Album Reviews: The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 ¾ / Heathers / Calendar Girls 

A trio of quick London cast recordings – The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 ¾, Heathers and Calendar Girls 

“For a greasy little nobody, you do have good bone structure”

I was delighted to see a belated West End transfer for this lovely new musical by Jake Brunger and Pippa Cleary. I’ve loved every step of its journey and The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 ¾ (Original London Cast Recording) proves the perfect accompaniment as it captures so much of the energy of this most British of tales and sparky performances from the likes of John Hopkins and the luminous Kelly Price.

I didn’t however make it to Heathers, it just not appealing to me at all. With Heathers (Original West End Cast Recording), the opportunity to listen to this high school musical is now ours but I have to say, its charms elude me. There’s a fatal mismatch between the darkness of the source material (it really is a brutal film) and the breeziness of Laurence O’Keefe and Kevin Murphy’s pop-rock score that not even the quality of Carrie Hope Fletcher, Jodie Steele, Sophie Isaacs and Jamie Muscato’s strong performances can overcome.

And I thought I’d pay another visit to Yorkshire for Calendar Girls (Original London Recording) to see whether it stands the test of time. It proved an amiable if short-lived presence in the West End and listening to it again, I’d argue that there’s a gentleness to it that doesn’t quite linger long enough. Gary Barlow’s tunes are undeniably pretty but ultimately, they don’t really call out to be listened to over and again.

The Curtain Up Show Album of the Year 2018 winners

Best UK Cast Recording
Broken Wings – Original Concept Album
Calendar Girls – Original London Recording
Everybody’s Talking About Jamie – Original West End Cast Recording
WINNER: Six The Musical – Studio Cast Recording
Working: A Musical – Original London Cast Recording
Young Frankenstein – Original London Cast Recording

Best American Cast Recording
Frozen – Original Broadway Cast Recording
WINNER: Mean Girls – Original Broadway Cast Recording
My Fair Lady – 2018 Broadway Cast Recording
Once On This Island – New Broadway Cast Recording
Pretty Woman – Original Broadway Cast Recording
The Prom – Original Broadway Cast Recording

Best Solo Album
Audra McDonald – Sing Happy
WINNER: Carrie Hope Fletcher – When The Curtain Falls
David Hunter – Silver Linings
Louise Dearman – For You, For Me
Natasha Barnes – Real
Sutton Foster – Take Me To The World

The Curtain Up Show Album of the Year 2018 nominees

Best UK Cast Recording
Broken Wings – Original Concept Album
Calendar Girls – Original London Recording
Everybody’s Talking About Jamie – Original West End Cast Recording
Six The Musical – Studio Cast Recording
Working: A Musical – Original London Cast Recording
Young Frankenstein – Original London Cast Recording

Best American Cast Recording
Frozen – Original Broadway Cast Recording
Mean Girls – Original Broadway Cast Recording
My Fair Lady – 2018 Broadway Cast Recording
Once On This Island – New Broadway Cast Recording
Pretty Woman – Original Broadway Cast Recording
The Prom – Original Broadway Cast Recording

Best Solo Album
Audra McDonald – Sing Happy
Carrie Hope Fletcher – When The Curtain Falls
David Hunter – Silver Linings
Louise Dearman – For You, For Me
Natasha Barnes – Real
Sutton Foster – Take Me To The World

Re-review: The Girls, Phoenix

“There is nothing in Nepal
More scary than the step from the kitchen to the hall”

So having not gotten round to seeing The Girls for whatever reason (mainly that I didn’t want to), I finally bit the bullet last week and within 24 hours, the show posted closing notices for its West End run. The Girls will then head out on a two year national tour from August 2018, aiming to visit 42 theatres across the UK and if that does perhaps seem a little ambitious, it is hard to shake the feeling that the musical might be more suited out on the road.

Gary Barlow and Tim Firth’s show started life in “the regions” – I saw it in Leeds and my family saw it in Manchester – and away from the cut-throat economics of the West End, it may well thrive again. The instant recognition of the Calendar Girls story has a different currency when there’s only a week’s worth of performances to sell; one gets the sense that the maxim about familiarity breeding contempt may have come into play at the Phoenix. Continue reading “Re-review: The Girls, Phoenix”

Review: Betty Blue Eyes, Mercury

“Time that the whole town was stirred up”

At a time when West End shows are closing left right and centre, this touring version of Betty Blue Eyes serves as a timely reminder that that isn’t always the end. Itself a victim of a curtailed run at the Novello back in 2011, this production emerges as a model of collaboration with 4 regional powerhouses co-producing – Mercury Theatre Colchester, Liverpool Everyman & Playhouse, Salisbury Playhouse and West Yorkshire Playhouse – a UK tour which currently stretches into August. 

Ron Cowen and Daniel Lipman’s book adapts Alan Bennett and Malcom Mowbray’s witty story from the film A Private Function – a northern town’s determination to celebrate the Princess Elizabeth’s wedding is kyboshed by the unrelenting yoke of post-war austerity and rationing, though chiropodist Gilbert Chilvers and his social climbing wife Joyce have other plans. And the beautifully constructed music and lyrics are provided by British musical theatre stalwarts Stiles & Drewe. Continue reading “Review: Betty Blue Eyes, Mercury”

Review: Sweet Smell of Success, Arcola

“A lot can happen in one night”

The stereotypical image of musical theatre as a happy clappy ball of cheesy fun would surely be less prevalent if shows like Sweet Smell of Success were better known. But paradoxically, it benefits from having its British premiere out on the fringe in the dark warehouse surroundings of Dalston’s Arcola as this bitterly desperate tale of the hollowness at the centre of the world of celebrity journalism in 1950s America certainly benefits from the intimacy of this theatre. It has its challenges though, as an uncompromisingly bleak tale of immorality which doesn’t always quite get the balance right as director Mehmet Ergen tries to leaven the mood. 

John Guare’s story centres on JJ Hunsecker, a vicious-tongued and immensely influential columnist who has 60 million readers and is willing to do absolutely anything to keep them and his lofty position. His weakness lies in his troublingly deep affection for his half-sister Susan and his attempts to manipulate her life and her relationships threaten to drag all them down, including JJ’s protégé Sidney Falcone, all too willing to carry out his boss’s wishes in order to get the leg up he craves. The ethics of sensationalist journalism of course have a compelling currency in today’s post-Leveson environment but though David Bamber’s Hunsecker is at the centre of the story, there’s never really a sense that we get to know much about him. Continue reading “Review: Sweet Smell of Success, Arcola”

Album Review: Betty Blue Eyes Official London Cast Recording

“He has magic fingers”

Before it came to an untimely end, the cast of Betty Blue Eyes were able to put down their vocals for an official live cast recording which provides something of a legacy for this Stiles + Drewe show. I went to see the show two times – reviews here and here – and loved it on each occasion as a fine exponent of a truly British new musical, but I have to admit I didn’t race to buy the soundtrack when it was first released. Part of it was due to the free taster CD that was released with the Evening Standard one Friday afternoon which meant I already had just under half the songs and though I enjoyed listening to it a couple of times, it was not one to which I returned.

Though I found it to be musically a very strong show, for some reason it doesn’t quite come across as well on the recording. Whether it was the lack of accompanying visuals to up the ante or the fact that I’d seen the show quite recently, the joy I got from watching the show didn’t quite translate into the listening experience I thought it would be. In its entirety, I found it to be so retro-infused and nostalgic as to almost be too much to listen to in one go, it doesn’t quite hit the same spot although there are moments of individual brilliance in some of the songs. Continue reading “Album Review: Betty Blue Eyes Official London Cast Recording”

Re-review: Betty Blue Eyes, Novello

“Pig! No pig!”

Not too much to say about revisiting Betty Blue Eyes as most everything I wanted to say was covered in my original review, and although I’m sad to say there was no Liza at this performance, I was joined by someone even better! I really enjoy watching shows I love with people experiencing them for the first time and seeing what they respond to and I was pleased to hear Aunty Jean chuckling away next to me for most of the show. But it was also interesting to see that there were sections I’d forgotten (one of the dangers of having an album sampler rather than the whole show I think) and how my emotional reactions differed: ‘Magic Fingers’ brought proper tears down my cheek and being somewhat prepared, I was able to look a bit more at the pig without being too freaked out 😉

Aside from the replacement of the lightsabers with paint brushes in ‘Painting By Heart’, I can’t say I noticed any significant changes since the preview I saw. I can’t even really say that I thought the cast looked more comfortable or polished onstage as they were in pretty good shape when I saw them. There’s still the slight feeling that a couple of the roles could be sung by stronger voices, but I would wager that it would rob the show of much of its quirky charm. Continue reading “Re-review: Betty Blue Eyes, Novello”

Review: Betty Blue Eyes, Novello

“Another little victory for little England”

With a book by Ron Cowen + Daniel Lipman, adapted from the story of the film A Private Function by Alan Bennett + Malcolm Mowbray and with a score by George Stiles + Anthony Drewe and marking a rare excursion back into producing from Cameron Mackintosh, Betty Blue Eyes is a new musical at the Novello Theatre with a lot of names credited on the poster! Set in Shepardsford, a Yorkshire town in 1947 at the height of post-war austerity (and previews, which this was, are being sold at austerity prices!), the plot follows Gilbert Chilvers a chiropodist and his frustrated wife Joyce, chafing under the restrictions of the time and who yearns to be accepted into the higher echelon of society where she believes they belong. They are not having much joy until they happen upon a secret plot by the town council to hold a feast for this elite in honour of Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip’s impending marriage at which an illegally kept pig will be the star of the banquet. So, this being a comedy, they steal the pig.

But it is about something more too, over and above the farcical shenanigans with Betty the pig, especially in the more reflective first half. This is a society struggling to come to terms with the enduring impact of the Second World War, the melancholy ‘Magic Fingers’ in particular looking at the wives left behind, as rationing hits hard, threatening to dampen the spirit of those just trying to carry on living in hard times yet still nurturing their own dreams and ambitions. And this is where Stiles + Drewe’s score comes into its own, suffused with a beautiful warmth: it really is stuffed full of tunes, their comical songs are deliciously witty whilst advancing the story, there’s simple but affecting emotion in the balladry and more than once, I found myself just swaying along with a grin on my face (and not just because Liza Minnelli was just a couple of seats away from us). It all has that kind of nostalgic feel that makes for easy recognition and it is a score I wanted to hear again from the moment the show finished. Continue reading “Review: Betty Blue Eyes, Novello”