The Barricade Boys announce a Christmas Cabaret season with an amazing guest cast

As Mrs Merton might have asked, what first attracted you to musical theatre supergroup The Barricade Boys…?

Clearly, it was their cumulative musical talent – between them, Scott Garnham, Simon Schofield, Craig Mather and Kieran Brown have racked up credits in pretty much every major musical from The Phantom of The Opera, Wicked and Billy Elliot to Jersey Boys, The Sound Of Music and Les Misérables. And now they’re bringing their cabaret show to The Other Palace’s Studio for a Christmas season which is enough to bring festive cheer to even the most Scrooge-like of hearts. Continue reading “The Barricade Boys announce a Christmas Cabaret season with an amazing guest cast”

Album Review: Love Never Dies (2010 Concept Album)

“The world is hard, the world is mean
It’s hard to keep your conscience clean”

I hadn’t listened to Love Never Dies since seeing its very first preview (oh how we laughed when ALW ran furious from the stalls when the set broke down) and having popped on the concept album that was released in tandem, I was soon reminded why. The not-a-sequel to Phantom of the Opera too often feels like a lazy retread of familiar ground, demonstrating zero musical progression and revealing a stagnation where there once was innovation.

The Coney Island setting undercuts any attempt to get close to the gothic horror of the opera house, the ‘freak show’ elements are desperately tame there. The swerves into rock are ill-advised in the extreme. Lyrically, there’s no ingenuity here at all, the words play second fiddle to the music to their peril And above all, the interpolation of themes from Phantom serve as a constant reminder of what this is not, and also the ultimate folly of the enterprise. Continue reading “Album Review: Love Never Dies (2010 Concept Album)”

Album Review: Sex and the Village

“It’s more village, less sex if I’m honest”

Set in the tiny Dibley-like hamlet of Chatterly which is being threatened by supermarket development, Rebecca Applin and Susannah Pearse’s Sex and the Village is a rather delightful little musical developed by Perfect Pitch and recorded here by a mixture of professional actors and singers from the Bury St Edmunds Amateur Operatic and Dramatic Society who won the right to present the premiere of this show which they did in Suffolk in November 2013.

Applin’s music is largely straightforward and sweet in its structure and as such, soprano Charlotte Wakefield’s crystalline clarity is perfect as its lead exponent. As Chloe, the young woman conflicted between a desire to explore the wider world but also to maintain fidelity to her beloved village, she’s wryly amusing in observing the minutiae of ‘Country Life’ and moving in the affecting emotional swirl of ‘They’re Only Dreams’ and ‘The White Elephant Stall’. Continue reading “Album Review: Sex and the Village”

Review: Lift, Soho Theatre

“I keep telling myself if this is happening, it will happen in time”

A musical looking at “love, life and loss in a London lift”, Craig Adams and Ian Watson’s Lift is a thing to treasure in and of itself – a new British musical. Adams started writing the song cycle in 2005 and following the nurturing development of Perfect Pitch and its housing in the welcoming arms of the Soho Theatre – both necessarily ardent supporters of new musical theatre writing – it now makes its world premiere. The show looks at a cross-section of contemporary London life, taking its sample from the inhabitants of a lift at Covert Garden tube station as their lives intersect in the 54 seconds it takes to surface and then scatter to the wind on departing it.

The central conceit is that even though we may not make eye contact with the people next to us on tube journeys, our lives are more connected than we know and so we see the paths of these eight characters cross again in varied and unexpected ways. It’s a neat concept but one which falls a little short in the execution, coming across as too haphazard in its bringing together of such disparate elements – we long for more of a connection, both between the characters but also between the characters and the audience, the device of the lift just doesn’t feel strong enough.  Continue reading “Review: Lift, Soho Theatre”

Review: South Pacific, Barbican

“You can’t light a fire when the wood is all wet”

It will be interesting to see how many, if any, of the print critics make reference to one of the most significant aspects of the Barbican’s import of the Lincoln Center production of South Pacific: the ticket prices. The majority of the stalls is priced at £85, making the slightly restricted view seats a whopping £65 and you have to go up to the upper circle before prices start to drop. Not willing to spend so much, we went for the second-cheapest option, up in the balcony / gallery – £20 seats which were reduced to £16 with my membership – rather disgracefully the membership discount only being applicable to the first four performances, thus this is a preview being reviewed here. But credit where it’s due, the seats were just like the normal ones, comfortable with lots of leg room and you really are not that far away from the stage at all: it is so nice to find a venue with cheap seats that don’t take the p*ss out of the audience member and their comfort.

But to the show. This was an extremely well-received production in New York, winning a handful of Tonys and running for 2 years, and so Bartlett Sher has sought to recreate its success for this engagement at the Barbican ahead of a UK tour, even bringing over three members of the original cast. There’s apparently 40 people in the cast (though I counted a few less) and an orchestra of 25 so words like lavish and breathtaking are being thrown around, presumably to mitigate for the pricing, though it is not evident that much investment has gone into the set design… It is one of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s most well known musicals, last seen in London ten years ago at the National Theatre but that was before my time here. Continue reading “Review: South Pacific, Barbican”

Review: Avenue Q, Richmond Theatre

“If you rearrange the letters in ‘unemployment’, you get the word ‘opportunity’”

If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, then you will know that one of my favourite shows of recent years (if not my entire life!) is Avenue Q, now sadly departed from the West End after a 5 year, multi-venue stint but thankfully given new life in this extensive UK tour which covers a massive number of venues over the next six months. I’ve seen it seven times now, but could not resist another trip when the tour called into Richmond Theatre with its new cast featuring both new faces and some familiar ones from earlier incarnations of the West End cast.

The show is a slice of young(ish) adulthood, with characters – some human, some Sesame Street style puppets – who are just doodling along in life from day to day whilst dealing with the struggles of relationships, sex, careers, identity, mostly to the tune of Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx’s wonderfully witty and catchy songs. What really works about the show though is the way in which it uses the puppets and the kids show format to deal with these adult issues in such an engaging and playful way yet always remaining true to heart.

Rachel Jerram was excellent as the sweet-natured but realistic Kate Monster and stretching well to make a convincingly vampy Lucy the Slut, her previous time on the show not restricting her from putting her own spin on Kate in particular; Chris Thatcher pulled off both Nicky and Trekkie Monster with aplomb and combined with Katharine Moraz, made for a brilliant pair of Bad Idea Bears; Edward Judge and Matthew J Henry were both good as Brian and Gary respectively, but it was Jacqueline Tate’s Christmas Eve who came close to stealing the show, her comfort in the role really showing as she combined playing for laughs with the necessary clarity to ensure everyone hears the jokes too as well as the accent.

The only slight room for improvement I could see was with Adam Pettigrew as Princeton/Rod: his Rod was perfect but I felt that he betrayed a little nervousness in rushing many of his lines at Princeton and not really working the charm quite enough as befits the central character. Though I suspect part of this came down to the fact I was a little surprised at how young he looked, especially against the rest of the ensemble, but as the only one of the leads to not have any previous Q experience, he’s bound to ease into the role a bit more as the tour progresses.

I don’t think I could see any major changes to the show, the only obvious one being a nice nod to Kew Gardens at one point, always nice to see in touring shows and a couple of new positions I didn’t remember in the puppet sex scene 😉 But there were subtle things that I picked up that I’d either forgotten or hadn’t noticed before, especially the choreographed movements of the Bad Idea Bears (my favourite characters).

Whereas it may have been the 8th time for me seeing this show and there were definitely some other fans who had seen it more than once scattered throughout the audience, it is always great fun listening to the reactions of people seeing the show for the first time, especially with their reactions to the humour and it is for that reason that I don’t think I will ever grow bored of watching this show. It really is one of the most relatable shows out there, whether it’s your love-life, your job or just general angst about the direction of your life, there will be something in here that resonates with you with its bittersweet honesty and warmly deep humour (although I reckon they could have picked a better target than Jedward for the end of For Now!).

Running time: 2 hours 10 minutes (with interval)
Programme cost: £3
Booking until 5th March and then continuing to tour the country, Aberdeen, Woking, Norwich and Sheffield are the next stops
Note: definitely not suitable for young’uns (under 5s not allowed) and approach with caution for up to 15 I think

Review: Les Misérables, Barbican

“Will you join in our crusade? Who will be strong and stand with me?”

When I first started this blogging lark, I thought that what I wanted was to be ‘respected’ as a ‘serious’ theatregoer and whilst I’ve never been ashamed of being a huge fan of musical theatre amongst many other things, I’d always been uneasy about demonstrating that too much. But after great conversations with so many of my new friends in the online reviewing community, I’ve come to fully appreciate that integrity really does come from being truly honest about things that I see and the things that I love and this could not have been better illuminated than in the last two days: an obscure Sondheim revival at the Donmar and the umpteenth time of seeing Les Misérables, albeit in a new production and I can proudly say that it was Les Mis that came out as a clear winner for me despite what my inner snob may have wanted me to say!

Based on Victor Hugo’s novel, Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg adapted it for the stage in 1980, and it first played in London at the Barbican, produced by Cameron Mackintosh and directed by Trevor Nunn, transferring to the Palace and then the Queen’s Theatre where it is still running after 25 years. And to mark that 25th anniversary, Mackintosh conceived this touring version of the show, directed by Lawrence Connor and James Powell (a decision which sadly left Nunn’s nose out of joint) and after touring the country, it has now arrived back at its original home at the Barbican for 22 performances only. Continue reading “Review: Les Misérables, Barbican”