Album Reviews: Bonnie Langford – Jazz at the Theatre / Laura Osnes – If I Tell You / Renée & Bryn: Under the Stars

The trio of album reviews takes in Bonnie Langford – Jazz at the Theatre, Laura Osnes – If I Tell You (The Songs of Maury Yeston) and Renée & Bryn: Under the Stars

“Who would think it astounds us
Simply naming their names?”

Who doesn’t love a bit of Bonnie Langford? Her 2003 album Jazz at the Theatre does exactly what it says on the tin, mixing the worlds of musical theatre and jazz to great effect. So bossa nova rhythms drive Cy Coleman’s ‘Use What You Got’ from The Life, pacey bass-driven romp through ‘If I Were A Bell’ from Guys and Dolls, and there’s a delicate skip through Fiddler’s ‘Sunrise, Sunset’.

Sondheim and Lloyd Webber get their name checked with tender takes on ‘Sooner or Later’ and ‘Unexpected Song’ and I loved the straight rendition of Me and My Girl’s ‘Once You Lose Your Heart’. Throughout are sprinkled standards like ‘Old Devil Moon’ and ‘My Funny Valentine’ which also work well but the less said about this version of ‘God Bless the Child’ the better though… Continue reading “Album Reviews: Bonnie Langford – Jazz at the Theatre / Laura Osnes – If I Tell You / Renée & Bryn: Under the Stars”

Album Review: John Owen-Jones – Bring Him Home

“Give me this moment, this momentous moment”

I was excited by the prospect of a new John Owen-Jones album but the reality of Bring Him Home – A Collection of Musical Favourites was, I have to say, a little disappointing. For it is something of a greatest hits affair, collecting together tracks from three of his previous albums – Unmasked, Rise and his self-titled album and adding in just the three new songs.

Those tracks are Miss Saigon’s ‘Why, God, Why?’, West Side Story’s ‘Maria’ and ‘Suddenly’, written by Claude-Michel Schönberg, Herbert Kretzmer and Alain Boublil especially for the filmed version of Les Misérables. Only the last of these has any real interest as something particularly new, although fans will enjoy the personal connection Owen-Jones has to the others (drama school audition song, and first show he was in onstage). Continue reading “Album Review: John Owen-Jones – Bring Him Home”

Album Review: John Owen-Jones – Unmasked (2012)

“You are going where I long to be”

I have really enjoyed John Owen-Jones’ recorded output – his self-titled debut and 2015’s Rise both impressing with their forays into new musical theatre writing and interesting arrangements. It’s taken me a little while to get around to his 2012 album Unmasked and I have to say it does feel like a little bit of a relative disappointment for me, not so much in terms of its quality but rather in its lack of adventurousness.

Three Andrew Lloyd Webber songs, a bit of Sondheim, West Side Story’s ‘Somewhere’, Les Mis’ ‘Bring Him Home’ again (it’s appeared in one form or another on all his solo albums), there’s little to really pique the interest above and beyond what one might expect from a musical theatre star who has delivered successfully in many of these key roles. Along with standards like ‘Nature Boy’ and ‘Hallelujah’, the template thus appears quite fixed. Continue reading “Album Review: John Owen-Jones – Unmasked (2012)”

Review: Sweeney Todd, London Coliseum

“At the top of the hole sit the privileged few”

And it is mostly the privileged few who’ll get to see this lavish English National Opera production of Sondheim’s oft-revived Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street as stalls seats will set you back an eye-watering £95, £125 or £155. Somewhat cheaper seats are available from the upper circle upwards but still…* Lonny Price’s semi-staged production (with its nifty fake-out of a beginning) was first seen in New York in March 2014 but unsurprisingly, given it featured Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel as Mrs Lovett and the demon barber himself, it declared “there’s no place like London” and has now taken up residence in the Coliseum alongside a cast of nearly 40 musical theatre veterans (and Thompson’s daughter) and a lush-sounding  orchestra of 60.

Thompson and Terfel may be the headline names but the real pleasure comes in the luxury casting that surrounds them. Philip Quast and John Owen-Jones bring a richness of vocal to Judge Turpin and Pirelli respectively, Alex Gaumond and Jack North both mine effectively Dickensian depths to Beadle and Toby and there’s something glorious about having the marvellous Rosalie Craig here, even in so relatively minor a role as the Beggar Woman as her quality shines through despite that wig. Matthew Seadon-Young and Katie Hall as Anthony and Johanna are both really impressive too, their voices marrying beautifully as they respond intuitively to the textures of David Charles Obell’s orchestra. Continue reading “Review: Sweeney Todd, London Coliseum”

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”