Album Review: Just So (2006 Chichester Festival Theatre Cast)

“The questions raised at every turn show there’s always more to learn”

This production of Stiles + Drewe’s Just So, their musical adaptation and conflation of Rudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories was a well-received one at Chichester Festival Theatre, coming almost a decade after the show was originally written. Their historically family-friendly back catalogue has served them well over the years – and is bearing significant fruit now in their Trio of Trios, and some elements of this well-cast recording are just lovely.

The heartfelt simplicity of ‘Does The Moment Ever Come?’ is perfectly suited to Richard Dempsey’s sweetly earnest Elephant Child, Julie Atherton might never have sounded better (or more wonderfully northern) on the nervously apprehensive ‘Wait A Bit’ and John Barrowman’s Eldest Magician has the charisma to make his life lessons a little more holistic than hectoring. His singing on ‘Just So’ and ‘If’ wisely warm-hearted. Continue reading “Album Review: Just So (2006 Chichester Festival Theatre Cast)”

Album Review: Saturday Night (Original London Cast)

“I guess the man means more than the means”

For a still-living composer, Stephen Sondheim’s back catalogue has been mercilessly picked over and bastardised for many a cabaret and compilation show – a consequence perhaps of the chequered history of many of his shows as well as his increasing and enduring popularity over time. So even though a show like Saturday Night, written in 1954 yet not receiving its first production until 1997, remains something of an obscurity, many of its songs have become familiar due to inclusion elsewhere.

It would have been Sondheim’s debut production and in many ways, one can see the rawness of this composer. For one, there’s a gentleness to it, a romantic sense of fun that is very much atypical for a man much better known for his cynical view on the world. And for another, there’s a more direct tunefulness, the music lacking the complexity that has characterised his oeuvre but in all honesty, not much the worse for it. Continue reading “Album Review: Saturday Night (Original London Cast)”

Review: Picture Perfect , St James Studio

“Perfect,
If you ignore the guilty sex,
And the constant phone calls from his ex,
It’s perfect”

The studio space of the St James Theatre has proved fertile ground for bringing new musical theatre work to London and United Theatrical now return there for a third time with an American composer. This time it is the turn of Scott Evan Davis whose Picture Perfect – a new musical is receiving its world premiere in a short four show run. A contemporary musical song-cycle running at just over an hour, Davis, along with the show’s conceiver Simon Greiff, aims to puncture the myth of ‘the perfect family’.

It’s a curious set-up though, modern-day society is hardly one that is characterised by such idealistic notions and what soon comes to the forefront is in fact the crumbling of marriage as an institution. Ellie is involved in a loveless affair with a married man because he’s rich, Josh is having a more involved liaison with a guy but again he’s already taken and after many years of marriage, Elizabeth and Harry (Josh’s parents) are coming to terms with its collapse, for it is he who is cheating with Ellie. Continue reading “Review: Picture Perfect , St James Studio”

Album Review: Scrapbook – The Songs of Robert Archibald and Verity Quade

“Don’t want to be dependent on a wink, a smile, or kiss.”

At the beginning of the year I unexpectedly caught a fun cabaret Scrapbook Live, showcasing the work of musical theatre writers Robert Archibald and Verity Quade, which I enjoyed considerably even though I hadn’t heard the CD from which much of the material was taken: Scrapbook – The Songs of Robert Archibald and Verity Quade.

Having now downloaded it, I gave it a listen over the last week and in some ways, it is a bit of a double-edged sword having seen the live gig. It gave me that nice sense of recognition with some of the more memorable songs which made it a fascinating listen, but it also reminded me of the energy that accompanied the renditions of the songs and the live accompaniment. I have to say I wasn’t a fan of much of the orchestrations on the CD, it sounds a little bit too processed, too artificial, keyboards instead of pianos but then that’s just what I prefer. Continue reading “Album Review: Scrapbook – The Songs of Robert Archibald and Verity Quade”

Album Review: Annalene Beechey – Close Your Eyes

“What do you see, you people gazing at me, you see a doll on a music box”

Annalene Beechey is one of those performers whom I have seen a fair bit but never actually on the stage in a show, instead she has been a regular on the cabaret scene, supporting fellow ‘Christine’ Rebecca Caine or showcasing new musical theatre writing in theatres and on boats. So I thought I’d give her album Close Your Eyes a spin to see how it stacked up and it came up good!

What works so well for me is her song selection, she steers clear from too much rehashing of familiar standards and instead chooses to highlight the work of the composers with whom she has built up a connection whether personally or just through their music and it shows. From the newbies like Grant Olding – the gorgeous ‘Hannah’s Dream’ and Scott Alan – the fragile beauty of ‘Always/Goodnight’ to the more seasoned hands of Stephens Sondheim and Schwartz –an Into the Woods medley and ‘Lion Tamer’ from The Magic Show respectively, Beechey’s love of the genre shines through with insightful interpretations that dig deep into these songs and what they mean to her. Continue reading “Album Review: Annalene Beechey – Close Your Eyes”

Review: Summer with the Composers, Battersea Barge via britishtheatre.tv

The Battersea Barge has seen quite a few cabarets over the summer but the producers behind the latest – Summer with the Composers – have taken things a step further and offered a live-streaming service of the show, completely free of charge, with which it could be enjoyed from the comfort of your own home. I’m not technologically minded enough to know whether it was my laptop being slow or the recording itself that wasn’t the clearest quality, but it feels churlish to complain that it wasn’t crystal clear considering it was all free and in any case, the sound quality was excellent.

The evening was focused on four leading lights of new British musical theatre writing: Grant Olding, Dougal Irvine, Laurence Mark Wythe and Tim Sutton and showcasing their work in a variety of ways from shows that have made it onto the stage, shows that are still in development, some which never made it out of the rehearsal room and a few one-offs, including one written especially for the Dress Circle Benefit gig a couple of weeks ago. Special guests Samantha Barks, Annalene Beechey, George Ure and Stephen Ashfield sang a selection of the songs but the composers themselves also had a go at singing each other’s songs. Continue reading “Review: Summer with the Composers, Battersea Barge via britishtheatre.tv”