Lockdown treat: Taika Waititi and friends read James and the Giant Peach

Join Academy Award-winning filmmaker, Taika Waititi as he reads James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl, in full across 10 episodes, to raise money for @Partners In Health.

Over the series, Taika will be joined by Utkarsh Ambudkar, Cate Blanchett, Jamie Cullum, Benedict Cumberbatch, Roman Griffin Davis, Cara Delevingne, Cynthia Erivo, Beanie Feldstein, Josh Gad, Chris Hemsworth, Liam Hemsworth, Mindy Kaling, Nick Kroll, Kumail Nanjiani, Lupita Nyong’o, Sarah Paulson, Billy Porter, Gordon Ramsay, Eddie Redmayne, Ryan Reynolds, Ben Schwartz, Meryl Streep, Tessa Thompson, Olivia Wilde, Ruth Wilson and Archie Yates, with a select number of celebrities still to be announced.

If you can, please visit http://www.pih.org/giantpeach to donate NOW. The Roald Dahl Story Company and their partners will be matching every single donation. New episodes released every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 6pm BST / 1pm EST / 10 PST. Continue reading “Lockdown treat: Taika Waititi and friends read James and the Giant Peach”

Lockdown Review: Take Me to the World: A Sondheim 90th Birthday Celebration

On the one hand, so much to love with such an inordinate array of talent assembled to mark Sondheim’s 90th birthday. But on the other, where’s the editor, there’s a real sense of the rambling here too. Fortunately as this has been put together in lockdown (and very well too) it is easier than ever to skip to the bits you want (in the spirit of these times, I ain’t telling you who disappointed me).

For me, I loved the unexpectedness of Katrina Lenk’ ‘Johanna’, the cuteness of Beanie Feldstein & Ben Platt’s ‘It Takes Two’, and the energy of Alexander Gemignani’s ‘Buddy’s Blues’. And of the heavy hitters in the finale, Donna Murphy and Patti LuPone nailed ‘Send in the Clowns’ and ‘Anyone Can Whistle’ respectively, and there’s huge fun (if not finesse) in Christine Baranski, Meryl Streep & Audra McDonald giving us their ‘Ladies Who Lunch’. Continue reading “Lockdown Review: Take Me to the World: A Sondheim 90th Birthday Celebration”

News: Sondheim’s 90th birthday concert line-up announced

Legendary Broadway composer Stephen Sondheim will be toasted with an all-star birthday concert, streaming live on Sunday 26th April. Hosted by Raúl Esparza, with musical direction by Mary-Mitchell Campbell, and coinciding with the 50th Broadway anniversary of Sondheim’s CompanyTake Me to the World: A Sondheim 90th Birthday Celebration can be seen for free on YouTube. 

This once-in-a-lifetime event, benefiting ASTEP (Artists Striving to End Poverty), will include a range of songs from the Sondheim catalogue performed by many of the artists who delivered iconic turns in his musicals, including Meryl Streep, Bernadette Peters, Patti LuPone, Mandy Patinkin, Audra McDonald, Christine Baranski, Donna Murphy, Kristin Chenoweth, Sutton Foster, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Kelli O’Hara, Aaron Tveit, Maria Friedman, Katrina Lenk, Michael Cerveris, Brandon Uranowitz, Elizabeth Stanley, Chip Zien, Alexander Gemignani, Iain Armitage, Stephen Schwartz and, from the cast of Pacific Overtures at Classic Stage Company, Ann Harada, Austin Ku, Kelvin Moon Loh and Thom Sesma.

Album Reviews: Singing You Home / Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again / Vanara the Musical

This trio of album reviews covers Singing You Home: Children’s Songs for Family Reunification, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again (2018 Film Soundtrack) and Vanara the Musical

“Ay, ay, ay, ay, canta y no llores”

Regardless of your politics, Singing You Home: Children’s Songs for Family Reunification is a really rather lovely album of bilingual children’s songs. But in this day and age nothing is not political and the current US administration’s policy of child separation is a genuine atrocity that it is hard to know how to respond. Laura Benanti had the nous to conceive this project though and produced it with Mary-Mitchell Campbell and Lynn Pinto, and a whole host of the great and good of the American musical theatre. Thus this is more than just your usual set of lullabies – Lin-Manuel Miranda and Mandy Gonzalez crooning on the Mexican song ‘Cielito Lindo’, Audra McDonald shining on Jason Robert Brown’s ‘Singing You Home’, Kristin Chenoweth’s ‘Beautiful Dreamer’, well worth the investment for this uniquely exceptional cause. Continue reading “Album Reviews: Singing You Home / Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again / Vanara the Musical”

Film Review: Mary Poppins Returns (2018)

54 years is quite the wait for a sequel but Mary Poppins Returns is full of nostalgic sweetness and charm  

“Are you sure this is quite safe?
‘Not in the slightest. Ready!'”

54 years is quite the wait for a sequel but the sweetness and charm with which Mary Poppins Returns lands on our screens makes it pretty much worth it. It’s a film that does more than wrap you up in a warm blanket of nostalgia, it tucks you in, throws another log on the fire and makes you a steaming hot chocolate (no marshmallows though!).

Set 30 years after the much cherished original, the story (by David Magee, Rob Marshall and John DeLuca based off of PL Travers’s original tales) sees us rejoin Cherry Tree Lane where the adult Michael Banks (Ben Whishaw) lives with his young family (Pixie Davies, Nathaniel Saleh and Joel Dawson). But much like the other long-held sequel of the year, a sadness fills the house for a mother has died. And Michael’s artistic inclinations and part-time job at the bank aren’t bringing in enough to keep them from repossession. Who could possibly save the day…? Continue reading “Film Review: Mary Poppins Returns (2018)”

Film Review: Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again (2018)

On the two viewings I’ve managed so far, I’m pretty sure Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again is the epoch-defining film that we don’t deserve but which we sorely need

“When you’re gone
How can I even try to go on?”

I was lucky enough to see an early screening of Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again last week and I thought it was fricking fantastic. But as the occasion fuelled by an afternoon tea that was heavy on the bubbles and the raucous atmosphere of a stagey audience and not quite bold enough to stick by the courage of my convictions, I opted to wait until seeing the film a second time before officially declaring my opinion.

And I have to say I really do think this is a superb film. The sequel that no-one really knew they wanted, whipped together in under 12 months once the green light had been given, that somehow manages to do everything you expect it to, and but better, and infinitely more moving than it has any right to be. I knew I’d shed a tear or three of joy but there was more than one moment where I was just sobbing, so rich is the emotion here. And that’s only fitting considering the bittersweet melancholy that is ABBA’s true calling card, rather than the cheesiness they are famed for. Continue reading “Film Review: Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again (2018)”

Album Reviews: Over the Moon: The Broadway Lullaby Project / Mamma Mia / Il Divo – A Musical Affair

This trio of album reviews covers Over the Moon: The Broadway Lullaby Project, Mamma Mia! The Movie Soundtrack and Il Divo – A Musical Affair

“You know I’ve got
So much that I wanna do”

Over the Moon: The Broadway Lullaby Project has an amazing list of performers, composers, and musicians behind it, all coming together to create a 2-CD set and 48-page children’s book to benefit breast cancer research, support and education. And rather wonderfully, it is an utterly gorgeous record. Brilliant jazz musicians accompany writers like Michael John LaChiusa, Adam Gwon and Kristen Anderson-Lopez & Robert Lopez in indulging their gentler side to create the prettiest tunes. And then a cast of dreams sing them – just listen to Raúl Esparza’s aching tenderness on ‘This Little World’, or Donna Murphy’s crystal clear ‘Lucky’ (by Stephen  Schwartz) – we should all be so lucky to be lulled to sleep this way. Continue reading “Album Reviews: Over the Moon: The Broadway Lullaby Project / Mamma Mia / Il Divo – A Musical Affair”

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)”

Oscar Week Film Review: The Post

Star names can’t hide the dullness here

“My decision stands, and I’m going to bed”

No. No, no, no. No. The fact that The Post has any Oscar nominations is testament to how much in thrall to star power the Academy is. And fair enough, the trifecta of Steven Spielberg, Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep is a weighty one. But this is a dull film, rushed through production to try and capitalise on topicality, that is being severely over-recognised here.