Review: Once, Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch

This regional UK premiere of Once the musical should see you falling slowly towards Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch in order to book your tickets!

“Raise your hopeful voice, you have a choice”

I’d forgotten just how much I like Once. I saw it a couple of times in its 2013-15 West End incarnation (review #1, review #2) and its atypical subtlety was a big hit for me, particularly in the gentle mood cultivated by Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová’s music and lyrics. The fact that it isn’t a brassy balls-out West End musical might explain why it has taken a little time for its regional premiere to emerge but mercifully, that time has now come.

For that, we have co-producers Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch and New Wolsey Theatre Ipswich to thank. And director Peter Rowe’s actor-musician production slips into the groove perfectly, as warm and comforting as a pint of Guinness or three in your favourite old man’s pub – and occasionally just as rowdy as well. With Enda Walsh’s book taken from John Carney’s original film, its bittersweetly romantic tone feels perfect as autumn descends. Continue reading “Review: Once, Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch”

CD Review: Love, Lies & Lyrics – The Words of Lesley Ross

Why do whores only sing in musicals?” 

Showcasing the work of a lyricist is a different prospect from that of a composer, something that is immediately apparent from glancing at the cover and booklet of Love, Lies & Lyrics – The Words of Lesley Ross, the latest new musical theatre CD emerge from the nurturing cocoon of SimG Records. This album features music from 4 different writers, taken from over a dozen musicals, with the now customary array of West End stars – over 30 in number here – so it can’t help but be highly eclectic as a collection, in something of a similar vein to Robert Gould’s collection from last year.

The diversity of this approach certainly has its benefits, especially as man of the songs are around the 2 minute mark, as it means the album can bounce around wryly comic observation songs like ‘Pick A Ticket!’ and ‘Him in 23B’ to the more heartfelt but still story-led balladry of Nigel Richards’ ‘And In My Heart’ and Annalene Beechey’s ‘Song for Someone’. If I had to pick, Madalena Alberto’s plaintive lullaby ‘I Will Be There’ is the highlight of the record – its gorgeously delicate emotion coming from a perfect confection of lyric, music and performance.  Continue reading “CD Review: Love, Lies & Lyrics – The Words of Lesley Ross”

Review: Sweeney Todd, London Coliseum

“At the top of the hole sit the privileged few”

And it is mostly the privileged few who’ll get to see this lavish English National Opera production of Sondheim’s oft-revived Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street as stalls seats will set you back an eye-watering £95, £125 or £155. Somewhat cheaper seats are available from the upper circle upwards but still…* Lonny Price’s semi-staged production (with its nifty fake-out of a beginning) was first seen in New York in March 2014 but unsurprisingly, given it featured Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel as Mrs Lovett and the demon barber himself, it declared “there’s no place like London” and has now taken up residence in the Coliseum alongside a cast of nearly 40 musical theatre veterans (and Thompson’s daughter) and a lush-sounding  orchestra of 60.

Thompson and Terfel may be the headline names but the real pleasure comes in the luxury casting that surrounds them. Philip Quast and John Owen-Jones bring a richness of vocal to Judge Turpin and Pirelli respectively, Alex Gaumond and Jack North both mine effectively Dickensian depths to Beadle and Toby and there’s something glorious about having the marvellous Rosalie Craig here, even in so relatively minor a role as the Beggar Woman as her quality shines through despite that wig. Matthew Seadon-Young and Katie Hall as Anthony and Johanna are both really impressive too, their voices marrying beautifully as they respond intuitively to the textures of David Charles Obell’s orchestra. Continue reading “Review: Sweeney Todd, London Coliseum”

Review: The Sound of Music, Curve

“My heart should be wildly rejoicing”
 

Rodgers and Hammerstein’s undeniable classic of a score, Paul Kerryson’s outgoing musical production as Artistic Director, a shining light of the British musical theatre taking on an iconic leading role – the ingredients are certainly there for something magical to appear this Christmas in Leicester. But to be perfectly honest, I couldn’t help but feel just a little disappointed by this version of The Sound of Music, whilst recognising that it is perhaps a choice in terms of failsafe festive programming.

Kerryson has been responsible for some brilliant reimaginings of West End stalwarts – most recently Chicago and Hairspray – but it is immediately apparent here that this is going to be as traditional as they come, even old-fashioned in its insistent reliance on flying cloths in Al Parkinson’s pastel-hued design. They undoubtedly have a spatial grandeur (the stained-glass reflections in the abbey in particular) but they also sap the pace of the production terribly as they’re wangled into place time and time again. Continue reading “Review: The Sound of Music, Curve”

Review: Fiddler on the Roof, Mayflower

“If I were a rich man, yubby dibby dibby dibby dibby dibby dibby dum. All day long I’d biddy biddy bum, if I were a wealthy man.”

Oh, to be a fly on the wall when lyricist Sheldon Harnick announced the second line of a song he’d written for Fiddler on the Roof was “yubby dibby dibby dibby dibby dibby dibby dum”. But along with book writer Joseph Stein and composer Jerry Bock, their efforts translated into one of the most successful Broadway productions ever, with this story of Tevye, a milkman in pre-revolutionary Russia, and his three headstrong daughters making life in the village very difficult by challenging the old order. Craig Revel-Horwood employs his tried-and-tested actor-musician model to invigorate new life into the show (one which is new to me, I’ve never even seen the film) which is just undertaking a huge UK tour, starting at Southampton’s Mayflower Theatre (another first for me).

Due to the indisposition of Paul Michael Glaser, we were treated to an understudy performance as Tevye and not even the named understudy Paul Kissaun at that, Eamonn O’Dwyer took on the role and a fine job he did too. Though demonstrably too young for the part, his wry exasperation at the way the world turns and the warm geniality with which he rolls with it made for an assured central presence that kept the show moving with a twinkle-eyed grace. Even with the age mismatch with Karen Mann as his long-suffering wife Golde, there was a palpable chemistry that made their second half duet ‘Do You Love Me?’ a genuinely lovely thing.  Continue reading “Review: Fiddler on the Roof, Mayflower”

Review: A Man of No Importance, Salisbury Playhouse

“A good sinner can get into a lot of mischief in a week”

Much like its central character, the charms of A Man of No Importance are gentle and delicate and these remain the watchwords for Gareth Machin’s actor/musician production of this musical for Salisbury Playhouse. Based on a 1994 film and set in early 1960s Dublin, Alfie Byrne is an unassuming bus conductor whose main passion in life is directing his local am-dram society at St Imelda’s. But even that has stagnated with endless runs of The Importance of Being Earnest leaching his creativity so he makes the decision to stage the much more controversial Salome, also by Oscar Wilde, unaware of the tumultuous course of action it will unleash for all concerned.

For the weight of the Catholic Church’s disapproval is a heavy load to bear and as the production is condemned for its blasphemy after local busybodies go running to the monsignor, a light has been shone under the genteel façade of this community and exposed homosexual longings, extramarital affairs and illegitimate pregnancies. Alfie is at the centre of it all as it is his secret `desire for his handsome younger workmate Robbie that precipitates the most seismic change but even as he feels his whole world changing from underneath him, surprises lie in store all along the way. Continue reading “Review: A Man of No Importance, Salisbury Playhouse”

Review: The Lion The Witch and The Wardrobe, 360 Theatre

“You know, Aslan, I’m a little disappointed in you”

Aiming to be one of the theatrical events of the summer (although it has always seemed more of a Christmassy story to me), Rupert Goold has turned his customary directorial flair to his own adaptation of CS Lewis’ quintessential English classic The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. But in choosing to mount this production in the threesixty theatre in the grounds of Kensington Gardens, a rather unforgiving purpose-built circular tent, the show faces an uphill struggle from the start to try and create the sense of theatrical magic and wonder that is needed to transport us through the wardrobe along with the four Pevensie children. NB this was a preview performance.

The show is clearly aiming to be a family-friendly spectacular, the varied inhabitants of Narnia are evoked through a cross between Lion King puppetry and Cirque du Soleil physicality – imaginatively done if that’s your sort of thing, though readers of this blog will know it is not mine, at all – but the soulless atmosphere of the space leads to a rather sterile feel which the cast rarely overcome. Even Adam Cork’s music fails to get the pulse racing (the website says ‘the production is a play but does feature some live music and a pre-recorded fully orchestrated soundtrack’ so we’re clearly in “play with songs” territory rather than fully fledged “musical”) as the rather anodyne songs make little lasting impression and the muddy sound design meant there was precious little lyrical clarity. Continue reading “Review: The Lion The Witch and The Wardrobe, 360 Theatre”

Review: Spend Spend Spend! Richmond Theatre

“I was surprised at how much it affected me”

In 1961, Viv Nicholson won the equivalent of the lottery jackpot on the pools with her husband Keith in Castleford. Spend Spend Spend is a musical that tells the story, adapted from Nicholson’s own book, of how it was subsequently all frittered away, how money doesn’t always bring happiness and certainly doesn’t grant immunity from tragedy. The action is narrated from the perspective of the older Viv, reflecting back on her life as she rebuilds her life in South Yorkshire as a hairdresser. Originated at the Watermill, this actor-musician production is directed by Craig Revel Horwood and is reprising a successful UK tour this year.

Steve Brown’s score is solid, cohesive despite picking influences from a range of English music styles; Diego Pitarch’s design is simple, an effective replication of a Yorkshire pub which flexibly turns into a bedroom when needed; Revel Horwood’s choreography is attractive though not particularly adventurous, but this really is a show where the whole really is greater than the sum of its parts. There’s a perfect confluence of each element, there’s not a huge amount of dancing for example which makes the routine to the title number an absolute blast and lending it a greater impact. And with its straight-forward direction and the no-nonsense approach to life that Viv and Keith espoused, the shows rockets through the ups and downs of life with remarkable candour in its portrayal of a flawed but aspirational woman. Continue reading “Review: Spend Spend Spend! Richmond Theatre”