Sunday, November 19, 2017

42ND STREET – London 2017: A Theatre Review

The Plot: Julian Marsh is putting on a show and Peggy Sawyer, who has just arrived from Allentown, gets a role in the chorus. When the bitchy leading lady, Dorothy Brock, breaks an ankle, only Peggy can save the show.

The Show: I was lucky to see the Broadway revival of this show twice, first in 2001 and then in 2003. I loved it both times and I never expected I would be seeing it again. But here I was, at London’s Drury Lane watching “those dancing feet” and having once more the time of my life. Like they say in the show, “think of musical comedy, the most glorious words in the English language” and I couldn’t agree more!

Can I dare to say that this production is even better than the one I saw on Broadway? I know this production shares basically the same creative team, but somehow I felt that everything was perfect here. Like I said back then, as someone who loves “the Busby Berkeley's movies of the 30s, one thing I know, the creators of this musical not only caught the spirit of those musicals but they also came up with a much better example of those.”

Once again, I was completely mesmerized while watching it! The imaginative sets, the colourful costumes, the exciting orchestrations, everything works superbly on stage. Like I said before “the book surprised me; it's funnier than I expected and wraps the whole action with a perfect sense of timing. The direction by Mark Bramble is flawless and then there's the exciting, wonderful, amazing, fabulous (you get my point) choreography by Randy Skinner. He not only recreated some of Gower Champions' work but also came up with new numbers. The result is fascinating and the public went crazy with each number.”

Of course, nothing of this would work if it wasn’t for the fantastic cast. As Peggy, Clare Halse is a fabulous dancer and shares true chemistry with Norman Bowman, who plays a passionate Julian Marsch. Sheena Easton was a big surprise as the bitchy and funny Dorothy Brock; I didn’t know she had such a strong voice and a perfect comic timing. As the leading dancer, Stuart Neal plays a goofy Billy and dances like a storm. In the role of Maggie, Jasna Ivir is hilarious and as her partner, Christopher Howell is also very funny. One last word for the incredible girls and boys of the chorus. Without them this show wouldn't be possible and they are simply amazing. Each one of them is a flawless dancer and together they burn the stage with passion, rhythm and lovely smiles.

It’s difficult to choose a number, but I have a soft place for “With Plenty of Money and You”, the simplicity of “Go Into Your Dance” and the fantastic title number.

If you love musical comedy as much as I do, this one is for you. It’s a feast for all senses and truly magical! So “come and meet those dancing feet”, you won’t regret it! Don’t dare to miss it!

Cast: Clare Halse, Sheena Easton, Norman Bowman, Stuart Neal, Jasna Ivir, Christopher Howell, Graeme Henderson, Emma Caffrey, Ella Martine, Clare Rickard, Bruce Montague
Creative Team: Music by Harry Warren • Lyrics by Al Dubin • Book by Michael Stewart & Mark Bramble • Choreography by Randy Skinner • Directed by Mark Bramble
My Rate: 10 (from 1 to 10) / Photos: Brinkhoff/Moegenburg and Tristram Kenton



CHARLOTTE’S WEB: A Soundtrack Review

Original Movie Soundtrack – 1973 / Music and lyrics by Richard M. Sherman & Robert B. Sherman
Starring: Debbie Reynolds, Henry Gibson, Pamelyn Ferdin, Dave Madden, Agnes Moorehead, Paul Lynde
Rate: 6 (from 1 to 10)

Review: I think I was a kid of 11 years old when I saw this movie for the first time on a television matinee. I enjoyed it immensely and I remember humming the songs. At the time, I didn’t have a clue who the Sherman Brothers were.

Since that day, I tried to get the movie soundtrack but without luck (living in Portugal made it practically impossible). So, what I did was recording the songs on a tape when the movie was shown again on television. But the days of tape are long gone and so was my recording of the soundtrack. Now, this soundtrack was re-released in vinyl, “for the first time in almost 40 years”, and finally I can enjoy the songs once again; although it had been a long time since I heard them for last time, I’m still able to hum some of them.

This isn’t the best work of the Sherman Brothers, but it’s difficult to resist the charms of the one and only Debbie Reynolds (she gives voice do Charlotte) as she sweetly delivers “Chin Up”, “Deep in the Dark” and “Mother Earth and Father Time”. Henry Gibson make us believe a pig can sing with “I Can Talk” and Agnes Moorhead and Paul Lynde has a fun time with “A Veritable Smorgasbord”.

If you like melodious scores and are a fan of the work of The Sherman Brothers (MARY POPPINS), plus a Debbie Reynolds admirer, this one is for you. Personally, I enjoyed it and it was great to go back in time.


Saturday, November 11, 2017

YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN – London 2017: A Theatre Review

The Plot: Frederick Frankenstein inherits his grandfather’s Transylvania estate, including a castle, and goes there to get it. Once there, he is drawn to his grandfather’s secret laboratory and Frau Blücher, plus his new friends, convince him to create a new monster.

The Show: I fell in love with the original Broadway cast recording as soon as I played it for the first time and I always wish that one day I would be able to see it.  But when it opened on Broadway in 2007, the show didn´t find much favor in the critics, the public followed their reviews and it only run for little more than a year. Ten years later the show finally arrives in London, and it’s very, very funny!

I heard that the Broadway show was a large one, but they scaled down things for this London production and it works. Director/choreographer Susan Stroman keeps things to the essential and let the hilarious book live on in song and dance. It’s true, this isn’t Stroman more inspired work, but the “Transylvania Mania” is contagious, “Puttin’ On the Ritz” has some genial moments and “Roll in the Hay” is among her best work.

But what makes this production work is the perfect cast of comedians, who are in harmony with the spirit of the show. As Frankenstein, Hadley Fraser brings to life the memory of Gene Wilder but makes the role his own. Ross Noble is irresistibly insane as Igor and Lesley Joseph is a flawless crazy Frau Blücher. Dianne Pilkington is delicious as the madcap Elizabeth and Summer Strallen gives all the sex she’s allowed to the role of Inga. Reprising his Broadway role, Shuler Hensley gives soul and heart to the monster. Finally, Patrick Clancy is hilarious as the blind Hermit (his scene with the monster is one of the best moments of the show) and he also gives life to Inspector Kemp.

The songs are simple and easy to hum. The lyrics are pure Mel Brooks, very funny, sometimes brushing the bad taste, so go on with an open mind. Besides the numbers I already mentioned, the other highlights of the show are “Together Again”, “Surprise” (I love this song), “He Vas My Boyfriend”, “Please Don’t Touch Me” and “Deep Love”. There were a few songs that were cut from the Broadway score and a couple of new ones written for this production, but this two, “Hang Him Til He’s Dead” and “It Could Work”, aren’t very good and I missed “Man About Town”.

This is pure musical comedy and I laughed from beginning to end. I know it’s not the best musical ever written, but it doesn’t pretend to be. It’s just unpretentious fun, which only aim is to give us a good time in the theatre and that it does with flying colours!

Cast: Hadley Fraser, Ross Noble, Lesley Joseph, Dianne Pilkington, Summer Strallen, Patrick Clancy, Shuler Hensley
Creative Team: Music and Lyrics by Mel Brooks • Book by Mel Brooks & Thomas Meehan • Choreography by Susan Stroman • Directed by Susan Stroman
My Rate: 8 (from 1 to 10) / Photos: Manuel Harlan & Alastair Muir
PS.: To see larger images just click on them.


Monday, October 16, 2017

KID VICTORY: A CD Review

Original Off-Broadway Cast – 2017 / Music by John Kander and lyrics by Greg Pierce
Starring: Dee Roscioli, Jeffry Denman, Karen Ziemba Brandon Flynn,Joel Blum, Laura Darrell, David Garrison, Blake Zolf, Daniel Jenkinns, Ann Arvia
Rate: 6 (from 1 to 10) / Photos by Carol Rosegg

Review: John Kander’s collaboration with Fred Ebb, made him one of my all-time favorite composers. When Edd  left this world, Kander found a new work companion, Greg Pierce. Their first work, THE LANDING, show us a new Kander, far from the compositions he wrote with Ebb. Personally, I was very disappointed with it.

This KID VICTORY is Kander & Pierce new musical and this time around I enjoyed their work. It’s not up there with Kander’s best work and sometimes reminded me of Stephen Sondheim, but there’s enough here for my liking.

As you may guess, my favorite song is “What’s the Point?”, sung with gusto by Blake Zolfo. Karen Ziemba delivers the beautiful “There Was a Boy”, Jeffry Denman the haunting “You, If Anyone” and Dee Roscioli the moving “People Like Us”. “You Are the Marble” is a funny number sung by Ann Arvia and Company and Joel Blum’s “Not Quite True” has a vaudeville vibe that I like.

It’s good to know that John Kander is still working and delivering interesting scores. This one has plenty to enjoy and I recommend it.


SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE: A CD Review

New Broadway Cast – 2017 / Music by lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Annaleigh Ashford, Brooks Ashmanskas, Jenni Barber, Phillip Boykin, Mattea Conforti, Erin Davie, Claybourne Elder, Penny Fuller, Jordan Gelber, Robert Sean Leonard, Liz McCartney, Ruthie Ann Miles, Ashley Park, Jennifer Sanchez, David Turner, Max Chernin, MaryAnn Hu, Michael McElroy, Jaime Rosenstein, Laura Irion, Julie Foldesi, Andrew Kober
Rate: (from 1 to 10) / Photos by Matthew Murphy

Review: This critically acclaimed score by Stephen Sondheim isn’t among my favorite Sondheim’s work and I only began to appreciate it after seeing the DVD release of the Broadway cast with Mandy Patinkin and Bernadette Peters. Today, I love some of its songs, “Sunday” (that gives me goosebumps), “Putting It Together”, “Move On” and “Finishing the Hat”; I also enjoy “We Do Not Belong Together”, “Everybody Loves Louis”, “Beautiful”, “It’s Hot Up Here” and the title song.

We already have more than one cast recording of this score, but the star power of Jake Gyllenhaal was reason enough to release another one. Surprisingly, he more than delivers the goods and his George is, at least for me, the best I have ever heard. He may not have a very strong voice, but he sings the songs with heart and emotion, like if they were written specially for him. He is more than enough reason to buy this new recording, but there’s more.

At Gyllenhaal side, Annaleigh Ashford is a perfect Dot and make her songs her own. The rest of the cast is a perfect ensemble and the orchestrations by Michael Starobin never sounded better. Yes, you may call me a heretic, but I prefer this recording to the original Broadway cast. Like they say, it’s only a matter of opinion, but you should have this one on your Broadway library.


IN FULL SWING: A CD Review

Easy listening – 2017 / Music and lyrics by various
Singers: Seth MacFarlane, Norah Jones, Elizabeth Gillies
Rate: 10 (from 1 to 10) 

Review: Seth MacFarlane is back and once again he gives us a highly pleasant album of fabulous movie and show tunes. Who can ask for anything more.

This IN FULL SWING begins with one of my all-time favorite songs, “The First Time It Happens”, written by Joe Raposo for THE GREAT MUPPET CAPER. Later, MacFarlane delivers another of my favorites, “I Like Myself” written by André Previn and Betty Comden & Adolph Green for IT’S ALWAYS FAIR WEATHER. As you can see by this two songs, this standards album, with fabulous lively arrangements by Joel McNeely, doesn’t rely only on well-known songs.

It’s a pleasure to listen MacFarlane strong, sweet velvet voice singing classics like “Almost Like Being in Love”, “Isn’t This is a Lovely Day” or “Have You Met Miss Jones?”. But is even better when he delivers less known songs like “That Face”, “If I Had a Talking Picture of You” (a terrific duet with Norah Jones), “You Coulnd’t Be Cuter”, “You Can’t Love ‘Em All”, “A Kiss or Two” and “But Beautiful”. This exciting recording ends with a terrific duet between MacFarlane and Elizabeth Gillies, “My Buick, My Love and I” by Jack Brooks & Frank Skinner.

This is one of the best albums I listened to this year and I can only say one thing, don’t miss it.  You’re in for almost 50 minutes of pure joy and entertainment!

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

HOLIDAY INN: A CD Review

Original Broadway Cast – 2016 / Music and lyrics by Irving Berlin
Starring: Bryce Pinkham, Lora Lee Gayer, Corbin Bleu, Megan Lawrence, Megan Sikora,
Rate: 8 (from 1 to 10) / Photos by Joan Marcus

Review: If, like me, you love Broadway’s golden age, a “new” musical by Irving Berlin is always a reason to get excited. Based on the Fred Astaire & Bing Crosby 1942 movie that introduced the song “White Christmas” to the world, this score plays like a Berlin songbook and there’s nothing wrong with it.

Larry Blank is the responsible for the new and exciting orchestrations and Bryce Pinkham, Lora Lee Gayer (my favorite), Corbin Bleu, Megan Lawrence and Megan Sikora sung the songs like if they were written for them. Of course we all heard these songs before, but even so is always a pleasure to rediscover less known (at least for me) songs like “Marching Along with Time”, “Plenty to Be Thankful For”, “Nothing More to Say”, “Let’s Start the New Year Right”, “Be Careful, It’s My Heart”, “Song of Freedom” and “Let’s Say with Firecrackers”.

There’s also more than a couple of big Berlin hits like “Steppin' Out with My Baby”, “Blue Skies”, “Heat Wave”, “It’s a Lovely Day Today” (a song that I simply love), “Shaking the Blues Away” (the big production number), “You’re Easy to Dance With”, “Easter Parade” and, it couldn’t fail, “White Christmas”.

A reminder of simple days, when the musicals only pretend to entertain and people get out of the theatre humming the songs, with a smile in their heart and rhythm on their feet. In fact, no one seems to write songs like this anymore (exception for the guys who wrote YANK!). You know what? I believe “it’s a lovely day today” to listen to this nostalgic cast recording!


ANASTASIA: A CD Review

Original Broadway Cast – 2017 / Music by Stephen Flaherty and lyrics by Lynn Ahrens
Starring: Christy Altomare, John Bolton, Ramin Karimloo, Derek Klena, Caroline O'Connor, Mary Beth Peil, Lauren Blackman, Kyle Brown
Rate: 8 (from 1 to 10) / Photos by Matthew Murphy

Review: With the huge success of the Broadway adaptations of Disney’s animation musicals, it’s not a surprise that Fox’s 1997 musical ANASTASIA, with songs by Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens (RAGTIME), would arrive sooner or later to the stage. Specially because it appeals to the young girls’ audience that made WICKED a hit, plus it has touristic appeal. In fact, I don’t know why it took so long to get to a Broadway stage.

The movie score had a hit with “Journey to the Past” (a song in Alan Menken’s style), plus a few more songs, my favorite being “Paris Hold the Key (To Your Heart)”. Gone is the villain’s song “In the Dark of the Night”, plus the pop tune “At the Beginning”. In their place, there’s a dozen of new songs lively orchestrated by Doug Besterman.

In the title role, Christy Altomare reveals a sweet powerful voice, giving us strong renditions of “Journey to the Past” and the beautiful “Crossing a Bridge”. As the villain, Ramin Karimloo, who has a terrific voice, has is big moment with “Still”, but he deserved more interesting songs. Derek Klena, in the role of Dmitry, is a nice surprise shining with “My Petersburg”, “Everything to Win” and “In a Crowd of Thousands”, a romantic duet with Altomare. But my heart is with Caroline O’Connor’s Lily, who deliver my favorite songs of the score, “Land of Yesterday” and “The Countess and the Common Man”, here in an amusing duet with a great John Bolton. Bolton also sings, with the rest of the cast, another song that I love “We’ll Go from There” and leads the company with the already mentioned “Paris Hold the Key (To Your Heart)”.

This is an entertaining and melodious score, better than the movie soundtrack. Personally, I think it’s one of the best cast recordings of the year, but you know me, more heart than brains. Anyway, I think it really deserves to be part of any musical lover music library.


Monday, September 4, 2017

BROADWAY SEASON 2016-2017 – THE MUSICALS

On my blog BROADWAY: THE MUSICAL SEASONS I’ve just posted a page with images from all the musicals, new ones and revivals, which opened on Broadway during the 2016-2017 Season; plus the City Center Encores! series. Some became hits, others closed in a few weeks, but I believe all of them are worthy of celebration.

To visit the page click here.