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27 at the Cockpit Theatre

12 Sep

We seem to have a morbid fascination with stars on a path of self-destruction. Fame can put a lot of pressure on a person. And we have witnessed individuals struggle and fall again and again – from Jimi Hendrix to Kurt Cobain and Amy Winehouse. 27, a new musical by Sam Cassidy, deals with this phenomenon: The road to fame and how quickly it can end in tragedy. Told as a modern fable we meet Jimmy (stage name: Orpheus) who is trying to get his big break with his band. He is young and full of dreams. One fateful day he meets Ms. M who introduces him to the CEO of Olympus Records. Orpheus becomes a star. But with stardom comes self-destruction.

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Sam Cassidy has written a story about love, loss and the price of fame wrapped in a mystical narrative. It is an interesting concept and most of the time it works. One could argue that turning the CEO of the record company into the devil and his assistant Ms. M into Medusa is a bit of a cliché. On the other hand this is a modern day fairytale with all its classic elements: Villains, magical ingredients, a challenge the main character has to face and a lesson to be learned.

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I enjoyed the score even though I did not find it particularly memorable. It serves the story with a good mix of upbeat rock songs and ballads. There are some strong voices in the cast, Jodie Jacobs (Fate) and Ryan Molloy (Hades) being the stand outs. Ryan Molloy in particular brings a special buzz to this production. His Hades is just the right mix of evil and funny and steals the show whenever he is on stage.
Cassie Compton is very sweet as Orpheus’ girlfriend Amy. Jack Donnelly (Max) deserves a special mention for his strong acting performance.

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The staging is innovative and works well in this intimate venue. A warning for those who do not handle strobe lighting well: There is a lot of it. Although the space is limited Arlene Phillips has put together a vibrant choreography using every inch of the stage (and more – watch out if you are sitting next to the stairs on any of the three sides of the auditorium).

Personally I think this show could do with a bit of tightening up. Act two in particular felt a bit too long with the quest lasting forever without seeming to go anywhere. Maybe a 90 – 100 minutes one act show would be the right thing for 27.

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I left the theatre impressed by the show’s concept and most of the cast. 27 is a new musical and will only grow with time. There is huge potential for a show with an important message and I hope it finds an audience willing to come along on the ride.

27 is playing at the Cockpit Theatre until October 22nd. For more info and to book tickets visit http://27-london.com.

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Jesus Christ Superstar – Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre

19 Aug

Jesus Christ Superstar in an open air venue staged like a gig. The concept sounds intriguing and intrigued is what I was when I sat down to watch Regent’s Park Open Air Theate’s summer musical 2016.

First of all the set is wonderful. It’s quite simple but effective and doesn’t take anything away from the one thing that really makes this show: The cast. There’s Declan Bennett as Jesus who gives the role an almost folk-like touch. He’s the angsty leader, a saviour who has been cast in a role he did not ask for. His Gethsemane is a show stopper, sung with so much emotion it hurts the heart. On the other side there is Tyrone Huntley’s fierce Judas – furious with Jesus for not making a real difference and not standing up for himself and the people who worship him.

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Jesus Christ Superstar is a show that for me stands and falls with its two lead actors. You need a Jesus and a Judas who complement each other. And this is exactly what you get in this production. Declan Bennett’s Jesus has an almost eerie calmness surrounding him even in his most vocal moments of the show. Tyrone Huntley’s Judas on the other hand is loud and angry. It’s the perfect mix.

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The show has a strong supporting cast. David Thaxton’s Pilate is truly menacing, Peter Caulfield is possibly the most fabulous Herod I have ever seen and Anoushka Lucas is a sweet Mary Magdalene with a rich voice full of heart and soul.

Interaction between the characters seems to be missing at times possibly due to the concert staging of the show. While Jesus Christ Superstar always has a concert element to it this production goes one step further letting the performers use hand mics and even instruments on stage. At times it does feel like one after the other is coming on stage to sing a song – even when addressing another character the performer would sometimes look at the audience.

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The ensemble works hard – the times they stand still are very limited in this production. While I find Drew McOnie’s choreographie impressive and imaginative I feel there is slightly too much of it here. But seeing Genesis Lynea dance is such a treat so I am not complaining too much.

Then there is the glitter – so much of it. I am a bit torn about the use of it. While I think it is an interesting artistic choice the pure amount of glittery gold on stage seems ridiculous at times. On the other hand having a bloody, beaten and broken Jesus covered in glitter at the end of the show is a haunting image that surely leaves an impression.

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All in all this is a vibrant and imaginative new production of one Andrew Lloyd Webber’s finest (my opinion) musicals. It’s not a flawless show but the positive certainly outweighs the negative and the brilliant cast alone make this a production not to be missed.

Jesus Christ Superstar runs at Regent Park’s Open Air Theatre until August 27th 2016. For more info visit: https://openairtheatre.com/production/jesus-christ-superstar The rest of the run is currently sold out but returns may become available.

Groundhog Day at the Old Vic Theatre

16 Aug

I admit I was in doubt about Groundhog Day the moment the musical version was announced: Another film to stage production – as if we haven’t had enough of those already. Plus we are talking about Groundhog Day here. The film is a classic in my eyes and the main character Phil Connors – the man who has to live through the same day over and over again – has been defined by Bill Murray’s portrayal. However, I am happy to report my doubts vanished the moment the show started.

I’ve seen Andy Karl (Phil Connors) on stage before. He was my highlight in On the Twentieth Century on Broadway last year. So having him in London is a treat in itself. But seeing him in the West End doing such an incredible job playing what must be one of the hardest male leads in town right now is downright mind-blowing. Andy Karl is not trying to be Bill Murray. Andy Karl is Phil Connors – funny, a bit of a prick, arrogant, sometimes downright nasty but in the end someone who learns to use second chances to become a better person. I cannot fault his portrayal in any way. I do not say this often but he is 100% perfect in this role.

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It is not easy to shine next to a lead performer who basically commands the stage throughout the show. Carlyss Peer does well as Rita Hanson but sadly the character itself seems a bit underdeveloped in comparison to Phil Connors. And even though the show is all about repeating things I found myself being a bit bored by her singing the same song over and over. This is not Carlyss Peer’s fault at all but simply the way the character has been written.

The whole ensemble is working amazingly hard in this show and there is no weak link to report. I am not convinced by the act two opening number which – despite being sung beautifully by Georgina Hagen (Nancy) – seemed a bit pointless and out-of-place. Andrew Langtree as Ned Ryerson has a lovely song in act two which I really enjoyed even though I wish we had learned a bit more about the character himself. Eugene McCoy as camera man Larry is perfectly cast and provides some wonderfully dry humour. Stand outs in the ensemble for me are Kieran Jae (Fred) and Ste Clough (Jeff) – both great to watch in the ensemble scenes and their solo bits.

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A set that is simple but imaginative makes sure the narrative does not get pushed into the background. Some of the scene changes are beyond clever – I am still trying to figure out how they are done. I am not going to spoil it but if you watch the show and can tell me how the shower to bed scene change works – comment below (with a spoiler tag).

The music in the show drives the story forward with clever lyrics and nice melodies. I have not been humming the songs since but Tim Minchin has written a score that fits in perfectly with the tone of the show. It is not a score I would listen to at home but I really enjoyed the music while watching the show.

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All in all Groundhog Day is without a doubt one of the most exciting new musicals I have seen in the past years. It is like a breeze of fresh air in the world of musical theatre. I highly recommend you go see this show while you have the chance to catch it in the West End. Hopefully I will be able to watch Groundhog Day on Broadway next year – this is a transfer that just needs to happen.

Groundhog Day is running at the Old Vic Theatre until September 17th 2016. For more info and to book tickets go to http://www.oldvictheatre.com/whats-on/2016/groundhog-day/

The Color Purple – Jacobs Theatre, Broadway -25th June 2016

12 Jul

I remember watching the very first preview of The Color Purple at the Menier Chocolate Factory. I remember being excited to see the first public performance of what promised to be a great production. And I remember leaving the theatre slightly underwhelmed. I did not dislike the show back then and I was impressed by Cynthia Erivo’s portrayal of Celie. But I wasn’t amazed by the production either. I figured it just was not my kind of musical and decided I had seen it once now and that would be enough.

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When the production transferred to Broadway I had no intention of watching it. And I kept it at that until that day they announced Jennifer Hudson’s replacement as Shug Avery: Heather Headley. There are a few performers who will make me watch literally anything. Heather is one of them.

And so I found myself in the orchestra (= stalls, for those of you not familiar with Broadway theatre) to see a show I was sure I would find ok but not great. Then the show started and my theatrical heart exploded.

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There was Cynthia Erivo literally laying her soul out for everyone to see. Her Celie is vulnerable but strong, she is fearless and determined – it is impossible to not love her.

Danielle Brooks as Sofia made me laugh and cry – a powerful force on stage.

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And then there was Heather Headley, my reason to revisit the show and the one person I had the highest expectations for. If you are waiting for me to say I was underwhelmed you will be disappointed. Heather Headley’s Shug Avery is sublime. With a voice smooth as velvet Heather commands the stage. She’s feisty and funny and strong and sexy – she just IS Shug Avery.

It’s impossible to find a weak link in the cast. From Isaiah Johnson’s Mister to Kyle Scatliffe’s Harpo, Joaquina Kalukango’s Nettie and everyone in the Ensemble this is pure class on stage.

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I went into this show expecting to love Heather Headley’s performance. I walked out of the theatre having my faith in musical theatre restored. As long as productions like this exist musical theatre is alive. The Color Purple made my heart sing and I am grateful Heather Headley joined this production – not just because she was sensational but also because without her I would never have made the journey to watch this show. And my soul needed a show like The Color Purple – in fact I think every soul can do with a show like this now and then.

The Color Purple is on at the Jacobs Theatre on Broadway. For more info and to book tickets please visit: http://www.colorpurple.com

She loves me at Studio 54 / New York – 16th April 2016

13 May

I love old-fashioned American musicals. They have a certain charm you hardly find in shows these days. She loves me is such an old fashioned American musical. Currently being revived on Broadway the show is based on a play by Miklos Laszlo which inspired the 1940s movie “The Shop Around the Corner”.

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While the show is predictable and corners on the cheesy side all the way through it’s enchanting nonetheless thanks to an absolutely stellar cast. Zachary Levi is a dream to watch. Add the wonderful Laura Benanti and you have a match guaranteed to dazzle the audience. Jane Krakowski once again proves that she is not only a strong actress but also has comic timing down to a tee. Then there’s Gavin Creel who doesn’t get as much stage time as I would have liked but when he is on stage he owns it, simple as that.

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This show doesn’t shine with big showy numbers. There’s no big, flashy ensemble. Instead every one of the principles gets a moment to really shine.

This is one of those shows that won’t impress you with its outer appearance although the set is beautiful and caused applause on several occasions. She loves me will win you over with its simple but irresistible charm.

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I think one of the main reasons this show just works is the fact that we all can relate with one or more of the characters. They are not perfect and they struggle. But of course we know from that start that a happy ending is on the cards. And that’s exactly what you want when you are watching a musical comedy. Leave the tough stories for another day – today we want pure musical bliss.

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She loves me is playing at Studio 54. For more info and to book tickets visit http://www.roundabouttheatre.org/Shows-Events/She-Loves-Me.aspx

 

 

Miss Atomic Bomb at St. James Theatre – 12th March 2016

14 Mar

I usually don’t review a preview. On this occasion I will make an exception but I will concentrate on all the positive aspects of the show because I feel that those bits that appeared a bit flawed just need a bit more time to be ironed out.

Miss Atomic Bomb is a musical comedy set in 1950s Las Vegas centering around the vast amount of nuclear tests that took place in the Nevada desert around that time. In an attempt to profit from the always present atomic blasts (and threatened at gun point) Lou Lubowitz sets up a beauty contest to find Miss Atomic Bomb.

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At the center of the story we find Candy Johnson (Florence Andrews), a (sheep) farm girl desperate to raise funds to settle her late grandmother’s debt. She runs into Joey Lubowitz (Dean John-Wilson) who has just deserted the army after witnessing the horrific power of the atomic bomb. In an attempt to escape he flees to Las Vegas where his brother Lou Lubowith (Simon Lipkin) has just been appointed general manager of the Golden Goose Hotel. Due to extraordinary circumstances Lou and Joey set up the Miss Atomic Bomb beauty contest which might just be Candy’s only chance to escape the grip of the bank – represented by Mr. Potts (Daniel Boys) – that is threatening to repossess the trailer her grandmother left her.

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There is no denying that Miss Atomic Bomb has huge potential. The show has a great score and some wonderful comedy moments. And while the story is predictable it manages to keep the audience entertained nonetheless. Add a talented cast and you have an enjoyable evening at the theatre. Simon Lipkin shines as Lou Lubowitz and his duet with Catherine Tate in act two (Sugar Daddy) is a true showstopper. Catherine Tate has been praised for her comic timing before and she doesn’t disappoint here. Dean John-Wilson is perfectly cast as Joey Lubowitz – the romantic hero who also gets the chance to show off his funny side. He has great on stage chemistry with Florence Andrews who delivers a stand out performance as Candy Johnson. A special mention has to go to Stephane Anelli who is not only hilariously funny as Professor Alvin Schmul but also once again shows that he is a hugely talented dancer and singer. David Birrell has joined the cast on short notice to star as General Westcott / Mr. Rosenhunt and does a great job.

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It is obvious how much effort has been put into this new musical and the result is a light-hearted show that doesn’t take itself too seriously. Miss Atomic Bomb is proof that new original musicals can be innovative, entertaining, funny, clever and catchy all in one and so appeal to a broader audience.

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Here’s hoping this show gets the chance to be seen by a wide range of people not just during its short run at the St. James theatre.

Miss Atomic Bomb is playing at the St. James Theatre until 9th April 2016. For more info and to book tickets click here.

Ramin Karimloo live at the Union Chapel and Islington Assembly Hall

21 Jan

The last time Ramin Karimloo appeared on a London stage was in October 2012 – more than 3 years ago. Since then he has gone on to become a Broadway star and has performed in venues all over the USA, not to forget appearances in Canada and Japan.

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But despite being away for so long Ramin has never truly left London, the city he still considers to be his home. And on January 19th and 20th 2016 he finally found his way back on stage in his hometown. Two sold out gigs at the Union Chapel and Islington Assembly Hall clearly showed that London had not forgotten about “the Iranian with the banjo”. On both nights the audience was enthusiastic from start to finish.

Ramin has always been a unique talent with a voice of gold. From well-known musical theatre songs like “Till I hear you sing” (Love never dies”) to “Oh what a beautiful morning” (Oklahoma) and “Bring him home” (Les Miserables) – the latter a stunning duet with Hadley Fraser on this occasion – to cover versions of his personal and his own material, Ramin Karimloo doesn’t just sing lyrics and melodies, he embraces them and competely makes them his own. It’s what I call putting your soul into every song.

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Ramin’s unique and personal style which he has named Broadgrass is an amalgamation of Broadway and Bluegrass music and doesn’t just suit his voice perfectly but is clearly something he truly enjoys working on.

Having followed Ramin’s career since 2010 I have always loved hearing him sing his own songs as well as cover versions of his personal favourites. Getting to listen to “Constant Angel” again was just as wonderful as being treated to his take on “Ol’ Man River” and “If it’s the beaches”. But the most wonderful thing was seeing how much he has developed over the years. He is not “just” that guy with the brilliant voice. He is a talented musician and songwriter who loves what he is doing. And on top of that Ramin is still one of the most humble and gracious performers you can imagine. He doesn’t take his supporters for granted and always does everything he can to ensure everyone leaves the venue with a smile on their face.

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A special treat on both evenings was the appearance of Hadley Fraser – Ramin and his “brother from another mother” reunited on the London stage. It doesn’t get much better than this. Everyone who remembered the first Sheytoons gigs back in the days (Dublin Castle, anyone?) couldn’t help but smile all the way through “Driftwood” and “Wings”. Hadley and Ramin together are simply special – the bromance is still strong after all these years.

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Ramin Karimloo is going from strength to strength. His star is shining brightly these days but no matter where his career takes him next I hope he will always return home. London needs the Iranian and his banjo.

For all the latest info on Ramin visit http://www.raminkarimloo.com, check out his official Facebook page and follow him on Twitter @raminkarimloo.

Liebe Stirbt Nie – Hamburg, 29th December 2015

31 Dec

I watched the London production of Love Never Dies various times despite not being sold on the story. Reason was the great score and the wonderful cast.

When I first heard about a German production of the show I was absolutely sure I would give it a miss – just like I do with most shows over here. However, circumstances arose that meant I would find myself in the Operettenhaus in Hamburg on a cold evening in December.

First of all Liebe Stirbt Nie is adapted from the Australian production of Love Never Dies which differs from the London production in terms of set and costumes. The score remains mostly untouched but has been translated into German.

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Mathias Edenborn (alternate) played the Phantom on this occasion. He has a rich voice and manages to do the score justice. I admit I wasn’t blown away by his performance though. His portrayal seemed over-dramatic but that might be the way he has been directed to play the part so I will give him the benefit of the doubt. I simply prefer the Phantom to be a bit more subtle with just the occasional outburst which then comes across as even more meaningful and gripping.

But then subtleness is not what Liebe Stirbt Nie is about. This show wants to wow the audience by putting on a true extravaganza. Sadly it fails. The set is meant to be impressive and colourful but the stage is too small for all the various bits and pieces. Everything looks cramped and a lot of the set’s beauty is lost due to lack of space. Some of the costumes appear too bright, too colourful and therefor lose their elegance – whoever thought Christine’s peacock dress was a good idea: I’m saying no.

Szenenbild aus dem Musical LIEBE STIRBT NIE, von Andrew Lloyd We

Jazmin Gorsline (alternate) is a cute Christine but lacks the vocal strength to do the big title song justice. I remember being speechless the first time I saw and heard Sierra Boggess perform this song in London – it was such a beautiful scene that built up to the most astonishing finale with Chistine standing at the front of the stage belting out these incredible notes. Jazmin Gorsline sings the song well enough but she doesn’t manage to make it that one moment you will remember, that one song that breaks your heart a little.

Yngve Gasoy-Romdal’s Raoul is the drunk, sad excuse of a husband you expect to see. I still think that character is one of the hardest to play in the show. It’s tough to get the fine line between making Raoul someone the audience feels for depsite his faults and portraying a man the audience simply hates. Too much on either side and Raoul becomes a Panto-like character. Yngve did ok but I got the feeling he wasn’t really taking the character seriously. I can’t blame him – Raoul has gone from knight in shining armour straight to drunk, abusive idiot. It never made sense to me and it never will.

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The rest of the cast did a good job with the material they’d been given – special mention for Björn Klein who was a wonderfully creepy Squelch. But said material is the problem that makes Liebe Stirbt Nie a very mixed bag. The story is ridiculous, simple as that. Looking at Phantom of the Opera the characters have undergone a completey unbelievable development. Some moments in the show are nothing but cringeworthy.

However, the score remains one of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s best works in my opinion. And while the German translation is far from perfect the beautiful melodies make the songs a joy to listen to.

So, is Liebe Stirbt Nie a failure? Not entirely. Is it a show you need to watch? No.

But as always I’m asking you to make up your own mind. Liebe Stirbt Nie is running at the Operettenhaus in Hamburg. For more info and tickets visit http://www.stage-entertainment.de/musicals-shows/liebe-stirbt-nie-hamburg.html.

 

In the Heights at King’s Cross Theatre – 18th October 2015

20 Oct

The moment you enter King’s Cross Theatre to watch the eagerly awaited return of last year’s production of In the Heights you know you are in for something special. The foyer has been transformed to fit the theme of the show. New York Metro maps are hanging on the wall, there’s graffiti decoration, chain of lights hanging from the ceiling and salsa/latin music is filling the air.
All of this sets the mood for a show that had its European premiere at Southwark Playhouse last year (find my review here).

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The first thing I noticed is how vibrant and alive this production feels. From the first appearance of Graffiti Pete right until Usnavi leaves the stage at the end of the show In the Heights oozes energy. One of the things I loved most about the Southwark Playhouse production was the intimate setting. And I am happy to report that this intimacy has not been lost in the new venue. You still feel like you are right in the middle of the story – transported from cold London right into the heat of Washington Heights.

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And there you meet Usnavi, Sonny, Nina, Benny, Vanessa, Abuela, Daniela, Kevin and Camila, all of them fighting their own battle, trying to live their life in the neighbourhood. In the Heights tells a universal story – we all have our struggles and each of us can probably relate to at least one character in the show and their problems: The fear of not being good enough, the struggle to fit in, lack of money and so on.

Sam Mackay once again steps into the role of Usnavi and gives what I would call a career-defining performance. He doesn’t just “rap” the lyrics – he tells a story, a story that he seems to truly live and breathe for the duration of the show. It’s one of those performances that you will remember for a lifetime.

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Another stand out in the show is without a doubt Victoria Hamilton-Barritt who appears to have endless supplies of energy. Her Daniela is witty and a little saucy but always likable.

Lily Frazer is a new addition to the cast. She shines as Nina with clear vocals and great acting. Together with Joe Aaron Reid (Benny) she provides some of the most emotional moments in the show.

There really is no weak link in the cast and I could go on and on about how wonderful each and everyone on stage is but in the end this is something you should go and experience for yourself. One thing that I want to say is how truly amazing it is to see this talented cast put their heart and soul into the show. It is clear that this is not just a job for them but an experience they cherish and want to share with the audience.

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In the Heights makes me laugh and cry, it makes me want to get up and dance. This is an inspiring show about love, fear, hope, loss and friendship. It’s a vibrant story about everyday life in Washington Heights – musical theatre has never felt more real and alive.

In the Heights is running at King’s Cross Theatre until January 3rd 2016. For more info and to book tickets visit http://www.intheheightslondon.com/.

Update: The show is now booking until April 10th 2016. Don’t miss it! 

Beautiful – The Carole King Musical – Aldwych Theatre – 19th September 2015

25 Sep

Beautiful – the Carole King musical sounded like a show right up my street the first time I heard about it. It made me go “Female Jersey Boys!” which – as those who know me will be aware of – is praise coming from me.

The Show has been running in London for a while but I only just managed to check it out. And what can I say? I left slightly disappointed. This has nothing to do with the cast – something I want to point out straight away.

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Joanna Woodward who was on for Carole King the day I watched the show is quite simply wonderful. She has a marvelous voice and really manages to capture both the innocence of young Carole as well as the development from teenage girl to wife, mother and successful artist.

Alan Morrissey is a believable Gerry Goffin (Carole’s partner both personally and professionally). However, the male star of the show is Ian McIntosh (Barry Mann) who steals the show in most of his scenes. I just wish he had more to sing – his voice is one of the best in the West End and it seems a waste to only give him such small bits of solo singing.

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Then there is Lorna Want as Cynthia Weil who is feisty, funny, likeable and just all around fantastic. She and Ian McIntosh work particularly well together – a pure joy to watch.

The rest of the supporting cast and ensemble do well with the material they’ve been given.

The songs are well-known and definitely crowd pleasers. I enjoyed hearing them sung live by such a talented cast. Personally I would have preferred less songs in general but those songs in a full version instead of hearing what felt like a million song snippets though.

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So, we have a great cast and great songs. Then why did I not enjoy the show as much as I hoped I would? The answer is: The story. While I find Jersey Boys gripping and well done in terms of narrative and plot development I ended up slightly bored watching Beautiful. The story is predictable and the same things seem to happen over and over again. Plus I simply could not connect with any of the characters.

Spoiler warning!

Basically the show seems to be about Carole King writing a song whenever something happens in her life. She falls in love – she writes a song. She gets married – she writes a song. She has a baby – she writes a song. Her husband cheats on her – she writes a song. It just goes on and on without any proper dramatic tension in my opinion. Plus everything happens so fast there is no time to really get to know the characters. On top of that the two main characters just seem to make choices in their life that makes it hard for me to feel for them. Gerry Goffin might have his problems but we don’t learn much about them apart from him freaking out with no warning. And he is openly cheating on his wife and still expects sympathy. Then there is Carole King who lets her husband cheat on her not once but twice. If I knew more about his psychological problems and their general situation I might be able to understand Carole’s motives but since I don’t she just seems unreasonable to me. Or maybe I just have no sympathy for women who let their husband cheat on them (knowingly, I might add – he asked permission the first time!) and then make a big fuss when it happens again later on.

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I don’t mind light entertainment and I certainly don’t mind jukebox musicals. But Beautiful is telling a life story and I wish it would do the characters more justice by giving them a well put together narrative and good character development.

However, I do understand why Beautiful appeals to people. If you take it as a night out listening to Carole King’s greatest hits it certainly is a nice show. And it is perfectly fine to be happy with that. For me what Beautiful has to offer just isn’t enough.

As always I do urge you to go and make up your own mind – if only to see so much talent on one stage. Beautiful is playing at the Aldwych Theatre. For more info and to book tickets go to: http://beautifulmusical.co.uk/