Broadway Album Reviews: The New Yorkers / Kiss Me, Kate! / Beetlejuice

I tackle a trio of  Broadway cast recordings in the shape of Cole Porter’s The New Yorkers, Kiss Me, Kate! and Beetlejuice 

“Most gentlemen can’t be profound”

As it only played a handful of performances, the release of Cole Porter’s The New Yorkers (2017 Encores! Cast Recording) is a welcome chance to revisit this rarely seen musical. The recording is certainly aided by the presence of such musical theatre stalwarts as Scarlett Strallen and Tam Mutu (scintillating together on ‘Where Have You Been?’), the revelation for me is jazz singer Cyrille Aimée, who delivers a slinkily devastating rendition of ‘Love for Sale’ that makes it feel like the song was written for her.

Photo © Caitlin Ochs

Aside from the songs written by Jimmy Durante (his comic stylings at their best on Act 1 closer ‘Wood’ delivered with panache by Kevin Chamberlin), the prevailing aesthetic is one of classic Cole Porter elegance, Rob Berman’s musical direction finding just the right level of sparkling verve to blow off any lingering cobwebs and infuse real life into the material. Ruth Williamson’s witty ‘The Physician’, Mylinda Hull’s just-as-funny ‘The Great Indoors’, Strallen leading the ecstatic finale ‘I Happen to Like New York’…the pleasures here abound.

Sticking with the glorious Cole Porter, and who wouldn’t!, this year has also seen the release of Kiss Me, Kate! (2019 Broadway Cast Recording). It’s a show that I have a little difficulty with, never having seen a production that managed to sufficiently square its period gender dynamics with (my) contemporary sensibilities. But there’s no denying a songbook that contains the likes of ‘Too Darn Hot’, ‘So In Love and ‘Always True To You In My Fashion’.

Photo © Joan Marcus

And when you have the likes of Kelli O’Hara and Will Chase singing them, you’re in the territory of dreamily good. Whether together on the oom-pah-pah of ‘Wunderbar’ or separately on their respective renditions of ‘So in Love’, they’re both exceptionally good and utterly listenable. Also great value for money are ‘B’ couple Stephanie Styles and Corbin Bleu, pulling focus brilliantly wherever they pop up.

And last but not least, even if Mr Porter isn’t involved here, we have Beetlejuice (Original Broadway Cast Recording). From its opening minutes, (“Holy crap! A ballad already?”), it is clear that there’s a properly anarchic spirit at play here and Eddie Perfect’s score, led by a highly charismatic Alex Brightman who clearly is having a ball as he repeatedly breaks through the fourth wall (if there is one when you’re listening…?)

Photo © Matthew Murphy

‘The Whole “Being Dead” Thing is a genius opening number, prologue aside, and sets the tone for the Perfect’s pop-rock tunes, several of which feel like they have the potential to earworm their way into your brain (the refrain of ‘Fright of Their Lives is currently stuck in mine). Supported by vibrant work from Kerry Butler and Rob McClure and a cleverly sung performance from Sophia Anne Caruso as the Winona-waif Lydia, if Beetlejuice struggles to find a new home on Broadway then I’ll happily welcome it into the West End!

Album Review: Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (2002 Original London Cast Recording)

“What a happy time we’ll spend”

I’m pretty sure that if you could distil the warmth of Emma Williams’ voice, it would be the basis for the cure to the world’s ills. There are few singers who have that kind of effect on people and it is a travesty that isn’t better known to the world at large. Part of that is a consequence to her admirable devotion to new musical theatre writing which means that her projects haven’t always quite broken through to the mainstream but to those in the know, she’s a real champion of British musical theatre. 

Which is a long-winded but deserved introduction to the Original London Cast Recording of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, the production in which she made her debut as an 18 year old in 2002. The Sherman Brothers’ film has long turned into an enduring classic and its score here, enhanced by new numbers for the stage, remains a thing of unalloyed joy. The delicacy of lullabies like ‘Hushabye Mountain’ and ‘Doll On A Music Box’ are just beautiful and in the hands of Williams and Michael Ball, they shimmer gorgeously. Continue reading “Album Review: Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (2002 Original London Cast Recording)”

Review: She Loves Me, Menier

“It’s high time, time that I awoke”

The Menier’s festive musical is always to look forward to and this year’s is no exception – a revival of the classic She Loves Me, based on Miklós László’s play Parfumerie which has been remade more than once as films The Shop Around The Corner, In The Good Old Summertime, and You’ve Got Mail. Recently seen on Broadway in a superlative rendition that was the first ever show to be live-streamed there, Joe Masterhoff’s book pits warring Budapest shop employees Georg Nowack and Amalia Balash against each other, little knowing that they are corresponding anonymously through a lonely hearts column – will they get together in the end? What do you think?

Matthew White’s production is as pretty as a picture, as a music box in fact, Paul Farnsworth’s luxe design emerging as an exceptional piece of work, using four mini revolves to great effect – the shop’s interior looks particularly stunning. And blessed with such cachet, and the strong possibility of a West End transfer, the venue once again attracts a top-notch cast. Mark Umbers and Scarlet Strallen alternately spar and swoon as the main lovers, real life couple Dominic Tighe and Katherine Kingsley play fellow amorous employees Ilona and Kodaly, even relatively minor roles like Ladislav get the likes of Alastair Brookshaw playing them. Continue reading “Review: She Loves Me, Menier”

CD Review: Mamma Mia (Original Cast Recording 1999)

“It’s the best I can do”

It’s easy to be dismissive about Mamma Mia and all it has wrought in revitalising the jukebox musical as a form but the numbers don’t lie. 17 years and counting in the West End, the 8th longest running show on Broadway (it occupies the same position on the UK ranking at the moment too), a wildly successful film adaptation that became the highest grossing musical ever…it’s impressive stuff.

And listening to the Original Cast Recording from 1999, subsequently re-released with bonus tracks for the 5th anniversary, I’d say it’s fairly easy to see why it has endured so long. For all you may mock Catherine Johnson’s book, which hangs oh so lightly on a varied selection of Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus’ iconic music for ABBA, it actually does interesting things with it, in telling its own story rather relying on the songs themselves (I’m looking at you Jersey Boys…!)

So to say you’re better off listening to ABBA’s greatest hits is to miss the point. As light as the plot may be in its girl-wants-father-to-walk-her-down-the-aisle-but-finds-there’s-three-potential-candidates frothiness but there’s something genuinely tender in hearing ‘Chiquitita’ repurposed for two friends comforting a third, maternal lament ‘Slipping Through My Fingers’ actually sung between mother and daughter, the stag v hens vivacity of ‘Lay All Your Love on Me’.

And yes, they sound different to the originals, of course they do with a full orchestra and chorus to back them up, not to mention the lack of Swedish accents. This recording is a little blessed too in having the film’s soundtrack with its interesting casting choices to easily surpass, but that’s not to take away from the delightful vocals of Louise Plowright, Jenny Galloway, and Siobhán McCarthy as the leading trio, the latter’s Donna a fabulous leading lady from heartbreak to happiness.

Plowright’s cougarish ways enliven ‘Does Your Mother Know’ no end and Galloway’s equally predatory stance toward Nic Colicos’ Bill in ‘Take A Chance on Me’ is a delight. Lisa Stokke’s Sophie, the bride-to-be is charm personified and in keeping with the show’s female-friendly ethos, her intended – Andrew Langtree’s Sky – is somewhat sidelined. For me, ‘Our Last Summer’ has always been one of my favourite ABBA songs and remains so here, ruefully sung by former rocker Harry, an appealing Paul Clarkson, and McCarthy with a gentle loveliness that seems to stand in for the show as a whole.

Album Review: Singin’ in the Rain (2012 London Cast Album)

“Doo-dloo-doo-doo-doo
Doo-dloo-doo-doo-doo-doo
Doo-dloo-doo-doo-doo-doo
Doo-dloo-doo-doo-doo-doo”

Having had a near-perfect experience in on the front row at Chichester for Singin’ in the Rain, I didn’t think it could be topped by visiting the London transfer – sometimes I think it is best not to go back. But listening to the cast recording released by the London cast in 2012, I’m kinda wishing that I had. It is a cracking musical whichever way you cut it but this is a brilliant record of a dazzling production that, dare I say it, I listen to just as much as the original film soundtrack. 

This CD features 19 tracks, marking a slightly different tracklisting to previous theatrical productions, with most of the reprises included too. Larry Wilcox and Larry Blank’s orchestrations sound just luscious under Robert Scott’s musical direction, making the instrumentals just as vividly vibrant to listen to as the iconic songs we’ve all come to know and love and in Adam Cooper, Scarlett Strallen and Daniel Crossley’s expert hands, they are gloriously great.  Continue reading “Album Review: Singin’ in the Rain (2012 London Cast 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)”

Album Review: Merry Wives the musical (2006 RSC Cast)

“He stinks of drink and urine
And thinks he’s so alluring”

One might have hoped that a musical version of William Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor by the RSC with a cast that includes Dame Judi Dench, Haydn Gwynne, Simon Callow and a Strallen (natch) would be an enjoyable thing to experience to but on listening to it, it’s clear there is abundant reason I was able to pick up the CD of the live recording for the princely sum of £1 in the RSC shop.

Paul Englishby’s score is an unholy mess of a pick’n’mix bag that someone else has chosen for you – its conflicting styles a dizzying confection that sprawls across the narrative rather than supporting it. Not knowing whether the next song is going to be a tango or a madrigal, take its cues from Big Band or Brecht, or recall Andrew Lloyd Webber or an East London music hall is a most bizarre experience and the cumulative effect is extremely wearying – I have to say it was a real struggle to listen to the whole album in one go. Continue reading “Album Review: Merry Wives the musical (2006 RSC Cast)”

Winners of the 2014 What’s on Stage Awards

BEST ACTRESS IN A PLAY
Helen Mirren – The Audience at the Gielgud (49.5%)
Anne-Marie Duff – Strange Interlude at the NT Lyttelton (16.8%)
Hayley Atwell – The Pride at Trafalgar Studios (12.4%)
Suranne Jones – Beautiful Thing at the Arts (15.0%)
Tanya Moodie – Fences at the Duchess (6.3%)

BEST ACTOR IN A PLAY
Daniel Radcliffe – The Cripple of Inishmaan at the Noël Coward (37.4%)
Ben Whishaw – Peter and Alice at the Noël Coward and Mojo at the Harold Pinter (19.9%)
James McAvoy – Macbeth at Trafalgar Studios (22.1%)
Lenny Henry – Fences at the Duchess (6.3%)
Rory Kinnear – Othello at the NT Olivier (14.2%) Continue reading “Winners of the 2014 What’s on Stage Awards”

fosterIAN awards 2013

 WinnerRunner-upOther nominees
Best Actress in a PlayMarianne Jean-Baptiste, The Amen CornerMichelle Terry, A Midsummer Night's Dream (Globe)Lucy Ellinson, Grounded
Stella Gonet/Fenella Woolgar, Handbagged
Lesley Manville, Ghosts (Almeida)
Shuna Snow, Iron
Best Actor in a PlayPhilip Duguid-McQuillan & Jamie Samuel, Jumpers for GoalpostsAl Weaver, The PrideBrian Cox, The Weir
Hugo Koolschijn, Scenes from a Marriage (Toneelgroep Amsterdam)
Benedict Wong, Chimerica
Best Supporting Actress in a PlayLinda Bassett, RootsDeborah Findlay, CoriolanusAnna Calder-Marshall, The Herd
Isabella Laughland, The Same Deep Water As Me
Hadewych Minis, Scenes from a Marriage (Toneelgroep Amsterdam)
Cecilia Noble, The Amen Corner
Best Supporting Actor in a PlayPearce Quigley, A Midsummer Night's Dream (Globe)Roeland Fernhout, Scenes from a Marriage (Toneelgroep Amsterdam)Richard McCabe, The Audience
Jeff Rawle, Handbagged
Andy Rush, Jumpers for Goalposts
Alexander Vlahos, Macbeth (MIF)
Best Actress in a MusicalRosalie Craig, The Light PrincessCynthia Erivo, The Color PurpleZrinka Cvitešić, Once the musical
Anita Dobson, Carnival of the Animals
Scarlett Strallen, A Chorus Line
Charlotte Wakefield, The Sound of Music
Best Actor in a MusicalKyle Scatliff, Scottsboro Boys Declan Bennett, Once the musicalDavid Birrell, Sweeney Todd
Nick Hendrix, The Light Princess
Matt Smith, American Psycho
Michael Xavier, The Sound of Music
Best Supporting Actress in a MusicalLeigh Zimmerman, A Chorus LineNicola Hughes, The Color PurpleAmy Booth-Steel, The Light Princess
Katie Brayben, American Psycho
Cassidy Janson, Candide
Sophia Nomvete, The Color Purple
Best Supporting Actor in a MusicalKit Orton, The Hired ManMichael Matus, The Sound of MusicBen Aldridge, American Psycho
Christian Dante White, Scottsboro Boys
Kane Oliver Parry, The Light Princess
Gary Wood, A Chorus Line