Archive | June, 2011

The Sunday Night Singers present the Music of Jonathan Eiø, Canal Cafe Theatre

27 Jun

I attended The SUNDAY NIGHT SINGERS present the Music of Jonathan Eiø at the Canal Cafe Theatre yesterday. Jonathan was joined by Natalie Green, James Bisp, Laura Cottrell, Simon Ouldred, Amanda Roberts and Alex Ruocco, as well as Katie Brayben and Adam Rhys-Davies, who are both currently in John & Jen at the Landor Theatre.

As well as singing Jonathan Eiø’s own songs, they also performed songs from composers such as Jason Robert Brown and others. It was a perfect mix of comic songs and ballads and the cast was great. I especially liked the voices of James Bisp and Laura Cottrell.

I liked all the songs, but the highlights for me were:

Simon Ouldred’s first song. I unfortunately didn’t catch its title, but it was hilarious, as were his facial expressions.

I loved the song from John & Jen that Katie Brayben and Adam Rhys-Davies sang and it made me wish I could go and see it, which I unfortunately can’t. But the story sounds very intriguing and they both have great voices.

Around, sung by Alex Ruocco. It’s such a catchy song, I found it impossible to get it out my head for days after I first listened to it.

Sandbox is another incredibly beautiful song written by Jonathan Eiø. I love the lyrics.

Somehow, sung by James Bisp and Hey Louise, sung by Jonathan Eiø himself with the rest of the cast joining in, are my favourite songs on his album. James’s got one of the best voices I’ve ever heard.

I really enjoyed the afternoon, in spite of the incredible heat. How the singers coped I will never know, especially Simon Ouldred who came on in a jumper for aforementioned song.

Jonathan Eiø’s two albums are available from Dress Circle or iTunes. They are both great, but I think I slightly prefer the second one. It’s very easy to listen to and perfect to just relax.He writes stunning ballads, but also great uptempo songs.

He will also be a guest at Jack Shalloo’s cabaret at the Battersea Barge in August, for which you can book tickets here.

Scott Alan & Friends, Jermyn Street Theatre

26 Jun

For one night only, the American composer Scott Alan was back in London for a late-night concert at the Jermyn Street Theatre, organised by SimG Productions.

I love his music, mainly because I can relate to many of his songs and they are just beautiful, but I had never seen him live before.

He was joined by Stuart Matthew Price, Annalene Beechey, Ashleigh Gray, Bradley White-Dale, Cassie McIvor and Mark Evans for the evening.

The atmosphere was very relaxed, loads of joking and banter among the performers (and swearing from  Scott 😉 ) and apparently no rehearsals beforehand.

Scott started the concert with West from his album Keys. Lovely song and I really like his voice.

He then sang It’s Good To See You Again, the song he sang in his first ever concert in London at the Duchess Theatre.

Kiss The Air was next, sung by Bradley White-Dale . I love this song, but I wasn’t too keen on Bradley’s performance. I can’t even say what it was that I didn’t like, because he wasn’t bad in any way, but I think I just prefer other interpretations of that song.

After some not so nice comments about Betty Blue Eyes by Scott, Stuart Matthew Price sang Blessing, a song he wrote for his mother when he came out.I’ll just have to say it again, but I love the way he acts whatever song he sings.

Ashleigh Gray’s Never Neverland was stunning!

Mark Evans then sang a song that’s going to be on his new album, unfortunately I didn’t catch its title, but I’ll call it Waiting For You for now. It’s another beautiful song and I’m looking forward to hearing the recorded version.

Then Cassie McIvor sang Home, which apparently is about his dog. It’s one of my favourite songs and Cassie was great.

Having saved the best for last, Annalene Beechey sang a beautiful rendition of I Remember. She’s got such a gorgeous voice, simply stunning! As is the song.

The last song, sung again by Scott himself, was Anything Worth Holding On To. It’s one of the rare songs that are better at expressing what I feel/felt than I am myself and I’ll be forever grateful to Scott for writing about these things that nobody ever seems to talk about. Just the knowledge that you are not alone and there are other people out there, going through similar feelings, is comforting and I’m sure I’m not the only one getting this sort of comfort from Scott’s music.

Hopefully his sister really is moving to London, so that we can get many more Scott Alan concerts over here! In the meantime, go and buy his albums if you haven’t got them already! Either at Dress Circle or from his website .

Billy Elliot, Victoria Palace Theatre

23 Jun

Billy Elliot follows the story of eleven-year-old Billy and his struggle to fulfill his dream: to become a ballet dancer. Set against the backdrop of the Miner’s Strike, there are many obstacles he has to overcome until he successfully gains a place at the Royal Ballet School.

This was not my first time seeing the show, but it is one of the very few musicals in the West End at the moment that I could see again and again. It has a great story and I love most of the songs, especially the ensemble numbers.

At this performance, the role of Billy was played by Dean Charles Chapman, Michael by Reece Barrett and Debbie by Emily Williams. There were understudies/alternates on for Dad (David Bardsley), Tony (Stevie Hutchinson) and George (Derek Richards).

Dean was terrific as Billy. He just was Billy, totally believable from the beginning to the end. Nice singing voice as well and a great dancer of course. The Dream Ballet really was a dream, as was his Electricity. Also a very powerful Angry Dance and I love the shadow dance before Grandma’s Song. His acting during The Letter was great. There are some established West End actors who could learn something from this boy!

He and Reece made a great pair and seemed to have lots of fun during Expressing Yourself, another great number, in spite of one of Michael’s Dancing Dresses getting caught up in another.He has great comic timing, while at the same time always manages to maintain Michael’s vulnerability.

Emily was very good as Debbie, too, though I have to admit it’s not really a character I pay that much attention to.

Stevie Hutchinson as Tony. I have to  say first that Tony is probably the character I sympathise with most. I know that Billy is the main character and everybody roots for him, but, in the end, he gets what he wants. He has to fight for it of course, but, unlike Tony, he has a bright future ahead of him. For me, Tony represents just how much is at stake for the miners and the hopelessness of the whole situation. Therefore I’m extremely picky when it comes to how the part is played. Stevie, however, was pretty much perfect. Angry and agressive, but at the same time just desperate and frustrated, with the whole situation as well as with his Dad. There was great chemistry between him and David Bardsley and He Could Be A Star was very moving. I also liked the look he gave Billy during Deep Into The Ground,

David Bardsley was great as Dad. I loved his Deep Into The Ground. He also doesn’t play it as much for laughs as some other actors, especially during the Royal Ballet School audition, which I prefer. But my favourite bit is during Once We Were Kings, when he packs the suitcase with Billy and shows him how to fold his clothes neatly, only to crumple them up again. I just find it a really lovely touch.

I like Genevieve Lemon as Mrs Wilkinson. I don’t particularly like Shine and Born To Boogie, but she was great. I loved her in The Letter scene, however, and when she says goodbye to Billy. She sounded great with Kay Milbourne, who plays Dead Mum.

Diane Langton, Martin Marquez, Tom Lorcan

Diane Langton as Grandma I’m not so sure about. I did quite like her during Grandma’s Song, but for me, Grandma should be a bit more confused than Diane Langton played her.

I really liked Barnaby Meredith as Older Billy, amazing dancer. Sergio Giacomelli, who was on as the Scottish dancer didn’t sound very Scottish though, but I guess that’s a very minor flaw.

The ensemble is very strong, great singing and dancing. I love the ensemble numbers, especially The Stars Look Down, Solidarity and Once We Were Kings. The choreography in Solidarity is amazing and Once We Were Kings is probably my favourite song/scene in the musical.

One thing I’m not so keen on is Billy’s “Oh, sh*t” after he called his Dad a bastard. It just seems to be played for laughs and for me destroys the atmosphere of that scene. There were also some sound issues, mainly with microphones being turned on too late.

Nevertheless a great evening and I’ll probably end up seeing the show again sooner rather than later!

Stuart Matthew Price: All Things In Time – Barn Theatre, Oxted

22 Jun

Stuart Matthew Price is another great contemporary composer and performer and can be currently seen in the West End production of Shrek, where he plays one of the three little pigs. He also created the part of the Young Soldier/Frankie Epps in Parade (Donmar Warehouse), played Riff Raff  in The Rocky Horror Show (German Tour), Jordan in Departure Lounge (Edinburgh Fringe), Beyond The Gate and took part in several concerts.

He released his debut album All Things In Time last year and it’s amazing. It is a fantastic collection of new songs by both British and American songwriters and he’s not only got a stunning voice, but the emotion he displays in it is incredible. A definite must-have for any theatre fan!

I’ve been lucky enough to see Stuart Matthew Price in some other concerts these past few months, so my expectation were very high, but he just seems to get better and better.

This time he had a bigger orchestra instead of just a piano for accompaniment, which sounded great: Bob Broad (Keys 1/MD), Scott Alder (Keys 2/MD), Annmarie McDade (Violin), Lauren Steel (Cello), Charlie Laffer (Guitar) and Ida Hollis (Bass).

He opened the concert with The Old Red Hills Of Home from Jason Robert Brown’s Parade, which is also the first song on his album. It’s a great song (and musical) and hearing/seeing Stuart perform it live is always a treat.

Up next was Sonnet XXIX, which was written by “Jason Robert Brown’s wife” aka Georgia Stitt. I probably wouldn’t find it that funny (or funny it all) if I hadn’t seen her tweet this when I came home:

So he’s not the only one who doesn’t mention her by name. Lovely song and rendition!

Then his guest for the evening, Ashleigh Gray, came on stage to sing Wizard And I. I never saw her in Wicked, but I couldn’t agree more with Stuart: She’s simply incredible and has got one of the best voices I’ve ever heard.

Stuart then sang a shortened version of Being Alive from Company. I keep repeating myself, but it was amazing. Wonderful vocals and acting!

Next was one of Stuart’s own songs, Autumn Days from his musical The Diary of Me. It’s a lovely and very moving song. It’s one of my favourites on his album, so I had hoped he’d sing it again, and it sounded great.

Run Away With Me is another great song and Stuart did it more than justice!

Ashleigh Gray came back on stage to sing Free with Stuart. Such a lovely song, especially when sung by two so stupidly talented people.

The last song of the first half was Grateful. I can’t (and don’t want to) imagine anyone else singing that song anymore! It probably wasn’t his strongest performance of that song, but even when he is not 100 % he’s still pretty damn good (and better than most others).

The first song of the second half was another of Stuart’s own songs, Where I Want To Be. It’s a very catchy song, loved it!

Wishing For The Normal has been one of my favourite songs since I’ve heard it on the A Spoonful of Stiles & Drew album and I’d always hoped he’d sing it at his other cabarets. Finally, he did. It’s such a nice song and they were great.

He then sang the title track from his album, All Things In Time. It’s another incredibly beautiful song by Jason Robert Brown.

His Bring Him Home was stunning. I really hope he gets to play the part at some point, fortunately the musical doesn’t seem to go anywhere in the foreseeable future.

He then sang Last Night Of The World with Ashleigh Gray. This was probably my favourite song of the evening. It’s a wonderful song anyway, but hearing and watching those two sing it… Just wow!

The last song was Road To Heaven. I love the lyrics of this song and it sounded great with the bigger orchestra.

As an encore we were treated to Gethsemane. Is there any song this guy can’t sing?!? It was wonderful and he definitely deserved that standing ovation afterwards! I’ve never seen Jesus Christ Superstar on stage and only know it from the two film versions and the London Revival Cast Recording with Steve Balsamo. Until tonight, this had song never really moved me, but I found it almost painful to watch Stuart singing it because his acting was so intense.

That’s one of the things that I like so much about his concerts: He doesn’t just sing the songs beautifully, but he really acts them and takes you on a journey.

Another thing that makes his concerts so special are his introductions to the songs, which are hilarious, and sometimes rather long. The record is probably still held by his cabaret at the Landor Theatre, which lasted three hours because he was talking that much (I’m not complaining by the way, it didn’t feel long at all!). So among the random things we’ve learned tonight were that he apparently wants a dog, men hate shaving and would all wear long beards if they could, it took the British to make Shrek work, he feels like a little Jesus guy in Oxted while outside of the Barn he’s a little pig, it’s not easy to play the piano with pointed shoes and “Susan Boyle – The Musical” is like saying “My Right Foot – The Musical”.

All in all, a great evening with some great music and incredibly talented people! I’m looking forward to more concerts in the hopefully not too distant future!

And if you haven’t got Stuart’s album already, you can (and should) buy it at Dress Circle, because “you can’t sign a download”!

Speckulation Acoustic Sessions: Michael Bruce

20 Jun

After the release of his acclaimed debut album Unwritten Songs earlier this year, Michael Bruce gathered together some established (West End) performers as well as newcomers to perform his songs as part of the Speckulation Acoustic Sessions at The Pheasantry.

Michael Bruce is one of the most talented and versatile contemporary composers and I’ve listened to his album more times than I’d ever admit publicly. It’s a perfect mix of ballads and  uptempo songs with clever lyrics, and they’re all extremely catchy. Therefore I was very much looking forward to this evening and I was not disappointed.

Michael was joined by Tori Allen-Martin, Paul Spicer, Amelia Adams Pearce, Phoebe Fildes, Ben Alyn Francis, Helena Blackman, Dale Page, Sam Edwards and Stef Booth.

The first song, My Kind of World, was sung by Tori Allen-Martin. Stunning voice and a great start to the evening!

Next up was Even Then, sung by Paul Spicer. It’s one of my favourite songs on the album, it’s so beautiful. Paul’s got a great voice and it was wonderful hearing him sing it live.

The next song, I Want A Man, shows how versatile a composer Michael Bruce is and that he can’t really be placed in one genre. Amelia Adams Pearce and Tori Allen Martin did a great job with this upbeat and witty song.

Looking Back is another favourite song of mine, ever since I’ve heard it at the Apollo concert two years ago. Phoebe Fildes has got a stunning voice and it blended so well with Ben Alyn Francis’.

Helena Blackman’s It’s Not Gonna Rain was, in one word,  incredible. Beautiful song and beautifully performed!

Phoebe Fildes came back on stage for the next song, Someplace Beyond the Moon. She’s got such a lovely tone to her voice and I think I actually prefer her version to the one on the album.

The last song of the first half was Money, Honey sung by Dale Page with Tori Allen-Martin, Phoebe Fildes, Paul Spicer and Michael Bruce. It’s a more jazzy song and Dale Page did a great job. It’s the only song I often skip when listening to the album, but I really liked it yesterday.

The second half started with Don’t Wanna Leave You Now, which was sung by the man himself. It’s a very catchy song and I loved the acoustic version of it.

After a rather dramatic stage entrance, Amelia Adams Pearce sang What Do You Do?. Written for a charity auction, this song had never been performed before, which is a shame, because it’s hauntingly beautiful.

Next up was Sam Edwards with Away. He’s another new talent and had sung the song at Michael Bruce’s album launch earlier this year. It’s a stunning song and Sam Edwards was wonderful, very strong voice.

Christmas songs in June? Why not 😉 First up was Stef Booth singing Children. It’s the song Michael Bruce won the Notes For The Stage competition with in 2007 and it’s one of the most beautiful songs I’ve ever heard. Stef Booth has a wonderful voice, too.

Then Helena Blackman sang the rather cheeky This Christmas. Very funny song and witty lyrics.

Unwritten Song was sung by Paul Spicer. It’s my absolutely favourite song on the album, mainly because it’s the only one I could instantly relate to when I listened to it for the first time. Beautiful, moving lyrics and Paul Spicer almost moved me to tears with his interpretation.

The last song of the evening, The Musical Theatre Song, was sung by Michael Bruce again. It’s a hilarious song and was the perfect ending to a wonderful evening.

While the evening felt a bit short, I wouldn’t have missed it for anything. Michael Bruce is definitely one to watch out for, and, after having already seen The Great British Country Fete last summer, I’ll keep my fingers crossed for seeing another full musical by him in the not too distant future.

You can buy Michael Bruce’s debut album Unwritten Song at Dress Circle or download it on iTunes.

Spring Awakening, UK Tour

10 Jun

When Frank Wedekind’s play Frühlings Erwachen – Eine Kindertragödie was published in 1891 it caused a scandal and it wasn’t until 1906 that it was performed at the Berliner Kammerspiele under the direction of Max Reinhardt. For decades it had been banned or subjected to censorship due to its alleged obscene content.

While some people claim that the play is now dated, I couldn’t disagree more and this musical adaption shows that it is still as relevant as it was when Wedekind first wrote it. Suicide is one of the most common causes of death among teenagers, teenage pregnancies, peer pressure – it all still exists.

I must admit that I wasn’t won over by the musical when I saw it during it’s very short West End run a couple of years ago. I liked the songs, but it didn’t move me in any way. I’ve read the original play many times and it’s one of the most intense and thought-provoking plays I know, but the performances left me completely cold.

That, however, has changed now. I thought this cast was phenomenal. Victoria Serra (Wendla) has a lovely voice and was very believable. Both Billy Cullum (Moritz) and Jonathan Eio (Melchior) have strong voices, but is was their acting that impressed me most. It was so honest and sincere, I personally don’t know how they manage to go through all these emotion every day (or even twice a day). And Then There Were None, Don’t Do Sadness, Left Behind and Those You’ve Known were the highlights of the show for me.

James Benn (Hanschen) and Zachary Morris (Ernst) worked very well together, and for once there was no laughing during their scene in Act II.

I liked Anna McGarahan’s voice in The Dark I Know Well, it blended so well with Jill Armour’s (Ilse), but I still think that the staging of this song is dreadful. It just didn’t work for me and lost all its impact.

Daniel Buckley (Otto),  Natalie Green (Thea), Jess Mack (Anna), Dale Page (Georg), Jane Stanton (Adult Woman), Robert Eyles (Adult Male) were good too, though they have less to work with than the others.

The only weakness of the production is, in my opinion, the direction. Some of it works really well, but other scenes (such as the aforementioned The Dark I Know Well and the graveyard scene) just don’t and are awkward to watch. The talented cast make up for this, however, and I’m glad I saw it.

I did wonder though, to what extent the German surnames and their meanings are lost on an English audience. Not that it’s really important, it just crossed my mind.

Lord of the Flies, Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre

7 Jun

I read William Golding’s novel Lord of the Flies a couple of years ago, therefore I was very interested in seeing this adaption.

Toovey

It is about a group of school boys, who are the only survivors of a plane crash and try to govern themselves on a deserted island, with a terrible outcome.

Once again the Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre managed to transform the auditorium and stage perfectly for this play. Smoke machines add to the atmosphere of a recent plane crash even before it starts and the set is simple, but very effective.

I was told that the cast members are between 17 and 23 years old and for most of them it is their professional debut. All the more, kudos to them! They were great!

The two main characters, Ralph and Jack, were played by Alistair Toovey and James Clay. Both of them werefantastic and there was great chemistry between them.

Toovey gave a great performance as the reasonable, polite and elected leader of the group, and especially in the end I found it heartbreaking to watch him.

Clay

James Clay was outstanding. He completely stayed in character throughout the play (and even the curtain call – no smiling etc.), to the extent that he actually seemed posessed. It was fascinating to watch him change from the prefect of the choir boys to the unrestrained, bestial personality.

I liked George Bukhari as Piggy. There was a great rapport between him and Toovey.

James McConville and Stuart Matthews as Sam and Eric were great and both looked so incredibly young (and alike!). There was just something about them that made me  watching them even when the focus wasn’t on them.

Simon was played by Joshua Williams and his last scene must be one of the most chilling moments I’ve ever witnessed in a theatre. Superbly acted!

McConville and Matthews

Matt Ingram, Jordan Maxwell, Sam Clemmett and Theo Cowan as Roger, Maurice, Bill and Henry shone as well, as did 9 year old Harrison Sansostri, who played the part of Perceval at this performance.

I loved the staging and choreography of the play. Especially the fight scenes were very impressive. The use of freeze frames was very effective and added to the atmosphere. I saw a matinee, but I actually wish I had gone to an evening performance. Watching the second act in the twilight with all the smoke and torches must be incredible.

Nevertheless, I was mesmerised the whole way through. It is a very faithful adaption of the book seeing it acted out by such a  young and enthusiastc cast was very moving.

If you can get there before it closes, do it! It’s well worth it!

Toovey and Bukhari