Review: West End Recast 2, Phoenix

“I wonder why they didn’t just change their story”

There’s always gotta be a sequel right? After the success of West End Recast earlier this year, director Adam Lenson and musical supervisor Daniel A Weiss have once again gathered a cast of West End talent with nothing better to do on a Sunday night than perform songs they wouldn’t normally get the chance to sing. And once again, they hit the jackpot with West End Recast 2, an extraordinary range of performers and performances that offer a revelatory take on what places musical theatre could go to when a few risks are taken.

Imagine Cynthia Erivo as Bobby in Company, her rendition of ‘Being Alive’ was genuinely sensational (although nothing will ever convince me that a mid-song standing ovation is acceptable) and somehow found something new in this classic that literally raised the roof. So too did Gina Beck utterly own West Side Story’s ‘Maria’, an unexpectedly affecting take that also deserves to be explored more, not least as a fascinating challenge for her vocal range. Cassidy Janson deserves a mention for going green again, though this time as Shrek rather than Elphaba, well for the most part at least… Continue reading “Review: West End Recast 2, Phoenix”

Review: Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris, Charing Cross Theatre

“Quand on n’a que l’amour
A s’offrir en partage”

No he’s not. Jacques Brel is dead and buried in French Polynesia next to Paul Gauguin but his unmistakable spirit is to be found in the oddly sterile surroundings of the Charing Cross Theatre in this revue of the music that made a maître of the world of chanson. Comprising nearly 30 of his songs performed by a company of four, director Andrew Keates has made a determined choice to avoid the concert-type presentation often associated with revues for something much more theatrical.

It is a choice that mostly works. Brel’s music explored the length and breadth of the human condition and Keates uses this to offer a wide variety of staging choices for the material, treating each song almost as its own little world whether it is love lost, love found, sailors drinking or funerals watched. They come in different forms too, a music hall vaudeville turn here, a dramatic scene played out amongst the cabaret tables up front there, and some pure uncomplicated singing for good measure too.

And with a talented cast of Gina Beck, Daniel Boys, David Burt and Eve Polycarpou, you can’t go too wrong and they all deliver. The more experienced voices of Burt and Polycarpou feel beautifully at home in the world of chanson – her impassioned opener of ‘Le Diable (Ça Va)’ is bursting with heartfelt meaning and his closer of ‘Amsterdam’ is equally stirring in an accomplished performance. Beck and Boys bring a different energy to their work, more character-based perhaps than deeply felt in the same way but still convincing in its passion.

If any reservations emerge, they lie with the show itself. It is perhaps a little long, losing its level of intensity occasionally across the chopping and changing of the 30-some songs. And though the English translations by Eric Blau and Mort Shuman are well done, capturing much of the Gallic sensibility of Brel’s work (even if he was a Belgian), there’s so much power and emotion in the original French that is only hinted at here (‘Quand On N’a Que L’amour’ just sounds more evocative that ‘If We Only Have Love’ for example). When it is utilised, as in a glorious ‘Ne Me Quitte Pas’ from Polycarpou, it works so well it feels a shame not to have used it more. Still, it’s an enjoyable French fancy of a show.

Running time: 2 hours (with interval)
Booking until 22nd November
Photo: Scott Rylander

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”

Re-review: Wicked, Apollo Victoria

 “There’s a kind of a sort of: cost
There’s a couple of things get: lost” 

Now entering its eighth year at the Apollo Victoria, Wicked remains one of the major go-to shows in London’s West End, beloved of fans and tourists alike. A major UK tour has just started to great reviews in Manchester, demonstrating the wide appeal of this prequel-of-sorts to the events in The Wizard of Oz but with a major cast-change fast approaching, the London production feels like it is missing a little of that emerald sparkle that has made it such an enduring success.

I’ve seen the show twice before (reviews here and here) and so perhaps there’s an element of familiarity breeding contempt but I do have a fondness for Stephen Schwartz’s score and you gotta love a story that puts female friendship so firmly at the centre (many may mock the musical but how many long-running plays are there that do the same…). It was just hard to shake the feeling that maybe some people were a little demob-happy, or even maybe that the production is resting on its laurels a tad.  Continue reading “Re-review: Wicked, Apollo Victoria”

Winners of the 2013 What’s On Stage Awards

THE DIGITAL THEATRE BEST ACTRESS IN A PLAY

Sheridan Smith – Hedda Gabler at the Old Vic
Billie Piper – The Effect, Headlong at the National, Cottesloe
Hattie Morahan – A Doll’s House at the Young Vic
Jill Halfpenny – Abigail’s Party at the Menier Chocolate Factory & Wyndham’s
Julie Walters – The Last of the Haussmans at the National, Lyttelton
Sally Hawkins – Constellations at the Royal Court Upstairs & Duke of York’s

THE DIGITAL THEATRE BEST ACTOR IN A PLAY

Rupert Everett – The Judas Kiss at Hampstead
Adrian Lester – Red Velvet at the Tricycle
David Haig – The Madness of George III at the Apollo
David Suchet – Long Day’s Journey into Night at the Apollo
Luke Treadaway – The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time at the National, Cottesloe
Mark Rylance – Twelfth Night & Richard III at Shakespeare’s Globe & the Apollo Continue reading “Winners of the 2013 What’s On Stage Awards”

Film Review: Les Misérables

“Life has dropped you at the bottom of the heap”

For many people, myself included, it is nigh on impossible to approach a film version of stage behemoth Les Misérables with a blank slate. It’s been a mainstay of the musical theatre world since its 1985 London debut – it is most likely the show I have seen the most times throughout my lifetime – and after celebrating its 25th anniversary with an extraordinarily good touring production, has been riding high with a revitalised energy. So Tom Hooper’s film has a lot to contend with in terms of preconceptions, expectations and long-ingrained ideas of how it should be done. And he has attacked it with gusto, aiming to reinvent notions of cinematic musicals by having his actors sing live to camera and bringing his inimitable close-up directorial style to bear thus creating a film which is epic in scale but largely intimate in focus.

In short, I liked it but I didn’t love it. I’m not so sure that Hooper’s take on the piece as a whole is entirely suited to the material, or rather my idea of how best it works. Claude-Michel Schönberg’s score has a sweeping grandeur which is already quasi-cinematic in its scope but Hooper never really embraces it fully as he works in his customary solo shots and close-ups into the numbers so well known as ensemble masterpieces.  ‘At The End Of The Day’ and ‘One Day More’ both suffer this fate of being presented as individually sung segments stitched together but for me, the pieces never really added up to more than the sum of their parts to gain the substantial power that they possess on the stage. Continue reading “Film Review: Les Misérables”