Review: Groundhog Day, Old Vic

“I have not a bad word to say, 
about small towns. Per se.”

Expectations were high, how could they not be. Following on from the extraordinary success of Matilda, Tim Minchin’s next foray into musical theatre was to an adaptation of the 90s movie Groundhog Day, playing a two month run at the Old Vic ahead of a presumed Broadway transfer (a move that has had a little doubt cast on it by the withdrawal of major producer Scott Rudin). Now full disclosure, I saw it in its first week thanks to the PWC £10 tickets and the show went for a full month of previews before officially opening, so feel free to take my opinion with a pinch of salt.

For I did not enjoy Groundhog Day, at all. Worse than that, I was bored by it – at least hating something rouses some form of passion, but as Danny Rubin’s book cycled round and round and Minchin’s not unpleasant but in no way striking score dissipated into the ether, I wondered if Rudin might not have had the right idea. There’s a stellar performance from US import Andy Karl as the central Phil, carved out of that leading man material that is particularly American, but for me there was just too little magic emanating from Matthew Warchus’ direction to elevate the material.

Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 17th September

CD Review: Lift (Concept Album)

One minute in a lift…”

Craig Adams and Ian Watson’s Lift played the Soho Theatre early in 2013 but before then, a concept album of the show was released with Perfect Pitch. The conceit of the musical is ingeniously simple – 8 strangers taking a minute-long trip in a lift in Covent Garden tube station but as they rise to the surface, we visit into the innermost thoughts of all of them and see how precariously poised their lives are, one little word or action could change everything if only they were brave enough to actually do it.

At not much over an hour and with a lot to fit in, not only is there the establishment of character but also a decision to show how interconnected their lives all are, Lift isn’t always as successful as it promises to be. Songs get fragmented and finish too abruptly as the perspective needs to swivel onto the next character, and it relies on a great deal of contrivance to force the narrative throughline into place very much at the expense of making us engage with this motley crew. Continue reading “CD Review: Lift (Concept Album)”

Album Review: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory Original London Cast Recording

“That’s my Charlie, that’s my son”

At a time when big new musicals have been dropping like flies, the mere fact that Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is still open is something of an achievement, never mind its actual enduring success. And with a major cast change soon to take place (featuring the likes of Alex Jennings and Josefina Gabrielle, just to make sure that I have no choice but to return), it seemed as good a time as any to give the soundtrack a listen.

I’ve seen the show a couple of times now and even in the couple of months between those viewings, it was clear that my original thought, that Marc Shaiman’s score might possess longevity that wasn’t initially obvious, wasn’t too far off the mark. The tunes worm their way into your head under the cover of the cuckoo in the nest that is the late-arriving ‘Pure Imagination’ which predictably is what most people will leave the Theatre Royal Drury Lane humming.  Continue reading “Album Review: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory Original London Cast Recording”

CD Review: Somewhere In My Mind – The Songs of Joe Sterling

“Do we ever really know?”

Joe Sterling’s debut album Somewhere In My Mind has lingered in my iTunes folder for ages now and I’ve never quite got round to listening to it. But thanks to the randomness of the shuffle function and the inspired use of Virgin Pendolino in a rhyme, its presence reasserted itself and I gave the collection a listen. With lyricist Robert Gould, Sterling has written a couple of musicals, one of which – Roundabout – is featured heavily here, and he’s gathered an interesting collection of performers to sing their way through his first songbook.

I say interesting because it eschews many of the familiar names who pop up on this type of album and thus showcases a range of talent who may not necessarily be familiar to you or I. Rosa O’Reilly’s gorgeous pop vocal on the plaintive ‘Ships That Pass In The Night’ immediately marks her out as someone I want to know more about, Jonathan Williams find a similar purity in early track ‘Gone’ and Sterling delivers the guitar-led charms of ‘You Could Be The One, They Said’ with a lovely lightness that is persuasive and not a little attractive. Continue reading “CD Review: Somewhere In My Mind – The Songs of Joe Sterling”

Re-review: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Theatre Royal Drury Lane

“So we’ve lost a few children along the way, we’ve all learned something though”

One of the hottest tickets of the year is a golden one. London gets its second major adaptation of a Roald Dahl story into a big budget piece of musical theatre as the long-awaited Charlie and the Chocolate Factory finally opens its gates at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane. And taking his cue from Willy Wonka, director Sam Mendes has mixed it with love and made it taste good, displaying, along with designer Mark Thompson, just as much wit and invention as the candyman himself in bringing this world to such entertaining life on the stage.

David Greig’s book remains largely faithful to Dahl’s novel, but expanding the poverty-stricken domestic set-up of Charlie Bucket and his extended family as the young boy dreams of finding one of five elusive passes into Wonka’s mysterious factory. As the tickets are found one by one in a series of vividly realised tableaux, his hopes recede but the presence of a shadowy tramp-like figure ensures that there’s soon a golden twinkle in Charlie’s eye and a life-changing journey can begin. Continue reading “Re-review: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Theatre Royal Drury Lane”

Review: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Theatre Royal Drury Lane

“It’s the a-choc-alypse…no, it’s choc-mageddon”

What to do when a golden ticket is actually thrust into one’s hand?! A late invitation to a very early preview of new big budget musical Charlie and the Chocolate Factory meant a hurried trip to the newly refurbished Theatre Royal Drury Lane to see what has to be one of the most highly anticipated productions of the year with Sam Mendes directing, Peter Darling choreographing and Douglas Hodge taking on the role of Willy Wonka. Given the huge success of fellow Roald Dahl adaptation Matilda, the stakes on this multi-million production are substantial and a month long preview period is testament to how much the team want to test the show before opening night. 

Where Charlie might suffer, unlike Matilda, is in the enduring memory of the iconic film version from 1971. When Hodge appears at the door of his factory, you can sense the sigh of relief as he looks ‘right’, as in definitely inspired by Gene Wilder’s take on the character; when the doors open on the Chocolate room, there’s a slight sense of disappointment which is perhaps inevitable as the logistics of creating a chocolate waterfall and river come up hard against what appears to be a giant curly-wurly (hopefully there’s more to be done here). Continue reading “Review: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Theatre Royal Drury Lane”

Review: Goodbye Barcelona, Arcola

“We’ll fight the repercussions with weapons from the Russians”

Inspired by a collection of interviews with British International Brigadiers, the men and women who travelled to Spain to fight against Franco in the Spanish Civil War, Goodbye Barcelona is a new musical that has taken up residence in the Arcola Theatre’s main studio. Spread over two years, it follows Jewish mother and son, Rebecca and Sammy, both left breathless by the Cable Street Riots in the East End of London and leaving Sammy inspired to go and join the fight for democracy against General Franco’s army-led coup. But once he’s gone, his mother decides to follow him and so volunteers as a nurse, hoping to track him down.

But Judith Johnson’s book is not content with this alone as the story and builds in not one but two romances, as mother and son both succumb to Iberian inamoratas. So the historical context of this unique civil war with people fighting to defend ideologies rather than national identities has to do battle with a pair of love stories and as a result, the material sometimes feels stretched too thinly in trying to do them all justice. The narrative strands swirl around but we move between them too quickly and too often, meaning that characters don’t have enough time to develop and the fascinating insights that have been teased out from the research left largely unexplored. Continue reading “Review: Goodbye Barcelona, Arcola”

Review: Stand Tall, Landor

“You’re stronger than this…”

Fringe musicals are notoriously fickle beasts: some adapt to the format extremely well to create moments of gloriously intense, theatrical wonder, others have their shortcomings cruelly exposed by the intimacy of such a small space. The Landor has been responsible for two examples of the former with their last two shows, The Hired Man and Ragtime being two of the best shows of the year so far, but their new incumbent, Stand Tall, falls somewhere inbetween. It is a new show, book and lyrics by Lee Wyatt-Buchan and music by Aldie and Sandy Chalmers – all newcomers to musical theatre – which was written to promote its persuasive anti-bullying message.

It does this by creating a modern-day version of the David and Goliath story – David here is a shepherd by day and a rock star by night who gets chosen by the mystical Black Sheep to become the new King but is forced into a winner-takes-all guitar battle by fierce rival Goliath – so just like the Bible really. Taking a rather gentle approach, we follow David as he learns to ‘stand tall’ to claim what is rightfully his, including his relationship with the high-maintenance Mia, but we also delve into Goliath’s troubled family history to discover why he’s such a bully. Resultantly, the story is pulled out wider from its anti-bullying focus and not always to the best effect as the humour prevents things from getting too dark or close to the heart of the emotions at play – the show consequently never really seems to take its subject seriously enough. Continue reading “Review: Stand Tall, Landor”

Re-review: Hamlet! The Musical, Richmond

“You can’t make a Ham-e-let without breaking some eggs”

I always tend to write less about shows the second time I see them, but in this particular case there is even less than usual as it was only three days since I saw Hamlet! The Musical. But with no future plans for the show currently confirmed and one of the funniest experiences in a theatre thus year so far, it didn’t take much convincing to make me journey back over to Richmond for second serving of Danish delight.

My original review is here and unsurprisingly there’s no change in my response to the show, other than to say it stood up to a second viewing extremely well even so close to the first time, it still got the laughs (and I was probably that annoying guy who was giggling in advance of the funnier jokes) and generated a huge warmth from the audience once again. Continue reading “Re-review: Hamlet! The Musical, Richmond”

Review: Hamlet! The Musical – Richmond Theatre

“When I think about Denmark and the way things used to be”

It’s Hamlet, but not as you know it. Originally an Edinburgh Festival hit in 2001, returning in 2010 and now developed under the auspices of the Royal & Derngate to a fully fledged hour and three quarters production, Hamlet! The Musical takes a delightfully irreverent look at this Shakespearean classic in an adaptation that is highly inventive, supremely silly and one of the funniest things I have seen this year.

Where it succeeds is in some really sharp writing, there are plenty of genuine laughs in here alongside the broader comedy, and the engagement of a highly enthusiastic and talented cast of familiar faces. Jack Shalloo’s (recently very good in The Kissing Dance) daft teenager with stars in his eyes makes a very appealing leading man and Mark Inscoe’s (huge amounts of fun in Salad Days) doubling as an Elvis-inspired ghost and a devilish Claudius were both excellently good. Continue reading “Review: Hamlet! The Musical – Richmond Theatre”