Christmas album reviews: If The Fates Allow: A Hadestown Holiday Album / Leslie Odom Jr – The Christmas Album / Michael Ball & Alfie Boe – Together at Christmas

A trio of festive album reviews with If The Fates Allow: A Hadestown Holiday Album, Leslie Odom Jr – The Christmas Album and Michael Ball & Alfie Boe – Together at Christmas

“Oh, my love, we live in troubled days”

No word of a lie, since starting to play Christmas music last week, I’ve listened to If The Fates Allow: A Hadestown Holiday Album everyday, it truly is that joyous. It’s a brilliant twist on the Christmas album that takes a slightly left-field approach to its festive track selection and then thoroughly imbues it all with the irrepressible spirit and way down musicality of Anaïs Mitchell’s soul-raising Hadestown. Led by the gorgeous voices of Yvette Gonzalez-Nacer, Kay Trinidad and Jewelle Blackman, aka The Fates, and featuring the rest of the cast of the show’s Broadway production, the album features original songs from Mitchell, Gonzalez-Nacer and the show’s MD Liam Robinson alongside festive staples and some Marvin Gaye, Leonard Cohen and Sara Bareilles for good measure.

What really makes If The Fates Allow… sing is the way in which the sound of Hadestown is folded into the record – never mind the Ghost of Christmas Past, this collection is haunted by the spirits of Christmas Ancients. Musical motifs from the show shimmer beautifully in unexpected places and it is just spine-tinglingly effective; so too the iconic brass sounds that pepper ‘Thank God It’s Christmas’, an ingenious way of reinterpreting familiar songs through an inimitable musical identity. A cynic might demur at such an exercise in brand extension but they would just be wrong. Just listen to Patrick Page’s profundo on Cohen’s profound ‘Come Healing’ with its harmonious backing, or the ragtime-influenced take on ‘Sleigh Ride’, or the hushed splendour and lyrical incisiveness of Mitchell original ‘Song of the Magi’. Surely destined to become a perennial festive favourite whether you’re way down underground or livin’ it up on top. Continue reading “Christmas album reviews: If The Fates Allow: A Hadestown Holiday Album / Leslie Odom Jr – The Christmas Album / Michael Ball & Alfie Boe – Together at Christmas”

Album Review: Joel Harper-Jackson – So What Happens Now? / Makerman – Grove Hill / Rob Houchen

An album review of Joel Harper-Jackson’s So What Happens Now? and inspired by Marry Me A Little last night, I explore Makerman and Rob Houchen

“I don’t care if it hurts
I wanna have control”

Released just as the second lockdown kicked in, Joel Harper-Hackson’s debut album has ended up with a painfully apposite title – So What Happens Now?. I first spotted Harper-Jackson a few years as a standout in a middling new musical and have enjoyed following his career since then, not least in the Hope Mill’s gorgeous production of Little Women. Interestingly, this album largely eschews the world of musical theatre for the world of popular music, albeit reimagined through the wonderfully moody arrangements of Greg Morton.

Piano, guitar and cello thus come to the fore to underscore mournful takes on ‘Jolene’ and ‘The Man That Got Away’, the quavering vocal at the beginning of ‘Another Suitcade in Another Hall’ really refocuses the song’s emotion, and the shivering sparseness of ‘Wicked Game’ hits harder than usual, especially once the dramatic stakes are raised. Unexpectedly effective though is the duet on ‘Tragedy’ with Jodie Steele which utterly reinterprets the rueful acceptance of the song in a way which makes complete sense. ‘Creep’ with Lauren Byrne is pretty damn good too. If ever there was an album to cry-listen to whilst looking through a rainy November window and eating a packet of biscuits, this is that album and this is that moment. Highly recommended. Continue reading “Album Review: Joel Harper-Jackson – So What Happens Now? / Makerman – Grove Hill / Rob Houchen”

Album Review: Lucie Jones Live at the Adelphi

Covid-19 may have cut her time in Waitress short but Lucie Jones Live at the Adelphi is a great reminder of the leading lady she is and will surely continue to be

“We’re after the same rainbow’s end”

Back in February, Lucie Jones took a break from performing in Waitress as the show’s composer Sara Bareilles took over the lead role of Jenna for a limited run. The musical had already set a closing date for the summer but who could have predicted that Jones, and co-star David Hunter, would never get to do the show again.

The only small benefit is that far from sitting on her laurels in the break, Jones made her solo West End concert debut by nipping back to the Adelphi on one of its nights off/ And that concert was recorded for posterity, now being released digitally on the usual platforms and physically here, where an exclusive bonus disc is available. Continue reading “Album Review: Lucie Jones Live at the Adelphi”

Album reviews: Marie Oppert – Enchantée / Kim David Smith Live at Joe’s Pub / Siobhan Dillon – One Voice

Reviews of a trio of excellent albums: Marie Oppert – Enchantée, Kim David Smith Live at Joe’s Pub and Siobhan Dillon – One Voice, all recommended

I do love me a soprano and discovering a new one feels like as good a way to spend lockdown as any. Marie Oppert is a French singer and actress whose debut, at age 17, came in a major concert version of a little-known show called Les Parapluies de Cherbourg… From those Michel Legrand-sanctioned days, she has established a notable career and now releases her first solo album EnchantéeBack by the luscious sound of the Orchestre National de Lille and conductor Nicholas Skilbeck, this collection sees Oppert explore a bilingual songbook that stretches from the boulevards of Paris to Broadway.

The result is something rather glorious. The sumptuous treatment of the likes of ‘The Light in the Piazza’ and ‘I Could Have Danced All Night’ are near ecstatic, ‘Children Will Listen’ in French brings a new dynamism to a familiar piece, and characterful duets with Melissa Orrico and Natalie Dessay, whom she charmingly terms her “two Franco-American ‘fairy godmothers”, both impress. The irrepressible energy of 1938 track ‘Y’a d’la joie’ is an absolute standout and an interpretation of Billy Elliott’s ‘Electricity’ has no right to be as effective as it is here. Sod’s law though, Oppert is playing in London next month but bloody Covid restrictions means I can only go by buying a table for two. Continue reading “Album reviews: Marie Oppert – Enchantée / Kim David Smith Live at Joe’s Pub / Siobhan Dillon – One Voice”

Lockdown treat: Kat McPhee and Jeremy Joseph melt hearts

‘You Matter To Me’ has always been one of Waitress‘ most beautiful melodies and as Kat McPhee and Jeremy Joseph intertwine their voices gorgeously, you’ll be hard-pressed to stay dry-eyed before the tributes to frontline workers even start

 

Heart vector created by starline – www.freepik.com 

Lockdown theatre review: Jesus Christ Superstar (2018 Concert)

Would Jesus have condoned such artistic thievery? Jesus Christ Superstar (2018 Concert) is full of great performances but borrows heavily from the Open Air’s production

“Would I be more noticed than I ever was before?”

The most striking thing about the US Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert from 2018, that will particularly stand out to those who saw the Regents Park Open Air Theatre production in any of its iterations, is that it is boldly credited to David Leveaux as director and Jason Ardizzone-West as production designer. There’s so much synchronicity between the two productions here that it is hard to believe that Timothy Sheader and Tom Scutt respectively didn’t deserve at least thanks if not full co-credits because original this is not.

A live television musical special – as the Americans did much more of than the Brits – this version of Jesus Christ Superstar is undoubtedly heavily influenced by the freshness of that iconic reimagining of the show. Released from its 70s origins but also any need to be particularly politically relevant (which tripped up the UK arena tour) it is a powerful piece of contemporary theatre which speaks to the cult of celebrity as pointedly as it ever has done. Continue reading “Lockdown theatre review: Jesus Christ Superstar (2018 Concert)”

2020 Laurence Olivier Awards nominations

Award season kicks into another gear with the arrival of the nominations for the 2020 Olivier Awards – & Juliet, Fiddler on the Roof and Dear Evan Hansen lead the musicals pack, Death of a Salesman and Rosmersholm the plays

As ever, Laurence giveth and he taketh away and it’s all subjective anyway.

  • I’m really pleased to see the love for Amélie The Musical and The Ocean At The End Of The Lane but a little incredulous that Fairview received no nominations.
  • The weird category shuffle that often happens has landed on ‘Best Entertainment or Comedy Play’ and ‘Best Family Show’ this year, leaving Emilia and Fleabag in a weird place that isn’t ‘Best New Play’ (last year they were divided into ‘Best Entertainment and Family’ and ‘Best New Comedy’.
  • I had zero desire to see Fiddler on the Roof so can’t pass comment there but can’t help wishing the supporting role in a musical nominations weren’t quite so dominated by DEH.
  • & Juliet’s director Luke Sheppard could rightfully feel snubbed, given the wealth of recognition the rest of the production has received.
  • And whither Monica Dolan, Lucian Msamati, Melanie La Barrie, the cast of Three Sisters…(oh wait, they won the more significant award earlier in the year!)

Continue reading “2020 Laurence Olivier Awards nominations”

Review: Sara Bareilles and Gavin Creel in Waitress, Adelphi Theatre

It’s impossible to resist another visit to Joe’s Diner as Sara Bareilles and Gavin Creel begin their limited run in Waitress at the Adelphi Theatre

“I’ll slice and serve my worries away”

I wasn’t going to go back to Waitress, having enjoyed both my previous visits to the Adelphi Theatre where I was blown away by Katharine McPhee and then Lucie Jones in the leading role of Jenna. But then a genius casting move (surely this doesn’t count as stunt casting? who knows…?) saw the show’s composer and lyricist Sara Bareilles and Olivier and Tony Award winner Gavin Creel announced for a limited run and so I couldn’t help but book myself in for another slice of pie.

Both of them appeared in the show on Broadway so they’re clearly au fait with their roles but more significantly, they clearly share a special connection and so their electricity as Jenna and Dr Pomatter is off the charts. The shenanigans in the doctor’s surgery are always fun but here, they’re fricking hilarious as Creel and Bareilles bounce off each other while having the time of their lives and almost, almost, making you forget the slight ickiness of the boundaries that their incipient relationship crosses. Continue reading “Review: Sara Bareilles and Gavin Creel in Waitress, Adelphi Theatre”

My 10 favourite shows of 2019

I barely saw 250 shows this year, quiet by my standards! And as is the way of these things, here’s a rundown of some of the productions that moved me most…

1. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Southwark Playhouse
I haven’t lost it in a theatre as much as this in a good long while. I cry at all sorts but this superlative musical had me trying, and failing, to choke back huge, hacking sobs. And I can still sing some of the songs – it has to come back, surely. “It’s all just a matter of time…”

2. Call Me Fury, Hope Theatre
“This is the history we should be teaching, these are the stories we should be sharing”, this striking and soulful piece gave voice to so many whom history have ignored, and was bloody entertaining with it. 

3. West Side Story, Curve Leicester
A musical I love, in a production that I simply adored. Getting to see two WSSs in one year was a privilege and for me, it was the emotional heart of Nikolai Foster’s production that won out.

4. As You Like It, Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch
The second year of the Public Acts programme comes up trumps once again with this gorgeous musical version of the Shakespeare classic, community theatre at its finest.

5. Islander, Southwark Playhouse
The magic of musical theatre distilled into two voices and a loop pedal – a marvellously inventive and endlessly moving. 

6. Amélie the Musical, Watermill Theatre/UK Tour/The Other Palace
As sweet-sharp as a diabolo grenadine, something truly gorgeous emerges from this film adaptation that simply demands you come up with better words than quirky to describe it.

7. & Juliet, Shaftesbury Theatre
Tell me why… About as much fun as you can have in the West End right now, this is a particularly fine example of the jukebox model and I want it that way.

8. Sexy Lamp, VAULT
A standout piece in a standout festival, Katie Arnstein’s brutally honest monologue about navigating the patriarchy may be lightened with songs and sweets but is no less effective for it.

9. Karaoke Play, Bunker Theatre
Deeply confessional and subtly magical, Annie Jenkins’ inter-connected monologues combined to become so much more than the sum of their parts.

10. The Ocean at the End of the Lane, National Theatre
A magical family tale, perfect for kids of all ages. Not even reading the exit poll as I left could ruin the feeling! 

Shows 11-25 under the cut

Continue reading “My 10 favourite shows of 2019”

2020 What’s On Stage Award nominations

The nominations for the 20th Annual WhatsOnStage Awards have been announced and I have a thought or two #justiceforAnneHathaway

As a publicly nominated affair, the What’s On Stage Awards always throw up an interesting set of nominations, as fanbases engage alongside theatregoers to produce an idiosyncratic reflection on the year. This year though, the nominees for the nine creative categories (Choreography, Costume Design, Direction, Graphic Design, Lighting Design, Musical Direction, Set Design, Sound Design and Video Design) have been decided by an independent panel of industry experts appointed, which has resulted in some pleasing inclusions for the likes of Equus and Small Island

Acting-wise, the focus does land a little heavily on the more famous names (plus ça change) and that Supporting Actress in a Musical category is super-crowded (the Dear Evan Hansen mothers would have been a shoo-in for me there). My only real point of issue comes with the categorisation for the & Juliet players – are you really going to nominate Oliver Tompsett as a lead and then put Cassidy Janson in the supporting category? Did you not see the show, or get any of its message at all?!

Voting for the winners is open now and closes on 27th January 2020, with the winners being revealed at a ceremony on 1st March 2020.

Best Actor in a Play, sponsored by Edwardian Hotels

Tom Hiddleston – Betrayal – Harold Pinter Theatre
Andrew Scott – Present Laughter – The Old Vic
Matt Smith – Lungs – The Old Vic
Wendell Pierce – Death of a Salesman – Young Vic / Piccadilly Theatre
Laurie Kynaston – The Son – Kiln Theatre / Duke of York’s Theatre

Best Actress in a Play, sponsored by Tonic Theatre

Claire Foy – Lungs – The Old Vic
Zawe Ashton – Betrayal – Harold Pinter Theatre
Hayley Atwell – Rosmersholm – Duke of York’s Theatre
Sharon D Clarke – Death of a Salesman – Young Vic / Piccadilly Theatre
Juliet Stevenson – The Doctor – Almeida Theatre Continue reading “2020 What’s On Stage Award nominations”