Album Reviews: Audra McDonald – Sing Happy / Louise Dearman – For You, For Me / Everybody’s Talking About Jamie cast recording

Casting my eye over some recent musical theatre album releases: Audra McDonald’s live album Sing Happy, Louise Dearman’s latest collection For You, For Me and the long-awaited cast recording for Everybody’s Talking About Jamie 

There are few things as well-designed as Audra McDonald’s thrilling soprano to make you happy, so the title of her new album Sing Happy is apt indeed. Her first live album and her first backed by an orchestra (the New York Philharmonic). the gig was recorded  just a few days ago on 1st May and no wonder they were so quick to turn it around.

Whether shimmering through Porgy and Bess‘ timeless ‘Summertime’, proudly getting her life in La Cage aux Folles’ ‘I Am What I Am’ or absolutely nailing She Loves Me’s ‘Vanilla Ice Cream’, McDonald’s velvety textured voice is always so exciting to listen to. And the drama of songs like ‘Never Will I Marry’ sound glorious with the richness of the orchestral backing (conducted by Andy Einhorn).

An affinity for Sondheim comes into play twice, a medley of ‘Children Will Listen’ with South Pacific’s ‘You’ve Got To Be Carefully Taught’ and in a showstopping take on ‘Being Alive’, still manages to surprise with the heights to which she lifts the song. An unalloyed, absolute pleasure. Continue reading “Album Reviews: Audra McDonald – Sing Happy / Louise Dearman – For You, For Me / Everybody’s Talking About Jamie cast recording”

Review: Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, Apollo

At last – everyone will be talking about Everybody’s Talking About Jamie as it struts in the West End in fine form

“Go give the boys boners they won’t know what to do with”

When Everybody’s Talking About Jamie made its debut in Sheffield earlier this year (here’s my review), hopes were high for a transfer, the news of which took a little time to be confirmed, leaving me worried it would suffer the fate of the gorgeous Flowers for Mrs Harris. But this sparkling new show has arrived in the West End and now sits on Shaftesbury Avenue at the Apollo as a proud piece of new British musical theatre and an equally proud piece of LGBT+ storytelling.

Written by Dan Gillespie Sells (music) and Tom MacRae (book and lyric) and adapted from a BBC documentary, Jamie casts off the archetypal coming out and gay bashing stories (though not completely ignoring them) in favour of a main narrative about an out and proud teen who is insistent that he’s going to his high school prom in drag but only belatedly coming to realise that his determination to be fierce has consequences for those who love him. Continue reading “Review: Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, Apollo”

Review: Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, Crucible

“Sometimes you’ve got to grab life by the balls
You take those balls and tuck ’em between your legs”

We should be talking about Sheffield, and how its place in the fragile ecosystem of British musical theatre has only become more and more invaluable. Nurturing shows like Flowers For Mrs Harris and This Is My Family into existence and taking pride in their understated nature, the venue has also been incubating new writing talent. Well, new to musical theatre at least, for Dan Gillespie Sells is the lead singer-songwriter of The Feeling and Tom MacRae has written several episodes of Doctor Who and sitcom Threesome. And inspired by a BBC3 documentary, a meeting with director Jonathan Butterell and a fairy godmother-like intervention from Michael Ball, the result is brand spanking new musical Everybody’s Talking About Jamie.

And what a joy it is, a breath of feel-good fresh air that can’t help but leave you feeling fabulous. With career advice flying by unheeded, all 16-year-old Jamie is really bothered about as his school-time comes to an end is whether he will attend the school prom as his drag persona Mimi Me or not. And rather brilliantly, the writing hones in on Jamie just as a young man – yes he’s queer and a kween but he’s also a person still finding out the extent of his identity and how to relate to a wider world that isn’t necessarily always set against him. It’s a refreshing take on LGBT+ storytelling, and a sorely needed one, tipping its hat to the tales of coming out and battling against intolerance that have gone before and then finding its own space to parse the consequences of being this fierce in the real world. Continue reading “Review: Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, Crucible”

Review: Strictly Ballroom, West Yorkshire Playhouse

“I don’t know if you are illusion”

Hoping for a ten from Len and to avoid the dreaded dis-sah-ter from Craig, Baz Luhrmann’s Strictly Ballroom arrives for its UK premiere at the West Yorkshire Playhouse. Best known in its 1992 film version, it actually began life as a play in the mid-1980s when it became big in Czechoslovakia as well as Luhrmann’s native Australia and perhaps appropriately, it is now Drew McOnie who takes the directorial chair, the choreographer-director’s rising star an ideal fit for a musical all about dance.

And what dance it is. We’re in the world of competitive ballroom dancing and we’re treated to a wide range of routines from rehearsals to all-out performances and much inventive work in-between, especially where mirrors are involved. And in all this freedom of expression, there’s a crystal-clear distillation of the story’s message in the sheer joy of dancing for fun and the power of following an individual path. But the show isn’t just dance, it’s words and music as well and there, it is less sure-footed.

Continue reading “Review: Strictly Ballroom, West Yorkshire Playhouse”

Review: Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, West Yorkshire Playhouse

“Scrumptious as the breeze across the day”

Who knew that Leeds would be a musical theatre hotspot this December but between The Girls and this Music & Lyrics and West Yorkshire Playhouse production of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, it’s been the place to be for big, warm-hearted musical fun. This is the first new version of Chitty Chitty… since its original 2002 West End production and its many regional tours but in James Brining’s clever and wondrous adaptation, it’s thoroughly revitalised and as lovely as any cherry peach parfait.

Ian Fleming’s novel was adapted by Jeremy Sams, via Roald Dahl and Ken Hughes’ own reshaping of the story for the cinema, and with a glorious score from the Sherman Brothers (as if they could do any other kind) beefed up with new songs by them as well, it captures much of the Disney noir feel of the film whilst bringing its own depths too. I’d forgotten how much sadness there was in the tale and that’s something Brining never lets us forget, even whilst delighting us with flying cars and fun. Continue reading “Review: Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, West Yorkshire Playhouse”

Re-review: Miss Saigon, Prince Edward Theatre

“Why God? Why today?” 

I wasn’t the hugest fan of Miss Saigon first time round as my review from then clearly attests but I’m never one to be entirely closed-minded (though it may not often seem that way…) so when the opportunity to take a friend who had not previously been popped up, I made a return visit to the Prince Edward Theatre. The show is still basking in the glow of recently winning 9 What’s On Stage awards and it is clear that it is attracting a younger and atypically passionate crowd (for a West End show at least). 

That passion cuts both ways though as the overexcited group behind us couldn’t hold back from the flash photography and the young woman in front of me was less enthused than the rest of her party and spent most of the show on Facebook. It makes for a different kind of theatre experience when you’re having to do battle with that kind of behaviour but given my continued lack of engagement with the storyline of this particular musical theatre behemoth, it was as much a distraction for me as anything.  Continue reading “Re-review: Miss Saigon, Prince Edward Theatre”

DVD Review: Goddess

“You have your whales and your work”

An Australian musical rom-com starring Laura Michelle Kelly and Ronan Keating? Goddess is a strange beast indeed, based on a one-woman show by Joanna Weinberg and transferred to the screen with the help of Mark Lamprell, it did decent business in Australia in 2013 but didn’t make it over to these shores apparently. Which is a little surprising as it has a schlocky, amusing quality – somewhere between Mamma Mia and Muriel’s Wedding – that could well have found an audience, I think.

There’s no doubting the randomness – Kelly and Keating play Elspeth and James, a Anglo-Irish couple who have moved to Tasmania so that he can spend time saving whales, leaving her to deal with her loneliness and troublesome twin toddlers. To solve some of the problem, James get Elspeth a webcam so that they can chat and as one thing leads to another – as is so often the way – she ends up becoming an internet sensation as she broadcasts the songs she writes and performs at the kitchen sink. Continue reading “DVD Review: Goddess”

Review: Miss Saigon, Prince Edward Theatre

 
“Hey Joe, try taking a little excursion
You’ll feel good from a little perversion”

There’s a real generational split when it comes to Miss Saigon – a contemporary of such 80s mega-musicals as Phantom and Les Mis, it has comparatively fallen by the wayside in terms of longevity nor has its score really attained the status of a bona fide classic. So there’s a group of people familiar with the show ready and waiting to make comparisons between the original and this major revival at the Prince Edward Theatre, and then there’s the rest of us – me included – for whom this is a new experience.

And as is often the case when expectations have been pumped sky-high (“Box office records broken on the first day!” “The greatest musical ever?!” “Watch out for the helicopter…”), it isn’t immediately clear what all the fuss is about. Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil’s book is basically Madame Butterfly redux but transplanted to the Vietnam war as GI Chris is loved long-time by Kim, their love then forced apart by the US defeat in Saigon and a reunion, of sorts, organised once he finally discovers that he left more than his heart with Kim that evening… Continue reading “Review: Miss Saigon, Prince Edward Theatre”

Review: The Magistrate, National Theatre

“It’s the little lies that get you into trouble”

Aged 36, the widowed Agatha Posket feared for her re-marriage prospects so when the genial Aeneas Posket, the magistrate for the Mulberry Street Police Court, arrived on the scene, she lopped 5 years off her age and promptly became Mrs Posket. The only trouble is her 19 year old son Cis whom she tells the world is actually 14 in order to make her fib fly. The farcical trials that follow as he continues to act as a 19 year old and the arrival of his godfather threatens to undo the whole deception make up the plot of Arthur Wing Pinero’s rather delightful play The Magistrate, which takes up residence at the Olivier as the National’s Christmas offering in place of The Count of Monte Cristo.

Nancy Carroll is simply sensational as Agatha, an actress in full control of her considerable gift and razor-sharp throughout. Whether layering in real pathos in lamenting the lot of a middle-aged widow, working in genuine comedy whilst extemporising wildly as chaos surrounds her or managing to make the spitting out of some bread into a moment of sheer genius, she is never less than unmissable. And she supported excellent by Joshua McGuire as her son Cis, who has a wonderful physicality and gleeful sense of timing in his teenage rampaging and Jonathan Coy’s family friend Colonel Lukyn who is pretty much scene-stealingly fantastic, a true master of comic acting which fully deserves the mid-show round of applause he received. Continue reading “Review: The Magistrate, National Theatre”

Review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Open Air Theatre

“Out of this wood do not desire to go”

As the first of Shakespeare’s works that I ever read and studied, I will always have a great affection for A Midsummer Night’s Dream and to this day, it has endured as probably my favourite of his plays. Something about its otherworldly (dream-like…) free-spiritedness really appeals to me, meaning there’s little of the suspension of disbelief often necessary to make the contrivances of his other comedies work, and it is a play robust enough to take many an interpretation, whether raucuous reinventions by Filter or Propeller, last year’s clever open air take by Iris Theatre or more classically inspired ones like the Rose Kingston’s Judi Dench-starring version from 2010. It is now the turn of Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre to revisit the show (though this was my first experience of it here) with a startlingly modern interpretation as it plays in rep with Ragtime, with which it shares much of its cast, over the summer.

First things first, this was a preview, the second I believe and due to the rain on Saturday, actually the first full run-through. Things begin with some pre-show business bustling about the trailer park set, reminiscent of the Dale Farm site with travellers squaring up to each other and to the encroaching building contractors, it sets the scene well but goes on a wee bit too long for too little effect in all honesty. But once the play proper starts with its arresting, punchy modernity, Matthew Dunster’s exceptionally well-balanced production clicks smoothly into gear, folding in classical references to this fresh new take and delving into some extremely dark places alongside the oft-times hilarious humour.   Continue reading “Review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Open Air Theatre”