Album Reviews: Audra McDonald – Sing Happy / Louise Dearman – For You, For Me / Everybody’s Talking About Jamie cast recording

Casting my eye over some recent musical theatre album releases: Audra McDonald’s live album Sing Happy, Louise Dearman’s latest collection For You, For Me and the long-awaited cast recording for Everybody’s Talking About Jamie 

There are few things as well-designed as Audra McDonald’s thrilling soprano to make you happy, so the title of her new album Sing Happy is apt indeed. Her first live album and her first backed by an orchestra (the New York Philharmonic). the gig was recorded  just a few days ago on 1st May and no wonder they were so quick to turn it around.

Whether shimmering through Porgy and Bess‘ timeless ‘Summertime’, proudly getting her life in La Cage aux Folles’ ‘I Am What I Am’ or absolutely nailing She Loves Me’s ‘Vanilla Ice Cream’, McDonald’s velvety textured voice is always so exciting to listen to. And the drama of songs like ‘Never Will I Marry’ sound glorious with the richness of the orchestral backing (conducted by Andy Einhorn).

An affinity for Sondheim comes into play twice, a medley of ‘Children Will Listen’ with South Pacific’s ‘You’ve Got To Be Carefully Taught’ and in a showstopping take on ‘Being Alive’, still manages to surprise with the heights to which she lifts the song. An unalloyed, absolute pleasure. Continue reading “Album Reviews: Audra McDonald – Sing Happy / Louise Dearman – For You, For Me / Everybody’s Talking About Jamie cast recording”

Album Review: Carrie Hope Fletcher – When The Curtain Falls

Featuring a pleasing amount of new musical theatre writing, Carrie Hope Fletcher releases her debut album When The Curtain Falls

“Who you are is how you’re feeling”

Fresh from winning her second What’s On Stage Award, racking up her third novel, vlogging regularly and quite possibly plotting world domination, Carrie Hope Fletcher has now released her debut album When The Curtain Falls. A pleasingly varied tracklisting sees her cover as much new musical theatre writing (shoutout for the brilliant Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812) as age-old classics, combined with a few family favourites to make an engaging collection.  

There’s a innate prettiness to Fletcher’s voice that makes it extremely easy to listen to. And it is an over-riding characteristic across the album, which is fine when it comes to the likes of the sweetly lovely ‘Times Are Hard For Dreamers’ from the short-lived Amélie or the Disney tracks here, or smoothing the edges off of Jason Robert Brown’s ‘What It Means To Be A Friend’.  Continue reading “Album Review: Carrie Hope Fletcher – When The Curtain Falls”

Album Review: Rachel Tucker – On The Road (Deluxe)

“Will I ever be more than I’ve always been?”

 

Proving that you don’t need to win the reality show that you’re in to set your career, and that it’s your talent that matters, Rachel Tucker’s success is testament to just how far hard work and a hella big voice can take. Headlining shows in the West End and Broadway, including playing Wicked’s Elphaba in both, 2017 has seen her play a series of dates on a UK tour with musical director Kris Rawlinson, which in turn produced an album – On The Road – which has recently been digitally released with some bonus tracks in a deluxe edition.
 
Reflecting the diversity of a live show, the record opens with a potency and confidence that could see her take her place among the Rat Pack as she swings confidently through classics like ‘Miss Otis Regrets (She’s Unable To Lunch Today)’ and ‘The Candyman’. New musical theatre gets a look in with the searching emotion of Dear Evan Hansen’s ‘Waving Through A Window’ and then the intensity is dialled down for a moment with Randy Newman’s heartbreaker ‘When She Loved Me’.

Continue reading “Album Review: Rachel Tucker – On The Road (Deluxe)”

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. 
Also taking a jazz-influenced approach to Christmas is Megan Hilty on A Merry Little Christmas. And hugely successful it is too, from the chirpy swing of opening one-two ‘Jingle Bells’ and ‘It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year / Skating’ to Joni Mitchell’s ‘River’, the live jazz quartet accompaniment brings a real authenticity and integrity to the record. Broadway is well represented with achingly lovely versions of White Christmas’ ‘Count Your Blessings’ and the gorgeous ‘A Place Called Home’ from Alan Menken’s A Christmas Carol sitting alongside the delicate ‘Bless Us All’ from the Muppets’ version of the same story, making for another recommended holiday collection.
Closer to home, British composing duo Rob Eyles and Robert Gould have released a Christmas single entitled ‘The Image of a Child’ with the guys at Auburn Jam Music in aid of Cancer Research UK. Featuring the vocal talents of Sabrina Aloueche, Adam Bayjou, Kieran Brown, Rob Houchen, Carolyn Maitland, Kayleigh McKnight, Michael Rees and Emily Tierney, plus an ensemble of Guildford School Of Acting students, the track feels like a cousin to the likes of ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas’ as its a stirring choral number with reflective lyrics – well worth the download.


And rounding off this collection of potential stocking fillers (if you can stuff a stocking with a download that is…) is the DVD release of All Aboard! The Sleigh Ride, which premiered on BBC4 last Christmas. Though ostensibly sounding like ideal fodder for enemies of the Beeb in being a wordless, presenter-less 2 hours of a sleigh ride involving foreigners, it’s actually something much more thoughtful and contemplative than you might imagine. Filmed 200 miles north of the Arctic Circle in the Norwegian region of Karasjok, it follows the path of an ancient postal route used by the Sami people, indigenous to northern Scandinavia, for whom reindeer herding is still a way of life. It is beautifully shot, revealing snow-covered scenery that barely seems real in the winter sunshine and through information-filled captions, giving insight into the traditions of this area and also the realities of living here. Hypnotically compelling and unexpectedly effective.

CD Review: Louise Dearman – Here Comes The Sun (The Wicked Edition)

“I don’t think you unworthy 
I need a moment to deliberate”

Louise Dearman’s second album saw her pivot away from the world of musical theatre to a collection of her favourite songs off the radio, ranging from The Beatles to Sara Bareilles but tending towards a slightly darker, more dramatic side of pop, even pop/rock as a Skunk Anansie cover also makes it onto the tracklisting. It’s a well put-together collection that clearly delivers what Dearman wants to do in broadening her musical identity, it could however stand to incorporate just a little more variation.

Here Comes The Sun is heavy on the vividly orchestral – Alanis Morissette’s ‘Uninvited’ and Randy Crawford’s ‘One Day I’ll Fly Away’ soar on swoops of strings, Bareilles’ Gravity and Dee C Lee’s See The Day, more recently covered by Girls Aloud, comes in slightly less melodramatically, and uniting them all is the mightily bright voice of Dearman, clear as a bell whether the forceful anger of ‘Squander’, the Skunk Anansie track, the epic in miniature that is Alison Moyet’s ‘This House’ or the gentle gorgeousness of Bareilles’ ‘Gravity’. Across all the songs, Dearman’s talent for telling stories through music also comes across powerfully.

For me, the album’s highpoint emerges as a sprightly take on Annie Lennox’s ‘Little Bird’, not least because it provides a rare change of tempo, and I also have a soft spot for the lovely duet on ‘Time After Time’ with Steve Balsamo. The Wicked Edition of the album adds a gently acoustic version of ‘Defying Gravity’, sure to please any fans of Wicked and an additional bonus track tacked onto the end will also appeal to friends of Dorothy (and acts as another reminder that uptempo Dearman works well).


CD Review: Waitress (Original Broadway Cast Recording 2016)

“I feel something needs to change”

It’s funny how your relationship to a show can change so dramatically. When I first heard Sara Bareilles’ concept album for her musical adaptation of Waitress, I thought it was pleasant without being particularly memorable. And whilst seeing it on Broadway, my mind got preoccupied with what I found to be pretty big issues in the book to the exclusion of pretty much everything else. 
 
But getting the cast recording in my hand and spending a rainy afternoon just listening to it over and over, I realised I had missed out on just how musically special it is. The lushness of the harmonies flesh out the songs in the most gorgeous way imaginable and somehow, it feels easier ignore the apparently lifelong questionable decision-making of our heroine and her lack of agency.
 
Instead, the focus falls more gently on the luscious soundscape – from the intoned beginnings of “sugar, butter, flour” that open up ‘What’s Inside’ and then echo throughout the score, through the delicate beauty of Jessie Mueller, Kimiko Glenn and Keala Settle’s hushed harmonising on songs like ‘A Soft Place To Land’ that are as smooth as cake batter, to Mueller’s deliciously sweet but restrained duet with Drew Gehling on ‘You Matter To Me’.
 
Mueller channels the conflicted energy of the titular Jenna perfectly, building up to the quiet storm of the climactic ‘She Used To Be Mine’, one of those moments of sheer perfection, but Bareilles’ score has its lighter moments too, especially with her male characters. Christopher Fitzgerald’s indefatigable Ogie has lots of fun whether in ‘Never Ever Getting Rid Of Me’ or ‘I Love You Like A Table’, and Dakin Matthews’ Joe gets to dispense fatherly wisdom in the country-tinged ‘Take It From An Old Man’.
 
So now I’m thoroughly in love with Waitress and really want to see it again. Let’s hope those rumours of a West End transfer next week are rooted in some semblance of truth!

 

Happy London Pride – paying tribute to Orlando and beyond

“Love, sweet love…no, not just for some but for everyone”

It’s no secret that Broadway cares but there’s still something extremely touching about a community coming together to help others, especially when it feels close to home. However others want to spin it, the attack on the Pulse nightclub in Orlando was an attack on the LGBT+ community and that is something that is just chilling in its cold reality. But from such horror comes something positive too as people rally together to share love and support, solidarity and hope that no matter how dark it gets, we’re never alone. 


In London, the LGBT+ community has the Pride in London Parade to spark the coming together over what will be a poignant weekend. And on Broadway, Broadway Records President Van Dean, SiriusXM Radio Host Seth Rudetsky and Producer James Wesley have pulled together a dream choir of amazing performers to record a charity single of Burt Bacharach and Hal David’s ‘What The World Needs Now Is Love’ to benefit the Orlando LGBT+ community. Take a look at the video below (and be blown away by such luminaries as Audra McDonald, Bernadette Peters, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Idina Menzel and so many more) but I urge you to please buy a copy too, to support this very worthy cause.

You can buy ‘What The World Needs Now’ here. 100% of the proceeds from the sale of the song will benefit the GLBT Community Center of Central Florida



And matching Broadway for passionate respect are the London Gay Men’s Chorus. The response to their musical tribute of Simon and Garfunkel’s ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ at the Soho vigil for the Orlando victims was such that they have decided to release it as their own charity single (it had originally been intended for their 25th anniversary album later this year, and recorded just hours before the attack took place).


You can find out more about ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ here or purchase it directly on iTunes and Google Play. Proceeds from the sale of the charity single will be split equally between the Orlando Victims Fund, organised by Equality Florida; and Galop, the UK’s LGBT anti-violence charity that supports victims of homophobic, biphobic and transphobic hate crime.

Review: Waitress, Brooks Atkinson Theatre

“She is all of this mixed up and baked in a beautiful pie”
Hailed as the first Broadway musical with an all-female top-line creative team – music and lyrics by Sara Bareilles, book by Jessie Nelson, choreography by Lorin Latarro, and direction by Diane Paulus – Waitress marks something of a watershed moment. And even if it based on a film, that film was also written by a woman, the late Adrienne Shelly. One might wish for a slightly more substantial slice of something to take that credit but it’s still a rather lovely thing, not least for the slices of pie available to buy in the Brooks Atkinson Theatre.
Its saving grace is a superb leading performance from Jessie Mueller as Jenna, a waitress at Joe’s Pie Diner somewhere in the South in a town off of Highway 27. Married and pregnant, and not particularly happy about either, her dreams of opening her own pie shop (she bakes all 27 varieties on offer herself) seem increasingly far away. Until that is, a baking contest in a nearby county opens a window of opportunity, as does an affair with her unexpectedly handsome gynaecologist.
There’s something a little disquieting about Jenna’s tale, staying with such an unapologetically brutish husband seems inexplicable and the ethical implications of shagging her doctor are swept under the carpet, but Mueller imbues her with real flour-dusted charm, her gorgeous voice perfectly suited to Bareilles’ introspective songs with the climactic ‘She Used To Be Mine’ proving simply stellar. But the characters around her are too often reduced to caricatures, their performances elevating the material where possible but not always getting the full rise. 
Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes (with interval) 
Booking until 1st January 2017