Review - The Distance You Have Come (Cockpit Theatre)

Songwriter Scott Alan's creations are a cornerstone in many musical cabarets, and so it may come as a surprise that he has never written a musical. Until now. The Distance You Have Come is a song cycle of Alan's work, directed by Alan himself, which turns some of his best known songs into musical exultations for a sextet of strangers. 
 
Emma Hatton in The Distance You Have Come 
Photo credit - Darren Bell
Starring six talented vocalists, The Distance You Have Come is a musical patchwork which stitches together the lives of individuals as they tackle all the love, loss, joy and fear in their lives. 

What's immediately evident is that an immensely talented cast has been assembled for The Distance You Have Come. All six cast members are uniquely talented, and represent a different emotion, attitude and journey, which audiences will undoubtedly be able to relate to. 

Andy Coxon and Adrian Hansel are charismatic as Brian and Samuel, a pair whose sweet journey blossoms from an awkward first date into an all encompassing romance. Alexia Khadime is in excellent voice as Laura, whose journey is one of loneliness and heartbreak, meanwhile Emma Hatton's Maisey represents optimism and light as she follows her dreams of becoming an actress, Dean John-Wilson's Joe experiences bleak and overwhelming darkness after a break up, and Jodie Jacobs' Anna travels on the rollercoaster that is modern dating post split. 

Andy Coxon and Adrian Hansel in The Distance You Have Come
Photo credit - Darren Bell
The strength of the material in The Distance You Have Come lies in its relatability, and Alan's talents as a songwriter are on particularly impressive display during the musical's brighter, more upbeat numbers. Jodie Jacobs' take on the hilarious Your Name, in which Anna tries in vain to remember the name of a man she's just started seeing, is a particularly warm bright spot. 

However, in act one in particular, the stark depiction of the low moments in life bring the production to a bit of a standstill, as one slow melancholy number follows another and another without reprieve, or thematic variation. The songs are heartfelt and honest but frequently maurose and a little too similar to follow after each other in such quick succession. What little book there is also feels a little fumbling, and as a result the first act feels slightly overlong.

Dean John-Wilson and Jodie Jacobs in The Distance You Have Come
Photo credit - Darren Bell
Act two is a considerably lighter yet equally touching experience, which ultimately leaves the characters and the audience on a high. Minimal set and lighting design by Simon Daw and Andrew Ellis respectively helps to establish a feeling of quaint comforting familiarity which further emphasises the musical's relatable storylines, and as the six characters come together to sing a hopeful rendition of the title song euphoria most definitely swells. 

The Distance You Have Come is a functional showcase of Scott Alan's songwriting accomplishments, but could do with a more balanced and even plot which would allow characters to explore a wider range of emotions and life experiences on their own before crashing together for the finale.

Interview - Alexia Khadime (The Distance You Have Come)

The creativity in the rehearsal room is always bubbling over like crazy’

Alexia Khadime’s CV reads like a dream. Having made her West End debut in The Lion King, the London based actress has since starred in some of the biggest musicals in London, taking on the role of Eponine in Les Miserables, playing the third ever principle Elphaba in the West End production of Wicked, and breaking hearts as Nabulungi in the original London cast of The Book of Mormon. Add to that a number of high profile voice over jobs and TV and film work, and it’s easy to see why she is considered one of the West End’s most reliable leading ladies.  

‘When I was younger I did drama classes after school but I never thought of acting as a career’, Alexia Khadime divulges. ‘I studied English Literature, Psychology, and Maths, and I thought I would do something with Psychology.’ But, she explains, her affinity for performing led to a number of television appearances, and a tour which took her away from school and introduced her to the career which she would go on to pursue. ‘I’ve always kind of felt, as cheesy as it sounds, that my career picked me’.

Now, she is preparing to appear in award winning composer Scott Alan’s song cycle The Distance You Have Come, having been asked by him personally to be a part of the cast. ‘He sent me a message saying “I’m doing a show and I want you to be part of it” and of course I said yes!’ She gushes. The pair had worked together on concerts before and Khadime admits, ‘I think I spent most of my time crying during rehearsals because his lyrics are so honest and raw’. Delving further into this idea, she explains ‘it follows these six different people and how they juggle the challenges in life, and love. So, it taps into all of that and people can relate to it.’

The actress is excited too, by the prospect of being involved with a project from its very first iteration. ‘You're the first one doing it. So you’re very much a part of the process and part of the beginning stages of it. And because you are creating a character, a part of you is injected into it’.

The cast of The Distance You Have Come
Photo credit - Darren Bell
We discuss the idea of new musicals versus established classics in terms of attracting new audiences, and Khadime posits that canny musicals today are tapping into ‘The Now’ in order to remain relevant. Listing The Book of Mormon, Tina: The Tina Turner Musical, and Hamilton as just a few examples she explains that ‘for people who don't really go to see musicals and think that maybe theatre is not really their thing… it's opening up the gates for them to come and enjoy themselves’. Focusing on The Book of Mormon, she says ‘it's not your classic musical. It’s written by two guys who write South Park. You’re belly laughing the entire time!’
She also thinks that the music of Scott Alan in particular is attractive to new audience members due to its grounded and relatable content. ‘It's very honest. It's the honesty, the rawness that, I think, pulls people in. And that is very much the case in The Distance You Have Come’.

And of course, as the sentiment goes, nothing beats live theatre. For Khadime, that is a sentiment which resonates as both on stage and off. ‘You can press rewind on your TV and stuff like that, but to watch live theatre is amazing. Even the same show eight times a week is slightly different every time for the actors.’

The cast of The Distance You Have Come
Photo credit - Darren Bell 
I ask about what life is like when the actress is not on stage. After all, appearing in such physically and emotionally demanding shows eight times a week is undoubtedly exhausting. ‘Day to day I'm a home girl’ she laughs, revealing that although she enjoys going out occasionally, balance is vital.

For young and upcoming performers Khadime also stresses that it’s important to always be practicing and improving. ‘Your Denzel Washingtons, your Meryl Streeps, your Viola Davises, they are still constantly sharpening their tools, and that's really important.’ But she also warns against pushing too much. ‘Eight shows a week is not easy! You need to make sure that you're rested so you can be alert and good to go. I might go to the gym or see if I can get to a singing class, but rest is also very important. So don't burn the candle at both ends because it will catch up with you!’

Review - Company (Gielgud Theatre)

What do you want to get married for?

That is the question splayed across posters for Marianne Elliott's updated new production of George Furth and Stephen Sondheim's Company. 

It's also the question that plenty of single women will hear again and again, with every birthday that passes, from the lips of curious, concerned, and sometimes just plain busybodying family and friends. Which is what makes Elliott's production so apt. As Bobby, the male protagonist of the original Company, becomes Bobbie, a woman, the idea of being 35 and single carries plenty of other connotations. "Bobbie baby" indeed. 

The cast of Company
Photo credit - Brinkhoff Moegenburg
Set in modern day New York, Company consists of a series of vignettes, each of which explore the various relationships, both friendly and romantic, of single woman Bobbie. As she passes in and out of the lives of her married friends, she observes the trappings of marriage, but in spite of them, as she celebrates her 35th birthday she slowly begins to warm to the idea of commitment. 

Bunny Christie's set design is a marvel in itself. Perfectly reflecting the cold, sterile isolation of city life, Christie's set is comprised of a series on boxy interconnected rooms framed oftentimes by cool neon lights. Bobbie's apartment is a too-perfect collection of rectangular spaces, hinting at expense but looking severely un-lived in. 

At the centre of this cold, enclosed world is Rosalie Craig's vibrant Bobbie. Dressed from head to toe in ravenous red, she's certainly something to behold as she bounces from friend to friend. And yet amid the marital mayhem of Bobbie's friends, she rather sinks into the background. Outnumbered two to one by her overbearing couple friends, all snapping at one another whilst Bobbie kicks desperately to keep her head above the water.  One gets the sense that she is not ready, or particularly eager, to settle down, but absolutely terrified of getting left behind as all of her acquaintances' lives keep moving forwards. In today's era of FOMO, where every little detail of everyone's life is routinely scrutinised, this is a theme which seemed overwhelmingly relevant. 

Rosalie Craig, Alex Gaumond and Jonathan Bailey in Company
Photo credit - Brinkhoff Moegenburg
Bobbie's friends are certainly an entertaining bunch. Amongst the couples are Sarah and Harry, a chocoholic martial artist and a bumbling alcoholic, who seem to be playing a never ending game of tug of war with each other and are portrayed perfectly by Mel Giedroyc and Gavin Spokes. Jonathan Bailey and Alex Gaumond are equally entertaining as sweet but neurotic Jamie and smotheringly doting Paul. Meanwhile Ben Lewis' Larry is coupled with Patti LuPone's caustic Joanne.

The dynamic between Joanne and Bobbie is a fascinating one because is many ways they're very similar women; rich, and driven and who know their own minds. But even though Joanne is married (to her third husband, no less) and keen to see Bobbie do the same, her searing rendition of Ladies Who Lunch both warns against any unwillingness to fulfil the roles expected of women within society, and spits on the emptiness of that life. Joanne seems to suggest that although the idea of never getting married is unthinkable, should Bobbie get married she would inevitably become another lady who lunches, flaunting money at fancy social events, and doing not much else day to day. Despite the fact that, as Bobbie's stay-at-home-dad pal David shows, typical gender roles are less strictly upheld in 2018. It's a tragic realisation for the audience that brash and brassy Joanne is not nearly as blasé as she seems. Although the tragedy is worth it to hear LuPone's earth shattering vocals tackle what is arguably the musical's eleven o'clock number. 

Patti LuPone in Company
Photo credit - Brinkhoff Moegenburg
Thankfully, Company isn't all existential dread though. There are some real belly laugh moments in this musical comedy too, which are masterfully brought to life by an outstanding cast. Jonathan Bailey's rendition of Not Getting Married Today is a frantic plea for help performed at breakneck speed as a nerve wracked Jamie tries to garble his way out of marrying devoted longtime boyfriend Paul, whilst being pursued around his home by a priest who pops out of nowhere to exult about wedded bliss at every chance she gets. And You Could Drive A Person Crazy uses similarly surreal humour. Canonically performed Anderson Sisters style by Bobby's three flames Marta, April, and Kathy, in Elliott's reimagined staging Bobbie's boyfriends PJ, Theo, and Andy take on the number, smooth barbershop-esque vocals clashing nicely with the hyper modern setting and further emphasising how outdated the musical's emphasis on marriage seems. George Blagden, Matthew Seadon-Young and Richard Fleeshman are very entertaining in their roles, with Fleeshman's dopey yet lovable flight attendant Andy providing some of the musical's biggest laughs. 

This version of Company is the definitive version for 2018. Ingeniously directed and performed with humour and nuance, it makes the argument both for marriage and against it, and leaves the audience to imagine what is best for Bobbie, and by extension, what is best for themselves. 

Review - Camelot (London Palladium)

As the West End welcomes an increasing number of jukebox musicals and transfers from Broadway alongside the seemingly immortal mega musicals, many musical theatre fans are calling out for new writing. However, it can be easy to forget that there is a wealth of older, rarely performed musicals, crying out for revival. Lucky London Musical Theatre Orchestra, one of the most exciting forces in musical theatre right now, frequently gives a platform to lesser performed musicals, the most recent of which being Lerner and Loewe’s 1960 musical Camelot, which returned for one night only at the London Palladium, having not been seen on the West End for 30 years!

David Thaxton in Camelot
 Photo credit - Lidia Crisafulli
Starring a five star cast, fronted by David Thaxton as King Arthur, Savannah Stevenson as Guenevere and Charles Rice as Lancelot, LMTO’s Camelot was an outstanding showcase of the often witty and ultimately rousing songs of Lerner and Loewe. The London Musical Theatre Orchestra itself, conducted by founder Freddie Tapner, played the score magnificently as always. Equal parts quaint and bombastic, it was full of Olde English charm.

The concert was a real treat from beginning to end, and was an excellent showcase of the virtuosity of both the orchestra and the singers, who were utterly flawless in their delivery of Lerner and Loewe’s medieval hit. David Thaxton was a commanding presence as Arthur, but also brought a lot of humour to the role. Even whilst performing in a concert setting Thaxton convicted entirely as the brave and all too trusting monarch, and one can only imagine how fabulous he’d be in a fully staged version of the musical. Celinde Schoenmaker was another standout performer, playing the witch Nimue. Although she had very little stage time, she made a huge impression, her glittering soprano adding some ethereal magic to the proceedings.

The cast of Camelot
 Photo credit - Lidia Crisafulli
 Despite several alterations to the script having been made in order to remove some of the more outdated content which may have jarred by today’s standards, the book still felt a bit too archaic at times, and there was a distinct lack of roles for female performers, although Savannah Stevenson gave a very believable performance as Guenevere. The story also felt generally uneven, with the first half ambling along leisurely for the most part, before the second half quickly spiralled into chaos. That being said, the musical balanced humour and drama cleverly, and was verily enjoyable despite its flaws.

London Musical Theatre Orchestra’s Camelot in concert was a musical theatre lover’s dream. Be sure to keep an eye out for their upcoming production, which are guaranteed to provide a fantastic few hours of lush playing and thrilling performances.

Review - Once the Musical (Queen's Theatre, Hornchurch)

No one could have predicted the gigantic success of Once. The folksy musical, which began life as a 2007 indie film, is a simple story about a man and a woman, their joint love of music and their complicated relationships with the loved ones in their lives. There are no jaw dropping dance routines, no show stopping eleven o'clock numbers, no tricksy stage magic. And yet Once packs one hell of a punch.

Emma Lucia and Daniel Healy in Once
Photo credit -  Mike Kwasniak
More that three years after the musical closed on the West End, Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch and the New Wolsey Ipswich present the Tony Award winning musical's UK regional premiere, directed by Peter Rowe. Rowe's direction draws out the tender and natural character growth in playwright Enda Walsh's book and gives the whole musical a sense of uncanny naturalism.

The protagonist of Once is the enigmatically monikered 'Guy', a busker and hoover repair man pining for an ex who ran away to New York. He meets the frank and infectiously positive 'Girl', a Czech woman who just so happens to have a hoover in need of repair, and the two tentatively bond over the importance of music in their lives. In any other musical, the pair would embark on an epic love story central to the plot, and whilst Once doesn't shy away from the natural chemistry and budding romance of the two, from the moment they meet it is clear that they are destined follow a much less conventional path. 

The cast of Once
Photo credit -  Mike Kwasniak
The result is an astonishingly touching and overwhelmingly human portrait of love and heartbreak, with a hopeful yet fittingly ambiguous finale, which leaves audiences on a cautious high. The unforgettable music, by Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová, encapsulates every emotion, teasing out pain and despair in every song, alongside the contrasting feeling of soaring joy and possibility. The swelling, longing Falling Slowly is, of course, a standout number in a sea of goosebump inducing songs. Additionally the entire musical is underscored extremely evocatively, allowing the production to maintain its magical atmosphere throughout. The cast of actor musicians directed by MD Ben Goddard must certainly be commended for their spirited playing.

Perhaps most vital to the success of Once is the effectiveness of the performances given the two main character, and Daniel Healy and Emma Lucia are completely charming as 'Guy' and 'Girl', the heart and lungs of the piece. Of course the music of Once drives the action a lot of the time, but the silent moments matter too, and the quiet intensity of both actors' performances is utterly captivating. 

Emma Lucia and Daniel Healy in Once
Photo credit -  Mike Kwasniak
Having understudied the role in the West End production, it's not surprising that Healy masters the complex nature of his character, a man who seems utterly crushed, who is just going through the motions until he learns how to fall in love with life again. His voice perfectly suits the show's music; balmy yet with a distinctive edge, and he shines in his introductory number Leave, and makes an even bigger impression in Gold, the first act's closing number, which is unashamedly syrupy and poetic, and a complete tearjerker. 

Lucia is similarly magnetic, playing 'Girl' with a combination of extreme earnestness and unquashable zeal. Her rendition of the song If You Want Me is almost otherworldly, combining outstanding vocals with mesmerising movement by director Peter Rowe. The character is an extremely layered one, and Lucia gives an increasingly touching performance as the layers are slowly peeled back.

Once is a musical which feels really special, and this new production directed by Peter Rowe is truly golden.

Q&A - Savannah Stevenson (London Musical Theatre Orchestra's Camelot)

Having recently impressed audiences with their concert productions of musicals such as Martin Smith’s King in Concert and Jason Robert Brown’s Honeymoon in Vegas, London Musical Theatre Orchestra will perform Lerner and Loewe’s Camelot in a one-off concert at the world famous London Palladium.

Ahead of the concert I spoke to musical theatre star Savannah Stevenson, who will play Guenevere, about her love of musical theatre, her stance on revivals verses new work, and how she caught the performing bug.


How did you discover your love of musical theatre and decide that you wanted to pursue it as a career?
I grew up watching movie musicals, listening to old soundtracks in the car with my parents. I started to take dancing lessons at a young age and just caught the performing bug really. I knew at quite a young age that I wanted to pursue it as a career, in my teens really. I had great teachers who encouraged me and that led the way to auditioning for drama school.

Were you a fan of Camelot before being cast?
I knew the album. I knew the Julie Andrews connection to it. So I had a good idea of the score and the gorgeous melodies, but largely the book is completely new to me.

How does the role of Guenevere compare to other roles you have played in the past?
Guenevere is a beautifully flawed character. She’s fun and vivacious but is plagued by the love she has for Lancelot and Arthur as her husband. We’ve been very careful in this production to give her a more modern and relevant place in the show. She has to be strong and we’ve had permission from the estate to shape some of her material to bring out that strength and a broader journey for her.

How do you adapt your performance when singing in a concert as opposed to performing in a fully staged musical?
I don’t adapt much. You still want to bring the same preparation, the same intention. The difference is you don’t have much staging in which to convey that. It’s all in the script and score and you have to trust the text that everything the audience needs is there.

The London Musical Theatre Orchestra often performs concert versions of lesser known and infrequently staged musicals. Are there any other musicals which you think could benefit from being rediscovered?
I think there is room and need to both rediscover classics and support new writing. The LMTO does both so beautifully and I love that. The Music Man isn’t often done over here. Perhaps that?

It seems that people often used to discover musical theatre through classic movie musicals and the mega musicals of the 80s, but increasingly new musicals are achieving popularity and mainstream appeal at a much faster rate. Do you think there is still room for revivals of older musicals in this sort of environment?
Of course. New work emerges on the shoulders of classics. It’s all about building and then creating something new. There is room for all and I don’t think we should neglect older musicals. Many still have much relevance and beautiful melodies. I don’t think audiences should have to choose. Both are important.

Savannah Stevenson will star as Guenevere in London Musical Theatre Orchestra’s concert version of Lerner and Loewe’s Tony award-winning Camelot at The London Palladium from 7.30pm on Saturday 6th October. For tickets go to: www.lmto.org/whats-on/camelot

Review - Aladdin the Musical (Prince Edward Theatre)

Aladdin, the Disney film, has held a special place in the VHS collections of both the young and the young at heart since its release in 1992, and for that reason when a stage adaptation of the soaring, tumbling, freewheeling hit was announced, to premiere off-Broadway in 2011, expectations were sky high. Especially as Disney Theatrical Group's previous Broadway offerings had been a bit of a mixed bag (The Lion King is currently the 3rd longest running Broadway show of all time, whilst Tarzan ran for just over a year, a respectable run in its own right, but a rather short lived success comparatively). Thankfully, 7 years and multiple international productions later, Aladdin the Musical has proven itself to be a real diamond in the rough. 

Matthew Croke and Jade Ewen in Aladdin the Musical
Photo credit - Deen van Meer
The task of transforming a 90 minute animated film into a full length stage musical must have been a daunting one. After all, Disney pizazz aside, the story of Aladdin is fairly simple; in a fictional land named Agrabah a boy finds a magic lamp and the genie inside it grants him 3 wishes. However, book writer Chad Beguelin has expanded the story in several directions, notably giving the audience a better glimpse into the world of Princess Jasmine, the free spirited heir to the throne of Agrabah who falls in love with Aladdin when she ventures outside her palace walls for the first time. The sidekick role that Aladdin's pet monkey Abu filled in the film is picked up by his three new friends Babkak, Omar and Kassim, who are perhaps the most entertaining of the musical's new additions. They offer plenty of comedic hijinks and also perform one of the musical's catchiest new songs, High Adventure, as they rescue Aladdin from the clutches of the evil grand vizier Jafar. 

As with the original film, much of Aladdin the Musical's success relies on the titular character, a charmingly scrappy everyman. The West End production is in safe hands with the brilliant Antony Hewitt who plays the role at some performances and perfectly embodies the beloved Disney Prince. Smartly, Proud of Your Boy, a ballad written by Howard Ashman before his death, is reinstated having been excluded from the original film. The song helps to give Aladdin a reason to strive for success and love, and is performed beautifully by Hewitt.

Jade Ewen and the cast of Aladdin the Musical
Photo credit - Deen van Meer
Unfortunately, whilst many characters receive an upgrade to their characterisation, antagonist Jafar is relegated to panto baddie status at times, complete with front cloth scheming and an evil-laugh-off with his sidekick Iago. Admittedly the Jafar of the film is rather terrifying by Disney villain standards, but his stage adaptation is written a little bit too tamely and subsequently the story's climactic ending feels a little rushed and inconsequential, despite a rich performance by Fred Johanson.

Conversely, the scene stealing genie, inspired by Robin William's iconic performance, elevates the already colourful and fast paced production to new heights, and Michael James Scott commands the spotlight expertly as excitable wish-granter. The musical features loads of grand spectacles, but few come close to matching the awesome magic of Never Had a Friend Like Me. The musical number features gleeful tap dancing (choreography by Casey Nicholaw is terrific throughout), mind boggling illusions, and all the vibrancy you'd expect from one of the most well-loved Disney songs of all time. The moment shines especially bright because it is so different from the sequence seen in the film, whilst maintaining its essence. Aladdin the Musical does adapts some of the film's moments so faithfully that they seem a little flat in comparison, but the new material and reinvented versions of the films most familiar scenes and songs ensure an overall sense of freshness and excitement. 

The cast of Aladdin the Musical
Photo credit - Deen van Meer
Another showstopping moment comes in the form of the magic carpet, the handiwork of master illusionist Jim Steinmeyer. As it flies through the air, seemingly unaided, introducing Aladdin and Princess Jasmine to A Whole New World, the audience stares wide-eyed at the scene, transfixed by the gorgeous scene unfolding on stage, but also undoubtedly trying to spot a wire, or support beam, which might explain the fantastical textile's levitation. However the spell is managed, it is undoubtedly one that will live in audiences' memories long after the curtain falls.

For young children, Aladdin the Musical will be a great introduction to the West End, and for those yearning to relive their childhood for a few hours, it will feed the nostalgia bug. It may not have shed the identity of its source material the way other Disney film stage adaptations have, but it's hard to imagine how anyone could resist the charm of this magic carpet ride!

I was invited to review Aladdin thanks to London Box Office