TV Review: The Split / The Good Fight

If female-fronted lawyer shows are your bag (and why wouldn’t they be!), the twin joys of The Split and The Good Fight have marvellous to behold

“Kill all the lawyers”

If I’m completely honest, Abi Morgan’s The Split did leave me a tad disappointed as it veered away from its legal beginnings to something considerably more soapy over its six episodes. The personal lives of the Defoe clan well and truly took over at the expense of any of the cases they were looking after and even if that family includes Nicola Walker, Annabel Scholey and Deborah Findlay, it’s still a bit of a shame that it ended up so schlocky. Continue reading “TV Review: The Split / The Good Fight”

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. Continue reading “Album Review: Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (2002 Original London Cast Recording)”

Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 4

“Donna Noble has left the library. Donna Noble has been saved”

And here we are, my favourite series of Doctor Who. So much huge wonderfulness and even its less good moments are still more than halfway decent. Key to the series’ success is Catherine Tate’s Donna Noble – gobby and one-dimensional in her introductory episode the Christmas special The Runaway Bride, her character journey throughout this season is magisterially constructed, a true awakening of self (with thankfully no romantic inclinations towards our Time Lord) and one given unbearable poignancy due to its frustratingly tragic end.

It’s also one of the best constructed series in terms of its over-arching season arc, its warnings and clues layered meaningfully into several stories and building into a momentous and properly climactic finale, which lands just about the right level of grandiosity. There’s also the first companion-lite episode (the superbly creepy Midnight) to go with the Doctor-lite one (the achingly beautiful dystopian Turn Left); a typically brilliant Moffat double-header in  Silence in the Library and Forest of the Dead with gorgeous work from Alex Kingston as the soon-to-be-hugely-significant River Song; and if the return of Rose undoes some of the emotional impact of the Series 2 finale, Billie Piper’s work is spikily powerful. These are episodes I can, and have, watched over and over again.

Continue reading “Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 4”

Album Review: Parade (Original London Cast 2007)

“Call for justice! We need justice!
Beat the bastard! Kill the bum!”

Based on historical events from the turn of the last century in Atlanta, Georgia, Jason Robert Brown and Alfred Uhry’s Parade has been something of a slow-burning theatrical success – its original 1998 Broadway run criminally short, ending way before it won 2 Tonys, but later tours and overseas productions cementing its reputation as a sterling piece of new musical theatre. In the UK, Southwark Playhouse had a grand production in 2011 but 2007 saw the Donmar deliver a work of small-scale genius which was captured in its entirety on this double-disc recording.

Perhaps not the most likely of subjects for a piece of musical theatre, the 1913 trial of Jewish factory manager Leo Frank – Bertie Carvel in the role here – for the rape and murder of a 13 year old employee Mary Phagan benefits hugely from the musical treatment. The trial caused a big media sensation in the US and forced an examination of the (not so) latent anti-Semitism in this southern state offering a wide range of opportunities to explore musical styles, estimably executed by Thomas Murray’s 9-strong band playing David Cullen’s new orchestrations.  Continue reading “Album Review: Parade (Original London Cast 2007)”

CD Review: Evita 2006 London Cast Recording

 “Just a little touch of star quality” 

 
I haven’t done many reviews of soundtracks to shows since starting to cover CDs on here, focusing more new writing and solo albums from MT performers, but I don’t know why not as I listen to them just as much. The first I’ll cover will be the OLCR of the 2006 revival of Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd-Webber’s Evita, a production which revitalised this stalwart of a show in a way that I didn’t think possible and introduced me, and the rest of London’s theatregoers, to the glories of Argentinean star performer Elena Roger.

 The soundtrack, edited highlights rather than the full score, captures much of what made that production so vibrant so that it doesn’t really matter that we don’t have any of the striking visuals and choreography that accompanied this Latin American infused remounting. The orchestrations have been totally refreshed in line with this re-envisioning and with Roger’s singing leading the company, there’s just a greater sense of authenticity about the whole shebang. Continue reading “CD Review: Evita 2006 London Cast Recording”

Album Review: Love Story – Original London Cast Recording

“What can you say about a girl who seemed to run before she walked”

New musicals are sometimes difficult things, audiences don’t always respond straightaway and in the cut-throat world of the West End, there’s little tolerance for something that isn’t an instant hit. Though it was amazingly well received in Chichester, Howard Goodall’s Love Story suffered such a fate in its brief run at the Duchess late last year. There’s not much more to be said about this much-missed show whose run in London was sadly curtailed than to say how grateful I am that they were able to make a cast recording as it really was one of those scores with which I fell in love straight away. My reviews of the show can be read here and here, I probably would have gone again had it continued to run.

Howard Goodall’s luxurious string and piano music stretches elegantly over the story, little riffs and motifs repeating so that a sense of familiarity is gained with just one listen. Emma Williams is just perfect as the strident Jenny, fiercely independent but unable to resist the entirely charismatic Michael Xavier as Oliver, and together they make such sweet music. Continue reading “Album Review: Love Story – Original London Cast Recording”

Re-review: Love Story, Duchess

“Life is molto bene when your pesto’s mixed with penne”

Coming in as one of my favourite shows of 2010, and in the top 2 musicals I saw all year long, it was no surprise that a return visit to Love Story was booked in order to introduce someone new to the wonders of this show. You can read my (something of a rave) review from my previous visit here: I don’t really have much more to add to it to be honest, other than I really do believe this to be one of the strongest and most beautiful new British musicals of recent years.

I cried more this time round, knowing what to expect and when to expect it usually does that to me, but having seen it before meant that I had much more sympathy for Michael Xavier’s Olly throughout the show. He is a rather bullish and brash character at first glance but Xavier brings much more depth to the character which for me, simply heightened the emotion in the moments when he cracks and sure enough, every single time his handsome face crumpled, my eyes welled up. Emma Williams delivered another sensational performance, even dealing with wayward pasta most professionally, singing all the while. Continue reading “Re-review: Love Story, Duchess”

Review: Love Story, Duchess

“What can you say…”

Where do I begin, to tell the story of how great a love can be? Well, by heartily recommending that you go and see Love Story at the Duchess Theatre. The musical version of the well-known film (and novel) by Erich Segal which premiered at the Minerva in Chichester earlier this year, it has transferred into London with the help of Michael Ball who has joined the creative team as an above-the-title producer. The show sees a welcome return to the West End for Howard Goodall as the composer and co-lyricist with Stephen Clark, who wrote the book. Things started off well as we entered the Duchess to see Stephen Ridley’s onstage band of a piano, guitar and string quintet, instantly indicating that this is going to be a classier affair with Peter McKintosh’s simple white column-based design adding to the dignified air.

It is the story of a rich blue-blood Harvard law graduate, Oliver Barrett IV and a less-well-off piano-playing Italian-American Radcliffe College woman, Jenny Cavilleri, who fall passionately for each other and are swiftly married despite their differences and opposition from their parents. We follow their young love as they start to build a life together, but fate has other plans… Directed by Rachel Kavanaugh with a remarkably restrained emotion, the focus really is on the love story rather than dwelling on the tragic ending, Jenny is only diagnosed with about 20 minutes to go as Stephen Clark’s heart-warming and tender book navigates sentiment without resorting to too much of the saccharine. Continue reading “Review: Love Story, Duchess”

Review: The Crucible, Open Air Theatre

“I will come to you in the black of some terrible night and I will bring a pointy reckoning that will shudder you”

It really is a good time to be an Arthur Miller fan in London: All My Sons is receiving rave reviews at the Apollo Theatre and now you can see The Crucible at the Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre in a chilling new production of a play.

The Puritans of Salem, Massachusetts are shocked when a group of their young girls are caught dancing in the woods and one of them falls into a coma. Accusations of witchcraft soon start to fly and as the hysteria mounts and a full-blown witch-hunt ensues, vendettas about land and money, and also of the heart, are pursued sub rosa as events snowball to a shockingly brutal conclusion. The struggle between truth and righteousness, between protecting self-interest and rising to the need of the greater good, is personified in the Proctor family, John and Elizabeth. Continue reading “Review: The Crucible, Open Air Theatre”

Review: A Streetcar Named Desire, Donmar

Maintaining its recent history of strong female-centred drama, the Donmar’s latest production is A Streetcar Named Desire and the star name this time round is Rachel Weisz, although she is ably supported by some strong upcoming talent. Not being a fan of old films, I had no idea of the story and I think this added considerably to my enjoyment.

 

It tells the story of Blanche DuBois, a figure with a tragic past, who turns up unannounced at her sister Stella’s apartment in 1940s New Orleans. The apartment is very small but Blanche’s personality is most certainly not, and so the pressures on Stella and her husband Stanley Kowalski build up, as they struggle to wade through Blanche’s smokescreens and ascertain the real reasons for the unexpected visit. Continue reading “Review: A Streetcar Named Desire, Donmar”