Review: Momentous Musicals – Live Cast Recording

Momentous Musicals


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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.

Soho Cinders in Concert, Queen’s Theatre

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Most new musicals take a while to see the light of day, maybe peeping over the parapet with workshops, or even a concept CD, long before they hit the stage. Few, however, gestate quite as long as Soho Cinders, a musical from George Stiles and Anthony Drewe (Honk!, Just So, the expanded stage version of Mary Poppins, Peter Pan, Betty Blue Eyes) which, as Mark Shenton notes today, has been in development for most of this century already.

And it’s a very 21st century piece – a modern day Cinderella story, with rent boy Robbie using the wages from his escort services to fund his law studies, in order to prove that his wicked stepsisters have illegally taken over his late mother’s coffee shop. The ball becomes a fund-raising bash for a good-looking mayoral candidate whom Robbie has been seeing on the side, although he’s there to escort the wealthy businessman who’s bankrolling the mayoral bid. And when he’s exposed as a rent boy and runs off, it’s not a shoe he leaves behind, but a mobile phone…

Continue reading Soho Cinders in Concert, Queen’s Theatre

Soho Cinders in Concert, Queen’s Theatre5Scott Matthewman2011-10-10 10:14:16Most new musicals take a while to see the light of day, maybe peeping over the parapet with workshops, or even a concept CD, long before they hit the …

Coming soon: Michael Bruce’s Unwritten Songs

Speckulation Entertainment seem to be on a real roll at the moment. As well as Helena Blackman’s wonderful collection of Rodgers and Hammerstein classics, in a couple of weeks’ time they will release a CD of songs written by composer Michael Bruce.

Michael first came to my attention when he entered a competition they ran (under the banner of their Notes from New York brand) in conjunction with The Stage to find a new Christmas song in a musical theatre style. Michael’s song, Children, is a just beautiful, plaintive ballad that became one of my personal highlights of both the Christmas in New York shows and the subsequent cast recording. Since then, as well as orchestrating some of Speckulation’s other works (including some of Helena’s album, and the musical ads for Confused.com) he’s been working on various projects, the biggest and most recent of which is composing music for the forthcoming version of Much Ado About Nothing which is to star David Tennant and Catherine Tate.

Back in November 2009, a one-off show at the Apollo Theatre highlighting some of his work drew some of the cream of the West End’s young performing talent. I’m pleased to see that on the just-announced track list for the new CD, Unwritten Songs, many of them will be making an appearance on the CD.

Continue reading Coming soon: Michael Bruce’s Unwritten Songs

Back to Trafalgar Studios: Daniel Boys & guests

It’s rare that I revisit a show. In terms of West End theatre, Avenue Q and Priscilla: Queen of the Desert are the only recent shows I’ve seen more than once, and then the repeat showings tended to be funded by competition prizes, comps or harshly discounted tickets. 

After last week’s visit to Ordinary Days and Daniel Boys’s highly agreeable cabaret, which was the result of the generosity of one of my followers on Twitter, I decided to book under my own steam for Daniel’s final cabaret on Friday, spurred on by the knowledge that, unlike his previous solo effort, he would be joined by fellow BBC show graduates Helena Blackman and Lee Mead. In the intervening years, I’ve come to know all three professionally and personally, and at the risk of sounding presumptuous I’ve come to consider each of them a friend.

I had thought about rebooking for Ordinary Days too, but had decided against it. However, having a lovely dinner (at Scottish restaurant Albannach in Trafalgar Square – lovely food, but the service was a bit slow for a pre-theatre treat) with two friends who were going caused me to reconsider, only to find out the show was booked solid. Great for the show and its producers – any show that’s selling well makes my heart sing – but I surprised myself at how disappointed I was that I wouldn’t be seeing it again.

Continue reading Back to Trafalgar Studios: Daniel Boys & guests

Ordinary Days/Daniel Boys in Concert, Trafalgar Studios 2

If you have a West End or fringe musical set in contemporary New York and populated by people in their twenties or thirties, these days you pretty much have to call upon Julie Atherton and Daniel Boys. Tick Tick… BOOM!, The Last 5 Years, Avenue Q, I Love You Because… you name it, Julie and/or Daniel has performed it.

And so, Adam Gwon’s musical, which focuses on the lives of four young people in the City That Never Sleeps, is in safe hands when Boys and Atherton take the two principal roles of Jason and Claire, a couple who are adjusting to having moved in together. He is puppyishly optimistic about the whole prospect, while she is more reticent.

The 80 minutes running time, already short, makes the couple’s ups and downs seem very slight, especially as their stage time is shared with the burgeoning friendship between two other New Yorkers – naif, gay, would-be artist Warren (Lee William-Davis) and Deb, a hyper-tense postgraduate student (Alexia Khadime). The two pairs rarely connect, although the actions of Warren and Deb do precipitate the conclusion to Jason and Claire’s story.

While the songs feel well crafted, ask anybody leaving the show and they may have trouble recalling them. What they will be left with is the memory of funny lyrics, expertly delivered by four young actors who fully commit to the roles, and help make a musical that covers much the same ground as so many other new musicals feel fresh.

* Buy Ordinary Days on CD (via Amazon.co.uk) or download from iTunes.

Later last night, Daniel Boys performed a solo concert in the same space, accompanied by Douglas Whyte, who arranged the songs on Daniel’s 2008 album, So Close.

Boys has promoted the album with a succession of cabarets since its release, but this performance was described as a new set, celebrating his first decade working as a professional musical theatre performer. And we did get a few great numbers from some of the shows he has been involved in, from Rent to Sweeney Todd – although I was slightly disappointed that nothing from Avenue Q or I Love You Because snuck in there, as I would have loved to hear the latter’s Goodbye sung live again.

Despite the billing, most of the cabaret did seem to hail from the track listing of So Close. This is not a complaint: I love that album, and barely a fortnight goes by when I haven’t listened to it all at least once, and his rendition of the Alan Menken/Stephen Schwartz title number easily beats the original rendition from Disney’s animated/live action comedy Enchanted.

But really, any songs performed by such a great performer in the intimate space of Trafalgar Studios 2 can’t fail but be fun. If you’re free next Friday evening, I’d recommend it. Julie Atherton is doing a similar concert on Wednesday evening, too – unfortunately I’m busy elsewhere that night, or I’d be there like a shot.

* Buy “So Close” on CD or as an MP3 download (both via Amazon.co.uk)

Wolfboy, Trafalgar Studios 2

Teenager Bernie has been admitted to a secure hospital after trying to commit suicide. In the next room, former rent boy David thinks he’s a werewolf. Initially, the pair take out their pain on each other, but their abusive relationship gradually becomes one of trust, of friendship and love.

Crafting a musical around such dark material (originally a play by Canadian author Brad Fraser) means that there’s no danger of this work, by Russell Labey and Leon Parris, being mistaken for the usual frivolity one associates with the genre. And it’s just as well: there are none of your typical ‘show tunes’ here, no breakout eleven o’clock number that stays with you on the journey home.

Instead, we get an intense and claustrophobic tale, with an atmosphere helped by the diminutive size of the Trafalgar Studios 2 space. As the teenage patients, Gregg Lowe and Paul Holowaty spark off each other with such energy that, at times, it feels almost voyeuristic to be in their company.

As Bernie’s older brother, Christian, Daniel Boys is light years away from the adolescent sauciness of Avenue Q. Given perhaps the hardest role of the four cast members, not least because nearly all his musical numbers consist of singing to an unseen doctor, or to his unresponsive brother, he goes some way to showing that he’s capable of more than the usual ‘musical theatre leading man’ template provides.

The musical numbers were spoilt slightly on the night we attended by a lack of balance between the haunting pre-recorded backing tracks and the amplification of the live vocals. At one point, too, Holowaty lost both the tune and the tempo of one of his key solos. Given the discordant, disconnected nature of both play and music, such a slip didn’t feel as out of place as it would have done in any other production, but it was still the weakest point of the night.

As a fourth character, former Hollyoaks actress Emma Rigby’s nurse is an odd one. The only one of the four cast members to not sing, her character instead provides comic relief, often acting in ways that no nurse would ever do. But she shows a fine sense of comic timing, and a knack for finding just the right emotional pitch in a line to either underline or undercut a scene. In her first stage role, Rigby shows that she is capable of far more and I look forward to seeing how her career progresses from here.

The final scene descends into grand guignol territory, as Bernie’s quest to find his inner strength takes a terrible, and overly melodramatic, turn for the worse. But it works, thanks to Lowe and Holowaty’s commitment, and draws to a close a production that is not afraid to leave questions unanswered. You may not leave the theatre singing a tune, but your mind will be buzzing in other, more demanding ways.

The lights aren’t quite out on Avenue Q

Rod and Daniel Boys, Avenue Q

As the final part of our [Show and Stay](http://www.show-and-stay.co.uk/) theatre quiz prize, Ade and I last night ventured to the Gielgud Theatre to see Avenue Q. We had great seats — pretty near the centre of the Row F stalls — but there were elements of the show we couldn’t see. Nor could anyone else, though – as a result of the earlier power cut in the West End, the video screens and some lighting banks weren’t working correctly.

Rather than cancel the whole performance, we were offered free interval drinks — great news for us, possibly less well-received by people who had pre-ordered their beverages before the announcement was made. Despite the technical problems, the show was as fun as ever. And Rachel Jerram, who was understudying as Kate Monster/Lucy the Slut in place of regular Cassidy Janson, was absolutely superb (as, indeed, was Taofique Folarin, understudying for Edward Baruwa as Gary). I haven’t seen Cassidy in the role yet, as this was my first revisit since Julie Atherton left — but it’s hard to imagine how she could top Rachel’s performance last night.

Avenue Q’s days at the Gielgud are numbered, as [Hair](http://www.hairthemusical.co.uk/) is transferring from Broadway and starts previewing on April 1, 2010. Whether it will transfer to another West End venue or head out on a UK tour, I don’t know — but I hope that the Avenue doesn’t shut down for good.

Image of Daniel Boys with Rod taken from my West End Live 2009 collection.

Guys, gals and gender-swapping Gershwin

Last night, I went with Steve to see The Great American Songbook at the New End Theatre, a concert performance by three singers of classic songs by the Gershwins, Cole Porter, Irving Berlin and more.

My review is online on The Stage website now. But on this blog, I want to concentrate on how a line in one of the earliest numbers reawakened a long-dormant irritation with concert performances of such songs: switching the gender of the singer, and adjusting the lyrics to suit, even if it ruins the rhyme of the carefully crafted lyrics. Or, in some cases, changes the sweetest romantic line into a non sequitur.

In this case, the trigger for my thoughts was a minor change which Sinatra also made when performing I Get a Kick Out of You. Both Ol’ Blue Eyes and last night’s performer, Paul Roberts, sang:

> Flying so high
> With some gal in the sky
> Is my idea of nothing to do…

While changing the original “guy” into “gal” preserves the rhyme at the end of each line, it ignores the internal rhyme fly/high/guy/sky that gives the couplet such power, and which matches the natural crescendo at that point in the music.

As I say, it’s a minor point, but it was enough to act as a trigger to this post.

A much more grave gender swap occurs on the otherwise excellent 1998 album The Glory Of Gershwin, which saw legendary harmonica player Larry Adler perform with numerous pop and rock icons in covers of George Gershwin numbers. The result is variable: Kate Bush singing The Man I Love, for example, is sublime. Elton John sings a medley of two Gershwin numbers on the album – Love is Here to Stay and Someone to Watch Over Me – and it’s in the latter that the most grievous lyric changes occur. Ironically perhaps for one of music’s most out gay performers, the lyrics have been changed from talking about a man to talking about a woman, and that’s where the problems start.

In many cases, a simple change of he to she, or his to her, doesn’t matter too much. But what does this line mean, once the gender has been changed?

> I’d like to add her initial to my monogram

In the original version, its meaning is clear — the woman singing desires marriage, so that the initial of her husband’s surname becomes her own. But the other way around makes no sense.

That’s minor, though, compared with the abuse this couplet receives. The original:

> He may not be the man some
> Girls think of as handsome
> But to my heart he carries the key

With a change of gender, this becomes

> She may not be the girl some
> Men think of as handsome…

On what planet does “girl some” rhyme with “handsome”? Far more egregious than the disruption to the fly/high/guy/sky rhyming sequence, here the gender change actively disrupts the main rhyme. Not only that, but it presupposes that being called “handsome” is something that women would aspire to — when in fact it’s more likely to be a put-down at best.

Eleven years on, it’s hard to imagine that Elton John would indulge in such gender-swapping nonsense. And there are other out gay performers who have taken songs originally sung by women and produced fine works. For example, John Barrowman’s recent album Music Music Music includes the Chess duet I Know Him So Well, with Barrowman performing with Daniel Boys. No change of lyrics, just a beautiful rendition of the song.

With so many great songs out there, from the Gershwin catalogue to the whole Great American Songbook and beyond, there are many songs that can be sung by men or by women with no lyrical changes necessary. There are some where switching the occasional pronoun will have no consequence. But there are some songs which we should just accept need to be sung about a man, or about a woman, and we should not attempt to change that.

Showpeople: Daniel Boys

_This interview first appeared in **The Stage**, September 27, 2007, as promotion for **I Love You Because** at the Landor Theatre. [Read my review](http://www.thestage.co.uk/reviews/review.php/18341/i-love-you-because)_

Daniel Boys, who came sixth in the BBC’s talent hunt Any Dream Will Do? will be playing the role of Austin Bennet in the musical I Love You Because, a genderswapped version of Pride and Prejudice

**How would you describe the musical to those who don’t know it?**

To me, it’s a bit like Sex and the City and Friends in musical form. It’s a modern day tale about love and finding the one. I’m really enjoying the rehearsals. It’s a very good show, and I think it’s going to be a great production.

**The Landor itself is an intimate venue – does that make it easier or harder for you as a musical theatre performer?**

I’m really looking forward to the challenge, because I think it’s going to be harder. Any slight facial expression or any small movement that you do is something the whole audience can pick up on. That’s much harder, but like I said, I’m looking forward to it.

**You’re known to a wider audience for your participation in the BBC’s Any Dream Will Do? What lessons have you learned from the experience?**

Personally, I learned that it’s good to be who you are and not try to be someone you’re not. I was penalised for being too nice, but that’s who I am. As a performer, it taught me a lot. I can look back now I’m out of it and think, ‘Oh gosh, I shouldn’t have done that’. Like the way I put my hands out when I’m singing, without realising I’m doing it. So for me, it was a lesson in learning to watch myself and critique myself.

**Do you still keep in touch with your fellow finalists?**

Yes I do. Not all of them, but Lee Mead, Lewis Bradley, Johndeep More and Ben Ellis. They’re the four I’m in regular contact with.

**You’ve acquired quite a large fan base from your time on TV which has stayed loyal to you in the months since. Is that translating into ticket sales?**

Apparently it is. I have a fan group that call themselves the Kittens, and apparently lots of them are coming to the theatre. They ring the box office a lot, and lots of them are coming from all over the UK to come and see me. It’s just so nice. It’s all very surreal, and I still can’t quite get my head around that. But it’s very nice to have that level of support from the public.

I Love You Because, Landor Theatre

Editor’s Rating
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Witty tales of New York romance are a staple of both musical theatre and TV sitcom, and I Love You Because stands up favourably in comparison with the best of them.

Ryan Cunningham and Joshua Salzman’s musical examines the love lives of geeky Austin (Daniel Boys) and devil may care brother Jeff (Richard Frame), one trying to win back a girlfriend by feigning disinterest and the other trying to have a good time without getting emotionally involved.

Apart from the opening number, where his vocals are overwhelmed by the stronger voices of his five cast mates, Boys delivers an impressive performance, rising in confidence and stature throughout, both as character and performer. Jodie Jacobs and Debbie Kurup excel in their roles of potential love interests, ably backed up by Mark Goldthorp and Lucy Williamson. But even among such an impressive ensemble, it’s Frame’s exuberance and comic timing that shines.

Rob McWhir’s direction ensures that some of the songs’ knowing Vaudevillian excesses are counterpointed by acutely observed small moments throughout. And, while the show may not end on its strongest musical number, the message that the show conveys – one should love someone, or something, because of their faults rather than in spite of them – applies equally well to this little gem of a musical.

Reviewed for The Stage

I Love You Because, Landor Theatre4Scott Matthewman2012-07-11 16:47:17Witty tales of New York romance are a staple of both musical theatre and TV sitcom, and I Love You Because stands up favourably in comparison with the…