Archive | October, 2011

Dougal Irvine’s ‘Acoustic Overtures’ Launch, Battersea Barge

30 Oct

Dougal Irvine is probably best known as the composer of the award-winning musical “Departure Lounge” that ran at the Waterloo East Theatre last year. On the 1st November he is going to release his debut album “Acoustic Overtures” on SimG Records.

Unfortunately some of the original performers couldn’t be there (apparently they are all in Colorado…), but it was a simply amazing afternoon and was a treat to hear all of the songs sung live.

The first song was “Mr Musical”, sung by the amazing Katie Bernstein. It’s a great song full of musical references. I’m still trying to work out how many exactly. Great fun and performance by Katie.

Next up was “Clean Cut Rapper”, sung by Dougal himself with Sarah Lark and Sarah Earnshaw as backing singers. Again, it’s a fun song and I think his sense of humour is brilliant.

The third song “Two Faces” was the total opposite of the first two. It’s a very moving and beautiful song, I fell in love with it when I heard Ashleigh Gray sing it back in April. This time it was sung by Sarah Earnshaw, who was incredible as well.

“Silence and the Rain” was sung by Dougal Irvine and Cassie McIvor. It’s another stunning song, probably one of my favourites.

Then Dougal sang “The Morning After You Do It”. It’s a very rocky song, loved it.

Katie Bernstein came back on stage to sing “Megan’s Hero”. It’s a lovely and quite fun song, loved her performance.

Next was “Tir Nan Og”, sung by Annalene Beechey and Dougal Irvine. I simply love Annalene’s voice, ever since I’ve heard both of them sing exactly this song at the Perfect Pitch Fundraiser last year. Hearing it again was just amazing and I still think that hers is the ultimate interpretation of this song.

The next song is not part of “Acoustic Overtures”. It was “Do You Know What I Think of You” from Departure Lounge, but with different lyrics and sung by Steven Webb and Dougal Irvine. It just was incredibly funny and one of the highlights for me.

Steven Webb then sang “Simple”. It’s such a beautiful song and suited Steven’s voice perfectly. Stunning.

Dougal then sang “Do You Want a Baby Baby”. Again a very funny song and I enjoyed hearing Dougal singing it himself.

The next song is not part of “Acoustic Overtures” either, “Values”. It’s a lovely song.

“Mermaids” was sung by Annalene Beechey and Sarah Lark. It was stunning, their voices sounded amazing and it’s a hauntingly beautiful song.

Sarah Earnshaw, Sarah Lark, Dougal Irvine and Peter White then sang “We Need Love”. For me, Sarah Earnshaw’s voice stood out in this song, but it’s another brilliant song.

The last song was “Song For Friends”, sung by Dougal again. It was the perfect ending for a wonderful Sunday afternoon.

Dougal Irvine is an incredibly versatile and talented composer and this album is an absolute treat with some of the best performers in the West End . I’ve listened to it as soon as I got home and it sounds wonderful. It’s a great mix of songs and well worth buying. You can buy it British Theatre  and iTunes from Tuesday.

Nevermore, Courtyard Theatre

18 Oct

After seeing Notion Theatre Company’s first production (Edges, Landor Theatre) earlier this year, I was quite excited when they announced their second production, the UK premiere of Nevermore. Nevermore is based on the work of Edgar Allen Poe with music by Matt Conner and a book by Grace Barnes. It cleverly interweaves his poems and short stories with his life to a haunting and dark tale of obsession.

I didn’t really know anything about the musical, but right from the start I was sucked into the atmosphere of Poe’s dark world. The songs fit this musical (and Poe’s poems) perfectly. They are truly haunting and beautiful, and in a strange way, exciting.

The cast was excellent throughout. Adam Bayjou (Edgar) more than held his own in an otherwise completely female cast, great voice and acting. To My Mother was beautiful. He was completely believable as the troubled poet.  I loved Joanna Kirkland’s  (Mother) voice. Erica Birtles was very sweet as Virginia. She really brought across the innocence and naivety of a young girl. Kimberley Newell’s (Whore) voice was stunning, especially her Eldorado and Dreams. Ambra Caserotti was great as Muddy, loved her in Annabel Lee as well as her scenes with Edgar. Anna Simmons as Elmira was very strong, she has a lovely voice. Her duet, Fairyland, with Edgar, was beautiful.

Amanda Black, Gabriella Flowers, Bethan Foresy, Rebecca Hickey, Kay Victoria Hindmarsh, Katie McHardy and Tanya Stephens as Village Women were great, too. They added a lot to the atmosphere of the musical and when they all sang at the same time/joined in it was amazing, e.g. the reprise of Eldorado, To My Mother, Silence and Annabel Lee. My favourite song was the last one, Dreams. It sounds like a cliché, but it really sent shivers down my spine.

I was surprised at how big the stage at the Courtyard Theatre is (compared to other fringe venues obviously), but they used the space very effectively and I really liked the choreography by Ellie Rutherford and the lightning (Tom Cooper). It all just works together perfectly.

Nevermore only runs until the 23rd October at the Courtyard Theatre. I’d highly recommend this production to everyone. It is very intense, but I enjoyed every minute of it. It’s an exciting new musical with an excellent, young  cast (and one of the strongest I’ve seen in any  fringe production). There are so many talented performers out there and I’m glad that Notion Theatre Company gives some of them a chance to shine and they definitely do.

I have seen many great fringe production in the past year, but Nevermore is up there with the best of them, so go and see it while you can!

You can book tickets online or phone 0844 477 1000. You can also follow Notion Theatre on Twitter to keep up with their next projects.

David McMullan, Cabaret in the House

16 Oct

The new season of Cabaret in the House started off with David McMullan (Mary Poppins, Hairspray, Love Never Dies in the West End and most recently Ragtime at the Landor Theatre) and Holly Julier (Secret Garden, Edinburgh and Toronto). Lauderdale House is a lovely venue, even though it can be a bit of a hassle to get to Highgate on weekends.

Holly Julier has a great voice and is incredible versatile. She began with Gorgeous from The Apple Tree, then sang a wonderful rendition of Wait a Bit from Stiles & Drewe’s Just So. Her other songs were Green Finch and Linnet Bird from Sweeney Todd, Special from Avenue Q, There Are Worse Things I Could Do from Grease, Not A Day Goes By from Merrily We Roll Along, Hold On and How Could I Ever Know from The Secret Garden, Hold Down the Fort from John and Jen, Where Is It Written? from Yentl, I Could Have Danced All Night from My Fair Lady and finally Gimme Gimme from Thoroughly Modern Milly. I loved her mix of more classical musical theatre and modern songs. Most of them are among my favourite songs anyway, so it was lovely to hear them sung so well live.

After a short interval it was time for David McMullan. He began with This is the Moment (from Jekyll & Hyde), which then turned into a disastrous (and very funny) audition. Then he sang Climbing Uphill, but with a running commentary of his thought process during an audition. Again, very funny, and the remark about Richard Blackwood definitely got the most laughs.

His Who I’d Be from Shrek was great. I’ve never heard the song sung (live) by a good singer before. I also loved his What Do You Do With a BA in Performance, especially the line “Although I can pirouette, I can’t pay the bills yet”, followed by I Want To Be a Rockette and a personalised version of Alto’s Lament, which were both brilliant.

After that he sang a beautiful Anthem from Chess. I thought his voice suited this song perfectly. He then moved on to the “sentimental” part of the afternoon and first sang Proud of Your Boy and then What Do I Need With Love.

I never thought that a song about tea could be so entertaining, but his Ode to Tea/Have a Cuppa was both wonderfully sung and funny. Standing on the Corner was great too, I just liked how he made all these songs his own. Lots of great Jersey Boys/Mary Poppins references in this one.

His last song (before the encore of course) was a mash-up of Dancin’ Fool, I Could Have Danced All Night and some other songs about dancing. The encore was a medley of songs you should never sing at an audition: And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going, Defying Gravity, Rain On My Parade, As Long As He Needs Me, maybe some others too.

It was the perfect ending for a great afternoon. David McMullan has such a beautiful voice and he seems to be a born entertainer. As much as I loved the more comedic numbers, the ballads really showed off his voice.

I don’t think I could have spent those two hours any better than watching these two talented, young performers and I hope I get the chance to see them on a stage again soon.

David McMullan will appear in Pippin at the Menier Chocolate Factory from 22 November.

Stand Tall, Landor Theatre

13 Oct

Stand Tall is a new musical with music by Aldie Chalmers and Sandy Chalmers and book and lyrics by Lee Wyatt-Buchan. This production is directed by Simon Greiff.

It is a modern re-telling of the Biblical story of David and Goliath with a contemporary rock score. Here, David (Ryan O’Donnell) is a shepherd by day and a rock star by night. His life is alright until the mystical Black Sheep (Keisha Amponsa-Banson) chooses him to become the new King. He isn’t so sure about that, especially as he is also in love with Princess Mia (Natasha Barnes), the daughter of King Saul (Martin Pirongs). When word gets around that he is supposed to be the new King, Goliath (Jack Shalloo) becomes jealous and angry and starts to threaten and attack David. He finally challenges him to a guitar battle to decide who should become King and get Princess Mia. David has only one option: He needs to stand tall!

I did enjoy this musical, probably more than some other rock musicals out there (which shall remain unnamed). There are some good songs in it. I especially liked Goliath’s Song, Hold Me/Don’t Cry and of course the title song Stand Tall. Having said that, I don’t think they were very memorable though and I think the different styles don’t add anything to the musical, apart from making it appear very fragmented.

Ryan O’Donnell makes a great David and he’s got a very good voice. He was very believable and I especially liked his interactions with the Black Sheep.

Keisha Amponsa-Banson as the Black Sheep acts as a sort of narrator to the whole story, she holds it together and keeps it going. She’s got an incredible voice and has some great one-liners.

Natasha Barnes as Princess Mia has a very sweet voice and I liked her performance a lot. Personally, I find Mia not a very interesting character, but she made the most of it. She and Ryan O’Donnell had great chemistry and I loved their duet towards the end of the show (So Indecisive).

I loved Jack Shalloo’s Goliath. He always seems to play a similar type of character, but he was great. Menacing, but also vulnerable. He’s got a very distinctive voice and it suited these songs perfectly.

I wasn’t too keen on Martin Pirongs, who plays King Saul, Cassius and Jessie (the fathers of Goliath and David). There was absolutely nothing wrong with his performance, so I think the main reason for this was the he was very quiet and I found it hard to hear him most of the time. Out of the three parts I probably preferred his King Saul.

Despite all this, I left the theatre not really knowing what to think of the musical and it took me a while to figure out what it was. I personally find the story and most of the characters too simplistic. It isn’t bad, but they could have made so much more out of it. I thought the characters weren’t really three-dimensional, with the exception of Goliath and, to a lesser extent, David. This made it difficult for me to really  get “into” the story. The cast worked very well together and you couldn’t tell it was the first ever performance, but there was just something missing. I somehow expected to be more moved by it, as it sounds so promising. Yes, there is an anti-bullying message, but it could have been explored more. There is a lot more focus on David’s self-esteem issues and Goliath’s abusive father. So for me, while I liked the concept of the show, it was a bit of a missed opportunity.

However, as I said before, I did enjoy it and the story isn’t in any way worse compared to those unnamed rock musicals, but I think it needs a lot of reworking.

The musical runs until the 12th November 2011 at the Landor Theatre in Clapham (which is a lovely venue by the way, by far my favourite fringe theatre!). There is also a four track studio recording (with a different cast) available, which can be purchased here.

Les Misérables, Queen’s Theatre, October 2011

11 Oct

I didn’t really plan on reviewing Les Misérables again, but after seeing the current cast for the second time and feeling a lot more positive about most of them, I think I should.

First of all, at this performance the part of Valjean was played by Jonathan Williams.  Out of the seven different Valjeans I’ve seen, he’s without a doubt my favourite.  For me, his is the perfect characterisation and his acting is incredible. He sang one of the best Soliloquies that I have heard and his Bring Him Home is wonderful! He just makes the character so real.

Cameron Blakely, who has taken over as Thénardier, gets the balance between funny and menacing just right, as did Leanne Rogers (u/s), who was on as Mme Thénardier.

I quite enjoyed Caroline Sheen’s Fantine this time. There were some parts I’m still not too keen on, but overall she gave a good performance.

After being pretty harsh on Liam Tamne’s Enjolras last time, I’m glad to say that I really liked him. He seems to be a lot more comfortable with the part now and vocally he was flawless.

Craig Mather is still incredibly strong as Marius, as is Lisa Anne Wood as Cosette.

My opinion of Hadley Fraser and Alexia Khadime, unfortunately, hasn’t changed (You can read it here). The only thing I’ll say now is that Fraser’s Javert is so over the top that it’s almost hilarious.

The ensemble is very strong. It was nice seeing George Miller back on stage as Courfeyrac.

All in all, this performance reminded me of just how good Les Misérables can be and I am glad I went to see it again.

You’re A Good Man Charlie Brown, Tabard Theatre

5 Oct

You’re A Good Man Charlie Brown is a musical based on the Peanuts comic strip by Charles M. Schulz, with book, music and lyrics by Clark Gesner. This production is directed by the renowned lyricist Anthony Drewe. It first opened at an off-Broadway theatre in 1967, so all I can say is that I am glad it has finally made it to the UK, where it is now  shown for the first time at the Tabard Theatre in London.

It features all the familiar Peanuts characters: Schroeder, Lucy, Linus, Snoopy, Sally and of course Charlie Brown. The story is quite simple, a bit cheesy, very funny and, most of all, heart-warming. I just couldn’t help smiling through-out most of the musical, because it was a joy to watch such a charming little musical. It’s all about friendship and growing-up and what makes someone good.

Charlie Brown is played by Lewis Barnshaw (who I last saw as Cooking Stove on the very same stage!). He is wonderfully naive, endearing and awkward. You just can’t help liking him.

Mark Anderson plays Snoopy. His dry comments and monologues probably got the most laughs tonight, and not only because he accidentally broke off one of the wooden propeller blades of his “doghouse plane”. Suppertime was one of the highlights of the show for me.

Hayley Gallivan as Sally Brown is great, too. She has an incredible voice and is very funny. I especially liked her in My New Philosophy.

Leanne Jones is probably best known for playing Tracy Turnblad in Hairspray and now we get her as Lucy van Pelt. She was so funny in her “survey” scene, but she also has some nice, less crabby moments in the show. Great chemistry with Adam Ellis.

Adam Ellis plays Linus van Pelt, Lucy’s younger brother. I think the word that best sums his performance up is sweet, especially his lisp. And he’s incredibly funny too. My Blanket and I was amazing!

Nathaniel Morrison as Schroeder was very good as well. His expressions in some scenes (Schroeder for one, or Glee Club Rehearsal) were priceless and he has a great voice.

The set was simple, yet clever and I loved it! I really liked how the kite flying is done and the way they just transform the doghouse in a blackboard, aeroplane etc. Schroeder’s piano is wonderful too. The same can be said for the choreography, especially the ensemble numbers. They were a joy to watch, there even is a tap number!

My only (minor) quibble is, as so often, the sound. They don’t use microphones and I thought that (mostly) the drums were too loud and drowned out some of the singing. I found it especially difficult to hear Lewis Barnshaw and Mark Anderson, but it improved a bit towards the end. It is a real shame though, because they both give such excellent performances.

Musically, I wouldn’t exactly call it a masterpiece, but it fits the story and the characters perfectly, which is the only thing that matters to me. The songs are quite catchy though and I am sure I won’t get them out of my head for at least a couple of days. The only song I was familiar with beforehand is the last song, Happiness, which makes a quite moving conclusion. As much as I dislike the idea that everything must have a deep, meaningful and hidden message, I think this musical does with this song.

To sum up: entertaining, incredibly talented cast, nice story and songs, great choreography, what more could you possibly ask for?! It runs until the 30th October and you can book tickets online or call 0208 995 6035.

If happiness is anyone and anything at all that’s loved by you (to quote the last song), this production of You’re  A Good Man Charlie Brown IS happiness! It definitely made me happy.

Please note that I attended the second (and last) preview, so there still might be some changes!

Joseph, UK Tour, Churchill Theatre Bromley

4 Oct

This wasn’t my first time seeing the musical or the tour, but the first time with this cast. As much as I love more serious musicals, Joseph never fails to cheer me up. It’s incredibly cheesy, but has such catchy songs and is simply a bit of light-hearted fun.

Before I say anything about the cast, I have to say that this production is very tacky and cheap-looking. The inflatable sheep didn’t even want to stand up properly tonight, the “golden chariot” is ridiculous (and I’m not sure if I’m supposed to find it funny?!), as are Jacob’s children at the beginning of Jacob & Sons and some of the costumes. I know I shouldn’t compare it to the most recent West End production, but it was just a bit more subtle, especially with the costumes. I really don’t think it needs the cowboy hats, the Eiffel Tower background or the “tropical bird jackets”, but that’s just personal preference. However, I couldn’t help noticing that also some of the songs seemed to be a lot slower and therefore some of them dragged a bit and weren’t as funny as they could have been. That was most noticeable during Those Canaan Days for me.

Keith Jack, who lost out to Lee Mead in Any Dream Will Do and became 2nd a couple of years ago, finally gets to play the part on tour now. I didn’t really pay too much attention to Any Dream Will Do back then, but I remember that I thought that he had quite a good voice. Tonight, however, I was very disappointed. For once, his acting was very wooden and his facial expression in Close Every Door can probably best be compared to the one of a 5-year-old who has just dropped his ice-cream. But his diction was a bit odd as well, though I can’t really put my finger on it. It just didn’t sound very natural. I’m not sure if it has anything to do with this, but his singing was rather on the weak side too, and I found it quite difficult to hear him when the ensemble joined in. That wasn’t helped by the fact that he just had no stage presence whatsoever. I know it sounds very harsh, but I’m sure that every other person on that stage (the girls included!) could have given a stronger, more rounded portrayal.

Now to the positive things: Jennifer Potts was fabulous as the Narrator. She has a great voice and I loved her acting. For me, she was the true star of the show!

I don’t think Henry Metcalfe will ever leave this production, but he’s a good Jacob. I like the way he wraps Benjamin in his coat during Any Dream Will Do (Reprise), it’s just a lovely touch.

Adam Jarrell seemed to have a lot of fun as the Pharaoh and I liked  Song of the King.

The last time I saw it, the ensemble was a bit all over the place (different cast), but tonight they worked very well together and I just love all the Brothers’ songs. I found that Shaun McCourt, especially, had great stage presence, and Kevin Grogan as Benjamin was very good, too (though I always find it a bit weird that he just lies down and goes to sleep at the end of Benjamin Calypso?! But that’s down to the direction obviously…).

The girls don’t really have much stage time, but they made the most of it and were great in every scene.

All in all, I had an enjoyable evening, but that was entirely down to the musical itself and a very strong supporting cast. Having seen some previous Joseph understudies (who, incidentally, all turned out to be better than the principal), I’d quite like to see the present understudy, Shaun McCourt, in the part. Hopefully I will manage to do that when/if the tour returns to the London area.