CD Review: Bad Girls (2007 Original London Cast)

“We’re all banged up without a bang”
Maureen Chadwick, Ann McManus and Kath Gotts’ musical adaptation of long-running TV show Bad Girls only lasted a couple of months in the West End back in 2007 but they still managed to get out a cast recording (and a DVD too, though I’ve not been able to track that down yet). My first experience with the show was with the Union’s fringe production earlier this year and I have to say, I really enjoyed myself.
Sadly, I don’t think this recording quite captures the joie de vivre that the show gave me. It actually highlights the randomness of Gotts’ score, both musically and dramatically. David Burt’s Jim Fenner is a case in point here – Burt plays up the devilish charisma which is his forte in suavely slick numbers like ‘Jailcraft’ and ‘The Key’ yet for all his old-school Hollywood charm, we have to buy him as the sexually predatory villain of the piece.

To be fair, that’s an extreme example but such inconsistency is indicative of Bad Girls as a whole and the songs aren’t really strong enough to stand up on their own here, switching from heartfelt spiritual to vaudeville to flat ballads. Julie Jupp and Rebecca Wheatley do their best as the Julies with comic number ‘Life of Grime’ but it doesn’t pop as it did onstage; so too with Yvonne’s glammed-up number ‘A-List’, Sally Dexter’s powerful voice deserving a better calibre of material.
But for all my head says this doesn’t work, my heart has been softened by the memories of that Union production and I can’t help but be a little seduced into this trashy life of crime – the 80s power pop of ‘The Baddest and the Best’ is pretty much the definition of guilty pleasure. Maybe one to borrow off a friend rather than buy outright.

Review: The Buskers Opera, Park

“The future’s ripe for those who mix
Their artistry with politics”

John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera has already inspired one musical adaptation – Brecht and Weill’s The Threepenny Opera, a new production thereof opening later this month at the National – and finds another in Dougal Irvine’s The Buskers Opera, receiving its world premiere here at the Park Theatre. And if its timing might be slightly off in that regard, it couldn’t be more bang on the money on the London mayoral election day, featuring as it does, corrupt politicians and ruthless media magnates seeking to advance their agenda on an unsuspecting populace.

Set in the strange potential-filled moment that was the 2012 Olympics, Jeremiah Peachum is said mogul with Mayor Lockitt in his pocket, determined to milk it for all it is worth – the only thing standing in their way is half-social justice warrior, half-street busker Macheath, strutting at the head of protest group The Ninety-Nine Percenters. That said, getting one over the fat cats isn’t always as satisfying as getting one’s leg over and as he plays off his wife Polly against the mayor’s daughter Lucy and a few more besides, a thrill-seeking society is encouraged to make judgement. Continue reading “Review: The Buskers Opera, Park”

DVD Review: The Merchant of Venice (2001)

“For your love I pray you, wrong me not”

Any filmed adaptation of The Merchant of Venice is up against it for me as I adore the Al Pacino version from 2004 which makes so much sense of so many of the difficulties of the play. This Trevor Nunn production was a big success for the National Theatre, transferring from the then-Cottesloe to the Olivier, winning all sorts of awards and then filmed for the US’s Masterpiece Theatre.

And as is often the case with these stage-to-screen adaptations, it’s a little flat and disappointing, little concession made to the change in medium and so the abiding feeling is that one is left wishing one could have seen it onstage. Which is a shame, as Henry Goodman makes an excellent Shylock, viciously vengeful but clearly victimised too in this adroit resituating of the play to the 1930s. Continue reading “DVD Review: The Merchant of Venice (2001)”

CD Review: Candide (1999 Royal National Theatre Recording)

 “I’ll show my noble stuff by being bright and cheerful!”

They don’t make ‘em like they used to. Both in terms of writing, Leonard Bernstein’s operetta Candide (with its multiple literary contributors from Voltaire’s novella) dates back to 1956 and an entirely different age, and in terms of production too, Trevor Nunn’s National Theatre liked its big, grand musicals and this 1999 adaptation – co-directed by Nunn and John Caird – was lavishly done with its lush orchestrations fortunately recorded for posterity.

My only previous experience of Candide is with the Menier Chocolate Factory’s production in 2013 so I can’t really comment on the different versions of the show (although having done a little reading, I realise that this is something people have strong opinions about!). Instead, I’m listening to it with pretty much fresh ears, revelling in Bruce Coughlin’s orchestrations and Mark W Dorrell’s musical direction which sound utterly gorgeous, especially with a cast of this calibre. Continue reading “CD Review: Candide (1999 Royal National Theatre Recording)”

Album Review: Closer to Heaven (Original Cast Recording)

“Give me hope
Give me all your love” 

Everything is better with Frances Barber in it, it’s kind of a mantra for life. The Union Theatre’s recent production of Closer to Heaven shifted its entire allocation of tickets before it had even started but I wonder if that would have been the case if people had had a sneak preview of it. Despite its hard-working cast, it didn’t quite hit all the bases that would have warranted a sell-out success from after press night but you can’t begrudge them for that, the producers clearly tapped into a desire to see the show revived. 

Its original run at the Arts Theatre was not a runaway hit, being curtailed after lacklustre sales (blamed in part on 9/11 affecting tourism) but an original cast recording of the soundtrack, featuring studio versions of the songs, was released, helping the show to maintain and even build on its cult status. And listening to the album, you can see why people were keen for it to return. Shorn of most of Jonathan Harvey’s lumpen book, the focus falls squarely on the cracking score by Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe and the real depth of feeling that the cast bring to the material. Continue reading “Album Review: Closer to Heaven (Original Cast Recording)”

Review: Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris, Charing Cross Theatre

“Quand on n’a que l’amour
A s’offrir en partage”

No he’s not. Jacques Brel is dead and buried in French Polynesia next to Paul Gauguin but his unmistakable spirit is to be found in the oddly sterile surroundings of the Charing Cross Theatre in this revue of the music that made a maître of the world of chanson. Comprising nearly 30 of his songs performed by a company of four, director Andrew Keates has made a determined choice to avoid the concert-type presentation often associated with revues for something much more theatrical.
It is a choice that mostly works. Brel’s music explored the length and breadth of the human condition and Keates uses this to offer a wide variety of staging choices for the material, treating each song almost as its own little world whether it is love lost, love found, sailors drinking or funerals watched. They come in different forms too, a music hall vaudeville turn here, a dramatic scene played out amongst the cabaret tables up front there, and some pure uncomplicated singing for good measure too.

And with a talented cast of Gina Beck, Daniel Boys, David Burt and Eve Polycarpou, you can’t go too wrong and they all deliver. The more experienced voices of Burt and Polycarpou feel beautifully at home in the world of chanson – her impassioned opener of ‘Le Diable (Ça Va)’ is bursting with heartfelt meaning and his closer of ‘Amsterdam’ is equally stirring in an accomplished performance. Beck and Boys bring a different energy to their work, more character-based perhaps than deeply felt in the same way but still convincing in its passion.
If any reservations emerge, they lie with the show itself. It is perhaps a little long, losing its level of intensity occasionally across the chopping and changing of the 30-some songs. And though the English translations by Eric Blau and Mort Shuman are well done, capturing much of the Gallic sensibility of Brel’s work (even if he was a Belgian), there’s so much power and emotion in the original French that is only hinted at here (‘Quand On N’a Que L’amour’ just sounds more evocative that ‘If We Only Have Love’ for example). When it is utilised, as in a glorious ‘Ne Me Quitte Pas’ from Polycarpou, it works so well it feels a shame not to have used it more. Still, it’s an enjoyable French fancy of a show.
Running time: 2 hours (with interval)
Booking until 22nd November
Photo: Scott Rylander

Review: Kiss Me, Kate, Chichester Festival Theatre

“But when the thermometer goes right up, and the weather is sizzling hot…”

So confident in their run of successful summer musicals is Chichester Festival Theatre that the transfer for Kiss Me, Kate (it will play at co-producers London’s Old Vic from 20th November to 2nd March) was announced before it had even opened at its native theatre. But with experienced hands Trevor Nunn directing and Stephen Mears choreographing, Cole Porter’s ever-spry music and a cast headed up by leading light of the British musical theatre scene Hannah Waddingham, it was a reasonably safe bet.

And unsurprisingly, it is one that has paid off. The show follows a theatre company putting on a musical version of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, where the feisty relationship between Petruchio and Katherine is echoed by the conflict between director and leading man Fred and his ex-wife Lilli who is playing opposite him. As the offstage drama threatens to overwhelm the onstage, some shenanigans from another member of the company in a gambling room throws matters further into disarray. Continue reading “Review: Kiss Me, Kate, Chichester Festival Theatre”

fosterIAN awards 2011

 WinnerRunner-upOther nominees
Best Actress in a PlayEve Best, Much Ado About Nothing (Globe)Ruth Wilson, Anna ChristieRosie Wyatt, Bunny
Siân Brooke, Ecstasy
Lisa Palfrey, The Kitchen Sink
Geraldine James, Seagull
Best Actor in a PlayBenedict Cumberbatch, FrankensteinAndrew Scott, Emperor and GalileanTrevor Fox, The Pitmen Painters
Dominic West, Othello
Jude Law, Anna Christie
Charles Edwards, Much Ado About Nothing (Globe)
Best Supporting Actress in a PlayAlexandra Gilbreath, OthelloSheridan Smith, Flare PathSinéad Matthews, Ecstasy
Billie Piper, Reasons to be Pretty
Kirsty Bushell, Double Feature 1
Esther Hall, Many Moons
Best Supporting Actor in a PlayRyan Sampson, The Kitchen SinkHarry Hadden-Paton, Flare PathRobert Hands, The Comedy of Errors (Propeller)
Edward Franklin, Many Moons
Craig Parkinson, Ecstasy
Adam James, Much Ado About Nothing (Wyndhams)
Best Actress in a MusicalImelda Staunton, Sweeney ToddAdrianna Bertola, Josie Griffiths, Cleo Demetriou, Kerry Ingram, Eleanor Worthington Cox & Sophia Kiely, MatildaLaura Pitt-Pulford, Parade
Beverley Klein, Bernarda Alba
Jemima Rooper, Me and My Girl
Scarlett Strallen, Singin’ in the Rain
Best Actor in a MusicalBertie Carvel, MatildaMichael Ball, Sweeney ToddDaniel Evans, Company
Daniel Crossley, Me and My Girl
Alastair Brookshaw, Parade
Vincent Franklin, The Day We Sang
Best Supporting Actress in a MusicalSamantha Spiro, CompanyKate Fleetwood, London RoadJosefina Gabrielle, Me and My Girl
Josie Walker, Matilda
Rosalind James, Ragtime
Ann Emery, Betty Blue Eyes
Best Supporting Actor in a MusicalDaniel Crossley, Singin’ in the RainNigel Harman, Shrek the MusicalConnor Dowling, Guys and Dolls
Jack Edwards, Betty Blue Eyes
David Burt, Crazy For You
Nick Holder London Road

2011 Best Supporting Actor in a Play + in a Musical

Best Supporting Actor in a Play

Ryan Sampson, The Kitchen Sink
An absolute gem of a performance from Sampson here, coming late in the year but leaving no doubt as to how good he was – though not “too good to be gay” as a notorious critic put it most distastefully. Tom Wells excels at his non-metropolitan gay characters and there is so much refreshing, recognisable normality here, that transcends sexuality too – God knows everyone has felt awkward at one point or another – that made Sampson’s portrayal irresistible. Throw in some wicked jokes, perfectly delivered, a love for Dolly Parton and facial expressions that speak absolute volumes, Sampson is a worthy winner.

Honourable mention: Harry Hadden-Paton, Flare Path
As part of the central love triangle at the heart of Flare Path, Hadden-Paton displayed the kind of acting performance that should ensure he remains one to watch for many years to come, whether onstage or on film. The personal side paled though in comparison with the battle he faced to conquer his private desolation at the prospect of war in order to appear as the fearless leader of men his soldiers needed him to be: wonderfully appealing.

Robert Hands, The Comedy of Errors (Propeller)
Edward Franklin, Many Moons
Craig Parkinson, Ecstasy
Adam James, Much Ado About Nothing (Wyndhams)

7-10
Sam Swainsbury, When Did You Last See My Mother; Dominic Tighe, The Comedy of Errors (Propeller) ; Philip Cumbus, Much Ado About Nothing (Globe); James Norton, Journey’s End

 

Best Supporting Actor in a Musical

Daniel Crossley, Singin’ in the Rain
I am a little bit in love with Daniel Crossley, and yes I know he’s taken, darn you Evans. But a man who can sing well, dance like an absolute dream and play the wise-cracking sidekick role of Cosmo without seeming like a constant third wheel has to be worth it. On top of an excellent turn in Me and My Girl at the beginning of the year, 2011 was a great year for Crossley and whilst I’m sad I won’t get to see him in a new role for the foreseeable future, I am delighted that the West End will get to see him in all his puddle-splashing glory when Singin’ in the Rain transfers.

Honourable mention: Nigel Harman, Shrek the musical
If you haven’t seen Shrek the musical yet, then I am about to spoil something for you here but I can’t explain the genius of Nigel Harman’s performance as the diminutive Lord Farquaad without saying something about how he does it. Spending the whole show on his knees, he is show-stealingly hilarious and provides a much welcomed injection of pure comedy into the musical.

Connor Dowling, Guys and Dolls
Jack Edwards, Betty Blue Eyes
David Burt, Crazy for You
Nick Holder, London Road

7-10
Paul Kaye, Matilda; Terry Doe, Parade; Michael Matus, Lend Me A Tenor; Will Hawksworth, Betwixt!

2012 What’s On Stage Award nominations

BEST ACTOR IN A PLAY
James Corden – One Man, Two Guvnors at the National, Lyttelton & Adelphi 
Benedict Cumberbatch – Frankenstein at the National, Olivier 
Jude Law – Anna Christie at the Donmar Warehouse 
Kevin Spacey – Richard III at the Old Vic 
David Tennant – Much Ado About Nothing at Wyndham’s
James Earl Jones – Driving Miss Daisy at Wyndham’s 

BEST ACTRESS IN A PLAY
Vanessa Redgrave – Driving Miss Daisy at Wyndham’s 
Eve Best – Much Ado About Nothing at Shakespeare’s Globe 
Kristin Scott Thomas – Betrayal at the Comedy 
Ruth Wilson – Anna Christie at the Donmar Warehouse 
Samantha Spiro – Chicken Soup with Barley at the Royal Court Downstairs
Tamsin Greig – Jumpy at the Royal Court Downstairs Continue reading “2012 What’s On Stage Award nominations”