Album reviews: Working / Bat out of Hell / 42nd Street

A trio of West End cast recordings (well, one’s off-West-End…) show that it is sometimes hard to recapture the stage magic 

© Robert Workman

Starting off with the best of this bunch, the Southwark Playhouse’s production of Working might not have seemed like the obvious choice for a cast recording but maybe the lure of a couple of new Lin-Manuel Miranda tracks was a real sweetener.

Truth is, it is the quality of the cast’s performances that make this a fantastic addition to the list of albums you need to hear. From Siubhan Harrison’s impassioned ‘Millwork’ to Dean Chisnall’s gleeful ‘Brother Trucker’, and the highly charismatic Liam Tamne nails both of Miranda’s contributions – the wilful ‘Delivery’ and a corking duet (with Harrison) on ‘A Very Good Day’.

Experience pays though, as Gillian Bevan and Peter Polycarpou take the honours with some scintillating work. The latter’s ‘Joe’ is beautifully judged, as is the former’s ‘Nobody Tells Me How’, both demonstrating the uncertainty that can come at the end of a long career, when retirement doesn’t necessarily hold the joyful promise it once did. Highly recommended.  Continue reading “Album reviews: Working / Bat out of Hell / 42nd Street”

Review: 42nd Street, Theatre Royal Drury Lane

“You’re going out a youngster, but you’ve got to come back a star”

In the rush to dole out the five star reviews that seem de rigueur for any big musical these days (22 for An American in Paris so their new poster shouts proudly), there appears to be a willingness to overlook storytelling for spectacle. As at the Dominion, the newly opened 42nd Street is a massive dance show which is undoubtedly hugely, well, spectacular. And it also suffers from not being particularly dramatically interesting, Michael Stewart and Mark Bramble’s book contains hardly any dramatic tension at all – will the show-within-the-show be alright on the night? What do you think?!

I start with this line of thought because as much as I was impressed by 42nd Street, it rarely moved me in the way that Golden Age musical theatre (my favourite genre of all, surprising no-one) at its best does. Based on a novel from the 1930s, the book here – as directed by Bramble – sacrifices any hint of suspense or meaningful character development for the headlong rush from production number to production number. And it just about gets away with it due to the sheer scale of what is being mounted here. 40+ bodies tap-dancing in unison in bucket-loads of sequins – bawdy and gaudy indeed.

Continue reading “Review: 42nd Street, Theatre Royal Drury Lane”

Preview – 42 reasons to see 42nd Street

“Where the underworld can meet the elite…
Naughty
Bawdy
Gaudy
Sporty
Forty-Second Street!”

I was lucky enough to be invited to the first preview of 42nd Street at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane and whilst any official opinions about the show are under embargo until press night, I thought I’d give you all some hints and teasers and a little sneak preview (assisted by these beautiful photographs courtesy of Brinkhoff & Moegenburg) through these 42 reasons to see 42nd Street. 


1 Where else are you going to see a cast of over 50?
2 Just look at them Continue reading “Preview – 42 reasons to see 42nd Street”

Review: Peter Pan – A Musical Adventure in Concert, Adelphi

“There’s something in the air tonight”

Just a quickie for this semi-staged concert version of Stiles + Drewe’s Peter Pan as my afternoon was pretty much ruined by the young family next to me, two toddlers quite literally running amok, uncontrolled by a mother who didn’t care that her children were repeatedly climbing over me. I’m all for theatres being more inclusive and welcoming to young’uns but the other side of that is that you have to prepare your children for the practicalities of sitting down for a couple of hours along with everyone else.

Which is a shame, as this is a rather sweet musical version of JM Barrie’s evergreen story of the boy who never grew up. Even with weird man-boy Ray Quinn in the lead role and the pantomimish Bradley Walsh as Captain Hook, there’s something really quite affecting about the child-like wonder of Stiles + Drewe’s interpretative skill, which still simultaneously offers up a more mature worldview – it’s easy to forget the deep sadness that lies at the heart of the story, Sheila Hancock’s Narrator providing some deeply moving moments. Continue reading “Review: Peter Pan – A Musical Adventure in Concert, Adelphi”

Review: Carrie, Southwark Playhouse

“You’re not like the other girls…”

Carrie managed that feat in the late 1980s, though for the wrong reasons, when the moderately-received RSC production transferred to Broadway and swiftly became a multi-million dollar flop, lasting for just 16 previews and 5 performances.

Finally taking Stone’s advice after a long period licking their wounds, book writer Lawrence D Cohen, composer Michael Gore and lyricist Dean Pitchford – undoubtedly boosted by the show’s growing cult reputation – substantially reworked Carrie in 2012 and it is that version that is now seeing the light of day with Gary Lloyd’s production at the Southwark Playhouse – its London debut no less. Was it worth the wait? Did it deserve to flop? Does she make things fly? Does she get covered in blood?  Continue reading “Review: Carrie, Southwark Playhouse”

Review: White Christmas, Dominion

“Never had to have a chaperone…”

There’s most likely financial reasons for opening White Christmas in early November but it certainly gave many a critic the excuse to get their Scrooge on early. Likewise, there’s reasons of integrity for treating this show like any other in terms of theatrical criticism. But it is hard not to feel that this piece of festive window dressing perhaps deserves something of a free pass as it arguably falls under the bracket of high-class panto rather than fully-fledged musical theatre (even if the ticket prices err towards the latter).
Which is basically code for saying it is undemanding good fun and you pretty much know what you’re going to get in advance – people in search of punchy narrative drive and incisive characterisation are advised to look elsewhere. I actually saw this production in an earlier incarnation on one of its Christmas trips to the Lowry back in 2012 and whilst not being blown away by it, it hit the mark in terms of festive frippery. David Ives and Paul Blake’s book lightly adapts the 1954 classic film but the real star of Morgan Young’s production here of course is Irving Berlin’s evergreen music and lyrics.

So yes, Aled Jones’ Bob doesn’t really spark any real chemistry with Rachel Stanley’s Betty but he croons beautifully through the title track. Tom Chambers’ Phil and Louise Bowden’s Judy are more engaging as the second lead couple (but that’s an age-old tradition – for example, Anita and Bernardo are way more interesting than Tony and Maria..). And yes, Jones and Chambers make an unlikely pair of war veterans turned light entertainment stars but really, if you’re that way inclined to pull at scarcely credible plot threads then you’re most likely in the wrong place.
Rather, disengage critical faculties, engage festive cheer and enjoy what we’re given (preferably with an egg-nog or 2 beforehand). Which is sparkling singing, classy choreography (from Randy Skinner, Helen Rymer and Sara Brians), serendipitous snowfall and a Christmas cracker of a scene-stealing performance from Wendi Peters as a wisecracking, Ethel Merman-like concierge. Thoughts of it may well melt away quickly like a snowman built when it’s not quite cold enough but like the sugary hit of candy-floss, it sure is fun in the moment.
Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 3rd January

Review: Happy Days the musical, Churchill Bromley

“Sock hops, soda pops, going to the malt shop”

“Sunday Monday Happy Days…” It is 40 years since ‘50s-set sitcom Happy Days started on US television screens and rose to iconic status, not least because of the creation of one of TV’s most enduring characters in The Fonz. And though it is 30 years since it came off air, a stage musical based on the show is hoping to capitalise on its retro appeal and all-American charms, with a considerable UK tour kicking off here at the Churchill Bromley.

With a book by original creator Garry Marshall and music and lyrics by Paul Williams, the show’s pedigree is beyond question, not least in the presence of Henry Winkler, the Fonz himself as a creative consultant. And in reintroducing the world of Arnold’s diner, the chirpy high-school kids that go there and the mom and pop tolerance of their hi-jinks, the show certainly succeeds in the fold-out resourcefulness of Tom Roger’s set and period-bright costume design. Continue reading “Review: Happy Days the musical, Churchill Bromley”