Film Review: Blithe Spirit (2020)

Despite a talented cast including Judi Dench and Dan Stevens, this cinematic version of Noël Coward’s Blithe Spirit is a big miss

“I’ll have a grilled grapefruit and a strong coffee please”

On the one hand, I knew I wouldn’t enjoy Blithe Spirit, Noël Coward’s enduring play offering increasingly diminishing returns every time it reappears. On the other, I don’t think anyone would have predicted how misjudged this film version would be, directed by Ed Hall and adapted for the screen by Piers Ashworth, Meg Leonard and Nick Moorcroft.

Coward’s plays do what they do, offering safe options for audiences (and theatre programmers) and usually attracting top actors (Jennifer Saunders and Angela Lansbury are the last two to have starred in the West End in this play). And on the face of it, the same ought to be true of a filmed version, here with Dame Judi Dench stepping into the feathered caftan of Madame Arcati. Continue reading “Film Review: Blithe Spirit (2020)”

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”

More September theatre news

SIX reunite, The Theatre Channel switches on, The Shows Go On return and casting is revealed in Bath

© Danny Kaan

The Reunion is the first stage+streaming concert performance by seven powerhouse vocalists who rose to fame as the original West End queens of the musical SIX: Aimie Atkinson, Alexia McIntosh, Grace Mouat, Jarneia Richard-Noel, Maiya Quansah-Breed, Millie O’Connell, and Natalie Paris. The show will be livestreamed by theatre platform Thespie but a lucky few will also be able to get tickets to see the concerts live on Saturday 10th and Sunday 11th October.

Performances will be held in Oval Space, a spacious and well-ventilated East London venue that has been entirely reimagined for safe, seated music and theatre performances. The seating plan is entirely flexible which allows seating to be customised to the audience that books. Audiences book for themselves and their household or support bubble only (to a maximum of six), and Thespie’s technology determines a seat plan that ensures safe spacing between households and optimises use of the space. Continue reading “More September theatre news”

Lockdown review: Les Misérables – The Staged Concert

Les Misérables – The Staged Concert is released on digital download, along with a bonus featurette which is highly amusing

“Minutes into hours, and the hours into years”

Striding over the barricades to alleviate lockdown tedium, Les Misérables – The Staged Concert has now been released on digital download. The release will raise funds for performers, musicians and the NHS as well as incurring additional donations (an extra £5 for every purchase) from The Mackintosh Foundation which will go to the charity Acting for Others, the Musicians Union Coronavirus Hardship Fund and Captain Tom Moore’s Walk for the NHS fund

You can actually watch Bringing It Home – A Les Miz Stay at Home Special below but I thought I’d give you fair warning as it has its pros and cons. Continue reading “Lockdown review: Les Misérables – The Staged Concert”

Album Review: Michael Ball & Alfie Boe – Back Together

Michael Ball and Alfie Boe get back together for Back Together, their third album as a duo, which I ultimately find hard to resist

“The more you refuse to hear my voice
The louder I will sing”

First they were Together, then they were Together Again and now they’re Back Together – there’s no separating Michael Ball and Alfie Boe as their double act has become an extraordinary success, managing that all-too-rare-nowadays feat of actually selling albums. 

And you can see why, especially in a spell-binding trio of musical theatre classics early on. The unexpected harmonies speckled throughout ‘Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again’, the delicate interplay in Fiddler’s ‘Sunrise, Sunset’ and the always rousing ‘Circle Of Life’ (with the assistance of Shaun Escoffrey) all imbue the familiar material with real interest, making the case for Ball & Boe as more than just your average crooners cranking out a new album. And the inclusion of a Pasek & Paul song is predictably de rigueur for a 2019 release, even if neither man quite has the suppleness of voice or diction to really get away with the energy of ‘The Greatest Show’. Continue reading “Album Review: Michael Ball & Alfie Boe – Back Together”

Album Review: Alfie Boe – As Time Goes By

Alfie Boe shines on As Time Goes By, his first solo record in four years featuring the music of the 30s and 40s

“Now you’re singin’ with a swing”

As Time Goes By is Alfie Boe’s tenth studio album and his first solo disc in four years, having hit a sweet spot with his recent collaborations with Michael Ball which saw them take home two Classic BRIT Awards this year. But he moves here to reclaim the solo spotlight with a record that celebrates the music of the 30s and 40s.

That it does remarkably well, as Boe reins in much of the booming power of his powerful tenor to allow colour and character into his vocal performance. And with Gordon Goodwin and his Big Phat Band providing sensational musical accompaniment throughout, this is a music lover’s tribute to an era which doesn’t always get the attention it deserves. Continue reading “Album Review: Alfie Boe – As Time Goes By”

How to solve a problem like a compilation – my alternative Unmasked

Andrew Lloyd Webber, Unmasled

I make my own suggestions about interpretations of Andrew Lloyd Webber songs that could have been included on his new compilation album Unmasked

“They must have excitement, and so must I”

In a world of Spotify and iTunes and other online music services, compilation albums ought to have died a death. But the enduring success of the Now That’s What I Call Music series puts the lie to that, showing that while the idea of curating your own content is tempting, many of us prefer to let someone else do it for us.

So Andrew Lloyd Webber’s decision to release new anthology Unmasked is a canny one in that respect (read my review here), tapping into the desire to have a nicely pleasant set of musical theatre tunes to pop on in the car. And as with any compilation, it’s as much about what hasn’t been included as what has, that stands out. Continue reading “How to solve a problem like a compilation – my alternative Unmasked”

Midlife Crooner Crisis Album Reviews

With Top of the Pops cruelly taken away from us, I’ve rarely much of a clue as to what in the charts. But I doubt even the most knowledgable of experts could have predicted that one of 2016’s biggest albums would come from the presenter of The Chase. Chasing Dreams ended the year as the second biggest UK debut and perhaps unsurprisingly given his key demographic, achieved that with predominantly physical sales.

So the arrival of a follow-up was never in doubt but it brings with it competition, from a whole raft of middle-aged white male presenters seeking to tap into those CD sales. And me being the kind soul that I am, I’ve listened to some of them, mainly so that you don’t have to…as it’s not a field overflowing with the kind of music that floats my boat. Each to their own though. 
Continue reading “Midlife Crooner Crisis Album Reviews”