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.

A Spotlight On… Lucy May Barker, Landor Theatre

Last night I went along to one of my favourite fringe venues, the Landor theatre in Clapham, for the start of their new West End Cabaret season, A Spotlight On…. Future performers in the season include the West End’s two Tracy Turnblads, Leanne Jones and Chloe Hart, and veteran performer Rosemary Ashe.

Last night, though, saw the turn of Lucy May Barker, who was part of the young West End cast of Spring Awakening and who has since performed in two National Theatre productions, Earthquakes in London and Really Old Like Forty Five.

The atmosphere was quite unlike most cabarets I have been to before. In part, this was due to a large portion of the audience being formed from Barker’s family and friends (and, as she quipped, “people who follow me on Twitter”). With so many other musical theatre performers in the audience, the effect was of a party atmosphere with one girl in control of the mic.

Not that anybdy would want to wrest it away from her, because boy, can she sing. The twenty songs she chose for her repertoire (some, she admitted, chosen for her by musical director George Dyer to make up the numbers, and others “pinched” from friends who she had seen performing them) demonstrate a keen ear for a good song. I’m not sure I can entirely forgive her for being a bit dismissive of Just Not Now from I Love You Because, but that’s more because it’s one of my favourite numbers from one of my favourite musicals. Barker doesn’t quite manage to match the performance Jodie Jacobs gave of the same number in the Landor’s production several years ago, but not many could – and, shorn of the context within the musical that lends an extra layer of poignancy to the lyrics, Barker made a good job of handling the emotion of the song within a cabaret setting.

Many performers who build up a cabaret repertoire also work hard on the patter between songs. No such planning was in evidence here, just a casual chat with friends in the audience, reminiscences of mutually shared anecdotes and some talk about the songs themselves. And while at times I did yearn for a bit more discipline and structure – moving from Suddenly Seymour (sung in duet with Jeremy Legat) to Part of Your World could have elicited even a small acknowledgement that they were both written by Howard Ashman and Alan Menken, for example – there was something very appealing about Barker’s carefree approach that made for a supremely relaxing evening.

The Landor’s small space is well suited to this sort of intimate cabaret, and the addition of three circular tables between the performer and the straight rows of seating help make the oblong room a little more human, softening the awkward little dogleg of seats at one end in the process. As a supplement to the venue’s reputation for good quality musical theatre, I really do hope their cabarets do well.