“There’s singing, there’s dancing, and all the Jews die in the end”
The West End production of Imagine This lasted for barely a month in 2008, so it usually one of the first shows named when it comes to lists of notorious flops. Which might explain, at least partly, why it has taken nearly a decade for anyone to go near the show again, that honour going to first-time director Harry Blumenau who is now mounting the musical at the Union Theatre, in a well-cast production seeking to reassess that reputation.
For me, as a first-timer to the show, it didn’t feel hard to see why it didn’t succeed. Glenn Berenbeim’s grimly stoic book is set in the Warsaw Ghetto in 1942 where a group of actors are trying to lift spirits by staging a play. And not just any play, it’s the story of the siege of Masada, a historical act of Jewish resistance and thereby flicking the v-sign to the Nazis. But Berenbeim attempts to gild the lily by throwing a would-be epic romance which ultimately cheapens the narrative fatally. Continue reading “Review: Imagine This, Union”
“There’s still music in the air…”
As Long As I Have Music – the songs of Rob Eyles & Robert Gould is a new album showcasing the new musical theatre writing partnership of composer Eyles and lyricist Gould. Gould has been a prolific writer for some time now, as evidenced on his last CD Words Shared With Friends and whilst Eyles may be a newer composer, the pair have clearly found a rich vein of collaboration. The album features songs from two Eyles & Gould musicals – Stiles + Drewe Award finalist A Pebble for Aaron and The Wonderful Musician, a new musical-in-development based on the Grimm Brothers Fairy Tale, with a smattering of other songs too to complete the collection.
The brace of songs from The Wonderful Musician are both strong – Joe Sterling capturing a beautiful sense of optimistic innocence in the title track and Michael Riseley and Kayleigh McKnight soaring on ‘Perfect Companion’. But it’s the trio of tunes from A Pebble for Aaron that stand out. Kieran Brown’s reflective ‘The Flowers Have Faded’, the raw anger of Keith Ramsay’s ‘I Want You To See You’ and the aching pain of Shaun McCourt’s ‘Losing Him’ are point towards a richly emotional and poignant musical that is touching even in these brief excerpts here. The marriage of longing melody and lyrical meaning works superbly well here. Continue reading “Album Review: As Long As I Have Music – the songs of Rob Eyles & Robert Gould”
Rebecca Trehearn and Shaun McCourt – Love on the Edge of our Tears (from My Land’s Shore)
Continue reading “Saturday afternoon music treats”
“I’m not a man who finds gestures of affection the natural thing to do”
Over the past decade or so, writer and lyricist Robert Gould has worked with a wide range of composers from across the globe and amassed quite the contact list of performer friends, so the progression to recording a collection of his songs feels like a natural one. Words Shared With Friends thus takes in collaborations from the USA to Sweden and Israel, with excerpts from eight different shows and some stand-along songs, and features a roll-call of exciting musical theatre talent including the likes of Laura Pitt-Pulford, Kit Orton, Joe Sterling and Rebecca Trehearn.
The 16 numbers range from impassioned musical theatre to straight up pop-rock songs and through the diversity, it is the British composers who shine most. Sarah Galbraith and Kit Orton duet gorgeously on ‘I Cannot Lose You’, a newly written song from Orton’s own My Land’s Shore; Joe Sterling breezes through the effortlessly perfect pop of ’Reasons’ from the self-penned Roundabout; and Ben Stott captures the bruised fragility of Ben Messenger’s ‘Here It Comes Again’, a ruefully beautiful ballad of self-reflection and resignation. Continue reading “CD Review: Words Shared With Friends”
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”
“All those things you saw in your pyjamas are a long-range forecast for your farmers”
I don’t really remember a time when theatre wasn’t in my life. I was lucky enough to have parents and aunts who took me to see shows from an early age (indeed I heard Blood Brothers from my mother’s womb!) and so I caught the bug early. And of those shows that I saw as a young’un, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat is one that has recurred throughout my life whether watching Dad direct a school performance, being a part of my own primary school production, playing piano for both high school and drama group versions and of course going to see it multiple times at the theatre – I don’t actually recall if we saw Jason Donovan but I do remember Philip Schofield and Darren Day, whoop!
Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat has become something of a mainstay for touring theatres, it comes and goes from the West End yet Bill Kenwright’s tour has lasted for over 20 years due to its enduring appeal with audiences of all ages across the entire nation, not least this reviewer who remembers seeing both Philip Schofield and Darren Day. Latest to take the loincloth is Keith Jack who plays the biblical Joseph, a confident young man whose favourite status with his father does not go down well with his 11 brothers, especially after he receives the gift of a marvellous coat, and once banished from his homeland, only his dream interpretation skills can save him from a life of servitude. Continue reading “Review: Joseph, Churchill Theatre Bromley”
“I am not insensible to manly beauty”
Sasha Regan’s Iolanthe, as it has been billed, is the latest of the now regular all-male Gilbert & Sullivan productions that the Union Theatre has put on and following the cat-like-tread of Pirates of Penzance last year, this also makes the transfer to the glorious Wilton’s Music Hall, tucked away in East London. It ranked as my 20th best show last year, the 9th best musical and one of its performers, Matthew James Willis made it to second place in the Best Supporting Actor in a Musical category of the fosterIANs so it was no surprise that a return engagement would be made to the show.
My review of the original production can be read here and I won’t recap it as much of what I said then remains as applicable now in how wonderful this show is in capturing a gorgeously innocent feel, free of sneering or post-modern archness which is no mean feat given the number of men dressed up as fairies singing falsetto. There’s a deep sincerity to these interpretations that is maintained here so that whilst there may be other productions that are better sung technically, I doubt there are any which have the same reverential irreverence, in perfectly capturing what G&S is about whilst going about it in a radically different way. This post will concentrate mainly on the differences between the two productions, a compare and contrast exercise if you will, although I won’t be focusing on how few shuttlecocks there were here by comparison. Continue reading “Re-review: Iolanthe, Wilton’s Music Hall”
“He’s a fairy down to the waist, but his legs are mortal”
Sasha Regan’s All-Male Iolanthe marks the third Gilbert and Sullivan show to receive the Union Theatre treatment in what is fast becoming an annual tradition of great quality. Last year’s Pirates of Penzance was hugely well-received transferring to both Wilton’s Music Hall and the Rose in Kingston so expectation was high for this lesser-known (by me at least!) show. What is it about? Well, the Lord Chancellor of England is in love with Phyllis, his shepherdess ward who loves Strephon, the half-fairy shepherd whose mother, Iolanthe, was condemned by the Fairy Queen to live at the bottom of a river for marrying a mortal, who is none other than the Lord Chancellor. Thus the House of Lords and the legal profession come in for a bit of a battering as the fairies wreak their mischievous havoc in order to ensure everyone gets their happy ending.
With such a convoluted plotline and a considerable number of characters in the ensemble, I can’t imagine there’s much room for manoeuvre in putting an effective, individual interpretation on the show but Sasha Regan really has done a fabulous job here in choosing a framework which neatly sidesteps a whole world of difficulties but provides its own emotional reference points, complemented beautifully by Stewart Charlesworth’s design . When the fairies first arrived, there was a collective intake of breath as we worked out whether it was OK to laugh or not but after just a couple of beats, as it suddenly becomes evident what the framing device is (look at what the costumes are made from…), everyone relaxed into the genial mood. Yes, the constant references to fairies and mentions of a midnight assignation in St James’ Park caused many a titter from the audience but the tone is always an affectionate one, it is silly but not too silly, it is camp but not too camp, above all it is rip-roaring great fun. Continue reading “Review: Iolanthe, Union Theatre”