The 2017 Manchester Theatre Awards nominations

New play
Gypsy Queen by Rob Ward, Hope Mill
How My Light Is Spent by Alan Harris, Royal Exchange
Narcissist in the Mirror by Rosie Fleeshman, Greater Manchester Fringe Festival
Narvik by Lizzie Nunnery, Home

Opera
Cendrillon, Royal Northern College of Music, RNCM
La Cenerentola, Opera North, the Lowry
The Little Greats, Opera North, the Lowry
The Snow Maiden, Opera North, the Lowry

Actress
Karen Henthorn, Spring and Port Wine, Oldham Coliseum
Lisa Dwyer Hogg, People, Places and Things, Home
Nina Hoss, Returning to Reims, Manchester International Festival
Janet Suzman, Rose, Home Continue reading “The 2017 Manchester Theatre Awards nominations”

The Barricade Boys announce a Christmas Cabaret season with an amazing guest cast

As Mrs Merton might have asked, what first attracted you to musical theatre supergroup The Barricade Boys…?

Clearly, it was their cumulative musical talent – between them, Scott Garnham, Simon Schofield, Craig Mather and Kieran Brown have racked up credits in pretty much every major musical from The Phantom of The Opera, Wicked and Billy Elliot to Jersey Boys, The Sound Of Music and Les Misérables. And now they’re bringing their cabaret show to The Other Palace’s Studio for a Christmas season which is enough to bring festive cheer to even the most Scrooge-like of hearts.

But not content with filling our stockings thus, they’ve gone through their contact lists to find a frankly astonishing array of guest stars to accompany them across the entire run, making it nigh-on impossible to choose just one night to go along.

The full line up of guest stars:
Tuesday 5 December Gary Trainor (Dewey Finn in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s School of Rock at the New London Theatre)
Wednesday 6 Oliver Savile (Fiyero, Wicked, Apollo Victoria Theatre)
Thursday 7 Michael Xavier (two-time Olivier Award nominee, Joe Gillis in Sunset Boulevard; The Prince of Broadway)
Friday 8 Nadim Naaman (Raoul, The Phantom of the Opera, Her Majesty’s Theatre; Anthony Sweeney Todd, Harrington Pie & Mash Shop)
Saturday 9 (matinee) Rachel Tucker (Elphaba in Wicked in the West End and Broadway; Sting’s The Last Ship, Broadway)
Saturday 9 (evening) Simon Bailey (Tommy DeVito, Jersey Boys, West End; Raoul, The Phantom of the Opera, Her Majesty’s Theatre)
Monday 11 Liam Tamne (Frank N Furter, The Rocky Horror Show; Raoul, The Phantom of The Opera, Her Majesty’s Theatre) & Andy Coxon (Berger in Hair, The Vaults; Mitch, Yank, Charing Cross Theatre)
Tuesday 12 Jon Robyns (Princeton/Rod in Avenue Q, Noel Coward Theatre; Robbie Hart, The Wedding Singer, UK Tour)
Wednesday 13 Caroline Sheen (Alaura/Carla City of Angels, Donmar Warehouse; Mary Poppins in Mary Poppins, US Tour) & George Stiles and Anthony Drewe (award-winning composers of Half a Sixpence, Betty Blue Eyes, Honk! and The Wind in the Willows)
Thursday 14 (matinee) Killian Donnelly (currently Valjean in Les Misérables, Queen’s Theatre; Deco, The Commitments, Palace Theatre; Huey, Memphis, Shaftesbury Theatre, Charlie, Kinky Boots, West End & Broadway)
Thursday 14 (evening) Sabrina Aloueche (Scaramouche, We Will Rock You, Dominion Theatre; Eponine, Les Misérables, Queen’s Theatre)
Friday 15 Emily Tierney (Glinda in the first UK &Ireland tour of Wicked, Glinda, The Wizard of Oz, London Palladium)
Saturday 16 (matinee) Shona White (Florence Vassy in Craig Revel Horwood’s award winning UK touring production of Chess)
Saturday 16 (evening) Sophie Louise Dann (Celia The Girls, Phoenix Theatre; Barbara Castle, Made in Dagenham, Adelphi; Paula, Bend It Like Beckham the Musical, Phoenix Theatre)
Monday 18 David Shannon (The Phantom, The Phantom of the Opera, Her Majesty’s Theatre; Valjean in Les Misérables, Queen’s Theatre) & Rob Houchen (Marius, Les Misérables, Queen’s Theatre; Fleet, Titanic, Charing Cross Theatre)
Tuesday 19 Luke Kempner (Comedian, impressionist, actor and singer, The Only Way Is Downton, West End; Marius in Les Misérables) 
Wednesday 20 special TV and Film star guest to be announced 
Thursday 21 (matinee) Laura Pitt-Pulford (Olivier Award nominated as Milly Bradon, Seven Brides For Seven Brothers, Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre; Side Show, Southwark Playhouse; Barnum, Menier Chocolate Factory)
Thursday 21 (evening) David Thaxton (Javert, Les Misérables, Queen’s; Pilate, Jesus Christ Superstar, Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre; Giorgio, Passion, Donmar Warehouse, Olivier Award for Best Actor in a Musical)
Friday 22 Jacinta Whyte (Eponine, Les Misérables, Palace Theatre; Linda, Blood Brothers, Phoenix Theatre; Ellen, Miss Saigon, Theatre Royal, Drury Lane)
AAAAAAND YOU COULD BE IN THE SHOW!
Two lucky people will win the chance to appear on stage with The Barricade Boys at the two shows on Saturday 23 December. All you need to do to be in with a chance is tweet a youtube video link singing a Christmas song to @BarricadeBoys. The Barricade Boys will decide the winners by Monday 11 December.

Album Review: Wit and Whimsy – Songs by Alexander S Bermange

“If only I were famous from the telly”
 
Across its two discs and twenty-three tracks, there’s an awful lot of whimsy to Alexander S Bermange’s latest compilation album Wit and Whimsy and not quite enough wit to sustain it. Bermange is a composer who has had as much success writing comic songs for radio as he has in straight-up musical theatre (the two shows of his that I’ve seen – The Route to Happiness and Thirteen Days were both part of festivals).
 
That said, he has an impressive contacts list as evidenced by the range of people who have joined in on the action here – Laura Pitt-Pulford, Tracie Bennett, David Bedella, Cassidy Janson, Emma Williams, even Christopher Biggins. And with a guest list of this quality, naturally there are moments that shine here.

Continue reading “Album Review: Wit and Whimsy – Songs by Alexander S Bermange”

Review: Side Show, Southwark Playhouse

“If you don’t say yes I’ll have a heart attack that will kill us both”

In what I thought was a serendipitous move, I just finished watching American Horror Story: Freak Show before going to see Side Show, but it turned out to be most unhelpful. For not only the connection (seemingly by dress) of conjoined twins Daisy and Violet Hilton with the twin heads of Sarah Paulson’s Bette and Dot pales by comparison, but the darkness of representing a ‘freak’ show is far more suited to the horror genre than this rather anaemic musical.
With book and lyrics written by Bill Russell and music by Henry Krieger (whose Dreamgirls finally arrives in London next month), Side Show has managed two abortive runs on Broadway since premiering in 1997, so it makes sense for Southwark Playhouse to take it on with their sterling record for reinvigorating musical theatre of varying reputations. But despite director Hannah Chissick and producer Paul Taylor-Mills’ best efforts, I’m not sure it is rehabilitated.
The book is hampered by the Hiltons being real-life conjoined twins, their story deserving respect when what it really needs dramatically is an infusion of darkness, whether in comedy or freakiness. As it is, it just ends up rather po-faced as the girls battle exploitation from those who want to monetise their notoriety, and struggle to negotiate the practicalities of pursuing romantic lives (with different men) when the opportunities present themselves.
takis’ design looks impressive (though sightlines are problematic on the sides), Jo Cichonska’s musical direction makes the most of a score that I found disappointingly bland, and the cast are certainly committed. Louise Dearman and Laura Pitt-Pulford impress as the twins, and Christopher Howell, Haydn Oakley, Dominic Hodson and Jay Marsh shine as the men who circle them. But it still feels that it is Side Show as the main attraction that is problematic.
Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes
Booking until 3rd December

Review: Flowers for Mrs Harris, Crucible

“There is more to life than you ever knew, than you ever dreamed,”

Sheffield feels the right place for Flowers for Mrs Harris to come into bloom, its delicately understated charm and musicality making this a world away from the brash, cut-throat commercialism of West End musicals. That’s not to say I wouldn’t love to see this show come down to the capital, for it does deserve such wider attention, but rather to celebrate the creation and nurturing of musical theatre from all parts of the country, a recognition of a theatrical ecology that thrives far beyond the M25.
Daniel Evans’ artistic directorship of Sheffield Theatres, which ends with this production, has been a key part of that over the last few years and it is pleasing to see that his presence in the overall picture will continue as he departs for Chichester Festival Theatre. As for now, we get a gorgeous piece of unmistakably British musical theatre that is as heart-warming and tear-jerking as they come, a tenderly sentimental exploration of far-fetched dreams and earthily real friendships.
Based on a 1958 novella by Paul Gallico, Rachel Wagstaff’s book and Richard Taylor’s music and lyrics tell the almost mythical tale of Mrs Ada Harris, a widowed London charlady in her 50s, whose life has been dedicated to the service of others. One day, she espies a Christian Dior dress in the closet of a client and decides that she would like to own one for herself, setting about the gargantuan task of scrimping and saving until she can, incredibly, make her dream come true. And as we move from London to Paris, her generosity of heart continues to inspire those around her. 
It’s beautifully, gorgeously, done. Clare Burt soars with an almost magical sense of dignified wonder, her Mrs Harris improving the lives of so many of those who come into contact with her in the cleverly constructed extravagance of Lez Brotherston’s set (though it was a neat kitchen cupboard that caught my eye). She’s supported by a stunning supporting cast who switch roles post-interval – Nicola Sloane’s dressmaker brimming with pride at being acknowledged, Laura Pitt-Pulford’s snooty actress, Mark Meadows as both the departed Mr Harris and a twinkle-eyed marquis, everyone just shines with loveliness.
They’re helped by an interesting score from Taylor that eschews brassy showtunes for a more melodious conversational style, which draws the listener into the set-up of the (slightly too long) first act through to the glorious celebration of the second. And you’re struck by just how clever Evans has been here in this final programming choice, echoing the transformative power of musical theatre classics like My Fair Lady and Me and My Girl in a story that truly celebrates the beauty in the ordinary. 

Running time: 2 hours 40 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 4th June

CD Review: MS. A Song Cycle

“I wish you didn’t have to be in pain” 
 
Multiple Sclerosis affects over 100,000 people in the UK alone. 

 

One of the accusations often levelled by detractors of musical theatre is that it is fanciful, frivolous stuff, unable of taking subjects seriously. And whilst the form undoubtedly can have its lighter moments, I’d challenge anyone to listen to this new song cycle inspired by women living with multiple sclerosis and remain unmoved. MS. A Song Cycle is the brainchild of lyricist Rory Sherman, who has worked with SimG Productions, musical supervisor Ellie Verkerk and 14 different teams of composers and performers to create a delicately but undeniably powerful collection of stories, that gain in that power from being sung so beautifully as they are here.
 
More than two to three times more women are affected than men
 

2016 Laurence Olivier Awards nominations

Best New Play 
Farinelli and the King by Claire van Kampen – Duke of York’s
Hangmen by Martin McDonagh – Jerwood Downstairs, Royal Court / Wyndham’s
People, Places and Things by Duncan MacMillan – National Theatre Dorfman
The Father by Florian Zeller, translated by Christopher Hampton – Wyndham’s

Best New Musical
Bend It Like Beckham – Phoenix
In the Heights – King’s Cross
Kinky Boots – Adelphi
Mrs Henderson Presents – Noël Coward

Best Revival 
Hamlet – Barbican
Les liaisons dangereuses – Donmar Warehouse
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom – National Theatre Lyttelton
The Winter’s Tale – Garrick Continue reading “2016 Laurence Olivier Awards nominations”

CD Review: To Do. To Be. – The Music of Tim Prottey-Jones

“What man could ask for more”

To Do. To Be. – The Music of Tim Prottey-Jones is Prottey-Jones’ third CD, an album collecting together music from a range of sources for which he has written – stage musicals After the Turn, Equally and The First Last Kiss, musical films Down Flew the Doves and Standing on the Edge and lastly one play with music Exes. And though he is a performer himself (currently to be found in Kinky Boots), he’s gone down the tried and tested route of going through his address book to get an impressive roster of talent to perform his songs.


So the album opens with Kinky co-star Amy Lennox’s sweet but determined ‘Have you ever?’, former Once colleagues Declan Bennett and Arthur Darvill rock out gently on ‘Kiss till you can’t kiss anymore’ and ‘Leaving for you’ respectively and from the same show, Zrinka Cvitešić gives a gorgeously tender vocal performance in ‘I for one’. That Prottey-Jones can write a decent song is in no doubt and in the case of Laura Pitt-Pulford’s ‘Nothing’ and Jacqueline Hughes’ ‘I’ll Be With You Always’, exciting musical theatre leaps from the speakers, the potential here is considerable. 

With such a diverse team of writers on collaborative duties and a wide range of projects on display, there’s also an unevenness to the collection that holds me back from loving it entirely. I’m a piano and strings kinda guy so liking anything with guitars is new to me 😉 and there’s quite a lot of indie-pop-leaning tracks here that haven’t quite caught my attention even after a few listens, not everyone stretches their MT muscle and the difference across the whole disc is palpable. 

That said, it’s an interesting pointer to a more modern style of musical theatre which some of the more adventurous fringe theatres in London would do well to take note of, if they’re looking for an interesting musical to put on. Truth be told, I wasn’t hugely enamoured of Prottey-Jones’ first album More With Every Line and so gave his second Surrounded By The Sounds a miss but on this evidence, I might well go back and give it a try – anyone want to lend me their copy…

Review: Hey, Old Friends, Theatre Royal Drury Lane

“Stop worrying where you’re going—move on”

Theatreland does like to make sure every anniversary gets marked somehow and so following on from the celebrations around Les Misérables’ 30th birthday earlier this month is a similar hoohah for Stephen Sondheim’s 85th year on this planet. As is de rigueur for these events, a gala concert has been put on for the occasion with the kind of rollcall you could only normally dream of and naturally, it had the price tag to go along with it.

As with Les Mis (which donated to Save The Children’s Syria Children’s appeal), the show benefitted charitable purposes, specifically The Stephen Sondheim Society and telephone helpline service The Silver Line, harnessing the major fundraising potential of such events. That said, these tickets tend to be so expensive that there’s a nagging feeling that they’re serving a limited audience with few opportunities for regular theatregoers to be a part of them.

Then there’s also the fact that it’s hard to make these events truly special when they happen fairly regularly. I mean it’s a nice problem to have but it is getting harder to get excited about similar ground being retrod every few years or so, even when it is celebrating such musical theatre talent as Sondheim himself – ‘Being Alive’ is undoubtedly a very good song and Michael Xavier did a fantastic job here but on the larger scale, it just feels like it’s been done before, many times. 

A birthday tribute is the wrong time to complain about retrospectives but I’d love to see a company of this calibre tackling new musical theatre writing and shining a much-needed spotlight on composers who might yet achieve a modicum of the success that Sondheim’s career has accrued. Which all makes me sound rather grumpy I know, and ungrateful for having been lucky enough to attend, but I’m just being honest. 

And when all is said and done, there was lots to enjoy and appreciate, not least Rosie Ashe’s powerful ‘Last Midnight’, Daniel Evans and Anna Francolini’s soaring ‘Move On’ leading into ‘Sunday’, Bonnie Langford’s every acrobatic movement and the final sequence which saw Tracie Bennett, Haydn Gwynne, Charlotte Page and Kim Criswell take on the oddly named “11 O’Clock Numbers” (ie the most famous ones) – Broadway Baby, Send In The Clowns, Losing My Mind and I’m Still Here respectively. 

So a fitting tribute to one of our most esteemed musical theatre composers and well supported by the Arts Ed ensemble, Gareth Valentine’s orchestra and Bill Deamer’s choreography and direction – now we move onto next month’s one-off, the Kings of Broadway concert spectacular celebrating Sondheim, Jule Styne and Jerry Herman.

CD Review: The Light Princess (Original Cast Recording)

“No… it can’t be… is it gravity I am feeling?”

It’s been a goodly time coming, just over two years since it opened actually, but the Original Cast Recording of The Light Princess is finally here. Finely crafted by writers Tori Amos and Samuel Adamson with the original cast from the National Theatre production and recorded entirely under studio conditions, this double CD a triumphant achievement. It simultaneously acts as a perfect tribute to a much-loved show (one I saw five times during its too-short run #1#2#3#4#5), it also advances the score, refining its musicality into a more intense yet accessible experience.

Right from the opening bars of the ‘Prologue: Once Upon A Time’, Katherine Rockhill’s piano playing sounds amazing and is rightfully forefronted here as the cornerstone of Amos’ wide-ranging compositions, the lushness of the strings sound pretty special too. And with Rosalie Craig’s astonishing performance as Althea – the light princess herself – liberated from the constraints of this most physically demanding of roles (both for her and for us too, goggling at the inventiveness with which her floating was essayed), her vocal interpretation deepens into something even more affecting, impossible as it may seem to anyone who saw her amazing work onstage. 

From the quiet giggle in the middle of the transcendent ‘My Fairy-Story’ to the glittering boldness of ‘Better Than Good’ (“I must say, he was one edible, delectable, muscular cake!”) to the aching sadness of ‘Darkest Hour’ in all its swirling complexity, Craig is just perfect, never sacrificing emotion for power whilst exploring all the colours of this complex character. Her sexual and emotional awakening with Nick Hendrix’s highly charismatic Prince Digby is another delight, the playful sensuality of ‘Althea’ is nothing less than the musical embodiment of all the heady excitement of falling in love.

Such is the richness of the supporting cast that there’s barely a song that passes without some magnificent moment or other. Laura Pitt-Pulford lets rip gloriously in the martial drive of ‘Sealand Supremacy’, her vocal fireworks matched by Lagobel counterpart Malinda Parris in the more sinuous ‘Scandal’, reprises the same vital refrain. There’s real excitement every time Clive Rowe’s King Darius sings with his thrillingly daring vocal part, ‘The Whistleblower’ is just jaw-dropping, and it was a real pleasure to be reminded of the rich warmth of Amy Booth-Steel’s brilliant performance as Piper.

It’s hard to be objective about a show that I loved so dearly but finally being able to listen to the score again in all its re-orchestrated splendour, it seems scarcely credible that this music was so easily dismissed by many of the critics who visited. As with Sondheim (who, lest we forget, had difficult openings for many of his shows), the thematic complexity and deep musical intelligence is undeniable, it perhaps just asks different questions of listeners unused to atypically adventurous British musical theatre. In any case, the CD richly repays re-listening, the density of Amos and Adamson’s world meaning that new details resurface every time,  

From the “you are, you ares” of  ‘Althea’ to the “ring out, ring outs” of the epilogue, the dramatic excitement of the full company engaging in ‘My Own Land’ to the piercing chamber-musical intensity of Althea’s ‘Tears’, there’s so much beauty to revisit in The Light Princess that I fell utterly in love with it all over again, surprising even myself. Rumours of a Broadway production abound and rest assured when I win the National Lottery I will use it to reunite this cast in my own personal theatre but in the meantime, this Original Cast Recording serves as a superlative record of a simply stunning piece of truly original musical theatre. 


The album is released on 9th October and can be ordered here:
Amazon: http://po.st/ToriATLPa
iTunes: http://po.st/ToriATLPi