Album Review: The Sound of Music (2006 London Palladium Cast Recording)

“Today you have to learn to be a realist”

I wanted to love the London Palladium Cast Recording of The Sound of Music, I really did, but there’s just something missing, a magic ingredient or two gone awry which means that you can’t imagine it ever replacing the version of the score that you fell in love with, no matter which one that is.

This 2006 production was the first to use reality TV to cast its leading role – the BBC’s How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria? proving to be a headline grabbing success and resulting in Connie Fisher winning the part of Maria, which she played for around 18 months in the end. She did experience the beginnings of vocal problems during the run, which have now pretty much put the kibosh on her musical theatre career, and it is hard not to feel that this recording does not capture Fisher at her best. Continue reading “Album Review: The Sound of Music (2006 London Palladium Cast Recording)”

Review: Death Takes A Holiday, Charing Cross

“I’m Death. 
‘And you’re on holiday?’”

The ways in which the titles of shows are worked into the script are a source of endless amusement and new musical Death Takes A Holiday is no exception, pointing up as it does the ridiculousness of the show’s conceit. Based on the 1924 Italian play La Morte in Vacanza, which has been adapted for the silver screen a few times, most recently in the Brad Pitt stinker Meet Joe Black, Peter Stone and Thomas Meehan’s book tells the story of what happens when Death falls head over heels for an Italian duke’s daughter and so decides to take a couple of days annual leave to follow through,

Posing as a Russian prince, he joins the aristocratic family at their Lake Garda country pile, ostensibly to learn about human emotions but truth is, there’s only one he’s that keen on. And given that the main object of his study, Grazia, is a fan of the moody gothic look – despite being engaged to someone else – there’s little doubt as to whether will be alone when he returns to the day job at the end of the weekend. It’s a curious lack of dramatic imperative for a show running over two hours, especially since there’s the potential to have a proper love triangle, instead Maury Yeston’s expansive score is left to fill the gaps.  Continue reading “Review: Death Takes A Holiday, Charing Cross”

Re-review: Ragtime, Charing Cross

“You can never go back to before”

Mother may spend a song telling us that we can never go ‘Back To Before’ but fortunately you can go back to Ragtime with no fear. And in a post-election climate, it can’t help but feel even more charged as the USA finds itself at a(nother) momentous point in its history. You can read my original review here and if anything, Thom Southerland’s production has gotten even better as the actor-musicians feel even more confident and comfortable. 

Leading performances from Jennifer Saayeng and Ako Mitchell, Earl Carpenter and Anita Louise Combe, and Gary Tushaw remain powerful as ever. But on second viewing I enjoyed watching ensemble members and just how damn hard they’re working – Kate Robson-Stuart, Christopher Dickins and James Mack particularly standing out for me… If you’ve not seen the show yet, there’s a trailer below for your delectation but move quickly, there’s less than a month less of the run. Continue reading “Re-review: Ragtime, Charing Cross”

Review: Ragtime, Charing Cross

“And say to those who blame us for the way we chose to fight
That sometimes there are battles that are more than black or white.”

It’s impossible to watch Ragtime right now without marvelling at its relevance to the current US presidential election campaign and the lessons that were right there for Donald Trump and his team to learn. For in many ways, the show – written by Ahrens and Flaherty with book by Terrence McNally from EL Doctorow’s novel – is about the development of the modern American nation and identifies three key groups instrumental in that societal change in women, African-Americans and immigrant communities, the very people Trump has done his damnedest to alienate.

Politics aside, what’s more significant is the magical touch that director Thom Southerland seems to have when it comes to reconceiving musicals, as his actor-musician production here at the Charing Cross Theatre is an extraordinary success. Keeping most of his 24-strong company onstage throughout amplifies the overarching humanity of its storytelling, reminding us that these are all of our stories regardless of whichever group we ‘belong’. Combined with the expert musicality onstage and an ingenious design from Tom Rogers and Toots Butcher, it’s an irresistible adaptation that shouldn’t be missed. Continue reading “Review: Ragtime, Charing Cross”

Review: Thirteen Days The Musical, Arcola

“You used me, you were lying, you are only here for spying”

The Grimeborn Festival is now in its sixth year of providing a very East London take on opera at the Arcola Theatre in Dalston, but wrapping up the programme this year is a new piece of musical theatre – Thirteen Days by Alexander S Bermange. A rather ambitious piece of work set around the Cuban Missile Crisis, not only does it tell the story of the brinkmanship between the three leaders of Kennedy, Khrushchev and Castro, it dramatizes the conflict in miniature in the form of a love triangle between a Cuban, a Soviet and an American, and thirdly also attempts to portray how the events affected the populations of each country.  

In painting his canvas so broad, Bermange – in charge of book, music and lyrics here – sets up a considerable challenge for himself, one which is not helped by his writing style. He is very much of the old-school British musical theatre school which stands him in good stead for the second of the above strands, the intimate love story of the Cuban student engaged to  a Soviet engineer but whose head is turned by an American visitor whose intentions are, initially at least, less than honourable. The stirring balladry that comes out of songs like ‘Anyone But You’ and ‘More Than A Memory’ feels ready to take up residence on a West End stage, as does the storming Act One finale – the mark of many a good musical past. Continue reading “Review: Thirteen Days The Musical, Arcola”

Review: A Man of No Importance, Arts Theatre

“We had a grand time believing we were bloody wonderful”

After a well-received run at the Union Theatre in Southwark, A Man of No Importance has transferred to the West End to the Arts Theatre with a limited run of just 3 weeks. Based on a film from 1995 starring Albert Finney, a cast of 17 and a band of 6 create an utterly charming, warm-hearted piece of musical theatre that will transport you right away from the freezing outside to a very happy place.

We’re taken to the world of Alfie Byrne, a bus conductor in 1960s Dublin who lives with his sister, has a passion for amateur dramatics, in particular the works of Oscar Wilde, and is hiding a burning desire for his work colleague, Robbie the driver on his bus. His decision to put on a performance of the controversial ‘Salome’ causes ripples in this Catholic, working-class community that multiply and force Alfie onto a journey of discovery, both of the self and of his relationship to those around him. Continue reading “Review: A Man of No Importance, Arts Theatre”

Review: Anything Goes, National Theatre

Anything Goes is a Cole Porter show, directed here at the National Theatre by Trevor Nunn, which has to be one of the happiest, sunniest ways to spend an evening ever, this feel-good show really does work wonders and should be seen by everyone. Set onboard a cruise liner, there’s a tangled web of romantic intentions with singer Reno in love with Billy who loves Hope who’s engaged to an English Lord who just happens to be keen on Reno. Throw in people running from the law, a minor gangster and his moll and a bunch of tap-happy sailors, plus a generous dollop of schmaltz and everyone’s a winner.

Stephen Mears’ choreography which is played out on a relatively static set, the multi-level deck of the cruise liner, was probably my favourite element of the night, if pushed, the sheer imagination and skill on display is just breath-taking and magnificent to watch – the excellent tap numbers just make me want to learn to do it properly. But there’s no real weaknesses here and Porter’s music is just so full of classic songs that everything is just so irresistible, it really was one of those evenings where I didn’t stop smiling. Continue reading “Review: Anything Goes, National Theatre”