Review: A Spoonful of Sherman, Live at Zédel

“Theyre bouncy, trouncy, flouncy, pouncy
Fun, fun, fun, fun, fun”

A Spoonful of Sherman was previously seen at the St James Theatre (as was) in April 2014 but such is the warmly nostalgic hold of the Sherman Brothers’ songwriting, it is little surprise to see it re-emerge – this time in the plush surroundings of Brasserie Zédel’s cabaret space. The show has slimmed down its personnel from 4 to 2, Helena Blackman and Daniel Boys taking up the singing duties, with third generation songwriter Robert J. Sherman stepping in once again as narrator.

And I have to say I felt largely the same about A Spoonful of Sherman – it is a stronger show when Sherman Jnr is on the sidelines. One can understand the justifiably enormous pride he has in his family’s heritage, and in bringing this show to life, but the frequent interjections to sketch biographical insight don’t quite work in this format – its the stuff of programme essays to be honest and you can’t help wonder if his role might be more usefully reduced to a choice few bon mots. Continue reading “Review: A Spoonful of Sherman, Live at Zédel”

Album Review: Helena Blackman – The Sound of Rodgers and Hammerstein (2010)

“We’re going to look for the treasure”

Since finishing as runner up on Lloyd Webber’s How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?, Helena Blackman has casually shaken off any of the negative connotations that might be associated with reality TV by establishing a career that has seen her work consistently in musicals and cabaret for more than a decade. From leading tours of South Pacific and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, to intimate shows at the Finborough and Landor, to full-on leading lady territory in two Kilworth House productions (My Fair Lady and yes, The Sound of Music), Blackman’s undoubted talent has taken the time to develop and really shine.

London audiences will have the pleasure of seeing her soon in A Spoonful of Sherman at The Other Palace, so I’m turning my attention to her 2010 album The Sound of Rodgers & Hammerstein. Again, it is indicative of a performer determined to tread her own path in rejecting the usual opening gambit of safe standards and pop songs that peppers many a debut album in this genre, and moving to a different but no less crowded field of anthologies celebrating a single composing team.  Continue reading “Album Review: Helena Blackman – The Sound of Rodgers and Hammerstein (2010)”

Album Review: Gay’s The Word (Original 2012 London Cast)

“It’s bound to be right on the night”

I remember being thoroughly enamoured of Gay’s The Word at the Finborough back in 2012 and its leading lady Sophie-Louise Dann before I really knew who she was. Now I’m a full paid-up member of her fan club, I wish I had been able to appreciate how great (and rare) a leading lady performance it was. This 1951 Ivor Novello show received its first ever revival here but whereas sometimes one can tell exactly why something has been collecting dust on the shelf, Stewart Nicholl’s production revealed a hidden gem.

As with much of Novello’s work, it is sparkly and silly but sweetly and sincerely done so that its genuine warmth elevates the whole affair. It helps that he was poking fun at his own reputation for daffiness in his writing and the show-in-a-show conceit allows for a wider variety of musical styles to be incorporated. But it is classic, old-school musical theatre through and through with songs that sound as instantly recognisable as if they’ve been played over and over in music halls and theatres across the country for decades. Continue reading “Album Review: Gay’s The Word (Original 2012 London Cast)”

CD Review: It’s Just The Beginning – The Songs of Charles Miller and Kevin Hammonds

“I’m a girl of few words
And I don’t make a fuss 
But there’s something I’d like to discuss” 

As with too many good musical theatre writers, transatlantic partnership Charles Miller and Kevin Hammonds may not be the best known, but their work deserves a wider recognition as evidenced on their CD It’s Just The Beginning – The Songs of Charles Miller and Kevin Hammonds. British musician Miller and New York lyricist Hammonds have something of an old-fashioned soul, their songs very much part of the long tradition of musical theatre rather than a genre-busting radical new approach and as such, represent an interesting future alongside the Jason Robert Browns of the world.

To musical theatre aficionados, some of this music won’t be unfamiliar. When Midnight Strikes was performed at the Upstairs at the Gatehouse theatre last year and is well represented here (the emotive ‘Never Learned To Type’ is probably the highlight, the divine Caroline O’Connor wistfully breaking our hearts with a beautiful vocal. And Julie Atherton’s debut album A Girl of Few Words showcased 12 of their songs, two of which are reprised here – the wonderfully striking title track and the powerful duet ‘Someone Find Me’ with good pal Paul Spicer. Continue reading “CD Review: It’s Just The Beginning – The Songs of Charles Miller and Kevin Hammonds”

Review: Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, New Wimbledon

“That was some mighty fine dancing”

Seven young men enter a backwoods Oregon town, kidnap a woman each – with the intention of making them their wives – and escort them back to their mountainside home where a subsequent avalanche traps up there for the winter, leaving family and suitors unable to rescue them. Such is the premise, more or less, of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers but being a classic film musical of the 1950s, it is less a hillbilly horror flick and more of a rollicking romp of lumberjacking lotharios and one which now find itself in a tour of UK theatres. 

Director and choreographer extraordinaire Patti Colombo has worked her considerable magic on the show to make it a stunning visual treat, however there’s no escaping the huge improbabilities and weaknesses of the story. Of course, one shouldn’t be taking such a thing at all seriously, but it does impact on the way the show is delivered, whether the actors try to find the inner soul of a character and play it honestly or just go all out with a knowing smile and plenty of pizzazz. And I’m not too sure that this production really straddles that line all too well.  Continue reading “Review: Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, New Wimbledon”

fosterIAN awards 2012

 WinnerRunner-upOther nominees
Best Actress in a PlayKate O’Flynn, LungsLaurie Metcalf, Long Day’s Journey Into NightHattie Morahan, A Doll’s House
Helen McCrory, Last of the Haussmans
Cate Blanchett, Big and Small
Sally Hawkins, Constellations
Best Actor in a PlayLuke Treadaway, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-timeRafe Spall, ConstellationsBilly Carter, Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me
David Suchet, Long Day’s Journey Into Night
Hugh Ross, A Life
Dominic Rowan, A Doll’s House
Best Supporting Actress in a PlayNiamh Cusack, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-timeLaura Howard, Lost in YonkersRuth Sheen, In Basildon
Nicola Walker, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time
Katie Brayben, A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Open Air)
Fenella Woolgar, Hedda Gabler
Best Supporting Actor in a PlayPaul Chahidi, Twelfth Night (Globe)Charles Edwards, This HouseRobin Soans, Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me
Rory Kinnear, Last of the Haussmans
Cyril Nri, Julius Caesar
Olly Alexander, Mercury Fur
Best Actress in a MusicalCarly Bawden, My Fair LadyJanie Dee, Hello, Dolly!Caroline O’Connor, Gypsy
Anna Francolini, Victor/Victoria
Rosalie Craig, Ragtime
Jenna Russell, Merrily We Roll Along
Best Actor in a MusicalSimon Russell Beale, Privates on ParadeMark Umbers, Merrily We Roll AlongRichard Dempsey, Victor/Victoria
Julian Ovenden, Finding Neverland
Will Young, Cabaret
Dominic West, My Fair Lady
Best Supporting Actress in a MusicalClare Foster, Merrily We Roll AlongBonnie Langford, 9 to 5Josefina Gabrielle, Merrily We Roll Along
Debbie Kurup, The Bodyguard
Helena Blackman, A Winter’s Tale
Laura Pitt-Pulford, Hello, Dolly!
Best Supporting Actor in a MusicalMichael Xavier, Hello, Dolly!Damian Humbley, Merrily We Roll AlongAlistair Brookshaw, A Winter’s Tale
Stuart Matthew Price, Sweet Smell of Success
Ben Kavanagh, Boy Meets Boy
Oliver Boot, Finding Neverland

2012 Best Supporting Actress in a Play + in a Musical


Best Supporting Actress in a Play 

Niamh Cusack, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time
Though Nicola Walker was excellent as the mother in this adaptation, it was Niamh Cusack who really shone for me. Her kindly teacher also doubled as a narrator of sorts and so it was her gorgeously warm tone that steered the audience into the wonderful world of this production, alive to the sensitivities of the situation but never once veering towards the condescending (unlike certain reviewers I could name).

Honourable mention: Laura Howard, Lost in Yonkers
One of those performances that caught me right in the heart from its opening moments and never let go throughout. Neil Simon’s play can be described as a tragicomedy and whilst most of the audience were hooting with the comedy, I found myself weeping near-continuously as Howard depicted the simplicity and emotional openness of the always under-estimated Bella with huge skill.

Ruth Sheen, In Basildon
Nicola Walker, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time
Katie Brayben, A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Fenella Woolgar, Hedda Gabler

7-10
Lucy Ellinson, The Trojan Women; Miranda Raison, The River; Laura Elphinstone, Chalet Lines; Anastasia Hille, The Effect

 

Best Supporting Actress in a Musical

Clare Foster, Merrily We Roll Along
Foster had a great year, impressing mightily in Finding Neverland at the Curve but it was as Beth in the Menier’s Merrily We Roll Along that she solidified her credentials as a genuine favourite by giving a rendition of ‘Not A Day Goes By’ that actually made me forget Bernadette Peters’. Truly special.

Honourable mention: Bonnie Langford, 9 to 5 The Musical
Langford figured strongly in my childhood as companion Mel in the first Doctor Whos I really remember watching and in Bugsy Malone too, so I can’t believe it has taken this long for me to finally see on her stage. And what a debut it was, as as secretary Roz in 9 to 5 The Musical she effortlessly steals the show with a sensational number that displays all of her considerable skillset.

Josefina Gabrielle, Merrily We Roll Along
Debbie Kurup, The Bodyguard
Helena Blackman, A Winter’s Tale
Laura Pitt-Pulford, Hello, Dolly!

7-10
Beverly Rudd, Soho Cinders; Siân Phillips, Cabaret; Lucy Van Gasse, Wonderful Town; Aimie Atkinson, Steel Pier

Review: A Winter’s Tale, Landor


“A sad tale is best for winter”
 

The last two adaptations of William Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale (Propeller and the Unicorn’s recent version) have left me rather distraught with their takes on this problem play, and Howard Goodall similarly had me reaching for the tissues with his Love Story and last year’s revival of The Hired Man at the Landor Theatre. So it’s safe to say that there was a certain degree of expectation as I returned to the Clapham North pub theatre to see the final preview of Goodall’s latest project, A Winter’s Tale – a musical inspired by Shakespeare’s play with a book by Nick Stimson. 

The first act is just glorious. This Sicilia is a dark, military world and this is obvious from the off with a magnificent multi-layered opener of goose-pimpling intensity which sets the scene perfectly. Pete Gallagher’s Leontes and Alastair Brookshaw’s visiting Polixines make a fine pair of kings, all good-natured joshing until Helen Power’s Ekaterina enters the scene to persuade Polixines to extend his visit whereupon the red mist of vicious jealousy descends on Leontes with devastating consequences for all concerned. Goodall’s swirling melodies and impassioned lyrics are ideally suited to this emotional whirlpool and all three leads excel, backed up by a large but impressive ensemble who bear witness to the tragic consequences of Leontes’ blinkered viewpoint. Continue reading “Review: A Winter’s Tale, Landor”

Review: Little Women in concert, Playhouse


“Little women grow”

Little Women is one of those enduring classic stories that has continued to resonate with people whether through its published form or on the screen with several fairly well-received televisual and film adaptations. It hasn’t quite managed to make the same leap theatrically though, numerous stage treatments have tried and there’s at least two musical versions – one of which played at the LOST Theatre just last year – to which can be added one more, this time by Steven Luke Walker. Walker chose to showcase his adaptation through the medium of the Sunday evening concert, taking advantage both of the empty Playhouse Theatre and the free nights of many a West End performer to put on something of an all-star show.

Louisa May Alcott’s tale of the lives and loves of four New England sisters may be set during the American Civil War, but there’s a homespun simplicity to their overlapping stories which remain firmly in the personal sphere. Walker’s music has perhaps a more contemporary feel than one might have expected but it attempts to evoke the right spirit across a number of genres. In some cases, he has hit the nail on the head with twinkling gems like First Impressions, Helena Blackman delivering comedy perfectly, and the soaring duet between Sarah Lark and Nikki Davis-Jones, both in gorgeous form. Elsewhere though, other songs felt like they needed to be much more tightly focused, Walker indulging in a few too many purely decorative vocal riffs and frequently allowing songs to drag on a little too long. Overall though, I found Walker’s music rather agreeable and most aptly for a show about sisterhood, he is most adept at writing beautifully for multiple voices. Continue reading “Review: Little Women in concert, Playhouse”

Review: Gay’s the Word, Finborough


“On such a night as this”

The Finborough Theatre has long been well regarded as a powerhouse of intimate (not small!) theatre, developing a strong reputation on two fronts with its rediscoveries of old plays and in the promotion of new writing. But though the space above the rather lovely wine bar is petite, their productions never are and this revival of Ivor Novello’s Gay’s the Word, on for just six performances (now extended by two), features a cast of 19. Last year’s Perchance to Dream, another of Novello’s neglected works, was a genuine pleasure to watch – introducing me to the song ‘We’ll Gather Lilacs’ which has never since left my head – and so anticipation was indeed high for this.

This is incredibly the first professional revival of Gay’s the Word despite it being quite the success in the early 1950s. The plot is frothy nonsense, but a bit of candy floss is delightful now and then. Gay Daventry is a leading lady whose light is fading a little and when facing bankruptcy after an out-of-town flop, seizes on the chance bequest of a keen younger actress and opens up a drama school. But it isn’t plain sailing by any means as the money starts to run out, the doddery teachers grow frustrated with the lack of talent in the student body and some dastardly smugglers also arrive to cause further mayhem. Will Gay be able to save the day with some of her trademark vitality? What do you think 😉 Continue reading “Review: Gay’s the Word, Finborough”