CD Review: Lord of the Rings (2008 Original London Production)

“Eä, Arda, Ainulindalë.
Aratar, Maiar, Rána, Nénar”

Believe it or not, there was a time when I lived in London and I only saw a handful of shows a month, actually making considered decisions about what I wanted to see. And I have to say the musical of Lord of the Rings did not make the cut (obvs I wasn’t aware of who Rosalie Craig was at that point, or else I would have gone!). The show lasted just over a year at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane and probably lost a shit-ton of money (it allegedly cost £12 million to make) but we do have a cast recording to remember it by.
 
And what a rather odd-sounding show it is, little surprise really when you consider that producer Kevin Wallace brought on three different composers to complement the book and lyrics by Matthew Warchus and Shaun McKenna. So Bollywood supremo A. R. Rahman, Finnish folk group Värttinä and Lloyd Webber-wannabe Christopher Nightingale all contributed to an altogether epic score, but one which sprawls in an unwieldly manner as these three strands struggle to cohere into an effective whole.

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Review: Evita, Dominion

“The lady’s got potential”

Right, first things first, Marti Pellow’s name is deliberately bigger than Madalena Alberto’s on the poster. Really? He may have the greater name recognition factor, indeed Popped In Souled Out was one of the first cassette albums I ever owned, but is the show called Che? It is not, it is called Evita. And more significantly, in the role of Eva Perón, Alberto delivers an utterly magnificent performance (one which should give Anna-Jane Casey pause for thought in the recently rewritten Forbidden Broadway, star quality indeed…) which far outshadows Pellow’s perfunctory work. Simply put, this is not a West End-standard leading man turn and so demanding higher billing than the show’s true star feels even more inexcusable.

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s show has been touring the country since May 2013 and has now turned up at the Dominion Theatre to finish its run with a seven week stint in the West End. It’s quite a successful transfer too – Matthew Wright’s design holds up well on the vast stage and directors Bob Tomson and Bill Kenwright ensure a sense of grandeur infuses this story of the rise to power of Eva Perón under the auspices of her husband Juan who became the Argentine president. Creatively, the only disappointment comes in Bill Deamer’s choreography which lacks the organic Latin spirit that so elevated the last West End revival (the explosive power of that ‘Buenos Aires’ is one of my all-time favourite theatrical memories).

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Review: Carousel, Arcola

“Fresh and alive and gay and young”

It’s kind of hard to avoid the many rave reviews that this Morphic Graffiti revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel has received so it won’t surprise those who know me that I wasn’t quite as blown away by it as were others. I have somehow managed to avoid ever seeing it before and I wonder if that made the difference – a recurring theme seems to be ‘one of the best versions I’ve ever seen’ indicating a deep seated affection for the show (much like Miss Saigon) whereas to fresh ears and eyes, the splendour of the score can’t always paper over the more questionable aspects of the book. 

There’s certainly much to appreciate in Luke Frederick’s production – the reconceptualising of a ‘big’ musical into the boutique space of the Arcola has been excellently done. Lee Proud’s choreography has a great feel for the expressive and exhilarating potential in such intimacy and Andrew Corcoran’s tight band of five create a great musical sound, especially blessed by the unmiked singing which lends a rawness and immediacy that feels entirely appropriate for the venue. I can well imagine it not having sounded quite like this before and therefore exciting those who loved it already. Continue reading “Review: Carousel, Arcola”

Review: Hairspray, Curve

“’Cause just to sit still would be a sin”

For the longest time, I resisted the charms of Hairspray both on screen and on stage. It was only my niece and nephew falling in love with the 2007 film and making me watch it with them and made me realise how much fun it is and just how tuneful Marc Shaiman’s score manages to be. So having missed the boat with the West End version (and resisted the temptation to see its seemingly never-ending touring incarnation), I was most pleased to see that Paul Kerryson was creating his own interpretation for the Curve, especially given how successfully Chicago had been reinvented there over Christmas. 

And it appears that lightning really can strike twice. Kerryson clearly has the knack for reconceiving large scale musicals for this Leicester stage and focusing on the qualities that make them so successful and here, in that respect, there’s an embarrassment of riches. Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan’s book captures a crucial moment in US civil rights history but one with an enduringly powerful message in how societal pressure can result in lasting change when focused through the right media channel. And Lee Proud’s wonderfully expansive choreography educates as well as entertains, speaking volumes about the changing ways in which we interact. Continue reading “Review: Hairspray, Curve”

Review: Hello, Dolly! Curve

“I feel the room swayin’ for the band’s playin’ one of my old favourite songs from way back when”

There’s something about Dolly. When I first saw Jerry Herman’s Hello, Dolly! at the Open Air Theatre back in 2009, I’d’ve happily sat through the show again straightaway despite being incredibly cold and damp. And though struggling to shake off the effects of an annoying bug, the same feeling caught me as we got to the end of Paul Kerryson’s production of the show for Leicester’s Curve Theatre, it is just one of those shows. This was a matinée preview full of incident though. A woman taken ill just before the end of the show was dealt with efficiently by the theatre staff, though its timing was most unfortunate as it all took place right under my nose in the final moments of the show. And a wayward underskirt threatened to topple Janie Dee mid-performance but ever the consummate professional, she whipped it off mid-song and carried on regardless. It all added to the undoubted charm of a gorgeously mounted show that is full of great heart.

Dee’s Dolly Levi is a marvellous confection, making this professional matchmaker less of an overtly comic whirlwind than one might expect. Her performance is full of subtlety: a deep sincerity in her beliefs, a minor note of melancholy that creeps in every time she mentions her late lamented Ephraim, but also a wonderful wit which makes the glint in her eye all the more playful whether she’s teasing audience members or pulling the strings of her clients. And though not necessarily the strongest singer, the arrangements have been cleverly reworked to suit her rich contralto and there’s something touching in having these songs delivered with a modicum of vulnerability rather than being belted out in the manner one assumes Caroline O’Connor would have done, her being originally cast in the title role but later withdrawing. Continue reading “Review: Hello, Dolly! Curve”

Review: Flashdance – The Musical, Shaftesbury

“Just a steel town girl on a Saturday night”

I was originally meant to see Flashdance -The Musical at the Shaftesbury Theatre a couple of weeks ago but that first preview was cancelled due to technical difficulties, so when I finally made it to one of the last previews, my heart sank as we waited for the curtain to rise and the announcement came that the start of the afternoon’s show was being delayed due to, you’ve guessed it, technical difficulties! Having been outraged at the merchandising in the foyer (£60 for a special Barbie! £15 for a pair of legwarmers!) I was thus prepared with sharpened knives for what was coming my way. Perhaps my lowered expectations had something to do with then, but I ended up having quite a good time!

Based on the Paramount Pictures film, Flashdance – The Musical has a book by Tom Hedley & Robert Cary, music by Robbie Roth and lyrics by Robbie Roth and Robert Cary, but also features choreography from Arlene Phillips (who really does belong back on our screens at the weekend). Set in Pittsburgh in the 1980s, we meet Alex, apprentice steel welder by day, club dancer by night (who isn’t!) who dreams of love and life in dance school. Watching this reminded me of just how many times I have seen variations of this story played out in countless films, of someone fighting against the odds to, delete as appropriate, date a black guy/rise above working class roots/honour a dead relative/not be a stripper and get to the audition in time to wipe the smile off that smug auditioner’s face in order to secure a place at an amazing dance school for which they are eminently unsuitable. But I love each and every one of them, there’s nothing like a cheesy teen dance film to raise the spirits! And as Flashdance got in there at the beginning, it can consider itself mistress of the genre. Continue reading “Review: Flashdance – The Musical, Shaftesbury”