Review: Strictly Ballroom the Musical, Piccadilly

Baz Luhrmann’s Strictly Ballroom the Musical may not be the strongest musical in the world, but it’s a stronger piece of musical theatre, thanks to Drew McOnie’s choreography

“Pam Shortt’s broken both her legs, and I wanna dance with you”

It is fascinating to be able to follow the development of a show, particularly one that has morphed as much as Strictly Ballroom the Musical. I saw it at the West Yorkshire Playhouse the winter before last, where it didn’t quite set my world on fire, so I was intrigued to hear that its arrival in the West End at the Piccadilly would be accompanied by quite the overhaul, still directed and choreographed by Drew McOnie.

The major change to this adaptation of Baz Luhrmann’s 1992 cult hit movie comes with the introduction of bandleader Wally Strand, played by Will Young, an MC figure and human jukebox who takes on the vast majority of the evening’s singing. And as we skip from Grace Jones to Billy Idol, via Bowie, Whitney and Cyndi, it’s a real pleasure to hear him sing Marius De Vries’ brilliant new arrangements. Continue reading “Review: Strictly Ballroom the Musical, Piccadilly”

Review: The Addams Family, New Wimbledon

“Hold your decaying
Hear what we’re saying”

Sad to say, what I’m saying is that I was not a fan of The Addams Family at all. After a cracking opening number which promises oh so much, Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice’s book grinds to a juddering halt in a first half which does nothing but interminably set the scene. And Andrew Lippa’s score offers little respite as it fails to really nail any definitive sense of identity and ends up really rather forgettable. Things do pick up a tad post-interval but it’s too little too late by then.

It all could have been so much better. The Addams Family are an iconic set of characters, previously immortalised on cartoon strip, on television and on film, a legacy which goes some way to explaining the commercial success of the show on Broadway in the face of a scathing critical reception. But classic characters need classic storytelling and here, they’re marooned in a schmaltzy neverland which captures nothing of the golden age, nor has anything to say to audiences today. Continue reading “Review: The Addams Family, New Wimbledon”

Album Reviews: Peter Pan A Musical Adventure / The Confession Room / Marie Christine

This trio of album reviews covers Peter Pan A Musical Adventure, The Confession Room and Marie Christine

“Would I oblige?
I obliged”

Michael John LaChiusa is one of those composers of the new American musical theatre mould, or maybe even beyond, in adopting a dense and complex compositional style that means his work hasn’t always had the credit it deserves. This original Broadway cast recording of his 1999 show Marie Christine feels like a case in point – a Tony-nominated book and score that has rarely been revived, never mind made it to the UK. An adaptation of the Medea story that relocates it to 1890s New Orleans, it is blessed by a stunning central performance from Audra McDonald as a remarkably vicious leading lady. The score is made up of fragmented pieces of music rather than conventional notions of what we would consider a song but its operatic drama hits the mark for me. And I’d love to see it the UK some time soon please… Continue reading “Album Reviews: Peter Pan A Musical Adventure / The Confession Room / Marie Christine”

Album Review: Lord of the Rings (2008 Original London Production)

“Eä, Arda, Ainulindalë.
Aratar, Maiar, Rána, Nénar”

Believe it or not, there was a time when I lived in London and I only saw a handful of shows a month, actually making considered decisions about what I wanted to see. And I have to say the musical of Lord of the Rings did not make the cut (obvs I wasn’t aware of who Rosalie Craig was at that point, or else I would have gone!). The show lasted just over a year at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane and probably lost a shit-ton of money (it allegedly cost £12 million to make) but we do have a cast recording to remember it by.

And what a rather odd-sounding show it is, little surprise really when you consider that producer Kevin Wallace brought on three different composers to complement the book and lyrics by Matthew Warchus and Shaun McKenna. So Bollywood supremo A. R. Rahman, Finnish folk group Värttinä and Lloyd Webber-wannabe Christopher Nightingale all contributed to an altogether epic score, but one which sprawls in an unwieldly manner as these three strands struggle to cohere into an effective whole. Continue reading “Album Review: Lord of the Rings (2008 Original London Production)”

Review: Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, West Yorkshire Playhouse

“Scrumptious as the breeze across the day”

Who knew that Leeds would be a musical theatre hotspot this December but between The Girls and this Music & Lyrics and West Yorkshire Playhouse production of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, it’s been the place to be for big, warm-hearted musical fun. This is the first new version of Chitty Chitty… since its original 2002 West End production and its many regional tours but in James Brining’s clever and wondrous adaptation, it’s thoroughly revitalised and as lovely as any cherry peach parfait.

Ian Fleming’s novel was adapted by Jeremy Sams, via Roald Dahl and Ken Hughes’ own reshaping of the story for the cinema, and with a glorious score from the Sherman Brothers (as if they could do any other kind) beefed up with new songs by them as well, it captures much of the Disney noir feel of the film whilst bringing its own depths too. I’d forgotten how much sadness there was in the tale and that’s something Brining never lets us forget, even whilst delighting us with flying cars and fun. Continue reading “Review: Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, West Yorkshire Playhouse”

Review: The Sound of Music, Open Air Theatre

“But somewhere in my wicked, miserable past there must have been a moment of truth”

Despite never having seen it on the stage before, I hadn’t originally intended to go and see the Open Air Theatre’s production of The Sound of Music. But whilst on holiday, we watched the film on TV en famille whereupon I was reminded of its charms and hearing the good reviews of this production, duly set about booking tickets for an evening when I hoped the sun would shine. And I clearly had some good theatrical karma as a glorious summer’s evening set up what a simply delightful evening of old school musical entertainment.

It may not be the most adventurous of programming choices and Rachel Kavanaugh’s production plays a very straight bat but in many ways, this is why it is so successful. Its straightforward simplicity allows for a direct emotional hit, one which plays off the indubitable familiarity of so much of the material but also the opportunities offered by this open air venue and the freshness of a supremely talented cast. Charlotte Wakefield’s Maria and Michael Xavier’s Captain may initially seem more youthful than one might expect but together they work like a dream, combining with the whole company to create the kind of warmth that would brighten even the soggiest of September evenings (the run has extended by a week due to its success). Continue reading “Review: The Sound of Music, Open Air Theatre”