The Barricade Boys announce a Christmas Cabaret season with an amazing guest cast

As Mrs Merton might have asked, what first attracted you to musical theatre supergroup The Barricade Boys…?

Clearly, it was their cumulative musical talent – between them, Scott Garnham, Simon Schofield, Craig Mather and Kieran Brown have racked up credits in pretty much every major musical from The Phantom of The Opera, Wicked and Billy Elliot to Jersey Boys, The Sound Of Music and Les Misérables. And now they’re bringing their cabaret show to The Other Palace’s Studio for a Christmas season which is enough to bring festive cheer to even the most Scrooge-like of hearts. Continue reading “The Barricade Boys announce a Christmas Cabaret season with an amazing guest cast”

Album Review: Before After (2016 Studio Cast Recording)

“What’s a few more minutes to wait…a little longer”

Confession time – I’ve had this album for an unforgivably long time, mainly because I managed to forget about it, despite the fact I was meant to be reviewing it. D’oh, and sorry Mr G. And more fool me, because Before After is just lovely, a tragic but hopeful love story, an unconventional timeline and swooning piano and strings orchestrations throughout, it might as well have been tailor-made for me!
Written by Stuart Matthew Price and Timothy Knapman, Before After follows the love story between Ami and Ben through all its trials, as the meet-cute we’re presented with at the top of Act 1 is actually at the mid-point of their story. She recognises him as the love of her life; he hasn’t a clue who she is due to a car accident that wiped his memory; and though she keeps schtum, she asks him out for a drink to see what might happen.
From there, we see how Ami and Ben’s relationship develops under these circumstances, whilst also witnessing how it developed in the past in flashback (there’s a useful synopsis and timeline in the booklet!) and it is achingly well done. Caroline Sheen and Hadley Fraser feel ideally matched as the pair, sharing a palpable chemistry but also able to convey the full weight of the emotional storytelling as it quickly twists and turns around the clock.
Her ‘Daddy I Met This Boy’, his ‘Before After’, pretty much every song they sing together, this is supremely accomplished writing and feels like a potent symbol of what musical theatre can achieve, especially in the strength and innovation of its storytelling. Please someone mount a production of this in the UK ASAP.

Album Review: Comrade Rockstar (2017 Studio Cast Recording)

“Just call me the Soviet cowboy”

Try as I might, the words ‘rock musical’ can’t help but give me a little shiver of discontent, such is my preference for piano and strings over an electric guitar. But I do try and test my preconceptions (Lizzie probably being the last time I proved myself wrong!) and so I sat down to listen to recent SimG release – Comrade Rockstar, a new musical with book & lyrics by Julian Woolford and music by Richard John.
It’s based on the properly fascinating tale of Dean Reed, an American singer known as the Soviet Elvis after he defected to the other side of the Iron Curtain at the height of the Cold War. And sure enough, it is much more musically varied than the moniker ‘rock musical’ might suggest, stretching its wings far past any connotations of solely Elvis-lite content too, to create a gently beguiling musical that you can certainly visualise on a stage somewhere near you soon.
There’s certainly a smattering of pop-rock which has its moments. There are shades of Jason Robert Brown on charismatic opener ‘Driving Ambition’ and the ‘driving’ narrative of the title track is engaging and energetic, Tim Howar on fine form in both as Reed. I really loved the incorporation of a gentle Americana on the likes of ‘Smallville Colorado’ and the gorgeous ‘Minnesota’, Howar and Andy Conaghan combining beautifully there.
There are also times where it feels a little under-orchestrated at times – Katy Secombe imbues ‘Pravda’ with much character but musically it sounds thin and this happens a couple of times. Elsewhere though, the presence of Caroline Sheen elevates the intriguing texture of ballads like ‘Happy Ever After’ and bonus track ‘The Mermaid Song’ to must-listen territory. So, worth a whirl then and don’t be too surprised to hear more about this musical some time soon in the future.

Round-up of news and other interesting things

In the wake of a global shift in politics that saw reality star Donald Trump become the 45th President of the United States of America, Nigel Farage’s Brexit campaign win the majority and the Conservative party seek out a deal with the DUP, Theatre Renegade is proud to present a one-off gala, In Response To… Politics.

With performances from critically acclaimed performers including Pippa Nixon, Madalena Alberto, Gloria Onitiri and Nigel Richards, In Response To…Politics will take place on 24th July at The Other Palace Studio and feature a number of pieces each designed to directly respond to the current political turmoil.

Ryan Forde Iosco, Artistic Director of Theatre Renegade said;
“Many countries, our own included are seeing a huge shift in their political landscape and fear and hate have been the leading force behind several recent campaigns. This evening will see the theatre community come together in solidarity to respond and raise its voice in solidarity.”
All profits from the evening will be donated to the charity Liberty, to protect civil liberties and promote human rights.

Among the writers taking part are: Georgia Fitch (Fit and Proper People – RSC/Soho Theatre, I Like Mine with A Kiss – Bush Theatre and Dirty Dirty Princess – National Theatre Connections), Hassan Abdulrazzak (Baghdad Wedding – Soho Theatre and BBC Radio 3, The Prophet – Gate Theatre, winner of the 2008 George Devine Award) and Camilla Whitehill (Where Do Little Birds Go – VAULT award winner/Underbelly/Old Red Lion, Mr Incredible – VAULT award winner/Underbelly, currently under commission with the Bush Theatre).

Among the directors taking part are: Rafaela Marcus (Pericles – Shakespeare’s Globe, Boeing Boeing – Sheffield Crucible, Lucy Atkinson (The Enchantment – US Premiere at Here Arts in New York, Tristan Bernay’s Testament – Vaults) and Nathan Crossan-Smith (Runner Up for the JMK Award 2017 and Deutsche Bank Award for Dramatic Art 2014 winner for Tipping Point)

Staying at The Other Palace, there’s also a special concert in memory of the late MP Jo Cox.

The evening, titled A Barricade for Batley, will feature a cast including Fra Fee (The Ferryman), Joanna Riding (The Girls), David Seadon-Young (An American in Paris), Matthew Seadon-Young (Beautiful), Caroline Sheen (Mary Poppins), Madalena Alberto (Evita) and Joel Montague (School of Rock).

Money from the concert will got towards a school production of Hear The People Sing, which is 
being produced by Donna Munday and Nick Evans in Cox’s former constituency of Batley and Spen.

This November, Tiger Bay the Musical – Wales Millennium Centre’s biggest in-house production to date – will premiere in Cardiff with Welsh singer and actor, Noel Sullivan returning home to join the lead cast.

Noel, who hasn’t performed on stage in Wales for almost two years, takes on the gritty role of Harbour Master, Séamus O’Rourke in Tiger Bay the Musical, a story of the notorious underworld of Wales’ capital at the turn of the 1900s.

Playing the ambitious opportunist, exiled from Africa to make his fortune through unsavoury means on Cardiff Docks, will be a change in direction for Noel, whose theatre repertoire includes a string of romantic leads, such as Danny Zuko in Grease and Galileo in We Will Rock You.

A Wales Millennium Centre production in association with Cape Town Opera, Tiger Bay the Musical is set in 1900s Cardiff at a time of unrest between the workers heaving coal in the docklands, known as Tiger Bay, and the Bute Dock Company and merchants of the Coal Exchange they afforded.

A fictional story of revolution, reconciliation, courage and love, the award-winning creative team – composer, Daf James, writer Michael Williams and director, Melly Still – have remained sympathetic to the reality of the era which includes forming a predominantly Welsh cast.

Noel will join award-winning and record breaking West End and Broadway performer, John Owen Jones who plays John Crichton-Stuart, Cardiff’s richest man tormented by loss.

Rising star Vikki Bebb, a Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama graduate from the south Wales valleys, will play Noel’s love interest, Rowena Pryddy, a shop girl with suffrage ideals. Plus, Welsh school girls Louise Harvey from Rhiwbina and Ruby Llewellyn from Llantrisant will share the role of tenacious water boy, Ianto.

The world premiere of Tiger Bay the Musical will take place on Wednesday 15 November 2017 at Wales Millennium Centre and will run until Saturday 25 November 2017. Tickets on sale now at

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.

CD Review: Caroline Sheen – Raise the Curtain (2010)

“It’s been fun hitchin’ up with a psycho like you”

Caroline Sheen is one of those performers you feel ought to be better known, having starred in some pretty major shows throughout her career yet never quite managing that breakthrough moment – no matter, she’s thus one of British musical theatre’s secret pleasures. Her debut album Raise the Curtain saw her capitalise a little on her bigger gigs – Mary Poppins, The Witches of Eastwick – but it also pleasingly gives plenty of airtime to new musical theatre writing too.

In fact there’s no less than 5 tracks which received their first ever recordings here, Sheen opting to use her talent to really shine a light on the contemporary scene, showcasing the music she clearly loves. So the likes of innovative composer Conor Mitchell gets his striking ‘What Did You Want From Love?‘ featured, Richard Taylor (now represented in the West End with The Go-Between) gets a beautiful song called ‘Higher’ on there, so too Grant Olding with ‘Carrie Makes A Decision’ from his show Three Sides.

So Raise the Curtain really does play like a little voyage of discovery, its treasures coming from more obscure sources and no less powerful for it. A song cut from The Witches Of Eastwick in previews – ‘Isn´t This What Every Woman Wants?’ – is a revelation of tenderness and character, Adam Guettel’s ‘The Light In The Piazza’ dazzles with its brightness,, Jason Robert Brown’s ‘Mr Hopalong Heartbreak’ raises a smile with its perky sense of self-realisation.

Sheen’s consummate musicality shines through regardless of how well known the material is, simple piano-based arrangements allowing a great clarity of purpose, whether on Grey Gardens’ ‘Will You?’ or Just So’s perfectly plangent ‘Wait A Bit’. And a cheeky bit of the personal touch comes through on the bonus track, a duet with husband Michael Jibson on Dirty Rotten Scoundrels’ ‘Nothing Is Too Wonderful To Be True’ by which point you’ll be frantically googling to find out where she’s on stage next (it’s Crazy For You at the Watermill btw). 

CD Review: Mamma Mia (Original Cast Recording 1999)

“It’s the best I can do”

It’s easy to be dismissive about Mamma Mia and all it has wrought in revitalising the jukebox musical as a form but the numbers don’t lie. 17 years and counting in the West End, the 8th longest running show on Broadway (it occupies the same position on the UK ranking at the moment too), a wildly successful film adaptation that became the highest grossing musical ever…it’s impressive stuff.

And listening to the Original Cast Recording from 1999, subsequently re-released with bonus tracks for the 5th anniversary, I’d say it’s fairly easy to see why it has endured so long. For all you may mock Catherine Johnson’s book, which hangs oh so lightly on a varied selection of Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus’ iconic music for ABBA, it actually does interesting things with it, in telling its own story rather relying on the songs themselves (I’m looking at you Jersey Boys…!)

So to say you’re better off listening to ABBA’s greatest hits is to miss the point. As light as the plot may be in its girl-wants-father-to-walk-her-down-the-aisle-but-finds-there’s-three-potential-candidates frothiness but there’s something genuinely tender in hearing ‘Chiquitita’ repurposed for two friends comforting a third, maternal lament ‘Slipping Through My Fingers’ actually sung between mother and daughter, the stag v hens vivacity of ‘Lay All Your Love on Me’.

And yes, they sound different to the originals, of course they do with a full orchestra and chorus to back them up, not to mention the lack of Swedish accents. This recording is a little blessed too in having the film’s soundtrack with its interesting casting choices to easily surpass, but that’s not to take away from the delightful vocals of Louise Plowright, Jenny Galloway, and Siobhán McCarthy as the leading trio, the latter’s Donna a fabulous leading lady from heartbreak to happiness.

Plowright’s cougarish ways enliven ‘Does Your Mother Know’ no end and Galloway’s equally predatory stance toward Nic Colicos’ Bill in ‘Take A Chance on Me’ is a delight. Lisa Stokke’s Sophie, the bride-to-be is charm personified and in keeping with the show’s female-friendly ethos, her intended – Andrew Langtree’s Sky – is somewhat sidelined. For me, ‘Our Last Summer’ has always been one of my favourite ABBA songs and remains so here, ruefully sung by former rocker Harry, an appealing Paul Clarkson, and McCarthy with a gentle loveliness that seems to stand in for the show as a whole.

CD Review: MS. A Song Cycle

“I wish you didn’t have to be in pain” 
Multiple Sclerosis affects over 100,000 people in the UK alone. 


One of the accusations often levelled by detractors of musical theatre is that it is fanciful, frivolous stuff, unable of taking subjects seriously. And whilst the form undoubtedly can have its lighter moments, I’d challenge anyone to listen to this new song cycle inspired by women living with multiple sclerosis and remain unmoved. MS. A Song Cycle is the brainchild of lyricist Rory Sherman, who has worked with SimG Productions, musical supervisor Ellie Verkerk and 14 different teams of composers and performers to create a delicately but undeniably powerful collection of stories, that gain in that power from being sung so beautifully as they are here.
More than two to three times more women are affected than men

CD Review: Witches of Eastwick (Original London Cast Recording)

“Waiting for the music to begin”
Throughout this whirlwind tour of cast recordings, one of the more interesting things has been listening to shows that closed early, or at least relatively so. The Witches of Eastwick managed a 15 month run in 2000-1 at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane and then the Prince of Wales in a slightly revised version and I have to say that on the evidence of this original London cast recording, it deserved more.
Dana P Rowe’s score and John Dempsey’s lyrics captures much of the small-town mania of John Updike’s source novel and performed by a crack cast as it is here, it is often thrilling to listen to. Ian McShane may have been cast as the devilish Darryl but it is Joanna Riding, Maria Friedman and Lucie Arnaz as the titular triumvirate whose innate powers are unleashed by the nefarious influence of this charismatic stranger, with troubling results for both themselves and those around them – the harmonies that accompany their joint numbers are just scintillating.

Each woman gets, and takes, their individual moment to shine – Friedman is magisterial on the comic track ‘Words, Words, Words’ and Riding unleashes great skill in ‘Waiting for the Music to Begin’ – but it’s the cumulative power of their voices that really stands out. The opening ‘Make Him Mine’, act 1 closer ‘I Wish I May’, the finale ‘Look at Me’, each climactic occasion punctuated with some stellar vocal work and a pleasing tunefulness too. I’ve only seen the show once, at the Watermill back in 2013, but enough of it had sunk in for me to be able to hum along to quite a few of the songs.
With a brilliant supporting turn from Rosie Ashe as the main object of their ire – her ‘Dirty Laundry’ is an instant classic – and solid support from McShane, and also from the sweet-voiced Peter Jöback and Caroline Sheen as love’s young dream, it is a very solid record. Interestingly (for me at least) I wasn’t mad keen on the show after seeing it the first time but having listened to this cast recording, I’m more than ready to give it another go. 

Review: Putting It Together, St James

Sooner is better than later but lover, I’ll hover, I’ll plan”

For a show that proudly describes itself as a musical review, Sondheim compendium Putting It Together sure spends a lot of time faffing about trying to construct an (unspoken) narrative on which to hang the various excerpts from musicals such as Merrily We Roll Along, Company and A Little Night Music. But in all honesty, it is a more successful piece of entertainment once it jettisons such lofty ideas (somewhere early in the second half) and incorporates some of Sondheim’s lesser performed works, not least a number of songs from Dick Tracy.

These may not necessarily be familiar to everyone but Sondheim did win an Oscar for ‘Sooner Or Later’ and when I was a wee whippersnapper, the soundtrack album as such (Madonna’s I’m Breathless) was one of my favourite cassettes. So it was these moments that shone best for me, particularly Caroline Sheen’s glorious take on ‘More’ (and also ‘Sooner or Later’) and a titanic duet with Janie Dee from Anyone Can Whistle. Continue reading “Review: Putting It Together, St James”