Theater Aid – Do They Know It’s Christmas 2013

It appears to be the year of theatrical covers of Do They Know It’s Christmas? and this one certainly ramps up the star wattage (and seems weirdly specifically designed for RevStan!) with its cast. Put together by current Les Mis stars Anton Zetterholm and Rob Houchen as part of their Room9 fundraising campaign for WaterAid. They’ve had an Advent calendar of videos (which can be viewed here) and today’s clip pulled together an incredible roster of performers from major theatre shows from across Europe and the USA. Watch the video below to see who you can spot, and then please visit their fundraising page to give what you can for this great cause.
 

Re-review: The Light Princess, National Theatre

“Ringing out, ringing out…”

Visit number three to this most lovely of shows for me, though I’m lagging way behind the super-fans who are surely up to double figures by now. Original review is here, taster preview post from my first viewing here, and given their exhaustiveness, there’s really little else to add. The Light Princess really is the loveliest of shows and its uniqueness and complexity, the very things that turned others of, is precisely what keeps me coming back (I’ve currently got two revisits booked in before it ends…). 

The lushness of the score, tangled as the forest that divides Sealand and Lagobel on first hearing, but richly rewarding repeated listens; the gobsmacking consistency of Rosalie Craig’s immensely physical performance replete with flawless vocal, the gorgeous romanticism of the whole production – you really should book if you haven’t done so already.

Photo: Brinkhoff/Moegenburg

Review: The Light Princess, National Theatre

“You are, you are…Althea, you are…changing the world for me”

Long awaited and long gestated, Tori Amos and Samuel Adamson’s musical take on The Light Princess arrives at the National in a blaze of theatrical glory that makes it one of the shows of the year. Based on a Scottish fairytale, the teenage heirs of warring kingdoms are both mourning the loss of their mothers but their grief has affected them in different ways. Digby’s soul has become weighed down so heavily he has forgotten how to smile, whilst Althea’s protective mechanism has been to become to airily light that she literally floats above it all. As they rebel against their strict fathers, they each escape to neutral ground only to encounter each other and instant attraction. But emotional articulacy doesn’t come easily and political concerns threaten to tear apart their passion before it even really begins. 

Marianne Elliott’s direction pulls together the various elements of her huge creative team with exceptional skill, never losing sight of the sheer magic that the best theatre can bring and marrying a very modern aesthetic with the sometimes traditional feel – Althea’s movement (I don’t fly, I float!) is achieved through some amazing acrobatic work from a team of four with just a little help from some high tech flying rig. And in Rae Smith’s gorgeous designs, it all just looks superb; every movement catching an acute moment of emotion, whether the deft manipulation of a falcon into flight (Finn Caldwell and Toby Olié finally making puppetry make sense to me) or a girl literally raising the spirits of a boy (Steven Hoggett’s inimitable physical language once again heart-stoppingly good). Continue reading “Review: The Light Princess, National Theatre”

(P)review – The Light Princess, National Theatre

Any thought that I might have attended The Critics’ Circle Centenary Conference were immediately quashed when I realised that it was being held on a Friday, hardly conducive to those of us who want to engage with theatre reviewing but also have to hold down a 9-to-5 but maybe that was part of the point… Anyhoo, one of the thornier issues that frequently rears its head is the reviewing of previews and whilst the last thing in the world I want to do is resuscitate that debate, I thought it might be an interesting experiment to do things a little differently. 

There are no hard and fast rules about (theatre) blogging and whilst it remains an innately personal exercise for me, there’s no pretending that it exists in a vacuum, cloistered from outside concerns and a fast-changing world. And it seems to me that that is the lesson that theatre criticism as a whole ought to take – railing that things aren’t like they used to be is all well and good but ignoring evolution is just perversely blinkered.  Continue reading “(P)review – The Light Princess, National Theatre”

Film Review: Les Misérables

“Life has dropped you at the bottom of the heap”

For many people, myself included, it is nigh on impossible to approach a film version of stage behemoth Les Misérables with a blank slate. It’s been a mainstay of the musical theatre world since its 1985 London debut – it is most likely the show I have seen the most times throughout my lifetime – and after celebrating its 25th anniversary with an extraordinarily good touring production, has been riding high with a revitalised energy. So Tom Hooper’s film has a lot to contend with in terms of preconceptions, expectations and long-ingrained ideas of how it should be done. And he has attacked it with gusto, aiming to reinvent notions of cinematic musicals by having his actors sing live to camera and bringing his inimitable close-up directorial style to bear thus creating a film which is epic in scale but largely intimate in focus.

In short, I liked it but I didn’t love it. I’m not so sure that Hooper’s take on the piece as a whole is entirely suited to the material, or rather my idea of how best it works. Claude-Michel Schönberg’s score has a sweeping grandeur which is already quasi-cinematic in its scope but Hooper never really embraces it fully as he works in his customary solo shots and close-ups into the numbers so well known as ensemble masterpieces.  ‘At The End Of The Day’ and ‘One Day More’ both suffer this fate of being presented as individually sung segments stitched together but for me, the pieces never really added up to more than the sum of their parts to gain the substantial power that they possess on the stage. Continue reading “Film Review: Les Misérables”

Review: Rock of Ages, Shaftesbury

“Sometimes you tell the day by the bottle you drink”

If you thought that it would be rather unlikely for me to be going to Rock of Ages, then you would have been correct. It didn’t have the instant appeal to me, not so much in the fact that it is a jukebox musical but rather that the music on which it is based is the kind of the classic 1980s rock of which I wasn’t a fan as a boy at the time nor have I become one now. But one of the joys of maintaining a blog such as this is that occasionally I am offered tickets to shows, thereby getting to see things I wouldn’t normally have considered and so broadening my theatrical horizons, so thank you very much AKA, I am most grateful. So that is how I ended up in the Shaftesbury Theatre on a Wednesday evening, being served beer at my seat, fake lighter in hand.

The show has been something of a success on Broadway and has been eagerly anticipated by fans of the show here, of whom I know a surprising number, but I knew nothing of the show itself. It centres on Hollywood rock dive The Bourbon Room which is threatened with closure by some German developers who want to ‘clean up’ the city and the effect that will have on the people who work and frequent the bar. The owner calls in a big rock star to play his final gig there before splitting with his band; a city planner wants to secure its unique place in the town’s history, and these all have an impact on the tentative and tortured love story between the barman (and would-be rocker) and the waitress (an aspiring actress). Continue reading “Review: Rock of Ages, Shaftesbury”

Album Review: Love Story – Original London Cast Recording

“What can you say about a girl who seemed to run before she walked”

New musicals are sometimes difficult things, audiences don’t always respond straightaway and in the cut-throat world of the West End, there’s little tolerance for something that isn’t an instant hit. Though it was amazingly well received in Chichester, Howard Goodall’s Love Story suffered such a fate in its brief run at the Duchess late last year. There’s not much more to be said about this much-missed show whose run in London was sadly curtailed than to say how grateful I am that they were able to make a cast recording as it really was one of those scores with which I fell in love straight away. My reviews of the show can be read here and here, I probably would have gone again had it continued to run.

Howard Goodall’s luxurious string and piano music stretches elegantly over the story, little riffs and motifs repeating so that a sense of familiarity is gained with just one listen. Emma Williams is just perfect as the strident Jenny, fiercely independent but unable to resist the entirely charismatic Michael Xavier as Oliver, and together they make such sweet music. Continue reading “Album Review: Love Story – Original London Cast Recording”

DVD Review: Les Misérables in concert: The 25th Anniversary

“There’s a reckoning to be reckoned”

Forming the culmination of the 25th Anniversary celebrations of Les Misérables was a pair of concert versions of the show taking place at the O2 centre in Greenwich which brought together the company of companies, over 500 actors and musicians joining forces to pay tribute to this enduing classic of a show. The cast and companies of the touring production and the West End production joined with a massive choir and orchestra and a hand-picked international cast performed the lead roles in this concert presentation which was also relayed live into cinemas and later released on DVD to be enjoyed by those who chose not to go (or couldn’t get tickets).

Concert versions of shows are always a bit funny, performers singing songs to each other but looking straight out at audiences and limited opportunity for acting so they can often feel a little constrained in their presentation. Here, the cast were in full costume and projections and clips from the show used to fill in some of the gaps that the songs could not fill. And it is all really rather good if not quite the self-proclaimed “musical event of a lifetime”. Continue reading “DVD Review: Les Misérables in concert: The 25th Anniversary”

Re-review: Love Story, Duchess

“Life is molto bene when your pesto’s mixed with penne”

Coming in as one of my favourite shows of 2010, and in the top 2 musicals I saw all year long, it was no surprise that a return visit to Love Story was booked in order to introduce someone new to the wonders of this show. You can read my (something of a rave) review from my previous visit here: I don’t really have much more to add to it to be honest, other than I really do believe this to be one of the strongest and most beautiful new British musicals of recent years.

I cried more this time round, knowing what to expect and when to expect it usually does that to me, but having seen it before meant that I had much more sympathy for Michael Xavier’s Olly throughout the show. He is a rather bullish and brash character at first glance but Xavier brings much more depth to the character which for me, simply heightened the emotion in the moments when he cracks and sure enough, every single time his handsome face crumpled, my eyes welled up. Emma Williams delivered another sensational performance, even dealing with wayward pasta most professionally, singing all the while. Continue reading “Re-review: Love Story, Duchess”

Review: Love Story, Duchess

“What can you say…”

Where do I begin, to tell the story of how great a love can be? Well, by heartily recommending that you go and see Love Story at the Duchess Theatre. The musical version of the well-known film (and novel) by Erich Segal which premiered at the Minerva in Chichester earlier this year, it has transferred into London with the help of Michael Ball who has joined the creative team as an above-the-title producer. The show sees a welcome return to the West End for Howard Goodall as the composer and co-lyricist with Stephen Clark, who wrote the book. Things started off well as we entered the Duchess to see Stephen Ridley’s onstage band of a piano, guitar and string quintet, instantly indicating that this is going to be a classier affair with Peter McKintosh’s simple white column-based design adding to the dignified air.

It is the story of a rich blue-blood Harvard law graduate, Oliver Barrett IV and a less-well-off piano-playing Italian-American Radcliffe College woman, Jenny Cavilleri, who fall passionately for each other and are swiftly married despite their differences and opposition from their parents. We follow their young love as they start to build a life together, but fate has other plans… Directed by Rachel Kavanaugh with a remarkably restrained emotion, the focus really is on the love story rather than dwelling on the tragic ending, Jenny is only diagnosed with about 20 minutes to go as Stephen Clark’s heart-warming and tender book navigates sentiment without resorting to too much of the saccharine. Continue reading “Review: Love Story, Duchess”