Review: Chess, London Coliseum

Nobody’s on nobody’s side – an all-star cast can’t save this game of Chess from itself, for me at least

“From square one I’ll be watching all sixty-four”

It’s taken over 30 years for Chess to return to the West End (though it was seen at the Union in 2013) and though it has a huge amount of resource thrown at it in Laurence Connor’s production for English National Opera, it doesn’t necessarily feel worth the wait. An 80’s mega-musical through and through with an intermittently cracking score from ABBA’s Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus, Richard Nelson’s book hasn’t aged particularly well and bears the hallmarks of the  substantial tinkering it has had at every opportunity.

It’s not too hard to see why it has needed the tinkering. The mix of Cold War politics told through the prism of rival US and Soviet chess Grandmasters, love triangles and power ballads is a tricky one to get right and part of the problem seems to be just how seriously to take it all. On the one hand, the chess matches are backgrounded with montages of the real-life tensions of the 80s; on the other, scenes that take us through the various locations of the tournaments are a cringeworthy riot of cultural stereotyping that revel in their utter kitsch. Continue reading “Review: Chess, London Coliseum”

How to solve a problem like a compilation – my alternative Unmasked

Andrew Lloyd Webber, Unmasled

I make my own suggestions about interpretations of Andrew Lloyd Webber songs that could have been included on his new compilation album Unmasked

“They must have excitement, and so must I”

In a world of Spotify and iTunes and other online music services, compilation albums ought to have died a death. But the enduring success of the Now That’s What I Call Music series puts the lie to that, showing that while the idea of curating your own content is tempting, many of us prefer to let someone else do it for us.

So Andrew Lloyd Webber’s decision to release new anthology Unmasked is a canny one in that respect (read my review here), tapping into the desire to have a nicely pleasant set of musical theatre tunes to pop on in the car. And as with any compilation, it’s as much about what hasn’t been included as what has, that stands out. Continue reading “How to solve a problem like a compilation – my alternative Unmasked”

Album Review: Leading Ladies – Songs From The Stage

“Lock the door and stop complaining
Gather ’round and listen well”

Between them, Amber Riley, Beverley Knight and Cassidy Janson have racked up Olivier Awards and accolades aplenty and their mutual respect has led to them joining forces to create musical supergroup Leading Ladies. And working with producers Brian Rawling and Paul Meehan through East West Records (Warner), their debut album Songs From The Stage is about to be released.

Across the 14 tracks of the collection, there’s a variety of approaches as they tackle songs from a wide range of musicals. Each singer gets a couple of solo numbers, and they all chip in with backing vocals on some of those, but the highlights come when the trio sing together. And none more so than on an utterly transcendent version of Carole King’s ‘Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow’ whose close harmonies are goosebump-inducingly extraordinary, the marriage of their voices a perfect alchemy. Continue reading “Album Review: Leading Ladies – Songs From The Stage”

Round-up of news and treats and other interesting things

So much news, about so many exciting women, that I had to put together a second bulletin for this week…

Chief among them is the confirmation of Marianne Elliott’s reworking of Company, featuring the return of the glorious Patti LuPone to the London stage, playing Joanne to Rosalie Craig’s gender-swapped Bobbi. Initial reports suggest less of an interesting queering of the material and more of a straight gender-flip but it still seems set to be a highlight of next autumn. Continue reading “Round-up of news and treats and other interesting things”

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)”

Review: Songs and Solidarity, Trafalgar Studios

“We could see this was a bad one immediately. The sky was glowing.”
 
Touted as an evening of song, dance and poetry, Songs and Solidarity was a remarkable event indeed. A fundraising gala evening pulled together in the space of a week by the superhuman efforts of actor Giles Terera and producer Danielle Tarento, it was a concert for the hundreds of families made homeless and the relatives of those who lost their lives in the Grenfell Tower fire. Hosted by Claire Sweeney, musically directed by the enormously talented Tim Sutton, 
 
The balance of the programme was just right too. From pure musical loveliness like the gentle harmonies of Tyrone Huntley and Jon Robyns on Cyndi Lauper’s ‘True Colors’ and the simplicity of Rachel Tucker’s acapella take on ‘She Moved Through The Fair’, to the more intense emotion of Terera’s own ‘Ol’ Man River’ and a visibly moved Clare Foster’s ‘Don’t Worry About Me’ (a song with which I wasn’t familiar but rather destroyed me). From the much-needed comic relief of Stiles & Drewe skipping through ‘A Little Bit of Nothing On A Big White Plate’ to the soul-warming ‘Indiscriminate Acts Of Kindness’ performed by the ever excellent Julie Atherton.

Continue reading “Review: Songs and Solidarity, Trafalgar Studios”

News: Songs and Solidarity – a concert for those affected by the Grenfell Tower fire

Adding to the fundraising efforts already established, actor Giles Terera and producer Danielle Tarento have put together a theatrically inclined evening of song, dance and comedy in aid of those affected by the Grenfell Tower fire.

Songs and Solidarity takes place on Sunday 25 June at 7.30pm, and will feature performances from West End stars including Olivier Award-winner Noma Dumezweni, Rachel Tucker (Wicked), Tyrone Huntley (Dreamgirls), Clare Foster (Travesties), Cassidy Janson (Beautiful) and Alexia Khadime (The Book of Mormon). Continue reading “News: Songs and Solidarity – a concert for those affected by the Grenfell Tower fire”

Album Review: Wit and Whimsy – Songs by Alexander S Bermange

“If only I were famous from the telly”

Across its two discs and twenty-three tracks, there’s an awful lot of whimsy to Alexander S Bermange’s latest compilation album Wit and Whimsy and not quite enough wit to sustain it. Bermange is a composer who has had as much success writing comic songs for radio as he has in straight-up musical theatre (the two shows of his that I’ve seen – The Route to Happiness and Thirteen Days were both part of festivals).

That said, he has an impressive contacts list as evidenced by the range of people who have joined in on the action here – Laura Pitt-Pulford, Tracie Bennett, David Bedella, Cassidy Janson, Emma Williams, even Christopher Biggins. And with a guest list of this quality, naturally there are moments that shine here. Continue reading “Album Review: Wit and Whimsy – Songs by Alexander S Bermange”

2016 Best Actress in a Play + in a Musical

Best Actress in a Play

Juliet Stevenson/Lia Williams, Mary Stuart
It couldn’t really be anyone else could it. Mary Stuart was my play of the year and the stellar combination of Stevenson and Williams was a huge part in that, a pair of extraordinary performances (or should that be a quartet…) that burst with life from the circular stage of the Almeida. I’ve seen it twice and I’m definitely thinking about going again.

Honourable mention: Uzo Aduba/Zawe Ashton, The Maids
As murderous sisters Claire and Solange, I simply adored this pairing and am a little surprised they – and the production – haven’t received more love in the end-of-year lists and awards season. Fiercely uncompromising with every sweep of the broom, I couldn’t split them if I tried either.

Gemma Arterton, Nell Gwynn
Linda Bassett, Escaped Alone
Helen McCrory, The Deep Blue Sea
Maxine Peake, A Streetcar Named Desire
Harriet Walter, The Tempest

8-10
Kirsty Bushell/Ruth Wilson, Hedda Gabler/Hedda Gabler, Lesley Manville, Long Day’s Journey Into Night; Billie Piper, Yerma

Best Actress in a Musical

Jenna Russell, Grey Gardens
One of the first shows I saw in 2016 and from the moment Russell opened the second act with the hysterical ‘The Revolutionary Costume for Today’, I knew that this category was a lockdown. Her casting in as Michelle Fowler in Eastenders came as a surprise and I can’t help but be gutted that we’ve lost her to the world of television but hopefully it won’t be too long before she’s gracing our stages once more. STAUNCH!

Honourable mention: Clare Burt, Flowers for Mrs Harris
Whereas the likes of Amber Riley gets notices for belting the house down, there’s an entirely different skill-set being masterfully used by the likes of Burt that is equally emotionally devastating. A performance full of gorgeous restraint and natural charm that hopefully we’ll get to see again.

Samantha Barks, The Last 5 Years
Glenn Close, Sunset Boulevard
Kaisa Hammarlund, Sweet Charity
Cassidy Janson, Beautiful
Landi Oshinowo, I’m Getting My Act Together…

8-10
Beverley Knight, The Bodyguard; Anoushka Lucas, Jesus Christ Superstar; Scarlett Strallen, She Loves Me