July theatre round-up

I might have taken a break from reviewing for the last couple of months, but I didn’t stop going to the theatre. Here’s some brief thoughts on most of what I saw  in July.

On Your Feet, aka the rhythm will get you, sometimes
the end of history…, aka how can you get cheese on toast so wrong
Equus, aka hell yes for Jessica Hung Han Yun’s lighting design
Games for Lovers, aka straight people be crazy
Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, aka the one that got my goat
The Girl on the Train, aka Philip McGinley in shorts
A Midsummer Night’s Dream, aka Another Dream? dream on
Uncle Vanya, aka I really need to stop booking for plays like this with casts like that 
Jellyfish, aka justice for the second best play of last year
Sweat, aka Clare Perkins should always be on in the West End
Sue Townsend’s The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 3/4 The Musical, aka yay for lovely new musicals in the West End
The Light in the Piazza, aka Molly Lynch fricking nails it
Jesus Christ Superstar, aka was third time the charm?
Continue reading “July theatre round-up”

Re-review: A singalong Bat out of Hell, Dominion

We go back to the singalong Bat out of Hell at the Dominion Theatre but find diminishing returns

“Can’t you hear the choir now?
Listen to the animals sing”

Just a quickie for this repeat visit to Bat out of Hell, as the allure of the singalong performance was once again too strong. I don’t know if Tuesday night was the best choice though, as the Dominion Theatre was lacking in bodies and in atmosphere, at least in our part of the stalls, which kind of detracted from the communal spirit which was so enjoyable last time around.

I wonder too if the news of the show’s closure has dampened some of the enthusiasm. As D-day (5th January) draws closer, some of that intensity might return but for me, the performance level was weaker than I’ve previously seen. Rob Fowler and Sharon Sexton carry the show even more now and that means you only feel their absence all the more when they’re not on stage. Nothing really rocks, nothing really rolls…

Running time: 2 hours 45 minutes (with interval)
Photo: Specular
Bat out of Hell is booking at the Dominion Theatre until 5th January, one more singalong performance is scheduled for 31st December 

Review: A singalong Bat out of Hell, Dominion

Baby baby BABY! For better or worse, Bat out of Hell introduces the singalong musical into the West End 

“You got the kind of lips that do more than drink
You got the kind of mind that does less than think”

Although it might feel like every night is singalong night at some musicals (cough Motown cough), Bat out of Hell have gone the extra step and made one night a month an actual sing-along performance. So if you get down to the Dominion Theatre on these selected dates, then you can live your dream of singing in a West End theatre, just, you know, not on the actual stage…!

If you’re pondering whether this is a good idea, I’ve answered a few questions below.

“I know you’re lookin’ for a ruby in a mountain of rocks
But there ain’t no Coupe de Ville hidin’ at the bottom of a Cracker Jack box”

1. What if I don’t know all the words?

Never fear – there are screens dotted around the theatre, and above the stage, which show the lyrics. And it’s not every song we’re invited to sing along to, which I was particularly gutted for for “What Part of My Body Hurts the Most”. Seeing the lyrics like this has the additional amusing bonus of showing how batshit crazy some of them are…! Continue reading “Review: A singalong Bat out of Hell, Dominion”

Review: Bat Out of Hell, Dominion

Serving up more Meatloaf, Bat Out of Hell returns to London at the Dominion with a new-found subtlety…

“Some nights you’re like nothing I’ve ever seen before or will again”

I jest of course – there ain’t nothing subtle about Bat Out of Hell, apart from the slight price rises on the merchandise stall. Newly installed at the Dominion Theatre, after runs in Manchester, Toronto and at the Coliseum last year, it has lost little of the bizarre, baffling energy that saw it find a very devoted audience.

And they’ll be pleased that leads Andrew Polec and Christina Bennington return, the new cast members slot in effortlessly, and the inimitable vocal prowess of all is still ear-splittingly breathtaking, under Michael Reed’s musical supervision. Rob Fowler and Sharon Sexton remain the show’s secret weapon, stealing the thunder like a punked-up Jack and Karen. Continue reading “Review: Bat Out of Hell, Dominion”

Album Review: Memphis (2014 Original London Cast Recording)

“Open your eyes, I got a surprise!”

It was fascinating to revisit Memphis, a show that I enjoyed on seeing but in all honesty, isn’t one I’ve given much thought to since it left the West End after just over a year at the Shaftesbury Theatre (I went back once). I remarked then that David Bryan’s score was “highly tuneful if not instantly catchy” so was surprised that a fair few of the songs had managed to work their way into my subconscious and so provided that ‘ping’ of recognition which is always nice.

It was also interesting to listen to the songs in isolation from the show, as more of them than I remembered felt somewhat disconnected from the narrative, just happy in their sprightly pop song-ness. And thanks to the quality of the cast assembled here – leads Beverley Knight and Killian Donnelly, supported by the likes of Jason Pennycooke, Tyrone Huntley and Rolan Bell plus Claire Machin, it is a consistently enjoyable record to listen to. Continue reading “Album Review: Memphis (2014 Original London Cast Recording)”

Review: Aladdin, Prince Edward Theatre

“A hundred thousand things to see”

Say Aladdin to most people across the world, and Disney would hope that the first thing that comes to mind is their 1992 animated film. In the UK though, the title is indelibly linked to pantomime and so it feels a little incongruous to have a major musical production of it opening in the middle of June. And whilst Casey Nicholaw’s production hasn’t stimped in any conceivable way when it comes to the look of the show (striking design from Bob Crowley), there’s still a faintly hollow ring to the whole proceeding.

A big hit on Broadway, Aladdin has been pretty much replicated and transplanted into the Prince Edward. Which is good in terms of the undeniable quality of the Disney brand – the family-friendly ethos, the slickness of the design, the unexpected self-referential dips into other Disney musicals. And in the knowing performance of American Trevor Dion Nicholas as the Genie, there’s a respectful homage to the character that Robin Williams brought to life so memorably on screen, which still carves its own identity too. Continue reading “Review: Aladdin, Prince Edward Theatre”

The Curtain Up Show Album of the Year 2015 nominees

Best Cast Recording
Bend It Like Beckham (Original London Cast Recording)
Cool Rider (Original Studio Recording)
Gypsy (2015 London Cast Recording)
Made in Dagenham (Original London Cast Recording)
Memphis the Musical (Original London Cast Recording)

Best Solo Album
Cynthia Erivo and Oliver Tompsett Sing Scott Alan
Hugh Maynard – Something Inside So Strong
John Owen-Jones – Rise
Tim Prottey-Jones – To Do. To Be.

Re-review: Memphis, Shaftesbury Theatre

“Have a beer drop a time in the blind man’s jar”

Never one to look a gift-horse in the mouth, the offer of a return ticket to Memphis (the show, not the place sadly) was one I was happy to accept and I was glad for it too. The show remains a hugely impressive showcase for its cast and creatives whilst never quite engaging satisfactorily enough with its subject matter (see my original review here) but the overall effect is certainly one that is entertaining and should set the show up for a successful UK tour in 2016 after it finishes in the West End.

The main change has been the arrival of X Factor winner (and stone cold fox – who knew) Matt Cardle in the cast as Huey, replacing Killian Donnelly who has headed over to Kinky Boots. And as a musical theatre debutant, he is very good indeed, slipping into the role of the fast-talking, highly charismatic DJ with great ease, nailing an adorkable charm that is most appealing. It helps that he shares great chemistry with Beverley Knight as rising star Felicia, herself now off to the latest revival of Cats, further cementing her own MT reputation. Continue reading “Re-review: Memphis, Shaftesbury Theatre”

Review: Memphis, Shaftesbury Theatre

“Rock ‘n’ roll is just black people’s blues sped up”

Though much of the US civil rights movement’s achievements came through political means, this time of huge shift in American society was also underpinned by significant cultural change and it is this that the Tony-award-winning show Memphis focuses on, in exploring how white radio DJ Huey Calhoun sent shockwaves over the airwaves of this Southern city in the 1950s by ignoring the entrenched racial divisions and playing ‘race’ music for all to hear. And as rock and roll began to capture the attention of the nation, so too was Huey’s attention completely captured by the soulful energy of upcoming singer Felicia Farrell and the underground blues club in which she performs (which belongs to her brother).

That she is black and he is not doesn’t matter to him but it sure as hell does to everyone else (they may sing that ‘Everybody Wants To Be Black On A Saturday night’ but there are still laws preventing mixed marriage) and it is this that provides the dramatic heft to Joe DiPietro’s book, such as it is, to this musical that otherwise puts its focus squarely on the music. And what an unexpected place that music comes from – David Bryan, who just happens to be Bon Jovi’s keyboard player – has compiled a fully original score which pulls in influences from Motown-flecked pop, gospel, R&B and 80s power ballads naturally (I mean, look at the guy’s hair!) – it’s highly tuneful if not instantly catchy but delivered with the conviction it is here, it demands the attention and will doubtless reward relistening (if not rewatching as well ;-)) Continue reading “Review: Memphis, Shaftesbury Theatre”