Review: Chess, London Coliseum

Nobody’s on nobody’s side – an all-star cast can’t save this game of Chess from itself, for me at least

“From square one I’ll be watching all sixty-four”

It’s taken over 30 years for Chess to return to the West End (though it was seen at the Union in 2013) and though it has a huge amount of resource thrown at it in Laurence Connor’s production for English National Opera, it doesn’t necessarily feel worth the wait. An 80’s mega-musical through and through with an intermittently cracking score from ABBA’s Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus, Richard Nelson’s book hasn’t aged particularly well and bears the hallmarks of the  substantial tinkering it has had at every opportunity.

It’s not too hard to see why it has needed the tinkering. The mix of Cold War politics told through the prism of rival US and Soviet chess Grandmasters, love triangles and power ballads is a tricky one to get right and part of the problem seems to be just how seriously to take it all. On the one hand, the chess matches are backgrounded with montages of the real-life tensions of the 80s; on the other, scenes that take us through the various locations of the tournaments are a cringeworthy riot of cultural stereotyping that revel in their utter kitsch. Continue reading “Review: Chess, London Coliseum”

How to solve a problem like a compilation – my alternative Unmasked

Andrew Lloyd Webber, Unmasled

I make my own suggestions about interpretations of Andrew Lloyd Webber songs that could have been included on his new compilation album Unmasked

“They must have excitement, and so must I”

In a world of Spotify and iTunes and other online music services, compilation albums ought to have died a death. But the enduring success of the Now That’s What I Call Music series puts the lie to that, showing that while the idea of curating your own content is tempting, many of us prefer to let someone else do it for us.

So Andrew Lloyd Webber’s decision to release new anthology Unmasked is a canny one in that respect (read my review here), tapping into the desire to have a nicely pleasant set of musical theatre tunes to pop on in the car. And as with any compilation, it’s as much about what hasn’t been included as what has, that stands out. Continue reading “How to solve a problem like a compilation – my alternative Unmasked”

Album Review: Andrew Lloyd Webber Unmasked: The Platinum Collection

Andrew Lloyd Webber, Unmasled

Andrew Lloyd Webber marks his 70th birthday with a new musical anthology –  Unmasked: The Platinum Collection – taking in shows new and old with some surprises along the way (Beyoncé, Lana del Rey, Duncan from Blue )

“Oh what a circus, oh what a show”

Upon reaching 70 this year, Andrew Lloyd Webber is clearly in a reflective mood and hot on the heels of his autobiography Unmasked released last week, comes this new compilation album Unmasked: The Platinum Collection. Available physically as a 2CD or 4CD version (the latter with a 40 page book of liner notes and tributes), this collection looks back on a career spanning nearly 50 years and features some new twists on the material as well as reminding us of the old favourites.

Over the four discs, 17 of Lloyd Webber’s shows are represented here (Jesus Christ Superstar tops the list with 8 tracks, Evita and Phantom just behind), alongside assorted one-off songs (such as ‘Amigos Para Siempre’ from the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, the Gary Barlow co-write ‘Sing’ from the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee). But for ALW fans it will be the unreleased stuff that makes the mouth water – five new orchestral suites and a smattering of new recordings featuring the likes of Lana del Rey (a winsome ‘You Must Love Me’ and Gregory Porter (a spirited ‘Light At The End Of The Tunnel’. Continue reading “Album Review: Andrew Lloyd Webber Unmasked: The Platinum Collection”

Andrew Lloyd Webber celebrates 70 years with ‘Unmasked: The Platinum Collection’

In celebration of his 70th birthday this March, new compilation ANDREW LLOYD WEBBER: THE PLATINUM COLLECTION will be available March 16th through UMC / Polydor.  

The collection is personally curated and overseen by Lloyd Webber to include classics from his earliest work starting with 1968’s Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat through his most recent School of Rock. 

Newly recorded songs from superstar artists Nicole Scherzinger (“Memory”, Cats), Gregory Porter (“Light at the End of the Tunnel”, Starlight Express) and Lana Del Rey (“You Must Love Me”, Evita) add to the collection of his cherished works from the past five decades. 

The set also contains recordings by world-class performers such as Barbra Streisand, Madonna, Michael Crawford, Sarah Brightman, Michael Ball, and released for the first time, Beyonce singing “Learn To Be Lonely” from the 2005 Academy Awards with Lloyd Webber accompanying on piano. 

UNMASKED: THE PLATINUM COLLECTION is available as 2 CD and 4 CD editions. The 4-disc version contains an exclusive 40-page book with a personally penned introduction from Lloyd Webber and more in-depth notes on each track, written by respected theatre critic and Lloyd Webber biographer Michael Coveney, together with personally written tributes from Barbara Streisand and Glenn Close among others. 

Pre-order 2 CD Edition

Pre-order 4 CD Edition

Continue reading “Andrew Lloyd Webber celebrates 70 years with ‘Unmasked: The Platinum Collection’”

Midlife Crooner Crisis Album Reviews

With Top of the Pops cruelly taken away from us, I’ve rarely much of a clue as to what in the charts. But I doubt even the most knowledgable of experts could have predicted that one of 2016’s biggest albums would come from the presenter of The Chase. Chasing Dreams ended the year as the second biggest UK debut and perhaps unsurprisingly given his key demographic, achieved that with predominantly physical sales.

So the arrival of a follow-up was never in doubt but it brings with it competition, from a whole raft of middle-aged white male presenters seeking to tap into those CD sales. And me being the kind soul that I am, I’ve listened to some of them, mainly so that you don’t have to…as it’s not a field overflowing with the kind of music that floats my boat. Each to their own though.  Continue reading “Midlife Crooner Crisis Album Reviews”

Album Review: Michael Ball and Alfie Boe – Together Again

“I hang suspended
Until I know
There’s a chance that you care”

It is no secret that I am no great fan of a booming tenor and so it was little surprise that Michael Ball and Alfie Boe’s album Together was not really my cup of tea. But it was however what many other people wanted and following its success and reaching number 1 in the charts, the pair have collaborated again to produce the imaginatively titled Together Again. And in the spirit of open-mindedness, plus the acknowledgement that there’s a more adventurous tracklisting, I steeled myself to listen.

I have to hold up my hands and say I was pleasantly surprised by more than a few of the songs here. The first two-thirds of ‘The Rose’ are genuinely spine-tinglingly lovely and even when the bombast kicks in for the finale, it stills maintains a heartfelt sincerity. A stroll through ‘White Christmas’ is marvellously restrained and all the more effective for it. Even the big band swing through ‘Bring Me Sunshine’ has a gentleness to it that allows both men to demonstrate their performative range. Continue reading “Album Review: Michael Ball and Alfie Boe – Together Again”

Album Review: Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (2002 Original London Cast Recording)

“What a happy time we’ll spend”

I’m pretty sure that if you could distil the warmth of Emma Williams’ voice, it would be the basis for the cure to the world’s ills. There are few singers who have that kind of effect on people and it is a travesty that isn’t better known to the world at large. Part of that is a consequence to her admirable devotion to new musical theatre writing which means that her projects haven’t always quite broken through to the mainstream but to those in the know, she’s a real champion of British musical theatre. 

Which is a long-winded but deserved introduction to the Original London Cast Recording of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, the production in which she made her debut as an 18 year old in 2002. The Sherman Brothers’ film has long turned into an enduring classic and its score here, enhanced by new numbers for the stage, remains a thing of unalloyed joy. The delicacy of lullabies like ‘Hushabye Mountain’ and ‘Doll On A Music Box’ are just beautiful and in the hands of Williams and Michael Ball, they shimmer gorgeously. Continue reading “Album Review: Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (2002 Original London Cast Recording)”

Album Review: John Owen-Jones – Bring Him Home

“Give me this moment, this momentous moment”

I was excited by the prospect of a new John Owen-Jones album but the reality of Bring Him Home – A Collection of Musical Favourites was, I have to say, a little disappointing. For it is something of a greatest hits affair, collecting together tracks from three of his previous albums – Unmasked, Rise and his self-titled album and adding in just the three new songs.

Those tracks are Miss Saigon’s ‘Why, God, Why?’, West Side Story’s ‘Maria’ and ‘Suddenly’, written by Claude-Michel Schönberg, Herbert Kretzmer and Alain Boublil especially for the filmed version of Les Misérables. Only the last of these has any real interest as something particularly new, although fans will enjoy the personal connection Owen-Jones has to the others (drama school audition song, and first show he was in onstage). Continue reading “Album Review: John Owen-Jones – Bring Him Home”

Round-up of news and treats and other interesting things


Ahoy sailors, if what you thought the world of musical theatre was missing was the opportunity to be trapped on a boat for four days with a load of wealthy musical theatre fans, then worry no more. Stages – the Musical Theatre Festival at Sea has now been announced, a four night cruise from Southampton to Amsterdam and back, with entertainment from the likes of Michael Ball, Beverley Knight, Lee Mead, Christina Bianco, Sophie Evans, John Owen-Jones and the Showstopper guys.

It looks like it could be hilariously good fun – red carpet arrival onto the ship, masquerade balls and workshops and Q&As with the performers. But it sure ain’t cheap, prices starting at £609 with the taxes added on, though as it doesn’t set sail until 15th October 2018, there’s time to start saving those pennies. For me though, you can consider this my not-so-subtle hint to Floating Festivals that they obviously need a blog review of their cruise and that I am the one for the job.

Continue reading “Round-up of news and treats and other interesting things”

CD Review: Derek Jacobi and Anne Reid and Michael Ball and Alfie Boe

“Shall we dance?‘I thought you’d never ask!'”

Though Derek Jacobi and Anne Reid and Michael Ball and Alfie Boe could form a weirdly intriguing supergroup, it’s actually two separate CDs that they’ve released in pairs. Last Tango In Halifax co-stars Derek Jacobi and Anne Reid have their gently swinging You Are The Best Thing… That Ever Has Happened To Me and powerhouse belters Michael Ball and Alfie Boe and come Together for a booming musical theatre extravaganza.

Recorded with the Jason Carr Quartet, You Are The Best Thing… is exactly how you’d imagine an album by two such national treasures would play out. Standards like ‘The Way You Look Tonight’ and ‘I Wish I Were In Love Again’ rub shoulders with lesser known tracks (to me at least) like ‘I May Be Wrong (but I Think You’re Wonderful), and ‘You Haven’t Changed At All’ and the mood is one of exquisitely tailored classiness. Continue reading “CD Review: Derek Jacobi and Anne Reid and Michael Ball and Alfie Boe”