Review: Guys and Dolls, Crucible

Robert Hastie’s production of Guys and Dolls brings all kind of Christmas cheer at the Crucible Theatre

“Call it dumb, call it clever
Ah, but you can get odds forever”

There’s a touch of the predictable about going for a classic like Guys and Dolls as your Christmas musical, but can you blame Sheffield Theatres when its a stone-cold classic like this. And even if I’ve seen it fair few times in recent years (Royal Exchange, West End, Chichester), its joyous spirit is one which is hard to resist.

And that spirit is in fine evidence in Robert Hastie’s exuberant production at the Crucible. In Kadiff Kirwan’s highly personable Sky Masterson and Alex Young’s pleasingly self-assured Sarah Brown, and Martin Marquez’s Nathan Detroit and Natalie Casey’s Miss Adelaide, it has a cracking central quartet who have no problem in whisking us away from our troubles, if only for a couple of hours. Continue reading “Review: Guys and Dolls, Crucible”

Review: Big the Musical, Dominion Theatre

Big doesn’t always mean better, size does matter, it’s not how big it is it’s what you do with it – whatever the pun, Big the Musical is a severe disappointment at the Dominion Theatre

“I want my room,
I want my bed.
I want my mom,
I want to go home”

A crucial moment in Big the Musical sees Zoltar the fortune-telling machine say “make your wish, make your wish…” and I think my wish is that one day the Dominion Theatre will find a show that properly suits it, and that can fill it – once again, this is not the one. Director/choreographer Morgan Young’s production of the classic 1980s movie initially looks swish – Simon Higlett’s design dominated by an impressive curved HD video wall but a raft of questionable decisions mitigate against it, almost at every step. 

You can see the thinking behind the casting – a Strictly winner, someone off Corrie, a member of Girls Aloud even – but they just don’t feel like the best people for the roles by any stretch. Jay McGuiness doesn’t exude anywhere near the requisite amiability and charisma to be this kind of leading man and whilst he’s technically right there with the dancing – the Act 1 closer is brilliantly choreographed by Young – but there’s no emotion carrying through with it, near fatal when you’ve got Tom Hanks to live up to. Continue reading “Review: Big the Musical, Dominion Theatre”

Album Review: Big the Musical (2016 Original UK Cast Recording)

“When we must cross over
Who knows what we’ll find”

A 90s musical of an 80s film – nostalgia has a lot to answer for but it was to Maltby Jr and Shires’ 1996 adaptation of the Tom Hanks-starring film that producers turned for their big Christmas musical at Bord Gais Energy Theatre in Dublin. Morgan Young’s production also had a short run at the Theatre Royal Plymouth and with the creation of this UK cast recording, you wonder whether further plans were in the pipeline for the show.

I’m not holding my breath though, as it doesn’t really sound like that much of a winner. Shire’s score is painfully dated, Maltby’s lyrics provide little spark and as a whole, Big the Musical just sounds a bit twee, a bit inconsequential. There’s little sense at all of the songs driving the narrative, they’re more an inoffensive, intermittent distraction, taking way too long to inch over to even just to ‘pleasant’ on the scale. Continue reading “Album Review: Big the Musical (2016 Original UK Cast Recording)”

CD Review: Elf the Musical (2015 Original London Cast Recording)

“You gotta remember that December is the time for glitz”

I have to say I was sceptical about Elf the Musical, not least because it was Bonfire Night (5th November for you heathens) when I saw it but to my pleasant surprise, I was soon won over by its classic charms. If you’ve seen the film, then you’ll know that its soundtrack was a dip into the Christmas chapter of the Great American Songbook – Ella Fitzgerald’s ‘Sleigh Ride’, Ray Charles’ ‘Winter Wonderland’ etc – but the score for the musical is original yet pays great homage to those standards.

Matthew Sklar’s music and Chad Beguelin’s lyrics succeed by being entirely both warm-hearted and open-hearted and in this recording, is powered by the practically Duracell-bunny-like enthusiasm of Ben Forster’s Buddy, the kid who found his way into Santa’s bag of presents and ended up being raised at the North Pole. The heart of the story is his re-entry into the human world to find his birth father and in tracks like ‘World’s Greatest Dad’, you realise just how big and real his emotions are.

And that feel-good feeling is carried across the whole record – Jessica Martin as his mum matches him for sincerity in both ‘I’ll Believe in You’ and ‘There Is A Santa Claus’, Kimberley Walsh’s velvety smooth voice sits well as sceptical love interest Jovie in Never Fall In Love (With An Elf) and the big band feel of Stuart Morley’s musical direction keeps ‘Nobody Cares About Santa’ from ever getting too dark for the (big) kids. Indeed in a world where things are often ‘Sparklejollytwinklejingley’ , everyone is a winner. 

A strong cast recording that definitely bears repeated listens to its classic song-writing – it’s not just at Christmas that “singing loud for all to hear” spreads cheer.

Review: The War of the Worlds, Dominion

“I can’t believe people were sat there as if it was any other evening” 

You have to love the creative process that ends with the thought ‘we need Jimmy Nail’, but Jeff Wayne’s musical version of The War of the Worlds really isn’t like any other show. A quick glimpse at the casts of previous arena tours, of which there have been many, gives a bit of insight as to their mindset – (former) pop stars like Westlife’s Brian McFadden, Jason Donovan and Atomic Kitten’s Liz McClarnon, reality show offcasts like Rhydian, even the Kaiser Chiefs’ Ricky Wilson – now a judge on The Voice – has got in on the act. And now The War of the Worlds has landed at the Dominion Theatre and the casting has gotten no less random.

This time, I think someone came across a copy of Now 51 in a charity shop and so we have Daniel Bedingfield and former Sugababe Heidi Range making their West End debuts, alongside original cast member David Essex (whose character is naturally named The Voice of Humanity), Michael Praed and Madalena Alberto who, as per the poster, has the ridiculous snub of being the only one not to get a headshot (though she will be used to billing controversies in this theatre by now). And then there’s Jimmy Nail who at 61 gets Range, 32, as his wife…, it all makes for an oddly compelling though deeply strange affair.  Continue reading “Review: The War of the Worlds, Dominion”

Review: Elf the musical, Dominion

“I always get a special glow when the snow comes falling down”

There’s something a little perverse about a show as intrinsically Christmassy as Elf the Musical opening on Bonfire Night but with a limited run finishing sharply on 2nd January, the time to get festive starts now. Based on the 2003 film starring Will Ferrell and directed by Jon Favreau, the musical capitalises on the feel-good charm of the movie to create something deliciously old-school in feel but with a definite contemporary spin on things. My four star review for Cheap Theatre Tickets can be read here.

Running time: 2 hours 40 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 2nd January

Review: Bare, Greenwich Theatre

“The boys have gonorrhea, now they burn for you each time they pee”

Not really being a fan of rock musicals, I didn’t make the journey to the Union Theatre to see Bare earlier this year and I was kind of reluctant to go and see its belated transfer to the Greenwich Theatre. And true to form, it really wasn’t my cup of tea. A cast of bright young things sing well and deliver a great level of performance but the show, written by Jon Hartmere and Damon Intrabartolo, feels dated both dramatically and musically, its off-Broadway high-school charms very much eluding me.

Set in the senior class of a Catholic high school, these 17 year olds race towards graduation whilst battling with issues of sexuality and identity, religion and reality, all the while rehearsing a production of Romeo and Juliet which ham-fistedly reflects the tortured inter-relations between this tangled group. Clunky comedy turns into deficient drama as boy meets closeted boy meets girl, but the nearly entirely sung-through lyrics rarely give such an emotive issue as homosexuality in high schools the sensitivity and complexity it deserves. Continue reading “Review: Bare, Greenwich Theatre”

Review: When Midnight Strikes, Upstairs at the Gatehouse

“Making resolutions we’ll hold on fast”

Abigail may have been the one holding the party in the 70s but on Millenium Eve, it is Jennifer West who is the hostess with the mostess as she invites friends and family over for a dinner party in her swanky Manhattan apartment. But unexpected guests throw her seating plan awry, the booze is flowing just a little too liberally and more importantly, she’s found an incriminating note in her husband’s coat pocket – it is clear this will be a New Year’s Eve to remember… Kevin Hammonds and Charles Miller’s musical When Midnight Strikes first played at the Finborough in 2007 and those stalwart defenders of new British musical theatre Aria Entertainments, along with co-producers Penny Rock Productions, have put on its first revival at Highgate’s Upstairs at the Gatehouse theatre pub.

At a time when the future of the new British musical is bemoaned, it is a wonder that this score isn’t better known. Miller marries a pop sensibility to the rigours of a book musical and has produced something that flows with a vibrancy and urgency through Hammonds’ story, hooking us in with swirling balladry (there’s at least two songs that could become cabaret standards), perky comedic numbers, and a genuine sense of the storytelling power of this form. ‘Shut Up’ is a marvellously frank song which sees various characters voice their inner thoughts about the inanity of making small talk with random fellow partygoers; I Never combines the raucous revelations of a drinking game with candid insights into the emotional lives of those playing, Continue reading “Review: When Midnight Strikes, Upstairs at the Gatehouse”