Album Review: The Grinning Man (2018 London Cast Live Recording)

I thoroughly enjoy getting to revisit the dark delights of new British musical The Grinning Man

“Laughter is the best medicine”

I loved The Grinning Man in both its incarnations – from Bristol’s Old Vic to the West End – and so I was most pleased to hear that it would be immortalised in vinyl, or whatever the digital equivalent is… A new British musical (book by Carl Grose, music by Tim Phillips and Marc Teitler, lyrics by all three plus Tom Morris) is always a thing to cherish, even when it is a queerly dark a thing as this. 

It’s a live recording which has its pros and cons. Personally, I like hearing the response of a live audience, particularly in response to the devilishly dark humour of Julian Bleach’s Barkilphedro. And the raw passion you hear in the voices of Louis Maskell and Sanne den Besten as tragic lovers Grinpayne and Dea feels all the more urgent for not having that studio polish to rub off some of the more emotional edges. Continue reading “Album Review: The Grinning Man (2018 London Cast Live Recording)”

fosterIAN awards 2017

 WinnerRunner-upOther nominees
Best Actress in a PlayHattie Morahan/
Kate O'Flynn/
Adelle Leonce,
Anatomy of a Suicide
Victoria Hamilton, Albion
Shirley Henderson, Girl From the North Country
Cherry Jones, The Glass Menagerie
Justine Mitchell, Beginning
Mimi Ndiweni, The Convert
Connie Walker, Trestle
Best Actor in a Play
Ken Nwosu, An OctoroonAndrew Scott, HamletAndrew Garfield, Angels in America
Gary Lilburn, Trestle
Ian McKellen, King Lear
Cyril Nri, Barber Shop Chronicles
Sam Troughton, Beginning
Best Supporting Actress in a PlayBríd Brennan, The FerrymanKate Kennedy, Twelfth Night (Royal Exchange)Sheila Atim, Girl From the North Country
Laura Carmichael, Apologia
Romola Garai, Queen Anne
Lashana Lynch, a profoundly affectionate, passionate devotion to someone (-noun)
Kate O'Flynn, The Glass Menagerie
Best Supporting Actor in a PlayFisayo Akinade,
Barber Shop Chronicles
Brian J Smith, The Glass MenageriePhilip Arditti, Oslo
Gershwn Eustache Jnr, a profoundly affectionate, passionate devotion to someone (-noun)
Fra Fee, The Ferryman
Patrice Naiambana, Barber Shop Chronicles
Nathan Stewart-Jarrett, Angels in America
Best Actress in a MusicalJanie Dee, Follies AND
Josefina Gabrielle, A Little Night Music
AND Josie Walker,
Everybody's Talking About Jamie
Amie Giselle-Ward, Little WomenSharon D Clarke, Caroline or Change
Kelly Price, The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 ¾
T'Shan Williams, The Life
Best Actor in a MusicalGiles Terera, HamiltonScott Hunter/Andy Coxon, Yank! A WWII Love StoryJohn McCrea, Everybody's Talking About Jamie
Philip Quast, Follies
Michael Rouse, Superhero
Jamael Westman, Hamilton
Best Supporting Actress in a Musical
Tracie Bennett,
Follies
Rachel John, HamiltonChristine Allado, Hamilton
Julie Atherton, The Grinning Man
Sharon D Clarke, The Life
Joanna Riding, Romantics Anonymous
Lucie Shorthouse, Everybody's Talking About Jamie
Best Supporting Actor in a MusicalJason
Pennycooke,
Hamilton
Mark Anderson, The Grinning ManFred Haig, Follies
Cornell S John, The Life
Chris Kiely, Yank! A WWII Love Story
Gareth Snook, Romantics Anonymous
Obioma Ugoala, Hamilton

2017 Best Supporting Actor in a Play + in a Musical

Best Supporting Actor in a Play

Fisayo Akinade, Barber Shop Chronicles
To pick someone out of this prodigiously talented ensemble almost feels unfair, but Ellams’ narrative did repeatedly land on Peckham and the contested ownership of that salon was given blistering power by Akinade’s Samuel, bristling under the control of pseudo-father figure Emmanuel.

Honourable mention: Brian J Smith, The Glass Menagerie
To borrow from a different Tennessee Williams play, Smith was every inch the gentleman caller we all have been fantasising about since high school.

Philip Arditti, Oslo
Gershwn Eustache Jnr, a profoundly affectionate, passionate devotion to someone (-noun)
Fra Fee, The Ferryman
Patrice Naiambana, Barber Shop Chronicles
Nathan Stewart-Jarrett, Angels in America

8-10

John Hodgkinson, The Ferryman; Peter Polycarpou, Oslo; Sam Reid, Girl From the North Country

 

Best Supporting Actor in a Musical

Jason Pennycooke, Hamilton
Getting to play both Jefferson and Lafayette means Pennycooke has twice the opportunity to make an impact and he does so, on both accounts, with real flair. I’ve long been a fan of his and this show is a brilliant showcase for his talents.

Honourable mention: Mark Anderson, The Grinning Man
New to the cast from Bristol, Anderson’s take on Dirry-Moir was inspired in its quirky warmth and the moment where I thought he was going to sit down next to me was a mildly hilarious highlight in a great show.

Fred Haig, Follies
Cornell S John, The Life
Chris Kiely, Yank! A WWII Love Story
Gareth Snook, Romantics Anonymous
Obioma Ugoala, Hamilton

8-10
Rob Fowler, Bat Out of Hell; John Hopkins, The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 ¾; Tom Norman, Salad Days

Review: The Grinning Man, Trafalgar Studios

A great transfer for a great British musical, The Grinning Man impresses in this transfer to the Trafalgar Studios

“A tale so tragic it could only be true”

I’m no real fan of the Trafalgar Studios to be honest – its seating can be cramped, its angles severe, the toilet situation far from ideal, plus the coffee machine there takes an inordinate amount of time to produce a drink. But credit where it is due, director Tom Morris and designer Jon Bausor have done a fantastically inventive job in reconceiving the space to suit the anarchic energy of The Grinning Man, first seen in Bristol last year (and my favourite musical of the year, too).

A new British musical (book by Carl Grose, music by Tim Phillips and Marc Teitler, lyrics by all three plus Morris) based on a Victor Hugo novel, it’s a macabre tale to be sure, but one suffused with a real magic too. And Morris gives it an immediacy which scrubs away much of the distance that audiences can feel in the old Whitehall Theatre as cellists appear through walls, performers clamber into the stalls to sing, couples walk as if on air…

Continue reading “Review: The Grinning Man, Trafalgar Studios”

CD Review: Cool Rider (Original Studio Recording 2015)

“Don’t get sore when you lose tonight”

Cult status is a funny thing, depending on which side of the coin you fall, it can either rescue diamonds in the rough or just further expose them. For me, Cool Rider comes down heavily on the latter though it must be said, there’s plenty who would argue the former, not least those who contributed over £12 grand to the Kickstarter to get this recording made. Hey, it’s their money right?!

Cool Rider is perhaps better known as the stage adaptation of ill-fated film sequel Grease 2. Staged in a concert version in 2014, the popularity of which saw it return for a week of performances at the Duchess Theatre, the fans are clearly there but quite for what, I couldn’t really say. The plot is little more than an retread of the original but with the roles reversed but the main problem lies in an inconsistent and uninspired score. 

With no less than 10 different contributors named, and the legacy of an absolute classic to live up to, Lee Freeman’s orchestrations valiantly try to elevate the 80s take on 60s pastiche but finds that no time period can make it sound good. It’s awkwardly dated and cringe-worthily written – “we’re gonna rock, we’re gonna roll, we’re gonna bop, we’re gonna bowl” is no “rama lamma lamma ka dinga da dinga dong” that’s for sure…

More crucially, there’s too little charm to balance what comedy there is. Ashleigh Gray does a commendable job as the go-getting Stephanie, the title track is strong and her side of climactic duet ‘(Love Will) Turn Back The Hands of Time’ is excellent but opposite her, Aaron SIdwell is lacklustre in a largely insipid part. Reece Shearsmith’s romp through a sex-ed class in ‘Reproduction’ is another example where the recording falls flat, though I can appreciate that prior knowledge of the scene might well make it work.

So Cool Rider might well be one for the fans, for whom seeing and hearing the show live will have been a dream. For the more casual listener, there aren’t many more worse things you could do.

Review: The Toxic Avenger, Southwark Playhouse

“Let me tell you a story about a man with a strange complexion”

Baby, can’t you see, I’m calling. A show like this, should wear a warning…that warning should be avoid the front row if you’re squeamish about having your face touched by strangers! For The Toxic Avenger is nothing if not hands on, drawing its Southwark Playhouse audience right into its B-movie world, the poison paradise of the New Jersey town of Tromaville. And as we come to see, whether just a taste on the lips or a full-body dunking, the effects of toxic waste Based on the 1984 film of the same name, a cult classic of which

I hadn’t heard, its hero is Melvin Ferd the Third, a geeky scientist determined to clean up the town but who soon finds himself the victim of such a dunking. Transformed and deformed, he emerges as Toxie, the Toxic Avenger – all rippling abs and dangling eyeballs – and newly fortified to tackle the dastardly Mayor whose scheming has caused the pollution and also take the plunge with hot blind librarian Sarah who rejected him as a nerd. Continue reading “Review: The Toxic Avenger, Southwark Playhouse”

The Curtain Up Show Album of the Year 2015 nominees

Best Cast Recording
Bend It Like Beckham (Original London Cast Recording)
Cool Rider (Original Studio Recording)
Gypsy (2015 London Cast Recording)
Made in Dagenham (Original London Cast Recording)
Memphis the Musical (Original London Cast Recording)

Best Solo Album
Cynthia Erivo and Oliver Tompsett Sing Scott Alan
Hugh Maynard – Something Inside So Strong
John Owen-Jones – Rise
Tim Prottey-Jones – To Do. To Be.

Review: The Book of Mormon, Prince of Wales

“When you’re feeling certain feelings that just don’t seem right”

This is going to be less of a review than a jumbled thought piece coming out from the marketing campaign for The Book of Mormon which has seen unprecedented levels of saturation across London. The publicity for the show started way back, adverts on buses and in tube stations have been appearing for months now but the week leading up to last Thursday’s press night saw an absolute deluge of coverage which meant it was even harder to escape. Lengthy preview features which all but reviewed the show were printed in newspapers; the #LoveMormon twitter campaign went into overdrive, using many of those tweets as quotes in adverts which, following the gala opening night, included an incredible four page ad just featuring tweets from celebrities.

One might have imagined such levels of hype would be hard to live up to but by all accounts, it has worked as a press release arrived yesterday trumpeting that The Book of Mormon had broken the record for the biggest single day of sales the previous day, taking in an astonishing £2,107,972 and this from a show which had already pretty much sold out until the summer. Of course, one could point to the ticket prices to explain some of the maths – the majority of the tickets are retailing at £74.50 and £127, £39.50 is as far as the cheap seats go (day lottery aside) – but nonetheless, the achievement shouldn’t be underestimated. Continue reading “Review: The Book of Mormon, Prince of Wales”

Review: Once Upon A Mattress, Union Theatre

“Flip your skirt, open, close…”

The Union Theatre’s festive show is this little US curiosity from 1959, Once Upon A Mattress. It’s a playful riff on the Hans Christian Andersen fairytale The Princess and the Pea and its endearing silliness and the high campery of Kirk Jameson’s production makes it a whole bundle of festive fun. Jay Thompson, Dean Fuller and Marshall Barer’s book purports to tell an alternative version of events which sees Queen Aggravain come up with ever more difficult tasks for princesses to pass in order to win the hand of her beloved son Prince Dauntless. But when the unreconstructed Princess Winifred – a princess from the swamps – wins the heart of mummy’s boy Dauntless, the queen has to devise the hardest test possible.

Jamieson makes great use of his ensemble as courtiers constantly watching the action and so always on hand to sing and dance their way attractively through a range of random numbers. Mary Rodgers’ score really isn’t too memorable but Racky Plews’ choreography is so eye-poppingly vibrant that it almost doesn’t matter. The group scenes thus spark happily into life, none more so than in the dizzying routine of Spanish Panic which is witty as well as impressive.  Continue reading “Review: Once Upon A Mattress, Union Theatre”