Review: & Juliet, Shaftesbury Theatre

Late 90s pop is always my jam so a musical that features it is always going to be a winner. The brilliant & Juliet is so much more besides as well though, don’t miss it at the Shaftesbury Theatre.

“You hear my voice, your hear that sound
Like thunder, gonna shake the ground”

What if Juliet didn’t die? And what if the writer and producer of some of the most iconic pop music of the last two decades (think Britney, Backstreet Boys, Céline, Katy Perry, Robyn, Kelly Clarkson, P!nk just to name a few) decided to lend his back catalogue of songs to a new musical dedicated to her? The result is & Juliet, a slice of energetic and hugely entertaining musical theatre that explodes with joy at the Shaftesbury Theatre. 

David West Read’s smartly self-aware book employs a metatheatrical twist as we open with William Shakespeare and Anne Hathaway having a barney about the ending to his latest play Romeo and Juliet and she persuades him to give her a bash at writing a new one with him. Thus we pick up in Verona where Juliet reclaims ‘…Baby One More Time’ from Darius and declares her intention to flee to Paris with her best gal pals and flirt with some foreign guys. But as William and Anne tinker with their plotting, the fractures in their own relationship come to the fore, causing some major new plot twists. Continue reading “Review: & Juliet, Shaftesbury Theatre”

Review: Strictly Ballroom the Musical, Piccadilly

Baz Luhrmann’s Strictly Ballroom the Musical may not be the strongest musical in the world, but it’s a stronger piece of musical theatre, thanks to Drew McOnie’s choreography

“Pam Shortt’s broken both her legs, and I wanna dance with you”

It is fascinating to be able to follow the development of a show, particularly one that has morphed as much as Strictly Ballroom the Musical. I saw it at the West Yorkshire Playhouse the winter before last, where it didn’t quite set my world on fire, so I was intrigued to hear that its arrival in the West End at the Piccadilly would be accompanied by quite the overhaul, still directed and choreographed by Drew McOnie.

The major change to this adaptation of Baz Luhrmann’s 1992 cult hit movie comes with the introduction of bandleader Wally Strand, played by Will Young, an MC figure and human jukebox who takes on the vast majority of the evening’s singing. And as we skip from Grace Jones to Billy Idol, via Bowie, Whitney and Cyndi, it’s a real pleasure to hear him sing Marius De Vries’ brilliant new arrangements. Continue reading “Review: Strictly Ballroom the Musical, Piccadilly”

CD Review: Ghost The Musical (Original Cast Recording 2011)

“This is always such a rush”

Some musicals are slow-burners. They may not hit you with their full force on first viewing but rather repay revisits and repeated listens to cast recordings to unfurl the depth of their appeal. So it was for me with Legally Blonde, and also with Ghost the Musical – a show I saw twice in the West End and again on its 2013 tour, liking it more and more each time.

And a large part of that was the way in which Glen Ballard and Dave Stewart’s pop/rock-based score took its time to sidle its way into my affections, not necessarily the kind of music that would appeal to me but ultimately proving irresistible in its finest moments. And it is remarkably diverse too, pulling in from a wide musical palette whilst stamping out its own identity as something refreshingly different from your typical musical theatre score. Continue reading “CD Review: Ghost The Musical (Original Cast Recording 2011)”

Review: Aladdin, Prince Edward

“A hundred thousand things to see”

Say Aladdin to most people across the world, and Disney would hope that the first thing that comes to mind is their 1992 animated film. In the UK though, the title is indelibly linked to pantomime and so it feels a little incongruous to have a major musical production of it opening in the middle of June. And whilst Casey Nicholaw’s production hasn’t stimped in any conceivable way when it comes to the look of the show (striking design from Bob Crowley), there’s still a faintly hollow ring to the whole proceeding.
A big hit on Broadway, Aladdin has been pretty much replicated and transplanted into the Prince Edward. Which is good in terms of the undeniable quality of the Disney brand – the family-friendly ethos, the slickness of the design, the unexpected self-referential dips into other Disney musicals. And in the knowing performance of American Trevor Dion Nicholas as the Genie, there’s a respectful homage to the character that Robin Williams brought to life so memorably on screen, which still carves its own identity too.
But the show is called Aladdin, and there’s no escaping that he’s a dud of a character. As is his high-born love interest Jasmine, Chad Beguelin’s book surprisingly weak here. Which leaves the show at a pretty pass, for neither Dean John-Wilson nor Jade Ewen can do too much to invest any kind of real life into them or the jolly japes they work their way through – Ewen does try valiantly though to inject some kind of positive feminist message into a story that is appallingly, dare one say it unforgivingly, lacking in that respect.
You can point to the devilishly good time that Don Gallagher and Peter Howe have as the nefarious Jafar and (humanised) Iago; or to the boisterous camaraderie of Aladdin’s coterie of (male) monkeying pals, Stephen Rahman-Davies and Nathan Amzi standing out here; there really is much to enjoy here on this magic carpet ride. But for all the theatrical pizzazz, there’s not enough emotional magic to keep you soaring, tumbling, freewheeling like the best fairytales should. 
Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 11th February

Album Review: Sister Act the musical (Original London Cast Recording)

“Queen of Angels is not your grandma’s church anymore. God help your grandmother if it were.”

It was quite the unexpected pleasure returning to this soundtrack. My abiding memories of Sister Act the Musical were of initial disappointment that it wasn’t a retread of the film (one of my all-time favourites doncha know), the randomness of Whoopi Goldberg jetting in for a week of shows and the subsequent tour being rather good (if a little spoiled by the women behind me not shutting up for a minute). But listening to Alan Menken’s score, I was amazed how much of it I was able to easily recall – I may have seen the show 3 times but the last trip was back in 2012.

And how. From the raucous girl-group energy of openers ‘Take Me To Heaven’ and ‘Fabulous, Baby!’ to the (only slightly) more sedate musical offerings of the nuns’ choir in ‘Raise Your Voice’ and ‘Bless Our Show’, there’s a roof-raising joyousness to many of the songs that brings larger groups of the cast together. And leading from the front, the glorious Patina Miller is a full-throated pleasure to listen to as the divine Deloris, her voice soaring like a heavenly host but also capable of tenderness as in the stirring simplicity of the title track. Continue reading “Album Review: Sister Act the musical (Original London Cast Recording)”

Review: wonder.land, Palace Theatre

“You have to live in this world”

The lure of falling down the rabbit hole is one which has kept adaptations of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland appearing on a regular basis on screens and stages and the Manchester International Festival is no exception, commissioning this musical treatment with the National Theatre and Paris’ Théâtre du Châtelet. Composer Damon Albarn (no stranger to the MIF after Monkey and Dr Dee) and writer Moira Buffini’s thoroughly modern version – stylised wonder dot land – certainly has a unique take on the story but has the feeling of something of a work-in-progress perhaps, no bad thing as longer runs in London and Paris will follow this brief engagement at the Palace Theatre.

Here, wonder.land is an online world, a virtual reality where people can escape the drudgery of their own lives or pretend to be someone completely different, for a little while at least. 12-year-old Aly is one such person, trying to hide from the bullies at school and the unhappiness at home by becoming Alice, her all-conquering avatar or online identity who accepts a mysterious quest as part of joining wonder.land. And in her journeying, she comes across variations on many of the characters we’ve come to know but viewed through a different prism, many of them being the avatars of other players, balefully reflecting their own insecurities.  Continue reading “Review: wonder.land, Palace Theatre”

CD Review: Hey Producer!

“I was wond’ring when you gonna notice me”

Hey Producer! is a collection of musical theatre and cabaret songs by composer Danny Davies, pulling together selections from cabarets, excerpts from musicals he has written and specially composed songs for this CD. It was released in 2012, and as is the way with these albums, a spectacular array of performers have been assembled to deliver this material. From fresher talents like Julie Atherton and Daniel Boys to the more experienced hands of Peter Polycarpou and Rosie Ashe, the combined effect is of an old-school musical theatre vibe that is rather pleasing.

The CD starts with a classic cabaret number, Atherton’s ‘Hey Producer!’ in which a budding star pleads for her chance for a big break, offering up any kind of inducement including her body even though “you’re probably gay” – witty and light and one can imagine it going down a storm somewhere like the Crazy Coqs. We then move into a sequence of impassioned old-school balladry – Patrick Smyth’s ‘Falling Rai’n, Chris Thatcher and Alison Jiear’s ‘One More Night’ and Polycarpou’s ‘Twice the Man’ all stir the soul with noble sentiment, rousing emotion and most significantly, cleanly memorable tunes. Continue reading “CD Review: Hey Producer!”

Review: Ghost the musical, New Wimbledon

“Sometimes you need to hear it Sam”

Given the fortunes of its replacement at the Piccadilly Theatre, the 15 month West End run of Ghost the musical doesn’t seem too bad at all in the end. Based on the famous 1990 film with book by Bruce Joel Rubin and music from Dave Stewart and Glen Ballard, the story of psychics, possession and pottery certainly looked impressive in Matthew Warchus’ cinematically flash production but this wasn’t always enough to overcome the shortcomings of its adaptation. But it was a show that intrigued and one that I came to like quite a lot (I saw it twice – reviews can be read here and here but the first review of the show on here, from its original Manchester run, comes courtesy of my father!) and so I was certainly intrigued to catch it at the New Wimbledon Theatre as it sets out on a major UK tour.

The main difference comes with the blessed removal of the heinous song and dance routine ‘Ball of Wax’. I’m not sure that tap dancing ghosts have any place in the world but they really stood out like a sore thumb in the original show with their misguided appearance coming at an appallingly bad time, right after Sam’s death and shattering any poignancy that might have been built up. Now, we get a much mellower song called ‘You Gotta Let Go’ (first introduced on Broadway) which serves the same purpose of getting him acquainted with his new status in the afterlife. Other changes are subtler and by and large, the show feels rather akin to its West End predecessor. Continue reading “Review: Ghost the musical, New Wimbledon”

Re-review: Ghost the musical, Piccadilly

“It’s just relief to suspend my disbelief”

It feels a bit like I’m cursed when it comes to Ghost the Musical. I booked it at the beginning of the year to see the original cast before they went to Broadway and Sharon D Clarke injured herself so I missed her and this time round, eager to see Mark Evans’ acting and musical talent / damn fine abs *delete as appropriate, we arrived at the theatre to find his understudy was on. It is not the end of the world when that happens of course but it is sometimes a disappointment when one is looking forward to seeing a particular person (though it helps that there’s videos like this to fall back on) and as it turned out, when I saw the name of the understudy – Spencer O’Brien – I was actually quite pleased as he is someone I have great residual affection for as he was in the cast of the superlative Salad Days the Christmas before last.

And though my feelings about the show were decidedly mixed when I saw it last – review here – I’d listened to the soundtrack quite a bit since then and discovered that it really is a grower. I really like a good proportion of it and so was quite happy to revisit the show, with the bonus of a new cast and a companion that had not seen it before, and in the end I found that I actually enjoyed it much more. The key for me and the soundtrack helped immensely here, is to think of it as a chamber musical, a small intimate piece essentially for four characters, and let the rest simply glide by in a rush of neon light and slow-motion walking.   Continue reading “Re-review: Ghost the musical, Piccadilly”