The Barricade Boys announce a Christmas Cabaret season with an amazing guest cast

As Mrs Merton might have asked, what first attracted you to musical theatre supergroup The Barricade Boys…?

Clearly, it was their cumulative musical talent – between them, Scott Garnham, Simon Schofield, Craig Mather and Kieran Brown have racked up credits in pretty much every major musical from The Phantom of The Opera, Wicked and Billy Elliot to Jersey Boys, The Sound Of Music and Les Misérables. And now they’re bringing their cabaret show to The Other Palace’s Studio for a Christmas season which is enough to bring festive cheer to even the most Scrooge-like of hearts. Continue reading “The Barricade Boys announce a Christmas Cabaret season with an amazing guest cast”

Review: Whisper House, The Other Palace

“That doesn’t look good, 
it doesn’t bode well, kid”

The reinvention of the St James Theatre into The Other Palace continues, but with the curious choice of another US musical, this time the European premiere of Whisper House, written by Duncan Sheik and Kyle Jarrow. Curious because it is an oddity of a show that rarely makes the case for its place in this new home for developing musical theatre, heaven knows there’s British musicals aplenty that would have benefited from this slot in the programme.

For Adam Lenson’s production certainly tries its creative best with the material. Andrew Riley’s circular design is an arresting and inventive use of the space, projections are thrown onto the back wall to transport us to Maine in the midst of the Second World War, illusions attempt to conjure the supernatural. But the problem lies in a story that is far too slight and a pop-rock score that is jauntily loud for something trying to be a ghost story. Continue reading “Review: Whisper House, The Other Palace”

Album Review: Wit and Whimsy – Songs by Alexander S Bermange

“If only I were famous from the telly”

Across its two discs and twenty-three tracks, there’s an awful lot of whimsy to Alexander S Bermange’s latest compilation album Wit and Whimsy and not quite enough wit to sustain it. Bermange is a composer who has had as much success writing comic songs for radio as he has in straight-up musical theatre (the two shows of his that I’ve seen – The Route to Happiness and Thirteen Days were both part of festivals).

That said, he has an impressive contacts list as evidenced by the range of people who have joined in on the action here – Laura Pitt-Pulford, Tracie Bennett, David Bedella, Cassidy Janson, Emma Williams, even Christopher Biggins. And with a guest list of this quality, naturally there are moments that shine here. Continue reading “Album Review: Wit and Whimsy – Songs by Alexander S Bermange”

Round-up of news and treats and other interesting things

Manchester’s Royal Exchange have announced the details for their production of Twelfth Night which arrives this spring. It is directed by the award-winning Jo Davies who makes her Royal Exchange debut with Shakespeare’s whirlwind comedy. Faith Omole, Kevin Harvey and Mina Anwar return to the Exchange as Viola, Orsino and Maria, Kate Kennedy takes on the role of Olivia and Anthony Calf is Malvolio. 
 
And in its own spin on the gender, identity and love issues at the heart of the play, award-winning Manchester-based transgender artist and activist Kate O’Donnell makes her Royal Exchange debut in the role of Feste, the wise observer in this foolish, lovesick kingdom. Live music from the critically acclaimed folk musician Kate Young and lap-tap guitarist Joe Gravil adds to the complexity of this intricate comedy which probes gender-politics and ideas of belonging. The play runs from 13 April – 20 May.
 
The cast is completed by Aaron Anthony, Simon Armstrong, Harry Attwell, Daniel Francis-Swaby, Tarek Merchant and Jill Myers. The creative team includes Designer Leslie Travers, Lighting Designer Jack Knowles, Sound Designer Pete Malkin and Composer Alex Baranowski.

Continue reading “Round-up of news and treats and other interesting things”

Review: Jest End, Waterloo East

“Oh God I cannot stand this cow
But let’s act happy for now”

As with Forbidden Broadway, your enjoyment of Jest End relies heavily on a considerable familiarity with the theatrical landscape that it is poking fun at – the productions, the performers, the producers, the private in-jokes that make it tough to recommend for the uninitiated. Garry Lake’s musical revue premiered in 2007 and through a number of productions, updated each time, has adapted familiar showtunes and used them to parody the frolics and foibles of the West End and beyond.

So ‘Defying Gravity’ from Wicked becomes ‘Rely On Me The Lead’, Matilda’s ‘The Smell of Rebellion’ turns into ‘Jest End of Rebellion’, ‘Memphis Lives In Me’ from Memphis becomes ‘My Fans Believe In Me’ etc etc. And issues like celebrity casting, ticket prices and the business practices of certain West End (and off-West End) impresarios are raked over the coals, but always with a twinkle in the eye even in the satire’s sharpest barbs.  Continue reading “Review: Jest End, Waterloo East”

Album Review: The Phantom of the Opera at the Royal Albert Hall

“We had such hopes…”

To celebrate its 25th anniversary, The Phantom of the Opera decamped to the Royal Albert Hall for 3 performances, the highlights of which were spliced together to give a full CD/DVD release package which contains as full a rendering of the entire score as it currently available. Maybe it was a rush job though as the sound quality on this CD really isn’t good enough for it to be genuinely recommendable, even for a live recording. 

I also had mixed feelings about the production itself. I just can’t get on with Sierra Boggess’ voice, her soprano voice always erring to the too shrill for my liking and the vibrato she employs has all the subtlety of a jackhammer. Christine isn’t the strongest-written of roles at the best of times and Boggess just feels too emotionally vapid to be the inspiration of such all-conquering adoration as she is served with in this story. Continue reading “Album Review: The Phantom of the Opera at the Royal Albert Hall”

Review: Elegies for Angels, Punks and Raging Queens, Criterion

“Learning to let go”

Just a quickie for this one-off – a fundraiser for the Make A Difference Trust of this late 1980s song cycle inspired by the AIDS memorial quilt. The original London production of Elegies for Angels, Punks and Raging Queens actually transferred to the Criterion – where tonight’s show was – from the King’s Head but it’s a little difficult to see how this production with its nearly 50-strong company could ever have been scaled down to fit into that Islington pub theatre. But given how the show is made up of individual songs and monologues, each inspired by a different panel on the quilt representing the life of someone who has died from HIV/AIDS, its inherent flexibility shows how it can take whatever form is needed.

Here, Stephen Whitson’s production takes on a new 21st century version of the book by Bill Russell, the updating of which has mixed results. Contemporary references clang a little awkwardly but there’s more of a problem in that neither the fast-moving world of medical advancements nor the changing nature of the epidemic itself are really reflected – the show is already a period piece in so many ways that it perhaps would be better to leave it that way rather than trying to chase a relevance that would be better served by a completely separate part two. Continue reading “Review: Elegies for Angels, Punks and Raging Queens, Criterion”

Review: The Theory of Relativity, Drayton Arms

“Find your favourite fruit”

Given that in ‘Quiet’, Matilda is giving West End audiences lessons on the speed of light, it is brave of another show to enter into the same arena but given the college student age of the protagonists here, one can forgive writer Brian Hill and composer Neil Bartram. Their show The Theory of Relativity, previously seen in Toronto, lies somewhere between chamber musical, song cycle and even revue as eight characters explore the random connections in life (a popular theme this week after buckets) and discover the web of links that result from our actions, even if we’re unaware of how far-reaching they truly are.

The US college bias of the writing skews the experience a little but most of the trials and tribulations experienced here are universally felt – the fluttering nerves of first loves and coming out, dealing with upheaval and change, the pain of loss of love or life. And a large part of the relatability comes from the warmth and openness of the performances here – Jodie Steele’s affecting heartbreak in ‘Me and Ricky’, Ina Marie Smith’s plaintive lament for her mother in ‘Promise Me’, Joshua LeClair’s powerfully felt ‘Footprint’, all supported by some fine work from MD Barney Ashworth from the keyboard. Continue reading “Review: The Theory of Relativity, Drayton Arms”

Review: Bat Boy The Musical, Southwark Playhouse

“Don’t talk like a slut, dear”

It seems scarcely credible that Bat Boy The Musical ever opened in a West End house – its scuzzy, B-movie schtick seems custom-designed for the fringe world and it is decently served by Luke Fredericks’ production here, for Morphic Graffiti at the Southwark Playhouse. Keythe Farley and Brian Flemming’s book was inspired by a spoof story in an American tabloid which spoke of a creature that was half-boy and half-bat, and imagines what happens when a local family takes him in under their wing in the insular town of Hope Falls, West Virginia.

Rob Compton’s Bat Boy is first found in the depths of a cave by some trouble-making teenagers who capture him after a brief struggle in which one of their number is injured. Bat Boy has been down there for years – with some pretty nifty gym equipment judging by his abs – but once placed in the care of Sheriff Reynolds and his family, finds himself longing to join society. With the help of the motherly Meredith and moody daughter Shelley, he learns to speak and to modify his blood-thirsty behaviour, but soon finds that not even the most cut-glass BBC accent can defeat small-mindedness at its very worst. Continue reading “Review: Bat Boy The Musical, Southwark Playhouse”

Review: Marry Me A Little, St James

“Who needs Albert Schweitzer when the lights are low”
 
Just a (relative) quickie for this as I ease gently back into the theatrical maelstrom after three weeks of well-earned rest. Marry Me A Little is a Sondheim revue at the St James Theatre – not to be confused with Putting It Together, another Sondheim compilation show that played in the main space of the same theatre earlier this year – which is made up of songs that hadn’t previously been used before, whether cut from shows before they opened or taken from productions that hadn’t made it onto the stage.
 
Given Sondheim’s fondness for endlessly tinkering with his musicals and the now ever-present cultural curiosity that demands nothing by a ‘master’ gets left unproduced, there’s more in here that might be recognisable than might originally have been conceived when the show was put together in 1980. Saturday Night has now been introduced into the repertoire and at least a couple of the songs – including the title number – have been restored into their original shows. That said, this can’t hide the fact it is a show made up of songs that were rejected…

Continue reading “Review: Marry Me A Little, St James”