Review: Tina the Musical, Aldwych Theatre

Adrienne Warren absolutely shines in Tina the Musical at the Aldwych Theatre, though the bio-musical form has its limitations here

“It gets bigger baby, and heaven knows”

Mamma Mia has a lot to answer for. The jukebox musical is clearly the legacy project that people are looking to once music stars have retired or disbanded (or not even then, in some cases). But whether they take a fictional route (a la Viva Forever or Son of a Preacher Man) or go bio-musical (a la All Or Nothing), it really isn’t easy to make it work that well. 

Newly opened at the Aldwych Theatre, Tina the Musical has the credentials to make you hope it can do just that. Directed by Mamma Mia’s Phyllida Lloyd, written by Olivier winner Katori Hall with Frank Ketelaar and Kees Prins, and with the almighty back catalogue of Tina Turner to call on, there’s a thrilling sense of energy here which is perfectly encapsulated in the star-making performance of  a fricking amazing Adrienne Warren. Continue reading “Review: Tina the Musical, Aldwych Theatre”

Review: The Wedding Singer, Curve

“Pour a double gin,
here’s to your double chin”

Back when Adam Sandler was, you know, tolerable, he did rom-coms like 1998’s The Wedding Singer and where even moderately successful films go, musical theatre adaptations surely follow. Tim Herlihy adapts his own screenplay along with lyricist Chad Beguelin, and original music comes from Matthew Sklar, and the result is a perfectly competent piece of musical theatre which is fun without ever really being fantastic.

Opening at Leicester’s Curve ahead of a 8 month long UK tour (dates and venue at the end of this review), you can see where Nick Winston’s production has made its key decisions – Francis O’Connor’s set has its eye on quick get-outs and so Jack Henry’s video projections do a lot of the heavy lifting in setting the 80s milieu. And the casting mixes West End reliability with TV name recognition, the cherry on the cake of course being Ruth Madoc. Continue reading “Review: The Wedding Singer, Curve”

Re-review: Beautiful – The Carole King Story, Aldwych

“Remember when you used to play Mozart?”

I’ve been lucky enough to see Cassidy Janson in a number of productions over the years and I’ve been a fan from the start, from stepping into Julie Atherton’s not-inconsiderable shoes in Avenue Q onwards, so I was mightily pleased when she was announced as the replacement for Katie Brayben in the lead role in Beautiful – The Carole King Story. I really enjoyed the show when it opened last year and thought Janson would be a good fit but in finally getting to see her, I couldn’t have imagined how perfect a marriage of performer and material this would be.

As Carole King, one of the most successful songwriters of the last century, she thoroughly imbues the character with an engaging sense of life and vivid musicality that just bursts from the stage. Through a decade of huge change as this ebullient Manhattan teenager becomes a wife and mother as well as writing some of the biggest pop hits around, Janson keeps us thoroughly engaged with Douglas McGrath’s sometimes-a-bit-too-functional book whether acting, singing or acting through song – if she weren’t already a star, I’d say it’s a star-making performance.  Continue reading “Re-review: Beautiful – The Carole King Story, Aldwych”

Review: Beautiful – The Carole King Musical, Aldwych Theatre

“Everything seems to be
Some kind of wonderful”

Where Broadway leads, the West End will surely follow and so it is little surprise that Tony-winning Beautiful – The Carole King Musical found its way over here to the Aldwych Theatre. And I’m pleased to report that the transatlantic passage has gone most smoothly indeed to deliver an absolute treat of a show. When three of its four leading personnel are still very much alive and kicking, it is perhaps no surprise that Douglas McGrath’s book treads a rather respectable path through the first ten years of King’s career. But then she would be the first to say, with typical self-deprecating charm, that her life is hardly the most exciting, her dreams never the loftiest – it just so happens that beneath this veneer of ordinariness lay an absolute treasure trove of extraordinary music. 

And as musical gem follows musical gem – both from the collaborations of King and sometime partner Gerry Goffin, and also from their friends and writing rivals Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann – this feels utterly the point. Life isn’t always chock-a-block with drama, motivations don’t always have to spring from some momentous event, the cult of the tortured artistic soul is far from the be all and end all (Billington seems to suggest being “a shy, well-adjusted woman struggling to reconcile a career with a failing marriage” is something of a crime!) and I’d say that Beautiful is no weaker a biopic for not having such narrative peaks and troughs, reinventing personal history in the name of drama.  Continue reading “Review: Beautiful – The Carole King Musical, Aldwych Theatre”

Review: the dreaming, Union Theatre

“Link arms with those dreamers of midsummers past”

Kicking off a season of three Howard Goodall musicals, the dreaming actually marks the professional premiere of a show has been performed many times by youth theatre groups, commissioned as it was by the NYMT and premiered by them in 2001. Based on Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, book writer Charles Hart relocates the story to a Somerset village in an Edwardian society on the cusp of the Great War but maintains the vast majority of the original tale as Goodall weaves his inimitably English compositional magic around it.

And it is, in the main, an effective updating. The Rude Mechanicals becoming a group of morris dancer-esque mummers is a rural buffoon’s delight and if ‘The Banner of Saint George’ (in place of Pyramus and Thisbe) could have stood to be half the length, it is still chucklesome. And the starchy manners of the time translates amusingly to the quartet of lovers who run away to the forest and effectively to the parental figures who disapprove so, the silliness of the lovers’ quarrel in the songs ‘Jennifer’ and ‘Midsummer Madness’ is perfectly evoked. Continue reading “Review: the dreaming, Union Theatre”