Album Review: Merry Wives the musical (2006 RSC Cast)

“He stinks of drink and urine
And thinks he’s so alluring”

One might have hoped that a musical version of William Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor by the RSC with a cast that includes Dame Judi Dench, Haydn Gwynne, Simon Callow and a Strallen (natch) would be an enjoyable thing to experience to but on listening to it, it’s clear there is abundant reason I was able to pick up the CD of the live recording for the princely sum of £1 in the RSC shop.

Paul Englishby’s score is an unholy mess of a pick’n’mix bag that someone else has chosen for you – its conflicting styles a dizzying confection that sprawls across the narrative rather than supporting it. Not knowing whether the next song is going to be a tango or a madrigal, take its cues from Big Band or Brecht, or recall Andrew Lloyd Webber or an East London music hall is a most bizarre experience and the cumulative effect is extremely wearying – I have to say it was a real struggle to listen to the whole album in one go. Continue reading “Album Review: Merry Wives the musical (2006 RSC Cast)”

CD Review: Candide (1999 Royal National Theatre Recording)

 “I’ll show my noble stuff by being bright and cheerful!”

They don’t make ‘em like they used to. Both in terms of writing, Leonard Bernstein’s operetta Candide (with its multiple literary contributors from Voltaire’s novella) dates back to 1956 and an entirely different age, and in terms of production too, Trevor Nunn’s National Theatre liked its big, grand musicals and this 1999 adaptation – co-directed by Nunn and John Caird – was lavishly done with its lush orchestrations fortunately recorded for posterity.

My only previous experience of Candide is with the Menier Chocolate Factory’s production in 2013 so I can’t really comment on the different versions of the show (although having done a little reading, I realise that this is something people have strong opinions about!). Instead, I’m listening to it with pretty much fresh ears, revelling in Bruce Coughlin’s orchestrations and Mark W Dorrell’s musical direction which sound utterly gorgeous, especially with a cast of this calibre. Continue reading “CD Review: Candide (1999 Royal National Theatre Recording)”

Re-review: Sweeney Todd, Adelphi

“There’s no place like London”

Last year was undoubtedly a great one for Chichester Festival Theatre’s musicals – Singin’ in the Rain and Sweeney Todd both figured very highly in end of year lists and both were granted West End transfers after their sell-out runs. But there’s always a danger in revisiting shows one has loved, there’s no guarantee that the magic will be recaptured again especially in larger theatres. So I’ve currently avoided going back to Singin’ in the Rain in its new home in the Palace (though never say never) and hadn’t thought I’d go back to Sweeney Todd which has just started previews at the Adelphi. But when kindly offered a ticket, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to return to the Demon Barber of Fleet Street.

My original review can be read here and in many ways, much of what I said still stands. It’s a highly atmospheric, effective production of Sondheim’s classic revenge tale which lives on its luxury lead casting in a transformed Michael Ball as the titular Todd and an incandescent Imelda Staunton as Mrs Lovett. Staunton truly is epic here, thoroughly attuned to the comedy especially in the one-upmanship of ‘A Little Priest’ but also movingly desperate as her inclinations remain unfulfilled and she is possibly better here than in Chichester. Michael Ball didn’t quite live up to the memory of his performance, missing some of the necessary malevolence, though he still sings the part well. Continue reading “Re-review: Sweeney Todd, Adelphi”

Shows I am looking forward to in 2012

Though the temptation is strong, and the actuality may well prove so, I don’t think I will be catching quite so much theatre in 2012 as I did last year. I could do with a slightly better balance in my life and also, I want to focus a little more on the things I know I have a stronger chance of enjoying.

So, I haven’t booked a huge amount thus far, especially outside of London where I think I will rely more on recommendations, but here’s what I’m currently looking forward to the most: Continue reading “Shows I am looking forward to in 2012”

Review: Sweeney Todd, Chichester Festival Theatre

“No denying times is hard sir, even harder than the worst pies in London”

This may surprise some people but Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd is actually the same age as me given that I have been 29 for the last 3 years! As one of the few not to receive a major production in London in his 80th birthday year, the 1979 show Sweeney Todd – The Demon Barber of Fleet Street now receives attention from Chichester Festival Theatre with an excellent revival that will surely end up in the West End in due course. Jonathan Kent’s production relocates Hugh Wheeler’s book to the 1930s, playing on the overtones of economic crisis and undertones of emotional fascism, whilst Sondheim’s classic music and lyrics create worlds of emotional intensity. The story centres on Benjamin Barker, a skilled barber falsely charged and sentenced to transportation to Australia by a corrupt judge. Fifteen years later he returns to discover he has lost his wife and child, and so reinvents himself as Sweeney Todd, searching out for ways to be avenged. A chance meeting with former landlady Mrs Lovett sees him set up shop again as a barber in the room above her pie shop and the unlikely pair find a mutually convenient business arrangement as Todd finds it impossible to control his murderous urges and Lovett is in desperate need of cheap fillings for her pies…

Imelda Staunton is ideal casting for Mrs Lovett: younger readers will certainly recognise her as Dolores Umbridge but may not be aware of her outstanding musical theatre credentials which formed a major part of her earlier career, including an Olivier award winning turn as the Baker’s Wife in Into the Woods, also by Sondheim. The comic business of the first half with her discovery of the first body and the later ‘A Little Priest’ is as good as you would dare hope it could be, but where she really excels is in the second half as she delves into the darker side of this woman. The desperation exposed by Todd’s lack of enthusiasm for her seaside dream cuts deep but then as her young charge edges ever closer to the truth of what is going on, the ugly truth rears its head with a frankly terrifying rendition of ‘Not While I’m Around’ – don’t make eye contact with her at the end of the song, it will scar you for life! And Michael Ball as the titular Demon Barber is also terrifically good, he’s undergone quite the makeover and is virtually unrecognisable, looking more like a brownshirt than anything. He captures the laconic cruelty and the glowering menace of a man shorn of his moral framework and his rich voice swoops around Sondheim’s score with consummate ease. Continue reading “Review: Sweeney Todd, Chichester Festival Theatre”