How to solve a problem like a compilation – my alternative Unmasked

Andrew Lloyd Webber, Unmasled

I make my own suggestions about interpretations of Andrew Lloyd Webber songs that could have been included on his new compilation album Unmasked

“They must have excitement, and so must I”

In a world of Spotify and iTunes and other online music services, compilation albums ought to have died a death. But the enduring success of the Now That’s What I Call Music series puts the lie to that, showing that while the idea of curating your own content is tempting, many of us prefer to let someone else do it for us.

So Andrew Lloyd Webber’s decision to release new anthology Unmasked is a canny one in that respect (read my review here), tapping into the desire to have a nicely pleasant set of musical theatre tunes to pop on in the car. And as with any compilation, it’s as much about what hasn’t been included as what has, that stands out. Continue reading “How to solve a problem like a compilation – my alternative Unmasked”

Review: The Wild Party, The Other Palace

“Blame it on the gin”

There’s no doubting the visual flair that choreographer Drew McOnie is able to conjure in his work – In The Heights and Jesus Christ Superstar being just two recent examples – and so it is no coincidence that his move into directing has begun with dance-heavy pieces. Strictly Ballroom lit up the stage at the West Yorkshire Playhouse before Christmas and now The Wild Party opens up the programming at The Other Palace, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s rebranded St James Theatre.

Michael John LaChiusa’s musical version is not the first adaptation of Joseph Moncure March’s epic poem to hit London this year – that title goes to the Hope Theatre’s two hander from last month. But it does have its own tunes presented as a vaudeville, a real mish-mash of every 1920s style you can think of and more, which makes for a bold and brash evening – especially as performed by this lavishly assembled ensemble – but ultimately, one of little staying power.  Continue reading “Review: The Wild Party, The Other Palace”

20 shows to look forward to in 2017

2017 is only just over a week away now and the reviewing diary is already filling up! All sorts of headline-grabbing West End shows have already been announced (The Glass Menagerie, Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf, Don Juan In Soho, The Goat, Or Who Is Sylvia) and the National look to continue a sensational year with another (Twelfth Night, Consent, the heaven-sent Angels in America), so this list is looking a little further afield to the London fringe and some of the UK theatres I hope to get to throughout the year.


The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, Bolton Octagon

After hearing Elizabeth Newman speak passionately on a panel discussion about women’s theatre, I kinda have a big (intellectual) crush on her, so I’m very keen to see her tackle a new adaptation by Deborah McAndrew of the classic Anne Bronte novel in a theatre that is very close to my heart.
Continue reading “20 shows to look forward to in 2017”

Review: Springtime for Henry (and Barbara), Wilton’s Music Hall

“Nobody but nobody thought that putting the life of Henry Moore into a musical was a good idea” 

It’s a real shame that Springtime for Henry (and Barbara) only ran for three performances over two nights as I’d’ve recommended it to all and sundry, not least for capturing the spirit of exactly what Wilton’s Music Hall should be used for. A highly idiosyncratic piece, described as “a fictitious lost musical reconstructed in fragments”, it’s the continuation of a multi-phase project by artist Mel Brimfield and musician Gwyneth Herbert, interrogating the relationship between sculptors Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth.

This it does imaginatively in a number of ways: a mockumentary format (calling to mind nothing so much as the genius behind-the-scenes episode of Acorn Antiques) detailing decades of attempts to put this show on the stage, complete with abortive scores from Sondheim and Lloyd-Webber and a high cast turnover; repurposed archive footage; a chat show section interviewing the ‘director’; and an impressively wide-ranging set of musical numbers, referencing a equally wide set of influences. The cumulative effect was very much of a variety show and that just felt perfect in the atmospheric surroundings of this oldest surviving music hall in the world. Continue reading “Review: Springtime for Henry (and Barbara), Wilton’s Music Hall”

Album Review: The A-Z of Mrs P – Original London Cast Recording

“Could you ever be happy mama?”

In a musical theatre landscape that often seems risk-averse when it comes to new writing, even in the face of the recent efforts of old hands Andrew Lloyd-Webber and Tim Rice both closing early, it is always pleasing to hear new voices being championed. And that is exactly what producer Neil Marcus did in securing idiosyncratic British singer-songwriter Gwyneth Herbert to write the music and lyrics for The A-Z of Mrs P, along with Diane Samuels for the book. The show recently premiered at the Southwark Playhouse in a production directed by Sam Buntrock, and the soundtrack has now been released by SimG Productions.

Herbert had never seen a musical before starting to write this show five years ago and there’s a definite freshness to the way she has approached the material. The show was inspired by the autobiographies of Phyllis Pearsall, a woman who led a complex personal life but is best known for mapping and creating the famous A-Z streetmap of London that so many still use today. Her relationship with her map publisher father was a troubled beast though and so the canvas of the story widens out beyond the streets of London, to delve into the family history of Mrs P and how it proved a driving force for her whole life. Continue reading “Album Review: The A-Z of Mrs P – Original London Cast Recording”

Review: The A-Z of Mrs P, Southwark Playhouse

“Go on, do it…”

There’s a sense of budding potential in new musical The A-Z of Mrs P that doesn’t quite come to full fruition in this production at the Southwark Playhouse, but suggests that some assiduous rethinking and re-shaping could well see any future life be more bountiful. Diane Samuels’ book and Gwyneth Herbert’s music and lyrics tell a self-described “musical fable” inspired by the autobiographies of Phyllis Pearsall, the woman who mapped out and created the A-Z Atlas to London.

But though this may be her main claim to fame, the rest of her life was full of additional drama too. A Hungarian map-drawing father and an Irish mother who ultimately died in an asylum, her parents had a troubled marriage which impacted hugely on her and her brother’s childhood and beyond, and her lovelife was marked by failures and an abortive marriage. All of this and more is packed into the show which strains under the pressure of delivering any of its narrative streams effectively. Continue reading “Review: The A-Z of Mrs P, Southwark Playhouse”

Review: West End Recast, Duke of York’s

“Here’s to the girls who play smart”

There doesn’t seem to be a Sunday night that passes without some concert or another featuring a host of West End stars celebrating a composer or honouring a good cause and this weekend was no exception. West End Recast saw performers taking the chance to embrace roles that they would normally not be cast for, crossing gender and colour lines for a hugely entertaining couple of hours and some brilliant singing. The evening saw an interesting diversity of interpretations of the brief but predominantly, the feel was that it wasn’t so radical an approach – good songs are good songs no matter who sings them. 

Some performers went for straight-forward renditions (Daniel Boys’ ‘Send in the Clowns’, Katie Rowley-Jones’ impassioned Rent double header), several of the boys opted for costumey props with mixed results (Boys teaming up with Leon Lopez for a lovely low-key version of ‘For Good’ complete with tiara and green facepaint, Simon Bailey’s Ariel wig not proving as much as an obstacle to ‘Part Of Your World’ as his simpering delivery which flew in the face of the musical integrity pretty much everywhere else). But I have to say I preferred the moments that felt genuinely subversive with their gender-flips and the performances that exploded off the stage (or both at the same time). Continue reading “Review: West End Recast, Duke of York’s”

Album Review: You Are Home – The Songs of Anderson and Petty

“It will all be fine, somewhere down the line”

Songbook albums can be difficult beasts – composers can often find themselves caught between trying to compile a thematically coherent collection and demonstrating the breadth of their talent and it can be a difficult balance to find. Transatlantic writing duo Barry Anderson and Mark Petty, the catchily named Anderson & Petty, have erred towards the latter, not only showcasing not only a huge range of musical styles but a roster of performers from both sides of the ocean.

And what does connect the material on You Are Home – The Songs of Anderson and Petty is a genuine gift for effective songwriting, highlighted by some excellent matching of song and singer: Coleen Sexton’s ‘You Are Home’ brims with supreme confidence, a near-perfectly constructed piece matched with a flawless vocal; Gina Beck’s crystalline soprano on the verge of shattering due to the emotionally devastating ‘Forever Child’; Autumn Hurlbert carrying ‘Superman’ from its hushed beginnings to a wonderfully strident climax. Continue reading “Album Review: You Are Home – The Songs of Anderson and Petty”

Review: Piaf, Curve

“A quoi ça sert, l’amour?”

Pam Gem’s play Piaf is a curious thing. As a piece of biographical drama, it barely scrapes the surface of the troubled life of the famed French chanteuse, using an episodic style to feature key vignettes as we speed through the rollercoaster ups and downs of her rise to iconic status. And inbetween these scenes, we get performances of some of her more famous songs like ‘La Vie En Rose’ and ‘Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien’. But from these slight beginnings can come some kind of alchemic wonder as demonstrated in the superlative 2008 Donmar Warehouse production which featured Elena Roger in the kind of performance that I will remember for the rest of my life.

So no pressure at all on any subsequent productions…though Paul Kerryson’s revival for Leicester’s Curve theatre – a venue really carving out a niche for itself as one of the hottest spots for musical theatre (even if this is technically a play with songs…) – with Frances Ruffelle in the lead role comes close to capturing some of that magic. Staging the show in the more intimate studio there is an inspired decision, enabling the kind of cosy nightclub feel that is entirely right for this kind of performance. For Ruffelle really does dig deep into the emotion of the character to give an almost shocking rawness to her, a blunt directness that makes no apologies for the selfishness of her actions and which lends an even greater depth to her renditions of the songs.  Continue reading “Review: Piaf, Curve”