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”

Album Review: From Here To Eternity (2014 Live Cast Recording)

“All along knowing that no-one has returned to care”

Barely managing six months in the West End in 2013/4, I think it’s fair to say the musical adaptation of From Here to Eternity underwhelmed. And though I was reasonably fair to it at the time, I can’t say that it has aged well, upon returning the live cast recording that was made before the final curtain fell, blame seeming to fall evenly between composer Stuart Brayson, lyricist Tim Rice and book writer Bill Oakes. 

And with weaknesses on all sides like this, very much exposed in the medium of record, it’s not too hard to see why the show didn’t achieve anywhere near the levels of success it was aiming for. There’s so little sense of the main thrust of the story coming through, or indeed any of the strands put forward being sufficiently developed, to make you care about any of the relationships or the plight of the men. Continue reading “Album Review: From Here To Eternity (2014 Live 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.

Album Review: Gypsy (2015 London Cast Recording)

“I had a dream, a wonderful dream”

From the moment Imelda Staunton shook the very foundations of the Chichester Festival Theatre as Mama Rose in Gypsy, it was pretty much a given that a West End transfer of this Jule Styne/Stephen Sondheim show would be on the cards and that this incredible performance would be immortalised in an official cast recording. And it shouldn’t be taken for granted that Staunton is wowing audiences nightly at the Savoy and that we have been blessed with an album, for this is the kind of musical theatre perfection that surely only comes along once in a lifetime. 

Much of the attention rightly falls on Staunton’s astonishingly nuanced portrayal of the ultimate stage mom but it would be a mistake to label this a one-woman show, Jonathan Kent’s production is far too good for that. She is supported by an extremely skilful performance from Lara Pulver as Gypsy Rose Lee, tracing this overlooked sister’s journey to unexpected stardom and listening to the growing confidence ‘Let Me Entertain You (Gypsy Strip)’, her shyness is cast off vocally as well as physically, like a chrysalis revealing the shimmering showgirl beneath. Continue reading “Album Review: Gypsy (2015 London Cast Recording)”

Film Review: London Road

“Everybody’s very very nervous”

The theatrical production of London Road was a major success for the National Theatre, the opening run first extending in the Cottesloe and then being rewarded with a later transfer to the much larger Olivier – I was first blownaway by its originality and then later comforted by its message in the aftermath of the 2011 riots. So the news that director Rufus Norris was making a film adaptation was received with apprehensive anticipation, could this strikingly experimental piece of theatre possibly work on screen.

Writer Alecky Blythe uses a technique whereby she records interviews with people which are then edited into a play but spoken verbatim by the actors, complete with all the ums and aahs and repetitions of natural speech. And in 2006, she went to Ipswich to interview a community rocked by a series of murders, of five women in total, all sex workers, and set about telling a story not of salacious deaths but of a community learning to cleave together in trying times. Oh, and it’s all set to the most innovative of musical scores by Adam Cork, elevating ordinary speech into something quite extraordinary. Continue reading “Film Review: London Road”

Review: Gypsy, Savoy Theatre

“Ready or not, here comes Mama…”

These days, it’s more of a surprise when the big musicals from Chichester Festival Theatre don’t transfer into London (cf Barnum). And though it took them a wee while to confirm that Jule Styne’s Gypsy would be making a similar leap, after receiving the kind of extraordinary reviews (including from yours truly) that would most likely canonise Imelda Staunton right here and now, there was never really any doubt that this Rose would get her turn again, 40 years after the show was last seen in the West End.

With such a build-up and expectations sky high, Jonathan Kent’s production has a lot to live up to – and you can sense perversely-minded naysayers dying to have their turn – but dare I say it, I think the show has gotten even better. A key aspect to this is that Anthony Ward’s multi-faceted and multi-piece set design fits much better into the Savoy’s proscenium arch, its machinations felt just a little too exposed on Chichester’s thrust though the pay-off is that Nicholas Skilbeck’s supple-sounding orchestra now has to be tucked away.  Continue reading “Review: Gypsy, Savoy Theatre”

Re-review: From Here To Eternity, Shaftesbury Theatre

“I got the ‘ain’t where I wanna be’ blues”

Suffering the fate of a fair few musicals that have taken up residence in the slightly-too-out-of-the-way Shaftesbury Theatre, From Here To Eternity announced its early closing last year and since then the end has drawn even closer with the final date being moved from the end of April to 29th March. I wasn’t blown away by it on first viewing but I had thought I might be tempted to see it again to see how it stood up to repeated viewing and also to get another listen to Stuart Brayson’s naggingly persistent score. But to be honest, it didn’t really work out that well. 

A sadly small audience robbed the theatre of atmosphere despite the cast’s best efforts – it was however nice to see Marc Antolin doing well standing in for Ryan Sampson as Maggio – and there is no escaping the strange weighting of the show towards trying to make empathetic figures out of a largely objectionable group of people, especially in the racist, adulterous, misogynistic, homophobic bullying G Company.  Continue reading “Re-review: From Here To Eternity, Shaftesbury Theatre”

Review: From Here To Eternity, Shaftesbury Theatre

“Don’cha like Hawaii?”

From Here to Eternity marks the return of noted lyricist Tim Rice to the London stage with this new adaptation of this World War II story, probably best known in its film incarnation and its iconic shenanigans in the surf. This treatment harks back to the original novel to introduce darker elements to the story yet it has also been transformed into a traditional West End musical, which brings with it a certain style that doesn’t always sit too well together with the material.

Set in the adulterous, misogynistic, homophobic, racist and bullying atmosphere of the G Company barracks in Hawaii in the summer of 1941, Bill Oakes’ book – based on James Jones’ novel of his own experiences – has a strangely disjointed quality as it struggles to weave together its three main strands. First Sergeant Milt Warden is hot for his captain’s lascivious wife; new arrival Private Robert E Lee Prewitt is less concerned about joining the corps’ boxing team and falls in love with call girl Lorene instead; and Private Angelo Maggio spends his time ducking and diving, making a quick buck by fraternising with the island’s gay population. Continue reading “Review: From Here To Eternity, Shaftesbury Theatre”

Review: The Bodyguard, Adelphi Theatre

“I know in my heart you’d find a girl who’s scared sometimes”

My first thought when I heard that they were making a musical version of 1992 film The Bodyguard supplemented by songs from Whitney Houston’s back catalogue was how on earth are they going to work my favourite of her songs, ‘I Wanna Dance With Somebody’, into that story. As it turns out, I needn’t have worried, but more of that later. Taking on the lead role in which Whitney made her acting debut is American import Heather Headley, although at this performance in the month of previews before it opens officially, we saw the alternate Gloria Onitiri (a familiar face from Avenue Q days) who made a sterling case for the vital importance of supporting Great British talent. 

For those not familiar with the film, Rachel Marron is a superstar pop singer-turned-actress who, unbeknownst to her, is receiving threats from a stalker and when her entourage employ ex-Secret Service agent Frank Farmer as a new bodyguard for her, sparks fly as the undeniable attraction between them threatens his professional distance and effectiveness. Several years in the making, Alexander Dinelaris’ book adapts Lawrence Kisdan’s original screenplay with a few changes: Rachel’s sister Nicki has a greater role; the identity of the stalker is handled differently and there’s a little modernisation to reflect a more tech-savvy and social-media friendly world.  Continue reading “Review: The Bodyguard, Adelphi Theatre”