Review: Thrill Me – The Leopold & Loeb Story, Hope Theatre

A twisted but thrilling true crime two-hander – Thrill Me – The Leopold & Loeb Story is a must-see at the Hope Theatre

“If this keeps going on I’ll go crazy
I’m aroused, you’re conveniently lazy”

How far to go in the name of erotic obsession? You’d hesitate to call Thrill Me – The Leopold & Loeb Story a love story, what happens here is far too dark and twisted for that, but what you do get is a horribly fascinating study of twisting power dynamics and blurred moralities. And with sex thrown into the equation, it becomes a heady combination, enough to drive you to…well, you’ll see.

Stephen Dolginoff’s one-act musical is based on the true story of Richard Loeb and Nathan Leopold but rather than glorifying their crimes, including murder, it focuses on the extraordinary relationship between these two men in 1920s Chicago. Lovers, abusers, conspirators, victims, they slip and slide from pillar to post as we try to make sense of who they are and what they do to each other.
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Review: Brass the Musical, Union Theatre

Brass the Musical at the Union Theatre is a powerfully moving celebration of sacrifices made, of service offered, of music itself – beautifully done

“Just until our lads come back”

There’s a neat symmetry to the life of Brass the Musical thus far. Originally commissioned by the National Youth Music Theatre to commemorate the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War, its professional London premiere now marks the Armistice Centenary. Benjamin Till’s musical, with additional lyrics from Nathan Taylor and Sir Arnold Wesker, thus serves as a powerful tribute to those who served, both at home and on the frontline.

What is particularly gorgeous about Brass is how it is suffused with the joy of music. Its power to bring people together (as in the characterful ‘Forming a Band’), its potential to lift spirits (the marvelous storytelling of ‘Whistle Billy’), its ability to express something deeper beyond just words (the haunting vocalese at the trenches). And as an expression of the musical theatre form, it works beautifully in deepening an already profoundly moving piece of history.  Continue reading “Review: Brass the Musical, Union Theatre”

Review: Assassins, Pleasance

As Sondheim celebrates his 70th birthday, his musical Assassins is revived at Pleasance Theatre, London

“Every now and then, the country goes a little wrong. Every now and then, a madman’s bound to come along”

It was interesting to discover in the post-show Q&A that an explicit reference to Trump has been excised from this production of Assassins – a picture of his head removed from the shooting gallery that provides the stark image, and framing device, that opens and closes the show. But given that that above quote comes in very early on, contemporary political resonance is rarely too hard to find, should you wish to look for it.

That’s all the more impressive given that Stephen Sondheim (music and lyrics) and John Weidman (book) constructed this show back in 1990. And the allure of this slice of Americana, as much musical history as it is socio-political, has proven enduringly popular as it explores something of the people behind the nine recorded attempted assassinations of US presidents. Continue reading “Review: Assassins, Pleasance”

CD Review: Prodigy (Original Cast Recording)

“I wanna play my own kinda song

With no one to tell me its wrong”
Jake Brunger and Pippa Cleary’s musical Prodigy was commissioned and developed by the National Youth Music Theatre and received its premiere last summer, inconveniently whilst I was on holiday, and so I’m glad to say that an Original Cast Recording has now been released in cahoots with the good folk of Auburn Jam Records. It was a busy year for Brunger and Cleary as their musical of The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 ¾ also opened in Leicester and even more so when you discover how Prodigy was developed.
Set behind the scenes of a barely fictional reality TV show to find Britain’s best upcoming classical musician, we delve into the lives of the five young finalists in all their teenage awkwardness, social stuntedness and parental pressure. And drawing on the talents of the NYMT available to them, the writers tailored the material to actor-musician roles, allowing the leads to play off their skills and not just them, more than half of the cast of 27 play some kind of actor-musician part, not bad for a bunch of 11-23 year olds.
Cleary’s score for Prodigy has a bright pop sound to it, the title track midway through the second act has the kind of soaring chorus you’d easily hear in the charts, married to rat-a-tat verses and spoken interludes that set up the live final, and its this easy mix of pop and musical theatre that characterises the show. And with co-lyricist and book-writer Brunger, there’s an ineffably British feel to the people here, the working class Sunderland kid, the Tunbridge Wells toff, though their crises are undoubtedly universal – finding your own identity, gaining the confidence to stand up to your parents and fixing your own priorities.
And the performance level here is fantastic, without being told you’d barely suspect that this was such a young cast. Caroline Whittingham’s flautist Kate, Harry Al-Adwani’s percussionist Luke, Jamie Dodd’s trumpeter Rupert, Amelia Thompson’s clarinettist Claire and Sephora Parish’s pianist Jessie are all superb as the 5 finalists, playing out the unexpected love connections and bitterly held feuds with real style and musical confidence. And Emma Ernest and Tom Ramsay both excel as two of their parents, conveying real maturity in the expression of all their parental fears.
There’s strong comic work from the parodic TV presenters played by Callum Howells and Francesca McKen, and sweetly lovely work from Luke Rozanski and Hannah Irvine as two overlooked younger siblings who finally get their moment to shine. Brunger and Cleary’s writing in Prodigy really has been well-judged – in working so closely with their company, the show emerges as a genuine ensemble piece, one which is both moving and funny and extremely musically accomplished.