Review: Amélie the Musical, New Wimbledon Theatre

As sweet-sharp as a diabolo grenadine, the touring version of Amélie the Musical impresses me at the New Wimbledon Theatre

“Will there troubles?
I don’t know
Will there be sweet things?
I hope so”

As sweet-sharp as a diabolo grenadine, Amélie the Musical has lost none of its inimitable charm as it gears up for a considerable UK tour. I adored it at the Watermill but the intimacy there left me wondering how the show would fare in the significantly larger houses to which it will be touring. Turns out I need not have worried.

Michael Fentiman’s production has expanded perfectly to fill the space. A few more ensemble members here, a tweak to Madeleine Girling’s canny set design there, and the show has lost nothing of itself or its kooky Parisian whirl. If anything the actor-muso ensemble’s reinterpretation of Daniel Messé’s score sounds even better than before under George Francis’ musical direction. Continue reading “Review: Amélie the Musical, New Wimbledon Theatre”

Review: Amélie the Musical, Watermill Theatre

A sensational adaptation of the film, Amélie the Musical completely captures my heart – see it now at the Watermill Theatre and then touring across the UK

“Maybe she’s just different”

In a week marked by the heartbreaking sight of Notre Dame aflame, the decidedly Gallic charms of Amélie the Musical arrive to offer a soothing balm. The show – music by Daniel Messé, lyrics by Messé and Nathan Tysen and a book by Craig Lucas – didn’t fare so well on Broadway in 2017 but the creatives, along with director Michael Fentiman, have substantially reworked the material to great effect.

The result is something which cleaves much closer to Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s original film Le Fabuleux Destin d’Amélie Poulain in every inch of its spirit. From singing goldfish to licking stage blood off fingers, Elton John cameos to intimidating figs, there’s a wonderful weirdness to the world created here. It’s no wonder that the introverted Amélie struggles at first to find her place in this hyper-real version of Paris. Continue reading “Review: Amélie the Musical, Watermill Theatre”

CD Review: Ghost The Musical (Original Cast Recording 2011)

“This is always such a rush”

Some musicals are slow-burners. They may not hit you with their full force on first viewing but rather repay revisits and repeated listens to cast recordings to unfurl the depth of their appeal. So it was for me with Legally Blonde, and also with Ghost the Musical – a show I saw twice in the West End and again on its 2013 tour, liking it more and more each time.

And a large part of that was the way in which Glen Ballard and Dave Stewart’s pop/rock-based score took its time to sidle its way into my affections, not necessarily the kind of music that would appeal to me but ultimately proving irresistible in its finest moments. And it is remarkably diverse too, pulling in from a wide musical palette whilst stamping out its own identity as something refreshingly different from your typical musical theatre score. Continue reading “CD Review: Ghost The Musical (Original Cast Recording 2011)”

Re-review: Once the musical, Phoenix

“It’s a complicated thing, this…love”

One of the more pleasing success stories of the West End has been the endurance of Once the musical. Tucked away in the Phoenix Theatre where the huge Crossrail works have limited its footfall somewhat, I feared its subtle charms might get washed away by its brasher neighbours but it is now about to celebrate a year’s worth of performances and is booking through to July 2015. With Arthur Darvill stepping into the shoes of ‘Guy’, a role he has played on Broadway, it seemed as good a time as any to revisit the show which made it into my top 20 shows of the year.

Whereas The Weir explores rural Irish life through the intimacy of an old man’s pub where everyone knows everyone and their business, Once takes place in the comparative bright lights of Dublin, a bar likely somewhere off of Grafton Street with a greater diversity of people. Bankers rub shoulders with burger flippers, gay men alongside Czech immigrants, and all are united by the gift of quietly stirring music and the sharing of stories. From the pre-show onstage bar with its jamming session to the yearning emotion of the climax, this is as gorgeously mellow as a West End musical gets. Continue reading “Re-review: Once the musical, Phoenix”

Review: Once, Phoenix

“Raise your hopeful voice, you have a choice”

Unusually for a West End musical, Once gently pulses rather than powerhouses its way into the affections, beating very much to its own unique rhythm with a sublimely sensitive story of the power of music and the pain of untimely love. From the working bar on stage that welcomes the audience into the auditorium of the Phoenix with a makeshift ceilidh to the presence of quality names like Enda Walsh and John Tiffany, it is immediately clear that this is no ordinary film-to-stage transfer.

Augmented and adapted by Walsh, the book covers the brief but intense journey of a guy and a girl, named Guy and Girl, who connect strongly but find that what they can sing to each other, they cannot say once the music has stopped. He’s a busking vacuum cleaner repairman missing his girlfriend in New York, she’s an unhappily married Czech mother searching for purpose and when she spots his potential, starts up a project to get him to record a demo but their feelings soon threaten to pull them onto the cusp of new possibility.  Continue reading “Review: Once, Phoenix”

Review: The Magistrate, National Theatre

“It’s the little lies that get you into trouble”

Aged 36, the widowed Agatha Posket feared for her re-marriage prospects so when the genial Aeneas Posket, the magistrate for the Mulberry Street Police Court, arrived on the scene, she lopped 5 years off her age and promptly became Mrs Posket. The only trouble is her 19 year old son Cis whom she tells the world is actually 14 in order to make her fib fly. The farcical trials that follow as he continues to act as a 19 year old and the arrival of his godfather threatens to undo the whole deception make up the plot of Arthur Wing Pinero’s rather delightful play The Magistrate, which takes up residence at the Olivier as the National’s Christmas offering in place of The Count of Monte Cristo.

Nancy Carroll is simply sensational as Agatha, an actress in full control of her considerable gift and razor-sharp throughout. Whether layering in real pathos in lamenting the lot of a middle-aged widow, working in genuine comedy whilst extemporising wildly as chaos surrounds her or managing to make the spitting out of some bread into a moment of sheer genius, she is never less than unmissable. And she supported excellent by Joshua McGuire as her son Cis, who has a wonderful physicality and gleeful sense of timing in his teenage rampaging and Jonathan Coy’s family friend Colonel Lukyn who is pretty much scene-stealingly fantastic, a true master of comic acting which fully deserves the mid-show round of applause he received. Continue reading “Review: The Magistrate, National Theatre”

Re-review: Ghost the musical, Piccadilly

“It’s just relief to suspend my disbelief”

It feels a bit like I’m cursed when it comes to Ghost the Musical. I booked it at the beginning of the year to see the original cast before they went to Broadway and Sharon D Clarke injured herself so I missed her and this time round, eager to see Mark Evans’ acting and musical talent / damn fine abs *delete as appropriate, we arrived at the theatre to find his understudy was on. It is not the end of the world when that happens of course but it is sometimes a disappointment when one is looking forward to seeing a particular person (though it helps that there’s videos like this to fall back on) and as it turned out, when I saw the name of the understudy – Spencer O’Brien – I was actually quite pleased as he is someone I have great residual affection for as he was in the cast of the superlative Salad Days the Christmas before last.

And though my feelings about the show were decidedly mixed when I saw it last – review here – I’d listened to the soundtrack quite a bit since then and discovered that it really is a grower. I really like a good proportion of it and so was quite happy to revisit the show, with the bonus of a new cast and a companion that had not seen it before, and in the end I found that I actually enjoyed it much more. The key for me and the soundtrack helped immensely here, is to think of it as a chamber musical, a small intimate piece essentially for four characters, and let the rest simply glide by in a rush of neon light and slow-motion walking.   Continue reading “Re-review: Ghost the musical, Piccadilly”

Review: Ghost the musical, Piccadilly

“You in danger gurl!”

In the story of Ghost the Musical, it is the character Molly who is the ‘gurl’ in danger, but it turned out to be the woman saying it, Sharon D Clarke’s Oda Mae Brown who should have paid heed as a broken foot has ruled her out of the show for a while now and possibly out of the Broadway transfer too. I was particularly gutted as she was one of the main reasons I had booked to see the show, to catch the original leading cast before they trot over to New York to open the show there, and Clarke had been cited as one of the main attractions of the show.

As the show premiered in Manchester, my parents were amongst the first to see it and I even got my dad to write about his opinions for me on this very blog. But even despite his qualified recommendations, I couldn’t quite work up the enthusiasm to fork out for the show and it was only this imminent departure of Caissie Levy and Richard Fleeshman that got me there (which is ironic in itself as I don’t really see what all the fuss is about with Levy and Fleeshman struggled for me in Legally Blonde). But off to the Piccadilly I went with my mixed feelings, along with a pleasingly diverse crowd of theatregoers, and I left with mixed feelings too. Continue reading “Review: Ghost the musical, Piccadilly”

CD Review: Evita 2006 London Cast Recording

 “Just a little touch of star quality” 

 
I haven’t done many reviews of soundtracks to shows since starting to cover CDs on here, focusing more new writing and solo albums from MT performers, but I don’t know why not as I listen to them just as much. The first I’ll cover will be the OLCR of the 2006 revival of Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd-Webber’s Evita, a production which revitalised this stalwart of a show in a way that I didn’t think possible and introduced me, and the rest of London’s theatregoers, to the glories of Argentinean star performer Elena Roger.

 The soundtrack, edited highlights rather than the full score, captures much of what made that production so vibrant so that it doesn’t really matter that we don’t have any of the striking visuals and choreography that accompanied this Latin American infused remounting. The orchestrations have been totally refreshed in line with this re-envisioning and with Roger’s singing leading the company, there’s just a greater sense of authenticity about the whole shebang. Continue reading “CD Review: Evita 2006 London Cast Recording”

Guest Review: Ghost – the Musical, Opera House Manchester

I owe all sorts of things to my parents, not least my love of theatre to which I was introduced from an early age, and though our tastes coincide on many things (Propeller’s Richard III being the most recent example), they vary on others and I was quite surprised when they announced that they were going to see Ghost – the Musical in its premiere run at the Opera House in Manchester. So, I prevailed upon my father to write up his thoughts in advance of my trip to see the show when it moves down to the Piccadilly Theatre in London on 22nd June and so I present to you, unedited, the real Mr Foster 😉

Sometimes, it pays not to expect too much. That way, you stand a chance of being agreeably surprised, as I was by how much I enjoyed ‘Ghost – the Musical’.

Whoopi Goldberg apart, I was no big fan of ‘Ghost – the Movie’, so I wasn’t anticipating that a musical version sticking very faithfully to the film screenplay would appeal all that much. However, the show is visually spectacular and features some impressive performances by a strong cast. Dave Stewarts’s songs, though not particularly memorable (I didn’t come away humming any of the tunes), are well crafted and listenable. With one clunking exception, of which more below, the weaving of the songs into the storyline is skilfully done.

The lead performances are very good. As in the film, Oda Mae Brown is crucial, because she gets most of the best scenes and lines, and Sharon D. Clarke is outstanding in the role, with terrific stage presence, good comic timing and a rich, deep, soul singing voice. Her introductory number ‘Are you a Believer?’, sung with her two assistants, is a cracker (for older readers, think The Pointer Sisters ‘It’s Raining Men’) and her final routine, ‘I’m Outta Here’, was my favourite bit of the show.

Richard Fleeshman and Caissie Levy are engaging and likeable as Sam and Molly. Both have really good singing voices, even if they did tend to get a bit ‘shouty’ (especially Fleeshman) as some of the songs reached a loud climax. In fairness, they at times had to compete with an overloud band. Their first song ‘Here Right Now’ lifts the start of the show after a rather sluggish opening scene and the excellent ‘Rain / Hold On’ gets Act 2 off to a flyer. I also liked Molly’s solo ‘With You’.

The rest of the cast provide solid support. Andrew Langtree as the baddie Carl is a better actor than singer; Adebayo Bolaji is spectacular as the subway ghost; and the ensemble provide energetic backing to many of the musical routines.
Visually, the show is terrific, with an imaginative set, superb lighting and some dazzling special effects. The set is basically a box, but all of the walls move in and out to create other scenes and the walls are video screens, used particularly well to give pace and energy to the street and subway scenes. There are also conveyor belts across the stage and these are used effectively in the crowd scenes.

There are some flaws. As already indicated, the first act is a bit slow to get going and the sound balance is poor on some of the songs, meaning the singers are struggling to make themselves heard and the lyrics are difficult to make out. For me, the show’s worst feature by a distance is the song ‘Ball of Wax’. It is sung to the newly-dead Sam by a chorus of ghosts and is a jokey ‘you’re a ghost now’ number. Coming as it does after a dramatic murder scene, done with some clever special effects, the song is completely out of place and spoils the atmosphere they have worked hard to create.

Notwithstanding these reservations, ‘Ghost – the Musical’ is an engaging and entertaining watch. It is playing to packed houses in Manchester and every performance has apparently received a standing ovation (it certainly did the night I was there). Not sure I’d go that far but it was a thoroughly enjoyable evening.

Rob Foster