Album Review: The Route To Happiness (2014 Original Cast Recording)

“Better we’d not met”

I saw a festival presentation of Alexander S Bermange’s The Route To Happiness at the Landor back in 2013 and a year later, an original cast recording was made available through Auburn Jam, albeit with an entirely different cast. So in place of Cassidy Janson, Niall Sheehy, and Shona White, we get Kerry Ellis, Ben Forster and Louise Dearman taking on the roles of this three-hander.

The story follows the pursuit of fame, money and love and how the three intersect in the intertwined stories of Trinity, Marcus and Lorna. But where the show has maintained a fairly positive place in my memory, listening to the double-album of the score felt like a bit of a chore. Musically it is accomplished but far too similar-sounding, there’s little sense of progression to carry you through. Continue reading “Album Review: The Route To Happiness (2014 Original Cast Recording)”

CD Review: Cool Rider (Original Studio Recording 2015)

“Don’t get sore when you lose tonight”

Cult status is a funny thing, depending on which side of the coin you fall, it can either rescue diamonds in the rough or just further expose them. For me, Cool Rider comes down heavily on the latter though it must be said, there’s plenty who would argue the former, not least those who contributed over £12 grand to the Kickstarter to get this recording made. Hey, it’s their money right?!

Cool Rider is perhaps better known as the stage adaptation of ill-fated film sequel Grease 2. Staged in a concert version in 2014, the popularity of which saw it return for a week of performances at the Duchess Theatre, the fans are clearly there but quite for what, I couldn’t really say. The plot is little more than an retread of the original but with the roles reversed but the main problem lies in an inconsistent and uninspired score. 

With no less than 10 different contributors named, and the legacy of an absolute classic to live up to, Lee Freeman’s orchestrations valiantly try to elevate the 80s take on 60s pastiche but finds that no time period can make it sound good. It’s awkwardly dated and cringe-worthily written – “we’re gonna rock, we’re gonna roll, we’re gonna bop, we’re gonna bowl” is no “rama lamma lamma ka dinga da dinga dong” that’s for sure…

More crucially, there’s too little charm to balance what comedy there is. Ashleigh Gray does a commendable job as the go-getting Stephanie, the title track is strong and her side of climactic duet ‘(Love Will) Turn Back The Hands of Time’ is excellent but opposite her, Aaron SIdwell is lacklustre in a largely insipid part. Reece Shearsmith’s romp through a sex-ed class in ‘Reproduction’ is another example where the recording falls flat, though I can appreciate that prior knowledge of the scene might well make it work.

So Cool Rider might well be one for the fans, for whom seeing and hearing the show live will have been a dream. For the more casual listener, there aren’t many more worse things you could do.

Review: Pure Imagination: The Songs of Leslie Bricusse, St James

“Don’t know whether it’s mornin’ or night;
Only know it’s soundin’ right”

The numbers around composer Leslie Bricusse stack up most impressively indeed – over 1,000 songs written over a period of more than 60 years, including the book, music or lyrics for 40+ musical films and plays, winning 2 Academy Awards and being nominated for a further 8. So one can certainly indulge him in a moment of reflection in Pure Imagination: The Songs of Leslie Bricusse, a career retrospective that merely skims the surface of that mighty back catalogue with 50 numbers but giving a glorious sense of the formidable and unerring quality of his undoubted talent.

Devised by Bricusse along with director Christopher Renshaw and producer Danielle Tarento, the show eschews any kind of formal narrative, instead collecting songs into loose groupings which give the ideal opportunity to show off the vast breadth of material and leave even the most knowledgeable saying ‘I didn’t know he wrote that one as well’. So the theme to The Pink Panther rubs shoulders with Doctor Dolittle’s ‘Talk To The Animals’ and Willy Wonka’s ‘Oompa-Loompa Doompadee-Doo’, and a sing-song around the old joanna features such classics as ‘My Old Man’s A Dustman’ and ‘The Good Old Bad Old Days’.  Continue reading “Review: Pure Imagination: The Songs of Leslie Bricusse, St James”

Re-review: Miss Saigon, Prince Edward Theatre

“Why God? Why today?” 

I wasn’t the hugest fan of Miss Saigon first time round as my review from then clearly attests but I’m never one to be entirely closed-minded (though it may not often seem that way…) so when the opportunity to take a friend who had not previously been popped up, I made a return visit to the Prince Edward Theatre. The show is still basking in the glow of recently winning 9 What’s On Stage awards and it is clear that it is attracting a younger and atypically passionate crowd (for a West End show at least). 

That passion cuts both ways though as the overexcited group behind us couldn’t hold back from the flash photography and the young woman in front of me was less enthused than the rest of her party and spent most of the show on Facebook. It makes for a different kind of theatre experience when you’re having to do battle with that kind of behaviour but given my continued lack of engagement with the storyline of this particular musical theatre behemoth, it was as much a distraction for me as anything.  Continue reading “Re-review: Miss Saigon, Prince Edward Theatre”

Review: Miss Saigon, Prince Edward Theatre

 
“Hey Joe, try taking a little excursion
You’ll feel good from a little perversion”

There’s a real generational split when it comes to Miss Saigon – a contemporary of such 80s mega-musicals as Phantom and Les Mis, it has comparatively fallen by the wayside in terms of longevity nor has its score really attained the status of a bona fide classic. So there’s a group of people familiar with the show ready and waiting to make comparisons between the original and this major revival at the Prince Edward Theatre, and then there’s the rest of us – me included – for whom this is a new experience.

And as is often the case when expectations have been pumped sky-high (“Box office records broken on the first day!” “The greatest musical ever?!” “Watch out for the helicopter…”), it isn’t immediately clear what all the fuss is about. Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil’s book is basically Madame Butterfly redux but transplanted to the Vietnam war as GI Chris is loved long-time by Kim, their love then forced apart by the US defeat in Saigon and a reunion, of sorts, organised once he finally discovers that he left more than his heart with Kim that evening… Continue reading “Review: Miss Saigon, Prince Edward Theatre”

Review: The Route to Happiness, Landor

“We’ll make it”

Over the next month, Aria Entertainment and the Landor Theatre in South London are hosting a whole season dedicated to new musical theatre writing – From Page to Stage – which features showcases, works-in-progress and workshops from a wide range of writers from across the globe. The programme also includes this world premiere of The Route to Happiness, a new intimate three-hander from Alexander S Bermange which runs for a week. And as befits a season of this nature, the show marks an interesting progression for Bermange as a writer, though not one without its challenges, and offers a brilliant showcase for some of our excellent talent.

The Route to Happiness opens with three Londoners having their respective dreams of love and marriage, unlimited wealth and enduring fame dashed by circumstances and follows them on their attempts to build their hopes back up and get back in pursuit of the things that they think will make them happiest. So former banker Marcus seizes the opportunity to manage wannabe celebrity Trinity despite her lack of obvious talent, whilst also romancing author Lorna after an impromptu meeting at a wedding where she believes she may finally have found the one. Continue reading “Review: The Route to Happiness, Landor”

Re-review: Wicked, Apollo Victoria

“I’ll be so happy I could melt”

As with last year, which saw my first ever trip to Wicked, the first thing that I booked from the Get Into London Theatre website when it launched was a return trip to the Apollo Victoria. As Mr Boycotting Trends had never seen it before and was so desirous, I booked and managed to get rather good stalls seats for £35. Ironically, lastminute currently have a similar promotion on which is something of a rarity for this show but it is a great opportunity to get good seats for a not-quite-as-eyewatering price.

So I returned to Oz (although not as in Return To Oz, the film that was responsible for several recurring nightmares I had as a child but seriously, someone should make a show of that) to see the story of Elphaba and Glinda, 2 girls whose destinies to be the witches of Oz are not quite as clear-cut as one might think as an unlikely but deep bond develops between them. Knowing the story this time round meant that the surprise element of the way the show fits into The Wizard of Oz’s mythology was lost but it just meant that I appreciated the main thrust of the story more and admired both the message of tolerance for those who are ‘different’ that it preaches and the frankness with which the messiness and complexity of friendship is portrayed here. And I think this last point is key to its enduring success, there’s something so recognisable in the frustrations both women have with the other that is borne out of true friendship. Continue reading “Re-review: Wicked, Apollo Victoria”

Review: Wicked, Apollo Victoria

“Who can say if I’ve been changed for the better?”

Due to a number of reasons (mainly bad reviews from friends, vitriolic reviews from critics and the ticket prices) I never quite managed to getting round to seeing Wicked despite really wanting to see Idina Menzel who reprised her Broadway role initially, and it’s always been fairly near the bottom of my list of shows to get round to seeing. But with the Get Into London Theatre offer available on good seats (£60 tickets for £35, offer now expired), I finally bit the bullet and booked at the Apollo Victoria.

Purporting to tell the hidden story behind The Wizard of Oz, Wicked tells the story of two girls, Elphaba and Galinda, who meet at sorcery school and follows their tumultuous relationship as they grow up. For they become respectively, the Wicked Witch of the West and Glinda the Good Witch of the North, and their complex friendship is tested with rivalries over love and their opposing personalities and viewpoints. And whereas the story begins well before Dorothy arrives in the land of Oz, much of what we see sheds interesting new light on events as we know them. Continue reading “Review: Wicked, Apollo Victoria”

Review: A Man of No Importance, Arts Theatre

“We had a grand time believing we were bloody wonderful”

After a well-received run at the Union Theatre in Southwark, A Man of No Importance has transferred to the West End to the Arts Theatre with a limited run of just 3 weeks. Based on a film from 1995 starring Albert Finney, a cast of 17 and a band of 6 create an utterly charming, warm-hearted piece of musical theatre that will transport you right away from the freezing outside to a very happy place.

We’re taken to the world of Alfie Byrne, a bus conductor in 1960s Dublin who lives with his sister, has a passion for amateur dramatics, in particular the works of Oscar Wilde, and is hiding a burning desire for his work colleague, Robbie the driver on his bus. His decision to put on a performance of the controversial ‘Salome’ causes ripples in this Catholic, working-class community that multiply and force Alfie onto a journey of discovery, both of the self and of his relationship to those around him. Continue reading “Review: A Man of No Importance, Arts Theatre”