Review: Sunset Boulevard Curve, Leicester

“Smile a rented smile, fill someone’s glass
Kiss someone’s wife, kiss someone’s ass”

Ria Jones’ extraordinary history with Sunset Boulevard might well be entitled The Norma Conquests – from originally workshopping the role of Norma Desmond for Andrew Lloyd Webber (music) and Don Black and Christopher Hampton (book and lyrics) in 1991 to her headline-grabbing stint as Glenn Close’s understudy in last year’s ENO staged concert version of the show to finally getting to play the leading role in her own right on this UK tour, premiering at Leicester’s Curve, some 26 years later.

And was it worth the wait? Jones certainly is making the most of her well-deserved moment, offering a different skillset for her markedly different interpretation. Jones is undoubtedly the better singer, the lushness of her voice soaring effortlessly to the impassioned heights of the score. And she’s a different kind of actress, offering a brasher, more manic kind of energy to this former movie star caught up in a fantasy world when a young screenwriter (Danny Mac) accidentally offers hope to her faded career.  Continue reading “Review: Sunset Boulevard Curve, Leicester”

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”

Review: West End Recast 2, Phoenix

“I wonder why they didn’t just change their story”

There’s always gotta be a sequel right? After the success of West End Recast earlier this year, director Adam Lenson and musical supervisor Daniel A Weiss have once again gathered a cast of West End talent with nothing better to do on a Sunday night than perform songs they wouldn’t normally get the chance to sing. And once again, they hit the jackpot with West End Recast 2, an extraordinary range of performers and performances that offer a revelatory take on what places musical theatre could go to when a few risks are taken.

Imagine Cynthia Erivo as Bobby in Company, her rendition of ‘Being Alive’ was genuinely sensational (although nothing will ever convince me that a mid-song standing ovation is acceptable) and somehow found something new in this classic that literally raised the roof. So too did Gina Beck utterly own West Side Story’s ‘Maria’, an unexpectedly affecting take that also deserves to be explored more, not least as a fascinating challenge for her vocal range. Cassidy Janson deserves a mention for going green again, though this time as Shrek rather than Elphaba, well for the most part at least… Continue reading “Review: West End Recast 2, Phoenix”

Album Review: You Are Home – The Songs of Anderson and Petty

“It will all be fine, somewhere down the line”

Songbook albums can be difficult beasts – composers can often find themselves caught between trying to compile a thematically coherent collection and demonstrating the breadth of their talent and it can be a difficult balance to find. Transatlantic writing duo Barry Anderson and Mark Petty, the catchily named Anderson & Petty, have erred towards the latter, not only showcasing not only a huge range of musical styles but a roster of performers from both sides of the ocean.

And what does connect the material on You Are Home – The Songs of Anderson and Petty is a genuine gift for effective songwriting, highlighted by some excellent matching of song and singer: Coleen Sexton’s ‘You Are Home’ brims with supreme confidence, a near-perfectly constructed piece matched with a flawless vocal; Gina Beck’s crystalline soprano on the verge of shattering due to the emotionally devastating ‘Forever Child’; Autumn Hurlbert carrying ‘Superman’ from its hushed beginnings to a wonderfully strident climax. Continue reading “Album Review: You Are Home – The Songs of Anderson and Petty”

Review: Chicago, Curve

“Nothing stays in fifty years or so, it’s gonna change you know”

The thrills of Kander & Ebb’s iconic work Chicago became somewhat lost as the show grew into a stalwart long runner in London’s West End, turning to an unending procession of stunt casting moves to keep the crowds coming. But though I’m a great fan of the show, the temptation to go and see it again was never there, not even as it closed, the innate razzle-dazzle had gone missing. So the prospect of a brand new production at Leicester’s Curve Theatre, directed by Paul Kerryson and choreographed by bright young thing Drew McOnie, raised hopes that it might be back.

And boy is it ever. The Curve has been home to some excellent musicals during Kerryson’s tenure and Chicago is right up there with the best, as a vibrant recasting of the familiar elements of the show infused with a fresh vitality that literally sparks off the stage. Away from the faux glamour of the latest evictee from the jungle or fading Hollywood star, the focus on genuine musical theatre talent restores an integrity to the show which allows it Kerryson to really play up the viciously biting satire of sensation-hungry audiences which is as relevant today as it ever was. Continue reading “Review: Chicago, Curve”

Re-review: Merrily We Roll Along, Harold Pinter

“Me with music and you the words“

Menier Chocolate Factory Christmas musicals have a habit of making the leap into the West End and given the rapturous reception that Sondheim’s Merrily We Roll Along received last year, it was no surprise to hear that it would make the well-deserved transfer into the Harold Pinter Theatre for a 12 week engagement. My original review of the show can be read here and perhaps not unexpectedly, very little has changed of my feelings about this rather magnificent production. But more surprising was how little I felt it had changed in the considerably larger space of this new theatre. 

It’s a good six months since I saw it so perhaps my memory isn’t too reliable but it really does feel very similar indeed, Soutra Gilmour’s design slots into the theatre in a similar fashion and the staging – although expanded to fill the space – moves around it in the same way. Not that this is a bad thing, but rather that I’m not exactly sure about how it might play from further back or up in the theatre than you’d ever be in the Menier. Where the lack of discernible difference is a definite boon though is in the performance level. Continue reading “Re-review: Merrily We Roll Along, Harold Pinter”

Review: Merrily We Roll Along, Menier Chocolate Factory

“We go way back, never forward”

Sondheim’s Merrily We Roll Along famously flopped on Broadway when it opened in 1981 but now refined and reappraised, it is considered amongst his finest work and this Menier Chocolate Factory production serves to bolster that reputation. Directed by Maria Friedman, no stranger to Sondheim’s work as an actor but making her professional directorial debut here, the story traces the fortunes of Franklin, Mary and Charley, three writer friends buzzing with creative energy and determined to make their mark on the world. Real life intervenes though and the mistakes, sacrifices and compromises made in their lives as success changes them in unexpected ways are highlighted and heightened by a reverse timeline which sees Sondheim and book writer George Furth move scene by scene from 1976 to 1957.  

It is Franklin who lies at the heart of the story. An unsympathetic figure who we meet as the height of his unlikeability in the midst of a soulless Hollywood party, it is to Mark Umbers’ immense credit that he makes this man such an intriguing person, transcending the limitations of the book which provides little clue as to his motivations. Umbers’ Franklin sparkles with a seductively easy charm that makes him understandably hard to resist and suggests that it not with malice that he rides roughshod over others, but rather that his head is simply too easily turned by the next new bright thing. Jenna Russell’s Mary’s slow self-destruction as unrequited love eats her from the inside is just devastating to watch, all the more so for being played in reverse and realising just how long she has held a flame for her friend, and Damian Humbley’s well-judged Charley has a geeky reticence that explodes in fine style with a delicious rip through ‘Franklin Shepard, Inc’. Continue reading “Review: Merrily We Roll Along, Menier Chocolate Factory”

Review: The Wizard of Oz, Palladium

“And my head I’d be scratchin’ while my thoughts were busy hatchin’

I could have quite happily given The Wizard of Oz a miss, it wasn’t ever really on my list of shows to see but the combined news of a visit from a family member who wanted to see it and Hannah Waddingham’s imminent departure from the ensemble meant that I found myself there on a Saturday evening… There’s something a little odd about its choice as Andrew Lloyd-Webber’s third reality casting show, Over the Rainbow, as the show is not really a fully-fledged musical, no matter how famous some of the songs but he persevered nonetheless. What is even odder is his assembly of a strong musical theatre cast around the eventual winner, Danielle Hope, given the paucity of many of the roles around Dorothy.

Lloyd-Webber’s way around this has been to write new songs, with long-standing lyricist Tim Rice, to beef up the roles of characters like the Wizard and the Wicked Witch of the West and justify the casting of Michael Crawford and Hannah Waddingham respectively. But despite looking a picture with some tricksy staging and wirework, the end result is curiously banal, exceedingly bland and one which rarely excited me. The focus is so much on the stagecraft that the heart of the story is rarely engaged: Hope’s Dorothy is sweet but rarely interesting, there’s little of the ‘star quality’ evident this evening but then the role is not one that really encourages it; Michael Crawford made very little impact either as the Wizard or the cameos as Ozians and so it went, emotion taking second-place to spectacle. Continue reading “Review: The Wizard of Oz, Palladium”

Review: Sweet Charity, Theatre Royal Haymarket

“We don’t dance. We defend ourselves to music”

Last night’s trip to Sweet Charity at the Theatre Royal Haymarket (with Aunty Jean, for my birthday treat!) actually marks the first time that I have seen a show that has transferred from a small venue into the West End in both of its incarnations. My original review can be read here about Charity Hope Valentine’s romantic misadventures and her continued search for her dream man in the face of constant setbacks and dastardly lotharios, and much of what I loved about it then holds true now as it is still as excellent a show.

Little has actually been changed about the production, everything is just a bit bigger really and the transitions a lot smoother, the only real difference was the fairground scene with Charity and Oscar and her vertigo where they make use of the more advanced facilities to sit on a suspended seat. Where the production does benefit from the transfer though is in the extra room for the choreography, Rich Man’s Frug and I’m A Brass Band in particular both luxuriate in the additional space offered by the Theatre Royal and Stephen Mears’ superb choreography has unfurled beautifully, maintaining the huge level of energy and vitality it pushes into the show. This is probably best exemplified in Hey, Big Spender, such a different number to the familiar Shirley Bassey version, the girls at the club sprawl over high stools, selling their wares half-heartedly with deliciously bored expressions, it is abundantly clear that this is no glamorous life and one can immediately see why Charity is so keen to escape. Continue reading “Review: Sweet Charity, Theatre Royal Haymarket”