Review: I Can’t Sing (the London Palladium)

Performance: 27th March 2014

Here’s the thing, I don’t even like X-Factor, so when they announced a musical version I was (hardly surprised) a little sceptical. Great musicals have been based on worse but there’s something about X-Factor. I totally agree with allowing people to defy social backgrounds to get their chance, but the shitty song choices, give me a break, it’s sort of happy to be mediocre entertainment.

So imagine my shock (go on, imagine it) when the casting featured NO stunt casting. In fact the cast was 100% pure West End talent, all up and coming stars who have their own “in the know” fan bases. The second I heard Cynthia Erivo (who destroyed it in the Color Purple) was in I bought my tickets. Clearly she knew something we didn’t, this could be worth a look.

showbiz-i-cant-sing-x-factor-musical-01

I Can’t Sing, it turns out, is a bloody solid musical, well structured and paced with a very funny script and hilarious songs (and some really catchy melodies).  The narrative couldn’t be more basic, Chenice (the stunning Erivo), fuelled by the death of her grandfather decides to go on X-Factor. There, that’s it, the whole story; the rest is just filled out by craziness and one of the oddest scripts going.

The show is held together by a fantastic cast, as I’ve said, made up of the crème de le crème of the West End.  Nigel Harman, with an amazing voice, does a great Simon, whilst Simon Bailey holds the proceedings together with his Dermot impression. I always like seeing Simon Lipkin in anything; he has an amazing boyish energy that seems to be even more so when he has his hands up a puppets bum.

Scott-Garnham-colourFor me though the supporting cast were the real treat, especially the wonderful Scott Garnham, who I suddenly realised I’m stalking around the West End. Like everyone else, he had a 1001 shoes to feel in this production, yet some how managed to bring charm and personality to each of them. Now give this guy a staring role.

The show is far from perfect, it’s not groundbreaking and isn’t very cultural. But it’s good fun and it’s of a solid quality. I must admit I had been dreading it until the reviews came in and I suddenly realised this could work. It maybe a sad reflection of culture but it’s also a brilliant reflection of the British sense of humour, and what we can we achieve when simply stop chasing the ratings.

Noel Coward’s Blithe Spirit (Gielgud Theatre)

Performance: 19th March 2014

Image

I feel the need to say something about Blithe Spirit, even though it’s been well over a week since I saw. I went with the intention of seeing Angela Lansbury on stage and trust me she’s worth it. She oozes the experience that her 88 years have afford her and she does it with the energy of someone much younger. Go and see Blithe Spirit not because her name is an event, but she is an event in herself.

But this is a Noel Coward play, which means it’s hilarious and quick, pure genius that manages to turn the after life into a reflection of modern marriage (and a warning against marrying women). The cast, all of them, are excellent, especially the wonderful Jemima Rooper who, as the deceased wife is both brilliantly timed and able to deal shocks of someone slightly less visible.

A perfect night out, you won’t get better in London at the moment.

RAG of the Day: Lea Salonga and Rachelle Ann Go sing “For Good”

…and a happy new year to you too.

So I’ve been a little absent the last couple of weeks, it wasn’t you, it was me, I just shut down over Christmas, enjoy the physical instead of the digital. But if you’re still with me, and I hope you are, here is a little video to get 2014 really started.

Everyone loves Wicked, if you say you don’t you’re clearly lying, because, let’s face it, it was designed to be loved by everyone. And it’s also fantastic to give two women the much needed chance to sing about something other than men.

So here is our two favourite ladies singing that song that makes you want to take your best mate out for a cocktail, For Good. Naturally Lea and Rachelle rewrite to time and space to make it as if it’s written for them.

But here’s a thought Rachelle, whilst you’re over in London, and you’re Miss Saigon journey is coming to an end, why not pop over to the Apollo Victoria and see what’s available, personally I think green might be your colour.

Review: American Psycho – A new musical thriller (Almeida Theatre)

American-Psycho-New-Image-HiRes-With-TitleI’m going to be a bit smug but I was with American Psycho the Musical from the start. Admittedly I’m a firm believer in the medium of musical theatre and believe anything can become a musical with the right creative team.  And usually the subject matters that appear the worst fit actually make the best shows; I think it’s the contrasting emotions.

So when they announced American Psycho and Duncan Sheik, the first thing I said was how high, I mean how much? So later on when Matt Smith’s casting was announced, the reviews came in and the tickets went out I felt, well, smug, sorry, and now having seen the show, I feel even smugger.

The truth is that for anyone who has read or seen American Psycho knows that it’s not your straightforward slasher. It’s not Psycho or Texas Chainsaw Massacre, it exists in a heightened sense of reality, a commentary on the 1980s and consumer greed. In short, it couldn’t be more perfect for musical theatre treatment.

_71720929_mattnew

American Psycho is the story of Patrick Bateman, a 26-year-old investment banker living in New York City. If he sounds bored as he blandly describes his beauty regime, buff body and business cards that’s because he is. This world doesn’t interest Patrick; his passions lie in something a lot darker, and a lot more deadly.

Matt Smith’s casting was interesting on multiple levels, and could easily be construed as stunt casting, especially with all eyes on Doctor Who this year. Because let’s face it, Christian Bale (who stared in the film) is the perfect yuppy, incredibly hansom and naturally buff, he oozes success. But Matt Smith plays up to his interesting looks and frame that needs a little more work, he acknowledges it and makes it a driving force.

Though he has had success on stage in the past Smith is not known for musical theatre and his voice is hardly the strongest. But it is a singing voice none the less and its strengths are written into the music, reinforcing the drone like aspect of Bateman’s character. The songs are kept subtle; a lot is hidden, just like Bateman, maintaining a level of mystery.

The rest of the cast are fantastic, it’s a tight ensemble that seem comfortable with caricature, some how conveying a slight depth they’re so desperate to repress. The only genuine character is Patrick’s loyal secretary, Jean, played wonderfully by Cassandra Compton, whose love for her boss is the real deal, and not just based on the man he thinks he projects.

With the music, Duncan Sheik is clearly having a lot of fun, some how theming the songs around 1980’s synth pop with making them pastiche numbers. A couple of the numbers in the first act are a little too fluffy, falling slightly short of satire. But the second act has some cracking numbers and the sinister finale “This is not an exit” could rival “Purple Summer” with it’s Depeche Mode like qualities.

5AP DP 76-911 by Manuel Harlan 601 x 400

But with a character like Patrick Bateman, who hides behind false tastes to make himself relevant, certain pieces of music are required. And this is where American Psycho works, blending in tracks like “Everybody wants to rule the world” and “Don’t you want me” seamlessly, whether they’re played over the proceedings or sung by the cast, as if they’re ingrained in their consciousness.

The stark set (by Es Devlin) couldn’t be more 80s with a trap door and a couple of turn tables keeping it dynamic, and allowing the cast to appear like automatons. It’s bland but it works. Video projection has also found a comfortable home here, working to emphasise the static signals entering the brain but also sterilising the blood splatter, preventing the gore from taking centre stage.

american-psycho-mr-porter-0002American Psycho, simply put, works as a musical, maybe it’s the small scale that means it retains focus, maybe it’s the quality of cast and crew (that is more than definitely a factor) or maybe it’s just a case of it being a story that had unrealised musical potential. Whether or not, given the chance, it will ever have mass appeal, well that’s a risk I’d like to see taken (perhaps it can share a theatre with The Light Princess).

If I’d seen this a couple of days earlier it would have topped my 2013 list, along with Once, A Chorus Line, The Color Purple and Light Princess. But seeing it in January it has given 2014 a hell of a lot to live up to, let’s just hope it can step up to the challenge because that would make a mind blowing year.

For more information check out the website here.

Review: Thriller Live (Lyric Theatre)

Thrill_6_Sheet_Generic_2012_Layout 1I have never been the biggest fan of Michael Jackson; my twin brother was the fan so naturally I hated him (you trying sharing a face with someone and see if you want to share an interest). But that’s the trouble with Michael, if you ignore his personal problem he’s pretty hard to hate. And then Glee kept on reminding me how amazing his songs were, the fact it took groups to replicate on man’s genius and I was sold on a show like Thriller Live.

Of course, West End Live helped, four years in a row I had a display of big voices and spectacular dancing, all presented with zero body fat. So when Christmas rolled around and we needed a show that was going to provide two hours of solid entertainment, so Thriller it was. I have to say I was a little nervous, Stomp nervous, like if I could sit through two hours of this.

And that’s where the brilliance of Thriller is really noticeable, the fact that it can keep a none fan like me interested. Because it’s a really fantastic show that’s more than just a cheep tribute act making money out of it’s subjects name. This is a high quality show by West End standards that has had a lot of care and attention put into it.

To be honest, not really much can be said about it, you’re guided chronologically through Michael Jackson’s career through music and subtle narration that works to keep people excited about his legend.

The singing is top rate and works unbelievably well with the songs that stick closely to their original arrangements. It’s effective because the artists were clearly picked not just because they sound like Jackson but because they reflect his attitudes, his aggression, soulfulness and power over the audience. This is why Thriller Live stands above other shows, because it goes beyond recreating Michael’s talent, it strives to recreate the man himself.

The dancing is also cleverly done, because Michael (and Janet come to think of it) did more than sway in front of backing dancers. They were the dancers, and routines, though a shadow of the skill of their originals reflect their complexity, there’s no show boating, everyone’s working together, tightly together, to create something that works so well on a visual level.

The show is a fantastic night out, literally getting you on your feet towards the end. The audience were clearly having a fantastic time, some a little too much as the guy next to me tried to recreate some of the moves. Being in the front row was a little bit disconcerting, though as my mate applied lipstick during the interval she was clearly enjoying the dancers attention.

So whether you’re a massive Jacko fan or just a casual listener, Thriller Live definitely won’t leave you disappointed.

Ps. Can I suggest a sequel in which Janet faces off against Paula Abdul, done with the above skill it would be amazing, and look a little something like this…

Video of the Day: Dusty Springfield – Nothing has been proved

In honour of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s new show, Stephen Ward here’s another musical version of the show, Dusty Springfield‘s song “Nothing has been proved” from Scandal, a film about the Profumo affair. As always with Dusty, the song is amazing, I haven’t seen the film but you can see the trailer beneath and you can read my review of the show here…

http://pheatreland.co.uk/2013/12/20/review-stephen-ward-aldwych-theatre/

And here is the trailer…

Review: Stephen Ward (Aldwych Theatre)

I’m going to be blunt about Stephen Ward, the new musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber. It’s not going to change the face of musical theatre (this is no Hair, Rent, both groundbreaking in their day) and it’s not going to define Andrew Lloyd Webber’s career musically. But it is a bloody good musical, I would hand on heart say one of the strongest, most consistent and expertly made on the West End stage at the moment.

It’s just a story Lloyd Webber wanted to tell and tell it bloody well he does.

I loved it, I loved Stephen Ward.  I loved that nothing felt shoehorned, nothing felt forced. It went with it’s own flow and unashamedly so. I loved that it purposefully missed opportunities for self-indulgent ballads (even though I wanted one so badly) because they weren’t needed, just wanted. It was all very cut, print and move on. This is a tough love musical, you may not appreciate bits at the time but you’re better for it at the end.

A wonderful example of a self-indulgent ballad…

At the centre of the show is Stephen Ward, an osteopath who mingled with the rich, famous and in the most swinging of sixties. But, as the show says, get close to the fire and you’ll get burnt, especially when the lovely young ladies you surround yourself with start playing with people from both sides of the iron curtain. So when a political scandal erupts Ward’s hedonistic lifestyle makes him the perfect scapegoat.

So what was the Profumo Affair?

ImageThe cast are all s**t hot, but if Webber can’t hand pick his cast then who can?  Alexander Hanson was brilliant as Stephen Ward, a smooth talker who managed to retain an air of sinister intentions when playing the best mate. His vocal range allows him to both forward the narrative in softer moments and then switch to a strong belt to remind us of his stage presence.

Charlotte Spencer, as Christine Keeler, whose various relationships caused the scandal had a tough job making this woman appear more than just a silly little girl. She gave us a tough exterior and a vulnerable interior, not afraid to remind us that everyone wants a little love. Charlotte Blackledge’s Mandy Rice-Davis provides some much needed glamour and Joanna Riding’s scorned wife reminds us of the people that get hurt by these scandals.

Musically it treads familiar ground with scenes of intrigue and scandal screaming Evita whilst scenes in the court House were very Superstar (sadly this made me miss Tim Rice).  There is a couple of standout numbers, carefully placed but with nothing like a Memory or Til I Hear You Sing, which may harm it in the long run. Though it lacks the confidence of Webber’s earlier work it’s still a wonder to listen to and no one quite does sung dialogue like our Andrew.

Visually this is one of his most dynamic, using simple curtains and projections to bring the world to life. Minimal sets come and go, bringing fluidity to the proceedings, freeing up the narrative. The projections use photos from the time, a brave move as it could be tasteless but instead it says to the audience “yes, this story happened and yes, it was extreme enough to inspire a musical”. I felt they genuinely added to the commentary.

Though I was never blown away by the show I enjoyed it immensely, I was happy just to sit there and watch it, the interval felt like an annoyance, I want to keep going. It was easy to follow, names were dropped clearly and the story never got too complex than what was required to paint a picture of the time. It looked fantastic and sounded great, as I have said, Stephen Ward is a fantastic musical, reminiscent of Aspects of Love and Tell Me On A Sunday, very even, more art than spectacle.

My one big criticism though is that in some places it feels like it’s playing a little too safe, a little like the music. A lot of what happened sexually in the 60s is tame by today’s standards and I think more could have been done to reflect attitudes at the time. I also think more depth could have been given to Ward, he may have been innocent of his crimes but he certainly wasn’t an innocent man, he knew what he was doing with his ladies and that would have been good to see.

What the big boys are saying… 

As I’m writing this the big reviews have come out and they’re surprisingly positive, I expected heads on chopping blocks but they’re recognizing this as a solid show. Audiences may feel different and there were a lot of grumbles around me, words like boring been a thrown about. A couple of Americans wanted dancing, a comment that made me want to scream RENT at them. But then the couple next to me, who I jumped on for their opinion said they were loving it and thought it was a great show.

The battle lines are drawn.

Webber has, and always will divide people, they’ll criticize him for something in one show, then moan he didn’t do the same in the next. Sadly a lot of people are looking for the next Phantom (which they didn’t want when they got it). But Stephen Ward is exactly what the West End needs, one of our greatest talents going back to basics and reminding the kids how it’s done. The show may not set the West End alight but it’s a bloody good evening and far from a guilty pleasure.

And to finish of, here’s Dusty Springfield’s musical take on the Profumo Affair…

http://pheatreland.co.uk/2013/12/20/video-of-the-day-dusty-springfield-nothing-has-been-proved/