An assortment of October theatre news

Full casting has been announced for Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch’s upcoming production of Misfits, an innovative new hybrid of live theatre and digital content, playing 12-22 November 2020. Bookers will purchase a ticket which will allow them the choice of watching the show be performed live onstage in front of a socially
distanced audience or streamed to their homes, right up until the day of the show.

Misfits intertwines four inspirational tales of Essex resilience to make an unmissable world premiere by four of the region’s most exciting playwrights: Anne Odeke, Guleraana Mir, Kenny Emson and Sadie Hasler and will be co-directed by QTH Artistic Director Douglas Rintoul and Emma Baggott. The cast is Anne Odeke, who is also writing part of the piece, Gemma Salter, Mona Goodwin and Thomas Coombes. Continue reading “An assortment of October theatre news”

Review: Godspell 50th anniversary concert

Ruthie Henshall, Darren Day, Sam Tutty and more star in an online 50th Anniversary concert of Stephen Schwartz’s Godspell 

“Some men are born to live at ease, doing what they please”

We’ve all had to adjust our plans one way or another but not even a global pandemic is going to get in the way of Godspell celebrating its 50th anniversary with this online tribute concert. Conceived and directed by Michael Strassen, it reunites stars like Ruthie Henshall, Darren Day and John Barr with a show for which they made a studio cast recording in 1993, and also features a host of additional musical theatre talents.

The musical, score by Stephen Schwartz and book by John-Michael Tebelak, draws on the Gospel of Matthew as it moves towards the Passion of the Christ. But this adaptation points a little more towards inspirational optimism than outright spirituality, whilst introducing a creatively interesting way of presenting the songs which sets it apart from many of the other online offerings of the last few months.  Continue reading “Review: Godspell 50th anniversary concert”

News: Godspell to receive the 50th Anniversary concert treatment

Ruthie Henshall, Darren Day, Sam Tutty and more star in Godspell 50th Anniversary concert

Prepare ye the way of Godspell in concert! Theatrical legends will come together to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Godspell in an exciting online concert experience. Ruthie Henshall (Chicago; Billy Elliot), and Darren Day (Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat; Priscilla, Queen of the Desert) will return to reprise their roles from the 1993 cast recording; they will be joined by Sam Tutty (Dear Evan Hansen), Ria Jones (Sunset Boulevard; High Society), and Jenna Russell (The Bridges of Madison County; Fun Home). Continue reading “News: Godspell to receive the 50th Anniversary concert treatment”

Film Review: Nativity Rocks! (2018)

The fourth instalment in the Nativity film series, Nativity Rocks! restores a little of the goodwill squandered by the previous two sequels

“I’m wishing Father Christmas doesn’t forget where I live like he did last year”

I can’t think of a film franchise that has squandered such promise as the Nativity series. Debbie Isitt’s original film was such a sweetly unexpected success, but its magic sadly proved rather elusive as its subsequent sequels lost any of its sense of purpose or improvised charm. So the arrival of a third sequel in the shape of Nativity Rocks! (released in cinemas in 2018) came with a healthy dose of apprehension, even if the musical adaptation has rescued some of its lustre (though is that also now in danger of oversaturation , as the musical is now in its third consecutive winter tour).

For all my reservations though, Isitt had zero problem in attracting a quality ensemble as the cast undergoes something of an overhaul. So Marc Wootton’s Mr Poppy is dispatched to Australia and replaced with Simon Lipkin’s Mr Poppy (his long-lost brother), Daniel Boys is the fresh-faced teacher taking St Bernadette’s school choir through the rigours of yet another competition, with Helen George as the putative love interest, Gabriel Vick as the posh rival schoolmaster. Plus there’s Hugh Dennis and Anna Chancellor as some well-to-do parents, Ramin Karimloo as a refugee father, Meera Syal and Celia Imrie too, plus Craig Revel Horwood… Continue reading “Film Review: Nativity Rocks! (2018)”

CD Review: Alison Jiear – Inspirational

“I’m on your side”
Truth be told, I wouldn’t normally listen to anything that falls under the Christian label on iTunes and so Alison Jiear’s album Inspirational hadn’t quite registered on my radar until someone passed me a link to the stunning version of Simon and Garfunkel’s ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ that sits in the middle of this collection. A gospel adaptation on which she duets with Cynthia Erivo, it just crackles with fervour, from its gorgeous unaccompanied intro to its ecstatic finale and made me want to investigate more.
And it’s a fascinating collection (produced by Steve Anderson, how could it not be), not least because its ‘inspirational’ content is generally unfamiliar to me. The soaring slow-build of One God, popularised by Johnny Mathis and Barbra Streisand, is undeniable; hymn ‘How Great Thou Art’ has a certain rousing power; and if Christian rock anthems like ‘I Can Only Imagine’ don’t really do it for me at all, the passion which with Jiear imbues ‘Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone) really makes you listen to every single word. 
And when things are more secular, they’re no less heartfelt. Gently stirring songs like the rather beautiful ‘I’ll Keep You Safe’ and ‘To Where You Are’ suit the clarity and purity of Jiear’s voice here down to the ground, as does the powerful ‘Remember Me’ (An Anthem for Alzheimer’s Disease), the poignant subject matter close to her heart as her father fought the condition for 4 years before passing in 2014. A slowed-down ‘Both Sides Now’ is genuinely ruminative, its wisdom hard won and all the more affecting for it. The Christian label is thus unfair, or rather my presumptions about it are, as Inspirational shows off faith at its best, in its all-encompassing openness no matter what you believe in. 

CD Review: Annie (1995 London Studio Cast Recording)

“Betcha they’re good

Why shouldn’t they be?”
I’ve never actually seen Annie on stage. I would have gone to the recent UK touring version but I was too annoyed by the cast of Craig Revel Horwood as Miss Hannigan to even contemplate booking. For me, taking away any of the few opportunities for older actresses without substantially making up for it elsewhere is unforgivable. Yes, you could point to his alternate being Lesley Joseph, or Jodie Prenger, which simply reinforces the pointlessness of the exercise, pushing it too close to stunt casting.
So I was interested to actually listen to Charles Strouse’s score for the first time since becoming a blogger and I opted for this 1995 studio cast recording as it had names like Ruthie Henshall, Kim Criswell and Clare Burt attached to it. I really wish hadn’t though as it is a dated, lethargic run through the music that lacks any kind of real energy at all. It is sung perfectly proficiently – Sarah French’s Annie, Criswell’s Miss Hannigan, Henshall’s Grace, Ron Raines as Daddy Warbucks – but this recording is as dusty as a relic and should be left on a shelf to collect more dust.

Review: Xanadu, Southwark Playhouse

“This is like children’s theatre for 40-year-old gay people” 

There’s something almost rather brazen about the way in Paul Warwick Griffin’s production of Xanadu fully embraces its highly camp nature and pushes it even further over the edge, highlighting its naffness and daring us to call its bluff. From the tongue-in-cheek manner in which Greek mythological creatures wind their way onto the stage in Morgan Large’s design to the completely rough-around-the-edges approach to delivering much of Nathan M Wright’s (earthbound) dance moves – it’s a whole lot of frothy nonsense but nonetheless, always enjoyable hokum. 

Because what sells the show is just how good the good bits are. The roller-choreography is excellently done and as its key exponent, Carly Anderson is just brilliant as Kira/Clio. On roller-skates more often than she is not, she floats ethereally in and around the stage like the goddess she is, descending to Venice Beach to inspire cutely musclebound Sonny to fulfil his artistic dream of opening a roller disco. Her human form takes a hilariously broad Australian accent and Anderson milks this expertly for all its comic potential as well as sounding like a dream when singing. Continue reading “Review: Xanadu, Southwark Playhouse”

Album Review: The Three Little Pigs

“The world is perfect, perfect, perfect for a pig!”

Listening to their newly released cast recording of Goldilocks And The Three Bears, I was reminded that I have had Stiles and Drewe’s The Three Little Pigs on my ‘to listen to’ pile for ages now and with a theatrical production about to start at the Palace Theatre, what better time than now to finally get round to it. 

A response to a commission from Singapore Repertory Theatre’s Little Company, The Three Little Pigs is the first in Stiles & Drewe’s fairytale-based Trilogy of Trios – the bears are the second instalment and next year should see The Three Billy Goats Gruff receive the same family-friendly treatment. Continue reading “Album Review: The Three Little Pigs”

CD Review: Hey Producer!

“I was wond’ring when you gonna notice me”

Hey Producer! is a collection of musical theatre and cabaret songs by composer Danny Davies, pulling together selections from cabarets, excerpts from musicals he has written and specially composed songs for this CD. It was released in 2012, and as is the way with these albums, a spectacular array of performers have been assembled to deliver this material. From fresher talents like Julie Atherton and Daniel Boys to the more experienced hands of Peter Polycarpou and Rosie Ashe, the combined effect is of an old-school musical theatre vibe that is rather pleasing.

The CD starts with a classic cabaret number, Atherton’s ‘Hey Producer!’ in which a budding star pleads for her chance for a big break, offering up any kind of inducement including her body even though “you’re probably gay” – witty and light and one can imagine it going down a storm somewhere like the Crazy Coqs. We then move into a sequence of impassioned old-school balladry – Patrick Smyth’s ‘Falling Rai’n, Chris Thatcher and Alison Jiear’s ‘One More Night’ and Polycarpou’s ‘Twice the Man’ all stir the soul with noble sentiment, rousing emotion and most significantly, cleanly memorable tunes. Continue reading “CD Review: Hey Producer!”

Film Review: Les Misérables

“Life has dropped you at the bottom of the heap”

For many people, myself included, it is nigh on impossible to approach a film version of stage behemoth Les Misérables with a blank slate. It’s been a mainstay of the musical theatre world since its 1985 London debut – it is most likely the show I have seen the most times throughout my lifetime – and after celebrating its 25th anniversary with an extraordinarily good touring production, has been riding high with a revitalised energy. So Tom Hooper’s film has a lot to contend with in terms of preconceptions, expectations and long-ingrained ideas of how it should be done. And he has attacked it with gusto, aiming to reinvent notions of cinematic musicals by having his actors sing live to camera and bringing his inimitable close-up directorial style to bear thus creating a film which is epic in scale but largely intimate in focus.

In short, I liked it but I didn’t love it. I’m not so sure that Hooper’s take on the piece as a whole is entirely suited to the material, or rather my idea of how best it works. Claude-Michel Schönberg’s score has a sweeping grandeur which is already quasi-cinematic in its scope but Hooper never really embraces it fully as he works in his customary solo shots and close-ups into the numbers so well known as ensemble masterpieces.  ‘At The End Of The Day’ and ‘One Day More’ both suffer this fate of being presented as individually sung segments stitched together but for me, the pieces never really added up to more than the sum of their parts to gain the substantial power that they possess on the stage. Continue reading “Film Review: Les Misérables”