A stretch in time – Doctor Who’s most atmospheric theme tune yet

Over on YouTube, user telegenicx creates atmospheric soundscapes by drastically slowing down existing music. Here, he takes Delia Derbyshire’s original 1963 arrangement of Ron Grainer’s Doctor Who theme and turns it into a haunting score, full of tremulous undertones.

Derbyshire created some beautiful pieces in a similar vein to this slowed down version of her most popular work. Telegenicx’s version puts me in mind of The Delian Mode and Blue Veils and Golden Sands, both of which ended up being reused in the 1970 story Inferno, which ended Jon Pertwee’s first season as the Doctor.

Review: Momentous Musicals – Live Cast Recording

Some of the big name musical theatre stars who release albums of showtunes tend to release studio albums – your Balls, your Barrowmans, your Paiges. They generally sound wonderful, but with the luxury of being able to re-record you’d expect them to. And yet, one of the great thrills of hearing a great musical theatre performance is being able to appreciate them sung live, to thrill at that almost imperceptible change of tone as a performer’s chest swells in response to a receptive audience. And, yes, the occasional moment where they come in a fraction too early or late, or their voice breaks a little. It’s the slight little things, the lack of clinicality, that gives a live performance the edge over a purely studio-bound recording for me.

One drawback with live albums is that the sound quality is often lower as a result, but that’s far from the case with Momentous Musicals. This CD was originally recorded at an evening showcasing the best in musical theatre songs at the New Wimbledon Theatre in 2012 (further dates in July 2013 are planned) – and while Gareth Gates is the only musical theatre performer’s face on the cover of the CD, this is an ensemble of West End performers doing what they do best: along with Gates, the CD features performances from Rachael Wooding, Daniel Boys, Jonathan Ansell and Emma Williams.

Starting with Dreamgirls’ One Night Only – surely the most well-known musical theatre song never to have received a West End outing – the disc rattles through standards old and new, from musicals as diverse as West Side Story and Company to Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and Legally Blonde.

The balance between uptempo numbers and the big power ballads is just about right, and the orchestrations by musical director George Dyer bring out the best of both the original compositions and the performers on the night. Emma Williams’ Mein Herr is a particular delight, while Company’s Being Alive – possibly my favourite Sondheim number ever – feels safe in the hands and vocal cords of Daniel Boys. Rachael Wooding stands out, though, putting her heart and soul into every one of the several songs she is tasked with performing.

As a record of an evening in the company of great singers – or even as consolation for not being able to be there in person – it’s hard to beat. As incentive to book tickets for the next tour, it’s pretty good too.

Live and unplugged: Scott Alan & Pentatonix

I hope you’ll enjoy this beautiful a cappella track as much as I do:

I really, really like Scott Alan’s music. I believe I may have mentioned this once or twice. There’s something about his complete lack of reserve that makes his songs pack the sort of emotional punch that many British musical theatre composers struggle with.

That same intensity means a whole evening of his songs in concert form can be overpowering. It takes a deft hand to programme his songs in such a way that the introspective, even mournful, qualities of his most searing numbers are counterbalanced by the joy – and occasional frippery – that he also does well.

To see (or rather, hear) how it’s done, you can really look no further than Scott Alan Live, a double CD of Alan’s songs, recorded at New York’s Birdland club.

Continue reading “Live and unplugged: Scott Alan & Pentatonix”

Review: Pink Martini – Symphonique, Royal Albert Hall

Editor’s Rating

I’m not ashamed to say that I first found about the music of Pink Martini when a song of theirs was featured in a Citroën car advert. The song was Sympathique:

Je ne veux pas travailler
Je ne veux pas déjeuner
Je veux seulement oublier
Et puis, je fume

A rough translation in English: “I don’t wanna work, I don’t wanna eat, I just wanna forget. So I’m havin’ a fag.” Not exactly the typical backdrop to a car advert, but it was enough for more to seek out the band’s first album (also titled Sympathique) – and my love affair with Thomas Lauderdale’s band and China Forbes’s vocals had begun.

For those who don’t know Pink Martini, they are a twelve-piece jazz orchestra which appropriates songs and styles from all over the world. As I described to The Prompt blog back in June:

I suppose you might classify them as light jazz, but they absorb influences from around the world like musical magpies – you never know whether their next track is a Japanese folk song, a twisted take on the great American songbook or inspired by a traditional Hebrew prayer. They’re constantly surprising and I can’t wait to see them live at the Royal Albert Hall in October.

Well, October is here, and last night I got my first taste of Pink Martini live – in the Royal Albert Hall, backed by the BBC Concert Orchestra.

And now I can’t wait to see them again.

Continue reading “Review: Pink Martini – Symphonique, Royal Albert Hall”

Review: Pink Martini – Symphonique, Royal Albert Hall5Scott Matthewman2012-09-11 22:30:22I’m not ashamed to say that I first found about the music of Pink Martini when a song of theirs was featured in a Citroën car advert. The song was Sy…

Much Ado about cast recordings

Whenever a new musical comes to the West End, there’s always a bit of a buzz about a possible cast recording. Different productions take wildly different views: Love Never Dies put its cast recording on sale so far in advance that it was more of a concept album than a record of the eventual stage production, in any of its reworked forms. Legally Blonde the Musical waited until there was obvious demand for a West End version in addition to the original Broadway recording, while Stiles and Drewe’s magnificent music for Betty Blue Eyes may eventually be available next month (although a sampler CD was issued with the Evening Standard newspaper as part of the show’s initial publicity drive). And while Ghost the Musical, which holds its press night tomorrow, hasn’t officially released its cast recording yet, it’s currently available to listen in a streamed form on the show’s Facebook page.

What’s unusual, though, is for a straight play to release a cast recording. But the production of Much Ado About Nothing currently playing at Wyndham’s has done just that.

Continue reading “Much Ado about cast recordings”

A busy theatre week – and prompted questions

I’m having another busy, theatre-related week both during the day and at evenings, so finding the time to blog is proving tricky. A quick round-up of what I’ve been up to:

Monday: Matthew Morrison in concert, HMV Hammersmith Apollo

I eschewed watching Glee‘s disappointing second season finale in favour of seeing one of the stars, Matthew Morrison, in his one London gig. It was much better than I truly expected – although that’s more because of the large number of songs he performed that weren’t from his self-penned album. Best performance of the night was a great performance of Journey’s Don’t Stop Believin’, which has become synonymous with Glee. Sadly for Morrison, the performance was by former *NSync member JC Chasez…

Wednesday: Zombie Prom, Drill Hall

Last night I went to a performance of Zombie Prom at the Drill Hall, off Tottenham Court Road. It’s this term’s performance by students of the relatively new Musical Theatre Academy, which is based in the same building. It was a fun interpretation of a musical which I first saw and reviewed at the Landor Theatre. The choreography in particular plays on how the strict school policies turn the kids into mindless automata long before romantic lead Jonny becomes a fully-formed, rotten-fleshed zombie. Special mention to performer Samantha Hull, who successfully blurs the line where choreography stops and character begins. Of the principal characters, unsurprisingly Sam Hallion’s Jonny is the best of the bunch, although Hallion himself doesn’t really come alive in the role until Jonny dies. Kay Victoria Hindmarsh does the difficult job of playing a woman a generation older than she really is seem easy.

Tonight: Off Cut Festival Bloggers’ Choice

Tonight (Thursday) I will be one of a number of bloggers helping the Off Cut Festival finalise their short list of new plays. Our panel will be read eight scripts, and between us we’ll select four to go forward to the next stage. It’s my first time judging new playwriting, so I’m incredibly excited.

(Update: I’ve now blogged about the Off Cut Festival Bloggers’ Choice evening)

On top of all that, last week a new blog called The Prompt asked me to complete their Quick Quiz – where they send the same 11 questions to various people who have some involvement in theatre.

My answers went online last Wednesday, but it occurred to me that I hadn’t to linked from here until now.

But enough about me – what have you been up to all week?

Happy talk (and a bit of singing)

Something I’ve been working on for a couple of months (longer, counting the times I had to stop and either go on to other projects, or go off and be ill) went live on The Stage website today.

Rodgers and Hammerstein in London is an audio documentary looking at how the famous musical theatre pairing’s shows have been received in London, using archive material from The Stage’s extensive archive of back issues. I was aiming for a half-hour, Radio 4-style arts programme: the finished product ended up as just over 38 minutes, but I didn’t want to edit it down any further.

The project had its genesis when the publisher of Helena Blackman’s Rodgers and Hammerstein album asked if I wanted to interview Helena about the CD, and possibly include some short clips of the musical tracks. While I didn’t mind the idea, it was a format we’d done before – and we’d also been talking about ways in which we could promote The Stage Archive, an amazing resource which stretches back as far as the paper’s first issue in 1880. So the idea moved away from a straight interview to an exploration of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s works, with Helena presenting.

Although The Sound of Music’s 1961 opening was the spur, the documentary reaches back to the late 1940s and the debut of the groundbreaking Oklahoma!, as well as coming (relatively) up to date with How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?, the reality casting show that gave Helena her first break.

It’s been good fun putting it together – I’ve been interviewing people from the Dean of Southwark Cathedral to Stephen Sondheim – but the main focus is the archive readings, which my friend, actor Adam Lilley, very generously did for me. We kept in the original idea of including extracts from Helena’s album, as it helps break up the long, talky bits with a bit of music.

It’s available now from The Stage website, as a free MP3 download or streamed direct from the web page. It’s also available in iTunes as part of The Stage Podcast series.

Michael Bruce: Unwritten Songs

Some of the new musical theatre composers find a groove and stay in it. Take Scott Alan, for example. While he does compose the occasional lighter song (e.g., Seventeen, What Was His Name?) he specialises in the angsty torch song that makes for a good audition and/or cabaret number.

Try and categorise Michael Bruce, though, and you’ll have a harder job. As his debut album, Unwritten Songs, shows, he is as comfortable with the plaintive love ballad as he is with the raucous, crowd-pleasing, uptempo pastiche. Launched last night with a sold-out cabaret at the Delfont Room, this is an album which never sits still, refusing to rest in any genre.

Several of the tracks on Unwritten Songs come from Ed: The Musical (songs by Michael Bruce, book by Stuart Price), which won two Musical Theatre Matters Awards at the 2009 Edinburgh Festival Fringe, including the nod for Most Promising New Musical. Look for an indication of which songs they are within the CD sleeve notes, though, and you won’t find any. Each song is treated as a standalone number, mixed with some of Michael’s other songs, either from other musicals (e.g., Someplace Beyond the Moon), cut from other projects, or written as standalone pieces. The overall result is a disc that’s chock full of variety.

Continue reading “Michael Bruce: Unwritten Songs”

Portrait of a Princess

A full review of last night’s Michael Bruce concert and his album, Unwritten Songs, will be forthcoming shortly (edit: my review of Unwritten Songs is now online). In the meantime, enjoy this fun video starring Julie Atherton and a host of familiar West End faces, as Julie sings her track from the album, Portrait of a Princess: