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”

Review: End of the Rainbow, Churchill Bromley

“I’m Judy Garland, now pay me some respect”

The enduring legacy of Judy Garland may be considered the preserve of gay men of a certain age but but what Peter Quilter’s End of the Rainbow, a play with songs rather than an all-out musical, reminds us is that hers was a tragedy in which all of our increasingly celebrity-obsessed society is complicit. The play is set in the months leading up to her death in 1969, as desperate to pay off her debtors, her new young fiancé and manager Mickey Deans signed her up for a five week run of cabaret shows at The Talk of the Town though as became clear to see, Garland’s struggles made it a very difficult time.

With the press against her, willing her on to ever more scandalous deeds, friends deserting her as her drug dependencies also pushed away four husbands, and a career that was nosediving as a result of all this drama, Deans was banking on this being the comeback of all comebacks. But Quilter shows us through a number of scenes, that the extremities of her behaviour impossibly strained the relationships in her life, even with her devoted Brighton-based pianist Anthony, her body and mind warped by endless years of being a part of the fame game and unable to deal with being chewed up and spat out by the Hollywood machine. Continue reading “Review: End of the Rainbow, Churchill Bromley”

Review: Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, New Wimbledon Theatre

“That was some mighty fine dancing”

Seven young men enter a backwoods Oregon town, kidnap a woman each – with the intention of making them their wives – and escort them back to their mountainside home where a subsequent avalanche traps up there for the winter, leaving family and suitors unable to rescue them. Such is the premise, more or less, of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers but being a classic film musical of the 1950s, it is less a hillbilly horror flick and more of a rollicking romp of lumberjacking lotharios and one which now find itself in a tour of UK theatres. 

Director and choreographer extraordinaire Patti Colombo has worked her considerable magic on the show to make it a stunning visual treat, however there’s no escaping the huge improbabilities and weaknesses of the story. Of course, one shouldn’t be taking such a thing at all seriously, but it does impact on the way the show is delivered, whether the actors try to find the inner soul of a character and play it honestly or just go all out with a knowing smile and plenty of pizzazz. And I’m not too sure that this production really straddles that line all too well.  Continue reading “Review: Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, New Wimbledon Theatre”

Review: Dreamboats and Petticoats, Playhouse

“Candy floss and caravans, kiss me quick and hold my hand”

I have long harboured a secret desire to go and see Dreamboats and Petticoats: not so much in a ‘I must go and see this rightaway’ kind of sense but more in a ‘I bet that’s actually quite good fun’ way. It is easy to be instantly dismissive of jukebox shows, I have been guilty myself of not seeing any for a long time and of those I have now seen, there’s been a mixed response in the Clowns household: the charm of Buddy done on the fringe won me over but the brash hard sell of Jersey Boys left me cold. Dreamboats… has floating around for a couple of years now, starting in the Savoy and subsequently finding a new home at the Playhouse; a concurrent touring production working its way around the UK too. But the main attraction for going now (alongside tickets falling into my hand) was the West End debut of Des O’Connor, virtually every appearance of whom was welcomed with screams and cheers of delight from the audience – I don’t think I got the memo but I think he may be a National Treasure now.

The show was famously inspired by a series of compilation CD of late 50s and early 60s hits and carries with it a rather lightweight book, centred on a group of teenagers at a youth club in Essex. Geeky Bobby wants to become the new singer of the band but is gazumped by the slick older Norman who also catches the eye of the buxom Sue for whom Bobby holds a candle. On the sidelines, Laura – a talented musician – pines after Bobby unnoticed but a trip to Southend and a song writing competition offer an opportunity to shake things up. It’s all sweet and wholesome with nary a knowing wink or nudge to be found. Continue reading “Review: Dreamboats and Petticoats, Playhouse”