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”

Review: Dear Evan Hansen, Noël Coward Theatre

There’s much to like about Dear Evan Hansen at the Noël Coward Theatre, not least a brilliant lead performance from Sam Tutty

“Will I ever be more than I’ve always been?”

After seeing Dear Evan Hansen, you realise that its title can be taken two ways. It’s the salutation on a letter that precipitates a world of trouble for the awkward teenager and those around him as per Steven Levenson’s effectively contemporary book. But it also ultimately emerges as an affectionate form of address, troublingly so as the show latterly pulls its punches around some of the harder-hitting topics that it raises.

High-school senior Evan’s life is crippled by social anxiety. His hard-working single mum barely has time for him, he’s got no mates to speak of, and his therapist keeps setting him homework. Then when one of his classmates Connor Murphy dies by suicide, a chink of light unexpectedly cracks through his depression, as an unlikely chain of events leads him to claiming that they were best friends in order to emotionally support the grieving family. Continue reading “Review: Dear Evan Hansen, Noël Coward Theatre”

Album Review: Emma Lindars – As We Grow Older

West End chanteuse Emma Lindars channels some seriously impressive vocal power on album As We Grow Older

“You were the one who said forever from the start”

Anyone who was in Made in Dagenham scores points with me, so spotting that Emma Lindars had released an album earlier this year – As We Grow Older – which features a mixture of musical theatre and contemporary pop. Lindars’ resume takes in all sorts of West End credits over the last decade or so, but I do remember being particularly impressed with her in cabaret act The IDolls

And that impassioned power I remember is on fine display throughout,. whether a gorgeous take on ‘With Every Breath I Take’ from City of Angels, or Céline-esque power ballads ‘Before I Fall’ and ‘As We Grow Older’. There’s a beautiful pairing with Alice Fearn on ‘When You Believe’ from The Prince of Egypt (though as ever, it’s the delicate interplay of that middle chorus rather than the epic finale that really captures the heart). Continue reading “Album Review: Emma Lindars – As We Grow Older”

Album Reviews: Ramin Karimloo – From Now On / Josh Piterman – Josh Piterman

A pair of album reviews from Phantoms past and present – Ramin Karimloo’s latest From Now On and new leading man Josh Piterman’s Josh Piterman

“Will I ever be more than I’ve always been?”

Ramin Karimloo’s recording career has always been an interesting one to track, as he oscillates between the musical theatre in which he has made quite the name and the musical influences that clearly lie closest to his heart. His latest full-length album From Now On encapsulates this perfectly right from the off, using his patented Broadgrass style to illuminate The Greatest Showman’s ‘From Now On’ to glorious effect.

The tracklisting sees him dabble in musicals old and new – he makes a good case for King George in an uplifting ‘You’ll Be Back’ from Hamilton and Dear Evan Hansen’s ‘Waving Through a Window’ builds the already fever-pitch anticipation for its London opening. And they’re matched by a straightforward canter through Rent’s ‘What You Own’ and Hedwig’s achingly good ‘Wicked Little Town’ which balance his interpretative skill with his unmatched vocal strength. Continue reading “Album Reviews: Ramin Karimloo – From Now On / Josh Piterman – Josh Piterman”

Album Review: John Owen-Jones – Spotlight

John Owen-Jones’ fourth solo album Spotlight doesn’t demonstrate the boldest choice of material but the quality of his voice remains peerless

“Now I know what they’re saying in the music of the parade”

In all honesty, a quick glance at the track-listing for John Owen-Jones’ new album Spotlight doesn’t exactly inspire huge excitement for me. The emphasis seems to be on the tried and tested, the less charitably inclined might say ‘Mother’s Day audience’ as stalwarts like Les Mis (‘I Dreamed A Dream’), Andrew Lloyd Webber (‘Love Never Dies’) and The Greatest Showman (‘From Now On’) pop up once again, alongside such inspirational ever-presents as ‘You Raise Me Up’ and ‘The Prayer’.

Admittedly, this comes from someone who does get a little jaded from the number of albums I am privileged to get to review, but there’s also something about that lack of adventurousness that is inescapable. There’s nothing particularly individual about the arrangements here so, as well sung as they are, the likes of ‘You Raise Me Up’ and ‘From Now On’ sound pretty much like too many other versions that have been recorded. Where he does deviate from the norm, on ‘Climb Every Mountain’, the results are…mixed. Continue reading “Album Review: John Owen-Jones – Spotlight”

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”

Album Reviews: Audra McDonald – Sing Happy / Louise Dearman – For You, For Me / Everybody’s Talking About Jamie cast recording

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”

Oscar Week Film Review: The Greatest Showman

Defying the critics and showcasing the marvellous Keala Settle, there’s more to like about The Greatest Showman than you might think. Or not.

“The noblest art is that of making others happy”

There’s always something amusing about a piece of art that manages so successfully to flick two fingers at the critics and right now, none more so than The Greatest Showman. In the UK alone, it has achieved a box office consistency near the top of the list unseen since Avatar, the cast recording has been at the top of the album charts for the past two months, and such is its hold on the zeitgeist that it is now holding singalong performances across a range of cinemas.

None of which you would have predicted on its critical reception ahead of its Boxing Day release. It’s not an accurate portrayal of PT Barnum’s life, some said; it doesn’t have enough of a dramatic narrative, others sniffed; still more have derided its complete lack of any post-modern ironic edge, de rigueur for a contemporary musical so they’d have you believe. And there’s merits to all of these points though they do seem to spectacularly miss the point of the film, which is pure entertainment. Continue reading “Oscar Week Film Review: The Greatest Showman”

The Curtain Up Show Album of the Year 2017 winners

Best UK Cast Recording
42nd Street – 2017 London Cast Recording
Bat Out Of Hell The Musical – Original Cast Recording
WINNER: Dreamgirls – Original London Cast Recording
Everybody’s Talking About Jamie – Original Concept Recording
Girl From The North Country – Original London West End Cast Recording
The Wind in the Willows – Cast Recording

Best American Cast Recording
Anastasia – Original Broadway Cast Recording
Come From Away – Original Broadway Cast Recording
WINNER: Dear Evan Hansen – Original Broadway Cast Recording
Hello, Dolly! – New Broadway Cast Recording
Spongebob Squarepants – Original Cast Recording
Sunday in the Park with George – 2017 Broadway Cast Recording

Best Solo Album/Non Cast Recording
WINNER: Collabro – Home
Leading Ladies – Songs From The Stage
Marisha Wallace – Soul Holiday
Patti LuPone – Don’t Monkey With Broadway
Rachel Tucker – On The Road
Sheridan Smith – Sheridan