CD Review: Kristin Chenoweth – Coming Home (2014)

“A most unusual coloring book”

Kristin Chenoweth has been delighting audiences across musical theatre, television shows and concert tours for many years now and so one can forgive her the indulgence of a live album. Coming Home was recorded in her hometown of Broken Arrow, Oklahoma and covers the widest range of musical influences that have shaped her life and career.

So we get songs from her Broadway hits, wish fulfilment of songs she’s always wanted to perform, a dip into the country and Christian music of her upbringing, not to mention some disco and Dolly Parton too. It’s an eclectic mixture but one which proves revelatory, not just because of the many spoken interludes included here but because of the sheer joy of Chenoweth’s extraordinary soprano voice.

And that is in evidence right from the start of this 15 track collection. You might not think you need to hear another version of ‘I Could Have Danced All Night’ or ‘Maybe This Time’ but she soars magnificently through both, exercising the full heft of her upper register to glorious effect and bringing particularly new life to the latter track. 


Phantom’s ‘Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again’ similarly shines and she thoroughly owns Les Misérables ‘Bring Him Home’, a surprising but effective choice. And she pays nice tribute to Wicked with an amusingly multilingual version of ‘Popular’ and a duet on ‘For Good’ with a local singer named Axyl Langford (who sadly might not be too keen to preserved this way…).

The swerves away from musical theatre offer up some lovely moments too. Parton’s ‘Little Sparrow’ is beautifully done and the folkier songs ‘Fathers and Daughters’ and ‘Hard Times Come Again No More’ have a charming unaffected directness to them, offering up a fascinating balance to a record that feels like a real insight into Chenoweth as a performer and indeed, as a person.

Album Review: Audra McDonald – Go Back Home (2013)

“Maybe someday I’ll get lucky”

It took seven years for Audra McDonald to get around to her fifth solo album Go Back Home but as the adage says, some things are just worth waiting for. As entertaining as her diversion into the world of singer-songwriters on previous collection Build A Bridge was, there’s real joy in hearing her return so whole-heartedly to the world of musical theatre, particularly when it is as gloriously well done as this.

As ever, there’s the mixture of old and new that has typified McDonald’s output – the dips into the classics, represented here by Rodgers and Hammerstein, Sondheim and Styne, and the showcasing of the new, the likes of Michael John LaChiusa, Adam Guettel and Steven Marzullo who have regularly received her patronage. Such intelligent support of her industry has longed proved invaluable and helped to establish her at its forefront. Continue reading “Album Review: Audra McDonald – Go Back Home (2013)”

Review: Audra McDonald, Leicester Square Theatre

“Make just one someone happy,
And you will be happy, too”

It’s hardly Audra McDonald’s fault that the audience for her long-awaited return to the London stage with these two concerts was so de trop but for me, the adulation was exactly that, too much. For the (relative) intimacy of the Leicester Square Theatre, for the cultivation of a cabaret atmosphere, for the genuine appreciation of this her performance here as opposed to the bottled-up idolisation for a body of work from over the ocean.

Which is not to say that the reputation isn’t well-deserved, not at all. A hugely accomplished actor and singer, her record six Tony Awards unprecedently span all four acting categories. And her choice of material here, along with MD Andy Einhorn, demonstrates a real commitment to American musical theatre, delving back into the classic songbook but showcasing newer composers too, never letting an opportunity to explore her social conscience. Continue reading “Review: Audra McDonald, Leicester Square Theatre”

Review: The World Goes Round, Pheasantry

“What dancing in the park? What laughter in the dark?”

I always find it hard to write much about cabarets that doesn’t just end up as a list of the songs sung, so I’m keeping it short for this one. With the extensive tour of Anything Goes shortened by economic necessity, opportunities to see its leading lady Debbie Kurup again have become available sooner rather than later which has proven something of a bonus. She’ll be in Rhythm of Life, a Cy Coleman celebration later this week but right now she is delving into the work of John Kander and Fred Ebb in The World Goes Round, a cabaret first put together in 1991.

It cherry-picks from a wide range of Kander and Ebb’s collaborations, for film and TV as well as stage, and digs deep into the catalogue to feature lesser known shows like The Happy Time and The Act as well as the marquee numbers like Cabaret and Chicago. And as such it makes for an interesting journey through some brilliant songwriting and in the intimate surroundings of The Pheasantry in this Speckulation Entertainments prodiction, some excellent musicianship from the band of three led by Kris Rawlinson. Continue reading “Review: The World Goes Round, Pheasantry”

Album Review: Ruthie Henshall – I’ve Loved These Days

“It’s like that there’s a music playing in your ear”

For one reason or another, Ruthie Henshall and I had never crossed paths until this last week but with two different performances on two consecutive days, she left me in no doubt as to how well-earned her reputation is. As Sally in Follies, she broke our hearts whilst losing her mind and as Mrs Wilkinson in Billy Elliot, she beautifully embodies the kind of teacher we’d all love to have. So I thought it was high time to indulge in the collection of albums she has released, starting with I’ve Loved These Days from 2013.

Naturally, there’s some indulging of her hard-won stagey credentials with rip-roaring takes on classics like ‘Don’t Rain On My Parade’ and a highly enjoyable romp through ‘Adelaide’s Lament’. There’s also a nod or two to her theatrical CV – a return trip to Cook County Jail but on the other side of the bars as she tackles ‘When You’re Good To Mama’, knowing exactly of what she speaks. And her current turn in Billy Elliot is represented with an elegantly powerful rendition of Billy’s anthem ‘Electricity’. Continue reading “Album Review: Ruthie Henshall – I’ve Loved These Days”

Album Review: Madalena Alberto – Don’t Cry For Me

“The answer was here all the time”

Capitalising on her long-running stint in the UK tour of Evita which culminated in a stint at the Dominion Theatre, Madalena Alberto’s 2014 album Don’t Cry For Me relies heavily on that role, featuring three songs from that show as well as using it for its title. Her versions of ‘Don’t Cry For Argentina’ and ‘You Must Love Me’ are naturally both very good but it is the heartfelt ‘Lament’ that really shows how good she was in the role, slowly building to a fiercely emotional climax with a heartbreaking finale.

Elsewhere she delves further into the world of musical theatre, tackling standards like Cabaret’s ‘Maybe This Time’ and lesser known work like Jekyll and Hyde’s ‘Someone Like You’ (in which she starred at the Union) with an equal gusto, and a nicely restrained (and beautifully arranged ) wander through Blood Brothers’ ‘Easy Terms’ brings a lovely inquisitive quality to the storytelling, reflecting Alberto’s roots as a singer-songwriter of no little quality. Continue reading “Album Review: Madalena Alberto – Don’t Cry For Me”

Critics’ Circle Awards 2013: the winners in full

Best New Play
Chimerica by Lucy KirkwoodThe Peter Hepple Award for Best Musical
The Scottsboro Boys

Best Actor
Lenny Henry in Fences

Best Actress
Lesley Manville in Ghosts

The John and Wendy Trewin Award for Best Shakespearean Performance
Rory Kinnear in Othello

Best Director
Lindsay Turner for Chimerica

Best Designer
Es Devlin for Chimerica

Most Promising Playwright (awarded jointly)
Rory Kinnear for The Herd
Phoebe Waller-Bridge for Fleabag

The Jack Tinker Award for Most Promising Newcomer [other than a playwright]
Kate O’Flynn in Port


Review: Steel Pier, Union Theatre

“Men and me are like pianos – when they get upright, I feel grand”

Steel Pier is one of Kander and Ebb’s lesser known works: its initial 1997 run (featuring Kristin Chenoweth’s Broadway debut) lasted just a few months and it is only now that the show is receiving its professional European premiere at the Union Theatre. In some respects, it is not hard to see why: David Thompson’s bland book lacks any sort of dramatic drive or interest, and Kander and Ebb’s score misses the deliciously dark edge that characterises much of their best work. But this highly energetic production from Paul Taylor-Mills has a dancing charm which lifts the entertainment factor.

We’re in Atlantic City in the midst of the Great Depression, where exploitative Mick Hamilton is running a marathon dance competition where the last couple dancing will win a cash prize. His secret weapon is veteran of such competitions Rita Racine, but she is tired and determined that this will be her last danceathon and her partner has failed to turn up. Stepping in at the last minute is mysterious flyboy Bill Kelly and as they progress through the contest, Rita finds her attentions and affections torn between these two men. Continue reading “Review: Steel Pier, Union Theatre”

Review: Cabaret, Savoy

“You should have known by now you’d every cause to doubt me”

Rufus Norris’ restaging of Cabaret was a big hit a few years back (although I never quite managed to make the trip) and it now receives a revival which has toured the UK (where most of my family caught it at the Lowry before me, how very dare they!) in advance of arriving at the Savoy Theatre. Given the high-profile nature of the show, it seems surprising that the lead casting comes somewhat out of left field – the part of the Emcee is taken on by Will Young and the iconic role of Sally Bowles by Michelle Ryan – and it is a gamble with varying results.

Young actually fits this production like a glove. His sinister, rapacious air as he manipulates the Kit Kat club in a striking rendition of Tomorrow Belongs to Me never lets us forget that this is no light-hearted piece of musical theatre fluff but a snapshot of a highly disturbing moment in world history as the German population fell under the spell of Nazism. Kander + Ebb’s deliciously dark musical was based on John Van Druten’s I Am A Camera which could be recently seen in glorious form at Southwark Playhouse, but that in turn was based on Christopher Isherwood’s short story Goodbye to Berlin, his semi-autobiographical account of living in 1930s Germany. Continue reading “Review: Cabaret, Savoy”

Music Review: John Barr – In Whatever Time We Have

“Even clowns need their time to cry”

There have been a few CD reviews posted on here over the last few months but they have all been of albums that I have bought myself and loved, thus inevitably not necessarily the most balanced of views across the spectrum of what’s out there. So friends and colleagues have been lending me the musical theatre CDs that they listen to and I’ll be trying to keep up to reviewing at least one per week and we will see how it goes. If you click on the tag ‘music’ at the bottom of the post, that should bring up all the CD reviews until I work out a different way of presenting them on here.

First up is John Barr’s 1998 album In Whatever Time We Have. Barr has become quite an established cabaret singer now as well as stints performing in several of the big long-runners in the West End, though I saw him most recently in Sondheim’s Assassins at the Union (not counting his performance at the Scrapbook Live concert). This is a mostly ballad-heavy album, with some attempts at variety which don’t always come off but this is also something which cuts both ways. His singing style here is so smooth at times that one misses a little of the variety that could be explored here even within the ballads: in particular the lovely ‘Does the Moment Ever Come?’ from Stiles & Drewe’s Just So has much of its searching questioning tone ironed out which robs it of much of the emotional heft of the song. But hearing songs sung out of the context of the shows from which they’re taken, especially when they are much loved by yourself, means it is difficult to put the versions you know and love out of your mind. Continue reading “Music Review: John Barr – In Whatever Time We Have”