Album Review: Rags – The Musical: Original London Cast Recording

The Original London Cast Recording for Rags – The Musical is released by Ghostlight Records, the first to capture the many changes to the show

“What if we never meet again?”

Sometimes a musical just doesn’t grab you, and so it was for me with Rags The Musical. The show received its UK premiere at the Northern powerhouse that is the Hope Mill Theatre in February 2019 and transferred to the Park Theatre in London at the beginning of 2020 and despite its excellent notices, I just didn’t fancy it. The universe clearly wants me to hear it one way or another though, as Ghostlight Records are now releasing an official London cast recording, the first for this show since 1991.

I think my ambivalence might have stemmed from a lack of love for Fiddler on the Roof (I know…). And Rags was initially conceived in 1986 as a sequel of sorts by book-writer Joseph Stein, as he explores the experience of a group of Jewish immigrants as they arrive in the US. Over the years though, David Thompson has considerably revised it and Stephen Schwartz’s lyrics and Charles Strouse’s music have also been substantially tinkered with. Musicals are ever a work in progress but such overhauling doesn’t always inspire the greatest confidence – credit then to director Bronagh Lagan and musical director Joe Bunker for refining this material in such a stylish manner. Continue reading “Album Review: Rags – The Musical: Original London Cast Recording”

August theatre round-up

I might have taken a break from reviewing for the last couple of months, but I didn’t stop going to the theatre. Here’s some brief thoughts on most of what I saw in August.

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, aka the Sheridan Smith show
Queen of the Mist, aka the surprisingly affecting one
Appropriate, aka all hail Monica Dolan
Waitress, aka ZZZZZZZOMGGGGG STUNT CASTING oh wait, Joe Suggs hasn’t started yet
The Doctor, aka all hail Juliet Stevenson
A Very Expensive Poison, aka it was a preview so I shouldn’t say anything
Blues in the Night, aka all hail Broadway-bound Sharon D Clarke (and Debbie Kurup, and Clive Rowe too)
The Night of the Iguana, aka justice for Skyler Continue reading “August theatre round-up”

Review: The Water Babies, Curve

“If I drop from the sky, nobody may care but will they catch me”

Under Paul Kerryson, Leicester’s Curve Theatre really has become the incubator for some great musical theatre, reinventing stale classics like Chicago and Hairspray and hosting significant premieres like Finding Neverland and now a new version of Charles Kingsley’s children’s novel The Water Babies. Boasting an impressive array of special effects, a stridently modern score from Chris Egan and a fresh take on the story by Ed Curtis (who also directs) and Guy Jones, it makes for a interesting new entry into the world of British musical theatre. 

The show borrows liberally from Kingsley’s original morality tale of Tom, an orphaned young ne’er-do-well who is framed for a crime he did not commit and whilst fleeing capture, finds his only choice is to dive into a waterfall whereupon he discovers a new world. That underwater world uses in turn inspiration from the 1978 animated version of the story, as Tom is forced to journey through a series of challenges, aided and abetted by talking sea creatures as he searches for the mysterious Water Babies who hold the key to a better understanding of himself and thus his future. Continue reading “Review: The Water Babies, Curve”

Review: Carnival of the Animals, Riverside Studios

“C’est parfait!”

Little is it known that Paris actually has 21 districts. And that in the 21e arrondisement, humans and animals live side by side. And that in that corner of Paris, they put on a show every day – the Carnival of the Animals. But the animals are tired, they’ve lost their enthusiasm for the theatre, their star turn has gone missing and they can’t stop arguing. It is only when a chimpanzee, a zebra, a parrot and a lioness arrive breathlessly in the square, determined to join the carnival, that they decide to carry on, but the newcomers are hiding a secret. And watching over all of them is neighbourly dress-shop owner Mademoiselle Parfait, who despite her friendly demeanour perhaps isn’t quite all she seems either.

Inspired by Saint-Saëns’ musical opus of the same name, this Carnival of the Animals maintains a similar family friendly ambience to create a really rather charming piece of musical theatre. Andrew Marshall’s book weaves a likeable story about finding one’s own self-worth and appreciating others’ differences in with the slightly darker sub-plot – nothing too sinister, think pantomime villainry – and the whole thing is peppered with a bunch of amiable songs from composer Gavin Greenaway and lyricist Roger Hyams. Continue reading “Review: Carnival of the Animals, Riverside Studios”

Re-review: Sweeney Todd, Adelphi

“There’s no place like London”

Last year was undoubtedly a great one for Chichester Festival Theatre’s musicals – Singin’ in the Rain and Sweeney Todd both figured very highly in end of year lists and both were granted West End transfers after their sell-out runs. But there’s always a danger in revisiting shows one has loved, there’s no guarantee that the magic will be recaptured again especially in larger theatres. So I’ve currently avoided going back to Singin’ in the Rain in its new home in the Palace (though never say never) and hadn’t thought I’d go back to Sweeney Todd which has just started previews at the Adelphi. But when kindly offered a ticket, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to return to the Demon Barber of Fleet Street.

My original review can be read here and in many ways, much of what I said still stands. It’s a highly atmospheric, effective production of Sondheim’s classic revenge tale which lives on its luxury lead casting in a transformed Michael Ball as the titular Todd and an incandescent Imelda Staunton as Mrs Lovett. Staunton truly is epic here, thoroughly attuned to the comedy especially in the one-upmanship of ‘A Little Priest’ but also movingly desperate as her inclinations remain unfulfilled and she is possibly better here than in Chichester. Michael Ball didn’t quite live up to the memory of his performance, missing some of the necessary malevolence, though he still sings the part well. Continue reading “Re-review: Sweeney Todd, Adelphi”

Shows I am looking forward to in 2012

Though the temptation is strong, and the actuality may well prove so, I don’t think I will be catching quite so much theatre in 2012 as I did last year. I could do with a slightly better balance in my life and also, I want to focus a little more on the things I know I have a stronger chance of enjoying.

So, I haven’t booked a huge amount thus far, especially outside of London where I think I will rely more on recommendations, but here’s what I’m currently looking forward to the most: Continue reading “Shows I am looking forward to in 2012”

Review: The Hired Man, Landor

“No greater pleasure than work done well”

The Hired Man was Howard Goodall’s first musical, setting Melvyn Bragg’s story of turn-of-the-century everyday rural Cumbrian life to a score inspired by Kurt Weill but primarily influenced by English choral and folk music. Based on events that happened to Bragg’s grandfather, the plot revolves around farmhand John Tallentine, his wife Emily and their family during a period of considerable social and economic upheaval as agriculture declines, pit mining advances and the shadow of the First World War threatens everything and everyone.

Though the scope of the story is huge, taking in a significant chunk of British social history, it is actually intimately told by focusing in on this single family and how the larger events impact their daily lives. In this respect, Andrew Keates’ production at the Landor is a great match of venue and material as we are taken right into the heart of this story and the struggles of its tightly-knit society to find just a little daily happiness as they work the land whether through a pie and a pint in the local or breaking marriage vows. Continue reading “Review: The Hired Man, Landor”

Review: Bright Lights Big City, Hoxton Hall

“Now this is what you wanted, all the frolics and the frenzy”

Tucked away in Shoreditch is Hoxton Hall, a Victorian music hall which now serves as a hub for much community arts work in the local area and now brings the London premiere of the musical Bright Lights, Big City. Set in New York in 1984, the story concerns a writer called Jamie whose response to a number of setbacks is to throw himself headlong into a life of debauchery. Struggling to deal with the recent death of his mother and with the reality of his wife leaving him, hard partying and taking drugs leads to him losing his job too and it is only with the persistent efforts of those who love him, can he find his way back to normality.

Performances across the ensemble are strong: Jodie Jacobs (with some seriously amazing crimped hair and who is appearing in her third musical in as many months!) and Rachel Wooding stood out for me, George Maguire’s Tad is a convincing Pied Piper-like figure leading Jamie astray and Rietta Austin’s vocal performance was most impressive. As Jamie himself, Paul Ayres does well vocally with a character who’s rarely offstage but could do with working a little more charm into his naïveté, elevating him slightly out of the everyman role as befits a leading man. Continue reading “Review: Bright Lights Big City, Hoxton Hall”