Album Review: Leading Ladies – Songs From The Stage

“Lock the door and stop complaining
Gather ’round and listen well”

Between them, Amber Riley, Beverley Knight and Cassidy Janson have racked up Olivier Awards and accolades aplenty and their mutual respect has led to them joining forces to create musical supergroup Leading Ladies. And working with producers Brian Rawling and Paul Meehan through East West Records (Warner), their debut album Songs From The Stage is about to be released.

Across the 14 tracks of the collection, there’s a variety of approaches as they tackle songs from a wide range of musicals. Each singer gets a couple of solo numbers, and they all chip in with backing vocals on some of those, but the highlights come when the trio sing together. And none more so than on an utterly transcendent version of Carole King’s ‘Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow’ whose close harmonies are goosebump-inducingly extraordinary, the marriage of their voices a perfect alchemy. Continue reading “Album Review: Leading Ladies – Songs From The Stage”

Review: The Addams Family, New Wimbledon

“Hold your decaying

Hear what we’re saying”
Sad to say, what I’m saying is that I was not a fan of The Addams Family at all. After a cracking opening number which promises oh so much, Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice’s book grinds to a juddering halt in a first half which does nothing but interminably set the scene. And Andrew Lippa’s score offers little respite as it fails to really nail any definitive sense of identity and ends up really rather forgettable. Things do pick up a tad post-interval but it’s too little too late by then.
It all could have been so much better. The Addams Family are an iconic set of characters, previously immortalised on cartoon strip, on television and on film, a legacy which goes some way to explaining the commercial success of the show on Broadway in the face of a scathing critical reception. But classic characters need classic storytelling and here, they’re marooned in a schmaltzy neverland which captures nothing of the golden age, nor has anything to say to audiences today.
The story hinges on Carrie Hope Fletcher’s Wednesday hooking up with the ‘normal’ Lucas, played by Oliver Ormson, but there’s zero narrative tension in the plot (or credibility – why Wednesday is attracted to him remains a mystery), such as it is, and the focus on Lucas’ family is misjudged, distracting from the whole raison d’être of a show called The Addams Family about the Addams Family. But even then, when the spotlight shines on the ooky and the kooky, the results are less spooky than shockingly dull.
Alistair David’s choreography provides sporadic visual interest, away from the rather cheap looking design by Diego Pitarch (perhaps inevitable for a touring production but still…). And there are some solid performances here – Fletcher is vocally on form, Samantha Womack’s Morticia is archly effective, Cameron Blakely’s hard-working Gomez is over-used but good, even Les Dennis finds a niche as occasional visitor Uncle Fester. But there’s no teeth to them, nothing to make them stand out in the way I so craved. That that blandness makes this a more family-friendly musical comedy does not escape me, 
Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes (with interval)
Photo: Matt Martin
Booking until 20th May then touring to – 
Canterbury Marlowe 23 May 2017 – 27 May 2017
Southend Cliffs Pavilion 30 May 2017 – 3 June 2017
Birmingham Hippodrome 6 June 2017 – 10 June 2017
Theatre Royal Bath 13 June 2017 – 17 June 2017
Hall for Cornwall, Truro 20 June 2017 – 24 June 2017
Nottingham Theatre Royal 27 June 2017 – 1 July 2017
Alhambra Theatre, Bradford 4 July 2017 – 8 July 2017
Mayflower Theatre, Southampton 18 July 2017 – 29 July 2017
Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff 1 August 2017 – 12 August 2017
Bord Gáis Energy Theatre, Dublin 15 August 2017 – 26 August 2017
The Lowry, Salford 29 August 2017 – 9 September 2017
Sheffield Lyceum 12 September 2017 – 16 September 2017
Bristol Hippodrome 19 September 2017 – 23 September 2017
New Victoria Theatre, Woking 26 September 2017 – 30 September 2017
Grand Opera House, Belfast 3 October 2017 – 7 October 2017
Glasgow King’s Theatre 10 October 2017 – 14 October 2017
Wolverhampton Grand 17 October 2017 – 21 October 2017
Milton Keynes Theatre 24 October 2017 – 28 October 2017

Orchard Theatre, Dartford 31 October 2017 – 4 November 2017

CD Review: Nadim Naaman – Sides

“Livin’ for the moment’s rewards”

I did like Nadim Naaman’s first album We All Want The Same but with its compositions stretching over a decade of Naaman’s songwriting, it didn’t quite have the cohesion to show off his emerging talents. For his second CD though, he’s gone all-out to demonstrate the depths of both sides to him as a musician – opting for a double-length album, half the songs are musical theatre numbers which have received his own spin, and the other half are original songs written over the last year. Thus Sides reaches with larger ambition, and succeeds.

Naaman has a marvelous showman quality to his voice but it’s beautiful to hear him bring out all the colours he can – the sense of building excitement in The Hunchback of Notre Dame’s ‘Out There’, the driving, the driving swagger of The Fix’s One, Two, Three complemented by its tenderly heartfelt break. A jaunty ‘Moving Too Fast’ sees him looking back to one of his first professional roles as The Last Five Years’ Jamie whereas his current gig – Raoul in The Phantom of the Opera – is acknowledged with a startling but hugely effective Latin-inflected treatment of its title song, accompanied by the glorious richness of Celinde Schoenmaker’s voice.

Continue reading “CD Review: Nadim Naaman – Sides”

Review: Life of the Party, Menier Chocolate Factory

“I planned a well-rendered, one-gendered lesbian love story”

You’d be forgiven for not being familiar with Andrew Lippa, whose work is being celebrated at the Menier Chocolate Factory with a vivacious show that cherry-picks from his career so far. Although born in Leeds, his successes have been over the Atlantic with shows like The Addams Family, Big Fish and The Wild Party which have helped him to build a considerable, if niche, audience. With the help of some classy West End friends though, this sparkling revue could well encourage a further groundswell of popular support in the UK and get Lippa’s work produced here more often. 

In the meantime, the concert format works well here with The Life of the Party. Lippa is a born raconteur and from his piano, he is a hugely entertaining presence full of gossipy tidbits but more importantly, brimming with enthusiasm for the world of musical theatre and his continued place in it. Talking about the songs and shows that have made up his oeuvre, there is no mistaking his sheer love for what he does and that brings something extraordinary to the material, an intensity that might not even been matched when the songs are being performed in their natural context within the shows. Continue reading “Review: Life of the Party, Menier Chocolate Factory”

Review: You’re A Good Man Charlie Brown, Tabard

“I really don’t think you have anything to worry about Charlie Brown”

Out in West London, the Tabard is a theatre that hasn’t really managed to work its way into my regular theatregoing: I’ve enjoyed things there, last Christmas’ Just So in particular, but it’s always been a bit on the wrong side of town for me to merit multiple trips, the nature of fringe theatre being essentially so variable. But an interesting looking cast for You’re A Good Man Charlie Brown meant that I made the trip to Turnham Green once more. A musical comedy based on the famous Peanuts comedy strip, this is a revised version of the show by Clark Gesner, with additional songs and dialogue from Michael Mayer and Andrew Lippa and in another factor that convinced me to go, is directed by Anthony Drewe.

Perhaps unsurprisingly it wasn’t a particularly intellectually demanding show but then neither could it easily be dismissed as froth. There’s a wry charm to the way in which these stories of young children growing up and all their trials and tribulations are sweetly portrayed, a knowing innocence is probably the best way to describe it and wrapped in a fair deal of fun and silly songs. And in securing a rather top-notch cast, the sometimes slight material is given more of a dramatic weight that lifts the production from just being funny to an intimate delight.

Whether it’s Hayley Gallivan’s philosophically intense Sally, Adam Ellis’ blanket-obsessed Linus with a great line in childlike sarcasm or Leanne Jones’ beltingly brash Lucy, the cast give it their all throughout. And Mark Anderson’s lovable Snoopy is really rather special. Add in Nick Winston’s sharp choreography and Elliot Davis’ tight band, both working extremely well in the limited space. It worked well as a show for both those who know the comic (my companion) and those who do not (yours truly) and though it disappeared gossamer-like into the ether as soon as we’d left the theatre, sometimes what you want is candy-floss.

Running time: 2 hours (with interval)
Booking until 30th October

Review: Christmas in New York, Lyric

Continuing my obsession with all things Avenue Q or at least vaguely connected, we trotted off to the Lyric Theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue to Christmas in New York, a show of Christmas music ranging from traditional carols to thoroughly modern musical theatre numbers. The Q connection comes from Julie Atherton who alongside Paul Spicer is a founder member of Notes from New York, the company behind this annual show whose remit is to promote contemporary musical theatre composers.

It was a highly enjoyable evening in which the talent onstage was clear with a range of West End stars, singing a mix of solos, duets and group numbers accompanied by a large choir giving huge glorious voice to several of the songs. Spicer and Atherton fronted up the ensemble but they far from hogged the limelight as many others, like Emma Williams, Melanie La Barrie and Oliver Tompsett, got their turn too.

The only downside was our unfamiliarity with much of the material: it was akin to going to see a gig by someone you really like who just sings songs from a new album that you don’t know. Amongst the traditional carols and the Sondheim, Berlin and Rodgers number were intertwined with new composers like Michael Bruce, Charles Miller, Grant Olding and Ann Hampton Callaway whose material kind of passed me by a little without knowing more about it. There must have been over 30 songs performed in the big theatre and I would have preferred the stronger connection that might have developed in a more intimate venue.

The musical version of Twas the Night Before Christmas was great fun though and it was a highly entertaining night altogether. A great demonstration of fresh new talent working on the stage and a nice alternative to the endlessly repeated usual Christmas tunes.