Review: Elf, Lowry

The Lowry Theatre's 2017/8 production of Christmas show Elf

“Make it Sparklejollytwinklejingley”

First things first, it’s a really poor show on behalf of those in charge of this production at the Lowry that there was no announcement or any mention of the fact that the understudy for the main part was on. Not for any sniffy reason about wanting to see Ben Forster but rather that it denied Colin Burnicle his spot in the limelight on the first occasion that he got to play the role of Buddy the Elf.

I don’t think Burnicle will mind me saying he had an understandably slightly nervy beginning but he soon settled into the green felt boots of Buddy, working a slightly more frantic Jim Carrey-esque vibe than one might expect from a role originated on screen by Will Ferrell but it was one that worked. And he connected well with former Atomic Kitten Liz McLarnon as his putative love interest Juvie, as under-developed a part it is. Continue reading “Review: Elf, Lowry”

Album Review: The Route To Happiness (2014 Original Cast Recording)

“Better we’d not met”

I saw a festival presentation of Alexander S Bermange’s The Route To Happiness at the Landor back in 2013 and a year later, an original cast recording was made available through Auburn Jam, albeit with an entirely different cast. So in place of Cassidy Janson, Niall Sheehy, and Shona White, we get Kerry Ellis, Ben Forster and Louise Dearman taking on the roles of this three-hander.

The story follows the pursuit of fame, money and love and how the three intersect in the intertwined stories of Trinity, Marcus and Lorna. But where the show has maintained a fairly positive place in my memory, listening to the double-album of the score felt like a bit of a chore. Musically it is accomplished but far too similar-sounding, there’s little sense of progression to carry you through. Continue reading “Album Review: The Route To Happiness (2014 Original Cast Recording)”

Album Review: Ben Forster – Acoustic Covers, Vol. 2 (2013)

“So I can feel happier
To be safe up here with you”

Volume 2 of Ben Forster’s Acoustic Covers followed a year after the first, responding to its success and Forster’s rising profile. And in tribute to his fanbase, he crowdsourced suggestions for what songs might appear on this record, cherry-picking his selection from the most popular. And to mix things up even further, relatively speaking, he also added a pianist (Robert Eckland) in with the solo guitar (Luke Higgins) for these stripped-back arrangements.

The most successful track on this album is probably the most unexpected one – Björk‘s ‘Hyperballad’. I’m a Björk superfan and this is one of my most favourite of her songs and somehow, this is as good a cover as I’ve heard of it, capturing Forster’s ethos perfectly with an uncomplicated reading of the song which takes away from its strangeness but highlights its emotion too. An inspired choice and a compelling performance. Continue reading “Album Review: Ben Forster – Acoustic Covers, Vol. 2 (2013)”

Album Review: Ben Forster – Acoustic Covers (2012)

“I lost my head
And thought of all the stupid things I said”

Winner of ITV’s Superstar and now well-established West End leading man, current Phantom Ben Forster has released two solo albums of acoustic covers called, well, Acoustic Covers. The first sees him singing just with a solo guitar (Joe Watkin) to accompany him and whilst it is clearly a deeply personal collection of songs for him, there’s a slight lack of variety over the 11 tracks which makes it a slightly less than essential record.

There are some lovely moments – the vocalisations that accompany Coldplay’s ‘Trouble’, the building power in the vocal of Jacko’s ‘She’s Out Of My Life’, and the sweet guitar playing that lifts the likes of ‘Cannonball’ and the incomparable Tracy Chapman’s ‘Fast Car’. And when Forster is just singing ‘em straight, really connecting with the songwriting, you can see all the musicality that has got him this far in his career. Continue reading “Album Review: Ben Forster – Acoustic Covers (2012)”

News: Olivier Awards presenters revealed

The Olivier Awards 2017 has announced the list of people who’ll be handing out awards at the ceremony, hosted by Jason Manford of all people, on Sunday 9th April in the august surroundings of the Royal Albert Hall.

Presenters this year include – deep breath – David Baddiel, Alfie Boe, John Boyega, Michaela Coel, Leanne Cope, Julian Clary, Robert Fairchild, Ben Forster, Phoebe Fox, Andrew Garfield, Denise Gough, Matt Henry, Ruthie Henshall, Amanda Holden, Rufus Hound, Cush Jumbo, Nathan Lane, Rose Leslie, Maureen Lipman, Danny Mac, Audra McDonald, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Laura Mvula, Paul O’Grady, Tracy-Ann Oberman, Sophie Okonedo, Charlotte Ritchie, Mark Rylance and Russell Tovey. Continue reading “News: Olivier Awards presenters revealed”

Festive news #3 – West End Sings for Childline

And because things come in threes, here’s the news about West End Sings’ Christmas single ‘If We Only Have Love’ by Jacques Brel. Released to celebrate the 30th Anniversary of Childline and all proceeds will go to the charity. The track can be pre-ordered from Friday 2nd December and will be released on Friday 9th December.

The song features stars from several West End Musicals plus the Sylvia Young Choir, with music by the producers of two out of the last three Christmas number 1s. Just some of the people singing are Dean John-Wilson, Cassidy Janson, Lucy St Louis, Davina Perera, Dylan Turner, Daniel Boys, Ben Forster, Rachelle Ann Go, Caroline Sheen, and Claire Sweeneymore details can be found on their website.

Festive news #2 – Christmas Concert by Music Theatre Masterclass

Also giving up precious time before Christmas in aid of a good cause, is this motley crew to the left. Rufus Hound will be hosting a concert featuring them at The Actor’s Church in Covent Garden in aid of Children with Cancer UK on Sunday 18th December from 7.30pm. Children with Cancer UK is the leading national children’s charity dedicated to the fight against childhood cancer. Almost 4,000 children and young people are diagnosed with cancer every year in the UK and their aims are to determine the causes, find cures and provide care for children with cancer. Continue reading “Festive news #2 – Christmas Concert by Music Theatre Masterclass”

Review: The Phantom of the Opera, Her Majesty’s (#Phantom30th)

“There are worse things than a shattered chandelier”

I’ve been blogging here for a handful of years now, but I’ve never quite made it to The Phantom of the Opera in that time (I think I saw it last in 2002). Probably because it has that ‘old faithful’ air about it, especially to those of us who live in London, but also because its enduring popularity means that there’s rarely any ticket deals around for the show. Perhaps with an element of that in mind, the decision to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the show represented the perfect opportunity to finally revisit as tickets were most reasonably priced at £19.86 and £30.

And I’m glad I got to go again. There’s undoubtedly a hoary quality to certain aspects of the show (the synth sound will never become a classic one…) but by and large, it is looking and sounding in pretty good shape for a 30 year old. This feels mainly down to the electric charge that comes from Ben Forster and Celinde Schoenmaker’s lead performances as The Phantom and Christine Daaé. There’s a refreshing, almost raw, emotional energy to their connection, manifesting itself in powerfully interpreted vocals, especially in ‘The Music of the Night’ and ‘Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again’ respectively.  Continue reading “Review: The Phantom of the Opera, Her Majesty’s (#Phantom30th)”

CD Review: Elf the Musical (2015 Original London Cast Recording)

“You gotta remember that December is the time for glitz”

I have to say I was sceptical about Elf the Musical, not least because it was Bonfire Night (5th November for you heathens) when I saw it but to my pleasant surprise, I was soon won over by its classic charms. If you’ve seen the film, then you’ll know that its soundtrack was a dip into the Christmas chapter of the Great American Songbook – Ella Fitzgerald’s ‘Sleigh Ride’, Ray Charles’ ‘Winter Wonderland’ etc – but the score for the musical is original yet pays great homage to those standards.

Matthew Sklar’s music and Chad Beguelin’s lyrics succeed by being entirely both warm-hearted and open-hearted and in this recording, is powered by the practically Duracell-bunny-like enthusiasm of Ben Forster’s Buddy, the kid who found his way into Santa’s bag of presents and ended up being raised at the North Pole. The heart of the story is his re-entry into the human world to find his birth father and in tracks like ‘World’s Greatest Dad’, you realise just how big and real his emotions are.

And that feel-good feeling is carried across the whole record – Jessica Martin as his mum matches him for sincerity in both ‘I’ll Believe in You’ and ‘There Is A Santa Claus’, Kimberley Walsh’s velvety smooth voice sits well as sceptical love interest Jovie in Never Fall In Love (With An Elf) and the big band feel of Stuart Morley’s musical direction keeps ‘Nobody Cares About Santa’ from ever getting too dark for the (big) kids. Indeed in a world where things are often ‘Sparklejollytwinklejingley’ , everyone is a winner. 

A strong cast recording that definitely bears repeated listens to its classic song-writing – it’s not just at Christmas that “singing loud for all to hear” spreads cheer.

2016 What’s On Stage Award nominations

Best Actor In A Play Sponsored By Radisson Blu Edwardian:
Benedict Cumberbatch, Hamlet
James McAvoy, The Ruling Class
Bradley Cooper, The Elephant Man
Mark Rylance, Farinelli and the King
Alex Hassell, Henry V

Best Actress In A Play Sponsored By The Umbrella Rooms:
Nicole Kidman, Photograph 51 
Denise Gough, People, Places and Things
Lia Williams, Oresteia
Rosalie Craig, As You Like It
Harriet Walter, Death of a Salesman Continue reading “2016 What’s On Stage Award nominations”