Album Review: The Wind in the Willows (2017 Original London Cast Recording)

“Although we’re armed with many prickles
They’re no match for large vehicles”

The Wind in the Willows took quite the critical battering when it opened at the Palladium last month and whilst it may not be the greatest show in the world, it does feel to have been a rather harsh treatment (I quite liked it for what it was). I’m not entirely sure what critics thought they were going to get from this revival of Kenneth Grahame’s classic story but it was clearly a darn shot edgier than anything Julian Fellowes and composing duo Stiles and Drewe were ever going to create.

Listening to the Original London Cast Recording which has now been released, you very much get a sense of the gently bucolic charm that they were aiming for and which, by and large, they achieve. Their strengths lie in the grand musicality of the ensemble numbers that pepper the score at its key moments. The cumulative choral power of ‘Spring’, the irrepressible energy of ‘We’re Taking Over The Hall’, the thrill of the fun-loving finale – this what they do so well. Continue reading “Album Review: The Wind in the Willows (2017 Original London Cast Recording)”

Review: The Wind in the Willows, Palladium

“Poop, poop”

Arriving at the London Palladium just in time for the summer holidays, new family musical The Wind in the Willows (seen on tour late last year) is a respectfully traditional treatment of the Kenneth Grahame classic with which so many are familiar. And with kings of musical theatre nostalgia Stiles & Drewe on composing duties, Rachel Kavanaugh’s production is clearly the kind of show that wants you to wistfully remember childhoods past.

Julian Fellowes’ book undulates gently rather than creating any particularly dramatic waves – Rat and Mole’s growing friendship is quietly but effectively done, Toad is characterised as a Boris Johnson-like would-be-lovable-rogue, and the biggest ripples of the first half come in the introduction of various creatures of the forest – like an Andrews Sisters-esque trio of sonorous swallows and an enormously cute family of hedgehogs. Continue reading “Review: The Wind in the Willows, Palladium”

Review: The Wind in the Willows, Theatre Royal Plymouth

“Messing about in a boat”

Messrs Stiles, Drewe and Fellowes clearly have an affinity for working with each other as hot on the heels of Half A Sixpence, about to open in West End after a successful run in Chichester, comes another collaboration on a musical version of The Wind in the Willows. Destined for an as yet unconfirmed West End residency, it is currently touring from Plymouth to Salford and then on to Southampton, spreading its gentle, pastoral charms across the UK.

And its charms are gentle, befitting any iteration of the beloved children’s novel by Kenneth Grahame. Julian Fellowes’ adaptation is faithful to that story and though the scale of Rachel Kavanaugh’s production is suitably large, it is also refreshingly simple. Peter McKintosh’s design is atmospheric but uncomplicated, playful rather than epic in its idyllic evocation of the British countryside, ably assisted by Aletta Collins’ languid choreography. Continue reading “Review: The Wind in the Willows, Theatre Royal Plymouth”

Review: Show Boat, Crucible

“We drink water from a dipper,
You drink champagne from a slipper”

Christmastime is often one for traditions and one of the better theatrical ones has proven to be the big musicals that Sheffield Theatres produce. From Me and My Girl to My Fair Lady to a never-better Company and last year’s Anything Goes that went on to tour, the outgoing Artistic Director Daniel Evans has proved a master at big-hearted, large-scale productions that skimp on nothing to create some of the best musical theatre the country has to offer.

This year sees Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein’s Show Boat as Evans’ final show (as AD at least) and it is an undoubted success, a fitting festive farewell. It’s a brave choice too, an unwieldy beast of a story based on Edna Ferber’s novel about the backstage drama onboard the Mississippi show boat Cotton Blossom, using the performing troupe as a prism through which to view several decades of momentous change in the USA from the late 1800s. Continue reading “Review: Show Boat, Crucible”

CD Review: Lend Me A Tenor (Original London Cast Recording)

“Life is like opera, it’s hard to keep the drama from seeping through”

The West End is a tough nut to crack at the best of times and despite its best efforts, the musical version of Ken Ludwig’s Lend Me A Tenor lasted barely 2 months at the Gielgud in 2010. It’s strange, especially in light of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels’ relative success, as it occupies a similar groove with its traditional, even old-school, vibes, aping a classic era of musical theatre with japes and jolliness but somehow, it just didn’t connect with audiences – not everyone loves a farce…

Its old-fashioned humour and madcap antics are well served by Brad Carroll’s score and Peter Sham’s lyrics and book, which follows the trials of the Cleveland, Ohio Grand Opera Company as a world famous tenor scheduled to sing in their Otello goes AWOL in the hotel just hours before he’s due onstage. Is there a schmuck who can step in at the last minute and pretend to be Merelli, of course there is, but there’s also jealous wives, lovelorn girlfriends and conniving co-stars aplenty to thicken the plot. Continue reading “CD Review: Lend Me A Tenor (Original London Cast Recording)”

Review: Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, Open Air Theatre

“Secretly they was overjoyed”

Rachel Kavanaugh’s glorious take on The Sound of Music two years ago for the Open Air Theatre in Regent’s Park was a wonderful thing indeed so it is little surprise to see her welcomed back to this venue to tackle another Golden Age classic, this time Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. It’s a canny decision as her familiarity with the space shows, utterly unafraid to use its full width and depth for unexpected arrivals, slow reveals and thrilling chase sequences and of course, the coup de théâtre that is the pinnacle of Peter McKintosh’s design which is a real piece of old-fashioned theatre magic.

Kavanaugh also makes small but pointed attempts to address the dubious gender politics of the show, without ever sacrificing the spirit of fun that should always characterise such classic musical theatre. So from the first moment Adam and Milly clap eyes on each other, there’s no doubting that the erotic charge between them is mutual, her lustful glances perhaps even more overt than his. And the strength of Laura Pitt-Pulford’s performance is that she never lets us forget she’s a woman making her own choices, even if its just making the best of a bad lot. It’s not a perfect reconciliation of the issues but it feels enough for her, for now. Continue reading “Review: Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, Open Air Theatre”

Review: Anything Goes, New Wimbledon Theatre

“If love affairs you like 
with young bears you like

why nobody will oppose”

Sheffield Theatre’s production of Anything Goes is launching on a simply mammoth tour of the UK – over 30 venues in 10 months – so it’s a pretty good job that it’s a largely excellent production. It’s rather amusing to note the number of reviews that mention that this classic show is over 80 years old yet still point out that the much revised book isn’t anything special at all but merely a framework on which to hang some of the most glorious songs of Cole Porter’s career. Given the average age of the audience, this will not come as a surprise to anyone, but there’s much here in Daniel Evans’ production to commend it to the young’uns too.

Alistair David’s choreography is a real delight, a constant breath of fresh air on which the show floats giddily, whether it’s the leads fooling about as if they’re Fred Astaire, sailors mooning over bathing beauties, or the whole company possessed with a spiritual glee. The eye is of course drawn to the stunning Act 1 finale set to the title track (which will always belong to Kate Capshaw’s bizarrely translated version in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, my first experience thereof) which is a jaw-dropping, shoe-shuffling, tap-dancing dream, cleverly referencing classic moves but also firmly establishing its own identity by keeping Debbie Kurup’s sensational Reno Sweeney front and centre. Continue reading “Review: Anything Goes, New Wimbledon Theatre”

Review: Evita, Dominion

“The lady’s got potential”

Right, first things first, Marti Pellow’s name is deliberately bigger than Madalena Alberto’s on the poster. Really? He may have the greater name recognition factor, indeed Popped In Souled Out was one of the first cassette albums I ever owned, but is the show called Che? It is not, it is called Evita. And more significantly, in the role of Eva Perón, Alberto delivers an utterly magnificent performance (one which should give Anna-Jane Casey pause for thought in the recently rewritten Forbidden Broadway, star quality indeed…) which far outshadows Pellow’s perfunctory work. Simply put, this is not a West End-standard leading man turn and so demanding higher billing than the show’s true star feels even more inexcusable.

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s show has been touring the country since May 2013 and has now turned up at the Dominion Theatre to finish its run with a seven week stint in the West End. It’s quite a successful transfer too – Matthew Wright’s design holds up well on the vast stage and directors Bob Tomson and Bill Kenwright ensure a sense of grandeur infuses this story of the rise to power of Eva Perón under the auspices of her husband Juan who became the Argentine president. Creatively, the only disappointment comes in Bill Deamer’s choreography which lacks the organic Latin spirit that so elevated the last West End revival (the explosive power of that ‘Buenos Aires’ is one of my all-time favourite theatrical memories).

Continue reading “Review: Evita, Dominion”

Review: Hairspray, Curve

“’Cause just to sit still would be a sin”

For the longest time, I resisted the charms of Hairspray both on screen and on stage. It was only my niece and nephew falling in love with the 2007 film and making me watch it with them and made me realise how much fun it is and just how tuneful Marc Shaiman’s score manages to be. So having missed the boat with the West End version (and resisted the temptation to see its seemingly never-ending touring incarnation), I was most pleased to see that Paul Kerryson was creating his own interpretation for the Curve, especially given how successfully Chicago had been reinvented there over Christmas. 

And it appears that lightning really can strike twice. Kerryson clearly has the knack for reconceiving large scale musicals for this Leicester stage and focusing on the qualities that make them so successful and here, in that respect, there’s an embarrassment of riches. Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan’s book captures a crucial moment in US civil rights history but one with an enduringly powerful message in how societal pressure can result in lasting change when focused through the right media channel. And Lee Proud’s wonderfully expansive choreography educates as well as entertains, speaking volumes about the changing ways in which we interact. Continue reading “Review: Hairspray, Curve”

Review: Lend Me A Tenor, Gielgud

“Anna 1, Anna 2, Anna 3”

For the second time in three days, I deliberately went to a show knowing nothing about it in advance, and I would evidently seem to have used up much of my theatrical karma as for the second time, I was subjected to farce! But ever the contrarian, musical comedy Lend Me A Tenor hit the spot for me with a highly entertaining production where Rumours at the Hen + Chickens did not (although they are completely different beasts in the end). A relatively new musical, written by Peter Sham and Brad Carroll and based on the 1986 play of the same name by Ken Ludwig, the show had a short run in Plymouth last autumn and transfers now to the Gielgud in the West End where it is now previewing following the untimely departure of The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. Several of the cast members have made the move with the show but in a neat twist of continuity, Joanna Riding has joined the ensemble here meaning she will continue to perform in the same theatre.

Set in 1934, the Cleveland, Ohio Grand Opera Company is struggling to survive and manager Henry Saunders is banking everything on their new production of Otello featuring leading Italian opera star and notorious womaniser Tito Minelli. But when a set of circumstances conspire to leave Tito unable to perform, shy assistant Max – who harbours his own dreams of performing – has to find a last minute replacement to play the title role. Things are not quite so simple though, this is a farce after all, as there’s a jealous Italian wife, conniving co-stars, a trio of ex-wives, a randy daughter, three version of the same costume, oh, and the President is coming to watch. Continue reading “Review: Lend Me A Tenor, Gielgud”