CD Review: The Bodyguard – The Musical (World Premiere Cast Recording)


“Tell me what does it mean?” 
One of the more surprising recent returnees to the West End was The Bodyguard – The Musical – having played out about a year and a half at the Adelphi and then launching a subsequent UK tour, our appetite seemed sated. But where there’s an empty theatre, there’s a commercial hit to be planted therein and it arrived back in the capital at the Dominion, with Beverley Knight heading up the cast and it’s a cracker.
But as the production set out on its UK tour, that was the point at which First Night Records decided to release the world premiere cast recording of the show, meaning that it was X-Factor star Alexandra Burke who got to lay her vocals on this score of classic Whitney Houston songs and be recorded for posterity. Now I can’t lie, I enjoyed the show with Burke, with the help of a couple of bottles of wine it’s an ideal bit of Friday fun but on disc, it’s not quite the same story. 
Part of the problem – for me at least – lies in the familiarity of the score and the fact that very little is done to the majority of the songs. So the comparison between whoever is taking on the role of Rachel Marron is all the more direct with Whitney and when you’re dealing with the soundtrack of my youth in songs like ‘How Will I Know’, ‘So Emotional’ and ‘Queen of the Night’, you’d better do ‘em justice. But it doesn’t take more than 15 seconds before Burke starts to oversing, making the music ‘her own’ in the parlance de nos jours, and largely falling flat in the process. 
Houston may have become notorious for vocal embellishments, especially in her later live performances, but if you listen to the recordings, there’s a distinct purity that comes across in all parts of her register that is part of the reason why she was the success she was. Here though, you struggle to find a note Burke sustains for more than a couple of seconds, you struggle to hear her lower register as she lacks any real power there, something cruelly exposed in ‘I Have Nothing’ which lacks power even though (or maybe because) it has been transposed to a lower key. 
The saving grace of this record turns out to be Melissa James’ performance as Nicki, Rachel’s sister, as her takes on ‘Saving All My Love For You’ and ‘All At Once’ are the real deal, both outstandingly done and oozing the quality that Burke seems to be missing. And as the album closes with the iconic ‘I Wanna Dance With Somebody’, her charmless ‘come ons’ and ‘I wanna see your hands up’ stick out like a sore thumb. Definitely a show to be experienced live with Beverley Knight rather than listened to here – you might as well just put Whitney’s greatest hits on instead.

Film Review: London Road

“Everybody’s very very nervous”
 
The theatrical production of London Road was a major success for the National Theatre, the opening run first extending in the Cottesloe and then being rewarded with a later transfer to the much larger Olivier – I was first blownaway by its originality and then later comforted by its message in the aftermath of the 2011 riots. So the news that director Rufus Norris was making a film adaptation was received with apprehensive anticipation, could this strikingly experimental piece of theatre possibly work on screen.
 
Writer Alecky Blythe uses a technique whereby she records interviews with people which are then edited into a play but spoken verbatim by the actors, complete with all the ums and aahs and repetitions of natural speech. And in 2006, she went to Ipswich to interview a community rocked by a series of murders, of five women in total, all sex workers, and set about telling a story not of salacious deaths but of a community learning to cleave together in trying times. Oh, and it’s all set to the most innovative of musical scores by Adam Cork, elevating ordinary speech into something quite extraordinary. 

Continue reading “Film Review: London Road”

Review: Cabaret, New Wimbledon

“Start by admitting from cradle to tomb, it isn’t that long a stay”

Perhaps with a nod to the fact that it isn’t that long since it was in the West End, the touring production of Kander and Ebb’s Cabaret directed by Rufus Norris is just playing a few days at the New Wimbledon Theatre before touring the country. It was a production that I enjoyed when I saw it back at the Savoy and crucially, it has made the one casting change it needed to really improve. Despite her best efforts, Michelle Ryan never felt really at home as Sally Bowles and the introduction of Siobhan Dillon is a clever one as she embodies the simultaneous fragility and strength of this most iconic of characters.

Otherwise, there isn’t too much more to say about it that wasn’t already said in that previous review. Will Young is a genuine revelation as a chilling Emcee, Matt Rawle’s bisexual writer Cliff exudes chemistry all around and the older lovers torn apart by the encroaching regime hits a real chiming note – Lyn Paul taking over from Siân Phillips against Linal Haft. And Valerie Cutko is an inspired casting choice for Fräulein Kost, a character I always end up wanting to see more of. Continue reading “Review: Cabaret, New Wimbledon”

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: Wonderful Town, Milton Keynes Theatre

“Here we live, here we love, this is the place for self-expression”

Providing a much needed, strong reminder that large-scale musical revivals can come from north of the Watford Gap as well as below, Wonderful Town marked a major collaboration between Manchester’s Royal Exchange Theatre, The Hallé Orchestra and The Lowry on this Leonard Bernstein show, which I have to admit to never having heard of before. As many a musical that has gone before and come after it, it is gossamer-light in plot but this is more than made up for with a richly evocative score, some nifty design and best of all, sparkling choreography from Andrew Wright who is now consistently making the case to be considered one of the best choreographers working in the country.

Connie Fisher and Lucy Van Gasse play Ruth and Eileen Sherwood, sisters from Ohio who are determined to escape their boring lives and move to New York City. Of course, on arriving in the Big Apple, following their dream ain’t quite as easy as it seems but in their quest for success, romance and a free meal or two, they meet and charm a wide range of colourful new friends and neighbours who help them through their trials. And matching the creative and production expertise on hand, director Braham Murray assembled a cracking ensemble which included particular favourites around these parts (albeit for different reasons) Michael Xavier and Tiffany Graves. Continue reading “Review: Wonderful Town, Milton Keynes Theatre”

Review: The Wizard of Oz, Palladium

“And my head I’d be scratchin’ while my thoughts were busy hatchin’

I could have quite happily given The Wizard of Oz a miss, it wasn’t ever really on my list of shows to see but the combined news of a visit from a family member who wanted to see it and Hannah Waddingham’s imminent departure from the ensemble meant that I found myself there on a Saturday evening… There’s something a little odd about its choice as Andrew Lloyd-Webber’s third reality casting show, Over the Rainbow, as the show is not really a fully-fledged musical, no matter how famous some of the songs but he persevered nonetheless. What is even odder is his assembly of a strong musical theatre cast around the eventual winner, Danielle Hope, given the paucity of many of the roles around Dorothy.

Lloyd-Webber’s way around this has been to write new songs, with long-standing lyricist Tim Rice, to beef up the roles of characters like the Wizard and the Wicked Witch of the West and justify the casting of Michael Crawford and Hannah Waddingham respectively. But despite looking a picture with some tricksy staging and wirework, the end result is curiously banal, exceedingly bland and one which rarely excited me. The focus is so much on the stagecraft that the heart of the story is rarely engaged: Hope’s Dorothy is sweet but rarely interesting, there’s little of the ‘star quality’ evident this evening but then the role is not one that really encourages it; Michael Crawford made very little impact either as the Wizard or the cameos as Ozians and so it went, emotion taking second-place to spectacle. Continue reading “Review: The Wizard of Oz, Palladium”

Review: Bright Lights Big City, Hoxton Hall

“Now this is what you wanted, all the frolics and the frenzy”

Tucked away in Shoreditch is Hoxton Hall, a Victorian music hall which now serves as a hub for much community arts work in the local area and now brings the London premiere of the musical Bright Lights, Big City. Set in New York in 1984, the story concerns a writer called Jamie whose response to a number of setbacks is to throw himself headlong into a life of debauchery. Struggling to deal with the recent death of his mother and with the reality of his wife leaving him, hard partying and taking drugs leads to him losing his job too and it is only with the persistent efforts of those who love him, can he find his way back to normality.

Performances across the ensemble are strong: Jodie Jacobs (with some seriously amazing crimped hair and who is appearing in her third musical in as many months!) and Rachel Wooding stood out for me, George Maguire’s Tad is a convincing Pied Piper-like figure leading Jamie astray and Rietta Austin’s vocal performance was most impressive. As Jamie himself, Paul Ayres does well vocally with a character who’s rarely offstage but could do with working a little more charm into his naïveté, elevating him slightly out of the everyman role as befits a leading man. Continue reading “Review: Bright Lights Big City, Hoxton Hall”

Review: Oliver!, Theatre Royal Drury Lane

This review marks a momentous occasion as it features the first appearance of Aunty Jean, one of my most faithful theatre companions, despite living nearly 200 miles from me in Wigan. We try to see at least one thing every time she visits whether for pleasure or work, but it has been a while since she has been down so Oliver marked her first 2009 London theatrical trip.

Fortunately it was well worth it, as this show did not disappoint on any level (and many levels it did have!). The sets for this show were truly awe-inspiring: Fagin’s underground lair was cleverly constructed; the depth of the alleyway for the street scenes was huge so it gave a great sense of scale to the proceedings, one which has been sadly lacking in many large recent productions, cost-cutting I guess, and the lighting from scene to scene could not have been more different, yet still highly effective. This all combined to give great energy and movement to the show, which scarcely needs it due to the highly familiar and zippy score. Continue reading “Review: Oliver!, Theatre Royal Drury Lane”