News: line-up for week 4 of Leave A Light On

The schedule has been announced for week 4 of Leave A Light On, a series of live-streamed concerts.

The shows will be live streamed as part of the Leave A Light on series of concerts produced by Lambert Jackson and The Theatre Café, which aims not only to provide financial support for the performers involved, but also to provide entertainment for people in self-isolation.

Tickets to watch the live streams are a bargainous £7.50, just click on this link to book. Continue reading “News: line-up for week 4 of Leave A Light On”

Review: The Distance You Have Come, Cockpit

A Scott Alan song cycle promises much but The Distance You Have Come doesn’t quite deliver at the Cockpit Theatre, despite its excellent cast

“I deserve to be seen
This dream feels way overdue”

Scott Alan’s reputation as a songwriter is without question. Over a number of albums over the last decade (a fair few of which I’ve reviewed here), he’s been able to count on an extraordinary array of performers to bring his music to life, songs which are unafraid to chart the lows as well as the highs of living, loving, losing, dreaming… The Distance You Have Come sees him maintain that quality of guestlist in a live setting, as he entwines together over 20 of his compositions into a song cycle.

It proves a curious enterprise though, one which doesn’t quite cohere in a way that the quality of these songs deserves. Alan wrote the book for the show, as well as directing, and you do wonder whether an outside perspective might have helped. The book tries to do an awful lot in the space of a few snatched sentences between songs and its ambition feels somewhat unnecessary if the show is to be a song cycle rather than a fledgling musical. Continue reading “Review: The Distance You Have Come, Cockpit”

Review: The King and I, Palladium

So much to like in The King and I at the London Palladium, not least the exquisite costumes and a superb Kelli O’Hara

“Getting to hope you like me…”

Despite my love of a classic musical, it has taken me a wee while to work up the enthusiasm to go and see The King and I at the Palladium. A big Broadway success, Bartlett Sher’s production kept its leads of Kelli O’Hara and Ken Watanabe but with that pedigree comes an element of playing it safe, which is what I think has kept me at bay.

And in watching the show, you can’t ever really escape this feeling of sedateness, splendidly mounted as it is. Catherine Zuber’s costume work is beyond lush, Michael Yeargan’s set has an epic scale and the sweep of Christopher Gattelli’s take on Jerome Robbins’ original choreography is quite often breathtaking – they don’t make em like this any more etc etc. Continue reading “Review: The King and I, Palladium”

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.

CD Review: From Here To Eternity (2014 Live Cast Recording)

“All along knowing that no-one has returned to care”

Barely managing six months in the West End in 2013/4, I think it’s fair to say the musical adaptation of From Here to Eternity underwhelmed. And though I was reasonably fair to it at the time, I can’t say that it has aged well, upon returning the live cast recording that was made before the final curtain fell, blame seeming to fall evenly between composer Stuart Brayson, lyricist Tim Rice and book writer Bill Oakes. 
And with weaknesses on all sides like this, very much exposed in the medium of record, it’s not too hard to see why the show didn’t achieve anywhere near the levels of success it was aiming for. There’s so little sense of the main thrust of the story coming through, or indeed any of the strands put forward being sufficiently developed, to make you care about any of the relationships or the plight of the men. 
Oakes’ book moves inconsistently around all of them and Brayson’s score does little to provide any covering connective tissue. His musical influences pull from too broad a canvas to provide aural cohesion and far too few of the songs are focused on advancing narrative – the coupling of Warden and Karen (whose surf-soaked bodies provide the iconic image) are given hardly any musical time together, quite Darius Campbell and Rebecca Thornhill are meant to do to generate chemistry in solo numbers is beyond me. 
Robert Lonsdale and Siubhan Harrison as the other couple fare a little better but again, are more apart than together musically. What we’re left with is a grab-bag of tunes, barely scratching the surface of anything, least of all the men of G Company whose tragic fate ends up feeling like divine retribution for being horrific human beings. There’s undoubtedly some halfway striking musical moments – the startling melody of ‘Thirty Year Man’ provides real interest, Ryan Sampson’s sardonic ‘I Love The Army’ threatens to show some character but all in all, it’s little surprise we’ve gone from here to obscurity.

Review: Aladdin, Prince Edward

“A hundred thousand things to see”

Say Aladdin to most people across the world, and Disney would hope that the first thing that comes to mind is their 1992 animated film. In the UK though, the title is indelibly linked to pantomime and so it feels a little incongruous to have a major musical production of it opening in the middle of June. And whilst Casey Nicholaw’s production hasn’t stimped in any conceivable way when it comes to the look of the show (striking design from Bob Crowley), there’s still a faintly hollow ring to the whole proceeding.
A big hit on Broadway, Aladdin has been pretty much replicated and transplanted into the Prince Edward. Which is good in terms of the undeniable quality of the Disney brand – the family-friendly ethos, the slickness of the design, the unexpected self-referential dips into other Disney musicals. And in the knowing performance of American Trevor Dion Nicholas as the Genie, there’s a respectful homage to the character that Robin Williams brought to life so memorably on screen, which still carves its own identity too.
But the show is called Aladdin, and there’s no escaping that he’s a dud of a character. As is his high-born love interest Jasmine, Chad Beguelin’s book surprisingly weak here. Which leaves the show at a pretty pass, for neither Dean John-Wilson nor Jade Ewen can do too much to invest any kind of real life into them or the jolly japes they work their way through – Ewen does try valiantly though to inject some kind of positive feminist message into a story that is appallingly, dare one say it unforgivingly, lacking in that respect.
You can point to the devilishly good time that Don Gallagher and Peter Howe have as the nefarious Jafar and (humanised) Iago; or to the boisterous camaraderie of Aladdin’s coterie of (male) monkeying pals, Stephen Rahman-Davies and Nathan Amzi standing out here; there really is much to enjoy here on this magic carpet ride. But for all the theatrical pizzazz, there’s not enough emotional magic to keep you soaring, tumbling, freewheeling like the best fairytales should. 
Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 11th February

Review: Miss Atomic Bomb, St James

“That’s just the fallout people”

Atomic bombs derive their destructive power from nuclear fission, when atoms split after being bombarded with other particles, and there’s a certain sense of random elements being thrown together in Miss Atomic Bomb, in the hope of reaching some kind of critical mass. Comedy gangsters, tap-dancing routines, comedy bank managers, dead sheep, comedy zucchini, pigs in clothes, comedy transvestites, hoedowns, comedy rabbi costumes, a Strallen and a character with a ridiculous surname because you can get a song out of it. Put them altogether and what do you get? A show that’s either a bomb or a blast.

Full disclosure, I saw a preview and I’m given to believe that a lot of work has happened to the show in the last couple of days, which is only natural for a new musical. For me though, the show feels fundamentally flawed in really not knowing what it wants to be. Writers Adam Long, Gabriel Vick and Alex Jackson-Long throw together satire and slapstick uneasily as a desperate Las Vegas hotel manager arranges the Miss Atomic Bomb beauty pageant to drum up tourist trade as the US military test their atomic arsenal in the Nevada desert. Continue reading “Review: Miss Atomic Bomb, St James”

Review: Songs for a New World, St James

“I saw you look at Blitzen long and lovingly 
The way you used to look at me”

Like many things in real life, Jason Robert Brown’s Songs for a New World defies easy description. Not really a musical, not quite a song cycle, it’s an abstract anthology of diverse songs that circle around a similar theme of making a decision. One of his first shows to be produced and now 20 years old, it represents perhaps the purest distillation of his piano-based pop-rock stylings even as we skip between the various times, places and people woven together into the patchwork of this one emotional journey.

A show like this stands or falls by its cast but director Adam Lenson has cast it to the hilt. Fresh off the hugely successful Here Lies Love, Dean John-Wilson brings real energy; perhaps a little undersung, Damian Humbley has built up a hugely impressive musical theatre CV; Cynthia Erivo has been making waves for a while now and this is her last UK engagement before heading to Broadway to reprise her role in The Color Purple; and Jenna Russell, oh Jenna Russell, as fine an exponent of Sondheim as she is of Bart Simpson, she’s the kind of performer who illuminates the stage even with just a hint of her presence. Continue reading “Review: Songs for a New World, St James”

Review: Here Lies Love, National Theatre

“Dancing, oh so beautifully
Dancing, dancing together
Dancing, oh as if in a dream”

It’s not often I leave a play with penis envy – giant golden cock hat envy to be precise – but that’s how I felt leaving the newly-opened Dorfman Theatre (the National’s Cottesloe getting a much needed facelift) after the blisteringly good fun of Here Lies Love. (I also felt sad that I didn’t get a glowstick, it was only later I realised they weren’t being handed out to all and sundry.) But by and large, the abiding feeling was one of huge exhilaration, akin to the endorphin rush of a good night’s clubbing, for if you’ve booked correctly, that’s what you get here.

You can sit down to see the show, the tiered seating of the theatre remains intact, but the real route into Alex Timber’s ingeniously immersive production is by getting a dancefloor ticket, whereby one is thrust right into the midst of this utterly idiosyncratic musical which tells of the rise and fall of Imelda Marcos, former First Lady of the Philippines entirely through the medium of dance music from David Byrne and Fatboy Slim. It is so thoroughly audacious a concept that it is hard to fathom how it even came into being, never mind emerge as the huge success it is here. Continue reading “Review: Here Lies Love, National Theatre”