Review: [title of show], Above the Stag

Four cracking performances make [title of show] a musical highlight of the month at the Above the Stag Theatre, more than holding its own with the West End

“A musical about two guys writing a musical about two guys writing a musical”

In a month full of major West End musicals opening, [title of show] is a glorious example that bigger isn’t always better. In the studio at the Above the Stag Theatre, something special is on offer, perfectly suited to the intimacy of the space and highlighting some pretty serious musical theatre talent about which we should be shouting as loud as we do those with their faces on billboards on the Strand.

Hunter Bell (book) and Jeff Bowen’s (music and lyrics) meta-musical of musical theatre injokes as it depicts two guys called Hunter and Jeff responding to a call for submissions to the New York Musical Theatre Festival. And looking for inspiration, they decide to write a show about two guys called Hunter and Jeff responding to a call for submissions to the New York Musical Theatre Festival, using their own words verbatim and bringing two friends onboard as well.  Continue reading “Review: [title of show], Above the Stag”

Review: Come From Away, Phoenix Theatre

The highly anticipated musical Come From Away leaves me dry-eyed at the Phoenix Theatre despite a very strong cast

“There’s nothing to do, nothing to see
Thank god we stopped at the duty-free”

I didn’t check the merchandise stand at Irene Sankoff and David Hein’s Come From Away but I wouldn’t be surprised if they were seeing branded tissues, such is the weight of expectation that comes with this musical, set in the days after 9/11. But rather than New York, the show is set more than 2,000 kilometres away in the remote town of Gander, Newfoundland, where 38 planes with 6,579 passengers were grounded in the aftermath of the attacks. 

There, in a Canadian town that practically doubled in population overnight, we witness the unfolding of a tragedy but more significantly, the response of a community willing and able to do anything to extend the hand of friendship. Doors are flung open, shoulders proffered, bottles opened, an unquestioned barrage of hospitality seeking to envelop traumatised passengers who had been trapped for hours on their planes (in a pre-social media age remember), only to be released to find out the terrible news. Continue reading “Review: Come From Away, Phoenix Theatre”

Review: The Martini Encounter in ‘One Night in Little Rimming’, VAULT Festival

Some moments of musical genius in The Martini Encounter in ‘One Night in Little Rimming’ at the VAULT Festival – worth searching out where you can

“Not so much a variety act, more a mid-life crisis”

There are some moments of musical genius in The Martini Encounter in ‘One Night in Little Rimming’. A witty take on Talking Heads’ ‘Psycho Killer’, a kazoo-aided bossa nova-inflected version of Alanis Morisette’s ‘You Oughta Know’, a gorgeous uke-heavy rendition of Lily Allen’s ‘Fuck You’. And the medleys – who’d’ve thought ’99 Problems’, ‘My Name Is…’ and The Fresh Prince theme song could all be rapped at the same time and still work, same too with ‘I Predict a Riot, ‘Firestarter’ and ‘Here’s Comes the Hotstepper’. Real kudos to whoever did these arrangements.

The repertoire belongs to cabaret act The Martini Encounter who have been disbanded for years. The promise of cold hard cash tempts them out of retirement for one last performance at the Carol Vorderman Playhouse in Little Rimming on Sea, but history weighs heavy on this trio and recriminations spill forth at every opportunity. As they recount the odd tale of their glory days and the many tales of their downfall, you feel the wheels might fall off this bandwagon at any moment. Continue reading “Review: The Martini Encounter in ‘One Night in Little Rimming’, VAULT Festival”

Review: Can-Can!, Union Theatre

As a dance musical, Can-Can! is a high-kicking delight at the Union Theatre

“My cheeks are clenched”

Courtesy of choreographer Adam Haigh, there is some seriously impressive dance going on at the Union Theatre right now. You might expect some good moves from a musical Can-Can! but the full company sequences that book-end the show are full of verve and vitality and some jaw-dropping moments, which are all the more impressive for taking place on a stage as intimate as this.

Phil Setren’s production wisely scatters more dance performances throughout the show, ensuring that we’re never too far from a routine, as the rest of the musical is something of a mixed affair. A grab-bag approach to its construction means it often feels scattered – based loosely on Pinero’s Trelawney of the Wells but moved to Paris, its populated with both real life figures from La Belle Époque and fictional characters. Continue reading “Review: Can-Can!, Union Theatre”

Album Review: The Clockmaker’s Daughter (2019 Studio Cast Recording)

Webborn and Finn’s cracking new musical The Clockmaker’s Daughter receives a delectable Cast Recording treatment that features the likes of Ramin Karimloo, Hannah Waddingham, Christine Allado and Fra Fee

“Come gather round!
Come gather young and old
Tall and small…
Come gather all!”

I was a huge fan of Michael Webborn and Daniel Finn’s musical The Clockmaker’s Daughter when it premiered at the Landor back in 2015, and loved getting to revisit the show when Trinity Laban’s final year students mounted the show a year later. So news of a cast recording was excitedly received in the Clowns household, especially once the company was revealed, featuring the likes of Ramin Karimloo, Hannah Waddingham, Christine Allado and Fra Fee. 

And with those stalwart supporters of new musical theatre Auburn Jam at the helm (Joe Davison producing) and David Ball Productions executive producing, the album sounds like an absolute dream. The show describes itself as “a musical faerytale” and the richness of the score reflects the considerable folk heritage of the British Isles, utilising Celtic influences as it is set in the fictional Irish village of Spindlewood but widening out its focus to produce something joyously universal. Continue reading “Album Review: The Clockmaker’s Daughter (2019 Studio Cast Recording)”

Review: Avenue Q, New Wimbledon Theatre

This Sell A Door tour of the excellent puppet musical Avenue Q shows just how well it is standing the test of time

“You should be much more careful when you’re talking about the sensitive subject of race”

I do love Avenue Q. It was one of the first musicals that I fell in love with after moving to London, tracking it throughout its West End-theatre hopping run with multiple visits (a recap can be found here) and then popping in here and there to catch the occasional touring version. And it is a show to which my reactions have shifted: 13 years ago when I first saw it, its quarter-life crisis was directly recognisable; a little way down the line now, I’m the one saying ‘these kids are so much younger than me’ about this youthful company!

Premiering in 2003, the show – music and lyrics by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx and book by Jeff Whitty – benefited hugely from coming into life in a slightly more innocent pre-social media time, a moment when Generation X didn’t face half as much opprobrium as millennia are forced to shoulder nowadays. And revisiting the show now, as this Sell A Door production kicks off a major UK tour scheduled to last most of the year, it is just lovely to be reminded of simpler times, of such uncomplicated good feeling. Continue reading “Review: Avenue Q, New Wimbledon Theatre”

Review: The Half Moon Shania, VAULT Festival

Burnt Lemon Theatre’s The Half Moon Shania is a riotous piece of gig theatre at the VAULT Festival

“Let’s go girls”

It’s 1999 and punk band The G-Stringz aren’t just out to party, rumour has it there’s a rep from Diamond Records in the audience and maybe, just maybe this is their big break. Burnt Lemon Theatre’s The Half Moon Shania, written by Cara Baldwin, weaves together past and present as tales of the band’s formation mix in with what impact it has had on their lives so far, all soundtracked by a raucous gig.

An ambitious work, it taps into the festival spirit well – the show did well in Edinburgh last year – as the band constantly spills off the stage to smash the fourth wall, even trying to encourage a mosh pit at one point. And Hannah Benson’s astute direction teases out just the right energy from Baldwin and her castmates Freya Parks and Catherine Davies. Continue reading “Review: The Half Moon Shania, VAULT Festival”

Review: We’ve Got Each Other, VAULT Festival

A one-man Bon Jovi musical in the mind…Paul O’Donnell’s We’ve Got Each Other has no right to be as funny as this, a highlight of the VAULT Festival so far

“Well that was fun
And that’s all it needs to be”

When Paul O’Donnell grows up, I’m pretty sure he’ll age into The Drowsy Chaperone’s Man in Chair, And now I’ve got my niche musical reference out of the way, we can turn to the plethora of injokes and satirical jabs that are scattered throughout his inspired one-man all singing, all dancing Bon Jovi musical spectacular We’ve Got Each Other

Well it would be a spectacle, except he hasn’t quite got the budget to mount the whole thing. So he’s talking us through it, asking us to use the power of our imagination to fill in the gaps as he narrates the story to us under the glow of an IKEA floorlamp (cos he can’t afford a follow-spot…). It’s a ridiculously, almost criminally simple set-up, but one which pays huge dividends in its generosity of spirit and in O’Donnell’s pitch-perfect delivery. Continue reading “Review: We’ve Got Each Other, VAULT Festival”

Review: Showstopper! The Improvised Musical, The Other Palace

So much fun to be had with the hilarious guys of Showstopper! The Improvised Musical at The Other Palace

“It’s time you felt my gay-rage”

I’ve been watching the Showstopper crew for as long as I’ve been blogging (the King’s Head was a great venue for them), so it’s a real treat to see them constantly move onwards and upwards, stepping up from their monthly West End residencies (which they’re still continuing) to a fully fledged 7 week run at The Other Palace, during which they’ll celebrate their 1,000th show.

For the uninitiated, Showstopper! The Improvised Musical is a show that is made up on the spot by a group of disgustingly talented comedians, taken from ideas given by the audience in terms of musical influences, plot twists and titles. It’s as simple as that and it is ingeniously done, night after night, to produce a brand new musical each time, which has never failed to leave me helpless with laughter. Continue reading “Review: Showstopper! The Improvised Musical, The Other Palace”