CD Review: Xanadu (2007 Original Broadway Cast)

“A place, where nobody dared to go”
And from the musicals that will be on at the Southwark Playhouse to one which has already played. The glitter and roller-skates of Xanadu took up residence at the tail end of 2015 and was a hugely enjoyable camp-fest of a show – tongue not so much in cheek as licking lips lasciviously whilst adjusting leg-warmers. An unexpected Tony-nominated success on Broadway in 2007, this cast recording dates back to that production and so features the rather marvellous Cheyenne Jackson.
If I believed in guilty pleasures then this would be the thing but what was heightened in the theatre due to tanned thighs, clouds of chiffon and raucous roller-skating doesn’t quite come across on record here. For listening to this record ultimately depends on how much you like the oeuvre of Olivia Newton-John and ELO and little more besides, as little is done to many of the songs and the orchestrations that they receive here are pitifully thin compared to the originals as they inevitably are.

Jackson’s hapless hunk Sonny is undoubtedly appealing but there’s a real caustic edge to Kerry Butler’s Clio/Kira, the goddess who helps him to build the ultimate roller-disco, in her savage Newton-John impersonation. And there’s nothing unpleasant about their duets together, tracks like ‘Suddenly’ and ‘Suspended in Time’, they just end up being versions of the inoffensive pop songs that they are.
It’s left to the likes of Mary Testa and Jackie Hoffman as evil sisters Melpomene and Calliope to transfer the campness directly into the music, their takes on ‘Evil Woman’ and ‘Strange Magic’ raising at least a chuckle throughout as they’re allowed to strain at the MOR leash. Otherwise, sadly, you’re best off just listening to your Best of Olivia Newton-John and ELO if it’s their music you’re craving.

Happy London Pride – paying tribute to Orlando and beyond

“Love, sweet love…no, not just for some but for everyone”

It’s no secret that Broadway cares but there’s still something extremely touching about a community coming together to help others, especially when it feels close to home. However others want to spin it, the attack on the Pulse nightclub in Orlando was an attack on the LGBT+ community and that is something that is just chilling in its cold reality. But from such horror comes something positive too as people rally together to share love and support, solidarity and hope that no matter how dark it gets, we’re never alone. 


In London, the LGBT+ community has the Pride in London Parade to spark the coming together over what will be a poignant weekend. And on Broadway, Broadway Records President Van Dean, SiriusXM Radio Host Seth Rudetsky and Producer James Wesley have pulled together a dream choir of amazing performers to record a charity single of Burt Bacharach and Hal David’s ‘What The World Needs Now Is Love’ to benefit the Orlando LGBT+ community. Take a look at the video below (and be blown away by such luminaries as Audra McDonald, Bernadette Peters, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Idina Menzel and so many more) but I urge you to please buy a copy too, to support this very worthy cause.

You can buy ‘What The World Needs Now’ here. 100% of the proceeds from the sale of the song will benefit the GLBT Community Center of Central Florida



And matching Broadway for passionate respect are the London Gay Men’s Chorus. The response to their musical tribute of Simon and Garfunkel’s ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ at the Soho vigil for the Orlando victims was such that they have decided to release it as their own charity single (it had originally been intended for their 25th anniversary album later this year, and recorded just hours before the attack took place).


You can find out more about ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ here or purchase it directly on iTunes and Google Play. Proceeds from the sale of the charity single will be split equally between the Orlando Victims Fund, organised by Equality Florida; and Galop, the UK’s LGBT anti-violence charity that supports victims of homophobic, biphobic and transphobic hate crime.

Album Review: Anika Larsen – Sing You To Sleep

“I could offer you a warm embrace”

Currently on maternity leave from Beautiful – The Carole King Story for which she was nominated for a Tony, Anika Larsen’s debut CD is a lovely thing indeed. Described as a collection of “lullabies and other songs I loved singing to the children I cared for”, it’s an album designed to be listened to from start to finish (switch off that shuffle!) as the mood softens and the tempo slows – a nifty tip from a seasoned babysitter which is “better than Benadryl”.

On Broadway, Larsen’s credits have included Rent, Avenue Q and both Xanadu and Zanna Don’t but this is no lazy retread of musical theatre standards. Instead, a diverse collection of pop and easy listening is transformed into something special in MD David Cook’s thoughtful arrangements. It means Sing You To Sleep a more musically intelligent collection than you might initially think and sometimes challenging – ‘Somewhere Out There’, a tribute to lyricist Cynthia Weil who Larsen plays in Beautiful, becomes a noodling free jazz-fest which never quite settles. Continue reading “Album Review: Anika Larsen – Sing You To Sleep”

CD Review and Competition: Beautiful – The Carole King Musical soundtrack

“I know I can’t express

This feeling of tenderness”

 

With beautifully fortuitous timing, the soundtrack to Beautiful: The Carole King Musical won the Grammy for Best Musical Theatre on Sunday night, just as the West End production of this Broadway hit opens for previews at the Aldwych Theatre. And it just so happens that I have a copy of said soundtrack on CD to give away as a competition prize to a lucky winner.

I’ve already written a little about my love for Carole King’s music in this preview piece and I promised to review this soundtrack soon after – it’s only taken me three months to get around to it. It is a slightly odd musical theatre record to listen to in that coming from a biopic, it plays like a cross between a Carole King Greatest Hits and a compilation of hits from the 60s. There’s no sense of narrative propelling the score and the tracklisting isn’t strictly chronological either – in some ways, it’s just a bunch of songs stuck together on one album.

But what songs! From girl-group classics co-written with then-husband Gerry Goffin like ‘One Fine Day’ and ‘Will You Love Me Tomorrow?’, to hits from her friends and contemporaries Cynthia Weill and Barry Mann like ‘He’s Sure The Boy I Love’, ‘You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling’ and ‘We Gotta Get Out Of This Place’ and the extraordinarily successful and mainly solo-written album Tapestry which casually features such classics as ‘You’ve Got A Friend’, ‘It’s Too Late’, ‘So Far Away’ and ‘(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman’ – it’s an undeniably stellar collection.

And in Steve Sidwell’s often gorgeously brass-heavy orchestrations, with additional arrangements from Jason Howland (also the MD), the music soars beautifully both in a manner you’ll recognise and also in unexpected ways, the earthiness of the demo-style tracks are particularly strong, revealing the musical integrity that is sometimes hidden beneath the sheen of the production of the time. Jessie Mueller’s vocal as Carole King is a thing of characterful beauty and supported by Jake Epstein, Anika Larsen and Jarrod Spector along with the rest of the company, there’s a lovely sense of understatement about the whole affair – no big Broadway belting but rather a real appreciation for the quality of the music.

So the UK production has a job to live up to but I have every faith in director Marc Bruni and his decision to employ an all-British cast led by the some kind of wonderful Katie Brayben. Previews start from 10th February, opening night is 25th February, tickets can be gotten hereand more show information can be found here. And if you want to win the soundtrack on CD, please answer the below question by 9pm on Sunday 15th February.

What is Carole King’s most famous album called?
A) Carpet
B) Wall hanging
C) Tapestry
Send your answer to ianfoster32@gmail.com (UK entries only please) and the winner will be notified on Monday 16th February. Terms and conditions are for losers, just be cool.

Winners of the 2014 Drama Desk Awards

Outstanding Play
Nell Benjamin, The Explorers Club 
Steven Levenson, Core Values
Conor McPherson, The Night Alive 
Richard Nelson, Regular Singing
Bruce Norris, Domesticated
Robert Schenkkan, All The Way
John Patrick Shanley, Outside Mullingar 

Outstanding Musical
A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder 
Aladdin
Beautiful: The Carole King Musical
Fun Home

Love’s Labour’s Lost
Rocky
The Bridges of Madison County
Continue reading “Winners of the 2014 Drama Desk Awards”

68th Tony Award nominations

Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Play 
Samuel Barnett – Twelfth Night as Viola
Bryan Cranston – All the Way as President Lyndon B. Johnson
Chris O’Dowd – Of Mice and Men as Lennie Small
Mark Rylance – Richard III as Richard III
Tony Shalhoub – Act One as Older Moss Hart / Barnett Hart / George S. Kaufman

Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play
Tyne Daly – Mothers and Sons as Katherine Gerard
Audra McDonald – Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill as Billie Holiday
LaTanya Richardson Jackson – A Raisin in the Sun as Lena Younger
Cherry Jones – The Glass Menagerie as Amanda Wingfield
Estelle Parsons – The Velocity of Autumn as Alexandra

Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical 
Neil Patrick Harris – Hedwig and the Angry Inch as Hedwig
Ramin Karimloo – Les Misérables as Jean Valjean
Andy Karl – Rocky the Musical as Rocky Balboa
Jefferson Mays – A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder as the D’Ysquith family
Bryce Pinkham – A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder as Monty Navarro Continue reading “68th Tony Award nominations”

Nominations for the 2014 Drama Desk Awards

Outstanding Play
Nell Benjamin, The Explorers Club 
Steven Levenson, Core Values
Conor McPherson, The Night Alive 
Richard Nelson, Regular Singing
Bruce Norris, Domesticated
Robert Schenkkan, All The Way
John Patrick Shanley, Outside Mullingar 

Outstanding Musical
A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder 
Aladdin
Beautiful: The Carole King Musical
Fun Home

Love’s Labour’s Lost
Rocky
The Bridges of Madison County
Continue reading “Nominations for the 2014 Drama Desk Awards”