Review: Big the Musical, Dominion Theatre

Big doesn’t always mean better, size does matter, it’s not how big it is it’s what you do with it – whatever the pun, Big the Musical is a severe disappointment at the Dominion Theatre

“I want my room,
I want my bed.
I want my mom,
I want to go home”

A crucial moment in Big the Musical sees Zoltar the fortune-telling machine say “make your wish, make your wish…” and I think my wish is that one day the Dominion Theatre will find a show that properly suits it, and that can fill it – once again, this is not the one. Director/choreographer Morgan Young’s production of the classic 1980s movie initially looks swish – Simon Higlett’s design dominated by an impressive curved HD video wall but a raft of questionable decisions mitigate against it, almost at every step. 

You can see the thinking behind the casting – a Strictly winner, someone off Corrie, a member of Girls Aloud even – but they just don’t feel like the best people for the roles by any stretch. Jay McGuiness doesn’t exude anywhere near the requisite amiability and charisma to be this kind of leading man and whilst he’s technically right there with the dancing – the Act 1 closer is brilliantly choreographed by Young – but there’s no emotion carrying through with it, near fatal when you’ve got Tom Hanks to live up to. Continue reading “Review: Big the Musical, Dominion Theatre”

DVD Review: Mamma Mia! (2008)

All hail Mamma Mia! As we tentatively await the sequel, I revisit a film I can’t ever imagine not loving

“I won’t be muscled out by an ejaculation”

With Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again just about to hit cinemas, I thought I’d revisit the original Mamma Mia! film to remind myself of its pleasures, Pierce Brosnan’s singing and all. Released in 2008, it managed that trick of defying a lukewarm critical reception to garnering huge popularity, something repeated by The Greatest Showman (it’s almost as if film critics can’t quite imagine audiences wanting to see a harmlessly fun musical…). 

And that’s what this is in the end, lots of fun and silly with it. Based on the iconic jukebox musical of the same name, it’s a whole load of ABBA songs strung together on a gossamer-light plot of romantic comedy gold. Where it succeeds, as with the musical, is in taking the job at hand most seriously, whilst never taking itself too seriously at all. Songs are in the right places, serving as motors in the narrative, and there’s an integrity to the whole thing, even when its daft as a brush.

Continue reading “DVD Review: Mamma Mia! (2008)”

Review: Elf, Lowry

The Lowry Theatre's 2017/8 production of Christmas show Elf

“Make it Sparklejollytwinklejingley”

First things first, it’s a really poor show on behalf of those in charge of this production at the Lowry that there was no announcement or any mention of the fact that the understudy for the main part was on. Not for any sniffy reason about wanting to see Ben Forster but rather that it denied Colin Burnicle his spot in the limelight on the first occasion that he got to play the role of Buddy the Elf.

I don’t think Burnicle will mind me saying he had an understandably slightly nervy beginning but he soon settled into the green felt boots of Buddy, working a slightly more frantic Jim Carrey-esque vibe than one might expect from a role originated on screen by Will Ferrell but it was one that worked. And he connected well with former Atomic Kitten Liz McLarnon as his putative love interest Juvie, as under-developed a part it is. Continue reading “Review: Elf, Lowry”

Album Review: Big the Musical (2016 Original UK Cast Recording)

“When we must cross over
Who knows what we’ll find”

A 90s musical of an 80s film – nostalgia has a lot to answer for but it was to Maltby Jr and Shires’ 1996 adaptation of the Tom Hanks-starring film that producers turned for their big Christmas musical at Bord Gais Energy Theatre in Dublin. Morgan Young’s production also had a short run at the Theatre Royal Plymouth and with the creation of this UK cast recording, you wonder whether further plans were in the pipeline for the show.

I’m not holding my breath though, as it doesn’t really sound like that much of a winner. Shire’s score is painfully dated, Maltby’s lyrics provide little spark and as a whole, Big the Musical just sounds a bit twee, a bit inconsequential. There’s little sense at all of the songs driving the narrative, they’re more an inoffensive, intermittent distraction, taking way too long to inch over to even just to ‘pleasant’ on the scale. Continue reading “Album Review: Big the Musical (2016 Original UK Cast Recording)”

CD Review: Mamma Mia (Original Cast Recording 1999)

“It’s the best I can do”

It’s easy to be dismissive about Mamma Mia and all it has wrought in revitalising the jukebox musical as a form but the numbers don’t lie. 17 years and counting in the West End, the 8th longest running show on Broadway (it occupies the same position on the UK ranking at the moment too), a wildly successful film adaptation that became the highest grossing musical ever…it’s impressive stuff.

And listening to the Original Cast Recording from 1999, subsequently re-released with bonus tracks for the 5th anniversary, I’d say it’s fairly easy to see why it has endured so long. For all you may mock Catherine Johnson’s book, which hangs oh so lightly on a varied selection of Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus’ iconic music for ABBA, it actually does interesting things with it, in telling its own story rather relying on the songs themselves (I’m looking at you Jersey Boys…!)

So to say you’re better off listening to ABBA’s greatest hits is to miss the point. As light as the plot may be in its girl-wants-father-to-walk-her-down-the-aisle-but-finds-there’s-three-potential-candidates frothiness but there’s something genuinely tender in hearing ‘Chiquitita’ repurposed for two friends comforting a third, maternal lament ‘Slipping Through My Fingers’ actually sung between mother and daughter, the stag v hens vivacity of ‘Lay All Your Love on Me’.

And yes, they sound different to the originals, of course they do with a full orchestra and chorus to back them up, not to mention the lack of Swedish accents. This recording is a little blessed too in having the film’s soundtrack with its interesting casting choices to easily surpass, but that’s not to take away from the delightful vocals of Louise Plowright, Jenny Galloway, and Siobhán McCarthy as the leading trio, the latter’s Donna a fabulous leading lady from heartbreak to happiness.

Plowright’s cougarish ways enliven ‘Does Your Mother Know’ no end and Galloway’s equally predatory stance toward Nic Colicos’ Bill in ‘Take A Chance on Me’ is a delight. Lisa Stokke’s Sophie, the bride-to-be is charm personified and in keeping with the show’s female-friendly ethos, her intended – Andrew Langtree’s Sky – is somewhat sidelined. For me, ‘Our Last Summer’ has always been one of my favourite ABBA songs and remains so here, ruefully sung by former rocker Harry, an appealing Paul Clarkson, and McCarthy with a gentle loveliness that seems to stand in for the show as a whole.

Review: Jackie the Musical, Churchill Bromley

“Jackie – a woman of a certain age”

I don’t remember reading my big sister’s copies of Jackie, nor could I say I’ve ever knowingly listened to a David Cassidy or a David Essex song. So I’m perhaps not directly in the target audience for Jackie the Musical, a 70s jukebox show that takes inspiration from the pages of that weekly magazine for teenage girls. That’s not to say that there isn’t plenty to be enjoyed by all but rather that this is a very particular kind of nostalgia. 

Janet Dibley’s Jackie is picking through the pieces of her life – in her 50s, about to be divorced, teenage dropout son – when she comes across a stash of paraphernalia from her girlhood in the attic. Old schoolbooks are soon discarded though when she finds some old copies of Jackie (the magazine) and as this is Jackie (the musical), a younger version of Jackie (the woman) manifests itself in her mind, to act as a kind of spirit guide through this time of emotional turbulence as she dips a toe into the world of online dating, aided by sparky best friend Jill, an excellent Lori Haley Fox.  Continue reading “Review: Jackie the Musical, Churchill Bromley”

TV Review: The Sound of Music Live

“It’s quite different after you’ve grown up”

The hills are alive, with the sound of questions. Like, why. The UK’s first fully live musical theatre television broadcast saw ITV produce Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The Sound of Music though the result was a curious experiment that fell uneasily between two stools. Lacking the crucial energy that propels the best live theatre (which comes from an audience too), the production values (though often impressive) naturally fell short of the opportunities of filmed work

Which ultimately begs the question, what’s the point. Is the UK hankering for a new production of the show? It’s hardly as if we’re lacking for productions popping up regularly in theatres across the land. Is it showcasing the best of British musical theatre talent? In that case why cast someone like Strictly winner and former Eastender Kara Tointon as Maria and shunt the likes of Julie Atherton (one of the most outstanding performers we have, bar none) into the nun ensemble. Continue reading “TV Review: The Sound of Music Live”

Review: White Christmas, Dominion

“Never had to have a chaperone…”

There’s most likely financial reasons for opening White Christmas in early November but it certainly gave many a critic the excuse to get their Scrooge on early. Likewise, there’s reasons of integrity for treating this show like any other in terms of theatrical criticism. But it is hard not to feel that this piece of festive window dressing perhaps deserves something of a free pass as it arguably falls under the bracket of high-class panto rather than fully-fledged musical theatre (even if the ticket prices err towards the latter).

Which is basically code for saying it is undemanding good fun and you pretty much know what you’re going to get in advance – people in search of punchy narrative drive and incisive characterisation are advised to look elsewhere. I actually saw this production in an earlier incarnation on one of its Christmas trips to the Lowry back in 2012 and whilst not being blown away by it, it hit the mark in terms of festive frippery. David Ives and Paul Blake’s book lightly adapts the 1954 classic film but the real star of Morgan Young’s production here of course is Irving Berlin’s evergreen music and lyrics. Continue reading “Review: White Christmas, Dominion”