Album Review: Fame (1995 Original London Cast Recording)

“These are my emotions 
Mine alone to keep”

Some things age well. Music produced in the 90s is not often one of them, and so it is true of the Original London Cast Recording of Fame The Musical. The musical was actually written in the 80s, premiering in Miami before getting its first major production in the West End at the Cambridge Theatre in 1995. Following the hopes and dreams of a scrappy group of drama school brats at the New York High School of Performing Arts, and between the film and TV show, it’s a well-worn story but one told well.

The main problem is that Steve Margoshes’ score really isn’t that strong, failing to come up with anything that is polished and assured as the Michael Gore-penned title song which, to be fair, is a solid-gold pop banger. The Paula Abdul-tinged ‘Let’s Play A Love Scene’ comes closest for me and elsewhere, there’s not much in the way of memorable music, plus Jaques Levy’s lyrics have dated badly, always a problem when trying to be au courant, and David Beer’s musical direction also can’t help but show its age in aiming for a contemporary rock sound. Continue reading “Album Review: Fame (1995 Original London Cast Recording)”

Review: Rachel, Finborough Theatre

“I hear people talk about God’s justice and I wonder.”

Written in response to the glorification of the Ku Klux Klan contained in 1915 film The Birth of a Nation, Angelina Weld Grimké’s Rachel has the remarkable tag of being the first play by an African-American woman to ever be produced professionally. Despite that, it has languished mostly unseen since then and this revival by the Finborough marks the European premiere and a contribution to the work of Black History Month. It’s easy to dismiss work such as this saying it has collected dust on the shelves for a reason but this fascinating context alone surely negates that and in Ola Ince’s production, dramatic reasons emerge too.

Commissioned by the NAACP (about whom I wrote my undergraduate dissertation oddly enough), it set out “to use the stage for race propaganda in order to enlighten the American people” about the African-American experience and given that it is still an ongoing struggle for playwrights today, what Weld Grimké achieved in the early 20th century is significant. There’s a lack of sophistication to her writing that is undeniable, the overly expositional dialogue clunks once too often in asking its searching questions about comprehension and compromise, as the educated but endearingly naïve Rachel comes to terms with the racist world she must engage with. Continue reading “Review: Rachel, Finborough Theatre”

Review: Dessa Rose, Trafalgar Studios 2

“Who does she think she is?”

Based on the novel of the same name by Sherley Anne Williams and premiering off-Broadway in 2005, this is a show that has taken its time to reach our shores. And reflecting the hugely diverse nature of their back catalogue, Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty’s Dessa Rose adds another multi-layered account of a key moment in US history (see Ragtime) to their account, in the tale of the diverse but complementary journeys of a young black woman and a young white women in the Deep South.

It’s 1847 and Dessa is reaping the results of her wilful temperament as a love affair with a fellow slave has left her pregnant and behind bars. But try as she might to assert her independence, she has to learn to accept the kindness of others, chief among whom is Ruth, a former Charleston belle whose marriage has gone awry due to her husband’s gambling problem. Alone on the plantation, she welcomes runaway slaves and altogether, through their difficulties, they dare to dream of a brighter future.  Continue reading “Review: Dessa Rose, Trafalgar Studios 2”

Review: The Amen Corner, National Theatre

“Ain’t nobody born that infallible”

Reader, I ovated. It is a rare occasion indeed that I actually give a standing ovation, more often than not I think about it and don’t do it but just occasionally, one bears witness to something in a theatre that is just irresistibly, incandescently amazing that the only response is to get on one’s feet. For me, it was Marianne Jean-Baptiste’s simply extraordinary performance as Sister Margaret Alexander that beats powerfully at the heart of The Amen Corner, a revival of a 1965 American play by James Baldwin, that fills the Olivier Theatre with the glorious sound of the London Community Gospel Choir.

 Jean-Baptiste’s Sister Margaret is the fiercely passionate leader of her local church in Harlem and living underneath with her sister Odessa and 18 year old son David, she leads her congregation with an iron fist of religious fervour. But trouble is brewing with discontent rumbling in the group of church elders who are looking for an opportunity to oust their leader and when her long estranged husband Luke turns up unexpectedly, they seize the moment as it turns out that their glorious leader may not be as blemish-free as she would have them believe. Continue reading “Review: The Amen Corner, National Theatre”