Review: Caroline or Change, Playhouse Theatre

The extraordinary Caroline or Change makes the leap into the West End at the Playhouse Theatre, with a titanic Sharon D Clarke at the helm

“The Devil made the dryer.
Everything else, God made”

For the assiduous theatregoer, this is the third opportunity to catch this stirring Chichester Festival Theatre production of Caroline or Change. From its original run at the Minerva last year to the Hampstead Theatre this spring, this idiosyncratic musical now arrives in the West End in the relative intimacy of the Playhouse Theatre.

And it is an intimacy that is needed to draw you into the true shape of Michael Longhurst’s production – to be confronted with that Confederate statue, the sweltering isolation of that basement, the knots of tension on furrowed brows. The winds of change may be starting to blow across the US of the early 1960s but here in this Louisiana household, societal change has yet to filter down to the individual.  Continue reading “Review: Caroline or Change, Playhouse Theatre”

Review: Caroline, or Change, Hampstead

With the magnificent Sharon D Clarke at the helm, Caroline, or Change transfers to the Hampstead Theatre London with all its power intact

“Dressed in white and feelin’ low,
talkin’ to the washer and the radio”

Tony Kushner and Jeanine Tesori’s complex and challenging civil rights musical Caroline, or Change makes its long-awaited London return to the Hampstead theatre, more than a decade after its well-received National Theatre production took the Olivier for Best New Musical but found no further life.

Michael Longhurst’s production was first seen in Chichester last May (here’s my review) and whilst it is a shame that that original cast aren’t all present here (the glorious Nicola Hughes, Gloria Onitiri, Jennifer Saayeng all now elsewhere), it holds on to the titanic talents of Sharon D Clarke as Caroline Thibideaux. Continue reading “Review: Caroline, or Change, Hampstead”

Album Review: The Sound of Music (2006 London Palladium Cast Recording)

“Today you have to learn to be a realist”

I wanted to love the London Palladium Cast Recording of The Sound of Music, I really did, but there’s just something missing, a magic ingredient or two gone awry which means that you can’t imagine it ever replacing the version of the score that you fell in love with, no matter which one that is.

This 2006 production was the first to use reality TV to cast its leading role – the BBC’s How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria? proving to be a headline grabbing success and resulting in Connie Fisher winning the part of Maria, which she played for around 18 months in the end. She did experience the beginnings of vocal problems during the run, which have now pretty much put the kibosh on her musical theatre career, and it is hard not to feel that this recording does not capture Fisher at her best. Continue reading “Album Review: The Sound of Music (2006 London Palladium Cast Recording)”

Review: Caroline or Change, Minerva

“Household rules and small decrees unsuspecting bring us these secret little tragedies”

Well Daniel Evans looks set to be continuing one of Chichester Festival Theatre’s longstanding traditions, of producing musical theatre that tempts the cognoscenti over to West Sussex in droves and which leads calls for West End transfers as soon as the curtain falls (if they had curtains in Chichester that is…). His first musical for the venue is a promising one too, an adventurous choice in Tony Kushner and Jeanine Tesori’s Caroline or Change, and an entirely successful one under Michael Longhurst’s direction and a genuinely superb cast.

It is 1963, the United States is in the grip of a civil rights movement but one whose effects haven’t quite trickled all the way down to the Deep South just yet. Caroline Thibodeaux is an African American maid in Lakes Charles, Louisiana working for a Jewish family, The Gellmans, for 30 dollars a week. But she’s a single mother of 4 and ends are barely meeting so when stepmother of the house Rose devises a plan to teach her 8-year-old stepson Noah not to leave change in his pocket, it’s a difficult one to resist despite – or maybe because of – all the racial, social and economic tensions it represents. Continue reading “Review: Caroline or Change, Minerva”

Review: Bat Boy The Musical, Southwark Playhouse

“Don’t talk like a slut, dear”

It seems scarcely credible that Bat Boy The Musical ever opened in a West End house – its scuzzy, B-movie schtick seems custom-designed for the fringe world and it is decently served by Luke Fredericks’ production here, for Morphic Graffiti at the Southwark Playhouse. Keythe Farley and Brian Flemming’s book was inspired by a spoof story in an American tabloid which spoke of a creature that was half-boy and half-bat, and imagines what happens when a local family takes him in under their wing in the insular town of Hope Falls, West Virginia.

Rob Compton’s Bat Boy is first found in the depths of a cave by some trouble-making teenagers who capture him after a brief struggle in which one of their number is injured. Bat Boy has been down there for years – with some pretty nifty gym equipment judging by his abs – but once placed in the care of Sheriff Reynolds and his family, finds himself longing to join society. With the help of the motherly Meredith and moody daughter Shelley, he learns to speak and to modify his blood-thirsty behaviour, but soon finds that not even the most cut-glass BBC accent can defeat small-mindedness at its very worst. Continue reading “Review: Bat Boy The Musical, Southwark Playhouse”

Album Review: Matilda Original Broadway Cast Recording

“You mustn’t let a little thing like little stop you”

The joys of Matilda the Musical have been one of the abiding pleasures of my theatregoing this decade – from my first experience in Stratford-upon-Avon to its hugely successful opening in the West End, its rise as one of the strongest new musicals of recent years, and one of the most effective adaptations of a Roald Dahl story, has been undeniable. And a huge part of that journey for me was the release of the soundtrack which convinced me of the merits of Tim Minchin’s score and erased any doubts I’d previously had, subsequently becoming one of my most listened-to albums.  

So the news that an Original Broadway Cast recording was being released filled me with a little trepidation as the score has been crystalised so perfectly for me, even to the extent that I don’t even feel the need to see the show again as so many of the original UK cast has moved on. But the OBC recording has a number of sweeteners which meant I couldn’t resist it. A number of additional tracks are included – the overture introduced for the Americans, extra songs like ‘The Chokey Chant’, ‘Chalk Writing’ and the story songs covering the Escapologist and the Acrobat, and deleted song ‘Perhaps a Child’ which was cut in the preview period.   Continue reading “Album Review: Matilda Original Broadway Cast Recording”

67th Tony Award nominations

Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Play 
Tom Hanks – Lucky Guy as Mike McAlary
Nathan Lane – The Nance as Chauncey
Tracy Letts – Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? as George
David Hyde Pierce – Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike as Vanya
Tom Sturridge – Orphans as Phillip

Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play
Laurie Metcalf – The Other Place as Juliana Smithton
Amy Morton – Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? as Martha
Kristine Nielsen – Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike as Sonia
Holland Taylor – Ann as Ann Richards
Cicely Tyson – The Trip to Bountiful as Miss Carrie Watts

Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical 
Bertie Carvel – Matilda the Musical as Miss Trunchbull
Santino Fontana – Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella as Prince Topher
Rob McClure – Chaplin as Charlie Chaplin
Billy Porter – Kinky Boots as Lola
Stark Sands – Kinky Boots as Charlie Price Continue reading “67th Tony Award nominations”

2012 What’s On Stage Award nominations

BEST ACTOR IN A PLAY
James Corden – One Man, Two Guvnors at the National, Lyttelton & Adelphi 
Benedict Cumberbatch – Frankenstein at the National, Olivier 
Jude Law – Anna Christie at the Donmar Warehouse 
Kevin Spacey – Richard III at the Old Vic 
David Tennant – Much Ado About Nothing at Wyndham’s
James Earl Jones – Driving Miss Daisy at Wyndham’s 

BEST ACTRESS IN A PLAY
Vanessa Redgrave – Driving Miss Daisy at Wyndham’s 
Eve Best – Much Ado About Nothing at Shakespeare’s Globe 
Kristin Scott Thomas – Betrayal at the Comedy 
Ruth Wilson – Anna Christie at the Donmar Warehouse 
Samantha Spiro – Chicken Soup with Barley at the Royal Court Downstairs
Tamsin Greig – Jumpy at the Royal Court Downstairs Continue reading “2012 What’s On Stage Award nominations”

Re-review: Matilda, the Musical – Cambridge Theatre

“Never again will I doubt it when my mummy says I’m a miracle!”

More so than with straight plays, I find musicals tend to benefit from re-views (as opposed to reviews!). There’s just more to take in with book, music and lyrics all demanding the attention, especially if they’re richly detailed, staging and choreography offering much inventive potential and by no means least, a wide range of performances, which altogether offers a lot to soak in on a single viewing. Returning to a show also offers the opportunity to reassess one’s initial reactions to it, and so it was with the RSC’s Matilda, the Musical which has now made its long-awaited transfer from Stratford to the West End.

I saw the show at the beginning of the year, fairly late in the run, so had been unable to avoid the effusive praise coming from all angles and the sense of anticipation that came along with it. So predictably, whilst loving the show, there was a nagging sense of a slight disappointment too, which mainly stemmed from it not matching up with my childhood memories of the book and how I thought the show would go. It was still a strong 4 star show for me though, just not quite the saviour of musicals it was being acclaimed as, and so though I was pleased it gained the transfer it deserved, I felt little need to revisit the show. Continue reading “Re-review: Matilda, the Musical – Cambridge Theatre”

CD Review: Matilda the Musical

“When I grow up, I will be brave enough to fight the creatures that you have to fight beneath the bed each night to be a grown-up”

Darn it darn it darn it. I had pretty much decided that I wasn’t going to go and see Matilda the Musical once it had made its long-awaited West End transfer from the now-defunct Courtyard in Stratford to the Cambridge Theatre. Not because I didn’t like it, I really did (though not quite as much as others) – you can read my thoughts here – but because of the eye-watering ticket prices: the vast majority of the stalls and dress circle are £60 or more, rear stalls coming in at a mere £50. That pretty much made up my mind for me but on purchasing which has now been released on CD, I have fallen well and truly back under the spell of this show and so it looks like I will have to do some careful budgeting next month!

When it was first announced, the marriage of individual Australian comic Tim Minchin with Roald Dahl’s source material seemed the ideal match but I don’t think anyone could have imagined just how well it would work. The score is simply joyous, the lyrics perfectly crafted – witty enough to make adults laugh and carefree enough to perfectly evoke childhood thinking and the combined package fits together in a way that one imagines that Roald Dahl would be proud of. Chris Nightingale’s full-bodied orchestrations give depth to the music, especially in the swirling sections of incidental music that are included (that’s probably my one criticism is that not enough of that is kept in here) and an enthusiastic cast give marvellous voice to these quirky but perfectly suited songs that will undoubtedly leave a smile on your face. Continue reading “CD Review: Matilda the Musical”