The Curtain Up Show Album of the Year 2019 winners

Controversial perhaps, but I disagree with all three of these decisions! You can’t trust the public to vote for anything these days… congratulations to all the winners though

Best UK Cast Recording
& Juliet – Original London Cast Recording
Company – 2018 London Cast Recording
Follies – 2018 National Theatre Cast Recording
WINNER – Heathers (Original West End Cast Recording)
The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 ¾ – 2019 Original London Cast
Tina – The Tina Turner Musical Original Cast Recording

Best American Cast Recording
Beetlejuice (Original Broadway Cast Recording)
Hadestown (Original Broadway Cast Recording)
Jagged Little Pill (Original Broadway Cast Recording)
WINNER – Moulin Rouge (Original Broadway Cast Recording)
Oklahoma! (2019 Broadway Cast Recording)
Tootsie (Original Broadway Cast Recording)

Best Solo Album
Cassidy Janson – Cassidy
Ramin Karimloo – From Now On
WINNER – John Owen-Jones –Spotlight
Ben Platt – Sing To Me Instead
Jon Robyns – Musical Directions
Hayden Tee – Face to Face

Album Reviews: The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 ¾ / Heathers / Calendar Girls 

A trio of quick London cast recordings – The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 ¾, Heathers and Calendar Girls 

“For a greasy little nobody, you do have good bone structure”

I was delighted to see a belated West End transfer for this lovely new musical by Jake Brunger and Pippa Cleary. I’ve loved every step of its journey and The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 ¾ (Original London Cast Recording) proves the perfect accompaniment as it captures so much of the energy of this most British of tales and sparky performances from the likes of John Hopkins and the luminous Kelly Price.

I didn’t however make it to Heathers, it just not appealing to me at all. With Heathers (Original West End Cast Recording), the opportunity to listen to this high school musical is now ours but I have to say, its charms elude me. There’s a fatal mismatch between the darkness of the source material (it really is a brutal film) and the breeziness of Laurence O’Keefe and Kevin Murphy’s pop-rock score that not even the quality of Carrie Hope Fletcher, Jodie Steele, Sophie Isaacs and Jamie Muscato’s strong performances can overcome.

And I thought I’d pay another visit to Yorkshire for Calendar Girls (Original London Recording) to see whether it stands the test of time. It proved an amiable if short-lived presence in the West End and listening to it again, I’d argue that there’s a gentleness to it that doesn’t quite linger long enough. Gary Barlow’s tunes are undeniably pretty but ultimately, they don’t really call out to be listened to over and again.

Review: The Secret Garden, The Barn Theatre Cirencester

A lively and emotional actor-musician production of The Secret Garden marks a fantastic debut for the brand new Barn Theatre in the Cotswolds

“I heard someone crying…
Maybe it was me”

After three years renovation and development work, the Barn Theatre in Cirencester opens its doors with a fresh and spirited actor-musician take on The Secret Garden. A passion project of artistic director Iwan Lewis (who once appeared in a youth production of the musical in the town), the 1991 Tony-winning musical adaptation of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s 1911 children’s novel (book and lyrics by Marsha Noman, music by Lucy Simon) has been curiously under-served in terms of major revivals (I saw a fringe version back in 2013) and so proves a canny choice for a new venue seeking to attract an audience. 

It is clear to see that time and thought, and resources, has been invested into the Barn to make it to help it succeed. So Sam Rowcliffe-Tanner’s lighting design, with all its delightful hidden surprises, benefits from a properly swanky lighting rig that would be the envy of pretty much any off-West-End theatre; so too PJ McEvoy’s projections looking highly professional as they move us around Misselthwaite, from dusty, disused ballrooms to briar-filled nooks.

But for all the technical strength, this Secret Garden blooms because of the creative work that has been ploughed into it. The physical aspects of McEvoy’s design have a deliberately rustic feel, suiting time and place well, reflected in the nature of Elliot Ditton’s puppets. The evocation of an inquisitive robin is gorgeously done but it is the way in which Simon’s score has been thoroughly reinvented that reinforces how this production, and the venture at large, is about about mimicking the Great White Way than creating a new Cotswolds Way. Continue reading “Review: The Secret Garden, The Barn Theatre Cirencester”

Review: Rent, St James

I’m not one to deny anyone their fandom and Lord know Rent has some of the most devoted of the lot. But for whatever reason, the show has left me cold every time I’ve seen it, increasingly so in its determination to defend artistic excess.

I was bought a ticket as a Christmas present so I was able to go and test my feelings once again but no change, no matter how good Layton Williams’ performance was. So for once, I’m just going to leave it here.

Running time: 2 hours 40 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 28th January, then touring as below

Review: Groundhog Day, Old Vic

“I have not a bad word to say, 
about small towns. Per se.”

Expectations were high, how could they not be. Following on from the extraordinary success of Matilda, Tim Minchin’s next foray into musical theatre was to an adaptation of the 90s movie Groundhog Day, playing a two month run at the Old Vic ahead of a presumed Broadway transfer (a move that has had a little doubt cast on it by the withdrawal of major producer Scott Rudin). Now full disclosure, I saw it in its first week thanks to the PWC £10 tickets and the show went for a full month of previews before officially opening, so feel free to take my opinion with a pinch of salt.

For I did not enjoy Groundhog Day, at all. Worse than that, I was bored by it – at least hating something rouses some form of passion, but as Danny Rubin’s book cycled round and round and Minchin’s not unpleasant but in no way striking score dissipated into the ether, I wondered if Rudin might not have had the right idea. There’s a stellar performance from US import Andy Karl as the central Phil, carved out of that leading man material that is particularly American, but for me there was just too little magic emanating from Matthew Warchus’ direction to elevate the material.

Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 17th September

Review: Midnight, St James

“If these walls could speak, they’d probably scream”

It’s not every day that you get an invitation to a musical set in Azerbaijan so I was certainly intrigued to hear about Midnight, receiving a workshop presentation by Aloff Theatre and directed by Matthew Gould in the cosy space of the studio at the St James Theatre. With book and lyrics by Timothy Knapman and music and lyrics by Laurence Mark Wythe (probably best known for Tomorrow Morning), the musical is based on the play Citizens of Hell by Azerbaijani writer Elchin (who for a day job just happens to be the Deputy Prime Minister there!).

Set in Baku in 1937 with the Soviet Union in gripped in the midst of Stalin’s Great Terror, every knock on every door brings with it the fear of being disappeared by the NKVD. And this New Year’s Eve is no different as a husband and wife pace about their flat, debating how – or if – to celebrate when friends and neighbours have been tortured and executed. When the knock finally comes, it isn’t necessarily who they’re expecting but the eventual chilling realisation of who their visitor is and the chaos he can unleash is even worse.  Continue reading “Review: Midnight, St James”

Review: Once Upon A Mattress, Union Theatre

“Flip your skirt, open, close…”

The Union Theatre’s festive show is this little US curiosity from 1959, Once Upon A Mattress. It’s a playful riff on the Hans Christian Andersen fairytale The Princess and the Pea and its endearing silliness and the high campery of Kirk Jameson’s production makes it a whole bundle of festive fun. Jay Thompson, Dean Fuller and Marshall Barer’s book purports to tell an alternative version of events which sees Queen Aggravain come up with ever more difficult tasks for princesses to pass in order to win the hand of her beloved son Prince Dauntless. But when the unreconstructed Princess Winifred – a princess from the swamps – wins the heart of mummy’s boy Dauntless, the queen has to devise the hardest test possible.

Jamieson makes great use of his ensemble as courtiers constantly watching the action and so always on hand to sing and dance their way attractively through a range of random numbers. Mary Rodgers’ score really isn’t too memorable but Racky Plews’ choreography is so eye-poppingly vibrant that it almost doesn’t matter. The group scenes thus spark happily into life, none more so than in the dizzying routine of Spanish Panic which is witty as well as impressive.  Continue reading “Review: Once Upon A Mattress, Union Theatre”