Album Review: Stephen Ward (2013 Original Cast Recording)

“Part of me is saying I should go”

Like many others, I imagine, I did not leave Stephen Ward thinking I particularly want to hear this score by Andrew Lloyd Webber again anytime soon and so three years later, this is the first time I’ve revisited this musical. And as the strange melody of opening number ‘Human Sacrifice’ started, I began to wonder if I’d been overly harsh, Alexander Hanson’s story-telling experience imbuing this prologue of sorts with real interest and setting me up for a potential reimagining of my opinion.

But then track number 2 ‘Super Duper Hula Hooper’ kicks in, that title makes me die a little inside every time I hear it, and you soon begin to realise why the show barely managed 4 months in the West End. Lloyd Webber may have been a teenager in the 60s but he’s looking back at them like a man in his sixties, the air of rose-tinted corrective lenses and musical tweeness proving fatal to conjuring any kind of authentic sense of the period. Continue reading “Album Review: Stephen Ward (2013 Original Cast Recording)”

Review: Mary Poppins, Curve

“Anything can happen if you let it”

It is becoming increasingly clear that a show isn’t a show if a Strallen isn’t involved, even as an usher, and it is now the turn of Zizi to ascend to the role of leading lady, taking the title role in a mammoth UK tour of Mary Poppins which has started at the Curve in Leicester and which is already booking through to this time next year. And it isn’t too hard to see why such confidence has been invested in the future of the show when it is as stupendously good a piece of musical theatre as this.

I never got round to seeing the show in the West End – Julian Fellowes’ book building on P.L. Travers’ original books as well as the Disney film and composing duo Stiles + Drewe adding to the iconic score by the Sherman Brothers – and it’s an age since I saw the film so it really did have all the glorious impact of being a fresh new show for me but even if you did manage to see it, the lure of this fresh new production ought to tempt you along to one of the cities where it is playing to relive the joy. Continue reading “Review: Mary Poppins, Curve”

CD Review: Lend Me A Tenor (Original London Cast Recording)

“Life is like opera, it’s hard to keep the drama from seeping through”

The West End is a tough nut to crack at the best of times and despite its best efforts, the musical version of Ken Ludwig’s Lend Me A Tenor lasted barely 2 months at the Gielgud in 2010. It’s strange, especially in light of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels’ relative success, as it occupies a similar groove with its traditional, even old-school, vibes, aping a classic era of musical theatre with japes and jolliness but somehow, it just didn’t connect with audiences – not everyone loves a farce…

Its old-fashioned humour and madcap antics are well served by Brad Carroll’s score and Peter Sham’s lyrics and book, which follows the trials of the Cleveland, Ohio Grand Opera Company as a world famous tenor scheduled to sing in their Otello goes AWOL in the hotel just hours before he’s due onstage. Is there a schmuck who can step in at the last minute and pretend to be Merelli, of course there is, but there’s also jealous wives, lovelorn girlfriends and conniving co-stars aplenty to thicken the plot. Continue reading “CD Review: Lend Me A Tenor (Original London Cast Recording)”

Review: Barnum, New Wimbledon

“If I present an educated pooch
Who’s trained to dance the hoochie cooch
What better way to waste a bit of time”

We’re so used now to the big Chichester musicals making the automatic leap into the West End that it was something of a surprise to hear that last year’s Barnum would not be getting the much-rumoured transfer even with less than stellar reviews. And seeing the show for the first time tonight in its retooled version – Jean Pierre Van Der Spuy directing an adaptation of Timothy Sheader and Liam Steel’s CFT production – which is heading out on a very extensive UK tour that stretches to next August, it is not hugely difficult to see why, if one looks at it with a coolly dispassionate eye.

Mark Bramble’s book has showman PT Barnum following his dreams to put on the world’s first travelling circus but little dramatic impetus to form a more interesting narrative journey. And Cy Coleman’s score with Michael Stewart’s lyrics has some pleasant enough songs in it – ‘Come Follow The Band’ and ‘There’s A Sucker Born Every Minute’ – but it also has a lot of filler; for such an ambitious show, it is a rather bland musical experience. Fortunately it is also blessed with some game-changing visuals and Andrew Wright’s peerless (certainly for his generation) choreographic gifts. Continue reading “Review: Barnum, New Wimbledon”

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: Top Hat, Aldwych

“You’ll declare it’s simply topping to be there”

On the face of it, Top Hat should have been a rip-roaring extravaganza of a show that tapped and waltzed and strutted its way right into my affections, featuring some of my favourite things like a healthy selection of classic songs from the Irving Berlin back catalogue and the kind of choreography from Bill Deamer that genuinely makes me wonder if it isn’t too late to find my inner Billy Elliot (don’t worry, I know it is…). But at this Tuesday matinée, I found it was particularly topping to be there and I was sadly left a little underwhelmed by the whole shebang.

It seems perverse to comment on the plot of a musical being far-fetched, especially one based on an old-school Broadway film as this is, but the book here – adapted by director Matthew White and Howard Jacques – is criminally lame. The story is a whole lot of silliness, which is fine – girl complains about guy dancing in the room above her, guy flirts with girl, girl gets cold feet when she think s guy is married to her best friend. Oh, and the guy is a leading Broadway star about to open a show. Where the problem lies is in the incredibly dated humour, which one can just about explain away as a period piece, but which just sags and droops with lame joke after overblown stereotype which was lapped up all too easily by this audience, of whom I was the youngest member by quite some margin.  Continue reading “Review: Top Hat, Aldwych”

Shows I am looking forward to in 2012

Though the temptation is strong, and the actuality may well prove so, I don’t think I will be catching quite so much theatre in 2012 as I did last year. I could do with a slightly better balance in my life and also, I want to focus a little more on the things I know I have a stronger chance of enjoying.

So, I haven’t booked a huge amount thus far, especially outside of London where I think I will rely more on recommendations, but here’s what I’m currently looking forward to the most: Continue reading “Shows I am looking forward to in 2012”

CD Review: My Fair Lady Original 2001 London Cast

“An average man am I, of no eccentric whim”

Unless you can’t buying all sorts of theatrical related goodies in charity shops, I have few eccentric whims myself, and one such shop in Wigan surrendered a veritable treasure trove of goodies, including the soundtrack to the National Theatre’s production of My Fair Lady. I wasn’t living in the country at the time, nor obsessed with theatre for that matter, but I was still aware of the travails of erstwhile leading lady Martine McCutcheon, who managed incredibly to still win an Olivier Award despite managing fewer performances that her understudy in the original NT run.

Lerner and Loewe’s classic is another of those shows that I’ve never actually seen on stage myself, and so I have to admit that this CD didn’t really catch my attention whilst listening to it, not that it wasn’t good but rather that I felt disengaged from it. Without having seen this production either at the NT or the Theatre Royal Drury Lane to where it transferred, there was nothing to relate it back to which is often the joy of official cast recordings of classic shows. Instead, one becomes a little too aware of the differences without the context in which they were made. Continue reading “CD Review: My Fair Lady Original 2001 London Cast”