Review: The Theatre Channel – Episode Six: Showstoppers

Danny Mac, Kerry Ellis and Layton Williams star in The Theatre Channel – Episode Six: Showstoppers, with added Antonio Banderas

“Let’s go on with the show”

The beauty of so many theatrical things going digital is that it is now harder to properly miss out on something. Episode Six of The Theatre Channel, subtitled Showstoppers, aired last month but I let it slip me by – fortunately it is available on demand so in advance of dipping into its newest Rodgers and Hammerstein tribute, I gave it a shot.

And I’m glad I did, as it very much indulged my inner theatrical nerd by stretching its definition of showstopper way beyond the Phantom and Les Mis classics you might have expected them to plump for. Instead, we get hits from the likes of The Last Five Years, Sideshow, If/Then and Annie Get Your Gun, proving that wonders well beyond the West End hits. Continue reading “Review: The Theatre Channel – Episode Six: Showstoppers”

Album Reviews – Notes of Love – The Songs of Oliver Boito / Hamlisch Uncovered / Michael Thomas Freeman – Rewrite This Story

A trio of album reviews with Notes of Love – The Songs of Oliver Boito, Hamlisch Uncovered, and Michael Thomas Freeman – Rewrite This Story

“So many lives to live and risks to take”

Oliver Boito is clearly a man with many strings to his bow. He’s a photographer and artist as well as being a songwriter and a smattering of his tracks make up his EP Notes of Love – The Songs of Oliver Boito. And on this evidence, he’s quite the skilled composer. This selection is ballad-heavy and so naturally falls into my wheelhouse but the soaring clean harmonies of the Disney-esque ‘I’ll Always Stay’ sung by Stuart Matthew Price and Siubhan Harrison and the drama of the sumptuous ‘Sometimes’ by Sharon Sexton and Sooz Kempner should appeal to anyone. I look forward to hopefully hearing more from Boito’s pen. Continue reading “Album Reviews – Notes of Love – The Songs of Oliver Boito / Hamlisch Uncovered / Michael Thomas Freeman – Rewrite This Story”

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 Reviews: Simon Bailey – Looking Up / Louise Dearman – It’s Time / Bonnie Langford – Now

Album reviews – Simon Bailey – Looking Up, Louise Dearman – It’s Time and Bonnie Langford – Now

“You don’t have to stay forever
I will understand”

Simon Bailey’s debut solo album Looking Up sees the actor stretch his singer-songwriter wings as well as picking personal choices from both the worlds of musical theatre and popular music. He reveals a rockier edge to his taste than would normally be my wheelhouse, but his intense reading of Evanescence’s ‘My Immortal’ is good enough to cross genres. A duet on Once’s ‘Falling Slowly’ with the talented Sabrina Aloueche is a highlight for me, and there’s nice work on Jason Robert Brown’s ‘I’d Give It All For You’ with Katie Hall. Continue reading “Album Reviews: Simon Bailey – Looking Up / Louise Dearman – It’s Time / Bonnie Langford – Now”

Album Review: Ruthie Henshall – The Ruthie Henshall Album (1996)

“I dug right down to the bottom of my soul”

Ruthie Henshall’s 2013 album I’ve Loved These Days was one of my favourite things that I listened to last year, her appearance in Follies in Concert marking the first time I’d actually seen her onstage. So it’s taken me an unforgivably long time to get around to another of her albums, the straight-forwardly named The Ruthie Henshall Album, dating from 1996. 

And what a fascinating collection it is. Starting off with a punchy powerhouse of a 1-2 in ‘Everything’s Coming Up Roses’ and ‘Maybe This Time’, both belted to within an inch of their life, Henshall then takes a breath and relaxes into gorgeously restrained versions of ‘Summertime’ and ‘Willow Weep For Me’, showing off a much more lyrical side to her vocal talent, which is the one which prevails across the album as a whole. Continue reading “Album Review: Ruthie Henshall – The Ruthie Henshall Album (1996)”

Album Review: Kim Criswell – Back To Before

“Where are they now, those women who stared from the mirror?”

I saw Kim Criswell for the first time onstage earlier this month in Carrie and whilst I may not have loved the show, her shimmering soprano and performance was a stand-out for me. It happened to be an evening with a Q&A afterwards too and she came across as an absolute hoot – pint in hand, regaling us all with tales from the past, I instantly wanted to know more about who she was. So where else to turn first but to her 1999 CD Back To Before.

 A glimpse at the track-listing doesn’t immediately show a huge sense of adventurousness. Four Lloyd Webber tracks, Oliver! and Les Mis elsewhere, it’s not really the stuff to make you sit up and pay attention. That happens when Criswell opens her mouth – whether fabulously wrestling Evita’s ‘Rainbow High’ into submission or dealing out a bold and brassy ‘Don’t Rain On My Parade’, there’s something remarkable about the forceful control of her vocal. Continue reading “Album Review: Kim Criswell – Back To Before”

Review: A Chorus Line, London Palladium

“Step, kick, kick, leap, kick, touch…again!”

When I was learning to play the piano as a young’un, we had a book of tunes from the movies which included ‘One’ and ‘What I Did For Love’, both from A Chorus Line. I’d never seen the film (and still have not) but I loved both of those songs and so practiced hard to be able to play them well. But even when a new production of the show was announced earlier this year, the temptation to go and see it was never too strong. Part of that came from the venue – the Palladium is a most unforgiving of theatres if you don’t have a front centre stalls seat – but there was also a sense that its conglomeration of backstage stories might be a little dated in a world where the audition process has repeatedly been laid bare on our television screens.

I perhaps wasn’t alone in feeling this way as the production was forced into publishing early closing notices, meaning it shutters at the end of this week. But in forcing my hand and making me book via a bargainous deal that got us into the middle of Row C of the stalls, I belatedly came to realise that the show is much better than I thought it would be and perhaps deserves a longer life than it has had. Its set-up is simplicity itself – seventeen Broadway dancers audition for eight spots on the chorus line for a musical and as the director takes them through their paces, we get to hear the tales of these hopefuls, their dreams and aspirations, their fears and frailties, in some cases their most intimate stories about what dance and being a dancer means to them. Continue reading “Review: A Chorus Line, London Palladium”

Review: Sweet Smell of Success, Arcola Theatre

“A lot can happen in one night”

The stereotypical image of musical theatre as a happy clappy ball of cheesy fun would surely be less prevalent if shows like Sweet Smell of Success were better known. But paradoxically, it benefits from having its British premiere out on the fringe in the dark warehouse surroundings of Dalston’s Arcola as this bitterly desperate tale of the hollowness at the centre of the world of celebrity journalism in 1950s America certainly benefits from the intimacy of this theatre. It has its challenges though, as an uncompromisingly bleak tale of immorality which doesn’t always quite get the balance right as director Mehmet Ergen tries to leaven the mood. 

John Guare’s story centres on JJ Hunsecker, a vicious-tongued and immensely influential columnist who has 60 million readers and is willing to do absolutely anything to keep them and his lofty position. His weakness lies in his troublingly deep affection for his half-sister Susan and his attempts to manipulate her life and her relationships threaten to drag all them down, including JJ’s protégé Sidney Falcone, all too willing to carry out his boss’s wishes in order to get the leg up he craves. The ethics of sensationalist journalism of course have a compelling currency in today’s post-Leveson environment but though David Bamber’s Hunsecker is at the centre of the story, there’s never really a sense that we get to know much about him. Continue reading “Review: Sweet Smell of Success, Arcola Theatre”

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”