Film Review: Rocketman (2019)

Elton John gets in on the self-produced musical biopic game, meaning Rocketman is gonna take a long long time to get anywhere near the truth

“People don’t pay to see Reginald Dwight… 
they pay to see *Elton John*!”

I always find there being something a little suspect about the subject of a biopic being intimately involved behind the scenes, that sense that you’re only being permitted to see a carefully curated version of this particular story (cf Tina the Musical, On Your Feet onstage; Bohemian Rhapsody most recently on film). And Rocketman ultimately proves no exception, with Elton John executive producing and husband David Furnish getting a producer credit, and Wikipedia thus offering up a substantial list of deviations from what actually happened

You might argue that as the film, written by Lee Hall and directed by Dexter Fletcher, isn’t a documentary, it doesn’t need to concern itself with an absolute fidelity to historical record. But I just find it fascinating this need to embellish, so much being smuggled under the umbrella of ‘creative license’ that can’t always be explained away with the ‘needs’ of filmmaking. Things as fundamental as changing the inspiration for Reg Dwight’s stage name from his mentor Long John Baldry to John Lennon, or claiming that ‘Daniel’ and ‘I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues’ were the songs he auditioned for with Dick James when neither had been written yet. At what point does that creative license start being straight-up dishonesty? Continue reading “Film Review: Rocketman (2019)”

Review: Strictly Ballroom the Musical, Piccadilly

Baz Luhrmann’s Strictly Ballroom the Musical may not be the strongest musical in the world, but it’s a stronger piece of musical theatre, thanks to Drew McOnie’s choreography

“Pam Shortt’s broken both her legs, and I wanna dance with you”

It is fascinating to be able to follow the development of a show, particularly one that has morphed as much as Strictly Ballroom the Musical. I saw it at the West Yorkshire Playhouse the winter before last, where it didn’t quite set my world on fire, so I was intrigued to hear that its arrival in the West End at the Piccadilly would be accompanied by quite the overhaul, still directed and choreographed by Drew McOnie.

The major change to this adaptation of Baz Luhrmann’s 1992 cult hit movie comes with the introduction of bandleader Wally Strand, played by Will Young, an MC figure and human jukebox who takes on the vast majority of the evening’s singing. And as we skip from Grace Jones to Billy Idol, via Bowie, Whitney and Cyndi, it’s a real pleasure to hear him sing Marius De Vries’ brilliant new arrangements. Continue reading “Review: Strictly Ballroom the Musical, Piccadilly”

Review: Strictly Ballroom, West Yorkshire Playhouse

“I don’t know if you are illusion”

Hoping for a ten from Len and to avoid the dreaded dis-sah-ter from Craig, Baz Luhrmann’s Strictly Ballroom arrives for its UK premiere at the West Yorkshire Playhouse. Best known in its 1992 film version, it actually began life as a play in the mid-1980s when it became big in Czechoslovakia as well as Luhrmann’s native Australia and perhaps appropriately, it is now Drew McOnie who takes the directorial chair, the choreographer-director’s rising star an ideal fit for a musical all about dance.

And what dance it is. We’re in the world of competitive ballroom dancing and we’re treated to a wide range of routines from rehearsals to all-out performances and much inventive work in-between, especially where mirrors are involved. And in all this freedom of expression, there’s a crystal-clear distillation of the story’s message in the sheer joy of dancing for fun and the power of following an individual path. But the show isn’t just dance, it’s words and music as well and there, it is less sure-footed.

Continue reading “Review: Strictly Ballroom, West Yorkshire Playhouse”

The Curtain Up Show Album of the Year 2016 nominees

Best UK Cast Recording
American Psycho – Original London Cast Recording
Close To You: Bacharach Reimagined – Original London Cast Recording
Funny Girl – Original London Cast Recording
Half A Sixpence – 2016 London Cast Recording
Kinky Boots – Original West End Cast Recording
Mrs Henderson Presents – Original London Cast Recording

Best American Cast Recording
Allegiance – Original Broadway Cast Recording
The Color Purple – New Broadway Cast Recording
Fiddler On The Roof – 2016 Broadway Cast Recording
Lazarus – Original Cast Recording
On Your Feet! – Original Broadway Cast Recording
Waitress – Original Broadway Cast Recording

Best Solo Album / Non Cast Recording
Cheyenne Jackson – Renaissance
Lin-Manuel Miranda – The Hamilton Mixtape
Idina Menzel – idina.
Kristin Chenoweth – The Art of Elegance
Nadim Naaman – Sides
Samantha Barks – Samantha Barks

Album Review: Kinky Boots (Original West End Cast Recording)

“I am freedom, I’m constriction
A potpourri of contradiction”

With rather serendipitous timing, the West End cast recording for Cyndi Lauper’s score for Kinky Boots is released just in time for the show’s Best New Musical victory at this year’s Olivier awards. And it is particularly good news for fans of the show as up until now, we’ve had to make do with the Broadway cast recording and their, challenging shall we say, approach to the requisite British accents.

Recorded live at the Adelphi with the original West End cast (including Best Actor in a Musical winner Matt Henry and nominees Killian Donnelly and Amy Lennox), it’s a welcome addition to playlists and CD collections everywhere.

The live recording is be a double-edged sword – there can be more raw energy than one might expect from a recording booth and that comes in the form of an audible audience. I quite like to hear their laughter, especially when it is from something familiar as in the comic genius of Lennox’s performance of ‘The History of Wrong Guys’ here, but the applause at the end of each track is jarring when listening to the album as a whole. And I’m not 100% certain but I’m pretty sure there’s someone coughing a couple of times which is a shame (though perfectly replicates sitting through pretty much any show!). Continue reading “Album Review: Kinky Boots (Original West End Cast Recording)”

The Curtain Up Show Album of the Year 2016 winners

Best UK Cast Recording
American Psycho – Original London Cast Recording
Close To You: Bacharach Reimagined – Original London Cast Recording
Funny Girl – Original London Cast Recording
Half A Sixpence – 2016 London Cast Recording
WINNER: Kinky Boots – Original West End Cast Recording
Mrs Henderson Presents – Original London Cast Recording

Best American Cast Recording
Allegiance – Original Broadway Cast Recording
The Color Purple – New Broadway Cast Recording
Fiddler On The Roof – 2016 Broadway Cast Recording
Lazarus – Original Cast Recording
On Your Feet! – Original Broadway Cast Recording
WINNER: Waitress – Original Broadway Cast Recording

Best Solo Album / Non Cast Recording
Cheyenne Jackson – Renaissance
WINNER: Lin-Manuel Miranda – The Hamilton Mixtape
Idina Menzel – idina.
Kristin Chenoweth – The Art of Elegance
Nadim Naaman – Sides
Samantha Barks – Samantha Barks

Re-review: Kinky Boots, Adelphi

Funk it up till it’s ostentatious
Dress it up, it feels contagious”

Now extended through to May next year, the signs for Kinky Boots look cautiously positive though nothing is certain in the cut-throat world of new musicals and on this second viewing, it really does feel like a well-deserved success. Jerry Mitchell’s production is a ray of tightly choreographed, dragged-up sunshine but what I loved about going back was finding that several of the tunes from Cyndi Lauper’s accomplished score have successfully navigated earworm territory to become properly memorable. 

‘Everybody Say Yeah’ and ‘Raise You Up/Just Be’ end the show’s two acts in brilliantly rousing fashion, ‘Sex is in the Heel’ and ‘What A Woman Wants’ give Matt Henry’s Lola ample opportunity to fill the stage with exuberant personality and Amy Lennox continues to pretty much steal the show, not least in ‘The History of Wrong Guys’. And Killian Donnelly effortlessly smooths over some of Charlie’s more dubious character flaws (poor Nicola…) by scorching through hits like ‘Soul of a Man’. Continue reading “Re-review: Kinky Boots, Adelphi”

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: Viva Forever, Piccadilly Theatre

“Do you still remember, how we used to be…”

Producer Judy Craymer reinvigorated a whole new theatrical genre when she masterminded the ABBA jukebox hit Mamma Mia! to huge box-office success, and so proved the natural choice to steer a show featuring the back catalogue of the Spice Girls and a script by Jennifer Saunders into the West End. The resulting show – Viva Forever – is a story of a young woman who is forced to ditch her bandmates in pursuit of her reality show dreams, the mentor who is determined to exploit her in order to secure her own media career and her mother who is on hand to make sure she never forgets who she is. But it is one that doesn’t quite so much fill the Piccadilly Theatre with girl power as a sense of what might have been.

Crucially, the discography isn’t always sufficient for the task in hand of a jukebox musical. Delving into some of the lesser-known works of the Spice Girls isn’t as much as a problem (though front-loading them so is a curious choice as we have to wait a while for a stone-cold hit) as the way in which the lyrical content has to be shoehorned in, resulting in some awkward fits – ‘Say You’ll Be There’ suffers particularly here. But equally, there are moments that do work. The act 1 closer weaves together ‘Goodbye’, ‘Mama’ and ‘Headlines’ in a rather stirringly affecting manner as the three women reach crucial points in their journey; ‘Spice Up Your Life’ becomes a dazzling fiesta of a Spanish street festival; and the titular ‘Viva Forever’ is recast as a tenderly intimate acoustic ballad. Continue reading “Review: Viva Forever, Piccadilly Theatre”