Wednesday 24 May 2017

The Color Purple - Review

Cadogan Hall, London


Book by Marsha Norman
Music & lyrics by Brenda Russell, Allee Willis and Stephen Bray

The Company
The Color Purple’s book, movie and musical have all told the extraordinary story of a Celie, a brutally oppressed woman who against all odds, overcomes racism, abuse and misogyny to find her unique place in 20th century America. Not seen in London since the Menier’s sensational production in 2013, the musical returned to the capital this week for a one night only concert-staged fundraiser.

Taking time out from her West End debut as Dreamgirls’ alternate Effie White, Marisha Wallace shone as Celie. This site has already  raved about Wallace’s current work at the Savoy and yet again, her phenomenal voice and emotional, heart wrenching performance proved that she had been perfectly cast. Back at the Menier, Cynthia Erivo’s Celie (a role that was to win her Broadway's Tony 3 years later) had stopped the show nightly with I’m Here. This time around Wallace matched that moment, bringing the packed Cadogan Hall to a mid-act standing ovation as she gave her own interpretation to this most defining of the show’s numbers.

Two other power house women were Wendy Mae Brown as Sofia and Rachel John’s Shug, Celie’s closest friends. Rarely can there have been two more spirited or sassy woman on stage together at one time. John was a phenomenally assertive and sexually confidant presence on stage, embodying her flirtatious character with ease and outstanding vocals. To describe her take on Push The Button as vocal gymnastics would be an understatement.

Likewise, the audience’s instant support and love for Sofia was tangible. Brown’s guttural and soulful voice was delicious. It proved impossible however not to scream with laughter at her perfectly weighted, sarcasm-filled pauses that she used to judge the patriarchal and cluelessly domineering men surrounding her. 

Clueless in character maybe – but the guys on stage were amongst London’s finest. Cavin Cornwall’s malevolent, misogynist Mister proved classily contemptible, whilst Tyrone Huntley delivered ingenious ineptitude with his emotionally bungling Harpo.

Alongside the British Theatre Academy, producer Danielle Tarento had assembled an outstanding cast to deliver a truly powerful production, with James Taylor conducting (unbelievably, only) an 8 piece band and making the score soar too. Bravo to Tarento and her stellar company, The Color Purple was magnificent!

Reviewed  by Charlotte Darcy
Photo credit: Scott Rylander

Wednesday 17 May 2017

110 In The Shade - Review

Ye Olde Rose and Crown, London


Music by Harvey Schmidt
Lyrics by Tom Jones
Book by N. Richard Nash
Directed by Randy Smartnick

Adapted by N. Richard Nash from his original play The Rainmaker, 110 In The Shade tells the story of Lizzie Curry an intelligent lonely woman, living in a small town in the western USA that has been enduring a long standing drought. Lizzie however, is suffering from an altogether different type of drought. Unmarried, she worries that she will become an old maid until a mysterious and charismatic stranger named Starbuck arrives in town, vowing he can not only conjure a deluge to save the town from despair, but also show Lizzie who she can truly be.

Laurel Dougall is fantastic as Lizzie. Her energy is infectious throughout and she is a joy to watch as the determined but deeply self-conscious woman. The emotion which she pours into each note of her songs, be it her beautifully touching rendition of Is it really me? Or her hilarious and spirited performance in Raunchy, is stunning. Though, to be fair, her character singing about becoming a much raunchier woman, to her much older father, did sound a little odd.

As the intriguingly charming Starbuck, Daniel Urch gives a fantastic performance. But – the role appears somewhat too old for him and perhaps the biggest criticisms of the show lies in this casting, with the age gap between the two leads very distinct and at times undermining the show’s emotional punch. Urch nonetheless wows with his powerful voice and wonderfully embodies the arrogance and confidence that drives Starbuck’s actions.

Julian Quijano as Lizzie’s younger brother Jimmy is altogether the star of the show with a presence that draws the audience toward him. His duet and pas de deux Little Red Hat, with his girlfriend Snookie, played by the confident and flirtatious Rebecca Withers, was the best example of Kate McPhee’s choreography in the show. The two move well together, the number perfectly portraying a sexual frustration that in some way or another is displayed in every member of the cast throughout the show.

Smartnick’s direction is simple, naturalistic and honest resulting in a talented cast who give a dedicated and sincere performance, creating a sense of family and love throughout the small town.

The show’s scenery and design however is poor. A pale blue backdrop cloth would have been considerably more effective had it been tightened to remove the very obvious creases which, under the lights, ruined any desired effect. Likewise Starbuck’s wagon that was occasionally half wheeled/rolled onto the stage but which in its crass painting looked more like an oversized child’s toy than an actual serious piece of set.

While some of the details are flawed (which in turn brings down the overall impact of the show) 110 In The Shade is a gem of a piece, with a cast who deliver delightful performances. Yet again Aaron Clingham has unearthed a rarely seen treat of a show – and if one is truly interested in the diverse breadth of musical theatre’s canon, then it has to be seen.

Runs until 28 May 2017
Reviewed by Charlotte Darcy

The Addams Family - Review

New Wimbledon Theatre, London


Music & lyrics by Andrew Lippa
Book by Marshall Brickman & Rick Elice
Characters created by Charles Addams
Directed by Matthew White

Cameron Blakely and Samatha Womack

Having recently started out in Edinburgh, The Addams Family finally makes its London premiere. Starting life on Broadway in 2010 the show failed to make an immediate transfer across the pond, but having toured internationally, this gloriously ghoulish musical has at last been given a British life and judging by the reaction of tonight's audience, its arrival is more than welcome.

From the moment the overture commences with the iconic clicks from the cartoon / TV series the audiences are not only on side, but clicking along. The story, characters and settings are iconic. But with such a cultural resonance of course comes great expectations. Have no fear however, this production doesn’t just meet expectations, it smashes them!

The long road to London has been well worth it for this company, for their comic timing and delivery has been honed to perfection. The evening's run of constant stone cold gags sees each wisecrack delivered with the utmost sincerity. Most importantly, Matthew White’s direction has ensured a strong connection to the famously familiar elements of the TV classic, while still allowing creativity from all of his team to blossom. Complete with a mystery arm frequently making an appearance through the letter box, Diego Pitarch's design in particular sets the classic scene from the offset.

The performances are flawless. Too many to mention them all, but Cameron Blakely's Gomez is sensational. His presence is a force to be reckoned with and in the opening number When You're An Addams, which is the first taste we get of Alistair David's impressive choreography, Blakely not only establishes his character but alongside Samantha Womack’s Morticia, draws the audience into their not so normal family life. Stunt / celebrity casting can often be a critique of many UK Tours but not tonight. Womack’s motherly warmth actually comes across with an icy chill. Not only that, but the comedic chemistry between these two fantastic actors is more than alive and certainly at no point do either of these two need a kiss of life from their opposite. The gags also flow thick and fast from Les Dennis’ fabulously crazed Uncle Fester.

A strong mother deserves an equally strong on stage daughter and Carrie Hope Fletcher’s Wednesday is a blast. As the hot headed, torturing yet adorable Wednesday, Fletcher is quite simply a raring ball of energy on stage as her romance with Oliver Ormson's Lucas Beineke develops. Her rendition of Pulled complete with puppet butterflies was top notch, very few actors can deliver such vocal and comical class through song.

- To be fair, Fletcher has dreamed of playing Wednesday for years. This website saw her sing Pulled nearly four years ago at Andrew Lippa’s gig at the St James Theatre. Read Jonathan's review from then - she “took the roof off”. -

Amongst the cross bows, gory dead rabbits, cackles and cries is a story about the simple day to life of a family in New York. Albeit not your average tribe, but the monstrous leading performances and hauntingly slick ensemble bring this family tale to life. Supported by Andrew Hilton's polished band with Lippa's numbers superbly arranged by Richard Beadle, the show plays at Wimbledon until the end of the week before hitting the road as one of the best productions currently touring the land.

If you know your Addams Family songs – Full Disclosure! To everyone else the show is unmissable.

Playing at the New Wimbledon Theatre until May 20th, then touring. Full schedule here.
Reviewed by Josh Adams
Photo credit: Matt Martin

Dreamgirls Original London Cast Recording - CD Review


Opening at the Savoy Theatre last year to multi-Olivier success, the original London cast recording of Dreamgirls has just been released, offering fans and newcomers alike a chance to recall or simply just savour the show's power and impact.

Captured over 4 nights' performances in February 2017 and produced by the show's composer Henry Krieger himself, the engineering standards of the recording are impressive – and whilst there is a perceptible live-theatre aura to the collected songs, the fidelity of both music and voice is virtually flawless.

Spread across 2 CDs, the 28 tracks are heavy on narrative - and if there is a criticism of the writing it could be that aside from a handful of sensational numbers, too many of the songs lack a lyrical wit. That being said, the big numbers are sensational. Dreamgirls (and its finale'd reprise) captures the pulse of the Motown-esque sound that Krieger aims for, while as Effie White, Amber Riley is of course sensational with the show's signature tune One Night Only and its showstopping act one closer, And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going that belts out of one’s speakers or headphones. Great music to drive to too!

The vocal excellence of the company stands out on the recording - Adam J. Bernard's Jimmy Early is a mini powerhouse, while any opportunity to hear Tyrone Huntley, a young actor who stands head and shoulders above his British peers and who plays C. C. White in the show, is a treat.

Remember though that this is a live recording. And so, when Riley simply walks on stage without having sung a word to make her nightly debut, the audience's gleeful whoops of delight are recorded on the CD too. Call me old fashioned perhaps but for years, on this side of the Atlantic at least, audiences have applauded in recognition of a job well done - rather than cheering on a star for simply showing up. How times change....

But, and make no mistake. Dreamgirls in the West End is playing to electrified packed houses night after night. Listen to this album and you can understand why!

An American In Paris - Review

Dominion Theatre, London


Music and lyrics by George Gershwin and Ira Gershwin
Book by Craig Lucas
Directed and choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon

Leanne Cope and Robert Fairchild

Long before the era of the modern day jukebox musical, Hollywood was already hard at work re-hashing classic George and Ira Gershwin numbers from the 20s and weaving them into Vincente Minnelli's 1951 movie An American In Paris. Inspired by Gershwin's orchestral work of the same name, it was Gene Kelly's dance work alongside Minelli’s vision that was to propel the picture to multi-Oscar success.

It may well have taken 30 years for Gershwin's inspirational compositions to reach the silver screen, but it was to be a further 65 before Broadway wrestled back some of what were to prove the American Songbook's greatest numbers, to give An American In Paris the musical theatre treatment it deserves.

In a week that has seen the show's recently-opened London transfer announce that it is now booking beyond Christmas, and with two of the original Broadway leads (Leanne Cope and Robert Fairchild) headlining the London cast, it was no surprise to find the midweek show packed, playing to the capital's vast Dominion Theatre.

The show's story is the stuff of Hollywood legend as a ménage a trois / quatre / cinq evolves in post-War Paris. Two American creatives are in love with the same ballerina, who is herself betrothed to the young wealthy Frenchman who sheltered her during the war. Jazz and art are re-emerging as Paris sheds its Nazi past, with the story tackling issues of love, betrayal, jealousy and sexuality - all played out to some of the finest melodies of the last century.

Fairchild and Cope are respectively Jerry Mulligan and Lise Dassin (the characters played by Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron in the movie). Their triple-threat stage presence is enchanting, with Christopher Wheeldon's gorgeous choreography and direction lending a whirl of perfectly pirouetted whimsy to an utter confection of musical theatre delight.

David Seadon-Young and Haydn Oakley take up the honours of the American musician and French patrician respectively, each with their own respective claim to Lise's affections, with all three leading men kicking off the vocal honours delightfully with I Got Rhythm early on in the first act.

Completing the fifth angle of passionate pursuit is Zoe Rainey's Milo Davenport - a wealthy patron of the arts whose interest in Mulligan's artistic talents crosses into the realms of love. Rainey is a leading light of the British musical stage and the duetted arrangement of But Not For Me, that sees her paired with Seadon-Young in an ingenious interpretation of the classic heartbreaker, that is breathtaking in its re-invention.

The symphonic flourishes to the show allow John Rigby's fifteen piece orchestra to sparkle. Opening to Gershwin's Concerto in F sets the bar wonderfully in terms of both music and dance, while the title routine, a sizzling jazz ballet infused by the visual themes of Mondrian defines the second half.

There are a couple of niggles. None of the cast are from France and so it’s a minor disappointment to have to endure the usually magnificent Jane Asher's diction (and, indeed, the French idiom) reduced to tacky mock-Franglais accents, best suited to sitcom rather than classic theatre. Bob Crowley's costumes are as exquisite as the projections are imaginative but the continual movement of scene-changing mirrored panels proves a small distraction.

With the show's ethos simultaneously spanning both the Atlantic and the Channel and seeing it today, amidst the emerging opportunities of Brexit, to find An American In Paris, in London truly defines the global impact of fabulous musical theatre.

Booking until 27th January 2018
Photo credit: Johan Persson

Tuesday 16 May 2017

Comrade Rockstar - CD Review


Everyone loves a political rocker (don’t they?) and this musical, Comrade Rockstar, from the writer Julian Woolford with music by Richard John is about as political as you can find, telling the story of Dean Reed, a man who was known at the height of his fame as the Soviet Elvis. Sim G Records, a label dedicated to new musical theatre writers and artists, has just released the musical’s soundtrack.

The soundtrack kicks off upbeat with Dean driving and singing about driving (Driving Ambition, “ pedal to the floor, with my driving ambition, there’s a world to explore”) in a comfy and familiar all American fashion before the darkness quickly sets in with Smallville Colorado, that I can only hope is a little less threatening when performed on stage. It’s all gentle swaying motivational rock with comforting and familiar lyrics, though Gonna Be reveals Reed’s rather crappy patriarch - “Daddy said I’d never amount to nothing”. These tunes along with the cute little ditty, Minnesota, could be a mini soft-rock album in themselves.

As Dean (charismatic Canadian actor Tim Howar) continues his strange career and journey through Eastern Europe in the 60s and 70s, high points come in the form of My First Love and Wonderful Girls which fully encompass the “Elvis” part of the Soviet Elvis persona with warmth and swoon-able lyrics, even if the word “girls” starts to lose all meaning towards the end of the latter.

One can clearly see why Woolford and John were drawn to Dean's story, from the unique political attitude to his complicated marriages, to his lack of musical success in the US, unless you count the uncertified covers by the likes of Chuck Berry, the real Elvis and The Beatles.

The rock song that this Rock Musical has been promising in the long buildup of 12 songs (out of 18) comes in the form of the title number, which is positively head-banging and rounds up Dean Reed’s journey to acceptance and legend status (in Soviet Russia anyway) wonderfully. Watching You Walk Away continues this, complete with screeching guitar opening.

This isn’t a balanced album, some songs are almost unlistenable (Don’t Go) and some are just easily forgettable, but Comrade Rockstar is full of incredibly talented performances and an incredibly complex character at the centre, making it worth every one of Richard Coughlan's fabulous guitar solos.

CD available from SimG Records and to download from the usual channels
Reviewed by Heather Deacon

Musicals Shared With Friends - Review

Union Theatre, London


For the past decade, writer and lyricist Robert Gould has been slowly fashioning a body of musical theatre compositions, seeking to introduce more varied and original writing into the industry and collaborating with a number of talented composers - Christopher J Orton, Alex James Ellison and Rob Eyles to name a few.

Following the release of his 2014 album Words Shared With Friends his reputation has grown, and a Sunday night at the Union Theatre saw a 16 strong cast showcase a range of Gould’s work from across the years. 

Highlights from the evening were excerpts from The Wonderful Musician, two specific numbers from Gould’s most recent project performed by Hywel Dowsell and new graduate Danny Michaels. The pair sang Music Turns Me On  and  As Long As I Have Music respectively, giving very different performances and taking the audience from hysterical laughter to silence and awe. 

Unsurprisingly, the two shows in which Gould had collaborated with composer, Christopher J Orton were to prove the evening's favourites. Giving excerpts from Elephant Juice, Orton and Gould’s musical that tells of 6 characters who incidentally all confess their love to the wrong person or at the wrong time, Shaun McCourt and Brendan Matthew gave an effortlessly breath-taking duet in Perfect Stranger, alongside Lets Just Stay Friends which was given an  emotional rendition by Aled Powys Williams.

Following its successful, sell out run at Ye Olde Rose and Crown Theatre earlier this year, songs from Orton and Gould’s My Land’s Shore that told the tragedy of the Merthyr uprising, were to offer some sensational moments performed by the original London cast.

Michael Rees stunned the audience to silence with a flawless rendition of A Lonely Voice, Rebecca Gilliland gave an emotional and magnificent performance of The Way Things are and Still Even Now. A particularly strong performance was that of the all-female trio comprising Gilliland, Emma Hickey and Kira Morsley singing I know I Love Him. Together with McCourt performing the title song from My Land’s Shore, the extract showed a stunning example of some of the duo’s finest creations. 

Concerts like these should be given their dues for they enable the “musical theatre world” to find new bearings and discover exciting new writing.

Praise to Gould, his collaborators and the stunning performers he trusts with his work.

Reviewed by Charlotte Darcy and Ben Stephens

Friday 5 May 2017

Romeo and Juliet - Review

Union Theatre, London


Written by William Shakespeare
Dramaturg and adaptor - Joe Mackenzie
Directed by Andy Bewley

The Union's current offering finds us watching the star crossed lovers here played as two gay teenage boys who belong to rival youth football teams, respectively the Capulets and Montagues. This blog has long argued that one needs to be a genius to try and successfully improve or innovate upon the Bard's work - and there's little sign of such inspired creative talent in this latest iteration.

There could have been some potential here. Both football and the (thankfully dwindling) hooligan aspect of its culture are famously and toxically homophobic. Sadly however, what could have been an imaginative and bold new telling of the beloved script is entirely trashed. 

Andy Bewley’s direction is confused with one never being quite sure if the focus is on the fabled yarn or upon homophobia, or simply just the sport itself.  Admittedly, despite the fact that the soccer aspect of the show adds absolutely nothing of significance to the adapted love story, the few and far between moments of onstage football movement by Sam Perry (Juliet) and Abram Rooney (Romeo) do impress. 

The music, composed by Laurence Morgan is unnecessary. Why this production was designed to be actor-muso is never explained, while the sound design adds nothing to the production, except for a few head tilting moments of confusion as to why members of the ensemble enter on stage at any given time, playing gleaming, pristine instruments… badly.

The acting is honestly mediocre. There are a small number of hard hitting performances including Gabrielle Nellis-Pain as the Nurse (or Physiotherapist in this production) whose performance is charming and adds a warmth to the otherwise dismal goings on.

And Henri Merriam here playing the female Friar Lawrence, who notwithstanding the beautiful and emotional portrayal of her material, is shown here as a slightly dodgy groundskeeper,  who provides the 17 year olds with overly strong Rohypnol...

The direction and adapted script fails to find the importance and gravitas behind the root of the passion which brings the young lovers romance to fruition. Beautiful moments of poetry and art initially written in Shakespeare’s words are diminished and somewhat insulted by cheap quips and the hope of a quick laugh.

It is surprising that this production has been backed so passionately by the Union, which can provide (and has provided) much finer work than this in the past.  Rarely has the tragedy of Romeo and Juliet been so tragic.

Runs until May 20th
Reviewed by Charlotte Darcy

Wednesday 3 May 2017

Late Company - Review

Finborough Theatre, London


Written by Jordan Tannahill
Directed by Michael Yale

Lucy Robinson, Lisa Stevenson, David Leopold

Late Company is a modern tale of domestic devastation. A compelling Canadian drama that sees Debora and Michael Shaun-Hastings (she's an artist , he an MP) struggling to cope with the suicide of their tormented teenage son Joel, their only child, some months previously. 

Set around the dinner table of the bereaved parents, their guests for the evening are Bill and Tamara Dermot together with their son Curtis, a peer of Joel’s at school and the ringleader of the bullies who had taunted him to his death.

The one act work lasts for an intense 70 minutes that pass with excruciating speed. The bereaved grief of the Shaun-Hastings is palpable in so many different ways - Where Todd Boyce's Michael has plausibly attempted to get on with his life, to the extent of concealing aspects of Joel's difficulties from his wife, Lucy Robinson's Debora is still raw with pain. 

Much like King Lear's final moments, Robinson breathes a recognisable howl into the unimaginable pain of such a tragic bereavement - retelling in a letter that she has written to Curtis, the incomprehensible pain of discovering her son dead in a bathtub. There is not a shred of melodrama in Robinson's work, simply a performance of carefully crafted grief and emotion that has to rank amongst the finest in London.

There's stunning work too from David Leopold's Curtis, who in a character that is not afforded much dialog to work with, delivers a startling depiction of sullen teenage inarticulacy. Leopold takes Curtis on a journey that starts with awkward shame and ends in profound and sincere regret for his actions. His is perhaps the evening's most complex of characters to portray and he delivers perfectly. 

Lisa Stevenson and Alex Lowe as the Dermot parents similarly turn in assured interpretations of complex characters. Offering an understandable thread of sympathy for the Shaun-Hasting's loss yet still with their own primal defence of Curtis, there's a troubling resonance to their responses around the dinner table. Clumsy yet conventional in their view of the world, we may not all have encountered folk who bear the pain of the Shaun-Hastings, but we can all recognise the Dermots.

Michael Yale directs his company with an incisive sensitivity, with Zahra Mansouri's set proving as economic as it is effective - the tiny cockpit of the Finborough lending itself perfectly to the stifling intimacy of this particular dinner.

Late Company examines grief, shame, parenthood and marriage alongside a backdrop of the all pervading, corrosive power of the internet and social media, particularly upon the young. The play also proposes an argument suggesting that bad deeds are not necessarily committed by bad people,

Not an easy night at the theatre, but Late Company makes for compelling, essential drama. 

Runs until 20th May
Photo credit: Charlie Round-Turner