Album Review: Amélie (2017 Original Broadway Cast Recording)

“I am not afraid 
 As everything I’ll ever need appears 
 This is how my world gets made”

A musical adaptation of Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s 2001 film and led by a red-hot Phillipa Soo coming off her enormous success of Hamilton, Amélie felt like a safe bet for at least a half-decent run on the Great White Way. But underwhelming reviews crippled it and striking out on Tony nominations delivered the killer blow, meaning it closed at the Walter Kerr Theatre before even making it to its third month.
Fortunately, we were blessed with an Original Broadway Cast Recording, so those of us unable to see it can experience some of its pleasures. And it is undeniably pleasant, as befits so gently lovely a story as this. With music by Daniel Messé, lyrics by Messé and Nathan Tysen and a book by Craig Lucas, there’s little to take offence at, and you suspect that that is part of the problem. The gentleness that is such an integral part of the show and the score just ends up tending towards the bland in this volume.
Only ‘Times Are Hard For Dreamers’ comes close to being the kind of breakout hit that you’ll wake up humming the next day, and Soo’s gorgeously creamy voice suits it perfectly. And she’s never less than lovely elsewhere, it’s just that the music is so generic. Adam Chanler-Berat similarly does his best as pseudo-love interest Nino – ‘Thin Air’ standing out here – but altogether, it’s not too difficult to see why Amélie didn’t make that strong of an impression on the large-scale Broadway market.

Round-up of news and treats and other interesting things

Hamilton-mania never dies down – as the first news about the UK cast arrives, the original Schuyler Sisters are reuniting this weekend!

The cast for a profoundly affectionate, passionate devotion to someone (-noun), written and directed by debbie tucker green, has been announced as the estimable Gary Beadle, Gershwyn Eustache Jnr, Lashana Lynch, Shvorne Marks and Meera Syal.

It runs in the Royal Court Jerwood Theatre Upstairs from Tuesday 28 February 2017 to Saturday 1 April 2017 and sees tucker green return to the theatre where her play hang was such a great success in 2015.

The Young Vic announced a set of new shows (plus the return of the hugely successful Yerma) for 2017, the highlights of which are:
• Joe Wright directs Brecht’s Life of Galileo with Brendan Cowell in the title role
• Billie Piper returns to her role in Simon Stone’s Yerma
• Juliet Stevenson reunites with director Natalie Abrahami in the London premiere of Arthur Kopit’s Wings
• London premiere for Ramin Gray and David Grieg’s acclaimed production The Suppliant Women featuring a chorus of Waterloo residents
• In the Maria, two poetic personal stories Taha and Nina – a story about me and Nina Simone, and Edinburgh Festival hit How To Win Against History

London Boys Ballet School (LBBS) has announced the appointment of their new school Ambassador, Wayne Sleep OBE. Since LBBS launched in 2014, the school has seen unprecedented growth to become one of the premier schools for boys’ dance training in London. 
The school, which boasts a 100% examination pass rate, offers pupils the opportunity to both perform within London theatres and to study internationally recognised examinations set by the prestigious Royal Academy of Dance. Currently looking to increase its teaching faculty and teaching locations, LBBS have also recently appointed ex-Royal Ballet dancer and Boston Ballet soloist, Andrew Ward as Artistic Advisor.

Round-up of summer album reviews

To cover the holiday period, you may have noticed an album review or three – here’s a round-up of them, including my top ten.

Recommended titles
Close To You – Bacharach Reimagined (2016 Original London Cast Recording)
Hamilton (2015 Original Broadway Cast Recording)
Kelli O’Hara – Always 
Leslie Odom Jr – Leslie Odom Jr 
Matt Doyle – Uncontrolled
Samantha Barks – Samantha Barks
Thérèse Raquin (2014 Original London Cast Recording)
The Last Five Years (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
The Scottsboro Boys (2014 Original London Cast Recording)
Waitress (Original Broadway Cast Recording)

And the rest!
Alison Jiear – Inspirational
Allegro (2009 First Complete Recording)
An American Victory (2016 Concept Album)
Annie (1995 London Studio Cast Recording)
Annie (2014 Film Cast)
Bad Girls (2007 Original London Cast)
Billy Porter – At The Corner of Broadway and Soul
Billy Porter – Billy’s Back On Broadway
Brian Stokes Mitchell – Simply Broadway
Bright Star (Original Broadway Cast Recording)
Bring It On: The Musical (2012 Original Broadway Cast Recording)
Caroline Sheen – Raise the Curtain 
Cheyenne Jackson – I’m Blue, Skies
Cheyenne Jackson – Renaissance
Cool Rider (Original Studio Recording)
Departure Lounge (Original London Cast Recording)
Elf the Musical (2015 Original London Cast Recording)
From Here To Eternity (2014 Live Cast Recording)
Funny Girl (2016 London Cast Recording)
Ghost The Musical (Original London Cast Recording)
In The Heights (2008 Original Broadway Cast Recording)
Jane Krakowski – The Laziest Gal in Town
John Owen-Jones – Unmasked 
Kimberley Walsh – Centre Stage
Kinky Boots (Original Broadway Cast Recording)
Kristin Chenoweth – Coming Home 
Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill (2014 Cast Recording)
Lord of the Rings (2008 Original London Cast Recording)
Louise Dearman – Here Comes The Sun 
Louise Dearman – You and I 
Love Birds (Original Edinburgh Cast Recording)
Mamma Mia (Original Cast Recording 1999)
Mrs Henderson Presents (Original London Cast Recording)
Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812
Oliver Tompsett –Sentimental Heart
Our First Mistake – The Songs of Kerrigan and Lowdermilk
Out Of Context: The Songs Of Michael Patrick Walker
Patti LuPone – Far Away Places
Patti LuPone – Matters of the Heart
Prodigy (Original Cast Recording)
Promises, Promises (2010 New Broadway Cast Recording)
Rebecca Caine – Leading Ladies 
Renée Elise Goldsberry – Beautiful EP 
Richard Beadle – Songs 
Ruthie Henshall – The Ruthie Henshall Album
Sally Ann Triplett – Anything Goes
She Loves Me (1994 London Cast Recording)
She Loves Me (2016 Broadway Cast Recording)
Stephen Ward (2013 Original Cast Recording)
Shuffle Along, Or…
The Bodyguard – The Musical (World Premiere Cast Recording)
The Color Purple (2006 Original Broadway Cast Recording)
The Color Purple (2015 Broadway Revival Cast Recording)
The Fix (1997 Original London Cast)
The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess (2012 New Broadway Cast Recording)
The Mystery of Edwin Drood (2012 Broadway Cast Recording)
Thirteen Stories Down – The Songs of Jonathan Reid Gealt
Tony Yazbeck – The Floor Above Me
Tuck Everlasting (2016 Original Broadway Cast Recording)
Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (2011 Original Broadway Cast Recording)
Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (2015 Original London Cast Recording)
Xanadu (2007 Original Broadway Cast)

CD Review: Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812 (2013 Original Cast Recording)

“Gonna have to study up a little bit

If you wanna keep up with the plot”

It might seem a little disingenuous to wish that Hamilton had won one more Tony than the eleven it scored but the deserving Philippa Soo stood no chance against the juggernaut that is Cynthia Erivo’s Celie in The Color Purple for the Lead Actress award, despite her name being part of a Beautiful South lyric (Jennifer, Alison…). So I was interested to listen to the only other cast recording I could find with her on it, 2013’s Off-Broadway production of Dave Malloy’s Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812.
Described as an “electropop” opera (although electropop evidently means something different across the ocean) and with a story filleted from the mid-section of War and Peace (Volume 2, Part 5 to be precise), it’s a rather startling but hugely imaginative piece of writing that folds in musical influences far beyond that descriptor. There’s elements of electro-pop and other contemporary pop sounds including indie rock and they’re somehow combined with Russian folk and classical music in some unholy alliance.

It is effective though – complex and tangled as much musically as lyrically, the score is fiercely demanding but in the way that makes you want to listen to it, I’m on my fourth full run-through and I still keep discovering entirely new facets to the layering of the writing, in some ways it’s a wonder this hasn’t caught on like Hamilton – maybe the forthcoming Broadway run will rectify that… Sadly Soo won’t be with that production (she’s going onto new show Amélie) but it’s glorious getting to hear her tenderly romantic voice here as the conflicted Natasha.
Other standouts are Lucas Steele’s Anatole in all his seductive glory, Brittain Ashford’s Sonya, Amber Gray’s Helene whose ‘Charming’ is superb, and Malloy himself as Pierre, a smaller contribution that one might expect for a title character but you’ll soon see why once you give Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812 a good listen or 3 and fall under its strangely compelling spell.

CD Review: Hamilton (2015 Original Broadway Cast Recording)

“Let me tell you what I wish I’d known”

I can understand why people might be feeling a little Hamilton-ed out with more than 12 months to go until it opens at the Victoria Palace and no let up in the hugely successful Broadway run, even as the original cast members are beginning to scatter. I even sometimes think I feel that way myself but the minute I pop the cast recording on to listen to a song or 3 or even the whole damn thing because I can’t resist, I am swept up once again in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s genius.
Part of this comes from the care and attention that was put into creating the Official Broadway Cast Recording, multiple recording sessions over several days were put in with The Roots on production duties, ensuring the layered complexity of every aspect of the score was preserved on record. And it is densely packed, it needs, nay demands, multiple listens to unpack not just the lyrical content but also the musicality, the richness of the orchestrations and how detailed they are.
And at a good 2 and a half hours, there’s a lot of it. These days I tend to skip to my favourite tracks – today they’re Renée Elise Goldsberry’s life-changingly good ‘Satisfied’ which I’ll happily argue is one of the finest moments ever in musical theatre in the way it shifts perspective to tell Angelica Schuyler’s version of events, and the family moment of ‘Take A Break’ as Philippa Soo’s Eliza, Anthony Ramos’ Philip and Angelica try to convince Miranda’s Hamilton to, well, take a break with some gorgeous harmonising and highly amusing beatboxing.
But ‘Wait For It’ is amazing, ‘Who Lives Who Dies Who Tells Your Story’ is almost unbearably moving, ‘Non-Stop’ at once conventional musical theatre and unconventionally brilliant…the list goes on. And why does it all work so well? If we knew the answer to that we wouldn’t have to sit through half the sub-standard musicals that we do. The alchemical magic in the mixture of contemporary music styles like rap and hip-hop with musical theatre tropes is key, so too is the dynamic range of the music and the emotion it holds within – you laugh, you cry, you cheer, you gasp along with every twist and turn, you can’t help but care so much and that I think is the key factor to Hamilton’s success.

70th Tony nominations

Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Play
Frank Langella, The Father 
Gabriel Byrne, Long Day’s Journey into Night 
Jeff Daniels, Blackbird 
Tim Pigott-Smith, King Charles III 
Mark Strong, A View from the Bridge

Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play
Jessica Lange, Long Day’s Journey into Night 
Laurie Metcalf, Misery 
Lupita Nyong’o, Eclipsed 
Sophie Okonedo, The Crucible
Michelle Williams, Blackbird

Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical
Leslie Odom, Jr, Hamilton
Alex Brightman, School of Rock
Danny Burstein, Fiddler on the Roof 
Zachary Levi, She Loves Me
Lin-Manuel Miranda, Hamilton

Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical
Cynthia Erivo, The Color Purple
Laura Benanti, She Loves Me
Carmen Cusack, Bright Star 
Jessie Mueller, Waitress
Phillipa Soo, Hamilton

Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Play
Reed Birney, The Humans 
Bill Camp, The Crucible 
David Furr, Noises Off 
Richard Goulding, King Charles III 
Michael Shannon, Long Day’s Journey into Night

Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Play
Jayne Houdyshell, The Humans 
Pascale Armand, Eclipsed 
Megan Hilty, Noises Off 
Andrea Martin, Dotty Otley
Saycon Sengbloh, Eclipsed

Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Musical
Daveed Diggs, Hamilton
Brandon Victor Dixon, Shuffle Along 
Christopher Fitzgerald, Waitress
Jonathan Groff, Hamilton
Christopher Jackson, Hamilton

Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical
Renée Elise Goldsberry, Hamilton
Danielle Brooks, The Color Purple 
Jane Krakowski, She Loves Me
Jennifer Simard, Disaster! 
Adrienne Warren, Shuffle Along

Review: Hamilton, Richard Rodgers Theatre

“I’m crossing the ocean and I just can’t wait”
Where to begin? Could anyone have expected the phenomenal success of Hamilton? Turning into the biggest Broadway hit of an age, accepting invitations to the White House, reinventing day queue culture, being the subject of made-up scandals, winning Grammys, all while radically challenging traditional notions of musical theatre. The build up of such hype has been thrilling to see but also poses questions like ‘could it really possibly be that good?’. And ‘how on earth does one get tickets for find out for oneself?’.
In short, the answers are yes and by booking months ahead in my case. I deliberately hadn’t listened to the original cast recording when it was released as I wanted to experience it for the first time on stage and knowing full well that I would get to see it one way or another, I also denied myself any of the multifarious online offerings so that the first I saw of Hamilton would be as the curtain rose at the Richard Rodgers Theatre. And I have to say the anticipation and delayed gratification was completely worth it – that said, I’ve struggled to write about the show in a satisfactory way (“I will never be satisfied…”) so treat this as an outpouring rather than a review.
Miranda’s blend of musical styles may be familiar to those who have seen In the Heights but here he takes it even further, transplanting this utterly contemporary approach to music onto a historical narrative and thoroughly invigorating them both with an amazing sense of alchemy. So the story of the founding fathers creating the United States, with specific reference to the meteoric rise of Alexander Hamilton from inauspicious beginnings, takes place in a sung-through mixture of contemporary R&B, hip-hop, jazz and blues, as well as a keen sense for a Broadway melody.
Its pretty much impossible to adequately describe how Hamilton made me feel, I mean I get goosebumps even now just thinking about it and how much I loved it and how excited I felt when watching it. And I’d be hard pressed to tell you exactly why. I could point to the moment when Renée Elise Goldsberry’s Angelica lets loose a stunning torrent of conflicted heartfelt emotion in ‘Satisfied’, or the gorgeous harmonies as she and her sister Eliza (Philippa Soo) try to persuade Alexander to take some downtime in ‘Take a Break’ (my two standout musical moments)
Or Leslie Odom Jr’s smooth ‘Wait For It’ (which feels for anything as if it could have been on Rihanna’s latest album) or the striking arrival of ‘The Schuyler Sisters’ (that bass line…work!) or the sheer magnificence of ‘Non-Stop’ and its gathering together of so many diverse musical themes into a thunderclap of an Act 1 closer. You get the idea, I pretty much loved it all, its such a densely packed score that it benefits from repeated listens, almost requires it in fact, and each time a new favourite emerges, especially having had a certain few tracks on repeat.
I had Javier Muñoz on for an indisposed Miranda as the zealous Hamilton and he was just on fire, giving us all the shades of a man from nation-building hero and father (I am undone…swoon!) to wife-cheating disappointment, Daveed Diggs’ is highly engaging as Lafayette and Jefferson as is Okieriete Onaodowan’s as Mulligan and Madison. And I was pleased to have caught Jonathan Groff in one of his last performances as King George III, a minor but attention-grabbing role. And in case it wasn’t clear, Phillipa Soo and the extraordinary Renée Elise Goldsberry are both fantastic, whether beat-boxing, rapping or singing their hearts out.
Creatively it just rocks too. David Korin’s expansive set design is just awesome, lit stunningly by Howell Binkley and Andy Blankenbuehler’s choreography sparkles with its infusion of contemporary movement that elevates it into something truly beautiful in all the interrupted shapes it makes. And I’ve not even touched on the brilliant nature of the show’s diversity and what that actually means for an audience in a country where racial relations remain such a hot button topic but also for a traditional theatrical culture that could never have predicted Hamilton’s success.
The fact that people are breaking down the doors to see this show might easily be written off as hype, as a knee-jerk reaction for people wanting to see the next new big thing without actually having to think about what they’re choosing. But no matter the reasons for that lucky few getting through that door, the reality of them seeing people of colour playing historical figures, who have most likely never been represented as anything but lily-white, marks something that one desperately hopes marks something of a cultural shift or at least the beginnings of one. Naive perhaps, but that’s the joy of Hamilton, it makes you believe that that change is possible. 
Being in an audience that vocal, that inspired by what they were seeing onstage was a genuinely tremendous moment in my entire theatregoing life, and then you get that ending! Pretty much damn near perfect both as a piece of storytelling and an indictment of the way society tells its history, again you can only imagine the impact this might have far beyond the Richard Rodgers Theatre. And whilst I’m glad that plans to bring Hamilton over to the West End seem to be moving full steam ahead, I’m even more glad that I got the Broadway experience which complemented the whole thing. This cast is amazing, this show is amazing – I’m helpless, I’m satisfied.

Running time: 2 hours 45 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 29th January 2017, at the moment…