Thursday, 24 August 2017

Album Review: Bombay Dreams (2002 Original London Cast)

"Contradictions, city of extremes, anything is possible in Bombay dreams. 
Some live and die in debt, others making millions on the internet"

True story, until last week I thought Bombay Dreams was written by Andrew Lloyd Webber. Not having seen it onstage nor listened to it before, all I knew was the Lord's name was attached to it and assumptions were thus made - it's even his name that appears first on the album cover. But peruse a little closer and you see he's just 'presenting' as one of the original producers, cast your eyes a little further down and A.R. Rahman is revealed as the composer. This may of course be old news to you but for me, it was a revelation before I'd even started!

This was multi-award-winning composer Rahman's first effort for the stage and the palpable effort to mesh his unique take on Indian music with the world of musical theatre is obvious from the off. The musical soundscape that begins 'Bombay Awakes/Bombay Dreams' is layered and intriguing but the mood is shattered as soon as Don Black's lyrics crash in (see the quote up top for a sample) and the combination is cringeworthily fatal. And across the score as a whole, the sense of compromise, of trying to serve two masters whilst pleasing none is too evident.

Album Review: Love Never Dies (2010 Concept Album)

"The world is hard, the world is mean
It's hard to keep your conscience clean"

I hadn't listened to Love Never Dies since seeing its very first preview (oh how we laughed when ALW ran furious from the stalls when the set broke down) and having popped on the concept album that was released in tandem, I was soon reminded why. The not-a-sequel to Phantom of the Opera too often feels like a lazy retread of familiar ground, demonstrating zero musical progression and revealing a stagnation where there once was innovation.

The Coney Island setting undercuts any attempt to get close to the gothic horror of the opera house, the 'freak show' elements are desperately tame there. The swerves into rock are ill-advised in the extreme. Lyrically, there's no ingenuity here at all, the words play second fiddle to the music to their peril And above all, the interpolation of themes from Phantom serve as a constant reminder of what this is not, and also the ultimate folly of the enterprise.

Wednesday, 23 August 2017

Review: Knives in Hens, Donmar

"I have no name for the thing which is in my head. It is not envy. It is more than envy. It does not scare me. I must look close enough to discover what it is"

It's no secret that Yaël Farber creates the most immersive of worlds in her theatre but it is still a sensory thrill to allow yourself to submerge entirely into it. The growling rumble of Isabel Waller-Bridge's score is a thrumming backdrop to the striking splendour of Soutra Gilmour's set - all stone and earth and timber, an elemental space for the almost ritualistic unfolding of this pre-industrial play.

And if it seems grim and dark (Tim Lutkin lights with remarkable economy), Farber introduces a repeated motif of flashes of white - the scattering of plucked feathers, plumes of flour billowing through the air, the gentle fall of snowflakes caught just so in the light, hell even the pale sculpted muscularity of a (surely anachronistically tattooed) bare arse establishing early on the internal dynamics.

Bat Out Of Hell is coming back in 2018

"It's so hard to believe but it's all coming back to me now"


There are (still) no words to say about Bat Out Of Hell that can really do it justice (here's my attempt from the first viewing) and in any case, even if I wanted to I couldn't, as it really is a show that demands to be seen having partaken of a beverage or seven. And believe me, last night I partook! So I guess I'll see you at the Coliseum next year then, you can get the first round in ;-)

Album Review: Marguerite (2008 Original London Cast Recording)

"Come see the show,
She will neither know nor care"

It is always fascinating to listen to the cast recordings of shows that are regarded to have flopped, to see whether the writing was always on the wall or if some reason was responsible for the magic not happening. Lasting just four months at the Theatre Royal Haymarket in 2008, Marguerite is one such musical, despite (or maybe because of) the weight of expectation behind its writing team.

With a book by Alain Boublil, Claude-Michel Schönberg and Jonathan Kent (from the the Alexandre Dumas, fils' novel La Dame aux Camélias) lyrics by Alain Boublil and Herbert Kretzmer, and music by Michel Legrand, the demands on these Gallic grandees were nothing short of recreating the exceptional success of Les Misérables (on which Boublil, Schönberg and Kretzmer collaborated) but it wasn't to be.

Album Review: The Sound of Music (2006 London Palladium Cast Recording)

"Today you have to learn to be a realist"

I wanted to love the London Palladium Cast Recording of The Sound of Music, I really did, but there's just something missing, a magic ingredient or two gone awry which means that you can't imagine it ever replacing the version of the score that you fell in love with, no matter which one that is.

This 2006 production was the first to use reality TV to cast its leading role - the BBC's How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria? proving to be a headline grabbing success and resulting in Connie Fisher winning the part of Maria, which she played for around 18 months in the end. She did experience the beginnings of vocal problems during the run, which have now pretty much put the kybosh on her musical theatre career, and it is hard not to feel that this recording does not capture Fisher at her best.

Tuesday, 22 August 2017

Album Review: War Paint (2017 Original Broadway Cast Recording)

"She's coming, she's coming...she's here!"

The rivalry between beauty moguls Helena Rubinstein and Elizabeth Arden has proven a rich one for theatrical exploitation, impressively so given that the pair never actually met. So though the UK got the play Madame Rubinstein and the US got the musical War Paint, both had to find their way into creating a narrative that somehow brings them together whilst respecting their individual strengths.

I'm not so sure John Misto's play achieved that, despite the best efforts of Miriam Margoyles and Frances Barber but on the evidence of the cast recording, I think War Paint (currently running at the Nederlander), with book by Doug Wright, music by Scott Frankel, and lyrics by Michael Korie, with the mighty Patti LuPone and Christine Ebersole at the helm gets a darned sight closer.

Album Review: Anastacia (2017 Original Broadway Cast Recording)

“What dream hold the key to your heart?”


I may be the wrong target audience for Anastasia, currently doing decent business on Broadway, being 18 when the film came out and never having made the effort to see it since. And I have to say the prospect of seeing the musical treatment fills me with even less enthusiasm, having now listened to the Original Broadway Cast Recording.

Composed by the seemingly tireless Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty, it is a relentlessly chirpy and traditional score that didn’t excite me for one Cossack-kicking moment (and given the number of tracks here, it is a substantial moment). Its Russian influences are worn so heavily they drag down much of the first half, a lack of subtlety that is carried through with real consistency.

Monday, 21 August 2017

Review: Against, Almeida


For

Against

  • Amanda Hale being excellent in an all-too-rare excursion to the stage
  • Ben Whishaw being Ben Whishaw in his Whishawy way, even if it's not quite enough to enliven the play
  • Whishaw briefly in his pants, if you like that sort of thing
  • An intelligently sparse design from ULTZ
  • Did I mention Amanda Hale? She comes close to making it all worthwhile

  • The running time
  • The comparative lack of depth to Christopher Shinn's writing which in no way justifies the above
  • The range of issues which touched upon but not interrogated despite the above
  • The structure of the play which exacerbates the above
  • The inherent misogyny in the writing which only allows men to talk about these issues, however unsatisfactorily
  • The cheap potshots at political correctness, seemingly designed for the Cavendishes and Purves of this world
  • Did I mention the running time?



Running time: 2 hours 45 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 30th September

Album Review: USHERS: The Front Of House Musical - (2014 Original London Cast Recording)

"I'll be an inspiration
A musical sensation"

The cast recording for USHERS: The Front Of House Musical was released in advance of its 2014 run at the Charing Cross Theatre but ever the trail-blazer ;-), I saw the show a few months before when it played at the then newly inaugurated Hope Theatre. There, its homespun charms won me over, with its tales of drama in the theatre but not the onstage kind, rather it is the Front of House staff in the spotlight here.

Written by Yiannis Koutsakos, James Oban and James Rottger, and simply orchestrated for Lee Freeman on the piano, it is a short and sweet cast recording but one which wisely makes a virtue of it. These aren't particularly epic songs or grand stories but intimate pieces and personal tales of love and betrayal, audience members and interval ice-creams, and so they suit the smaller focus that they're given here.

Album Review: Songs From The Musical Wolfboy (2010)

"So tell me what are you in for?

Russell Labey and Leon Parris's musical adaptation of Brad Fraser's play Wolfboy played at a short run at Trafalgar Studios 2 in 2010 after an Edinburgh run the year before and afterwards, for reasons best known to themselves, an EP was released with just four songs from the show on the tracklisting. It's an odd decision but on listening to the album, perhaps it is something of a blessing in disguise.

I returned to Wolfboy mainly to listen to Daniel Boys' performance but the main takeaway is how dull and wannabe-goth the songs end up sounding. The overall aesthetic is teenage boys who have just heard Placebo do a slow song for the first time and trying to replicate the sound does precisely nobody any favours at all. And presenting excerpts like this does even allow you to grasp the story that is unfolding. making it hard to see the logic behind this release.

Sunday, 20 August 2017

Review: Salad Days, Union

"I'm gay and I'm breathless and I'm jubilant and I'm dancing"

As fizzy as a sherbet dip, as baffling as the rules of cricket, as delightful as the finest afternoon tea, Julian Slade and Dorothy Reynolds' Salad Days is quite possibly the best classic British musical you haven't heard of. I only came across it for the first time myself with TĂȘte Ă  TĂȘte's superlative production at the old Riverside Studios in 2010 but instantly tumbled for its many charms and when the show came back in 2012, so I giddily went back. Now it is the turn of the Union Theatre to revive the musical and hopefully win over some new converts.

And it well could do so, given how successful Bryan Hodgson's production is here. Much of its beauty comes from the thoroughness of his vision, the detail and thought that has gone into its every aspect. Creatively, Catherine Morgan's design wisely maximises space, the better to let Joanne McShane's gorgeous choreography with its cherry-picking of early twentieth century dance influences let rip. And placing the band at the rear addresses a good deal of the sound issues that affected The Hired Man, as well as providing a nifty solution to getting into outer space.