Thursday, 28 June 2012

Review: Ghost the Musical, Piccadilly Theatre, Saturday 23rd June 7.30pm

I think I may have found a musical to add to the favourites list just as it’s about to leave London. I have to admit I was sceptical at first. Not so much because of the story or the music – I love the film and the music (written by Eurythmics Dave Stewart & six time grammy award winner Glen Ballard) sounded good. Though, I have to say  it wasn't until I saw the show and experienced the emotion of the music first hand that I really appreciated how brilliant the soundtrack is.

The reason I was initially sceptical was because I knew that there was a lot of automation, video and projection used as set and I was worried about a high tech take-over of theatre would ruin the magical atmosphere created by imagination and make it more like the experience of watching a film.

Even as I sat in my seat (row A in the centre – not too shabby for a last minute theatre ticket at half price eh? God bless tkts London) I still felt unsure about it. As the show began, projections played out over the gauze and the large screens moved around into position with the relevant images being thrown across them I could feel the doubt about this show seeping in.

Then I noticed how it all reminded me of Times Square and from there came the quick realisation that actually it has been designed, very cleverly, in this way to convey that bustling, never sleeping, workaholic New York feel. Thinking about the story – how Carls obsession with money and the materialistic costs Sam his life – I realised you can also glean a message from the design about the sensory overstimulation when living somewhere like New York. The constant bombardment of images and sounds creating a materialism and greed that doesn’t consider cost.  A message that can also be taken from the song ‘More’:-

                “We’re just playing a numbers game.
                And every second those numbers change.
                This is what I live to feel
                It’s the beauty of the deal....”

Incidentally, this may be my favourite riff(?) in the show.

Though the main story is certainly about the love between Molly and Sam that survives beyond his death, once I noticed the sub-theme I couldn’t stop picking up on little things.

Such as the choreography. Lots of people seemed to dislike it as it can be quite mechanical and choppy. But I found it really helped set the atmosphere. The movement is also very carefully and cleverly considered, it seems to me - as the office drones the dancer’s movements are mechanical because their lives are mechanical – their lives are about working to achieve the material things they think they need. For the moments when it needed to set the bustling scene of typical New York it was urban, gritty and sexually charged. I loved the moment on the tube where they’re getting thrown about by the subway ghost and they barely even seem to notice. They just sit back down after wards – like they’ve become so jaded by the city that nothing phases them.

So I think it’s really important to acknowledge the creative team on this show, in particular the set designer Rob Howell (who actually won a whatsonstage award for his design for both Ghost and Matilda and an Olivier for Matilda) the choreographer Ashley Wallen and Liam Steel for the Additional Movement Sequences.

On to the cast – there wasn’t a weak link in the lot and I think that’s quite rare in an age where roles are often stunt cast, regardless of talent. They could all sing, act and dance – even if the accents were a little dodgy at times.

Siobhan Dillon as Molly and Mark Evans as Sam, were both as fantastic as I expected them to be and really made me believe in their characters love. 

My  favourites, though, were Andrew Langtree as Carl Bruner and Sharon D Clarke as Oda Mae Brown.

Andrew Langtree portrays the characters dripping corporate sleaziness through demeanour and the way he talks and moves. You can really sense his need to have everything – by whatever means necessary. And who doesn't love a good baddie? 

Sharon D Clarke had the mannerisms of the character we love so much from the film down to perfection. It was as though she has studied Whoopie Goldburg’s portrayal in depth. Perhaps it would have been nice to have a bit of her own interpretation in there too, though?

If you go to see Ghost the Musical for no other reason, though, go for the illusions (created by Paul Kieve). Wow, I was blown away. I’ve studied technical theatre, which to be honest has spoilt the magic of some stage illusions, but the magic was reclaimed in this show. I really couldn’t figure it out. I can guess at some of the elements that made it work (which I won’t theorise about here, as I wouldn’t want to take anything away from a person going to see it for the first time) but how those elements worked to create the ghostly illusions, I just don’t know. For me, this is wonderful. It’s like being a child again and being completely swept away in the magic.

So, go, be swept away in the magic currently happening at the Piccadilly Theatre, before the shows own untimely end in October later this year.

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

West End Live: Relived

Well, what a weekend at West End Live. My legs have only just stopped aching from hours of standing but it was all worth it.

For musical theatre fans everywhere this is an event firmly placed in the theatrical diary. In previous years, I’ve been the one sitting at home wishing I could be there, but this year I decided I HAD to go. So as a first time attendee, my introductory experience of it is quite different from those that have been going since it began.

It started out as a relatively small event in Leicester Square with only 4 shows performing. Skip forward 7 years and it’s become a massive event at Trafalgar Square, with all the musicals that are currently running in the West End having a set (of various lengths – ranging from 5 minutes to 25 minutes) and wonderfully, massive crowds – Trafalgar Square was pretty much full to capacity at the high points of the day.

And it’s not just the die-hard musical fans attending now. Casual theatre goers, tourists and people just looking for an entertaining day out are coming and, consequently discovering shows they may never have otherwise considered going to see, which is great for the future of theatre. Let’s hope that this event is still going strong for many years.

With bigger crowds, however, come worse views so you’d better be prepared to be early if you want to be right at the front. One of the hosts asked someone at the front on Saturday what time they’d got there and they said 5.30am! That’s dedication.

On the Saturday, I attended the signing for ‘The Inbetween Musical’ at the Dress Circle shop before going along to West End Live. Both started at 11am so you can imagine by the time I turned up at Trafalgar Square (just in time for ‘Sweeney Todd’ at 11.45am) I was pretty much on the outskirts and pretty much only had a view of the screen. I was determined to support this wonderful new musical though at the expense of a good view. If you’ve not heard of it, please check out the website:-

My best view on Saturday
Scott Garnham singing 'Beyond the Door' from
The Inbetween
An hour later I’d made it to a point where I could see tiny dots moving about on stage and I was here for most of the day then, eventually made my way to the front of the fountain by the time The Inbetween did their set.

It’s not just established musicals that get a slot at West End Live but it’s also a showcase for new talent, such as this show (which was well received by the crowd) and for theatre schools such as National Youth Music Theatre, West End Kids and the Mark Jermin Theatre School, all of whom were fantastic and as professional as any of the other shows showcased.

Saturday Highlights
It seemed a lot of the crowd were excited for Chicago with many people around me cheering loudly whenever it was mentioned (and the crowds certainly seemed to thin a bit once it was finished – great for me as it meant inching slightly closer)

For me, though, the highlights were seeing the new cast of Les Miserables singing One Day More together (even if it was only on the screen – if I stood on tiptoe I could just about see the tops of their heads on stage), Jersey Boys and Rock of Ages because they did energetic sets that got the crowd going and, of course, The Inbetween because it was so great to see a new musical being showcased in front of so many people.

Saturday Lowlights
I would have to say Thriller. It seemed to please a lot of people and there was nothing wrong with it, essentially. It just does nothing for me. This is more a matter of personal taste than anything they did wrong. It was one of the longer sets too so that dragged for me, a little.

I was also disappointed that Sweeney Todd and Phantom didn’t do more songs, but I understand that this may be tricky given the dark content of these shows and this being a family friendly event (and the middle of the day).

**Theatre Snobbery Commencing**
I have to mention a comment over heard from two girls standing nearby that just made my heart sink. This conversation happened during I Dreamed a Dream:-
Girl 1: I’ve heard this song before
Girl 2: Yeah, it was in the first season of Glee.
Me: *sigh*
**Theatre Snobbery End**

I decided to leave after The Inbetween’s set on the Saturday to get some food and start getting ready for that evening’s show (Ghost the Musical– review coming later in week, along with a review of Friday night’s show Shrek)


On Sunday I got to Trafalgar Square by 11am, an hour before it was due to start, and made sure I had food to take in with me this time.

I got much closer to the stage this time, although my view was still pretty obscured given that I’m only 5 foot! If I was just a few inches taller I’d have seen much better. Nature can be so cruel.

But it wasn't so bad, I made it to the front barrier eventually

Sunday Highlights

I haven’t had a chance to see this show yet but Matilda was the highlight for me with Sophia Kiely singing ‘Naughty’ and I intend to book to see this for after the Olympics finishes (because I’m not going anywhere near London during). It’s astonishing the talent some of these kids have and how effortlessly they perform and although I’m not a huge Billy Elliot fan (I say this in ignorance really as I’ve not seen the show) I have to acknowledge Ryan Collinson for his performance of ‘Electricity’ just before the Matilda set.

Quite unexpectedly, I enjoyed Horrible Histories in a really silly, childish way. They did a song about Henry the Eighth being a big fat man, loves to stuff his face from the frying pan and we joined them in a dance to the old divorced, beheaded, died rhyme. It’s obviously aimed at kids and I wouldn’t actually go to this, but if you’re a parent this is a fun way to get them to learn something.

 I also enjoyed seeing some West End performers showcasing some of their own songs from their albums. It’s nice to see what they enjoy singing outside of Musical Theatre. Don’t leave theatre completely, though, please, we’d miss you J

As with the previous day I also felt Jersey Boys and Rock of Ages stood out and was pleased to once again support the Inbetween. I’m sure there’ll be great things in store for this show soon.

Sunday Lowlights

Thriller did another 20 minute set which we’ve already established I wasn’t keen on the first time round and, unsurprisingly, given that I’m not 5 years old ‘Everything’s Rosie’ and ‘Angelina Ballerina the Mousical’ were pretty cringeworthy moments to get through, though I’m sure they were lovely for the little ones and I wouldn’t want to deny them discovering the joys of theatre so this really is nit picking from an entirely selfish stand point.

Also the Big Zumba Dance was a bit of a drag – I don’t know if they noticed but there was hardly room in the crowd to do a two step let alone all the energetic twirling and bouncing they were doing. And there really isn’t any point to Zumba if you’re not joining in, it’s not exactly fun to watch.  

The weather also let us down a couple of times with downpours of rain, but they passed fairly quickly and when the sun was out it was lovely and warm so we dried out quickly. I did feel sorry for people further back when the umbrella canopy came out. They probably couldn’t see a thing. Come on people, we’re British, we can get brave the rain without umbrella’s, can’t we?

The best day, for me, was the Sunday mostly due to having a much better view and being properly in amongst the crowd - the only place to truly soak up the atmosphere. 

This was a wonderful experience that I’m glad I got to share first hand this year and will certainly be going again. The atmosphere of all those people getting together to share the joy of theatre is priceless and, coincidentally so is the fee for entry – it’s absolutely free, so if you missed out this year, make sure you keep the last weekend in June clear next year so you can come along and share in the experience too.

Here are some links to other peoples pictures/blogs and videos­:-

@JedihomerT - - Ghost
                   - pics from Saturday

@Steffi_G - - blog and beautiful pics from both days. photo coverage - photo coverage -

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

The Stage Calls

“Ladies and Gentleman of the cast and crew, this is your beginner’s call. Beginner’s to the stage”

Last Saturday I volunteered my time at one of my occasional backstage stints – this time making sure the singers had their radio mics attached discreetly & comfortably and more importantly ensuring that they were turned ON. With only 3 mics and many cast members I needed to be standing by to coordinate the switch over’s.

After the show the chairman of the company was chatting with me about my Gramps, who he also knows and is the one to blame for introducing me to musical theatre back when my age consisted of single digits. The chairman made the following comment:

“I really admire him, I don’t know how he can love theatre so much and not want to be on the stage. He used to go up to London all the time to see shows and yet he never feels the need to experience the limelight”

Days later, I find myself still contemplating these words. Can you be a musical theatre fan without wanting to be in one? - Whether this is a realised dream or a secret fantasy.

What is it about musical theatre lovers & the need to be part of this world?

Is it the desire to perform that creates a love of musicals or is it a love of musicals that creates the desire to perform?

For me, trying to answer that last one is like trying to decide whether the chicken came before the egg. It seemed to just happen at once.

Thinking back really, really... really far, I’d say it was actually panto that came first. My Gramps started taking me to panto the second I was able to appreciate it... probably before. I suppose it was this that sparked in me a desire - no, a need - to put on painstakingly drawn out and terrible renditions of my own (I thought they were brilliant and inspired at the time, of course) for my weary looking parents (weary and somewhat drunk... they had to be to get through it, to be fair) & the parents of my friends who I’d coerced into taking part.

Even back then, however, I was more into being the production/creative team. And no, I don’t mean part of it – I was the entire production/creative team; I was script writer, director, programme designer, costume & set designer and lighting designer (and by that I mean I stretched & sellotaped quality street wrappers over a torch). I would only take a small role for myself.

That being said I do love singing. It’s mostly loudly in the shower, self consciously in the car or silly singing with my mum and sister (usually les mis, since I know you were wondering).

So does it have to be on stage to get the feeling that the chairman was talking about? I suppose it depends what that ‘feeling’ is. For him, I suppose it’s the exhilaration of sharing his passion with an audience and basking in the warm glow of the adoration in the applause – in this case, it definitely needs to be on stage. For me, it’s the satisfaction of seeing all the elements of show making come together & knowing you had a part in creating this magical world – for this you can be backstage or on stage, in a role big or small.

 Either way, we still feel the need to have a role in it.

Isn’t that what we’re always told, though? – do something that you love. Isn’t it the same for anyone with a passion for something? Or is there something about the magic and escapism of theatre? That we just want to wrap ourselves up in this fantastical bubble and escape from harsh reality into a world of jazz hands and sequins?

“Ladies and Gentleman of the cast and crew. Stand by for curtain call.”

Monday, 4 June 2012

In Focus: Les Miserables Trailer & Upcoming Film Adaptation

I seem to be in the minority here, judging by the excitement on twitter, but I was a little underwhelmed by the trailer for the upcoming Les Miserables movie that was unleashed upon the world on Wednesday of last week. Here it is if it’s somehow passed anyone by, or if you’re just ridiculously excited and want to watch it again:-

It starts with Anne Hathaway singing ‘I Dreamed a Dream’ and the first thing I think is that I’ve seen YouTube clips of amateur singers singing it better. I don’t mean this as harshly as it seems – those amateur singers are technically very good. But that’s just the point. Technically, she’s not very good. She has a sweet voice and it sounds alright but I just don’t think alright is good enough when you’re making a film of this magnitude; A film of a production that means so much to so many. There’s no strength or control to her vocal ability. I suppose you could argue that the character is at a vulnerable point at this stage of the story and that she wouldn’t be strong or in control. This is true, but I don’t think you should dramatise that through singing style. It should be done through acting. I think of some of the Fantine’s I’ve seen in the stage versions   - Ruthie Henshall, Lea Salonga, Caroline Sheen – they prove that  you can still sing strongly and capture the character’s vulnerability and hopelessness.

I feel I have to defend this opinion here after reading the review on where Julie Robinson says the following:

To be frank, people who leave remarks like these are just highlighting the ignorance on their part. Hathaway is an accomplished vocalist who has a very strong voice; a fact she has displayed on numerous occasions.”

When I heard that Hathaway was to play Fantine the first thing I did was find clips of her singing and based on all the evidence  I disagree with the above statement.  I think she’s shown she has a pleasantly sweet singing voice but certainly not strong. For a taste of things to come here’s a link to the clip of Hathaway and Jackman singing together for the Oscars at the 81st Annual Academy Awards (Hathaway joins in at 4:00)

This leads nicely on to Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean. There’s not too much given away in the trailer just a few clips of him in character at different stages of the story. I’m quite content with the casting of Jackman in this role. He has a background in Musical Theatre, having started his career in theatre, most notably performing as Curly in ‘Oklahoma’ in the West End in 1998.

I’m trying to keep an open mind about Russell Crowe as Javert. He looks menacing enough and seems to convey that air of over inflated authority that I feel Javert as a character must possess (except where are the trademark sideburns?). I haven’t heard him sing much, so I’m not sure what to expect. Philip Quast is always going to be the perfect Javert in my eyes, which I realise is a bit unfair as that’s a big talent to match.

Samantha Barks, on the other hand, is the perfect Eponine to me and I’m very excited to see her in this film adaptation. She looks exactly as I’d imagine Eponine would look and has the right kind of singing voice. And, of course, she is first and foremost a musical theatre performer so she's flying the flag (literally) for those people who do this night after night and never tire, yet get consigned to extras in the film.

I do realise why the producers do this. It's a bums on seats deal. Big Hollywood names = Bigger audience attraction rate. Whilst this may be annoying, it's a fact of film and I'm not going to get too upset over that. If it means more people will come and see the theatrical version then it's not all bad. 

Eddie Redmayne has been a real surprise. Only when I approached writing up my thoughts of the upcoming film did I do some research into his singing voice and, I have to say, it stopped me in my tracks! I’d never have thought he’d have such a good singing voice whilst watching him crawl through muddy trenches in the gritty BBC adaptation of the Sebastian Faulks novel 'Birdsong' earlier this year. I still don’t think he looks right as Marius but that’s probably been because I’ve seen the likes of Michael Ball and Fra Fee in the role. I’ve come to expect him to be more innocent looking with curly hair. Eddie Redmayne looks harsher, more world weary. After hearing him sing, though, I’m quite looking forward to seeing what he does with this role.

We don’t see Sacha Baron Cohen or Helena Bonham Carter in this trailer (I wonder if double barrel surnames were a requirement of the actors playing these parts) but I’m sure they will be fine in their respective roles - looking at the picture below, it's not at all difficult to imagine them together as the Thenardier's. They are both known for playing comedic yet sinister characters which they both demonstrated in the film adaptation of ‘Sweeney Todd’.  I’d say this is the most important requirement for these characters over vocal ability.

In conclusion, I’m going to keep my expectations low for this film; I would rather it exceeds my expectations than disappoint. Even though there have been plenty of well made film adaptations of musicals, such as Sweeney Todd, Chicago and Rent, I’m still feeling the sting from the disappointing 2006 film adaption of ‘Phantom of the Opera’ which is one of the ultimate musicals, just like Les Miserables and I think that makes it much more of a risk. 

I found this clip on YouTube earlier showcasing each cast members singing voice, so have a listen if you haven’t heard them all already and catch them all at Christmas time, hopefully doing justice to our well loved characters, at a cinema near you:-

note: above video belongs to wolfart2003 on YouTube