CD Review: Mamma Mia (Original Cast Recording 1999)

“It’s the best I can do”

It’s easy to be dismissive about Mamma Mia and all it has wrought in revitalising the jukebox musical as a form but the numbers don’t lie. 17 years and counting in the West End, the 8th longest running show on Broadway (it occupies the same position on the UK ranking at the moment too), a wildly successful film adaptation that became the highest grossing musical ever…it’s impressive stuff.

And listening to the Original Cast Recording from 1999, subsequently re-released with bonus tracks for the 5th anniversary, I’d say it’s fairly easy to see why it has endured so long. For all you may mock Catherine Johnson’s book, which hangs oh so lightly on a varied selection of Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus’ iconic music for ABBA, it actually does interesting things with it, in telling its own story rather relying on the songs themselves (I’m looking at you Jersey Boys…!)

So to say you’re better off listening to ABBA’s greatest hits is to miss the point. As light as the plot may be in its girl-wants-father-to-walk-her-down-the-aisle-but-finds-there’s-three-potential-candidates frothiness but there’s something genuinely tender in hearing ‘Chiquitita’ repurposed for two friends comforting a third, maternal lament ‘Slipping Through My Fingers’ actually sung between mother and daughter, the stag v hens vivacity of ‘Lay All Your Love on Me’.

And yes, they sound different to the originals, of course they do with a full orchestra and chorus to back them up, not to mention the lack of Swedish accents. This recording is a little blessed too in having the film’s soundtrack with its interesting casting choices to easily surpass, but that’s not to take away from the delightful vocals of Louise Plowright, Jenny Galloway, and Siobhán McCarthy as the leading trio, the latter’s Donna a fabulous leading lady from heartbreak to happiness.

Plowright’s cougarish ways enliven ‘Does Your Mother Know’ no end and Galloway’s equally predatory stance toward Nic Colicos’ Bill in ‘Take A Chance on Me’ is a delight. Lisa Stokke’s Sophie, the bride-to-be is charm personified and in keeping with the show’s female-friendly ethos, her intended – Andrew Langtree’s Sky – is somewhat sidelined. For me, ‘Our Last Summer’ has always been one of my favourite ABBA songs and remains so here, ruefully sung by former rocker Harry, an appealing Paul Clarkson, and McCarthy with a gentle loveliness that seems to stand in for the show as a whole.

Album Review: Stephen Ward (2013 Original Cast Recording)

“Part of me is saying I should go”

Like many others, I imagine, I did not leave Stephen Ward thinking I particularly want to hear this score by Andrew Lloyd Webber again anytime soon and so three years later, this is the first time I’ve revisited this musical. And as the strange melody of opening number ‘Human Sacrifice’ started, I began to wonder if I’d been overly harsh, Alexander Hanson’s story-telling experience imbuing this prologue of sorts with real interest and setting me up for a potential reimagining of my opinion.

But then track number 2 ‘Super Duper Hula Hooper’ kicks in, that title makes me die a little inside every time I hear it, and you soon begin to realise why the show barely managed 4 months in the West End. Lloyd Webber may have been a teenager in the 60s but he’s looking back at them like a man in his sixties, the air of rose-tinted corrective lenses and musical tweeness proving fatal to conjuring any kind of authentic sense of the period. Continue reading “Album Review: Stephen Ward (2013 Original Cast Recording)”

CD Review: Witches of Eastwick (Original London Cast Recording)

“Waiting for the music to begin”

Throughout this whirlwind tour of cast recordings, one of the more interesting things has been listening to shows that closed early, or at least relatively so. The Witches of Eastwick managed a 15 month run in 2000-1 at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane and then the Prince of Wales in a slightly revised version and I have to say that on the evidence of this original London cast recording, it deserved more.

Dana P Rowe’s score and John Dempsey’s lyrics captures much of the small-town mania of John Updike’s source novel and performed by a crack cast as it is here, it is often thrilling to listen to. Ian McShane may have been cast as the devilish Darryl but it is Joanna Riding, Maria Friedman and Lucie Arnaz as the titular triumvirate whose innate powers are unleashed by the nefarious influence of this charismatic stranger, with troubling results for both themselves and those around them – the harmonies that accompany their joint numbers are just scintillating. Continue reading “CD Review: Witches of Eastwick (Original London Cast Recording)”

Review: City of Angels, Donmar Warehouse

“One Joe who swore, he’s single
Got me sorta crocked, the beast
I woke up only slightly shocked

That I’d defrocked a priest”

I quite often have problems with plays and musicals that are thusly described – “one of the acknowledged greats of twentieth century musical theatre” – especially when I’ve not heard a note of it. I’ve always preferred finding my own route into liking something and so such labels rarely help, the note of hyperbole indeed a little off-putting. So the buzz around Josie Rourke’s production of the Cy Coleman, Larry Gelbart and David Zippel musical City of Angels proved something of a double-edged sword for me.

This was actually my second viewing of the show – I decided to leave writing up a trip to a late preview whilst suffering from a bad cold as I wasn’t sure how constructive I could be whilst feeling so rough. But even on second viewing, the show struck as a peculiar beast indeed. A dip into the world of film noir with a play-within-a-play structure, City of Angels has quite a cold heart and a clinical feel to it as a novelist tries to make it big in Hollywood with his story of a hard-boiled detective working on a big case. Continue reading “Review: City of Angels, Donmar Warehouse”

Review: Stephen Ward The Musical, Aldwych

“Manipulation, that’s the technique, 
This conversation must not leak” 

It’s a curious thing, to take a relatively obscure figure, base a musical on him that is then named after him, yet leave a vacuum where his central presence ought to be the driving force. For all that Andrew Lloyd Webber, Don Black and Christopher Hampton place the character of Stephen Ward at the centre of Stephen Ward the Musical, he remains far too inscrutable, far too unexplored for us to buy into the main premise of the show which is that Ward, who committed suicide after being made the scapegoat for the Profumo scandal of 1963, is a tragic victim of Establishment hypocrisy.

But for all Alexander Hanson’s sterling efforts as the osteopath-turned-social fixer who engineered the first meeting of Secretary of State for War John Profumo and wannabe showgirl Christine Keeler, the show suffers from making him narrator as well as protagonist. So he is lumped with huge swathes of exposition, made increasingly worthy due to a slavish attention to real-life events, as a huge cast of characters flash by momentarily in the service of telling a story, but leave us none the wiser as to what Ward was like as a person, what motivated him, what moved him. Continue reading “Review: Stephen Ward The Musical, Aldwych”

Review: Kiss Me, Kate, Chichester Festival Theatre

“But when the thermometer goes right up, and the weather is sizzling hot…”

So confident in their run of successful summer musicals is Chichester Festival Theatre that the transfer for Kiss Me, Kate (it will play at co-producers London’s Old Vic from 20th November to 2nd March) was announced before it had even opened at its native theatre. But with experienced hands Trevor Nunn directing and Stephen Mears choreographing, Cole Porter’s ever-spry music and a cast headed up by leading light of the British musical theatre scene Hannah Waddingham, it was a reasonably safe bet.

And unsurprisingly, it is one that has paid off. The show follows a theatre company putting on a musical version of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, where the feisty relationship between Petruchio and Katherine is echoed by the conflict between director and leading man Fred and his ex-wife Lilli who is playing opposite him. As the offstage drama threatens to overwhelm the onstage, some shenanigans from another member of the company in a gambling room throws matters further into disarray. Continue reading “Review: Kiss Me, Kate, Chichester Festival Theatre”

Re-review: Matilda, the Musical – Cambridge Theatre

“Never again will I doubt it when my mummy says I’m a miracle!”

More so than with straight plays, I find musicals tend to benefit from re-views (as opposed to reviews!). There’s just more to take in with book, music and lyrics all demanding the attention, especially if they’re richly detailed, staging and choreography offering much inventive potential and by no means least, a wide range of performances, which altogether offers a lot to soak in on a single viewing. Returning to a show also offers the opportunity to reassess one’s initial reactions to it, and so it was with the RSC’s Matilda, the Musical which has now made its long-awaited transfer from Stratford to the West End.

I saw the show at the beginning of the year, fairly late in the run, so had been unable to avoid the effusive praise coming from all angles and the sense of anticipation that came along with it. So predictably, whilst loving the show, there was a nagging sense of a slight disappointment too, which mainly stemmed from it not matching up with my childhood memories of the book and how I thought the show would go. It was still a strong 4 star show for me though, just not quite the saviour of musicals it was being acclaimed as, and so though I was pleased it gained the transfer it deserved, I felt little need to revisit the show. Continue reading “Re-review: Matilda, the Musical – Cambridge Theatre”

Review: Phantom: Love Never Dies, Adelphi

“Beneath this mask I wear, there’s nothing of me”

I hadn’t originally intended to get a ticket to see Phantom: Love Never Dies, being appalled at the ticket prices when it was announced, but when the National Lottery gods smiled on me and I got four numbers and £64 (the price of a middle stalls tickets plus booking fee) I decided to take the plunge to see if indeed love never dies or whether I needed a defibrillator in my manbag.

It has been billed as a stand-alone story, ie not a sequel despite the strapline being ‘the story continues’… and most of the main characters being taken from Phantom of the Opera, the only new addition amongst the leads is Gustave, Christine’s 10 year old son. The action here takes place ten years after the events of Phantom, the masked man having fled to New York and set up a fairground/freakshow at Coney Island called Phantasmaland. Madame Giry and daughter Meg travelled with him, Meg being one of the performers in the show and looking to make it big in showbusiness through being showcased here.

However, Phantom anonymously invites Christine Daaé to come and sing at this prestigious new venue, an offer she is forced to accept as husband Raoul is now a heavy gambler, and a drunk. So they arrive in New York with son Gustave, and it soon becomes apparent that there’s more than just singing on the menu, as secrets and lies from the past rear their head, long-suppressed feelings rise to the fore and frustrated ambitions boil over with shocking results. Continue reading “Review: Phantom: Love Never Dies, Adelphi”