CD Review: Out Of Context: The Songs Of Michael Patrick Walker (2011)

“One night is sometimes all it takes”
 
Michael Patrick Walker is probably best known as the co-composer of Altar Boyz, a big off-Broadway hit, and though his 2011 album Out Of Context: The Songs Of Michael Patrick Walker contains a new version of one of the songs from that show, it contains much more besides, a collection of songs written for musicals in development, with other cut and stand-alone material, sung by the requisite company of Broadway colleagues doing their stuff.
 
On this evidence, Walker fits fairly neatly into the school of new musical theatre writing spearheaded by the likes of Jason Robert Brown – not in a particularly derivative way but rather in its fresh modernity and lyrical sparkiness. And as ever with these collections, the range of interpretations from singers both familiar and new to me brings a pleasing diversity to the collection which has been orchestrated and arranged by Walker in a real labour of love.

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CD Review: Xanadu (2007 Original Broadway Cast)

“A place, where nobody dared to go”
And from the musicals that will be on at the Southwark Playhouse to one which has already played. The glitter and roller-skates of Xanadu took up residence at the tail end of 2015 and was a hugely enjoyable camp-fest of a show – tongue not so much in cheek as licking lips lasciviously whilst adjusting leg-warmers. An unexpected Tony-nominated success on Broadway in 2007, this cast recording dates back to that production and so features the rather marvellous Cheyenne Jackson.
If I believed in guilty pleasures then this would be the thing but what was heightened in the theatre due to tanned thighs, clouds of chiffon and raucous roller-skating doesn’t quite come across on record here. For listening to this record ultimately depends on how much you like the oeuvre of Olivia Newton-John and ELO and little more besides, as little is done to many of the songs and the orchestrations that they receive here are pitifully thin compared to the originals as they inevitably are.

Jackson’s hapless hunk Sonny is undoubtedly appealing but there’s a real caustic edge to Kerry Butler’s Clio/Kira, the goddess who helps him to build the ultimate roller-disco, in her savage Newton-John impersonation. And there’s nothing unpleasant about their duets together, tracks like ‘Suddenly’ and ‘Suspended in Time’, they just end up being versions of the inoffensive pop songs that they are.
It’s left to the likes of Mary Testa and Jackie Hoffman as evil sisters Melpomene and Calliope to transfer the campness directly into the music, their takes on ‘Evil Woman’ and ‘Strange Magic’ raising at least a chuckle throughout as they’re allowed to strain at the MOR leash. Otherwise, sadly, you’re best off just listening to your Best of Olivia Newton-John and ELO if it’s their music you’re craving.

CD Review: Cheyenne Jackson – Renaissance (2016)

“Never seemed so right before”

Cheyenne Jackson’s first album I’m Blue, Skies was an unexpectedly shiny and effective pop-fest but Renaissance sees him move a little closer to his acting roots. This album has been adapted out of his one-man show ‘Music of the Mad Men Era’ and so heavily features music from the 50s and 60s in all their brassy, bossa-nova throwback charm into which Jackson, in all his elegance and ravishing vocal prowess, slides beautifully.
It’s almost criminally smooth at times – from the opening big band sound of ‘Feeling Good’ which sounds amazing to multitracked vocal of ‘Angel Eyes’ to spring in the step of ‘Walkin’ My Baby Back Home’, it’s impossible to resist its huge geniality. And by the time he throws in the lighter touches of ‘Americano’ (with a cheeky interpolation that will please fans of his American Horror Story role), the sway of ‘Bésame Mucho’ and a delightful, gossamer-light duet with Jane Krakowski on ‘Somethin’ Stupid’, you’ll be utterly seduced.

Jackson is so at home in this material that the deviations from it thus feel a little incongruous. There’s nothing wrong with the gentle piano-based covers of the likes of ‘A Case of You’ and ‘Your Song’ but they just don’t stand out in this company. You just want to hear that 22-strong orchestra, conducted by Kevin Stites, time and again, and so the drama and passion of ‘I (Who Have Nothing)’ and ‘A Change Is Gonna Come’ are more successful in that respect.
There’s a nice personal touch late on with Renaissance’s sole original track ‘Red Wine Is Good for My Heart’, co-written by Jackson and Michael Feinstein in tribute to his late grandmother, proving not only is he drop-dead gorgeous and sound like a dream, he’s a nice boy too. Please come to London soon!

CD Review: Cheyenne Jackson – I’m Blue, Skies (2013)

“Straight to my guts there you go again

You’re killing me don’t even know it when…”
I’m a bit of a sucker for a musical theatre actor releasing albums of original material as opposed to collections of the same old standards and so Cheyenne Jackson’s first album I’m Blue, Skies was already off to a winner with me. And by the time the joyous drive-time pop of the first two tracks ‘Before You’ and ‘I’m Blue Skies’ had passed, I was completely hooked. And peering closer at the credits offers at least part of the reason, empress of pop Sia co-wrote a bunch of the tracks.
She actually met him backstage after a performance of Xanadu and a fast friendship was born. And it was creatively fruitful too – ‘She’s Pretty, She Lies’ folds in tinges of country into its pop and ‘Don’t Look at Me’ is simple, stirring balladry at its best, thus one gets the sense that Jackson’s song-writing was further empowered to explore all points inbetween. So we get cheery duets like You Get Me (feat. Charlotte Sometimes) and the most positive break-up song ever in the soaring ‘Don’t Wanna Know’.

Jackson’s voice is something of a marvel and as it stretches from baritone loveliness to strong tenor to startling but gorgeous falsetto (‘Mr. Lonely Boy’ demonstrates the scope of this range perfectly), it’s hard not to be thoroughly engaged with the entire album. As summer threatens to break out, it’s bound to sound even better with the top down, or at least the windows, as you drive to someplace only Cheyenne can take you to.

Film Review: Lucky Stiff (2015)

“A view won’t be a view without you in my way”

Filmed a couple of years ago, the movie adaptation of Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty’s musical farce Lucky Stiff has now been released for you to enjoy at leisure across a raft of digital platforms, courtesy of Signature Entertainment. I’ve seen the show twice onstage now (most recently at the Drayton Arms) and neither time did it really win me over, the limitations of fringe productions doing the show little favour. But strangely enough, it is this cinematic version that seems to work the best, suiting its idiosyncratic charms down to the ground.

The piece is a featherlight piece of French fancy, based on the Michael Butterworth novel The Man Who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo, as an East Grinstead shoe salesman seizes on the chance to live a little when he’s the beneficiary of an unexpected inheritance from his late, rich, barely-known uncle. He’s got to go to Monte Carlo to fulfil the strangely detailed terms and conditions though and there he find an assorted cast of misfits who also have an eye on the cool $6m – and thus the farcical goings-on begin. Continue reading “Film Review: Lucky Stiff (2015)”

DVD Review: Love is Strange

“Sometimes when you live with people, you know them better than you care to”

The move to a more sensitive, nuanced portrayal of lives well-lived is none more evident than in the excellent Love is Strange. Ira Sachs and Mauricio Zacharias’ screenplay puts John Lithgow’s Ben and Alfred Molina’s George, a happy couple of nearly 40 years standing at the heart of its story and pleasingly lets them remain (relatively) happy. Instead, the trials in their life come from the fallout of finally deciding to tie the knot, it leading to one of them losing his job. 

Financially up against it, Ben and George find themselves having to sell their much-loved apartment in New York City and with limited options in a tough real estate market, end up living apart with friends and family as no-one has room for them both. Separated and going through a transitional time, it is the relationships of those with whom they’re staying that get put under the microscope, particularly Ben’s nephew and his family. Continue reading “DVD Review: Love is Strange”

Saturday afternoon music treats

In this week’s selection, we have Elaine Paige simply giving us life with one of the most amazing routines you will ever see (the arrival of genuine menacing jazz flute at 3.06 is the best bit), a gorgeous snippet from the forthcoming Water Babies musical, a much-needed reminder of why Bernadette Peters is as highly regarded as she is, an excerpt of the launch concert for the Words Shared With Friends album, a (probably illegal) clip from the Broadway version of Damn Yankees which I saw on stage for the first time recently and Jonathan Groff being dreamy. 

 

 
 

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Album Review: Scott Alan – Dreaming Wide Awake

“I have fought, I have cried.
I’ve been broke, I’ve been bruised.
Yet at the end of the day
This life is what I still choose.”

I was recommended this Scott Alan CD, Dreaming Wide Awake, by a reader who like me wasn’t a huge fan of Tim Prottey-Jones’ album which I reviewed last week and claimed that US composers were basically better all round. Whereas that sentiment made me automatically want to not bother, I do love a good recommendation and Scott Alan is one of those composers of whom I’ve heard a fair bit without having actually engaged with his music or any of his shows. Alan is a lyricist and composer who has written a handful of shows but more recently, his output seems to have been channelled into collections of his work on CD: he is now up to his third, of which Dreaming Wide Awake is the first.

I’m not going to get sucked into a US/UK debate here, there’s room in my heart to like all sorts of different things for different occasions, but I do have to say that this is an album which pretty much blew me away from first listen. Opening with the punchily brilliant ‘I’m A Star’ by Eden Espinosa, it is clear that Alan is unafraid of showing emotion in all its colours through his writing. I’m A Star is the kind of song to get pulses racing with its determined dreams of success and one I’m surprised I haven’t heard in a cabaret set (yet). Tracie Thoms’ ‘Let Love Begin’ has a driving tunefulness and there’s a great comic number in the countering viewpoints of ‘At Seventeen’. Continue reading “Album Review: Scott Alan – Dreaming Wide Awake”

Music Review: Lance Horne – First Things Last

“Now you’re here, where else would I be?”

I was lucky enough to catch the Lance Horne concert at the Garrick at the end of January at which his album First Things Last was showcased, but as the cd features a mixture of both British and American musical theatre stars, the gig saw lots of stand-ins putting their own (mostly) brilliant spins on the songs. But I love the CD so very much that I always intended to review it separately as well but it has taken me a wee while to get round to it…

Opening with Alan Cumming’s witty American and taking a swift detour in soft rock territory with the rather bland ‘In The Name Of The Father’, Horne’s strength as a songwriter is demonstrated in a frankly astonishingly good and incredibly varied run of seven songs which make the purchase of this album pretty much essential. From the mid-tempo story songs like ‘Leap’ performed with transatlantic charm by the delightful Emma Williams and Julie Atherton’s powerhouse vocals on ‘Every Moment’ to the wry humour of ‘Haircut’ with a great turn from Ricki Lake (nicely erasing any memory of Graham Norton’s efforts…!), there’s such strength in depth here.

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