Album Reviews: Renée Fleming – Broadway & The Quentin Dentin Show

Two new music releases – Renée Fleming tackles Broadway classics in style, and The Quentin Dentin Show releases its cast recording

“Life is what you want it to be”

No matter what you think of Renée Fleming, you can’t accuse her of resting on her laurels. At this point in her career, she could well be taking the easy route but this decade alone has seen her tackle Broadway (most recently receiving a Tony nomination for Carousel) for the first time and release an album that featured interpretations of three Björk songs. Her newest release cleaves closer to musical theatre though, and Broadway is available now from Decca Classics. Continue reading “Album Reviews: Renée Fleming – Broadway & The Quentin Dentin Show”

Album Review: The Last Ship (2014 Original Broadway Cast Recording)

“For what are we men without a ship to complete?”

The logic of theatre being what it is, an original musical by Sting about the decline of the shipbuilding industry in the north-east of England opened on Broadway in 2014 and has still yet to be seen here in the UK. I saw it at the Neil Simon Theatre and whilst The Last Ship didn’t have the strongest book, I did think the brooding melancholy of the folk-inflected score would carry it further than the four months it managed.

Its primary delight is Rachel Tucker’s Meg, a dynamic vocal presence who can’t help but stand out in everything she sings, whether the delicacy of ‘August Winds’, the tearjerking ‘It’s Not The Same Moon’, or the bawdy fun of ‘If You Ever See Me Talking to a Sailor’. Along with the excellent Michael Esper (now familiar to us in the UK thanks to Lazarus and The Glass Menagerie), she makes a real highlight out of ‘When We Dance’ (a re-purposed track from Sting’s back catalogue). Continue reading “Album Review: The Last Ship (2014 Original Broadway Cast Recording)”

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”

DVD Review: Cold Mountain

“This war, this awful war, will have changed us both beyond all reckoning”

You gotta love Hollywood – who else to lead a film about the American Civil War than a Brit and an Australian directed by another Brit. But such is Cold Mountain – Jude Law and Nicole Kidman starring for director Anthony Minghella – a surprisingly enjoyable watch for someone who doesn’t really like war films nor has that much interest in this period of US history. It tells the story of a wounded deserter (Law) from the Confederate army close to the end of the war, who is on his long-winded way to return to the love of his life (Kidman).

The road-trip element of the film allows for some beautiful episodes to emerge as Law’s Inman treks across the country – Eileen Atkins’ gruff goatwoman with her healing compassion, Natalie Portman’s distraught young widowed mother, Cillian Murphy’s conflicted Yankee soldier, Philip Seymour Hoffman’s perverted man of God, Giovanni Ribisi’s opportunistic hustler. Through them we see how the conflict is reshaping the nation and the lengths to which people are forced to go in order to get by in war-torn society, not least Inman himself.  Continue reading “DVD Review: Cold Mountain”

Album Review: Anika Larsen – Sing You To Sleep

“I could offer you a warm embrace”

Currently on maternity leave from Beautiful – The Carole King Story for which she was nominated for a Tony, Anika Larsen’s debut CD is a lovely thing indeed. Described as a collection of “lullabies and other songs I loved singing to the children I cared for”, it’s an album designed to be listened to from start to finish (switch off that shuffle!) as the mood softens and the tempo slows – a nifty tip from a seasoned babysitter which is “better than Benadryl”.

On Broadway, Larsen’s credits have included Rent, Avenue Q and both Xanadu and Zanna Don’t but this is no lazy retread of musical theatre standards. Instead, a diverse collection of pop and easy listening is transformed into something special in MD David Cook’s thoughtful arrangements. It means Sing You To Sleep a more musically intelligent collection than you might initially think and sometimes challenging – ‘Somewhere Out There’, a tribute to lyricist Cynthia Weil who Larsen plays in Beautiful, becomes a noodling free jazz-fest which never quite settles. Continue reading “Album Review: Anika Larsen – Sing You To Sleep”

Review: The Last Ship, Neil Simon Theatre

“And when you become a woman of a certain age

You’ll find it’s difficult to trust a man” 

The signs for The Last Ship were not good even before I boarded – Sting stepping into a key role to shore up ticket sales over Christmas – and just days after I saw it, the producers decided to cut their losses and it posted closing notices for the end of the month. Indeed, this review comes too late to even persuade a last few people to visit as Saturday saw the final performance. And whilst I’d love to be able to say that it is a huge loss to the Broadway stage, to me it really didn’t feel like the complete package.

First things first – Sting’s score is genuinely excellent, binding together influences like Celtic folk and sea shanties to the more standard driving anthems and heartfelt balladry that one might expect from a big musical. Real emotion and a strong sense of character come flooding out of songs like ‘Autumn Winds’, the title song and ‘If You Ever See Me Talking To A Sailor’ and it is little surprise that the soundtrack made a strong concept album when released in 2013. Continue reading “Review: The Last Ship, Neil Simon Theatre”

Album Reviews: Elena Roger – Vientos del Sur + A Spoonful of Stiles and Drewe

Now for something a little different. Whilst on holiday, I listened to a lot of music whilst lying by the pool, and I’ve been raving about much of it since my return so I thought I’d pop a couple of brief cd reviews on here, mainly musical theatre records or at least cds by musical theatre people. And if it’s well received, I’ll work my way through my cd collection!

Continue reading “Album Reviews: Elena Roger – Vientos del Sur + A Spoonful of Stiles and Drewe”