Festive review: Leslie Odom Jr / Megan Hilty / Eyles & Gould / All Aboard! The Sleigh Ride

“Its simple truth speaks volumes in a world where hatred rages”

Following on from the re-release of his self-titled album earlier this year, Leslie Odom Jr gives us another opportunity to sink into his world of soulful jazz with an album of reinterpreted holiday classics in Simply Christmas on S-Curve Records. And I do mean sink into like the most comfortable sofa you can imagine, in front of a log fire and drinking a nice cup of Charbonnel and Walker, for this is rich and luxurious stuff – as evidenced halfway into opening track ‘Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas’ when a softly funky breakdown envelops you in its warmth like a marshmallow on top of that hot chocolate.

Dangerously seductive in Hamilton, Odom Jr will lose precisely zero fans here with this lush yet restrained style. Arrangements are kept simple, allowing heartfelt vocals to imbue tracks like ‘The First Noel’ and ‘The Christmas Song’ with renewed life. Equally, the piano and vocal improvs in ‘My Favourite Things’ keep things utterly fresh without losing sight of the overall vision of the record. The gentle guitar accompaniment to The Carpenters’ ‘Merry Christmas Darling’ is a thing of loveliness and Sara Bareilles and Ingrid Michaelson’s new festive standard ‘Winter Song’ blooms gorgeously under the treatment.  Continue reading “Festive review: Leslie Odom Jr / Megan Hilty / Eyles & Gould / All Aboard! The Sleigh Ride”

Album Review: As Long As I Have Music – the songs of Rob Eyles & Robert Gould

“There’s still music in the air…”

As Long As I Have Music – the songs of Rob Eyles & Robert Gould is a new album showcasing the new musical theatre writing partnership of composer Eyles and lyricist Gould. Gould has been a prolific writer for some time now, as evidenced on his last CD Words Shared With Friends and whilst Eyles may be a newer composer, the pair have clearly found a rich vein of collaboration. The album features songs from two Eyles & Gould musicals – Stiles + Drewe Award finalist A Pebble for Aaron and The Wonderful Musician, a new musical-in-development based on the Grimm Brothers Fairy Tale, with a smattering of other songs too to complete the collection. 

The brace of songs from The Wonderful Musician are both strong – Joe Sterling capturing a beautiful sense of optimistic innocence in the title track and Michael Riseley and Kayleigh McKnight soaring on ‘Perfect Companion’. But it’s the trio of tunes from A Pebble for Aaron that stand out. Kieran Brown’s reflective ‘The Flowers Have Faded’, the raw anger of Keith Ramsay’s ‘I Want You To See You’ and the aching pain of Shaun McCourt’s ‘Losing Him’ are point towards a richly emotional and poignant musical that is touching even in these brief excerpts here. The marriage of longing melody and lyrical meaning works superbly well here.  Continue reading “Album Review: As Long As I Have Music – the songs of Rob Eyles & Robert Gould”

Review: Starting Here Starting Now, Pheasantry

“What’s my life been lived for, if it never comes”

Just a quickie for this first of two Maltby and Shire revues taking place at the Pheasantry. Next week sees Closer Than Ever but first up is Starting Here, Starting Now, celebrating its 40th anniversary with this production by Neil Eckersley. The American pairing of composer David Shire and lyricist Richard Maltby Jr have had a long and fruitful career and this show, first seen in 1976, collected together a swathe of songs from the early part of their career, numbers that didn’t necessarily make it into their bigger shows or indeed into the limelight.

Which means that they aren’t always the most striking snippets of musical theatre in miniature. Granted, the majority are character studies, pieces of emotional minidramas, but as a selection box of songs, they don’t add up to a huge deal, their style is naturally somewhat old-fashioned and so it was hard to get too excited. What did raise the pulse was the musicianship on show – Sam Lupton, Carolyn Maitland, and Kayleigh McKnight all impressed whether in solo, duet or altogether under Kris Rawlinson’s taut musical direction. More of a curio than a must-see.

Booking until 20th April

Album Review: Bend it like Beckham (Original London Cast Album)

“It’s a little bit Punjab
And a little bit UK”

It’s been just about a month since Bend it like Beckham heard the final whistle at the Savoy so I thought I’d cast a reviewer’s eye over the Original London Cast Album which was released last year. I’ve long been a fan of Howard Goodall’s work and this score was no exception, hooking me from the first time I saw to the show to the second and the third with its fusion of his own inimitable British style and the Bhangra influences drawn from Gurinder Chadha’s book, aided in authenticity by co-orchestrator Kuljit Bhamra. 

Recorded live in the theatre (although there’s minimal sound from the audience until the very end), it sounds a real treat and it really does give the best of both the worlds it represents. Whether individually as in Sophie-Louise Dann’s ‘There She Goes’ or Rekha Sawhney leading the bridal party in the gorgeous Punjab lament ‘Heer’, or multiculturally as the majority of the music, it is always highly tuneful and musically interesting, highlighting styles of music that are too rarely seen in the West End. Continue reading “Album Review: Bend it like Beckham (Original London Cast Album)”

The Curtain Up Show Album of the Year 2015 winners

Best Cast Recording
WINNER: 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
WINNER: 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.

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.

10 of my top moments in a theatre in 2015

The inevitable end-of-year lists of favourite plays and performances will be soon be coming (I just have to, you know, stop seeing shows…) but something I did last year which I really enjoyed was a compendium of “top moments in a theatre”, the breath-taking, show-stopping aspects of productions that have etched themselves in my mind over the past year.  Continue reading “10 of my top moments in a theatre in 2015”

Re-review: Bend it like Beckham, Phoenix Theatre

“Just look at them now”

A third trip back to UB2 and Bend it like Beckham remains a real pleasure (original review / preview). It’s interesting how the release of a show’s cast recording can impact my feelings towards it – being a big Howard Goodall fan, I’ve listened to this OCR a lot and fallen more in love with its music than ever. And in this age of playlists, it’s quite easy to come up with edited highlights that skate over some of the weaker moments to give an idealised version of the production.

That said, going back to the Phoenix Theatre was still highly enjoyable and it’s always fascinating to see how different emphases come through after repeated views. For me, it has been the realisation that the heart of the show lies as much with Jess’ parents, the under-rated Natasha Jayetileke and Tony Jayawardena making us care so deeply about their experiences that have allowed second-generation Jess to reach for the freedom she craves. Continue reading “Re-review: Bend it like Beckham, Phoenix Theatre”

Review: Bend it like Beckham, Phoenix Theatre

“Who wants to cook aloo gobi when you can bend a ball like Beckham”

As anyone who has ever been to my parents’ annual Bonfire Night party can attest, a good aloo gobi is nothing to be sniffed at (nor my mum’s lamb saag for that matter) but when you’re a teenager, such things are far from your mind. So it is for Jesminder Bhamra – her older sister has just gotten engaged, her parents are keen for her to keep close to her Punjabi Sikh heritage but all she wants to do is play football in the park. And when she gets spotted by the captain of the local girls’ team, Jess finds herself torn between her family and following her heart’s desire.

Based on Gurinder Chadha’s enormously successful film of the same name, this musical version of Bend It Like Beckham is a ball-bouncing, cross-cultural match-up of a show. Adapted by Chadha and Paul Mayeda Berges, the story maintains its vivacious energy as Jess weaves her way through wedding prep and vibrantly staged parties with the extended family whilst tackling the rigours of life with new pal and teammate Jules in the Hounslow Harriers where her footballing prowess is soon spotted by the keen coach Joe, someone else Jules also has her eye on.  Continue reading “Review: Bend it like Beckham, Phoenix Theatre”

(P)review: Bend it like Beckham, Phoenix Theatre

“Who wants to cook aloo gobi when you can bend a ball like Beckham”

The musical of Gurinder Chadha’s Bend it like Beckham, with music by Howard Goodall and lyrics by Charles Hart, has quite a long preview period – no surprise for a brand new piece of musical theatre – but having been along, I thought I’d jot down some of my thoughts as opposed to writing it up fully – somewhere between a preview and a review to give you a taster of the show. I’d also recommend having a look for tickets now because there are some great bargains to be had in the stalls, seats as cheap as £15 for row E and a barely restricted view. Continue reading “(P)review: Bend it like Beckham, Phoenix Theatre”