Review: Elf, Lowry

The Lowry Theatre's 2017/8 production of Christmas show Elf

“Make it Sparklejollytwinklejingley”

First things first, it’s a really poor show on behalf of those in charge of this production at the Lowry that there was no announcement or any mention of the fact that the understudy for the main part was on. Not for any sniffy reason about wanting to see Ben Forster but rather that it denied Colin Burnicle his spot in the limelight on the first occasion that he got to play the role of Buddy the Elf.

I don’t think Burnicle will mind me saying he had an understandably slightly nervy beginning but he soon settled into the green felt boots of Buddy, working a slightly more frantic Jim Carrey-esque vibe than one might expect from a role originated on screen by Will Ferrell but it was one that worked. And he connected well with former Atomic Kitten Liz McLarnon as his putative love interest Juvie, as under-developed a part it is. Continue reading “Review: Elf, Lowry”

Review: The Wind in the Willows, Theatre Royal Plymouth

“Messing about in a boat”

Messrs Stiles, Drewe and Fellowes clearly have an affinity for working with each other as hot on the heels of Half A Sixpence, about to open in West End after a successful run in Chichester, comes another collaboration on a musical version of The Wind in the Willows. Destined for an as yet unconfirmed West End residency, it is currently touring from Plymouth to Salford and then on to Southampton, spreading its gentle, pastoral charms across the UK.

And its charms are gentle, befitting any iteration of the beloved children’s novel by Kenneth Grahame. Julian Fellowes’ adaptation is faithful to that story and though the scale of Rachel Kavanaugh’s production is suitably large, it is also refreshingly simple. Peter McKintosh’s design is atmospheric but uncomplicated, playful rather than epic in its idyllic evocation of the British countryside, ably assisted by Aletta Collins’ languid choreography. Continue reading “Review: The Wind in the Willows, Theatre Royal Plymouth”

CD Review: Elf the Musical (2015 Original London Cast Recording)

“You gotta remember that December is the time for glitz”

I have to say I was sceptical about Elf the Musical, not least because it was Bonfire Night (5th November for you heathens) when I saw it but to my pleasant surprise, I was soon won over by its classic charms. If you’ve seen the film, then you’ll know that its soundtrack was a dip into the Christmas chapter of the Great American Songbook – Ella Fitzgerald’s ‘Sleigh Ride’, Ray Charles’ ‘Winter Wonderland’ etc – but the score for the musical is original yet pays great homage to those standards.

Matthew Sklar’s music and Chad Beguelin’s lyrics succeed by being entirely both warm-hearted and open-hearted and in this recording, is powered by the practically Duracell-bunny-like enthusiasm of Ben Forster’s Buddy, the kid who found his way into Santa’s bag of presents and ended up being raised at the North Pole. The heart of the story is his re-entry into the human world to find his birth father and in tracks like ‘World’s Greatest Dad’, you realise just how big and real his emotions are.

And that feel-good feeling is carried across the whole record – Jessica Martin as his mum matches him for sincerity in both ‘I’ll Believe in You’ and ‘There Is A Santa Claus’, Kimberley Walsh’s velvety smooth voice sits well as sceptical love interest Jovie in Never Fall In Love (With An Elf) and the big band feel of Stuart Morley’s musical direction keeps ‘Nobody Cares About Santa’ from ever getting too dark for the (big) kids. Indeed in a world where things are often ‘Sparklejollytwinklejingley’ , everyone is a winner. 

A strong cast recording that definitely bears repeated listens to its classic song-writing – it’s not just at Christmas that “singing loud for all to hear” spreads cheer.

Review: Elf the musical, Dominion

“I always get a special glow when the snow comes falling down”

There’s something a little perverse about a show as intrinsically Christmassy as Elf the Musical opening on Bonfire Night but with a limited run finishing sharply on 2nd January, the time to get festive starts now. Based on the 2003 film starring Will Ferrell and directed by Jon Favreau, the musical capitalises on the feel-good charm of the movie to create something deliciously old-school in feel but with a definite contemporary spin on things. My four star review for Cheap Theatre Tickets can be read here.

Running time: 2 hours 40 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 2nd January

Review: Legally Blonde The Musical, New Wimbledon

“You need to see me in a brand new domain” 

Legally Blonde The Musical turned out to be something of a surprise: a show that I grew to really love over my three visits during its West End run (review#1, review#2, review#3), whilst making a bona fide star out of its leading lady Sheridan Smith. I may not have been blown away by it on first viewing, but it worked its way into my heart and its soundtrack is one that I listen to quite often even now. Capitalising on its finish in London, a national tour of the show has taken up shop in the New Wimbledon Theatre, giving Londoners another chance to dip into the world of Elle Woods, if they’re willing to go to zone 3 that is.

Revisiting something that was so enjoyed though can have its pitfalls, as comparisons are invariably drawn. Some of it is about the realities of seeing a touring version of a show – the set will never be as impressive as in a West End house, but the design here really does come up short on a couple of occasions and the sound quality was shocking in parts. Elsewhere, some performances left me disappointed especially as the casting decisions don’t always seem to have hit the mark. It feels a little churlish to criticise Faye Brookes for not being Sheridan Smith, but her Elle doesn’t capture the loveability that is needed to keep the show swinging through its slower parts and to keep the audience invested. Gareth Gates takes on the thankless role of Warner very much against type and I’m not sure I bought him as the heartbreaker. Both sounded excellent though. Continue reading “Review: Legally Blonde The Musical, New Wimbledon”

Review: The Drowsy Chaperone, Upstairs at the Gatehouse

“Do you always pray during those seconds before curtain-up?”

The Drowsy Chaperone is receiving its first off-west-end fringe revival after a spectacular failure with its West End run 3 years ago. I’m not entirely sure why it was so unsuccessful featuring Elaine Paige as it did but the misguided marketing campaign had a lot to do with it I’m sure. It is however also quite a niche piece, it should appeal to any fan of musical theatre but beyond that, I’m not sure how much attraction it has. But relocated and retooled to the Upstairs at the Gatehouse pub theatre in Highgate, this production captures all the charm and effervescence of this delightful show and hopefully it will restore some of its reputation here in London.

The show starts in darkness with our narrator explaining that he much prefers to listen to his favourite musicals than actually go to the theatre and he proceeds to put on his favourite record, The Drowsy Chaperone from 1928. This show-within-a-show is about two lovers whose wedding is put in jeopardy on their wedding day – by disaster, by themselves, by the drowsy chaperone who is supposed to be making sure the bride doesn’t see the groom on that fateful day and a whole host of stereotypical Broadway caricatures all with their own agendas. Continue reading “Review: The Drowsy Chaperone, Upstairs at the Gatehouse”