Album reviews: Working / Bat out of Hell / 42nd Street

A trio of West End cast recordings (well, one’s off-West-End…) show that it is sometimes hard to recapture the stage magic 

© Robert Workman

Starting off with the best of this bunch, the Southwark Playhouse’s production of Working might not have seemed like the obvious choice for a cast recording but maybe the lure of a couple of new Lin-Manuel Miranda tracks was a real sweetener.

Truth is, it is the quality of the cast’s performances that make this a fantastic addition to the list of albums you need to hear. From Siubhan Harrison’s impassioned ‘Millwork’ to Dean Chisnall’s gleeful ‘Brother Trucker’, and the highly charismatic Liam Tamne nails both of Miranda’s contributions – the wilful ‘Delivery’ and a corking duet (with Harrison) on ‘A Very Good Day’.

Experience pays though, as Gillian Bevan and Peter Polycarpou take the honours with some scintillating work. The latter’s ‘Joe’ is beautifully judged, as is the former’s ‘Nobody Tells Me How’, both demonstrating the uncertainty that can come at the end of a long career, when retirement doesn’t necessarily hold the joyful promise it once did. Highly recommended.  Continue reading “Album reviews: Working / Bat out of Hell / 42nd Street”

Film Review: Murder On The Orient Express (2017)

“I know your moustache…”

What to do when you want your new film to be a new version of one of Agatha Christie’s most famous whodunnits? Well if you’re Kenneth Branagh, you call in some of your mates to play the main characters, friends like Dame Judi Dench, Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Olivia Colman, Penélope Cruz, Daisy Ridley, Leslie Odom Jr., Josh Gad, and Willem Dafoe. Plus you can also get some real talent to fill the minor roles – blink and you might miss the likes of Paapa Essiedu, Miranda Raison, Hadley Fraser, Adam Garcia, even Sergei Polunin.

But if you’re Kenneth Branagh, you also cast yourself as Hercule Poirot and as he’s directing himself, there’s a sense that the sharing of some much-needed constructive feedback didn’t happen. For as his ridiculously huge moustache is placed front and centre in scene after scene, this Murder On The Orient Express feels nothing so much as a vanity project. Which is all well and good if you like that sort of thing, and I quite like Branagh as it happens, but it is absolutely fatal in a story that is intrinsically about the ensemble. Continue reading “Film Review: Murder On The Orient Express (2017)”

Review: 42nd Street, Theatre Royal Drury Lane

“You’re going out a youngster, but you’ve got to come back a star”

In the rush to dole out the five star reviews that seem de rigueur for any big musical these days (22 for An American in Paris so their new poster shouts proudly), there appears to be a willingness to overlook storytelling for spectacle. As at the Dominion, the newly opened 42nd Street is a massive dance show which is undoubtedly hugely, well, spectacular. And it also suffers from not being particularly dramatically interesting, Michael Stewart and Mark Bramble’s book contains hardly any dramatic tension at all – will the show-within-the-show be alright on the night? What do you think?!

I start with this line of thought because as much as I was impressed by 42nd Street, it rarely moved me in the way that Golden Age musical theatre (my favourite genre of all, surprising no-one) at its best does. Based on a novel from the 1930s, the book here – as directed by Bramble – sacrifices any hint of suspense or meaningful character development for the headlong rush from production number to production number. And it just about gets away with it due to the sheer scale of what is being mounted here. 40+ bodies tap-dancing in unison in bucket-loads of sequins – bawdy and gaudy indeed.

Continue reading “Review: 42nd Street, Theatre Royal Drury Lane”

Preview – 42 reasons to see 42nd Street

“Where the underworld can meet the elite…
Naughty
Bawdy
Gaudy
Sporty
Forty-Second Street!”

I was lucky enough to be invited to the first preview of 42nd Street at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane and whilst any official opinions about the show are under embargo until press night, I thought I’d give you all some hints and teasers and a little sneak preview (assisted by these beautiful photographs courtesy of Brinkhoff & Moegenburg) through these 42 reasons to see 42nd Street. 


1 Where else are you going to see a cast of over 50?
2 Just look at them Continue reading “Preview – 42 reasons to see 42nd Street”

Round-up of news and treats and other interesting things

Marianne Elliott wasted no time in making headlines twice over last week – after the announcenement of her departure from the National Theatre, it was officially been announced that she has teamed up with theatre producer Chris Harper to set up Elliott Harper Productions which will produce new work throughout 2017. The first play in the season will be Simon Stephens’ Heisenberg which will be directed by Elliott and run at a yet-to-be confirmed venue in Autumn 2017. This will be followed by Oedipus to Antigone in a new adaptation by Yael Farber who will also direct. 
 
But the highlight of the season looks set to be a modern revival of Stephen Sondheim and George Furth’s musical Company which will see the glorious Rosalie Craig take on the role of Bobbie, in a gender-reversed version of the musical about a confirmed bachelor that has been specially approved by Sondheim, once again directed by Elliott.
 
Not much else is known about the production or even the season, but watch this space!

Continue reading “Round-up of news and treats and other interesting things”

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. Continue reading “Festive news #2 – Christmas Concert by Music Theatre Masterclass”

Review: Murder Ballad, Arts

“My nights are trash and vaudeville”

Director Sam Yates knows exactly what he is doing. Within seconds of the opening number of Murder Ballad finishing, Ramin Karimloo has got his t-shirt off and we’re treated to the sight of one of the finest physiques in the West End. A little light-heartedly lascivious you might think, but it is symptomatic of what this production finds it has to do in order to elevate the material to an intermittently striking piece of musical theatre.

A mostly sung-through rock musical, Murder Ballad follows the emergent love triangle between a trio of New Yorkers. Sara loves hard rock and hard drink and in bad boy bartender Tom, finds a passionate but unhealthy sexual connection. Poet Michael is about as different as they can get but it is to him that Sara eventually turns, but though a husband and then daughter has its conventional appeal, she can’t quite kick the habit of the violent Tom. And as we’re told from the beginning, someone’s gonna die. Continue reading “Review: Murder Ballad, Arts”

Blogged: Theatre on screen July 2016

“Things are going to get, now and for the rest of your life, extremely difficult”
Well actually, things are getting easier to watch theatre in different ways and as I leave on holiday for a wee while, I thought I’d round up a few of the current offerings.
Mike Bartlett’s smash hit Wild at Hampstead Theatre was livestreamed yesterday and is available until midnight on Tuesday. 
Talawa’s touring production of King Lear is available on the iPlayer (I was a tiny bit disappointed with this to be honest)


And Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s Fleabag has been developed into a TV series – not got round to watching it yet but could well be good

Album Review: Parade (Original London Cast 2007)

“Call for justice! We need justice!
Beat the bastard! Kill the bum!”

Based on historical events from the turn of the last century in Atlanta, Georgia, Jason Robert Brown and Alfred Uhry’s Parade has been something of a slow-burning theatrical success – its original 1998 Broadway run criminally short, ending way before it won 2 Tonys, but later tours and overseas productions cementing its reputation as a sterling piece of new musical theatre. In the UK, Southwark Playhouse had a grand production in 2011 but 2007 saw the Donmar deliver a work of small-scale genius which was captured in its entirety on this double-disc recording.

Perhaps not the most likely of subjects for a piece of musical theatre, the 1913 trial of Jewish factory manager Leo Frank – Bertie Carvel in the role here – for the rape and murder of a 13 year old employee Mary Phagan benefits hugely from the musical treatment. The trial caused a big media sensation in the US and forced an examination of the (not so) latent anti-Semitism in this southern state offering a wide range of opportunities to explore musical styles, estimably executed by Thomas Murray’s 9-strong band playing David Cullen’s new orchestrations.  Continue reading “Album Review: Parade (Original London Cast 2007)”