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.
Nobody’s on nobody’s side – an all-star cast can’t save this game of Chess from itself, for me at least
“From square one I’ll be watching all sixty-four”
It’s taken over 30 years for Chess to return to the West End (though it was seen at the Union in 2013) and though it has a huge amount of resource thrown at it in Laurence Connor’s production for English National Opera, it doesn’t necessarily feel worth the wait. An 80’s mega-musical through and through with an intermittently cracking score from ABBA’s Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus, Richard Nelson’s book hasn’t aged particularly well and bears the hallmarks of the substantial tinkering it has had at every opportunity.
It’s not too hard to see why it has needed the tinkering. The mix of Cold War politics told through the prism of rival US and Soviet chess Grandmasters, love triangles and power ballads is a tricky one to get right and part of the problem seems to be just how seriously to take it all. On the one hand, the chess matches are backgrounded with montages of the real-life tensions of the 80s; on the other, scenes that take us through the various locations of the tournaments are a cringeworthy riot of cultural stereotyping that revel in their utter kitsch. Continue reading “Review: Chess, London Coliseum”
“What is this that I see”
Robert J Sherman’s musical Bumblescratch played a high-profile charity concert at the Adelphi Theatre last year and keeping up the energy behind this piece of new writing, the original band and cast made this London Concert Cast Recording at Angel Studios, under the auspices of the folks at SimG Records. It’s a canny way to keep up the profile of a show that only a handful of people got to see and a useful tool for those that did to reassess the score.
Sherman’s extensive family legacy (A Spoonful of Sherman) means that the family friendly ethos is never far from the surface and it is something that has emerged in his previous work (Love Birds). And in some ways it is a blessing and a curse. A blessing in that he clearly has a gift for melody, sometimes gentle, sometimes nagging (in the best way); and a curse in that it is so ingrained in his musical identity that it is hard to escape it. Continue reading “Album Review: Bumblescratch (2016 London Concert Cast Recording)”
“You may be 13 but you’re still an adolescent boy”
After premiering at the Curve Theatre in 2015, Pippa Cleary and Jake Brunger’s musical adaptation of Sue Townsend’s tale of Leicester’s most famous teenager has undergone its own version of puberty, re-emerging at the Menier Chocolate Factory for the summer. And those growing pains seem to have been worth it as The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 ¾ has matured beautifully, a powerful example of how musicals need to be allowed to develop, resulting in this case in a fantastic new British musical.
Luke Sheppard’s production certainly benefits from the intimacy of the South London venue but where it now excels is in its emotional intensity. The scenes between Adrian (played by Ilan Galkoff at this performance) and his mother Pauline, an achingly superb Kelly Price, are just heart-breaking, as he struggles to realise just how far her women’s lib-inspired independence will take her from him. I was reminded that reading this book was in fact was one of the main ways I learned about divorce and that scarce comprehension is captured perfectly here. Continue reading “Review: The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 ¾, Menier Chocolate Factory”
“Liberté, égalité, fraternité”
The uninitiated might take the existence of braille for granted but Sébastien Lancrenon and Jean-Baptiste Saudray’s The Braille Legacy dramatises the fascinating and moving true story behind its invention. Translated by Ranjit Bolt, the musical slots neatly into Thom Southerland’s takeover of the Charing Cross Theatre and supported as it is by the Royal National Institute of Blind People, it makes for an interesting piece.
Blinded in a childhood accident, Louis Braille’s keen intelligence saw him ruffle feathers at the Royal Institute for Blind Youth where he resided, mainly because prevailing societal attitudes considered the blind to be untrainable. Frustrated by the limits of the opportunities open to him and his schoolmates, he began to develop the tactile code which would unlock the key to reading text – it would be, however, a far from simple journey. Continue reading “Review: The Braille Legacy, Charing Cross”
“At least a rat ‘as got an excuse”
In the cut-throat world of the West End, introducing a new musical is an undoubted challenge so it is quite gratifying to see the backers of Bumblescratch going all out to make its mark with this gala concert launch. With merchandise available, a full-throttle social media campaign in train, and a top-notch cast and creative team making the most of their two week rehearsal period, there’s certainly no lack of ambition here.
Set in London during the Great Plague of 1665 and Great Fire of 1666, the show is told from the perspective of plague rat Melbourne Bumblescratch and the anthropomorphic nature of the musical should come as no surprise once you learn it was written by Robert J Sherman, who has both form of his own (Love Birds) and an impressive family history (A Spoonful of Sherman) to live up to when it comes to writing a tune or two. Continue reading “Review: Bumblescratch, Adelphi Theatre”
“You gotta remember that December is the time for glitz”
I have to say I was sceptical about Elf the Musical, not least because it was Bonfire Night (5th November for you heathens) when I saw it but to my pleasant surprise, I was soon won over by its classic charms. If you’ve seen the film, then you’ll know that its soundtrack was a dip into the Christmas chapter of the Great American Songbook – Ella Fitzgerald’s ‘Sleigh Ride’, Ray Charles’ ‘Winter Wonderland’ etc – but the score for the musical is original yet pays great homage to those standards.
Matthew Sklar’s music and Chad Beguelin’s lyrics succeed by being entirely both warm-hearted and open-hearted and in this recording, is powered by the practically Duracell-bunny-like enthusiasm of Ben Forster’s Buddy, the kid who found his way into Santa’s bag of presents and ended up being raised at the North Pole. The heart of the story is his re-entry into the human world to find his birth father and in tracks like ‘World’s Greatest Dad’, you realise just how big and real his emotions are. Continue reading “Album Review: Elf the Musical (2015 Original London Cast Recording)”
“I always get a special glow when the snow comes falling down”
There’s something a little perverse about a show as intrinsically Christmassy as Elf the Musical opening on Bonfire Night but with a limited run finishing sharply on 2nd January, the time to get festive starts now. Based on the 2003 film starring Will Ferrell and directed by Jon Favreau, the musical capitalises on the feel-good charm of the movie to create something deliciously old-school in feel but with a definite contemporary spin on things. My four star review for Cheap Theatre Tickets can be read here.
Running time: 2 hours 40 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 2nd January