Tag Archives: FEATURES

INTERVIEW: New Musical Talent – Gary Albert Hughes


It’s been a while, but following on from previous New Musical Talent subjects: Laura Tisdall, Dougal Irvine, Tim Prottey-Jones and Craig Adams, I’m proud to feature a new musical star in the making;

Composer Gary Albert Hughes has a varied and colourful theatrical résumé:  from beginnings as a classically trained musician at Guildhall School of Music and the Royal Academy, to a career in musical theatre and pop.  Gary is also one half of the writing team that composed and wrote the lyrics for E4’s hit reality dating show Playing It Straight (he also appeared every week as the singing troubadour). He has had his music featured in film, TV and theatre and is fast becoming a favourite on the new musical theatre writing scene. I had a chance to catch up with Gary in a rare break between projects.

Tell us a bit about your background and what inspired you to become a composer.

Well, before I ventured into musical theatre I was a classically trained flautist, pianist and composer and was all set to pursue a career as a classical musician. After my studies I realised I was not fulfilled creatively and it took another few years of trying different areas of the performing arts before realising that what makes my heart race is composing. Though I’ve been writing songs and music since junior school!

Which musicals or composers have influenced you?

I am inspired and influenced by so many people but there have been a few major influences. I met George Stiles as a young musician finding my feet and I’ve been inspired and in awe of how his career has gone from strength to strength. I’m also massively influenced by my classical training, and am always inspired by film music, especially that of John Barry.

Tell us about your writing partnership with Joan Taylor-Rowan?

About three years ago I was in the audience of a short story reading of Kandy Kottage at an evening called The Liar’s League. I knew it would make the most magical and interesting musical. I contacted Joan after wading through pages and pages of Google. We met for coffee and started work. I always ask for Joan to send me sketches of lyrics and ideas which I will then be inspired to write music to. Usually I’ll send her what I’ve composed and she will then work on more ideas, rhyme schemes and verses and choruses. Then when we get together to work on the song we will tweak it and neaten it up. We love to go The Dance Attic in Fulham where there’s a buzz of creativity. However, we are going over to Normandy at the end of January to finish Kandy Kottage in time for its showing at The Landor. I’m happy to say that we have a dear friendship and an amazing working relationship.

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You recently released the Christmas love song Your Presence with Shona Lindsay, tell us more.

Your Presence was inspired by our followers and fans on Twitter and Facebook urging us to write a new festive love song. People were tired of hearing the same old Christmas songs everywhere. We took the bull by the horns and went for it. We were so thrilled when Shona agreed to release it for us. She has such a beautiful voice and such a touching way of using it, which is why she has had the amazing career she has. Colin Billing (Lend Me a Tenor) musically directed the track and did an amazing job bringing it to life.


Single available here

You’ve been asked to be part of new musical theatre writing festival From Page to Stage at The Landor Theatre; tell us about that. 

It’s a festival solely for new writing and emerging writers, the baby of Katy Lipson of Aria Entertainment and A Stage Kindly, two companies supporting new writing. We’re taking part in two slots: the first, Three Writers and a Piano will feature me and two fellow composers at the piano singing our own songs. I’ll hopefully be having a few West End singers with me as well as some fabulous up and coming singers. The second slot is for our brand new musical Kandy Kottage.

Your musical Kandy Kottage; what’s it about and what are your hopes for it?

At the Kandy Kottage you meet Kevin and his imaginary sidekicks The Kandy Kremes as they embark on a mission to win the heart of Greta, a Hollywood wannabe with a sweet tooth. It’s a fairy tale with a dark twist following the story of a young boy, neglected and lonely, seeking perfection in his world of confection! All he needs is someone to share it with. Greta has a passion for sweets but not for Kevin. He decides to woo her in the only way he knows – with sugar. Temples of toffee, palaces of pear-drops and sweet sculptures bloom under Kevin’s hands. But not all fairy tales have a happy ending. What lengths will Kevin go to, to keep Greta for himself? We believe this show has a life in an off West End theatre, or even the West End itself.

Gary and Joan are offering the opportunity for theatre fans to help launch their new musical and have set up a We Fund account where people can pledge an amount towards their production of Kandy Kottage. You can find details at: http://wefund.com/project/kandy-kottage-a-bitter-sweet-musical/p56543/

You’ve used social media to help promote your work; do you think it’s a helpful tool for artists starting out in musical theatre?

I think it’s essential for anyone trying to make a start in anything! If used correctly and appropriately it’s an extremely powerful tool. If one is professional, friendly and interesting, then Twitter and Facebook are wonderful tools for communicating, networking and contacting people when, before, it may have been impossible. Twitter is how we first made contact with Shona Lindsay about recording Your Presence.

Is there anyone you’d love to work with or write a song for? 

Wow, what a question, yes, loads. Firstly we’re not the type of writers who only want somebody to sing our material because they’re a ‘name’. We’re interested in who the person is as an artist, their voice quality and what they represent as a vocalist and performer. I think Ramin Karimloo has a deeply touching and interesting quality to his voice, and would LOVE him to sing our ballad One Minute More. Louise Dearman is another voice I think is exceptional and unique and we’d love her to sing one of our big numbers.

After all of that, what’s next?

We are planning an album called Taylor-Rowan & Hughes Present… which will feature our best songs with a host of West End singers. We’ve already talked with Shona Lindsay, Nigel Richards and Shona White about singing a track, and are waiting to hear back from others. We’re in the process of applying for some funding too, so if anyone out there’s interested in supporting new British talent, then please do get in touch!

From Page to Stage runs from 15 February

see Gary Albert Hughes in Three Writers and a Piano on 26th February

and Kandy Kottage on 14th March at the Landor Theatre

For more information;



INTERVIEW: Louise Quinn from A Band Called Quinn

This article was originally written for and published by The Public Reviews

For years, Louise Quinn and her band, A Band Called Quinn, have been blurring the boundaries between music, film and theatre. With their music appearing in films and television series worldwide, riding high as the “soundtrack to Scotland” (so dubbed by Kayleigh Mcleod at Scottish Television Local), their track The Glimmer Song used for Scottish Television’s national ads and counting Madonna and author Ian Rankin among their fans, The Public Reviews‘ Lauren Humphreys chatted to Louise about her foray into theatre with the innovative Biding Time (remix).

Tell us a bit about Pippa Bailey’s musical theatre work Biding Time and how you came to be involved in creating a remixed version of it.

The original concept by Pippa Bailey is about a woman called Thyme and her path to fame. Pippa provides the basic framework for the show but asks artists to put their own slant on it. We’ve worked with the theatre company Vanishing Point and its artistic director Matthew Lenton was at a conference with Pippa, who said she wanted to open the work up to artists worldwide and get their different responses to the source work. She expressed a desire to have a music industry slant put on it and, despite the original idea being 25 years old, the role of women in the business hasn’t really changed. I read it, realised it had parallels with my own story and thought OK, but I want to make it a lot darker and a lot more surreal.

So, what can we expect from your remixed version of Biding Time?

I think I can best describe it by saying that it will be like being inside someone’s head or going into another world – I hope it will be really transporting. There’s a silent disco in the show so that will give it an immersive quality, and that mixed in with all the visuals should make quite a strange experience for the audience as well as good fun. There’s a lot of humour in it too. Hopefully it will reflect the rollercoaster ride you go on from being discovered to the intoxicating feeling of fame, then realising the real dangers of the music business.

As you mentioned, you’ve been involved with theatre company Vanishing Point and its re-interpretation of The Beggar’s Opera which seemed to polarise critical opinion, attracting reviews ranging from one to five stars. When you were working on it, did you ever imagine it would provoke such strong critical reactions?

It felt quite intense in places when we were working on it. The intention was to do something radical to get a younger audience into a theatre [the Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh] whose patrons were literally dying off. So I suppose it did what it said on the tin. If it had been on at a different theatre, it would have got a very different reaction. There were older audience members who loved it too, but it was a work that was constantly being tweaked. By the time it got to its final venue I think it was finished but it could have been a great piece if we had more time to marry the music to the dialogue.

You describe your band’s music as “art pop” and your gigs have been described as theatrical, having been wheeled into one gig in a cardboard box and carried onstage by a gorilla in another – how have you developed your performance style?

I was always a shy kid but one of those annoying ones who’s always putting on shows in the living room. I wanted to study art but instead went to the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland (formerly RSAMD) to study production. I left in my third year to pursue a career in the music industry but eventually went on to have a “day job” with Bal from the band, in surrealist, interventionist theatre company Mischief La Bas, so with that background and the fact that we’ve never been afraid to cross over into different art forms, it was probably inevitable we would be theatrical.

With your music currently being featured in Scottish Television’s national commercial, how has having your music on TV every evening affected the bands profile?

Apart from my mum and dad now realising that I’m not just messing around, it’s been great to go out into the wider world and hear people talking about our work. The response has been fantastic.

Many of your songs have been featured in films and TV series; do you think you might pursue writing soundtracks specifically?

We’re getting a lot of calls, and we’re definitely getting a reputation as a band who sound good on film, so hopefully we can pursue that.

What next for you and A Band Called Quinn?

Firstly, we’ve been trying to release our album Red Light Means Go for a few years, the songs have been used in the BBC’s Lip Service and Carter Ferguson’s film Fast Romance, and finally it’ll be released on 1st November to coincide with some live shows we’re doing. After that we hope that the music written for this show will appear on its own album and hopefully Biding Time (remix) will have a future – we’re working with filmmaker Uisdean Murray to take the visual content of the show and make it into a feature-length film.

A review of A Band Called Quinn’s Biding Time (remix) will be published next week.

FEATURE: Bizarre musical theatre post of the day – Ramin Karimloo at Glasgow warriors Rugby Club


No your eyes aren’t deceiving you as I thought mine were when I saw this! That is musical theatre superstar Ramin Karimloo – yes the one that was The Phantom and Jean Valjean – wearing a dodgy rugby outfit and doing whatever it is that rugby players do when they train! Whilst trawling for photographs for another post I stumbled upon these. The explanation from Glasgow warriors site goes as follows;


“Glasgow Warriors received a special visitor to Scotstoun last week, stage star Ramin Karimloo popping in to be put through his paces by our very own Troy Nathan ahead of the launch of his new solo album. Karimloo has been the face of two of the longest-running musicals in the West End, Les Miserables and The Phantom of the Opera. He’s currently touring his solo album ‘Ramin’, with a date coming up at Glasgow’s Royal Concert Hall on Sunday 20 May. Nathan is taking care of marketing and promotion for the show, in line with his plans to pursue a career in the field post-rugby. At Scotstoun, the pair got a taste of the other’s line of work, Nathan showcasing a singing voice that may need a little refining, while Karimloo tackled some rugby skills and fitness drills to impressive effect.”


pics and quote from

DVD: The Heat is On – The making of Miss Saigon documentary

I caught this documentary a few months ago about the making of Miss Saigon twenty years ago. It’s a fascinating insight into how a show on this scale is made and an embarrassing glimpse at the fashions of the 1980’s – curly perms and legwarmers abound!

By Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil, with lyrics by Boublil and Richard Maltby, Jr. It is based on Giacomo Puccini’s opera Madame Butterfly, and similarly tells the tragic tale of a doomed romance involving an Asian woman abandoned by her American lover. The setting of the plot is relocated to the 1970s Saigon during the Vietnam War, and Madame Butterfly’s American Lieutenant and Japanese geisha coupling is replaced by a romance between an American GI and a Vietnamese bar girl.

The musical premiered at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, in London on 20 September 1989, closing after over four thousand performances, on 30 October 1999 (putting it in the top 10 longest running West End musicals). The musical represented Schönberg and Boublil’s second major success, following Les Misérables which is mentioned in the passing here – little do they know that Les Mis would reach 26 years in the West End and going stronger than ever. The original production starred a very young Simon Bowman, (pictured above with Lea Salonga) and Jonathan Pryce, Peter Polycarpou, Monique Wilson and Claire Moore. Twenty years on Bowman is still starring in the West End – last seen as a magnificent Jean Valjean in Les Mis.

The most uncomfortable thing about the whole thing was the casting of the very Anglo-Saxon Jonathan Pryce as The Engineer (seen below), a character who is clearly Eurasian. The fact that at the time the taping down of his eyes is of no consequence, really jars today. It shows just how much things have changed. Incidentally he’s not the only English actor with taped up eyes!!!

It’s an interesting watch, if, for nothing else, to see how badly the actors are treated!

FEATURE: Royal Opera House Covent Garden Tours


 On the morning before coming home from one of my previous trips to London I decided that instead of wandering aimlessly around even more shops, I’d indulge in another “cultural” experience. This time it was a backstage tour of The Royal Opera House in Covent Garden.  The phenomenally well informed and engaging guide started with some history of the building and its architecture followed by a tour of the glorious auditorium, most recently seen in the BBCs coverage of this year’s Olivier Awards.

By sheer chance there was a rehearsal for Gounod’s Romeo et Juliette on set beginning behind us and as we left, the opera buffs were getting excited as the calls to stage had gone out for opera super dooper star and all round nice guy Alfie Boe – they had to be forcibly removed before he appeared.

At the time of the trip, other than being aware of his name and the stir he was creating in the opera world, I didn’t really know anything about Alfie Boe. (I have subsequently seen him in the Les Miserables 25th anniversary concert, the full production of Les Mis at the Queen’s Theatre and in concert, as well as the countless appearances he has made on TV). He was apparently discovered singing on the shop floor of the TVR car factory in Blackpool, went to The D’Oyly Carte and then trained at the Royal College of Music.


The tour then took us backstage to the design departments to see the process of taking an opera from page to stage. The 3D models of the sets were just magical, like those wonderful, atmospheric toy theatres much beloved by the Victorians. As we passed backstage there were racks upon racks of hampers full of the most glorious, highly detailed and extravagant costumes – and all completely hand made. How some of the dancers manage to move under the weight is amazing. It was the kind of sequin filled dressing up fantasy of ever little (and this big) girl fulfilled.

The highlight of the tour was the visit to the ballet studio where most of the principal dancers were being put through their punishing paces. The most eye-opening thing I learned was that dancers start their day at 10.30 am and dance through until 5.30pm on a performance day and 6.00pm on a non-performance day and on performance day the curtain will fall at 10.30 – 10.40pm. I think they should tell this to all those little girls who dream of life as a ballerina.

Alina Cojocaru and Edward Watson

Gary Avis

Lauren Cuthbertson

Leeanne Benjamin

Steven McRae

The tour took over 2 hours and at the time the admission was £10 – a fantastic glimpse into how the magic on stage is created with blood, sweat, tears and talent by a massive army of dedicated people.

FEATURE: Les Miserables 25th Anniversary Concert DVD

Last night’s DVD was the Les Miserables 25th Anniversary concert with a cast, orchestra and choir of 500.

Alfie Boe (above) is Jean Valjean and showed remarkable control of his operatic tenor,  delivering a full-throttle vocal intensity only when absolutely necessary in the role. His  inspirational rendition of “Bring Him Home” stopped the show. Boe appeared sincerely moved by the enthusiastic standing ovation of the over 18,000 in  attendance at the O2 arena. It was completely deserved.

Norm Lewis who plays Javert, is a Broadway veteran and here he finally has a starring, rather than supporting role. I was lucky enough to see him play Javert in the full production of Les Mis at The Queen’s Theatre. Thanks to this DVD, many others will now get the chance to hear his excellent voice.

Ramin Karimloo freed from his Phantom makeup was a handsome, inspiring and strong-voiced Enjoloras and received a massive cheer at the end.

Nick Jonas (a controversial casting) is not equal in voice in any way to  his co-performers and had the most peculiar expressions throughout, but here (above) with Katie Hall as Cosette, he made for a suitably youthful Marius.

The highly talented and ever reliable Hadley Fraser (above) is a fine Grantaire, his voice here is astounding, his range and tone are just fabulous, it’s a pity he doesn’t have a bigger role. Fraser is another performer I’ve had the pleasure of seeing in the Queen’s Theatre production – that time playing Javert.

Matt Lucas fulfils a lifetime dream of appearing in Les Mis and uses his comedic talents to their best effect as Thenardier.

Lea Salonga is Fantine and equips herself well enough, but I must admit I found her American twang a bit strong.

Special mention must also go to little Robert Madge (above), a scene-stealer as Gavroche.

This is, of course, a concert, but in order to add more of a theatrical feeling to the performance the actors were  costumed in either designs from the original production or the 25th Anniversary UK tour. The production  design was enhanced with a multi-level set to accommodate the 500-member cast,  orchestra and choir. In lieu of the  building of the barricade, the massive lighting tracks descended and tilted  complemented by spectacular lighting effects. Video projections from the stage version added further drama to replace scenes  that could not be conveyed in a concert environment. Overall only minor cuts were made from the full theatrical version – and none of the cuts particularly hurt the  final product.

Due to the  constraints of a concert production, and the fact that this was being filmed for both cinema and DVD release the actors had obviously been told to rein in the theatrics. Several of the ensemble  were on the verge of acting out the roles they had either played before or were currently playing in the West End in full theatricality if not for the  reminder of the microphone in front of them.

A highlight of the evening was the  appearance of The Four Valjeans (above l-r); Simon Bowman (Queen’s  Theatre cast), Alfie Boe, Colm Wilkinson (the  original cast) and John Owen-Jones (Barbican  Theatre cast) their version of “Bring Him Home” was utterly moving. Each of the four are supremely gifted performers. I love this musical, it really does have the power to move you. I defy anyone not to have a tear in their eye at the end of this and I urge anyone who gets the chance to go and see it on stage.

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FEATURE: Phantom of the Opera 25th Anniversary DVD

I watched this last night after a fortuitous sale purchase. Now it’s easy to criticise everything Andrew Lloyd Webber produces. So with an open mind, I sat down to enjoy this.

And did I? Absolutely! In the confines of The Royal Albert Hall which by no stretch of the imagination can be called a theatre – this was magnificent.

It stars Ramin Karimloo and Sierra Boggess as The Phantom and Christine, both veterans of the original Phantom and the recent follow up Love Never Dies.

Now, Karimloo has his detractors among theatre critics but he is also regarded by many as the golden boy of musical theatre. Here, he is impressive. His voice soars and he is, in turn, sinister, menacing and heartbreakingly vulnerable.

The supporting cast is made up of Phantom veterans and members of the current Her Majesty’s production. It has a cast and orchestra of over 200 in contrast to the usual 40. On the whole they equip themselves very well, however the inclusion of Wynne “Go Compare” Evans was a bit of a jarring note.

Outside of his Gino Compario costume I’m not sure anyone in the audience actually knew who he was, and when he was called to fluff some notes for comedic effect the audience didn’t quite get the joke and remained silent.

Hadley Fraser plays Raoul and has an incredible voice, with great strength and power and phenomenal tone, he was absolutely excellent in the role, playing it with a maturity that is often lacking in other castings. Instead of the spoilt little rich boy whom you wonder why Christine would ever consider, he gives The Phantom a run for his money and you really believe Christine’s dilemma.

As with many recent productions this features a lot of projected scenery, now I’m not thoroughly convinced of its effectiveness as it can sometimes lack atmosphere but here, combined with props – it works.

If you get a chance to see this go for it, it really is worth it. If you’re a fan of The Phantom already you’ll love it!

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