10 questions for 10 years – Matthew Parker

As the Hope Theatre’s outgoing AD prepares for his final season and new adventures, Matthew Parker takes a little time to answer Ten Questions for Ten Years

It is no mean feat to transform a fringe theatre into a must-see venue but that’s what Mr Parker has done so successfully over the last few years at the Hope. Both as a director (Her Aching Heart and Steel Magnolias being particular highlights) and as an artistic director (his programming really has been reliably delightful), he has flourished and consequently, I’ve kept on going back even on Arsenal matchdays…  
Continue reading “10 questions for 10 years – Matthew Parker”

2019 Laurence Olivier Awards nominations

BEST ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE IN A MUSICAL
Jonathan Bailey for Company at Gielgud Theatre
Clive Carter for Come From Away at Phoenix Theatre
Richard Fleeshman for Company at Gielgud Theatre
Robert Hands for Come From Away at Phoenix Theatre

BEST ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE IN A MUSICAL
Patti LuPone for Company at Gielgud Theatre
Ruthie Ann Miles for The King And I at The London Palladium
“The Queens” – Aimie Atkinson, Alexia McIntosh, Millie O’Connell, Natalie Paris, Maiya Quansah-Breed and Jarneia Richard-Noel – for Six at Arts Theatre
Rachel Tucker for Come From Away at Phoenix Theatre Continue reading “2019 Laurence Olivier Awards nominations”

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”

Review: Caroline or Change, Playhouse Theatre

The extraordinary Caroline or Change makes the leap into the West End at the Playhouse Theatre, with a titanic Sharon D Clarke at the helm

“The Devil made the dryer.
Everything else, God made”

For the assiduous theatregoer, this is the third opportunity to catch this stirring Chichester Festival Theatre production of Caroline or Change. From its original run at the Minerva last year to the Hampstead Theatre this spring, this idiosyncratic musical now arrives in the West End in the relative intimacy of the Playhouse Theatre.

And it is an intimacy that is needed to draw you into the true shape of Michael Longhurst’s production – to be confronted with that Confederate statue, the sweltering isolation of that basement, the knots of tension on furrowed brows. The winds of change may be starting to blow across the US of the early 1960s but here in this Louisiana household, societal change has yet to filter down to the individual.  Continue reading “Review: Caroline or Change, Playhouse Theatre”

Album Reviews: Renée Fleming – Broadway & The Quentin Dentin Show

Two new music releases – Renée Fleming tackles Broadway classics in style, and The Quentin Dentin Show releases its cast recording

“Life is what you want it to be”

No matter what you think of Renée Fleming, you can’t accuse her of resting on her laurels. At this point in her career, she could well be taking the easy route but this decade alone has seen her tackle Broadway (most recently receiving a Tony nomination for Carousel) for the first time and release an album that featured interpretations of three Björk songs. Her newest release cleaves closer to musical theatre though, and Broadway is available now from Decca Classics. Continue reading “Album Reviews: Renée Fleming – Broadway & The Quentin Dentin Show”

Review: Fun Home, Young Vic

As exciting as musical theatre can get – Fun Home becomes a must-see production at the Young Vic

“Caption—My dad and I were exactly alike

Caption—My dad and I were nothing alike”

It’s fitting that Fun Home should open in Pride month, not least because it is an all-too-rare show that focuses on the L in LGBT+. But as stirring and gratifying and significant as it is to have a lesbian protagonist, this musical works because it is straight-up fantastic – an unabashedly bold queering of the form that reins back any notion of excess to reveal the simple truth that beneath it all, we all hurt the same.   

Fun Home is based on Alison Bechdel’s memoir of the same name, a graphic novel musing on her experiences in coming out and later discovering her father is a closet homosexual, yearning for a deeper understanding about how he could have, maybe, possibly, taken his life while she was still a teenager. Lisa Kron’s book adopts a non-linear approach, using an adult Alison as a narrator to recall fragments of memory from her childhood and from her early university days, the bruising experience of her own life facilitating a deeper reflection.  Continue reading “Review: Fun Home, Young Vic”

Review: Caroline or Change, Minerva

“Household rules and small decrees unsuspecting bring us these secret little tragedies”

Well Daniel Evans looks set to be continuing one of Chichester Festival Theatre’s longstanding traditions, of producing musical theatre that tempts the cognoscenti over to West Sussex in droves and which leads calls for West End transfers as soon as the curtain falls (if they had curtains in Chichester that is…). His first musical for the venue is a promising one too, an adventurous choice in Tony Kushner and Jeanine Tesori’s Caroline or Change, and an entirely successful one under Michael Longhurst’s direction and a genuinely superb cast.

It is 1963, the United States is in the grip of a civil rights movement but one whose effects haven’t quite trickled all the way down to the Deep South just yet. Caroline Thibodeaux is an African American maid in Lakes Charles, Louisiana working for a Jewish family, The Gellmans, for 30 dollars a week. But she’s a single mother of 4 and ends are barely meeting so when stepmother of the house Rose devises a plan to teach her 8-year-old stepson Noah not to leave change in his pocket, it’s a difficult one to resist despite – or maybe because of – all the racial, social and economic tensions it represents. Continue reading “Review: Caroline or Change, Minerva”

Album Review: Billy Porter – At The Corner of Broadway + Soul (2005)

“I woke up this morning on the wrong side of life”

I loved Billy Porter’s second album Billy’s Back On Broadway so I turned with interest to his first, released nearly a decade before in 2005. At The Corner of Broadway + Soul was recorded live at Joe’s Pub and sees Porter bring together his own R’n’B compositions with gospel songs and Broadway hits – both old and new in his own inimitable style. Porter has a massive voice and loves to sing big and it is a joy to hear him cut loose as he so often does here.

A snippet of Dreamgirls’ ‘And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going’ is fierce, Into the Woods’ ‘Last Midnight’ is just beyond, and there’s a healthy smattering (7 in fact) of his own songs which effectively mine a nu-soul vein – the dirty funk of ‘Hell or High Water’ probably emerging as my favourite. He’s not just a belter though. The Adam Guettel/Jason Robert Brown two-fer sees him rein in the power to glorious effect on both ‘Awaiting You’ from Myths and Hymns and ‘King of the World’ from Songs for a New World which shine in their subtlety. Continue reading “Album Review: Billy Porter – At The Corner of Broadway + Soul (2005)”

Album Review: Audra McDonald – How Glory Goes (2000)

“In the starlight, that is what we are”

Having firmly established her credentials as a fervent supporter of new musical theatre on her first album Way Back to Paradise, Audra McDonald allows herself a dip into the Great American Songbook on her second collection How Glory Goes. But maintaining that link with contemporary writing, the CD blends the old and the new with the effortless charisma of McDonald’s superlative voice.

In particular, she turns to the music of Harold Arlen – from ‘Any Place I Hang My Hat Is Home’ to ‘I Had Myself a True Love’, ‘A Sleepin’ Bee’ to ‘I Never Has Seen Snow’, his classic songwriting meshes perfectly with the purity of McDonald’s soprano and the freshness of her approach. Show Boat’s ‘Bill’ similarly shimmers as do the lesser-known (to me at least) Jeff Blumenkrantz’s “I Won’t Mind and Steve Marzullo’s ‘I Hid My Love’. Continue reading “Album Review: Audra McDonald – How Glory Goes (2000)”

Review: Thoroughly Modern Millie, Landor

“Give me the meat without the gravy”

Based on a film from 1967, the musical of comedy pastiche Thoroughly Modern Millie actually only dates back to 2000, though a substantial deal of its humour harks back to an uncomfortably old-school era. Set in 1920s New York, Millie Dillmount arrives determined to marry for money instead of love but finds herself mixed up in a white slavery ring run by a faded actress pretending to be a Chinese woman (as you do). The Landor has a sterling record in successfully mounting small-scale productions of big musicals but Matthew Iliffe’s production doesn’t always hit the mark. 

Full of fresh young faces, the company brims with youthful vigour and there’s lots of potential on show. Sarah-Marie Maxwell displays wonderful comic timing, Samuel Harris could do with a little more volume but his patter song is good and in a number of small roles, Charlie Johnson stands out in the ensemble. But even with ethics aside, Steph Parry can’t quite carry off the jaded persona of Mrs Meers, nor Chipo Kureya invest bon vivant Muzzy van Hosmere with enough personality to really fill the room.  Continue reading “Review: Thoroughly Modern Millie, Landor”