The finalists of The Offies 2018

The finalists of the The Offies 2018 have been announced and as ever, there’s much of interest there, in the choices made and the breadth of Off West End theatre celebrated. Play-wise, I’m delighted at the love for The Revlon Girl and An Octoroon here, nice to see the Bunker’s Eyes Closed Ears Covered rewarded too, plus Will Pinchin’s work in Frankenstein.
 
With the musicals, I’m not down with the love for Promises Promises, an ill-judged revival that added nothing to the conversation (and even less in these #MeToo times) and I’m disappointed that none of the boys of Yank! were recognised. The rest of the Southwark Playhouse’s spectacular year does get the appropriate plaudits though, with Superhero, The Life and Working all getting multiple nominations.
 
And lastly, at times it can seem like all you have to do is sing in your bathroom and you get an Offie nomination 😉 so it is interesting to see how the numbers break down, albeit somewhat vaguely. These 80 or so finalists have apparently been whittled down from over 350 nominations from over 190 shows – there’s clearly just a lot of Offies love to share. Should you wish to join in said sharing at the IRL award ceremony on Sunday 4th March at The Albany, Deptford, you can buy tickets here.

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Review: Fiddler on the Roof, Chichester Festival Theatre

“How can I hope to make you understand”

Though my life has long been filled with musicals, Fiddler on the Roof has never been the one. I’ve only ever seen it the once (2013’s touring version) and though I quite enjoyed it then, I can’t say I was hankering after seeing another production. And though Daniel Evans’ hands are sure indeed when it comes to classic musicals, I found something rather uninspired both about the choice of programming it for his new Chichester home (although it is an absolute banker) and in his production.

It is perfectly decent, and the quality is solidly good throughout. Omid Djalili is an effective presence as Tevye, Tracy-Ann Oberman is very good as Golde, and it is always nice to see Louis Maskell onstage. But Evans is a director (and artistic director) who has made my heart sing with glorious revivals such as My Fair Lady and Show Boat (and Company and Me and My Girl) and I missed that kind of magic emanating from the unforgiving vastness of the Chichester Festival Theatre’s main stage. Continue reading “Review: Fiddler on the Roof, Chichester Festival Theatre”

Album Review: Love Birds (Original Edinburgh Cast 2015)

“Today is yesterday’s tomorrow”

If anyone should be allowed to write a musical about the 4 penguins from Mary Poppins, then it makes sense that it should be a man who is the son and nephew of the composers from that film. For Robert J Sherman is very much continuing in the family business – his father Robert B and uncle Richard being the Sherman Brothers who are among the most successful film songwriters in history, a legacy explored by Robert J in his A Spoonful of Sherman show – with his own venture into musical theatre with Love Birds.

The show premiered to generally great acclaim in Edinburgh last summer and a cast recording was subsequently made, allowing the show to live on in hopeful anticipation of further life. And on first listen, it’s no grandiose claim, for Love Birds captures much of the easy but deceptively simple charm that served his forebears so well. The show centres on a 1920s avian vaudeville run by a dinosaur (stay with me…) struggling to deal with the necessary changes to stay with the ever-changing times. Continue reading “Album Review: Love Birds (Original Edinburgh Cast 2015)”

Review: Midnight, St James

“If these walls could speak, they’d probably scream”

It’s not every day that you get an invitation to a musical set in Azerbaijan so I was certainly intrigued to hear about Midnight, receiving a workshop presentation by Aloff Theatre and directed by Matthew Gould in the cosy space of the studio at the St James Theatre. With book and lyrics by Timothy Knapman and music and lyrics by Laurence Mark Wythe (probably best known for Tomorrow Morning), the musical is based on the play Citizens of Hell by Azerbaijani writer Elchin (who for a day job just happens to be the Deputy Prime Minister there!).

Set in Baku in 1937 with the Soviet Union in gripped in the midst of Stalin’s Great Terror, every knock on every door brings with it the fear of being disappeared by the NKVD. And this New Year’s Eve is no different as a husband and wife pace about their flat, debating how – or if – to celebrate when friends and neighbours have been tortured and executed. When the knock finally comes, it isn’t necessarily who they’re expecting but the eventual chilling realisation of who their visitor is and the chaos he can unleash is even worse.  Continue reading “Review: Midnight, St James”

Album Review: A Spoonful of Sherman (Original London Cast Recording)

“It’s a world of wonder
A world of worth”

It’s quite something when the highlight of a show that includes excerpts from such perennial classics as Mary Poppins, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and The Jungle Book ends up being a pair of songs from a film that comparatively few would have heard of – The Slipper and the Rose. But such is the depth of song-writing talent in the three generations of the Sherman family celebrated in A Spoonful of Sugar, the Original London Cast Recording of which has just been released by SimG Records

From famed Tin Pan Alley composer Al Sherman to his sons Robert and Richard who became the most successful song-writing partnership in the history of Hollywood through to Robert’s son Robbie, an established writer in his own right, this revue covers nearly a century of popular song-writing by one family and the astonishing breadth of the musical legacy that they have left, and are still leaving, behind – this cabaret was indeed created by Robbie himself. Continue reading “Album Review: A Spoonful of Sherman (Original London Cast Recording)”

Review: A Spoonful of Sugar, St James

“Everyone was glad
What a time they had
They were so happy they came”

Nostalgia can be a lovely thing to bathe in and when it comes to the music of the Sherman Brothers, there’s an ocean of it. Robert and Richard Sherman can lay claim to being one of the most successful songwriting partnerships ever, taking Hollywood by storm with such iconic soundtracks as Mary Poppins, The Jungle Book and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang to name just a few, in a career that has stretched over 60 years, even 90 if one includes their father Al who was a noted songwriter in his own right.

To really make it a family affair, A Spoonful of Sherman is hosted by Robert’s son Robbie who acts as compère throughout, drawing the narrative line from the beginning of the twentieth century right up to the present day as of course, he is a composer himself as well. Sadly, Sherman Junior is probably the weakest link of the evening, the unique insight that he could have brought to bear is largely conspicuous by its absence and he feels ill-suited to the task, one can tell this is not his natural oeuvre. Continue reading “Review: A Spoonful of Sugar, St James”

Review: Titanic, Southwark Playhouse

“Possibly she won’t go down 
Possibly she’ll stay afloat
Possibly all this could come to an end
On a positive note…”

Between them, producer Danielle Tarento and director Thom Southerland have been responsible for some of London’s best small-scale musical revivals of recent years, so it was with interest that their production of the 1997 show Titanic was announced as the Southwark Playhouse’s first musical in its new premises. It won Tony Awards though little critical favour on Broadway, yet timed itself well to ride on the coat-tails of the extraordinary success of James Cameron’s film of the same story which opened some six months later. And as such an enduringly popular tale, Maury Yeston’s music and lyrics and Peter Stone’s book thus have much to battle against to make its own mark.

Based on real passengers and the accounts of survivors, Stone’s book focuses in on a number of couples travelling in different parts of the boat, which means that the emphasis lands heavily on the class divisions onboard. A decent decision one might think but in populating the worlds of first class, second class and third class, all within the first half, the show already feels doomed to sink. There’s just simply too many characters for us to process, never mind genuinely empathise with, and though a hard-working ensemble strive excellently to differentiate their various characters (with some surely sterling backstage help) it does take a while to be entirely sure who is who. Continue reading “Review: Titanic, Southwark Playhouse”

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”

Review: Company, Southwark Playhouse

“Everything’s different, nothing’s changed, only maybe slightly rearranged”

Marking the first ever musical to play at the Southwark Playhouse, Stephen Sondheim’s Company is one of the few shows that didn’t receive an airing in London last year (aside from the Donmar concert version) but receives a fringe production here from Mokitagrit, who are riding high on the recent success of Double Falsehood which is now transferring to the New Players Theatre for a brief extended run. It contains some of Sondheim’s greatest songs, but with its tricksy structure and book by George Furth, I have found it a difficult show to love.

The story centres on eternal singleton Bobby who is just about to turn 35. He is juggling three girlfriends and the 5 sets of married couples that make up his best friends are keen for him to settle down, but as the show progresses through a series of vignettes that look at each couple in turn, we see that each couple has their own story, their own take on marriage and their exhortations for Bobby to give up his bachelorhood masks issues in their own lives. Continue reading “Review: Company, Southwark Playhouse”