Album Review: Marguerite (2008 Original London Cast Recording)

“Come see the show,
She will neither know nor care”

It is always fascinating to listen to the cast recordings of shows that are regarded to have flopped, to see whether the writing was always on the wall or if some reason was responsible for the magic not happening. Lasting just four months at the Theatre Royal Haymarket in 2008, Marguerite is one such musical, despite (or maybe because of) the weight of expectation behind its writing team.

With a book by Alain Boublil, Claude-Michel Schönberg and Jonathan Kent (from the the Alexandre Dumas, fils’ novel La Dame aux Camélias) lyrics by Alain Boublil and Herbert Kretzmer, and music by Michel Legrand, the demands on these Gallic grandees were nothing short of recreating the exceptional success of Les Misérables (on which Boublil, Schönberg and Kretzmer collaborated) but it wasn’t to be. Continue reading “Album Review: Marguerite (2008 Original London Cast Recording)”

DVD Review: Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

“Eminently practical and yet appropriate as always”

I’ve been experimenting with a few DVD reviews over the past weeks –theatrical ones, charity shop bargain ones and I’ve been longing to revisit film versions of several shows that I’ve seen recently. In some cases, I knew the show before seeing the film, but in others, my first contact was on celluloid (or whatever it is they use these days) and Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street was one of these. I actually saw it at the BFI when it was first released, with a Q+A with Tim Burton at the end of it (which was rather cringe-worthy with every question starting with ‘I love your films…’, ‘I love your work…’, ; ‘I love your socks…’). I came out of the film having rather loved it but it was only this autumn that I finally got round to seeing it on the stage at Chichester in a sensational production which has finally announced its transfer to the Adelphi from March next year.

As to be expected, it is an overtly Burton-esque piece of work with its desaturated palette allowing the red of the blood to pop even more than usual and the focus being on psychologically disturbed character. Frequent collaborators Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham-Carter take on the lead roles of Sweeney Todd and Mrs Lovett and though neither of their voices are particularly strong, especially when up against Sondheim’s challenging score, Burton manages to make that much less of an issue than one might have thought. There’s a brooding intensity to the whole affair, a sense of drained weariness which subsequently finds strength in the vocal frailties. Alan Rickman makes a perfect Judge Turpin, his sonorous malevolence a highlight of the film especially in the ‘Pretty Women’ duet; Timothy Spall’s Turpin makes a strong impact too as does Sacha Baron Cohen’s would-be manipulator Signor Pirelli. Continue reading “DVD Review: Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street”

Review: Burlesque, Jermyn Street

“What are you going to do, tap dance me to death?”

Burlesque is a new musical with book and lyrics written by Adam Meggido and Roy Smiles and music by Meggido as well. Adam Meggido might well be a recognisable face as he is part of the Showstopper! ensemble, a team that improvise a new musical from scratch every night, but he finally decided to write one down and over several years, Burlesque has developed into its current format at the Jermyn Street Theatre where it now has its world premiere. Set in 1952 America, it looks at how the culture of fear encouraged by McCarthy’s anti-Communist witch-hunts impacted on the lives of a set of performers in a burlesque show.

At the heart of the story is Johnny Reno, a comic trying to keep his head down after being black-listed due to his father’s connections and his unwillingness to co-operate with the FBI. His girlfriend, one of the dancers, has just announced she’s pregnant, his comedy partner Rags is hitting the bottle way too hard and the lusty theatre owner Freddie is struggling to find financial backers whilst being distracted by one of his new recruits. With the pressure on him increasing on all sides in an increasingly paranoid society, Johnny is forced to decide what, and who, is most important to him. Continue reading “Review: Burlesque, Jermyn Street”

Review: Drive Ride Walk, Greenwich Theatre

“I can’t believe I’m falling again”

Drive Ride Walk is a piece of new musical theatre from Filament Theatre by Osnat Schmool, developed from a two-song 10-minute sketch into this hour-long show which combines 9-person acapella singing with physical theatre about commuting in London. It follows three different journeys through the capital: a cyclist winding her way through the traffic who has a chance encounter with a handsome pedestrian, a newly-qualified driver taking friends for a drive and a group of commuters who have to deal with an unexpected change to their daily routine.

It is very loosely structured and freeform in its nature, both in terms of its story-telling and the music itself and so to be honest, it proved to be quite a trying experience in all. Schmool’s score is rather flat, accompanied occasionally by cello and accordion but mainly eschewing songs for densely-packed vocal lines and murkily repeated phrases which resembled nothing so much as vocal doodling rather than bursting with musicality. My reaction to it reminded me of how I felt about John Adams’ I Was Looking At The Ceiling… in that whatever it is about certain kinds of music that appeals to some just flies right over my head. I just couldn’t see what they were trying to achieve here and though it was only an hour, it felt much longer.

It didn’t help that there was little sense of meaningful plot or character progression presented to us. There’s a lot of little glimpses into the daily lives of our group of protagonists and the hints of interesting stories suggested, Jon-Paul Hevey’s flirty stranger and Stuart King’s call centre worker promised some interest, but none of them are really pursued to any depth which left me frustrated about what could have been. And whilst it accurately portrays the mundanity of travelling around a busy city, by not providing anything more of substance, it doesn’t offer any reason to care about what is happening.

Things were exacerbated by the use of movement which was too rarely amusing, the etiquette (or lack thereof) of packed tubes and crowded zebra-crossings was wryly observed although hardly anything new, and too often painfully laboured. Whilst there was nothing to match the infamous simulation of sex through watering cans, the sequence in which the quote at the top was repeated and demonstrated by, you’ve guessed it, everyone falling over and over again and again in the stagiest of manners drove me to distraction.

The ensemble of nine were enthusiastic and delivered a tightly knit performance but that wasn’t enough to win me over with a show which really did feel like a work-in-progress rather than a fully-fledged work. Even the way in which the local choir was co-opted into some scenes felt like a wasted opportunity as they were barely used at all (although perhaps understandable if they are using a new choir local to each venue they visit). It is a bit mean but I cannot resist the bad pun: sadly this a show to drive, ride or walk right past.

Running time: 1 hour (without interval)
Programme cost: £2
Booking until 26th February then playing Stratford Circus and Jackson’s Lane.

fosterIAN awards 2010

 WinnerRunner-upOther nominees
Best Actress in a PlayMichelle Terry, TribesNancy Carroll, After the DanceZoë Wanamaker, All My Sons
Helen McCrory, The Late Middle Classes
Miranda Raison, Anne Boleyn
Sophie Thompson, Clybourne Park
Best Actor in a PlayJohn Heffernan, Love Love LoveBenedict Cumberbatch, After the DanceJacob Casselden, Tribes
David Suchet, All My Sons
Roger Allam, Henry IV Part I + II
Andrew Scott, Design for Living
Best Supporting Actress in a PlayRachael Stirling, A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Rose, Kingston)Jemima Rooper, All My SonsJessica Raine, Earthquakes in London
Sylvestra Le Touzel, Les Parents Terribles
Clare Higgins, Hamlet (NT)
Madeleine Potter, Broken Glass
Best Supporting Actor in a PlayRobin Soans, Palace of the EndNigel Lindsay, Broken GlassAdrian Scarborough, After the Dance
Eddie Redmayne, Red
Stephen Campbell Moore, All My Sons
William Gaunt, Henry IV Part I + II
Best Actress in a MusicalTracie Bennett, End of the RainbowEmma Williams, Love StoryCora Bissett, Midsummer
Sheridan Smith, Legally Blonde
Katie Moore, Salad Days
Kirsty Hoiles, Spend! Spend! Spend!
Best Actor in a MusicalSam Harrison, Salad DaysJon-Paul Hevey, Once Upon a Time at the AdelphiJohn Owen-Jones, Les Misérables
Alan Richardson, Iolanthe
Matthew Pidgeon, Midsummer
Dean Charles Chapman, Billy Elliot
Best Supporting Actress in a MusicalHannah Waddingham, Into the WoodsJodie Jacobs, State FairKaren Mann, Spend! Spend! Spend!
Siobhan McCarthy, The Drowsy Chaperone
Jill Halfpenny, Legally Blonde
Twinnie Lee Moore, Flashdance
Best Supporting Actor in a MusicalMichael Xavier, Into the WoodsMatthew James Willis, IolantheTom Parsons, Avenue Q
Michael Howe, The Drowsy Chaperone
Liam Tamne, Departure Lounge
Earl Carpenter, Les Misérables

2010 Best Actor in a Play & in a Musical


Best Actor in a Play

John Heffernan, Love Love Love
One of those risky occasions when I allowed expectations to rocket sky-high was with Love Love Love, a new play by Mike Bartlett, fast becoming one of my favourite new playwrights, and featuring the delectable John Heffernan, fast becoming one of my favourite actors, to which I ventured to Manchester’s Royal Exchange in order to see it. And fortunately it paid off in dividends with (to my mind at least) a stronger play than Earthquakes in London and anchored by a stunning central performance from Heffernan, anchoring the play in a solid reality that allowed Daniela Denby-Ashe to play off him with huge amounts of fun as his raucous partner but also provided a strong platform for Bartlett to present the counter-case defending the baby boomers. Heffernan managed the leaps in age extremely proficiently, delivered the sharp dialogue well yet still brought a beautiful subtlety to the role: combined with his own turn in the superb After the Dance, mark my words, he really is a name for the future. He will be playing Richard II at the Tobacco Factory in Bristol early next year, I shall of course be there!

Honourable Mention: Benedict Cumberbatch, After the Dance
Before coming to the attention of the nation in a huge way with Stephen Moffat’s Sherlock, Benedict Cumberbatch has been steadily building a strong reputation for himself which was further continued with this excellent performance in Rattigan’s After the Dance. As the emotionally repressed David, he continued his hedonistic lifestyle, blissfully unaware of the damage he was causing to others around him and seemingly incapable of change: a sterling performance in a cracking production. He is of course taking to the stage at the National again in February in Frankenstein, cross-cast with Jonny Lee Miller as the doctor and the monster.

Jacob Casselden, Tribes
David Suchet, All My Sons
Roger Allam, Henry IV Part I + II
Andrew Scott, Design for Living

7-10
Antony Sher, Broken Glass; Tom Goodman-Hill, Earthquakes in London; Matt Zeremes, Holding the Man; Richard Clothier, Richard III

 

Best Actor in a Musical

Sam Harrison, Salad Days
For a while John Owen-Jones was in the running for this award for finally making me like the character of Jean Valjean who, despite me loving Les Mis like nothing else, has always been rather annoying to me! But when Salad Days swept me away on a gloomy Sunday afternoon to an altogether happier place and I realised just where I recognised the leading man from, the award moved into Sam Harrison’s hands. For it was he, amongst others, who helped me to fall right back in love with Avenue Q after I had had a bit of overkill, but in an understudy-heavy performance, he reminded why I loved that show so much. And going to see Salad Days with no idea what to expect, he brought his huge likeability to bear in a beautifully old-school take on his character, harking back to musical stars of old with nifty moves, strong pipes and a straight earnestness that was just so refreshing to see. Salad Days continues at the Riverside Studios through February.

Honourable Mention: Jon-Paul Hevey, Once Upon A Time at the Adelphi
Another unexpected pleasure came in Once Upon A Time at the Adelphi which became one of those shows that I texted everyone about as soon as I left the theatre, such was my enjoyment of it. Helped immeasurably by the classically handsome Jon-Paul Hevey (I swear he is a shoo-in for Sex and the City the musical!) as cheeky chappie Thompson and demonstrating the charm and vitality that sustained Alice’s love for such a long time and for good reason.

John Owen-Jones, Les Misérables
Alan Richardson, Iolanthe
Matthew Pidgeon, Midsummer [a play with songs]
Dean Charles Chapman, Billy Elliot The Musical

7-10
Michael Xavier, Love Story; Roger Rowley, The Buddy Holly Story; Lee Greenaway, Just So; Chris Fountain, Departure Lounge

Review: Classic Moments – Hidden Treasures, Jermyn Street Theatre


“Take me to a world where I can be alive”

Classic Moments – Hidden Treasures is described as a ‘cabaret celebration of some of the lesser known works of Stephen Sondheim’ and forms the latest in a string of celebratory events in the composer’s 80th birthday year. Directed by TIm McArthur originally under the (better) title Secret Sondheim, this show features a five person ensemble and pianist, singing a range of songs both solo and in groups, with hints of choreography and a huge amount of both talent and enthusiasm.

On the one hand, it is highly appropriate that a show like this should take place to celebrate Sondheim’s birthday and highlight some of his lesser-known works; on the other hand, since it is his birthday year, many of these ‘lesser known’ works have actually been running in London recently, Assassins is still on and Anyone Can Whistle played in this very venue. And shows like these often run the danger of leaving you wishing for at least one or two of the more well-known songs. But McArthur and musical director David Harvey have fashioned a fast-paced journey that rips through 28 songs in just over 90 minutes, without any narrative constraints or superimposed plot. Continue reading “Review: Classic Moments – Hidden Treasures, Jermyn Street Theatre”

Re-review: Once Upon Another Time at the Adelphi, Union Theatre


I quite often come out of shows knowing exactly which of my acquaintances I will be recommending it to, and Once Upon A Time At The Adelphi was no exception. However, this time I decided to go again as well, such was my enjoyment of the show. You can read my original review here, but I enjoyed it just as much the second time round and still found it just as moving.

Performances throughout were just as strong, if anything the choreography was delivered with even more confidence, and it was interesting to watch it from a different seat. Despite the Union being such a small space, it was a completely different viewing experience from the side and I also quite liked the fact that I heard much more of the harmony work going on in the ensemble, without the band being right behind me as it was last time. Continue reading “Re-review: Once Upon Another Time at the Adelphi, Union Theatre”

Review: Once Upon A Time At The Adelphi, Union Theatre


“For tonight if we dream, the world will dream along with us”

Phil Wilmott is clearly a master at directing large casts in tiny spaces and combined with Andrew Wright’s amazingly precise choreography, conjures more energy and life in the intimate space of the Union Theatre on a shoestring here with Once Upon A Time at the Adelphi than I saw at any point during that other show that I saw at another Adelphi recently. A Christmas Carol also by Wilmott and also produced by MokitaGrit, filled me with a whole Santa’s sackful of festive cheer and they are obviously doing something right as this show filled me with the joys of spring, even on this bitterly cold March evening.

A huge success with its run in Liverpool, picking up some big awards along the way, this is the London premiere although the programme talks ominously of this being the final chance to see the show. It’s an old-fashioned love story, albeit one set in two different timezones, set against the backdrop of the Adelphi hotel in Liverpool, a venue that capitalised on its location as a major transatlantic port in providing an ideal stopping point for Hollywood stars en route to more glamorous locations. We follow Jo and Neil in the present day as he tries to tempt her into backpacking round Japan with him and Alice and Thompson in the 1920s and 30s with their on-off romance being constantly challenged by events and circumstances seemingly out of their control. Continue reading “Review: Once Upon A Time At The Adelphi, Union Theatre”