Album Reviews: Renée Fleming – Broadway & The Quentin Dentin Show

Two new music releases – Renée Fleming tackles Broadway classics in style, and The Quentin Dentin Show releases its cast recording

“Life is what you want it to be”

No matter what you think of Renée Fleming, you can’t accuse her of resting on her laurels. At this point in her career, she could well be taking the easy route but this decade alone has seen her tackle Broadway (most recently receiving a Tony nomination for Carousel) for the first time and release an album that featured interpretations of three Björk songs. Her newest release cleaves closer to musical theatre though, and Broadway is available now from Decca Classics. Continue reading “Album Reviews: Renée Fleming – Broadway & The Quentin Dentin Show”

Review: The Rink, Southwark Playhouse

Get your roller-skates on and over to the Southwark Playhouse for a croking revival of Kander & Ebb’s The Rink with a stonkingly good Caroline O’Connor

“Noisy boys, long and lean.
Giggles of girls in the mezzanine”

All sorts of thoughts pass through your mind as you watch The Rink, at least they do if you’re me. Wouldn’t Gemma Sutton be perfect casting in the lead of the inevitable Lindsay Lohan: The Musical; does Jason Winter have the longest legs in musical theatre; does Caroline O’Connor have any trace of a Lancashire accent at all; didn’t Kander and Ebb write fricking fantastic songs for women; and does an ability to roller-skate in a musical make you a quadruple threat?

That’s not to say I was distracted whilst sweltering in the Southwark Playhouse during this preview on Saturday, but rather that my mind was entirely stimulated (not least when Winter does some kind of windmill move on the floor…😃). The Rink is one of those musicals that history hasn’t treated too kindly, despite a premiere that starred Chita Rivera and Liza Minnelli but with Adam Lenson’s expert hand at the tiller, this is a revival to treasure. Continue reading “Review: The Rink, Southwark Playhouse”

Album Review: Janie Dee at the BBC

“Je veux changer d’atmosphère”

30 years or so into a career that has seen her win two Olivier awards (so far – I’d watch out for her to be at least nominated for Follies, if not more), it seems remarkable that Janie Dee at the BBC is actually Dee’s debut album. But though there may not be recorded evidence, she is a highly accomplished and experienced cabaret performer among her many skills, and it is from these shows that the material has been drawn for this record.

Recorded at BBC Maida Vale Studios with Auburn Jam Records, the track-listing thus embraces a broad array of songs and styles, all connected by the smooth consummate skill of one of our more under-rated Dames-in-the-making. From Kander and Ebb to Bacharach and David, Stevie Wonder to Spike Milligan, Dee takes us on a journey of hugely sophisticated charm that proves mightily hard to resist, marshalled by MD Steve Clark.

Continue reading “Album Review: Janie Dee at the BBC”

Album Review: Alan Cumming Sings Sappy Songs – Live at the Cafe Carlyle (2015)

“How could I behave as if we’d never met?”

 Recorded just after he completed his 2014/5 return to Cabaret at Studio 54, Alan Cumming Sings Sappy Songs – Live at the Cafe Carlyle is one of the best cabaret records I’ve had the pleasure of listening to. Surprising but superb song selection, threaded through with a real sense of personality and personal revelation, draws the listener in right from the off, even if he storms just a fraction too quickly through Annie Lennox’s glorious solo hit ‘Why’, he next invests Keane’s ‘Somewhere Only We Know’ with a genuinely rueful quality that hints at what is to come.

And if the label ‘sappy’ might suggest something inconsequential, make no mistake that this is deeply emotional work. From Miley Cyrus’ ‘The Climb’ to the plangent ‘Complainte de la Butte’, to showier material that Cumming more obviously has an affinity with, like Kurt Weill’s ‘How Do Humans Live’ and the utterly gorgeous ‘You You You’ from Kander and Ebb’s The Visit, to the almost unbearable emotion underpinning the likes of Billy Joel’s ‘Goodnight Saigon’ and Rufus Wainwright’s ‘Dinner at Eight’. Continue reading “Album Review: Alan Cumming Sings Sappy Songs – Live at the Cafe Carlyle (2015)”

Album Review: The Visit (2015 original Broadway Cast Recording)

 “A ghost on a visit from the past”

The final musical written by Kander and Ebb together before the latter’s passing in 2004, The Visit has had a bit of a troubled history trying to make its way to Broadway. Original star Angela Lansbury having to withdraw due to her husband’s ill health, Chita Rivera stepping in but the hopes to transfer the out of town tryout in Autumn 2001 scuppered by the post 9/11 climate, consistent issues with financing…

But Rivera stuck with the show through various readings, concerts and mini-runs, culminating in a new one-act version directed by John Doyle, which eventually landed at the Lyceum Theatre on Broadway for not even two months. Musicals – who’d do em?! Fortunately though, this cast recording was created to help its legacy live on and hopefully, one imagines, inspire Thom Southerland to put on a production over here sometime soon! Continue reading “Album Review: The Visit (2015 original Broadway Cast Recording)”

Album Review: Cabaret (2006 London Cast Recording)

“No use permitting some prophet of doom”

Cabaret is a show which has had many a revival and many a cast recording made from those productions but it is Rufus Norris’ 2006 interpretation that seems to have lingered the longest, a new touring version starring Louise Redknapp and Will Young starts at the New Wimbledon in late September, one of many such revivals of this revival (I caught it in the West End in 2012 and the 2013 tour). And just to be clear, my comments are UK-based, for it is Mendes’ 1993 production that was most recently revived in the US (which I saw with Emma Stone at Studio 54).

And I have to say I love this particular cast recording – the sharpness of David Steadman’s musical direction is captured brightly and well on the record, and the performances sound pointed and fresh, a real testament to the recording process here. It’s a strong cast to be sure, led by the canny decision to cast Anna Maxwell Martin in the lead role of Sally Bowles. By no means a predictable choice, the decision to go for a shit-hot actress who can really focus on the character elevates the role entirely from all Liza Minnelli-based connotations and its notions that the role should be belted. Continue reading “Album Review: Cabaret (2006 London Cast Recording)”

Album Review: John Owen-Jones – Bring Him Home

“Give me this moment, this momentous moment”

I was excited by the prospect of a new John Owen-Jones album but the reality of Bring Him Home – A Collection of Musical Favourites was, I have to say, a little disappointing. For it is something of a greatest hits affair, collecting together tracks from three of his previous albums – Unmasked, Rise and his self-titled album and adding in just the three new songs.

Those tracks are Miss Saigon’s ‘Why, God, Why?’, West Side Story’s ‘Maria’ and ‘Suddenly’, written by Claude-Michel Schönberg, Herbert Kretzmer and Alain Boublil especially for the filmed version of Les Misérables. Only the last of these has any real interest as something particularly new, although fans will enjoy the personal connection Owen-Jones has to the others (drama school audition song, and first show he was in onstage). Continue reading “Album Review: John Owen-Jones – Bring Him Home”

Album Review: John Owen-Jones – Unmasked (2012)

“You are going where I long to be”

I have really enjoyed John Owen-Jones’ recorded output – his self-titled debut and 2015’s Rise both impressing with their forays into new musical theatre writing and interesting arrangements. It’s taken me a little while to get around to his 2012 album Unmasked and I have to say it does feel like a little bit of a relative disappointment for me, not so much in terms of its quality but rather in its lack of adventurousness.

Three Andrew Lloyd Webber songs, a bit of Sondheim, West Side Story’s ‘Somewhere’, Les Mis’ ‘Bring Him Home’ again (it’s appeared in one form or another on all his solo albums), there’s little to really pique the interest above and beyond what one might expect from a musical theatre star who has delivered successfully in many of these key roles. Along with standards like ‘Nature Boy’ and ‘Hallelujah’, the template thus appears quite fixed. Continue reading “Album Review: John Owen-Jones – Unmasked (2012)”

CD Review: Louise Dearman – You and I (2005)

“But still you steal each breath I’m breathing”
 
For a musical theatre star known for her big voice, there’s something gorgeous about listening to how beautiful Louise Dearman’s first album is in all its unashamed subtlety. From its opening Leslie Bricusse double-header – Goodbye Mr Chips’s ‘You And I’ and Jekyll and Hyde’s ‘Someone Like You’ (with Frank Wildhorn) – to restrained takes on classics like Les Misérables’ On My Own and Chicago’s ‘Funny Honey’, you can’t help but be taken by the beauty of her tone in all its colour and softness.
 
The stripped-back piano-based aesthetic is thus ideally suited here, paring back Lloyd Webber’s innate grandiosity to find real heart in ‘Whistle Down The Wind’, connecting perfectly with all the raw emotion of Ragtime’s ‘Your Daddy’s Son’, gently swinging through Show Boat’s ‘Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man Of Mine’. Jimmy Jewell’s work on the keys is superlative, ensuring there’s always musical interest in the arrangements whilst never forgetting the key role of accompanying Dearman.

Continue reading “CD Review: Louise Dearman – You and I (2005)”

Album Review: Billy Porter – Billy’s Back On Broadway

 “The towering feeling just to know somehow you are near”

Billy Porter’s career may have received a fillip from winning the Tony Award for Best Actor in a Musical for his turn as Lola in Kinky Boots (a pattern interestingly repeated by Matt Henry at the Oliviers this year) but he is a performer who has certainly paid his dues. From his 1994 debut in Grease, he’s carved out as a path as an almost old-school multi-disciplinary entertainer – appearing on film and TV as well as on stage, writing plays and music…boy’s been keeping busy.

Billy’s Back On Broadway marks his third album and proves an interesting blend of everything that makes up Billy. The songlist is pure Broadway as the title suggests but the approach from Porter and producer Rob Mounsey is much more varied, bringing in elements both of the jazz and the more contemporary R&B he loves. Combined with idiosyncratic takes on some of these classics, it makes for an always interesting collection. Continue reading “Album Review: Billy Porter – Billy’s Back On Broadway”