It’s a brave producer indeed who puts a cast of young performers on the same stage as the very best of the best of the West End. Brave or foolish you might say, but Ross Gunning has gathered the cream of young, triple threat, musical theatre talent in Scotland together and boy do they deliver the goods.
This entire production Movies to Musicals exudes quality from curtain up to curtain down.
The choice of songs is inspired: opening on A Musical from recent Broadway smash, the Shakespeare spoof, Something Rotten (a musical that’s only had one staging in the UK at Birmingham Rep in 2021), it starts on a high and continues to build.
The rousing opening is followed by Queen of the West End, Louise Dearman singing She Used to be Mine from Waitress. Dearman is as good as it gets in musical theatre. There’s no better role model to aspire to. It is an inspiring choice by Gunning, but that’s not all, next up is fellow Wicked alumni Laura Pick who belts out the classic Don’t Rain on my Parade.
This masterclass is followed by the young cast performing a medley from the world-conquering Hamilton. This is a stunning presentation and it is accompanied by incredibly clever choreography from Rebecca Curbelo Valdivia, it is clearly inspired by original choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler, but injects its own originality and freshness. Of note too are the young soloists on Quiet Uptown – just glorious.
Alistair Brammer the third of the night’s guest artists, beautifully performs Why God Why and Last Night of the World with Laura Pick, from one of the musicals he is most synonymous with Miss Saigon.
The quality just keeps on coming: songs from The Prom, A Little Night Music, Jesus Christ Superstar and Wicked (a rare treat to have former Elphaba, Laura Pick and the only actor who has every played the two feature roles in Wicked (Glinda and Elphaba) Louise Dearman, sing an outstanding Defying Gravity to bring the curtain down on Act One.
Act Two gets off to a flying start with a captivating trio of highlights from Wicked which includes the young ensemble and our two leading ladies and Brammer who played Fiyero in Wicked to great acclaim. Again, to choreographer Curbelo Valdivia’s credit, the choreography remains tight, no mean feat with such a large cast.
We are treated to songs from TV show Smash, The Greatest Showman, Les Mis, Jersey Boys, A Star is Born, an instrumental interlude Gabriel’s Oboe from The Mission and the out-right, hands-down smash of the evening, a medley from arguably Britain’s best new musical of the last decade, Six. To say this reviewer was blown away was an understatement, more like knocked out. The six young women who performed this were as good as any professional cast I’ve seen of this musical and it’s a musical I have seen a lot.
It takes a helluva lot of hutzpah to mix West End and Broadway performers of great acclaim with young, up and coming performers. Producer Ross Gunning has that hutzpah, and it has paid off. This is a class act, Rolls Royce quality from start to end. The only negative thing is that it will be next year before we can enjoy it again. Unmissable.
Over the past few years Kieran Brown has managed to firmly establish himself in the West End with roles in such blockbuster shows as: Love Never Dies, Wicked and the Les Miserables 25th Anniversary concert at the O2. As well as this Kieran is an established international concert and cabaret performer and pantomime veteran. Glasgow Theatre Blog had the chance to ask him some questions in a rare break from his hectic schedule.
You’ve just finished appearing in Scotland’s biggest pantomime as Prince Charming at The King’s Theatre; tell us how the panto experience compares to your usual musical theatre and concert work.
Well, I’ve done quite a few panto’s before, but nothing NEARLY as big (or important to me) as the Kings in Glasgow – it’s the one that I’ve wanted to do since I was a little boy, when I used to come see them as a child. It’s just been the most TREMENDOUS fun with the BEST company of people, who treated it with respect and care, which is what so many other panto companies and productions don’t do. The rapport that you get to have with the audience in Glasgow is second to none. Every friend of mine who visits Glasgow with a production mentions how “up for it” and friendly the audiences at the Kings are and it’s true!
Jenny Douglas and Kieran Brown as Cinderella and her Prince Charming at this year’s King’s Theatre pantomime.
Who or what inspired you to become a performer?
Not sure really. Certainly I was encouraged by my old Drama teacher/Mentor, Bill Graham who died a few years back. He had a HUGE influence on me, from when he directed me in the Falkirk Children’s Theatre and throughout high school and my time with Tryst Theatre Company. He really gave me the very best base training, encouraged and prepared me for drama school. I’ll always be incredibly grateful to him for that.
What advice would you give to any aspiring performer?
Be realistic about your goals, don’t take anything personally, and persevere. If it’s really your passion, then take the knocks (and there are many!) but don’t give up.
You have a full CV ranging from musicals, concert performances, cabaret, as well as directing; where does your heart really lie?
At the moment it is still performing but I have done a bit of directing and I think certainly in the future it is where I want to go. I can’t see me ever wanting to give up performing, so if I can flit between then great. I am a bit of a perfectionist and a control freak and it is very hard when as an actor you are asked to do something by a director that you KNOW inside you is the wrong choice, but my job as an actor is to do what I am told. Directing however, is different, and a HELL of a lot more stressful, but it’s definitely what I want to do more of. I am currently assistant director for a very exciting new production of Chess at the Union Theatre. A very good friend of mine, Chris Howell is directing and I am enjoying watching his processes and reasoning as he guides his actors to get the best out of them and the piece.
You have been involved in mega musicals such as Wicked and the 25th anniversary Les Mis concert; what is it like to perform in something so big and so beloved by so many?
It’s quite surreal to begin with but the most important thing is to remember that these people love the piece and they have paid a lot of money to watch it, so you HAVE to do the best that you can do. With Wicked, it’s such a well oiled machine and is VERY carefully looked after by a brilliant team who know the piece inside out so you know you are in safe hands. It’s the same with most of the big, long(er) running shows. What I’d love though is to be involved in something new. That’s a real goal – to be in the original cast and create something that hopefully people will love in years to come. I am SO envious of all these amazing performers who were involved with the original productions of shows like Les Mis, or Phantom etc. That’s really a dream of mine.
Wicked is known for its rather devoted fans; did you have any interesting stage door encounters with the super-fans?
They are really the most amazingly dedicated bunch and I have met some real sweethearts and lovely people at the stage door, who’ve become good friends! The support from some of them has carried on after I left Wicked – a few even come up to Glasgow to see me do Cinderella and came to my cabaret “A West End Christmas In Glasgow” which I was really touched about. It’s always a bit disconcerting when you walk out of stage door and you see people “greenified”! I usually didn’t get recognised as I had to have a shaved head for the show. You do get a few who are a bit pushy/rude and are only interested in the two lead females, but on the whole it’s a great atmosphere. Takes a bit of getting used to. On our last night (Rachel Tucker’s last) it was CRAZY! I’ve never seen so many people at stage door anywhere before! My favourite was at the last night of Love Never Dies. Hundreds of people, and one lady asked if she could have a picture with me. I obliged (of course!), and the woman behind asked if I would sign her programme. When I did, the lady with the camera came to me and asked if I was the Phantom. “I wish” I replied, then she said very disappointedly “Oh” and promptly deleted the picture of me right in my face…! I just laughed!
Kieran as Raoul in Love Never Dies
I see you’ve worked extensively in Vienna as an actor, concert soloist, and as a director; can you tell us about that?
I spent 6 years on and off living in Vienna and dividing my time between there and the UK. It’s really one of my favourite places to be and like my second home so I try to visit my friends there as much as I can. There is a great theatre scene over there and I worked for the International Theatre, which is now sadly closed, and the Vienna Theatre Project (sic). I recently did a series of three cabaret concerts called “West End Winters” with a German musical star Caroline Frank, which sold out, so we are hoping to make them a regular thing and do some more in a couple of months. There is nothing like that on the theatre scene in Vienna and word of mouth quickly spread so by the last night we had 30 people queuing for returns which was a lovely feeling! Vienna also gave me an opportunity to direct – I did “Over The Threshold” (which I was also in) and “A Christmas Carol”. It was a great place to dip my toes in the directorial water and I really learned a lot from the processes.
A Christmas Carol in Vienna
What ambitions would you still like to fulfil?
Well, to direct more, do a bit more TV again, and there are a few parts I’d love to play – Phantom in “Love Never Dies”, Joe in “Sunset Boulevard” (and there was me thinking I wasn’t such a Lloyd Webber fan!!!). I really want to do more plays/straight theatre again though. I’d love to do a period drama, like Bleak House, or Downton Abbey or something similar.
If you could create a fantasy production to star in what would it be and who would you cast alongside you?
Eeeek, this is a hard one! Well, ANYTHING with Dame Judi Dench, of course! Sorry if that’s a bit of a cliché but it’s true.
What do you do to chill out when you’re not on stage?
Not much! I find I have VERY little time – I’m always doing gigs or concerts so my spare time is somewhat precious! I’ve made a resolution to create more time for myself this year though, so we’ll see – maybe I’ll have time to discover a hobby!
Tell us what’s next for Kieran Brown.
At the moment, I have no idea! Chess will keep me busy for now, but I’m generally waiting on my agent to call with auditions! I will be back to Vienna I’m sure in the spring to do some more concerts, I am a guest performer for Annemarie Lewis Thomas (Principal and founder of the MTA in London), alongside the AMAZING Ria Jones, Shona White and Caroline Kieff at the Landor Theatre on Feb 15th. Other than that… watch this space!
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.
I booked to see this as soon as it was announced that Alfie Boe and Matt Lucas were to re-create the roles they had performed at the 25th anniversary concert, but this time in the full company of Les Mis at The Queen’s Theatre. I went to see this days after the 3 day break to install a state of the art sound system and enlarge the orchestra pit to accommodate the musicians needed to play the new scoring from the 25th anniversary concert. It was also the first week of the new cast.
I am sure everyone knows what a fantastic singer Alfie Boe is, but how would he cut it in musical theatre, singing (in his case) 6 shows a week? Many an opera star has come to grief – either unable to lose their operatic stylings or live up to the physical demands of this type of performing.
Well he was truly world-class. When he started singing I thought, wow this is beautiful but when he unleashed his voice using his full range it was truly spectacular. Rarely have I sat in a theatre and felt a singers voice reverberate from the tips of my toes to the top of my head. The hairs on my arms were actually standing on end. It did help that I was in the centre of the third row and could quite literally see the whites of his eyes, but from the ear-splitting roars from the standing ovation at the end, which had many of the cast, including Boe and Lucas in tears at the end, I think everyone agreed.
Now, to the rest of the cast and Thenardier, who is not exactly the subtlest of roles in this show, in fact, he provides the only moments of light-heartedness and comedy. It’s often taken totally over the top, and you would think with a comedian in the role he would take it to the extreme – but Matt Lucas (above) elevated Thenardier to a whole new level – his comic timing was sublime and in some instances so subtle, at times all it took was a tiny look and the audience were howling with laughter. His voice more than held up and was a charming surprise.
Now to the rest of the cast. Caroline Sheen (above) was pretty underwhelming vocally as Fantine and looked almost manic at points when she was required to act with any emotion. Which begs the question when are they going to get someone who can actually fill this role. They have one of musical theatre’s best known and most loved songs and I have yet to hear it done any justice in the theatre. Thankfully the strength of the other performances around her didn’t detract from the enjoyment of the show.
Hadley Fraser has a superb voice and was a Javert of strength and presence. The only criticism were the odd facial expressions at times (a glimmer of which we’re treated to above). He was an angry Javert, a very ANGRY in fact, and I’ve read in other blogs that he was the same when they went. On the whole though, a commanding Javert and Fraser is a massive musical talent with a stunning voice.
Alexia Khadime (above with Craig Mather) was perfectly adequate as Eponine but she brought little either vocally or dramatically to the part. Craig Mather as Marius was of fine voice and showed up his predecessor Gareth Gates weak vocals.
Liam Tamne (above) was a spectacularly good Enjolras, very charismatic, both his voice and his acting were fabulous.
One audience member from the US who had seen it in London twice before, on Broadway and the American tour, left in tears saying she had never seen a performance like it. It was truly magical – powerful, emotional and life-affirming – truly wonderful.
Les Misérables is the musical adaptation of Victor Hugo’s great humanitarian novel of one man’s determined survival in the face of another’s vengeful persecution. Set amid the social and political struggles of 19th century France, Les Misérables tells the story of former prisoner Jean Valjean, who is pursued for decades by his policeman nemesis, Javert.
The dramatic score includes numbers such as On My Own, One More Day, Bring Him Home and Do You Hear The People Sing?
Les Misérables is currently celebrating its 26th year in London, making it the world’s longest-running musical. The show first opened at the Barbican in 1985 before transferring to the Palace later that year, where it remained for nearly 20 years. It opened in its present home, The Queen’s, in 2004. The show is now one of the world’s best-loved musicals and has been produced in 38 countries and translated into 21 different languages.
The current cast includes;
Simon Bowman – Jean Valjean
Norm Lewis – Javert
Gareth Gates – Marius
Katy Secombe – Madame Thenardier
Lucie Jones – Cosette
Rebecca Seale – Fantine
Martin Ball – Thenardier
Samantha Barks – Eponine
Gates, Barks and Jones are all veterans of various reality TV shows – Barks in ‘I’d do Anything’ – the search for a ‘Nancy’ in Oliver, where she came third, Jones in 2009’s X-Factor, where she lasted until week 5 where she was ousted by ‘Jedward’ and Gates from the original Pop Idol in 2002, where he was runner up to Will Young.
Simon Bowman, by contrast is a seasoned West End leading man and his talent, magnetism and professionalism as Jean Valjean shone through and Broadway veteran Norm Lewis was a strong Javert. Gareth Gates on the other hand suffered because of the strength of the rest of the cast as did Rebecca Seale, who had to deliver one of the shows most iconic tunes I Dreamed a Dream both suffered from somewhat thin voices.
Les Mis is one show that lives up to all the hype thrown at it. This is as wonderful as everyone says it is, there is a reason it’s been running for 26 years, If you haven’t seen it I urge you to go. It’ll restore your faith in human kind!