Review: Nativity! The Musical, Birmingham Rep

“A cheeky drink, a naughty wink,
we’ll loosen up alright”

Just like a wise man, I came late to Nativity, only getting round to watching Debbie Isitt’s film a couple of years ago but oh, how it won me over, feeling like an instant Christmas classic. (The less said about the sequel and the shocking third film, the better). So it was little surprise to hear that Isitt was adapting her film for the stage, in the form of Nativity! The Musical. And though I have once again embraced my inner Scrooge and won’t be reviewing much, if any, festive fare this year, I couldn’t resist the chance to sparkle and shine.

And I’m glad I did, even if it is a full month too early to be even thinking of anything Christmassy. Nativity remains a beautifully heart-warming story and if anything, has even more of a feel-good factor about it through all the liveness of this production. The story centres on Coventry primary school St Bernadette’s, trying to escape Ofsted-imposed special measures by beating a rival school to putting on the best Christmas show which, through the most tenuous of links, might just attract Hollywood interest and get turned into a film. Continue reading “Review: Nativity! The Musical, Birmingham Rep”

Review: Travels With My Aunt, Minerva

“While you’ve flitted and you’ve flirted 
I’ve had rubber gloves inserted”

The Telegraph describes Travels With My Aunt as the perfect Sunday night musical, but whilst I’m all for a smattering of “gentle feel-good enjoyment” (I loved both Ballykissangel and Monarch of the Glen with the best of them), it’s hard not to feel that this show also panders to the less-flattering side of that comparison too. In that it is thoroughly old-fashionedly middle-of-the-road, the traditional white, middle-class kind of undemanding entertainment that rarely gets the pulse racing yet still raises an eyebrow with the amount of stereotyping that it purveys.

You can see why Jonathan Church chose it to open his last season at the Chichester Festival Theatre, it’s a safe bet for that venue and its typical audience and there’s nothing wrong in that, I just can’t pretend to have any enthusiasm for it. A musical adaptation of Graham Greene’s 19969 novel of the same name, it comes from the same team who brought us Betty Blue Eyes – writers Ron Cowen and Daniel Lipman and composers George Stiles and Anthony Drewe. But where that show had a liberating sense of nostalgia, this one kept me prisoner. Continue reading “Review: Travels With My Aunt, Minerva”

CD Review: Love, Lies & Lyrics – The Words of Lesley Ross

Why do whores only sing in musicals?” 

Showcasing the work of a lyricist is a different prospect from that of a composer, something that is immediately apparent from glancing at the cover and booklet of Love, Lies & Lyrics – The Words of Lesley Ross, the latest new musical theatre CD emerge from the nurturing cocoon of SimG Records. This album features music from 4 different writers, taken from over a dozen musicals, with the now customary array of West End stars – over 30 in number here – so it can’t help but be highly eclectic as a collection, in something of a similar vein to Robert Gould’s collection from last year.

The diversity of this approach certainly has its benefits, especially as man of the songs are around the 2 minute mark, as it means the album can bounce around wryly comic observation songs like ‘Pick A Ticket!’ and ‘Him in 23B’ to the more heartfelt but still story-led balladry of Nigel Richards’ ‘And In My Heart’ and Annalene Beechey’s ‘Song for Someone’. If I had to pick, Madalena Alberto’s plaintive lullaby ‘I Will Be There’ is the highlight of the record – its gorgeously delicate emotion coming from a perfect confection of lyric, music and performance.  Continue reading “CD Review: Love, Lies & Lyrics – The Words of Lesley Ross”

Album Review: The A-Z of Mrs P – Original London Cast Recording

“Could you ever be happy mama?”

In a musical theatre landscape that often seems risk-averse when it comes to new writing, even in the face of the recent efforts of old hands Andrew Lloyd-Webber and Tim Rice both closing early, it is always pleasing to hear new voices being championed. And that is exactly what producer Neil Marcus did in securing idiosyncratic British singer-songwriter Gwyneth Herbert to write the music and lyrics for The A-Z of Mrs P, along with Diane Samuels for the book. The show recently premiered at the Southwark Playhouse in a production directed by Sam Buntrock, and the soundtrack has now been released by SimG Productions.

Herbert had never seen a musical before starting to write this show five years ago and there’s a definite freshness to the way she has approached the material. The show was inspired by the autobiographies of Phyllis Pearsall, a woman who led a complex personal life but is best known for mapping and creating the famous A-Z streetmap of London that so many still use today. Her relationship with her map publisher father was a troubled beast though and so the canvas of the story widens out beyond the streets of London, to delve into the family history of Mrs P and how it proved a driving force for her whole life. Continue reading “Album Review: The A-Z of Mrs P – Original London Cast Recording”

Review: The A-Z of Mrs P, Southwark Playhouse

“Go on, do it…”

There’s a sense of budding potential in new musical The A-Z of Mrs P that doesn’t quite come to full fruition in this production at the Southwark Playhouse, but suggests that some assiduous rethinking and re-shaping could well see any future life be more bountiful. Diane Samuels’ book and Gwyneth Herbert’s music and lyrics tell a self-described “musical fable” inspired by the autobiographies of Phyllis Pearsall, the woman who mapped out and created the A-Z Atlas to London.

But though this may be her main claim to fame, the rest of her life was full of additional drama too. A Hungarian map-drawing father and an Irish mother who ultimately died in an asylum, her parents had a troubled marriage which impacted hugely on her and her brother’s childhood and beyond, and her lovelife was marked by failures and an abortive marriage. All of this and more is packed into the show which strains under the pressure of delivering any of its narrative streams effectively. Continue reading “Review: The A-Z of Mrs P, Southwark Playhouse”

CD Review: The Music Box – the music and songs of Gareth Peter Dicks

I find it hard to resist certain things, and albums showcasing new musical theatre writing with all-star ensembles singing them have been a particular weakness for me this year. The latest temptation was Gareth Peter Dick’s debut album The Music Box which I liked the look of mainly because it was nice to see a rather different line-up of singers rather than the usual suspects lining up and names like Richard Dempsey, Laura Pitt-Pulford and Katie Rowley Jones got me to part with my money quite easily.

Dick is a Nottingham-based composer who has a range of diverse projects on the go: Ancient Egypt, Jack the Ripper and wartime dramas all seem to feature in shows, though I’m not sure how widely they’ve been produced and his was a new name to me. But one I was instantly intrigued by and could well be one to look out for. His rather eclectic musical palate takes in driving power ballads, Gothic pop numbers and some atmospheric instrumental pieces and creates an album that is undeniably a tiny bit insane, but really rather entertaining with it. Continue reading “CD Review: The Music Box – the music and songs of Gareth Peter Dicks”

Music Review: Michael Bruce – Unwritten Songs

“I want this world, I want every moment” 

Musical theatre writing in the UK has no greater champion than the Speckulation guys at the moment and one of the beneficiaries of their nurturing, Michael Bruce, has really taken flight this year with a star-studded debut album being released to showcase his song-writing. Bruce is a composer who has previously had his own West End showcase, musicals playing at Edinburgh, is resident composer at the Bush Theatre and has written the score for shows like the National Theatre’s Men Should Weep and the forthcoming David Tennant/Catherine Tate Much Ado About Nothing. He launched this album last month with a Delfont Room gig showing off his pulling power in getting many of the stars of his album to come and perform on a busy Sunday night.

On Unwritten Songs, Bruce covers a range of bases whilst remaining firmly in the musical theatre/cabaret world. He has a clear talent for comedy songs which are destined to appear and reappear in cabaret repertoires for the foreseeable future. Chief of these is the fabulous Portrait of a Princess, written especially for the incomparable Julie Atherton. Formerly entitled In A Disney Way, it is an extremely wordy, wry and witty look at the unreasonable expectations put on a modern-day Disney princess and if that weren’t enough, Speckulation have come up with their first ever promotional video for this song featuring a whole host of faces including Russell Tovey, Sheridan Smith and Jon Lee which you can watch below. Continue reading “Music Review: Michael Bruce – Unwritten Songs”