School of Rock – New London Theatre, 15th January 2017

 

My love of musical theatre has led me to encounter some shows that are incredibly special to me that began life on the other side of the Atlantic. There’s Steve Martin and Edie Brickell’s Bright Star, Jason Robert Brown’s The Bridges of Madison County, and more recently, a reimagining of my favourite Disney film The Hunchback of Notre Dame with new music from Alan Menken and Steven Schwartz, which retains the Disney score and infuses it with more of Victor Hugo’s original novel. I genuinely love London’s theatre scene, but regularly find myself a teensy bit jealous of my American friends who have access to certain performers I’ve come to admire and will most likely never get to see because travelling in my circumstances is a logistical nightmare, and on a simpler level I just don’t have the funds. Some of them might likely tell you they feel the same jealousy with certain performers we have based here; I guess it’s an amusing vicious circle that we share! I’ve noticed  in my admittedly few years of regular theatregoing that shows tend to have a very strong likelihood of going over to Broadway, but the reverse is a rarity (at least I think so!) which I think is a shame as we miss out on some amazing pieces and potential for audiences to see something totally different. Also, many  West End performers are being snapped up for work on and off Broadway (including two of my favourites, and a third who I haven’t had the joy of seeing onstage beyond a handful of songs at a concert whilst he was amid having made his Broadway debut back in 2015). I wish more performers were afforded the same opportunity to come over to London.

 

My personal gripes are by the by however, because every so often a show does come along fresh from the Great White Way. One of my favourite films is 2003’s School of Rock and it was a bittersweet moment when in 2015 it was announced it had been adapted into a Broadway musical with music by Andrew Lloyd Webber, Lyrics by Glenn Slater and a Book by Julian Fellowes. Once more the familiar green eyed monster reared its ugly head. I contented myself with the Original Broadway Cast Recording and any Youtube clips of performances the cast did on American TV that I could find, living vicariously through my American friends, and the Brits who were lucky enough to travel over and see it. After the Broadway opening, Lord Webber announced that the West End production would open in 2016, originally rumoured to be playing at the Palladium, eventually confirmed instead for the New London, home previously to Show Boat and War Horse. This news devastated me, thanks to what I then referred to as the ‘paragraph of doom’ on the website that handles the theatre’s access bookings:

Wheelchair access is via a goods lift to the first level and then a quick transfer to a second lift.

Please note the width of the second lift door is 70 cm (27.5″) wide (depth 83cm – 36.2″) and will not accommodate many sizes of wheelchair especially most electric wheelchairs or scooters. Most people with wider wheelchairs will need to temporarily transfer to a small house wheelchair to access the auditorium. We strongly advise you to check the measurements of the wheelchair before booking, especially if you are unable to transfer to the house wheelchair.”

 

Luckily, my ever-pragmatic dad, who knew how upset I was by this, reckoned we could get my chair in, so I took a punt and booked a pair of tickets for   early November. We were on our way into London and it was an hour or so before showtime, when I get a call on my mobile. I didn’t recognise the number, so I let it go to voicemail. Turns out it was the theatre manager, who, immensely apologetic, informed me that the lift was broken and the engineer wasn’t able to get the part today, and so I couldn’t attend the show. I kid you not, it took all my resolve to stop myself  bursting into tears on the phone to her. She very kindly proceeded to phone round the other Really Useful Theatres to try and get us in somewhere for the matinee, a long shot given the time. Unsuccessful, my tickets were refunded and my next trip was on the house. I spent almost three weeks trying to rearrange the trip, and it included a whole bunch of calls I made, ones I missed, staff being away from the office, and so on. Then, on 23rd November, I got a call from Craig, who that day, was my hero and managed to book me in again to see the show in the new year.

 

Happily, I didn’t get any more phonecalls and January 15th saw us make it to the New London Box Office without further incident. Dad and I decided to “scope out” where we would be with the lift situation; whether he’d have to lift me into the house wheelchair or not. I wasn’t overly thrilled by this thought, as my own wheelchair has a seat specially designed for my posture and enables me to sit comfortably and I don’t have to worry about needing to be sat up as much, because Dad wasn’t watching the show with me to help on that score either if I should have to transfer. So, we asked if we could see if my chair would manage before the show began, before I headed off to meet my friend for a pre-show lunch. I can’t praise the staff enough, they understood our concerns and couldn’t do enough for us. To our relief and my joy even though the size of the lift, the position of my feet needing slight adjustment and my chair being manoeuvred so the door could shut in such a way that leaves my poor father pinned in a rather uncomfortable position against the lift wall… the house wheelchair wasn’t needed.

 

You know that old chestnut that you should never get your hopes up about something you’ve been waiting ages for because the anticipation means it’ll not be as good as you hope?  In the case of this show, at least in my mind anyway, it’s emphatically, joyously untrue. I don’t think I stopped smiling from start to finish; not least because the minute I entered and was told where I’d be sitting, my view felt like I was in an arena!

If you don’t know the film, it follows down and out aspiring Rockstar Dewey Finn who in need of some cash, poses as a substitute teacher at prestigious prep school Horace Green and sets out to turn his class of straight A students into a mind-blowing rock band. My favourite work of Lord Webber’s is Jesus Christ Superstar, so I am overjoyed to see him make a return to his “rock roots” here. The score features some truly infectious and face melting melodies, my favourites being Stick It To The Man and You’re In The Band. That said, there are also moments of real warmth and tenderness in If Only You Would Listen which I felt added another dynamic that the film didn’t I think touch on as well as it could have: namely the children’s frustration at their parents, and a reprise where they thank Dewey for the difference he has made to their lives. Principal Mullins also gets a starring solo with Where Did The Rock Go, a song that I fell in love with from first listen as it fleshes out her character more than the film does. I think it’s fair to say the number of reprises in the score sometimes gets a little  repetitive, but the way I looked at it was it was Lord Webber and Glenn Slater trying to drive home their creative point in making this more than an adaptation of the film, and emphasising the joy one can find in the power of music and staying true to yourself. It was also fun to see the Lord  do things in his scores like slide in a cheeky reference to Cats and let loose with writing a Battle  a la Guitar Hero for Dewey & Ned.

 

At the performance I was eventually lucky enough to attend, I found out a few days before I had the privilege of seeing Gary Trainor, the Alternate Dewey. I know Gary from his time over at Beautiful, where he played record producer Donnie Kirshner, and when casting was announced for School of Rock I was thrilled and longed to see Gary in the role, as it it’s completely different to  the role I  already knew and loved him for! Needless to say, he didn’t disappoint in the slightest; capturing the essence of Jack Black (who played Dewey in the film), but firmly putting his own stamp on the character. His energy and enthusiasm is boundless and he had me properly belly laughing to the point of near distracting hiccups on multiple occasions.  In the musical, Dewey also shares some lovely emotional moments with the kids and Principal Mullins that warmed my heart and  lovely watching  Gary and Florence play these, one in particular between Dewey & Tomika and another between Mason and Ms Mullins had me choked up! Since seeing Gary, I’ve been telling all my friends who have already seen David Fynn, the principal Dewey, that they must go back and see Gary; especially if they saw him in Beautiful because he’ll blow their minds!

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Image:

http://uk.schoolofrockthemusical.com/

 

I was also thrilled to see Florence Andrews had joined the cast, having seen and thoroughly adored Once three times during its West End run. She has a wonderful voice, hitting notes I could only dream of and I found myself more convinced by her character arc here than I am with the film, thanks to Florence’s grace and moments of razor sharp delivery.

 

 

Other special mentions for the adult cast go to Jonathan Bourne who has a three pronged attack as Jeff/Gabe/Billy’s Dad and thus made me smile and be frustrated on Billy’s behalf in equal measure, popping up in all three so seamlessly I almost forgot they were being handled by him by himself, Alfie Parker who was on for Mr Williams and absolutely hilarious, Michelle Francis who was on for Patti, Ned’s girlfriend, and Oliver Jackson, perfect as Dewey’s nerdy and downtrodden pal Ned. Those names aside, I loved the adults across the board; they throw themselves at this show with as much heart and energy as the kids.

 

Speaking of the kids, my god are they talented! My band for the afternoon was made up of Jake Slack (Zack), Sophia Pettit (Katie), Noah Key (Freddy), Oscar Francisco (Lawrence),  Adithi Sujith (Tomika), Leah Levman (Marcy) and Jaydah Bell- Ricketts (Shonelle). I was either in awe of their prowess at their respective instruments, or particularly in Adithi’s case, how such a powerful voice can possibly come out of her petite frame! Class was completed by Eva Trodd (Summer), Logan Walmsley (Billy), Lucas Chow (Mason), Bradley Bissett (James), Grace Schneider (Sophie) and Zac Dowlatshahi (Matthew). All of them were a joy to watch,  and in my opinion the Battle/Finale are worth the ticket price alone; I haven’t been in an audience so swept up and receptive to rockin’ out in a long time!

 

Elsewhere, Anna Louizos scenic and costume design add oomph and personality  to what I think is a really hard stage to dress, and Natasha Katz (Lighting) and Mick Potter (Sound) really get to let loose and have fun, a trait also abundant in Laurence Connor’s directing.

 

You can say I’ve been incredibly late in “handing in my homework” writing this so long after the event. All the same, I wanted to say a massive thankyou to the cast and creative team because it meant a lot for me to finally get there. I look forward to whenever I’m next in class 😉

 

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Made it! Waiting for class to begin

 

 

Saint Joan – Donmar Warehouse, 14th January 2017

 

 

Nestled away in London’s Covent Garden you can find the Donmar Warehouse, one of my favourite theatrical venues in the city. The venue seats 251 and thus leads to an intense and wonderfully intimate experience as an audience member, but the thing I love most is the variety they have in their programme, having to date seen a musical, my favourite work of Shakespeare and a mixture of classic and more contemporary plays there. Also, the casting department seems to provide me no end of joy and amusement as they seem to possess an uncanny knack of casting those performers I love to watch; therefore, I am often more inclined to buy a ticket. Some I know don’t like this approach and say you should go for the show as a whole not a performer, but I firmly believe you can have the best of both worlds: in my experience supporting and admiring the performers I do leads me to see things I may not necessarily always choose to see, which in turn has broadened my horizons and tastes as a theatregoer; something I’ll always be grateful for and am endeavouring to continue doing. As well as onstage, I have had some really amusing and utterly, brilliantly surreal experiences offstage so it’s a venue that I will always hold close to my heart, and I could be found here kicking off my theatrical adventures of 2017 with Bernard Shaw’s Saint Joan.

 

Set in 15th Century France, Shaw’s piece dramatizes what is known of Joan of Arc’s life through substantial records of her trial, first premiering in 1923, three years after her canonization by the Roman Catholic Church. I knew only a little about Joan’s life before coming to the play, and hadn’t read it beforehand, as I do sometimes. As such, I knew I was going to be challenged seeing something based on historical events, but eager at the prospect. I learned later that in his preface to the play, Shaw wrote: “There are no villains in the piece. Crime, like disease, is not interesting: it is something to be done away with by general consent… It is what men do at their best, with good intentions, and what normal men and women find that they must and will do in spite of their intentions, that really concern us.”

Looking back on my experience at the play now, I can see the point he was trying to make in that everybody involved acted in good faith according to what they believed, and as such the dynamic and crux of the drama comes from the choices people make and how people relate to one other. Knowing the setting of the piece and how the productions here like to play with the blend of traditional and more contemporary elements, I was genuinely intrigued by the direction the production would take here, indeed the very first thing we are confronted with is a tableau of Joan, decked out in chain mail, sometimes with sword in hand, kneeling on a spotlight platform mouthing prayers to her “voices” or prostrate before a crucifix. At the back of the stage whilst this is happening, we have a screen blazing with the question: “Must a Christ perish in every age to save those that have no imagination?”, with a projection of rose petals falling on one side, and a waterfall on the other. The combination of Howard Harrison’s Lighting and Duncan Mclean’s Video design from the outset seems to set the tone for on which the rest of Robert Jones’s striking design hangs, placing the classic, some might say expected elements, into a stark contemporary resonance.

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Our First sight

ones’s design makes a centrepiece of revolve and a long glass table, like the kind you would find in a boardroom:  news commentary, stocks, shares, facts and figures are the order of the day, and what this does is immediately place Joan as the sole female in a space dominated by men. Interestingly, she is the only one in traditional medieval dress throughout the play, which perhaps serves makes her power and influence over them more pronounced. While I found it a little jarring at times to see Joan conversing with the Dauphin over video chat, or a fleeting snippet of Evan Davis on Newsnight, overall I really enjoyed the contemporary touches, as it challenged me to think about how the play is still relevant today, as it’s essentially about individuals challenging the establishment, and deals with questions of religion and the way it can both give hope to and be troubling or difficult to understand to others depending on how you look at it; there’s a particularly interesting scene in which the Bishop of Beauvais (Elliot Levey) and the Earl of Warwick sit (Jo Stone – Fewings) sit and discuss the unnerving prospect of a world in which everyone inherits the “monstrous self-conceit of being directly inspired from heaven. It will be a world of blood, of fury, of devastation…” which hits close to the nerve in light of recent conflicts, and the failing of Robert De Baudricourt’s hens to lay and the uncertainty it creates for the economy could be read as reminiscent of that same uncertainty our own economy faces over Brexit.

 

 

 

 

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The fact I could pick up on the contemporary allusions amid the setting pleased me greatly as it gave me another way “in” to proceedings, but also meant I was hanging on every word where I may have found myself a bit lost.  Director Josie Rourke has trimmed the piece down to 2 and three quarter hours, but I found it to be well paced and my attention was always engaged and emotionally invested.

The central power in  the play for me, comes back to what I touched upon earlier: Joan being the woman in a man’s world. As the titular figure, Gemma Arterton is quietly radiant, for me her portrayal gave Joan strength in the quality of her conviction: I found it harder to see how she could lead an army, but really easy to see how she beguiles and mystifies the men about her.Her Joan has an easy grace and elegance, but underneath that a steely tenacity that is always there just below the surface, and she taps into it at precisely the right moments with just the right intensity; the trial scene is heartbreaking and gave me goosebumps. There is impressive support all round from the gents who make up the rest of the cast, to name a few: Fisayo Akinade is wonderfully amusing as the Dauphin, Rory Keenan a chilling presence as John Lemaître, The Inquisitor,  and Richard Cant is once again on tremendously moving form as John de Stogumber.

The play ends with Joan asking: “O God that madest this beautiful earth, when will it be ready to accept thy saints? How long, O Lord, how long?”  which not only did I find both tragic and beautifully haunting, but above all it made me think. The latter trait being the recipe for my favourite kind of theatre.

Photo Credits: Jack Sain

Lazarus – Kings Cross Theatre, 31st December 2016

To kick off my theatrical blogs for the new year, I’d like to just take you guys back a little to the matinee of New Year’s Eve. I could be found at King’s Cross Theatre seeing Lazarus, the new musical by David Bowie and Enda Walsh. I am, regrettably not as well versed in David Bowie’s work as I would like to be (but the little I do know I enjoy), so came to this more on the level as a theatregoer who wanted to challenge myself with a new show instead of falling back on my familiar favourites again instead of a devoted fan of his music. Conversations I was having with friends who had seen the show before me were interesting; I was constantly hearing that it was unlike anything they’d ever seen before, not a ‘musical’ in the traditional sense of the word, and my favourite: “don’t try and make sense of it the first time round.”  As such, I was by turns intrigued and, if I’m honest, a little bit apprehensive. Yet what transpired during that one hour 50 minutes was extraordinary: it IS unlike anything I’ve ever seen, and is definitely not what I’d call a musical in the familiar, traditional sense. I certainly didn’t understand everything that was going on, but the best part about that was: I’m not sure I was meant to, and in that sense Lazarus at least in my eyes became more than a musical and instead becomes a piece of glorious, undefinable, beautifully haunting art.

Inspired by the 1963 novel The Man Who Fell to Earth by Walter Tevis, which in turn served as the basis the film of the same name that Bowie starred in, Lazarus introduces us once more to Thomas Jerome Newton, a humanoid alien who after a failed first attempt to return home (see the novel and the 1976 cult classic film) is still stuck on Earth. Bitter, broken and surviving only on copious amounts of television, gin and (when he can be bothered to walk around his apartment and find them) Twinkies, we follow Newton for few days, where “the arrival of another lost soul – might set him finally free”.

Jan Versweyveld’s scenic and lighting design is one of the things I loved most about this piece. Newton’s apartment is sparsely furnished: a bed, fridge and a lone record player from which Ricky Nelson’s version of Hello, Mary Lou opens the show (Irony abounds as Mary Lou is the name of Newton’s ex-lover) but at the back of the stage, there is a video screen; which serves for some of the most creative and striking visuals I believe I’ll ever see on stage, with video design by Tal Yarden. Figures emerge from the screen and backdrops are even projected onto the back wall of Newton’s apartment, where from behind a set of windows, we see the band playing. There are points where characters press themselves up against these, as if trying to escape, I remember being particularly touched by the moment where Newton does this, whilst singing Lazarus: “this way or no way, you know I’ll be free, just like that bluebird… now, ain’t that just like me?” because it, for me, sets up the dynamic of the show; the interplay between Newton’s gin addled sense of reality and fiction, and how the line between the two has and will continue to become increasingly blurred. The clever blend of all these elements, the more natural verses the fantastical things that Newton sees (or does he?) put me in mind of a science fiction cum fantasy movie and I loved it, despite the confusion that is consistently simmering away about the action that unfolds.

Michael C. Hall is a powerhouse as Newton. As someone who was completely in the dark about his stage work  and having only seen snippets of Dexter, I was floored by his vocals and at times thought he sounded so like Bowie it was deliciously uncanny and sent shivers down my spine. Not to mention the fact that he rarely leaves the stage, and often spends time just watching his fellow cast members: even when he probably wasn’t meant to be the main focus of my attention, I found myself watching him, wondering what Newton was thinking; Hall brings a hypnotic quality to Newton’s tormented nature that charmed me.

 

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Newton & Girl (Credit: Johan Persson)

 

 

 

Newton is visited by an eerie, otherworldly Girl that claims she is there to help him. She knows everything about him, but nothing about herself. It soon becomes apparent that she, like Newton, is trapped between worlds, and the two share some wonderfully tender and equally amusing moments. The Girl comes to symbolise hope to Newton, ‘building’ him a new rocket, helping him move on from Mary Lou: “when you’re stuck between two worlds – it’s only right that you try something incredible…” but for me the power in their relationship comes from the fact that it deals with the idea of loss, acceptance and the freedom acceptance can offer.  In my eyes, it also plays around with the idea of identity, and whether we can or indeed should let ourselves be defined by a single thing, or are we just all fluid, a bit like the nature of the piece itself. Nowhere did I think this more prominent as in Heroes, where Newton and the girl have embraced their freedom and playfully slide around in her ‘blood’ which is white, like milk, (perhaps symbolic of rebirth), Newton having at the same time concluded “we’re nothing, and nothing can help us”. Incidentally, I think this arrangement of my favourite Bowie song (musical supervision and orchestrations by Henry Hey) was my favourite of all, it’s haunting, poignant and at the same time I felt hopeful while listening.

Sophia Anne Caruso is an ethereal delight as the Girl, and struck me as possessing a charisma and stage presence far beyond her young years. Her singing is eerie yet pitch perfect, blending wonderfully with Hall’s and also being a force of nature on its own; the ease with which she tackles Life on Mars and This is Not America is spellbinding.

 

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Another lost soul – The Girl (Credit: Johan Persson)

 

Newton’s assistant Elly was the character I had the most  fun trying to decipher. Seemingly part of the real world, she nonetheless blends into Newton’s ‘reality’ with alarming ease. Dissatisfied with her life and lack of fulfilment, she in one particularly memorable scene, she strips down and eventually morphs into the guise of Mary Lou. She seemingly feels overwhelmed by this but is reluctant to let it go because it gives her life meaning, and I felt I could relate to this struggle; Amy Lennox brings a likeable and grounded quality to a role that at one point brings us a surreal and utterly bonkers scene that features both her and the Girl dressed as Mary Lou talking to Newton while a video of Mary Lou dancing also plays behind! At times, it perhaps  got a bit too obscure and I wondered what the hell was happening, but I let this go and just decided to run with it and stop thinking so hard.

 

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Elly and Valentine (Credit: Johann Persson)

 

Add to this mix Michael Esper who gives a deliciously creepy turn as Valentine, a serial killer disillusioned with life and the state of the world, and you will sometimes find yourself thrown into a theatrical world that is impossible to work out, but if you embrace this fact with an open mind, it’s truly rewarding and gives you near endless scope for interpretation. That, in itself is for me the power and joy of good art – it’s subjective and my ideas about it will probably be different to everyone elses, and I don’t know if I’m even on the right track with how I looked at this show. Nevertheless, what a ride it proved to be, I feel blessed to have had such a powerful, moving theatrical experience.

Ragtime – Charing Cross Theatre, 15th October, 2016

Those who know me and my theatregoing habits will know that I’m a sucker for revivals of musicals and will always find space in my stagey diary for them. You’ll also know if you are an occasional or regular avid reader of my theatrical musings, that I’m trying to make a conscious effort to see more shows that are new to me. So, what better way to combine both with a trip to the Charing Cross Theatre for Ragtime, part of Thom Southerland’s new season as artistic director there.

Based on E.L Doctorow’s 1975 novel of the same name, the musical weaves together the stories of three different groups living in America in at the turn of the 20th century, where the world is spinning and a new distant music can be heard on the horizon. We have the White upper class suburban family, here known simply as Mother, Father, Mother’s Younger Brother, Grandfather and The Little Boy (or Edgar), the African American community represented by Harlem musician Coalhouse Walker Jr, and Eastern European Immigrants, represented by Tateh and his daughter, who travel to America in search of a better life from Latvia.  Their stories not only overlap at times, but we also meet some prominent historical figures from the time, such as Booker T Washington, Henry Ford, Evelyn Nesbit and Harry Houdini.

Personally, I lean towards musicals that challenge me to think deeply about life and deal with powerful issues, and Ragtime has that quality in spades: politics, racism, the meaning of family, poverty, injustice, and acceptance are all explored and confronted, and it struck me deeply how the piece still feels chillingly relevant today. Couple that with an utterly delicious score by Stephen Flaherty (and lyrics by Lynn Ahrens), and I think it’s fair to say that Tom and his company and creative team are onto a sure-fire winner.

I’m consistently amazed of late by the magic that can be created by  small casts in intimate spaces, and here we have no exception: a cast of 24, many of whom are actor- musicians pack the teeny Charing Cross stage (and indeed at one point, the aisles!) with an energy and enthusiasm that is infectious, a sound that is almighty and nothing short of a delight; I started getting chills down my spine from the Prologue and they would return periodically throughout the evening; a testament to the fact I felt instantly connected to this music and its ability to shape and drive the narrative. Credit, too, to Musical Director maestro Jordan Li- Smith for his assured leadership: a cast of polished, infinitely engaging actor musos is always a treat for the ears as well as the eyes, but to achieve this having memorised all the music, and playing a piano that spends a good part of the show spinning? Massively impressive. Tom Rodgers and Toots Butcher’s set is a two-storey multitasking marvel: the piano morphs into a Ford Model T, and we go from country house to deck of a ship with a spin of a balustrade. The cast climb and perch wherever they need to be, pianos turn into soap boxes and so on; and this often gives some of the show’s emotional moments a new depth. Choreography by Ewan Jones is slick and smart, again a masterclass in how to utilise the intimate space with the size of cast you have.

 

I think this production boasts one of the strongest ensembles it has been my privilege to watch. They are led by Anita Louise Combe as Mother whose performance radiates warmth, grace and sensitivity; her vocal soars, and her rendition of Back to Before was one of my personal highlights of the entire evening! Where Mother represents everything that is progressive, tolerant, courageous and infinitely compassionate we have her antithesis in Father, who often comes across as cold and emotionless. I spent the entire show in a bit of a quandary; I felt Father wasn’t always a particularly likeable character, but I think he’s just set in his ways and struggles to articulate his feelings, and is actually one of the characters I found myself empathising with most. This production is the third opportunity I have had to see Earl Carpenter perform (the others being Phantom of The Opera & Les Misérables on Broadway) and he continues to astound me, he’s one of those performer’s I think is a master of making the subtlest and smallest of nuances say so much, and I got a simple sense of pure joy just hearing him sing again.

The Family (Credit: Annabel Vere & Scott Rylander)

The Family (Credit: Annabel Vere & Scott Rylander)

Gary Tushaw was, in my mind a marvel as Tateh. I had not seen him perform prior to this, and I hope it won’t be my only opportunity; his energy and passion is relentless, and Tateh’s journey throughout the show fills me with such joy, his dogged determination and love for his daughter is enchanting. He has a duet with Mother, Our Children that is particularly exquisite; Tushaw’s and Combe’s voices a  delighful, rich blend that warmed my heart.

 Gary Tushaw, a marvel as Tateh (Credit: Annabel Vere & Scott Rylander)

Gary Tushaw, a marvel as Tateh (Credit: Annabel Vere & Scott Rylander)

 

Ako Mitchell and Jennifer Saayeng shine as Coalhouse and Sarah; their chemistry sizzles and together and apart, they have some of the show’s most powerful, affecting moments. Coalhouse turns vigilante after Sarah is killed, and to watch Ako go through that emotional transition as an actor as Coalhouse’s spirit is broken and he is angry at the world is truly something, it felt so raw and honest and my heart broke.

Coalhouse and Sarah (Credit: Annabel Vere & Scott Rylander)

 

Ragtime is one of those scores and shows that took me through every conceivable emotion, and touched a nerve in the way it reminded of how far we’ve left to go as a society. That said, it boasts a tremendous spirit and optimism that I was charmed by, and all the cast are phenomenal; I’d urge everybody to get a ticket if you can so you can see this Tony award winner brought thrillingly back to life!

Ragtime is running at Charing Cross Theatre until December 10th. For details and to book: http://charingcrosstheatre.co.uk/theatre/ragtime 

Jesus Christ Superstar – An idea

Calling all ‪#‎OATsuperstar‬ fans. I set this up so we can show the  Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre team how much we love this show, and how worthy we think it is of a cast recording, for those of us who have seen it, and for those who haven’t had the opportunity, so this incredible piece, including maestro Tom Deering’s amazing refreshed arrangements of Lord Webber’s classic score and performances of Declan, Tyrone, David, Anoushka, Joel, Peter and the rest of the cast can live on. All signatures and shares greatly appreciated!
 Some brilliant comments from supporters of the petition already, and would love to keep the momentum up:
‘Would be a travesty not to’
 
‘The show was superb and the voices sublime. Can’t imagine ever hearing it done better and would LOVE to be able to listen to those fabulous voices over & over again. Sung with such feeling.’
‘This was truly one of the most magical and spellbinding shows I have ever seen! Taking the score back to its rockier roots with the most stunning cast was sheer perfection and it so deserves to be heard by so many more!!’
I am incredibly excited by the rumours of a West End transfer, but feel the Regent’s Park cast are too incredible to let pass by, while my efforts may not be fruitful, I feel I wanted to try on behalf of this production and team. You can also read my original thoughts on the production here: https://confessionsofa20somethingliteratureandmusicjunkie.wordpress.com/2016/08/03/jesus-christ-superstar-regents-park-open-air-theatre-july-30th-2016/

Jesus Christ Superstar, Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre – July 30th, 2016

At the end of last year, I made a commitment to myself to make more of a conscious effort to see new shows. My theatre going staples and regulars will always have a place in my diary and my heart, and still have a ways to go in terms of seeing more new things, but I think my eyes are more gradually opening up to the world of theatre that is so rich and vibrant beyond the familiar sights of Shaftesbury Avenue. One of my favourite theatrical experiences to date was my first trip to Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre last summer seeing Seven Brides for Seven Brothers starring Alex Gaumond and Laura Pitt – Pulford; I was astounded by the space and how it could be used, challenging all my ideas and preconceptions about how shows can be staged, and what’s possible within that. Not to mention there’s just a special kind of magic and atmosphere around seeing a show outside, assuming the weather stays dry!

That in mind, when Regent’s Park announced their musical for the new season was Jesus Christ Superstar, in keeping with my resolution, I took a punt and decided to get tickets. Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s rock opera began life in 1970 as a concept album, before opening on Broadway in 1971, the West End in 1972 and numerous productions since over the years. The story is loosely based on the gospel’s accounts of the final week of the life of Jesus Christ. I was totally unfamiliar with the majority of the score before I went in, and think Tom Deering has worked wonders with his arrangements; from the opening riff until the final notes I was enthralled at how he has breathed new life into  a 45 year old score that I now have become a little bit obsessed by… there’s riffs and awesome harmonies all over the place, but also moments of raw tenderness where he has allowed the voices to shine, and that combination is truly magical. I have never experienced a score where it took all my resolve to sit still during the uptempo numbers, a foot or a shoulder or my head was always moving because I was so into what I was hearing. By that same token, his arrangements of the ballads and slower numbers sent shivers down my spine.

Director Timothy Sheader’s style is raw, visceral and relentless; he has a real gift for distinct memorable imagery, especially in the lead up to the Crucifixion, and each scene is attacked by his cast with boundless enthusiasm and energy. Choreography by Drew McOnie is riveting and one of my favourite things onstage, moving from righteous zeal to an almost hypnotic quality as they morph into the mob that bays to Pilate for Jesus to be crucified. Thanks to Tom Scutt’s striking design, the ensemble rock out beneath coloured dust, gold glitter,  flares and flames, all of which bear a wonderful striking contrast to the mostly muted greys of the costumes of Jesus and his disciples. The crown jewels in the costume department, for me, are Peter Caufield’s King Herod, who strides onto the stage in a flowing gold cape, and David’s Thaxton’s Pilate, who looks like he’s fresh out of a rock concert, eyeliner standing out like warpaint. The set is also hauntingly skeletal, featuring a cruciform walkway and steel frames, its rugged simplicity again allowing the actors to shine and really make them the focus. Initially I found the hand held microphones a little distracting, but soon I forgot they were there, and thought they were a neat nod to the show’s origins.

David Thaxton is every inch a rockstar (Credit: Johan Persson)

 

 

The ensemble  in this show and cast in general are one of the strongest and most delightful. I have witnessed recently, not a weak link among them! Declan Bennett, who I haven’t had the honour of seeing since his Once days, brings a raw, rugged, earthy kind of charm to Jesus that I found utterly captivating. As act one moves apace, he seems to grow in charisma and intensity, his vocal fitting Tom’s reimagining of the score like a glove. By the time we got to Gethsemane, the Act Two opener which opens simply with Declan and his guitar, and runs full pelt into a glorious, soul bearing anthem, I longed to get up out of my seat and cheer with wild abandon, and I had the feeling he had nothing left to give. Boy oh boy I was wrong: the Trial By Pilate and acceptance of his fate is harrowing and in an odd way, beautifully understated.

Declan Bennett as Jesus (Credit: Johan Persson)

Declan Bennett as Jesus (Credit: Johan Persson)

Declan’s Jesus was joined at this particular matinee by Joshua Dever as Judas, (usually played by Tyrone Huntley) in his very first show, at short notice and (he informed me afterwards) having only rehearsed the first act fully! From beginning to end, I was astounded by the depth he gave to the character, I felt every nuance of his pain and inner conflict, and he negotiates those powerhouse songs with ease and a likeable charm, even the cynical Superstar, having crowned Declan with his gold dusted thorns.

Singer songwriter Anoushka Lucas shines as Mary, having perhaps the most familiar  songs (I Don’t Know How to Love Him and Could We Start Again Please?), her soulful voice adding  a tender and endearing fragility to her portrayal.

Anoushka Lucas (Mary Magdelene) (Credit: Johan Persson)

Anoushka Lucas (Mary Magdelene) (Credit: Johan Persson)

David Thaxton, every inch a rockstar in his eyeliner and playing lead guitar in Pilate’s Dream, chews up the score and spits it out; I was floored by the intensity of his voice and how well it works with the score, having only seen him perform before in Only The Brave, a new musical which called for a markedly different style of character and singing.

Cavin Cornwall and Sean Kingsley also get to let their rock gods out to play as Caiaphas and Annas, Joel Harper Jackson brings an infectious kind of joy to Simon, and in all his golden glory, Peter Caulfield is a deliciously camp scene stealing Herod.

 

Peter Caulfield is a scene stealing vision in Gold. (Credit: Johan Persson)

 

 

 

I’m consistently amazed by the ways in which musical theatre moves me and influences my life, and I felt that quality in spades here. I remember saying I felt  changed, having witnessed such an incredible array of talent in terms of vocals and storytelling, and thank them most heartily for giving me a show that I have now fallen completely, utterly and wholeheartedly head over heels for. So much so, I spent Sunday enquiring about availability and had a return trip booked by Tuesday 😉

Nadim Naaman: Sides Album Launch, 19th June 2016

I remember the first time I came across Nadim Naaman. It was 2012, and two of my friends and I were at Stage Door of Her Majesty’s Theatre as one of them wanted to leave some gifts there for him. He actually caught up with us there and watching him interact with my friend I was struck by his smile and sweet, humble nature. At the time, as my friend was the massive fan and he already knew her from previous outings, I didn’t want to intrude on their encounter so I hung back, but he was actually lovely enough to say hello to us, too. I left that Stage Door not only liking him immensely just from a few seconds of his greeting me, but with a feeling he’d fast grow to be a talent I am privileged to have in my life. Nowadays, when he’s not treading the boards over at that very same theatre, this time as Raoul (he covered the role back then), Nadim is also an immensely talented songwriter. His first album We All Want the Same is a staple in my regular playlist on my iPod, and I was left hoping he would see fit to repeat the experience one day.

That in mind, this past weekend, whilst what felt like the entirety of my theatrically inclined Twitter Timeline could be found at Trafalgar Square for West End Live (we swung by briefly and given my circumstances I can say with absolute sincerity: never again), I could be found at the Hippodrome Casino, with a couple of my good friends, at the launch of Nadim’s second album Sides.

'Sides' Selfie

‘Sides’ Selfie

To be able to take a leap from musical theatre to releasing your own material is something I admire immensely, not only because it’s intriguing and great fun to see another side of a performer’s talent, but because I think it showcases huge bravery and commitment, to put yourself out there and say: I want to share with you what I’ve created, in my own words, and it might not be what you expect to hear.  Nadim’s been clever though, he has also included musical theatre on the album, so you gain an insight into both sides of what he is about as an artist, hence the album’s apt title. He also took us on a journey through other musicians that have influenced his life, and a reference he made to Billy Joel before launching into a rendition of The Downeaster Alexa comes back to me as I write this: he said that Billy’s songs always have a premise to them, inspired by people, places or things and that he tries to emulate Billy’s example in his own writing style. For me, Nadim has learnt extremely well; his writing amazes me consistently in its sincerity and versatility. We’d go from the super sleek Bond theme homage:  Blinded by Fire to the joyful, infectious optimism of This’ll Be the Year, and pretty much every emotion and style in between. I always find something in Nadim’s writing I can connect with in some way, because it seems to have an endearing human quality to it, whatever that might be: joy, despair, love, loss, life. I believe he has a real gift for making the ordinary and familiar extraordinary and that’s what moves me so deeply about his work. What struck me immediately and throughout the set, was that whether it was his own song, musical theatre, or any cover (aside from Billy Joel, Genesis, Queen, and James Bay also appeared, to name a few!) Nadim attacked it with a passion, enthusiasm and energy that radiated off him in spades. It was a delight to watch him enjoying himself so and meant that we were all willingly swept along for the ride, too!

Not content with simply gracing us with his presence, Nadim also enlisted some friends to help him out. Will Barratt, who I hadn’t seen since his stint in Jersey Boys, joined Nadim for their song That’s How it Goes from Nadim’s first album, a Phantom of the Opera mash up that sent shivers up my spine, and a genius Michael Jackson medley. Due to the venue not being accessible to my four wheels, I had to miss the launch of Will’s album, Confessions of a Justified Sinner, I adore it so was thrilled to see him there, and am so excited to see him in Jesus Christ Superstar next month. Celinde Schoenmaker, currently the Christine to Nadim’s Raoul at Her Majesty’s, joined Nadim for a duet of the Jason Robert Brown song, I’d Give It All for You. For me having only seen her as Fantine and Christine, it was a joy to hear her tackle a different style of music, her smile lights up the room and her and Nadim’s voices complement each other’s wonderfully. I am still relatively new (perpetually late to the party, as ever, but Bridges of Madison County is a particular cherished favourite) so am grateful for any opportunity to discover his work I can get! Celinde also duets with Nadim on Sides, with the title track from Phantom. I think it’s an inspired arrangement, and I’m going to go there and say I actually prefer it to the original: it’s got a kind of Moulin Rouge El Tango De Roxanne vibe about it, it’s sultry and sexy and I commend them both for having the guts to take a song so well-known and give it a refreshing new lease of life.

Rob Houchen joined Nadim for a duet of The Proposal/The Night Was Alive from Titanic and also had a solo on an Elvis track. Similarly to Celinde, I have only seen Rob in Les Misérables thus far, so it was fun to see and hear more of him after so long. Rob has recently released his own EP, and I feel sure he is destined for more great success with his own music if his renditions here are anything to go by! Laura Tebbutt was a new face and voice for me, and I hope I can see more of her in future; their duet from Sides: Falling is again a brilliant blend of two amazing voices and spine tingling harmonies.

My favourite Aussie Demon Barber of Fleet Street who is currently chasing down Valjean over at the Queen’s Theatre, Jeremy Secomb has also lent his voice to Nadim’s album, with a beautiful song Nadim wrote for him called Here I Am. I am forever in awe of Jeremy’s voice and presence, and it was amazing to hear another side to him!

 

The camaraderie between Nadim and his colleagues was a delight from start to finish and gave the atmosphere a really special quality, a laugh was never far away and a smile was permanently plastered to my lips.

I said to myself in those few moments I said hello back in 2012, that this guy is going to get under my skin and be somebody I’m incredibly proud to support. Boy oh boy has he done that over the years, I can’t wait to see where his road continues to lead!

With Nadim and Will :D

With Nadim and Will 😀

So much love for my favourite Aussie!

So much love for my favourite Aussie!

 

Nadim works with the awesome folk over at Auburn Jam Music. You can hear snippets of  and buy both his albums here: http://www.auburnjam.co.uk/product/nadim-naaman

Or download on Itunes. Speaking of, Sides is currently #1 on the Vocal Chart over there… way to go, Nadim! 😀

Twitter: @NadimNaaman

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/nadimnaamanactor/?fref=ts