Album Review: Rags – The Musical: Original London Cast Recording

The Original London Cast Recording for Rags – The Musical is released by Ghostlight Records, the first to capture the many changes to the show

“What if we never meet again?”

Sometimes a musical just doesn’t grab you, and so it was for me with Rags The Musical. The show received its UK premiere at the Northern powerhouse that is the Hope Mill Theatre in February 2019 and transferred to the Park Theatre in London at the beginning of 2020 and despite its excellent notices, I just didn’t fancy it. The universe clearly wants me to hear it one way or another though, as Ghostlight Records are now releasing an official London cast recording, the first for this show since 1991.

I think my ambivalence might have stemmed from a lack of love for Fiddler on the Roof (I know…). And Rags was initially conceived in 1986 as a sequel of sorts by book-writer Joseph Stein, as he explores the experience of a group of Jewish immigrants as they arrive in the US. Over the years though, David Thompson has considerably revised it and Stephen Schwartz’s lyrics and Charles Strouse’s music have also been substantially tinkered with. Musicals are ever a work in progress but such overhauling doesn’t always inspire the greatest confidence – credit then to director Bronagh Lagan and musical director Joe Bunker for refining this material in such a stylish manner. Continue reading “Album Review: Rags – The Musical: Original London Cast Recording”

Review: The Wicker Husband, Watermill Theatre

Gorgeous new folk musical The Wicker Husband is perfectly situated at the Watermill Theatre and simply must be given more opportunity to soar post-crisis

“Once upon a withy on the edge of a deep damp swamp, nestled in the arms of a winding river, stood a pretty little town…”

Snuck in under the radar for this one as I’ve been looking forward to The Wicker Husband for a long time. Four years in fact, since I first heard a snippet of the score but as ever in the world of writing a new musical, the show has been in development for more than twice that time. Further upping my anticipation was the success of composer/lyricist Darren Clark’s last major project The Curious Case of Benjamin Button which was only my very favourite show of last year.

Together with book-writer Rhys Jennings, their adaptation of a short story by Ursula Wills-Jones has a bewitching quality that is eerily compelling and in the tradition of all the best fairy tales, has no problem in going very dark. Along with my mortal fear of eerily humanoid puppets, it makes for a much more chilling night at the theatre (for me, at least) but one which is ultimately beautifully human too, as Charlotte Westenra’s production reminds us why fables have endured for so long. Continue reading “Review: The Wicker Husband, Watermill Theatre”

Review: Caroline or Change, Playhouse Theatre

The extraordinary Caroline or Change makes the leap into the West End at the Playhouse Theatre, with a titanic Sharon D Clarke at the helm

“The Devil made the dryer.
Everything else, God made”

For the assiduous theatregoer, this is the third opportunity to catch this stirring Chichester Festival Theatre production of Caroline or Change. From its original run at the Minerva last year to the Hampstead Theatre this spring, this idiosyncratic musical now arrives in the West End in the relative intimacy of the Playhouse Theatre.

And it is an intimacy that is needed to draw you into the true shape of Michael Longhurst’s production – to be confronted with that Confederate statue, the sweltering isolation of that basement, the knots of tension on furrowed brows. The winds of change may be starting to blow across the US of the early 1960s but here in this Louisiana household, societal change has yet to filter down to the individual.  Continue reading “Review: Caroline or Change, Playhouse Theatre”

Review: Caroline, or Change, Hampstead

With the magnificent Sharon D Clarke at the helm, Caroline, or Change transfers to the Hampstead Theatre London with all its power intact

“Dressed in white and feelin’ low,
talkin’ to the washer and the radio”

Tony Kushner and Jeanine Tesori’s complex and challenging civil rights musical Caroline, or Change makes its long-awaited London return to the Hampstead theatre, more than a decade after its well-received National Theatre production took the Olivier for Best New Musical but found no further life.

Michael Longhurst’s production was first seen in Chichester last May (here’s my review) and whilst it is a shame that that original cast aren’t all present here (the glorious Nicola Hughes, Gloria Onitiri, Jennifer Saayeng all now elsewhere), it holds on to the titanic talents of Sharon D Clarke as Caroline Thibideaux. Continue reading “Review: Caroline, or Change, Hampstead”

Review: Caroline or Change, Minerva

“Household rules and small decrees unsuspecting bring us these secret little tragedies”

Well Daniel Evans looks set to be continuing one of Chichester Festival Theatre’s longstanding traditions, of producing musical theatre that tempts the cognoscenti over to West Sussex in droves and which leads calls for West End transfers as soon as the curtain falls (if they had curtains in Chichester that is…). His first musical for the venue is a promising one too, an adventurous choice in Tony Kushner and Jeanine Tesori’s Caroline or Change, and an entirely successful one under Michael Longhurst’s direction and a genuinely superb cast.

It is 1963, the United States is in the grip of a civil rights movement but one whose effects haven’t quite trickled all the way down to the Deep South just yet. Caroline Thibodeaux is an African American maid in Lakes Charles, Louisiana working for a Jewish family, The Gellmans, for 30 dollars a week. But she’s a single mother of 4 and ends are barely meeting so when stepmother of the house Rose devises a plan to teach her 8-year-old stepson Noah not to leave change in his pocket, it’s a difficult one to resist despite – or maybe because of – all the racial, social and economic tensions it represents. Continue reading “Review: Caroline or Change, Minerva”

Review: Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, Open Air Theatre

“Secretly they was overjoyed”

Rachel Kavanaugh’s glorious take on The Sound of Music two years ago for the Open Air Theatre in Regent’s Park was a wonderful thing indeed so it is little surprise to see her welcomed back to this venue to tackle another Golden Age classic, this time Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. It’s a canny decision as her familiarity with the space shows, utterly unafraid to use its full width and depth for unexpected arrivals, slow reveals and thrilling chase sequences and of course, the coup de théâtre that is the pinnacle of Peter McKintosh’s design which is a real piece of old-fashioned theatre magic.

Kavanaugh also makes small but pointed attempts to address the dubious gender politics of the show, without ever sacrificing the spirit of fun that should always characterise such classic musical theatre. So from the first moment Adam and Milly clap eyes on each other, there’s no doubting that the erotic charge between them is mutual, her lustful glances perhaps even more overt than his. And the strength of Laura Pitt-Pulford’s performance is that she never lets us forget she’s a woman making her own choices, even if its just making the best of a bad lot. It’s not a perfect reconciliation of the issues but it feels enough for her, for now. Continue reading “Review: Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, Open Air Theatre”

Review: Porgy and Bess, Open Air Theatre

“I’m full of all commotion like an ocean full of rhum”

The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess (as it appears to be styled here, in case you confuse it with Jedward’s Porgy and Bess) made for a striking component of the Open Air Theatre’s programme this summer. More folk opera than musical, it is perhaps a more challenging choice than usual but none the worse for it, the musical and dramatic spectacle heightened by an impressionistically remarkable design by Katrina Lindsay and director Timothy Sheader’s resourceful production which hammers home its musical strength.

From its tragically inclined leads, Nicola Hughes’ sensational Bess with her substance abuse issues and Rufus Bonds Jr’s impassioned dignity as Porgy, through brilliant support from the likes of Golda Roshuevel’s Serena and Sharon D Clarke’s Mariah, to the polar opposites of Jade Ewen’s impossibly pure Clara to croons the iconic lullaby ‘Summertime’ and Cedric Neal’s sleazily cocky ‘Sportin’ Life’ who swaggers through ‘It Ain’t Necessarily So’ as he ensnares Bess with his wares, the sheer size and quality of this ensemble is truly something to behold. Continue reading “Review: Porgy and Bess, Open Air Theatre”