Review: The Sound of Music Live (The Show Must Go On)

Despite great work from supporting players like Audra McDonald and Laura Benanti, The Sound of Music Live isn’t a great advert for The Show Must Go On

“Many a thing you know you’d like to tell her”

In some ways, turning to the series of live TV musicals to continue The Show Must Go On now that Andrew Lloyd Webber has exhausted the content he is willing to give for free, for weekends at a time. The problem is, its opening salvo – The Sound of Music Live from 2013 – really isn’t a good example of the form. 

Directed by Rob Ashford and Beth McCarthy-Miller, it has all the requisite component parts and as a piece of live entertainment, it is all very competently done. There’s an impressively capacious set, slick camerawork and a well-drilled ensemble who barely put a foot wrong throughout the 2 hours plus of the show. Continue reading “Review: The Sound of Music Live (The Show Must Go On)”

Album Review: Audra McDonald – Build a Bridge (2006)

“Your arias cause a stir in my sad and lonely heart”

Ringing the changes with her fourth album, Build a Bridge saw Audra McDonald take a break from the classic musical theatre songbooks she’d been exploring on her last two albums to turn to an altogether more contemporary world of rock and pop. There’s still room for some of the new musical theatre that she has tirelessly championed her whole career, of course there is, and there’s something utterly beguiling about the effortlessly modern feel of this collection.

That’s not to say that the selections are today’s Top 40 hits – Neil Young sits beside John Mayer, Randy Newman by Nellie McKay after all – but that Doug Petty’s arrangements and production style, together with that peerless soprano marries the material together in a beautiful way, that ultimately just celebrates the joy of good song-writing. Through McDonald here, one can trace how the timeless melodies of Bacharach and Costello’s ‘God Give Me Strength’ progress naturally to the chamber-pop of Rufus Wainwright’s charismatic ‘Damned Ladies’. Continue reading “Album Review: Audra McDonald – Build a Bridge (2006)”

Album Review: Songs for a New World (1996 Original Cast)

“I’ll give you hope to bring out all the life inside you ”

Haven’t got a huge amount more to say about Jason Robert Brown’s Songs for a New World as the recent St James’ Theatre production is still looming fresh in the mind. This recording from the original production 20 years ago is well-accomplished though and certainly has more of that authentic New York feel to it that characterises so much of his early work.

Brooks Ashmanskas, Andréa Burns, Jessica Molaskey and Ty Taylor are the awesome foursome here – Molaskey the real stand-out as her character gets the lion’s share of the vividly memorable songs – the witty Surabaya-Santa, the almost slapstick comedy of Just One Step and the elegiac beauty of Stars and the Moon, probably the show’s best known break-out hit.

 

Film Review: The Last Five Years

“I don’t know how anybody survives in this life without someone like you”

I’ve actually been sitting on this review since November, when I was lucky enough to attend a screening of New York love story  The Last Five Years at the Prince Charles Cinema thanks to What’s On Stage. We weren’t told to strictly observe an embargo but rather asked to wait before writing about it until the film’s release in the UK. Now it came out in the USA on Friday and as per the below tweet from Jason Robert Brown, the writer of the original show on which the film is based, we could be waiting a wee while before we even get a release date here. Which is a shame, as Richard LaGravenese’s filmic adaptation of this almost entirely sung-through tale deserves a fair crack of the whip, especially as it could have ridden on the over-exposed musical theatre coat-tails of Into the Woods into our cinemas.

 

I have asked. I have not gotten answers. It’s above my pay grade. Hopefully soon! RT @JemmaAnderson: when exactly is TL5Y coming out in UK?
— Jason Robert Brown (@MrJasonRBrown) February 13, 2015

 

Anyhow, the conceit of the story is that novelist Jamie and actress Cathy’s relationship is played out from two perspectives concurrently – at the beginning we see Jamie in the full flush of new romance with the headily seductive ‘Shiksa Goddess’ but Cathy’s first song is the exquisitely bitter pain of ‘Still Hurting’, five years down the line when they’ve split up. Each then gives us their side of the story but moving in opposite directions in time, enhancing the bittersweet beauty of a love that just ought to be. Onstage it means there’s only one point in the show, their marriage at the midpoint, where the two actors co-exist in the same scene but what’s fascinating about the film is that in fleshing out both accounts, they’re both utterly present and interactive throughout the whole thing, and it works. Continue reading “Film Review: The Last Five Years”

Album Review: Nice Fighting You: A 30th Anniversary Celebration Live at 54 BELOW

“Years of dreams just can’t be wrong” 

Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty have enjoyed a prolific writing career stretching over three decades and in celebration of their 30 year working relationship, held a series of concerts at 54 Below which have now been immortalised on their double CD Nice Fighting You: A 30th Anniversary Celebration Live at 54 BELOW. The collection looks back at the past, to shows like Ragtime and Seussical but also keeps an eye on the present – their Rocky the Musical is currently playing on Broadway – and the future with forthcoming show Little Dancer being showcased.

With so much material to choose from both in terms of an extensive back catalogue and multiple concert performances thereof, it is perhaps unsurprising that Ahrens and Flaherty opted for the double CD format which allows them to feature well over 30 of their songs, sung by a great array of talented artists. But it also means that it becomes quite the hefty beast, am album aimed at fans rather than the casual listener, something emphasised by the inclusion of spoken interludes from the writers and singers introducing their songs.  Continue reading “Album Review: Nice Fighting You: A 30th Anniversary Celebration Live at 54 BELOW”