Review: Crush the Musical, Richmond Theatre

“Just crack on and I’m sure you’ll come up with a corker!”

Superficially, Crush the Musical might seem just a little bit batshit crazy, from the pen of the creator of Bad Girls (and Bad Girls the Musical) how could it be otherwise. But as Maureen Chadwick and composer Kath Gotts’ girls’ school romp unwinds its merry way across the stage, its subversive leanings come to the fore as it emerges as a rare example of straight-up and sweetly played lesbian camp, wrapped up in the trappings of an old-fashioned musical comedy.

Set in the early 60s in the liberal surroundings of Dame Dorothea Dosserdale School for Girls where free spirits are celebrated and fostered, the sixth-formers are hugely excited for life beyond their forthcoming exams. But the arrival of a strict new headmistress, the formidable Miss Bleacher, introduces an air of tyranny, determined to root out the unnatural practices that have been going on in the Art Room, and the changing rooms as a budding schoolgirl romance has taken hold. Continue reading “Review: Crush the Musical, Richmond Theatre”

Christmas music 2013

A Very West End Christmas

A rather special project, A Very West End Christmas has gathered up a group of nearly 50 musical theatre performers to record an EP of 5 Christmas classics for a number of charitable causes – Great Ormond Street’s Giggin’ for Good, West End Fests for CRY UK and The Band Aid Charitable Trust. It’s a steal at £3.95 for the EP and with some seriously great talent onboard, assembled by co-producers Kris Rawlinson and Darren Bell, it’s a mostly very good listen.

The strongest numbers are, a little perversely, actually the ones which don’t feature the full choir. Michael Xavier croons perfectly through ‘The Christmas Song’ (although it is sad that there is no accompanying video of him roasting his chestnuts…), Chloe Hart and Jeremy Hart have lots of fun in a swinging ‘Baby It’s Cold Outside’, and there’s an interesting arrangement of’ O Holy Night’ featuring Sabrina Aloueche, Jodie Jacobs and Katie Payne (though that song will always belong to Hannah Waddingham for me).  Continue reading “Christmas music 2013”

Review: Divas Unsung, Leicester Square Theatre

“You sure put on a show”

One of the joys of cabaret concerts is the sheer range and diversity of material that they can pick from to best reflect the personalities and voices of performers, or to suit an overarching theme for their programme. Divas Unsung managed to work both these aspects into their Sunday evening gig at the Leicester Square Theatre, shining a light on some lesser known comedy numbers, empowerment anthems and showstoppers from musical theatre shows that have mostly slipped under the radar in the West End or on Broadway.

Of course, aficionados of the genre may score higher recognition points than your regular punter and the active fringe musical scene means some are less obscure than they might have been: Stephen Schwartz’s The Baker’s Wife, Jonathan Larson’s tick…tick…BOOM! and Kander and Ebb’s Kiss of the Spiderwoman have all been seen in London relatively recently, though one would hard-pressed to find noted flops like Elton John and Bernie Taupin’s Lestat or Michael Gore’s Carrie anywhere.

Linked together by compere James Barron, a team of six Divas worked their way through a varied selection of songs, teaming up occasionally and backed where necessary by a chorus of bright young things from the MTA. And under James Doughty’s musical direction, it proved a successful enterprise. Ashleigh Gray’s consummate stage presence made her contributions a highlight of the evening – the stirring ‘One of those Nights’ from Metropolis soared through the auditorium and Betty Blue Eyes’ Nobody, a rare moment of wide recognition, brimmed with vivacious energy.

But sharing the honours was Rebecca Trehearn, currently touring the country in Ghost the musical. Opting for a more character-driven approach, her rich voice layered in the emotion to make ‘Come To Your Senses’ (from tick…tick…BOOM!) utterly breath-taking and finding great pathos in ‘I Never Told Him I Love Him’ from an otherwise trashy Prisoner Cell Block H. Elsewhere, Ambra Caserotti and Kirby Lunn had fun on the duet ‘Ready To Be Loved’ from Edges, the former also engaging well with ‘Fly Fly Away’ from Catch Me If You Can.

The format of largely obscure songs combined with Barron’s patter did mean that there was precious little opportunity for the performers to express their own connections to the song choices and that was something that was missed. This kind of show catches fire when one feels the genuine love for the material not just through the singing but anecdotally as well, the opportunity to see well-loved performers singing off-duty not fully taken here. But that shouldn’t take away from a fascinating evening, extremely well performed, that could well provide inspiration for aspiring producers of the next big fringe musical revival. 
Originally written for The Public Reviews   

Review: Next Thing You Know, Landor

“I wanna be your omelette”

The Landor continue their place at the vanguard of new musical theatre writing with this UK premiere of Next Thing You Know, a new musical from Joshua Salzman and Ryan Cunningham, perhaps best known for I Love You Because. A tale of 20-something generational angst, it follows four New Yorkers struggling through young adulthood in a world of huge possibility but seemingly limited opportunity, focusing on the frustrations that artists face in trying to pursue their dreams. But despite a solid production from Robert McWhir at this late preview performance, it didn’t really take me as the type of musical theatre that ticks my boxes. 

Anna Michaels’ design splits the small stage of the Landor into the key areas of the show – a bar, a living room, an office – but this does constrain the action somewhat, giving scenes something of a cramped feel as they don’t often have the freedom to breathe into the space. But the problems lie more with the material itself. Cunningham’s book puts too little at stake, asking us to invest in the career choices of fairly non-descript characters without ever really giving us a sense of the vibrancy of their artistic lives. 

Much of the show is taken with Waverly’s dilemma as she balances two jobs, working as a barmaid and also at a legal firm, with her desire to become an actress – the reason she moved to New York. Her crisis comes to a head when offered a full-time job with the lawyers and as she thrashes it out, her connections with her boyfriend Darren – a playwright waiting for his big break whilst temping at an ad agency – and her wannabe singer best friend Lisa are put to the test. But there’s just no urgency, no desperation to really make it which would get the audience hooked in – there’s precious little sense of how much being an actress means to her – or indeed enough passion in the relationships in her life to demonstrate just how significant they are. 

Salzman’s score doesn’t really help matters as it plots a rather haphazard yet unadventurous musical journey which makes little attempt to play on the potential of the multiple voices of its cast, preferring instead to stick to rather anodyne material which feels overfamiliar. The overall impact is almost of a revue – a number about pulling in bars has a vaudevillian quality, the Act 2 opener about hangovers marks a rare foray into effective comedy, one character breaks into a power ballad a propos of ‘I’m not quite sure what’ which grinds the show to a halt with its showboating vocals. No sense of a cohesive musical identity emerges to guide us through the story and so once again, we’re left questioning how seriously to take the dilemmas that are meant to be shaping the destinies of these people.

These conflicts mean that the company are often left marooned in the show and it is to their credit that they manage to make appealing performances out of such lean pickings. Bart Edwards makes Darren earnestly adorable and Amelia Cormack shines as the underwritten lesbian Lisa. Jennifer Potts does her best as an eminently likeable Waverly, missing something of the passionate drive a lead needs due to the writing. And Aaron Lee Lambert as a workmate of Darren’s suffers from some major inconsistency in his character – willing and able to pick up one night stands in a bar yet apparently more interested in talking once at her place… Michael Webborn’s string-led band adds a definite lustre to the music which elevates the whole experience but the final happy-clappy note feels misguided and left me waiting for the next next thing to know. 

Running time: 1 hour 45 minutes (with interval)

Booking until 8th June

Review: Joseph, Churchill Theatre Bromley

“All those things you saw in your pyjamas are a long-range forecast for your farmers”

I don’t really remember a time when theatre wasn’t in my life. I was lucky enough to have parents and aunts who took me to see shows from an early age (indeed I heard Blood Brothers from my mother’s womb!) and so I caught the bug early. And of those shows that I saw as a young’un, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat is one that has recurred throughout my life whether watching Dad direct a school performance, being a part of my own primary school production, playing piano for both high school and drama group versions and of course going to see it multiple times at the theatre – I don’t actually recall if we saw Jason Donovan but I do remember Philip Schofield and Darren Day, whoop!

Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat has become something of a mainstay for touring theatres, it comes and goes from the West End yet Bill Kenwright’s tour has lasted for over 20 years due to its enduring appeal with audiences of all ages across the entire nation, not least this reviewer who remembers seeing both Philip Schofield and Darren Day. Latest to take the loincloth is Keith Jack who plays the biblical Joseph, a confident young man whose favourite status with his father does not go down well with his 11 brothers, especially after he receives the gift of a marvellous coat, and once banished from his homeland, only his dream interpretation skills can save him from a life of servitude. Continue reading “Review: Joseph, Churchill Theatre Bromley”