How to solve a problem like a compilation – my alternative Unmasked

Andrew Lloyd Webber, Unmasled

I make my own suggestions about interpretations of Andrew Lloyd Webber songs that could have been included on his new compilation album Unmasked

“They must have excitement, and so must I”

In a world of Spotify and iTunes and other online music services, compilation albums ought to have died a death. But the enduring success of the Now That’s What I Call Music series puts the lie to that, showing that while the idea of curating your own content is tempting, many of us prefer to let someone else do it for us.

So Andrew Lloyd Webber’s decision to release new anthology Unmasked is a canny one in that respect (read my review here), tapping into the desire to have a nicely pleasant set of musical theatre tunes to pop on in the car. And as with any compilation, it’s as much about what hasn’t been included as what has, that stands out. Continue reading “How to solve a problem like a compilation – my alternative Unmasked”

Losing my mind over Losing My Mind – 10 top interpretations of the Sondheim classic

“Sometimes I stand in the middle of the floor”

With the National’s highly anticipated production of Follies (Dominic Cooke directing a cast of 37 and an orchestra of 21, lest you forget) about to start previews in a week’s time, I thought I’d listen to about a hundred different versions of perhaps its most famous song – ‘Losing My Mind’ – and try and decide on a top ten, with the assumption of course that whatever Imelda Staunton will do with the song will be completely, utterly, life-changingly extraordinary (no pressure Meldz).

Continue reading “Losing my mind over Losing My Mind – 10 top interpretations of the Sondheim classic”

CD Review: Rebecca Caine – Leading Ladies (2007)

“Oh, how I’d adore it

If you would encore it”
As well as being one of the more entertaining and scathingly witty presences on Twitter, Rebecca Caine is the owner of a stupendous and legit soprano voice which she has forged a career in both opera and musical theatre. Her 2007 album Leading Ladies saw her focus on the latter, celebrating “leading ladies of the British musical theatre stage” from 1909 to 1960, such as Gertrude Lawrence, Jessie Matthews, and Julie Andrews.

Co-created with pianist and sometime singer Gerald Martin Moore, the repertoire may seem light, even frothy, but it is sung with such precise conviction in Caine’s classy, crystalline voice that you can’t help but listen to the music anew. So stalwarts like ‘Someone To Watch Over Me’ and ‘I Could Have Danced All Night’ sparkled as if newly minted, their emotion all the more acute for the poignancy thus revealed.

And as a lot of the music, especially from the earlier part of the era, was new to me, the album acted as a revelation in terms of the range and depth of song-writing for leading ladies which feels somewhat neglected these days. Lionel Monckton’s ‘Moonstruck’, the jaunty ‘Gangway’, the strident ‘Over My Shoulder’ can teach contemporary composers a thing or two. And duets like the marvellously sprightly ‘Do, Do, Do’ from the Gershwins’ Oh Kay! and the tender ‘I’ll See You Again’ by Noël Coward shows how scales don’t always have to be dull. 
A glorious version of ‘We’ll Gather Lilacs’ pretty much justifies the price of the album alone but there’s much more to it, not least an introduction to many a leading lady who deserves to be better remembered. I’m off to go and read about Jessie Matthews now.

Review: Flowers for Mrs Harris, Crucible

“There is more to life than you ever knew, than you ever dreamed,”

Sheffield feels the right place for Flowers for Mrs Harris to come into bloom, its delicately understated charm and musicality making this a world away from the brash, cut-throat commercialism of West End musicals. That’s not to say I wouldn’t love to see this show come down to the capital, for it does deserve such wider attention, but rather to celebrate the creation and nurturing of musical theatre from all parts of the country, a recognition of a theatrical ecology that thrives far beyond the M25.

Daniel Evans’ artistic directorship of Sheffield Theatres, which ends with this production, has been a key part of that over the last few years and it is pleasing to see that his presence in the overall picture will continue as he departs for Chichester Festival Theatre. As for now, we get a gorgeous piece of unmistakably British musical theatre that is as heart-warming and tear-jerking as they come, a tenderly sentimental exploration of far-fetched dreams and earthily real friendships. Continue reading “Review: Flowers for Mrs Harris, Crucible”

Album Review: The Phantom of the Opera (Highlights from the Original Canadian Cast)

“Our passion-play has now at last begun”

Despite being a London institution these days, I haven’t visited The Phantom of the Opera since moving to London more than a decade ago now and so I couldn’t tell you very much about the life it has had over the past 30 years or so (or indeed the show, it’s probably more like 20 since I last saw it).

And one of the fascinating things about picking up random theatrically-inclined CDs over the last wee while has been uncovering some of the history about the productions and plugging it into the more general theatrical knowledge that I’ve accumulated.

So whilst I knew Rebecca Caine was known for her Christine as a consequence of seeing her cabarets, I didn’t know that she started off her Phantom life as an alternate in the West End production before heading up the cast of the original Canadian production. Continue reading “Album Review: The Phantom of the Opera (Highlights from the Original Canadian Cast)”

DVD Review: The Riot Club

“I’m afraid you’re not really the right sort of chap”

Laura Wade’s Posh took the Royal Court by storm in 2010 and then the West End in 2012 with a slightly amended version, each time slipping quite easily into the contemporary political narrative with its skewering of a fictionalised version of the Bullingdon Club, an elite Oxford student dining club that has boasted the likes of David Cameron, George Osborne and Boris Johnson in its ranks. Wade’s intimation is clear, that the reckless and thoughtless behaviour of these men as students is symptomatic of their charmed future political careers as a whole and enclosed in the claustrophobic dining room of a gastropub that they proceed to thoroughly trash, the play had a horrendously compelling energy to it.

Wade has adapted her own play here into The Riot Club  and through the determined effort to make it work on screen, it has become quite the different beast. Personally, I wasn’t too keen on it, the changes detracting from the strengths of the story as I saw them, and the realities of making – and casting – a feature film have altered the whole underlying theme. A cast headed by model-handsome men (Sam Claflin, Douglas Booth, Sam Reid, Max Irons etc), most of whom get to ‘learn a lesson’ by the end, takes away from the vileness of their behaviour – it almost feels like director Lone Scherfig is letting them get away with it without ever really showing us the true ugliness of their political and personal prejudices.

Continue reading “DVD Review: The Riot Club”

Review: The Mikado, Charing Cross Theatre

“The Japanese equivalent for hear, hear, hear”

Though I am most familiar with the score, I’ve never actually seen a production of The Mikado before. The Pirates of Penzance was my Gilbert & Sullivan show of choice, due to a childhood obsession with the film version, and there have been precious few opportunities to see much G&S (the all-male versions aside) in London in recent years. Director Thom Southerland has had great success with chamber musicals like Parade and Titanic (even if I wasn’t that much of a fan of the latter) so news of a radically reconceived version, set in a 1920s fan factory, provoked more interest than concern.

It’ll be interesting to see how those who know the show better react but for me, it is highly entertainingly done. Lyrical updates include a predictable attack on reality TV wannabes but also a truly witty, and bang-up-to-the-minute, sift through political mis-steps in Lord High Executioner Ko-Ko’s list, delivered with a twinkly mischievousness by Hugh Osborne. And though I was one of just a few to apparently catch it at this performance, there’s a great Strallen reference in amongst many others during Mark Heenehan’s ‘A More Humane Mikado’ and what a fetching Mikado he doth make too.

But almost more successful than these contemporary references is Southerland’s decision to set it in the 20s. The Hobson’s Choice vibe of the factory fits nicely into the interpretation with Jacob Chapman’s Pish-Tush as a shop steward of sorts but the production genuinely revels in the period detail – Jonathan Lipman’s costumes are all vibrantly coloured dropped waistlines and smart spats, and Philip Lindley’s design makes good use of period fonts to evoke the surroundings of the Titipu Fan and Umbrella Factory.

Joey McKneely’s choreography is the show’s ace though, capturing the cheeky energy of the era and applying it to the camaraderie of the factory workers. So the “little ladies” are given charismatic agency (perhaps even inspiring the machinists of Made in Dagenham) with their kicks and flicks, and the company come together beautifully in the stirring Act One Finale (usually the highlight of any G&S show) – seriously, the “with joyous shout…” sequence looks and sounds just sensational and instantly made me want to see it again.

MD Dean Austin and his fellow pianist Noam Galperin give a wonderfully rich account of the score on their baby grands and there’s delights aplenty in the resourceful company. Rebecca Caine is malevolent yet misunderstood as a vocally outstanding Katisha who just wants to be worshipped, and Leigh Coggins’ Yum-Yum makes a winsomely youthful rival who is equally precise with her voice, backed up excellently by Cassandra McCowan’s appealing Pitti-Sing and Sophie Rohan’s amusingly sullen Peep-Bo. Just the treat for a most entertaining night at the theatre.

Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 3rd January