Renée Zellweger is sensational in Judy, a deeply moving account of Judy Garland’s final months in London directed by Rupert Goold
“I just want what everybody wants. I seem to have a harder time getting it.”
As if there were any doubt, Judy is a phenomenal success, and should see its star Renée Zellweger add to her tally of Academy Award nominations, if not the award itself. Loosely based on Peter Quilter’s play End of the Rainbow, it recalls the final year of Judy Garland’s life as a roll of the dice sees her decamp to London to perform in a series of concerts that she hoped would reignite interest in her career whose light was seriously fading in the US.
But years of substance abuse and the relentless ride of showbusiness have taken a serious toll, even just turning up on time proves a struggle (hard relate!) and that iconic voice can no longer be relied upon. Thus Tom Edge’s screenplay takes a slightly more realism-based approach than the play to show us the riskiness that accompanied Judy’s every step towards a stage and the slow, crushing realisation of what her life has amounted to. Continue reading “Film Review: Judy (2019)”
2 quickies from a flying visit up north to Manchester to Dusty the Musical at the Lowry and Aspects of Love at the Hope Mill Theatre
“Left alone with just a memory”
Does the world really need another Dusty Springfield musical? I avoided the car crash at the Charing Cross a few years back, and wish I had avoided Son of a Preacher Man last year. But still they come and now we have Dusty the Musical which at least boasts a better pedigree than most, with Jonathan Harvey writing, Maria Friedman directing and Katherine Kingsley starring.
And with that level of quality, particularly from the mega-wattage of Kingsley’s titanic performance, it certainly emerges as the best of the bunch, relatively speaking. It is far from a great show though, its book weighed down with the tension between meticulously researched facts and figures and the greater freedom that comes from invented characters who allow story to flow. If it is to make it into the West End, more tinkering needed and Kingsley locked down. Continue reading “Review: Dusty, Lowry / Aspects of Love, Hope Mill”
“The time has come for my dreams to be heard”
That it took so long for the UK premiere of Dreamgirls to arrive (35 years after its original Broadway opening), it is little surprise to see that it has taken a mere few months for the Original London Cast Recording to appear, released by Sony Masterworks Broadway today (Friday 12th May). Capitalising on the show’s extraordinary success at the Savoy (read my review here) and the two Olivier Awards wins for Amber Riley (Best Actress in a Musical) and Adam J. Bernard (Best Actor in a Supporting Role in a Musical), this double-album was recorded live in the theatre over four performances in February 2017 with no additional studio re-recordings or musical overdubs.
The choice to go for a live recording is an interesting one. There’s an undoubted raw energy that comes from the material not just being sung but being performed that makes certain numbers really pop. And then there’s the double-edged sword that is the audience reception – on the one hand it can be spine-tingling effective to hear how enthusiastically the work is being received but on the other, it doesn’t always translate without the accompanying visual and let’s be honest, the recording doesn’t gain anything from having Amber Riley’s entrance applause so volubly present. Continue reading “Album Review: Dreamgirls Original London Cast Recording (2017)”
“In the morning this feeling will be gone”
There’s over one million Swarovski crystals incorporated into this production of Dreamgirls which presumably explains why ticket prices go unashamedly up to £125 – Daddy’s crystal curtains, all 3 of them, don’t come cheap. In many ways, I don’t deny Dreamgirls the extravagance, it’s good to have a huge rollercoaster blowout of a blockbuster musical every now and then, it helps to balance the slightly more serious-minded ones about suicide and cancer. But it helps to be wary about that creeping top line, no matter how many five star reviews this show may garner, surely such pricing cannot be allowed to become the norm in the West End.
Part of the reason Dreamgirls can get away with it is that it has had a 35 year build-up. With book and lyrics by Tom Eyen and music by Henry Krieger, the original Broadway production premiered in 1981 and was a big success and though it may not have crossed the ocean, much of its music has, including cabaret staples ‘And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going’ and ‘One Night Only’. So it is hardly the risk of a new musical, though that it how is will be categorised, and thus it has been priced accordingly. Fortunately, the Savoy is not so big a theatre that the Grand Circle ain’t a perfectly decent to watch the show from. Continue reading “Review: Dreamgirls, Savoy”
“So ‘stead of just kicking me why don’t they give me a lift?”
The Menier Chocolate Factory’s extremely well-received production of Funny Girl has been as much beleaguered as blessed as it wound its way into the West End, garnering acres of extra publicity that the show barely needed given its impressive ticket sales and subsequently announced UK tour. But so relentless has the focus been on leading lady Sheridan Smith and her absences from the show whilst looking after her mental health, that you begin to doubt the maxim that all publicity is good publicity.
Doubtless, a conversation needs to happen about the expectations that are raised when a show is sold on the name of its star. You can argue convincingly that a production is always bigger than its star name, and understudy Natasha J Barnes deservedly got much acclaim for filling in for Fanny but the case is undermined somewhat when the producers put that name above even the show’s title on the publicity (on Broadway, you’re entitled to a refund or exchange if an above-the-title star is off…). Continue reading “Album Review: Funny Girl (2016 London Cast Recording)”
“I guess we’re both happy, but maybe…we ain’t”
As recently demonstrated with Adele’s 25, there comes a point where commercial success just trumps critical response even before the reviews have been published and digested. The Menier Chocolate Factory’s revival of Funny Girl broke box office records in selling out its entire run in mere moments, announcing its transfer to the West End and then selling a vast majority of tickets for the Savoy all before the show had even opened, such is the draw of star Sheridan Smith.
So in some ways it doesn’t matter that Funny Girl really isn’t a great show, one unseen in the West End for nearly 50 years. Musically, Jule Styne’s score front-loads its hits fatally and dramatically, Isobel Lennart’s rather insipid book runs out of steam well before the end, even with Harvey Fierstein’s newly introduced revisions. And for all of the strengths of Michael Mayer’s production, there’s little it manages to do paper over these cracks. Continue reading “Review: Funny Girl, Menier Chocolate Factory”