Album Review: Into the Woods soundtrack

“Let the moment go, don’t forget it for a moment though”

The big screen version of Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods has now become a huge box office success, apparently heralding a new golden age of movie musicals, and as a musical it comes complete with a soundtrack which you can get in either single-disc or deluxe-double-disc edition.

The main reason to get this soundtrack would be to get Emily Blunt’s gorgeous renditions of her songs. Her voice was an absolute revelation in the film and she brings such character to The Baker’s Wife that is just irresistible – she nails all the emotional colour of ‘Moments in the Woods’ and blows James Corden off the turntable with her wondrous delight in ‘It Takes Two’. I remain a fan of Anna Kendrick’s Cinderella and Meryl Streep’s Witch is also good, solid rather than spectacular if we’re being picky, in her solo moments. Continue reading “Album Review: Into the Woods soundtrack”

Film Review: Into the Woods

“Into the woods to see the King, to sell the cow, to make the potion”

After the Oscar-winning success of Chicago, it is little surprise that Rob Marshall keeps returning to the world of musical theatre for his films and it is now the turn of Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s Into the Woods to get the full cinematic treatment. The story pulls together a whole raft of characters from various fairytales and asks the question ‘what happens after happy ever after?’. So we meet familiar characters like Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel and Jack on their respective journeys but keep on following them deeper into the woods as they’re forced to deal with the consequences of their actions.

So Cinderella has to deal with the fact she’s married to a man she barely knows, Jack is called out for thieving so many of the Giant’s possession back down the beanstalk and so on, and the characters also crash into each other’s stories too, further muddying the waters. At the heart of the film is the Baker and his wife whose desperation for a child is a key contributing factor to the chaos that emerges and Marshall manages to keep the strands of this multi-threaded story clear and comprehensible – the staging is rarely audaciously exciting but the lack of tricksiness actually works in the film’s favour. 

Continue reading “Film Review: Into the Woods”

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

Saturday afternoon music treats

Last week’s post proved surprisingly popular so here’s another one for you. You can find below Gary Wood revisiting A Chorus Line with ‘What I Did For Love’, a preview from The Pajama Game with Michael Xavier & Joanna Riding singing ‘Hey There’, Shayne Ward & Louise Dearman giving their take on ‘Falling Slowly’ from Once, Angela Lansbury showing why her reputation is as it is with a lovely rendition of ‘Beauty & The Beast’ (though it still doesn’t excuse the applause on entry and standing o’s), and a clip of ‘I Can’t Sing’ which is mainly fascinating to those who have seen the show as it shows the amount of tinkering there has been. Continue reading “Saturday afternoon music treats”

CD Review: A Little Night Music (NT vs Broadway Revival Cast recordings)

“Isn’t it bliss? Don’t you approve?”

I always assume that people know where the name of this blog came from but for those that don’t, it is a lyrical reference from Sondheim’s A Little Night Music. Which gives a seamless segue into this post about two cast recordings of the show – the first from the 1995 National Theatre production and the second from the 2010 Broadway revival. The first is most notable for capturing one of the greatest moments in musical theatre, possibly even theatre full stop.

Judi Dench’s extraordinary rendition of ‘Send in the Clowns’ may be close to becoming a party trick (if there’s a gala, she’ll be there) but it truly is a remarkable thing. The cracks in her voice are a perfect match for the ageing star that is Desirée and the speak-singing style allows her to act the hell out of the song – the way in which she sighs ‘weeeellllll’ near the end is just spine-tingling. 4 minutes 23 of pure perfection.   Continue reading “CD Review: A Little Night Music (NT vs Broadway Revival Cast recordings)”

Review: Stephen Ward The Musical, Aldwych

“Manipulation, that’s the technique, 
This conversation must not leak” 

It’s a curious thing, to take a relatively obscure figure, base a musical on him that is then named after him, yet leave a vacuum where his central presence ought to be the driving force. For all that Andrew Lloyd Webber, Don Black and Christopher Hampton place the character of Stephen Ward at the centre of Stephen Ward the Musical, he remains far too inscrutable, far too unexplored for us to buy into the main premise of the show which is that Ward, who committed suicide after being made the scapegoat for the Profumo scandal of 1963, is a tragic victim of Establishment hypocrisy.

But for all Alexander Hanson’s sterling efforts as the osteopath-turned-social fixer who engineered the first meeting of Secretary of State for War John Profumo and wannabe showgirl Christine Keeler, the show suffers from making him narrator as well as protagonist. So he is lumped with huge swathes of exposition, made increasingly worthy due to a slavish attention to real-life events, as a huge cast of characters flash by momentarily in the service of telling a story, but leave us none the wiser as to what Ward was like as a person, what motivated him, what moved him. Continue reading “Review: Stephen Ward The Musical, Aldwych”

Preview: Stephen Ward The Musical

“I invented a new way of lie, some might call it unconventional,
All that stuffy post-war Englishness, I liked something more consensual”

With such a busy couple of weeks, I’ve only just gotten round to having a listen of the sneak preview of four songs offered at the launch of Andrew Lloyd-Webber’s new musical Stephen Ward. I was prompted by an offer to download two of them for free (for a limited time only) but you can also listen to them online and/or watch the videos below. The story is undoubtedly a little niche, exploring the 1963 Profumo scandal from the point of view of Ward who was smack bang in the middle of it, he being the one who introduced MP John Profumo to Christine Keeler and setting in motion events that rocked the government.

As for the music, there’s something rather endearing about Lloyd-Webber’s continued contributions to British musical theatre, he could so easily have decided to retire yet he carries on writing to the beat of his own drum, safe in the knowledge that a devoted fanbase will lap it up. Unsurprisingly, the four songs previewed do not reveal any major change in direction and so it will be interesting to see if the show is able to transcend the attentions of musical theatre devotees and appeal to a wider audience. Joanna Riding’s simple ballad ‘Hopeless When It Comes To You’ is the pick of the bunch but Alex Hanson, playing Ward himself, runs her close with the sinuous storytelling of ‘Human Sacrifice’. Continue reading “Preview: Stephen Ward The Musical”

Review: The Pajama Game, Minerva

“Just knock three times and whisper low, that you and I were sent by Joe”

Old Broadway classics seem to flourish in the rarefied air of West Sussex and it is hard to shake the feeling that Chichester has done it again with a revival of The Pajama Game. No stranger to big American musicals, director Richard Eyre demonstrates the surest of touches to keep the improbable subject matter – the trials of working life in a pyjama factory – anchored in a world that we always care about and is aided by the kind of score that feels recognisable even if you think you haven’t heard it before. Richard Adler and Jerry Ross’ score is full of fantastic old school tunes like Hey There (You with the Stars in your Eyes) and Steam Heat and two of the songs were actually written by Frank Loesser, although uncredited. 

George Abbott and Richard Bissel’s book is based on Bissell’s novel 7½ cents set in the Cedar Rapids, Iowa Sleep-Tite factory in which new-to-town Superintendent Sid Sorokin finds himself falling head over heels for feisty union rep Babe Williams, whose stubborn initial resistance can’t ignore the mutually fiery passion between them. But trouble brews when the workers are denied a justified 7½ cent pay rise and Sid and Babe find themselves on opposing sides of a heated labour debate.  Continue reading “Review: The Pajama Game, Minerva”

Review: Cinderella, Hackney Empire

“He wanted a fairytale romance – it ended up Grimm”

Last year was the first time that I re-engaged with the world of pantomime since being a kid and despite having heard many good things about the Hackney Empire panto over the past few years, in particular Clive Rowe’s various dames, I didn’t get there. And sod’s law dictates that as I booked for Cinderella – this year’s effort – Mr Rowe engaged himself in a production of The Ladykillers which is now previewing at the Gielgud. But you don’t miss what you never had and in any case, my history with pantomimes at the Hackney Empire actually stretches back to 19?? and one of my first genuine memories of being in a theatre with Peter Duncan playing Aladdin and clambering all over me and my cousins as he climbed through the audience as part of the show. So it was actually a fascinating opportunity to revisit a little piece of personal history as well as marking the beginning of my festive theatregoing season.

Writer/director Susie McKenna has refreshed the familiar tale of Cinderella to contemporise it for modern audiences, yet still maintaining much of the traditional feel of a pantomime that really is suitable for all ages. So we have all the familiar characters: a pair of hilarious pantomime dames as the Ugly Sisters – Tony Whittle and Kat B as Queeniqua and Victiqua respectively, a fairy-godmother who speaks in rhyme – Sophie Louise Dann in charming form and the children’s TV presenter affability of Matt Dempsey’s Buttons with his horse Clapton (complete with special song). The writing has lots of nice little local references that make it a nicely Hackney-located show and up-to-date references but not obtrusively so, there’s also the sweet-throwing out, audience shout-outs and a little onstage participation for one ‘lucky’ fellow that we’ve come to expect. Continue reading “Review: Cinderella, Hackney Empire”