The Barricade Boys announce a Christmas Cabaret season with an amazing guest cast

As Mrs Merton might have asked, what first attracted you to musical theatre supergroup The Barricade Boys…?

Clearly, it was their cumulative musical talent – between them, Scott Garnham, Simon Schofield, Craig Mather and Kieran Brown have racked up credits in pretty much every major musical from The Phantom of The Opera, Wicked and Billy Elliot to Jersey Boys, The Sound Of Music and Les Misérables. And now they’re bringing their cabaret show to The Other Palace’s Studio for a Christmas season which is enough to bring festive cheer to even the most Scrooge-like of hearts.

But not content with filling our stockings thus, they’ve gone through their contact lists to find a frankly astonishing array of guest stars to accompany them across the entire run, making it nigh-on impossible to choose just one night to go along.

The full line up of guest stars:
Tuesday 5 December Gary Trainor (Dewey Finn in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s School of Rock at the New London Theatre)
Wednesday 6 Oliver Savile (Fiyero, Wicked, Apollo Victoria Theatre)
Thursday 7 Michael Xavier (two-time Olivier Award nominee, Joe Gillis in Sunset Boulevard; The Prince of Broadway)
Friday 8 Nadim Naaman (Raoul, The Phantom of the Opera, Her Majesty’s Theatre; Anthony Sweeney Todd, Harrington Pie & Mash Shop)
Saturday 9 (matinee) Rachel Tucker (Elphaba in Wicked in the West End and Broadway; Sting’s The Last Ship, Broadway)
Saturday 9 (evening) Simon Bailey (Tommy DeVito, Jersey Boys, West End; Raoul, The Phantom of the Opera, Her Majesty’s Theatre)
Monday 11 Liam Tamne (Frank N Furter, The Rocky Horror Show; Raoul, The Phantom of The Opera, Her Majesty’s Theatre) & Andy Coxon (Berger in Hair, The Vaults; Mitch, Yank, Charing Cross Theatre)
Tuesday 12 Jon Robyns (Princeton/Rod in Avenue Q, Noel Coward Theatre; Robbie Hart, The Wedding Singer, UK Tour)
Wednesday 13 Caroline Sheen (Alaura/Carla City of Angels, Donmar Warehouse; Mary Poppins in Mary Poppins, US Tour) & George Stiles and Anthony Drewe (award-winning composers of Half a Sixpence, Betty Blue Eyes, Honk! and The Wind in the Willows)
Thursday 14 (matinee) Killian Donnelly (currently Valjean in Les Misérables, Queen’s Theatre; Deco, The Commitments, Palace Theatre; Huey, Memphis, Shaftesbury Theatre, Charlie, Kinky Boots, West End & Broadway)
Thursday 14 (evening) Sabrina Aloueche (Scaramouche, We Will Rock You, Dominion Theatre; Eponine, Les Misérables, Queen’s Theatre)
Friday 15 Emily Tierney (Glinda in the first UK &Ireland tour of Wicked, Glinda, The Wizard of Oz, London Palladium)
Saturday 16 (matinee) Shona White (Florence Vassy in Craig Revel Horwood’s award winning UK touring production of Chess)
Saturday 16 (evening) Sophie Louise Dann (Celia The Girls, Phoenix Theatre; Barbara Castle, Made in Dagenham, Adelphi; Paula, Bend It Like Beckham the Musical, Phoenix Theatre)
Monday 18 David Shannon (The Phantom, The Phantom of the Opera, Her Majesty’s Theatre; Valjean in Les Misérables, Queen’s Theatre) & Rob Houchen (Marius, Les Misérables, Queen’s Theatre; Fleet, Titanic, Charing Cross Theatre)
Tuesday 19 Luke Kempner (Comedian, impressionist, actor and singer, The Only Way Is Downton, West End; Marius in Les Misérables) 
Wednesday 20 special TV and Film star guest to be announced 
Thursday 21 (matinee) Laura Pitt-Pulford (Olivier Award nominated as Milly Bradon, Seven Brides For Seven Brothers, Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre; Side Show, Southwark Playhouse; Barnum, Menier Chocolate Factory)
Thursday 21 (evening) David Thaxton (Javert, Les Misérables, Queen’s; Pilate, Jesus Christ Superstar, Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre; Giorgio, Passion, Donmar Warehouse, Olivier Award for Best Actor in a Musical)
Friday 22 Jacinta Whyte (Eponine, Les Misérables, Palace Theatre; Linda, Blood Brothers, Phoenix Theatre; Ellen, Miss Saigon, Theatre Royal, Drury Lane)
AAAAAAND YOU COULD BE IN THE SHOW!
Two lucky people will win the chance to appear on stage with The Barricade Boys at the two shows on Saturday 23 December. All you need to do to be in with a chance is tweet a youtube video link singing a Christmas song to @BarricadeBoys. The Barricade Boys will decide the winners by Monday 11 December.

Album Review: Surrounded by the Sounds – the music of Tim Prottey-Jones (2011)

“She screamed, I think – it was hard to hear”


Surrounded by the Sounds – the music of Tim Prottey-Jones is the second of actor/writer Prottey-Jones’ albums featuring a whole array of his West End pals, but the third that I’ve reviewed (see reviews of More With Every Line and To Do. To Be.) It features songs from two of Prottey-Jones musicals – Once Bitten and After The Turn – and has a decidedly more pronounced rock feel to it than either of his other collections.
As such, it didn’t quite tickle my fancy in the way that I might have liked, especially since To Do. To Be. had impressed me. And it’s not that this is a collection of bad songs, they’re just not my cup of tea. Such guitars, much rock, so not wow. Even when the tempo slows a little into ballad territory, as with Michael Xavier’s Chance In A Lifetime or Jodie Jacobs’ Colour Me, it is still just too monotonely guitar-heavy for my liking.

Album Review: Bumblescratch (2016 London Concert Cast Recording)

“What is this that I see”


Robert J Sherman’s musical Bumblescratch played a high-profile charity concert at the Adelphi Theatre last year and keeping up the energy behind this piece of new writing, the original band and cast made this London Concert Cast Recording at Angel Studios, under the auspices of the folks at SimG Records. It’s a canny way to keep up the profile of a show that only a handful of people got to see and a useful tool for those that did to reassess the score.
Sherman’s extensive family legacy (A Spoonful of Sherman) means that the family friendly ethos is never far from the surface and it is something that has emerged in his previous work (Love Birds). And in some ways it is a blessing and a curse. A blessing in that he clearly has a gift for melody, sometimes gentle, sometimes nagging (in the best way); and a curse in that it is so ingrained in his musical identity that it is hard to escape it.
So the quirky and fun numbers of this plague rat musical shine with character, whether Michael Xavier’s charismatic Hookbeard standing out ‘I Cannot Hear You’ or Cathy Read and Ilan Galkoff’s pretty duet on ‘What Is This That I See?’. And the chirpy antics of Galkoff’s Perry and the older Melbourne Bumblescratch played by Darren Day has a chemistry that translates well onto record, particularly on the cheeky ‘Adorable Me’.
The shift into darker storytelling and moodier music is still one that I’m not sure works entirely well as it could do, particularly as there’s not quite enough variation in the score here, but Jessica Martin shines through whatever she is singing. And overall, Bumblescratch does still feel a piece with considerable potential.

Leading Man of the Year 2016

It’s that time of year again when I am publicly shallow in my appreciation of the men that grace our stages and given the hit counts I get on these annual posts, you’re all just as thirsty as me!

The lists from 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010 and 2009 are there for your perusal too but let’s get on with 2016’s show!

Elliot Cowan

This list wouldn’t be this list without Elliot Cowan on it, it was almost named after him at one point!. And if there’s something a bit wrong about including so good a play as Les Blancs on as tawdry a post as this, there’s no doubting how his ongoing transition into a silver fox is irresistible.

(c) Faye Thomas

Phil Dunster

Pink Mist was another of those plays where I had to try hard not to be distracted by the handsomeness of its cast, but fortunately a Gay Times photoshoot allowed us all to return, guilt-free, after the fact.

(c) Gay Times

John Light

Apparently on a one-man mission to make Shakespeare sexy, this time saw The Winter’s Tale hotting up, especially good fun as I’d ponied up for seats that were practically on the stage for this one.

Andrew Schneider

Any man that can do a Robyn dance routine (YOUARENOWHERE) is a winner in my book, and when you look like this guy, you can be sure I won’t be dancing on my own.

(c) Maria Baranova

Denholm Spurr

Not necessarily the best photo but a worthy entrant for his commitment to new gay writing as much as his commitment to looking mighty fine in it.

Kit Harington

It’s a bit of a shame that Harington did a whole lot of press about how he didn’t like being objectifed for his body just before Jamie Lloyd went and exploited it shamelessly in Doctor Faustus. Not many other people were complaining though…

(c) Marc Brenner

Ramin Karimloo

I loved the fact that within minutes of Murder Ballad starting, director Sam Yates had Karimloo shirtless, recognising and rewarding its target audience

Ned Derrington (plus bonus Dominic Tighe)

Given that one of Emma Rice’s first innovations at the Globe was to get Derrington’s Lysander in his pants and flirting outrageously with a male Helenus, who knows what other treasures we have now lost with her untimely departure on the schedule later this year.

(c) Getty Images

Ben Batt

There’s probably something in the fact that I think every man I’ve ever seen play Stanley Kowalski has made it on here, so who am I to buck a trend…

(c) Manuel Harlan
(c) Manuel Harlan

Sam Crane

Rumour has it I might have gone to Sunset in the Villa Thalia in the hope of seeing Mr Crane in beachwear. I may not have been disappointed 😉

(c) Manuel Harlan

Mateo Oxley

Nuff said 😉

(c) Ellie Kurtz

Michael Xavier

Production shots for Sunset Boulevard missed out one of the more eye-opening bits of the show with Xavier in his swimming trunks but fortunately, his tracking of his fitness progress on Instagram in advance of the show

O-T Fagbenle

Utterly charming and silkily dangerous, Fagbenle’s performance in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom was a feast for the eyes as well as the heart and soul.

And a final Brucie bonus, Luca Savazzi from one of the last things I saw in 2016…

(c) Jan Versweyveld

2017 What’s On Stage Award nominations

Best Actor in a Play, sponsored by Radisson Blu Edwardian
Ian Hallard for The Boys in the Band
Ian McKellen for No Man’s Land
Jamie Parker for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child 
Kenneth Branagh for The Entertainer
Ralph Fiennes for Richard III

Best Actress in a Play, sponsored by Live at Zédel 
Billie Piper for Yerma 
Helen McCrory for The Deep Blue Sea
Lily James for Romeo and Juliet
Michelle Terry for Henry V
Pixie Lott for Breakfast at Tiffany’s Continue reading “2017 What’s On Stage Award nominations”

Festive news #2 – Christmas Concert by Music Theatre Masterclass

Also giving up precious time before Christmas in aid of a good cause, is this motley crew to the left. Rufus Hound will be hosting a concert featuring them at The Actor’s Church in Covent Garden in aid of Children with Cancer UK on Sunday 18th December from 7.30pm. Children with Cancer UK is the leading national children’s charity dedicated to the fight against childhood cancer. Almost 4,000 children and young people are diagnosed with cancer every year in the UK and their aims are to determine the causes, find cures and provide care for children with cancer.


The impressive line-up here features Ramin Karimloo, Cassidy Janson, Ben Forster, Emma Kingston, Peter Polycarpou, Sandra Marvin, Jordan Shaw, Emmanuel Kojo, Carole Stennett, Norman Bowman, and Chris Johnson. And the company will be bolstered by the Musical Theatre Masterclass Choir – a group of talented students from the London performing arts school, run by Michael Xavier (dammit, he really is close to the nicest man alive isn’t he!).

Tickets cost £25 plus booking fee and are available here.
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Review: Bumblescratch, Adelphi

“At least a rat ‘as got an excuse”

In the cut-throat world of the West End, introducing a new musical is an undoubted challenge so it is quite gratifying to see the backers of Bumblescratch going all out to make its mark with this gala concert launch. With merchandise available, a full-throttle social media campaign in train, and a top-notch cast and creative team making the most of their two week rehearsal period, there’s certainly no lack of ambition here.
Set in London during the Great Plague of 1665 and Great Fire of 1666, the show is told from the perspective of plague rat Melbourne Bumblescratch and the anthropomorphic nature of the musical should come as no surprise once you learn it was written by Robert J Sherman, who has both form of his own (Love Birds) and an impressive family history (A Spoonful of Sherman) to live up to when it comes to writing a tune or two.
And Bumblescratch certainly has a song or two, racking up 37 in its through-sung couple of hours. It’s fascinating to see Sherman stretch his creative side this way – early songs like the jaunty ‘At Least A Rat ‘as Got An Excuse’ and child’s-audition-stalwart-in-the-making ‘Adorable Me!’ continue the quirky, light-hearted style that characterises much of Love Birds, but there’s also a distinct move into a more mature vein of musical theatre, as the plot darkens and becomes more emotionally dramatic.
This shift isn’t quite as successful yet, Sherman’s stretching of his own musical identity pushes the score into solid but occasionally unremarkable balladry, leaving too much of it sounding the same. There’s also a bit of a split in the book – Melbourne’s lascivious ways are put in check by his adoption of a young’un called Perry but the way in which the story unfolds, with its human love interests, ghost pirate kings and gory deaths, is inconsistent (is this a show for families or not?) and at times, unclear. The unrelenting focus on Melbourne also has the impact of inhibiting effective characterisations for the supporting cast.
But it is early days yet for Bumblescratch and even if a cast recording is already in the offing, there’s still much time for the show to develop further. And that recording, courtesy of SimG Productions, will hopefully capture much of what was very good about Stewart Nicholls’ production here, not least its superb cast. Darren Day led charismatically from the front as the titular rodent, Michael Xavier had great fun as the ghostly Hookbeard (‘I Cannot Hear You’ being a comic highlight), and 13 year old Ilan Galkoff emerges as a great performer, certainly a name to watch out for. 

Photo: Francis Loney

Review: Sunset Boulevard, London Coliseum

“Has there ever been a moment
With so much to live 
for?” 

Dammit – one of the key rationales behind my Broadway blowout last winter was seeing actors I didn’t think I’d otherwise have the chance to see in the West End, Glenn Close being chief among them and thus I forked out a pretty penny to see her in Edward Albee’s A Delicate Balance. So naturally her return to these shores was announced a few months later with a reprisal of her Tony Award-winning performance as Norma Desmond in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Sunset Boulevard.

 
And as with last year’s Sweeney Todd here at the Coliseum too, director Lonny Price and the ENO have returned to the semi-staged format which allows them to mount a bare-bones production and still charge full whack for tickets, prices thus go up to £150. I understand that money has to be made, especially for an organisation in as perilous a position as theirs and they say at least 400 tickets at every performance is available at £25 or under (altitude training not provided though…) Continue reading “Review: Sunset Boulevard, London Coliseum”

Review: Show Boat, Crucible

“We drink water from a dipper,

You drink champagne from a slipper”

Christmastime is often one for traditions and one of the better theatrical ones has proven to be the big musicals that Sheffield Theatres produce. From Me and My Girl to My Fair Lady to a never-better Company and last year’s Anything Goes that went on to tour, the outgoing Artistic Director Daniel Evans has proved a master at big-hearted, large-scale productions that skimp on nothing to create some of the best musical theatre the country has to offer.

This year sees Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein’s Show Boat as Evans’ final show (as AD at least) and it is an undoubted success, a fitting festive farewell. It’s a brave choice too, an unwieldy beast of a story based on Edna Ferber’s novel about the backstage drama onboard the Mississippi show boat Cotton Blossom, using the performing troupe as a prism through which to view several decades of momentous change in the USA from the late 1800s.

So Gina Beck’s Magnolia Hawks comes to epitomise the growing women’s rights movement in the stirring ‘After The Ball’ as her married life to Michael Xavier’s Gaylord Ravenal is doomed by his gambling addiction, Rebecca Trehearn’s Julie’s happiness is pole-axed by laws against inter-racial marriage as she ‘Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man’, and Emmanuel Kojo and Sandra Marvin’s Joe and Queenie characterise something of the African-American experience and how even on the boat, the intrinsic racial divisions of US society persist.


Marvin nails the reintroduced ‘Mis’ry’s Comin’ Aroun” and ‘Hey Feller’ whilst Kojo invests ‘Ol’ Man River’ with something magical as its majestic strains reprise throughout the score. David White’s musical direction makes these classics sound freshly minted and intermittently enhanced as they are by Alistair David’s choreography and the cleverness of Lez Brotherston’s set design, Show Boat is a truly epic experience. Don’t rely on this transferring down to London, make time for a trip to Sheffield tout suite.

Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 23rd January

Review: Hey, Old Friends, Theatre Royal Drury Lane

“Stop worrying where you’re going—move on”

Theatreland does like to make sure every anniversary gets marked somehow and so following on from the celebrations around Les Misérables’ 30th birthday earlier this month is a similar hoohah for Stephen Sondheim’s 85th year on this planet. As is de rigueur for these events, a gala concert has been put on for the occasion with the kind of rollcall you could only normally dream of and naturally, it had the price tag to go along with it.

As with Les Mis (which donated to Save The Children’s Syria Children’s appeal), the show benefitted charitable purposes, specifically The Stephen Sondheim Society and telephone helpline service The Silver Line, harnessing the major fundraising potential of such events. That said, these tickets tend to be so expensive that there’s a nagging feeling that they’re serving a limited audience with few opportunities for regular theatregoers to be a part of them.

Then there’s also the fact that it’s hard to make these events truly special when they happen fairly regularly. I mean it’s a nice problem to have but it is getting harder to get excited about similar ground being retrod every few years or so, even when it is celebrating such musical theatre talent as Sondheim himself – ‘Being Alive’ is undoubtedly a very good song and Michael Xavier did a fantastic job here but on the larger scale, it just feels like it’s been done before, many times. 

A birthday tribute is the wrong time to complain about retrospectives but I’d love to see a company of this calibre tackling new musical theatre writing and shining a much-needed spotlight on composers who might yet achieve a modicum of the success that Sondheim’s career has accrued. Which all makes me sound rather grumpy I know, and ungrateful for having been lucky enough to attend, but I’m just being honest. 

And when all is said and done, there was lots to enjoy and appreciate, not least Rosie Ashe’s powerful ‘Last Midnight’, Daniel Evans and Anna Francolini’s soaring ‘Move On’ leading into ‘Sunday’, Bonnie Langford’s every acrobatic movement and the final sequence which saw Tracie Bennett, Haydn Gwynne, Charlotte Page and Kim Criswell take on the oddly named “11 O’Clock Numbers” (ie the most famous ones) – Broadway Baby, Send In The Clowns, Losing My Mind and I’m Still Here respectively. 

So a fitting tribute to one of our most esteemed musical theatre composers and well supported by the Arts Ed ensemble, Gareth Valentine’s orchestra and Bill Deamer’s choreography and direction – now we move onto next month’s one-off, the Kings of Broadway concert spectacular celebrating Sondheim, Jule Styne and Jerry Herman.