Review: Ramin Karimloo with Seth Rudetsky , Leicester Square Theatre

Lots of fun at Leicester Square Theatre for Ramin Karimloo’s intimate concert with Seth Rudetsky and a whole load of special guests

“I knew where I needed to be”

The Broadway @ The Leicester Square brand is one which surfaces infrequently but always pays rich rewards when it does. Having attracted Patti LuPone, then Audra McDonald and John Barrowman into the intimate surroundings of an informal chat and sing-song arrangement with Seth Rudetsky, it is now Ramin Karimloo’s turn to deliver such a boutique concert.
 
The particular joy of these concerts is their slightly chaotic nature, the way in which no-one seems entirely sure what is going to happen, least of Karimloo and Rudetsky themselves. Tonight we all recorded a rendition of Happy Birthday for Jenna Russell and got an impromptu duet on ‘Confrontation’ with Jeremy Secomb who was dragged out of the audience – who knows what the next two shows will bring. 
 
And these are just the bonuses on top of a programme which dips in and out of Karimloo’s impressive career to date. Anecdotes about the awesome inspiration Colm Wilkinson provided sit alongside a haunting rendition of ‘Music of the Night’; memories of The Pirates of Penzance segue into a gloriously ripe ‘The Pirate King’; his recent forays into Evita represented by ‘High Flying Adored’.  

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Album Review: Carrie Hope Fletcher – When The Curtain Falls

Featuring a pleasing amount of new musical theatre writing, Carrie Hope Fletcher releases her debut album When The Curtain Falls

“Who you are is how you’re feeling”

Fresh from winning her second What’s On Stage Award, racking up her third novel, vlogging regularly and quite possibly plotting world domination, Carrie Hope Fletcher has now released her debut album When The Curtain Falls. A pleasingly varied tracklisting sees her cover as much new musical theatre writing (shoutout for the brilliant Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812) as age-old classics, combined with a few family favourites to make an engaging collection.  

There’s a innate prettiness to Fletcher’s voice that makes it extremely easy to listen to. And it is an over-riding characteristic across the album, which is fine when it comes to the likes of the sweetly lovely ‘Times Are Hard For Dreamers’ from the short-lived Amélie or the Disney tracks here, or smoothing the edges off of Jason Robert Brown’s ‘What It Means To Be A Friend’.  Continue reading “Album Review: Carrie Hope Fletcher – When The Curtain Falls”

News: Creatives and company for Broadway Classics in Concert

Manhattan Concert Productions (MCP) is pleased to announce the following creative team for Broadway Classics in Concert, on TuesdayFebruary 208:00 p.m., in Stern Auditorium / Perelman Stage at Carnegie Hall.

Don StephensonStage Director
Kevin StitesMusic Director/Conductor
Christopher AshProjection & Video
Jason LyonsLighting
Dave HorowitzSound
Gary MickelsonStage Manager
Telsey + Company / Craig Burns, CSACasting

MCP also welcomes Nikki Renée Daniels who will be joining the outstanding alumni cast for Broadway Classics in Concert.

The full alumni cast includes Michael Arden (Ragtime, Hunchback of Notre Dame)Sierra Boggess (The Secret Garden)Carolee Carmello (Broadway Classics 2013)Allan Corduner(Titanic)Nikki Renée Daniels (The Secret Garden)Quentin Earl Darrington (The Secret Garden)Ramin Karimloo (Parade, The Secret Garden)Norm Lewis (Ragtime)Laura Osnes(Crazy For You)Lea Salonga (Ragtime)Ryan Silverman (Titanic) and Tony Yazbeck (Crazy For You). Continue reading “News: Creatives and company for Broadway Classics in Concert”

Album Review: Rachel Tucker – On The Road (Deluxe)

“Will I ever be more than I’ve always been?”

 

Proving that you don’t need to win the reality show that you’re in to set your career, and that it’s your talent that matters, Rachel Tucker’s success is testament to just how far hard work and a hella big voice can take. Headlining shows in the West End and Broadway, including playing Wicked’s Elphaba in both, 2017 has seen her play a series of dates on a UK tour with musical director Kris Rawlinson, which in turn produced an album – On The Road – which has recently been digitally released with some bonus tracks in a deluxe edition.
 
Reflecting the diversity of a live show, the record opens with a potency and confidence that could see her take her place among the Rat Pack as she swings confidently through classics like ‘Miss Otis Regrets (She’s Unable To Lunch Today)’ and ‘The Candyman’. New musical theatre gets a look in with the searching emotion of Dear Evan Hansen’s ‘Waving Through A Window’ and then the intensity is dialled down for a moment with Randy Newman’s heartbreaker ‘When She Loved Me’.

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Album Review: The Bridges of Madison County (2014 Original Broadway Cast Recording)

“I can’t tell you I know what the future will be.

Who knows anything?”
Though often cited as one of the titans of new musical theatre writing, I think it is fair to say that Jason Robert Brown has never managed to nail a proper commercial hit on Broadway. Despite the critical acclaim and cult status that has built up around shows like Parade and The Last Five Years, the Great White Way has resisted his charms and in 2014, it was the turn of his musical adaptation of The Bridges of Madison County to last barely even 4 months the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre.
And as is so often the case, it is hard to tell why, just from listening to the Original Broadway Cast Recording. Based on the Robert James Waller novel, further popularised by an Academy Award-nominated film adaptation, it is a sweepingly romantic story and it is given the sweepingly romantic treatment here by JRB. And with a cast led by Kelli O’Hara (possibly too young for the middle-aged disillusionment meant to characterise the tale) and Steven Pasquale, it sounds just gorgeous.
There’s swooning duets aplenty, in the likes of ‘Wondering’, ‘Falling Into You’ and ‘Before and After You/One Second & A Million Miles’; genuinely insightful solo numbers for each, O’Hara’s ‘Almost Real’ and Pasquale’s ‘Temporarily Lost’; and variety offered up in the contrasting emotions of the supporting players – Whitney Bashor’s plaintive ‘Another Life’ and Hunter Foster’s poignant ‘Something From A Dream’ giving us the perspective of the other partners, 
And the hints of Americana lend almost a country-pop feel to some of the songs, blended with the Broadway sensibility feels like a strong mix, giving a real sense of identity to the piece that makes it stand out. Perhaps it is another show destined to gain cult status but there’s little here to suggest why it couldn’t find audiences at the time. 

Album Review: Betty Buckley – Story Songs

“Don’t give up
I know you can make it good”

The indefatigable Betty Buckley shows no sign of slowing down – recently appearing in the M Night Shyamalan film Split and releasing Story Songs, which I think is her 18th solo album. It’s a double album: the first disc, recorded live at the Samueli Theater at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa, California; the taped at Joe’s Pub at the Public Theater in New York. And across the two, she serves a sterling reminder of how sublime an art cabaret can be.
From a career that stretches over a number of decades, one of the real thrills of Story Songs is just how diverse the song selection is, dipping into a wide range of popular music (Joni Mitchell, Emmylou Harris, even Radiohead) as well as musical theatre from classic (Rodgers and Hammerstein) to contemporary (a trio of Jason Robert Brown numbers). And the combination is entirely seductive from start to glorious finish.
The first half is probably the best, featuring an excellent quartet in Christian Jacob on piano, Oz Noy on guitars, Trey Henry on bass, and Ray Brinker on drums. And there really isn’t a duff number on here – Harris’ ‘Prayer in Open D’ and Kurt Weill’s ‘September Song’ are simply transcendent, The Baker’s Wife’s ‘Chanson’ by Stephen Schwartz and JRB’s ‘Another Life’ from The Bridges of Madison County are achingly moving, the gorgeous take on Peter Gabriel’s ‘Don’t Give Up’ makes you not even notice Kate Bush is missing.
Moving to Joe’s Pub, with Jacob on piano and Noy on guitars once again, plus Tony Marino on bass and Todd Isler on drums, the quality doesn’t dip it all, it just doesn’t quite thrill in the same way. Leonard Cohen’s ‘Bird on A Wire’ and Mitchell’s ‘Both Sides Now’ are both quietly impressive, it is on the closing track, Sondheim’s inimitable ‘I’m Still Here’, that she soars. But taken as a while, this is a deeply impressive record and musically essential.

Review: Honeymoon in Vegas, London Palladium

“I am not making friki-friki”

The London Musical Theatre Orchestra’s arrival on the scene has not gone unnoticed by me but their previous concerts have always fallen on days when I couldn’t make it. So finally putting a show on on a Sunday night meant I was able to put it in the diary and to mark the occasion, they only went and invited their first guest conductor along, Mr Jason Robert Brown himself to helm the UK premiere of his show Honeymoon in Vegas.
And in the swish surroundings of the London Palladium, it was hard not to be entirely seduced by the lush sound of a 30-strong orchestra (under the musical direction of Freddie Tapner), a chorus of 16 up-and-coming performers and a main cast of bona fide West End stars directed by Shaun Kerrison. The concert staging allows for an amusingly slapdash approach which really suited the joie de vivre exuding from pretty much everyone involved here, a real passion project.
Honeymoon in Vegas wasn’t the hugest success on Broadway, closing after just a few months and in all honesty, it does have an old-fashionedness to it that never really perks up to speak to a contemporary audience. Andrew Bergman’s book is based on the 1992 film of the same name, about a man struggling to keep the promise he made to his dying mother to never get married. But on deciding to elope to Las Vegas with his girlfriend, Jack finds many many obstacles in his way. 
But if the story doesn’t quite hold up, never mind its feminist credentials, the show explodes in technicolor glory due to an expertly cast set of actors. Arthur Darvill (I reckon he did it in Broadchurch!) was hugely charismatic as the hapless Jack, Samantha Barks continuing a rich vein of form (so good in The Last Five Years) as fiancée Betsy, Maisey Bawden’s flirty Mahi, Simon Lipkin’s pair of striking cameos, and Rosie Ashe pretty much stealing the show as the ghost of Jack’s mother, determined to get her way (and enriching a character that barely deserves it).
Musically it is an interesting score that doesn’t always necessarily sound like the composer’s typical oeuvre, which has its good and its less good points. But it is never less than sprightly as it weaves in elements of Vegas and Elvis, and later Hawaii (where we end up), into its 20-some songs, which all carry the hallmark of Brown’s lyrical prowess. Above all, it was just great fun, which feels entirely the point with these kind of endeavours, no-one wants to be po-faced on a Sunday night and with this calibre of cast and creatives to hand, we weren’t disappointed.
Photo: Nick Rutter

Re-review: The Last Five Years, St James

“First, a story”

When The Last Five Years announced an extension of a week just after opening, it meant I was able to nab a pair of cheap tickets down the front, conveniently on the side where the shirtless scene happens, and take a friend. And I’m glad to I got to revisit the show, both to see it (literally) from a different angle and also to experience it with understudy Samuel Thomas playing Jamie, as Jonathan Bailey was suffering from an indisposition.
My original review of Jason Robert Brown’s production of his own musical can be read here and as per, it still stands. Samantha Barks has really got the role of Cathy down to perfection with a beautiful line in rueful, reflective humour alongside that gorgeous voice. And Thomas did a great job as Jamie, perhaps more of a vocal match for his co-star as evidenced in a stellar ‘Nobody Needs To Know’ – my only note would be his clock dancing could be a little freer (and that’s only because I’ve seen Bailey do it, my friend thought he ‘clocked’ just fine!).
From A1 and A2, there was an insane amount of stage management on display though – you can see right into the wings, the stagehands wheeling the door on and off were on view, it certainly shatters the illusion and if I were the St James, I don’t think I’d’ve had those seats on sale. Being up close also meant that it was impossible to ignore that it was still Bailey’s face on the book and bookshop display, could they really have not knocked up something with Thomas’ bearded visage on it, as a memento for him if nothing else!
Nevertheless, still as enjoyable and touching as ever. And with just a few shows left to catch it, I have to say I’d still recommend tracking down a ticket if you can.
Running time: 90 minutes (without interval)
Booking until 3rd December

Review: The Last Five Years, St James

“I’m not always on time
Please don’t expect that from me” 

I think I have to rank Jason Robert Brown’s The Last Five Years as one of my favourite new musicals (it was first performed in 2001) as any show with such a sequence of extraordinary songs as ‘A Part Of That’, ‘The Schmuel Song’ and ‘A Summer In Ohio’ at its heart surely deserves. I had the privilege to be introduced to the show by the Paul Spicer and Julie Atherton-starring version in 2009, I loved it again with Jon Robyns and Danielle Hope a couple of years ago, and I was a fan of last year’s film version and how it adapted the show’s unique structure for a different medium.

The show’s conceit is that he tells the story of a relationship between 2 twenty-something New Yorkers both from start to finish and from finish to start at the same time. So Jamie’s narrative commences in fresh hope at the beginning and Cathy’s opens at a moment of real heartbreak and as they move along their timelines, there’s one moment where they crossover, where they actually interact, a moment of glorious happiness made all the more tragic for already knowing how it is going to end. 
And this production does extremely well through the sterling efforts of Torquil Munro’s string-loving musical direction and an ideally-suited pairing in Jonathan Bailey and Samantha Barks. Barks has matured into a beautifully emotive performer (read my review of her album here) and she soars here, sucking us straight into the poignant turmoil of Cathy’s world from her very first note but equally at home in the brighter moments with a neat line in self-deprecating humour. And if Bailey isn’t quite as big a singer (not an issue in his previous musical American Psycho), he more than compensates with a performance full of charisma that can’t help but be entirely adorable.
Brown (whose first show Songs For A New World was seen here at the St James last year) also directs and he makes some curious decisions that almost threaten to derail affairs. With designer Derek McLean, he’s opted for an over-literal staging which severely detracts from the smoothness of the show as prop after prop is moved awkwardly into view. The backdrop of painted windows would be enough but at several points, additional digital windows fly in to show some video or other in a confusing and unnecessary move – weirdly enough, you feel as if he needs to trust his material more.
Running time: 90 minutes (without interval)
Photos: Scott Rylander 
Booking until 3rd December

CD Review: Caroline Sheen – Raise the Curtain (2010)

“It’s been fun hitchin’ up with a psycho like you”

Caroline Sheen is one of those performers you feel ought to be better known, having starred in some pretty major shows throughout her career yet never quite managing that breakthrough moment – no matter, she’s thus one of British musical theatre’s secret pleasures. Her debut album Raise the Curtain saw her capitalise a little on her bigger gigs – Mary Poppins, The Witches of Eastwick – but it also pleasingly gives plenty of airtime to new musical theatre writing too.

In fact there’s no less than 5 tracks which received their first ever recordings here, Sheen opting to use her talent to really shine a light on the contemporary scene, showcasing the music she clearly loves. So the likes of innovative composer Conor Mitchell gets his striking ‘What Did You Want From Love?‘ featured, Richard Taylor (now represented in the West End with The Go-Between) gets a beautiful song called ‘Higher’ on there, so too Grant Olding with ‘Carrie Makes A Decision’ from his show Three Sides.

So Raise the Curtain really does play like a little voyage of discovery, its treasures coming from more obscure sources and no less powerful for it. A song cut from The Witches Of Eastwick in previews – ‘Isn´t This What Every Woman Wants?’ – is a revelation of tenderness and character, Adam Guettel’s ‘The Light In The Piazza’ dazzles with its brightness,, Jason Robert Brown’s ‘Mr Hopalong Heartbreak’ raises a smile with its perky sense of self-realisation.

Sheen’s consummate musicality shines through regardless of how well known the material is, simple piano-based arrangements allowing a great clarity of purpose, whether on Grey Gardens’ ‘Will You?’ or Just So’s perfectly plangent ‘Wait A Bit’. And a cheeky bit of the personal touch comes through on the bonus track, a duet with husband Michael Jibson on Dirty Rotten Scoundrels’ ‘Nothing Is Too Wonderful To Be True’ by which point you’ll be frantically googling to find out where she’s on stage next (it’s Crazy For You at the Watermill btw).