Album Review - Memphis the Musical (Original London Cast)

I've been eagerly awaiting the Memphis OLC cast album for months now. Looking longingly at the February 9th tile on my calendar, waiting for the release date. So you can imagine my surprise when I logged on to twitter this morning and saw people tweeting about how it was available to listen to now! Of course I headed straight to Spotify and amazingly, I saw that it had indeed been released early!

Naturally, I've had it on repeat ever since, and though I did originally plan to review the album on its own, while listening I noticed a couple of very interesting differences between the OLC and OBC, so below is a track by track comparison of the two (focusing of course on the newer release!)

Track 1
The first noticeable thing about this song on the OLCR is the addition of Simon Ray-Harvey's DJ intro. Backing vocals are much richer and more pronounced than those heard on the OBCR. As Delray, Rolan Bell gives a standout performance, and I am loving his vocal embellishments, especially in the last third of the song. His voice has a really different sound than that of J Bernard Calloway (Delray on the OBCR). While the on OBCR this song sounds wholly fun and celebratory, here Bell's voice has a more regretful, contemplative, aware tone.

Track 2
The Music of My Soul
Donnelly's voice sounds much younger than that of the OBC Huey (Chad Kimball). I did notice that sometimes words are not enunciated as much as I would have liked but I guess it adds to the overall effect. The lack of vocal embellishments is also noticeable, given how prominent they are in the live performance, but there are an abundance of growls! The he most noticable difference however is that there is NO FELICIA! It's such a shame given that The Music of My Soul is such a poignant moment in the show, because it's where they bond as characters! Therefore I think that leaving Felicia out of this song is an unusual choice to say the least! Especially given that on the OBCR Montego Glover and Chad Kimball's voices blend together so well, making the song a highlight.

Track 3
Scratch My Itch
Waylon Jacobs gives a lovely vocal performance! This song often suffers during the show as it is so enthusiastic and accompanies such complicated choreography, so it's nice to be able to hear the performance here.

Track 4
Ain't Nothin' but a Kiss
Beverley really attacks the vocals in this song. She's a real star and this shows through the charisma that she gives Felicia. There's also a lovely piano solo, but backing is understated in this song. Sadly, much as I wish Huey's vocals would be included in the Broadway album, I feel much the same here!

Track 5
That's not Possible
This song doesn't exist on the OBCR, so it's nice to hear it here. It would have also been nice to have 'Hello, my name is Huey' recorded but beggars can't be choosers I suppose. I LOVE the fact that the lines at the beginning are included at for a casual listener it puts the song in context. Such lovely vocals from everyone and I like that ensemble members have a chance to shine here too! This is such a hilarious moment for Jason Pennycooke's Bobby in the show, and it's captured well here.

Track 6
Everybody Wants to be Black on a Saturday Night
This is a fun song to listen too, and there are tight, clean vocals.

Track 7
Make Me Stronger
I always thought this song was unusual on the OBCR because of the way the tempo is constantly changing around as the different characters sing. It feels like a compilation of several songs, which works well on stage but I feel is less effective on the cast album. Nevertheless this is a fun listen. The ensemble is very strong and Claire Machin gives a good performance as Gladys, but overall I prefer Cass Morgan's vocals. Beverley Knight shines towards the end.

Track 8
Coloured Woman
A favourite song of mine on the OBCR due to Montego glover's haunting vocals. Beverley Knight gives an equally memorable performance in this song, which comes at a pivotal moment in the show. Music-wise, the backing is nice until the drama increases, then it feels slightly lacking. The lines 'Mama told me not to dream big/but mama lived her life running scared', are so emotional and in the show the music really swells, but on the OLCR this is not the case. I still get the chills though as it's SUCH an amazing moment. I did notice that the tempo feels a bit slow? Perhaps this is partly down to the understated backing.

Track 9
I love how prominent the backing vocals are here. This is another really fun moment in the show. On the OBCR Montego Glover's voice is more playful and bubbly whereas Beverley Knight's Felicia is much more strict and less keen on Huey to begin with. She takes herself a lot more seriously and acts a lot older.

Track 10
She's my sister
Although this is sometimes referenced being a cheesy moment, I think it really tells audiences a lot about the characters of Delray and Huey and how different their lives are. I think this song definitely makes the antagonistic Delray much more likable. I adore the younger sound of Rolan Bell's voice, even though J Bernard Calloway's voice is more commanding.

Track 11
Killian Donnely's voice is also much younger sounding than it's OBCR counterpart. Noticeably, Donnelly's southern accent is not as pronounced here as it is when heard live.
I must say that I literally laughed out loud at the gratuitous 'Hockadoo'! I know it's his catchphrase so it makes sense to put it in the recording but... wow! Donnelly's Huey seems less out of control here than in the show. Chad's Huey sound's out of control from the get go!

Track 12
Say a prayer
So much happens between Radio and Say a Prayer that the contrast feels really jarring. This is brilliant, as the moment in the live show is a real sucker punch too.Tyrone Huntley gives a standout performance as Gator and sounds flawless in this song, so fresh and emotive. It's so emotional and the ensemble sounds amazing.

Track 13
Crazy Little Huey
I love the interaction between Huey and ensemble here. The song is again quite jarring coming just after Say a Prayer, but this makes it sound more in keeping with the show. Although I appreciate them elsewhere, the spoken parts seem unnecessary.

Track 14
Big Love
This is the first we really get to hear of Jason Pennycooke, playing the fan favourite character Bobby. His vocal performance is very different to James Munroe Iglehart, but both have wonderful emotive voices. I love the way the vocals build as the music does.

Track 15

Love will Stand
This super emotional song really complements Beverley Knight's lovely vocals. At this moment in the show, the cracks in Huey and Felicia's relationship are starting to show, so I love/hate Love Will Stand's irony. Female ensemble is so strong they sound angelic. I feel like this is a more raw version than the one on the OBCR.

Track 16
Stand up
This song makes me smile. Vocals blend better on the OLCR than on the OBCR (I've always thought that the line 'live the life that we deserve' sounds a bit odd anyway, but the cast makes it work). I like that this song showcases most of the main cast together. Of course Knight gives a brilliant performance in her solo.

Track 17
Change Don't Come Easy
In my personal opinion, this is the weakest song on the recording. Machin's vocals are definitely unique and the OBCR and OLCR versions do sound very different as a result, which is nice. I don't listen to this song much anyway and I don't think this is going to change that fact. (I do love Delray's 'prettify' though!)

Track 18
Tear Down The House
Honestly, I was distracted on the first listen by the prospect of Memphis Lives in Me coming next! On a second listen, I love how playful Donnelly's vocals are in this song! It gives you a really clear picture of his physical performance. There isn't really much to set this apart from the OBCR though.

Track 19
Memphis Lives in Me
From the moment he opens his mouth Donnelly nails this song. It's so heartbreaking you can't help but be moved to tears. The backing was perfect. The ensemble sound absolutely flawless. The iconic vocalisations in the middle section are stunning and the showstopping ending is absolutely breathtaking. Chad Kimball is the definitive Huey but Killian Donnelly really makes the song his own.

Track 20
Steal Your Rock and Roll
Again, the backing lacks the drama that the OBCR has. Vocals wise, it's lovely and the ensemble is really strong. (the 'na na na' bits are strange. There is a focus of 'NAA' rather that 'NAHH' which it strange. Not good or bad, just different.) Harmonies at the are are amazing.

Track 21
Memphis Lives in Me - David Bryan
This is exactly the same track found on the OBCR, so nothing new there.

And that's the last track!

I was hoping that Jon Robyns and Rachel John (The Huey and Felicia alternates) would get a solo on the cast album too (I mean, this isn't normally done, but I can dream right?) but sadly this is not the case. Such a shame, i'll just have to go and see them perform live!

Overall, I am blown away by the vocal performances given by every single member of the cast! I am so excited that this album was released early as I've been looking forward to it for months and months. In comparison, while both the OBCR and OLCR albums have their merits, I do still prefer the OBCR. For the foreseeable future though I will be listening to this album nonstop, and I would definitely recommend this!

Twitter: @OddJazzShoes
Bloglovin: Talkstageytome

Review - Jersey Boys (UK Tour)

So normally I don't see Jukebox Musicals. They just don't appeal to me. But when I heard that the Jersey Boys tour was going to be coming to the Marlowe Theatre, the nearest theatre to me, my interest was piqued. Although it only opened on the West End in 2008 (I say only, but it's still running now and that's one heck of a feat!), it feels to me like it's been running forever, and for ages I'd been curious. What was the magic formula that was making this dramatisation of the formation, career and decline of The Four Seasons so successful?
Well, as it turns out, the popularity comes from the fact that the songs are so familiar, so fun, and so easy to sing/clap along with. Even if you don't think you know any of The Four Seasons' music, I guarantee you, you do! In fact, perhaps the most memorable parts of the musical were set to the most popular songs. Beggin', Sherrie and Big Girls Don't Cry were all highlights that got the audience really excited, meanwhile songs that highlighted Valli's (alternate Frankie Valli Matt Corner's) incredible vocals, such as My Eyes Adored You and Can't Take My Eyes Off You were truly amazing. But for me, I think the most entertaining song of the show was December 1963 (oh what a night), sung by Bob Gaudio (Sam Ferriday).  The song itself will have you tapping your toes in seconds, the scene will make you smile and the amazing Sam Ferriday gave a lovely vocal performance. Not to mention the fact that his charisma was off the chart, and his beaming smile lit up even the very back of the upper circle where I was sat!

In fact, cast wise, the show was blessed with a group of hugely talented actors! Lewis Griffith was hilarious as Nick Massi, while Stephen Webb as Tommy DeVito stole every scene he was in! He had charm and was one hundred percent at home on the stage. The rest of the cast was hugely talented too, often playing a multitude of different characters, singing and dancing nonstop and delivering wildly energetic performances throughout! The musicians in the company also deserve praise, as their playing kept the audience on their feet long after the lights went up at the end of the show!

Unfortunately though, although I enjoyed the show without a doubt, I do feel like something was missing. Although there were some amazing moments, as a whole the show didn't blow me away. Most songs were just snippets, or felt like them, and the story felt long winded. I liked the fact that you felt like a fly on the wall in the lives of the singers, and I absolutely loved the fact that the story was split into four sections (spring, summer, fall and winter) and each section was narrated by a different member of the band, but I never felt like I truly saw their rise to fame. There was no big 'wow' moment that signified the scope of the fame that The Four Seasons experienced. I just felt a little bit disconnected.

That being said though, as a whole I thoroughly enjoyed my night seeing Jersey Boys, and I was humming 'Big Girls Don't Cry' all the way home. If you're a The Four Seasons fan, or a fan of 60s music in general, then this is definitely the show for you. If you're not I would still recommend it, but for me, while it was enjoyable and I'm glad I saw it, Jersey Boys didn't take me on the emotional journey I had expected it too.

Verdict - 3 Stars

Review - Peter Pan Goes Wrong (UK Tour)

So I've been back at uni for less than a week, and already I've had the privilege of seeing two fantastic shows, Peter Pan Goes Wrong, and Jersey Boys, the latter I will review later. But firstly I have to talk about Mischief Theatre's hilarious Peter Pan Goes Wrong, one of the funniest shows I have ever seen.
A review from the show's website says 'The inept and accident prone Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society set out to present J.M. Barrie’s classic tale of Peter Pan. Two acts of hysterical disaster ensue.'

Well, 'hysterical disaster' DID ensue at the Marlowe Theatre on Saturday 17th January. The jokes just kept coming, the slapstick was hilarious, and while the first act contained mostly typical, perhaps a little bit predictable jokes, in the second act, those same jokes were revisited with a hilarious result.

However, perhaps the most memorable moment of the play was when Lawrence Pears (playing director and actor (dactor?) Chris Bean, playing Captain Hook) struggled to open a bottle with his hook hand, and one particularly sharp witted and vocal audience member offered to 'give [him] a hand'. The pun had the audience in stitches. Bravo, mysterious comedian in the stalls!

In fact, the audience interaction was a highlight of the performance for me. The idea of a pantomime suggests audience participation, but the fact that the show was a play within a play almost threw the audience off at the beginning. When prompted to join in with a rousing 'its behind you' chorus, at the start, the audience seemed almost hesitant to join in, but by the end, all inhibitions were lost and audiences were reveling in the absurd hilarity and offering their own pantomime elements, which the actors skillfully improvised around. By the time the show reached its hilarious finale (the turntable stage goes out of control, madness ensues, that's all I'll say), I had tears streaming down my face and my mouth hurt from smiling so much!

In short, Peter Pan Goes Wrong was one of the best spur of the moment theatre experiences I've ever had. I'll be heading down to London the catch the acclaimed The Play That goes Wrong, as soon as possible!

Verdict - 4 Stars

Twitter: @OddJazzShoes
Bloglovin: Talkstageytome

Review - Memphis the Musical

Since I first listened to the cast album I've been obsessed with the music of Memphis. In a show where the main storyline is revolves around the birth of rock and roll and the first white DJ to play rhythm and blues on the radio, you expect the music to be fantastic. And it is. The songs are entertaining, they wow, and while the lyrics aren’t necessarily the most complex ever conceived, some songs really do pack an emotional punch.

But what is a musical, even with the most outstanding songs, if it doesn’t have a stellar cast to sing them?
Fortunately, Memphis has found that stellar cast in the form of Killian Donnelly, a popular rising star on the West End, and Beverley Knight, a respected and super talented pop singer who made her West End debut in the original London cast of The Bodyguard. Since I last saw the show while it was in previews in October, it’s been nominated for 10 Whatsonstage awards and wowed critics and audiences alike and the cast has gone from strength to strength. Beverley Knight is simply unbelievable as nightclub singer Felicia Farrell, while Killian Donnelly has found the perfect balance of crazy man-child and na├»ve innocent that makes his Huey Calhoun simply brilliant.

At the performance I saw, several roles were played by understudies. Simon Ray-Harvey showcased an incredibly powerful voice as Felicia’s controlling but well-meaning brother Delray. Though his performance was more understated than that of Rolan Bell, he commanded the stage like nothing else and in Delray’s standout number ‘She’s My Sister’, Ray-Harvey showcased his brilliant singing voice. Likewise, I was hugely impressed with Charlotte Gorton, understudying Claire Machin as Huey’s exasperated mother Gladys. Gorton was a lovely actress whose performance balanced the comedic and more serious elements of the role perfectly. I was very impressed.

As usual, Knight and Donnelly were stunning as the leads. Their vocal performances were incredible and I cannot wait for the London cast album to be released on the 2nd February so that I can listen to them sing their roles again and again (expect a review of that album asap, because I’ve preordered it, of course!) However, I am curious to hear the roles of Felicia and Huey played by the alternates, Rachel John and Jon Robyns, who have both received high praise from audience members.

But one of the most memorable performances of the show comes from Tyrone Huntley playing Gator, the bartender at Delray’s club. Although he stays silent for the majority of act one, when he does sing, it completely silences the room. He’s spine-tinglingly good!

It seems Memphis the musical has been blessed with a cast of complete stars, and with one of the most talented ensembles on the West End performing astonishing dance routines like you’ve never seen, no matter whom you see, you’re guaranteed an incredible show! The band, which perform on the stage rather than in the orchestra pit, further emphasising the importance of music in the show, also deserve a mention. They are the life and soul of the show and sounded flawless on the evening I saw the show.

If you’re looking for a night of feel-good entertainment then get to the Shaftsbury Theatre as soon as possible. Just don’t be surprised if you’re up on your feet, dancing and singing along by the end!

Verdict - 5 Stars

Twitter: @OddJazzShoes
Bloglovin: Talkstageytome

Film Review - Into The Woods

As any self-respecting theatre fan knows, Stephen Sondheim is responsible for many of the most outstanding and popular musical theatre pieces written in the late 20th and early 21st century, so when news broke that Into the Woods was being adapted for the screen, I was not at all surprised. I was, however, extremely happy. Good movie musicals are unfortunately a rarity nowadays, so with Disney producing, and actors such as Anna Kendrick, Chris Pine and Meryl Streep in the cast, although I wasn’t hugely familiar with the musical, it was hard for a theatre fanatic like me to be anything other than ecstatic.

Unfortunately though, having seen the film now, I must admit that I found myself a little bit disappointed overall. Having never seen the show, I don’t feel qualified to comment on whether it was the movie script that didn’t grab me or the storyline in general. But sadly, it just felt a little bit bland. The beginning felt very rushed, as did the end, while the middle seemed to stretch on for way to long. The audience had barely had time to settle in to their seats before they were introduced to the movie's first ‘villain-but-not-really’The Witch, played by Meryl Streep.

After a few minutes of exposition ham-handedly delivered through a song and flashback montage, the film’s protagonist, The Baker, and his wife (Played by James Corden and Emily Blunt respectively) were headed out into the woods, tasked with finding ingredients for a potion that would reverse a spell cast on the house of the Baker, and also reverse The Witch’s aging. Similarly, the finale was less that spectacular, with the film’s surviving protagonists tripping up a giant (Frances De La Tour, though her face and voice were so distorted you'd probably never have known it!) and saving the Kingdom from destruction. I wanted to feel wowed, and sadly I did not. Throughout the whole 2 hours 4 minutes that the film played for, I kept waiting for something to happen, but it never did. Similarly, the songs were a nice way to weave the story together, but there were very few WOW moments that really made me sit up in my seat. I know I’m committing musical theatre sin here by talking negatively about Sondheim, but truth be told, I was less than impressed.

That being said, there were, of course, some elements which I did enjoy. The cast for one thing was very talented. Of course film lovers and musical fans alike will recognise Johnny Depp and Meryl Streep from their past movie musical outings (Johnny played the title role in Sweeney Todd , another Sondheim favourite, back in 2007, while Ms Streep was Donna in Mamma Mia a year later) and will be pleased to hear that they deliver very impressive vocal performances. Anna Kendrick also sounded wonderful, and having heard her performance here, any remaining doubt I had about her playing Cathy in the movie adaptation of one of my favourite musicals, The Last 5 Years, has been washed away. But despite their relatively small screen time, Billy Magnusson and Chris Pine performed what was possibly the stand out performance of the film, Agony, with a mixture of hilarity and power that really grabbed audiences and left them wishing the scene would just go on and on.

Overall, I feel that the film was disappointing. It certainly wasn’t awful, in fact, I very much enjoyed it, but sadly I never felt truly immersed and by the end of it, I have to admit that I was checking my watch. However, despite my own personal feelings, with Sondheim fans this film has been a big hit. It’s fantastic to see another big budget movie musical following in the wake of the phenomenon that was Les Mis back in 2012. I feel that maybe the story just wasn’t for me, so I’d definitely recommend seeing it yourself at some point, and I’ll certainly be giving the film another watch when it’s released on DVD.