Review: Strictly Ballroom the Musical, Piccadilly

Baz Luhrmann’s Strictly Ballroom the Musical may not be the strongest musical in the world, but it’s a stronger piece of musical theatre, thanks to Drew McOnie’s choreography

“Pam Shortt’s broken both her legs, and I wanna dance with you”

It is fascinating to be able to follow the development of a show, particularly one that has morphed as much as Strictly Ballroom the Musical. I saw it at the West Yorkshire Playhouse the winter before last, where it didn’t quite set my world on fire, so I was intrigued to hear that its arrival in the West End at the Piccadilly would be accompanied by quite the overhaul, still directed and choreographed by Drew McOnie.

The major change to this adaptation of Baz Luhrmann’s 1992 cult hit movie comes with the introduction of bandleader Wally Strand, played by Will Young, an MC figure and human jukebox who takes on the vast majority of the evening’s singing. And as we skip from Grace Jones to Billy Idol, via Bowie, Whitney and Cyndi, it’s a real pleasure to hear him sing Marius De Vries’ brilliant new arrangements. Continue reading “Review: Strictly Ballroom the Musical, Piccadilly”

Review: Strictly Ballroom, West Yorkshire Playhouse

“I don’t know if you are illusion”

Hoping for a ten from Len and to avoid the dreaded dis-sah-ter from Craig, Baz Luhrmann’s Strictly Ballroom arrives for its UK premiere at the West Yorkshire Playhouse. Best known in its 1992 film version, it actually began life as a play in the mid-1980s when it became big in Czechoslovakia as well as Luhrmann’s native Australia and perhaps appropriately, it is now Drew McOnie who takes the directorial chair, the choreographer-director’s rising star an ideal fit for a musical all about dance.

And what dance it is. We’re in the world of competitive ballroom dancing and we’re treated to a wide range of routines from rehearsals to all-out performances and much inventive work in-between, especially where mirrors are involved. And in all this freedom of expression, there’s a crystal-clear distillation of the story’s message in the sheer joy of dancing for fun and the power of following an individual path. But the show isn’t just dance, it’s words and music as well and there, it is less sure-footed.

Continue reading “Review: Strictly Ballroom, West Yorkshire Playhouse”

Review: The Great American Trailer Park Musical, Waterloo East

The less than salubrious surroundings of the North Florida trailer park Armadillo Acres (few armadillos and even fewer acres) might seem like the ideal location for a madcap musical and in some ways, you’d be right. And The Great American Trailer Park Musical certainly lives up to the madcap and the musical in this knowingly camp production by Kirk Jameson – it’s just the ‘great’ that feels somewhat in doubt.

There’s no questioning the quality of the production and its brilliant casting decisions. Tempting the likes of illustrious veteran Rosie Ashe to the fringe is no mean feat and the powerhouse pipes of the severely under-rated Sabrina Aloueche is all the more impressive in the intimate (if poorly raked) Waterloo East Theatre. In fact, the whole company sing very well, their assured vocals matched by James Taylor’s musical direction.  Continue reading “Review: The Great American Trailer Park Musical, Waterloo East”

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”

Album Review: Bend it like Beckham (Original London Cast Album)

“It’s a little bit Punjab
And a little bit UK”

It’s been just about a month since Bend it like Beckham heard the final whistle at the Savoy so I thought I’d cast a reviewer’s eye over the Original London Cast Album which was released last year. I’ve long been a fan of Howard Goodall’s work and this score was no exception, hooking me from the first time I saw to the show to the second and the third with its fusion of his own inimitable British style and the Bhangra influences drawn from Gurinder Chadha’s book, aided in authenticity by co-orchestrator Kuljit Bhamra. 

Recorded live in the theatre (although there’s minimal sound from the audience until the very end), it sounds a real treat and it really does give the best of both the worlds it represents. Whether individually as in Sophie-Louise Dann’s ‘There She Goes’ or Rekha Sawhney leading the bridal party in the gorgeous Punjab lament ‘Heer’, or multiculturally as the majority of the music, it is always highly tuneful and musically interesting, highlighting styles of music that are too rarely seen in the West End. Continue reading “Album Review: Bend it like Beckham (Original London Cast Album)”

Re-review: Bend it like Beckham, Phoenix

“Just look at them now”

A third trip back to UB2 and Bend it like Beckham remains a real pleasure (original review / preview). It’s interesting how the release of a show’s cast recording can impact my feelings towards it – being a big Howard Goodall fan, I’ve listened to this OCR a lot and fallen more in love with its music than ever. And in this age of playlists, it’s quite easy to come up with edited highlights that skate over some of the weaker moments to give an idealised version of the production.

That said, going back to the Phoenix Theatre was still highly enjoyable and it’s always fascinating to see how different emphases come through after repeated views. For me, it has been the realisation that the heart of the show lies as much with Jess’ parents, the under-rated Natasha Jayetileke and Tony Jayawardena making us care so deeply about their experiences that have allowed second-generation Jess to reach for the freedom she craves. Continue reading “Re-review: Bend it like Beckham, Phoenix”

CD Review: Lend Me A Tenor (Original London Cast Recording)

“Life is like opera, it’s hard to keep the drama from seeping through”

The West End is a tough nut to crack at the best of times and despite its best efforts, the musical version of Ken Ludwig’s Lend Me A Tenor lasted barely 2 months at the Gielgud in 2010. It’s strange, especially in light of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels’ relative success, as it occupies a similar groove with its traditional, even old-school, vibes, aping a classic era of musical theatre with japes and jolliness but somehow, it just didn’t connect with audiences – not everyone loves a farce…

Its old-fashioned humour and madcap antics are well served by Brad Carroll’s score and Peter Sham’s lyrics and book, which follows the trials of the Cleveland, Ohio Grand Opera Company as a world famous tenor scheduled to sing in their Otello goes AWOL in the hotel just hours before he’s due onstage. Is there a schmuck who can step in at the last minute and pretend to be Merelli, of course there is, but there’s also jealous wives, lovelorn girlfriends and conniving co-stars aplenty to thicken the plot. Continue reading “CD Review: Lend Me A Tenor (Original London Cast Recording)”

Review: Bend it like Beckham, Phoenix

“Who wants to cook aloo gobi when you can bend a ball like Beckham”

As anyone who has ever been to my parents’ annual Bonfire Night party can attest, a good aloo gobi is nothing to be sniffed at (nor my mum’s lamb saag for that matter) but when you’re a teenager, such things are far from your mind. So it is for Jesminder Bhamra – her older sister has just gotten engaged, her parents are keen for her to keep close to her Punjabi Sikh heritage but all she wants to do is play football in the park. And when she gets spotted by the captain of the local girls’ team, Jess finds herself torn between her family and following her heart’s desire.

Based on Gurinder Chadha’s enormously successful film of the same name, this musical version of Bend It Like Beckham is a ball-bouncing, cross-cultural match-up of a show. Adapted by Chadha and Paul Mayeda Berges, the story maintains its vivacious energy as Jess weaves her way through wedding prep and vibrantly staged parties with the extended family whilst tackling the rigours of life with new pal and teammate Jules in the Hounslow Harriers where her footballing prowess is soon spotted by the keen coach Joe, someone else Jules also has her eye on.  Continue reading “Review: Bend it like Beckham, Phoenix”

(P)review: Bend it like Beckham, Phoenix

“Who wants to cook aloo gobi when you can bend a ball like Beckham”

The musical of Gurinder Chadha’s Bend it like Beckham, with music by Howard Goodall and lyrics by Charles Hart, has quite a long preview period – no surprise for a brand new piece of musical theatre – but having been along, I thought I’d jot down some of my thoughts as opposed to writing it up fully – somewhere between a preview and a review to give you a taster of the show. I’d also recommend having a look for tickets now because there are some great bargains to be had in the stalls, seats as cheap as £15 for row E and a barely restricted view. Continue reading “(P)review: Bend it like Beckham, Phoenix”

Review: White Christmas, Dominion

“Never had to have a chaperone…”

There’s most likely financial reasons for opening White Christmas in early November but it certainly gave many a critic the excuse to get their Scrooge on early. Likewise, there’s reasons of integrity for treating this show like any other in terms of theatrical criticism. But it is hard not to feel that this piece of festive window dressing perhaps deserves something of a free pass as it arguably falls under the bracket of high-class panto rather than fully-fledged musical theatre (even if the ticket prices err towards the latter).

Which is basically code for saying it is undemanding good fun and you pretty much know what you’re going to get in advance – people in search of punchy narrative drive and incisive characterisation are advised to look elsewhere. I actually saw this production in an earlier incarnation on one of its Christmas trips to the Lowry back in 2012 and whilst not being blown away by it, it hit the mark in terms of festive frippery. David Ives and Paul Blake’s book lightly adapts the 1954 classic film but the real star of Morgan Young’s production here of course is Irving Berlin’s evergreen music and lyrics. Continue reading “Review: White Christmas, Dominion”