Review: Chess, London Coliseum

Nobody’s on nobody’s side – an all-star cast can’t save this game of Chess from itself, for me at least

“From square one I’ll be watching all sixty-four”

It’s taken over 30 years for Chess to return to the West End (though it was seen at the Union in 2013) and though it has a huge amount of resource thrown at it in Laurence Connor’s production for English National Opera, it doesn’t necessarily feel worth the wait. An 80’s mega-musical through and through with an intermittently cracking score from ABBA’s Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus, Richard Nelson’s book hasn’t aged particularly well and bears the hallmarks of the  substantial tinkering it has had at every opportunity.

It’s not too hard to see why it has needed the tinkering. The mix of Cold War politics told through the prism of rival US and Soviet chess Grandmasters, love triangles and power ballads is a tricky one to get right and part of the problem seems to be just how seriously to take it all. On the one hand, the chess matches are backgrounded with montages of the real-life tensions of the 80s; on the other, scenes that take us through the various locations of the tournaments are a cringeworthy riot of cultural stereotyping that revel in their utter kitsch. Continue reading “Review: Chess, London Coliseum”

The Barricade Boys announce a Christmas Cabaret season with an amazing guest cast

As Mrs Merton might have asked, what first attracted you to musical theatre supergroup The Barricade Boys…?

Clearly, it was their cumulative musical talent – between them, Scott Garnham, Simon Schofield, Craig Mather and Kieran Brown have racked up credits in pretty much every major musical from The Phantom of The Opera, Wicked and Billy Elliot to Jersey Boys, The Sound Of Music and Les Misérables. And now they’re bringing their cabaret show to The Other Palace’s Studio for a Christmas season which is enough to bring festive cheer to even the most Scrooge-like of hearts. Continue reading “The Barricade Boys announce a Christmas Cabaret season with an amazing guest cast”

Festive review: Leslie Odom Jr / Megan Hilty / Eyles & Gould / All Aboard! The Sleigh Ride

“Its simple truth speaks volumes in a world where hatred rages”

Following on from the re-release of his self-titled album earlier this year, Leslie Odom Jr gives us another opportunity to sink into his world of soulful jazz with an album of reinterpreted holiday classics in Simply Christmas on S-Curve Records. And I do mean sink into like the most comfortable sofa you can imagine, in front of a log fire and drinking a nice cup of Charbonnel and Walker, for this is rich and luxurious stuff – as evidenced halfway into opening track ‘Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas’ when a softly funky breakdown envelops you in its warmth like a marshmallow on top of that hot chocolate.

Dangerously seductive in Hamilton, Odom Jr will lose precisely zero fans here with this lush yet restrained style. Arrangements are kept simple, allowing heartfelt vocals to imbue tracks like ‘The First Noel’ and ‘The Christmas Song’ with renewed life. Equally, the piano and vocal improvs in ‘My Favourite Things’ keep things utterly fresh without losing sight of the overall vision of the record. The gentle guitar accompaniment to The Carpenters’ ‘Merry Christmas Darling’ is a thing of loveliness and Sara Bareilles and Ingrid Michaelson’s new festive standard ‘Winter Song’ blooms gorgeously under the treatment.  Continue reading “Festive review: Leslie Odom Jr / Megan Hilty / Eyles & Gould / All Aboard! The Sleigh Ride”

Review: The Great American Trailer Park Musical, Waterloo East

The less than salubrious surroundings of the North Florida trailer park Armadillo Acres (few armadillos and even fewer acres) might seem like the ideal location for a madcap musical and in some ways, you’d be right. And The Great American Trailer Park Musical certainly lives up to the madcap and the musical in this knowingly camp production by Kirk Jameson – it’s just the ‘great’ that feels somewhat in doubt.

There’s no questioning the quality of the production and its brilliant casting decisions. Tempting the likes of illustrious veteran Rosie Ashe to the fringe is no mean feat and the powerhouse pipes of the severely under-rated Sabrina Aloueche is all the more impressive in the intimate (if poorly raked) Waterloo East Theatre. In fact, the whole company sing very well, their assured vocals matched by James Taylor’s musical direction.  Continue reading “Review: The Great American Trailer Park Musical, Waterloo East”

Album Review: The In-Between

“There are worlds that you’ve never dreamed of…“

Laura Tisdall’s self-penned musical The In-Between received the concept album treatment back in 2012 but has remained unproduced since then. An original story about 19 year old orphan Flick Wimple and the dilemma she faces when an unexpected move places her in the space between parallel worlds – The In-Between – and she’s given the choice to leave all her problems behind but at no small cost to the older sister who has raised her. Helping her on her way is Calicus, someone who has guided many along a similar path but sees something different in Flick.

Musically, it cleaves a little too close to the pop-rock genre for my personal taste. It’s also hard to replicate that sound effectively on disc and so the production can sometimes sound a little cheap, especially in the opening couple of tracks. That said, Dianne Pilkington and Cassie Compton bring a real sense of character to the feisty ‘She’s My Sister’. The more keyboard-based songs feel stronger – Lauren Samuels’ gorgeously evocative voice is an ideal fit for the stirring ‘Someone You’d Be Proud Of’ and as the song expands to an epic reach, it’s hard not to think she’d be a great Flick.  Continue reading “Album Review: The In-Between”

Review: West End Recast 2, Phoenix

“I wonder why they didn’t just change their story”

There’s always gotta be a sequel right? After the success of West End Recast earlier this year, director Adam Lenson and musical supervisor Daniel A Weiss have once again gathered a cast of West End talent with nothing better to do on a Sunday night than perform songs they wouldn’t normally get the chance to sing. And once again, they hit the jackpot with West End Recast 2, an extraordinary range of performers and performances that offer a revelatory take on what places musical theatre could go to when a few risks are taken.

Imagine Cynthia Erivo as Bobby in Company, her rendition of ‘Being Alive’ was genuinely sensational (although nothing will ever convince me that a mid-song standing ovation is acceptable) and somehow found something new in this classic that literally raised the roof. So too did Gina Beck utterly own West Side Story’s ‘Maria’, an unexpectedly affecting take that also deserves to be explored more, not least as a fascinating challenge for her vocal range. Cassidy Janson deserves a mention for going green again, though this time as Shrek rather than Elphaba, well for the most part at least… Continue reading “Review: West End Recast 2, Phoenix”

Christmas music 2013

A Very West End Christmas

A rather special project, A Very West End Christmas has gathered up a group of nearly 50 musical theatre performers to record an EP of 5 Christmas classics for a number of charitable causes – Great Ormond Street’s Giggin’ for Good, West End Fests for CRY UK and The Band Aid Charitable Trust. It’s a steal at £3.95 for the EP and with some seriously great talent onboard, assembled by co-producers Kris Rawlinson and Darren Bell, it’s a mostly very good listen.

The strongest numbers are, a little perversely, actually the ones which don’t feature the full choir. Michael Xavier croons perfectly through ‘The Christmas Song’ (although it is sad that there is no accompanying video of him roasting his chestnuts…), Chloe Hart and Jeremy Hart have lots of fun in a swinging ‘Baby It’s Cold Outside’, and there’s an interesting arrangement of’ O Holy Night’ featuring Sabrina Aloueche, Jodie Jacobs and Katie Payne (though that song will always belong to Hannah Waddingham for me).  Continue reading “Christmas music 2013”

Review: Richard Beadle – Songs , St James Studio

“With grace and poise, not hate and noise”

Nestled in the basement of the newly-built St James Theatre in Victoria is a studio with an ambitiously varied programme of events that runs throughout the week but at weekends, it turns into a cabaret space hosting a range of singers from the world of musical theatre and beyond. And this Sunday saw the turn of songwriter and West End musical director Richard Beadle to showcase his work in a concert mainly featuring songs from his album, simply entitled Songs, sung by a host of West End stars. 

The show was split into two halves – the first taking in songs from his musical work-in-progress Today Is My Day and the second, an assortment of other numbers from his songbook and from the albums of other people with whom he has worked – but unifying the whole evening was Beadle’s clear gift for songwriting. His ear for a clean and uncomplicated melody is perfect for the effective telling of story through song and so the simple but powerful emotions behind songs like the traumatic ‘1967’ delivered beautifully by Niamh Perry and the melancholy ‘Here We Are’, Rachael Wooding revelling in the chance to show a subtler side to her voice, shone through with an impressive lyrical naturalism. Continue reading “Review: Richard Beadle – Songs , St James Studio”

CD Review: Act One – Songs from the musicals of Alexander S Bermange

“Every moment’s one to treasure”

Composers who put together albums of their songs, especially if they are up and coming talent who haven’t necessarily had a breakthrough show yet, are often in something of a bind. Do you go for as diverse a selection of your material as you can find or do you concentrate on showcasing your strengths – both approaches have their merits and their disadvantages and I don’t personally think there is any easy, or right answer. Act One – Songs from the musicals of Alexander S Bermange is probably closer to the latter option and sure enough, it has its strengths and its weaknesses.

Bermange has quite a list of credits to his name but has arguably yet to really mark his mark on the London scene. I only really became aware of him recently when his show Thirteen Days had a small run as part of this year’s Arcola’s Grimeborn Festival. As a musical treatment of the Cuban missile crisis, it was a work of mixed qualities, not always entirely successful but one which equally showed intriguing promise, not least in the firmly old-school manner of rousing song-writing. And that is what comes across most clearly in this collection, which bypasses the post-Sondheim school to cleave closer to the likes of Schwartz and balladeer. Oh, and it features a simply sensational cast of sheer quality. Continue reading “CD Review: Act One – Songs from the musicals of Alexander S Bermange”

CD Review: Tim Prottey-Jones – More With Every Line

“I know who you are and I know why you’re here”

On the face of it, Tim Prottey-Jones’ debut album More With Every Line ought to have been a no-questions-asked slam-dunk of a success with me, following on from other new musical theatre writers with star-studded line-ups on their albums – Michael Bruce and Lance Horne springing immediately to mind. Yet something about it didn’t quite work for me and after repeated listens, it still hasn’t emerged as an album that I am particularly fond of.

Prottey-Jones is a young composer, a drummer and guitarist as well as a singer, and this album is made up of songs taken from two musicals that are currently in development with his co-librettist and lyricist Robert Gould – After the Turn and Once Bitten. And it is these two points between them that I think are shaping my opinion. The music is largely pop/rock which really just isn’t my thing at all and as these are shows in development, this is music which hasn’t necessarily been much exposed to the rigours of external ears. Continue reading “CD Review: Tim Prottey-Jones – More With Every Line”