23 West End actresses who have played Elphaba or Glinda in Wicked have reunited to perform a stunning rendition of the show’s ‘For Good’ to support the Make a Difference Trust Covid 19 Emergency Appeal Fund to support those in the theatre community suffering hardship because of the coronavirus crisis.
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Surrounded by the Sounds – the music of Tim Prottey-Jones is the second of actor/writer Prottey-Jones’ albums featuring a whole array of his West End pals, but the third that I’ve reviewed (see reviews of More With Every Lineand To Do. To Be.) It features songs from two of Prottey-Jones musicals – Once Bitten and After The Turn – and has a decidedly more pronounced rock feel to it than either of his other collections.
As such, it didn’t quite tickle my fancy in the way that I might have liked, especially since To Do. To Be. had impressed me. And it’s not that this is a collection of bad songs, they’re just not my cup of tea. Such guitars, much rock, so not wow. Even when the tempo slows a little into ballad territory, as with Michael Xavier’s ‘Chance In A Lifetime’ or Jodie Jacobs’ ‘Colour Me’, it is still just too monotonely guitar-heavy for my liking.
“When the playbill’s gone and your ego’s died, how you gonna feel”
I’m of course naturally inclined towards composing duo Dan & Laura Curtis as the quote that is proudly blazoned across their website is one of mine. It came from my review of their collection Love on 42nd Streetwhich was a pocket-sized treat which stands in real contrast to Overture – The Music of Daniel and Laura Curtis, which brings together well over 20 Broadway and West End stars to fill a double-album’s worth of new material.
And their grandly orchestral ambition (not for nothing is the album called Overture) is well realised here. Divided into two ‘acts’, the pair stretch their songwriting muscle over a range of genres and subject matters but they’re most comfortable, and effective, when turning their hand to stirring string-laden balladry. The simple elegance of Rachel John’s ‘I Won’t Let You Go’ epitomises this beautifully with its soaring grace, surely a cabaret standard in the making. Continue reading “Album Review: Dan & Laura Curtis – Overture”
In some ways, you can see why Vanities: the Musicalhas taken its time to make its way over the ocean since its 2008 premiere. Based on a 1976 play by Jack Heifner which follows the friendship of three young women from Texas over ten years – and for its time, a daring look at the changing role of women in society – Heifner’s book for the musical extends the story to a fourth act and by at least another decade, but it is unevenly plotted and rather superficial.
The beauty of Racky Plews’ production for Aria Entertainment though is that it takes all of this in its stride and in some pitch-perfect casting in the form of Lizzy Connolly, Ashleigh Gray and Lauren Samuels, imbues the material with a real sense of heart. So as Joanne, Kathy and Mary move from high school to college, to the personal and professional lives that they dreamed of and by which they are taken by surprise, we’re totally drawn in by their performances. Continue reading “Review: Vanities – The Musical, Trafalgar Studios 2”
Cult status is a funny thing, depending on which side of the coin you fall, it can either rescue diamonds in the rough or just further expose them. For me, Cool Rider comes down heavily on the latter though it must be said, there’s plenty who would argue the former, not least those who contributed over £12 grand to the Kickstarter to get this recording made. Hey, it’s their money right?!
Cool Rider is perhaps better known as the stage adaptation of ill-fated film sequel Grease 2. Staged in a concert version in 2014, the popularity of which saw it return for a week of performances at the Duchess Theatre, the fans are clearly there but quite for what, I couldn’t really say. The plot is little more than an retread of the original but with the roles reversed but the main problem lies in an inconsistent and uninspired score.
With no less than 10 different contributors named, and the legacy of an absolute classic to live up to, Lee Freeman’s orchestrations valiantly try to elevate the 80s take on 60s pastiche but finds that no time period can make it sound good. It’s awkwardly dated and cringe-worthily written – “we’re gonna rock, we’re gonna roll, we’re gonna bop, we’re gonna bowl” is no “rama lamma lamma ka dinga da dinga dong” that’s for sure…
More crucially, there’s too little charm to balance what comedy there is. Ashleigh Gray does a commendable job as the go-getting Stephanie, the title track is strong and her side of climactic duet ‘(Love Will) Turn Back The Hands of Time’ is excellent but opposite her, Aaron SIdwell is lacklustre in a largely insipid part. Reece Shearsmith’s romp through a sex-ed class in ‘Reproduction’ is another example where the recording falls flat, though I can appreciate that prior knowledge of the scene might well make it work.
So Cool Rider might well be one for the fans, for whom seeing and hearing the show live will have been a dream. For the more casual listener, there aren’t many more worse things you could do.
Oliver Tompsett is currently rolling his dice 8 times a week in Guys and Dollsbut across his career, he’s also stretched his singer-songwriter muscle, releasing a self-produced album called Sentimental Heart back in 2007. Containing 12 songs written by him, including a duet with Ashleigh Gray, it’s an impressively diverse album which incorporates a wide range of influences along its central pop-rock axis.
Opening with the relaxed funk of the title track then quickly moving to the upbeat vibe of ‘Femme Fatale’ establishes the general mood of uplifting fun – it’s impossible not to bop your head along to the infectious chorus of ‘Come On Back’ and the brassy musicality of ‘Rollercoaster’ feels like it could easily fit in with any of the songs in The Commitments.
He’s really quite affecting in the quieter moments too – the gently strummed ‘Fell In Love’ is just lovely, ‘Love You All Over Again’ is just a puff of dry ice away from being an epic power ballad but works beautifully with the restraint exercised here. And that duet with Gray, ‘Count On Me’, does the trick perfectly, their vocals intertwining intricately with skill.
If there’s any complaint, one could say that you don’t always get the strongest sense of musical identity from Tompsett’s songwriting, a consequence of the variety here and the lack of follow-up album, but it’s a small bugbear for what is otherwise an enjoyable listen.
One of the joys of cabaret concerts is the sheer range and diversity of material that they can pick from to best reflect the personalities and voices of performers, or to suit an overarching theme for their programme. Divas Unsung managed to work both these aspects into their Sunday evening gig at the Leicester Square Theatre, shining a light on some lesser known comedy numbers, empowerment anthems and showstoppers from musical theatre shows that have mostly slipped under the radar in the West End or on Broadway.
Of course, aficionados of the genre may score higher recognition points than your regular punter and the active fringe musical scene means some are less obscure than they might have been: Stephen Schwartz’s The Baker’s Wife, Jonathan Larson’s tick…tick…BOOM! and Kander and Ebb’s Kiss of the Spiderwoman have all been seen in London relatively recently, though one would hard-pressed to find noted flops like Elton John and Bernie Taupin’s Lestat or Michael Gore’s Carrie anywhere.
Linked together by compere James Barron, a team of six Divas worked their way through a varied selection of songs, teaming up occasionally and backed where necessary by a chorus of bright young things from the MTA. And under James Doughty’s musical direction, it proved a successful enterprise. Ashleigh Gray’s consummate stage presence made her contributions a highlight of the evening – the stirring ‘One of those Nights’ from Metropolis soared through the auditorium and Betty Blue Eyes’ Nobody, a rare moment of wide recognition, brimmed with vivacious energy.
But sharing the honours was Rebecca Trehearn, currently touring the country in Ghost the musical. Opting for a more character-driven approach, her rich voice layered in the emotion to make ‘Come To Your Senses’ (from tick…tick…BOOM!) utterly breath-taking and finding great pathos in ‘I Never Told Him I Love Him’ from an otherwise trashy Prisoner Cell Block H. Elsewhere, Ambra Caserotti and Kirby Lunn had fun on the duet ‘Ready To Be Loved’ from Edges, the former also engaging well with ‘Fly Fly Away’ from Catch Me If You Can.
The format of largely obscure songs combined with Barron’s patter did mean that there was precious little opportunity for the performers to express their own connections to the song choices and that was something that was missed. This kind of show catches fire when one feels the genuine love for the material not just through the singing but anecdotally as well, the opportunity to see well-loved performers singing off-duty not fully taken here. But that shouldn’t take away from a fascinating evening, extremely well performed, that could well provide inspiration for aspiring producers of the next big fringe musical revival.
Acoustic Overtures is the debut album from writer/composer Dougal Irvine, one of the group of up-and-coming musical theatre composers with address books full of West End stars that we’re blessed with at the moment, featuring a selection of his songs recorded by a bunch of familiar faces. Irvine’s show Departure Lounge played at the Waterloo East theatre last year, but this CD wisely steers clear thereof (the soundtrack for that show has already been released anyway) and focuses on new material, including new shows which have been developed through the Perfect Pitch development scheme.
Irvine came to musical theatre from a rather circuitous route and resultantly comes across as a breath of fresh air, Departure Lounge was accompanied by just two guitars but it doesn’t feel at all like a gimmick but the organic development of this sound. These songs have been more fully orchestrated but there’s still a raw freshness to the voice coming through in most of the songs. I have to say I was a little disappointed with the way the album opens with two jaunty cabaret-type numbers, it’s not that they are bad but rather they don’t feel representative of the musical theatre compositions that make up the bulk of the recording. Ashleigh Gray’s ‘Two Faces’ and Daniel Boys and Cassie McIvor come together well on ‘Silence in the Rain’. Continue reading “CD Review: Acoustic Overtures – The Songs of Dougal Irvine”