Losing my mind over Losing My Mind – 10 top interpretations of the Sondheim classic

“Sometimes I stand in the middle of the floor”

With the National’s highly anticipated production of Follies (Dominic Cooke directing a cast of 37 and an orchestra of 21, lest you forget) about to start previews in a week’s time, I thought I’d listen to about a hundred different versions of perhaps its most famous song – ‘Losing My Mind’ – and try and decide on a top ten, with the assumption of course that whatever Imelda Staunton will do with the song will be completely, utterly, life-changingly extraordinary (no pressure Meldz).

Continue reading “Losing my mind over Losing My Mind – 10 top interpretations of the Sondheim classic”

Review: The Addams Family, New Wimbledon

“Hold your decaying
Hear what we’re saying”

Sad to say, what I’m saying is that I was not a fan of The Addams Family at all. After a cracking opening number which promises oh so much, Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice’s book grinds to a juddering halt in a first half which does nothing but interminably set the scene. And Andrew Lippa’s score offers little respite as it fails to really nail any definitive sense of identity and ends up really rather forgettable. Things do pick up a tad post-interval but it’s too little too late by then.

It all could have been so much better. The Addams Family are an iconic set of characters, previously immortalised on cartoon strip, on television and on film, a legacy which goes some way to explaining the commercial success of the show on Broadway in the face of a scathing critical reception. But classic characters need classic storytelling and here, they’re marooned in a schmaltzy neverland which captures nothing of the golden age, nor has anything to say to audiences today. Continue reading “Review: The Addams Family, New Wimbledon”

Review: Hey, Old Friends, Theatre Royal Drury Lane

Stop worrying where you’re going—move on”

Theatreland does like to make sure every anniversary gets marked somehow and so following on from the celebrations around Les Misérables’ 30th birthday earlier this month is a similar hoohah for Stephen Sondheim’s 85th year on this planet. As is de rigueur for these events, a gala concert has been put on for the occasion with the kind of rollcall you could only normally dream of and naturally, Hey, Old Friends! had the price tag to go along with it.

As with Les Mis (which donated to Save The Children’s Syria Children’s appeal), the show benefitted charitable purposes, specifically The Stephen Sondheim Society and telephone helpline service The Silver Line, harnessing the major fundraising potential of such events. That said, these tickets tend to be so expensive that there’s a nagging feeling that they’re serving a limited audience with few opportunities for regular theatregoers to be a part of them. Continue reading “Review: Hey, Old Friends, Theatre Royal Drury Lane”

Review: Follies in Concert, Royal Albert Hall

“Flawless charmers
Every one”

An early birthday from my Aunty Jean saw me get to revisit those wonderfully swiveling seats at the Royal Albert Hall for the matinée of Follies in Concert, a semi-staged version of the Sondheim show directed by Craig Revel-Horwood for just two performances with an all-star cast, featuring none other than Diane Lockhart herself, Christine Baranski. Having never seen the show before, I have nothing to compare it too but after hearing the score played by the City of London Philharmonic Orchestra and conducted by the inimitable Gareth Valentine, I suspect I may never need to hear another version! 

The set-up of a reunion concert for an old theatrical troupe as per James Goldman’s book works wonders for the show and especially this production. There seemed to be real joy and appreciation amongst the company as they watched their colleagues each take their turn to reprise their former glories – Anita Harris and Roy Hudd’s light-hearted skip through ‘Rain on the Roof’, Stefanie Powers’ glamorous swish through ‘Ah, Paris!’, Lorna Luft’s quirky take on ’Broadway Baby’, Betty Buckley raising the roof with a soaring ‘I’m Still Here’ – whether the onlookers were acting or not, seeing them give each turn hugs, kisses and standing ovations felt real. Continue reading “Review: Follies in Concert, Royal Albert Hall”

CD Review: It’s Just The Beginning – The Songs of Charles Miller and Kevin Hammonds

“I’m a girl of few words
And I don’t make a fuss 
But there’s something I’d like to discuss” 

As with too many good musical theatre writers, transatlantic partnership Charles Miller and Kevin Hammonds may not be the best known, but their work deserves a wider recognition as evidenced on their CD It’s Just The Beginning – The Songs of Charles Miller and Kevin Hammonds. British musician Miller and New York lyricist Hammonds have something of an old-fashioned soul, their songs very much part of the long tradition of musical theatre rather than a genre-busting radical new approach and as such, represent an interesting future alongside the Jason Robert Browns of the world.

To musical theatre aficionados, some of this music won’t be unfamiliar. When Midnight Strikes was performed at the Upstairs at the Gatehouse theatre last year and is well represented here (the emotive ‘Never Learned To Type’ is probably the highlight, the divine Caroline O’Connor wistfully breaking our hearts with a beautiful vocal. And Julie Atherton’s debut album A Girl of Few Words showcased 12 of their songs, two of which are reprised here – the wonderfully striking title track and the powerful duet ‘Someone Find Me’ with good pal Paul Spicer. Continue reading “CD Review: It’s Just The Beginning – The Songs of Charles Miller and Kevin Hammonds”

Review: Red Enters the Eye / Three Pieces in the Shape of a Pear / Feather, Radio 4

“Come, I’ll make you some lamb cutlets”

A friend recommended Red Enters The Eye to me mainly because the too-long-absent-from-our-stages Siân Brooke was in it but she also knew it would be just my cup of tea, and she was right. Jane Rogers’ 2011 radio drama follows the story of Brooke’s idealistic Julie, a volunteer heading to a women’s refuge in Nigeria to teach sewing classes. From nervous beginnings as the strict manager Fran – Penny Downie donning an Aussie accent – outlines all the rules and regulations, Julie soon makes a huge success of the classes, revelling in their popularity, the way the women respond to her work and the potential opportunities that open up as they realise the marketability of these new-found skills.

But her untempered enthusiasm fails to take into account the gravity of the situation in which these women have found themselves, so that they were forced to seek refuge. Rogers carefully threads in a necessarily weighty level of detail about the various threats that women face in this part of the world, explaining also how the volatile socio-religious situation has a huge part to play in Nigeria. But it is never heavy-handed and instead emerges as a sensitive and thoughtful piece of drama which I’d heartily recommend. Brooke is excellent as the breathlessly naïve volunteer, Downie grimly pragmatic as Fran and there’s also great work from Adjoa Andoh as her partner and Demi Oyediran as Sarah, one of the women in the refuge.


Written by Alistair McGowan, Three Pieces in the Shape of a Pear also sees him taking on the lead role of French composer Eric Satie. Probably best known for his Gymnopedies, Satie was actually one more innovative than one might have given him credit for, pushing creative boundaries and challenging the establishment. But he was an eccentric figure with it and McGowan has focused on the three most pivotal people in his life and how they were able to see through his peculiarities and peccadilloes to the man within, even if only for a brief while.

It’s an engaging, if somewhat slight, piece of writing, but one which is full of genuine affection and respect for its subject. From the seemingly ridiculous quirks – at one point, he will only eat purely white food – comes the beginnings of an artistic movement, from hopeless infatuation with a singer comes a fruitful creative partnership. McGowan bubbles gently as the composer and swirling around him Nathaniel Parker’s friendly rival Debussy, Imogen Stubbs’ Suzanne and Charlotte Page’s Paulette are all charming as the significant trio.

And last up was Rachel Joyce’s Feather, recommended to me as Claire Price formed part of the voice cast. A delicately beautiful tale narrated by Maisie Cowell’s Fern, it’s an acutely observed child’s-eye view of the separation of a couple and the tug of war that ensures over their daughter. It’s a disarmingly effective technique of probing human behaviour as each parent starts to bring a new partner into their life whilst sussing out what is going on with their ex, all the while Fern finds herself in the middle, collecting enough feathers so that she can make the biggest wish in her life.


She believes in magic you see, and that feathers can grant you wishes, but Joyce’s drama is rooted entirely in the messiness of real life, the pain of broken homes and broken relationships and the difficulties in starting over again. It’s beautifully acted by Cowell, heart-breakingly so at times, and Claire Price and Jot Davies as the warring exes, trying not to manipulate their daughter ‘too’ much are both strong, along with Shaun Dooley as the kindly Finn, who offers hope to both mother and child. 

Review: The Grand Duke, Finborough

“I’m a light-hearted girl, but I don’t chaff bogies”

Though Gilbert and Sullivan’s works enjoy enduring popularity across the country, the arbiters of taste seem to have dictated that there is little place for them in London’s theatres. So what we do get are fringe works – often highly inventive as in Sasha Regan’s all-male productions for the Union Theatre – and curiosities, as the Finborough unearths a rarely performed work from the pair, The Grand Duke, as part of their Celebrating British Music Theatre series.

Their final collaborative work, The Grand Duke or The Statutory Duel has languished on the shelves as its comparatively poor reception doomed it to an early closure and a lifetime of obscurity beckoned as the popular perception is that this show is proof positive of their degenerating creative partnership. In some ways, the argument can be made as the dialogue is creaky, the score is oft-times derivative and the hugely convoluted plot is sprawlingly bonkers. But then this is G+S that we’re talking about and to pull at the thread of either the lack of musical variety or straightforwardness of the plot is to call into question their whole oeuvre. Continue reading “Review: The Grand Duke, Finborough”

Review: Street Scene, Young Vic

“That’s just the way life is, ain’t it”

Winning the Evening Standard Award for Best Musical even with a short five-show run in 2008, Street Scene now returns to the Young Vic for a slightly longer run on The Cut, the final preview of which I caught, and followed by a tour. This 1947 show occupies a strange ground between musical and opera as composer Kurt Weill incorporates musical influences from all over the place: Broadway show tunes, operatic arias, folk ditties, jazz, blues and a whole lot more besides. And so to do it justice, director John Fulljames has assembled a company of 80 singers, the main cast complemented by a community chorus from the local area.

The book by Elmer Rice, adapted from his own play, is set over a couple of scorchingly hot days in a New York tenement building, occupied by a wide mix of ethnic groupings all dealing with their own crises and looking for a way out to a better life. The slice of life approach means that the eclectic score makes more sense, ricocheting around the diverse inhabitants and the multitude of stories that are touched upon before the action coalesces around the Maurrant family and their particular travails. Continue reading “Review: Street Scene, Young Vic”

Review: Sincerely Noël, Riverside Studios

“The most I’ve had is just a talent to amuse”

Sincerely Noël is a show both devised by and starring Alistair McGowan showcasing a wide range of Noël Coward’s works, both spoken and sung, with assistance from Charlotte Page. It is an extended version of the Cocktails with Coward show that McGowan and Page took to Edinburgh last year and which played a short run here at the Riverside Studios at Easter. Mixing together songs, bon mots a scene from one of his best-known plays and verse poems, some well known, some obscurities and even some which they believe are being performed publicly for the first time.

After a slightly self-indulgent introduction featuring several of the impersonations for which McGowan is well known, we move swiftly into the flow of the evening with the pair splitting lines of dialogue and songs between them as well as each working solo. Ably accompanied by George Dyer on the piano, they whirl through these insights into the lives of both everyday people and the upper classes with many tales of the endless capacity of love to confuse, wound, amuse and capture hearts and minds alike.

What comes across is the breadth of his writing but also how timeless much of it is. One often thinks of Coward as being so firmly rooted in his own time but the marital fears of Honeymoon 1905 could have been written today, listening to 1901, the account of the death and funeral of Queen Victoria, one is struck by the comparison to Princess Diana’s death and the epic poem Not Yet The Dodo with its well-to-do parents struggling to accept their beloved son’s homosexuality shows that no matter how far we think we’ve come as a society, there is always more progress to be made.

Page really comes into her own in the second act, with beautiful deliveries of songs like Mad About The Boy and If Love Were All but also showcases a wide range of accents (wider than McGowan even) amusing particularly whilst on the therapist’s couch. McGowan also impresses at wielding the sharp witticisms and playing the repressed Englishness of so many of these characters. And together they suggest the world of pain, hurt and emotion behind the infamous stiff upper lip.

Sincerely Noël makes for an enjoyable, if a little slight, experience. In showcasing Coward as one of our finest writers though, it does an excellent job, revisiting old favourites with both a new eye, like a witty Teutonic take on Mad Dogs and Englishmen which breathes a wonderful new life into the well-known classic and the familiar, like the beautifully played balcony scene from Private Lives.

Running time: 1 hour 50 minutes (with interval)
Programme cost: £1
Booking until 23rd December
Originally reviewed for The Public Reviews

Review: A Little Night Music, Menier Chocolate Factory

Given the name of this blog, I was more than a little excited when the Menier Chocolate Factory announced their Christmas show as Stephen Sondheim’s A Little Night Music for, in case you do not know, ‘There Ought To Be Clowns’ is a lyric from the most well-known song from this musical, ‘Send in the Clowns’. It is based on Ingrid Bergman’s film Smiles of a Summer Night and with a score almost entirely written in waltz time, it is a coolly Scandinavian intellectual and detached look at romance.

Middle-aged Frederik has married Anna, his 18-year-old neighbour, and she is having difficulty with consummating the marriage. At the same time, Frederik’s son Heinrik is studying to become a minister yet lusts after Anna, who is younger than he is. When one of Heinrik’s old flames, a touring actress, returns to town with a jealous Brigadier-General (inconveniently married to one of Anna’s friends) as her current on-again off-again lover, the set of romantic relationships readjust and realign to potentially better suited pairings over a weekend in the country. Continue reading “Review: A Little Night Music, Menier Chocolate Factory”