Film Review: Rocketman (2019)

Elton John gets in on the self-produced musical biopic game, meaning Rocketman is gonna take a long long time to get anywhere near the truth

“People don’t pay to see Reginald Dwight… 
they pay to see *Elton John*!”

I always find there being something a little suspect about the subject of a biopic being intimately involved behind the scenes, that sense that you’re only being permitted to see a carefully curated version of this particular story (cf Tina the Musical, On Your Feet onstage; Bohemian Rhapsody most recently on film). And Rocketman ultimately proves no exception, with Elton John executive producing and husband David Furnish getting a producer credit, and Wikipedia thus offering up a substantial list of deviations from what actually happened

You might argue that as the film, written by Lee Hall and directed by Dexter Fletcher, isn’t a documentary, it doesn’t need to concern itself with an absolute fidelity to historical record. But I just find it fascinating this need to embellish, so much being smuggled under the umbrella of ‘creative license’ that can’t always be explained away with the ‘needs’ of filmmaking. Things as fundamental as changing the inspiration for Reg Dwight’s stage name from his mentor Long John Baldry to John Lennon, or claiming that ‘Daniel’ and ‘I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues’ were the songs he auditioned for with Dick James when neither had been written yet. At what point does that creative license start being straight-up dishonesty? Continue reading “Film Review: Rocketman (2019)”

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)”

Get well soon Fred Haig aka Not-A-Review: On The Town, Open Air Theatre

“Just when the fun is starting,
Comes the time for parting”

Fred Haig must have thought that this was his year after landing starring roles in two of the big musicals of the summer but during Monday evening’s performance, he sustained an injury to his foot which has now been confirmed as a fracture. Sadly, this means that he has had to withdraw from On The Town at the Open Air Theatre in Regent’s Park (the second actor to do so after Jeremy Taylor withdrew during rehearsals due to injury) and will be replaced by his understudy Jacob Maynard. We’ll have to wait and see if he recuperates in time to play Young Buddy in Follies at the National.

It is a real shame for Haig as I was at the show on Monday, scarcely believing that we actually had lovely weather for the first musical this year at the Open Air. And Haig’s appealingly charismatic Chip, along with Lizzy Connolly’s vibrant Hildy, was among the highlights of Drew McOnie’s production and he seemed to be very much on top of the choreography. It is a dance-heavy show, and in McOnie’s hands doubly so and as so many in this venue, it is one that benefits from being seen as night falls, to behold the full beauty of Howard Hudson’s lighting which is gorgeously conceived. Continue reading “Get well soon Fred Haig aka Not-A-Review: On The Town, Open Air Theatre”

Review: Viva Forever, Piccadilly Theatre

“Do you still remember, how we used to be…”

Producer Judy Craymer reinvigorated a whole new theatrical genre when she masterminded the ABBA jukebox hit Mamma Mia! to huge box-office success, and so proved the natural choice to steer a show featuring the back catalogue of the Spice Girls and a script by Jennifer Saunders into the West End. The resulting show – Viva Forever – is a story of a young woman who is forced to ditch her bandmates in pursuit of her reality show dreams, the mentor who is determined to exploit her in order to secure her own media career and her mother who is on hand to make sure she never forgets who she is. But it is one that doesn’t quite so much fill the Piccadilly Theatre with girl power as a sense of what might have been.

Crucially, the discography isn’t always sufficient for the task in hand of a jukebox musical. Delving into some of the lesser-known works of the Spice Girls isn’t as much as a problem (though front-loading them so is a curious choice as we have to wait a while for a stone-cold hit) as the way in which the lyrical content has to be shoehorned in, resulting in some awkward fits – ‘Say You’ll Be There’ suffers particularly here. But equally, there are moments that do work. The act 1 closer weaves together ‘Goodbye’, ‘Mama’ and ‘Headlines’ in a rather stirringly affecting manner as the three women reach crucial points in their journey; ‘Spice Up Your Life’ becomes a dazzling fiesta of a Spanish street festival; and the titular ‘Viva Forever’ is recast as a tenderly intimate acoustic ballad. Continue reading “Review: Viva Forever, Piccadilly Theatre”

Review: Flashdance – The Musical, Shaftesbury

“Just a steel town girl on a Saturday night”

I was originally meant to see Flashdance -The Musical at the Shaftesbury Theatre a couple of weeks ago but that first preview was cancelled due to technical difficulties, so when I finally made it to one of the last previews, my heart sank as we waited for the curtain to rise and the announcement came that the start of the afternoon’s show was being delayed due to, you’ve guessed it, technical difficulties! Having been outraged at the merchandising in the foyer (£60 for a special Barbie! £15 for a pair of legwarmers!) I was thus prepared with sharpened knives for what was coming my way. Perhaps my lowered expectations had something to do with then, but I ended up having quite a good time!

Based on the Paramount Pictures film, Flashdance – The Musical has a book by Tom Hedley & Robert Cary, music by Robbie Roth and lyrics by Robbie Roth and Robert Cary, but also features choreography from Arlene Phillips (who really does belong back on our screens at the weekend). Set in Pittsburgh in the 1980s, we meet Alex, apprentice steel welder by day, club dancer by night (who isn’t!) who dreams of love and life in dance school. Watching this reminded me of just how many times I have seen variations of this story played out in countless films, of someone fighting against the odds to, delete as appropriate, date a black guy/rise above working class roots/honour a dead relative/not be a stripper and get to the audition in time to wipe the smile off that smug auditioner’s face in order to secure a place at an amazing dance school for which they are eminently unsuitable. But I love each and every one of them, there’s nothing like a cheesy teen dance film to raise the spirits! And as Flashdance got in there at the beginning, it can consider itself mistress of the genre. Continue reading “Review: Flashdance – The Musical, Shaftesbury”