Scott Alan announces Live at Zédel residency with special guests in 2018

Live At Zédel, Soho’s unique live entertainment concept at The Crazy Coqs, will host a week-long residency by acclaimed international songwriter Scott Alan, who will be joined by a host of special musical theatre guests each evening. Audiences will be treated to Scott, along with his special guests singing tunes from all 7 of his recordings and brand new songs from his upcoming release, Lifeline.

The schedule for the special guests joining Scott Alan is:
Sunday, January 28th – Alice Fearn, Sophie Evans and Bradley Jaden
Monday, January 29th – Matt Henry and Amy Lennox
Wednesday, January 31st – Tyrone Huntley, Kayleigh McKnight and Tim Newman
Thursday, February 1st – Natasha Barnes, Shanay Holmes, Jodie Steele, Shona White and Emma Williams.
Sunday, February 4th – Marisha Wallace, Asmeret Ghebremichael and Joe Aaron Reid
Scott Alan says: 

“I’m honoured to have been asked to return for another residency at Zedel. Taking the stage at this beautifully, intimate venue is the perfect way to celebrate a brand new year and teaming up with some of the biggest names in the London theatre scene is just icing on the cake!”

Sunday, January 28th, 2018 at 7pm
Special guests include Wicked trio Alice Fearn, Sophie Evans and Bradley Jaden
Monday, January 29th, 2018 at 7pm
Special guests include Olivier Winning Actor Matt Henry (Kinky Boots), Olivier nominated actress Amy Lennox, who earned rave reviews for her role as Lauren in the original West End cast of Kinky Boots
Wednesday, January 31st, 2018 at 7pm 
Special guests include Olivier Nominated Actor Tyrone Huntley (Jesus Christ Superstar), Tim Newman (Memphis) and Kayleigh McKnight (Les Misérables), whom Huntley recently appeared with in the Regent Park Open Air Theatre production of Jesus Christ Superstar.
Thursday, February 1st, 2018 at 7pm 
“It’s Ladies Night” and special guests including Natasha Barnes (Funny Girl), Shanay Holmes (Rent), Jodie Steele (Wicked), Shona White (Mamma Mia!) and Emma Williams (Half a Sixpence).
February 4th, 2018 at 9pm
Special guests include Dreamgirls star Marisha Wallace along with her co-stars Joe Aaron Reid (Curtis Taylor Jr.) and Asmeret Ghebremichael (Lorrell Robinson). 
For full information on each evening and to book tickets please visit www.liveatzedel.com


Album Review: Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (2002 Original London Cast Recording)

“What a happy time we’ll spend”

I’m pretty sure that if you could distil the warmth of Emma Williams’ voice, it would be the basis for the cure to the world’s ills. There are few singers who have that kind of effect on people and it is a travesty that isn’t better known to the world at large. Part of that is a consequence to her admirable devotion to new musical theatre writing which means that her projects haven’t always quite broken through to the mainstream but to those in the know, she’s a real champion of British musical theatre. 

Which is a long-winded but deserved introduction to the Original London Cast Recording of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, the production in which she made her debut as an 18 year old in 2002. The Sherman Brothers’ film has long turned into an enduring classic and its score here, enhanced by new numbers for the stage, remains a thing of unalloyed joy. The delicacy of lullabies like ‘Hushabye Mountain’ and ‘Doll On A Music Box’ are just beautiful and in the hands of Williams and Michael Ball, they shimmer gorgeously.
The arrangements across the whole recording still sound fresh and strong 15 years down the line, Brian Blessed, Richard O’Brien and Nichola McAuliffe stand out in their supporting roles, and dig a little deeper and the likes of Scarlett Strallen and Natalie McQueen can be found. A most pleasurable listen.

Album Review: Half A Sixpence (2016 London Cast Recording)

“Um-tiddly-um-pum-um-pum-pum

Stick it in your fam’ly album”


With Half A Sixpence due to close in the West End in exactly one month, I thought now was as good a time as any to give the Original Cast Recording a listen. The show has built up quite the devoted following in its lifespan but for me, in both its original Chichester production and the subsequent transfer to the Noël Coward, it was a musical that I liked rather than loved, the balance not quite right with all the magic in the second half.
And listening to the show simply reminded me of how I felt. Stripped of its extraordinary physicality, Charlie Stemp’s chirpy chappy routine is surprisingly quite wearisome to listen to from the outset. The sentiment of the opening title track proving cloying and the lack of any killer new tunes from Stiles and Drewe before the interval leave the score sounding solid rather than spectacular, I still can’t hum you a single track save ‘Half A Sixpence’ itself.
What saves the show, and thus this cast recording, is the exuberance that comes in the second half, with its two ginormous production numbers – one classic and one brand-new. ‘Pick Out A Simple Tune’ has that earworm quality which means it sounds instantly familiar and its full-company energy is as irresistible on record as it is onstage. And ‘Flash, Bang, Wallop’ (a number I’d never heard until this show…) has a similar jauntiness which is good fun.
But over the course of an album, such a low strike rate doesn’t bode well (for me at least) and possibly goes to show how the revising of the show didn’t go far enough to revitalise it sufficiently for a contemporary audience. It’s no secret that Stiles and Drewe plus book-writer Julian Fellowes have nostalgia running through their bloodstream but as with The Wind in the Willows, the cut-throat realities of the West End demands more.

Album Review: Wit and Whimsy – Songs by Alexander S Bermange

“If only I were famous from the telly”

Across its two discs and twenty-three tracks, there’s an awful lot of whimsy to Alexander S Bermange’s latest compilation album Wit and Whimsy and not quite enough wit to sustain it. Bermange is a composer who has had as much success writing comic songs for radio as he has in straight-up musical theatre (the two shows of his that I’ve seen – The Route to Happiness and Thirteen Days were both part of festivals).
That said, he has an impressive contacts list as evidenced by the range of people who have joined in on the action here – Laura Pitt-Pulford, Tracie Bennett, David Bedella, Cassidy Janson, Emma Williams, even Christopher Biggins. And with a guest list of this quality, naturally there are moments that shine here.
A good deal of the songs here deal with the life of the performer and so there’s a wry charm in hearing the likes of Bedella’s ‘The Opening Number’, Williams’ faux-tone-deafness in ‘I Love To Sing’, and Wicked’s Oliver Savile complaining about being ‘Stuck in the Ensemble’. I particularly enjoyed Lauren Samuels’ terrible ‘Audition’ and Amy Lennox’s frustrated ‘Guest Spot’, both performers really building a sense of character through their travails.
Away from the world of theatre, the collection of quirky characters that appear are a little scattershot and lack a real sense of cohesion as part of this album. From Bennett’s ‘Moaning About Phoning’ to Phil Daniels’ ‘A Trainspotter’s Tale’, Bermange’s skill with a patter song is undoubted, but as we delve into Simon Bailey telling us ‘I Think I Might Be Jesus’ and Lucy May Barker’s ill-judged ‘He Left Me For My Granny’, it’s just all a bit too random.
A handful of these songs were recorded by other people on Bermange’s earlier compilation Weird and Wonderful (and one from Act One too) which strikes me as part of the problem here. Collecting songs from such a prolific songbook and putting them on a double-album isn’t enough, they need to be curated too, edited down so that the album is a refinement of the composer’s body of work rather than an overstuffed grab-bag.

2017 Laurence Olivier Awards nominations

Best New Play 
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child – Palace
Elegy – Donmar Warehouse
The Flick – National Theatre Dorfman
One Night in Miami – Donmar Warehouse

Best New Musical
Groundhog Day – The Old Vic
Dreamgirls – Savoy
The Girls – Phoenix
School of Rock – New London

Best Revival 
Yerma – Young Vic
The Glass Menagerie – Duke of York’s
This House – Garrick
Travesties – Apollo Continue reading “2017 Laurence Olivier Awards nominations”

The 17th Annual WhatsOnStage Awards winners in full

Here’s the full list of the 17th Annual WhatsOnStage Awards winners. No real surprises here, there rarely is with these awards voted for by the public but it is nice to see a real spread across the musicals categories rather than one show dominating as Harry Potter and the Cursed Child does with the plays. And we’ll just ignore the leniency with the deadlines that meant Dreamgirls was able to sneak in despite having only played a handful of previews by the time nominations closed…congrats to all the winners and nominees.

Best Actor in a Play, sponsored by Radisson Blu Edwardian
Ian Hallard for The Boys in the Band
Ian McKellen for No Man’s Land
Jamie Parker for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child WINNER
Kenneth Branagh for The Entertainer
Ralph Fiennes for Richard III

Best Actress in a Play, sponsored by Live at Zédel 
Billie Piper for Yerma WINNER 
Helen McCrory for The Deep Blue Sea
Lily James for Romeo and Juliet
Michelle Terry for Henry V
Pixie Lott for Breakfast at Tiffany’s Continue reading “The 17th Annual WhatsOnStage Awards winners in full”

2017 What’s On Stage Award nominations

Best Actor in a Play, sponsored by Radisson Blu Edwardian
Ian Hallard for The Boys in the Band
Ian McKellen for No Man’s Land
Jamie Parker for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child 
Kenneth Branagh for The Entertainer
Ralph Fiennes for Richard III

Best Actress in a Play, sponsored by Live at Zédel 
Billie Piper for Yerma 
Helen McCrory for The Deep Blue Sea
Lily James for Romeo and Juliet
Michelle Terry for Henry V
Pixie Lott for Breakfast at Tiffany’s Continue reading “2017 What’s On Stage Award nominations”

Review: Half A Sixpence, Noël Coward

“I’d let him strum my banjo”

It was no surprise to discover that Half A Sixpence would be transferring into the West End – its run at Chichester Festival Theatre was a huge success (you can read my review here) and with Cameron Mackintosh on producing duties, it was always going to be a case of when rather than if. It’s a slow-burner of a show, the second act really is the business thanks to Andrew Wright’s choreography and as it opened at the Noël Coward Theatre last night, you can now read my 4 star review for the transfer over at Cheap Theatre Tickets here

Running time: 2 hours 45 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 11th February

CD Review: Mrs Henderson Presents (Original London Cast Recording)

“We’ll never close…”

I was sad to see Mrs Henderson Presents close prematurely in the West End, having enjoyed it both there and in its first run at the Theatre Royal Bath, but pleased that we at least had a cast recording to remember the show by. I have to say though, that this was one of those occasions where just listening to the musical failed to capture what made it work on stage. 

The period charms of George Fenton and Simon Chamberlain’s pastiche-laden score feel rather old-fashioned on record – not simply in the age that they are trying to evoke but in its very nature. Without the visual, it soon becomes clear that there isn’t a huge amount of narrative drive in the songs, they set the mood of the piece well but don’t tell much of a story on their own.

Songs that exploded onstage, like the climactic ‘If Mountains Were Easy To Climb’ just don’t pop in the same way despite Emma Williams and Tracie Bennett’s sterling vocals; the comedy of the ‘Lord Chamberlain’s Song’ feels laboured and overlong; even the charm of ‘Anything But Young’ lacks the vaudevillean dazzle that Bennett and Ian Bartholomew so memorably radiated.

Consequently, it’s a rather unaffecting listen, which is an unexpected disappointment. But there’s no doubting its struggles in the world of modern musical theatre, as the lack of sophistication in Don Black’s lyrics is exposed alongside the lack of any wow factor to the music. A real turn-around from the theatre then but sometimes that’s just the way it is.

Review: Half A Sixpence, Chichester Festival Theatre

“Don’t forget your banjo”

Take a deep breath… the 1963 musical Half A Sixpence by Beverley Cross and David Heneker, based on the HG Wells novel Kipps: The Story of a Simple Soul, has been adapted anew for Chichester audiences with Julian Fellowes writing a fresh book and George Stiles and Anthony Drewe adding new music and lyrics to Heneker’s original songs. And because Cameron Mackintosh is Cameron Mackintosh, he gets a co-creator credit.
Originally written as a star vehicle for Tommy Steele, Half A Sixpence is the story of Arthur Kipps, an orphan who dreams of a better life whilst earning a pittance as a draper’s assistant in Shalford’s Bazaar, Folkestone. An unexpected bequest thrusts a fortune into his hands but his meteoric rise in society leaves him conflicted about his place in life as his heart is pulled between two very different young women (and a banjo).

Rachel Kavanaugh’s production in all its old-fashioned charm is perfectly pitched for the Chichester audience (who to a person probably know who Tommy Steele was – I had to look him up!) and the Edwardian bandstand of Paul Brown’s revolving set design nods to this. And fans of Downton Abbey won’t mind Baron Fellowes of West Stafford once again giving us his inimitable if oft-repeated take on the British class system.
For Half A Sixpence has much going for it, not least in some astute casting from Trevor Jackson and Paul Wooller in finding relative newcomers Devon-Elise Johnson and Charlie Stemp to lead the cast. Johnson is highly appealing as Ann, Kipps’ childhood sweetheart, and Stemp is sure to be launched into the stratosphere as Kipps himself – an extraordinary dancer, an effortlessly strong singer, and endlessly endearing as he stumbles through the vagaries of high society, we’ll be talking about him in years to come, mark my words.
Add in vibrant supporting performances from the equally vivacious Emma Williams and Ian Bartholomew as Kipps’ other love interest and strange benefactor respectively, and typically stage-filling choreography from Andrew Wright and it is hard to resist the show. It felt a little sluggish to start with for me, packing the two stand-out showstopper numbers into the second half leaves it feeling a tad unbalanced but the joys of ‘Pick Out A Simple Tune’ and ‘Flash Bang Wallop’ are the stuff of musical theatre heaven.
Stiles and Drewe have added 7 new songs to the score, partly in an attempt make the show more of an ensemble piece than a straight-up star vehicle (15 of the original 17 numbers were sung by Steele) and they mesh very well together, the composing duo always at home in this more retro atmosphere. And the company thrive under Kavanaugh’s increasingly enthusiastic direction and the bright sound of the band under conductor Graham Hurman – the smiles on their faces (particularly Rebecca Jayne-Davies and Bethany Huckle, whose dancing stood out for me too) really convince you they’re having the time of their life on the stage. 
Though Half A Sixpence is undoubtedly a success, it has to rank as something of a qualified one for me though. Employing a company of 24 without any ethnic diversity has got to become a relic of the past, it’s just not good enough and even if the show is set at the turn of the last century, something still rankles about the height of the sole female apprentice’s ambitions being to become a wife and mother – with this many levels of interventions of new books and new songs, to just leave this as is feels like a missed opportunity to change the larger narrative for the better.
Make no mistake, there is still lots to enjoy here, not least some live bassoon playing, 24 banjos, a vividly effective yellow and black costume theme, Emma Williams’ sad-face, Stemp’s impending stardom and a cuddly toy. I’m willing to bet more than half a sixpence that we’ll be seeing this show in the West End before too long but there’s something about the openness of the stage at the main house at Chichester Festival Theatre that is just infinitely more appealing.

Running time: 2 hours 45 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 3rd September