News: Iris Theatre’s Xmas Factor All Stars album is released

The weather outside might be frightful but new musical theatre is always delightful, especially when it is festive-themed. Following a target-smashing Kickstarter campaign this October, Iris Theatre’s Xmas Factor All Stars album is released today, just in time for the holiday season. Featuring performances by Olivier Award-winner Rebecca Trehearn, Jon Robyns, Tori Allen-Martin, the Italia Conti School Choir and many more, the album is packed full of music by selected winners and runners-up of Iris Theatre’s Xmas Factor from 2013-16.


Xmas Factor is Iris Theatre’s annual showcase of the very best new musical theatre, around the theme of Christmas. Writers are invited to send in a song which is selected by the programming team to continue in the competition, culminating in a Panel Award and Audience Award at the concert. This year’s event, All Stars, features the best of those finalists from across the last four years, including winners and runners up of the two awards – all of which feature on the album. Songs cover an eclectic mix of themes from Korean festivities in ‘Christmas in Pyongyang’ to the best Yuletide movies in ‘Christmas Films Again’ and the thoughts of Jesus’s dad himself in ‘Joseph’s Lullaby’.
And as an Advent treat, you can listen to Trehearn’s gorgeous contribution to the album right here – ‘The Little Match Girl’ written by Darren Clark.

The album rounds off Iris Theatre’s 10th anniversary year, which began with the award for Best Production for Young People (8+) for Treasure Island (2016). This summer, Iris presented Macbeth and Hansel & Gretel, and 2018’s summer season will be announced soon.
You can buy the album here and it will be released digitally tomorrow (Saturday 2nd December) and to further whet the appetite, the full tracklisting is below.
1. All the Angels Sang
Music & Lyrics by Joanna Karselis
Lead Vocals: Tori Allen-Martin
Ensemble: Philippa Rose, Emma Morgan,David Fearn & Alvaro Flores
Additional Musical Arrangement, Musical Direction & Piano: Adam Gerber · 
Violin: Hannah Morgan
Cello: Rosalind Ford
2. The Angel at the Top of the Tree
Music & Lyrics by Darren Clark
Lead Vocals: Annabel King
Musical Direction & Piano: Michael Baxter
3. Joseph’s Lullaby
Music & Lyrics by Sandy Callaghan-Hooks
Lead Vocals: Jon Robyns
Ensemble: Philippa Rose, Emily Jane Kerr,
David Fearn & Oliver Stanley
Musical Direction & Piano: Adam Gerber

4. Christmas Swapping
Music by Luke Bateman · Lyrics by Mary Evans
Lead Vocals: Stephen Oliver-Webb & Emma Sewell
Musical Direction & Piano: Candida Caldicot
5. The Snow Goose Song
Music & Lyrics by Ben Heneghan & Ian Lawson
Lead Vocals: Kate Hume
Backing Vocals: Emma Morgan, Philippa Rose & Laura Wickham 
Musical Direction & Piano: Candida Caldicot
6. Christmas in Pyongyang
Music by Joanna Taylor · Lyrics by Al Muriel
Lead Vocals: Lucy Park
Musical Direction: Joanna Taylor · Piano: Tania Park ·
Violin: Maria Oguren
7. The Endless Song
Music by Marc Folan· Lyrics by Adey Grummet
Childrens’ Choir: Italia Conti School Choir
Adult Ensemble: Emma Morgan, Philippa Rose, Laura Wickham, David Fearn, Alvaro Flores & Guido Garcia Lueches
Musical Direction & Piano: Adam Gerber 
Flute: Liv Spence
8. The Little Match Girl
Music & Lyrics By Darren Clark
Lead Vocals: Rebecca Trehearn
Musical Direction & Piano: Adam Gerber · Violin: Hannah
Morgan · Cello: Rosalind Ford
9. The Christmas Table
Music by Luke Bateman · Lyrics by Mary Evans
Lead Vocals: Emma Sewell
Musical Direction & Piano: Candida Caldicot
Cello: Rachel Dawson
10. January Roars
Music by Stu Barter · Lyrics by Louise Ainsley
Lead Vocals: Richard Lowe
Backing Vocals: Annabel King & Jamie Lee Pike
Musical Direction & Piano: Michael Baxter
11. Holiday Hook Up
Music & Lyrics by Eden Tredwell
Additional Musical Arrangement by Gus Tredwell
Lead Vocals: Jamie Lee Pike
Musical Direction & Piano: Michael Baxter
12. The Beautiful Game
Music By Darren Clark· Lyrics by Richy Hughes
Lead Vocals: Nigel Richards, Oliver Stanley, David Fearn
Musical Direction & Piano: Adam Gerber
Violin: Hannah Morgan · Cello: Rosalind Ford · French Horn: Josh Sneesby
13. At Christmas
Music and Lyrics by Julie Das
Lead Vocals: Ruby Campbell
Backing Vocals: Emily Jane Kerr & Tiffany Parker
Musical Direction & Piano: Candida Caldicot
Cello: Rachel Dawson
14. Christmas Films Again
Music & Lyrics by Richard & Carol Campbell
Lead Vocals: Carol Campbell & Richard Campbell
All instruments performed & arranged by Richard Campbell

Round-up of news and other interesting things

In the wake of a global shift in politics that saw reality star Donald Trump become the 45th President of the United States of America, Nigel Farage’s Brexit campaign win the majority and the Conservative party seek out a deal with the DUP, Theatre Renegade is proud to present a one-off gala, In Response To… Politics.

With performances from critically acclaimed performers including Pippa Nixon, Madalena Alberto, Gloria Onitiri and Nigel Richards, In Response To…Politics will take place on 24th July at The Other Palace Studio and feature a number of pieces each designed to directly respond to the current political turmoil.

Ryan Forde Iosco, Artistic Director of Theatre Renegade said;
“Many countries, our own included are seeing a huge shift in their political landscape and fear and hate have been the leading force behind several recent campaigns. This evening will see the theatre community come together in solidarity to respond and raise its voice in solidarity.”
All profits from the evening will be donated to the charity Liberty, to protect civil liberties and promote human rights.


Among the writers taking part are: Georgia Fitch (Fit and Proper People – RSC/Soho Theatre, I Like Mine with A Kiss – Bush Theatre and Dirty Dirty Princess – National Theatre Connections), Hassan Abdulrazzak (Baghdad Wedding – Soho Theatre and BBC Radio 3, The Prophet – Gate Theatre, winner of the 2008 George Devine Award) and Camilla Whitehill (Where Do Little Birds Go – VAULT award winner/Underbelly/Old Red Lion, Mr Incredible – VAULT award winner/Underbelly, currently under commission with the Bush Theatre).

Among the directors taking part are: Rafaela Marcus (Pericles – Shakespeare’s Globe, Boeing Boeing – Sheffield Crucible, Lucy Atkinson (The Enchantment – US Premiere at Here Arts in New York, Tristan Bernay’s Testament – Vaults) and Nathan Crossan-Smith (Runner Up for the JMK Award 2017 and Deutsche Bank Award for Dramatic Art 2014 winner for Tipping Point)


Staying at The Other Palace, there’s also a special concert in memory of the late MP Jo Cox.

The evening, titled A Barricade for Batley, will feature a cast including Fra Fee (The Ferryman), Joanna Riding (The Girls), David Seadon-Young (An American in Paris), Matthew Seadon-Young (Beautiful), Caroline Sheen (Mary Poppins), Madalena Alberto (Evita) and Joel Montague (School of Rock).

Money from the concert will got towards a school production of Hear The People Sing, which is 
being produced by Donna Munday and Nick Evans in Cox’s former constituency of Batley and Spen.

This November, Tiger Bay the Musical – Wales Millennium Centre’s biggest in-house production to date – will premiere in Cardiff with Welsh singer and actor, Noel Sullivan returning home to join the lead cast.

Noel, who hasn’t performed on stage in Wales for almost two years, takes on the gritty role of Harbour Master, Séamus O’Rourke in Tiger Bay the Musical, a story of the notorious underworld of Wales’ capital at the turn of the 1900s.

Playing the ambitious opportunist, exiled from Africa to make his fortune through unsavoury means on Cardiff Docks, will be a change in direction for Noel, whose theatre repertoire includes a string of romantic leads, such as Danny Zuko in Grease and Galileo in We Will Rock You.

A Wales Millennium Centre production in association with Cape Town Opera, Tiger Bay the Musical is set in 1900s Cardiff at a time of unrest between the workers heaving coal in the docklands, known as Tiger Bay, and the Bute Dock Company and merchants of the Coal Exchange they afforded.

A fictional story of revolution, reconciliation, courage and love, the award-winning creative team – composer, Daf James, writer Michael Williams and director, Melly Still – have remained sympathetic to the reality of the era which includes forming a predominantly Welsh cast.

Noel will join award-winning and record breaking West End and Broadway performer, John Owen Jones who plays John Crichton-Stuart, Cardiff’s richest man tormented by loss.

Rising star Vikki Bebb, a Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama graduate from the south Wales valleys, will play Noel’s love interest, Rowena Pryddy, a shop girl with suffrage ideals. Plus, Welsh school girls Louise Harvey from Rhiwbina and Ruby Llewellyn from Llantrisant will share the role of tenacious water boy, Ianto.

The world premiere of Tiger Bay the Musical will take place on Wednesday 15 November 2017 at Wales Millennium Centre and will run until Saturday 25 November 2017. Tickets on sale now at tigerbaythemusical.com

Festive news #1: West End Up Close… at Christmas

‘Tis the season for goodwill to all, and proving most generous with their time are various sets of musical theatre performers who are doing all sorts of charitable endeavours this December. First up are the guys at Relative Motion have just announced West End Up Close… at Christmas, their third concert in partnership with The House of St Barnabas, a charity and members’ club in the heart of Soho.

After sold-out concerts earlier this year with Jodie Jacobs and Julie Atherton, this festive concert will take place on Wednesday 14th December at 7.30pm feature the amazing talents of Madalena Alberto, Julie Atherton, Julie Jupp, Joshua LeClair, Nigel Richards and George Ure as they bring some of their favourite songs and seasonal classics to the Chapel of St Barnabas in an intimate, acoustic concert, musically directed by James 

Taylor.

Members of the audience are invited to join them pre-show for complimentary mulled wine in the Garden Room and are encouraged to stay and enjoy the members’ bar at The House of St Barnabas post-show. All proceeds from the evening will go directly towards supporting HoSB’s Employment Academy.

The House of St Barnabas is a charity pledging to break the cycle of homelessness and social exclusion in London. They run a social enterprise, a not-for- profit members’ club, to help the people they support back into lasting paid work. Their Employment Academy offers accredited qualifications, on-site work experience, real job opportunities and mentoring. The House of St Barnabas are seeking to redefine the notion of a members’ club, to challenge stereotypes around the idea of exclusivity and to create a different kind of membership. The club is a creative, socially conscious and vibrant space.
Tickets: £30 (all proceeds go to support the Employment Academy at The House of St Barnabas) available at http://bit.ly/WestEndUpCloseXmas

Review: The Hired Man in concert, Cadogan Hall

“We are worth your shillings”

Marking the first major concert presentation of the show in over 20 years, The Hired Man in concert saw Howard Goodall and Melvyn Bragg’s 1984 musical take over the elegant surroundings of Cadogan Hall, for a glorious evening celebrating one of the all-time greats of British musical theatre writing. With a boutique orchestra conducted by Andrew Linnie, an ensemble of over 20 singers and a lead cast of bona fide West End and Broadway stars, it was a powerfully effective treatment of the material.

The Hired Man is based on Bragg’s 1969 novel, part of his Cumbrian Trilogy, following the lives of labourer and miner John Tallentire and his wife Emily as they battle first the hardship of agricultural life in a fast-industrialising world and then the impact of the First World War on their whole community. And supporting it, Goodall’s music and lyrics draws on English folk tradition, as well as his own melodious style, to create a soulful, stirring score that lingers long in the mind with its hummability and heartbreak.

For this concert, director Samuel Hopkins was able to secure John Owen-Jones (fresh from reprising the role of Valjean on Broadway) and Jenna Russell (recently in Doctor Faustus) and he couldn’t have picked a better pair for John and Emily. Being able to hear Owen-Jones use all the colours of the subtler side of his voice demonstrated just how formidable a leading man he really is. And there are simply few actors in the country as good at acting through song as Russell, even singing from a book behind a lectern she was just unbearably heartfelt.

On songs like ‘No Choir of Angels’ and ‘If I Could’ (joined on the latter by Matthew Seadon-Young’s powerfully voiced Jackson, the man in the middle of their marriage), these were moments of musical theatre perfection. The swell of the strings, Mark Etherington’s assured piano, the harmonies of the chorus, Bragg’s narration of his own story – the combination was just hugely seductive. And with strong support from the likes of Stewart Clarke (whose parents Paul Clarkson and Julia Hills actually created the roles of John and Emily in the original production), Evelyn Hoskins and Nigel Richards, The Hired Man has never sounded better.

This review was originally written for LondonTheatre1

Review: The Stationmaster, Tristan Bates

“The train is coming…”

The third year of the From Page To Stage season of new musical theatre is now well underway at the Tristan Bates Theatre and the centrepiece of this year’s festival is a production of The Stationmaster with book by Susannah Pearse and music and lyrics by Tim Connor. The musical is an adaptation of Ödön von Horváth’s Judgment Day (last seen in London at the Almeida in 2009) but moves the action to a small town in the Lake District in 1958.

Life in Kirby is all homemade jam, cake competitions and friendly pints down the local and railway stationmaster Thomas Price is at the heart of the tight-knit community. But behind closed doors and the net curtains lies a certain disenchantment, his marriage to Catherine is under strain and a chance encounter with the equally disaffected Anna sends their lives hurtling down the wrong tracks, a disaster further compounded by the tragedy of their ensuing actions.

The moral tangle of the first half is well essayed by a trio of powerful performances – Emily Bull’s marvellously spiky Anna despairs of life trapped as a carer for her father and is quick to protect self-interests, Jessica Sherman’s stunningly voiced Catherine is trapped by depression and a fearsomely unforgiving community who don’t believe the truth of what she has witnessed and caught between them both, Nigel Richards’ Thomas is compellingly conflicted, essentially a good man but one unable to recover from an appalling judgement call.

Tim Connor’s score reflects this complexity, MD Caroline Humphris’ piano-playing finding both folky lightness and haunting depth in the melodic swirl which boasts an impressive thematic unity. Pearse’s book struggles a little in the second act though as hurried melodrama replaces character-driven insight – Catherine in particular suffers in this respect – resulting in a climax that doesn’t quite land with the impact it could. The potential within is clear though. 

Bronagh Lagan’s direction works wonders in the intimate space of the Tristan Bates, Nik Corrall’s set working in expressionistic detail alongside a nice range of cakes, and there’s strong work from a multi-roling ensemble, Annie Wensak’s chief scandalmonger a sharply comic delight and Matt Harrop’s grieving father Martin offering the evening’s strongest musical moment. Already intriguing, The Stationmaster’s British take on repressed guilt and mob mentality could yet develop into something extraordinary.
Running time: 2 hours (with interval)

Booking until 15th November

CD Review: Love, Lies & Lyrics – The Words of Lesley Ross

“Why do whores only sing in musicals?” 


Showcasing the work of a lyricist is a different prospect from that of a composer, something that is immediately apparent from glancing at the cover and booklet of Love, Lies & Lyrics – The Words of Lesley Ross, the latest new musical theatre CD emerge from the nurturing cocoon of SimG Records. This album features music from 4 different writers, taken from over a dozen musicals, with the now customary array of West End stars – over 30 in number here – so it can’t help but be highly eclectic as a collection, in something of a similar vein to Robert Gould’s collection from last year.

The diversity of this approach certainly has its benefits, especially as man of the songs are around the 2 minute mark, as it means the album can bounce around wryly comic observation songs like ‘Pick A Ticket!’ and ‘Him in 23B’ to the more heartfelt but still story-led balladry of Nigel Richards’ ‘And In My Heart’ and Annalene Beechey’s ‘Song for Someone’. If I had to pick, Madalena Alberto’s plaintive lullaby ‘I Will Be There’ is the highlight of the record – its gorgeously delicate emotion coming from a perfect confection of lyric, music and performance. 

There’s also something nice about being able to linger a little longer with some of the musicals and get more of a sense of their personalities. The two tracks from Matthew Brind’s Before The Wedding do just that, Sarah Earnshaw and Sarah Lark pair up brilliantly on ‘Somewhere’ and Kieran Brown’s impassioned run through ‘Harry’s Dream’ capture much of the emotional rollercoaster of forthcoming nuptials. And across three songs late on, we get to explore some of the dark comedy, and just plain darkness, of prostitutes’ lives in James Williams’ Shreds.


The record can feel a little restless during some of the more random leaps from footballers to polar bears, penguins to drag queens, but they do serve to show the breadth of Ross’ writing – his credits do stretch from Theatres Royal in Plymouth and York and the National Theatre – and this collection is a snapshot of a career so far of which he can rightfully be proud.

Review: Jack and the Beanstalk, Lyric Hammersmith,

“Merry Hammersmith-mas”

As panto season goes full steam ahead, it is the Lyric Hammersmith who make the early running in London with a new version of Jack and the Beanstalk by playwright du jour Tom Wells, who takes over writing duties from Joel Horwood and Morgan Lloyd Malcolm. The pair have established the Lyric as one of the go-to venues for modern panto in the capital, their irreverent humour bringing the classic stories bang up to date and locating them in the borough itself, so that audiences can experience a genuine Merry Hammersmith-mas. That is, if the evil giant in the sky Nostril doesn’t ruin Christmas for everyone by stealing everything good. 

And true to form, Wells’ script is full of contemporary and local references: Nando’s, library closures, Lyric Square, Miley Cyrus and the inevitable twerking all make appearances as does a friendly jab at the Hackney Empire’s panto, And the young playwright’s gift for character peeks through with a pairing of a Jack and a Jill you won’t be expecting, Joshua Tonks’ Jill is the kind of bashful young man we’ve come to expect from him and Rochelle Rose’s Jack is a confident and pragmatic hero whose determination seems set to save the day when those pesky magic beans give rise to an impressively green beanstalk.

But it is Steven Webb’s Sprout who is the lynchpin of Dan Herd’s production, a narrator of sorts as Jack’s best friend and the Buttons-like character who has the most to do in terms of encouraging audience interaction and his previous experience here in Hammersmith is brought to bear as he skilfully draws in the younger members of the audience with pocketsful of sweets, whilst flashing enough innocuous naughtiness to keep the adults entertained too. Howard Ward’s dame equally treads this balance well as Jack’s plaintive mother, desperate to keep hold of her cow Caroline whilst keeping the bailiffs at bay, led by Nigel Richard’s henchman and former flame Mr Fleshcreep.


Powered by their Young Ensemble, the show opens strongly, wearing its funky fresh modernity well. But the second half does lose its way a little though as it becomes clear that there’s little dramatic drive left – the all-threatening Nostril is severely underused and so the focus lands squarely on the entertainment side. And where a pulsingly contemporary soundtrack illuminated the first half, the second slides into a more retro groove – a Bonnie Tyler sequence is excellently done but an extended Sweet Caroline singalong feels perhaps a little misjudged for a large proportion of the target audience.

So a solid start for the season, entertaining rather than extraordinary and should Wells return next year as scribe, it will be interesting to see if he develops from this at-times hesitant debut to balance its constituent parts more effectively. An effervescent cast though, powered by the Duracell bunny-like unflagging brightness of Steven Webb, make sure that it remains a great deal of fun for audiences old and young. 

Running time: 2 hours 15 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 4th January

Originally written for The Public Reviews

S&S Award

“Find the words”

Set up in honour of and named after his parents Sidney and Sylvia, The S&S Award was created by Warner Brown as a celebration of new and as yet unproduced British musical theatre writing and held its inaugural award presentation at the St James Theatre on Sunday 24th November 2013. Don Black presented the prize to this year’s winners – Scott Gilmour and Claire McKenzie – for their show Forest Boy, of which we saw an extended excerpt but the audience were also treated to snippets from other shows in the running for this new prize.


Recent graduates of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, Gilmour and McKenzie based Forest Boy on the true 2011 story of a boy who appeared in Berlin claiming to have spent the last five years living in the woods with his father. But rather than a straight retelling, they use song and dance – movement director Emily-Jane Boyce contributing some excellent work – to explore the psychological journey of the young man, the troubled relationship with his parents, and the power of the imagination to invent and/or protect, as the truthfulness of his fantastical tale is probed by officials.


Directed by Amanda Gaughan, the performance demonstrated clearly the extraordinary potential of this show and how the musical form chosen is the perfect fit to tell their story. A particular gift for melodic brightness and beautifully blended harmonies were in evidence throughout but as the show goes into further development – the prize includes a week’s intensive workshopping and an industry showcase – I hope they maintain the marvellous intensity of the creative energy currently there. Tom Mackley’s lead performance was something special and this really will be a show to watch out for in the hopefully not-too distant future.


The first half saw the highlights from the other shows performed by a cracking line-up of West End performers and saw them deliver some sterling work, taking on complex material with little time to prepare – David Bedella’s patter song as Mr Toad a case in point – and bringing huge character and life into the material. All six shows featured here – either runners-up or specially commended – feel full of promise and further demonstrating the breadth of topics the genre of musical theatre is capable of tackling with insight and skill.

Whether the adult version of Toy Story suggested by Mark Carroll and Sarah Moyle’s The Attic, the classic imagery of Jenifer Toksvig and Alexander Rudd’s The Snow Queen or the tragic tale of The Stationmaster composed by Tim Connor and Susannah Pearse, it is hard not be excited by what could soon be in store on our stages. And after an evening like this, it might be easy to think that new musical theatre in the UK couldn’t be in ruder health but the challenge of getting shows sufficiently supported and into theatres remains all too real.

Which makes Warner Brown’s initiative in creating this prize a vital addition to the landscape and in providing such a showcase for the depth of talent on display here, offers real hope. And as if to prove the point, the evening was bookended by performances from the inimitable Gwyneth Herbert who will be making her own debut as a musical writer in the New Year with the eagerly anticipated The A-Z of Mrs P at the Southwark Playhouse. With innovative creatives like her, and Gilmour and McKenzie at the vanguard, the world of new musical theatre is surely in for an exciting time.

Originally written for The Public Reviews

Review: Songs from a Hotel Bedroom, Watford Palace Theatre

“If I’m in town, I want to be the toast of it”


Songs from a Hotel Bedroom is a new dance/musical hybrid written by Kate Flatt and Peter Rowe which uses the music of Kurt Weill and tango dancing to illuminate the journey of a tragic love affair. Produced by SEGUE, a company known for their cross-artform work and co-produced with Watford Palace Theatre, The New Wolsey Theatre in Ipswich and co-comissioners ROH2 at the Royal Opera House, it will perform short runs at each venue over the coming weeks. Starting in a hotel room in New York in 1949, we meet Angélique, a singer who is picking her way through a suitcase of memories as she looks back on a rollercoaster journey of a short but heady romance with songwriter Dan, interspersed with traditional musical numbers, performances by Angélique in character and two dancers who appear periodically, adding their own commentary on the relationship.


It is quite a mix of elements and occasionally they all come together perfectly, but at times things are a bit disjointed, particularly in the way that the dancers are used. Too often they come on after a musical number has finished but to the sound of something musically different, thereby meaning that the evening doesn’t flow as well as it should. But there are also times when everything comes together gloriously, like during a raucous aftershow party in a hotel with Angélique singing ‘One Life To Live’ with the band partying and playing with her and the dancers in there too.


Frances Ruffelle is superb as chanteuse Angélique, perhaps predictably strongest in the straight performances of numbers like September Song and a beautiful rendition of Maurice Magre’s Je Ne T’aime Pas. And when she sings with Nigel Richards’ powerfully voiced Dan, there’s a great chemistry. They struggle a little more in the dramatic scenes due to some rather trite dialogue which veers close to melodrama throughout, but these are mostly short and the music is never far away. Amir Giles and Tara Pilbrow dance beautifully with predominantly tango-inspired routines, but there’s a few contemporary sequences in there too which test the athletism of both of them.


The musical arrangements are by James Holmes who also leads the seven person band who play throughout on-stage with a nice precision and great balance; they additionally play the role of Dan and Angélique’s accompanists and so have some interaction with proceedings as well. Chloe Lamford’s set design is effective: two archways with sliding panels able to suggest a range of locations, often with a nice reveal but it did have the result of forcing the band to the very back of the stage which means only the people in the most central seats can see them all, half the players were hidden from my view and I had reasonably good seats. Her costumes were excellent though, especially for Ruffelle who got a series of lovely ensembles, sexy period underwear as well as a gorgeous burgundy dress for her big show.


Songs from a Hotel Bedroom is a nicely ambitious piece of musical theatre which is refreshingly different and unafraid to experiment. Not all of it comes off 100%, but the use of Kurt Weill’s music is inspired as it is so evocative and perfectly bittersweet for this story and sung as well as it is here by Ruffelle and Richards, it makes for an entertaining evening.


Running time: 90 minutes (without interval)
Programme cost: £2
Booking until 16th October, playing 20th-23rd October at The New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich and 4th-6th November at the Linbury Studio Theatre at the Royal Opera House


Originally reviewed for The Public Reviews

Review: Grateful, starring Anton Stephans, Cadogan Hall

“Whatever my lot, thou has taught me to say, it is well, it is well, with my soul.”
Grateful, featuring Anton Stephans is billed as an evening of uplifting gospel and musical theatre, taking place at Cadogan Hall with numerous special guests from the West End, a 20-piece band and ably assisted by the West End Gospel Choir, a collective of performers from a range of West End shows and the music circuit. Stephans is such an irrepressible and charming presence on stage that one imagines this evening would have been a success anyway, even without the harrowing circumstances that led us here.
For the past two and a half years, Stephans has been battling horrendous illness with tumours on his brain and adrenal glands and incredibly gloomy prognoses, but fortunately he has fought the battle well and is now making a full recovery. Hence his return to the stage here to return to his love of performing and pass on his incredible enthusiasm and joie de vivre and the message of the power of positive thinking. He has said that the programme of songs that have moved him and have significance in his life came to him in his darkest moments and consequently it chose to inspire and uplift, to celebrate life and love rather than dwell on the sad times. And boy, did it inspire the audience at Cadogan Hall and uplift them right out of their seats and onto their feet, clapping and cheering and singing along to what was a truly joyous occasion.

It was all good, excellent in fact, but a duet with Hannah Waddingham on Come Together, a song from Jason Robert Brown’s album Wearing Someone Else’s Clothes was hands down one of the best performances I have seen this year. Starting off in a wonderfully theatrical manner with Waddingham appearing on a balcony above the stage in a vampish red dress and belting out the gospel-inflected opening, she then emerged onstage to complete the song with the choir in full voice too. They are good friends and their chemistry was plain to see and just wonderful to behold and I could have listened to them ad lib at the end of the song for days, they need to record this duet and sharpish!

Trying to pick highlights from the rest of the show is incredibly difficult as I enjoyed all of it so much, Cassie Compton’s duetting on the hymn It Is Well With My Soul was intensely beautiful, her slight frame belies the considerable power of her voice and Melanie La Barrie’s rendition of Easy To Be Hard would have surely secured her a place in the cast of Hair had it continued to run. The mixture of gospel and musical theatre is not one that you might think would work, but as Stephans pointed out, so much of music is about story-telling and personal connections so moving from gospel number to Sweet Charity to hymns made perfect sense as we saw how much each of the numbers meant to him. The anecdotes that peppered the show were also great fun, mixing in showbiz name-dropping with truly inspirational nuggets about dealing with the reality of serious illness.

The show constantly caught fire with the upbeat numbers that involved the entire company: Brotherhood of Man featuring Tim Oxbrow sharing vocals with Stephans and Rebecca Caine providing her Jonas-baiting dulcet tones was a chirpy pleasure enhanced with a tap dancer and The Flesh Failures and Blow Gabriel Blow were also delights. Of the solo numbers, Pure Imagination was tender and beautiful and heartfelt and the closing Run Till I Finish had a huge emotional punch, but there really were no duff moments in the programme with everyone on top form and giving it their all.

The West End Gospel choir, under Lisa Thorner’s enthusiastic direction, provided great animated back-up with maybe 7 of them pulling double duty as backing singers on numbers which didn’t require the full choir and providing the odd solo riff or three. I didn’t catch many of their names but Keisha Amponsa Banson was one who did stand out for me. And the band, under Dougie Freeman’s musical direction, was simply superb throughout, with Charlie Laffer’s spellbinding guitar-playing in Friendly Pressure being a highlight for me.

The evening, whilst also marking something of a comeback for Stephans, was also a fundraiser for the Intermission Youth Theatre, a charity he is involved with reaching out to disaffected teenagers and using drama as a tool to engage them. Sylvia Sims, ambassador for the theatre group, gave a wonderfully self-deprecating speech about the good work they do. So if you’re interested in finding out more about Intermission Youth Theatre and helping them out then visit their website at www.iyt.org.uk
Tracklisting
Get Happy
Oh Happy Day, with choir
I Can See It (from The Fantasticks)
Blue Skies (Irving Berlin) with Daniel Koek
Not Afraid, with backing singers
Pure Imagination (from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory)
He’s A Misstra Know It All (Stevie Wonder) with Robert Rees
Friendly Pressure, with backing singers
Coming Together (from Jason Robert Brown’s album Wearing Someone Else’s Clothes) with Hannah Waddingham and the choir
Satan’s Little Lamb
Soul Survivor, with Ian Carlyle and the choir

Look At Me Now, with backing singers and the choir
There’s Gotta Be Something Better Than This (from Sweet Charity)
Brotherhood of Man (from How To Succeed in Business with Really Trying) with Tim Oxbrow, Rebecca Caine and the boys
Easy To Be Hard (from Hair) solo from Melanie La Barrie
Someday We’ll All Be Free
It Is Well Within My Soul, with Cassie Compton
The Flesh Failures (Let The Sunshine In) (from Hair) with Edward Baruwa, Nigel Richards and the choir
Grateful, with Jon Lee
It Ain’t Ova, with the choir
Run Till I Finish
Blow Gabriel Blow (from Anything Goes) with the choir
West End Gospel choir
Choir Mistress: Lisa Thorner

Sharn Adela, Shola Adewusi, Rosemary Amoani, Keisha Amponsa Banson, Anna Austen-Rose, Lennox Brown, Matthew Collyer, Simone Craddock, Chris Dixon, Nolan Frederick, Laura Hanna, Dalh Haynes, Kristen Hellberg, Nathan Hunter Pope, Tony James-Andersson, Matthew Jeans, Sioned Jones, Laura Kelly Greenwell, Sarah Murdoch, Ngo Ngofa, Jacqui Tate, Stephanie Tavernier, Ellesse Tonkin, Elizabeth Wright, Felicity Wright,
Band
Musical Director and Arranger: Dougie Freeman

George Moore, Jon Desbruslais, Laurance Garratt, Joe Richards, Charlie Laffer, Tommy Andrews, Will Gibson, Nick Mead, Barney Loew, William Rixon, Phil Dewhurst, Sam Freeman