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

“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. Continue reading “Album Review: Betty Buckley – Story Songs”

Album 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. Continue reading “Album Review: Godspell (New Broadway Cast Recording 2011)”

Album 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. Continue reading “Album Review: Godspell (1993 Studio Cast)”

Album Review: John Owen-Jones – Rise

“Raise your hopeful voice”

There should be a study into the tragic condition that afflicts so many musical theatre performers when a camera comes into view – the outstretched hand has struck down as talented a star as Imelda Staunton and John Owen-Jones has been similarly affected as evidenced by the cover of his new CD Rise. The tracklisting of this album, his third, does show some signs of trying to break free from this #stagey curse though, and with some surprising results.

None more so than the opening track, a rendition of the Eurovision Song Contest-winning song ‘Rise Like A Phoenix’ (does the small print specify that this song has to be sung with a beard?!) that somehow manages to bring more drama than Conchita Wurst and go all out on the Bond theme theatrics, whilst still bringing so much feeling to the lyrics. The interesting arrangement is echoed later on in an inspired take on ‘Motherless Children’ which unexpectedly reinvigorates this spiritual. Continue reading “Album Review: John Owen-Jones – Rise”

Review: Pippin, Menier Chocolate Factory

“Please reward our pluck and save this duck”

With the standard ticket price of the Menier Chocolate Factory’s new production of Pippin coming in at £33.50 – and the memories of last year’s turkey still fresh – I decided that I wouldn’t be taking another risk on a show I didn’t know. But when a £10 deal popped up online, I couldn’t resist and though it meant that it was a preview I saw and thus am writing about now, that is not the kind of saving I can ignore. The show has music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz – he of Wicked and Godspell (but we won’t talk about The Baker’s Wife) and book by Roger O Hirson and was originally directed by Bob Fosse on Broadway. That run lasted for five years and consequently the show has become something of an am-dram staple in the US albeit in an emasculated version (so Wikipedia tells me).

Perhaps with this in mind, director Mitch Sebastian has been extremely bold with his concept here: employing Chet Walker to recreate Fosse’s original choreography looks back to the history of the show but Sebastian has incorporated those routines into his own choreographical work and Timothy Bird’s production design for Knifedge points to a much more futuristic mindset. The Young Vic’s inability to let audiences just enter normally into a production there has spread across Southwark and so the walk into the theatre here takes us through a gloomy bedsit, computer games and magazines strewn across the floor and sci-fi film posters covering the walls, and we walk pass a young man staring blankly into a computer screen and playing with a lighter. Once inside, the auditorium is set up rather traditionally and the set initially looks rather unassuming but the reasons for that soon become apparent. Continue reading “Review: Pippin, Menier Chocolate Factory”