Oscar Week Film Review: The Greatest Showman

Defying the critics and showcasing the marvellous Keala Settle, there’s more to like about The Greatest Showman than you might think. Or not.

“The noblest art is that of making others happy”

There’s always something amusing about a piece of art that manages so successfully to flick two fingers at the critics and right now, none more so than The Greatest Showman. In the UK alone, it has achieved a box office consistency near the top of the list unseen since Avatar, the cast recording has been at the top of the album charts for the past two months, and such is its hold on the zeitgeist that it is now holding singalong performances across a range of cinemas.

None of which you would have predicted on its critical reception ahead of its Boxing Day release. It’s not an accurate portrayal of PT Barnum’s life, some said; it doesn’t have enough of a dramatic narrative, others sniffed; still more have derided its complete lack of any post-modern ironic edge, de rigueur for a contemporary musical so they’d have you believe. And there’s merits to all of these points though they do seem to spectacularly miss the point of the film, which is pure entertainment. Continue reading “Oscar Week Film Review: The Greatest Showman”

Album Review: The Last Ship (2014 Original Broadway Cast Recording)

“For what are we men without a ship to complete?”

The logic of theatre being what it is, an original musical by Sting about the decline of the shipbuilding industry in the north-east of England opened on Broadway in 2014 and has still yet to be seen here in the UK. I saw it at the Neil Simon Theatre and whilst The Last Ship didn’t have the strongest book, I did think the brooding melancholy of the folk-inflected score would carry it further than the four months it managed.

Its primary delight is Rachel Tucker’s Meg, a dynamic vocal presence who can’t help but stand out in everything she sings, whether the delicacy of ‘August Winds’, the tearjerking ‘It’s Not The Same Moon’, or the bawdy fun of ‘If You Ever See Me Talking to a Sailor’. Along with the excellent Michael Esper (now familiar to us in the UK thanks to Lazarus and The Glass Menagerie), she makes a real highlight out of ‘When We Dance’ (a re-purposed track from Sting’s back catalogue). Continue reading “Album Review: The Last Ship (2014 Original Broadway Cast Recording)”

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

Album Review: Kinky Boots (Original Broadway Cast Recording 2013)

“Charlie from Northampton, meet Simon from Clapton”

There is something undoubtedly ironic about a show set in Northampton opening on Broadway before it took its bow on the West End but such it was for Kinky Boots, birthed on the Great White Way with a book by Harvey Fierstein and a Tony-winning score from Cyndi Lauper. And it was that cast that got to release their album first, unleashing Lauper’s joyous songs onto the public.

Unfortunately, they also unleashed some atrocious accents onto us as well. They may have passed a more forgiving (or unaware) US public but to British ears, there’s no hiding from how awkward it sounds at so many points across the disc. Especially now that we have a West End recording available, I’d struggle to recommend this version for any real reason. Continue reading “Album Review: Kinky Boots (Original Broadway Cast Recording 2013)”

Album Review: Waitress (Original Broadway Cast Recording 2016)

“I feel something needs to change”

It’s funny how your relationship to a show can change so dramatically. When I first heard Sara Bareilles’ concept album for her musical adaptation of Waitress, I thought it was pleasant without being particularly memorable. And whilst seeing it on Broadway, my mind got preoccupied with what I found to be pretty big issues in the book to the exclusion of pretty much everything else. 

But getting the cast recording in my hand and spending a rainy afternoon just listening to it over and over, I realised I had missed out on just how musically special it is. The lushness of the harmonies flesh out the songs in the most gorgeous way imaginable and somehow, it feels easier ignore the apparently lifelong questionable decision-making of our heroine and her lack of agency. Continue reading “Album Review: Waitress (Original Broadway Cast Recording 2016)”

Review: Waitress, Brooks Atkinson Theatre

“She is all of this mixed up and baked in a beautiful pie”

Hailed as the first Broadway musical with an all-female top-line creative team – music and lyrics by Sara Bareilles, book by Jessie Nelson, choreography by Lorin Latarro, and direction by Diane Paulus – Waitress marks something of a watershed moment. And even if it based on a film, that film was also written by a woman, the late Adrienne Shelly. One might wish for a slightly more substantial slice of something to take that credit but it’s still a rather lovely thing, not least for the slices of pie available to buy in the Brooks Atkinson Theatre.

Its saving grace is a superb leading performance from Jessie Mueller as Jenna, a waitress at Joe’s Pie Diner somewhere in the South in a town off of Highway 27. Married and pregnant, and not particularly happy about either, her dreams of opening her own pie shop (she bakes all 27 varieties on offer herself) seem increasingly far away. Until that is, a baking contest in a nearby county opens a window of opportunity, as does an affair with her unexpectedly handsome gynaecologist. Continue reading “Review: Waitress, Brooks Atkinson Theatre”

The Curtain Up Show Album of the Year 2016 winners

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
WINNER: 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
WINNER: Waitress – Original Broadway Cast Recording

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

Review: The Last Ship, Neil Simon Theatre

“And when you become a woman of a certain age

You’ll find it’s difficult to trust a man” 

The signs for The Last Ship were not good even before I boarded – Sting stepping into a key role to shore up ticket sales over Christmas – and just days after I saw it, the producers decided to cut their losses and it posted closing notices for the end of the month. Indeed, this review comes too late to even persuade a last few people to visit as Saturday saw the final performance. And whilst I’d love to be able to say that it is a huge loss to the Broadway stage, to me it really didn’t feel like the complete package.

First things first – Sting’s score is genuinely excellent, binding together influences like Celtic folk and sea shanties to the more standard driving anthems and heartfelt balladry that one might expect from a big musical. Real emotion and a strong sense of character come flooding out of songs like ‘Autumn Winds’, the title song and ‘If You Ever See Me Talking To A Sailor’ and it is little surprise that the soundtrack made a strong concept album when released in 2013. Continue reading “Review: The Last Ship, Neil Simon Theatre”

Nominations for the 2013 Drama Desk Awards

Outstanding Play
Annie Baker, The Flick
Christopher Durang, Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike
Joe Gilford, Finks
Richard Greenberg, The Assembled Parties
Amy Herzog, Belleville
Deanna Jent, Falling
Richard Nelson, Sorry

Outstanding Musical
A Christmas Story: The Musical
Giant
Hands on a Hardbody
Here Lies Love
Matilda
Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812
The Other Josh Cohen
Continue reading “Nominations for the 2013 Drama Desk Awards”