The latest in the season of Broadway performers brought over to showcase their takents at Cadogan Hall, Kelli O’Hara (last seen here in The King and I) proves to be adept at the Great American Songbook, opera and even a bit of country rock.
With a five piece band – four of which “I only met yesterday”, O’Hara presents a carefully chosen set of songs, beginning with I Have Dreamed (Tuptim and Lun Tha duet) and ending with Edith Piaf’s immortal La Vie en Rose.
She boasts an impressive vocal range and an emotional maturity which brings songs such as This Nearly Was Mine (Emile’s solo from South Pacific) and The Light in the Piazza (Clara’s song from the musical of the same name) into sharp focus, making them real and moving.
In contrast, OHara returned squarely to her Oklahoma roots in a riotous song about a country star who can’t make it in the opera, until her child decides to prematurely scramble into the world, that is, making his mother hit the high notes and utter “some cuss words”.
Elsewhere we had a couple of Sondheim songs: What More Do I Need (from Saturday Night) and Finishing The Hat (from Sunday in the Park with George). We heard of Nellie Forbush’s “wonderful guy” (South Pacific), and about Getting to Know You (The King and I).
To Build a Home, from The Bridges of Madison County, seemed to click and fly much more than it did with Jenna Russell’s exaggerated accent at the Menier earlier this year; I may need to give the musical another listen.
Equally charming was a “mashup” of the Beatles’ Here Comes The Sun and Charlie Chaplin’s sentimental composition Smile, which O’Hara dedicated to her son. Every mention of her husband Greg, himself a songwriter and musician, and their two children, felt joyous.
O’Hara is s fine singer who makes even the highest soprano notes feel effortless – in songs like Lerner and Loewe’s I Could Have Danced All Night (My Fair Lady) and He Loves Me (from She Loves Me) her sense of playful fun comes through, too.
Apphia Campbell’s play inspired by the life of Nina Simone returns to the London stage with a one-off performance at the Watermans in Brentford, under their Friday Nights Live umbrella.
The character we see on stage is not exactly Simone, although the songs sung are associated with her, including Mississippi Goddamn and I Put a Spell on You (written by Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, whose version we hear played on a taped selection of songs covered by Simone, before the show starts). This lady becomes “Mina Bordeaux”, changing her name for the same reasons as Simone, to protect her church family from the association with “the Devil’s music”.
Campbell, in hair wrap and pulling items from a battered suitcase, pulls us into Mina/Nina’s world, imitiating her Bible-thumping mother, reinacting the classical concert where her parents were evicted from their prime “whites-only” seats, girlishly gushing over innocent love letters from her first boyfriend, recounting the vicious assault from the man who became her husband.
In song, she is no imitator but rather a celebrator of the woman who has clearly given her inspiration to become a singer and an activist (her follow-up show, Woke, is far more concerned with matters of race). The title of the play, Black is the Colorof My Voice, both references the fact that she, Campbell, and Simone are both black women, but also the gentle Scots folk song which Simone made part of her regular repertoire in 1959.
Mina is a precocious talent, playing piano from the age of three, and dreaming of playing Carnegie Hall as a concert pianist. The fame she seeks comes with the civil rights movement and her songs of protest, fighting for the visibility of “my people” in the shadow of the speeches of Martin Luther King.
Soul Sessions, which has sometimes been performed together with the preceding play, was included in yesterday’s ticket as the second half of a double bill. Campbell returns to the stage in a long red gown and pearl necklace, engaging the audience in chat and delivering a range of Simone songs (accompanied by her pianist Tim Shaw).
With “I Loves You, Porgy” (Gershwin), “My Baby Just Cares For Me” (Donaldson and Kahn), “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” (written for her, but better known here for the hit version by The Animals), “Ain’t Got No/I Got Life” (MacDermot/Ragni/Rado), there is a flick of recognition and even some singing along – but the power of both Simone’s words and Campbell’s performance comes through in “Four Women” before the inevitable encore of the anthemic “Feeling Good” (Newley and Bricusse) which Simone truly made her own.
Soul Sessions is largely playful and teasing, stripped back to a sleek presentation by this confident performer who has even “forgotten my shoes”. It’s a relief in a way after the draining play we saw in the first half, a contrast to the hard life we have witnessed. I highly recommend both shows (which run at 70 minutes and 50 minutes respectively), but they can clearly stand on their own.
It’s been a decade since Caissie Levy made an impact in the stage revival of Hair, which came over to the West End from Broadway. She played Sheila, idealistic and dedicated to peace. Levy refers to shows as “magical” rather a lot during her concert.
This is a show heavy with songs from musicals: Rent, Hair, Ghost, Waitress, Jesus Christ Superstar, Les Miserables (not just Fantine’s signature song, but Bring Him Home too), and of course, Frozen (from which we are treated to not just Let it Go, but two new songs written for the stage version).
Away from shows there’s a couple of Carole King tracks, A Foggy Day (in London town), New York State of Mind, and The Nearness of You, showcasing Levy’s love of standards and smoky jazz.
For those who note such things, Levy starts the night in a leopard print dress slit to show a bit of leg, then returns in a short glittery number. She wears killer pencil heels throughout. She comes across as smart, funny, and warm, and is chatty between numbers, whether recounting tech disasters on Rent and Ghost, or discussing her three-year-old son’s birth playlist.
Ashley Day, a singer we haven’t seen perform in this country before, is Levy’s special guest: duetting on I Don’t Know How To Love Him and coming back alone for a powerhouse Iowa. I’d like to see and hear a lot more of this talented performer.
With Frozen due in town in about a year, I hope we get to see Caissie Levy transfer as Elsa. The new songs sound great, especially Monster, which gives the character more clarity. Levy’s band deserve a nod – notably musical director Matt Hinckley, who also adds vocal harmonies to a couple of tracks chosen from her debut album.
Three talented lady singer-songwriters (Beverley Craven, Judie Tzuke, and Julia Fordham) have come together to record an album and to tour in support of it.
Craven is now past her recent brush with cancer, and all three ladies have their own stories of life changes, family, and survival. Although Tzuke opted out of having old promo videos of her young self, Craven and Fordham were game enough to play along.
We had all the big hits. We had the privilege of seeing each lady in the lead with the other two as back up. We sang along with the new song (lyrics immortalised on a tea towel) about being safe, rested and hopeful.
I enjoyed the song choices which showcased each singer perfectly, but found some of the accompanying films and pseudo-Powerpoints going on behind a little distracting: let the music do the talking!
The ladies are all self-deprecating and amusing about their lives and careers, which makes this a very entertaining, thoughtful and emotional show.
Fordham isn’t a singer I have really followed, and her deep vibrato with a smoky jazz feel might not, on paper, feel complementary to Craven’s soulful melody or Tzuke’s ethereal melancholy.
However, a better trio you could not imagine, and the highlight of the three singing together was undoubtedly the harmonizing on Tzuke’s For You.
The setlist for last night was as follows:
Beverley Craven: Woman to Woman, Love Scenes, Without Me, Mollie’s Song
Julia Fordham: Happy Ever After, Girlfriend, I Want To Stay Home With You, Porcelain
Judie Tzuke: Welcome to the Cruise, Bring The Rain, Lifeline
All: If (When You Go)
Beverley Craven: Rainbow, Let It Be Me, Holding On
Judie Tzuke: Living on the Coast, Ladies Night
All: For You
Julia Fordham: Impossible Dreamer, (Love Moves In) Mysterious Ways, Stay
With Barbra Streisand gracing these shores to headline at Hyde Park this summer, it seems timely that Liza Pulman’s show (not a life story, not an impersonation, but a celebration of some of the songs Streisand has recorded and performed) has been touring this year.
I did originally book for the West End run, but couldn’t go, so this opportunity to go for a more intimate venue at the lovely Cadogan Hall in Sloane Square was most welcome.
I know Pulman mainly as one third of the fabulous Fascinating Aida – if you’ve never seen them, do – but I didn’t realise her background was in opera, and until recently I didn’t know she was the daughter of actress Barbara Young (who has featured in many TV soaps, sitcoms and films).
Pulman clearly loves Streisand, and also those songwriters whose work she has interpreted (Charles Trenet, Michel Legrand, Marvin Hamlisch, Randy Newman, Harold Arlen, Fats Waller).
Choosing a set which does not just have the big guns (People, The Way We Were, Evergreen, Don’t Rain on My Parade) but also less-heard numbers like I Think It’s Going To Rain Today, I Wish You Love, A Sleepin’ Bee, and Keepin’ Out of Mischief Now, worked well and showcased Pulman’s own unique vocal chops.
There was humour, too, in Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf and Sam, You Made The Pants Too Long, while anecdotes about Garland, Yentl (for which Pulman’s mother auditioned), and Fanny Brice led into other songs, notably Second Hand Rose.
Pulman is not averse to poking fun at herself either (“a menopausal woman close to 50”; “a camp Anthea Turner”), and despite my love of the opera, I’m rather glad she came out of that music shop with Streisand in her hand rather than Schubert.
This is a fine evening which celebrates the talents of both Streisand (“52 years at the top”) and Pulman herself, who is supported by a lively six-man band, the Stardust Ensemble, led by Joseph Atkins.
Liza Pulman returns with her Sings Streisand show at St Jude’s Church, Hampstead, on 29 June.
It’s been quite a few years since we last saw John Wilson conduct a piece by Gilbert and Sullivan; that was TheYeomanoftheGuard at the Royal Festival Hall.
This time the short piece Trial by Jury is teamed with a selection of other pieces from the oeuvre of G&S, presented in a witty and entertaining programme on the South Bank.
Although all the guest singers were exceptional, it was especially enjoyable to hear patter king Simon Butteriss as The Learned Judge as well as sharing The Mikado‘s “little list” and regaling us of the tale from HMS Pinafore about “ruling the Queen’s navy”.
He was joined by Louise Alder, a light and colourful soprano; tenor Robert Murray (the Defendant, who started his case from within the audience, and who also sang “Is Life a Boon” from the aforementioned Yeoman); baritone Simon Bailey (Plaintiff’s Counsel and a lively devil in the first half); and baritone Michael Craddock as an amusing Usher.
The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment are a accomplished group of musicians, expert in the works of Handel, Bach and Beethoven, but having fun with the 19th century operetta on show here.
Their choir are also wonderful, incorporating six of each of sopranos, altos, tenors and basses (one of which did duty as Trial by Jury‘s foreman). Their ensemble pieces in the first half were clear and bright, and they added to the amusement once the main piece started.
I’ve been to quite a few concerts on the nostalgia tours for both the 1960s and 1970s, and for this decade, the 1970s, I have seen Showaddywaddy, The Rubettes, The Sweet, and others.
Tonight, it was the turn of four artists bundled together under the Legends Live label – Smokie, Les McKeown’s Bay City Rollers, David Essex (I’ve seen him before in musicals, Aspects of Love and War of the Worlds), and Suzi Quatro.
First we were treated to a half-hour appearance from Smokie, a band which has had several member changes and its fair share of tragedy (second singer Alan Barton, who had previously sung for Black Lace, died in an accident on tour in the 1990s). Their biggest hit remains Living Next Door To Alice, a cover of the song by Australian band New World, and they closed their set with it.
The current band is Mike Craft (vocals), Michael McConnell and Terry Uttley (lead and bass guitars), Martin Bullard (keys) and Steve Pinnell (drums).
The Bay City Rollers were huge for a couple of years in the mid-1970s, and Rollermania covered the country with tartan. Singer Les MacKeown now fronts his version of the band, while an alternative tours utilising the name ‘The Bay City Rollers’.
No matter, as MacKeown still has his fans, and classic bubblegum pop like Shang-a-lang and Be My Baby retain their ability to transfer memories to more innocent days, and get audiences on to their feet.
David Essex, now in his 70s, white-haired and still retaining hints of his Plaistow accent, has attained huge success on record, in the theatre, and on film. His fifty-minute set has quieter moments (It’s Gonna Be Alright), theatrical bombast (Oh, What a Circus from Evita), biker chic (Silver Dream Machine) and pop fun (Gonna Make You a Star). Essex cuts a fine figure in a neat suit, waistcoat and shirt, and his voice eases back into the confidence he had as a blue-eyed idol back then.
The little girl rocker from Detroit, Suzi Quatro, is celebrating fifty-five years in the business this year, and before she took to the stage we were treated to a trailer for her “Greatest Hits” album.
She’s still recording, and in performing to her recent single No Soul/No Control‘s music video as back-drop at one point, she’s happy to acknowledge the passing of time. Whether dancing in her leathers, offering solos on her bass guitar and on the drums, or conjuring up memories of her early hits Can the Can and Devil Gate Drive, Suzi Q remains first and foremost an entertainer.
This was a decent concert, over three hours, and able to please fans of a range of ages. My husband betrayed his knowledge of Rollers lyrics, and even though I was a mere baby at the start of the decade, the 1970s are a time of some great music on the cusp of rock and punk.
Legends Live 2019 continues until the 16 April, taking in Birmingham, Liverpool and Bournemouth. Attendees can be assured of a good time.
Photo credits Colin Penn. Short videos (which hopefully give a bit of flavour!) by Louise Penn.
Welcome to a new monthly feature on loureviews.blog – this is The Mix, where I’ll pull out some items of London theatre news, big and small, which have caught my eye.
A is for Above the Stag. This sparkling and vibrant venue, once found behind the Victoria Palace Theatre, is now in residence in Vauxhall, and is fast building its reputation as one of the finest LGBT+ theatres. In a main house and a studio, it presents a variety of shows – Grindr the Opera, and [title of show]: a musical about musicals, are next in line. To find out more, to sign up to the newsletter, or to book tickets to this valuable space, go to http://www.abovethestag.com/vxl/.
B is for Bread and Roses. This innovative and award-winning pub theatre in Clapham High Street recently showcased The Vagina Monologues and seems particularly supportive of new writers, women writers, and fringe comedy. As a relatively new venue the space is actively seeking donations and support to allow it to grow – for more, and for a taste of its upcoming productions, including Adam Gwan’s new musical Ordinary Days, which runs from 5th-16th March, go to https://www.breadandrosestheatre.co.uk/.
C is for Chichester. The festival, while taking place some miles outside the capital, has transferred a number of hit shows in over the past few years including Fiddler on the Roof, Caroline or Change, Half a Sixpence, King Lear, and Guys and Dolls. Although we are still waiting for news of the mooted transfer of the Noel Gay/Stephen Fry musical Me and My Girl, keep your eyes on this year’s big production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s classic Oklahoma, which may be London-bound in due course.
D is for Departures. All good things must come to an end, and we say goodbye to several shows this month, including the English National Opera’s La Boheme on the 22nd, Pinter Seven at the Harold Pinter Theatre on the 23rd, True West at the Vaudeville Theatre on the 23rd, Nine Night at the Trafalgar Studios on the 23rd, the glorious Songs for Nobodies at the Ambassadors on the 23rd, and The Wider Earth at the Natural History Museum on the 24th.
E is for Earnest. As an honorary Yorkshire girl, having lived there for a decade, I’m sad to miss out on Th’ Importance of Bein’ Earnest at the Drayton Arms Theatre on Old Brompton Road. It runs to the 23rd February and promises “Oscar Wilde meets Shameless” on a Yorkshire council estate, with no afternoon tea or starched collars in sight. For more information, go to https://www.thedraytonarmstheatre.co.uk/the-importance-of-being-earnest.
F is for Fabulous. Three divas are coming to town to perform their shows, and I’m going to put them all together here. On 18th March, Liza Pullman, formerly one third of Fascinating Aida, sings Streisand at the Lyric Theatre, following a run at The Other Palace. You can purchase tickets at https://www.nimaxtheatres.com/shows/liza-pulman-sings-streisand/ and “give yourself reasons to smile this Spring”.
Finally, the legendary Tony award-winner Bernadette Peters is back in town, at the Lyceum Theatre in Covent Garden, and her show takes place on the 10th June, as part of a UK tour. I’ll be covering this event in the summer, and if you want to be there too, you can find more details and book tickets at https://www.atgtickets.com/shows/bernadette-peters/lyceum-theatre/.
G is for the Globe, specifically the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, where a new production of Richard II opens on the 22nd February. Adjoa Andoh and Lynette Linton direct the first ever company of women of colour in a Shakespeare play on a major UK stage, in a production which has the Windrush scandal and the Brexit crisis very much in mind. This sounds as if it will be an important production of a play which does lend itself to reinterpretation. For more information, go to https://www.shakespearesglobe.com/whats-on-2018/richard-ii.
H is for Harvey. There’s no getting over the fact that London will play host to two plays using the allegations against film producer Harvey Weinstein as inspiration this year. Currently running at the Playground Theatre on Latimer Road, Harvey is the brainchild (literally, given it is set in Weinstein’s head) of playwright-performer Steven Berkoff, who shows no signs of mellowing in his ninth decade. More information and booking at https://theplaygroundtheatre.london/events/harvey/. Later in the year John Malkovich returns to the West End stage for the first time in more than thirty years in David Mamet’s Bitter Wheat, which concerns the character of one “Barney Fein”. This will run at the Garrick Theatre from 7th June to 14th September. Find out more at https://www.nimaxtheatres.com/shows/bitter-wheat/.
I is for Inspiration, or lack of in this case, as not one, not two, but three productions of Githa Sowerbury’s 1912 Rutherford and Son are in production during 2019. One is up in Sheffield and currently running, one has just closed at Ealing’s Questors Theatre, and one is due in the National Theatre’s 2019-2020 season (starring Roger Allam). It’s a modern classic about generational strife in a family industry, which I last saw at the Oldham Coliseum in 1987. I’ll be at the National’s version in May – more information on that production at https://www.nationaltheatre.org.uk/shows/rutherford-and-son.
J is for &Juliet. There’s been a lot of publicity for this musical, which comes into London towards the end of the year. Everyone knows the tragic story of Romeo and Juliet, but what if Juliet survived and was able to tell her own side of the tale? In the spirit of Six, this show will utilise pop music – this time the work of Max Martin, who wrote for Britney and others – to craft and “irreverent and fun-loving” show, and it opens at the Shaftesbury Theatre on 2nd November. If you’re up North, you can catch its run in Manchester from 10th September. Find out more about the London run at http://www.shaftesburytheatre.com/shows/juliet-2/.
K is for the King’s Head. This theatre pub in Islington goes from strength to strength, and two new musicals running in late May-early June look fun, Trump: the Musical and Boris: the Musical. If parodies of current politics are not your cup of tea, you can catch the classics, too, as there are some short pieces by Tennessee Williams running in late July and through August. For more information see https://www.kingsheadtheatre.com/.
L is for Lipstick. Lipstick: a Fairy Tale of Iran runs at the Omnibus Theatre, Clapham Common, from 26th February to 24th March, as part of the ’96 Festival, celebrating queerness and theatre. Part theatre, part drag cabaret, this show fuses storytelling, vaudeville, theatre, lip-synch and “boylesque”. Nathan Riley plays Mark, Siobhan O’Kelly plays Orla. This story of “rage, redemption and weaponised whimsy” promises to be a very special event. For more, see https://www.omnibus-clapham.org/lipstick/.
M is for Maggie Smith. She’s returning to the stage for the first time in twelve years in a one-woman play, at the Bridge Theatre, this April. The new play is A German Life, based on the real life testimony of Brunhilde Pomsel, who once worked for Joseph Goebbels. If you are under 25 and a member of the “Young Bridge” scheme there are some tickets available for £15. More information at https://bridgetheatre.co.uk/whats-on/a-german-life/.
N is for Nunn, Trevor. Following an acclaimed run at the Ustinov Studio at the Theatre Royal, Bath, Nunn’s new production of Harvey Granville Barker’s recently rediscovered play Agnes Colander has just opened at the Jermyn Street Theatre (near Piccadilly Circus) and runs until the 16th March. For more details see https://www.jermynstreettheatre.co.uk/show/agnes-colander/.
O is for the Orange Tree Theatre. Richmond’s smallest theatre has a mix of old and new productions, and is currently showcasing Rose Lewinstein’s new play Cougar (which I will report on later in the week), with Terence Rattigan’s While the Sun Shines running through June and July. The Orange Tree could always use donations and support if you are unable to attend performances. Find out more about the theatre at https://www.orangetreetheatre.co.uk/whats-on.
P is for the Park Theatre, in Finsbury Park. Martin Sherman’s new play Gently Down The Stream has its press night tonight and runs through to the 16th March. I’ll be going in early March, and am very much looking forward to this production, directed by Sean Mathias and starring Jonathan Hyde, Ben Allen and Harry Lawtey. The play follows “the remarkably moving and brilliantly funny love story of Beau, an older American pianist living in London, and Rufus, an eccentric young lawyer, celebrating those who led the way for equality, marriage and the right to dream”. More details at https://www.parktheatre.co.uk/whats-on/gently-down-the-stream.
Q is for Queens. Six: the Musical continues its run at the Arts Theatre until January 2020. If you haven’t been yet, and you need something to whet your appetite, this article from BBC Newsbeat might get you in the mood. You can book tickets for Six at https://www.sixthemusical.com/ to see “Divorced – Beheaded – Live in Concert!”.
S is for Sunday Night Socials. A new series of monthly concerts at the Union Theatre, near Southwark, these are being advertised as “very informal and relaxed” and will feature a whole host of West End performers over the next three months. For more information – and for details of main productions Can-Can and Othello – see http://www.uniontheatre.biz/whats_on.html.
T is for Transfers. Come from Away at the Phoenix Theatre has its press night tonight, Waitress at the Adelphi Theatre on the 6th March. These transfers from old Broadway will soon be joined by a third show, Dear Evan Hansen, at the Noel Coward Theatre, for which early booking will be open at the end of this month. I visited Come from Away earlier this month and see Waitress next week.
U is for Underground, specifically The Vaults, beneath Waterloo Station. The Vaults Festival is currently in full swing until the 17th March, with a diverse programme of theatre, comedy, film, and late shows. You can find out more about the Festival at https://vaultfestival.com/.
V is for Vic, Old. The grand old lady of The Cut is currently undergoing a refit which will improve the foyer and more importantly, the loos! In the meantime, if you’re visiting, there’s portakabins instead. I just have to share this delightful video from their Twitter account – https://twitter.com/oldvictheatre/status/1063045610570506240 – #MORELOOS!!!!
W is for the West End, and the Official West End Theatre Guide for the huge, the overpriced, and the spectacular shows on in the big houses – https://guides.ticketmaster.co.uk/west-end-theatre/. By all means support as and if you can, but remember there are literally thousands of places and performances in our metropolis.
X is for is Dock X, at Surrey Quays. If you’re creating a special and unique event, this new multi-use space might be just the ticket. The industrial space lends itself to brand activations, car launches, conferences, award dinners, cultural pop ups, experiential and team building events across its vast 34,100 sq. ft reach. Perfect for creatives! More at https://venuelab.co.uk/venues/dock-x-london/.
Y is for Youth. The Unicorn Theatre, on Tooley Street, London Bridge, is dedicated to developing work for young audiences. In 70 years of children’s theatre, it also has a vibrant Schools’ Programme, workshops, and this week is running some special events for half term. Find out more at https://www.unicorntheatre.com/whatson.
Z is for Zoo. Watching and learning about animals in a caring and natural habitat is a form of theatre, whether you are in Regent’s Park, Battersea or my local little zoo at Hanwell.
Part of the Cadogan Hall Broadway series, we were treated yesterday to a visit to London by an icon of musical royalty, Chita Rivera.
Now 86 years old, she created the roles of Anita in West Side Story and Velma Kelly in Chicago, toured in Sweet Charity, and appeared in London in Bye Bye Birdie and Kiss of the Spiderwoman.
Old enough to have known the likes of Bernstein, Fosse and Kander & Ebb, she performed a diverse set of numbers punctuated by stories of her road to success.
Her voice isn’t what it was – although in A Boy Like That, All That Jazz, Jacques Brel’s Carousel and a number from Kander & Ebb’s final show The Visit it comes to life with hints of the vibrancy she must have shown fifty or sixty years ago.
Head to toe in red from her earrings to high-heeled shoes, ‘Chi’ is still every inch a star, with knowing asides and dance moves.
Her set is full of lesser-known numbers from the likes of The Rink, Sweet Charity, Seventh Heaven (in which Chita sings not just the part of Fifi but also Camille and Cosette!), and Bye Bye Birdie (assisted by Tim Flavin on one song, Rosie).
Enjoyable, if only to see an original star in action – there are fewer of them by the year, but this one shows no signs of slipping into retirement just yet.
Off to the Southbank Centre last night for a live broadcast on Radio 2 of the world’s longest-running orchesteral radio programme Friday Night is Music Night, introduced by Ken Bruce, with special guests Gary Wilmot, Sarah Fox, and cornet player Thomas Nielsen (winner of the Radio 2 Young Brass Soloist competition).
With a tried and tested mix of classical, opera, and musicals, this formula continues to pull in the listeners, and I enjoy seeing the show performed now and then – we last saw it in 2015.
Musical numbers performed included You’ve Got Trouble from The Music Man, Will You Remember from Maytime, Soliloquy from Carousel, Hushabye Mountain from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and It’s a Jolly Holiday from Mary Poppins.
Orchestral interludes from West Side Story, and the work of Rimsky-Korsakov, and an operatic aria from Dvorak’s Rusalka, plus cornet versions of Someone To Watch Over Me and Napoli, made this a rather special concert, with a piece for voice and solo piano (The Way You Look Tonight) being especially effective.
One or two of Bruce’s informative snippets might have been inaccurate (Peggy Wood was indeed the Mother Abbess in the film of The Sound of Music, but Margery MacKay sang for her in the role), and Wilmot might have missed a few of the lyrics of the Soliloquy, but that’s what makes live shows real.
If you want to hear this concert for yourself, you can find it on the BBCiPlayer.
I started this blog in 2011 to report back on shows I have attended, mainly theatre but also some concerts and sporting events.
It has also become a vehicle for some film, television (current and archive), book reviews, and some more personal pieces.
On a professional level I worked for twenty-five years as a librarian, and also am a published writer – academic articles, poetry, popular culture – and spent five years editing a journal for a major publisher. If you would like to know more, see my LinkedIn profile.
As of 2019 writing and editing has become my main job, and I am very keen to engage with productions, outlets, and arts organisations to expand my coverage and my reviews.
My first ‘festival-ish’ experience of the veteran electronica act whose high point remains the run of chart buzzers from 1981’s Dare, and the rain – a couple of spits aside – stayed away to prove the weather warnings wrong.
The core of the band remains Philip, Joanne and Susan, a little older but with their energy undiminished as the girls dance (Susan is the confident one keeping the crowd ‘up’) and the main man doesn’t keep still for much time, with several costume changes and racing around from side to side of the stage.
A 75 minute set was high on those hits from their most successful year, plus the opener Sky from their last studio album to date, Credo (2010), several ‘middle period’ crowd-pleasers (Heart Like A Wheel, Soundtrack to a Generation, Tell Me When), and minor hits The Lebanon (with the notable line about the shops) and Louise.
There’s a cover, too, of Eric Clapton’s Behind The Mask and – a seeming fixture in this 40th year since the band’s formation – Being Boiled, from the days the League was quite a different trio with their own manifesto.
Support from Blancmange and Luna started the evening in style, and a few thousand people mainly above the age of forty enjoyed a fun and nostalgic night of dancing and singing along with a trio who remain tireless and undiminished.
A slice of New York came to the Southbank Centre last weekend as the Meltdown Festival drew to a close; this year, Robert Smith from The Cure has curated an interesting mix of musicians, and it was good to share the first date of Vega’s international tour – taking in Dubai, Australia, New Zealand, and back to the UK – with an appreciative audience at the Queen Elizabeth Hall.
Image credit: Virginie Viche, The Upcoming
Vega made her first impact on folk music in 1985, with her first self-titled album, containing the single Marlene on the Wall, which she obligingly performed with the Dietrich hat firmly in place. Now a woman in late middle age, Vega is immaculate, with a black trouser suit, glittery boots, and a lot of attitude, sparring with her guitarist, Gerry Leonard, who knows a lot about accompanying legends, having worked for years alongside the late David Bowie. He’s also known for creating clever waves of sound which make the stage feel far more full than it is.
In a varied and interesting set, Vega shared both hits and pet songs with us, including her other big hit, Luka, her story song The Queen and the Soldier, the rockers Blood Makes Noise and I Never Wear White, the sweet ballads Small Blue Thing and Gypsy, and much more. She engages with her audience, too: many artists do not really talk, but she conspires, teases, and exudes a warmth I didn’t expect.
A very accomplished night was started by her support act, James Walsh of Starsailor, who impressed with Empire and If I Had The Words. He made me think of Layne Staley at times with his vocals, and of Uriah Heep with the sheer sweep of his melodies. Neither a bad thing.
We’ve all lost count how many iterations of Rainbow there have been since 1975, and this current line-up came together over twenty years after the last one: since that time, guitarist Ritchie Blackmore, now aged 72, has made several albums with his Renaissance project Blackmore’s Night (featuring his wife Candice on lead vocals, she appears as one of the backing singers here tonight).
Ronnie Romero fills the large shoes of big former voices of both Rainbow (Ronnie James Dio, Graham Bonnet, Joe Lynn Turner) and Deep Purple (Ian Gillan, David Coverdale), and does admirably well, with a set list which opens with ‘Spotlight Kid’ and then goes through ‘Mistreated’, ‘Soldier of Fortune’, ‘Since You Been Gone’ (featuring writer and musician Russ Ballard on guest back-up vocals and guitar), ‘Stargazer’, ‘Child In Time’, ‘Burn’, ‘Black Night’, ‘Long Live Rock ‘n Roll’, ‘Catch The Rainbow’ and (of course), ‘Smoke on the Water’.
Supported by the Sweet, who, like Deep Purple, formed fifty years ago next year, and retaining just one original member (Andy Scott) entertained with a mix of glam and hard rock numbers from ‘Hellraiser’ to ‘Little Willy’.
But Rainbow, and the return of Blackmore to rock, was the main event here, and they didn’t disappoint: I was also really pleased to see Dio and Cozy Powell remembered by video footage in the background during ‘Long Live Rock ‘n Roll’, a lovely moment. I hope this isn’t the last hurrah, but if it was, I’m going away happy.
The London Musical Theatre Orchestra presented a special concert version of ‘Honeymoon in Vegas: The Musical’ last night at the London Palladium, conducted by the composer, Jason Robert Brown.
Based on the 1992 film, this musical teams a rather silly story with an old-fashioned but punchy score from Jason Robert Brown, who also penned the lyrics, which are sometimes clever but now and again straying into the area of corn (a ballad ‘Out of the Sun’ provoked giggles across the auditorium with its SPF references and it didn’t quite hit the funny/touching vibe I suspect the song should have).
The book by Andrew Bergman is slight but keeps the action moving, and even in a concert version, images of Vegas showgirls and parachuting Elvii (a definite showstopping number referencing the stance and vocal inflections of the King) are effortlessly conjured up.
Arthur Darvill’s Jack opens up proceedings with one of those delightful list songs, ‘I Love Betsy’, which references all the things his girlfriend likes (“she likes hockey, no, I swear / she likes guys with thinning hair’) while celebrating his love for her. He puts the song across well, with good engagement with the audience while acting out the text. His singing was a nice surprise as well, with an old-timer charm.
Betsy is played by Samantha Barks who is slinky and playful, but stronger in her solo numbers (especially ‘Betsy’s Getting Married’ which sizzles and fizzes) than in her duets with Darvill. Having said this, the whole cast feel more relaxed and comfortable in their roles and in the concert format as the show progresses, and everyone essentially does a good job.
Gangster sleazeball Tommy, who sees in Betsy a resemblance to his dead wife, is played well by Maxwell Caulfield, who makes up for a lack of singing ability with the right characterisation of a wealthy man who thinks he can buy happiness but eventually knows when he’s been bested – by Betsy! Rosemary Ashe does her best to steal scenes as the ghost of Jack’s mother, while Simon Lipkin is both the Bublé-like lounge singer and the hip-shaking leader of the flying Elvises.
This show, directed by Shaun Kerrison, is a lot of fun, with the kind of music that makes you want to tap your feet and click your fingers, while the songs move on the action just as they did in the golden age of stage musicals.
The London Musical Theatre Orchestra, now in its second full year, is packed with excellent musicians who can do anything from put on the jazz to provide a beautiful melody. Their vision is to have fun with music, and also to develop new professional players, and they do both with aplomb.
Thanks to Premier PR for arranging this night out.
This was the last date of Katherine Jenkins’ ‘Celebration’ tour, but with the Christmas carols dropped and a new guest performer in John Owen-Jones.
I am not much of a fan of Jenkins and her light classical crossover warbling, although taken purely as an entertainment her show certainly seems to please her hardcore fans of men of a certain age and their wives.
‘Santa Baby’ added a sprinkle of fun, and three dress changes and a crystal encrusted microphone gave a dash of glamour: there was strong accompaniment from the London Concert Orchestra conducted by Anthony Inglis (Die Fledermaus and Sleigh Bells opening both halves of the show).
In anticipation of the upcoming ENO production of ‘Carousel’ in which Jenkins makes her musical theatre debut in April, she treated us to a stirring ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’, while more traditional repertoire included an Italian translation of Dolly Parton’s ‘I Will Always Love You’ and ‘Sanctus’ (to the melody of Elgar’s Nimrod).
John Owen-Jones is always a solid proposition, having served long stints in the musicals ‘The Phantom of the Opera’ and ‘Les Miserables’, and we heard a song from each plus one from the underrated ‘Love Never Dies’, the lovely ‘Maria’ from ‘West Side Story’, one from ‘Miss Saigon’ (with a slight lyric fluff), and even the Eurovision winner from Conchita Wurst a couple of years ago, ‘Rise Like a Phoenix’.
A duet of ‘Barcelona’ with Jenkins didn’t really work though, and she shone most convincingly in anthems like ‘Amazing Grace’ and ‘How Great Thou Art’.
I’ve been a fan of The Human League since the early 80s: not their Don’t You Want Me phase as I was only nine years old then, but not that long after when The Lebanon was in the charts in Spring 1984. Quite soon after like many other teenagers I sang along to the whole of ‘Dare’ on cassette in my bedroom many, many times; I had posters of the band on my wall; and loved their big selling singles Louise and Human.
I lost them around the time the 90s hit, but eventually came back and now, finally, have seen them live, so it’s been a long wait.
As with anything else which teeters on the ‘nostalgia’ tag (although I know they hate that and they haven’t really, technically, been away) you never know what you are going to get, but the moment the set appeared with the pulsing beat of the opening song, Being Boiled (a showcase for Phil Oakey alone, as it dates from the days of The Human League #1, when they were a kind of Yorkshire Kraftwerk electro outfit) and the video projections kicked into life, I knew we were in for something special.
The songs from ‘Dare’ were liberally sprinkled through this set: The Sound of the Crowd, Seconds, Open Your Heart, Love Action, The Things That Dreams Are Made Of. There were those big singles I loved, too, plus Mirror Man (which I had forgotten, not having heard in years) and, of course, Don’t You Want Me, with the neat conceit of having one of the backing band playing an instrumental introduction of it which just got the crowd more fired up.
Joanne Catherall and Susan Ann Sulley are the decorative side of the band, and an integral part of their trademark sound, and they were showcased well on their own with One Man In My Heart as well as (particularly Susan) providing energy to keep the audience going throughout. Their costume changes were slightly exceeded by the parade of Phil’s designer wardrobe, but it all adds to the spectacle.
Can I just pause to say how fantastic Phil Oakey’s voice still is? It’s been said in some quarters that he isn’t one of the best popular vocalists, but I have to disagree: he has such a recognisable vocal style that fits the band’s songs perfectly; and I was so pleased that we got to close with Together In Electric Dreams, a song which I have always loved, even if the film it was written for is now hopelessly outdated.
Now slightly north of 60 years old this singer has unbounded energy and enthusiasm, and he is a total showman. It is always a pleasure to see an act coming across so professionally, and The Human League are one of the most professional and accomplished acts I have seen. Compare last night’s work with something way back like The Path of Least Resistance from nearly forty years ago and the look may be different (a sleeker hairline these days, but that’s no bad thing) but the voice hasn’t changed much.
I haven’t danced so much in years, and loved every minute. How could I have waited so long? My husband (not really a fan) enjoyed himself too, and yes, first thing we did on the way home was order a CD copy of ‘Dare’ to replace that tired out 80s cassette!
I wanted to give a nod to London band Ekkoes who were the support act, right at the start of their career. Their cover of the late Laura Branigan’s Self Control was excellent and I liked their own song Last Breath as well. I hope they go places and it was a bonus to see them, even if I would have rather liked (for 80s nostalgia again) to see Blancmange, who are doing some of the other dates on the tour as support.
Here’s the twenty song setlist from The Human League: Being Boiled, The Sound of the Crowd, Sky, Heart Like a Wheel, Filling Up With Heaven, Open Your Heart, Soundtrack to a Generation, Seconds, The Lebanon, One Man In My Heart, Human, Louise, Stay With Me Tonight, Love Action, Tell Me When, Keep Feeling (Fascination), Mirror Man, Don’t You Want Me, The Things That Dreams Are Made Of, Together in Electric Dreams.
Photographs taken by Louise Penn and Colin Penn. Video clip by Louise Penn.
Many opera companies would balk at giving a full Wagnerian Ring Cycle, but Opera North have been spending the time since April giving six Cycles as part of a tour, in an innovative concert format.
We caught up with this tour on its London stop at the Royal Festival Hall last week; and from tonight it makes its final stop at the Sage Gateshead and on Radio 3.
This was the first live Ring Cycle I had seen: and without props, sets or costumes to speak of, it really had to stand or fall on how well the acting and singing puts across the story. In this the production is helped by textual matter projected on screens and taken from Michael Birkett’s ‘The Story of the Ring’, explaining what we are about to see. This may be irritating to Wagner purists, but makes the four operas extremely accessible.
The ‘preliminary evening’ and the first, and shortest opera in the cycle, is Das Rheingold, which tells the story of how the gold in the Rhine was stolen by the evil dwarf Alberich, forged into a ring, and used to make an attempt to achieve world domination, and how he was tricked by the gods Wotan and Loge into giving up this power, only giving it up with a curse on whoever owns the ring. Wotan’s greed almost causes the goddess Freia to be given up to a duo of giants, Fafner and Fasolt, but the eventual passing of the ring causes them to turn on each other and to cause the cycle’s first shedding of blood (in this version, by the dropping of a red necktie to the floor).
Michael Druiett and Jo Pohlheim, photo copyright Clive Barda.
This evening’s entertainment presented the first of three Wotans throughout the cycle, in Michael Druiett a rather dry old stick (no match for Jo Pohlheim’s superb Alberich, who is quite the star of this production with a glorious bass baritone voice). Yvonne Howard was a decent Fricka, and Giselle Allen making the first of three different characterisations as Freia, bewildered by her misfortune in being exiled from the fruit gardens of Valhalla. As Loge, Wolfgang Ablinger-Sperrhacke was all flickering fingers and devious looks.
The second evening presented Die Walküre, which introduces not just the nine Valkyries, led by the vibrant Brünnhilde (played here in the first of three appearances by Kelly Cae Hogan, an excellent soprano and actress), but also the ill-fated twins and other children of Wotan (in his human guise as Walse), Siegmund and Sieglinde.
Lee Bisset’s Sieglinde is beautifully sung, and her act one interaction with Michael Weinius’ Siegmund is one of the highlights of the piece, with their incestuous love so incensing Fricka (Howard again), goddess of marriage, that she sets in motion the tragic events which cause Wotan (Robert Hayward here, whose vocal deficiency at times can be forgiven when set against his moving final act) to cause his favourite child, Brünnhilde, to be cast out of the sight of the gods forever, and imprisoned in a wall of fire only a man without fear can penetrate.
Robert Hayward, photograph copyright Clive Barda.
Hogan is again superb in both acts two (where she decides to defy her father and save Siegmund from his decreed death) and three (where she visibly reduces in stature as she is removed from her Valkyrie sisters – eight ladies with large voices and personalities – to face a life of eternal sleep until woken to live in mortality). Meanwhile, Hayward’s Wotan causes the destruction of his beloved Walsung son, and affects disinterest in the offspring of the twins.
The third opera in the cycle centres on this child when he is fully grown – Siegfried, who has been brought up by the dwarf Mime, brother of Alberich. We had first met Mime (sung by Richard Roberts) in Das Rheingold, but he has more to do here and successfully merges the evil with the comic (I loved the scene where Siegfried gains the power to read Mime’s thoughts, while the latter desperately tries to hide his true feelings), although some of his singing was lost in his early scenes, overpowered by the orchestra.
Lars Cleveman, photograph copyright Clive Barda.
As the ‘boy’ Siegfried, Lars Cleveman looked far too old but certainly had the lung power to carry the role after a shaky start, and his scenes when forging the sword Nothung from fragments, and combating the scary dragon Fafner (last seen as a giant, and sung powerfully by bass Mats Almgren), were excellent, as was his final act with Hogan’s still-stunning Brünnhilde.
In this segment of the Cycle, Wotan is disguised as the Wanderer, and in long coat and hat, Bela Perencz resembles a stylish lounge lizard. He is the best singer of the three to take on the role in this cycle, and his scenes with Cleveman’s Siegfried and Pohlheim’s Alberich are well done.
There is no family feeling here, though, and by the end Wotan’s power is spent, his spear shattered in a mirror image of the destruction of Siegmund’s sword in Die Walküre. (There are no swords or spears on stage, though, nor eye patches, armour, or anvils. The audience has to imagine them all, although we do see the woodbird hovering around in the choir seats before her few lines of song).
Finally, we returned to the cycle for Sunday’s Götterdämmerung, in which the gods face destruction, and the happy lovers Siegfried and Brünnhilde, left within the fiery rock in the throes of passion, find their union threatened by spells, portions, and intrigue, all in the name of taking control of the ring and the Nibelungen treasure.
There is a delightful scene at the beginning of act two which chills the blood as the sleeping Hagen (Mats Almgren, again, and exceptional) is visited by the slimy Alberich (Polheim again, outstanding) and goaded into hating anyone who is happy.
A change of casting as Siegfried brings the jovial Mati Turi to the part, and although I enjoyed his characterization, I felt his voice was more lyrical and less powerful than Cleveman’s. I see that Tuti has played the lead in Siegfried in earlier performances, and would have been interested to see his interpretation, but here he is simply the easily-led fool, not the great hero his prior mastery of the sword and despatch of the dragon might suggest.
Kelly Cae Hogan and Mati Turi, photograph copyright Clive Barda.
His scene with the Rhinemaidens who warn him of the future is very good, though, and well-sung, and the trio (Jeni Bern, Madeleine Shaw, Sarah Castle) are just as cunning in trying to get the ring back as they were when teasing Alberich back in Das Rhinegold before he snatched their gold.
The orchestra have been superb throughout this cycle, led by outgoing Opera North conductor Richard Farnes. He has led his company (including the Chorus in Götterdämmerung) through sixteen hours of drama, music and mythology, and rightly gained a standing ovation for both Die Walküre and Götterdämmerung.
The Opera North Ring Cycle broadcasts tonight, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday evenings on Radio 3.
The 23rd April is both St George’s Day and the anniversary of both the birth and death of William Shakespeare (1564-1616), and as we have now reached 400 years since the poet/playwright’s death, both the Globe Theatre and the Royal Shakespeare Company have created projects which happened this weekend.
The Complete Walk presents all 37 plays in chronological order in a route starting at St Thomas’ Hospital with The Two Gentlemen of Verona and finishing at Potters Fields Park with The Tempest.
We saw eleven of the plays between Hungerford Bridge (Titus Andronicus, with Peter Capaldi, rather battling against the noise of the trains above), to the back of the Oxo Tower (The Merry Wives of Windsor, with Mel Giedroyc). Three screens (The Comedy of Errors, Henry IV Part 2, and Much Ado About Nothing) were not working as we passed, and I understand technical issues have plagued this project a bit on a windy, cold and showery day yesterday – hopefully today will have more of a hit rate.
Titus Andronicus (under Hungerford Bridge). Filmed in Rome, this shows a different side of Capaldi than is familiar to most these days from Doctor Who.
Henry VI Part 2 (under Golden Jubilee Bridge). Filmed at Spitalsfield Market, this was a very modern take of a little-known history play.
Romeo and Juliet (opposite Royal Festival Hall). Filmed at Verona with Jessie Buckley and Luke Thompson in glorious blue tints in the closing tomb scene, this was well acted and also featured scenes from the Globe’s production with Ellie Kendrick and Adetomiwa Edun.
Richard III (next to Waterloo Bridge). Filmed in the Tower of London, with a glorious monologue from Claire Higgins, Queen Margaret’s speech from Act 4.
Love’s Labour’s Lost (in front of the National Theatre). Filmed in Navarre, with Gemma Arterton and David Dawson. Beautifully shot but the volume made it hard to follow.
King John (in front of the National Theatre). The Hubert and Arthur scene, filmed a the Holy Sepulchre, with the right amount of murderous intent and tension.
Richard II (Observation Point). Filmed in Westminster Hall, with James Norton in the abdication and ‘I have wasted time’ scenes. An actor I don’t care for, but I wanted to see more of this.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Gabriel’s Wharf Bandstand). Filmed at Wilton House, with the Theseus and Hippolyta scenes, and the wall scene with ‘the rude mechanicals’. Funny but lacking the play’s magic.
The Merchant of Venice (Riverside Slice). Filmed in the Jewish Ghetto, Venice, with Jonathan and Phoebe Pryce reprising their roles as Shylock and Jessica alongside scenes from the Globe production. Looks great but the sound was drowned out by an adjacent screen.
Henry IV Part 1 (Bernie Spain Gardens). Filmed at the George Inn, Southwark, with Toby Jones as a drunken Falstaff we first meet passed out in a cubicle in the Gents. Very funny but far too loud.
The Merry Wives of Windsor (behind the Oxo Tower). The scene between the Mistresses discussing Falstaff and the basket, with one of them in drag. Plays like a comedy sketch.
It’s a varied project, and an accomplished one. The YouTube channel for Shakespeare’s Globe includes trailers for Timon of Athens (with Simon Russell Beale) and King Lear (with Kenneth Cranham). I hope this project – which also ran in Liverpool this weekend, but mainly in interior locations – has an additional life beyond the opportunity to see the films in situ.
In the evening, there was a television broadcast live from Stratford-upon-Avon which mixed music (excerpts from West Side Story and Kiss Me Kate, opera and ballet, jazz and hip hop, and appearances from Rufus Wainwright and tenor Ian Bostridge), comedy (a delightful ‘nine Hamlet’ sketch which includes Cumberbatch, McKellen, Dench and others, including Prince Charles, advising on how to speak the classic ‘To Be or Not To Be’ soliloquy), speeches (Ian McKellen as Thomas More, Roger Allam as Lear, Judi Dench as Titania with Al Murray as Bottom, Rory Kinnear and Ann-Marie Duff as the Macbeths) and filmed inserts (Joseph Fiennes within the Shakespeare Trust properties at Stratford, and Simon Russell Beale doing part of the John of Gaunt speech from Richard II).
Uneven at the start, this settled into a classy piece of live theatre, although it was not quite as good as the earlier ‘National Theatre at 50’. Appearances from the likes of Helen Mirren, David Suchet, and the aforementioned Dame Judi and Sir Ian interested me more than a group of students performing Bernstein or a poorly spoken Juliet in the balcony scene. Still, there was a good range of plays represented, and a strong sense of how Shakespeare has moved into many areas of popular culture.
To close this post, I will share the costume from the 1948 film of Hamlet, starring and directed by Laurence Olivier, which can be found in the BFI Southbank’s small Shakespeare on Film exhibition in their Mezzanine (above the box office), which accompanies their rather populist season of screenings.