Review: Violet, Charing Cross Theatre

Great design work from Morgan Large and a strong lead performance from Kaisa Hammarlund make Violet an intriguing proposition at the Charing Cross Theatre

“Who’s gonna heed your hullabaloos”

There’s much to like about this production of Jeanine Tesori and  Brian Crawley’s musical Violet, not least a winning performance from Kaisa Hammarlund and a striking set design from Morgan Large which makes the most of a cleverly reconfigured Charing Cross Theatre.

The stage has been moved to the centre of the long auditorium which dramatically ups the intimacy of the space. And Hammarlund – recently in another of Tesori’s musicals Fun Home – is a warmly magnetic presence as the central character Violet, a young woman who journeys from North Carolina to Oklahoma in the hope of a cure for the facial disfigurement that shapes her life. Continue reading “Review: Violet, Charing Cross Theatre”

Album Review: The Wind in the Willows (2017 Original London Cast Recording)

“Although we’re armed with many prickles
They’re no match for large vehicles”

The Wind in the Willows took quite the critical battering when it opened at the Palladium last month and whilst it may not be the greatest show in the world, it does feel to have been a rather harsh treatment (I quite liked it for what it was). I’m not entirely sure what critics thought they were going to get from this revival of Kenneth Grahame’s classic story but it was clearly a darn shot edgier than anything Julian Fellowes and composing duo Stiles and Drewe were ever going to create.

Listening to the Original London Cast Recording which has now been released, you very much get a sense of the gently bucolic charm that they were aiming for and which, by and large, they achieve. Their strengths lie in the grand musicality of the ensemble numbers that pepper the score at its key moments. The cumulative choral power of ‘Spring’, the irrepressible energy of ‘We’re Taking Over The Hall’, the thrill of the fun-loving finale – this what they do so well. Continue reading “Album Review: The Wind in the Willows (2017 Original London Cast Recording)”

Review: The Wind in the Willows, Palladium

“Poop, poop”

Arriving at the London Palladium just in time for the summer holidays, new family musical The Wind in the Willows (seen on tour late last year) is a respectfully traditional treatment of the Kenneth Grahame classic with which so many are familiar. And with kings of musical theatre nostalgia Stiles & Drewe on composing duties, Rachel Kavanaugh’s production is clearly the kind of show that wants you to wistfully remember childhoods past.

Julian Fellowes’ book undulates gently rather than creating any particularly dramatic waves – Rat and Mole’s growing friendship is quietly but effectively done, Toad is characterised as a Boris Johnson-like would-be-lovable-rogue, and the biggest ripples of the first half come in the introduction of various creatures of the forest – like an Andrews Sisters-esque trio of sonorous swallows and an enormously cute family of hedgehogs. Continue reading “Review: The Wind in the Willows, Palladium”

Review: Death Takes A Holiday, Charing Cross

“I’m Death. 
‘And you’re on holiday?’”

The ways in which the titles of shows are worked into the script are a source of endless amusement and new musical Death Takes A Holiday is no exception, pointing up as it does the ridiculousness of the show’s conceit. Based on the 1924 Italian play La Morte in Vacanza, which has been adapted for the silver screen a few times, most recently in the Brad Pitt stinker Meet Joe Black, Peter Stone and Thomas Meehan’s book tells the story of what happens when Death falls head over heels for an Italian duke’s daughter and so decides to take a couple of days annual leave to follow through,

Posing as a Russian prince, he joins the aristocratic family at their Lake Garda country pile, ostensibly to learn about human emotions but truth is, there’s only one he’s that keen on. And given that the main object of his study, Grazia, is a fan of the moody gothic look – despite being engaged to someone else – there’s little doubt as to whether will be alone when he returns to the day job at the end of the weekend. It’s a curious lack of dramatic imperative for a show running over two hours, especially since there’s the potential to have a proper love triangle, instead Maury Yeston’s expansive score is left to fill the gaps.  Continue reading “Review: Death Takes A Holiday, Charing Cross”

Review: The Wind in the Willows, Theatre Royal Plymouth

“Messing about in a boat”

Messrs Stiles, Drewe and Fellowes clearly have an affinity for working with each other as hot on the heels of Half A Sixpence, about to open in West End after a successful run in Chichester, comes another collaboration on a musical version of The Wind in the Willows. Destined for an as yet unconfirmed West End residency, it is currently touring from Plymouth to Salford and then on to Southampton, spreading its gentle, pastoral charms across the UK.

And its charms are gentle, befitting any iteration of the beloved children’s novel by Kenneth Grahame. Julian Fellowes’ adaptation is faithful to that story and though the scale of Rachel Kavanaugh’s production is suitably large, it is also refreshingly simple. Peter McKintosh’s design is atmospheric but uncomplicated, playful rather than epic in its idyllic evocation of the British countryside, ably assisted by Aletta Collins’ languid choreography. Continue reading “Review: The Wind in the Willows, Theatre Royal Plymouth”

Review: Grand Hotel, Southwark Playhouse

“Come begin in old Berlin”

Finally, a traverse staging that feels properly justified. It’s still highly dependent on where you sit – despite being a little late, I was able to secure a great vantage point from the middle of the back row from where the full length of the stage for Grand Hotel was suitably visible and I was glad for it. Thom Southerland’s musicals at the Southwark Playhouse have become something of an annual fixture now, becoming big hits for them (Parade) even if they haven’t always floated my boat (Titanic…).

Based on Vicki Baum’s Grand Hotel, the book by Luther Davis swirls around the residents of this Berlin establishment in 1928 over one fateful weekend. A grande dame of a faded ballerina, a typist dreaming of Hollywood, an aristocrat who has lost his fortune, a businessman facing ruin, a man who has little time left to live, their stories and more intertwine elegantly and fluidly in a constantly moving state of flux which captures some of the unpredictability and increasing darkness of interwar Germany. Continue reading “Review: Grand Hotel, Southwark Playhouse”

Album Review: The West End goes MAD for Christmas

“I don’t need to ask for much this Christmas”

One of the more worthwhile festive releases this year is also pleasingly one of the more interesting. The Make A Difference Trust brings together the British entertainment community and its audiences to raise funds to support people living with HIV and AIDS and with The West End Goes MAD For Christmas, has brought together a host of new musical theatre champions to offer up a compilation of Christmas songs that offer a fascinating alternative to the age old carols and standards that proliferate at this time of year.

And producers Nikki & Joe Davison at Auburn Jam Records have done a brilliant job in matching composers to performers across the eight songs, curating pre-existing tracks and new, and shining a light on some serious talent. The plaintive simplicity of Stuart Matthew Price’s self-penned ‘This Christmas’ is characteristic of much of his oeuvre of classic songwriting, Gina Beck’s crystalline soprano dances beautifully around the timeless melody of Alexander S Bermange’s ‘Praying For You’ and Nadim Naaman‘s ‘A Soldier’s Christmas’ treads an equally emotive path, sung charmingly by Gerónimo Rauch and Naaman himself.
 

Continue reading “Album Review: The West End goes MAD for Christmas”