Re-review: Ragtime, Charing Cross

“You can never go back to before”

Mother may spend a song telling us that we can never go ‘Back To Before’ but fortunately you can go back to Ragtime with no fear. And in a post-election climate, it can’t help but feel even more charged as the USA finds itself at a(nother) momentous point in its history. You can read my original review here and if anything, Thom Southerland’s production has gotten even better as the actor-musicians feel even more confident and comfortable. 

Leading performances from Jennifer Saayeng and Ako Mitchell, Earl Carpenter and Anita Louise Combe, and Gary Tushaw remain powerful as ever. But on second viewing I enjoyed watching ensemble members and just how damn hard they’re working – Kate Robson-Stuart, Christopher Dickins and James Mack particularly standing out for me… If you’ve not seen the show yet, there’s a trailer below for your delectation but move quickly, there’s less than a month less of the run. Continue reading “Re-review: Ragtime, Charing Cross”

Review: Ragtime, Charing Cross

“And say to those who blame us for the way we chose to fight
That sometimes there are battles that are more than black or white.”

It’s impossible to watch Ragtime right now without marvelling at its relevance to the current US presidential election campaign and the lessons that were right there for Donald Trump and his team to learn. For in many ways, the show – written by Ahrens and Flaherty with book by Terrence McNally from EL Doctorow’s novel – is about the development of the modern American nation and identifies three key groups instrumental in that societal change in women, African-Americans and immigrant communities, the very people Trump has done his damnedest to alienate.

Politics aside, what’s more significant is the magical touch that director Thom Southerland seems to have when it comes to reconceiving musicals, as his actor-musician production here at the Charing Cross Theatre is an extraordinary success. Keeping most of his 24-strong company onstage throughout amplifies the overarching humanity of its storytelling, reminding us that these are all of our stories regardless of whichever group we ‘belong’. Combined with the expert musicality onstage and an ingenious design from Tom Rogers and Toots Butcher, it’s an irresistible adaptation that shouldn’t be missed. Continue reading “Review: Ragtime, Charing Cross”

Review: Something Something Lazarus, King’s Head

“I’m not unwrapping your sex chair”

It’s always interesting to get feedback on my blogging though the emotions that drive people to write tend to be quite forcible… thus the latest missive I received castigated me strongly for not supporting new musical theatre writing in giving Miss Atomic Bomb a less than favourable review. Regardless of the notion that I do usually aim to be constructive in my criticism, I’d argue that challenging the writers with external opinions is supporting them, many a musical has been rewritten and rewritten and so blind praise does little to help, especially when the material is so formally unadventurous.

Which is a long-winded way of saying I love the concept of what Broken Cabaret are doing in Something Something Lazarus even if I didn’t completely love the show itself. Described as “a new (kind of) musical”, writers John Myatt and Simon Arrowsmith are doing no less than shifting paradigms of musical theatre to create something something new. The show opens in a bit of a blur – Vee and Della, employees of the Midnight Sun cabaret, are haphazardly rehearsing for tonight’s new show, owner Daniel is on the edge of a nervous breakdown and his lover Jay is wandering around in his pants. Events take a little while to come to a climax under Dan Phillips’ direction but boy, do they ever. Continue reading “Review: Something Something Lazarus, King’s Head”

TV Review: The Sound of Music Live

“It’s quite different after you’ve grown up”

The hills are alive, with the sound of questions. Like, why. The UK’s first fully live musical theatre television broadcast saw ITV produce Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The Sound of Music though the result was a curious experiment that fell uneasily between two stools. Lacking the crucial energy that propels the best live theatre (which comes from an audience too), the production values (though often impressive) naturally fell short of the opportunities of filmed work

Which ultimately begs the question, what’s the point. Is the UK hankering for a new production of the show? It’s hardly as if we’re lacking for productions popping up regularly in theatres across the land. Is it showcasing the best of British musical theatre talent? In that case why cast someone like Strictly winner and former Eastender Kara Tointon as Maria and shunt the likes of Julie Atherton (one of the most outstanding performers we have, bar none) into the nun ensemble. Continue reading “TV Review: The Sound of Music Live”

Review: Grand Hotel, Southwark Playhouse

“Come begin in old Berlin”

Finally, a traverse staging that feels properly justified. It’s still highly dependent on where you sit – despite being a little late, I was able to secure a great vantage point from the middle of the back row from where the full length of the stage for Grand Hotel was suitably visible and I was glad for it. Thom Southerland’s musicals at the Southwark Playhouse have become something of an annual fixture now, becoming big hits for them (Parade) even if they haven’t always floated my boat (Titanic…).

Based on Vicki Baum’s Grand Hotel, the book by Luther Davis swirls around the residents of this Berlin establishment in 1928 over one fateful weekend. A grande dame of a faded ballerina, a typist dreaming of Hollywood, an aristocrat who has lost his fortune, a businessman facing ruin, a man who has little time left to live, their stories and more intertwine elegantly and fluidly in a constantly moving state of flux which captures some of the unpredictability and increasing darkness of interwar Germany. Continue reading “Review: Grand Hotel, Southwark Playhouse”

Album Review: Gay’s The Word (Original 2012 London Cast)

“It’s bound to be right on the night”

I remember being thoroughly enamoured of Gay’s The Word at the Finborough back in 2012 and its leading lady Sophie-Louise Dann before I really knew who she was. Now I’m a full paid-up member of her fan club, I wish I had been able to appreciate how great (and rare) a leading lady performance it was. This 1951 Ivor Novello show received its first ever revival here but whereas sometimes one can tell exactly why something has been collecting dust on the shelf, Stewart Nicholl’s production revealed a hidden gem.

As with much of Novello’s work, it is sparkly and silly but sweetly and sincerely done so that its genuine warmth elevates the whole affair. It helps that he was poking fun at his own reputation for daffiness in his writing and the show-in-a-show conceit allows for a wider variety of musical styles to be incorporated. But it is classic, old-school musical theatre through and through with songs that sound as instantly recognisable as if they’ve been played over and over in music halls and theatres across the country for decades. Continue reading “Album Review: Gay’s The Word (Original 2012 London Cast)”

Review: Rumpy Pumpy, Landor

“Boobs, tubes, jellies and lubes 
All do the trick if the problem’s a prick” 

You can head over to Official Theatre to read my 2 star review of new musical Rumpy Pumpy which is playing at the Landor Theatre, a show I thought needed “a firm hand to redraft and reshape” in order to meet the full potential of the interesting source material. More show information can also be found here

Running time: 2 hours 10 minutes (with interval) 
Booking until 19th April

Review: Carousel, Arcola

“Fresh and alive and gay and young”

It’s kind of hard to avoid the many rave reviews that this Morphic Graffiti revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel has received so it won’t surprise those who know me that I wasn’t quite as blown away by it as were others. I have somehow managed to avoid ever seeing it before and I wonder if that made the difference – a recurring theme seems to be ‘one of the best versions I’ve ever seen’ indicating a deep seated affection for the show (much like Miss Saigon) whereas to fresh ears and eyes, the splendour of the score can’t always paper over the more questionable aspects of the book. 

There’s certainly much to appreciate in Luke Frederick’s production – the reconceptualising of a ‘big’ musical into the boutique space of the Arcola has been excellently done. Lee Proud’s choreography has a great feel for the expressive and exhilarating potential in such intimacy and Andrew Corcoran’s tight band of five create a great musical sound, especially blessed by the unmiked singing which lends a rawness and immediacy that feels entirely appropriate for the venue. I can well imagine it not having sounded quite like this before and therefore exciting those who loved it already. Continue reading “Review: Carousel, Arcola”

Review: Orton, Above the Stag

“A case of cock over cranium”

The tempestuous relationship between ground-breaking playwright Joe Orton and his lover Kenneth Halliwell has long been a source of fascination for writers and retellings of their story can be found in many formats. Including now, a musical, as Richard Silver and Sean J Hume’s Orton takes its own bow on the stage of the rehoused Above the Stag, a mere studded collar’s throw from notorious Vauxhall hangout The Hoist (in a touch which would surely have amused Orton).

The show simply follows the pair from the heady excitement of the day they met at RADA through to Orton’s untimely end at the hands of Halliwell and a hammer sixteen years later. But though there is a most macabre ending in sight, the journey there ends up being rather entertaining, impressively told with humour, intelligence and no little campery. And for a new musical, it has a pleasingly strong sense of its own identity, a small-scale triumph in its own right. Continue reading “Review: Orton, Above the Stag”

CD Review: It’s Just The Beginning – The Songs of Charles Miller and Kevin Hammonds

“I’m a girl of few words
And I don’t make a fuss 
But there’s something I’d like to discuss” 

As with too many good musical theatre writers, transatlantic partnership Charles Miller and Kevin Hammonds may not be the best known, but their work deserves a wider recognition as evidenced on their CD It’s Just The Beginning – The Songs of Charles Miller and Kevin Hammonds. British musician Miller and New York lyricist Hammonds have something of an old-fashioned soul, their songs very much part of the long tradition of musical theatre rather than a genre-busting radical new approach and as such, represent an interesting future alongside the Jason Robert Browns of the world.

To musical theatre aficionados, some of this music won’t be unfamiliar. When Midnight Strikes was performed at the Upstairs at the Gatehouse theatre last year and is well represented here (the emotive ‘Never Learned To Type’ is probably the highlight, the divine Caroline O’Connor wistfully breaking our hearts with a beautiful vocal. And Julie Atherton’s debut album A Girl of Few Words showcased 12 of their songs, two of which are reprised here – the wonderfully striking title track and the powerful duet ‘Someone Find Me’ with good pal Paul Spicer. Continue reading “CD Review: It’s Just The Beginning – The Songs of Charles Miller and Kevin Hammonds”