Review: The View UpStairs, Soho Theatre

A vital piece of gay history is unearthed in LGBT+ musical The View UpStairs at the Soho Theatre

“In this kingdom we’ve found
Where the queens and clones collide
And though it reeks of cheap cologne
It’s my favorite escape from the world outside”

There’s something so powerful about the power of theatre to educate as well as ilustrate. The 1973 arson attack that took the lives of 32 people in a New Orleans gay bar was actually the most tragic hate crime until Orlando but it remains comparatively little known. So Max Vernon’s choice to use it as inspiration for his musical The View UpStairs is freighted with significance from the off.

And at its best, it is hugely powerful. A cross between a kind of oral history and musical theatre, it fleshes out the lives of gay people in 1970s USA in all its multi-faceted nature through its collection of what might at first be mistaken as stock characters. The aspiring drag queen, the sharp-edged hustler, the dreamy twink, the closeted musician, the lesbian ‘mother’, all are present and correct. Continue reading “Review: The View UpStairs, Soho Theatre”

Review: Ain’t Misbehavin’, Southwark Playhouse

I gif my way through the good times of Fats Waller tribute show Ain’t Misbehavin’ at the Southwark Playhouse

“Give em what they want, and when they want it, without a single word to say”

Ain’t Misbehavin’ sees the directorial debut of Tyrone Huntley


And the theatrical choreography debut of Strictly queen-in-the-making Oti Mabuse.


Continue reading “Review: Ain’t Misbehavin’, Southwark Playhouse”

Review: Hadestown, National Theatre

Way down in Hadestown at the National Theatre is one of the best musicals of the year

“Damned if you don’t. Damned if you do.
Whole damn nation’s watching you”

I loved Hadestown so much that I had booked to see it for a second time before I even got home from the first. Read more about that trip here, including me trying the National’s new smart caption glasses, and read on for a review that focuses properly on Anaïs Mitchell’s brilliant musical here. An adaptation of the tale of Orpheus and Eurydice, developed with director Rachel Chavkin, it riffs on the myth by relocating the action to a dive bar in the Deep South and redefines hell for our capitalist age. And they fill the Olivier with music, such music, that transforms Hadestown into the kind of experience that lingers long in the mind. 

Mitchell’s score succeeds so much because it establishes such an identity for itself that it dares you not to be seduced into the world of the gods, or at least New Orleans. At its best, its simply elemental – ‘Way Down Hadestown’ has the kind of tune that sounds like it has always existed and will not quit your brain anytime soon. And as you collect the influences – hints of Jason Robert Brown on ‘All I’ve Ever Known’, the Johnny Cash-esque call and response of ‘Why We Build The Wall’, the straight up musical theatre emotion of ‘Wait For Me”s chorus, to name but a few – you realise a new form of Americana has evolved here. Continue reading “Review: Hadestown, National Theatre”

Review: Hadestown, via smart caption glasses at the National Theatre

I try out the new smart caption glasses while watching Hadestown at the National Theatre and am blown away both by the show and the frankly amazing technology 

Eurydice knew how to survive
Orpheus…knew how to live”

The exceedingly kind folk of the National Theatre allowed me to go and see Hadestown a few days after the press night, as I was most keen to have a try of the Smart Caption Glasses which were brought into circulation on Friday. Acclaimed as “a revolutionary new way for people with hearing loss to enjoy performance”, for once the blurb more than lives up to its billing as I found them to be truly innovative and potentially life-changingly good. 

Without wishing to open a whole can of worms about access and diversity within the critical community, it has to be said that as a (deaf) reviewer, I never get to go to captioned performances. If and when they’re scheduled, the timetables just don’t allow for it, so – as in most of my daily life – I make do. I hear what I hear and guess the rest. So the idea of this facility becoming available was one I was most keen to investigate at the earliest opportunity.  Continue reading “Review: Hadestown, via smart caption glasses at the National Theatre”

Review: Sweet Charity, Nottingham Playhouse

A sparkling lead turn from Rebecca Trehearn, and brilliant choreography from Alistair David, enliven this Sweet Charity at Nottingham Playhouse

“Your game makes very good sense”

So pleased to have managed to squeak into Nottingham Playhouse’s Sweet Charity before it finished, this is what everyone uses their annual leave for, right…?! The second major production of the show in recent months following the Watermill’s strong actor-muso interpretation this summer, it is one which makes a bold move in introducing Alistair David’s choreography to give this 1966 musical a fresh lick of paint.

It’s the only real sense of updating that Bill Buckhurst’s production provides but it is an impactful one, David reimagining almost wholesale and invigorating the almost-too-familiar sounds of Cy Coleman’s classic score. In takis’ podium-based design, it looks a dream and more than justifies new AD Adam Lenson’s decision to reintroduce musicals to the programme here after an absence of more than a decade. Continue reading “Review: Sweet Charity, Nottingham Playhouse”

Album Review: Memphis (2014 Original London Cast Recording)

“Open your eyes, I got a surprise!”

It was fascinating to revisit Memphis, a show that I enjoyed on seeing but in all honesty, isn’t one I’ve given much thought to since it left the West End after just over a year at the Shaftesbury Theatre (I went back once). I remarked then that David Bryan’s score was “highly tuneful if not instantly catchy” so was surprised that a fair few of the songs had managed to work their way into my subconscious and so provided that ‘ping’ of recognition which is always nice.

It was also interesting to listen to the songs in isolation from the show, as more of them than I remembered felt somewhat disconnected from the narrative, just happy in their sprightly pop song-ness. And thanks to the quality of the cast assembled here – leads Beverley Knight and Killian Donnelly, supported by the likes of Jason Pennycooke, Tyrone Huntley and Rolan Bell plus Claire Machin, it is a consistently enjoyable record to listen to. Continue reading “Album Review: Memphis (2014 Original London Cast Recording)”

Album Review: Dreamgirls Original London Cast Recording (2017)

“The time has come for my dreams to be heard”

That it took so long for the UK premiere of Dreamgirls to arrive (35 years after its original Broadway opening), it is little surprise to see that it has taken a mere few months for the Original London Cast Recording to appear, released by Sony Masterworks Broadway today (Friday 12th May). Capitalising on the show’s extraordinary success at the Savoy (read my review here) and the two Olivier Awards wins for Amber Riley (Best Actress in a Musical) and Adam J. Bernard (Best Actor in a Supporting Role in a Musical), this double-album was recorded live in the theatre over four performances in February 2017 with no additional studio re-recordings or musical overdubs.

The choice to go for a live recording is an interesting one. There’s an undoubted raw energy that comes from the material not just being sung but being performed that makes certain numbers really pop. And then there’s the double-edged sword that is the audience reception – on the one hand it can be spine-tingling effective to hear how enthusiastically the work is being received but on the other, it doesn’t always translate without the accompanying visual and let’s be honest, the recording doesn’t gain anything from having Amber Riley’s entrance applause so volubly present. Continue reading “Album Review: Dreamgirls Original London Cast Recording (2017)”

Review: Dreamgirls, Savoy

“In the morning this feeling will be gone”

 
There’s over one million Swarovski crystals incorporated into this production of Dreamgirls which presumably explains why ticket prices go unashamedly up to £125 – Daddy’s crystal curtains, all 3 of them, don’t come cheap. In many ways, I don’t deny Dreamgirls the extravagance, it’s good to have a huge rollercoaster blowout of a blockbuster musical every now and then, it helps to balance the slightly more serious-minded ones about suicide and cancer. But it helps to be wary about that creeping top line, no matter how many five star reviews this show may garner, surely such pricing cannot be allowed to become the norm in the West End.

Part of the reason Dreamgirls can get away with it is that it has had a 35 year build-up. With book and lyrics by Tom Eyen and music by Henry Krieger, the original Broadway production premiered in 1981 and was a big success and though it may not have crossed the ocean, much of its music has, including cabaret staples ‘And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going’ and ‘One Night Only’. So it is hardly the risk of a new musical, though that it how is will be categorised, and thus it has been priced accordingly. Fortunately, the Savoy is not so big a theatre that the Grand Circle ain’t a perfectly decent to watch the show from. Continue reading “Review: Dreamgirls, Savoy”

Review: The Lorax, Old Vic

If Dr Seuss stories are what makes you tick,

Then this Christmastime you should hit the Old Vic.
The Lorax adapted by scribe David Greig
is so damn delightful for tickets you’ll beg.

Director Max Webster has served up a treat
with such charm no panto could ever compete.
A show for all ages, it’s also a musical,
I had my doubts but it’s something quite beautiful.

A magic tale that’s pro-environmental
hits corporate greed in a manner not gentle.
It’s clever and prescient (dates from ‘71),
pertinent as ever, these fights still not won.

Charlie Fink’s music may not sound like Dvořák
but it’s perfect for a show that is based on The Lorax.
He’s also the frontman of Noah and the Whale,
so diverse his songwriting but perfect to scale.

Girl-group style lawyers and rock-based tree-chopping,
there’re also some fast ones that’ll have your feet bopping.
Fink’s score is eclectic but enthusiastic,
while MD Phil Bateman makes it sound fantastic.

The cast is quite special, with two men named Simon.
While they are quite different,both sparkle like diamonds.
Paisley Day’s Once-ler is a fab green faux-villain,
he’s quite sympathetic though trees he be killing.

Now Lipkin’s a man who does love a good puppet
(to be scared of such things that would make you a muppet).
Helped by Laura Cubitt and the ace Ben Thompson,
the Lorax becomes a magnificent frontman.

He’s funny and grouchy, compassionate and wise,
it’s hard to be unmoved by such poignant eyes.
I also loved Richard Katz and Penny Layden
and hot pink La Barrie’s a bouncing good maiden.

Choreographer McOnie comma Drew,
makes dancing look elegant, beautiful too.
The set design’s cleverly done by Rob Howell,
it certainly hasn’t been done with a trowel.

The Lorax is moving and mighty good fun,
the interval sketch is hilariously done.
So book now while you can and don’t make a fuss,
this show is just perfect for ages six plus.

Re-review: Memphis, Shaftesbury

“Have a beer drop a time in the blind man’s jar”

Never one to look a gift-horse in the mouth, the offer of a return ticket to Memphis (the show, not the place sadly) was one I was happy to accept and I was glad for it too. The show remains a hugely impressive showcase for its cast and creatives whilst never quite engaging satisfactorily enough with its subject matter (see my original review here) but the overall effect is certainly one that is entertaining and should set the show up for a successful UK tour in 2016 after it finishes in the West End.

The main change has been the arrival of X Factor winner (and stone cold fox – who knew) Matt Cardle in the cast as Huey, replacing Killian Donnelly who has headed over to Kinky Boots. And as a musical theatre debutant, he is very good indeed, slipping into the role of the fast-talking, highly charismatic DJ with great ease, nailing an adorkable charm that is most appealing. It helps that he shares great chemistry with Beverley Knight as rising star Felicia, herself now off to the latest revival of Cats, further cementing her own MT reputation. Continue reading “Re-review: Memphis, Shaftesbury”