Album Review: The Phantom of the Opera at the Royal Albert Hall

“We had such hopes…”

To celebrate its 25th anniversary, The Phantom of the Opera decamped to the Royal Albert Hall for 3 performances, the highlights of which were spliced together to give a full CD/DVD release package which contains as full a rendering of the entire score as it currently available. Maybe it was a rush job though as the sound quality on this CD really isn’t good enough for it to be genuinely recommendable, even for a live recording. 

I also had mixed feelings about the production itself. I just can’t get on with Sierra Boggess’ voice, her soprano voice always erring to the too shrill for my liking and the vibrato she employs has all the subtlety of a jackhammer. Christine isn’t the strongest-written of roles at the best of times and Boggess just feels too emotionally vapid to be the inspiration of such all-conquering adoration as she is served with in this story. Continue reading “Album Review: The Phantom of the Opera at the Royal Albert Hall”

Review: Sweeney Todd, London Coliseum

“At the top of the hole sit the privileged few”

And it is mostly the privileged few who’ll get to see this lavish English National Opera production of Sondheim’s oft-revived Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street as stalls seats will set you back an eye-watering £95, £125 or £155. Somewhat cheaper seats are available from the upper circle upwards but still…* Lonny Price’s semi-staged production (with its nifty fake-out of a beginning) was first seen in New York in March 2014 but unsurprisingly, given it featured Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel as Mrs Lovett and the demon barber himself, it declared “there’s no place like London” and has now taken up residence in the Coliseum alongside a cast of nearly 40 musical theatre veterans (and Thompson’s daughter) and a lush-sounding  orchestra of 60.

Thompson and Terfel may be the headline names but the real pleasure comes in the luxury casting that surrounds them. Philip Quast and John Owen-Jones bring a richness of vocal to Judge Turpin and Pirelli respectively, Alex Gaumond and Jack North both mine effectively Dickensian depths to Beadle and Toby and there’s something glorious about having the marvellous Rosalie Craig here, even in so relatively minor a role as the Beggar Woman as her quality shines through despite that wig. Matthew Seadon-Young and Katie Hall as Anthony and Johanna are both really impressive too, their voices marrying beautifully as they respond intuitively to the textures of David Charles Obell’s orchestra. Continue reading “Review: Sweeney Todd, London Coliseum”

The 2013 Manchester Theatre Awards nominations

Best Actor
David Birrell, Sweeney Todd, Royal Exchange
Kenneth Branagh, Macbeth, Manchester International Festival, St Peter’s Church
Nigel Cooke, To Kill A Mockingbird, Royal Exchange
Paul Webster, Sugar Daddies, Oldham Coliseum
Jack Wilkinson, David Copperfield, Oldham Coliseum

Best Actress
Marianne Benedict, Chicago, Oldham Coliseum
Cush Jumbo, A Doll’s House, Royal Exchange
Gillian Kearney, Educating Rita, Library at The Lowry
Alex Kingston, Macbeth, Manchester International Festival, St Peter’s Church
Maxine Peake, Masque Of Anarchy, Manchester International Festival, Albert Hall
Shannon Tarbet, To Kill A Mockingbird, Royal Exchange Continue reading “The 2013 Manchester Theatre Awards nominations”

Review: West Side Story, New Wimbledon

“There’s a place for us”

For me, West Side Story occupies that most special of places in that I can’t remember life without it. It’s a film I’ve loved to watch and a score I’ve loved to listen to since I was kneehigh to the proverbial and it is a love that has remained undiminished. I saw the last international tour of the show twice at Sadler’s Wells and so had thought I’d give this one a miss as it was more or less the same production, but the casting news for the extensive UK tour that followed meant I couldn’t resist a cheeky trip to the New Wimbledon to see it on its way.

Joey McKneely’s excellent production is well-contained within Paul Gallis’ brooding set design which forms the perfect backdrop for showcasing Jerome Robbins’ inimitable choreography which feels as fresh as it has ever done, not least because of the sheer timelessness of the gorgeous songs. ‘Somewhere’, ‘Tonight’, ‘Maria’, ‘I Feel Pretty’, ‘America’…the list goes on and given the huge enthusiasm from the fresh young ensemble gathered here, one can see the magic continuing to go on for generations of potential musical-lovers to come.  Continue reading “Review: West Side Story, New Wimbledon”

Film Review: Les Misérables

“Life has dropped you at the bottom of the heap”

For many people, myself included, it is nigh on impossible to approach a film version of stage behemoth Les Misérables with a blank slate. It’s been a mainstay of the musical theatre world since its 1985 London debut – it is most likely the show I have seen the most times throughout my lifetime – and after celebrating its 25th anniversary with an extraordinarily good touring production, has been riding high with a revitalised energy. So Tom Hooper’s film has a lot to contend with in terms of preconceptions, expectations and long-ingrained ideas of how it should be done. And he has attacked it with gusto, aiming to reinvent notions of cinematic musicals by having his actors sing live to camera and bringing his inimitable close-up directorial style to bear thus creating a film which is epic in scale but largely intimate in focus.

In short, I liked it but I didn’t love it. I’m not so sure that Hooper’s take on the piece as a whole is entirely suited to the material, or rather my idea of how best it works. Claude-Michel Schönberg’s score has a sweeping grandeur which is already quasi-cinematic in its scope but Hooper never really embraces it fully as he works in his customary solo shots and close-ups into the numbers so well known as ensemble masterpieces.  ‘At The End Of The Day’ and ‘One Day More’ both suffer this fate of being presented as individually sung segments stitched together but for me, the pieces never really added up to more than the sum of their parts to gain the substantial power that they possess on the stage. Continue reading “Film Review: Les Misérables”

DVD Review: Les Misérables in concert

“There’s a reckoning to be reckoned”

Forming the culmination of the 25th Anniversary celebrations of Les Misérables was a pair of concert versions of the show taking place at the O2 centre in Greenwich which brought together the company of companies, over 500 actors and musicians joining forces to pay tribute to this enduing classic of a show. The cast and companies of the touring production and the West End production joined with a massive choir and orchestra and a hand-picked international cast performed the lead roles in this concert presentation which was also relayed live into cinemas and later released on DVD to be enjoyed by those who chose not to go (or couldn’t get tickets).

Concert versions of shows are always a bit funny, performers singing songs to each other but looking straight out at audiences and limited opportunity for acting so they can often feel a little constrained in their presentation. Here, the cast were in full costume and projections and clips from the show used to fill in some of the gaps that the songs could not fill. And it is all really rather good if not quite the self-proclaimed “musical event of a lifetime”. Continue reading “DVD Review: Les Misérables in concert”

Review: Les Misérables, Barbican

“Will you join in our crusade? Who will be strong and stand with me?”

When I first started this blogging lark, I thought that what I wanted was to be ‘respected’ as a ‘serious’ theatregoer and whilst I’ve never been ashamed of being a huge fan of musical theatre amongst many other things, I’d always been uneasy about demonstrating that too much. But after great conversations with so many of my new friends in the online reviewing community, I’ve come to fully appreciate that integrity really does come from being truly honest about things that I see and the things that I love and this could not have been better illuminated than in the last two days: an obscure Sondheim revival at the Donmar and the umpteenth time of seeing Les Misérables, albeit in a new production and I can proudly say that it was Les Mis that came out as a clear winner for me despite what my inner snob may have wanted me to say!

Based on Victor Hugo’s novel, Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg adapted it for the stage in 1980, and it first played in London at the Barbican, produced by Cameron Mackintosh and directed by Trevor Nunn, transferring to the Palace and then the Queen’s Theatre where it is still running after 25 years. And to mark that 25th anniversary, Mackintosh conceived this touring version of the show, directed by Lawrence Connor and James Powell (a decision which sadly left Nunn’s nose out of joint) and after touring the country, it has now arrived back at its original home at the Barbican for 22 performances only. Continue reading “Review: Les Misérables, Barbican”