Review: Brass the Musical, Union Theatre

Brass the Musical at the Union Theatre is a powerfully moving celebration of sacrifices made, of service offered, of music itself – beautifully done

“Just until our lads come back”

There’s a neat symmetry to the life of Brass the Musical thus far. Originally commissioned by the National Youth Music Theatre to commemorate the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War, its professional London premiere now marks the Armistice Centenary. Benjamin Till’s musical, with additional lyrics from Nathan Taylor and Sir Arnold Wesker, thus serves as a powerful tribute to those who served, both at home and on the frontline.

What is particularly gorgeous about Brass is how it is suffused with the joy of music. Its power to bring people together (as in the characterful ‘Forming a Band’), its potential to lift spirits (the marvelous storytelling of ‘Whistle Billy’), its ability to express something deeper beyond just words (the haunting vocalese at the trenches). And as an expression of the musical theatre form, it works beautifully in deepening an already profoundly moving piece of history.  Continue reading “Review: Brass the Musical, Union Theatre”

Album Review: Bumblescratch (2016 London Concert Cast Recording)

“What is this that I see”

Robert J Sherman’s musical Bumblescratch played a high-profile charity concert at the Adelphi Theatre last year and keeping up the energy behind this piece of new writing, the original band and cast made this London Concert Cast Recording at Angel Studios, under the auspices of the folks at SimG Records. It’s a canny way to keep up the profile of a show that only a handful of people got to see and a useful tool for those that did to reassess the score.

Sherman’s extensive family legacy (A Spoonful of Sherman) means that the family friendly ethos is never far from the surface and it is something that has emerged in his previous work (Love Birds). And in some ways it is a blessing and a curse. A blessing in that he clearly has a gift for melody, sometimes gentle, sometimes nagging (in the best way); and a curse in that it is so ingrained in his musical identity that it is hard to escape it. Continue reading “Album Review: Bumblescratch (2016 London Concert Cast Recording)”

Review: The Hired Man in concert, Cadogan Hall

“We are worth your shillings”

Marking the first major concert presentation of the show in over 20 years, The Hired Man in concert saw Howard Goodall and Melvyn Bragg’s 1984 musical take over the elegant surroundings of Cadogan Hall, for a glorious evening celebrating one of the all-time greats of British musical theatre writing. With a boutique orchestra conducted by Andrew Linnie, an ensemble of over 20 singers and a lead cast of bona fide West End and Broadway stars, it was a powerfully effective treatment of the material.

The Hired Man is based on Bragg’s 1969 novel, part of his Cumbrian Trilogy, following the lives of labourer and miner John Tallentire and his wife Emily as they battle first the hardship of agricultural life in a fast-industrialising world and then the impact of the First World War on their whole community. And supporting it, Goodall’s music and lyrics draws on English folk tradition, as well as his own melodious style, to create a soulful, stirring score that lingers long in the mind with its hummability and heartbreak. Continue reading “Review: The Hired Man in concert, Cadogan Hall”

Review: Bumblescratch, Adelphi

“At least a rat ‘as got an excuse”

In the cut-throat world of the West End, introducing a new musical is an undoubted challenge so it is quite gratifying to see the backers of Bumblescratch going all out to make its mark with this gala concert launch. With merchandise available, a full-throttle social media campaign in train, and a top-notch cast and creative team making the most of their two week rehearsal period, there’s certainly no lack of ambition here.

Set in London during the Great Plague of 1665 and Great Fire of 1666, the show is told from the perspective of plague rat Melbourne Bumblescratch and the anthropomorphic nature of the musical should come as no surprise once you learn it was written by Robert J Sherman, who has both form of his own (Love Birds) and an impressive family history (A Spoonful of Sherman) to live up to when it comes to writing a tune or two. Continue reading “Review: Bumblescratch, Adelphi”

Review: Crush the Musical, Richmond Theatre

“Just crack on and I’m sure you’ll come up with a corker!”

Superficially, Crush the Musical might seem just a little bit batshit crazy, from the pen of the creator of Bad Girls (and Bad Girls the Musical) how could it be otherwise. But as Maureen Chadwick and composer Kath Gotts’ girls’ school romp unwinds its merry way across the stage, its subversive leanings come to the fore as it emerges as a rare example of straight-up and sweetly played lesbian camp, wrapped up in the trappings of an old-fashioned musical comedy.

Set in the early 60s in the liberal surroundings of Dame Dorothea Dosserdale School for Girls where free spirits are celebrated and fostered, the sixth-formers are hugely excited for life beyond their forthcoming exams. But the arrival of a strict new headmistress, the formidable Miss Bleacher, introduces an air of tyranny, determined to root out the unnatural practices that have been going on in the Art Room, and the changing rooms as a budding schoolgirl romance has taken hold. Continue reading “Review: Crush the Musical, Richmond Theatre”

Review: The Sound of Music, Curve

“My heart should be wildly rejoicing”
 

Rodgers and Hammerstein’s undeniable classic of a score, Paul Kerryson’s outgoing musical production as Artistic Director, a shining light of the British musical theatre taking on an iconic leading role – the ingredients are certainly there for something magical to appear this Christmas in Leicester. But to be perfectly honest, I couldn’t help but feel just a little disappointed by this version of The Sound of Music, whilst recognising that it is perhaps a choice in terms of failsafe festive programming.

Kerryson has been responsible for some brilliant reimaginings of West End stalwarts – most recently Chicago and Hairspray – but it is immediately apparent here that this is going to be as traditional as they come, even old-fashioned in its insistent reliance on flying cloths in Al Parkinson’s pastel-hued design. They undoubtedly have a spatial grandeur (the stained-glass reflections in the abbey in particular) but they also sap the pace of the production terribly as they’re wangled into place time and time again. Continue reading “Review: The Sound of Music, Curve”

Review: Tess of the D’Urbervilles, New Wimbledon Studio

“I deal in ideals”

Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles may not seem like the first choice for a musical adaptation as Hardy subjects his literary heroine to several worlds of wrongdoing, mainly at the hands of men, so it is hardly a barrel of laughs. But it is (hopefully) well established now that musical theatre isn’t always just about jazz hands and writing and directing brothers Alex and Chris Loveless are exponents of this, a recent production of The Remains of the Day being a case in point and if this production may overemphasise the archetypal Hardy mood of relentless gloom, it is fitfully intriguing.

The central relationships between Jessica Daley’s Tess and the men in her life, Martin Neely’s Alec D’Urberville and Nick Hayes’ Angel Clare are powerfully done and gripping as all three performers deliver the kind of tortured intensity of which Hardy would surely have approved. Daley brings a spritely spirit to Tess which acts as a useful balance to the misery around her and her emotional connection with Hayes’ romantic Angel is delightful to behold. Continue reading “Review: Tess of the D’Urbervilles, New Wimbledon Studio”

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”

Review: On A Clear Day You Can See Forever, Union

“How it will astound you…”

Alongside the rightly lauded all-male Gilbert and Sullivans, the Union Theatre in Southwark has also carved a niche for itself in mounting productions of lesser-known musicals, delving into the archives much as the Finborough does with British plays, in search of a gem of a discovery, ripe for re-polishing. It’s a brave approach, not least because there is an argument that shows that collect dust on the shelves do so for a reason which in turn means that no matter how strong the production, it’s never quite starting on a full tank.

Which seems a little harsh now I’ve said it, but ultimately reflects much of how I feel about the Union’s output of late. Their productions are great value for money, demonstrate a hard-won understanding of how to use the intimate space of their railway arch, and attract a remarkable calibre of performer. But the shows haven’t made my heart sing, filled me with the inescapable joie de vivre that I crave when I see old-school musical theatre and that’s how I felt about On A Clear Day You Can See Forever. Continue reading “Review: On A Clear Day You Can See Forever, Union”