Review: Motown the Musical, Shaftesbury

“I don’t write race music, it’s music for everyone”

You may think that there’s no-one better to tell your own life story than yourself but if Motown the Musical teaches us anything, it’s that an outside ear benefits us all. Founder of the renowned Motown record label, Berry Gordy carried on regardless though and as the author of the self-serving book for this show, based on his autobiography, detracts a little from what is otherwise a fun jukebox musical stuffed with some stonking music from the likes of Diana Ross, Smokey Robinson, Marvin Gaye and The Jackson 5, and rather brilliantly performed by a cracking cast. Read my 3 star review for Official Theatre here

Running time: 2 hours 40 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 17th February

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”

Film Review: London Road

“Everybody’s very very nervous”
 
The theatrical production of London Road was a major success for the National Theatre, the opening run first extending in the Cottesloe and then being rewarded with a later transfer to the much larger Olivier – I was first blownaway by its originality and then later comforted by its message in the aftermath of the 2011 riots. So the news that director Rufus Norris was making a film adaptation was received with apprehensive anticipation, could this strikingly experimental piece of theatre possibly work on screen.
 
Writer Alecky Blythe uses a technique whereby she records interviews with people which are then edited into a play but spoken verbatim by the actors, complete with all the ums and aahs and repetitions of natural speech. And in 2006, she went to Ipswich to interview a community rocked by a series of murders, of five women in total, all sex workers, and set about telling a story not of salacious deaths but of a community learning to cleave together in trying times. Oh, and it’s all set to the most innovative of musical scores by Adam Cork, elevating ordinary speech into something quite extraordinary. 

Continue reading “Film Review: London Road”

Review: Dessa Rose, Trafalgar Studios 2

“Who does she think she is?”

Based on the novel of the same name by Sherley Anne Williams and premiering off-Broadway in 2005, this is a show that has taken its time to reach our shores. And reflecting the hugely diverse nature of their back catalogue, Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty’s Dessa Rose adds another multi-layered account of a key moment in US history (see Ragtime) to their account, in the tale of the diverse but complementary journeys of a young black woman and a young white women in the Deep South.

It’s 1847 and Dessa is reaping the results of her wilful temperament as a love affair with a fellow slave has left her pregnant and behind bars. But try as she might to assert her independence, she has to learn to accept the kindness of others, chief among whom is Ruth, a former Charleston belle whose marriage has gone awry due to her husband’s gambling problem. Alone on the plantation, she welcomes runaway slaves and altogether, through their difficulties, they dare to dream of a brighter future.  Continue reading “Review: Dessa Rose, Trafalgar Studios 2”

Review: Sister Act the Musical, New Wimbledon

“When I was still a school girl, standing just about yay high, I saw the face of Jesus in a coconut cream pie.”

I have to admit to being a little sceptical when I first heard that Sister Act the Musical would be touring the UK. Its run in the West End was relatively well-received (not least by me, twice) but the show itself lacked a certain something to match up to the star quality of its cast, so I was pleased to hear both that this touring production was a reworked version and some excellent word-of-mouth in advance of its arrival at the New Wimbledon.

And it was good word indeed as I really enjoyed the show third time around. An adaptation of the film of the same name in which Delores van Cartier, a nightclub singer, has to enter a witness protection programme which places her in a threatened Philadelphia convent much to her chagrin. But disguised as Sister Mary Clarence and appointed to the head of the dodgy choir which she soon whips into shape, she effects remarkable change on those around her which in turn raises their profile, jeopardising the whole undercover operation and everyone’s safety on the very day the Pope is coming to hear them sing. Continue reading “Review: Sister Act the Musical, New Wimbledon”

DVD Review: Les Misérables in concert

“There’s a reckoning to be reckoned”

Forming the culmination of the 25th Anniversary celebrations of Les Misérables was a pair of concert versions of the show taking place at the O2 centre in Greenwich which brought together the company of companies, over 500 actors and musicians joining forces to pay tribute to this enduing classic of a show. The cast and companies of the touring production and the West End production joined with a massive choir and orchestra and a hand-picked international cast performed the lead roles in this concert presentation which was also relayed live into cinemas and later released on DVD to be enjoyed by those who chose not to go (or couldn’t get tickets).

Concert versions of shows are always a bit funny, performers singing songs to each other but looking straight out at audiences and limited opportunity for acting so they can often feel a little constrained in their presentation. Here, the cast were in full costume and projections and clips from the show used to fill in some of the gaps that the songs could not fill. And it is all really rather good if not quite the self-proclaimed “musical event of a lifetime”. Continue reading “DVD Review: Les Misérables in concert”

Review: Grateful, starring Anton Stephans, Cadogan Hall

“Whatever my lot, thou has taught me to say, it is well, it is well, with my soul.”

Grateful, featuring Anton Stephans is billed as an evening of uplifting gospel and musical theatre, taking place at Cadogan Hall with numerous special guests from the West End, a 20-piece band and ably assisted by the West End Gospel Choir, a collective of performers from a range of West End shows and the music circuit. Stephans is such an irrepressible and charming presence on stage that one imagines this evening would have been a success anyway, even without the harrowing circumstances that led us here.

For the past two and a half years, Stephans has been battling horrendous illness with tumours on his brain and adrenal glands and incredibly gloomy prognoses, but fortunately he has fought the battle well and is now making a full recovery. Hence his return to the stage here to return to his love of performing and pass on his incredible enthusiasm and joie de vivre and the message of the power of positive thinking. He has said that the programme of songs that have moved him and have significance in his life came to him in his darkest moments and consequently it chose to inspire and uplift, to celebrate life and love rather than dwell on the sad times. And boy, did it inspire the audience at Cadogan Hall and uplift them right out of their seats and onto their feet, clapping and cheering and singing along to what was a truly joyous occasion. Continue reading “Review: Grateful, starring Anton Stephans, Cadogan Hall”

Review: Avenue Q with Daniel Boys, Noël Coward

As you may be able to intuit from its regular appearance here, I have become more than a little obsessed with Avenue Q over the past couple of years as it fast became one of my favourite musicals and probably the best new musical I’ve seen full stop. I’ve taken many people, friends and family alike, to see it to near universal acclaim and the soundtrack is often on my iPod, although it has particularly been the London cast that has won my heart.

Change always encroaches though and a major overhaul of the cast meant that this visit, the first for a while, was filled with a little trepidation at how these changes would affect the show that has become so dear to me. Continue reading “Review: Avenue Q with Daniel Boys, Noël Coward”

Review: Les Misérables, Queens Theatre

No matter how many times I see this show, it never fails to move me: I just love it. It is like Teflon and I will not hear anything bad said about it: a great position for a wannabe reviewer I’m sure but hey, it’s my blog! On its revolving drum set, Les Misérables tells a story of romance and revenge set against the backdrop of the French revolution, two men pursue a vendetta over decades whilst revolutionaries fall in love and die in battle. And boy is it dark, one sometimes forgets just how dark it gets with death never far from any of the characters, making it compulsive viewing.
As a musical, I think it is one of the most rousing that there is. The ensemble numbers are just huge, and there’s so many of them that I get goosebumps virtually every 10 minutes. Do You Hear The People Sing, Red & Black, Look Down and possibly the best song in a musical ever, One Day More, all of them winners. And then there’s the solos, so many of them unfortunately famous as talent audition staples, but in their right context I Dreamed A Dream and On My Own are beautifully moving and Bring Him Home, when performed well as it is here, is a thing of falsetto wonder.


Vocally, Cassie Compton was stunning as Eponine, really making the most of her ensemble parts as well as the solos, On My Own is of course excellent but even her small but vital contributions to One Day More were brilliant. Melanie La Barrie as a pouting, bawdy Mme Thénardier is a comic delight but I was a little underwhelmed by Watson and Baruwa as Marius and Enjolras, not sure what it was but they weren’t convincing me.
But this is Valjean’s show as John Owen-Jones simply owns it with a vocally superb performance and massive stage presence which is all the more remarkable considering how many times he must have played this part by now. Playing off him as Javert is Hans Peter Janssens who more than holds his own with his stern looks and voice, perfect for his rigid approach to applying the law.
I don’t imagine that any review of Les Misérables would change peoples’ minds about seeing this show. It is such a part of the everyday consciousness that you’ll know by now whether you like it or not, and whether you’d spend money to see it. For my own part, I think it continues to satisfy with its evergreen moments of broad comedy, heartbreaking tragedy and life-affirming fidelity.