Album Review: Bombay Dreams (2002 Original London Cast)

“Contradictions, city of extremes, anything is possible in Bombay dreams. 
Some live and die in debt, others making millions on the internet”

True story, until last week I thought Bombay Dreams was written by Andrew Lloyd Webber. Not having seen it onstage nor listened to it before, all I knew was the Lord’s name was attached to it and assumptions were thus made – it’s even his name that appears first on the album cover. But peruse a little closer and you see he’s just ‘presenting’ as one of the original producers, cast your eyes a little further down and A.R. Rahman is revealed as the composer. This may of course be old news to you but for me, it was a revelation before I’d even started!

This was multi-award-winning composer Rahman’s first effort for the stage and the palpable effort to mesh his unique take on Indian music with the world of musical theatre is obvious from the off. The musical soundscape that begins ‘Bombay Awakes/Bombay Dreams’ is layered and intriguing but the mood is shattered as soon as Don Black’s lyrics crash in (see the quote up top for a sample) and the combination is cringeworthily fatal. And across the score as a whole, the sense of compromise, of trying to serve two masters whilst pleasing none is too evident. Continue reading “Album Review: Bombay Dreams (2002 Original London Cast)”

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.

Review: Yellow Face, Park Theatre

“Nowadays, it’s so hard to tell”

London’s newest theatre opened its doors in Finsbury Park last week but the Park Theatre also has a more intimate studio and it is the UK premiere of David Henry Hwang’s Yellow Face that christens that space. Hwang was the first Asian-American to win a Tony for Best Play and so was a predictable figurehead for the 1990 protests against the casting of Jonathan Pryce in a Eurasian role in the Broadway production of Miss Saigon and it is this that forms the starting point for his play Yellow Face which questions ideas of race and identity and whether any such thing as a multicultural society can really exist when prejudices continue to weigh in from all sides.

Hwang uses his own experiences but also weaves elements of fiction into the play – the version of himself who is the lead character is (barely) renamed DHH – to create something of a fantasia, which allows him to heighten the absurdity of many of these situations whilst simultaneously maintaining the chilling realisation that most of it is not too far from reality. It’s a heady mixture and one which frequently pays off. The trickiness of dealing with the sensitive subject of race is tackled head on and with no little humour – trite aphorisms about tolerance and looking beneath the skin are constantly rehashed and recycled, even borrowing lyrics from an En Vogue song at one point, as the difficulties of verbalising what racial identity really means and just how important it actually is are thrown under the spotlight. Continue reading “Review: Yellow Face, Park Theatre”

Re-review: Privates on Parade, Noël Coward

“We’ll press upon the enemy until he’s in a funk,
And show him its no easy thing resisting British spunk”

Just a quickie to cover this return trip to Privates on Parade, the opening show of Michael Grandage’s 5 show takeover of the Noël Coward Theatre, as I was able to attend the final performance of the run thanks to the day-seating efforts of a friend. I liked the show immensely when I saw it at the end of last year and whilst I could see that it might not be to everyone’s tastes, I was somewhat surprised at the charge of ‘dated’ that some people levelled at the play. Perhaps it’s a conversation that needs to be had with someone who actually felt that way but it feels erroneous to me, not least because it’s not even set (late 1940s) when it was written (1977).

The biggest change of course was due to the untimely and sudden death of Sophiya Haque who played the role of Sylvia. I can’t imagine how difficult it must have been for the company to continue after such a tragedy and all credit to understudy Davina Perera who rose to the challenge of taking on the role full time mid-run and achieving a seamless transition. Otherwise, I enjoyed the show just as much as I did first time round and having a better sense of the play as a whole, I appreciated the emotional depths of the writing that much more, the comedy has a more astringent edge in the knowledge of what is to come. Continue reading “Re-review: Privates on Parade, Noël Coward”

Review: Privates on Parade, Noël Coward Theatre

“How many sorts of people there are”
 

Well what an unexpected thing Privates on Parade turned out to be. Not knowing anything about it in advance meant it was full of surprises: the ‘play with songs’ moniker shouldn’t disguise the fact that it is closer to a musical than a play, and it very much needs to be treated as the period piece that it is. On the face of it, its ribald campery and racial stereotyping could be something of an affront, a relic of an old-fashioned past with old-fashioned attitudes, but to merely dismiss it as dated and offensive is to miss the wider points of Peter Nichols’ 1977 play and the nuances of Michael Grandage’s production, first seen at the Donmar in 2001.(FYI: this was a preview performance.)

The play opens the Michael Grandage residency at the Noël Coward theatre, a season of five star-studded plays – Simon Russell Beale is the marquee name here – with a new pricing model aiming for greater affordability for drama in the West End. It’s set in the fictional Song and Dance Unit South East Asia (SADUESA), a British army entertainment corps stationed there at the time of the Malayan Emergency in the aftermath of the Second World War, and follows this troupe of military entertainers as they tour their act through the hostile jungle of the Malayan peninsula. So against the near-oblivious flamboyance of the Marlene Dietrich covers, cabaret turns and jaunty full ensemble numbers, is a backdrop of long-simmering native discontent and explosive violence for which they are ill-prepared. Continue reading “Review: Privates on Parade, Noël Coward Theatre”

Review: Annie Get Your Gun, Young Vic

“Jumping Jehosaphat, well if it ain’t the damndest thing I ever did see.”

Running right through to January, the Young Vic has set a lot into Annie Get Your Gun, their longest running production to date. Starring Jane Horrocks as the sharp-shooting Annie Oakley, this musical contains some incredibly well-known songs, and so would seem like a fairly safe bet.

First off, the look of the whole show really is quite arresting, and not in a good way. It instantly evokes ‘school show’ as it really does look cheap and shabby, and the lack of depth in the stage is highlighted every time there’s more than 4 people on stage as they are having to carefully negotiate their way around each other and the props without tumbling off. And on top of that, the design is really quite unsuited to the venue. Such a wide, shallow stage means that people sat towards either edge of the auditorium have severe difficulties in seeing the action when it moves to the other side. And the use of a cutaway above the stage means the front few rows miss the final scene (and the one shirtless moment!). Given that it is unreserved seating, it does seem quite unreasonable to expect people to fork out £30 and then have their view restricted. Continue reading “Review: Annie Get Your Gun, Young Vic”