10 of my top moments of the decade

Ever behind the curve, I present 10 of my top moments in a theatre over the last ten years (plus a few bonus extra ones because whittling down this list was hard, and it will probably be different tomorrow anyway!)

© James Bellorini

Extraordinary Public Acts for a National Theatre

The establishment of the Public Acts programme at the National Theatre offered up something sensational in Pericles, an initiative designed to connect grassroot community organisations with major theatres, resulting in a production that swept over 200 non-professional performers onto the stage of the Olivier to create something that moved me more than 99% of professional productions.  A truly joyous and momentous occasion. 

Honourable mention: this year’s musical take on As You Like It proved just as heart-swellingly beautiful over at the Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch. Continue reading “10 of my top moments of the decade”

Album Review: Helena Blackman – The Sound of Rodgers and Hammerstein (2010)

“We’re going to look for the treasure”

Since finishing as runner up on Lloyd Webber’s How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?, Helena Blackman has casually shaken off any of the negative connotations that might be associated with reality TV by establishing a career that has seen her work consistently in musicals and cabaret for more than a decade. From leading tours of South Pacific and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, to intimate shows at the Finborough and Landor, to full-on leading lady territory in two Kilworth House productions (My Fair Lady and yes, The Sound of Music), Blackman’s undoubted talent has taken the time to develop and really shine.

London audiences will have the pleasure of seeing her soon in A Spoonful of Sherman at The Other Palace, so I’m turning my attention to her 2010 album The Sound of Rodgers & Hammerstein. Again, it is indicative of a performer determined to tread her own path in rejecting the usual opening gambit of safe standards and pop songs that peppers many a debut album in this genre, and moving to a different but no less crowded field of anthologies celebrating a single composing team.  Continue reading “Album Review: Helena Blackman – The Sound of Rodgers and Hammerstein (2010)”

CD Review: It’s Just The Beginning – The Songs of Charles Miller and Kevin Hammonds

“I’m a girl of few words
And I don’t make a fuss 
But there’s something I’d like to discuss” 

As with too many good musical theatre writers, transatlantic partnership Charles Miller and Kevin Hammonds may not be the best known, but their work deserves a wider recognition as evidenced on their CD It’s Just The Beginning – The Songs of Charles Miller and Kevin Hammonds. British musician Miller and New York lyricist Hammonds have something of an old-fashioned soul, their songs very much part of the long tradition of musical theatre rather than a genre-busting radical new approach and as such, represent an interesting future alongside the Jason Robert Browns of the world.

To musical theatre aficionados, some of this music won’t be unfamiliar. When Midnight Strikes was performed at the Upstairs at the Gatehouse theatre last year and is well represented here (the emotive ‘Never Learned To Type’ is probably the highlight, the divine Caroline O’Connor wistfully breaking our hearts with a beautiful vocal. And Julie Atherton’s debut album A Girl of Few Words showcased 12 of their songs, two of which are reprised here – the wonderfully striking title track and the powerful duet ‘Someone Find Me’ with good pal Paul Spicer. Continue reading “CD Review: It’s Just The Beginning – The Songs of Charles Miller and Kevin Hammonds”

Blogged: a couple of YouTube clips for your delectation

After being given a lovely recommendation of a video on YouTube that most definitely spoke to my interests, I got to thinking how to say thank you, and so I thought I’d pop a couple of my favourite YouTube clips on here in return. Perhaps unsurprisingly, they’re all musical theatre related, but that’s just how I roll 😉

First up is a video that I’m sure that of you will have seen already: Julie Atherton’s hilarious clip for ‘Portrait of a Princess’, created to coincide with Michael Bruce’s album launch for Unwritten Songs (on which the track appears). My love for Ms Atherton is no secret and this really is one of the best show cases of why I love her so much, her gift for comic acting whilst singing is just second to none – the eye rolls at 3:45 are a particular thing of joy – even just the fact that it is set in bits of Hackney I know well amuses me, skipping gaily through Ridley Road market is a hoot. Throw in cameos from a princely Russell Tovey, a slutty Sheridan Smith and an outrageously buff Jon Lee, amongst others, and it’s a definite recipe for success. Continue reading “Blogged: a couple of YouTube clips for your delectation”

Music Review: Michael Bruce – Unwritten Songs

“I want this world, I want every moment” 

Musical theatre writing in the UK has no greater champion than the Speckulation guys at the moment and one of the beneficiaries of their nurturing, Michael Bruce, has really taken flight this year with a star-studded debut album being released to showcase his song-writing. Bruce is a composer who has previously had his own West End showcase, musicals playing at Edinburgh, is resident composer at the Bush Theatre and has written the score for shows like the National Theatre’s Men Should Weep and the forthcoming David Tennant/Catherine Tate Much Ado About Nothing. He launched this album last month with a Delfont Room gig showing off his pulling power in getting many of the stars of his album to come and perform on a busy Sunday night.

On Unwritten Songs, Bruce covers a range of bases whilst remaining firmly in the musical theatre/cabaret world. He has a clear talent for comedy songs which are destined to appear and reappear in cabaret repertoires for the foreseeable future. Chief of these is the fabulous Portrait of a Princess, written especially for the incomparable Julie Atherton. Formerly entitled In A Disney Way, it is an extremely wordy, wry and witty look at the unreasonable expectations put on a modern-day Disney princess and if that weren’t enough, Speckulation have come up with their first ever promotional video for this song featuring a whole host of faces including Russell Tovey, Sheridan Smith and Jon Lee which you can watch below. Continue reading “Music Review: Michael Bruce – Unwritten Songs”

Music Review: Lance Horne – First Things Last

“Now you’re here, where else would I be?”

I was lucky enough to catch the Lance Horne concert at the Garrick at the end of January at which his album First Things Last was showcased, but as the cd features a mixture of both British and American musical theatre stars, the gig saw lots of stand-ins putting their own (mostly) brilliant spins on the songs. But I love the CD so very much that I always intended to review it separately as well but it has taken me a wee while to get round to it…

Opening with Alan Cumming’s witty American and taking a swift detour in soft rock territory with the rather bland ‘In The Name Of The Father’, Horne’s strength as a songwriter is demonstrated in a frankly astonishingly good and incredibly varied run of seven songs which make the purchase of this album pretty much essential. From the mid-tempo story songs like ‘Leap’ performed with transatlantic charm by the delightful Emma Williams and Julie Atherton’s powerhouse vocals on ‘Every Moment’ to the wry humour of ‘Haircut’ with a great turn from Ricki Lake (nicely erasing any memory of Graham Norton’s efforts…!), there’s such strength in depth here.

Continue reading “Music Review: Lance Horne – First Things Last”

Review: Michael Bruce – Unwritten Songs album launch, Delfont Room

“Musical theatre’s my passion, my art”

In the Delfont Room at the Prince of Wales Theatre, there is often a Sunday night treat to be found and this week saw the launch of Unwritten Songs, the debut album by Michael Bruce featuring a whole host of West End stars, many of whom were in attendance to perform the songs they sing on the album, including Julie Atherton, Alexia Khadime, Anna-Jane Casey and Mark Evans and some other special guests too, including Caroline Sheen. Bruce is a composer who has had his own West End showcase, musicals playing at Edinburgh, is resident composer at the Bush Theatre and has written the score for shows like the National Theatre’s Men Should Weep and the forthcoming David Tennant/Catherine Tate Much Ado About Nothing, so it is safe to say this is a man who is going places.

His songwriting covers many bases, but he is particularly strong at the comedic songs and his repertoire is already full of choice gifts for the more daring cabaret performer: ‘Portrait of a Princess’ (formerly titled ‘In A Disney Way’) was written especially for Julie Atherton and plays perfectly to her inimitable strength at witty story-songs, if for some crazy reason you only buy one song off this album, this would be the one. But there’s also the faux-operatic ‘Continental’ delivered with a great wry humour by Emily Tierney and the newly written ‘The Musical Theatre Song’ which borrows the rapid-fire structure of Sondheim’s ‘(Not) Getting Married Today’ as a musical theatre fan breathlessly lists all the shows she loves, delivered almost without fault by Anna-Jane Casey. Bruce clearly enjoys challenging his singers and when they are of this calibre, then why the hell not. Continue reading “Review: Michael Bruce – Unwritten Songs album launch, Delfont Room”

Review: Lance Horne – First Things Last, Garrick

“What matters are the things you leave behind
And the echoes love can leave inside your mind
And the lights that last from random acts of kindness
Kind of simple, kind of not”

First Things Last celebrated the release of American musical theatre writer Lance Horne’s debut album at the Garrick Theatre, following two shows in New York earlier this month. The album features a host of highly talented stars from the West End and Broadway, so the concerts have had different line-ups reflecting people’s availability but this concert featured a line-up that read like a who’s who of the cream of British musical theatre and then some. The show was produced by those champions of new musical theatre Speckulation and lived up to expectations as a most stunning showcase for some seriously talented stars and a most engaging writer.

Picking a favourite moment from the event is a bit like my own version of Sophie’s Choice, but I was probably most looking forward to Meow Meow’s performance and she did not fail to deliver. Her song ‘January’, a regretful tale of a lost love, is like a 1960s black and white French film brought fully to life, her silkily sultry vocals perfectly matching the Jacques Brel feel of the song and I now could not be more excited for The Umbrellas of Cherbourg if I tried, it is going to be immense! Continue reading “Review: Lance Horne – First Things Last, Garrick”

Christmas Music Review: Kristin Chenoweth’s A Lovely Way To Spend Christmas & Christmas in New York

It’s CHRIIIIST-MAAAS! Well not really, but in honour of Advent starting and all of the snow in London, I’d thought I’d write about two of my favourite Christmas albums with musical theatre connections. 

There are certain performers who I really do want to see live at least once in my life and somewhere near the top of that list is Kristin Chenoweth (so any producers reading, get her over here pronto, please), not least because she seems so fricking adorable in everything I’ve ever seen her in and I would just die if she tugged my hair like she does at 5:18 in this clip of her and Idina Menzel performing ‘For Good’. So I’ve had to make do with her TV shows, YouTube clips and her CDs, the Christmas one of which, A Lovely Way To Spend Christmas, became a fast favourite when it was released a couple of years ago.

The best track, and if you only download one I’d make it this one, is a gorgeous version of ‘Do You Hear What I Hear’. Building slowly with an angelic vocal, enhanced by the insertion of the Gloria refrain from ‘Ding Dong Merrily On High’, it is sweet and perfect and often on repeat play on stressful December commutes. ‘What Child Is This’, to the tune of ‘Greensleeves’ and ‘I’ll Be Home For Christmas’, both staples of US Christmas albums are both well-performed but a slowed version of ‘The Christmas Waltz’ is really lovely and the medley of ‘Sleep Well Little Children’/’What A Wonderful World’ is another flawless wonder. Continue reading “Christmas Music Review: Kristin Chenoweth’s A Lovely Way To Spend Christmas & Christmas in New York”

Review (or more of a love letter): the fourth-to-last Avenue Q, Wyndhams

“Everything in life is only for now”

There’s no show really that best typifies my love for the theatre, and specifically my love for London theatregoing, than Avenue Q. From its arrival at the Noël Coward Theatre in 2006, this was a show I fell head over heels for from the opening song and one that has provided constant pleasure to me ever since. Looking back, I think this counts up as my seventh visit to the show, plus one special Valentine’s Day cabaret show, and like every relationship it has had its ups and downs, but ultimately that’s only made my love for the show stronger and I was really pleased to be able to squeeze in one last visit to the final Friday afternoon show to bid it ‘furwell’. 

As if I couldn’t have loved this show more, the grace and humour with which the closing notices were announced just melted my heart. I’ve borrowed images of the set of posters from the Avenue Q Facebook page and posted them here to show you what I mean, I particularly love the ‘Available for Panto from 30 October’ line, it is so typical of the humour of the show and whoever has been in charge of the publicity should be commended for keeping a sense of humour throughout. The YouTube clip at the bottom is also well worth a watch.

Continue reading “Review (or more of a love letter): the fourth-to-last Avenue Q, Wyndhams”