Album reviews: Working / Bat out of Hell / 42nd Street

A trio of West End cast recordings (well, one’s off-West-End…) show that it is sometimes hard to recapture the stage magic 

© Robert Workman

Starting off with the best of this bunch, the Southwark Playhouse’s production of Working might not have seemed like the obvious choice for a cast recording but maybe the lure of a couple of new Lin-Manuel Miranda tracks was a real sweetener.

Truth is, it is the quality of the cast’s performances that make this a fantastic addition to the list of albums you need to hear. From Siubhan Harrison’s impassioned ‘Millwork’ to Dean Chisnall’s gleeful ‘Brother Trucker’, and the highly charismatic Liam Tamne nails both of Miranda’s contributions – the wilful ‘Delivery’ and a corking duet (with Harrison) on ‘A Very Good Day’.

Experience pays though, as Gillian Bevan and Peter Polycarpou take the honours with some scintillating work. The latter’s ‘Joe’ is beautifully judged, as is the former’s ‘Nobody Tells Me How’, both demonstrating the uncertainty that can come at the end of a long career, when retirement doesn’t necessarily hold the joyful promise it once did. Highly recommended.  Continue reading “Album reviews: Working / Bat out of Hell / 42nd Street”

Review: Iolanthe, Richmond Theatre

A much welcome revival for Sasha Regan’s all-male Iolanthe, bringing Gilbert and Sullivan to Richmond Theatre as part of a UK tour

“What’s the use of being half a fairy?”

Delving into deep into your wardrobe can get you into all sorts of bother. With CS Lewis, you could end up in the wintry woods of Narnia and with Sasha Regan, you might find yourself in the dress-up fantasy world of light operetta. Of all of her all-male Gilbert and Sullivan productions, Iolanthe is the one which I remember most fondly (its transfer to Wilton’s Music Hall perfectly done) so the news that it was the choice for this year’s revival for a UK tour left me tripping hither and thither in excitement. 

And though I was a little apprehensive to revisit so beloved a production, this Iolanthe has stood up well. Mark Smith’s choreography with its suggestions of sign language for fairy speak, Stewart Charlesworth’s design making full use of the jumble box aesthetic, and Regan’s astute direction milking a show that’s more than a century old for all of its considerable comic potential and finding room for her own innovations as well. With MD Richard Baker controlling the music from his solo piano, this remains an arresting take on your G&S. Continue reading “Review: Iolanthe, Richmond Theatre”

Review: H.R.Haitch, Union

New musical H.R.Haitch at the Union Theatre has a feel of knockabout fun which begs not to be taken too seriously

“We are hoping for a happy outcome”

As Kensington Palace gears up for one royal wedding, Iris Theatre are jumping down the aisle first with their musical take on stately nuptuals H.R.Haitch, now playing at the Union Theatre. And though it features a mixed-race woman (like Meghan) marrying a prince, such is the development time for musicals that is actually the fact that she is a ‘commoner’ (like Kate, apparently) that proves the inspiration here.

For aspiring canapé-chef Chelsea is Barking born and bred, and a strident anti-monarchist to boot. And she’s pretty excited about her suspicions that her nice-but-dim boyf Bertie is going to propose! Thing is, Bertie is actually Prince Albert – heir to the British throne and (for reasons I’m not sure we ever really understood) living incognito among the people. Will Queen Mary accept her? Can the older Princess Victoria thwart the line of succession? And what is it with politicians and pigs…? Continue reading “Review: H.R.Haitch, Union”

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”

Review: Priscilla Queen of the Desert, Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch

A wonderfully warm-hearted production makes the regional premiere of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert a show to see at the Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch

“We dress up in women’s clothes and parade around mouthing the words to other people’s songs”

It’s easy to dismiss the jukebox musical as a lazy iteration of the form. And whilst there are shows that worthy of such a slight, there are others which deserve far better. Stephan Elliott and Allan Scott’s adaptation of Priscilla Queen of the Desert is one of those, a musical which has worked hard to integrate its music into its storytelling in interesting and different ways, allied with a book that is moving and funny and just a little fabulous. Directed by Douglas Rintoul for Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch, this production marks the show’s regional professional premiere.

One of Rintoul’s innovations is to make this an actor-musician production, a decision that pays off handsomely here. There’s a wonderful sense of democracy about this ensemble, who subsume the singing parts of the Divas here, as everyone gets a moment (or three) to shine under the Australian sun. To name but a few, a burst of stunning vocals from Molly-Grace Cutler aka Keyboard 2/Jules, the raucous slide of Natasha Lewis’ trombone, the sure-fingered delicacy of Josh Tye’s acoustic guitar (at its best as the interval comes to a close). Continue reading “Review: Priscilla Queen of the Desert, Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch”

Review: Chess, London Coliseum

Nobody’s on nobody’s side – an all-star cast can’t save this game of Chess from itself, for me at least

“From square one I’ll be watching all sixty-four”

It’s taken over 30 years for Chess to return to the West End (though it was seen at the Union in 2013) and though it has a huge amount of resource thrown at it in Laurence Connor’s production for English National Opera, it doesn’t necessarily feel worth the wait. An 80’s mega-musical through and through with an intermittently cracking score from ABBA’s Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus, Richard Nelson’s book hasn’t aged particularly well and bears the hallmarks of the  substantial tinkering it has had at every opportunity.

It’s not too hard to see why it has needed the tinkering. The mix of Cold War politics told through the prism of rival US and Soviet chess Grandmasters, love triangles and power ballads is a tricky one to get right and part of the problem seems to be just how seriously to take it all. On the one hand, the chess matches are backgrounded with montages of the real-life tensions of the 80s; on the other, scenes that take us through the various locations of the tournaments are a cringeworthy riot of cultural stereotyping that revel in their utter kitsch. Continue reading “Review: Chess, London Coliseum”

Review: Sunshine on Leith, West Yorkshire Playhouse

As unlikely a Proclaimers musical may seem, this gorgeous production of Sunshine on Leith at West Yorkshire Playhouse is probably the best thing I’ve seen this year

“Your beauty and kindness
Made tears clear my blindness”

Is a jukebox musical still a jukebox musical when you don’t know most of the songs? You feel that most people would be hard pressed to name more than two songs by The Proclaimers and so it is part of the genius of Stephen Greenhorn (writer) and James Brining (commissioner and director) that they managed to fashion something so perfect, that somehow still feels so familiar, from the back catalogue of the Edinburgh brothers.

Sunshine on Leith was first seen at the Dundee Rep in 2007 and though it has toured Scotland a few times since, it has rarely been seen south of the border. So who else to revive it but Brining himself for West Yorkshire Playhouse. And what a straight-up, fantastic success it is. London has seen its fair share of big musicals open this month but none have made me cry, never mind feel so much as this. Continue reading “Review: Sunshine on Leith, West Yorkshire Playhouse”

Review: Strictly Ballroom the Musical, Piccadilly

Baz Luhrmann’s Strictly Ballroom the Musical may not be the strongest musical in the world, but it’s a stronger piece of musical theatre, thanks to Drew McOnie’s choreography

“Pam Shortt’s broken both her legs, and I wanna dance with you”

It is fascinating to be able to follow the development of a show, particularly one that has morphed as much as Strictly Ballroom the Musical. I saw it at the West Yorkshire Playhouse the winter before last, where it didn’t quite set my world on fire, so I was intrigued to hear that its arrival in the West End at the Piccadilly would be accompanied by quite the overhaul, still directed and choreographed by Drew McOnie.

The major change to this adaptation of Baz Luhrmann’s 1992 cult hit movie comes with the introduction of bandleader Wally Strand, played by Will Young, an MC figure and human jukebox who takes on the vast majority of the evening’s singing. And as we skip from Grace Jones to Billy Idol, via Bowie, Whitney and Cyndi, it’s a real pleasure to hear him sing Marius De Vries’ brilliant new arrangements. Continue reading “Review: Strictly Ballroom the Musical, Piccadilly”