CD Review: Songs from Seven Brides for Seven Brothers

“Now there’s lots o’ things you gotta know”

A sneaky thing this. What might ostensibly look like a cast recording for the Open Air Theatre’s production of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers is actually a record “inspired” by said production, featuring vocals from three of its stars – Alex Gaumond, Sam O’Rourke and Laura Pitt-Pulford. What’s more, and what I find hardest to take, is the music and company backing vocals were actually recorded back in 1995! The lead vocals were done in May of this year, so well before the production had started, and with that knowledge it is hard not to feel a little cheated.

For once you know this Frankenstein nature, it’s hard to forget it. As the vocals work beautifully with the The National Symphony Orchestra’s playing, and rise up with the company of supporting vocalists, the fact remains that there is 20 years between them. Not that you’d notice, the stitching together has been done seamlessly and the CD as a whole really does sound good. And the songs are such classics that it is easy to get swept off your feet to ‘Bless Your Beautiful Hide’, ‘Wonderful, Wonderful Day’ and ‘We Gotta Make It Through The Winter’ amongst many many others. Continue reading “CD Review: Songs from Seven Brides for Seven Brothers”

Review: Cinderella, Hackney Empire

“He wanted a fairytale romance – it ended up Grimm”

Last year was the first time that I re-engaged with the world of pantomime since being a kid and despite having heard many good things about the Hackney Empire panto over the past few years, in particular Clive Rowe’s various dames, I didn’t get there. And sod’s law dictates that as I booked for Cinderella – this year’s effort – Mr Rowe engaged himself in a production of The Ladykillers which is now previewing at the Gielgud. But you don’t miss what you never had and in any case, my history with pantomimes at the Hackney Empire actually stretches back to 19?? and one of my first genuine memories of being in a theatre with Peter Duncan playing Aladdin and clambering all over me and my cousins as he climbed through the audience as part of the show. So it was actually a fascinating opportunity to revisit a little piece of personal history as well as marking the beginning of my festive theatregoing season.

Writer/director Susie McKenna has refreshed the familiar tale of Cinderella to contemporise it for modern audiences, yet still maintaining much of the traditional feel of a pantomime that really is suitable for all ages. So we have all the familiar characters: a pair of hilarious pantomime dames as the Ugly Sisters – Tony Whittle and Kat B as Queeniqua and Victiqua respectively, a fairy-godmother who speaks in rhyme – Sophie Louise Dann in charming form and the children’s TV presenter affability of Matt Dempsey’s Buttons with his horse Clapton (complete with special song). The writing has lots of nice little local references that make it a nicely Hackney-located show and up-to-date references but not obtrusively so, there’s also the sweet-throwing out, audience shout-outs and a little onstage participation for one ‘lucky’ fellow that we’ve come to expect. Continue reading “Review: Cinderella, Hackney Empire”

Review: Jersey Boys, Prince Edward

“If I were you, I’d take a permanent vacation”

So part two of my West End Groupon deal and an interesting one for me as it was a long-running show that I can honestly say I would never have gotten round to going to see on my own behalf: Jersey Boys. The story of four guys, Frankie Castelluchio, Tommy DeVito, Nick Massi and Bob Gaudio who rose from their humble New Jersey beginnings to rise to the top of the charts as Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons.

Things did not get off to a good start with a rap version of ‘Oh! What A Night’ and being exhorted to clap along: it is just too early in the night to start with that business and it is not like it is the type of show where there is lots of audience participation so I found it an odd way to start. We then slid into the regular run of things with the story of how the group came together and then found success, being narrated in four quarters, or seasons (see it’s clever!) by each of the band members. The music, much of which was unfamiliar to me I have to admit, as by the band in their various performances and tours which I really liked, but then oddly, random songs became story devices. So, ‘Oh! What A Night’ became a tale of the group visiting a brothel and having his innocence plucked from him though with a premature ending (‘As I recall it ended much too soon’…!). It was a bizarre moment and one that didn’t work for me and I was glad to see the majority of the rest of the music being performance-based. Continue reading “Review: Jersey Boys, Prince Edward”