Album Review: Justine Balmer – Simple Thing

From Coldplay to Claude Debussy, crossover soprano Justine Balmer’s debut album Simple Thing is a collection of songs that work well together

“Stick, or twist
The choice is yours”

With an intriguing bio that takes her from musicals to cruise ships to shopping channels, contemporary crossover soprano Justine Balmer’s debut album Simple Thing is 5 years in the making. The mix of pop, opera and classical is a seductive one and though the track-listing might seem diverse at first glance – Aerosmith next to Andrew Lloyd Webber, Coldplay rubbing shoulders with Claude Debussy – such is the serene force of Balmer’s voice that she really does make them all feel like they belong together here.

There’s a pleasing sense of balance too, you’d be hard-pressed to tell which genre Balmer prefers. A tender rendition of ‘Fix You’ with fellow crossover artists Blake, is as lushly beautiful as Fauré’s ‘In Paradisum’, the lightness of Dvořák’s ‘Song to the Moon’ matched by the simple purity of ‘Somewhere Only We Know’ – you might not think you need another cover of the Keane track but it positively shimmers under the gorgeous treatment here. Continue reading “Album Review: Justine Balmer – Simple Thing”

Review: Dead Dog in a Suitcase (and other love songs), Lyric Hammersmith

The inimitable Kneehigh retool The Beggar’s Opera in Dead Dog in a Suitcase (and other love songs), now playing at the Lyric Hammersmith

“What is the world coming to?”

Kneehigh’s Dead Dog in a Suitcase (and other love songs) was well received 5 years ago and so they’ve opted to revive it for a UK tour. Carl Grose’s reworking of John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera has evergreen reference points with its corrupt political classes and mercenary business types and adorned with Charles Hazelwood’s songs, it makes for a striking experience on stage.

Macheath, the Peachums and the Lockits are all present and correct though in this more modern setting, Macheath is a contract killer who Mrs Peachum employs to bump off her husband’s political rival. He also kills his dog and that’s just in the opening scene. From there, there’s a raucous ride through a society turned entirely toxic by nastiness and greed and probably the puppets too. Continue reading “Review: Dead Dog in a Suitcase (and other love songs), Lyric Hammersmith”

Dreamy Album Reviews: Matthew Croke – Only Dreaming & Anna O’Byrne – Dream

A pair of dreamy album reviews with Matthew Croke’s Only Dreaming & Anna O’Byrne’s Dream

“Moonlight and love songs
Never out of date”

There’s only a few weeks left to catch Aladdin onstage in London so what better time to sample the debut album from Agrabah’s finest son. Matthew Croke’s Only Dreaming was released earlier this year and serves as an excellent showcase for his smoothly appealing voice. He’s a Disney leading man through and through and whether paying tribute to his current home in the sweetly lovely ‘Proud of Your Boy’, or urging us to ‘Go The Distance’ with Hercules, it’s hard to resist him. 

The emphasis in this collection is mainly on classic musicals, so we get ‘Singin’ in the Rain’, ‘Something’s Coming’ from West Side Story (though I’m not the biggest fan of the arrangement used here) and a gorgeous ‘Beautiful City’ from Godspell. There’s a nod to more modern musical theatre too, in the form of powerful versions of ‘Fight the Dragons’ from Andrew Lippa’s Big Fish and ‘This Is Not Over Yet’ from Jason Robert Brown’s Parade. Top of the pops for me though is the stirring rendition of The Wiz’s ‘Home’ which more than justifies the whole album. Continue reading “Dreamy Album Reviews: Matthew Croke – Only Dreaming & Anna O’Byrne – Dream”

Review: Amélie the Musical, New Wimbledon Theatre

As sweet-sharp as a diabolo grenadine, the touring version of Amélie the Musical impresses me at the New Wimbledon Theatre

“Will there troubles?
I don’t know
Will there be sweet things?
I hope so”

As sweet-sharp as a diabolo grenadine, Amélie the Musical has lost none of its inimitable charm as it gears up for a considerable UK tour. I adored it at the Watermill but the intimacy there left me wondering how the show would fare in the significantly larger houses to which it will be touring. Turns out I need not have worried.

Michael Fentiman’s production has expanded perfectly to fill the space. A few more ensemble members here, a tweak to Madeleine Girling’s canny set design there, and the show has lost nothing of itself or its kooky Parisian whirl. If anything the actor-muso ensemble’s reinterpretation of Daniel Messé’s score sounds even better than before under George Francis’ musical direction. Continue reading “Review: Amélie the Musical, New Wimbledon Theatre”

Review: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Southwark Playhouse

A sensationally good new British musical that I couldn’t recommend more. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button at the Southwark Playhouse is something special

“It’s only a matter of time”

Jethro Compton has made me cry before. At the Southwark Playhouse too no less, albeit in its former location, as a young JM Barrie in a truly imaginative staging of The Boy James. This time though, he’s wearing the multiple hats of book-writer, co-lyricist and director of this adaptation of the F Scott Fitzgerald short story The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. And reader, I bawled!

Some of those tears were of joy, at the unexpected discovery of a sensationally good new British musical. With the story’s relocation to Cornwall, Darren Clarke’s (composer, co-lyricist and musical director) score leans heavily into folk song and shanty rhythms to glorious effect. These are songs that feel like they have always existed, elevated by powerful dynamic changes and harmonies to live a life in reverse for. Continue reading “Review: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Southwark Playhouse”

Birthday treats – poetry and post-show talks

Been a bit quiet on the show front whilst I’ve celebrating a particular anniversary (I turned 29, for the 11th time if anyone’s counting…) but I was pleased to have been treated to a couple of special evenings out with Helen McCrory and Helena Bonham Carter reading poetry and a return visit to West Side Story

“Time to look, time to care, 
Some day”

Front row tickets to something with Helen McCrory? It’s the stuff birthday dreams are made of, and so I was delighted to get to go to Allie Esiri Presents Women Poets Through the Ages at the Bridge Theatre. And not only was there McCrory action, there was a reunion of evil Harry Potter sisters Narcissa Malfoy and Bellatrix Lestrange as Helena Bonham Carter was also on the bill.


Continue reading “Birthday treats – poetry and post-show talks”

Review: Summer Street, Waterloo East Theatre

Aussie soap opera musical Summer Street proves an amiable if unchallenging watch at the Waterloo East Theatre

“It’s not exactly Shakespeare…”

There’s a good deal of heart at the core of Summer Street, which carries it much of the way where it intends to go. Subtitled “the hilarious Aussie soap opera musical’, it riffs on those all-conquering teatime TV imports and the nostalgia they now provoke, mixes in a dash of Acorn Antiques’ meta-narrative and underscores the whole thing with the gimlet eye of reality TV. The result is ambitious and sometimes, it pays off. 

For me, Summer Street is at its best when it is at its silliest. Shaking its sunbleached hair free, throwing another shrimp on the barbie, and camping it up with the best of them. And there’s ample opportunity for this to happen, as four washed-up soap actors dive on the chance to reunite for a one-off special of their former show. We’re witness to much of their backstage shenanigans and rehearsals and it is here where the spirit of Manchesterford is strongest, sometime hilariously so. Continue reading “Review: Summer Street, Waterloo East Theatre”

Review: Ain’t Misbehavin’, Southwark Playhouse

I gif my way through the good times of Fats Waller tribute show Ain’t Misbehavin’ at the Southwark Playhouse

“Give em what they want, and when they want it, without a single word to say”

Ain’t Misbehavin’ sees the directorial debut of Tyrone Huntley


And the theatrical choreography debut of Strictly queen-in-the-making Oti Mabuse.


Continue reading “Review: Ain’t Misbehavin’, Southwark Playhouse”

Review: The Hired Man, Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch

One of my favourite musicals – Howard Goodall’s The Hired Man receives a well-realised new revival courtesy of Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch and Hull Truck Theatre

“I can peel my own orange”

From the Landor to the Mercury to the Union, via the NYMT and all-star Cadogan Hall concerts, there’s no doubting that Howard Goodall’s British folk musical The Hired Man is one of my all-time faves. Musically, it is so beautiful that you can’t really argue against the marketing material claims that it is “the best British musical in 40 years” (though I might demur and say Top 5…).

It is now the turn of Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch and Hull Truck Theatre to revive the show, some 35 years old now, in association with Oldham Coliseum Theatre. And Douglas Rintoul’s fully actor-musician production is brimming with good ideas which serve the material well, teasing out a universality to its message which can sometimes feel hemmed into its Cumbria setting. Continue reading “Review: The Hired Man, Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch”