Review: Floyd Collins, Wilton’s Music Hall

“Do you feel the kind of grace inside the breeze?”

One of the joys of having this blog is the aide memoire aspect of it, the theatrical diary that it has become, allowing me to trace how my tastes have shifted. I say this in particular reference to Floyd Collins, a show I didn’t much enjoy the first time I saw it at its 2012 production at the Southwark Playhouse and yet which on this revisit, four years later, I adored. 

A substantial part of it comes with the musical complexity of Adam Guettel’s score, one I (still) think few people would fall in love with instantly, but also one which has repaid repeated listens and the breadth of performers yearning to sing his music (Audra McDonald, Kelli O’Hara…), incrementally convincing me of its worth and culminating in the gloriously revelatory sound of Tom Brady’s band tucked away in the balcony of Wilton’s Music Hall.
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Album Reviews: Betty Buckley – Stars and the Moon: Live at the Donmar / Judy Kuhn – Stars and the Moon: Live at the Donmar Rodgers, Rodgers & Guettel /Leading Ladies

This trio of album revies covers Betty Buckley – Stars and the Moon: Live at the Donmar, Judy Kuhn – Stars and the Moon: Live at the Donmar Rodgers, Rodgers & Guettel, and Leading Ladies

“I’ll give you truth and a future that’s twenty times better than any Hollywood plot”

I’ve only been blessed to see Betty Buckley onstage once and I wish it had been in another show than Dear World but hey, you can’t win them all. For now, I have to make do with records such as Stars and the Moon: Live at the Donmar and it is quite the effective alternative. A boldly theatrical programme, with a focus on new musical theatre writing and jazz-inflected arrangements, means it is a constantly intriguing collection and something so interesting for such an established performer as Buckley to deliver. The accompaniment to ‘Send in the Clowns’ is a thing of wonder, as this version of Adam Guettel’s ‘Migratory V’. Continue reading “Album Reviews: Betty Buckley – Stars and the Moon: Live at the Donmar / Judy Kuhn – Stars and the Moon: Live at the Donmar Rodgers, Rodgers & Guettel /Leading Ladies”

Album Review: Caroline Sheen – Raise the Curtain (2010)

“It’s been fun hitchin’ up with a psycho like you”

Caroline Sheen is one of those performers you feel ought to be better known, having starred in some pretty major shows throughout her career yet never quite managing that breakthrough moment – no matter, she’s thus one of British musical theatre’s secret pleasures. Her debut album Raise the Curtain saw her capitalise a little on her bigger gigs – Mary Poppins, The Witches of Eastwick – but it also pleasingly gives plenty of airtime to new musical theatre writing too.

In fact there’s no less than 5 tracks which received their first ever recordings here, Sheen opting to use her talent to really shine a light on the contemporary scene, showcasing the music she clearly loves. So the likes of innovative composer Conor Mitchell gets his striking ‘What Did You Want From Love?‘ featured, Richard Taylor (now represented in the West End with The Go-Between) gets a beautiful song called ‘Higher’ on there, so too Grant Olding with ‘Carrie Makes A Decision’ from his show Three Sides. Continue reading “Album Review: Caroline Sheen – Raise the Curtain (2010)”

Album Review: Billy Porter – At The Corner of Broadway + Soul (2005)

“I woke up this morning on the wrong side of life”

I loved Billy Porter’s second album Billy’s Back On Broadway so I turned with interest to his first, released nearly a decade before in 2005. At The Corner of Broadway + Soul was recorded live at Joe’s Pub and sees Porter bring together his own R’n’B compositions with gospel songs and Broadway hits – both old and new in his own inimitable style. Porter has a massive voice and loves to sing big and it is a joy to hear him cut loose as he so often does here.

A snippet of Dreamgirls’ ‘And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going’ is fierce, Into the Woods’ ‘Last Midnight’ is just beyond, and there’s a healthy smattering (7 in fact) of his own songs which effectively mine a nu-soul vein – the dirty funk of ‘Hell or High Water’ probably emerging as my favourite. He’s not just a belter though. The Adam Guettel/Jason Robert Brown two-fer sees him rein in the power to glorious effect on both ‘Awaiting You’ from Myths and Hymns and ‘King of the World’ from Songs for a New World which shine in their subtlety. Continue reading “Album Review: Billy Porter – At The Corner of Broadway + Soul (2005)”

Album Review: Kelli O’Hara – Always (2011)

“Do you feel the kind of grace inside the breeze?”

Though my tastes are broad, I am an old-fashioned soul at heart and little fills me with as much joy as a classic soprano, characterising so much of what I love about musical theatre. One of Broadway’s finest is Kelli O’Hara, an actress so good that since her first Tony nomination for The Light In The Piazza in 2005, she has been so nominated for every role she has played since, culminating in a win last year with her sixth nomination for The King and I.

Her 2011 album Always reflects something of the choices made by her contemporary and fellow singer Audra McDonald in the way that it delves into the Great American Songbook with chapters both old and new. There’s several classics in there – Rodgers and Hammerstein, Lerner and Loewe, Sondheim – from shows she has been in and others besides, but also a fair few new musical theatre writers too, reflecting the breadth of the career she has pursued. Continue reading “Album Review: Kelli O’Hara – Always (2011)”

Album Review: Audra McDonald – Go Back Home (2013)

“Maybe someday I’ll get lucky”

It took seven years for Audra McDonald to get around to her fifth solo album Go Back Home but as the adage says, some things are just worth waiting for. As entertaining as her diversion into the world of singer-songwriters on previous collection Build A Bridge was, there’s real joy in hearing her return so whole-heartedly to the world of musical theatre, particularly when it is as gloriously well done as this.

As ever, there’s the mixture of old and new that has typified McDonald’s output – the dips into the classics, represented here by Rodgers and Hammerstein, Sondheim and Styne, and the showcasing of the new, the likes of Michael John LaChiusa, Adam Guettel and Steven Marzullo who have regularly received her patronage. Such intelligent support of her industry has longed proved invaluable and helped to establish her at its forefront. Continue reading “Album Review: Audra McDonald – Go Back Home (2013)”

Album Review: Audra McDonald – Build a Bridge (2006)

“Your arias cause a stir in my sad and lonely heart”

Ringing the changes with her fourth album, Build a Bridge saw Audra McDonald take a break from the classic musical theatre songbooks she’d been exploring on her last two albums to turn to an altogether more contemporary world of rock and pop. There’s still room for some of the new musical theatre that she has tirelessly championed her whole career, of course there is, and there’s something utterly beguiling about the effortlessly modern feel of this collection.

That’s not to say that the selections are today’s Top 40 hits – Neil Young sits beside John Mayer, Randy Newman by Nellie McKay after all – but that Doug Petty’s arrangements and production style, together with that peerless soprano marries the material together in a beautiful way, that ultimately just celebrates the joy of good song-writing. Through McDonald here, one can trace how the timeless melodies of Bacharach and Costello’s ‘God Give Me Strength’ progress naturally to the chamber-pop of Rufus Wainwright’s charismatic ‘Damned Ladies’. Continue reading “Album Review: Audra McDonald – Build a Bridge (2006)”

Album Review: Audra McDonald – How Glory Goes (2000)

“In the starlight, that is what we are”

Having firmly established her credentials as a fervent supporter of new musical theatre on her first album Way Back to Paradise, Audra McDonald allows herself a dip into the Great American Songbook on her second collection How Glory Goes. But maintaining that link with contemporary writing, the CD blends the old and the new with the effortless charisma of McDonald’s superlative voice.

In particular, she turns to the music of Harold Arlen – from ‘Any Place I Hang My Hat Is Home’ to ‘I Had Myself a True Love’, ‘A Sleepin’ Bee’ to ‘I Never Has Seen Snow’, his classic songwriting meshes perfectly with the purity of McDonald’s soprano and the freshness of her approach. Show Boat’s ‘Bill’ similarly shimmers as do the lesser-known (to me at least) Jeff Blumenkrantz’s “I Won’t Mind and Steve Marzullo’s ‘I Hid My Love’. Continue reading “Album Review: Audra McDonald – How Glory Goes (2000)”

Album Review: Audra McDonald – Way Back to Paradise (1998)

“To whirl and to dance till the white day is done”

It’s easy to look back with hindsight on this kind of thing but it is remarkable to see what Audra McDonald did with her first solo album Way Back To Paradise. Eschewing the easy route of well-worn standards and crowd-pleasing hits, McDonald turned to her contemporaries, working with upcoming composer-lyricists in showcasing their little-known or unproduced work (in some cases , writing specifically for her) that was very much at the vanguard of new musical theatre writing.

And she chose wisely, for among that company are the likes of Jason Robert Brown, Michael John LaChiusa and Adam Guettel. And thus the tracklisting respectively features gems like ‘You Don’t Know This Man’ from Parade, now surely acknowledged as a modern classic but at this point yet to open on Broadway, the striking ‘Mistress of a Senator’ from Hello Again, and ‘Come To Jesus’ from Saturn Returns, on which Guettel appears too. Continue reading “Album Review: Audra McDonald – Way Back to Paradise (1998)”

Review: Floyd Collins, Southwark Playhouse

“Even Floyd knew somethin’ wasn’t right”

I don’t normally read much about shows before I go in especially if they are new to me, as I do like that element of surprise and novelty that is increasingly rare. But had I read that Floyd Collins, just opened at the Southwark Playhouse, was a musical containing a song that Stephen Sondheim wished he had wrote and is routinely described as complex, demanding and jagged, I might have been a little better prepared for it. Tina Landau (book and additional lyrics) and Adam Guettel’s (music and lyrics) musical really is a daring piece of work which challenges and provokes, though in this case ultimately frustrates.

Using the depths of the converted Vault space and a lot of ladders, James Perkins’ design seems ideally suited to recreating 1925 Kentucky and its system of inter-connected caves which our eponymous leading man is famed for exploring. But as he searches for more fame and fortune in new caves, he gets trapped by a rockfall 55 feet under the ground but it is the efforts to try and release him end up and the huge media circus that forms around it that makes up much of the show, exposing the effects on Floyd, his family and those trying to rescue him. Continue reading “Review: Floyd Collins, Southwark Playhouse”