Review: ABBA MANIA, Shaftesbury Theatre

ABBA MANIA offers uncomplicated and undoubted pleasures with this effervescent tribute concert at the Shaftesbury Theatre

“You’ll be dancing once again and the pain will end”

Even on a Friday night after a pre-show drink or two, it feels bold to try and get a British audience up on their feet dancing by the fourth song of a show. But to their credit, the performers and musicians of ABBA MANIA attempt and achieve just that, riding the collective waves of goodwill towards being in a theatre again and one of the most poptastic songbooks in all of music history.

& Juliet won’t return to the Shaftesbury until 24th September so the theatre is taking on a few temporary tenants until then, the first of which is the return of this ABBA tribute concert. It really doesn’t try to do anything more than it needs to, just a couple of hours playing through some of the best pop songs ever written. With some epic costume recreations from Paul Aspinall, some daft choreography for the audience to join in with and a pair of seriously impressive voices, it makes for an entirely seductive mixture. Continue reading “Review: ABBA MANIA, Shaftesbury Theatre”

Lockdown theatre review: Jesus Christ Superstar (2012 Arena Tour)

Jesus Christ Superstar takes to the “rock’n’roll” arena. It isn’t good.

“Why waste your breath moaning at the crowd?
Nothing can be done to stop the shouting.”

Amidst the deluge of theatrical content emerging online, it can be quite hard to make decisions about what to actually watch. Andrew Lloyd Webber’s release of the 2012 live arena tour of Jesus Christ Superstar stood out for me as though I did go and see it at the O2, we were seated at the back of the cavernous space and so the opportunity to actually see what happened on the actors’ faces was enough to tempt me. Plus it’s Good Friday…

Pre-dating the Open Air Theatre’s revelatory restaging by three years, Laurence Connor’s restaging of ALW’s 1971 rock opera lays its contemporary allusions thickly (Occupy, Guantánamo, reality TV) but right from the start, you can see how superficial it is. A busy prologue full of kinetic energy references the Occupy movement strongly but as soon as the show proper starts, it’s as if it never happens, you could cut it and never know the difference.

Continue reading “Lockdown theatre review: Jesus Christ Superstar (2012 Arena Tour)”

CD Review: Somewhere In My Mind – The Songs of Joe Sterling

“Do we ever really know?”

Joe Sterling’s debut album Somewhere In My Mind has lingered in my iTunes folder for ages now and I’ve never quite got round to listening to it. But thanks to the randomness of the shuffle function and the inspired use of Virgin Pendolino in a rhyme, its presence reasserted itself and I gave the collection a listen. With lyricist Robert Gould, Sterling has written a couple of musicals, one of which – Roundabout – is featured heavily here, and he’s gathered an interesting collection of performers to sing their way through his first songbook.

I say interesting because it eschews many of the familiar names who pop up on this type of album and thus showcases a range of talent who may not necessarily be familiar to you or I. Rosa O’Reilly’s gorgeous pop vocal on the plaintive ‘Ships That Pass In The Night’ immediately marks her out as someone I want to know more about, Jonathan Williams find a similar purity in early track ‘Gone’ and Sterling delivers the guitar-led charms of ‘You Could Be The One, They Said’ with a lovely lightness that is persuasive and not a little attractive. Continue reading “CD Review: Somewhere In My Mind – The Songs of Joe Sterling”

Review: Jesus Christ Superstar, O2 Arena

“Tell the mob who sing your song that they are fools and they are wrong”

Having gone down the road of television casting once again for one of his shows and quite possibly killing off the genre at the same time, Andrew Lloyd-Webber’s much-touted revival of his 1971 rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar will hopefully have the same effect on staging theatrical productions in cavernous arenas like London’s O2. Director Laurence Connor’s concept has been to relocate the loose retelling of Jesus’ last week to a modern-day context, pulling out strong allusions to the Occupy movement, riots, Guantánamo Bay and reality television. 

Tim Minchin’s Judas is the undoubted highlight of the show, a stirringly confident rock vocal of fierce conviction that near perfectly captures the essence of what Lloyd-Webber is trying to achieve but elsewhere there is much less strength. Ben Forster’s Jesus mauls Gethsemane almost beyond recognition but fares better elsewhere where his falsetto is more aptly deployed and his angst not so overplayed; Melanie Chisholm’s goth take on Mary Magdalene is anaemically thin and utterly forgettable; Chris Moyles’ highly gimmicky Jerry Springer-esque King Herod – he hosts a show called Hark! with Herod, a rare flash of genuine humour – is thankfully brief; Alex Hanson’s Pilate is a quality performance that stands out from a hard-working ensemble, but too often the wide lens of the show means that their efforts pass by unnoticed. Continue reading “Review: Jesus Christ Superstar, O2 Arena”

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”