Archive | November, 2011

Les Misérables, Queen’s Theatre, November 2011

27 Nov

This isn’t a review of a single show, but I’ve seen quite a few understudies lately, so I thought I’d just review them together:

Chris Jacobsen

Christopher Jacobsen – Valjean. I really enjoyed his portrayal, he’s a wonderful actor and singer and really makes you forget that you’re just watching someone pretending to be Valjean. For me, he’s almost up there with Jonathan Williams. He adds so many little touches and puts so much emotion behind every word. I loved him in What Have I Done and especially in Valjean’s Confession. I’m looking forward to seeing him again at some point.


Chris Key

Chris Key – Valjean. I’m not quite sure what I think of him. Acting wise I thought he was very, very good, but I found his voice quite weak, especially his upper register. He did get better in the second half though. I loved how he almost follows the Bishop off stage to give him the candlesticks back. I’m generally more picky about acting, so I still enjoyed his performance very much and I’m sure he’ll only get better the more often he gets to go on.


James Smoker

James Smoker – Bishop. James is a very endearing and quite quirky Bishop. He’s got an almost constant twinkle in his eyes (and he actually reminds me a lot of Albus Dumbledore…) and a very strong voice. It’s just a short scene, but I loved his interaction with both Christopher Jacobsen and Chris Key.


Scott Garnham

Scott Garnham – Enjolras. Again, I’m in two minds about him. His Enjolras is very dominant and has got the required leadership skills. He’s also very charismatic and interacts a lot with the other students. His voice just didn’t sound very strong that night. When I saw him as Marius, it was exactly the other way round (very strong vocals, but not so great acting), so he probably just had an off-night. I would love to see him again at some point.


Adam Linstead

Adam Linstead – Thénardier. I don’t like it when the Thénardiers are simply portrayed as some sort of clowns. Yes, they provide a few more light-hearted (on the surface anyway) scenes, but they should be sinister more than anything. Adam Linstead seems to be more of a funny Thénardier. I did like him in Master of the House and thought he was alright in Dog Eats Dog, but I didn’t like him at all in the Wedding scene. His ad-libbing reminded me too much of Matt Lucas.


Daryl Armstrong

Daryl Armstrong – Grantaire. He’s definitely a very different Grantaire and doesn’t seem to have any relationship with Enjolras (He was played by Liam Tamne that night) whatsoever. In the Café scene and Do You Hear the People Sing he constantly mocks Enjolras and shows nothing but contempt for him after Drink With Me. I’m not sure if I like it, but it worked within the context of the show, especially as Liam isn’t a particularly forceful or determined Enjolras.


A special mention to James Charlton and George Miller, who I have seen in quite a few different tracks now. I particularly liked James’ Feuilly and George is great as both Courfeyrac and Combeferre.

James Charlton & George Miller

From next week, Chris Key will play Valjean each Monday and Christopher Jacobsen each Thursday night.


Pippin, Menier Chocolate Factory

27 Nov

Pippin is a musical by Stephen Schwartz and Roger O’Hirson and is (very) loosely based on the life of Pippin, son of Charlemagne. It is more a general coming-of-age story, where Pippin tries to find his place in the world and searches for fulfillment. Schwartz’s score is quite poppy and there are some very catchy songs in it.

The staging is very futuristic. The musical technically begins once you leave the bar area when you walk past Pippin staring into a computer screen before entering the auditorium, which turns out to be the inside of his computer. The Leading Player (Matt Rawle) and his troupe guide us through the story, which is structured like a computer game, where Pippin, as new member of the troupe, has to pass each level to get to the next one. The choreography (based on the original Broadway choreography by Bob Fosse) is exciting and I loved the way they used screens and projections and especially the non-solid walls. It made for a very intense theatrical experience.

Harry Hepple makes a great Pippin, he’s got a lovely voice. Ian Kelsey as his father Charlemagne is as authoritative as you’d expect him to be.  Matt Rawle oozes charisma as the Leading Player, but I found him quite hard to understand sometimes, amazing voice though. Louise Gold as Pippin’s grandmother Berthe  won the audience over with her karaoke-style song. I liked Frances Ruffelle as Pippin’s stepmother Fastrada, but I found her a bit wooden sometimes. David Page plays her violent and not-so-clever son Lewis, another very strong performance. Carly Bawden is a very sweet and gently Catherine with a wonderful voice, and I also liked Stuart Neal as her son Theo. Ben Bunce, Bob Harms, Holly James, Anabel Kutay, David McMullan and Kate Tydman are all amazing dancers. It’s just an incredibly strong cast.

I found this production very dark and disturbing. There are some more light-hearted moments in it, but the dark theme prevails throughout the musical. It’s probably one of those productions that people either love or hate, there were several audience member who didn’t return after the interval, but I firmly belong to the first group. It’s one of the most exciting shows I’ve seen this year and I’m looking forward to seeing it again later in its run.

Pippin runs until the 25th February 2011 at the Menier Chocolate Factory and you can book tickets online or by phone 020 7378 1713.

One word of warning though: The auditorium was/is incredibly hot!

Self Taught, Still Learning – Chris Passey (Album Review)

15 Nov

Chris Passey’s debut album Self Taught, Still Learning has just been released in aid of the MS Society and Cancer Research. It contains 11 original songs, which are performed by well-known performers.

The first number, Comedy Introduction is by Miranda Sings (aka Colleen Ballinger), who introduces the album, the concept of charity work (or rather her idea of it) and her song. As the title suggests, it’s very funny and just typical Miranda.

Blue Sky Thinking is the first song, sung by Lauren Samuels. It’s very catchy with a beautiful melody and lyrics. Lauren sounds great.

In My Arms: This is sung by Liam Tamne. It is one of the highlights of the album for me, especially because of the lyrics.

Take Me With You: This is a duet sung by Siobhan Dillon and Simon Lipkin. Their voices sound incredible together and it’s a beautiful, yet sad song.

Lifeline: Caroline Keiff sings this stunning song. It’s got a very sad undertone, but it’s also full of hope. I really like it.

You Were Mine: This is a more upbeat, yet still melancholy, song sung by Chloe Hart, Trevor Jary, Zoe Rainey and Wayne A. Robinson.

How Would They Feel? This song is sung by Chris Passey himself and is my favourite song of the album. It’s a very, very moving song and Chris’s voice sounds magnificent. Just perfect.

Three Tiny Words: I heard this song at the A Night For Jennifer Gala and loved it. Here it is sung by Allyson Ava-Brown, who does a great job with it. It’s a very powerful ballad.

If They Only Knew: I love Kieran Brown’s voice on this. It’s another stunning ballad, beautiful in every way.

Sin That I Am: This is sung by Mark Evans and Ross Hunter. It’s a very catchy, quite upbeat song and I think it suits both their voices perfectly.

Room For Me: Another highlight for me, sung by the talented Richard Meek. A wonderful ballad.

Worthy: As Miranda, Colleen Ballinger does her best to convince us that she can’t sing at all, but here she shows just how beautiful her voice is. Another ballad with powerful lyrics.

Worthy (live): The Miranda Version of the song. It’s as hysterical as you’d expect it to be.

What I noticed most when listening to this album is the beauty and expressiveness of the lyrics. Together with the rich and catchy tunes, this makes Self Taught, Still Learning a unique listening experience. For me, it exceeded any expectations I had beforehand and shows yet again just how many talented British composers are out there who just wait for their chance.

You can buy Self Taught, Still Learning on iTunes, from Dress Circle or British Theatre.






Divas Sing Scott Alan, Arts Theatre

14 Nov

Scott Alan

After the success of his previous concerts in London, Scott Alan returned for this one-night only concert. Due to popular demand a second concert was added for the evening. Scott was joined by Natalie Weiss, Cassie McIvor, Ashleigh Gray, Chloe Hart, Jodie Jacobs, Sarah Earnshaw and Daniel Boys.  There were also two unexpected special guests…

The concert started with Natalie Weiss singing “I Am a Star”. She’s got an amazing voice, what a great start to the evening.

Next was Ashleigh Gray with “West”. It’s one of my favourite songs by Scott Alan and Ashleigh is such a talented performer. Stunning!

Chloe Hart sang an amazing rendition of “Easy”

This was followed by another amazing performance: Cassie McIvor singing “I’m Not Ready Yet to Grieve”.

Jodie Jacobs came on stage to sing “Surrender”. This song really showed off her voice, loved it.

Sarah Earnshaw’s “Again” was lovely!

“Magic” was sung by Ashleigh Gray. Just perfect.

Natalie Weiss sang a great acoustic version of “Distance You Have Come”.

Then Scott Alan came on stage and sang “It’s Good to See You Again”. It always feel special to me somehow when I see composers perform their own material.

Sarah Earnshaw came back to sing “Watch Me Soar”. Another lovely song and her voice really did soar.

Then Natalie Weiss was joined by the Divo of the evening, Daniel Boys, to sing “Nothing More” Their voices sounded lovely together and it’s such a beautiful song too.

Daniel stayed on to sing “Kiss the Air”. A truly amazing performance! He’s got one of the best voices I’ve heard.

“Say Goodbye” was sung by Cassie McIvor again. What a voice!

For the next song, Scott invited 5 aspiring performers to the stage (randomly picked from the audience), who each sang a couple of lines from “Never Neverland” before one of them was chosen to sing the whole song. The winner, and deservedly so,  was Ziggie Sky Ward. No rehearsals, nothing, but she still nailed it. They couldn’t have chosen anyone better.

Next up were some songs from Scott’s new musical “Home”. The first was “My Life” sung by Scott himself. I liked it, especially the lyrics.

Jodie Jacobs and Natalie Weiss then sang “Home”. It’s such an uplifting song.

“And There It Is” was sung by Natalie Weiss again, followed by Chloe Hart’s “I Wish”. Beautiful songs and performances!

Ashleigh Gray then performed a new song from “Home”, “Getting High”. It was quite cheeky, but also very sad in parts.

The next song was another surprise. Stuart Matthew Price was in the audience and was asked by Scott to perform “Free” with Ashleigh Gray. I love the duet version of it and hearing it sung by such talented performers was wonderful.

The last song was sung by Scott again. He asked the audience what they wanted to hear and “Now” turned out to be the most popular. It was a great ending to the concert.

In-between songs there was the usual Scott Alan banter, including lots of swearing. Sometimes it just feels a bit too much for me (not the swearing, just in general), but it’s all part of the fun I guess. It definitely was a hugely enjoyable evening with stunning performances.

Rock of Ages, Shaftesbury Theatre

13 Nov

Rock of Ages is the latest Broadway transfer, a juke-box musical with rock songs from the 1980s and practically no story.

It centres around The Bourbon Room, a club that has to close because of a redevelopment project by a German business man and his son. The two owners manage to convince Stacee Jaxx and his band to give their last performance in their club where he started his career. The two protagonists however are Drew and Sherrie, an aspiring rock star who works in The Bourbon Room and a hopeful actress. They meet, fall in love, split up doe to some misunderstanding before being reunited again.

The “story” is held together by Lonny, who acts as a narrator and frequently breaks the fourth wall and directly adresses the audience.

Fortunately, Rock of Ages doesn’t seem to take itself very seriously as a musical either, which made it all a bit more bearable. However, I felt the only good thing about it was the cast.

Lonny, Drew and Sherrie were all played by understudies. Jamie Muscato has got an incredible strong voice and was very charismatic as Drew. Great performance. Natalie Andreou was equally strong as Sherrie, though I found her character not very likeable. The same is true for Lonny, who was played by Nathan Amzi. He did a good job, but I found the character and his jokes not even remotely funny.

Jodie Jacobs makes a great Regina, but I wish she’d get more chances to show her incredible voice off.

The ensemble are great dancers and get to show this a lot through out the show.

I think it’s fair to say that Rock of Ages is just not my type of musical at all. I sort of enjoyed it, but I don’t think I’d go back to it. I can see why many people like it, it certainly is a fun night out and I hope it manages to break the “curse of the Shaftesbury”, but not even the immense talent on that stage can tempt me back there.

Matilda, Cambridge Theatre

12 Nov

Matilda just transferred to the Camebridge Theatre after a sell-out run in Stratford, where is was originally produced by the Royal Shakepeare Company. Based on the book by Roald Dahl, this musical adaption is by Dennis Kelly (book) and Tim Minchin (music and lyrics). It is probably the most exciting new musical to open in the West End this year for me.

Most people will be familiar with the story, but it centres around Matilda, an exceptionally clever and special little girl, her family, her teacher Miss Honey and the head-mistress Miss Trunchbull. It’s just a lovely little story, perfect for children, but also appealing to adults.

The set looks amazing with all the books and moving pieces to create the different locations. I thought the choreography was stunning. My favourite scenes were When I Grow Up and the School Song, I’m not going to spoil it for anyone, but it looks brilliant! The songs are very catchy and tuneful with quite clever and witty lyrics.

I saw Eleanor Worthington-Cox as Matilda, who is simply delightful. Her charisma and stage presence (and talent obviously) is astonishing for someone so young. The same is true for the rest of the child cast members: Ruby Bridle, Zachary Harris, William Keeler, Lucy May Pollard, Louis Suc, Jemma Morgan, Katie Lee and Calum Henderson. They all dance, sing and act on an incredibly high level.

Lauren Ward as Miss Honey is very sweet and has got a lovely voice. Melanie La Barrie is great as Mrs Phelps, spot-on comic timing. Bertie Carvel (Miss Trunchbull) is just perfect. He pretty much steals the show (or he would if it wasn’t for the children!).

Josie Walker, Paul Kaye and Peter Howe as Matilda’s parents and brother are incredibly funny.

The ensemble play various parts through-out the show and are as excellent as the leads. It’s nice to see a new musical that does not feel the need to draw in the crowds through “names”.

The musical is a truly great adaption of the novel and is, in my opinion, far superior to the movie. Everything about it, the cast, the music, the lightning, the choreography and the direction are assembled to a pretty much perfect production. It just screams Olivier to me! And it’s not just for children, I left with a huge smile on my face, knowing that I had just seen something truly special.

Please note that I attended a preview performance!

The Go-Between, Royal & Derngate, Northampton

12 Nov

The Go-Between is a new British musical by Richard Taylor (music) and David Wood (book), which is based on the novel by LP Hartley. I am usually a bit wary of musical adaptions of books I really enjoyed, because there is always the danger of them falling short of the original. However, with The Go-Between there is absolutely no need to worry, as it manages to bring the characters and the story alive on stage and it does the original novel more than justice.

The story takes place in 1950, when Leo Colston, who is still haunted by the past,  finds his old diary in his attic and re-lives the fateful summer of 1900 once more. Then he was invited to spend the holidays with his school friend Marcus in Brandham Hall. Even though his family are trying to make him feel at ease, Leo is desperate to really belong. When Marcus falls ill, Leo is left to his own devices a lot, which leads to him being used as a messenger boy between Marian, Marcus’s older sister, and Ted, a local farmer. Not understanding the nature and significance of these letters, Leo gets caught up in the mesh of lies and the out-come will change his life forever.

James Staddon

Colston acts as the narrator of the story, looking back on the events that had shaped his whole life. He is hardly off stage and often shadows his younger self, but he doesn’t directly interact with him until the very end, even though he does interact with the rest of the characters at various points. In that way, it reminded me a bit of The Secret Garden. There is no rush in telling the story, the musical is very slow paced, which leaves enough time to explore the different emotions the characters go through.

The cast is excellent throughout. Due to some problems with the trains, I ended up seeing all four boys who share the parts of Leo and Marcus. Guy Amos (Leo) and Richard Linnell (Marcus) were on for the matinee and Will Miles (Leo) and Adam Bradbury (Marcus) for the evening performance.  All of them easily held their own amongst the otherwise adult cast and made the parts their own. Sophie Bould (Marian) has such a lovely voice, as does Stuart Ward (Ted). James Staddon (Colston) is incredibly, I found his acting very truthful and moving. His inner conflict seemed almost tangible. Stephen Carlile, Philip Cox, Richard Kent, Fiona O’Carroll, Gemma Page and Chris Theo-Cook were all great too. Strong voices and acting. Personally, I found all characters were just as I had imagined them when reading the book (I’ve never seen the movie). Seeing them come alive like this was wonderful.

The music is simply gorgeous. It really enhances the story-telling and adds so much to the atmosphere of the musical. The yearning, the summer heat, the loss of childhood innocence, desire, regrets, excitement, it’s all in the music. There is “only” a piano (Jonathan Gill), which I thought made the music even more poignant. The lightning enhanced the atmosphere even more. I just wish there was a cast recording of it, but even so I can’t get certain songs out of my head, most noticably Butterfly and the last song (Unfortunately, there is not even a list of the songs in the programme).

The Go-Between is certainly one of the best new musicals I have seen for a while and the best regional musical since Love Story (Chichester Festival, 2010) for me. The staging is magical, the music exciting and the cast excellent. These three facts alone probably mean it wouldn’t survive in the West End at the moment, simply because it is too good. However, you can catch it in Northampton until the 19th November. Don’t miss this gem of a new musical!