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”

TV Review: Chewing Gum (Series 1)

In the spirit of Black Lives Matters and an inspiration from Noma Dumezweni, I’m turning my attention to the TV shows, I haven’t gotten round to watching that I should have done by now, starting with Michaela Coel’s Chewing Gum 

“Do you want a Fruit Pastille?”

Michaela Coel’s comedy show Chewing Gum was born out of her play Chewing Gum Dreams which played in the Shed at the National Theatre in 2014, a rare moment when a monologue like that could be programmed at a theatre like that. I didn’t catch it then and on the evidence of this first series, the loss is most definitely mine.

A proper British sitcom (6 episodes, no fuss), the show stars creator and writer Coel as Tracey, an East London shop assistant in her early 20s who is determined to cast off the shackles of her religious upbringing and learn about the world. Oh, and she really really really wants to get some. Continue reading “TV Review: Chewing Gum (Series 1)”

Lockdown treat: Taika Waititi and friends read James and the Giant Peach

Join Academy Award-winning filmmaker, Taika Waititi as he reads James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl, in full across 10 episodes, to raise money for @Partners In Health.

Over the series, Taika will be joined by Utkarsh Ambudkar, Cate Blanchett, Jamie Cullum, Benedict Cumberbatch, Roman Griffin Davis, Cara Delevingne, Cynthia Erivo, Beanie Feldstein, Josh Gad, Chris Hemsworth, Liam Hemsworth, Mindy Kaling, Nick Kroll, Kumail Nanjiani, Lupita Nyong’o, Sarah Paulson, Billy Porter, Gordon Ramsay, Eddie Redmayne, Ryan Reynolds, Ben Schwartz, Meryl Streep, Tessa Thompson, Olivia Wilde, Ruth Wilson and Archie Yates, with a select number of celebrities still to be announced.

If you can, please visit http://www.pih.org/giantpeach to donate NOW. The Roald Dahl Story Company and their partners will be matching every single donation. New episodes released every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 6pm BST / 1pm EST / 10 PST. Continue reading “Lockdown treat: Taika Waititi and friends read James and the Giant Peach”

Album Reviews: Singing You Home / Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again / Vanara the Musical

This trio of album reviews covers Singing You Home: Children’s Songs for Family Reunification, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again (2018 Film Soundtrack) and Vanara the Musical

“Ay, ay, ay, ay, canta y no llores”

Regardless of your politics, Singing You Home: Children’s Songs for Family Reunification is a really rather lovely album of bilingual children’s songs. But in this day and age nothing is not political and the current US administration’s policy of child separation is a genuine atrocity that it is hard to know how to respond. Laura Benanti had the nous to conceive this project though and produced it with Mary-Mitchell Campbell and Lynn Pinto, and a whole host of the great and good of the American musical theatre. Thus this is more than just your usual set of lullabies – Lin-Manuel Miranda and Mandy Gonzalez crooning on the Mexican song ‘Cielito Lindo’, Audra McDonald shining on Jason Robert Brown’s ‘Singing You Home’, Kristin Chenoweth’s ‘Beautiful Dreamer’, well worth the investment for this uniquely exceptional cause. Continue reading “Album Reviews: Singing You Home / Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again / Vanara the Musical”

Album Review: Lea Michele – Christmas in the City

Jonathan Groff and Darren Criss elevate Glee star Lea Michele’s first holiday album Christmas in the City

“In the air there’s a feeling of Christmas”

It’s definitely that time of year, as Christmas albums start to pop up left, right and centre and getting in there early is actress and singer Lea Michele with her debut holiday album Christmas in the City. It’s a very New York take on the festive season, tending towards the secular than the sacred, and the result is smoothly satisfying, especially in its strong choice of collaborators.

Michele sounds at her best when partnered by former Glee co-stars Darren Criss and Jonathan Groff. On their respective duets of ‘White Christmas’ and ‘I’ll Be Home For Christmas’, there’s a beautiful lightness of touch to these interpretations of such familiar material. Trading lines and harmonies with all the elegance of Torvill and Dean, the musical beauty here is just lovely. Continue reading “Album Review: Lea Michele – Christmas in the City”

Album Review: Billy Porter Presents: The Soul of Richard Rodgers

“I have dreamed what a joy you’ll be”

Who knew that exploring the soul of Richard Rodgers would reveal a Lauryn Hill sample and a guest rap from upcoming Bronx rapper Zaire Park? And that’s just on ‘Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered’ alone. But that’s exactly what you find on Billy Porter Presents: The Soul of Richard Rodgers, a project co-produced and co-curated by Billy Porter, the Tony Award-winning Broadway actor and musician.

With lyricists Oscar Hammerstein II and Lorenz Hart, legendary composer Richard Rodgers redefined the American musical theatre with now-classic musicals like Oklahoma!, The Sound of Music, South Pacific, and The King and I. And now Porter pays tribute to his legacy by reinterpreting his songbook with an entirely more contemporary soulful bent. In his own words, “I like to think of this as the Richard Rodgers version of the Hamilton Mixtapes.”  Continue reading “Album Review: Billy Porter Presents: The Soul of Richard Rodgers”

The Curtain Up Show Album of the Year 2016 nominees

Best UK Cast Recording
American Psycho – Original London Cast Recording
Close To You: Bacharach Reimagined – Original London Cast Recording
Funny Girl – Original London Cast Recording
Half A Sixpence – 2016 London Cast Recording
Kinky Boots – Original West End Cast Recording
Mrs Henderson Presents – Original London Cast Recording

Best American Cast Recording
Allegiance – Original Broadway Cast Recording
The Color Purple – New Broadway Cast Recording
Fiddler On The Roof – 2016 Broadway Cast Recording
Lazarus – Original Cast Recording
On Your Feet! – Original Broadway Cast Recording
Waitress – Original Broadway Cast Recording

Best Solo Album / Non Cast Recording
Cheyenne Jackson – Renaissance
Lin-Manuel Miranda – The Hamilton Mixtape
Idina Menzel – idina.
Kristin Chenoweth – The Art of Elegance
Nadim Naaman – Sides
Samantha Barks – Samantha Barks

CD Review: The Color Purple (2015 Broadway Revival Cast)

“They see more ’bout how things really are now”

After garnering Tony Awards for Best Revival and Best Actress in a Musical, the revival of The Color Purple is even more of a hot property so it is little surprise that a cast recording was made to crystallise this extraordinary reimagining of the show. The album was made late last year so actually came before award season but the writing was already on the wall at that point.
And it’s interesting to now have this to compare the Original Cast Recording, one which hasn’t gone down in history too well although I thought it sounded exemplary on listening to it recently. What John Doyle’s revival does seem to do though, is to strip away some of the Broadway-isms of the show to drill down to something more elemental. Something that was in ample evidence when I saw it at the Menier and which has been heightened here.
Notions of authenticity when it comes to theatricality are always bogus but there is undoubtedly a stronger feeling of Georgia in the air here, the smaller orchestra proving grittier in these arrangements and a new set of performance imbuing new, different, life into these characters. Cynthia Erivo took that Tony home and it is easy to see why, the raw truth in her voice perfectly suited to Celie’s arduous journey, finally flourishing into beautiful, soaring, warmth.
But it is Danielle Brooks (another escapee from Orange is the New Black – Kimiko Glenn is currently in Waitress and Uzo Aduba starred in The Maids on the West End) as Sofia who is the real revelation here (Erivo’s talents are of no surprise to UK theatregoers after all), a stunning performance of character that crackles with life and demands that you listen to every damn word she got to say and she needs to say…
Joaquina Kalukango’s Nettie is well done and it’s no crime that she’s not Renée Elise Goldsberry, but I do have to say that I was disappointed in Jennifer Hudson’s Shug, a vocal turn that does little to delve into the heart and damaged soul of this woman, beyond the superficial sass of ‘Push Da Button’. I’d love to be able to hear Heather Headley’s take on Shug instead, she’s now playing nightly at the Bernard B Jacobs Theatre as Hudson’s replacement, the only lead to have thus far left the production. 
So it’s a bit of a Celie’s choice – I like both of the Cast Recordings for The Color Purple in different ways, you should probably invest in them both!

CD Review: Alison Jiear – Inspirational

“I’m on your side”
Truth be told, I wouldn’t normally listen to anything that falls under the Christian label on iTunes and so Alison Jiear’s album Inspirational hadn’t quite registered on my radar until someone passed me a link to the stunning version of Simon and Garfunkel’s ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ that sits in the middle of this collection. A gospel adaptation on which she duets with Cynthia Erivo, it just crackles with fervour, from its gorgeous unaccompanied intro to its ecstatic finale and made me want to investigate more.
And it’s a fascinating collection (produced by Steve Anderson, how could it not be), not least because its ‘inspirational’ content is generally unfamiliar to me. The soaring slow-build of One God, popularised by Johnny Mathis and Barbra Streisand, is undeniable; hymn ‘How Great Thou Art’ has a certain rousing power; and if Christian rock anthems like ‘I Can Only Imagine’ don’t really do it for me at all, the passion which with Jiear imbues ‘Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone) really makes you listen to every single word. 
And when things are more secular, they’re no less heartfelt. Gently stirring songs like the rather beautiful ‘I’ll Keep You Safe’ and ‘To Where You Are’ suit the clarity and purity of Jiear’s voice here down to the ground, as does the powerful ‘Remember Me’ (An Anthem for Alzheimer’s Disease), the poignant subject matter close to her heart as her father fought the condition for 4 years before passing in 2014. A slowed-down ‘Both Sides Now’ is genuinely ruminative, its wisdom hard won and all the more affecting for it. The Christian label is thus unfair, or rather my presumptions about it are, as Inspirational shows off faith at its best, in its all-encompassing openness no matter what you believe in. 

70th Tony Award winners

Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Play 
Frank Langella – The Father as Andre – WINNER
Gabriel Byrne – Long Day’s Journey into Night as James Tyrone
Jeff Daniels – Blackbird as Ray
Tim Pigott-Smith – King Charles III as Charles
Mark Strong – A View from the Bridge as Eddie Carbone

Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play
Jessica Lange – Long Day’s Journey into Night as Mary Tyrone – WINNER
Laurie Metcalf – Misery as Annie Wilkes
Lupita Nyong’o – Eclipsed as The Girl
Sophie Okonedo – The Crucible as Elizabeth Proctor
Michelle Williams – Blackbird as Una Spencer

Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical 
Leslie Odom, Jr. – Hamilton as Aaron Burr – WINNER
Alex Brightman – School of Rock as Dewey Finn
Danny Burstein – Fiddler on the Roof as Tevye
Zachary Levi – She Loves Me as Georg Nowack
Lin-Manuel Miranda – Hamilton as Alexander Hamilton Continue reading “70th Tony Award winners”