Review: Only Fools and Horses The Musical, Theatre Royal Haymarket

Perhaps predictably, I have anything but a lovely jubbly time at Only Fools and Horses The Musical at the Theatre Royal Haymarket

“You can’t whack the big pineapple”

Full disclosure – I don’t know if I’ve ever seen an episode of Only Fools and Horses voluntarily. I mean I’ve seen clips and I’ve probably been in a room where other people were watching it, but it was never a show that has figured in my life. So news of Only Fools and Horses The Musical didn’t bring quite the excitement it did for so many others, ensuring that this was a commercial success long before any critics got near it.

And as such, my own reaction can only be viewed through this lens. When people say ‘you don’t have to have seen the TV show to get the jokes’. I can tell you they’re having a laugh. This musical is suffused with injokes, from the pre-show announcements onwards and in some ways, rightly so (having had a similar kind of experience with Acorn Antiques the Musical in this very theatre). Continue reading “Review: Only Fools and Horses The Musical, Theatre Royal Haymarket”

Album Review: Legally Blonde (2010 Original London Cast)

“You must admit that Elle Woods should join the chosen few”

Part of the fun of delving back into these soundtracks, so many of which I’ve had for a while, is challenging the preconceptions that I’ve allowed to build up in my mind. Sister Act the musical is the perfect example, mentally I didn’t rate it so hadn’t listened to it for an age but upon taking the time, I discovered it to be better than I remembered. That works both ways though and I’ve long rated the Legally Blonde the Musical soundtrack on this basis, even though it really stems from me having my favourite four tracks from it on my most listened to playlist.

So yes, ‘Omigod You Guys’ and ‘What You Want’ are two brilliant songs and I’ll fight anyone who says otherwise. Their glossy joie de vivre setting the scene perfectly for this camp-as-tits show and book-ended by the highly amusing ‘There, Right There!’ and the emotive title track which segues from its gorgeous ballad treatment into an energetic 11 o’clock number, there are some cracking musical moments in this show and with national-treasure-in-the-making Sheridan Smith at its helm as the determined Elle Woods, how could it be otherwise. Continue reading “Album Review: Legally Blonde (2010 Original London Cast)”

Review: Legally Blonde The Musical, New Wimbledon

“You need to see me in a brand new domain” 

Legally Blonde The Musical turned out to be something of a surprise: a show that I grew to really love over my three visits during its West End run (review#1, review#2, review#3), whilst making a bona fide star out of its leading lady Sheridan Smith. I may not have been blown away by it on first viewing, but it worked its way into my heart and its soundtrack is one that I listen to quite often even now. Capitalising on its finish in London, a national tour of the show has taken up shop in the New Wimbledon Theatre, giving Londoners another chance to dip into the world of Elle Woods, if they’re willing to go to zone 3 that is.

Revisiting something that was so enjoyed though can have its pitfalls, as comparisons are invariably drawn. Some of it is about the realities of seeing a touring version of a show – the set will never be as impressive as in a West End house, but the design here really does come up short on a couple of occasions and the sound quality was shocking in parts. Elsewhere, some performances left me disappointed especially as the casting decisions don’t always seem to have hit the mark. It feels a little churlish to criticise Faye Brookes for not being Sheridan Smith, but her Elle doesn’t capture the loveability that is needed to keep the show swinging through its slower parts and to keep the audience invested. Gareth Gates takes on the thankless role of Warner very much against type and I’m not sure I bought him as the heartbreaker. Both sounded excellent though. Continue reading “Review: Legally Blonde The Musical, New Wimbledon”

Album Review: Betty Blue Eyes Official London Cast Recording

“He has magic fingers”

Before it came to an untimely end, the cast of Betty Blue Eyes were able to put down their vocals for an official live cast recording which provides something of a legacy for this Stiles + Drewe show. I went to see the show two times – reviews here and here – and loved it on each occasion as a fine exponent of a truly British new musical, but I have to admit I didn’t race to buy the soundtrack when it was first released. Part of it was due to the free taster CD that was released with the Evening Standard one Friday afternoon which meant I already had just under half the songs and though I enjoyed listening to it a couple of times, it was not one to which I returned.

Though I found it to be musically a very strong show, for some reason it doesn’t quite come across as well on the recording. Whether it was the lack of accompanying visuals to up the ante or the fact that I’d seen the show quite recently, the joy I got from watching the show didn’t quite translate into the listening experience I thought it would be. In its entirety, I found it to be so retro-infused and nostalgic as to almost be too much to listen to in one go, it doesn’t quite hit the same spot although there are moments of individual brilliance in some of the songs. Continue reading “Album Review: Betty Blue Eyes Official London Cast Recording”

Re-review: Betty Blue Eyes, Novello

“Pig! No pig!”

Not too much to say about revisiting Betty Blue Eyes as most everything I wanted to say was covered in my original review, and although I’m sad to say there was no Liza at this performance, I was joined by someone even better! I really enjoy watching shows I love with people experiencing them for the first time and seeing what they respond to and I was pleased to hear Aunty Jean chuckling away next to me for most of the show. But it was also interesting to see that there were sections I’d forgotten (one of the dangers of having an album sampler rather than the whole show I think) and how my emotional reactions differed: ‘Magic Fingers’ brought proper tears down my cheek and being somewhat prepared, I was able to look a bit more at the pig without being too freaked out 😉

Aside from the replacement of the lightsabers with paint brushes in ‘Painting By Heart’, I can’t say I noticed any significant changes since the preview I saw. I can’t even really say that I thought the cast looked more comfortable or polished onstage as they were in pretty good shape when I saw them. There’s still the slight feeling that a couple of the roles could be sung by stronger voices, but I would wager that it would rob the show of much of its quirky charm. Continue reading “Re-review: Betty Blue Eyes, Novello”

Review: Betty Blue Eyes, Novello

“Another little victory for little England”

With a book by Ron Cowen + Daniel Lipman, adapted from the story of the film A Private Function by Alan Bennett + Malcolm Mowbray and with a score by George Stiles + Anthony Drewe and marking a rare excursion back into producing from Cameron Mackintosh, Betty Blue Eyes is a new musical at the Novello Theatre with a lot of names credited on the poster! Set in Shepardsford, a Yorkshire town in 1947 at the height of post-war austerity (and previews, which this was, are being sold at austerity prices!), the plot follows Gilbert Chilvers a chiropodist and his frustrated wife Joyce, chafing under the restrictions of the time and who yearns to be accepted into the higher echelon of society where she believes they belong. They are not having much joy until they happen upon a secret plot by the town council to hold a feast for this elite in honour of Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip’s impending marriage at which an illegally kept pig will be the star of the banquet. So, this being a comedy, they steal the pig.

But it is about something more too, over and above the farcical shenanigans with Betty the pig, especially in the more reflective first half. This is a society struggling to come to terms with the enduring impact of the Second World War, the melancholy ‘Magic Fingers’ in particular looking at the wives left behind, as rationing hits hard, threatening to dampen the spirit of those just trying to carry on living in hard times yet still nurturing their own dreams and ambitions. And this is where Stiles + Drewe’s score comes into its own, suffused with a beautiful warmth: it really is stuffed full of tunes, their comical songs are deliciously witty whilst advancing the story, there’s simple but affecting emotion in the balladry and more than once, I found myself just swaying along with a grin on my face (and not just because Liza Minnelli was just a couple of seats away from us). It all has that kind of nostalgic feel that makes for easy recognition and it is a score I wanted to hear again from the moment the show finished. Continue reading “Review: Betty Blue Eyes, Novello”

Review: Legally Blonde The Musical (cast change), Savoy Theatre

“Ohmigod youguys! Ohmigod!”

So after an impromptu visit to see Legally Blonde a couple of weeks ago as a favour to a friend, my scheduled return to the show took place this weekend in order to see how the new cast members are settling in, with the first major cast change since the show opened. Since I saw it so recently (and I saw so much this week too…), I’m linking to my thoughts on seeing it again here instead of repeating them: this post will focus mainly on the newbies.

Simon Thomas has taken over as Wagner, which marks a change from casting a more famous name in this role as has been done previously despite it not really being a major role at all. I remember being surprised first time round at how little the character is featured in the show, given that Duncan James’ face was plastered all over the publicity. He does well in what is quite a thankless role really, but I did enjoy his performance and his handsomeness definitely helps! Carley Stenson did well as Margot with a more endearing and sweet take on this girl, having already developed a great chemistry with the other Delta Nu girls but Siobhan Dillon just exudes confidence as Vivienne, seeming as if she’s been in the ensemble for ages with a great performance both acting-wise and in her singing, especially that whopper of a note in the Legally Blonde Remix at the end. Continue reading “Review: Legally Blonde The Musical (cast change), Savoy Theatre”

Re-Review: Legally Blonde – The Musical, Savoy Theatre

“Some girls fight hard; some face the trial”

I have tickets for Legally Blonde – The Musical later this month after the cast change as the final part of my trip round the musicals, but when a friend offered me a last second ticket on a cold dark night, I thought why not and decided to give this show another whirl. A more detailed review of the show can be found here, this will focus more on the performances this time round. The cast is largely the same, Richard Fleeshman being the only major change having taken over from Duncan James, but I saw Andy Mace as Professor Callaghan, on for an indisposed Peter Davison.

This really is Sheridan Smith’s show: her energy and vivacity drive proceedings on so effortlessly and naturally and she really is a gifted comic performer, getting the laughs in throughout, but also finding real emotional depth too. There was some unfortunate unscripted drama as she injured her shoulder (apparently nothing serious and not a dislocation as someone reported on Twitter) midway through the first half and the lights came back up as we anxiously waited to find out what would happen. She eventually resurfaced and continued bravely though in some discomfort, perversely lending the finale of Act I a real gritty, tear-jerking quality. An extended interval led us to suspect an understudy would appear, but to her credit, Smith finished the show and her second half performance showed no sign of the injury. I applaud her for continuing on and not wanting to disappoint her audience (who reciprocated with a raucous standing ovation) but I do worry about the physical toll this role is taking on her body, especially as she has now extended to January: it really is a demanding part, Elle is rarely off the stage and sings in the vast majority of the songs. Continue reading “Re-Review: Legally Blonde – The Musical, Savoy Theatre”

Review: Legally Blonde The Musical, Savoy

“You can’t come in here with all your singing, dancing and…ethnic movements”

If Priscilla Queen of the Desert was the marshmallow on top of the whipped cream on top of your cocoa, then Legally Blonde is the full mug of the best Viennese hot chocolate you can imagine. Sticking closely to the story of the film, with just a little streamlining, we follow Elle Woods, a Malibu princess and sorority queen whose world is rocked when her boyfriend leaves her for Harvard Law School and the pursuit of someone more ‘serious’. Elle then follows him but ends up finding out a lot more about herself than she anticipated. The book is completely original and I found it surprisingly good, the opening numbers of ‘Ohmigod you guys’ and ‘What you want’ were both great tunes, ‘Ohmigod’ in particular will not leave your head for hours! There are of course some weaker numbers in there, but never any boring ones which is achievement enough. Continue reading “Review: Legally Blonde The Musical, Savoy”