News: West End musical castings confirmed

The thought of outdoors theatre was fine earlier this week, not so much right now! For the brave, Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre have confirmed full casting for Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel, which plays 31 July – 25 September. Joining the already announced Carly Bawden (Julie Jordan), Declan Bennett (Billy Bigelow), John Pfumojena (Enoch Snow), Joanna Riding (Nettie Fowler) and Natasha May Thomas (Louise Bigelow) are Brendan Charleson (Mr Bascombe), Jo Eaton-Kent (Mrs Mullin), Sam Mackay (Jigger Craigin), Ediz Mahmut (Young Enoch) and Christina Modestou (Carrie Pipperidge).

The ensemble includes: Chanelle AnthonyCraig ArmstrongWilliam AtkinsonShay BarclaySarah BenbelaidMadeline CharlemagneFreya FieldSebastian GoffinAmie HibbertTim HodgesLukas Hunt, Tessa KadlerLindsay McAllisterMatthew McKennaJack MitchellCharlotte RibyLisa Ritchie and Daisy West. Continue reading “News: West End musical castings confirmed”

Review: Never Give Up On A Dream

Some of the cast of Pretty Woman reunite for this Thespie Reunited concert Never Give Up On A Dream

“It’s a hard winter’s day
I dream away”

With Aimie Atkinson as their creative producer, it is perhaps little surprise that Thespie’s Reunited series has a Pretty Woman the Musical special leading its programming into the new year. But no-one should begrudge them that and Never Give Up On A Dream has much to commend it. 

I can’t lie, Pretty Woman the Musical did not do it for me but this show opens up the pop songbook far and wide to take in the likes of Roxette (‘It Must Have Been Love’, natch), Queen (a fiery group ‘Somebody to Love’) and Tony Bennett (Bob Harms in spine-tingling form on ‘Who Can I Turn To’). Continue reading “Review: Never Give Up On A Dream”

Review: All I Want For Christmas Is Theatre

If you’re feeling festive and missing musical theatre, then All I Want For Christmas Is Theatre is the place to be

“But it’s not like Christmas at all
I remember when you were here”

Thespie’s Reunited series has been a fun way of getting your musicals fix over the past few weeks and in a rather clever move, they’ve managed to put together a Christmas special featuring the companies already featured, plus some brand new special guests. So All I Want For Christmas Is Theatre so we get to see Team Schwartz and Team Girl Power again and my personal faves, Team Juliet as they tackle a range of festive classics.

For me though, it was the promise of concerts to come that proved most exciting. The tight harmonies of Heathers alumni Sophie Isaacs, Jodie Steele and T’Shan Williams were a particular delight on both ‘Santa Claus is Coming to Town’ and ‘Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)’ and the women of Pretty Woman are in wonderfully high spirits on both ‘Last Christmas’ and ‘Santa Baby’ so consider my appetite whetted for their forthcoming gigs. Continue reading “Review: All I Want For Christmas Is Theatre”

Review: Pretty Woman – the Musical, Piccadilly Theatre

Aiimie Atkinson is good but deserves far better than Pretty Woman: the Musical, the blatant cash grab at the Piccadilly Theatre

“Somebody pinch me, this can’t be true”

The publicity for Pretty Woman – the Musical invites, nay begs, you to invoke one of the movie’s iconic catchphrases so let’s have it. Mounting a show in 2020 in which the only roles for women are prostitutes or bitches? Big mistake. Huge. Charging £175 to sit on your front row? Big mistake. Huge. Encouraging the use of a grand piano for anything besides playing? Big mistake. Huge.  

The 1990 film directed by Garry Marshall from J F Lawton’s screenplay scored massive success for a rom-com but much like Grease, it is hard to view the story with a contemporary lens. Determined to view itself as a fairytale (of sorts), it takes the worlds of asset stripping and sex work and whisks them together without taking anything seriously. And Marshall and Lawton’s book for this musical adaptation does the same except with added songs by Bryan Adams (yes, that one) and Jim Vallance. Continue reading “Review: Pretty Woman – the Musical, Piccadilly Theatre”

Review: The Life, Southwark Playhouse

“I’ve done everything that a body can do.
But how goddamn much can a body go through?”

There’s a moment early on in The Life where Sharon D Clarke’s been-around-the-block-and-then-some Sonja has a moment akin to Jenna Russell’s ‘The Revolutionary Costume for Today’ in Grey Gardens where she utterly and completely steals the show with an outstanding musical number, the likes of which will scarcely be bettered all year. Here it is ‘The Oldest Profession’, a world-weary but witty run through life working on the streets which is just bloody fantastic. But lest you worry that this is a musical to glamourise prostitution, all that good feeling is instantly shattered by a scene of brutal cruelty from her pimp which leaves you in no doubt as to how (melodramatically) serious The Life is.

Set on the seedier side of 42nd Street in 1980s New York, David Newman, Ira Gasman and Cy Coleman’s book remembers Times Square before it became tourist-friendly and follows a group of people just trying to get by in this callous world. Queen is turning tricks and saving money to move on out of this world but when her lover Fleetwood, a troubled Vietnam vet with a habit, blows half her stash on his stash, it’s clear that something drastic needs to happen. Angered by new arrival from the sticks Mary, aided by longtime friend and co-worker Sonja, and abetted by the malicious Memphis, Queen is spurred onto a course of ambitious but tragic action. Continue reading “Review: The Life, Southwark Playhouse”

Re-review: Beautiful – The Carole King Musical, Aldwych

“Remember when you used to play Mozart?”

I’ve been lucky enough to see Cassidy Janson in a number of productions over the years and I’ve been a fan from the start, from stepping into Julie Atherton’s not-inconsiderable shoes in Avenue Q onwards, so I was mightily pleased when she was announced as the replacement for Katie Brayben in the lead role in Beautiful – The Carole King Musical. I really enjoyed the show when it opened last year and thought Janson would be a good fit but in finally getting to see her, I couldn’t have imagined how perfect a marriage of performer and material this would be.

As Carole King, one of the most successful songwriters of the last century, she thoroughly imbues the character with an engaging sense of life and vivid musicality that just bursts from the stage. Through a decade of huge change as this ebullient Manhattan teenager becomes a wife and mother as well as writing some of the biggest pop hits around, Janson keeps us thoroughly engaged with Douglas McGrath’s sometimes-a-bit-too-functional book whether acting, singing or acting through song – if she weren’t already a star, I’d say it’s a star-making performance.  Continue reading “Re-review: Beautiful – The Carole King Musical, Aldwych”

Review: Beautiful – The Carole King Musical, Aldwych Theatre

“Everything seems to be
Some kind of wonderful”

Where Broadway leads, the West End will surely follow and so it is little surprise that Tony-winning Beautiful – The Carole King Musical found its way over here to the Aldwych Theatre. And I’m pleased to report that the transatlantic passage has gone most smoothly indeed to deliver an absolute treat of a show. When three of its four leading personnel are still very much alive and kicking, it is perhaps no surprise that Douglas McGrath’s book treads a rather respectable path through the first ten years of King’s career. But then she would be the first to say, with typical self-deprecating charm, that her life is hardly the most exciting, her dreams never the loftiest – it just so happens that beneath this veneer of ordinariness lay an absolute treasure trove of extraordinary music. 

And as musical gem follows musical gem – both from the collaborations of King and sometime partner Gerry Goffin, and also from their friends and writing rivals Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann – this feels utterly the point. Life isn’t always chock-a-block with drama, motivations don’t always have to spring from some momentous event, the cult of the tortured artistic soul is far from the be all and end all (Billington seems to suggest being “a shy, well-adjusted woman struggling to reconcile a career with a failing marriage” is something of a crime!) and I’d say that Beautiful is no weaker a biopic for not having such narrative peaks and troughs, reinventing personal history in the name of drama.  Continue reading “Review: Beautiful – The Carole King Musical, Aldwych Theatre”

Review: Fings Ain’t Wot They Used T’Be, Theatre Royal Stratford East

“Once in golden days of yore”

In a year celebrating the centenary of Joan Littlewood’s birth, the Theatre Royal Stratford East that she did so much to develop with Theatre Workshop can be forgiven for having a distinctly nostalgic tinge to its programming. But though this 1959 musical was both a critical and commercial success for Lionel Bart before he really hit the big time with Oliver!, it is also very much of its time and so proves a much less likely choice for revival than say, the glorious revisit of Oh What A Lovely War at this same venue earlier this year.

Even at the point of its writing, Fings… basked in a glow of barely earned nostalgia, a picture postcard version of the Soho underworld with an almost cartoon-like like approach to violence and absolutely no sense of responsibility or repercussions at all. The book was written by an ex-convict no less, Frank Norman, so one can see from where this longing for the good old days has sprung but it doesn’t undo the unpalatability of the material as it stands. And excusing it because it is a musical and so is all just good fun feels lazy and near irresponsible.

Continue reading “Review: Fings Ain’t Wot They Used T’Be, Theatre Royal Stratford East”

Review: Lost Boy, Finborough Theatre

“Kissing is better than acorns”

It seems like Peter Pan had the right idea. For in new musical Lost Boy, those that left Neverland and started to grow up end up variously as gay trapeze artists, opium addicts, Parisian showgirls, miserable bankers, wannabe Jungians and prostitutes. The concept of growing up is at the heart of Phil Willmott’s new show which largely takes place in the dreamworld of Captain George Llewelyn Davies, one of the boys who inspired JM Barrie to write one of the most iconic pieces of children’s fiction but whose shadow is hard to escape. 

A few years on from the writing of Peter Pan, Llewelyn Davies finds himself preparing for battle on the eve of the First World War, emotionally unprepared for military leadership yet societally conditioned with a gung-ho war mentality. And as he closes his eyes for a moment, he dreams of being Peter Pan, all grown up in London with Wendy, Tinker Bell, Tootles and the rest but now they’re no longer in Neverland, the dilemmas they face are those of humdrum normality, that is until war is declared.  Continue reading “Review: Lost Boy, Finborough Theatre”