Review: Come From Away, Phoenix Theatre

The highly anticipated musical Come From Away leaves me dry-eyed at the Phoenix Theatre despite a very strong cast

“There’s nothing to do, nothing to see
Thank god we stopped at the duty-free”

I didn’t check the merchandise stand at Irene Sankoff and David Hein’s Come From Away but I wouldn’t be surprised if they were seeing branded tissues, such is the weight of expectation that comes with this musical, set in the days after 9/11. But rather than New York, the show is set more than 2,000 kilometres away in the remote town of Gander, Newfoundland, where 38 planes with 6,579 passengers were grounded in the aftermath of the attacks. 

There, in a Canadian town that practically doubled in population overnight, we witness the unfolding of a tragedy but more significantly, the response of a community willing and able to do anything to extend the hand of friendship. Doors are flung open, shoulders proffered, bottles opened, an unquestioned barrage of hospitality seeking to envelop traumatised passengers who had been trapped for hours on their planes (in a pre-social media age remember), only to be released to find out the terrible news. Continue reading “Review: Come From Away, Phoenix 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: 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: I Can’t Sing, Palladium

“It’s a no, it’s a yes, it’s a no from me”

One of the most profitable television franchises in the UK, a much-loved comedian writing the book, a £6 million budget…there’s clearly considerable heft behind the latest musical to establish itself in the London Palladium. But the marriage of Harry Hill’s bizarre comic sensibility, Steve Brown’s bright if hollow score and the ITV juggernaut that is the X-Factor makes for uneasy bedfellows, Sean Foley’s garish production eschewing any kind of subtlety for the broadest kind of populist swoop.

I Can’t Sing is a show that constantly wants to have its cake and eat it. Faux-Dermot presenter Liam O’Deary gets a laugh by exasperating at one point “I don’t know why you might be charged” when the phone lines have closed, presumably the response “because they continue to make money for the production company” was mixed in previews. The TV show’s heavy reliance on tear-jerking backstories is a running gag yet nothing dispels the myth that that is the way to get noticed on a talent show. Likewise the qualifications of the panel to be judges of a popular music contest are skewered yet they remain feted as a special brand of celebrity. Continue reading “Review: I Can’t Sing, Palladium”

Review: The Pajama Game, Minerva

“Just knock three times and whisper low, that you and I were sent by Joe”

Old Broadway classics seem to flourish in the rarefied air of West Sussex and it is hard to shake the feeling that Chichester has done it again with a revival of The Pajama Game. No stranger to big American musicals, director Richard Eyre demonstrates the surest of touches to keep the improbable subject matter – the trials of working life in a pyjama factory – anchored in a world that we always care about and is aided by the kind of score that feels recognisable even if you think you haven’t heard it before. Richard Adler and Jerry Ross’ score is full of fantastic old school tunes like Hey There (You with the Stars in your Eyes) and Steam Heat and two of the songs were actually written by Frank Loesser, although uncredited. 

George Abbott and Richard Bissel’s book is based on Bissell’s novel 7½ cents set in the Cedar Rapids, Iowa Sleep-Tite factory in which new-to-town Superintendent Sid Sorokin finds himself falling head over heels for feisty union rep Babe Williams, whose stubborn initial resistance can’t ignore the mutually fiery passion between them. But trouble brews when the workers are denied a justified 7½ cent pay rise and Sid and Babe find themselves on opposing sides of a heated labour debate.  Continue reading “Review: The Pajama Game, Minerva”

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: Acorn Antiques The Musical, Theatre Royal Haymarket

Some shows you just know are going to get bad reviews but these are quite often shows that certain people are going to love no matter what and so it was with me and Acorn Antiques The Musical. I loved Victoria Wood’s sketch show from the moment I remember seeing it (I’m northern, it is in the contract) and so when I heard that she was writing a musical based on it, there was no doubt what my request for a birthday present would be: tickets to see it at the Theatre Royal Haymarket.

Directed by Trevor Nunn, Wood took on sole responsibility for the show, writing book, music and lyrics and managed to persuade many of the original stars from the show to reprise their roles: Celia Imrie, Duncan Preston and of course, Julie Walters. And when the show focuses on recreating the hilarity that was Acorn Antiques the show as we remember it, this has to be one of the funniest nights I have ever had at the theatre, I was helpless with laughter for so much of it. Continue reading “Review: Acorn Antiques The Musical, Theatre Royal Haymarket”