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 Despite several alterations to the script having been made in order to remove some of the more outdated content which may have jarred by today’s standards, the book still felt a bit too archaic at times, and there was a distinct lack of roles for female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 

Q&A - Quentin Dentin (The Quentin Dentin Show)

I spoke to Quentin Dentin, the intergalactic star of The Quentin Dentin Show, who has made a cast album to immortalise his game-show musical.
 
 
Can you describe The Quentin Dentin Show for those who haven’t seen it?
I certainly can. The Quentin Dentin Show is a game-show musical, an interactive self-improvement seminar hosted by me, Quentin Dentin, in which human contestants from the audience compete to have all their dreams come true. The grand prize is a one-way ticket to total happiness for everybody in the building, and everlasting stardom for me.

If that all sounds too complicated, just think of it like going to see your doctor - except unlike your doctor, I can sing, dance and prescribe you medication that really works.

What was it like to record an album and immortalise the show?
It was a hoot. I spent six highly enjoyable months in the studio with producer Paul Garred - taught him quite a bit about music, actually. Working with him, and the cast and band of the 2017 production, I was able to immortalise the show with ease. Immortalising things comes naturally to me, since I'm immortal myself.

Do you have a favourite song or moment on the album?
My favourite song is the title track, The Quentin Dentin Show. It's so exciting and punchy, with a dark, catchy tune and great lyrics. It's got a terrific pace to it, and a deft arrangement full of mysterious synths, harsh guitars and sudden stops. My voice is on point too. I liked it so much I made a music video for it.

You’ve said that the album will tell listeners the meaning of life. Obviously they’ll have to listen to find out what that is, but could you give us a little hint?
Life is like a big jigsaw, and people are like little cardboard jigsaw pieces. It's important to fit in, and be part of the big cardboard picture. Ask yourself, what kind of jigsaw piece am I? Do I fit in? If you don't, perhaps you need to change your shape. Perhaps you need someone to come along and change it for you, with a big pair of scissors.

You’ve been described in reviews as ‘the future of musical theatre’. What does that future look like to you?
I think the future is brightest for musicals that can bridge the gap between theatre and live band gig - i.e., musicals that can have about them a sense of social relevance, of crossover appeal, of cool, and that can make themselves essential to be seen live, in an age when almost everything is available online.

Most important is originality, and having something new to say. So many new shows come and go every year. Why do they vanish? Because they were created to fill a spot in a schedule, to iterate on an existing idea or style, or, worst of all, they don't star me! There would be a lot fewer of those, in my future.

Are there any plans for your show to return soon?
There most certainly are. I can't tell you too much yet, but this year I've been pushing my ghost writers harder than ever and they've come up with an entirely new treatment for the show. Twice as many songs, more story, more plot, more costume changes... I have a feeling that it could be a big ticket. But who knows? You'll have to wait and see.

Do you have any closing comments?
Of course. *clears throat* Pre-order your copy of The Quentin Dentin Show album on iTunes now. Ah... it's so nice to have the last word!
 

Review - Heathers The Musical (Theatre Royal Haymarket)

Fresh from its sold out run at The Other Palace, Heathers The Musical has exploded onto the West End with all the wild energy of a rock concert and all the irrelevance of its 1988 film counterpart.
 
Carrie Hope Fletcher and the cast of Heathers The Musical
Photo credit - Pamela Raith Photography
Set in the town of Sherwood, Ohio, Heathers The Musical follows seventeen year old nobody Veronica Sawyer as she is taken under the wing of The Heathers, Westerburg High's vicious mean girls. When Heather Chandler, the "mythic bitch" of The Heathers, is accidentally poisoned to death, Veronica must learn to balance the good and bad of her newfound popularity, and rebuke the homicidal urges of her trench coat wearing boyfriend JD, as she tries to survive the hellish hierarchy of high school. 

Rarely does a musical arrive on the West End with a fan base as fervent as that of Heathers The Musical, but the fact is that Kevin Murphy and Laurence O’Keefe's wicked black comedy taps into so many fears held by those who struggle to belong in a world which presents perfection as normality and rejects those who don't conform.
 
T'Shan Williams, Jodie Steele, and Sophie Isaacs in Heathers The Musical
Photo credit - Pamela Raith Photography
The musical's aggressively catchy score has all the pep and punch of O'Keefe's previous hit musical Legally Blonde, whilst rockier numbers like Candy Store, a domineering showcase of The Heathers' power and influence, and balls to the wall Dead Girl Walking, Veronica's acceptance of her destruction at the hands of Heather Chandler and co., help to give the musical a gritty and gutsy oomph.

Veronica, played with plenty of broad humour and contrasting pathos by Carrie Hope Fletcher, is extremely relatable, and loveable in spite of her many bad decisions. Veronica is just doing what she can to survive the Thunderdome that is high school, and that need to be liked and accepted it one which will resonate with many in the audience.
 
The cast of Heathers The Musical
Photo credit - Pamela Raith Photography
Fletcher, who must have vocal chords of steel to sing the role of Veronica night after night, performs alongside a buzzing cast. In particular, Sophie Isaacs is endearing as the ditzy cheerleader Heather Mcnamara, who hides her troubles underneath a cutesy smile, and Jamie Muscato gives a charming yet disturbing performance as JD, a sort of maniacal Robin Hood who wants to murder the popular kids and raise up those on the fringes of high school society. He gets terrifically creepy as the plot progresses and his plans spiral out of control.

With all the dark humour and pounding musical numbers, it’s easy to almost forget how horrific some of the plot points in Heathers The Musical actually are. There’s murder, suicide, and verbal and physical assault in spades. In one particularly harrowing moment a teenage boy watches his best friend be shot to death by a classmate, attempts to flee, and is subsequently murdered too. The moment is played for laughs but the chilling reality of the scene does seep through.

Heathers The Musical is a dark, cynical, yet strangely uplifting musical, which speaks to all the fears which young people feel today. From beginning to end, every moment is bursting with vivacity. Simply put, it’s a barnstorming success!

Review - Love, Labour and Loss... Shakespeare in Song (Above The Arts)

It's a well known fact that William Shakespeare's writing has been inspiring novelists, poets and songwriters for hundreds of years. Famously, musicals such as West Side Story and Kiss Me Kate repurpose Shakespeare's plays into musical form, whilst many composers have adapted the bard of Stratford-upon-Avon's plays into operas too. 

In their latest concert, Serenade London sought to combine a number different songs inspired by Shakespeare's writing into one big musical celebration. Under the musical direction of Jordan Clarke, four performers acted as the concert's love struck vocalists, weaving their way through the ups and downs of life; through love, labour and loss. Meanwhile, Shakespeare himself appeared regularly to link each song together.  

Luke Lane's lascivious William Shakespeare was a highlight, who entertained the audience with Shakespearian monologues as he observed the lovers, hoping to find inspiration for his next creation. The storyline linking each song together seemed a little underused at times but for the most part it serviced the concert well enough, and Lane did an excellent job of bringing the text to life. He also showcased his vocals and comedic abilities at the beginning of act 2, performing Hard To Be The Bard from Something Rotten, a more recent addition to the ever growing group of musicals inspired by Shakespeare.

The always gorgeous songs of Bernstein's West Side Story marked a few of the concert's highest points. Lawrence Smith and Charlie-Jade Jones' touching and low-key rendition of Tonight was utterly sumptuous, as was Smith's take on Maria, performed with a warmth and youthful bounciness which utterly charmed. 

Charlotte Vaughan was also endlessly entertaining throughout, effortlessly tackling the vocal gymnastics of Je Veux Vivre, a joyful aria from Gounod’s opera Roméo et Juliette. Meanwhile Ifan Gwilym-Jones' found the ideal balance of humour and yearning in his rendition of Where Is The Life That Late I Led from Kiss Me Kate

Celebrating Shakespeare and the multitude of creative works he inspired, Love, Labour and Loss was a thoroughly entertaining evening, filled with a selection of lesser known songs alongside many glorious crowd pleasing classics.