Review: Avenue Q, New Wimbledon Theatre

This Sell A Door tour of the excellent puppet musical Avenue Q shows just how well it is standing the test of time

“You should be much more careful when you’re talking about the sensitive subject of race”

I do love Avenue Q. It was one of the first musicals that I fell in love with after moving to London, tracking it throughout its West End-theatre hopping run with multiple visits (a recap can be found here) and then popping in here and there to catch the occasional touring version. And it is a show to which my reactions have shifted: 13 years ago when I first saw it, its quarter-life crisis was directly recognisable; a little way down the line now, I’m the one saying ‘these kids are so much younger than me’ about this youthful company!

Premiering in 2003, the show – music and lyrics by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx and book by Jeff Whitty – benefited hugely from coming into life in a slightly more innocent pre-social media time, a moment when Generation X didn’t face half as much opprobrium as millennia are forced to shoulder nowadays. And revisiting the show now, as this Sell A Door production kicks off a major UK tour scheduled to last most of the year, it is just lovely to be reminded of simpler times, of such uncomplicated good feeling. Continue reading “Review: Avenue Q, New Wimbledon Theatre”

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’. Continue reading “News: Iris Theatre’s Xmas Factor All Stars album is released”

Review: Honeymoon in Vegas, London Palladium

“I am not making friki-friki”

The London Musical Theatre Orchestra’s arrival on the scene has not gone unnoticed by me but their previous concerts have always fallen on days when I couldn’t make it. So finally putting a show on on a Sunday night meant I was able to put it in the diary and to mark the occasion, they only went and invited their first guest conductor along, Mr Jason Robert Brown himself to helm the UK premiere of his show Honeymoon in Vegas.

And in the swish surroundings of the London Palladium, it was hard not to be entirely seduced by the lush sound of a 30-strong orchestra (under the musical direction of Freddie Tapner), a chorus of 16 up-and-coming performers and a main cast of bona fide West End stars directed by Shaun Kerrison. The concert staging allows for an amusingly slapdash approach which really suited the joie de vivre exuding from pretty much everyone involved here, a real passion project. Continue reading “Review: Honeymoon in Vegas, London Palladium”

Review: Anyone Can Whistle, Union Theatre

“Laugh at the king or he’ll make you cry

The ever-modest Sondheim considers Anyone Can Whistle ‘a laudable attempt to present something off-centre in mainstream musical theatre’, whilst trying to contextualise his first ever commercial failure. But be that as it may, it remains one of his lesser performed works for a reason (it was seen most recently in London directed by Tom Littler at the Jermyn Street in 2010 I think) as Arthur Laurents’ book strains so hard to be zany that it hasn’t noticed how fatally confused it is. 

Corrupt Mayor Cora Hooper Hoover and her cronies plot to save their town from going bankrupt by faking a miracle, which attracts tourists aplenty and a bus load of patients from the local asylum who soon escape and mingle into an indistinguishable crowd. Then a fake psychiatrist turns up, who falls in love with a fake miracle verifier from Lourdes…concentrate too hard on this lot and you’ll end up in the asylum with them. Director Phil Willmott thus wisely focuses on the manifold strengths that his production brings to the table.  Continue reading “Review: Anyone Can Whistle, Union Theatre”

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. Continue reading “Review: The Hired Man in concert, Cadogan Hall”

Review: Princess Caraboo, Finborough

“Send us a pineapple for the wedding breakfast”

What was the last lie you told? How much was at stake and did you even think of the consequences? Such are the questions being raised at Briarwood Hall in Sir Charles Worrall’s talk on the study of lies and lying to which we’re all invited. And to illustrate his thesis and to break up the Greek philosophy, he’s employed his staff to act out musical scenes of a notable scandal of the 1820s in which his family was involved. So begins Phil Willmott and Mark Collins’ new musical Princess Caraboo in an amusing and inventive manner, which entertains right until the last porky pie has been told.

Based on real events, the Princess Caraboo was a woman who claimed to have been shipwrecked on the English shore and taken in by some well-meaning sorts in the Worralls, was able to inveigle her way into the heights of Regency society. But by highlighting this deception from the start, Willmott’s book is more concerned with the way in which such lies take hold and are promulgated by societal convention and the need to maintain a facade of propriety. It adds up to an effective and affecting piece of storytelling and reaffirms the Finborough’s commitment to supporting British musical theatre. Continue reading “Review: Princess Caraboo, Finborough”