Album Review: The Route To Happiness (2014 Original Cast Recording)

“Better we’d not met”

I saw a festival presentation of Alexander S Bermange’s The Route To Happiness at the Landor back in 2013 and a year later, an original cast recording was made available through Auburn Jam, albeit with an entirely different cast. So in place of Cassidy Janson, Niall Sheehy, and Shona White, we get Kerry Ellis, Ben Forster and Louise Dearman taking on the roles of this three-hander.

The story follows the pursuit of fame, money and love and how the three intersect in the intertwined stories of Trinity, Marcus and Lorna. But where the show has maintained a fairly positive place in my memory, listening to the double-album of the score felt like a bit of a chore. Musically it is accomplished but far too similar-sounding, there’s little sense of progression to carry you through. Continue reading “Album Review: The Route To Happiness (2014 Original Cast Recording)”

Album Review: Wit and Whimsy – Songs by Alexander S Bermange

“If only I were famous from the telly”

Across its two discs and twenty-three tracks, there’s an awful lot of whimsy to Alexander S Bermange’s latest compilation album Wit and Whimsy and not quite enough wit to sustain it. Bermange is a composer who has had as much success writing comic songs for radio as he has in straight-up musical theatre (the two shows of his that I’ve seen – The Route to Happiness and Thirteen Days were both part of festivals).

That said, he has an impressive contacts list as evidenced by the range of people who have joined in on the action here – Laura Pitt-Pulford, Tracie Bennett, David Bedella, Cassidy Janson, Emma Williams, even Christopher Biggins. And with a guest list of this quality, naturally there are moments that shine here. Continue reading “Album Review: Wit and Whimsy – Songs by Alexander S Bermange”

Album Review: The West End goes MAD for Christmas

“I don’t need to ask for much this Christmas”

One of the more worthwhile festive releases this year is also pleasingly one of the more interesting. The Make A Difference Trust brings together the British entertainment community and its audiences to raise funds to support people living with HIV and AIDS and with The West End Goes MAD For Christmas, has brought together a host of new musical theatre champions to offer up a compilation of Christmas songs that offer a fascinating alternative to the age old carols and standards that proliferate at this time of year.

And producers Nikki & Joe Davison at Auburn Jam Records have done a brilliant job in matching composers to performers across the eight songs, curating pre-existing tracks and new, and shining a light on some serious talent. The plaintive simplicity of Stuart Matthew Price’s self-penned ‘This Christmas’ is characteristic of much of his oeuvre of classic songwriting, Gina Beck’s crystalline soprano dances beautifully around the timeless melody of Alexander S Bermange’s ‘Praying For You’ and Nadim Naaman‘s ‘A Soldier’s Christmas’ treads an equally emotive path, sung charmingly by Gerónimo Rauch and Naaman himself.
 

Continue reading “Album Review: The West End goes MAD for Christmas”

CD Review: Weird and Wonderful

“”You seemed uplifted but a little upset”

Alexander S Bermange is a composer and lyricist who has been working away for over a decade without ever really breaking through into the mainstream here in the UK. He had a show – The Route to Happiness – at the new musical theatre writing festival at the Landor last year but he has generally had more success in Germany though his contact list is top rate, as the roll call on his most recent CD Act One certainly attests.

Predating that collection though is 2004’s Weird and Wonderful which again boasts a fine collection of interesting performers – Anna Francolini, John Barr, and Richard Dempsey to name but a few – perhaps not as starry as some, but catnip to a theatre nerd like me. The focus here is on Bermange’s comic writing which gives a weird balance to the CD over its 19 tracks which can get a little bit wearing.  Continue reading “CD Review: Weird and Wonderful”

Review: The Route to Happiness, Landor

“We’ll make it”

Over the next month, Aria Entertainment and the Landor Theatre in South London are hosting a whole season dedicated to new musical theatre writing – From Page to Stage – which features showcases, works-in-progress and workshops from a wide range of writers from across the globe. The programme also includes this world premiere of The Route to Happiness, a new intimate three-hander from Alexander S Bermange which runs for a week. And as befits a season of this nature, the show marks an interesting progression for Bermange as a writer, though not one without its challenges, and offers a brilliant showcase for some of our excellent talent.

The Route to Happiness opens with three Londoners having their respective dreams of love and marriage, unlimited wealth and enduring fame dashed by circumstances and follows them on their attempts to build their hopes back up and get back in pursuit of the things that they think will make them happiest. So former banker Marcus seizes the opportunity to manage wannabe celebrity Trinity despite her lack of obvious talent, whilst also romancing author Lorna after an impromptu meeting at a wedding where she believes she may finally have found the one. Continue reading “Review: The Route to Happiness, Landor”

CD Review: Act One – Songs from the musicals of Alexander S Bermange

“Every moment’s one to treasure”

Composers who put together albums of their songs, especially if they are up and coming talent who haven’t necessarily had a breakthrough show yet, are often in something of a bind. Do you go for as diverse a selection of your material as you can find or do you concentrate on showcasing your strengths – both approaches have their merits and their disadvantages and I don’t personally think there is any easy, or right answer. Act One – Songs from the musicals of Alexander S Bermange is probably closer to the latter option and sure enough, it has its strengths and its weaknesses.

Bermange has quite a list of credits to his name but has arguably yet to really mark his mark on the London scene. I only really became aware of him recently when his show Thirteen Days had a small run as part of this year’s Arcola’s Grimeborn Festival. As a musical treatment of the Cuban missile crisis, it was a work of mixed qualities, not always entirely successful but one which equally showed intriguing promise, not least in the firmly old-school manner of rousing song-writing. And that is what comes across most clearly in this collection, which bypasses the post-Sondheim school to cleave closer to the likes of Schwartz and balladeer. Oh, and it features a simply sensational cast of sheer quality. Continue reading “CD Review: Act One – Songs from the musicals of Alexander S Bermange”

Review: Thirteen Days The Musical, Arcola

“You used me, you were lying, you are only here for spying”

The Grimeborn Festival is now in its sixth year of providing a very East London take on opera at the Arcola Theatre in Dalston, but wrapping up the programme this year is a new piece of musical theatre – Thirteen Days by Alexander S Bermange. A rather ambitious piece of work set around the Cuban Missile Crisis, not only does it tell the story of the brinkmanship between the three leaders of Kennedy, Khrushchev and Castro, it dramatizes the conflict in miniature in the form of a love triangle between a Cuban, a Soviet and an American, and thirdly also attempts to portray how the events affected the populations of each country.  

In painting his canvas so broad, Bermange – in charge of book, music and lyrics here – sets up a considerable challenge for himself, one which is not helped by his writing style. He is very much of the old-school British musical theatre school which stands him in good stead for the second of the above strands, the intimate love story of the Cuban student engaged to  a Soviet engineer but whose head is turned by an American visitor whose intentions are, initially at least, less than honourable. The stirring balladry that comes out of songs like ‘Anyone But You’ and ‘More Than A Memory’ feels ready to take up residence on a West End stage, as does the storming Act One finale – the mark of many a good musical past. Continue reading “Review: Thirteen Days The Musical, Arcola”

Review: A Song Cycle for Soho, Soho Theatre

“If you’re feeling low low, get down to Madame JoJo’s”

Featuring the vocal talents of Michael Cantwell, James Gillan, Niamh Perry and Claire Moore, and showcasing the work of musical theatre writers both established but primarily up and coming, A Song Cycle for Soho marks yet another feather in the cap for Mercury Musical Development, Simon Greiff and their sterling support for the genre. MMD has long been an invaluable resource for British musical theatre writers and Simon Greiff through SimG Productions has been tireless in his promotion of younger names and so there is something very apt about their collaboration here.

A Song Cycle for Soho developed out of Andrew Brinded’s original book which cast a bit of a sideways glance at Soho, an area of central London that is teeming with debauchery,history, character and a whole lot more besides. 16 set of songwriters were then invited to compose works that captured the multitudinous quirkiness of life in Soho and the result is a collection of songs that cover history, both recent and long ago, and the modern day; comedy, quiet tragedy and the whole gamut of crazy emotions inbetween. Continue reading “Review: A Song Cycle for Soho, Soho Theatre”

Review: Cabaret in the House with Tiffany Graves, Lauderdale House

Much of the success of cabaret shows relies on the right combination of performer and selection of material and with this show featuring Reed Sinclair and Tiffany Graves, the Cabaret in the House series at Lauderdale House absolutely hit the jackpot. Tim McArthur’s programming has paired rising stars with more established performers but what is nice is that they are both given ample opportunity to shine, there’s no minor supporting slot here but a full programme from both which really offers value for money, especially when it is of this quality and compered by the delightfully self-deprecating Valerie Cutko.

Canadian Reed Sinclair put together an intriguing set of songs, showcasing a range of musical theatre numbers from his career ranging from Cole Porter numbers to songs from US musicals that didn’t make it to the West End. And whilst the tendency might have been towards the slightly obscure, Sinclair delighted me by featuring not one but two of my randomly favourite songs! Hedwig & The Angry Inch is one of those shows and indeed films that really deserves to be much better known and when it was introduced to me by a friend, ‘Wicked Little Town’ was the song that stuck out for from the first listen and Sinclair’s rendition here was beautifully heartfelt, mixed in with some of ‘Hedwig’s Lament’ too. Continue reading “Review: Cabaret in the House with Tiffany Graves, Lauderdale House”