Review: Life of the Party, Menier Chocolate Factory

“I planned a well-rendered, one-gendered lesbian love story”

You’d be forgiven for not being familiar with Andrew Lippa, whose work is being celebrated at the Menier Chocolate Factory with a vivacious show that cherry-picks from his career so far. Although born in Leeds, his successes have been over the Atlantic with shows like The Addams Family, Big Fish and The Wild Party which have helped him to build a considerable, if niche, audience. With the help of some classy West End friends though, this sparkling revue could well encourage a further groundswell of popular support in the UK and get Lippa’s work produced here more often. 

In the meantime, the concert format works well here with The Life of the Party. Lippa is a born raconteur and from his piano, he is a hugely entertaining presence full of gossipy tidbits but more importantly, brimming with enthusiasm for the world of musical theatre and his continued place in it. Talking about the songs and shows that have made up his oeuvre, there is no mistaking his sheer love for what he does and that brings something extraordinary to the material, an intensity that might not even been matched when the songs are being performed in their natural context within the shows. Continue reading “Review: Life of the Party, Menier Chocolate Factory”

CD Review: It’s Just The Beginning – The Songs of Charles Miller and Kevin Hammonds

“I’m a girl of few words
And I don’t make a fuss 
But there’s something I’d like to discuss” 

As with too many good musical theatre writers, transatlantic partnership Charles Miller and Kevin Hammonds may not be the best known, but their work deserves a wider recognition as evidenced on their CD It’s Just The Beginning – The Songs of Charles Miller and Kevin Hammonds. British musician Miller and New York lyricist Hammonds have something of an old-fashioned soul, their songs very much part of the long tradition of musical theatre rather than a genre-busting radical new approach and as such, represent an interesting future alongside the Jason Robert Browns of the world.

To musical theatre aficionados, some of this music won’t be unfamiliar. When Midnight Strikes was performed at the Upstairs at the Gatehouse theatre last year and is well represented here (the emotive ‘Never Learned To Type’ is probably the highlight, the divine Caroline O’Connor wistfully breaking our hearts with a beautiful vocal. And Julie Atherton’s debut album A Girl of Few Words showcased 12 of their songs, two of which are reprised here – the wonderfully striking title track and the powerful duet ‘Someone Find Me’ with good pal Paul Spicer. Continue reading “CD Review: It’s Just The Beginning – The Songs of Charles Miller and Kevin Hammonds”

fosterIAN awards 2012

 WinnerRunner-upOther nominees
Best Actress in a PlayKate O’Flynn, LungsLaurie Metcalf, Long Day’s Journey Into NightHattie Morahan, A Doll’s House
Helen McCrory, Last of the Haussmans
Cate Blanchett, Big and Small
Sally Hawkins, Constellations
Best Actor in a PlayLuke Treadaway, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-timeRafe Spall, ConstellationsBilly Carter, Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me
David Suchet, Long Day’s Journey Into Night
Hugh Ross, A Life
Dominic Rowan, A Doll’s House
Best Supporting Actress in a PlayNiamh Cusack, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-timeLaura Howard, Lost in YonkersRuth Sheen, In Basildon
Nicola Walker, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time
Katie Brayben, A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Open Air)
Fenella Woolgar, Hedda Gabler
Best Supporting Actor in a PlayPaul Chahidi, Twelfth Night (Globe)Charles Edwards, This HouseRobin Soans, Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me
Rory Kinnear, Last of the Haussmans
Cyril Nri, Julius Caesar
Olly Alexander, Mercury Fur
Best Actress in a MusicalCarly Bawden, My Fair LadyJanie Dee, Hello, Dolly!Caroline O’Connor, Gypsy
Anna Francolini, Victor/Victoria
Rosalie Craig, Ragtime
Jenna Russell, Merrily We Roll Along
Best Actor in a MusicalSimon Russell Beale, Privates on ParadeMark Umbers, Merrily We Roll AlongRichard Dempsey, Victor/Victoria
Julian Ovenden, Finding Neverland
Will Young, Cabaret
Dominic West, My Fair Lady
Best Supporting Actress in a MusicalClare Foster, Merrily We Roll AlongBonnie Langford, 9 to 5Josefina Gabrielle, Merrily We Roll Along
Debbie Kurup, The Bodyguard
Helena Blackman, A Winter’s Tale
Laura Pitt-Pulford, Hello, Dolly!
Best Supporting Actor in a MusicalMichael Xavier, Hello, Dolly!Damian Humbley, Merrily We Roll AlongAlistair Brookshaw, A Winter’s Tale
Stuart Matthew Price, Sweet Smell of Success
Ben Kavanagh, Boy Meets Boy
Oliver Boot, Finding Neverland

2012 Best Actress in a Play + in a Musical

Best Actress in a Play

Kate O’Flynn, Lungs
So much quality in this category this year and in some ways, this could have been shared between O’Flynn and Sally Hawkins as their performances shared a similar outstanding quality. But I think O’Flynn edged it slightly in Duncan MacMillan’s new play for Paines Plough, seamlessly negotiating time-jumps, huge emotional leaps and complex theorising in a devastating portrayal of the life of a relationship. 

Honourable mention: Laurie Metcalf, Long Day’s Journey Into Night
There was evidently a slight sense of hyperbole as I left the Apollo theatre – “I might go as far to say that Laurie Metcalf’s extraordinary performance as Mary Tyrone is one of the greatest feats of acting I think I’ve ever seen” – since she’s come second. But it was still a remarkable thing to watch, staggering in its naturalism and heart-breaking in its fatalistic tragedy.

Hattie Morahan, A Doll’s House
Helen McCrory, The Last of the Haussmans
Cate Blanchett, Big and Small
Sally Hawkins, Constellations

7-10

Lydia Wilson, ‘Tis Pity She’s A Whore; Linda Bassett, In Basildon; Billie Piper, The Effect; Monica Dolan, Chalet Lines


Best Actress in a Musical


Carly Bawden, My Fair Lady
Often I will know right then and there that someone will get one of these awards and as we got to the end of ‘I Could Have Danced All Night’, I knew that Bawden had this in the bag. An utterly gorgeous rendition of the song, “an understated exhalation of wonderment” that was truly special and made me want to sit right through it again right away. Fingers crossed for a London transfer.

Honourable mention: Janie Dee, Hello, Dolly!
In the face of previous perfomers who’ve taken on Dolly Levi and made me love her like no other, it was no mean feat for Janie Dee to take on the role and manage to do something else yet equally lovable. A greater note of melancholy rather than uproariousness made Dee infinitely moving and utterly compelling to watch.

Caroline O’Connor, Gypsy
Anna Francolini, Victor/Victoria
Rosalie Craig, Ragtime
Jenna Russell, Merrily We Roll Along

7-10

Laura Pitt-Pulford, Mack and Mabel; Gloria Onitiri, The Bodyguard; Rosalie Craig, Finding Neverland; Hannah Waddingham, Kiss Me Kate

Review: Gypsy, Curve

“What did you do it all for Mama?”

Gypsy is one of those shows that I’ve heard much about, it is extremely highly regarded in the US, but have had little real contact with. Bernadette Peters, Patti LuPone and Tyne Daly have taken on the iconic role of Mama Rose in recent years with very mixed results, but it is many years since anyone tried to bring it to the UK. Director Paul Kerryson has taken on the challenge though at the Curve in Leicester, with British/Australian chanteuse Caroline O’Connor in the lead role and so I took my first ever trip to Leicester to see what all the fuss was about.

The story takes its inspiration from the memoirs of burlesque dancer Gypsy Rose Lee which details the remorseless drive of her pushy stage mother from hell Mama Rose as she lived out her own dreams of being a performer by putting her two daughters onto the stage in a touring vaudeville act. Her relentless drive comes at great cost though, alienating one daughter who runs off, pushing the other into becoming a stripper and losing the man who has stood by her for so long. Continue reading “Review: Gypsy, Curve”

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”

2011 What’s On Stage Award nominations

THE SPOTLIGHT BEST ACTRESS IN A PLAY
Zoe Wanamaker – All My Sons at the Apollo 
Helen McCrory – The Late Middle Classes at the Donmar Warehouse 
Jenny Jules – Ruined at the Almeida
Kim Cattrall – Private Lives at the Vaudeville 
Nancy Carroll – After the Dance at the National, Lyttelton 
Tracie Bennett – End of the Rainbow at Trafalgar Studios 

THE SPOTLIGHT BEST ACTOR IN A PLAY
David Suchet – All My Sons at the Apollo 
Benedict Cumberbatch – After the Dance at the National, Lyttelton 
Matthew Macfadyen – Private Lives at the Vaudeville 
Rory Kinnear – Hamlet at the National, Olivier & Measure for Measure at the Almeida
Simon Russell Beale – Deathtrap at the Noel Coward & London Assurance at the National, Olivier 
Toby Stephens – The Real Thing at the Old Vic  Continue reading “2011 What’s On Stage Award nominations”

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”

Review: On The Town, Coliseum

I can’t honestly tell you what it was that attracted me by buy tickets for On The Town at the Coliseum: the chance to make my first trip to this venue, the cheap balcony seats, Leonard Bernstein’s name or maybe it was just the hot guy in a sailors uniform on the poster, but I have never been so glad to take a punt on something unknown as I was here. This is proper old-school Broadway musical entertainment at its dazzling best, perhaps unsurprising given Bernstein’s pedigree. The combination of a huge ensemble with a full orchestra means the total personnel involved is over 100 which is mightily impressive and lends an epic scale to the set pieces and Stephen Mears’ excellently choreographed routines. And it was all the more so considering I wasn’t expecting any of it!

We’re in 1944 and three sailors have just 24 hours of leave to kill in New York and they decide to use it on looking for a girl. It is a simple premise, but one given wonderful life here as the guys variously drink in the sights of the city, sample its cultural delights, chase some skirt but also keep an eye out for romance too. All fun and games but this production never loses sight of the fact that we’re smack in the middle of World War II and that the solace these men are looking for is a strictly temporary measure and so there’s a real bittersweet kick to proceedings that lends a real depth to the show. Continue reading “Review: On The Town, Coliseum”