Review: Little Shop of Horrors, Open Air Theatre

Audrey II as a drag queen? Maria Aberg’s take on Little Shop of Horrors at the Open Air Theatre gives me life

“Oh, don’t you see?
Finally I’ll be
Somewhere that’s green”

It’s something of a relief when you’ve seen a version of a much-loved show that is nigh-on perfect, it really does take the pressure off those that follow. So I was able to visit a verdant Open Air Theatre to see Little Shop of Horrors – one of my all-time favourites, if not the actual one – excited by the prospect of what Maria Aberg had done, and secure in the knowledge that Derek Bond absolutely nailed it for the Royal Exchange a couple of years ago. 

Chief among her innovations is giving Audrey II much more life than they’ve ever had before, by casting drag queen Vicky Vox in the role. So from twitching, voracious puppet plant (designed by Max Humphries with Tom Scutt) emerges a strutting shrub of sinful sass and it is an inspired choice. Making her a Mephistophelean figure who can prowl around the amphitheatre flips Audrey II into something as thrilling as threatening, Vox revelling in the lasciviousness of “feed me” and the most scathing raised eyebrow you ever did see. Continue reading “Review: Little Shop of Horrors, Open Air Theatre”

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)”

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”

Review: Mamma Mia (and memories), Novello

“If you’ve got no place to go, if you’re feeling down…”

Mamma Mia has been on my list of shows that I’ve never quite got round to seeing for ages now. I’d decided that I wanted to go in a large group, on a Friday night, after a fair few Hendricks and Fever Trees, but somehow it never quite happened. In the meantime, the show moved to the Novello to make way for those Mormon boys and then an expected Christmas present landed in my lap as a friend, tired of me saying ‘one day I’ll go’, bought me a ticket.

Though it wasn’t at all like I planned – a single ticket for a Monday evening with a bottle of Diet Coke – it actually proved to be a brilliant way to see the show and to restart my theatregoing for 2014. It was the evening after my first day back at work, I was sat front row centre and the huge geniality of a like-minded audience made it as genuinely pleasurable experience as one could expect from such a long-running stalwart of the West End. Continue reading “Review: Mamma Mia (and memories), Novello”