Album Review: Connie Fisher – Secret Love

“The only time I’m happy is when I’m dreaming in the past”

A bit of a random one but I do have a sneaking regard for Connie Fisher. As the first of the winners of Lloyd-Webber’s TV casting shows, she’s taken a lot of stick despite being genuinely talented – I don’t think anyone could argue she didn’t deserve to win – but she has struggled to escape the shadow of The Sound of Music and her much-publicised vocal problems have garnered a little too much glee than is strictly tasteful, in my opinion at least.

Anyhoo, Secret Love was her second album, and though it does not feature the most adventurous of song selections – there’s a lot of standards and Lloyd-Webber (surprise…) on here, but it is all rather appealingly sung and Fisher’s warm voice makes this a CD I do rather enjoy listening to. Classics like ‘I Could Have Danced All Night’ and ‘Someone To Watch Over Me’ are given rich, laidback interpretations which she sings effortlessly, gliding over with a lovely warmth and relaxed confidence. The heartbreaking ‘When She Loved Me’ by Randy Newman from Toy Story 2 soars here in a beautiful version as does a lush-sounding ‘Secret Love’, indeed Doris Day’s wholesome image seems a perfect fit for Fisher and the oeuvre she is marking out for herself. Continue reading “Album Review: Connie Fisher – Secret Love”

Album Review: John Owen-Jones – John Owen-Jones

“And if that’s what you believe you need, you’re wrong…you don’t need much”

I was a little wary of John Owen-Jones’ album John Owen-Jones when it was first pressed into my hand to listen to by a friend. Despite having been impressed by John Owen-Jones in the 25th Anniversary tour of Les Miserables, I’m not generally a fan of bombastic male singers and having had my fingers burned/eardrums damaged by listening to Alfie Boe’s album, I have to admit to lumping Owen-Jones in with him. But my friend was persistent and admittedly, I was most intrigued by the prospect of him singing Sondheim’s ‘Pretty Lady’ from Pacific Overtures with Michael Ball and Bryn Terfel. So I listened to that song first (how I ever managed with cassettes as a child I do not know!) as I was pretty sure that it would set the tone of whether I liked the approach to the album or not. And sure enough, despite it being three massive male voices, there is a gorgeous subtlety at work here that convinced me that this was going to be something more than your standard pop-opera fare and closer to a ‘proper’ musical theatre album.

Over a nicely trim 11 tracks, Owen-Jones covers a number of bases but surprisingly for me, he ventured into contemporary musical theatre with great success. ‘I’d Rather Be Sailing’, by American William Finn, a composer who I only currently know through people singing his songs at cabarets but who I am pretty sure I think is fantastic, is a lovely piece of restrained singing, multi-tracked to gorgeous effect. Jason Robert Brown’s ‘Someone to Fall Back On’ is also excellent (though Julie Atherton does now own that song, even if it was written for a man to sing). Continue reading “Album Review: John Owen-Jones – John Owen-Jones”

Music Review: John Barrowman – John Barrowman

“So close to reaching that famous happy end”

I should be careful what I say about this week’s CD, John Barrowman’s album John Barrowman from 2010, as practically all the women in my family are ma-hoo-sive fans of his and so there could be recriminations. I don’t have quite the same feelings but enjoyed his turn in La Cage aux Folles and am a big fan of Torchwood so am generally favourably inclined towards him. Focusing on musical theatre but with a sprinkling of pop songs too, this is exactly how one would imagine a Barrowman album to sound and in some respect this is both its strength and weakness, appealing to his core audience and offering frustrating hints of what an interesting artistic album he could create.

In a nutshell, my opinion is that I like the first half of most of the songs where both vocal performance and arrangements remain simple and uncluttered, allowing Barrowman’s clear gift for interpretation to shine through. But almost invariably, grandstanding kicks in alongside key changes, long sustained notes and over-processed backing which creates a rather repetitive feel across the whole record. The opening of songs like ‘The Winner Takes It All’ and ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ are just lovely but midway through lose what is making them special, robbing the subtleties that a little restraint would give, even if just to a couple of the songs. . A Celtic-infused take on ‘Memory’ from Cats actually emerges as the unexpected place where he curbs the excesses for the most part to interesting effect. Continue reading “Music Review: John Barrowman – John Barrowman”

Album Reviews: Elena Roger – Vientos del Sur + A Spoonful of Stiles and Drewe

Now for something a little different. Whilst on holiday, I listened to a lot of music whilst lying by the pool, and I’ve been raving about much of it since my return so I thought I’d pop a couple of brief cd reviews on here, mainly musical theatre records or at least cds by musical theatre people. And if it’s well received, I’ll work my way through my cd collection!

Continue reading “Album Reviews: Elena Roger – Vientos del Sur + A Spoonful of Stiles and Drewe”

Review: Phantom: Love Never Dies, Adelphi

“Beneath this mask I wear, there’s nothing of me”

I hadn’t originally intended to get a ticket to see Phantom: Love Never Dies, being appalled at the ticket prices when it was announced, but when the National Lottery gods smiled on me and I got four numbers and £64 (the price of a middle stalls tickets plus booking fee) I decided to take the plunge to see if indeed love never dies or whether I needed a defibrillator in my manbag.

It has been billed as a stand-alone story, ie not a sequel despite the strapline being ‘the story continues’… and most of the main characters being taken from Phantom of the Opera, the only new addition amongst the leads is Gustave, Christine’s 10 year old son. The action here takes place ten years after the events of Phantom, the masked man having fled to New York and set up a fairground/freakshow at Coney Island called Phantasmaland. Madame Giry and daughter Meg travelled with him, Meg being one of the performers in the show and looking to make it big in showbusiness through being showcased here.

However, Phantom anonymously invites Christine Daaé to come and sing at this prestigious new venue, an offer she is forced to accept as husband Raoul is now a heavy gambler, and a drunk. So they arrive in New York with son Gustave, and it soon becomes apparent that there’s more than just singing on the menu, as secrets and lies from the past rear their head, long-suppressed feelings rise to the fore and frustrated ambitions boil over with shocking results. Continue reading “Review: Phantom: Love Never Dies, Adelphi”

Review: Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat (again), Adelphi

If there was going to be any play or musical that appeared twice on this blog, it had to be Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat. As clearly explained in my first entry, this is probably my favourite musical (certainly in my top three) and so when I was offered a free ticket to the press night of the relaunch with Gareth Gates in the title role, there was no chance of me resisting!

Gareth Gates has been slotted into the gap left by Lee Mead with seemingly no major changes that I could ascertain. The only real difference that I could see was due to Gates’ relative youth, and also his youthful appearance. He plays the early scenes with Jacob and the brothers as more of an obnoxious brat, which kind of makes sense in terms of driving them to “fratricide” and so in this way his youth worked for him. The other time it was noticeably different was in the reunion scene when Joseph plants the golden cup. As Gareth Gates sings “Benjamin, you nasty youth…”, it was hard to suppress a smile as the actor playing Benjamin looks a good few years older than him. Continue reading “Review: Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat (again), Adelphi”

Review: Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat, Adelphi

For me, there’s no doubt about what the first theatre post would be about. I have probably seen Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat something like 20 times, played piano for one production, percussion for another, and sung in it twice (both times in the chorus 🙁 ). It occupies such a special place in my heart, and that of most of my families’ too, that I doubt I could ever grow tired of it. That said, the most recent production of this before the latest reboot, came pretty close to ruination, Stephen Gately has a lot to answer for!

Anyhow, that’s all in the past. Lee Mead won the much documented Any Dream Will Do BBC talent search and took the lead role in July 2007, and what a job he does! This was the second time I have seen this production and it still surprised me with the energy that is brings to what is such familiar material. Lee Mead really does have the air of a superstar about him and commands the stage with such gravitas, it is hard to drag the eyes away from him, plus he can’t half hold a tune, injecting real emotion into Any Dream Will Do which is no small feat. Jenna Lee James as the Narrator does not please quite as much. She seems to auditioning for a lead in another musical and belts out her numbers with varying degrees of success and little care for her diction, she appears more interested in adlibbing than actually narrating the story. Continue reading “Review: Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat, Adelphi”

Review: Evita, Adelphi

I was adamant that I didn’t want to see this production of Evita for so long and I am not really sure why. But having announced its closure and with some good ticket deals floating around, I finally took the plunge and boy, was I wrong. Central to this revival of the 1978 Andrew Lloyd-Webber and Tim Rice collaboration was the casting of the Argentinean Elena Roger to take on the title role of this rags to riches story of the second wife of Argentinean president Juan Perón, Eva Duarte, whose controversial rise to power captured the hearts of some, thoroughly alienated others but ensured her a lasting legacy as one of the most colourful political leaders.

From the opening number, I could feel something exciting happening, a certain energy on the stage, which then exploded in a joyous version of ‘Buenos Aires’ filled with ecstatic singing, tight Latin-inspired choreography and I just loved it, I was ready for giving a standing ovation from then on! The incorporation of a real Latin American feel into both the music and choreography gives the show a real injection of authenticity which lifts it into the stratosphere. Continue reading “Review: Evita, Adelphi”

Review: Joseph and his Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat, New London Theatre

Joseph and his Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat is a show that has a special place in my heart: I’ve sung in primary school productions, played the piano for high school productions and seen it countless times so I struggle to see how other people can actually have gotten through life without seeing it at least once! And when I find people in my life who have escaped it thus far, I do try my best to drag them along, the regular changing of its lead star meaning that there’s something new and different for me as well.


Currently wearing the Dreamcoat is former Steps star H, otherwise known as Ian Watkins, who takes the lead role in Bill Kenwright’s production which is currently residing at the New London Theatre. Watkins transfers much of his chirpy pop persona to the stage very well, strong and secure in his singing but managing a commanding leading man presence too, engaging well with the audience but reining in the excesses to ensure we have the requisite emotion too.


There’s enthusiastic support from the ensemble especially Vivienne Carlyle as a clear-voiced narrator, but the company is too small to be really effective as a proper West End musical in a big theatre: there’s noticeable doubling up even within the brothers, there aren’t enough women to balance out the sound, being so familiar with the score I wasn’t keen on the changes that have been made to accommodate this with a loss of many solos and all in all, it just doesn’t feel value for money.

To be frank, the production looks cheap and shoddy, and doesn’t quite make enough of its homespun virtues to be able to get away with it. This is exacerbated by the endless encores, repeated songs and megamixes that make up the finale of the show which goes on well beyond tolerable levels: I don’t think people mind a short show as long as they have been entertained, and padding it out in this way simply highlights the uncertainty of the producers that there is actually enough here to satisfy.

So a big disappointment for me: this feels like a show that is resting on its laurels somewhat and relying on its reputation and the familiarity that so much of the audience will have with so many of the songs. It simply doesn’t make enough effort to reinvigorate the material despite the best efforts of Watkins and the rest of the cast.

Review: Tell Me on a Sunday, Gielgud Theatre

Tell Me On A Sunday is a funny beast, not quite a full musical, more of a song cycle as it has now been divested of its other dance-based half in its original form as Song & Dance to create this vehicle for Denise Van Outen. Andrew Lloyd Webber’s music and Don Black’s lyrics have now been blessed with updated new material from comedian Jackie Clune, showing that broken hearts and disappointments are still just as easy to come by, if not more so, in the 21st century.

Our leading lady is a girl from Ilford who, when she discovers her boyfriend is cheating on her, relocates to New York for a fresh start and a whole new set of men to be unlucky in love with as time and time again, she find the perfect guy, tells everyone back home about him and then it goes pear-shaped. The set is on a revolve with an ever-changing set of props that evoke the range of locations, helped by projections onto the walls, as we move from England to the USA, from date to date, from New York to LA. It fills the stage well, but there is the ever-present nagging sense that the material here is paper-thin. There’s no real attempt to make its leading lady anything more than a dumb blonde, or show any real depth to her, any sense of her learning from her mistakes. Like the Duracell bunny, she just gets back up and keeps on going same as before.


Consequently it needs star quality to deliver it some weight and fortunately Van Outen rises to the challenge in a star-making performance. Vocally, she is strong at everything: the anger of Let’s Talk About You, the tenderness of Come Back With The Same Look, the playfulness of Capped Teeth and Caesar Salad and best of all, a hushed version of Unexpected Song which is probably the loveliest thing I have heard all year. She really controls the stage well though, taking us through the ups and downs and more downs of her romantic life and remaining utterly convincing throughout. She really sells the whole damn thing and deserved the wild reception when the curtain finally came down.

So can I recommend this to people? I am really not sure. If you like Lloyd-Webber’s stuff and/or Denise Van Outen, then this will be perfect for you as it involves someone at the top of her game delivering the goods superbly. For casual viewers though it might be too much of an ask and at these ticket prices, it is too slight and insubstantial a piece to justify what they are charging, no matter the quality.