb’ to the plangent ‘Complainte de la Butte’, to showier material that Cumming more obviously has an affinity with, like Kurt Weill’s ‘How Do Humans Live’ and the utterly gorgeous ‘You You You’ from Kander and Ebb’s The Visit, to the almost unbearable emotion underpinning the likes of Billy Joel’s ‘Goodnight Saigon’ and Rufus Wainwright’s ‘Dinner at Eight’. Continue reading “Album Review: Alan Cumming Sings Sappy Songs – Live at the Cafe Carlyle (2015)”

Album Review: The Visit (2015 original Broadway Cast Recording)

 “A ghost on a visit from the past”

The final musical written by Kander and Ebb together before the latter’s passing in 2004, The Visit has had a bit of a troubled history trying to make its way to Broadway. Original star Angela Lansbury having to withdraw due to her husband’s ill health, Chita Rivera stepping in but the hopes to transfer the out of town tryout in Autumn 2001 scuppered by the post 9/11 climate, consistent issues with financing…

But Rivera stuck with the show through various readings, concerts and mini-runs, culminating in a new one-act version directed by John Doyle, which eventually landed at the Lyceum Theatre on Broadway for not even two months. Musicals – who’d do em?! Fortunately though, this cast recording was created to help its legacy live on and hopefully, one imagines, inspire Thom Southerland to put on a production over here sometime soon! Continue reading “Album Review: The Visit (2015 original Broadway Cast Recording)”

Album Review: Cabaret (2006 London Cast Recording)

“No use permitting some prophet of doom”

Cabaret is a show which has had many a revival and many a cast recording made from those productions but it is Rufus Norris’ 2006 interpretation that seems to have lingered the longest, a new touring version starring Louise Redknapp and Will Young starts at the New Wimbledon in late September, one of many such revivals of this revival (I caught it in the West End in 2012 and the 2013 tour). And just to be clear, my comments are UK-based, for it is Mendes’ 1993 production that was most recently revived in the US (which I saw with Emma Stone at Studio 54).

And I have to say I love this particular cast recording – the sharpness of David Steadman’s musical direction is captured brightly and well on the record, and the performances sound pointed and fresh, a real testament to the recording process here. It’s a strong cast to be sure, led by the canny decision to cast Anna Maxwell Martin in the lead role of Sally Bowles. By no means a predictable choice, the decision to go for a shit-hot actress who can really focus on the character elevates the role entirely from all Liza Minnelli-based connotations and its notions that the role should be belted. Continue reading “Album Review: Cabaret (2006 London Cast Recording)”

Album Review: John Owen-Jones – Bring Him Home

“Give me this moment, this momentous moment”

I was excited by the prospect of a new John Owen-Jones album but the reality of Bring Him Home – A Collection of Musical Favourites was, I have to say, a little disappointing. For it is something of a greatest hits affair, collecting together tracks from three of his previous albums – Unmasked, Rise and his self-titled album and adding in just the three new songs.

Those tracks are Miss Saigon’s ‘Why, God, Why?’, West Side Story’s ‘Maria’ and ‘Suddenly’, written by Claude-Michel Schönberg, Herbert Kretzmer and Alain Boublil especially for the filmed version of Les Misérables. Only the last of these has any real interest as something particularly new, although fans will enjoy the personal connection Owen-Jones has to the others (drama school audition song, and first show he was in onstage). Continue reading “Album Review: John Owen-Jones – Bring Him Home”