Review: Tiger Bay, Wales Millennium Centre

Rather fittingly, my first ever visit to the magnificent feat of civil engineering that is Cardiff’s Wales Millennium Centre was for new musical Tiger Bay (Y Sioe Gerdd). And not just any musical, one based in and on the very area where it is playing, the docklands of Tiger Bay at the turn of the century, when the industrial revolution sent shudders through every level of society. Socio-political unrest not being known for getting the crowds in though, book-writer Michael Williams has fashioned a multi-stranded narrative with truly epic ambitions.

So there’s coal men fighting to improve working conditions, African immigrant labour complicating the picture by undercutting them, racism emerging as an ugly thorn, child labour being abused, suffragettes agitating for the vote, and the richest man in the world (the Third Marquess of Bute) who has turned to crystal balls to try and find his missing son. What emerges is a prototype vision for a multicultural society in all its myriad complexities and inequalities, connected in an all-too-human way by circumstance and some stonking great choruses. Continue reading “Review: Tiger Bay, Wales Millennium Centre”

Album Review: The Wind in the Willows (2017 Original London Cast Recording)

“Although we’re armed with many prickles
They’re no match for large vehicles”

The Wind in the Willows took quite the critical battering when it opened at the Palladium last month and whilst it may not be the greatest show in the world, it does feel to have been a rather harsh treatment (I quite liked it for what it was). I’m not entirely sure what critics thought they were going to get from this revival of Kenneth Grahame’s classic story but it was clearly a darn shot edgier than anything Julian Fellowes and composing duo Stiles and Drewe were ever going to create.

Listening to the Original London Cast Recording which has now been released, you very much get a sense of the gently bucolic charm that they were aiming for and which, by and large, they achieve. Their strengths lie in the grand musicality of the ensemble numbers that pepper the score at its key moments. The cumulative choral power of ‘Spring’, the irrepressible energy of ‘We’re Taking Over The Hall’, the thrill of the fun-loving finale – this what they do so well. Continue reading “Album Review: The Wind in the Willows (2017 Original London Cast Recording)”

Review: The Wind in the Willows, Palladium

“Poop, poop”

Arriving at the London Palladium just in time for the summer holidays, new family musical The Wind in the Willows (seen on tour late last year) is a respectfully traditional treatment of the Kenneth Grahame classic with which so many are familiar. And with kings of musical theatre nostalgia Stiles & Drewe on composing duties, Rachel Kavanaugh’s production is clearly the kind of show that wants you to wistfully remember childhoods past.

Julian Fellowes’ book undulates gently rather than creating any particularly dramatic waves – Rat and Mole’s growing friendship is quietly but effectively done, Toad is characterised as a Boris Johnson-like would-be-lovable-rogue, and the biggest ripples of the first half come in the introduction of various creatures of the forest – like an Andrews Sisters-esque trio of sonorous swallows and an enormously cute family of hedgehogs. Continue reading “Review: The Wind in the Willows, Palladium”

Review: Carousel, London Coliseum

“The crowd of doubtin’ Thomases
Was predictin’ that the summer’d never come”

The English National Opera have had great success with their move into semi-staged revivals of classic pieces of musical theatre. Bryn Terfel and Emma Thompson lit up the Coliseum with Sweeney Todd in 2005, Glenn Close received an Olivier Award nomination for last year’s Sunset Boulevard, and so this year, we’re being treated to Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II’s 1945 classic Carousel. I say treated…but with singers Alfie Boe and Katherine Jenkins cast as the show’s ill-fated lovers, this production is a bit of a challenge for musical theatre lovers. Read my three star review for Cheap Theatre Tickets here.

Running time: 2 hours 45 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 13th May

Review: The Wind in the Willows, Theatre Royal Plymouth

“Messing about in a boat”

Messrs Stiles, Drewe and Fellowes clearly have an affinity for working with each other as hot on the heels of Half A Sixpence, about to open in West End after a successful run in Chichester, comes another collaboration on a musical version of The Wind in the Willows. Destined for an as yet unconfirmed West End residency, it is currently touring from Plymouth to Salford and then on to Southampton, spreading its gentle, pastoral charms across the UK.

And its charms are gentle, befitting any iteration of the beloved children’s novel by Kenneth Grahame. Julian Fellowes’ adaptation is faithful to that story and though the scale of Rachel Kavanaugh’s production is suitably large, it is also refreshingly simple. Peter McKintosh’s design is atmospheric but uncomplicated, playful rather than epic in its idyllic evocation of the British countryside, ably assisted by Aletta Collins’ languid choreography. Continue reading “Review: The Wind in the Willows, Theatre Royal Plymouth”

CD Review: From Here To Eternity (2014 Live Cast Recording)

“All along knowing that no-one has returned to care”

Barely managing six months in the West End in 2013/4, I think it’s fair to say the musical adaptation of From Here to Eternity underwhelmed. And though I was reasonably fair to it at the time, I can’t say that it has aged well, upon returning the live cast recording that was made before the final curtain fell, blame seeming to fall evenly between composer Stuart Brayson, lyricist Tim Rice and book writer Bill Oakes. 
And with weaknesses on all sides like this, very much exposed in the medium of record, it’s not too hard to see why the show didn’t achieve anywhere near the levels of success it was aiming for. There’s so little sense of the main thrust of the story coming through, or indeed any of the strands put forward being sufficiently developed, to make you care about any of the relationships or the plight of the men. 
Oakes’ book moves inconsistently around all of them and Brayson’s score does little to provide any covering connective tissue. His musical influences pull from too broad a canvas to provide aural cohesion and far too few of the songs are focused on advancing narrative – the coupling of Warden and Karen (whose surf-soaked bodies provide the iconic image) are given hardly any musical time together, quite Darius Campbell and Rebecca Thornhill are meant to do to generate chemistry in solo numbers is beyond me. 
Robert Lonsdale and Siubhan Harrison as the other couple fare a little better but again, are more apart than together musically. What we’re left with is a grab-bag of tunes, barely scratching the surface of anything, least of all the men of G Company whose tragic fate ends up feeling like divine retribution for being horrific human beings. There’s undoubtedly some halfway striking musical moments – the startling melody of ‘Thirty Year Man’ provides real interest, Ryan Sampson’s sardonic ‘I Love The Army’ threatens to show some character but all in all, it’s little surprise we’ve gone from here to obscurity.

Review: The Great American Trailer Park Musical, Waterloo East

The less than salubrious surroundings of the North Florida trailer park Armadillo Acres (few armadillos and even fewer acres) might seem like the ideal location for a madcap musical and in some ways, you’d be right. And The Great American Trailer Park Musical certainly lives up to the madcap and the musical in this knowingly camp production by Kirk Jameson – it’s just the ‘great’ that feels somewhat in doubt.

There’s no questioning the quality of the production and its brilliant casting decisions. Tempting the likes of illustrious veteran Rosie Ashe to the fringe is no mean feat and the powerhouse pipes of the severely under-rated Sabrina Aloueche is all the more impressive in the intimate (if poorly raked) Waterloo East Theatre. In fact, the whole company sing very well, their assured vocals matched by James Taylor’s musical direction.  Continue reading “Review: The Great American Trailer Park Musical, Waterloo East”

Review: Sunset Boulevard, London Coliseum

“Has there ever been a moment
With so much to live 
for?” 

Dammit – one of the key rationales behind my Broadway blowout last winter was seeing actors I didn’t think I’d otherwise have the chance to see in the West End, Glenn Close being chief among them and thus I forked out a pretty penny to see her in Edward Albee’s A Delicate Balance. So naturally her return to these shores was announced a few months later with a reprisal of her Tony Award-winning performance as Norma Desmond in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Sunset Boulevard.

And as with last year’s Sweeney Todd here at the Coliseum too, director Lonny Price and the ENO have returned to the semi-staged format which allows them to mount a bare-bones production and still charge full whack for tickets, prices thus go up to £150. I understand that money has to be made, especially for an organisation in as perilous a position as theirs and they say at least 400 tickets at every performance is available at £25 or under (altitude training not provided though…) Continue reading “Review: Sunset Boulevard, London Coliseum”

Film Review: London Road

“Everybody’s very very nervous”
 
The theatrical production of London Road was a major success for the National Theatre, the opening run first extending in the Cottesloe and then being rewarded with a later transfer to the much larger Olivier – I was first blownaway by its originality and then later comforted by its message in the aftermath of the 2011 riots. So the news that director Rufus Norris was making a film adaptation was received with apprehensive anticipation, could this strikingly experimental piece of theatre possibly work on screen.
 
Writer Alecky Blythe uses a technique whereby she records interviews with people which are then edited into a play but spoken verbatim by the actors, complete with all the ums and aahs and repetitions of natural speech. And in 2006, she went to Ipswich to interview a community rocked by a series of murders, of five women in total, all sex workers, and set about telling a story not of salacious deaths but of a community learning to cleave together in trying times. Oh, and it’s all set to the most innovative of musical scores by Adam Cork, elevating ordinary speech into something quite extraordinary. 

Continue reading “Film Review: London Road”

Review: Sweeney Todd, London Coliseum

“At the top of the hole sit the privileged few”

And it is mostly the privileged few who’ll get to see this lavish English National Opera production of Sondheim’s oft-revived Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street as stalls seats will set you back an eye-watering £95, £125 or £155. Somewhat cheaper seats are available from the upper circle upwards but still…* Lonny Price’s semi-staged production (with its nifty fake-out of a beginning) was first seen in New York in March 2014 but unsurprisingly, given it featured Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel as Mrs Lovett and the demon barber himself, it declared “there’s no place like London” and has now taken up residence in the Coliseum alongside a cast of nearly 40 musical theatre veterans (and Thompson’s daughter) and a lush-sounding  orchestra of 60.

Thompson and Terfel may be the headline names but the real pleasure comes in the luxury casting that surrounds them. Philip Quast and John Owen-Jones bring a richness of vocal to Judge Turpin and Pirelli respectively, Alex Gaumond and Jack North both mine effectively Dickensian depths to Beadle and Toby and there’s something glorious about having the marvellous Rosalie Craig here, even in so relatively minor a role as the Beggar Woman as her quality shines through despite that wig. Matthew Seadon-Young and Katie Hall as Anthony and Johanna are both really impressive too, their voices marrying beautifully as they respond intuitively to the textures of David Charles Obell’s orchestra. Continue reading “Review: Sweeney Todd, London Coliseum”