Review: Only Fools and Horses The Musical, Theatre Royal Haymarket

Perhaps predictably, I have anything but a lovely jubbly time at Only Fools and Horses The Musical at the Theatre Royal Haymarket

“You can’t whack the big pineapple”

Full disclosure – I don’t know if I’ve ever seen an episode of Only Fools and Horses voluntarily. I mean I’ve seen clips and I’ve probably been in a room where other people were watching it, but it was never a show that has figured in my life. So news of Only Fools and Horses The Musical didn’t bring quite the excitement it did for so many others, ensuring that this was a commercial success long before any critics got near it.

And as such, my own reaction can only be viewed through this lens. When people say ‘you don’t have to have seen the TV show to get the jokes’. I can tell you they’re having a laugh. This musical is suffused with injokes, from the pre-show announcements onwards and in some ways, rightly so (having had a similar kind of experience with Acorn Antiques the Musical in this very theatre). Continue reading “Review: Only Fools and Horses The Musical, Theatre Royal Haymarket”

Review: Young Frankenstein, Garrick

If gay jokes and boob jokes and dick jokes are your thing, then Young Frankenstein is for you. Not for me though, not at all. 

“Though your genitalia
Has been known to fail ya
You can bet your ass on the brain”

It’s alive…barely. Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein staggers into the West End after some more time on the operating table since its 2007 Broadway opening (2 new songs are among the changes made) and a short run in Newcastle to tighten the bolts. But for a piece of new musical theatre, it is so desperately old-fashioned that you half expect Russ Abbot and Bella Emberg to pop up and do a turn.

Given that Brooks is now over 90 and that the film on which it is based dates from 1974, it is perhaps little surprise that it feels dated. But also given director/choreographer Susan Stroman’s close collaborative relationship with him, the opportunity to be necessarily brutal about what works and what doesn’t feels to have been lost, lightning really hasn’t struck twice for the creators of The ProducersContinue reading “Review: Young Frankenstein, Garrick”

Review: Whisper House, The Other Palace

“That doesn’t look good, 
it doesn’t bode well, kid”

The reinvention of the St James Theatre into The Other Palace continues, but with the curious choice of another US musical, this time the European premiere of Whisper House, written by Duncan Sheik and Kyle Jarrow. Curious because it is an oddity of a show that rarely makes the case for its place in this new home for developing musical theatre, heaven knows there’s British musicals aplenty that would have benefited from this slot in the programme.

For Adam Lenson’s production certainly tries its creative best with the material. Andrew Riley’s circular design is an arresting and inventive use of the space, projections are thrown onto the back wall to transport us to Maine in the midst of the Second World War, illusions attempt to conjure the supernatural. But the problem lies in a story that is far too slight and a pop-rock score that is jauntily loud for something trying to be a ghost story. Continue reading “Review: Whisper House, The Other Palace”

Round-up of news and treats and other interesting things

Manchester’s Royal Exchange have announced the details for their production of Twelfth Night which arrives this spring. It is directed by the award-winning Jo Davies who makes her Royal Exchange debut with Shakespeare’s whirlwind comedy. Faith Omole, Kevin Harvey and Mina Anwar return to the Exchange as Viola, Orsino and Maria, Kate Kennedy takes on the role of Olivia and Anthony Calf is Malvolio. 
 
And in its own spin on the gender, identity and love issues at the heart of the play, award-winning Manchester-based transgender artist and activist Kate O’Donnell makes her Royal Exchange debut in the role of Feste, the wise observer in this foolish, lovesick kingdom. Live music from the critically acclaimed folk musician Kate Young and lap-tap guitarist Joe Gravil adds to the complexity of this intricate comedy which probes gender-politics and ideas of belonging. The play runs from 13 April – 20 May.
 
The cast is completed by Aaron Anthony, Simon Armstrong, Harry Attwell, Daniel Francis-Swaby, Tarek Merchant and Jill Myers. The creative team includes Designer Leslie Travers, Lighting Designer Jack Knowles, Sound Designer Pete Malkin and Composer Alex Baranowski.

Continue reading “Round-up of news and treats and other interesting things”

Album Review: The In-Between

“There are worlds that you’ve never dreamed of…“

Laura Tisdall’s self-penned musical The In-Between received the concept album treatment back in 2012 but has remained unproduced since then. An original story about 19 year old orphan Flick Wimple and the dilemma she faces when an unexpected move places her in the space between parallel worlds – The In-Between – and she’s given the choice to leave all her problems behind but at no small cost to the older sister who has raised her. Helping her on her way is Calicus, someone who has guided many along a similar path but sees something different in Flick.

Musically, it cleaves a little too close to the pop-rock genre for my personal taste. It’s also hard to replicate that sound effectively on disc and so the production can sometimes sound a little cheap, especially in the opening couple of tracks. That said, Dianne Pilkington and Cassie Compton bring a real sense of character to the feisty ‘She’s My Sister’. The more keyboard-based songs feel stronger – Lauren Samuels’ gorgeously evocative voice is an ideal fit for the stirring ‘Someone You’d Be Proud Of’ and as the song expands to an epic reach, it’s hard not to think she’d be a great Flick.  Continue reading “Album Review: The In-Between”

Not an Album Review: Taboo (Original London Cast)

“My father said: ‘don’t panic, it’s a phase’
‘Phase one’ I said”

I did want to love Boy George’s Taboo, I really did, but something about it just holds me back. I felt that way when I saw it live and I felt it again when listening to the original London cast recording so there you have it.

Review: Mamma Mia (and memories), Novello

“If you’ve got no place to go, if you’re feeling down…”

Mamma Mia has been on my list of shows that I’ve never quite got round to seeing for ages now. I’d decided that I wanted to go in a large group, on a Friday night, after a fair few Hendricks and Fever Trees, but somehow it never quite happened. In the meantime, the show moved to the Novello to make way for those Mormon boys and then an expected Christmas present landed in my lap as a friend, tired of me saying ‘one day I’ll go’, bought me a ticket.

Though it wasn’t at all like I planned – a single ticket for a Monday evening with a bottle of Diet Coke – it actually proved to be a brilliant way to see the show and to restart my theatregoing for 2014. It was the evening after my first day back at work, I was sat front row centre and the huge geniality of a like-minded audience made it as genuinely pleasurable experience as one could expect from such a long-running stalwart of the West End. Continue reading “Review: Mamma Mia (and memories), Novello”

Film Review: Les Misérables

“Life has dropped you at the bottom of the heap”

For many people, myself included, it is nigh on impossible to approach a film version of stage behemoth Les Misérables with a blank slate. It’s been a mainstay of the musical theatre world since its 1985 London debut – it is most likely the show I have seen the most times throughout my lifetime – and after celebrating its 25th anniversary with an extraordinarily good touring production, has been riding high with a revitalised energy. So Tom Hooper’s film has a lot to contend with in terms of preconceptions, expectations and long-ingrained ideas of how it should be done. And he has attacked it with gusto, aiming to reinvent notions of cinematic musicals by having his actors sing live to camera and bringing his inimitable close-up directorial style to bear thus creating a film which is epic in scale but largely intimate in focus.

In short, I liked it but I didn’t love it. I’m not so sure that Hooper’s take on the piece as a whole is entirely suited to the material, or rather my idea of how best it works. Claude-Michel Schönberg’s score has a sweeping grandeur which is already quasi-cinematic in its scope but Hooper never really embraces it fully as he works in his customary solo shots and close-ups into the numbers so well known as ensemble masterpieces.  ‘At The End Of The Day’ and ‘One Day More’ both suffer this fate of being presented as individually sung segments stitched together but for me, the pieces never really added up to more than the sum of their parts to gain the substantial power that they possess on the stage. Continue reading “Film Review: Les Misérables”

CD Review: Act One – Songs from the musicals of Alexander S Bermange

“Every moment’s one to treasure”

Composers who put together albums of their songs, especially if they are up and coming talent who haven’t necessarily had a breakthrough show yet, are often in something of a bind. Do you go for as diverse a selection of your material as you can find or do you concentrate on showcasing your strengths – both approaches have their merits and their disadvantages and I don’t personally think there is any easy, or right answer. Act One – Songs from the musicals of Alexander S Bermange is probably closer to the latter option and sure enough, it has its strengths and its weaknesses.

Bermange has quite a list of credits to his name but has arguably yet to really mark his mark on the London scene. I only really became aware of him recently when his show Thirteen Days had a small run as part of this year’s Arcola’s Grimeborn Festival. As a musical treatment of the Cuban missile crisis, it was a work of mixed qualities, not always entirely successful but one which equally showed intriguing promise, not least in the firmly old-school manner of rousing song-writing. And that is what comes across most clearly in this collection, which bypasses the post-Sondheim school to cleave closer to the likes of Schwartz and balladeer. Oh, and it features a simply sensational cast of sheer quality. Continue reading “CD Review: Act One – Songs from the musicals of Alexander S Bermange”

Review: Master Class, Vaudeville

“Never miss an opportunity to theatricalise”

The obvious place to start with this review of Terrence McNally’s play Master Class is to take note of the fact that following Sharon Gless’ turn in A Round-Heeled Woman, it is now Tyne Daly’s turn as she reprises her Broadway performance as Maria Callas here. But even as it now means that I’ve seen both Cagney and Lacey on the stage, I have never actually seen an episode of Cagney and Lacey! A Round-Heeled Woman has now finished but as Master Class starts up its limited run at the Vaudeville Theatre (this was a preview), I have no hesitations in totally recommending booking for this fabulous show.

Initial signs were not encouraging as Daly’s first arrival on stage was met with rapturous applause, a personal bugbear but something more is going on as the fourth wall was immediately dismantled and it becomes apparent that we in the audience are actually playing a part in the show. Based on a series of master classes that renowned opera singer Maria Callas actually held at Julliard in the 1970s, we see three students present their efforts for deconstruction by the great diva and by golly does she deconstruct. And we are acknowledged as the audience watching the master class, Callas jokes with us, hectors and exhorts us to embrace her every word and generally folds us into proceedings in the most engaging of manners. Continue reading “Review: Master Class, Vaudeville”