Review: When Midnight Strikes, Drayton Arms

“Strike up the band, make it piping hot”

MKEC Productions have been carving out a niche for themselves in conjuring fringe productions of lesser-known musicals and in Charles Miller and Kevin Hammonds’ When Midnight Strikes, directed by Marc Kelly, they’re onto a winner. Set in a Manhattan apartment on New Year’s Eve 1999, a plush dinner party looks set to career off the rails as the hostess has discovered that her husband is cheating and the guests are just about to arrive.

Admittedly, Hammonds’ book is a tad sketchily drawn – 11 partygoers and the waitress/actress serving them all jostling for space, and so naturally not all get a fair whack at the wheel of the main narrative. And set so specifically at the millennium, its humour and reference points feel weirdly dated, with an almost US sitcom feel. What Kelly’s production does do though is highlight that it is still a set of potentially vibrant character studies and so the company respond by each seizing their moment. Continue reading “Review: When Midnight Strikes, Drayton Arms”

Album Review: Bumblescratch (2016 London Concert Cast Recording)

“What is this that I see”

Robert J Sherman’s musical Bumblescratch played a high-profile charity concert at the Adelphi Theatre last year and keeping up the energy behind this piece of new writing, the original band and cast made this London Concert Cast Recording at Angel Studios, under the auspices of the folks at SimG Records. It’s a canny way to keep up the profile of a show that only a handful of people got to see and a useful tool for those that did to reassess the score.

Sherman’s extensive family legacy (A Spoonful of Sherman) means that the family friendly ethos is never far from the surface and it is something that has emerged in his previous work (Love Birds). And in some ways it is a blessing and a curse. A blessing in that he clearly has a gift for melody, sometimes gentle, sometimes nagging (in the best way); and a curse in that it is so ingrained in his musical identity that it is hard to escape it. Continue reading “Album Review: Bumblescratch (2016 London Concert Cast Recording)”

Review: Bumblescratch, Adelphi

“At least a rat ‘as got an excuse”

In the cut-throat world of the West End, introducing a new musical is an undoubted challenge so it is quite gratifying to see the backers of Bumblescratch going all out to make its mark with this gala concert launch. With merchandise available, a full-throttle social media campaign in train, and a top-notch cast and creative team making the most of their two week rehearsal period, there’s certainly no lack of ambition here.

Set in London during the Great Plague of 1665 and Great Fire of 1666, the show is told from the perspective of plague rat Melbourne Bumblescratch and the anthropomorphic nature of the musical should come as no surprise once you learn it was written by Robert J Sherman, who has both form of his own (Love Birds) and an impressive family history (A Spoonful of Sherman) to live up to when it comes to writing a tune or two. Continue reading “Review: Bumblescratch, Adelphi”

Review: Free As Air, Finborough

“A man’s life is longer if he lazes,
Make time last by wandering through the daisies”
 

Discovering the unalloyed joy of Salad Days through Tête-à-Tête’s recent Riverside Studios production has to be one of my all-time favourite theatrical moments so the marking of its 60th anniversary with a production of a rarely seen show by the same writers was right up my street. Dorothy Reynolds and Julian Slade’s Free As Air hasn’t been seen professionally since 1974 but in the sure hands of Katy Lipson for Aria Entertainments and Neil McPherson’s Finborough Theatre, director/choreographer Stewart Nicholls makes a compelling case for its revival.

Much of the joy of these musicals that the Finborough has resuscitated with their ‘Celebrating British Music Theatre’ series comes from the thrill of unamplified ensembles filling this most intimate of theatres with the joy of song. And with a cast of 17 here, Nicholls and musical director Ben Stock pitch it just right, capturing the endearing glee that comes from something so determinedly old-fashioned yet utterly sincere in its delivery – it would be easy to bandy the word ‘twee’ about but there’s a real emotional honesty to the playing here. Continue reading “Review: Free As Air, Finborough”