Monday 27 June 2022

Gala Fiesta de la Buleria de Jerez: Mujeres de Cal y Cante - Review

Sadler's  Wells, London


“A meeting place in which several generations of women artists gather…”

The Flamenco Festival returned to Sadlers Wells this year, with this website reviewing the one-off performance of Gala Fiesta de la Buleria de Jerez: Mujeres de Cal y Cante. In an evening of compelling flamenco, the fusion of different artists on stage came to represent a community in an almost soap-opera like way. A place where rules, emotions, support, fun and of course singing and dancing are mixed together. Passion fuels the creation of a flamenco routine and it was inspiring to see women of different generations dancing beautifully with distinctive shape and stomping flamenco rhythms enriched by the beautiful voices of the singers.

A minimum of two people on stage created each dance. Typically the singer started, leading the dancer to start with slow movements and then increasing the tempo, dynamic and variations. The audience witnesses the emergence of the routine here and now on stage, as if it is not a prepared choreography, with the dance evolving into communication between the dancer and the singer. 

The most outstanding and composed dancer was Fuesanta la Moneta with a routine of various intriguing and unpredictable movements, so as her dance commenced one was eager to see her next move. La Moneta’s choreography was brilliantly executed as was her interaction with the singer Saira Molena, both performers connecting on stage and demonstrating skilled dance and song.  

Maria del Mar Marena was another charming, passionate dancer. Her continuous flamenco arm movement and stomping were mesmerising, with strong steps, as her face expressed a range of emotions, proof of her immersion in the routine. 

Fans of aesthetics and style you might find the show’s bold earthiness a challenge. The whole performance however was a symbiosis of passion, voice and rhythm that brought an extravagant, authentic and powerful dance to London.

The festival runs until 2nd July

Sunday 26 June 2022

Superman In Concert - Review

Royal Albert Hall, London


Composed by John Williams
Conducted by Anthony Gabriele
Directed by Richard Donner

Christopher Reeve

Yet again, accomplished maestro  Anthony Gabriele picked up his baton to conduct a cracking orchestra, delivering the cracking score of a cracking movie.

For one night only at the Royal Albert Hall, he offered a rare chance to see Richard Donner’s 1978 Superman, not only amidst the hall’s crowded “movie-theatre” audience but, for the first time in the UK, with John Williams’ legendary score played live in accompaniment. The score is so evocative and impressive that even as the opening credits, along with the final bars of Williams’ accompanying opening theme faded, the audience burst into spontaneous applause. Those credits themselves were a reminder of the talent that Donner had assembled for his movie - truly a platinum-plated cast.

Superman is one of those movies that blends acting, screenplay and score into a fusion of excellence, with the Royal Albert Hall proving to be the perfect venue. The hall’s darkness provided a perfect contrast to the perfectly pitched luminance of the digital projection and the acoustics of the place, with its ceiling-suspended domes, gave a magnificent body and depth to Williams’ score, as played by the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra.

The evening also offered a chance to look back in time, not just at how much the movie-makers of that era were able to accomplish without the helping hand of CGI, but even more so, at how much our cultural norms have evolved. Superman may have journeyed through thousands of our years on his journey from the planet Krypton to Earth, but in just a few short decades here, one could be forgiven for feeling that our world has changed even more rapidly. The movie sees Marlon Brando (as Superman’s father Jor-El) imbuing his parting words to his baby son Kal-El (the would-be Superman) with no reference whatsoever to his wife (Susannah York), as though single-handedly he had brought his progeny into the world, a concept that would never even be contemplated by today’s screenwriters. Although to be fair, with York resembling little more than a muted Julie Christie on a bad day, one could perhaps have some sympathy towards Brando’s supreme egocentricity. The movie’s sexual politics are equally (some may say deliciously) dated. Superman’s x-ray vision sees through Lois Lane's dress (albeit at her request) while she in turn goes weak-kneed speculating on “how big” he is.

It wasn’t just Brando though, nor the much-missed Christopher Reeve in the title role. Gene Hackman, Ned Beatty, Margot Kidder are all gems, with even the likes of then-veteran Trevor Howard lobbing in a 5 minute cameo. And of course the screenplay bears the imprimatur of the godfather of great-writing, Mario Puzo.

But at the Royal Albert Hall last night the deserved stars of the evening were Williams, Gabriele, and the 80+ strong ensemble of the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra. When this evening returns as it surely must, don’t miss it. With Williams’ wondrous score in your ears, you’ll believe a man can fly.

The Maestro's Superman socks

Monday 13 June 2022

Ray Gelato and his Giants - Review

Pizza Express, Dean Street, London


A packed Dean Street Pizza Express enjoyed Ray Gelato and his Giants perform a two-hour set that criss-crossed the Atlantic with its content in a glorious celebration of the power of music to entertain. An old-school bandleader, Gelato led from the front switching effortlessly between vocals and sax throughout the gig with his six fellow musicians (three on wind, a bass, piano-player and drums) delivering classy support.

The energy fizzed from the moment Gelato opened proceedings with a speeded up When You’re Smiling. Up tempo and uplifting, feet tapped and faces grinned as the band delivered immaculately rehearsed takes on American Songbook classics that ranged from Louis Jourdan to the Rat Pack. Memorable moments from the evening included Gelato’s saxophone take on Sinatra’s Angel Eyes and his outstanding lead in Boulevard of Broken Dreams. Elsewhere, drummer Ed Richardson’s sensational three-minute (!) riff in Nat King Cole’s L-O-V-E had to be seen to be believed.

A witty songwriter himself, it was a joy to hear Gelato’s self-penned gems Bar Italia and My Last Meatball played live - maybe next time he’ll treat us to some gangsta with Who Stole Ronnie’s Pickle?

This is London music as it should be. On for two more sold-out evenings, but well worth trying for returns.

Performing until 14th June

Saturday 11 June 2022

The Car Man - Review

Royal Albert Hall, London


Directed and choreographed by Matthew Bourne
Music by Terry Davies and Rodion Shchedrin's Carmen Suite (after Bizet's Carmen)

Will Bozier

More than twenty years after Matthew Bourne’s The Car Man, his ballet inspired by Bizet’s Carmen, premiered in Plymouth the show returns to London playing at the Royal Albert Hall as a part of its 150th anniversary and marking the first time that Bourne has ever staged a production in the landmark London venue. No expense has been spared in this revival, with the director/choreographer fielding a cast three times the size of his original 2020 company.

The plot’s inspiration may hail from Carmen, but the aura of The Car Man hails from Hollywood. Set amidst an Italian-American community in the USA’s Midwest, the action plays out in the fictitious town of Harmony, a name that is as ironic as its images are iconic. This is a town of billboards, tumbleweed and Dino’s eponymous automobile repair shop, where the car men work. The music is from Rodion Shchedrin’s Carmen Suite supplemented by additional composition from Terry Davies, with the opera’s fabulously familiar melodies delivered to perfection under  Brett Morris’ baton, fused into mouthwatering leitmotifs that emerge through the two hour show.

Zizi Strallen

Bourne’s protagonists are a quintet made up of the abusive Dino who is also the owner of the town’s diner, his wife Lana, her sister Rita together with Angelo, a hired help and Luca an itinerant drifter whose arrival leads to the destruction of Harmony’s harmony. This review will not reveal how the five’s smouldering passions ignite, but remember that this is Carmen-themed where lust, jealousy, and murder have to fuel the narrative. Bourne’s vision is as bold as it is beautiful and bloody, with his characters’ sexualities straddling their desires and all leading to an inevitable and heartbreaking revenge.

Will Bozier is Luca the titular car man, with the practically perfect Zizi Strallen opposite him as Lana. Both of these performers are outstanding in their dance and acting and where the intimate nuance of stolen glances can so easily be lost in the Royal Albert Hall’s vastness, the billboards that double up as projection screens show occasional snatches of beautifully filmed lingering glances in true Sunset Boulevard style close-up. Strallen is wondrous in portraying both her allure to Luca and also in capturing quite how irresistible she finds him to be. Mary Poppins she ain’t!

Will Bozier and Zizi Strallen

Bozier is all muscle and movement. A guy who cannot keep it in his trousers and to whom any hole is a potential goal. Oozing testosterone, his is a role of almost perpetual or potential conflict or coitus. Physically demanding, Bozier’s performance is breathtaking.

Paris Fitzpatrick’s Angelo is the more diminutive of the younger guys, clearly vulnerable and at times violently violated and abused. Integral to the plot, his is a carefully delivered role. Likewise Kayla Collymore’s Rita. While hers may be the more marginal of the principal roles, Collymore dances with an assured and nuanced sensitivity.

Kayla Collymore and Paris Fitzpatrick

The middle-aged, flabby Dino is played here by Alan Vincent, a neat touch being that back in the day at the show’s Plymouth premiere, it had been Vincent who created the role of Luca. At the Royal Albert Hall however, Vincent captures the rage of the cuckolded Mediterranean exquisitely. And as is so often the way with a New Adventures production Lez Brotherston’s design work shifts the audience from London’s south-west to America’s mid-west effortlessly. 

For more than two decades The Car Man has been lifting the hood on modern dance, treating its audience to a powerful spectacle of music and dance that stirs the soul and pulsates the emotions. If you’ve seen it before, then you need to revisit this outing to wonder at how Bourne’s company fill the Royal Albert Hall. And if you haven’t seen it, then all the more reason to grasp the opportunity right now. Either way, just go!

The Company

Runs until 19th June
Photo credit: Johan Persson

Wednesday 8 June 2022

Jersey Boys - Review

Churchill Theatre, Bromley


Music by Bob Gaudio
Lyrics by Bob Crewe
Book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice
Directed by Des McAnuff

The cast of Jersey Boys

Jersey Boys returns to the UK touring circuit, with this stand-out musical about The Four Seasons playing at Bromley’s Churchill Theatre for this week only. 

What is so attractive about the show is that not only does it offer a chance to hear the band’s hit songs played live, it also reveals how much they were ordinary people. With their own flaws and troubles, the show reveals what happened in their lives and what formed their music.

Michael Pickering plays Frankie Valli, showing the lead singer's journey from a humble Italian family to worldwide stardom. It isn’t easy to sing like Frankie, with his unique lead falsetto voice and Pickering performs well, matched by his acting. 

Dalton Woods’ Tommy DeVito unfolded more stories of the band’s history, from his initial co-performance with Frankie, with little success, to the full team-up of the Four Lovers, as the band was originally known that was to raise them and him to chart fame.  Lewis Griffith as Nick Massi and Blair Gibson as Bob Gaudio complete the quartet, with the show providing a glorious showcase to classic hits including Sherry, Big Girls Don’t Cry, Walk Like a Man, My Eyes Adored You, Dawn, Go Away and Who Loves You

For South East Londoners, Jersey Boys at the Churchill Theatre is a must see, especially if you want to enjoy a show that is all about the highest West End standards in musical theatre, but at a far more affordable ticket price!

Runs until 11th June, then continues on tour

Friday 3 June 2022

The Lion - Review

Southwark Playhouse, London


Music, lyrics and book by Benjamin Scheuer
Directed by Alex Stenhouse and Sean Daniels

Max Alexander-Taylor

There are likely to be few more impressive performances than Max Alexander-Taylor’s turn as Ben in The Lion now playing in Southwark Playhouse’s Little space. In the 75 minute one-act piece, Alexander-Taylor, aided only by 5 guitars (4 acoustic, 1 electric) takes Benjamin Scheuer’s autobiographical look back at the first 30 years of his life, in a virtuoso combination of acting and musicianship.

Alexander-Taylor’s first class performance however is stifled within a structure that barely gets beyond the two-dimensional. The Lion is more scripted cabaret than theatre, with Scheuer treating the audience almost as his therapist, The show's narrative (comprising both lyrics and their linking monologues) is almost entirely expositional, with minimal dramatic substance to lift the tale. We learn that Scheuer had a troubled relationship with his father and subsequently his mother, a failed relationship and that at 30 he was blighted with a (thankfully cured) debilitating cancer. While this may be an undoubtedly sincere and humbling narrative, as presented it is neither gripping nor memorable drama. All too often modern musical-theatre writing can descend into little more than self-indulgent, introspective balladry. The Lion descends deeper than most.

Scheuer’s journey will resonate with many as dysfunctional families, depression and cancer are sadly all too common. But worthy causes alone do not a musical make. Outstanding work from Max Alexander-Taylor, but this lion fails to roar.

Runs until 25th June
Photo credit: Pamela Raith