Review: The War of the Worlds, Dominion

“I can’t believe people were sat there as if it was any other evening” 

You have to love the creative process that ends with the thought ‘we need Jimmy Nail’, but Jeff Wayne’s musical version of The War of the Worlds really isn’t like any other show. A quick glimpse at the casts of previous arena tours, of which there have been many, gives a bit of insight as to their mindset – (former) pop stars like Westlife’s Brian McFadden, Jason Donovan and Atomic Kitten’s Liz McClarnon, reality show offcasts like Rhydian, even the Kaiser Chiefs’ Ricky Wilson – now a judge on The Voice – has got in on the act. And now The War of the Worlds has landed at the Dominion Theatre and the casting has gotten no less random.

This time, I think someone came across a copy of Now 51 in a charity shop and so we have Daniel Bedingfield and former Sugababe Heidi Range making their West End debuts, alongside original cast member David Essex (whose character is naturally named The Voice of Humanity), Michael Praed and Madalena Alberto who, as per the poster, has the ridiculous snub of being the only one not to get a headshot (though she will be used to billing controversies in this theatre by now). And then there’s Jimmy Nail who at 61 gets Range, 32, as his wife…, it all makes for an oddly compelling though deeply strange affair.  Continue reading “Review: The War of the Worlds, Dominion”

Album Review: The Postman and the Poet (2011 Concept Album)

“Now is the time when the people of Chile come together” 

I’m going to put it out there, I have no idea why new musical The Postman and the Poet hasn’t received a major production yet. This concept album was recorded in 2011 and has to rank as one of my favourite things I’ve listened to over the last few weeks of all these cast recordings, if not the whole year. It’s even based on source material that has Oscar-winning connections to endear it to risk-averse audiences – if From Here To Eternity can make it to a West End theatre, I’m sure The Postman and the Poet could make a decent stab at it too. 

The show is based on Antonio Skármeta’s novel Ardiente Paciencia, on which the 1994 Oscar-winning film Il Postino was based, but Trevor Bentham and Eden Phillips’ book keeps the story of the musical in Isla Negra, a small fishing village on the Chilean coast and in the early 1970s, when political turmoil threatened to overwhelm this South American country. And Michael Jeffrey, a composer new to me, has pulled together a hugely exciting and accomplished score that blends its Latin influences seamlessly into a grand musical theatre style. Continue reading “Album Review: The Postman and the Poet (2011 Concept Album)”

Album Review: Zorro (Original Cast Recording)

“Djobi djoba
Cada dia te quiero mas”

2008 musical Zorro lasted nine months in the West End, which may not seem a fantastic run but in retrospect, it lasted longer than From Here To Eternity, Stephen Ward, I Can’t Sing…any number of big musicals. Written by Stephen Clark and Helen Edmundson from Isabel Allende’s origin story, the tale positions the pulp legend as a folk hero and romantic lead, and is aided in the task by a highly atmospheric score from the Gipsy Kings and John Cameron.

Recorded live, the score has a slight feel of probably being much more fun to experience live than simply listening to in your living room. the flamenco rumba of the instrumentals impressively played but would be unquestionably improved with its accompanying choreography. So too the set pieces of pre-existing Gipsy Kings tracks Bamboléo and Djobi Djoba – both led by a fiercely charismatic Lesli Magherita – being exhorted to “baila, baila” just doesn’t quite work on record.  Continue reading “Album Review: Zorro (Original Cast Recording)”

Review: Elegies for Angels, Punks and Raging Queens, Criterion

“Learning to let go”

Just a quickie for this one-off – a fundraiser for the Make A Difference Trust of this late 1980s song cycle inspired by the AIDS memorial quilt. The original London production of Elegies for Angels, Punks and Raging Queens actually transferred to the Criterion – where tonight’s show was – from the King’s Head but it’s a little difficult to see how this production with its nearly 50-strong company could ever have been scaled down to fit into that Islington pub theatre. But given how the show is made up of individual songs and monologues, each inspired by a different panel on the quilt representing the life of someone who has died from HIV/AIDS, its inherent flexibility shows how it can take whatever form is needed.

Here, Stephen Whitson’s production takes on a new 21st century version of the book by Bill Russell, the updating of which has mixed results. Contemporary references clang a little awkwardly but there’s more of a problem in that neither the fast-moving world of medical advancements nor the changing nature of the epidemic itself are really reflected – the show is already a period piece in so many ways that it perhaps would be better to leave it that way rather than trying to chase a relevance that would be better served by a completely separate part two. Continue reading “Review: Elegies for Angels, Punks and Raging Queens, Criterion”

TV Review: The Vote, Donmar Warehouse via All4

“This after all has been a very careful election” 

A fascinating experiment from James Graham and Josie Rourke, The Vote was a “play for theatre and television” which after two weeks of performances at the Donmar Warehouse – for which you had to enter a ballot for tickets – aired live on More4 at the very moment that it was set, the night of the UK general election. I wasn’t one of the lucky few in the ballot and am rarely inclined to dayseat (though I know several people who managed it) so I’ve only just got around to catching up with it on All4 (formerly 4OD) where it is on for another couple of weeks.

I’m glad I did get to see it as it is very funny and pulled together an extraordinary cast, the vast majority of whom spend mere moments onstage. Graham’s play focuses on the trials and tribulations of a South London polling station in the 90 minutes before voting closes and though there’s a farcical plot that holds the play together in the larger sense, the real joy comes in the microstories of the various voters who come in to exercise their democratic right as best they see fit. Drunks losing their polling cards, giddy lesbians brandishing selfie sticks, teenagers asking Siri who to vote for, all amusing slices of life are represented by a stellar cast who seem to be having just as much as the audience. Continue reading “TV Review: The Vote, Donmar Warehouse via All4”

CD Review: Love, Lies & Lyrics – The Words of Lesley Ross

Why do whores only sing in musicals?” 

Showcasing the work of a lyricist is a different prospect from that of a composer, something that is immediately apparent from glancing at the cover and booklet of Love, Lies & Lyrics – The Words of Lesley Ross, the latest new musical theatre CD emerge from the nurturing cocoon of SimG Records. This album features music from 4 different writers, taken from over a dozen musicals, with the now customary array of West End stars – over 30 in number here – so it can’t help but be highly eclectic as a collection, in something of a similar vein to Robert Gould’s collection from last year.

The diversity of this approach certainly has its benefits, especially as man of the songs are around the 2 minute mark, as it means the album can bounce around wryly comic observation songs like ‘Pick A Ticket!’ and ‘Him in 23B’ to the more heartfelt but still story-led balladry of Nigel Richards’ ‘And In My Heart’ and Annalene Beechey’s ‘Song for Someone’. If I had to pick, Madalena Alberto’s plaintive lullaby ‘I Will Be There’ is the highlight of the record – its gorgeously delicate emotion coming from a perfect confection of lyric, music and performance.  Continue reading “CD Review: Love, Lies & Lyrics – The Words of Lesley Ross”

Album Review: Madalena Alberto – Don’t Cry For Me

“The answer was here all the time”

Capitalising on her long-running stint in the UK tour of Evita which culminated in a stint at the Dominion Theatre, Madalena Alberto’s 2014 album Don’t Cry For Me relies heavily on that role, featuring three songs from that show as well as using it for its title. Her versions of ‘Don’t Cry For Argentina’ and ‘You Must Love Me’ are naturally both very good but it is the heartfelt ‘Lament’ that really shows how good she was in the role, slowly building to a fiercely emotional climax with a heartbreaking finale.

Elsewhere she delves further into the world of musical theatre, tackling standards like Cabaret’s ‘Maybe This Time’ and lesser known work like Jekyll and Hyde’s ‘Someone Like You’ (in which she starred at the Union) with an equal gusto, and a nicely restrained (and beautifully arranged ) wander through Blood Brothers’ ‘Easy Terms’ brings a lovely inquisitive quality to the storytelling, reflecting Alberto’s roots as a singer-songwriter of no little quality. Continue reading “Album Review: Madalena Alberto – Don’t Cry For Me”

Album Review: John Owen-Jones – Rise

“Raise your hopeful voice”

There should be a study into the tragic condition that afflicts so many musical theatre performers when a camera comes into view – the outstretched hand has struck down as talented a star as Imelda Staunton and John Owen-Jones has been similarly affected as evidenced by the cover of his new CD Rise. The tracklisting of this album, his third, does show some signs of trying to break free from this #stagey curse though, and with some surprising results.

None more so than the opening track, a rendition of the Eurovision Song Contest-winning song ‘Rise Like A Phoenix’ (does the small print specify that this song has to be sung with a beard?!) that somehow manages to bring more drama than Conchita Wurst and go all out on the Bond theme theatrics, whilst still bringing so much feeling to the lyrics. The interesting arrangement is echoed later on in an inspired take on ‘Motherless Children’ which unexpectedly reinvigorates this spiritual. Continue reading “Album Review: John Owen-Jones – Rise”

2015 What’s On Stage Award nominations

Best Actor In A Play Sponsored By Radisson Blu Edwardian
David Tennant – Richard II 
Mark Strong – A View From the Bridge 
Richard Armitage – The Crucible 
Tom Bateman – Shakespeare in Love 
Tom Hiddleston – Coriolanus 

Best Actress In A Play
Billie Piper – Great Britain 
Gillian Anderson – A Streetcar Named Desire 
Helen McCrory – Medea 
Imelda Staunton – Good People 
Lucy Briggs-Owen – Shakespeare in Love 

Continue reading “2015 What’s On Stage Award nominations”