"So you want to tread the boards..."
By Jennifer Reischel.
JR Books Ltd. £16.99. ISBN: 1-906217-02-5 or 978-1-906217-02-0
www.performingarts-auditionguide.com is the author's official website.
Acting is your passion, but how to make it your career? This author has been
there, done that, (literally) borrowed the "I'm the star and you know it"
T-Shirt, and now writes the book. Experienced enough to offer a balanced view,
yet still close enough in age to recall her training days and empathise with
teenage readers, Reischel covers just about everything the aspiring thespian may
wish to know.
The book mixes practical and personal advice, organised in handily bite-sized
sections.General topics like choosing your school, finding funding, the cost of
everything from clothing to lessons and living in London are dealt with before
moving on to more individual needs. These include audition piece suggestions -
play and musical - with tips on how to handle auditions themselves, how to find
good tutors and even a little on important matters like tax and visa
requirements for working abroad. Alternative careers both in and allied to the
industry also get a mention, and a glossary of theatre terms should prove useful
to those who don't know their 'stage right' from left. Most originally, the
tricky subject of convincing loved ones that acting really is a suitable a job
as any other is covered in depth - and should prove helpful to both auditionee
and concerned family members.
Perhaps the only omissions are the darker side of the business. Dealing with the
stress of continuous unemployment, obsessive fans (even the least well known
have awkward encounters at stage doors), and warning of issues surrounding
unwise career choices early on ("I was young, I needed the money" has a nasty
way of biting later) might have been useful. A mention of practical safety tips
for travelling home late after a show or visiting unknown audition places might
have gone down well in the London section too, but these are minor items in a
book which covers practically everything else.
Grounded and sensible advice which, as the writer stresses, isn't prescriptive
but assistance 'from one professional to those who ask' is the strength of this
publication. Lightened by accounts of her own attractively scatty experiences at
auditions, Jennifer Reischel has penned a "must read" for anyone wanting act
professionally, and a "must buy" for anyone seeking a gift for the stage-struck
"Stella! Mother of Modern Acting"
By Sheana Ochoa
Applause Theatre & Cinema Books / Hal Leonard / Backbeat. £24.99. ISBN
A faint bell rang at the name “Stella Adler” when I was offered a review copy of
this book. That changed to a loud clang after the first line of the
introduction. Of course. Stella Adler. One of the greatest exponents of the
acting craft in the 20th Century.
Sheana Ochoa’s biography is as much about the development of modern American
acting skills as it is about the lady herself. That’s down to the fact it was
Stella’s experience with the “Group Theater” in the early 1930s which spawned
the Adler Method, Lee Strasberg’s Method and a host of other Stanislavski-style
approaches which are all practised today.
The lady herself was, more or less, a living history of the theatre. From
infancy appearing on the Yiddish Theatre circuit in New York – part of the
famous Adler family troupe – to wishing to be part of an American National
Theatre (the “Group Theater” experiment) and on via the earliest days of
Hollywood and the studio era to eventually becoming one of the most renowned
teachers of all time. The lady was there, at the centre of it.
Stella knew everyone in the industry. Stanislavski himself, Charlie Chaplin, and
later trained names like Robert de Niro and Marlon Brando. Yet that isn’t the
... her political career is even more startling. A skirmish with Communism,
narrowly avoiding indictment but making the “blacklist,” wasn’t all. This woman
was prepared not only to speak out about the Holocaust while it happened (and
was initially ignored by much of the USA), but was pro-Zionist enough to
actually do something extraordinary to help the rebel army there. Just what,
you’ll need to read the book to find out.
Ochoa’s text seems to keep pace with her subject’s life. The early scenes on the
Lower East Side bustle with descriptive energy. The chapters about the “Group
Theater” struggle with the same circular introversion that they did. Stella’s
political expeditions and personal relationships feel as precarious as they were
and her teaching days brim with energy again.
The only jarring notes are a few passages where the author decides to stretch
her own credibility by using the terms “she would have,” seemingly inventing a
situation where there was no need. A pity, as it almost weakens an otherwise
meticulously researched work. Oh, and for a British reader like the monkey,
there’s another small snigger over the “Lion’s Restaurant” of post-war London.
It’s “Lyons Corner House” of course. Hopefully a detail corrected in a later
Simply, this is an important work as it collates and distils umpteen disjointed
accounts and miscellaneous notes about a person who shaped an entire culture
into a single volume. Readable and impressive in its scope, this is a valuable
book for theatre historians, and for any actor or observer wishing to know more
about just how “the Method” came to be. You’ll find it here, from the lady who
really knew and “was there” – the Stella star at its dawn.
"Confessions of a (struggling) actress"
By jo blogs
Big Finish Productions Ltd. £8.99. ISBN 978-1-78178-035-0.
There’s several outstanding books for aspiring musical theatre performers. “So
You Want To Tread The Boards” and “So You Want To Be In Musicals” are excellent,
full of practical advice underpinned by personal experience.
Jo Bloggs goes beyond that. Her book isn’t about the process of training, nor
the joy of landing that huge first job (though she touches on both). No, this is
based on Jo’s blog (hence the pseudonym) – a daily record of just how a musical
theatre actress survives when she can’t be on stage.
Each blog entry is classified as either a “Confession” or an “Audition File.”
The “confessions” are how she passes her days. A succession of low-paid jobs,
some at least in the companionable offices of a theatre ticket agency, but
others in the harsher realities of retail and care work. Jo makes them all sound
more fun than they are, but the reader is always aware just how those passing
days grind her down and why expensive music and dance classes become ever more a
Her “Audition Files,” however, raise the question of just why she puts herself
through it all. Repetitive, maybe, but each is a slight variation. They add up
to finally “cracking the code” and landing a job; at which point the endless
accounts suddenly make sense as the harshest of learning curves.
Adding to the enjoyment is the brilliant device of occasional “Questions” she’s
asked, and the “Answer” she gives... plus the “Honest Answer” – bitingly funny,
with a just tinge of vicious melancholy. Andy Peters also provides some
brilliant cartoons, bringing Jo’s hopeful tales to amusing visual life.
Perhaps a little more editing might have helped put some of the stories into
clearer order – she passes her driving test near the end of the book, but talks
of driving herself to auditions near the beginning. The odd theatrical term like
“track” isn’t explained to casual readers either. Also, I’d say that songs were
“belted” rather than “pelted,” but these are minor quibbles.
What’s abundantly clear is that Jo’s life is very much typical of most musical
theatre performers. The gifts she has, her sparky personality, determination and
strength to survive the walk into each audition simply aren’t enough. Surviving
the deepest self-doubt created by constant rejection; and the growing awareness
that being that good isn’t enough – even brilliant can be mediocre compared to
the next actress; all seem almost inevitable in the career she chose, and will
come as a surprisingly raw realisation for readers.
Thought provoking, and a superb reality-check for those who think musical
theatre work really is as easy to break into as TV makes out. The reader
unfamiliar with the theatre world will never look at a musical actor on stage
again without knowing just how hard it was to get there... and hopefully will
also treat box office assistants with the respect they deserve too...
A copy should be in every careers library, and a vital gift to those wishing to
follow in Jo’s footsteps (even if, as she says, she would prefer you not to –
she doesn’t need the competition, thanks very much!).
"Sondheim, A Celebration At Carnegie Hall"
(region 0 DVD)
Filmed in 1992, this is a unique record of the cream of Broadway and Hollywood
celebrating the crème-de-la-crème of stage musicals in the most famous concert
hall of all.
From an hilarious Bill Irwin introduction until the appearance of the Man
himself to introduce the finale, this is 85 minutes of pure joy. If you need
just a single reason to buy, Daisy Eagan’s “Broadway Baby” is so unmissable that
the monkey watched it three times in succession. You’ll see why… and the number
will never be the same again after. If that is too frivolous, Patrick Cassidy
and Victor Garber’s “The Ballad of Booth” is a reminder that “Assassins” is a
fine work made even better with stunning vocals and careful timing.
All the other heaviest weights of the Great White Way check in as you’d expect.
Patti LuPone, Betty Buckley, Dorothy Loudon and Bernadette Peters are present
and correct, doing their stuff as impressively as usual. Liza Minnelli and Glenn
Close surprise too, reminding us of their depth as performers. Before reading
the DVD case, guess their allocated numbers (remember, Daisy did “Broadway
Baby,” to make it easier); and award yourself a second viewing for getting them
For the gentlemen, a choral of “A Weekend in the Country” serves to showcase
voices including Kevin Anderson and Mark Jacoby; while the Boys Choir of Harlem
combine with them to prevent the ladies having a complete victory in the
evening. It is quite interesting how many female characters Sondheim writes for
compared with male ones, though.
Paul Gemignani (with thrilling musical arrangements), Susan Stroman, Scott Ellis
and David Thompson have created an evening which will burn indelibly on the
memory. Luckily, SonyBMG Musical Entertainment capture it on a DVD that any
musical theatre fan will want in their collection.
By Lisa Gee.
Hutchinson. £14.99. ISBN: 9780091921392
www.lisagee.net is the author's website.
Landmark revival “The Sound Of Music” at the London Palladium in 2006 may have
chosen its leading lady by television vote, but the cast is larger than a single
publicly-elected new star. With children a key feature of the show, how do
producers find enough of them to keep Maria busy? Six-and-a-bit-year-old Dora
Gee was one volunteer keen to become a Von Trapp… with trepidation, “mother
superior” Lisa agrees to let her audition; this is their tale.
Subtitling her book “When showbiz happens to your child” rather than “Connie
Fisher, My Part in Her Triumph” demonstrates just how seriously Lisa Gee took
keeping her daughter’s first stage experience in perspective. Deeply scared by
“child star burns out in adolescence” stories and without any knowledge of the
business herself, she prepares for the worst but instead is often pleasantly
Much of the appeal of this book is the immediacy of Lisa’s writing. Even though
we know Dora bags the part, the earliest chapters – all titled with quotes from
the show’s lyric – are a measured mixture of mundane family life dappled with
the pleasure of anticipation and shadows of potential failure. We live in the
same moment as the author, where every meeting, letter and email could “make or
break” the fantasy… and the laundry still needs doing.
Interlacing descriptions of audition and rehearsal processes, seeing her
daughter on stage for the first time, opening-night parties and settling into
the run; Lisa interviews many in the business and considers objectively just how
wise it is allowing your child to join a dropout apprentice nun’s adopted brood
for six months.
It certainly isn’t the money. Dora was paid far less than the price of a decent
stalls ticket each night, while the parents counted themselves lucky to get even
a proportion of their own travel expenses paid. The true gain, as Lisa concludes
by chatting with parents and professionals, is building confidence by
channelling youthful energy and creativity into something good.
Lisa’s maternal thoughts and feelings, observations and reflections are an
informative perspective for anybody with a stage-struck child. In the future,
Dora may choose West End stars or NASA ones. Either way, in this book she will
have a highly readable and entertaining record of a very special adventure; a
pleasure we are lucky to share.
"How To Produce A West End Show"
By Julius Green.
Oberon Books. £14.99. ISBN: 9781849430258
As you slump into your faded, appointed-for-midget West End theatre seat, it’s
easy to forget that somebody, somewhere, has invested thousands of hours (and
many more pounds), to entice you there - and entertain you once you arrive.
It’s not that difficult to pick up from “behind the scenes” TV documentaries or
occasional newspaper stories how the creative process works on stage. Far less
publicised is the work of the person who initiates the project, draws the whole
thing together and takes ultimate responsibility.
This book unmasks the West End producer as being... not the big man standing at
the back, enormous cigar in one hand / attractive leading lady’s waist in the
other (unless it’s Bill Kenwright and Ms Seagrove of course).
No, it’s actually the starving optimist in the cramped office, buried in stacks
of prospective scripts and casting details, impenetrable contracts for everybody
from lighting technicians to the theatre cat, scenery blueprints and a huge
stack of bills. Not to mention a “break glass in emergency” box containing an
American “Approved Productions Contract” for when ‘you have lost the will to
live.’ Navigating the whole, as this book constantly reminds us, requires three
ring circus skills. Multiple plate-spinning with one eye on the budget, the
other on the calendar and all fingers crossed it’ll come together to confirm
script, star, venue and finances that’ll put the show onto the stage. Oh, and
you should have more than one project on the go, too, of course.
Broken down into obvious steps – forming a company, budgeting, raising
investment, hiring venue, choosing the show, finding the right cast and crew,
marketing and even closing – what this isn’t is a textbook. Instead, it’s a
distillation of knowledge acquired from many years of practical experience,
levelled with a laconic wit plus the odd anecdote or five from the sharp end of
For those actually aspiring to produce, it’s an excellent background in industry
practise and terminology; and the sections on accounting and contracting are
particularly helpful. Producing outside the West End, with other producers and
even Broadway are touched on, making it even more comprehensive.
Interested regular theatregoers, and those like the monkey who are in other
areas of the industry, will gain a deeper understanding and greater appreciation
of what it takes to create and sustain a production - helped by the very
Of course, no book on producing would be complete without reference to the
greatest of all time. Bialystock and Bloom’s theory of raising more money than
the show needs, then keeping the balance when it flops (as nobody then expects a
return) is thus fully explored.
As Green points out, the central flaw is that it’s pretty well impossible to
raise the basic investment, let alone more. Still, he doesn’t then go on to note
that you couldn’t, if you could... On the other hand, having read the entire
book, it’s more than sensible to conclude that, for those in financial
difficulties, a visit to a local jewellers equipped with half a brick and a pair
of tights is going to yield a more certain return – and about the same jail
sentence – with none of the hassle or paperwork.
Happily, he finishes with the story of one woman going from an idea to worldwide
success, based on simple faith in her material. For those similarly inspired, or
who hope they might be, this book certainly shows you where to begin. Highly
"Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Acting*
*But were afraid to ask, dear"
By West End Producer.
Nick Hern Books. £10.99. ISBN: 9781848423473
This is a big book. Big in scope, big in information, big on detail and most of all, big in personality. Quite possibly the most important book about theatre since “Cats, The Book of the Musical” (West End Edition). If you want to work on the London stage, in film, television or even advertising haemorrhoid creams, it’s compulsory reading.
From impressing the casting director at audition, to finding that “G Spot” on stage and surviving a national tour, the hugely experienced and effusively inebriated West End Producer shares years of wisdom as he guides the performer with unsteady hand.
Most importantly he reminds all actors, whatever their experience, that there are both right and wrong ways to do absolutely everything. The importance of sharing gifts, stage space, talent (and, on occasion, fluids) are stressed. The vital importance of not sharing too much information, personal cash or the casting director’s lifestyle even more so.
So comprehensive is this book, it even provides actors with a complete “how to plan your day” guide, both when in a regular run on stage or during rehearsal. In particular, the advice on preparation (laying out your script to leap across the pages at the start of the day) makes anything Stanislavsky has written look positively old-fashioned, if not totally redundant.
The casual non-performer is also rewarded with a rare insight into how producers view them, and indeed a moving final page pays tribute to those in the audience and has wise words on how ticket prices must be set to encourage them in future. Even better, vouchers allowing theatregoers to interact at close quarters with actors and even try a role for themselves are included at the back of the book – and can be redeemed when the Producer gets his scheme is up and running.
In summary, any reader can follow these simple instructions to enjoy a long and successful career in the business he calls “show,” just so long as they remember to bring their own hobnobs.
A CD. Catalogue number PM003
You are a musical theatre composer with a trunkful of great
show tunes... but the world prefers the ‘tried and tested.’ Danny Davies
resolves the problem by releasing his ideas here on CD.
Appropriately, the disc kicks off with the attention grabbing cry of “Hey
Producer” – crazy theatrical exhibitionist Julie Atherton issuing the call. Her
vocal gymnastics - running sweet ingénue to vamp - makes her final threat to
undress just to grab attention so credible you feel deep sympathy for her gay
Later, from the same potential show “Living The Dream,” “I Need You Broadway,”
gives Stephen Weller the opportunity explain just why performers like Julie
Atherton and himself crave the energy of musical theatre. A show concept worth
developing, feels the monkey.
Another potential show idea, a cycle about University old “Friends Reunited”
occupies a further three tracks. First up is “Falling Rain,” with “Fall Into
Heaven” and “This Dream’s Not For You” appearing later. All three adequately
capture the narcissism and opportunism of University life translated into
adulthood, but perhaps yet require the fermentation of stage rehearsal - Laura
Selwood’s voice in particular might contribute well to the process.
Finally from the ‘concepts’ bank, “Forgive Me,” is apparently a rock/ballad
attempt to musicalise Count Dracula’s remorse. While (as others have proven) the
subject is tricky theatrically; the song itself, with Tom Parson’s energy, is a
pleasing contrast to the predominance of slower numbers in the track list.
We are also treated to a completed theatre work. “Face To Face,” Davies’s first
project, follows the relationship between Sir Frederick Treves and Joseph
Merrick (Victorian England’s ‘Elephant Man’). In “Twice The Man,” Merrick
addresses the frailty of being alone, and his hopes for the potential of true
friendship. A true ‘stage musical’ piece, Peter Polycarpou demonstrates years of
experience to land effortlessly a difficult theme. Immediately following it with
“Picture This,” with Merrick as a medical lecture exhibit, heightens the impact.
A twinkling melody and heartbreaking lyric image provide well judged contrast.
From the same show, “Who’s The Greater Fool,” is of deceptive simplicity; Gemma
O’Duffy tackling (with some vocal discomfort) twisted love – suggesting a
potential special moment in a live stage production. “Isn’t It Strange,” another
female ‘character’ song, is sweetly performed by Kirsty Hailes. Powerful, some
simplistic rhymes aside. Still with the same show, and penultimate track on the
disc “Shadows of Evening” has the feeling of a number from “Chess.” Appropriate
as Shimi Goodman plays out an emotional endgame with beautifully judged
This album contains also three tracks that, as song-writers are wont to do,
simply ‘had to be written.’ “One More Night” might actually fit into the
“Friends Reunited” score. Chris Thatcher and Alison Jear are as well matched
vocally as the characters they play here. “Turn Around” gives David Berkovitch
and Gemma O’Duffy a second chance to shine in a track that might also strengthen
the same score, perhaps. Last of these ‘free’ numbers “Now You’re Near” could
easily be a show tune too. Shona White fans will love it, while those who don’t
know her voice will be fans by the end of it.
Closing the disc is the gloriously catchy choral “Shine On Down.” Cut free from
a record producer’s grasp, it became the anthem in 2011 of “Dress Circle,”
London’s beloved showbiz shop that faced closure due to high rents. Used at its
benefit show, a galaxy of musical theatre stars celebrate their (and their
audiences’) love of everything ‘stage musical.’
And that is really what this album is all about. Sharing all that is special in
musical theatre creativity. From playing alone with songs and concepts, to
finding the right collaborators to bring them to life, this is one man’s
inspirations presented in a rewarding, generous gesture to all fans of the
"Shona White: I’ll bring you a Song"
A CD. Catalogue number VIB008
Shona White is an established musical theatre actor with a loyal fanbase. This
album brings her vocal storytelling skills to a wider public, with a voice that
brings out the most elusive meaning in any song.
Opening with “Tell Me On A Sunday,” from the song-cycle of the same name, a
mature approach is captivating, and contrasts beautifully with the next song,
“As Long As You’re Mine,” a younger number recalling her time in “Wicked.” A
passionate relationship with Daniel Boys has a searing honesty in every line.
That same passion reaches even greater heights during “I Close My Eyes And Count
To Ten.” The disbelief at her good fortune is evident in every note and
sustained to the very end.
Returning, mid-album, to a trio of theatre songs, “Easier” (from ‘In Touch’)
begins by attempting a sharp contrast in its simplicity, a guitar and little
else. As the number continues, the begging for some easier solution reveals
suddenly just how complicated things are beneath the surface. Later, “Easy to
Say” (from “Over The Threshold”) provides another take on the dilemma.
Following these, “I Want To Know” (from RSVP ASAP) is a fascinating take on the
classic “I want a man” theme. Caught up in her fantasy, the upbeat pleasure
taken in imagining the right person is brought to a stunned defeat in the final
“Nobody’s Side,” (from “Chess”) could have been a conventional choice. Given an
angrier rendition than usual here, it’s interesting to judge whether the singer
is angrier with herself or the world, as repeated listening will change your
opinion each time.
Best of all is “I’ll Bring You A Song.” Yes, it’s about the wearing down of a
singer on the road, but it sums up the whole album perfectly. This is the Lady
who sings songs. Beautifully. Following it with the prayer-like “Ae Fond Kiss”
underlines the ‘person behind the performer’ theme rather well.
To finish, the wonderful Don Black lyric of “To Sir With Love” is given a new
dimension, as a tribute to the perfect partner Shona has been searching for
throughout the disc. A “bonus” ‘How Bout A Dance’ simply confirms that the right
person is everything to a singer who can express so much in song.
Here is an incredible recording voice that deserves to be heard by the widest
possible audience. Well selected songs exploring an idea to a solid and
satisfying conclusion make this album unmissable.
"Jesus Chris, Superstar"
NOT SUITABLE FOR CHILDREN OR THE EASILY
A CD. Catalogue number VI8010
Forget “reality TV” documentaries. This CD is as close to a genuine “fly on the
wall” experience about what goes on in a musical theatre actor’s mind (as
anybody would probably want to get)... Bawdy and explicit as only theatre humour
can be, it’s certainly an ‘after the watershed’ listen, in more ways than one.
Conceived as a mixture of songs, plus a few sketches based on real experiences
of two friends-in-greasepaint, there’s enough material here for a brilliant
Edinburgh cabaret evening; and some outstanding comedy writing on display.
It all boils down to just two themes: love, well, sex really; and the
frustrations of trying to get acting work when everybody is just out to exploit
or humiliate you - sometimes both. The whole album works best if the listener
has a) a pretty good working knowledge of theatre jargon and b) a liking for
their musical theatre numbers served up “twisted.”
Starting the disc as it means to go on, the “Sensitive Song” from musical “Cops”
is a prime example of ‘when theatrical ballads go bad.” Combined with later “In
Short” (from “Edges”) these are flows of outrageous vitriol on the subject of
ending relationships. “Love Song” and “Sex” do little to build bridges either,
while “Somebody Kill Me” from “Wedding Singer” is simply a suicidal rant
invoking hilarity rather than sympathy.
Not helping, the solo alternative, “I’m In Love” may well be picked up by Ann
Summers for an advertising campaign and in-store atmosphere music.
There’s an upside, though, with several songs about (admittedly slightly
depraved) happier times. “The Morning After You Do It” is an openly triumphant
celebration... of events probably better kept private. Continuing the
disconcerting, “Sensitive Male Best Friend” is combination to worry the ladies,
and “To Excess” a bald warning... particularly if your name is Clare. Oh, and
neither is likely to prove much of a legal defence either.
The best track on the album, “Lullaby,” also won’t impress a jury. Neatly
capturing the cynicism pervading the whole subject, it’s the filthiest but most
searingly honest bedtime tune never sung to a child. Writer Stephen Lynch
concocts simply the funniest number the monkey has heard in ages – and you’ll be
humming it (subversively) for hours.
Working the second theme, that of exploring the actor’s experience in depth,
“I’ll Always be the understudy” will have anybody whose ‘track’ is being coveted
by that ‘swing in the wings’ watching their backs for sure (the monkey told you
a knowledge of theatre terms is required!).
Scattered among these songs are a few musical interjections, plus some hilarious
/ wince-inducingly familiar (depending if you are an actor or not) sketches by
Chris and friend Mathew. The best is a cleverly constructed audition, complete
with every stereotype that can be crammed behind a folding table in a sweaty
hired rehearsal room. Almost as good are the verbatim records, sorry, parodies
of conversations with Chris’s agent – a man determined to exploit Chris to the
best of his abilities... and almost succeeding. With agents (and, in an early
sketch) friends like these, no wonder Chris’s dreams of superstardom are still
Still, we do get a superb rendering of “If You Were Gay” from “Avenue Q.” The
show Chris was starring in at the time the CD was released, it features Jon
Robyns and in my opinion surpasses for timing the original cast recording
version. There’s also “Chips Lament” from “Spelling Bee,” again benefitting from
immaculate comic delivery. Bonus track, sweetly done “Rainbow Connection” is
final confirmation of the hope that strands come together in the end and that
talent will triumph, despite advice from friends / agents / casting directors.
Oh, and to complete it, the quotes on the liner notes are worth reading too. A
must as a gift for any musical theatre actor, adult musical theatre fan with a
twisted sense of humour and any cynic who has learned the hard way what love and
life really are.
(region 0 DVD)
Click here to buy from Amazon.co.uk
This is like having a cast ‘producers can only dream of’
sit on your bookshelf, ready and willing to recite beautiful verse at your whim.
For those like the moneky who know little of the sonnets beyond
comparing a loved one to a summer’s day, this disc is something of a revelation.
It’s easy to see how they fit with the Bard’s stage works.
94, recited by Polly Frame is like something from the Scottish Play, 154 a
‘Director’s Cut DVD Extra’ from “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” for example.
Even clearer is the modern day relevance of it all, as a
dishevelled Stephen Fry demonstrates that 130 was a precursor to Les Dawson and
all other irreverent ‘partner’ jokes; while 50, in the hands of Simon Callow, is
close to “Fifty Shades of Grey.”
There’s wisdom: 70 being as good as “The Merchant of
Venice” for legal advice, 29 and 30 on the importance of reputation, 148
cautioning the exercising of judgement; and of course plenty of talk about love.
From the lachrymose 145’s touching outpouring from Jo Stone-Fewings, to happier
commentary – 91 is worth studying as a declaration par excellence.
One principal enjoyment is that these pieces are not just
delivered by actors. Best of all is Cicely Berry, Director of Voice and Text
with the Royal Shakespeare Company. Her “Th’expense of spirit is a waste of
shame” should be studied closely by anybody taking to the stage, whether with
Shakespearian or modern text.
There’s regional UK accents galore, with a fiery Niamh
McGrady, mellow Tunji Kasim and of course notable David Tennant among them. From
the USA, Kim Cattrall (apparently originally from Liverpool) and James Shapiro have accents which (the monkey seems to recall)
may be even more authentic with the period than the measured perfection of
Patrick Stewart or Dominic West.
Also interesting is the way in which each sonnet is
delivered. The careful voice coach already mentioned, the dramatic acting of
Fiona Shaw and the other stage folk or the questing academic investigative from
Katherine Duncan-Jones. Whatever the background of the speaker, each is
delivered against a varied setting, some modern, some ancient, others simply
artistic, which add visual colour to the words.
Of course, with 154 sonnets to film, there’s the odd one
which might benefitted from different delivery, but the overall standard is
remarkably high. The only other criticism the monkey might make is in the
navigation of the disc. While the menus allow access by sonnet or author,
its DVD players wouldn’t then allow the rest to play out in sequence from any
single point. This means either watching the disc in a single viewing (you'll be
tempted) or being prepared to juggle menus after each reading. After contacting
the production company, I learned that I had been sent a very early copy of the
DVD, and that this fault has now been corrected. They sent me a corrected
version (no charge, thank you!) and indeed you can now watch in sequence from
any point - a joy for this beautifully presented collection.
Both the glossy booklet with the DVD, and a message on the
disc itself direct viewers to an “app” that promises enhanced features like
notes from the Arden Shakespeare, a facsimile of the original publication, and a
commentary by Don Paterson. While no doubt fascinating, this DVD in itself will
satisfy many fans - and win others - of these amazing lines.
"Mark Evans: The Journey Home"
A CD. Catalogue number B0083PP1RQ
At just 26, Mark Evans has a thriving musical theatre career (plus a brush with
the Eurovision Song Contest UK heats) already to his credit. Condensing that
down to 14 tracks for his first album is quite a task, one he manages with some
A low-key start “Comin’ Home” is repeated later as a bonus track in its original
Welsh. The Welsh original makes a strong case for that language being the most
musical in the world.
Following the English version of “Comin’ Home,” “Unchained Melody”
unites Mark with 2012 “Ghost” co-star Siobhan Dillon in a duet that records
their on-stage chemistry for posterity. Voices often match and blend in duets,
but few are like dancers, following and soaring together as here.
“Reach the Sky,” a Bobby Cronin number, builds slowly before suddenly
revealing a bright optimism. Continuing the upbeat theme, “Brand New You” from
Jason Robert Brown musical “13” is given an adult interpretation, turning a duet
intended for two teenagers into, first, a rather seductive production number and
(as a later ‘bonus track’) an acoustic guitar driven reflective piece. The
former is the more successful, as it brings a new dimension to the song; though
the second is a fun experiment.
Broadway composer Craig Carnelia’s “Flight” may not be well known
outside the theatre community, but Evans may rectify that by finding an ethereal
quality to the music - making the listener wish to explore the composer’s other
By contrast, “Alive” is a rock duet with Ashleigh Gray. A welcome change
of tempo mid-disc, the fun they are having is infectious and the sound mix
The spooky “In Her Eyes” is another well-judged move, allowing the
singer to do something with an equally strong beat but slower rhythm, proving
his vocal range.
Slowing further “Until Then” is a gentle exposure to composer Scott
Allan. A sleepy rendition belies a song with strong inner emotions.
A Josh Groban song, “To Where You Are” appeared on Groban’s debut album
in 2001, and is a sound choice for this debut album too. Given a simple
rendition, it’s a vocal pitched perfectly for the listener’s relaxation.
Singing his own lyric, “Keep On Believing” is an anthem to a performer’s
work, something to aspire to in the audition line. It’s also an indicator that
Mark Evans has some writing talent to match his theatrical abilities.
The main album finishes on “The Journey Home.” (from musical ‘Bombay
Dreams’). Once more, a flavour of Wales influences the delivery as much as the
song’s Indian origins. Straightforward and lovely, it’s the perfect way to
finish the album; the haunting delivery of the lines “The Journey Home” make for
a memorable exit.
With a final mention to the third bonus track, “Adre’N Ol” for another
reminder that Wales manufactures some of Great Britain’s finest music, it’s safe
to say that Mark Evans is another fine export, and that this album will delight
current fans and win him some new ones.
(region 2 DVD)
A copy of this DVD should be placed alongside the Gideon Bible in every hotel
room within ten miles of Stratford Upon Avon. For this inspired collaboration by
actor Simon Callow and Shakespeare expert Jonathan Bate will instantly and
entertainingly provide every ounce of background information any visitor could
require; greatly enhancing their visit with wonderful insights into the
A cardboard crown, a wooden sword, a globe, four wooden school chairs and a
square of light are all Simon Callow needs to weave ninety minutes of theatrical
This is the story of William Shakespeare. Lines from thirty two of his most
famous characters illustrate their creator's emotions as we progress through his
`seven ages' of life (itself a concept in his "As You Like It").
Alongside the play extracts, own modern everyday language (peppered with topical
references - one to a `property portfolio' causing particular amusement among
the on screen audience) keep the production accessible and the whole moving at
It's always a pleasure to hear Shakespeare spoken by the very best actors, but
here the particular joy is having those beautiful words set in context against
each period of the author's life.
The highest highlights of the enthralling ninety minutes are an hilarious
`school room' sequence as the young Snail learns to play with Latin words and a
one-man `balcony scene' as he learns to play with girls... Both are performed
with the gentlest touch, and a command of the stage that rather make you glad
this is a DVD - so that you can rewind and savour the scenes again and again.
This whole is filmed "as live," with the audience reaction and even a few vocal
hesitations left in. If there is a single flaw, it is that the `interval' is not
defined sufficient to make the sublime `re-entry' line sing for the home viewer
quite as amusingly as it could. The fact that this single flaw is noticeable can
be taken, of course, as an indicator of just what a singularly outstanding
release this disc is.
Twenty minutes of extras - a short but fascinating insight into the creative
process of this piece, plus three sonnets performed by Callow prolong the
The monkey can only end by saying that this is the perfect souvenir for those
who have seen the play `live,' a `must have' purchase for any theatre lover and
the perfect introduction to England's most famous writer for absolutely
Macbeth [DVD] Click Here to buy at Amazon.co.uk
This is truly the Scottish play. Filmed mostly in Scotland, with Scottish accents throughout, there’s no doubt at all that this is a rare opportunity to see “Macbeth” in all its local atmospheric glory.
And it does look glorious. Panoramas of desolate moorland, grey and cold, moving to oranges and reds as the heat rises and flames consume all. Adam Arkapaw’s cinematography captures it all, and the interior sets, particularly Fiona Crombie’s castle and church are impressive, particularly populated with Jacqueline Durran’s costume designs.
Michael Fassbender in the title role, and Marion Cotillard as his wife make a convincing couple. His gruffness with her French vulnerability and determination are perfect casting. The rawness of their plotting – always a physical encounter – gives an unusual edge, while the soliloquies are always delivered with an intimacy rarely captured on film. In this, Cotillard admits being assisted by Justin Kurzel’s directorial choices, including giving her a child to play to at one crucial point.
There’s an impressive David Thewlis as Duncan, while Sean Harris finds in Macduff a vengeful grief which manages not to overwhelm but give motivation to his later actions.
The only irritant is in the script adaptation. Famous lines go missing, and there are gaps in explaining a few actions. With the actors able to deliver lines to this standard, it can be distracting to find the “heath” replaced by “battlefield” and a dagger not “seen still.”
Full marks to the score, though, with a composition for the children something of a highlight other stage directors may wish to consider.
A few strong scenes aside (this version does not spare gore nor sex), it is certainly better than most film versions of the play as an introduction to it. Several scenes may well capture, particularly in Scotland, the minds of those studying the work for higher school examinations.
For the average Shakespeare fan, there are distinct moments of “yes, that’s how I imagined it to be,” and several of “they got the right actor, there” too.
A very decent introduction to the Bard, and well worth watching – not just for the experts.
"The Music Box"
A CD. Catalogue number ESC0005
This album, with an unusual tinkling “Music Box” overture, offers extracts from
both Gareth Peter Dicks musicals and stand alone works.
First up is “The Seasons Turn” from his musical “Escape.” A quartet that the
author claims “works out of context,” the monkey felt that if orchestrated with
a ‘pop’ sound, he’d be right. As it stands, the singers wring the very most from
the opening line and its yearning theme. Later, two further songs from this
show, solos by Katie Rowley Jones and Sarah Earnshaw underline that this is the
musical Dicks should devote more attention to. A little tuning, of the type that
happens naturally in rehearsal rooms, could produce a very exciting stage work.
From “A Million Grains of Sand,” another of his musicals, “Please Don’t Go” is
probably how preceding track “Who Have I Become?” would work once tidied for the
stage. Focussed both in lyric and performance, it captivated the monkey – as
does later paired track “Without Him / We Are Here” also taken from the second
act of that show.
Still on a stage theme, combining Shakespearian words with music is always a
brave experiment, and Laura Pitt-Pulford’s “What Case I?” is interesting.
“Crimson Droplets” - from yet another attempt to musicalise the “Jack The
Ripper” story – though, is very much a “work in progress” (as the writer
attests). Theatre star Rebecca Lock lives up to her billing, dealing effectively
with a difficult vocal. As a show number, though, it will no doubt be revised
before staging to remove a tendency to ‘sing what the audience can already see’
and sharpen the original purpose of providing an interior monologue moment.
Proving an aptitude for single numbers, “When Will I know Your Name?” is the
most instantly arresting on the disc.
Everybody has wondered about a person they’ve seen on the train and admired from
afar. Gareth Peter Dicks manages to put that universal thought into perfectly
set words and music – and singer Liam Tamne expresses them well enough to use as
a real chat-up line, perhaps.
“More” is a change of pace. Inspired by “You Tube” music videos, it’s a
correctly placed contrast to the preceding ballads. Those seeking a simple break
will enjoy it, others may skip the track for later, more sophisticated fare.
Among those, the author’s “Muse” tribute “No Turning Back” proves that he can
write a bass heavy number as well as anyone, while (maybe over-complex)
‘country’ number “Simple Words” indicates further versatility.
Second Liam on this disc, Liam Doyle, also delivers an incredibly dark “Run With
Me.” Intended to stand alone, this very theatrical sounding track might oddly
work in a musical about “Jack The Ripper.”
Taking the bloodletting theme a little further, instrumental “The Long Journey
Home” (from which the author removed the word, rightly assuming the music speaks
for itself) has a little of Sondheim’s “Joanna” from “Sweeney Todd” theme in its
violin; no bad thing, perhaps, in a lyrical piece about age and remembering.
Contrasting with such darkness, “Live In Dreams” was, according to the sleeve
notes, written with singer Richard Dempsey in mind. It’s easy to see why, as a
song about light and escape is given the power it needs - with “Les Mis”-like
As the album closes, a charmingly balletic instrumental harking back to the
“Music Box” overture, precedes a remix of musical “Bluebird’s” “Goodnight Dear
Soldiers.” Abi Finley’s already moving vocal is given extra depth with a string
section added, while Finley herself stakes further claim to being potential
‘musical theatre leading lady’ material.
Stick around after this for a further small treat, too.
As an concept, the author proposes that a Music Box can be a special object
linking generations and stories. As this CD proves, it’s also be a highly
appropriate title for a disc reviewing an already varied and successful
"The Sound Of Rogers & Hammerstein"
A CD. Catalogue number SPECKCD006
Like most of the UK public, the monkey first noticed Helena Blackman when she
came second in the very first cast-a-show-by-TV programme, “How Do You Solve A
Problem Like Maria?” Since then, her outstanding talent has lead to a range of roles
in great musicals by composers including Hammerstein and Sondheim. Now, some of
her favourites by the former (her personal inspiration) are captured on this
intriguing debut album.
The best numbers are those in which her very obvious ability as a musical
character actor shines. Early in the CD, her Nellie Forbush should have a word
with her Julie Jordan. ‘Washing that Man Right Outta My Hair” is probably the
perfect antidote to the wonderfully forlorn and resigned New England dreamer’s
”What’s The Use of Wondrin’” thoughts. Positioning these two tracks early on and
together is a clever move, highlighting the dramatic range of Helena Blackman’s
“It Might As Well Be Spring,” confirms Ms Blackman’s character creating
abilities. Her take on this lesser known “State Fair” number feels fresh and
unique, leading well into the middle section of the recording.
A rather relaxed “If I Loved You” blends into “Something Wonderful,” – a
spine-tingling rendition straight from the heart. It’s also the better of her
two “King and I” selections. “I Have Dreamed” (duet with Jonathan Ansell) seems
a little too quick, without the same time to develop a rapport that she gets
later with Daniel Boys (another “TV casting” find) in “People Will Say We’re in
Love.” This time, we know exactly who call the shots in her relationships…tread
Between these two, “Some Enchanted Evening,” and “Love Look Away” (like the
earlier “If I Loved You” and “I Have Confidence”) seem more ‘cabaret’ in
rendition. Not a criticism; it’s just noticeable that ‘Helena sounding relaxed’
just isn’t the same as ‘Helena animating a character.’ Rather suggesting scope
for a separate solo Lounge career beside her show one, really.
“The Gentleman Is A Dope” seemingly confirms this theory, being a song that she
addresses in both forms – with strong character driven comedy, and adding a
definite ‘penultimate number in a solo show’ feel to leave the crowd looking
forward to the encore.
This is provided by the curious choice of “Climb Every Mountain” as a finale.
It’s done well enough, but it is a song sung by a very ‘mature’ nun. Sensibly,
Ms Blackman is obviously lining up work for a few decades ahead when ‘The Sound
Of Music’ is revived and she can take the role – to perfection, undoubtedly.
Before that day, though, Helena Blackman does (as she should do), “Enjoy Being a
Girl” here, as much as sharing with us her enjoyment of being a musical theatre
performer. As her experience broadens, and before deciding she is ready for the
wimple and habit, there are obviously some wonderful years ahead. The monkey hopes it
may also result, too, in another album as interesting as this one.
"John Owen-Jones: Unmasked"
A CD. Catalogue number SCD2658
What better way to celebrate the start of a prestigious tour playing “The
Phantom Of The Opera” nationwide (not to mention two concerts of your own), than
to release your second solo album?
For a well known musical theatre star, some song choices seem compulsory. Still,
this “Music Of The Night,” threatens to eclipse the Michael Crawford original.
Even braver, following it with “Til I Hear You Sing” from sequel “Love Never
Dies” makes the listener wonder at what he would have brought to that role too.
The answer may be found in an “All I Ask Of You” that clearly bewitches his
Christine, Natasha Marsh.
Still with musical theatre staples, “Being Alive” moves from slightly stretched
into a surprisingly effective begging treatment, while “Somewhere” sparkles both
vocally and orchestrally, as a young man sets out his vision to moving effect.
Often overdone “This Is The Moment” doesn’t dwell on that key-change as lesser
versions do - even if this reviewer still finds its continued popularity
inexplicable. More successful, bonus track “Bring Him Home” refreshes the
singer’s claim on another leading role.
Demonstrating more imagination, there’s a brace of numbers from lesser known
shows. First, a highly successful collaboration with Bryn Terfel on “I Don’t
Remember You / Sometimes A Day Goes By” from revue “As The World Goes Round.” A
thrilling exploration of love in a surprising duet. Then follows “Down To The
Sea” - an interesting introduction to “Kristina,” suggesting a musical worth
Away from the theatrical, other choices on the CD are as unexpected as the small
gift after track 14. First is 1947 Eden Ahbez creation “Nature Boy,” which feels
as dreamlike as any musical theatre piece. A surprisingly relaxed opening
number, it’s craftily positioned before a macho rendition of “Thunderball.”
Owen-Jones finds the ‘story’ in this song, while the Welsh Session Orchestra
(who accompany him throughout the album) produce a smart “Bond” sound for him.
Later, the Ham / Evans number “Without You” proves that musical theatre doesn’t
have a monopoly on setting loss to song, but that a musical theatre performer
can find an extra dimension. This applies equally to closings tracks “Love Of My
Life” and bonus number “Hallelujah.” The first bookends perfectly the opening
track with another, slightly less laid-back, wishful performance; the second
revitalises a much covered song with a contemplative interpretation.
It’s sadly rare in musical theatre for those who ‘take over’ a role created by
another performer to have their ideas recorded. Rarer still is a musical theatre
artist who can bring those skills to other genres. John Owen Jones achieves both
here, and his new disc should delight old fans and win new ones.
“Here Comes The Sun”
A CD. Big Hand Records. 5026107062074
From the 5 Track Sampler, provided by PR Company.
Probably best known for her spell as “Glinda” in the London production of
“Wicked,” Louise Dearman has an equal passion for belting out dramatic pop
numbers. Her first solo album, “Here Comes The Sun” collects some of her
favourites, and ahead of the album’s release on 7th May 2012 her PR company
shared 5 of the 10 tracks with the monkey.
First up is the title number from the album. One of George Harrison’s best
Beatles numbers, Louise gives it a slow-burning start, carefully controlling the
emotion until, as the “ice is slowly melting,” the heat of her feelings become
A Skin / Skunk Anansie song, “Sqaunder” follows. In sharp contrast to the
awakenings of “Here Comes The Sun,” this is about the end of a relationship.
Caught between anger and reproach, the skills of a musical theatre performer
turn introspective rage into vivid conversation.
More theatrical experience is demonstrated by both Louise Dearman and duet
partner Steve Balsamo as they create a vocal ballet from Cyndi Lauper’s
ever-poetic “Time After Time.” A girl moving to the rhythm of memories is joined
at the bridge by a beautifully judged male voice, lending something new – the
immediacy of hope, perhaps – to her thoughts, building to a satisfyingly tender
“Gravity” follows, and couldn’t be further from the previous track. The constant
wish to be allowed to stand alone, given highly expressive statement in a single
controlled-anguish phrasing of ‘Bringing Me Down,’ is a struggle for freedom
given dramatic form.
Rounding up the sampler is “Little Bird.” Annie Lennox’s music seems to
particularly suit Louise. Keeping it lively throughout, there’s a touch of
“Pentecostal Choir” in her wish for wings. The confusion between a need for
guidance and defiance drives this final number and, since we don’t really know
which will win, it’s a suitable exit for a performer who knows how to make an
impact when leaving the stage.
These well-chosen tracks explore the complex realities of love through complex
lyrics, illuminated with great effect by an impressive performer on her debut
"Broadway Musicals: The Biggest Hit & The Biggest Flop Of
The Season. 1959 to 2009"
By Peter Filichia.
Applause Books. £17.99. ISBN: 9781423495628
If Ken Mandelbaum can be said to have written the "Old Testament" of Broadway
Flop musical books with "Not Since Carrie", then Peter Filichia's "Broadway
Musicals: The Biggest Hit & The Biggest Flop Of The Season" could be regarded as
the "New." The former work begins at 1950, taking a general sweep through 40
years of Broadway history. Filichia takes 1959 as his starting point, and
narrows his focus to just the single best and worst of the season. Using (and
occasionally breaking) his own introductory `rules of engagement' his aim is as
much to interpret events as provide an historical record, making this new gospel
It is always a pleasure to be in the company of an expert who loves his subject.
Better still, his is a gossipy and highly readable style. With few exceptions,
it's clear that he has spent hours zinging through the year's offerings to
alighting on one particular show for praise or derision.
Other reviewers have noted occasional inaccuracies in the book which, as the
monkey knows from experience, is almost unavoidable - even the best writers and
editors mislay material and miss details. His 1986 page asserts "Merlin" as the
flop of 1983, though he earlier declared "Dance A Little Closer" as the failure
of that year; and it seems lazy not bend the rules once more to find a hit for
88/89. Luckily, such minor slips never detract from the overall quality.
Most impressive is the standard of debate the author is willing to indulge in.
For example, despite the record books asserting "Carrie" as Broadway's biggest
disaster (and, just for the record, it played Stratford Upon Avon, not London,
before Broadway), Filichia makes a convincing case for "Chess" to take the crown
for that year. He's also not above iconoclasm with the debunking of the "The
Producers" myth as the greatest musical comedy of all time. Like millions of
others, the monkey too loved the show passionately on first viewing... but later
realised it was a true `one off' vehicle dependent on star power.
Decently presented using quality paper, amusing photographs of the author's own
used ticket stubs divide the chapters (try spotting one he paid for rather than
had free - the monkey couldn't!). As both reference work and entertainment, this
is a `must buy' for anybody with an interest in musical theatre.
"Michael Bruce: Unwritten Songs"
A CD. Catalogue number SPECKCD007
Entertainment has in recent years built an enviable reputation for attracting
and promoting unusually innovative young talent. This disc represents a peak in
that ideal. Not only does it feature some of their usual ‘repertory company’ of
accomplished West End talent, but the composer was discovered by them via a 2007
national Musical Theatre writing competition.
Michael Bruce’s work has already been heard in concert form
on the London stage, and will next (at the time of writing) appear accompanying
David Tennant and Catherine Tate in “Much Ado About Nothing” at Wyndham’s
Theatre in Summer 2011. Before that, this CD takes an entertaining sweep through
his varied song styles. “Don’t Wanna Leave You Now” opens the recording with a
surprisingly downbeat first verse leading to an unexpected haunting middle
section. “Even Then,” with a heartfelt vocal by Paul Spicer then continues the
established yearning theme.
Track 3, “I Want A Man” had the monkey reaching for the
listings to check whose smooth sweet voice started the song. Sarah Lark kicks
off a vaudeville style duet in fine style, amusing us as she and Sarah Earnshaw
share a quest for the ideal partner. More yearning, but with a witty upbeat
The tempo slows again for Charlotte Wakefield’s stage
ballad style “Someplace Beyond the Moon.” Who knows what went on in the show
before she sings it – but she’ll no doubt have the ushers selling out of Kleenex
before she’s done.
Mark Evans follows with a bluesy ‘click along’ “Money
Honey” – moving from theatre stage to smoky American bar setting in the
listener’s mind. Masculine enough for the ladies of track 3, perhaps? Well
placed directly afterwards, Emily Tierney’s ‘Continental’ carries the smoky
atmosphere a few thousand miles East of the previous track. Another obviously
‘stage’ number, this would fit well into any evening seeking an alternative to
the classic Kander and Ebb ‘Cabaret’ numbers. Completing the mid-list travelling
trio, ‘Away’ is a forceful desire for emotional release, given power treatment
by Alex Jessop.
Jessie Buckley then calms things with a perfectly
controlled ‘It’s Not Gonna Rain.’ Obviously learning from her time in Sondheim’s
“A Little Night Music” in 2009, she picks her way beautifully through a fragile
construct, revealing hidden depths in each line. Still in Sondheim mode, “The
Musical Theatre Song” is Bruce’s tribute to “Not Getting Married” from
“Company.” Anna-Jane Casey turns in her usual ‘character’ comedy performance to
get the most from a well thought out ‘list’ number. Ashleigh Gray then changes
the disc’s gear yet again with “My Kind of World.” Sondheim style to begin with,
mixing with something contemporary to create a fresh yet timeless ballad.
Following this is “Portrait Of A Princess.” No
Speckulation Entertainment CD is complete without insanely talented (or
talentedly insane?) Julie Atherton providing a lunatic treatment of a mad fun
number.. Even better, this superb, intelligent parody has, for those with
online access (and who don’t mind the odd expletive), a glorious Technicolor
Disney (but NOT for kids) video accompaniment at
www.portraitofaprincess.com. You may never look at Snow White in the same
‘Looking Back’ is another Speckulation Entertainment
hallmark – the ‘Daniel Boys and lucky female theatre star’ duet. This time,
Michael Bruce provides him and Alexia Khadime with a relationship dissection,
reaching a wistful, quietly understated conclusion.
It is left to Michael Xavier to close the CD with another
soft ballad, the titular “Unwritten Song.” Unusually placed after another
introspective number, the reason becomes obvious as it draws together the
album’s theme of exploring love’s dimensions. The perfect end to a compelling
showcase of an exceptionally talented composer’s work, given full value by an
equally talented team of artists and producers.
"Fings Ain't Wot They Used T'Be: The Lionel
By David Stafford and Caroline Stafford.
Omnibus Press £19.95 ISBN-10: 1849386617 or 978-1849386616
"Who can say where he may hide?" To paraphrase a lyric from
his most famous musical. Apt, because the authors have to admit on practically
every page that a story may or may not have happened, that many pieces of this
troubled and splintered life are missing – presumed written only on cigarette
packets – and that the only thing anybody really agrees on was that they loved
this difficult ‘creative genius.’
Most readers will instantly know that Lionel Bart wrote
“Oliver!” Those of a certain age will be able to hum the cleaned up version of
“Fing’s Ain’t What They Used To Be” – and might even know that it came from one
of the most revolutionary experimental theatre productions of its era. Some may
also remember the old pianist with the toothless kiddie in an “Abbey National”
commercial. A few musical theatre fans will also speak of “Blitz!” “Maggie May”
and “Lock Up Your Daughters” with affection, simultaneously shuddering at
The ‘pub quiz’ bore will know all about Bart’s connections
to Tommy Steele and Cliff Richard among a host of other 1960s stars. It’s really
in the collation of these connections that this biography scores. Alma Cogan,
Judy Garland, Kenneth Williams – just a few of the myriad names who drifted into
and out of Lionel’s circle, supported by him and lending him support in return.
The biography does a reasonable job of recording the
occurrence of an interaction, noting where possible those for whom he wrote
songs, gave advice or simply ‘walked’ into a glittering premiere. Of his
non-celebrity friends, staff and family, there’s clearly been some long
conversations sifted to provide a few insights into how a man can be a
millionaire one moment, at the height of his creative powers, then lose
everything including health and home in a few short years.
‘Fing is… there’s little beyond anecdotal evidence left. A
fairly short book is padded with ‘scene setting’ period descriptions and the odd
half-decent unconnected one-liner, because there simply isn’t much else recorded
as fact. Unlike most biographies which can verify stories of meetings and
commentate on their significance to weave an integrated career tapestry, here
the threads are tangled; and most surround holes that a lack of records and
departed characters cannot fill.
Consequently, this is a slightly shaky chronology of highs
and lows, with stories held together by the factual evidence of his public
recordings legacy. Readable, despite padding and spelling errors, Bart emerges
as more than just the “pity case” beloved of tabloids on a ‘slow news day.’ We
now have a reference work that should prove helpful to anybody researching the
period, it’s music and greatest characters.
“Putting It On: The West End Theatre of
By Michael Codron and Alan Strachan.
Duckworth Overlook. £25. ISBN: 978-1590204832
Alan Strachan is a WRITER. The monkey uses the capital letters
deliberately, for it suspects that few other authors could shape over 50 years and
200 productions into readable form. It helps, of course, that Strachan has
directed for Codron on a number of occasions, and thus has an extra affinity
(and source of anecdotes as well as primary evidence) for his subject.
The monkey's own formative years of West End theatregoing certainly
coincided with Codron’s heyday, and a major attraction of this book is
recognising productions it has seen then learning a little more about how they
came to be produced. Thanks to an extensive – and almost complete – archive,
Strachan is able to trace the career of an extraordinary impresario through good
times and harder ones in the Capital.
The way the author chooses to structure the task is both
the book’s greatest asset, and chief weakness. Once the Codron schooldays have
been dispensed with, he adopts a decidedly ‘thematic’ approach – taking either
an association with a single playwright or genre (‘revue’ is the most
interesting, and the form the monkey for one miss most in London today) as the subject of
This saves the whole from becoming just another tiresome chronology, and gives
the author flexibility in tracing the development of an association in a single
section of the book rather than in small paragraphs across a hundred pages.
Anything outside this structure does have to be ‘worked in’
a little less smoothly than a reader might like, though it can be a relief to
turn away from a minute examination of one author for a moment to interpolate a
little of another’s success for contrast and colour.
The main drawback, however, is that the reader suddenly finds himself plunged
back to failure in 1956 directly after celebrating a hit 2005 production at the
close of the previous chapter. It makes for a slightly disconcerting change in
pace at times, though compared to the alternative it is rather a sound editorial
It could also be mentioned that one minor editorial error
gets the dates wrong for a whole sequence of Ayckbourn / Vaudeville Theatre
productions and Codron’s associated ownership of the venue but, as a writer
myself, the monkey knows that such things are unavoidable and it might be seen as a simple
case of Ayckbourn ‘confusions’ enlivening the text a little.
This book succeeds both as a reference source for those
fascinated by West End production history, and as an `aide memoire' to the keen
theatregoer. Certainly one that both will wish to have on their shelves; either
to dip into in order to refresh a memory or simply pass a pleasurable few
(region 1 DVD - UK readers may require a multi-regional DVD player and TV set to
...of 1966 American television. A time when quality mattered as much as ratings,
and a brave experiment like a season of one hour dramas was possible.
The broadcast colour version is still missing, so this DVD is taken from a newly
discovered black and white archive copy. It's watchable, but don't expect
crystal clarity in either sound or vision. The sound faults were inherent in
production, the visuals simply down to the age and quality of the recording. In
the `extras' with the disc, the production team also admit to mistakes made in
the original filming thanks to being forced to rush its completion. You'll have
fun spotting them once they are pointed out, and they in no way detract from
For enjoyable this wonderful disc is. Every Sondheim fan will experience the
same tingle that monkey did, seeing two fabulous and familiar songs `in context' for
the first time. This is even more special, of course, because it is an event few
of us thought we'd ever see. Until now that pleasure was restricted to those
lucky enough to visit the New York library where the only known copy was held,
be invited to a private academic screening, or maybe a `hush-hush' one of a
fuzzy bootleg copy.
It is easy to see why this garnered such critical reviews following the one and
only screening on 16th November 1966; even the most forgiving reviewer will
notice gaping holes in the plot. What, for example, do the store dwellers at the
centre of the tale do during the day? They are active all night, taking pains to
avoid the (obviously short sighted and goldfish-minded) security guard by
`dummying up' as he passes. So during the day, where do they sleep in a store
full of people? They can't `dummy up' then too, can they? Oh, and how come the
store never notices missing food or other items? Just two of the inconsistencies
that may bewilder viewers.
No matter. Anthony Perkins makes the most of even the roughest lines and
situations dealt to him. His singing voice is a surprise, lifting from
song-speak to very creditable as required. Co-star, and object of his on-screen
affections (though not, apparently, off-screen ones) Charmian Carr dazzles
vocally and visually. Luckily, the director's instincts were strongest in her
scenes, and every nuance of this fine performance is captured. The rest of the
cast, comprising many well known elders like Larry Gates and Dorothy Stickney
will also provide an education for younger viewers in how melodrama can be
played credibly. If that doesn't convince, the rest of the musical score
(enhanced at one point by David Shire, who knew?) is alone the breathtaking
reason to purchase.
A well produced history booklet, plus two interviews and some silent test film
footage (neat comedy with a shirt included) rounds out a must have for anybody
who is a fan of Sondheim, Perkins or Carr - or just wonders what happens in a
department store at night...
A CD. Catalogue number SPECKCD005
A riotous Malmo Airport encounter with some teenage Swedish boys triggered
teen-holiday memories for Composer Dougal Irvine. Accepting how selective these
could be, he decided to create a musical - scored for two guitars – around them.
Four British lads are delayed in Malaga Airport’s departure lounge, trying to
remember their past week’s activities. Strong language and graphic images are
present from the start, as an incongruous close harmony (decent voices all) of a
single insult becomes an introduction to the group and sets the scene.
Bravado, “We’d like to s*ag your daughter, that’s what your daughter’s for,” is
mixed with the reflective, “We’ve been a group for ever, now we must go alone,”
marking the end of an era.
“Brand New” then introduces Verity Rushworth as Sophie, siren of the boys’ week.
Advertising her availability, the following track, “Sophie” captures an
inexperienced male’s reaction to her dubious charms with a decent erudition of
awe and shyness that ultimately ends in mourning a loss.
Group member Jordan hints at the reason, knowing it could destroy the group, but
frustratingly doesn’t divulge it on the disc. This isn’t as irritating as the
boys attempts to remember “Thursday Night,” though – particularly their
behaviour. A lively number to make you cringe, and thankfully lacking in detail.
As the disc progresses the stronger emotional explorations emerge. “Do You Know
What I Think Of You” captures brilliantly that moment when one boy outgrows a
friendship with another. In similar vein “Picture Book” explores another aspect
of loss – childhood and family security.
Providing contrast, “Why Do We Say Gay?” parodies various song styles (Country
being the best), to dissect wittily (and explicitly) the world of male
one-upmanship and bonding.
With a pause to reflect on what tourism has done (or not) for Spain - the theory
proposed being that by defending them, the Brits won the right to er, basically
trash their entire culture – the boys leave for home.
“Left Spain,” their closing number, reflects on the changes the boys have
experienced in the past week, and focuses attention on the greater changes to
come in adulthood. A bonus track, “We Rule The World” is a hymn to this, a bit
in the “Hair” style. The sleeve notes don’t indicate if this was a deleted
number, and it doesn’t really fit in the rest of the show, but it provides a
fine finish to the recording.
Capturing the young male voice is rare, and this musical demonstrates just how
difficult it is. Dougal Irvine makes a very listenable attempt, certainly
scoring with several of the more introspective numbers. It also left this
listener grateful that it was Dougal Irvine and not Andrew Lloyd Webber who was
stranded in Malmo Airport that night. Otherwise, who knows, we probably would
have ended up with “Luton Never Dies…”
Region 0 DVD
London, November 2008. In the depths of recession, a new musical opened and
quickly closed. Despite a short run, the American Public Broadcasting Service
filmed it for both US TV broadcast and worldwide DVD release. Without an
internationally famous star, and given the show’s difficult five year genesis
and even a title-change – any reviewer is entitled to ask, “Why did they
Answer: PBS recorded a unique experience. It not only deserves viewers’ time
now; but also attention from musical theatre talents capable of building on what
producer Beth Trachtenberg and her team managed to achieve.
A Warsaw summer’s carefree carousel party is confined by November 1940 to the
city’s Ghetto – the Nazi’s “living prison” for its Jewish population. Two years
on, Daniel’s theatre company are making the best of it. Meagre physical
resources are eked out by bottomless reserves of courage to produce life-saving
distraction from their situation.
The decision to stage a play based on the tale of Masada, aligning their own
suffering with that of the Jewish population in 66AD, provides a structure for two
stories to play out in parallel – both to deeply affecting conclusions.
A polished production, staged with considerable care; sees German-baiting Daniel
brought alive by Peter Polycarpou, in arguably the finest performance of his
career. Leila Benn Harris as daughter Rebecca, Cameron Leigh as Lola and Simon
Gleeson as Adam provide able support in a notably strong ensemble - from whom
director Timothy Sheader extracts maximum value.
So what went wrong? Musicals are notoriously difficult to get right, often going
through many ‘workshops’ and out-of-town tryouts to resolve structural issues.
In this case, I’d suggest the flaw is in the balance between the ancient and
The modern storyline is sound. Every sequence involving the plucky Jewish
theatre company provides an emotional impact rarely felt in any musical theatre
production. Odd clumsy lines, and perhaps a thin sub-plot too many, aside; these
scenes are an immediate reason to purchase this disc.
What the team fails to resolve, despite valiant efforts, is the integration of
the ancient “Masada” parts. Rather than weaving vignettes derived from the main
action into the tale, they opt for long sequences of “show within a show.”
Despite a rather lovely title melody and one well-judged comedy song, these
mostly dissipate the carefully constructed despair of 1943, rather than
enhancing its dramatic impact.
This recording should provide much hope for the future of the show. Constant
re-watching should allow the creative team to find the emotional focus they’re
already close to discovering, and suggest a new staging. Meanwhile, ordinary
theatregoers have an opportunity to enjoy a stirring lesson in faith and
courage, and also share this reassuring proof of the human spirit’s ability to
meet even the greatest adversity.
"The London Palladium. The Story of the Theatre and its
By Chris Woodward.
Northern Heritage Publishing. £35. ISBN: 9-781-906600-39-6
What do you do when offered a wonderful collection of
theatre programmes, including many from the most famous of them all – the London
Chris Woodward’s answer is to try telling the venue’s story, starting with the
development of Argyll Street in the early 1730s. He moves swiftly then through
the Hengler’s Circus days to the opening of the current building on Boxing Day
1910. Here Woodward arrives at the heart of his tale – those who appeared at, or
managed the venue over the next century.
The thick, glossily lavish pages teem with posters recalling the stars, and the
surrounding text spell out their famous names and achievements. Wonderful
accounts of historic entertainers like the “Crazy Gang” and “Sunday Night At the
London Palladium” team are recorded; and we are also introduced to famous staff
from George Black to Bernard Delfont, and producers including Harold Fielding.
There’s no easy way to present such detailed annual lists of performers and
achievements. In these chapters the author does his best to break the flow up a
little with the odd historical snippet, but it can get a little repetitive after
a while when reading this book from cover to cover. Almost every year and
performance is followed by the sentiment, “It was a memorable one” (complete
with exclamation mark); and readers won’t be surprised to learn that the author
writes the historical notes found in Palladium programmes - the style is
The book’s only omission is the architecture itself. There are no auditorium
photographs (probably because West End theatres are sensitive about such
material being published), nor text acknowledging how the auditorium and
building changed over time. Also notable is the author’s own forgetfulness when
criticising the advent of “musicals cast by reality television.” The Palladium
has always set public trends and tastes, and by presenting the first experiment
with the genre (“The Sound of Music” in 2006), it actually just adds another
page to its legendary reputation in the vanguard of the business.
Since it is so expensive, this book will probably be of most interest to those
who maintain libraries of London theatre reference works because those (like the
monkey) require a level of detail unavailable online. It’s also very much a gift
for older readers who will wallow in the bygone nostalgia of golden names. As a
simple record of those who made it great, this book is probably definitive – and
for that alone it is worth dipping into.
"Julie Atherton: No Space For Air"
A CD. Catalogue number SPECKCD004
From these eleven carefully selected tracks, it seems that
“No Space For Air” alludes to the closeness and sometimes claustrophobia of
passionate relationships. Opening number “Weak” contains the line ‘deep as I am’
- a perfectly summary of the emotional explorations which follow.
Doing what theatrically famous Julie Atherton does best, particular highlights
are “Lost In Translations” from the concept musical ‘Lift’ and “Losing My Mind”
from Sondheim's ‘Follies.’
“Lost In Translation” contains one expletive, but is a wonderful tale of a dare
that went wrong, delivered with the kind of skill only a top West End artist can
manage. Every ounce of comedy and deep yearning are delivered against a
beautifully mixed backing.
Any selection from ‘Follies’ is usually a cliché. Atherton and her arranger
neatly avoid the problem with a surprise arrangement. To say more would spoil
the joy of its discovery, but suffice to say it alone is worth the price of the
disc for many fans of both singer and songwriter.
Further into the album “Crawling” explores, with variations in accompaniment and
tempo, insecurity. This contrasts perfectly with the dominating “Leather,”
employing strong imagery and matching vocals to consider the complex dynamics of
control and passion. “Broken Wings” manages a similar level of emotion, with
less obvious pain and greater introspection.
“Never Saw Blue Like That” and “Silent Whispers” cool things a little. The
first, slower, number uses the colour in Atherton’s voice to evoke images of a
sunlit coastal villa. The second celebrates quiet togetherness with a
delightfully warm tone from the singer. Placing “Anywhere But Here” directly
after this provides a thoughtful balance in the disc’s running order, a
reflective interlude before rounding it off with “Encore” - offering some
optimism and a plan for future happiness.
The monkey's first reaction to this album release was, “Julie Atherton? The lady
who sings the wonderfully crazy song on the ‘Christmas In New York’ Album,
right?” Actually, it abbreviated the description to two words… This disc proves
to be worth many more, most of them superlatives.
A CD. Catalogue number SPECKCD002
Available from Amazon.co.uk
Very occasionally a cast CD makes the monkey wish it had seen
the actual production. This is one of those rare occasions.
Peter Pan is all too often written off as a children’s treat, or worse given a
smug, “edgy” adaptation to disassociate it from its roots. The Birmingham
Repertory / West Yorkshire Playhouse production by Stiles, Drewe and Hall nimbly
avoids these pitfalls to produce a book musical of the perfect depth of
intelligence and clarity.
Bright lyrics and some inventive music hang well from a strongly constructed
tale. From the rousing opening number on, it is clear that these composers have
the experience and inventiveness to provide a fresh and unique angle on the
story. The recurrent “Just Beyond The Stars” is a song Streisand could do damage
with, while Wendy’s logic that Pan can’t remain a chid because he will “grow too
tall” is a single example of the thought that has gone into the
characterisations and narrative drive of the show.
For every character and group is perfectly drawn. Peter himself is perfectly
defined by the “Cleverness Of Me.” The Lost Boys gang in full bravado are just
short of an ASBO, while the pirates are the funniest bunch of evil cutthroats
since Sweeney Todd. Captain Hook may get all “Les Misérables” for a moment, but
the beautifully timed act 2 opener “Look Back Through A Rose Tinted Eyepatch,”
and later “A Pirate With A Conscience” (with Shakespeare thrown in) keep this
hooked maniac on track.
Strong vocal performances delight throughout, notably the ladies – Kirsty Hoiles
and Amy Lennox - and the comedic timing of Martin Callaghan as Smee. Along with
the ensemble all sound perfect on this detailed and, incidentally, well produced
and presented recording.
If there are faults, they are mostly with the pacing, which may pass un-noticed
on stage but feel a little uncomfortable on CD. “Build A House” is clearly a
visual number, judging by the lyric, while the finale “There’s Always Tomorrow”
has the right sentiment but perhaps lacks the “button” to turn the song into the
triumphant ending the show deserves.
Sometimes it is a shame that London’s West End can’t support a musical perceived
as “for children” outside the Christmas or Summer Vacation period. On the
strength of this disc, there should be a rush to sign up the full production
rights. The monkey hopes others will agree.
Behind The Mylar Curtain"
Applause Theatre & Cinema Books. £17.95. ISBN: 978-1-55783-743-1
Available from Amazon.co.uk
Mylar is the shiny plastic sheeting (often slashed into long ribbons) forming
the glittery backdrop behind cabaret performers. This book shines much like it,
despite claiming to be from the dull-coloured area behind.
Like many other musical theatre obsessives, I’m most familiar with “Forbidden
Broadway” on CD. Each new edition is eagerly awaited for its show-roasting,
star-skewering lyrics and particularly the latest “Les Misérables” parody. Here
we find out how it all came about, and it’s a fascinating story.
The earliest recordings sound endearingly naïve, and it turns out that the team
indeed were. Created initially to amuse friends, Forbidden Broadway quickly
became a nightclub hit in the early 1980s. Earning the respect of New York’s
theatre industry, it has had many homes since; also spawning updated versions,
national and international tours, and many recordings.
Gerard Alessandrini and Michael Portantiere acknowledge generously every
creative contribution down the years. Many past cast and crew members also add
pages of personal memories, resulting in an enthralling account of this unique
theatrical venture by those who were actually there through great times and
For those (like me) who wondered how the parodies evolve, Alessandrini explains
precisely how the show chooses its targets and perspectives. As a Brit (and thus
used to cutting / sarcastic satirical humour), I found the reasons that they
stop short of “next day in the dressing room they hang a star,” interesting. It
turns out that many other factors - beyond just rabid US libel lawyers, as I
originally supposed - are involved. Luckily, what is produced seems taken in
(mostly) great humour by the victims – and there are plenty of photographs and
anecdotes to prove it.
Best of all are long passages of lyrics, complete with stage directions. If like
me you’ve never seen the actual show in New York, these add a hilarious extra
dimension to the familiar CDs.
Two full-colour glossy sections, many black and white photographs and plenty of
Ken Fallin cartoons combine with the beautifully organised and concise text to
make this a celebration to be proud of.
"Christmas In New York"
A CD. Catalogue number SPECKCD003
Since 2006, the "Christmas In New York" team have given British composers an
annual boost, performing a selection of their seasonal songs in the West End.
This new CD aims to capture some of the best performances, and also contribute
towards a Musical Theatre bursary for a student at Arts Educational School,
The seasonal mood is set in the sleeve notes accompanying the disc. Asked what
Christmas means to them, most of the cast admit to silly games and chronic
over-indulgence. Luckily this recording was made in November before the Amaretto
could take hold of Paul Spicer, and while Hannah Waddingham could still make it
off her folks' couch and into the studio.
With few exceptions, many of the numbers here are fresh as new snow and bright
as a string of fairy lights. The lively "Christmas In New York City" from the
Company gives way to a magic yet fragile piano-only accompanied "White
Christmas" from Leanne Jones.
Oliver Tompsett then works well with a choir on "The Christmas" before Louise
Dearman mixes new and old customs in "All Those Christmas Clichés." This gives
way to my personal highlight on the recording - a blend of traditional "In The
Bleak Midwinter" with the modern "A Winter's Tale." The trio of voices and
careful balancing of each tune and lyric are almost worth buying the CD for
alone. "What Christmas Means to Me / Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)" then
seems brash by comparison but proves a sensibly lively contrast before Samuel
Barnett and Anna-Jane Casey turn in the yearning "Miss You Most (at Christmas
Time)" and sincere "Children" respectively. Then follows a cheering "Have
Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," before Daniel Boys provides a relaxed sweet
Julie Atherton's "Perfect Year" edges Dina Carroll's famous version with a solo
guitar accompaniment underlining the vocal in unique style. Leanne Jones returns
with the surprising "Just In Time For Christmas" before Clement Clarke Moore's
"'Twas the Night Before Christmas" is given a musical rendition by Anna-Jane
Casey and the Company. The show concludes with an uplifting "O Holy Night" from
Hannah Waddingham and the choir.
Bonus track "My Simple Christmas Wish" (with a dash of strong language) may be
at odds with the rest of the recording, but Julie Atherton on hilarious form
leaves us in no doubt of the turkey fan's career plans for next year - just be
thankful you're not her agent...
After the crush of Christmas shopping, with its ubiquitous dreary seasonal tunes
on a loop, this is a very refreshing and hugely more enjoyable alternative.
"Great Showbiz and Theatrical Anecdotes,
A Connoisseur’s Collection"
By Ned Sherrin.
JR Books Ltd. £9.99. ISBN: 978-1-90621784-6
Available from Amazon.co.uk
What can be said about Ned Sherrin that has not been already? The back jacket
reminds us of his many talents as broadcaster, writer, director and presenter,
and his untimely death left a vast gap in the entertainment world. His parting
gift to us is this sharing of what he loved best; people and places instantly
recognisable to anyone who has ever seen a play or watched a great film.
Always informative, frequently hilarious (and occasionally downright bawdy) this
is a seemingly definitive A to Z of showbiz gossip and scandal. Sources are
sometimes first hand, his years of contact with famous names combine with a
phenomenal memory and extensive past library of work to provide much of the most
credible material. Other times, references are carefully authenticated by those
who ‘claimed to be there.’ Unlike others, Sherrin tries to avoid the hoarier
tales whose constant retelling is their only validation. He admits to leaving in
a few for completeness and to ward against reader comment, but for the most part
the original prevail.
Roaming London and Broadway’s backstage, Hollywood’s soundstage and most
frequently the dressing rooms and private homes of those employed there,
Centuries of the very best tales are drawn together. Stars from David Garrick to
Ian McKellen, writers Shaw to Shaffer, composers Hart to Lloyd Webber all have
the best of their public and private moments recalled with the author’s
trademark clarity, incisive wit and turn of phrase.
It’s the sometimes less familiar names who provide the most wonderful moments,
though. Michael Bryant’s Badger discovery beautifully deflates an over-eager
young choreographer, and the hoary old Pia Zadora / Anne Frank legend is finally
laid to rest. The author doesn’t stint either when there are many tales to tell.
Four pages of Sir Henry Irving’s wit ends in a ribald Shakespearian story that
would make Juliet blush; the three on Alan Jay Lerner simply remind us how to
bring down your final curtain in style.
Not for your elderly friend whose idea of theatre is a “nice romantic musical”
perhaps, the language is very much the saltier stuff of the theatrical bar
raconteur; but certainly required reading for anyone with even a passing
interest in the lives of performers both past and present. Ned Sherrin’s voice
speaks to the reader in a way few else can, and reading the final page is again
to feel the pang of loss of his company, but a gratitude that we could have
shared this time together
A CD. Catalogue number ESC0004
There is no denying that Gareth Peter Dicks has something special. Not only has
he written music, lyric and book for this show, but also managed to get it
developed (via tryout “workshop” productions) into a fully orchestrated concept
album featuring a host of well known theatrical names.
Concept albums have always been acknowledged as the finest way to get a work in
progress heard, and the excellent cast features particularly strong leads
including Ramin Karimloo, Sarah Lark, Stephen Weller and Abi Finley, and
outstanding backup performers.
With the knowledge that simplicity is often the best course in musical theatre,
Dicks has wisely built a book focussing on two families experiences both home
and on the battlefield of World War Two. Without intricate sub-plots, he is able
to explore far more naturally the effect of such devastating world events on the
lives of each individual character.
Here the show is certainly at its most effective. A soldier’s letter home is
incredibly moving; chilling and beautiful. Indeed, whenever characters interact
via letter or in conversation (“The Hospital / Pete’s First Letter,” for
example) there is no mistaking the composer’s talent for musicalising
relationships. A “Final Battle” with the spirit echoing through the
orchestration and leading into “Goodnight Dear Soldiers” – perfectly performed
by Abi Finley – serves absolutely perfectly the production’s dramatic climax.
If there are faults in the piece, they are mainly in the lyric. The rhyming
dictionary is thumbed for, “when I’m gloomy, you see through me,” while several
other moments depart from otherwise sound characterisation in favour of banal
“we live a loving life as our fathers did” expressions of thought and feeling.
The odd modern phrase, “did they really have a clue” creeps in too, along with a
Sergeant spouting possibly un-40s like popular psychology to inspire his men.
All may be the types of line West End reviewers pick on with glee, but luckily
these would vanish in the transition from concept to full production.
The other loss, possibly a result of simplifying the work to fit into 80 minutes
of disc space, is the wonderful “Spitfires.” A lovely blend of voices with music
perfectly evoking the period look set to drive the evening as narrative links.
Sadly, they vanish by track 4… any chance of a return, please? Speaking of
vanishing, or rather appearing without trace, we find out at the end that
husband Pete called his wife Roberta “Bobbie” in their closest moments together.
Had we found that out earlier, the impact throughout the show, and notably in
the final number would have been even greater.
This recording shows much potential, with the writer having the firmest possible
grip on the relationships which are the production’s greatest strength. With a
director’s work on the rougher edges of the lyric, this recording confirms that
the whole is a piece worth progressing; and is an early work-in-progress disc
that musical theatre fans would wish to have in their collection.
"My Favourite Musicals"
A CD in association with the National Youth Music Theatre.
USM Junior. Item number: USMJRDCD009
Available from Amazon.co.uk
Aimed at a younger teen audience, the most immediately striking
feature of this disc is just how wide their tastes in musical theatre must be.
You’d of course expect “High School Musical” (and its sequels) to feature
prominently, and “Joseph” is almost compulsory - along with a couple of songs
from “Grease.” The surprises are how well Abba have transcended the generations
to get three “Mamma Mia” tracks featured, the fact that a traditional musical
like “Hairspray” is considered worthy of inclusion, and that 80s number “Fame”
still resonates today.
Each song is beautifully presented. Rather than lazily settling for being a
“compilation” of original tunes drawn from previous cast outings, instead each
track has been recorded by a string of very talented session singers.
Oddly, some of the vocals – particularly those on the “High School Musical”
numbers – improve somewhat on the originals. There is a confidence found in the
professionals’ voices which isn’t always apparent in the actual films. It may be
that singers who do this full-time simply develop a different style from actors
who sing, or it just might be that this disc’s producers were aiming for a
smoother tone to the whole than the grittiness of the film.
The accompanying bonus DVD offers up a selection of 8 tracks, in either
sing-a-long or karaoke form. Both options bring up the lyric, highlighted to the
rhythm against a static background. The sing-a-long versions provided the
melodic line to warble happily along to in harmony with the performers. The
karaoke version just provides the rhythm, a far more challenging route for the
aspiring young performer to test themselves against.
The National Youth Music Theatre are supporting this compilation of tracks,
possibly hoping that those singing along will find their way into the ranks of
the organisation some time. This nifty little end of school break treat may
indeed just encourage some teens to investigate performing when term restarts,
and who knows where that may lead?
"A Spoonful of Stiles and Drewe"
Highlights recorded live at Her Majesty's Theatre 2008 CD.
Speckulation Entertainment. Item number: SPECKCD001
available from Amazon.co.uk
Many composers have undertaken remarkable journeys from playroom piano to West
End Stage. Lord Lloyd Webber’s artistic output (since “Twinkle Twinkle Little
Star” aged five, allegedly) has been catalogued on disc many times. Stiles and
Drewe, twenty five years in the business, now receive a similar accolade. They
may not be in the business of scaring younger children every Saturday tea-time
on BBC1, unless writing incidental music to “Doctor Who,” but their output
certainly justifies this unusual and absorbing CD.
Recorded live at Her Majesty’s Theatre, London, in October 2008, a string of
well known West End performers including Scarlett Strallen, Joanna Riding, Clive
Rowe and Claire Moore, plus newcomers like Gareth Gates and Leanne Jones lead us
through the output of a still evolving partnership.
Kicking off with “Just So” in 1985, Rowe, Dempsey and Atherton do justice to
songs which showed early promise but rather explained why the original West End
transfer didn’t happen. An exuberant celebration of the “Joy of Motherhood” from
“Honk!” then leads on to even better things with “Peter Pan.” For those familiar
with the 1954 Broadway version, this is strikingly deeper, with a wistful
“There’s Always Tomorrow” setting a new standard in their work. Lisa O’Hare
wittily reminds us of the duo’s “Mary Poppins” experience; before a change of
pace with a Joyce Grenfellesque “Carrying A Torch,” preceding two further
cabaret numbers. Alison Jiear’s salute to musical ambition is almost worth the
Rounding off the disc is a sneak look at their latest work, “Soho Cinders.”
Strong language, yes, but incredibly strong songs to match. Promising yet
another new direction for the pair, there is plenty to look forward to. With the
finale placing on record the cast thanking the audience, listeners will also
thank Spekulation Entertainment’s forethought in releasing the show for all to
"Sweeney Todd In Concert"
Region 0 DVD
Thanks to inflation, it has become impossible to reproduce the original Broadway
1979 staging of Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler's "Sweeney Todd, the Demon
Barber of Fleet Street." Luckily, it was recorded (during a later
tour) and was
made available on DVD in 2005. Before that release, the score might have been
lost but for this imaginative preservation attempt by the New York Philharmonic
Orchestra, Rob Fisher and director Lonnie Price. In 2000 they came up with the
idea of a concert version of the show, a success which lead to stagings in New
York, Chicago and San Francisco, where this DVD was filmed.
Due to last-minute illness causing Bryn Terfel to drop out, the 2005 stage DVD’s
George Hearn takes the lead as Todd in this concert version too. It is
fascinating how age has mellowed both his voice and approach to the role, as
Sweeney becomes more contemplative and relaxed than ever portrayed before.
His Mrs Lovett this time is Patti Lupone. The “Making Of” extras on this disc
show Sondheim himself telling her to “sing what you like” if she forgets the
words… and with a singing voice like that it is no wonder he is willing to
compromise. Lupone’s only fault – also a problem with Neil Patrick “Doogie
Howser MD” Harris as Toby – is the British accent during the dialogue scenes.
Lupone runs from Maureen Lipman to Barbara Windsor, while Neil’s Toby is
noticeably Cockney to Welsh. Like Lupone, Harris sings well, but he lacks
emotional understanding during his pivotal “Not While I’m Around.” Sound comic
timing compensates for this flaw, luckily.
The supporting cast make much use of both the energy and their considerable
vocal talents. Among this ensemble, Victoria Clark as Beggar Woman / Lucy and
Timothy Nolen as the Judge give probably the definitive rendition of their
roles. The monkey cannot praise either small but important performance highly
enough. Davis Gaines as Mark and Lisa Vroman as Johanna also provide strength in
their sub-plot romance which remarkably lightens the evening while adding
Director Price admits that his “multi-level platforms surrounding the orchestra”
approach keeps the actors running and the pace smart. Small cuts to the score
keep the attention focused, and will not be noticed by most. Restored is
“Johanna” – the Judge’s Song – which fans of the original cast album will
delight in here. Sensibly simple dress and props give more than sufficient
detail to enable the story to be told to anyone unfamiliar with the work.
With soaring chorals, some fine bleak comic moments and an Act One ending which
is stronger than the fully staged original, this is a DVD that Sondheim
collectors will want to have, and a good introduction for others to this
Original 2008 London Cast Recording CD.
First Night Records. Item number: Cast CD102
“Intoxication” is a key number in this musical, bringing together the major
storylines playing out to a dramatic finish. It could, though, just as easily
describe the effect of this album on any listener giving it their full
Capturing well the morally decadent atmosphere against which the tale of
Occupied Paris unfolds, it goes further than many cast albums by offering a
distinctive entertainment in its own right. The vocal performances allow
character personalities to develop in listeners minds as easily as on stage, and
careful editing keeps the storyline clear too.
Ruthie Henshall’s “China Doll” is as heartbreaking here as if she were singing
standing by the piano at the Theatre Royal Haymarket. Annalene Beechey’s “Jazz
Time” is similarly effective. Alexander Hanson’s confusion and sadism in “I Hate
The Very Thought of Women” chills, while Matt Cross’s humour luckily relieves
the ongoing grimness. The ensemble number lyrics are actually more
comprehensible on CD than in the theatre, with their breathtaking hypocrisy
providing a smart finish.
The usual high production standards of a First Night album are in evidence with
a glossy lyric book, lavishly illustrated with production photographs and
well-considered sleeve notes. A bonus track from the original demo recording is
a final reason to make this album part of your stage collection as soon as
"Into The Woods"
Region 0 DVD
Note: this disc may require a multi-regional or region 1 DVD
As the era of the 80's mega-musical drew to a close, Sondheim weighed in with
his effort "Into The woods." The lavishly staged original Broadway production
was filmed for television, and released on DVD in 2005.
The basic fairytales of Rapunzel, Little Red Riding Hood, Jack and the Beanstalk
and Cinderella become hopelessly and hilariously entangled during Act One, with
a happy ending to bring the curtain down. By Act Two, though, a giantess is
running amuck and Prince Charming is off charming someone else (not sure who,
but a dwarf is involved). With the good advice of the Witch to be “careful the
things to wish for” ignored, and the Narrator dead, the indecisive storybook
characters must this time bring about their own happy endings, which they do to
some beautiful music.
Perhaps some of the staging now looks a little dated. Indeed, the London
production of this show (which followed Broadway’s by about a year) was already
a step on from this original. London had a tighter book and less cumbersome set…
but what it didn’t have was Bernadette Peters, Chip Zien and the delightfully
bratty Danielle Ferland. You’ll enjoy all three performances here, along with
Barbara Bryne’s well-judged comic turn as Jack’s exasperated mother and Kim
Crosby’s winsomely witless Cinderella.
The sophisticated jokes fly, most landing brilliantly, and there is always
something intellectual from Mr Sondheim’s lyric to keep interested those who
consider themselves too old for fairy tales. If at times the script wanders and
characters vanish too quickly, it doesn’t matter as the score forgives almost
Not quite as accessible as “Sweeney Todd,” but perhaps a little more so than
“Company;” this DVD is a must for collectors of course, but also one to buy for
those wishing to discover Sondheim at his most entertaining.
Region 2 DVD
Just how long can single New Yorker Robert (Bobby) remain, “a thing of beauty
and a boy forever?” Today is his 35th birthday, and his (crazy) married friends
are throwing him a surprise party. As it approaches, his thoughts turn towards
love and whether someone special is waiting for him... or already passed him by…
John Doyle’s acclaimed New York 2006 Ethel Barrymore Theatre production is now
released on DVD. The style is original 1970s “New York Sharp” for everybody
except Raul Esparza’s Bobby - the naïve observer; and the cast play their own
This inspired concept allows the “Drive a Person Crazy” trio to set a new
standard for this classic number and demonstrate Amy Justman as a fine pianist.
Vocally, Barbara Walsh delivers “Ladies Who Lunch” with perfect control and
triggers Bobby’s final emotional outpouring with masterful timing. Similarly,
Heather Laws handles Amy’s equally intricate “Not Getting Married Today” patter
Angel Desai is liberation personified in a slinky top-of-piano performance as
Marta, and outstanding are Kristin Huffman and Keith Buterbaugh. As Sarah and
Harry, their inspired karate sequence will no doubt be copied by every new
amateur director of this piece for years to come.
Unlike the 1995 Donmar Warehouse London production in which the actors
interacted as equals within Bobby’s mind, here Bobby’s emotional immaturity is
underlined. It works when Bobby is trying to analyse friends’ relationships, but
reduces his cathartic closing number “Being Alive” to something rather
self-pitying instead of actualising. Still, better than the monkey philosophy of
love (find the one monkeyette who hates you more than any other monkey on the
planet, and give her your house and car) perhaps.
This production shines as bright as the disc it is captured on. A dazzlingly
deft dissection of a great work for Sondheim fans, a sound introduction to his
wider works for those who first encountered him via 2008s “Sweeney Todd.” Either
way, this is a must.
Note: The international edition of this DVD, does not include the “extras”
printed on the case. Apparently they were sadly not cleared for international
release, but this information wasn’t received early enough to remove mention on
This is the Region 1 edition - a multi-regional DVD player may be required
outside the USA. On the plus side, it has the extras promised!
"The Pantomime Life of Joseph Grimaldi"
by Andrew McConnell Stott.
Canongate. ISBN 9781847672957.
Andrew McConnell Stott has written perhaps the finest biography the monkey read
in 2009. Following his modern day prologue at the annual Clowns' Memorial
Service in Hackney, the turn of a page takes us back to Boxing Day 1810, as the
greatest clown of all is about to step onto the pantomime stage.
We are then treated to an enthralling biography of the clown himself, with
stories illustrating the theatrical and social scene around him adding extra
colour. At the end, for further interest, pantomime "Mother Goose" is reproduced
in full from an 1807 printing and the "Notes" section contains famous extracts
of verse including Joe's own "Hot Codlins," written for him by Dibden.
Deciding to take this broad view is a wise one. With few solid records and so
many anecdotes abounding (the "go see the great clown to cure your depression -
I am that clown" story is here weighed and rightly fast dispatched) lesser
authors might become mired in probably irrelevant details. Instead, placing
Grimaldi in his favourite environment allows us to enjoy the intrigues of the
artistes' "Green Room" and managers' offices; with excursions into the
auditorium, Parliament and the homes of gentry and commoners alike to balance
out the biographical insights.
Best of all, Stott's text is as light as Harlequin's moves, his eye for humour
and the need to clarify details for those unschooled in that period always as
deft and sure. Not a single passage drags, and it is both the facts and the
atmosphere of the era that the reader will absorb by the end.
For those like the monkey, who know little about that theatrical period, this
proves an excellent guide. Those interested in the history of comedy will find
it a "must purchase" if only to discover who invented "huge clown shoes" and
other comedic elements now taken for granted. Taken simply as a biography, for
those who enjoy the genre, the monkey opinion is that this is one strongly
deserving of a place on your bookshelf.
"Finishing The Hat"
by Stephen Sondheim.
Virgin Books. ISBN 9780753522585.
Having read this, the monkey was as happy as the python that swallowed an
…and is now taking extended sedentary leave in order to digest it. There is much
to take in, and all of it deserving extended contemplation.
This is a very frank ramble through the mind of one of the world’s best musical
theatre composers. From ‘Saturday Night’ (1954) to ‘Merrily We Roll Along’
(1981) - (a forthcoming second book will cover his later work), every major show
on which he worked, either as lyricist or full composer, is covered. The major
numbers in each are given a running commentary – why they were written or
changed, the technicalities of musical theatre creation, plus a few observations
and reproductions of his handwritten manuscripts. Always informative, sometimes
over-harshly self critical, the dissections gave the monkey a healthy new
respect for the craft.
It isn’t all gloomy introspection, though. Gems such as the truth behind his
most amusing (and filthiest) ‘double entendre’ are revealed (sadly, that one was
a happy accident of transatlantic English, rather than ‘planned by a genius’ as
I’d hoped) are uncovered; while the chaos of the rehearsal room is described in
enough detail to make you wish you were there… when it is going well, at least.
Interspersing these show commentaries are some startlingly iconoclastic
arguments and opinions about his musical theatre contemporaries. By declaring at
the outset that he will only discuss deceased composers work, Sondheim is able
to expound fully without inhibition on these. You may agree or disagree with
each argument (Noel Coward in particular I felt was a trifle hard-done-by) but
each piece justifies its ideas, and is a talking point rather than ill-defined
Other thoughts also feature throughout the text. One mild eyebrow-raiser for the
monkey as a theatre reviewer was Sondheim’s opinion that musicals are the only
art form exclusively reviewed by non-musical people. It’s true but, taken to its
logical conclusion, it might reduce the entire qualified UK ‘musical theatre
reviewing community’ to pretty much Andrew Lloyd Webber, Stiles and Drewe…
scary. Also fascinating was his truth that ‘everybody thinks they can fix a show
– they can’t.’ As somebody who often dares to venture an opinion on such things,
that rightly had this simian thinking again…
Fortunately, the monkey received this as a gift from a friend who was frustrated
that I hadn’t got around to reading it on publication. The fortune is that
because it didn’t purchase it, it was able to instead fill the gaps in its
Sondheim CD collection. Be warned, if you don’t have a recording of each show
mentioned in the book, you will very quickly wish to do so. As each disc plays,
this book will enhance your pleasure as the numbers acquires a new meaning and
many lines take on a fresh significance.
A ‘must purchase’ for fans, and equally a superb guide for the less initiated in
the world of a supremely talented man.
"Wicked In Rock"
By Kerry Ellis
There is a strange law of genetics which says the very best West End leading
ladies should be shorter than 5ft 5 tall and have amazingly huge voices. Kerry
Ellis joins Elaine Paige and Linzi Hateley in that number, and here releases a
very special treat for "Wicked" fans and general musical theatre lovers equally.
So good as "Elphaba" that she was stolen from the London production to play the
Broadway version for six months in 2008, until we could steal her back in
December; Kerry's parting gift is a stunning three track disc showcasing her
voice at its finest.
"Defying Gravity" may be identified with belter Idina Menzel, but Ellis takes it
to new heights with a rock beat and razor-sharp vocal performance setting a
vision for the future which we just know is the right path to follow. Utterly
convincing and demands attention to every note - you'll be glad your teen
daughter has this on permanent loop when she buys it, as there is something
extra to hear each time.
Track two is monkey favourite "I'm Not That Girl." Who knows if Kerry has ever
felt that way in real life (c'mon, you really think she ever has?!); but
whatever she draws on to deliver this could make her a fortune, bottled and sold
to musical theatre students. Another sophisticated arrangement and deeply
thought out lead vocal, this isn't just a cry of pain, but the human condition
The final track, "No One But You" is a contrast to the "Wicked" score, offering
a chance for Ellis to explore her performing range and providing a neat treat to
round off with. Highly reccomended.
by Ian John Shillito and Becky Walsh
Tempus Publishing Ltd. ISBN 9780752445212
As a writer on London Theatre, the monkey knows from feedback on its own work that a
good theatrical ghost story is always appreciated by readers. Ian John Shillito
and Becky Walsh, though, take things several steps further in this thin,
disconcerting set of reports from the spook-face. Full time investigators of the
paranormal, Shillito and Walsh present here the results of almost a dozen full
`site investigations,' plus short paragraphs about many other venues they either
chose / could not fully check out.
Those who regularly visit London's theatres know that each has a unique `feel'
and personality. As somebody who is lucky enough to also visit them during the
day time without audiences present, the monkey can confirm that the atmosphere is often
magnified during those quieter moments. Ian and Becky make the point that
theatre folk are almost always sensitive to `something in the air' in their
workplace, and on that score, monkey says they were absolutely correct.
Where anybody may care to differ is on interpretation of those feelings. For
each venue they investigate fully, a quick history lesson is followed by
interviews with those who've worked there. These are followed by an
`investigation' and a conclusion, complete with 1 to 10 `Haunted Scale' ranking.
The investigations invariably involve Becky `sensing something,' with Ian more
sceptical yet sometimes experiencing 'something' too. Becky on a number of
occasions reports acting to `free' the unhappy spirits she encountered. Though
perhaps depriving theatres of a unique presence (or just a good story), it
humanised the text in places - grounding it in a reality any reader could
The conclusions each time are equally a balancing act between the pair, and the
monkey did respect the way in which a rational explanation was always sought first.
Whichever side of the scientific debate you are on (for monkey, it just believes
science doesn't know everything yet, but that everything comes from some form of
fundamental existential organisation we loosely call `science'), these are
decent tales to be taken as you wish.
If it has a gripe about this book, it is - as a reviewer on Amazon.co.uk points out - in
the editing. Syntax and spelling go awry more often than a decent ghost writer
(sorry, couldn't resist) or editor should allow, though the book picks up points
for including many eerie and evocative monochrome photographs.
There are plenty of spectres everybody in the West End knows about - from Drury
Lane's Grey Man to the Adelphi's time-share in William Terriss - but this book
contains many the monkey had never heard of before. Add the fact it doesn't take itself too
seriously, but does a nice line in chill, and this becomes a readable reference
work for the theatre enthusiast looking to broaden their knowledge of these
marvellous old buildings.
"Sunday In The Park With George"
2006 London Cast Recording CD
PS Classics 82876823482
This memorably captures forever in small laser etched pits rather than paint
spots, London’s Menier Chocolate Factory production of a modern Sondheim classic
On stage, effective use was made of back projections to provide a canvas for
artist Seurat and his muse Dot. Here, the sound is balanced to ensure the
performers’ voices are always to the fore and every word is clear. Jenna
Russell’s voice is warm – with a hint of exasperation – as she chides George for
his lack of affection. Daniel Evans meanwhile manages a clinical detachment with
her while remaining interesting to us as he shares the thoughts of the creating
Elsewhere on the recording, the unforgettable park scenes involving everybody at
the Grande Jatte are powerfully evoked with a sense of space and distance
achieved by careful studio work. The orchestra itself was small in the theatre,
and sensibly are augmented by three extra players here. The richness of "We Do
Not Belong Together" impresses with its simplicity - the feeling not overwhelmed
(as usually happens) by a too elaborate orchestration. Oh, and "Everybody Loves
Louis" is a hoot, too... wonderful bawdy comic timing.
The overall effect is considerably less harsh than the Broadway recording. The
re-writing Sondheim did of Act Two for the original National Theatre London
production also stands the test of time, which means the disc is strong
throughout, rather than fading towards the end as on the previous recording.
Another unmissable addition to the collection for Sondheim fans, especially as
this is the first time the score has been released almost entirely uncut.
"A Little Night Music"
(region 1 - may not play on UK region 2 machines).
Much maligned on cinema release, this Hal Prince film version of the Sondheim
classic musical has languished in the vaults until now. Time hasn't been kind to
the print - the DVD faithfully shows every scratch on it, uncorrected by the
low-budget company releasing the movie for the first time on disc. Still,
through the gloom (allegedly sometimes there to flatter star Elizabeth Taylor) a
fascinating production emerges.
Elizabeth Taylor sings, and actually makes a fair job of sending in the clowns.
Len Cariou as Frederick is as fatally charming as he could be, while Hermione
Gingold produces the perfect acid commentary on events from her chair. Add Diana
Rigg and an early performance by Lesley Dunlop, but subtracting (sadly)
"Miller's Son" and two other numbers from the score and the result is a flawed
but highly watchable gem.
"Fiddler On The Roof"
2006 London Cast
The Sheffield production which was thrice extended
at the Savoy Theatre is captured on CD to delight all
who were lucky enough to see the show.
the first time a contemporary sound has been brought to
the well loved score and what it lacks in Broadway
strings it makes up for in a percussion and accordion
which bring the rhythm of old Russia appropriately to
The warmth of Henry Goodman's voice is combined with his
vocal acting abilities to produce a Tevye of depth and
originality. Moving from the childish joy of "If I Were
a Rich Man" to the heartbroken introspection of "Chavaleh"
the role is his own as much on record as on stage.
his family, Alexandra Silber delights during
"Matchmaker" and together with Beverley Klein's numerous contributions justify this recording alone.
Special mention must be given to the ensemble too, who
create choral beauty during "Sabbath Prayer" and
later cause tears to be shed at the bravado of "Anatevka"
- the chilling line "We are not in America Yet"
providing the bittersweet finish that ends a remarkable
The recording is available exclusively from Dress Circle - The Showbiz Shop at: www.dresscircle.com
"Muse of Fire"
Dan Poole and Giles Terera had two things in common; acting ambitions, and a
loathing of Shakespeare born in school.
Lacking cash, a reliable car and any real contacts in the theatrical world, they
decided to make a film about that loathing. 25,000 miles and over 2 years later,
“Muse of Fire” is the result.
Starting with a “vox pops” outside a West End theatre, in which most
contributors could quote something by the Bard but little more, the duo decided
to contact as many well known exponents of the Shakespearian stage as possible
in order to demystify and return to the public the greatest ever playwright.
Interviews with – among others - Ian McKellen, Judi Dench, James Earl Jones,
Mark Rylance, Tom Hiddleston, Jude Law, Zoe Wanamaker, Ewan McGregor, Ralph
Fiennes, Ben Kingsley, Derek Jacobi and, finally their idol Baz Luhrman follow.
The journey to meet them all goes from London to Los Angeles, via productions of
plays staged in Denmark, Madrid and a tiny theatre in the Eastern USA, that they
just happened to notice in passing.
Most of all, the journey happens to the two young men. Their rather frantic
“mugging for the camera” tone at the outset become far more mature as the pair
grow along with their project. The slightly outdated, well, downright cheap
cartoon graphics depicting their journey become less a rebellion, more proof of
just how tight the budget is – the scenes of Poole tiling a bathroom for a
living underlining the fact.
After all that effort, what is achieved? Steven Berkoff is the answer. His
transformation into “The Godfather” as he recites Shakespearian text is simple
proof that it is all about how the word is spoken, and that “the rest is
silence.” A compelling presentation, with the language given a meaning and
context is all that is really required. Sure, knowing iambic pentameter helps
(you’ll be an expert after watching this), but entertaining clarity is all.
The companion disc to the feature is a further hour of drama classes,
“Shakespeare In Practice” where a troupe of mostly young actors are coached by
such experts as Peter Gill and Bonnie Greer. There’s several exciting moments,
including Sandy Foster and Tony Hasnath as Romeo and Juliet (a clip of which
appears also in the main film) and the deep joy when an Orphelia and Hamlet know
they have “got the scene right” under the direction of Henry Goodman.
This pair of films should be of interest to anyone hoping to learn just why they
should love a 400 year old writer. It may not be the most polished of
documentaries, but the list of interviewees is impressive, and collectively Dan
and Giles have ended up with an important documentation of opinions from some of
the late 20th and early 21st century’s greatest actors and directors. An
historic achievement in itself, and one arguably of importance to posterity in
its own right. Rather like the plays themselves, in fact.
"Shakespeare" by Bill Bryson.
Atlas Books / Harper Press. ISBN 9780007197897
For those who don't know Bill Bryson, he is the Iowan anglophile with the
ability to see the world from a uniquely entertaining perspective. In this short
book his gaze turns to Shakespeare and in true Bryson fashion comes up with a
new angle for a biography... telling us how little is actually known about the
man who may or may not have existed yet still provided a few enduring plays.
Padding out the actual facts (a Shakespeare family were prominent in
Stratford-Upon-Avon at one time, a Shakespeare signed a witness statement to a
London court, a group of actors remembered enough of their roles fifteen years
ago to publish a book of plays bearing his name and a nice sketch of a man who
could be him) with descriptions of the time he may have lived, the result is the
usual Bryson romp through Englishness. The book works best as an informed look
at the period - the monkey loved shuddering at the descriptions of theatregoing
behaviour of the time (not a lot different to audiences at... well, never
mind...) - and the arbitrariness of life back then. If the water didn't get you,
the food / laws / drunken rabble would - and there was little could be done
A swift overview of the plays themselves proved amusing in that nobody seems
truly sure of the order in which they were written, or indeed whether they are
the product of one author. Bryson deals with the various claims of ownership
decisively, proving at least one to be false beyond reasonable doubt. He is keen
to keep an open mind that collaboration may have happened, though, and provides
a convincing explanation as to why. Add sub-plots on Shakespeare's sexuality and
how close he came to execution for treason; combine with an obvious appreciation
of the works themselves and the result is a very readable history-cum-biography
that should entertain as well as enlighten.
"The Road to Find Out: East"
Hear it now:
Bluegrass music is a type of country / Celtic cross, where the instruments are
country, the sound Celtic and the tune given a bit of a jazz improvisation as
well. Add acclaimed musical theatre performer Ramin Karimloo’s voice and classic
show tunes and the result is a totally unique sound.
First up, “Oh What A Beautiful Morning” is even fresher than the morning it’s
celebrating. A violin set up a swinging vocal, a steel guitar carrying it along
and a lot of fun is had with the end of each phrase (plus, the conversation with
the instruments is wonderful). You’ll never be satisfied with the original after
“Losing,” and “Broken,” are a pair of new songs written with Hadley Fraser. The
first is a duet about the future of a couple, a strong violin backing adding
melancholy to their questioning of relationships and identity. “Broken,” a
livelier solo number, has a strong tambourine driven rhythm. Female loss from a
male viewpoint, it’s an unusual perspective and demands repeat listening.
Finally, “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables,” the famous “Les Misérables” number
moves to a Deep South bayou at sunset. The voice is satisfying, but it’s the
instruments behind it that set the atmosphere. Unusual, and sure to be a
collectors’ item – not to mention a reason for an inventive director to try
transferring the whole to a New Orleans setting some time.
The first of a four part experiment, if the other three are of the same
standard, this is a collection any fan will wish to own – and will win him many
The Musical World of Boublil and Schonberg
by Margaret Vermette.
Applause Theatre Book Publishers. £9.99
ISBN: 1557837155 or 978-1557837158
One of the peculiar items in the monkey stocking this past season was the
glittering thing it wouldn't talk about earlier. One of the others was this
book... having read it, the monkey isn't sure which is stranger. Margaret
Vermette is apparently an experienced author, writing for respected publications
including "Musical Stages." This book may surprise connoisseur readers of that
Those expecting a comprehensive composer / lyricist biography or indeed critique
of the duo's work will be disappointed. Objective commentary on their output is
also out. To her credit, Vermette admits at the outset to being a fan, and the
photograph on the back confirms it. And this is where the monkey began
Split into three sections, the first is simply a tribute to them. Vermette seems
to consider the mens' current record to be an apex of theatrical achievement
equal to that of Lloyd Webber and Rogers and Hammerstein. The casual reader
won't mind... anyone who really loves the subject may well be scratching their
heads by this stage, though.
On to section two. The first part promises a "biographical portrait" - but is
shortened to more of a charcoal sketch of each man. Still, it is a well-executed
sketch and a full biography at some point would be welcome. Following this, a
particularly dull (to the informed) / mostly already published before (for the
obsessive fan who has read all the articles) / fascinating (to the theatrical
first timer or outsider) section deals with the creative processes and teams
behind the shows. Much of the material seems drawn from already published
sources or has been said before. For those who really don't know how a show is
created there is plenty to read. For the rest, it is just another rundown -
though you can compare the slight differences in methods between this team and
Sondheim, for example.
Finally, a fairly useful "Fact File" detailing plot, awards and odd facts for
each show is provided. The discography isn't comprehensive - the monkey itself
owns recordings not mentioned - but as a quick reference the monkey suddenly saw
the point of the work. Expanded to include full cast change dates and details,
along with venues, this section in itself could be the basis of a really
Obviously researched with love, and readably written, the book should delight
the casual theatregoer captivated by the pair's musical creativity. More
experienced theatregoers may find the reference section helpful, but overall the
monkey wished for something more original and incisive.
"The Shakespeare Secret"
By J.L. Carrell.
Sphere Paperback. ISBN: 9780751540352
In the USA known as "Interred With Their Bones"
By Jennifer Lee Carrell
Dutton Adult Hardback. ISBN: 0525949704
What a romp this is! For those, like the monkey, who felt "The Da Vinci Code"
over-hyped and totally obvious from a quarter of the way through; J.L. Carrell's
alternative proves that Bill the Quill blueprints are far superior. Carrell's
sly wit in construction means this is a thriller working on more levels than a
Canary Wharf elevator operator.
Taken one way, you have "Indiana Jones and the Raider of the Lost Art" as
academic turned theatre director Kate swings across the planet in search of the
Bard's lost work. Complete with requisite "Hmm, there appears to be a... here"
and "With One Bound our Hero Was Free" moments, it's all the clichés a good
thriller should have - and seldom goes flat for more than the odd page.
Pause a moment, and you realise that there is more to it. The chapter layout
echoes Shakespearian plays, as does the pace with events unfolding in
tried-and-tested theatrical patterns. After a while, look back over the chapters
and find some very obviously Old Swan reverencing hallmarks in the tale. (DON'T
READ THIS LINE TO AVOID A SPOILER) you get a trail of corpses, some
cross-dressing and plenty of twisted families and classic Globe-stage disposal
methods littering the plot.
There's a third level beyond this, though, and that is a level of scholarship in
the research which fans of Bill Bryson's latest "Shakespeare" (reviewed in a
previous "Mashed Banana") will appreciate. Carrell takes what we know and
creates a loving fantasia on it that manages to both convince and parody without
breaking the spell.
Sure, other thriller writers arguably have slightly better control of pace -
moving the action along without resort to the most obvious devices - but the
stagelike signalling of these suits the style of the work, and the result is fun
that kept the monkey reading until the final potion (champagne) was drunk...
with the expected results...
"Life After Tomorrow"
A film by Julie Stevens and Gil Cates Jr.
Region 1 DVD - this disc will play on multi-regional and American / Canadian DVD
players. It may not play on UK region 2 only, or other similarly "region locked"
Runs 1 hour 15 minutes approximately, plus over 45 minutes of extra material.
Nearly thirty years have passed since "Annie" first opened on Broadway - and
later gave a young monkey a lifelong case of "showtunes" on transfer to London.
Millions of youngsters have looked forward to the promise of "Tomorrow," moaned
(or rapped) about their "Hard Knock Life" and reminded us that "You're Never
Fully Dressed Without A Smile." A very lucky few actually played in the show
professionally on Broadway or one of the U.S tours. Question is, what happened
to them once they outgrew the "cute orphan" phase? Ex-Hannigan charge turned
film-maker Julie Stevens decided to find out, giving over forty (now adult) cast
members a chance to reminisce and ruminate on their time in red dress or rags.
From audition memories and the first Goodspeed Opera House tryout (for those who
thought Andrea McArdle was the original Annie, wrong, think Kristen Vigard) to
Broadway, endless road tours and on to adulthood, both the cast and creative
team remind us just how long ago the 1970s were. Eight auditions over a year,
each up to six hours long for those not "cut on sight" were normal. Children
aged between 7 and 12 exited the stage door and headed into New York's notorious
"Studio 54" nightclub three times a week, or else passed their time skating near
a brothel, taunting the workers. The theatre itself was equally unsafe, with
intensive biology and sociological lessons courtesy of a jealous adult cast. "I
was 10, going on 40" was how one girl put it; oh, and Miss Hannigan didn't
always pull her punches either. Throw in pushy moms brawling, a stalker with a
gun and a slightly odd super-fan with an amazing collection of 'Annie' goods and
it is small wonder the former orphans would, to a woman, discourage their own
children from going into the acting business.
It isn't all bleak, though. The well-balanced mixture of interviews and original
show footage allow the unreality and humour of the situation to emerge too.
Removing longer sequences to the "extras" section of the DVD (the re-united cast
routines with original choreography are a must in this section of the disc)
allows both the story of the show, and those who took part in it, to meld
seamlessly and simultaneously into both record and investigative retrospective
of an iconic production. With the chance to hear from famous names like Sarah
Jessica Parker and Allison Smith, as well as rare footage of Charnin and Strouse,
this is a cautionary tale well worth watching for both fans of the show and
those considering a child-star career.
"The Faber Pocket Guide: Musicals"
By James Inverne.
faber and faber. ISBN: 9780571237517
James Inverne is an outstanding writer. His
boundless enthusiasm for the subject comes across in this highly readable pocket
guide to stage musicals.
Sensibly laid out, we are first treated to a personal exposition on the history
of the stage musical, before the author picks 100 of the best. Of course, with
so many to choose from, you'll have plenty of fun disagreeing with his choices.
"Annie," "The Fantasticks" and "Grand Hotel" are absent, to name but three, yet
included are those on the opera / musical borderline like "Candide."
Each selection is given an introduction, trivia spot, synopsis and `recommended
recording' treatment. Occasionally the balance in length between them has a
reader thinking, "I'd like to know more about..., so why did he discuss...?" but
each is still informative enough that your CD collection will grow exponentially
Insightful essays on matters musical follow. The writer's own top 10 will
obviously please nobody but himself; rightly so, and it is just a pleasure to
learn far more about his own tastes. His musings on "Musicals Go To The Opera"
seem, to my own (probably philistine) ear, to rather over-complicate the issue.
It's pretty simple; when hearing a musical theatre diva in full belt, I can
distinguish every word and think "wow!" An opera singer in full vocal exposition
simply induces a headache within minutes.
Wrapping up the book is Mr Inverne's choice of 10 musical flops. Again his list
will spark huge debate, with such treasures-that-deserve-to-be-buried as
"Bernadette," "A Doll's Life," "Jeeves" and "Kelly" missing. Still, it leaves
plenty of room for a sequel.
The only failure of this book is in its editing. In several places an uneducated
pen has cut important detail from the text, leaving a howler behind. The former
is occasionally to the detriment of show descriptions; the latter will irritate
musical theatre buffs, and require quiz compliers to cross-check details.
Still, this a must for all musical theatre fans wishing to learn a little more
about them; particularly assisting newcomers as an introduction to this strange
and wonderful world.
"Backstage Pass to Broadway"
by Susan L. Schulman
Heliotrope Books LLC. ISBN: 978-0983294092
Few theatregoers ever pause to consider who first told them about the show they
are seeing. If it wasn’t a friend, chances are it was an advertisement or item
in the press / online / a TV programme. So how did they get there? This book
answers the question, rather beautifully.
Susan L. Schulman converted her love of Broadway theater into a career spanning
over 40 years to date. As press representative on hundreds of shows she’s met
the greatest and best and seen them at their worst. This are some of those
Her background as a press agent shines out from every page of this slim volume.
It’s slim because her years of experience allow her to tell the most compelling
tales in the most economical language. This makes for easy reading, her style
moving things along as the most entertaining productions should.
Even better, her finely honed sense of discretion allows her to speak about
stars in a manner both revealing yet respectful. Revelations are carefully
balanced to avoid any sense of a tabloid attack, and even the biggest divas come
out with their talents recognised ahead of any misbehaviour. There’s no sense of
“legal advice taken” either, just a demonstration of a skill acquired over many
Speaking of skills, pages 161 and 162 (of the printed edition) should be
compulsory reading for anyone considering putting out a theatrical press
release. As a “victim” myself of some of the worst efforts, I for one would
really appreciate it.
It’s a nicely produced book too, with some interesting (never seen before)
photos. Leave out the irony of her advice on page 166 about proof-reading
(there’s the odd typo), and concentrate on the stories, and you’ll fall in love
with Broadway all over again. Another victory for the press agent, of course...