Album reviews: Working / Bat out of Hell / 42nd Street

A trio of West End cast recordings (well, one’s off-West-End…) show that it is sometimes hard to recapture the stage magic 

© Robert Workman

Starting off with the best of this bunch, the Southwark Playhouse’s production of Working might not have seemed like the obvious choice for a cast recording but maybe the lure of a couple of new Lin-Manuel Miranda tracks was a real sweetener.

Truth is, it is the quality of the cast’s performances that make this a fantastic addition to the list of albums you need to hear. From Siubhan Harrison’s impassioned ‘Millwork’ to Dean Chisnall’s gleeful ‘Brother Trucker’, and the highly charismatic Liam Tamne nails both of Miranda’s contributions – the wilful ‘Delivery’ and a corking duet (with Harrison) on ‘A Very Good Day’.

Experience pays though, as Gillian Bevan and Peter Polycarpou take the honours with some scintillating work. The latter’s ‘Joe’ is beautifully judged, as is the former’s ‘Nobody Tells Me How’, both demonstrating the uncertainty that can come at the end of a long career, when retirement doesn’t necessarily hold the joyful promise it once did. Highly recommended.  Continue reading “Album reviews: Working / Bat out of Hell / 42nd Street”

Review: John Barrowman with Seth Rudetsky, Leicester Square Theatre

This weekend only, John Barrowman and Seth Rudetsky deliver conversation and concert realness at the Leicester Square Theatre in London

“Passionate as hell 
But always in control”

I hadn’t originally intended to go and see John Barrowman in this intimate concert setting but my Aunty Jean is a big fan and so decided to make a day trip out of it, and I got to go along for the ride. This micro-run of three performances fell under the aegis of Seth Rudetsky’s intermittent Broadway @ Leicester Square Theatre series, mixing performance with conversation to create a unique and relaxed vibe.

Barrowman’s force of personality means the anecdotes flow out of him with barely any prompting from the wonderfully acerbic Rudetsky but with such a storied career, he’s certainly earned the right to tell them. Continue reading “Review: John Barrowman with Seth Rudetsky, Leicester Square Theatre”

Review: Pippin, Southwark Playhouse

Pippin, Southwark Playhouse

“We’ve had our fill of grey skies”

I was snowed out of my original trip to Pippin at Southwark Playhouse and it has taken me more than a little while to be able to fit it back into my schedule. But although the production has had some excellent word of mouth, it wasn’t the one for me, unable to shake my feeling that this is a musical of which I’m just not very fond.

Originating at the Hope Mill Theatre last year, Jonathan O’Boyle’s lively production bears the hallmarks of much of the strong work from this new northern mini-powerhouse. An enthusiastic young cast (led here by Jonathan Carlton and Genevieve Nicole), and a rough and ready but charismatic design (Maeve Black) that uses the space well. Continue reading “Review: Pippin, Southwark Playhouse”

Album Review: Shona White – I’ll Bring You A Song (2011)

“It is nothing to do with the wine

Or the music that’s flooding my mind”

Shona White is a rather under-rated (for my money at least) Scottish actress and singer perhaps most famous for stints in Mamma Mia which were 12 years apart, but whose musical theatre credits stretch far and wide. Her 2011 album I’ll Bring You A Song, produced by Richard Beadle reflects the breadth of her career and it is this variety which is both its strength and its slight weakness.
 
I have to admit to finding it hard to get too excited about tracks like ‘To Sir With Love’ and Tell Me On A Sunday’s ‘Take That Look Off Your Face’. They’re sung perfectly competently but familiarity breeds a certain measure of contempt. Where this type of song choice succeeds is where the interpretation dares to be different, the sharp emotion of Chess‘ ‘Nobody’s Side’ a case in point here, so too the slowed down take on ‘As Long As You’re Mine’ from Wicked with the ever-melodious Daniel Boys.

Continue reading “Album Review: Shona White – I’ll Bring You A Song (2011)”

Album Review: Betty Buckley – Story Songs

“Don’t give up
I know you can make it good”

The indefatigable Betty Buckley shows no sign of slowing down – recently appearing in the M Night Shyamalan film Split and releasing Story Songs, which I think is her 18th solo album. It’s a double album: the first disc, recorded live at the Samueli Theater at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa, California; the taped at Joe’s Pub at the Public Theater in New York. And across the two, she serves a sterling reminder of how sublime an art cabaret can be.
From a career that stretches over a number of decades, one of the real thrills of Story Songs is just how diverse the song selection is, dipping into a wide range of popular music (Joni Mitchell, Emmylou Harris, even Radiohead) as well as musical theatre from classic (Rodgers and Hammerstein) to contemporary (a trio of Jason Robert Brown numbers). And the combination is entirely seductive from start to glorious finish.
The first half is probably the best, featuring an excellent quartet in Christian Jacob on piano, Oz Noy on guitars, Trey Henry on bass, and Ray Brinker on drums. And there really isn’t a duff number on here – Harris’ ‘Prayer in Open D’ and Kurt Weill’s ‘September Song’ are simply transcendent, The Baker’s Wife’s ‘Chanson’ by Stephen Schwartz and JRB’s ‘Another Life’ from The Bridges of Madison County are achingly moving, the gorgeous take on Peter Gabriel’s ‘Don’t Give Up’ makes you not even notice Kate Bush is missing.
Moving to Joe’s Pub, with Jacob on piano and Noy on guitars once again, plus Tony Marino on bass and Todd Isler on drums, the quality doesn’t dip it all, it just doesn’t quite thrill in the same way. Leonard Cohen’s ‘Bird on A Wire’ and Mitchell’s ‘Both Sides Now’ are both quietly impressive, it is on the closing track, Sondheim’s inimitable ‘I’m Still Here’, that she soars. But taken as a while, this is a deeply impressive record and musically essential.

CD Review: Kristin Chenoweth – Coming Home (2014)

“A most unusual coloring book”

Kristin Chenoweth has been delighting audiences across musical theatre, television shows and concert tours for many years now and so one can forgive her the indulgence of a live album. Coming Home was recorded in her hometown of Broken Arrow, Oklahoma and covers the widest range of musical influences that have shaped her life and career.

So we get songs from her Broadway hits, wish fulfilment of songs she’s always wanted to perform, a dip into the country and Christian music of her upbringing, not to mention some disco and Dolly Parton too. It’s an eclectic mixture but one which proves revelatory, not just because of the many spoken interludes included here but because of the sheer joy of Chenoweth’s extraordinary soprano voice.

And that is in evidence right from the start of this 15 track collection. You might not think you need to hear another version of ‘I Could Have Danced All Night’ or ‘Maybe This Time’ but she soars magnificently through both, exercising the full heft of her upper register to glorious effect and bringing particularly new life to the latter track. 

  

Phantom’s ‘Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again’ similarly shines and she thoroughly owns Les Misérables ‘Bring Him Home’, a surprising but effective choice. And she pays nice tribute to Wicked with an amusingly multilingual version of ‘Popular’ and a duet on ‘For Good’ with a local singer named Axyl Langford (who sadly might not be too keen to preserved this way…).

The swerves away from musical theatre offer up some lovely moments too. Parton’s ‘Little Sparrow’ is beautifully done and the folkier songs ‘Fathers and Daughters’ and ‘Hard Times Come Again No More’ have a charming unaffected directness to them, offering up a fascinating balance to a record that feels like a real insight into Chenoweth as a performer and indeed, as a person.

CD Review: Nadim Naaman – Sides

“Livin’ for the moment’s rewards”

I did like Nadim Naaman’s first album We All Want The Same but with its compositions stretching over a decade of Naaman’s songwriting, it didn’t quite have the cohesion to show off his emerging talents. For his second CD though, he’s gone all-out to demonstrate the depths of both sides to him as a musician – opting for a double-length album, half the songs are musical theatre numbers which have received his own spin, and the other half are original songs written over the last year. Thus Sides reaches with larger ambition, and succeeds.

Naaman has a marvelous showman quality to his voice but it’s beautiful to hear him bring out all the colours he can – the sense of building excitement in The Hunchback of Notre Dame’s ‘Out There’, the driving, the driving swagger of The Fix’s One, Two, Three complemented by its tenderly heartfelt break. A jaunty ‘Moving Too Fast’ sees him looking back to one of his first professional roles as The Last Five Years’ Jamie whereas his current gig – Raoul in The Phantom of the Opera – is acknowledged with a startling but hugely effective Latin-inflected treatment of its title song, accompanied by the glorious richness of Celinde Schoenmaker’s voice.

Continue reading “CD Review: Nadim Naaman – Sides”

CD Review: Godspell (New Broadway Cast Recording 2011)

“Learnin’ every line and every last commandment
May not help you but it couldn’t hurt”


Of course Crazy Eyes has a beautifully soulful voice, of course she does. In all honesty, I wasn’t much enjoying my listen of the New Broadway Cast Recording of Stephen Schwartz’s Godspell until I got to the luxuriously chilled version of ‘By My Side’ when I suddenly took notice and realised that I recognised the name of the singer Uzo Aduba. She is now much more famous due to her award-winning role in the Netflix series Orange is the New Black but back in 2011, she was part of the cast of this production at Circle in the Square Theatre.

The cast recording is a very full one, featuring the 16 tracks of the show plus a (frankly unnecessary) bonus rendition of ‘Beautiful City’ by Five for Fighting’s John Ondrasik and an acoustic rendition of ‘Learn Your Lessons Well’. Michael Holland’s new arrangements certainly make their stamp on the songs, stripping them back to a near-hippyish vibe but wedded as I am to my early 90s version of the soundtrack, I do find it hard to really appreciate them as they’re just so different.

‘Turn Back, O Man’ becomes a slinky pseudo-Bond theme, ‘All for the Best’ is more laidback than energetic thereby tempering its vaudevillian verve, not necessarily bad but strange to listen to, especially out of the context of the production. What I really don’t like is the tendency to oversinging that mars some of the tracks. Lindsay Mendez takes it to church in ‘Bless the Lord’ but carries on way past the graveyard into unchartered territory for little appreciable gain aside from showiness, similarly Telly Leung’s extravagance on ‘All Good Gifts’.

It’s all much more effective when some restraint is exercised, as in Aduba’s emotive ‘By My Side’ or Hunter Parrish’s gorgeous ‘Beautiful City’, when you really feel that the actors are serving the material as the beautiful musical theatre it is. A cast recording to dip in and out of then, rather than take in all in one. 

CD Review: Godspell (1993 Studio Cast)

“See ya later I’m going to the front of the thee-AY-ter”

Full disclosure, I’ve been listening to this version of Stephen Schwartz’s Godspell for more years than I care to remember and before anyone really knew what luminaries many of these performers would become – Clive Rowe, Ruthie Henshall, John Barrowman…though perhaps we’ll skip past Darren Day. Using the composer’s original arrangements and conducted by himself, it is perhaps a tad traditional for the taste of some but for me, it hit the marks from top to bottom. 
Henshall going full-on Mae West in a vampy ‘Turn Back O Man’, Elisabeth Sastre and Jacqueline Dankworth complementing each other well in a beautifully harmonised ‘By My Side’, Day and Glyn Kerslake’s amusing romp through ‘All For The Best’, it’s all highly slick and professional. The air of reverence is strong throughout, mark Paul Manuel leading ‘All Good Gifts’ or Dankworth’s ‘Day By Day’ for example, classically done almost note for note from the sheet music.
This does perhaps mean it can seem a little staid at times but personally I like the fidelity to the music as written, there’s versions enough elsewhere for a greater sense of originality and it just means that here, there’s just the joy of unalloyed pure melodic singing, John Barr and Clive Rowe letting the delicacy of ‘On The Willows’ just wash over us with great beauty. An unexpectedly timeless and still powerfully effective account of a grand score.