Category Archives: CD/DVD REVIEWS & PREVIEWS

REVIEW: Brian May & Kerry Ellis – Golden Days

Queen’s Brian May and musical theatre stalwart Kerry Ellis have forged a strong, if unexpected, musical partnership over the past few years.

In their newest collaboration the pair have delved into their live back catalogue, deliver their own versions of some well-known classics, as well as penning a series of original songs. The result is an eclectic mix of styles and genres, doubtless to appeal to their diverse fan base.

Track by Track:

Love In A Rainbow (Brian May, Kerry Ellis)

Billed as “retro-psychedelic”, it’s a gentle poppy ballad and low-key start to the album.

Roll With You (Brian May, Kerry Ellis)

Written to illustrate Ellis’ favourite sayings, attitudes and philosophies on life. Despite the classic rock guitar riff, it’s more a cheerful middle of the road high energy pop tune.

Golden Days (Brian May)

A lushly produced power ballad.

It’s Gonna Be All Right (The Panic Attack Song) (Brian May)

Very much in the same vein as the other recently-penned songs on the album, this is another middle of the road pop-rock number.

Amazing Grace (John Newton, Trad. Arr, Brian May)

Accompanied by May on acoustic guitar, this is a simple, but beautiful rendition of the traditional hymn.

One Voice (Ruth Moody)

This choir favourite has been given a fresh vocal arrangement.

If I Loved You (Oscar Hammerstein II, Richard Rodgers)

One of the musical Carousel’s most-loved songs, Ellis delivers an ear-pleasing version, gentle and less strident than the musical theatre original.

Born Free (John Barry, Don Black)

Billed as a “rock re-arrangement” of the classic movie theme this is very richly produced, and includes a guitar solo with May sounding his most Queen-like.

Parisienne Walkways (Phil Lynott, Gary Moore)

Gary Moore’s signature guitar song is given a female vocal, but it is May’s superlative guitar skills that shine  through.

I Who Have Nothing (Carlo Donida, Mogol, Jerry Leiber, Mike

Stoller)

One of the world’s most covered songs. This is an odd, synth heavy, 80s-sounding Bond theme-imitating version with dated sound and production.

The Kissing Me Song (Brian May, Kerry Ellis)

Another 80s style pop-rock number.

Story Of A Heart (Björn Ulvaeus, Benny Andersson)

Written by Abba’s world-famous song writing duo and originally the title track on The Benny Andersson Band’s compilation album, this sounds like late-era Abba after their glory days were over.

Can’t Help Falling In Love (Hugo Peretti, Luigi Creatore, George

David Weiss)

A nicely judged version of the much-loved and much-covered song.

The album is a pleasant offering that isn’t going to break any new ground or win a legion of new fans. Stylistically and in its production style it sounds of another era, somewhat over-produced and the song choices, considering the talent of the two individuals involved is ultimately uninspiring, but the diverse selection will undoubtedly keep the duo’s fan base happy.

Released on Sony Music the album is available to purchase/download now.

REVIEW: Lucky Stiff

A year before classic 80s comedy Weekend at Bernies hit the silver screen, Lynn Ahren’s and Stephen Flaherty’s Lucky Stiff (based on Michael Butterworth’s 1983 novel The man Who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo) hit the off-Broadway stage. The 2014 film version of this early curio has, this week been released for digital download.

Down on his luck shoe salesman, Harry Witherspoon (Dominic Marsh) receives word that his uncle, whom he has never met, has left him a not inconsiderable fortune. However, as with much in life and musical theatre, things don’t come easy. Harry has to take his uncle’s corpse for one last blow out to marvellous Monte Carlo. Thrown into the mix are Tony Award-winner Nikki M. James as an animal shelter worker who dogs his every step, waiting for him to slip up so it can become the sole beneficiary and as if this wasn’t enough, fellow Tony Award-winner Jason Alexander and Pamela Shaw are siblings who have their sights set firmly on the cash. Cue silly scenarios and a raft of unfortunately forgettable tunes.

This farcical tale is set in the 70s and instead of being a modern pastiche of the decade that style forgot, it feels as entirely, authentically and depressingly dated as the 70s themselves, aided by the 60s/70s style animated sequences which pepper the action throughout.

While there are some competent performances, as you’d expect from the undoubtedly talented cast, the material they are fed does no-one any justice. It is quite frankly astonishing why the money was made for this to be produced. At 78 minutes long its brevity is on of its only redeeming features.

For musical theatre completists, it’s a chance to see an obscure musical that’s rarely, if ever staged. For everyone else don’t waste your time.

Lucky Stiff is currently available for download on iTunes and other digital platforms.

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CD REVIEW: Love Birds – Original Edinburgh Cast Recording

A rare and unusual thing – an original Edinburgh cast recording.

Following in his family’s illustrious songwriting footsteps (father and uncle The Sherman Brothers, were composers of the music for Mary PoppinsThe Jungle Book and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and grandfather Al – a Tin Pan Alley alumni, Love Birds is Robert J. Sherman’s new musical premiering at this year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

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It’s the Roaring 20s – well the golden era of Vaudeville just before the twenties roared. Armitage Shanks’ avian revue is in turmoil as his star turn ‘the feathered Caruso’ Baalthazar Macaw has mysteriously gone missing. His remaining acts: a trio of singing macaw sisters and a quartet of performing penguins press on, but there’s revolt in the ranks as Shanks refuses to move with the times and embrace the dawn of a newer, racier era.

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Despite its setting and its 20’s-evocative feel, there are some interesting and fresh-sounding tunes here: ‘Mary Poppins’ is arguably the best of the bunch and has the penguins lament their abandonment at the hands of the most famous nanny in the world, it’s a barber-shop, doo woop number that could easily sit beside Sherman’s illustrious forebears classic output. Every style of the era is represented, there are Charleston tunes, Vaudeville numbers, Ragtime, torch songs, soft-shoe shuffles and ditties that wouldn’t sound out of place in 42nd StreetBugsy Malone or a Busby Berkeley extravaganza. That the sound is produced with only a three piece band (keys/bass/drums) and a fine sounding (if small) cast of nine is laudible.

It’s perky and it’s peppy and full of brio, but it could do with a little more light and shade to contrast the unremitting joy of the rest of the recording. One can’t help feeling that this is a springboard to something bigger. It’s clear a lot of time and effort has gone into its creation and the unusual production of an Edinburgh Fringe cast recording certainly signals intent for a longer life for Love Birds: it wouldn’t be surprising to hear in the future that this is being expanded into a full-blown two and a half hour production. Meanwhile enjoy a charming blast from a bygone era.

Love Birds is available from SimG Productions

CD REVIEW: An American In Paris Original Broadway Cast Recording

64 years since the classic movie musical, the first stage adaptation of An American in Paris is currently wowing them on the Great White Way, trailing 12 Tony Award nominations in its wake alongside a wave of positive reviews.

Re-set to the immediate aftermath of WW2 and the liberation of Paris (unlike the movie which allows a few years to pass): former G.I. Jerry Mulligan (Robert Fairchild) now a struggling artist living on the Left Bank, and beautiful young French girl Lise Dassin (Leanne Cope), meet in the City of Light and fall in love. However, the path to true love is, as always, never smooth.

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Just reading the track listing is enough to get fans of the Great American Songbook salivating. “Inspired” by Vincente Minnelli’s 1951 six-time Academy Award-winning movie starring Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron, this new production adapts both the original storyline and score. Adaptor, arranger and musical supervisor Rob Fisher shamelessly adds a few glorious George and Ira Gerschwin tunes that didn’t appear in the movie but more surprisingly standards such as “Embraceable You” and “Our Love is Here to Stay” fail to make the cut from the original.

As the first notes ring out from “Concerto in F” the motifs within give us a tantalising glimpse of the more familiar American in Paris suite to come as well as a clever representation of both the melancholy and optimism in the air in the post war years.

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The other orchestral pieces: “Second Prelude”, “Second Rhapsody” and “Cuban Overture” provide welcome depth and atmosphere throughout, but it is when we are treated to familiar hit after hit the piece really soars. “I’ve Got Beginners Luck” showcases the lightness of touch of the orchestra as well as Robert Fairchild’s golden era of Hollywood voice; Royal Ballet alumni Leanne Cope (Lise) is given a chance to demonstrate her singing as well as dancing chops with a sweet, delicate performance of “The Man I Love” and “I’ll Build a Stairway to Paradise” is a jazzy delight.

As we move through the tracks some are less successful than you would wish: you might think we are on familiar territory with the classic “I Got Rhythm” but here we are presented with a trio delivered by the three male leads. As they bang out the tune on the piano we are treated to a series of cod accents and it’s only when the ensemble gives full voice to the song is it given the justice it deserves. However to Robert Fairchild (Jerry), Brandon Uranowitz (Adam) and Max Von Essen’s (Henri) credit their diction is razor sharp throughout. S’Wonderful is also given the trio treatment and though competently sung, it is robbed of some of its joy of a love reciprocated. One real clanger is novelty number “Fidgety Feet” which adds nothing musically.

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The big-hitters, and the songs that stay in the memory are the gloriously sung “Who Cares/For You, For Me, For Evermore”, “But Not For Me” and “They Can’t Take That Away From Me” and the near 13 minute “An American In Paris” suite, a ravishing evocation of a jaunty, jangling journey along the Champs Elysees is luscious and full of life.

The quality of the recording throughout is first rate and the orchestra manage to be both sprightly and sumptuous, however, one can’t help mourning the loss of some of the Gershwins’ best-loved tunes. It also begs the question with a Brit at the helm, “when can we expect to see this classic in the West End?”

The CD was released on 1 June 2015.

This article was originally written for and published by http://www.thepublicreviews.com at: http://www.thepublicreviews.com/cd-review-an-american-in-paris-original-broadway-cast-recording/

CD REVIEW: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

This review was originally written for The Public Reviews at:

http://www.thepublicreviews.com/index.php?s=lauren+humphreys

Book: David Greig

Music: Marc Shaiman

Lyrics: Scott Wittman & Marc Shaiman

The Public Reviews Rating: ★★★½☆

Arriving in the West End eagerly awaited and shrouded in as much mystery as the enigmatic Willie Wonka himself, David Greig, Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman’s adaptation of the Roald Dahl classicCharlie and the Chocolate Factory  now comes to us immortalised in this original cast recording. But as with any cast recording, there are a few big questions to be answered here: how successfully does it work as a stand-alone recording? And how does it fare without the support of the stunning visuals from the stage production?

There are 27 tracks here, including the linking dialogue, which paint a pretty comprehensive picture of the show, and to their credit American writers Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman have managed to create an atmospheric piece of work. The quality of the recording and the skill of the performers are in no question either, and the recording allows the subtle and incredibly clever lyrics to be heard clearly. Like that other Roald Dahl stage adaptation Matilda, it includes some sharp, witty and resonant observations of society in the 21st century. But the CD suffers from the same problems as the stage show: a first half largely comprised of scene setting and story build up, and a succession of somewhat one-note songs, alleviated only by the introduction of the Golden Ticket winners, most notable among them young Jade Johnson as the vivid Violet Beauregarde and whilst the other kids fare well onstage, the songs suffer without the accompanying visuals.

Just as in the stage production, the recording only comes to life with the arrival of Willie Wonka (Douglas Hodge). Hodge is a performer of rare quality and his evocative voice conjures up the perfect balance of benevolence and malice, particularly in “It Must be Believed to be Seen” which transmits well to the recording, evoking as much a sense of wonder as it does trepidation. And while there are some other gems: “It’s Teavee Time” and “Juicy” to name a few, ultimately it lacks a certain something that would elevate it into the realms of the blockbuster. It’s also a damning indictment of the whole endeavour that the most memorable and indeed evocative song in the whole show is the one that wasn’t written by Shaiman and Wittman: ”Pure Imagination” is the sole survivor from the 1971 Warner Brothers movie, a song that remains unmatched by anything else in the show.

This is a recording of undeniable quality and a welcome souvenir of the show, but it’s the material that ultimately lets the highly talented performers down.

CD REVIEW: Marry Me A Little

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This article was originally written for The Public Reviews: http://www.thepublicreviews.com/cd-review-marry-me-a-little/

The Public Reviews Rating: ★★★½☆

Ghostlight Records present this new recording of Keen Company’s “revisal” of Craig Lucas and the late Norman Rene’s 1981 conceptual review Marry Me a Little, built around songs cut from the musicals of Stephen Sondheim. Dialogue free and told entirely in song, this new production re-thinks aspects of the original work: now set in “hipster” Brooklyn it tells the story of two singles living in the same New York apartment block over the course of one lonely Saturday night.

As with any cast recording, its success stands or falls on the strength of not only the songs, but the singers too. Taking on the challenge of Sondheim’s complex lyrics and melodies are Lauren Molina and Jason Tam, both experienced Broadway veterans. Molina is in possession of a crystal-clear coloratura soprano voice, and in her hands the master’s lyrics are delivered with razor-sharp precision, but while her singing skills are in no doubt and her voice perfect for Sondheim’s sophisticated songs, it sounds as if it is from another, much earlier Broadway era, her voice at odds with the director’s “hipster” version of the musical. Tam, on the other hand has a pleasant voice, undoubtedly less powerful and distinct than Molina’s and lacking the mature sophistication needed to successfully deliver Sondheim’s tunes, but conversely, much more suited to this updated staging.

The show, and indeed this recording’s biggest selling point though, is the fact that these are compositions we might never had the chance to hear had it not been for Lucas and Rene’s show and the excellent sleeve notes provide a history of each song’s origins. When you re-listen to the songs in this context, and imagine them in the original works they were conceived for, it gives an insight into the creative mind of Sondheim and leaves you marvelling at the quality of these songs, songs that the composer has resigned to the cutting room floor, songs that most composers would kill to have written.

The short, sharp songs scream Sondheim, that master observer of the human condition. They exude New York from every note and perfectly encapsulate the sound and the feel, the loneliness and yearning of the city and its inhabitants. They have real depth, and are both affecting and evocative, but ripped from their original context, in a musical with no linking narrative, they lose not only their meaning but some of their power and magic.

That said, there are highlights, including Tam’s ‘Happily Ever After’ intended for Company, in which you can hear the faint heartbeat of the classic ‘Being Alive’ and Molina’s renditions of ‘Girls of Summer’ from the musical of the same name and the affecting title song, cut from Company, which are both sublime. The pair’s duet on ‘Rainbows’ intended for the film version ofInto The Woods, is heartbreakingly good.

Less successful as a stand-alone musical, but a valuable record of these little-known but first class Sondheim songs.

Album available from Sh-K-Boom Records

ALBUM REVIEW: Simon Bailey – Looking Up

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Looking Up is the debut album of West End leading man and current Raoul in the national tour of Phantom of the Opera – Simon Bailey.

Bailey has been rightfully acclaimed as a phenomenally talented musical theatre singer and actor and now with this album proves his credentials as a gifted singer-songwriter.

At first glance the eclectic selection of source material from Luther Vandross, Dolly Parton, Eric Clapton, Evanescence, The Avett Brothers as well as musical theatre writers Jason Robert Brown and Scott Alan to four self-penned tracks by Bailey himself, would appear diverse and divergent but this is possibly one of the cleverest and most cohesive albums I’ve heard.

It sets Bailey apart from his musical theatre peers through its clever choices and truly original arrangements. This is a very personal selection of songs, sung heart-felt by Bailey. The emotion is palpable through each song – no more so than in Dance With My Father – all the more heart-breaking when you know that Bailey sadly lost his father in the past year.

Bailey includes duets with some of his musical theatre peers – Phantom co-star Katie Hall on I’d Give It All For You from Jason Robert Brown’s Song’s For a New World. We Will Rock You’s Sabrina Aloueche on Falling Slowly from Once and most successfully with West End superstar Ramin Karimloo on The Avett Brothers Murder in the City. Karimloo and Bailey’s friendship and musical kinsmanship shine through in the song. It also says a lot that musical star and possessor of one of the finest voices in the West End, Hadley Fraser is relegated to Bass player!

This is not your run of the mill musical theatre album, relying on tried and tested songs from an artist’s best-known roles – but a sophisticated, brave and original piece of work from Bailey. A five star debut.

I urge you to get a copy of this – a unique album showing those who follow in his wake how it should be done.

Available here.

TRACK LISTING

  • Sing For The Angels
    by Simon Bailey

  • Dance With My Father
    by Vandross & Marx

  • I’d Give It All For You
    by Jason Robert Brown –

    duet with Katie Hall.
  • The Distance You Have Come
    by Scott Alan

  • The Everchanging
    by Simon Bailey

  • My Immortal
    by Moody, Lee & Hodges

  • Murder In The City
    by The Avett Brothers –

    duet with Ramin Karimloo
  • I Can’t Stop The Rain
    by Simon Bailey

  • Tears In Heaven
    by Clapton & Jennings

  • Falling Slowly
    by Hansard & Irglova –

    duet with Sabrina Aloueche
  • Travelin’ Thru
    by Dolly Parton

  • Goodbye
    by Simon Bailey

REVIEW: Much Ado About Nothing – Wyndham’s Theatre, Digital Theatre download

This production arrived in the West End last summer on a wave of publicity. Filmed by Digital Theatre it moves the action to 1980s Gibraltar: there’s a Princess Di meringue wedding dress, a little boy with a Rubik’s Cube, a non-stop hen party atmosphere and some rip-off’s of the 80s biggest hits. One plus point of the production is that it uses naturalistic speech patterns which aids the understanding of the dialogue and ensures that no joke or pun misses the mark. Catherine Tate and David Tennant’s undeniable comic timing also helps to milk every last drop of comedy from the piece. But beyond that I found the whole thing a bit of an indulgent celebrity-fest. Tate manages to shoe-horn in as many of her trademark mannerisms as the director will allow and the whole thing is undoubtedly cashing in on the Dr. Who pairing of Tate and Tennant. There’s frenetic activity throughout and the set involves an almost constant revolve which tries to convince us that there’s a lot happening when it’s not – but it adds nothing to the production.

The best thing about the whole production is the discovery of Tom Bateman (below) as Claudio who makes his professional debut straight from drama school and shines throughout.

While watchable enough I still prefer the Globe’s version which ran at the same time as this. In the words of one critic it was “low tech but high emotion” and that’s what this play requires.

 

FEATURE: Lift – A new musical album from Perfect Pitch


Featuring West End Performers: Louise Dearman, Michael Xavier, Jennifer Tierney, Paul Ayres, Julie Atherton and Jack Shalloo – LIFT the recording of a new British Musical by Craig Adams (featured on this blog last week) and Ian Watson has just been released by Perfect Pitch.


Eight people get in a LIFT at Covent Garden tube station on an ordinary morning. They   may be complete strangers, but in some way they are all connected and if they   reached out to one another they might just change their lives forever. The   journey of the lift takes just one minute – will they do something about it   today or will they choose to carry on being anonymous, walking off into the rush   and losing themselves once more in the city? LIFT is about   people and connections. The connections we have without knowing about them, the   connections we lose sight of and the connections we don’t mean to have.

Sample tracks and album available to buy here

DVD: Love Never Dies

For those of us who saw the original London production at the Adelphi, the Melbourne production featured in this DVD release, is almost unrecognisable. Featuring a new opening and ending, a clearer realisation of the tragic love story at the heart of the show and a new design, only Andrew Lloyd Webber’s lavish score remains (largely intact).

Set 10 years after the events of the original, Phantom Of The Opera, the man in the white mask is now an impresario on New York’s Coney Island. The arrival of his beloved Christine to sing for her supper sets off a series of events that will change the lives of all involved forever.

While a fan of the original London pairing of Ramin Karimloo and Sierra Boggess, Ben Lewis and Anna O’Byrne are perfectly cast. Lewis is intense and brooding (if a little starey-eyed) but also manages to show vulnerability when required. His singing voice is faultless but lacks an edge in the more emotionally charged numbers. Christine is no longer the innocent wide-eyed  of the original, instead she’s a woman conflicted by her feelings for her husband and what might have been with The Phantom and is sung beautifully by O’Byrne.

 

The filming is beautiful, and instead of Lloyd Webber’s previous studio re-creations this is shot in the theatre. The multiple angles offer a richer experience for the audience and it sets a new standard for every filmed musical to come.

This is a must for any Phantom fan and I urge anyone who was put off by the original reviews to give it a try. Trust me – you’ll enjoy it.

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