Review: 42nd Street, Théâtre du Châtelet

“Musical comedy — the most glorious words in the English language!”

It may be in the English language but this production of 42nd Street is in a French theatre, the glorious Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris which, under Jean-Luc Choplin’s artistic directorship, has arguably entirely reshaped the Parisian relationship with musical theatre. He’s brought Sondheim there for the first time in a big way (Sunday in the Park with George, Into the Woods) and has staged a number of classic Broadway musicals like An American in Paris (soon to open in London after its New York transfer) and last year’s Singin’ in the Rain.
42nd Street actually marks Choplin’s final show here, as the theatre will soon shutter for a couple of years to undergo major renovations, and Stephen Mear’s production certainly has the visual flair of a fitting finale. With a company of over 40, the tap-dancing routines are a absolute vision, a joyously heart-swelling parade of well-drilled precision, the likes of which we see so rarely these days even in the biggest shows. Combined with dazzling visual effects and gorgeous costumes courtesy of Peter McKintosh, the lavish aesthetic is an absolute treat.
But there’s no hiding from the fact that Michael Stewart and Mark Bramble’s book, from Bradford Ropes’ novel, is paper thin, lacking real humour or grit in its script or any real sophistication in its plotting. Set during the Depression, director Julian Marsh is launching his new show Pretty Lady and when his leading lady breaks her ankle just before opening night, will inexperienced chorus girl Peggy be able to step in and save the day? It’s all rather hackneyed and lacking in any kind of suspense, more of a problem than one might expect with a classic.
Played entirely straight as it is here, 42nd Street just lacks a certain je ne sais quoi. An ironic edge might bring some humour, more earnestness might bring it real heart (although that’s questionable) and so it never catches fire as often as one feels it might. Monique Young’s Peggy sings and dances well without blossoming into the star she needs to be, Ria Jones and Alexander Hanson both play it a little too safe with their stagey characters, only Dan Burton of the leads really lives up to the star billing and Jennie Dale’s writer is a rare supporting character who stands out.
Musical director Gareth Valentine ensures his orchestra sound never less than superlative and even if you’re not buying the story, then the visual impact of Mears and McKintosh’s work is always on hand to bring the wow factor. With London getting its own production of the show next year though, directed by Bramble no less, I’d struggle to recommend making a trip especially to see this particular version, even with choreography delivered as well as this.

Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes (with interval)
Photo: Marie-Noelle Robert 
Booking until 8th January

CD Review: Elf the Musical (2015 Original London Cast Recording)

“You gotta remember that December is the time for glitz”

I have to say I was sceptical about Elf the Musical, not least because it was Bonfire Night (5th November for you heathens) when I saw it but to my pleasant surprise, I was soon won over by its classic charms. If you’ve seen the film, then you’ll know that its soundtrack was a dip into the Christmas chapter of the Great American Songbook – Ella Fitzgerald’s ‘Sleigh Ride’, Ray Charles’ ‘Winter Wonderland’ etc – but the score for the musical is original yet pays great homage to those standards.

Matthew Sklar’s music and Chad Beguelin’s lyrics succeed by being entirely both warm-hearted and open-hearted and in this recording, is powered by the practically Duracell-bunny-like enthusiasm of Ben Forster’s Buddy, the kid who found his way into Santa’s bag of presents and ended up being raised at the North Pole. The heart of the story is his re-entry into the human world to find his birth father and in tracks like ‘World’s Greatest Dad’, you realise just how big and real his emotions are.

And that feel-good feeling is carried across the whole record – Jessica Martin as his mum matches him for sincerity in both ‘I’ll Believe in You’ and ‘There Is A Santa Claus’, Kimberley Walsh’s velvety smooth voice sits well as sceptical love interest Jovie in Never Fall In Love (With An Elf) and the big band feel of Stuart Morley’s musical direction keeps ‘Nobody Cares About Santa’ from ever getting too dark for the (big) kids. Indeed in a world where things are often ‘Sparklejollytwinklejingley’ , everyone is a winner. 

A strong cast recording that definitely bears repeated listens to its classic song-writing – it’s not just at Christmas that “singing loud for all to hear” spreads cheer.

CD Review: Lord of the Rings (2008 Original London Production)

“Eä, Arda, Ainulindalë.
Aratar, Maiar, Rána, Nénar”

Believe it or not, there was a time when I lived in London and I only saw a handful of shows a month, actually making considered decisions about what I wanted to see. And I have to say the musical of Lord of the Rings did not make the cut (obvs I wasn’t aware of who Rosalie Craig was at that point, or else I would have gone!). The show lasted just over a year at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane and probably lost a shit-ton of money (it allegedly cost £12 million to make) but we do have a cast recording to remember it by.
 
And what a rather odd-sounding show it is, little surprise really when you consider that producer Kevin Wallace brought on three different composers to complement the book and lyrics by Matthew Warchus and Shaun McKenna. So Bollywood supremo A. R. Rahman, Finnish folk group Värttinä and Lloyd Webber-wannabe Christopher Nightingale all contributed to an altogether epic score, but one which sprawls in an unwieldly manner as these three strands struggle to cohere into an effective whole.

Continue reading “CD Review: Lord of the Rings (2008 Original London Production)”

2016 What’s On Stage Award nominations

Best Actor In A Play Sponsored By Radisson Blu Edwardian:
Benedict Cumberbatch, Hamlet
James McAvoy, The Ruling Class
Bradley Cooper, The Elephant Man
Mark Rylance, Farinelli and the King
Alex Hassell, Henry V

Best Actress In A Play Sponsored By The Umbrella Rooms:
Nicole Kidman, Photograph 51 
Denise Gough, People, Places and Things
Lia Williams, Oresteia
Rosalie Craig, As You Like It
Harriet Walter, Death of a Salesman Continue reading “2016 What’s On Stage Award nominations”

Review: Elf the musical, Dominion

“I always get a special glow when the snow comes falling down”

There’s something a little perverse about a show as intrinsically Christmassy as Elf the Musical opening on Bonfire Night but with a limited run finishing sharply on 2nd January, the time to get festive starts now. Based on the 2003 film starring Will Ferrell and directed by Jon Favreau, the musical capitalises on the feel-good charm of the movie to create something deliciously old-school in feel but with a definite contemporary spin on things. My four star review for Cheap Theatre Tickets can be read here.

Running time: 2 hours 40 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 2nd January

Album Review: Sister Act the musical (Original London Cast Recording)

“Queen of Angels is not your grandma’s church anymore. God help your grandmother if it were.”

It was quite the unexpected pleasure returning to this soundtrack. My abiding memories of Sister Act the Musical were of initial disappointment that it wasn’t a retread of the film (one of my all-time favourites doncha know), the randomness of Whoopi Goldberg jetting in for a week of shows and the subsequent tour being rather good (if a little spoiled by the women behind me not shutting up for a minute). But listening to Alan Menken’s score, I was amazed how much of it I was able to easily recall – I may have seen the show 3 times but the last trip was back in 2012.

And how. From the raucous girl-group energy of openers ‘Take Me To Heaven’ and ‘Fabulous, Baby!’ to the (only slightly) more sedate musical offerings of the nuns’ choir in ‘Raise Your Voice’ and ‘Bless Our Show’, there’s a roof-raising joyousness to many of the songs that brings larger groups of the cast together. And leading from the front, the glorious Patina Miller is a full-throated pleasure to listen to as the divine Deloris, her voice soaring like a heavenly host but also capable of tenderness as in the stirring simplicity of the title track. Continue reading “Album Review: Sister Act the musical (Original London Cast Recording)”

CD Review: Witches of Eastwick (Original London Cast Recording)

“Waiting for the music to begin”

Throughout this whirlwind tour of cast recordings, one of the more interesting things has been listening to shows that closed early, or at least relatively so. The Witches of Eastwick managed a 15 month run in 2000-1 at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane and then the Prince of Wales in a slightly revised version and I have to say that on the evidence of this original London cast recording, it deserved more.

Dana P Rowe’s score and John Dempsey’s lyrics captures much of the small-town mania of John Updike’s source novel and performed by a crack cast as it is here, it is often thrilling to listen to. Ian McShane may have been cast as the devilish Darryl but it is Joanna Riding, Maria Friedman and Lucie Arnaz as the titular triumvirate whose innate powers are unleashed by the nefarious influence of this charismatic stranger, with troubling results for both themselves and those around them – the harmonies that accompany their joint numbers are just scintillating. Continue reading “CD Review: Witches of Eastwick (Original London Cast Recording)”

Re-review: The Pajama Game, Shaftesbury

“I like a man with spunk
‘You like a man period’”

As is often the way, a canny bit of recasting ensured my need to revisit a show I’d already seen and resolved not to revisit. In this case, it was The Pajama Game, which I caught last year in Chichester when Joanna Riding and Hadley Fraser led Richard Eyre’s productions to great acclaim, which now arrives for a summer at the Shaftesbury Theatre with Michael Xavier taking over from Fraser. I am most fond indeed of Xavier’s work, and as I enjoyed the show in all its strangely charming old-fashioned oddity, going back wasn’t too much of a trial.

My original review is here and there really isn’t much more to add. The show fits in well into the Shaftesbury, even if a little of its expansiveness feels lost in the reconfiguration, but Xavier makes a predictably excellent fit into the company, he really is one of our leading exponents of musical theatre, delivering the goods time after time. Jo Riding emerges unscathed from Stephen Ward to return to a role in which she is wonderfully comfortable to watch but the real star ends up being Alexis Owen-Hobbs’ spunky Gladys. Book soon whilst you still can.

Running time: 2 hours 45 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 13th September

Re-Review: Sister Act with Whoopi Goldberg, Palladium

“I had a revelation when I skipped my medication”

One of the cardinal rules of theatre booking is that you should never book to see a show just to see a particular performer as that road can only lead to disappointment. And so it came to be when I booked a return visit to Sister Act The Musical when it was announced that Whoopi Goldberg would be covering the role of Mother Superior for most of August for the sole reason of seeing her rather than any desire to see the show again. With the sad news of her mother taking very ill, Whoopi was forced to cut her run short and return to the US and so I ended up giving my tickets to a friend.

But the world works in mysterious ways and I clearly had some good karma stored up so when I booked the shows on my Groupon deal (including this one as I had decided to give it a whirl again since it had announced it was closing in advance of a move to Broadway and also to make way for The Wizard of Oz) and was randomly allocated a date, it just so happened to coincide with Goldberg’s return to the show for just 5 performances. Continue reading “Re-Review: Sister Act with Whoopi Goldberg, Palladium”

Review: Sister Act, Palladium

I am nothing if not contrary, and whilst weighty fare such as Lantana features in my Top 5 films, Sister Act is also up there amongst my all-time favourites. I have seen it numerous, numerous times and absolutely adore it, so I had mixed feelings when I heard that it was being made into a musical and arriving at the Palladium. My fears were then heightened when I found out that the songs from the film would not be featured in the show, and so I was quite sceptical as I approached the theatre.

Sister Act The Musical first came into being in the States in 2006 and has been developed since then, with the book being written by multi-Oscar-winning songwriter, Alan Menken. The story is still fairly similar to the film, lounge singer Deloris Van Cartier is placed in a witness protection programme after witnessing her hoodlum boyfriend shooting someone, and so she finds herself in hiding in a convent, disguised as a nun. Her only connection to the sisters with whom she is sequestered is through music, and she inspires the choir to hgh levels of success, but in doing so threatens to ruin her cover, and the safety of the nuns, as she has a contract out on her head. Continue reading “Review: Sister Act, Palladium”