Album Review: Memphis (2014 Original London Cast Recording)

“Open your eyes, I got a surprise!”

It was fascinating to revisit Memphis, a show that I enjoyed on seeing but in all honesty, isn’t one I’ve given much thought to since it left the West End after just over a year at the Shaftesbury Theatre (I went back once). I remarked then that David Bryan’s score was “highly tuneful if not instantly catchy” so was surprised that a fair few of the songs had managed to work their way into my subconscious and so provided that ‘ping’ of recognition which is always nice.

It was also interesting to listen to the songs in isolation from the show, as more of them than I remembered felt somewhat disconnected from the narrative, just happy in their sprightly pop song-ness. And thanks to the quality of the cast assembled here – leads Beverley Knight and Killian Donnelly, supported by the likes of Jason Pennycooke, Tyrone Huntley and Rolan Bell plus Claire Machin, it is a consistently enjoyable record to listen to. Continue reading “Album Review: Memphis (2014 Original London Cast Recording)”

Re-review: Memphis, Shaftesbury

“Have a beer drop a time in the blind man’s jar”

Never one to look a gift-horse in the mouth, the offer of a return ticket to Memphis (the show, not the place sadly) was one I was happy to accept and I was glad for it too. The show remains a hugely impressive showcase for its cast and creatives whilst never quite engaging satisfactorily enough with its subject matter (see my original review here) but the overall effect is certainly one that is entertaining and should set the show up for a successful UK tour in 2016 after it finishes in the West End.

The main change has been the arrival of X Factor winner (and stone cold fox – who knew) Matt Cardle in the cast as Huey, replacing Killian Donnelly who has headed over to Kinky Boots. And as a musical theatre debutant, he is very good indeed, slipping into the role of the fast-talking, highly charismatic DJ with great ease, nailing an adorkable charm that is most appealing. It helps that he shares great chemistry with Beverley Knight as rising star Felicia, herself now off to the latest revival of Cats, further cementing her own MT reputation. Continue reading “Re-review: Memphis, Shaftesbury”

2015 Laurence Olivier Awards nominations

Best New Play 
King Charles III by Mike Bartlett – Almeida / Wyndham’s
Taken at Midnight by Mark Hayhurst – Theatre Royal Haymarket
The Nether by Jennifer Haley – Duke of York’s
Wolf Hall / Bring up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel, adapted by Mike Poulton – Aldwych

Best New Musical
Beautiful – Aldwych
Here Lies Love – National Theatre Dorfman
Memphis – Shaftesbury
Sunny Afternoon – Hampstead / Harold Pinter

Best Revival 
A Streetcar Named Desire – Young Vic
A View from the Bridge – Young Vic / Wyndham’s
My Night with Reg – Donmar Warehouse / Apollo
Skylight – Wyndham’s
The Crucible – Old Vic Continue reading “2015 Laurence Olivier Awards nominations”

2015 What’s On Stage Award nominations

Best Actor In A Play Sponsored By Radisson Blu Edwardian
David Tennant – Richard II 
Mark Strong – A View From the Bridge 
Richard Armitage – The Crucible 
Tom Bateman – Shakespeare in Love 
Tom Hiddleston – Coriolanus 

Best Actress In A Play
Billie Piper – Great Britain 
Gillian Anderson – A Streetcar Named Desire 
Helen McCrory – Medea 
Imelda Staunton – Good People 
Lucy Briggs-Owen – Shakespeare in Love 

Continue reading “2015 What’s On Stage Award nominations”

Review: Memphis, Shaftesbury Theatre

“Rock ‘n’ roll is just black people’s blues sped up”

Though much of the US civil rights movement’s achievements came through political means, this time of huge shift in American society was also underpinned by significant cultural change and it is this that the Tony-award-winning show Memphis focuses on, in exploring how white radio DJ Huey Calhoun sent shockwaves over the airwaves of this Southern city in the 1950s by ignoring the entrenched racial divisions and playing ‘race’ music for all to hear. And as rock and roll began to capture the attention of the nation, so too was Huey’s attention completely captured by the soulful energy of upcoming singer Felicia Farrell and the underground blues club in which she performs (which belongs to her brother).

That she is black and he is not doesn’t matter to him but it sure as hell does to everyone else (they may sing that ‘Everybody Wants To Be Black On A Saturday night’ but there are still laws preventing mixed marriage) and it is this that provides the dramatic heft to Joe DiPietro’s book, such as it is, to this musical that otherwise puts its focus squarely on the music. And what an unexpected place that music comes from – David Bryan, who just happens to be Bon Jovi’s keyboard player – has compiled a fully original score which pulls in influences from Motown-flecked pop, gospel, R&B and 80s power ballads naturally (I mean, look at the guy’s hair!) – it’s highly tuneful if not instantly catchy but delivered with the conviction it is here, it demands the attention and will doubtless reward relistening (if not rewatching as well ;-)) Continue reading “Review: Memphis, Shaftesbury Theatre”

TV Review: WPC 56, Series 1

“Never forget your sole responsibility is to help the men”

I somehow managed to let the first series of WPC 56 pass me by last year. It may have played in the afternoons on BBC1 but anything starring Kieran Bew ought to have been much more firmly on my radar. So in advance of the new series starting, I was pleased to see a rerun which I was able to catch on the good old iPlayer. Created by Dominique Moloney, it tells the story of Gina Dawson, the first Woman Police Constable to join Brinford Constabulary in the West Midlands.

The show managed a great balance between following Dawson’s struggles to be accepted in such a male-orientated work environment – battling not only misogynistic colleagues but also an uncomprehending family and partner – and the series-long narrative about a potential serial killer and the disappearance of two local boys. Over five episodes of 45 minutes, I have to say I really enjoyed it, and not only for Bew’s DI Burns (although that was something of a boon). Continue reading “TV Review: WPC 56, Series 1”

Review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Open Air Theatre

“Out of this wood do not desire to go”

As the first of Shakespeare’s works that I ever read and studied, I will always have a great affection for A Midsummer Night’s Dream and to this day, it has endured as probably my favourite of his plays. Something about its otherworldly (dream-like…) free-spiritedness really appeals to me, meaning there’s little of the suspension of disbelief often necessary to make the contrivances of his other comedies work, and it is a play robust enough to take many an interpretation, whether raucuous reinventions by Filter or Propeller, last year’s clever open air take by Iris Theatre or more classically inspired ones like the Rose Kingston’s Judi Dench-starring version from 2010. It is now the turn of Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre to revisit the show (though this was my first experience of it here) with a startlingly modern interpretation as it plays in rep with Ragtime, with which it shares much of its cast, over the summer.

First things first, this was a preview, the second I believe and due to the rain on Saturday, actually the first full run-through. Things begin with some pre-show business bustling about the trailer park set, reminiscent of the Dale Farm site with travellers squaring up to each other and to the encroaching building contractors, it sets the scene well but goes on a wee bit too long for too little effect in all honesty. But once the play proper starts with its arresting, punchy modernity, Matthew Dunster’s exceptionally well-balanced production clicks smoothly into gear, folding in classical references to this fresh new take and delving into some extremely dark places alongside the oft-times hilarious humour.   Continue reading “Review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Open Air Theatre”

Review: Ragtime, Open Air Theatre Regent’s Park

“Giving the nation a new syncopation”

Is there a greater opening number to a musical than the self-titled prologue to Ragtime? It surely has to be up there amongst the contenders as Stephen Flaherty’s music bursts open onto the stage at the Open Air Theatre in Regent’s Park in a blaze of syncopated rhythms and choreographic glory with one of those melodies destined to worm its way into your brain for days to come. It could be argued that the show never really reaches the same heights again, but it certainly tries hard.

Director Timothy Sheader’s high concept, supported by Jon Bausor’s eye-catching design, is of a contemporary society in the midst of the collapsed American Dream, looking back to its beginnings at the turn of the previous century in the stories taken from EL Doctorow’s novel and moulded into the book here by Terrence McNally. So in the ruins of an Obama-supporting billboard and the detritus of broken bits of Disney, McDonalds and Budweiser merchandise, the company enact the intertwining tales of 3 groups – African-Americans, WASPs and Latvian immigrants – at a moment in time where it seemed that great change was just on the horizon. Continue reading “Review: Ragtime, Open Air Theatre Regent’s Park”

Review: FELA! National Theatre

“It’s not just about Fela, it’s about you”

FELA! is the annoyingly capitalised and punctuated show that enters the world of Nigerian musician and political activist Fela Anikulapo-Kuti and through a blend of dance, theatre and music, it takes a highly atmospheric journey through a crucial part of his life and it arrives at the National Theatre on the back of a much-lauded run on Broadway. The book is by Jim Lewis and Bill T Jones, the latter of whom is also the choreographer, but it uses the music and lyrics of Kuti’s own Afrobeat style to celebrate his life with some additional lyrics by Jim Lewis and music by Aaron Johnson and Jordan McLean to pull it altogether into this production. This is a review of a preview so all usual caveats apply and ticket prices for this show really are not cheap, booking this performance meant I got a £44 seat for £24.50 and I make no apologies for that.

The show is set in the summer of 1978 in Lagos, the then capital, at the Shrine, Kuti’s personal nightclub and sanctuary against a government whose corrupt and oppressive practices he has fought against both as a lyricist and an activist. Fela is giving one last concert before leaving the country due to the stresses of living under this regime, the opportunities offered to him elsewhere as a musician of increasing renown and as a grieving son, his mother Funmilayo Anikulapo-Kuti a noted activist herself having been thrown to her death in an attack on their premises six months previously.

It doesn’t so much start as slide into action. The amazing 12 man band (who sound fabulous throughout) are playing from the moment the doors open in the theatre and slowly dancers appear from the wings and the aisles, chatting with audience members, with themselves, throwing shapes and warming up for a good ten minutes before anything actually happens. It is a neat introduction into what becomes a frenetic evening of sensory overload. Continue reading “Review: FELA! National Theatre”