Tuesday 22 November 2022

Spectre In Concert - Review

Royal Albert Hall, London


Composed by Thomas Newman
Conducted by Anthony Gabriele
Directed by Sam Mendes

At the Royal Albert Hall and conducted by the gifted Anthony Gabriele, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra performed the world premiere of Thomas Newman’s 2015 score for the James Bond film Spectre, played live and synchronised to a screening of the movie.

Composed by Newman alongside filming, the score is both inspired by and honours many of the film’s locations. Memorably, the opening sequence set in full swing at a Day Of The Dead festival alongside local bands in Z√≥calo Square in central Mexico City, gives the orchestra and in particular the percussion section, full opportunity to embrace the vibe of the occasion.

The titles play to Sam Smith's ballad The Writing's On The Wall, with its dramatic strings content deliciously echoing Monty Norman.  For lovers of the famous franchise, Newman’s work incorporates those familiar, almost expected Bond-sounds and the orchestra deliver magnificently. The powerful accompaniment of the musicians provides added excitement, a supercharged experience in the form of waves of pleasure, aesthetic chills almost, from the musical vibrations generated in the acoustically perfect auditorium. Under Maestro Gabriele’s seasoned baton, the orchestra add another nuanced layer to the viewing experience.

The afternoon closed with the familiar Jazzy big band sound of Norman’s original "James Bond Theme".  One could feel the audience relax into their seats, succumbing to that timeless leitmotif, the applause and standing ovation only defining their appreciation and fondness for this classic music, wonderfully and flawlessly performed.

Reviewed by Lucy Bex

Friday 11 November 2022

My Fair Lady - Review

Wales Millenium Centre, Cardiff


Music by Frederick Loewe
Lyrics and book by Alan Jay Lerner
Directed by Bartlett Sher

Charlotte Kennedy and company

It is rare that a West End production improves on the road, but so it is with Bartlett Sher’s My Fair Lady, touring the UK and Ireland after a short summer residency at London’s Coliseum.

The show, now with Michael Xavier and Charlotte Kennedy playing Professor Higgins and Eliza Doolittle, is a sensational take on the Broadway classic. The two leads fizz with a chemistry that fills the Millenium Centre, their complicated relationship evolving before our eyes. Michael Xavier is one of the country’s finest leading men of his generation and, aside from his top-notch vocal delivery he cracks the complex emotional dysfunctionality of Lerner and Loewe’s Professor.

Kennedy’s Eliza however is the show’s revelation. Not just in her stunning vocal presence, but in how she inhabits every song. Her transformation from cockney Covent Garden flower-girl to powerfully spoken young woman is mesmerising.  Wouldn’t It Be Loverly and I Could Have Danced All Night are long recognised as Eliza’s highlights – here however, not just smashing those all time favourites out of the park, Kennedy grasps the second act cracker of Show Me, transforming it into a fusion of rage, frustration and passion rarely seen on stage. Kennedy’s elegance and presence is equally astonishing, with her entrance just before the interval bejewelled and ballgowned (take a bow costume designer Catherine Zuber) ready for the Embassy Ball, proving literally breathtaking. There is more than a hint of Audrey Hepburn to this Eliza.

Adam Woodyatt makes the delightful transition from Albert Square to Lisson Grove as he takes on the role of Alfred P. Doolittle. Albeit a supporting role, Eliza’s father is a larger than life caricature of London’s working class and it takes a performer of massive character to play the role to its full, with Woodyatt a delight in both voice and persona. John Middleton’s Colonel Pickering makes for a faultless foil to Higgins, while Annie Wensak, stepping up to cover the part of Mrs Pearce on the night of this review is another treat. Tom Liggins as Freddie Eynsford-Hill gives an excellent performance of On The Street Where You Live that only adds to the evening’s delights.

The set design is ingenious, with Michael Yeargan’s scenery working well for a touring production. Londoners – who are often spoilt for cultural choice – have missed out on a local chance to catch this cast. Now touring the regions until April next year, Bartlett Sher’s My Fair Lady is, at last, unmissable musical theatre.

Photo credit: Marc Brenner

Wednesday 9 November 2022

From Here To Eternity - Review

Charing Cross Theatre, London


Music by Stuart Brayson
Lyrics by Tim Rice
Book by Donald Rice and Bill Oakes
Based on the novel by James Jones

Jonathon Bentley and Desmonda Cathabel

This autumn is all about musical theatre based on movies that featured Burt Lancaster on a beach. Last month it was Local Hero at Chichester and now From Here To Eternity returns to London’s Charing Cross Theatre for a short residency in the run-up to Christmas.

This production marks the first UK revival of the Tim Rice and Stuart Brayson show, drawn from the classic film and set on Hawaii in the two weeks leading up to the Japanese attack on the US Navy at Pearl Harbour in December 1941. The power of the story derives from the pressure cookers of passion building up on the island – love, cuckoldry and honour are all at play here – that are to be swamped by the tsunami of death and destruction that rained down upon the island on December 7th.

Brett Smock directs a literally well-drilled company that offers another glimpse of London’s musical theatre fringe at its finest. Jonathon Bentley is the principled Private Prewitt, a gifted boxer who’s hanging up of his gloves and who irks his company Captain, the misogynist Holmes (Alan Turkington). The Captain’s wife Karen (Carley Stenson) finds love in the arms of company Sergeant Warden (Adam Rhys-Charles) as Prewitt falls for local prostitute Lorene (Desmonda Cathabel).

The whole affair makes for a well observed tale of humanity, sung beautifully by the aforementioned leads. In equally fine support are Eve Polycarpou as brothel-keeper Mrs Kipfer and Johnny Amies as troubled soldier Maggio.

Tim Rice’s lyrics are as ever astute takes on life. Witty and perceptive, Rice teases out the characters’ strengths and weaknesses, with The Boys Of ’41, sung as the attack on Pearl Harbour is in full spate, proving a devastating summary of war’s brutality – marred only by the unfortunate, almost invisibility, of the show’s three women who deliver it.

Nick Barstow’s arrangement and direction of his 5-piece band is classy as are Louise Rhoades-Brown’s projections, effectively capturing Karen and Warden’s passionate clinches in the Pacific surf. Equally Adam King’s lighting and Stewart J Charlesworth’s set, make good use of the theatre’s compact space to create Hawaii’s various scenescapes. Cressida Carre's choreography and Renny Krupinski's fight direction (there's a lot of fighting!) are top notch too.

Beautifully performed, From Here To Eternity makes for a tragically gorgeous evening.

Runs until 17th December
Photo credit: Alex Brenner

Wednesday 2 November 2022

Tubular Bells 50th Anniversary - Review

Royal Albert Hall, London


For one night only and under the baton of Simon Dobson, the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra marked the 50th anniversary of the release of Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells. In some ways any orchestral performance of Oldfield’s groundbreaking album will always be ersatz, as back in the 1970s it was the composer himself who played every instrument in the work layering the recording together over weeks, track by track. When one considers that this was in pre-digital times, with Oldfield only having access to multi-track analogue recording equipment, this makes his original album all the more remarkable. Dobson however is a gifted musician with an intimate understanding of Oldfield’s work. His arrangements of the two Tubular Bells pieces, together with a collection of Oldfield’s other lesser-known recordings, make for an evening of fine music.

The concert initially comprises the first parts of both the Ommadawn and the Hergest Ridge albums with the music and perfectly hazed lighting plots creating an atmosphere of wonderfully mellifluous melody. Moonlight Shadow, Oldfield’s chart-topping single concludes the pre-interval proceedings with Ella Shaw powerfully delivering the vocal honours.

The second half kicks off with the hallmark opening bars of Tubular Bells, the 15/8 time melody that was to define not only The Exorcist's score but also lay the foundations of Richard Branson’s Virgin Records fortune. The RPCO are augmented by featured soloists throughout the performance, with Pete Callard’s Lead Guitar work particularly stunning through many of Tubular Bells’ challenging riffs.

Tubular Bells of course requires a charismatic Master of Ceremonies. Oldfield’s original MC, Vivian Stanshall set the bar high (it was Stanshall’s distinct pronunciation of “tubular bells” that prompted Oldfield to name the album thus) and there are few finer voices than that of Brian Blessed to provide the wry bombast that the role demands. Proud of his 86 years, Blessed bestrides the stage like a colossus through Part One of Tubular Bells, with his Caveman in  Part Two proving an equal delight.

If there is one criticism of the gig it is of the video projections that are (sometimes dimly) shone onto a screen above the orchestra. Ranging in style from what looks like a Lloyds Bank black horse advert through to what could be a Microsoft screensaver based on the Tubular Bells 50 logo, the imagery is tacky. The Royal Albert Hall is one of London’s grandest venues and while the players magnificently fill the space with their music, the video work proves to be an uninspiring detraction, dwarfed by the hall’s imposing grandeur. If projections are to be used going forward they should be grander and LED based or not used at all. A waggish suggestion, overheard on leaving the venue, was that maybe scenes from The Exorcist could be shown!
The whole affair is wrapped up with Dobson’s energetic arrangement of the Hornpipe – sending the audience out into an autumnal Kensington with feet tapping, hands clapping and grinning at the evening's wave of nostalgia that has flooded over them.