Review: Into the Woods, Cockpit

This production of Into the Woods at the Cockpit Theatre brings it into the 21st century, not a strictly necessary move

“To have, to wed, to get, to save, to kill, to keep, to go to the festival”

One of the main reasons that fairytales have endured as long as they have is that they are timeless, their messages recited as-is at bedsides since time immemorial. Recognising this, Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s Into the Woods gives us a first half which takes us deep into this enchanted world as we know it and waiting until after the interval to show us what happens after happy ever after. 

So the notion of updating the show to a specifically 21st-century context is an intriguing one, as director Tim McArthur draws in influences such as The Only Way is Essex, Made in Chelsea and Rab C Nesbitt. On the one hand, it offers a fresh take on well-known characters; on the other, it also provides a distracting layer onto characters that barely need it. The result is a well-performed interpretation that rarely feels essential. Continue reading “Review: Into the Woods, Cockpit”

Album reviews: Frozen / Prince of Broadway / Mean Girls

I turn my attention to the latest set of Broadway cast recordings with Frozen, Prince of Broadway and Mean Girls

@deeninbeeld1

My cynicism about the quick turnaround of megahit film Frozen into a would-be megahit musical lasted for about 10 seconds as I popped on their cast recording. I mean, I loved the film and its songs by Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez and so who was I kidding?!

And it fulfils all of my Disney princess dreams. Caissie Levy (Elsa) and Patti Murin (Anna) lead the cast in fine full-voiced form, new songs from the Lopezes fit in well to the score though it does take a hot minute to get used to them. And the orchestral arrangement lends a note of excitement to the songs you know so well already.

Levy’s ‘Let It Go’ naturally takes the spotlight as the Act 1 closer (reprised to close the show as well) but Murin’s rendition of ‘Love Is An Open Door’ with John Riddle’s Hans gets my vote for its sheer warmth and joie de vivre. Of the new songs, Elsa’s ‘Dangerous to Dream’ probably ranks as my favourite. Definitely keen to see this once it hits the West End. Continue reading “Album reviews: Frozen / Prince of Broadway / Mean Girls”

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”

Album Reviews: Dan Burton – Broadway Melodies / Patti LuPone – Don’t Monkey With Broadway / Kyle Riabko – Richard Rodgers Reimagined

 

Something of an undersung talent in this country (all his top gigs have taken place in Paris, or Kilworth), Dan Burton is nevertheless leading man material, and his debut album Broadway Melodies is proof thereof. Short and sweet at ten concise tracks, Burton swoons and slides effortlessly through the Great American Songbook. 

Highlights include the happiest of ‘Singin’ in the Rain’s, a most elegant sway through Camelot’s ‘If Ever I Would Leave You’, and a chirpy duet on ‘Well, Did You Evah?’ with Lee Mead, a palpable warmth of friendship apparent throughout. Also good is The Pajama Game‘s ‘Hey There’, perfectly crooned and symptomatic of the good feeling suffused through this record. Continue reading “Album Reviews: Dan Burton – Broadway Melodies / Patti LuPone – Don’t Monkey With Broadway / Kyle Riabko – Richard Rodgers Reimagined”

Review: John Barrowman with Seth Rudetsky, Leicester Square Theatre

This weekend only, John Barrowman and Seth Rudetsky deliver conversation and concert realness at the Leicester Square Theatre in London

“Passionate as hell 
But always in control”

I hadn’t originally intended to go and see John Barrowman in this intimate concert setting but my Aunty Jean is a big fan and so decided to make a day trip out of it, and I got to go along for the ride. This micro-run of three performances fell under the aegis of Seth Rudetsky’s intermittent Broadway @ Leicester Square Theatre series, mixing performance with conversation to create a unique and relaxed vibe.

Barrowman’s force of personality means the anecdotes flow out of him with barely any prompting from the wonderfully acerbic Rudetsky but with such a storied career, he’s certainly earned the right to tell them. Continue reading “Review: John Barrowman with Seth Rudetsky, Leicester Square Theatre”

Review: Assassins, Pleasance

As Sondheim celebrates his 70th birthday, his musical Assassins is revived at Pleasance Theatre, London

“Every now and then, the country goes a little wrong. Every now and then, a madman’s bound to come along”

It was interesting to discover in the post-show Q&A that an explicit reference to Trump has been excised from this production of Assassins – a picture of his head removed from the shooting gallery that provides the stark image, and framing device, that opens and closes the show. But given that that above quote comes in very early on, contemporary political resonance is rarely too hard to find, should you wish to look for it.

That’s all the more impressive given that Stephen Sondheim (music and lyrics) and John Weidman (book) constructed this show back in 1990. And the allure of this slice of Americana, as much musical history as it is socio-political, has proven enduringly popular as it explores something of the people behind the nine recorded attempted assassinations of US presidents. Continue reading “Review: Assassins, Pleasance”

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: Michael Ball and Alfie Boe – Together Again

“I hang suspended
Until I know
There’s a chance that you care”

 

It is no secret that I am no great fan of a booming tenor and so it was little surprise that Michael Ball and Alfie Boe’s album Together was not really my cup of tea. But it was however what many other people wanted and following its success and reaching number 1 in the charts, the pair have collaborated again to produce the imaginatively titled Together Again. And in the spirit of open-mindedness, plus the acknowledgement that there’s a more adventurous tracklisting, I steeled myself to listen.

I have to hold up my hands and say I was pleasantly surprised by more than a few of the songs here. The first two-thirds of ‘The Rose’ are genuinely spine-tinglingly lovely and even when the bombast kicks in for the finale, it stills maintains a heartfelt sincerity. A stroll through ‘White Christmas’ is marvellously restrained and all the more effective for it. Even the big band swing through ‘Bring Me Sunshine’ has a gentleness to it that allows both men to demonstrate their performative range.

Re-review: Follies, National Theatre

“Darling, shall we dance?”
Not too much more to say about Follies that I didn’t cover last time, suffice to say it’s just such a luxuriously fantastic show and I think I could watch it over and over! The head-dresses! Everything Janie Dee does! The orchestra! How no-one seems to be falling down that staircase! The staging! The shade of mint green in Loveland! The Staunton’s icy bitterness in ‘Losing My Mind’! The amount that Josephine Barstow has now made me cry, twice! The Quast! Just get booking now, while you still can.

Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes (without interval)
Booking until 3rd January, best availability from 6th November

Follies will be broadcast by NT Live to cinemas in the UK and internationally on Thursday 16 November.

Review: Follies, National Theatre

“All things beautiful must die”

Well this is what we have a National Theatre for. For Vicki Mortimer’s set design that both stretches towards the heights of the Olivier and lingers some 30 years back in the past; for the extraordinary detail and feathered delights of the costumes; for the lush sound of an orchestra of 21 under Nigel Lilley’s musical direction; for a production that revels in the exuberance and experience of its cast of 37. And all for what? For a musical that, despite its iconic status in the theatre bubble, is more than likely to raise a ‘huh?’ from the general public (at least from the sampling in my office!).
Stephen Sondheim (music and lyrics) and James Goldman’s (book) Follies is a show that has a long history of being tinkered with and more often than not, is as likely to be found in a concert presentation (as in its last London appearance at the Royal Albert Hall) as it is fully staged. Which only makes Dominic Cooke’s production here all the more attractive, not just for aficionados but for the casual theatregoer too. Using the original book with just a smattering of small changes, this is musical theatre close to its most luxurious, and a bittersweetly life-affirming thrill to watch.
Follies is set in the decrepit surroundings of the Weismann Theatre in 1971. Scheduled to be demolished the very next day, a party is being held for the performers who once graced its stages but as present company reunite and reminisce over champagne, ghosts of the past haunt their every move. And what Cooke does is to remind us that we’re all surrounded by memories, the might-have-beens and the shoulda-coulda-wouldas, it’s how we deal with them that differentiates us. And for long-suffering couples Buddy and Sally, Phyllis and Ben, it’s almost too much. 
The doubling device is achingly beautiful and threaded so assuredly into the production it seems a no-brainer. So as the 11 showgirls being celebrated make their entrance in ‘Beautiful Girls’ in the present day, we also see their past selves mirroring their movements, making their own arrivals in their own time. The glorious tap routines and kickline of ‘Who’s That Woman’ sees 7 of them hoofing it magnificently with their respective young’uns. And in the case of Josephine Barstow’s Heidi, there’s emotional interaction, a duet (with Alison Langer) on a simply exquisite ‘One More Kiss’, a gorgeous making of peace with the past.
For our central quartet though, things are much more tangled. Past and present frequently collide as Sally’s long-held passion for Ben bursts free with shattering consequences for all concerned, cutting through any notions of faded showbiz grandeur. Imelda Staunton invests her contained ‘Losing My Mind’ with so much psychological damage it breaks the heart, Philip Quast’s Ben is no less shattering as his swaggering Ben steadily loses his composure, and Janie Dee (getting to show off how great a dancer she is) is dry as a bone throughout and cold as ice in a brilliantly furious ‘Could I Leave You?’.
I could go on listing the things I loved – Tracie Bennett’s stunning reinterpretation of ‘I’m Still Here’, Di Botcher’s adorable take on ‘Broadway Baby’, Fred Haig, Adam Rhys-Charles, Zizi Strallen and Alex Young as the younger quartet…but I’ll stop and encourage you to get booking while you still can. There are still some slight weaknesses inherent in Follies itself – its sprawling dramatis personae some of whom we barely meet, the leap of faith you have to take as the show ruptures into its final third – but played without an interval as it is here by Cooke, you can’t help but be carried along a gorgeous wave of marabou, melancholy and musical theatre at its best. 
Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes (without interval)
Photos: Johan Persson
Booking until 3rd January, best availability from 6th November
Follies will be broadcast by NT Live to cinemas in the UK and internationally on Thursday 16 November.

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