Blogged: long-running shows and long-running blogs – what does the future hold

I revisit long-runners The Mousetrap, Les Misérables and Wicked, and come to a decision (of sorts) about the future of this blog

“Here’s to you and here’s to me”

Well 2019 has been an interesting year so far and one full of significance – I’ve turned 40, this blog has turned 10 and it’s all got me in a reflective mood. Personally, professionally, is this what I want to be doing? Do quote a Netflix show I haven’t even seen, does all this bring me joy…? Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve revisited a few long-running shows in the West End to consider what cost longevity. 

The longest running show in the West End is The Mousetrap – 66 years old with over 27,000 performances and their answer to keeping going is to not change a single bit – has the show even ever cast a person of colour? My limited research suggests not… On the one hand, it’s a policy that does seem to have worked and that record is a mighty USP, although does the number of empty seats at the St Martin’s that afternoon suggest a waning of interest finally? Continue reading “Blogged: long-running shows and long-running blogs – what does the future hold”

Album Review: Surrounded by the Sounds – the music of Tim Prottey-Jones (2011)

“She screamed, I think – it was hard to hear”

Surrounded by the Sounds – the music of Tim Prottey-Jones is the second of actor/writer Prottey-Jones’ albums featuring a whole array of his West End pals, but the third that I’ve reviewed (see reviews of More With Every Line and To Do. To Be.) It features songs from two of Prottey-Jones musicals – Once Bitten and After The Turn – and has a decidedly more pronounced rock feel to it than either of his other collections.

As such, it didn’t quite tickle my fancy in the way that I might have liked, especially since To Do. To Be. had impressed me. And it’s not that this is a collection of bad songs, they’re just not my cup of tea. Such guitars, much rock, so not wow. Even when the tempo slows a little into ballad territory, as with Michael Xavier’s ‘Chance In A Lifetime’ or Jodie Jacobs’ ‘Colour Me’, it is still just too monotonely guitar-heavy for my liking.

 

 

Album Review: The Postman and the Poet (2011 Concept Album)

“Now is the time when the people of Chile come together” 

I’m going to put it out there, I have no idea why new musical The Postman and the Poet hasn’t received a major production yet. This concept album was recorded in 2011 and has to rank as one of my favourite things I’ve listened to over the last few weeks of all these cast recordings, if not the whole year. It’s even based on source material that has Oscar-winning connections to endear it to risk-averse audiences – if From Here To Eternity can make it to a West End theatre, I’m sure The Postman and the Poet could make a decent stab at it too. 

The show is based on Antonio Skármeta’s novel Ardiente Paciencia, on which the 1994 Oscar-winning film Il Postino was based, but Trevor Bentham and Eden Phillips’ book keeps the story of the musical in Isla Negra, a small fishing village on the Chilean coast and in the early 1970s, when political turmoil threatened to overwhelm this South American country. And Michael Jeffrey, a composer new to me, has pulled together a hugely exciting and accomplished score that blends its Latin influences seamlessly into a grand musical theatre style. Continue reading “Album Review: The Postman and the Poet (2011 Concept Album)”

CD Review: Bluebird (2009 Concept Album)

“He came so close to me”

I first became aware of Gareth Peter Dicks’ music through The Music Box, a compilation of some of his musical theatre tracks sung by a ton of West End faves, which served as a neat introduction to this composer. It’s a tough old world out there for new musical theatre and so people have to find the best way they can to get their music out there and noticed – showcase CDs are one, and concept albums are another, what Dicks did with his musical Bluebird a few years ago.

A love story set throughout the turmoil of WWII, Sarah Lark’s nurse Roberta Jones is like so many others in having to bid farewell to her husband Pete as he leaves for the frontline and her daughter who is evacuated to the country. Pete keeps in touch via regular letter-writing but a charming US serviceman Ben fills the void for companionship in her life but as their relationship intensifies, Roberta is forced to question what and who she wants.  Continue reading “CD Review: Bluebird (2009 Concept Album)”

CD Review: Witches of Eastwick (Original London Cast Recording)

“Waiting for the music to begin”

Throughout this whirlwind tour of cast recordings, one of the more interesting things has been listening to shows that closed early, or at least relatively so. The Witches of Eastwick managed a 15 month run in 2000-1 at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane and then the Prince of Wales in a slightly revised version and I have to say that on the evidence of this original London cast recording, it deserved more.

Dana P Rowe’s score and John Dempsey’s lyrics captures much of the small-town mania of John Updike’s source novel and performed by a crack cast as it is here, it is often thrilling to listen to. Ian McShane may have been cast as the devilish Darryl but it is Joanna Riding, Maria Friedman and Lucie Arnaz as the titular triumvirate whose innate powers are unleashed by the nefarious influence of this charismatic stranger, with troubling results for both themselves and those around them – the harmonies that accompany their joint numbers are just scintillating. Continue reading “CD Review: Witches of Eastwick (Original London Cast Recording)”

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 West End goes MAD for Christmas

“I don’t need to ask for much this Christmas”

One of the more worthwhile festive releases this year is also pleasingly one of the more interesting. The Make A Difference Trust brings together the British entertainment community and its audiences to raise funds to support people living with HIV and AIDS and with The West End Goes MAD For Christmas, has brought together a host of new musical theatre champions to offer up a compilation of Christmas songs that offer a fascinating alternative to the age old carols and standards that proliferate at this time of year.

And producers Nikki & Joe Davison at Auburn Jam Records have done a brilliant job in matching composers to performers across the eight songs, curating pre-existing tracks and new, and shining a light on some serious talent. The plaintive simplicity of Stuart Matthew Price’s self-penned ‘This Christmas’ is characteristic of much of his oeuvre of classic songwriting, Gina Beck’s crystalline soprano dances beautifully around the timeless melody of Alexander S Bermange’s ‘Praying For You’ and Nadim Naaman‘s ‘A Soldier’s Christmas’ treads an equally emotive path, sung charmingly by Gerónimo Rauch and Naaman himself.
 

Continue reading “Album Review: The West End goes MAD for Christmas”

Review: Little Women in concert, Playhouse

“Little women grow”

Little Women is one of those enduring classic stories that has continued to resonate with people whether through its published form or on the screen with several fairly well-received televisual and film adaptations. It hasn’t quite managed to make the same leap theatrically though, numerous stage treatments have tried and there’s at least two musical versions – one of which played at the LOST Theatre just last year – to which can be added one more, this time by Steven Luke Walker. Walker chose to showcase his adaptation through the medium of the Sunday evening concert, taking advantage both of the empty Playhouse Theatre and the free nights of many a West End performer to put on something of an all-star show.

Louisa May Alcott’s tale of the lives and loves of four New England sisters may be set during the American Civil War, but there’s a homespun simplicity to their overlapping stories which remain firmly in the personal sphere. Walker’s music has perhaps a more contemporary feel than one might have expected but it attempts to evoke the right spirit across a number of genres. In some cases, he has hit the nail on the head with twinkling gems like First Impressions, Helena Blackman delivering comedy perfectly, and the soaring duet between Sarah Lark and Nikki Davis-Jones, both in gorgeous form. Elsewhere though, other songs felt like they needed to be much more tightly focused, Walker indulging in a few too many purely decorative vocal riffs and frequently allowing songs to drag on a little too long. Overall though, I found Walker’s music rather agreeable and most aptly for a show about sisterhood, he is most adept at writing beautifully for multiple voices. Continue reading “Review: Little Women in concert, Playhouse”

CD Review: Acoustic Overtures – The Songs of Dougal Irvine

“Nothing’s simple at all”

Acoustic Overtures is the debut album from writer/composer Dougal Irvine, one of the group of up-and-coming musical theatre composers with address books full of West End stars that we’re blessed with at the moment, featuring a selection of his songs recorded by a bunch of familiar faces. Irvine’s show Departure Lounge played at the Waterloo East theatre last year, but this CD wisely steers clear thereof (the soundtrack for that show has already been released anyway) and focuses on new material, including new shows which have been developed through the Perfect Pitch development scheme.

Irvine came to musical theatre from a rather circuitous route and resultantly comes across as a breath of fresh air, Departure Lounge was accompanied by just two guitars but it doesn’t feel at all like a gimmick but the organic development of this sound. These songs have been more fully orchestrated but there’s still a raw freshness to the voice coming through in most of the songs. I have to say I was a little disappointed with the way the album opens with two jaunty cabaret-type numbers, it’s not that they are bad but rather they don’t feel representative of the musical theatre compositions that make up the bulk of the recording. Ashleigh Gray’s ‘Two Faces’ and Daniel Boys and Cassie McIvor come together well on ‘Silence in the Rain’. Continue reading “CD Review: Acoustic Overtures – The Songs of Dougal Irvine”

Review: The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, Union

“Now my good friends, it behooves me to be solemn and declare,

I’m for goodness and for profit and for living clean and saying daily prayer”
I’m not the kind of gentleman who normally ends an evening with a lady in his lap but that was what (nearly) happened last night at the Union Theatre’s revival of US musical The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. Inspired by a true story of a similarly-titled brothel , the Chicken Ranch is a well-established institution that has been passed down to Miss Mona from the original owner, who runs it with a veneer of classy respectability wherein she looks after her girls well and gets on with the local law enforcement to keep things running smoothly. But the decision of crusading news reporter Melvin P Thorpe to try and get the establishment closed down threatens everything.

Sarah Lark plays Miss Mona, the role made famous by Dolly Parton in the movie of the same name, all big brassy blonde hair piled up on her head and possessed of a wardrobe stuffed with fringes and sequins and quietly understated as a warmly maternal figure. Her singing voice is lovely though lacked a little volume in places and there was a little gravitas missing from her portrayal, though that could square with her being pushed into the position of Madam through unexpectedly inheriting the place. And around her are her scantily-dressed girls who service the townsmen’s needs – mainly portrayed here through shadow-play – and most of whom are running away from something, assumedly also using the somersaulting skills that got one lady closer to me than I was expecting! Together they make a strong group – the harmonies of ‘Girl You’re A Woman’ most lovely, the mix of personalities entertaining and as a starting point for a show, it feels like a fascinating premise. Continue reading “Review: The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, Union”