News: The Royal Variety Show 2020 is confirmed

Comedian, actor and singer Jason Manford is to host The Royal Variety Performance at the historic Blackpool Opera House in the Winter Gardens Complex. His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales will deliver a special message to the charity and the artistes performing in the show, as he looks forward to this exceptional evening of entertainment.

Returning to the North after nine years, the show promises to be an unforgettable evening of exceptional performers, world class British theatre and superb comedy, plus some exciting surprises. Continue reading “News: The Royal Variety Show 2020 is confirmed”

Album Reviews: The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 ¾ / Heathers / Calendar Girls 

A trio of quick London cast recordings – The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 ¾, Heathers and Calendar Girls 

“For a greasy little nobody, you do have good bone structure”

I was delighted to see a belated West End transfer for this lovely new musical by Jake Brunger and Pippa Cleary. I’ve loved every step of its journey and The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 ¾ (Original London Cast Recording) proves the perfect accompaniment as it captures so much of the energy of this most British of tales and sparky performances from the likes of John Hopkins and the luminous Kelly Price.

I didn’t however make it to Heathers, it just not appealing to me at all. With Heathers (Original West End Cast Recording), the opportunity to listen to this high school musical is now ours but I have to say, its charms elude me. There’s a fatal mismatch between the darkness of the source material (it really is a brutal film) and the breeziness of Laurence O’Keefe and Kevin Murphy’s pop-rock score that not even the quality of Carrie Hope Fletcher, Jodie Steele, Sophie Isaacs and Jamie Muscato’s strong performances can overcome.

And I thought I’d pay another visit to Yorkshire for Calendar Girls (Original London Recording) to see whether it stands the test of time. It proved an amiable if short-lived presence in the West End and listening to it again, I’d argue that there’s a gentleness to it that doesn’t quite linger long enough. Gary Barlow’s tunes are undeniably pretty but ultimately, they don’t really call out to be listened to over and again.

The Curtain Up Show Album of the Year 2018 nominees

Best UK Cast Recording
Broken Wings – Original Concept Album
Calendar Girls – Original London Recording
Everybody’s Talking About Jamie – Original West End Cast Recording
Six The Musical – Studio Cast Recording
Working: A Musical – Original London Cast Recording
Young Frankenstein – Original London Cast Recording

Best American Cast Recording
Frozen – Original Broadway Cast Recording
Mean Girls – Original Broadway Cast Recording
My Fair Lady – 2018 Broadway Cast Recording
Once On This Island – New Broadway Cast Recording
Pretty Woman – Original Broadway Cast Recording
The Prom – Original Broadway Cast Recording

Best Solo Album
Audra McDonald – Sing Happy
Carrie Hope Fletcher – When The Curtain Falls
David Hunter – Silver Linings
Louise Dearman – For You, For Me
Natasha Barnes – Real
Sutton Foster – Take Me To The World

Album Review: Andrew Lloyd Webber Unmasked: The Platinum Collection

Andrew Lloyd Webber, Unmasled

Andrew Lloyd Webber marks his 70th birthday with a new musical anthology –  Unmasked: The Platinum Collection – taking in shows new and old with some surprises along the way (Beyoncé, Lana del Rey, Duncan from Blue )

“Oh what a circus, oh what a show”

Upon reaching 70 this year, Andrew Lloyd Webber is clearly in a reflective mood and hot on the heels of his autobiography Unmasked released last week, comes this new compilation album Unmasked: The Platinum Collection. Available physically as a 2CD or 4CD version (the latter with a 40 page book of liner notes and tributes), this collection looks back on a career spanning nearly 50 years and features some new twists on the material as well as reminding us of the old favourites.

Over the four discs, 17 of Lloyd Webber’s shows are represented here (Jesus Christ Superstar tops the list with 8 tracks, Evita and Phantom just behind), alongside assorted one-off songs (such as ‘Amigos Para Siempre’ from the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, the Gary Barlow co-write ‘Sing’ from the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee). But for ALW fans it will be the unreleased stuff that makes the mouth water – five new orchestral suites and a smattering of new recordings featuring the likes of Lana del Rey (a winsome ‘You Must Love Me’ and Gregory Porter (a spirited ‘Light At The End Of The Tunnel’. Continue reading “Album Review: Andrew Lloyd Webber Unmasked: The Platinum Collection”

Album Review: Finding Neverland (2015 Original Broadway Cast Recording)

“But what I say is true
You’ll be amazed”

I saw, and rather liked, the musical of Finding Neverland when it premiered in Leicester back in 2012 but given the extreme redevelopment it underwent thanks to Harvey Weinstein’s involvement, the show that opened on Broadway in 2015 was substantially different. A new bookwriter (James Graham), a new lyricist (Eliot Kennedy) and a new composer (Gary Barlow) were brought onboard for a near complete overhaul.

And I have to admit to having had the Original Broadway Cast Recording on my to-listen-to list ever since it was released, the involvement of Mr Barlow not having the immediate attraction that it would to, say, my elder sister ;-). But more fool me, for having given it a spin, I tumbled instantly for its charms, hitting the replay button on several of the songs and declaring it one of my most favourite cast albums I’ve listened to this year. Continue reading “Album Review: Finding Neverland (2015 Original Broadway Cast Recording)”

Re-review: The Girls, Phoenix Theatre

“There is nothing in Nepal
More scary than the step from the kitchen to the hall”

So having not gotten round to seeing The Girls for whatever reason (mainly that I didn’t want to), I finally bit the bullet last week and within 24 hours, the show posted closing notices for its West End run. The Girls will then head out on a two year national tour from August 2018, aiming to visit 42 theatres across the UK and if that does perhaps seem a little ambitious, it is hard to shake the feeling that the musical might be more suited out on the road.

Gary Barlow and Tim Firth’s show started life in “the regions” – I saw it in Leeds and my family saw it in Manchester – and away from the cut-throat economics of the West End, it may well thrive again. The instant recognition of the Calendar Girls story has a different currency when there’s only a week’s worth of performances to sell; one gets the sense that the maxim about familiarity breeding contempt may have come into play at the Phoenix. Continue reading “Re-review: The Girls, Phoenix Theatre”

Guest review: The Girls, Lowry

There’s not many people I’d let have a guest review on here but Robert Foster, aka my father, is certainly one of them. I was (pleasantly) surprised when he (and my mum and Aunty Jean) declared that they had really enjoyed The Girls in Manchester and so I thought it would be fun to contrast our reactions – here’s my own review from Leeds and read on for his.

“Look in the eye of your dear fucker uppers”

There cannot be many of you out there who do not know the real-life story of the Calendar Girls. It made national news at the time; the film has been around for more than a decade; and the stage play followed not long behind. Now, author Tim Firth has joined forces with Gary Barlow of Take That (a popular beat combo, m’lud) in a musical version, which mysteriously has shed the ‘Calendar’ and is just called The Girls. For those recently returned from Mars, the story is set in a small Yorkshire town where Annie loses her husband, John, to cancer. Her best friend, Chris, and other Women’s Institute friends rally round to find a way to pay tribute to the man they all loved and decide on a nude calendar. The profits will buy a new settee for the Relatives Room at the hospital where John was treated.

Could this story stand yet another retelling? Well, my answer is a resounding if slightly surprised yes. Firth and Barlow have created a richly entertaining evening, at times gentle, sad and moving whilst being overwhelmingly joyous and funny. Continue reading “Guest review: The Girls, Lowry”

Review: The Girls, Leeds Grand

“It’s not naked, it’s nude”

If all you do each night is pray that you can see a Gary Barlow musical in the UK (I do find it surprising that Finding Neverland hasn’t made its way back over here from Broadway yet) then you’re in luck as The Girls has now arrived. Opting for a premiere at the Leeds Grand and then skipping over the Pennines to the Lowry in the New Year, the show is clearly testing the waters with regards to any potential future plans as it only takes a minute to end up with a big theatrical flop on your hands. 

Not that that seems likely for The Girls (though whoever made the choice to lose the ‘Calendar’ from the title must be living in a world of fools). For it is a musical adaptation of the now-famous story of that group of Yorkshire WI women casting off their inhibitions, and their clothes, to create a nude calendar for a very personal fundraising campaign for Leukaemia Research. Tim Firth has already adapted his film into a successful play and remains onboard here – could it be magic third time round?  Continue reading “Review: The Girls, Leeds Grand”

Music Review: Take That/Pet Shop Boys: Progress Live 2011, Wembley Stadium

“There’s progress now where there once was none”

Full disclosure: I was lucky enough to given two tickets to see Take That at Wembley Stadium with the Pet Shop Boys in support at the weekend by the kindest of souls, and though this is primarily a theatre-based blog, I thought I’d write up the show as I am heading up north to take in some of the Manchester International Festival, the highlight of which for me will be Björk’s Biophilia show, and so I’m getting in a little practice of writing about music shows. The Progress Live 2011 tour boasts the claim of being the fastest-selling tour in history, including an impressive 8 nights at Wembley, marking the band’s first live outings since Robbie Williams returned to the line-up.

Booking the Pet Shop Boys as support was a canny move, fitting the demographic of the audience perfectly and providing an upbeat start to the evening. Presenting a trimmed-down version of 2009’s Pandemonium Tour with its Gilbert & George-style video projections and dancers with brightly coloured cubes on their head, Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe reminded the crowd just why they’ve been an enduring force on the British music scene for nearly 30 years. Newer songs like the sparkling Love Etc. fit in perfectly with the relative ‘oldies’ which were lapped up appreciatively by the crowd, epics like ‘It’s A Sin’, ‘West End Girls’ and a stirring rendition of ‘Go West’ resonating marvelously with all, but particularly children of the 80s like me. Continue reading “Music Review: Take That/Pet Shop Boys: Progress Live 2011, Wembley Stadium”