Nominations for 2016-2017 Outer Critics Circle Awards

John Gassner Playwriting Award
Jaclyn Backhaus, Men on Boats
Sarah DeLappe, The Wolves
Paola Lázaro, Tell Hector I Miss Him
Qui Nguyen, Vietgone
Bess Wohl, Small Mouth Sounds

Outstanding Actor in a Musical
Christian Borle, Falsettos
Nick Cordero, A Bronx Tale
David Hyde Pierce, Hello, Dolly!
Andy Karl, Groundhog Day
Tony Shalhoub, The Band’s Visit Continue reading “Nominations for 2016-2017 Outer Critics Circle Awards”

Review: La Cage aux Folles, New Wimbledon

“It’s rather gaudy but it’s also rather grand”

It doesn’t feel like that long since La Cage aux Folles was strutting its stuff in London as I made several visits to the Playhouse as it rotated its main cast on a regular basis (Douglas Hodge and Denis Lawson, Philip Quast and Roger Allam, John Barrowman and Simon Burke) but it has a good few years. So the time is clearly ripe for a revival and Kenwright and co clearly agree as they’ve mounted the show’s first ever UK tour.

And with John Partridge and Adrian Zmed at the helm, it remains as gloriously entertaining and heart-warmingly lovable as ever. A story about love and acceptance always has things to teach us, gay or straight, now more than ever and the story of St Tropez nightclub owners Georges and Albin is a touching one as through dealing with Georges’ son’s fiancée’s parents’ homophobia, they learn more about themselves and their own identities. Continue reading “Review: La Cage aux Folles, New Wimbledon”

Review: Dear World, Charing Cross Theatre

“She’s not that innocent, she keeps rabbits”

This is actually the UK premiere of Jerry Herman’s 1969 musical Dear World and reading the programme notes about the tortured history of the show – the unhappiness of the writers at how the first production was taken out of their hands, the subsequent numerous rewrites, the competitive and changing musical theatre environment of the time – one could justifiably ask why the decision has been made to put it on now. Seasoned director/choreographer Gillian Lynne has been the one to take it on though, providing a refreshed take on both book and score, and in perhaps the biggest coup, attracting musical theatre legend Betty Buckley to the lead role of the Countess Aurelia.  

The story is based on a 1945 play by Giradoux called The Madwoman of Chaillot and is a rather whimsical, you could say bonkers, tale of ecologically-minded community action rising up against exploitative capitalism. A group of avaricious financiers have been led to believe that they can excavate oil from beneath the boulevards of Paris and are willing to do anything – including knocking down the Café Francis – to get at it. And plotting to stop them and save their café, city and the world they hold so dearly, are a ragtag band of odd individuals with the not-quite-as-eccentric-as-all-that Countess Aurelia. Continue reading “Review: Dear World, Charing Cross Theatre”

Review: Janie Dee – Satin Doll, The Crazy Coqs

“Happiness comes in on tiptoe…”

Fresh from the huge success that was Hello, Dolly! at the Curve in Leicester which in turn followed hard on the heels of the Royal Court’s NSFW, Janie Dee is clearly not one to rest on her laurels as she now debuts a brand new cabaret show – Satin Doll – at the uniquely named The Crazy Coqs in the basement of Brasserie Zédel. And it is a unique venue too, a circular room decorated in Art Deco swathes and stripes of black, white and red, nested in a rather swanky looking suite of brasseries and cocktail bars and the ideal kind of special and intimate space for cabaret.

Dee has long demonstrated her flexibility as a performer – her cabaret pedigree includes a 2002 turn at Divas at the Donmar – and it is clear she enjoys forging new creative relationships. This new show has been put together with her musical director from Hello, Dolly! Ben Atkinson, who accompanied on her piano this evening and if the show was a little slow to get going (beyond its delayed beginnings), it can well be forgiven as we were indeed “a virgin audience” and there will be ample time to finetune the nuances of Satin Doll. Continue reading “Review: Janie Dee – Satin Doll, The Crazy Coqs”

Review: Hello, Dolly!, Curve

“I feel the room swayin’ for the band’s playin’ one of my old favourite songs from way back when”

There’s something about Dolly. When I first saw Jerry Herman’s Hello, Dolly! at the Open Air Theatre back in 2009, I’d’ve happily sat through the show again straightaway despite being incredibly cold and damp. And though struggling to shake off the effects of an annoying bug, the same feeling caught me as we got to the end of Paul Kerryson’s production of the show for Leicester’s Curve Theatre, it is just one of those shows. This was a matinée preview full of incident though. A woman taken ill just before the end of the show was dealt with efficiently by the theatre staff, though its timing was most unfortunate as it all took place right under my nose in the final moments of the show. And a wayward underskirt threatened to topple Janie Dee mid-performance but ever the consummate professional, she whipped it off mid-song and carried on regardless. It all added to the undoubted charm of a gorgeously mounted show that is full of great heart.

Dee’s Dolly Levi is a marvellous confection, making this professional matchmaker less of an overtly comic whirlwind than one might expect. Her performance is full of subtlety: a deep sincerity in her beliefs, a minor note of melancholy that creeps in every time she mentions her late lamented Ephraim, but also a wonderful wit which makes the glint in her eye all the more playful whether she’s teasing audience members or pulling the strings of her clients. And though not necessarily the strongest singer, the arrangements have been cleverly reworked to suit her rich contralto and there’s something touching in having these songs delivered with a modicum of vulnerability rather than being belted out in the manner one assumes Caroline O’Connor would have done, her being originally cast in the title role but later withdrawing. Continue reading “Review: Hello, Dolly!, Curve”

Review: Mack and Mabel, Southwark Playhouse

“I’d be the first one to agree that I’m preoccupied with me”

Mack and Mabel reunites much of the creative team from last year’s very well received Parade at the Southwark Playhouse but sadly it also sees them go back into the same space of the Vault there. Despite its cavernous nature, it has become the default space for musicals at this London Bridge venue, although mystifyingly so as its first one – Company – was brilliantly played, unmiked, in the main house. To overcome the echoing acoustics of the Vault, shows tend to be heavily amplified and this has been something of a learning curve to say the least and for me undoes much of the point of going to see fringe musicals as it robs shows of the immediacy of hearing amazing voices up close and personal.

The show – book by Michael Stewart and revised by Francine Pascal – centres on the on-off relationship between Keystone Cops creator and silent film director Mack Sennett and the waitress he spotted, Mabel Normand, and turned into a star. Problem is, it isn’t a particularly gripping story, not even in its revised version, which tends towards a rather gloopy sentimentalisation, complete with annoying narration device, which never really addresses the fact that Mack is not someone you could imagine anyone ever giving the time of day to. Thom Southerland’s overlong production never really manages to overcome this deficiency in the story. Continue reading “Review: Mack and Mabel, Southwark Playhouse”

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 Review: Caroline O’Connor – What I Did For Love

“Like a clown whose tears cause laughter…”

Caroline O’Connor is an Oldham-born triple-threat – singer, dancer, actress – though she has spent much of her life in Australia and so carries dual nationality these days (she’ll always be a Lancashire lass to me!) She was recently in London with her one-woman show The Showgirl Within but it is her 1998 album What I Did For Love that was pressed into my hand by a friend who recommended I give it a spin.

Exercising her full voice on standards like ‘All That Jazz’, ‘America’ and ‘Don’t Rain On My Parade’, her throaty chuckle permeates these songs and gives a real sense of her character and I also enjoyed her ‘There Are Worse Things I Could Do’. But mixed in with these well-known songs are things I’d never heard before which always come as a nice surprise when they are as good as the sweetly sung ‘The Night It Had To End’ from Romance, Romance and Side Show’s ‘Who Will Love Me As I Am’.

Continue reading “Album Review: Caroline O’Connor – What I Did For Love”

Album Review: Julie Atherton – A Girl of Few Words & Simon Burke – Something About Always

Here’s a couple more CD reviews of two of my favourite theatrical performers and both cracking CDs which I recommend.

Julie Atherton – A Girl of Few Words

Possessed of one of the finest voices currently working in musical theatre if I say so myself, Julie Atherton captured my heart from the first time I saw Avenue Q and I’ve been under her spell ever since. This CD, featuring the songs of composer Charles Miller, marks her solo recording debut

I love most every song on here, but ‘If You Were Mine’ is particularly beautiful, the piano-led ‘Be Careful’ is excellent and the collaboration with Paul Spicer, ‘Someone Find Me’ is a fun duet, their friendship clear from the ease with which they harmonise and the final climbing chorus is just lovely. And if you’re lucky, there’s a nod to her most successful show, with a bonus track of ‘There’s A Fine Fine Line’ included, Continue reading “Album Review: Julie Atherton – A Girl of Few Words & Simon Burke – Something About Always”

Winners of 2009-2010 Outer Critics Circle Awards

John Gassner Playwriting Award
John Logan, Red
Jon Marans, The Temperamentals
WINNER – Geoffrey Nauffts, Next Fall
Bruce Norris, Clybourne Park

Outstanding Actor in a Musical
WINNER – Douglas Hodge, La Cage aux Folles
Brandon Victor Dixon, The Scottsboro Boys
Chad Kimball, Memphis
Nathan Lane, The Addams Family
Sean Hayes, Promises, Promises Continue reading “Winners of 2009-2010 Outer Critics Circle Awards”