My favourite new shows of 2017

Well it’s that time of year again when I come out of blogging hibernation to write about my favourite shows of the year! Although I saw overall fewer professional productions this year than in 2016, I did manage to fit in 12 shows at the Edinburgh Fringe and another trip to West End Live. So here are my favourite new shows of the year:

Dreamgirls – Savoy Theatre, London

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This was one of my first shows of the year, and what a spectacle it was! Amber Riley was fantastic in the leading role, and the whole company worked together brilliantly to put on a stunning theatrical experience, featuring some highly impressive vocals from both the soloists and the ensemble.

The Addams Family (UK Tour) – Mayflower Theatre, Southampton

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This was the first production of The Addams Family musical in the UK, and it certainly didn’t disappoint. Andrew Lippa’s score is simply fantastic, and the cast were true triple threats, with stand out performances from Cameron Blakely and Carrie Hope Fletcher. I wouldn’t be surprised if a West End transfer is on the cards!

Half a Sixpence – Noel Coward Theatre, London

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Many people would associate this show with Charlie Stemp (who portrayed the lead, Arthur Kipps), but having experienced a flawless performance by his first cover, Sam O’Rourke, I can safely say that the show’s success was not totally reliant on one individual (as fantastic as I’m sure Stemp was in the role!). I adored this fun, cheerful show and really hope to see it again some day.

The Play That Goes Wrong (UK Tour) – Theatre Royal Plymouth

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Oh yes, a play has featured on the list!! This show was definitely one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen, and the fact that it was a touring production (with a touring set!) made it all the more impressive. I loved the way that the performance started as soon as you entered the auditorium, and it was so (hashtag) relatable for those of us who have put on amateur productions ourselves!

Showstopper the Improvised Musical (UK Tour) – Theatre Royal Winchester

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After seeing this show in Edinburgh I was so keen to revisit it – especially as it would, obviously, be a completely different show! I have so much respect for every member of the company, but particularly the band (led superbly by Duncan Walsh Atkins), who I could not take my eyes off! So. Clever.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time (UK Tour) – Mayflower Theatre, Southampton and Theatre Royal Plymouth

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Yes, it’s another play. Yes, I saw it twice. Having read the book several years ago I’ve always been eager to see this show, and it was brilliant. I got to watch two different actors take on the role of Christopher in the two different venues which was so interesting, and I also got the opportunity to go backstage (read about that here). It’s such an enlightening and eye opening show.

School of Rock – New London Theatre, London

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This show is insanely good! I love any show with talented kids in it, and this production took that to another level! The adult cast complemented the child cast brilliantly, and the relations between parents and children were so interesting and often realistic. Oh yeah, and the children formed THEIR OWN BAND. Wow.

The Toxic Avenger – Arts Theatre, London

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So this is another show that I saw in Edinburgh and loved, and had to revisit in London in its full form without any bits cut out! I thought it wasn’t possible for it to get any better, but it absolutely did!! The five cast members were all hilarious, and the ridiculous concept of the show just made it even funnier. Also, the band were on stage which is always a bonus in my eyes.

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1. So I’ve graduated… what next?

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Having graduated with a BA in Music a couple of weeks ago, I’m constantly being faced with the question: ‘what next?’. Thankfully I now have a concrete answer to that question because as of September, I have a proper full time adult job! But before that begins I’ve got a very exciting, theatre filled August – hence my (potentially silly idea) to try and write a blog post every day this month.

I’ve come to realise that this summer is likely to be my final long summer holiday, so I figured I’d better make the most of it. Having filled June and July with volunteering and working in schools to help with musical theatre projects, London trips, job interviews and flat hunting, August sees even more travelling and theatre, as well as a big birthday! First of all I’m taking part in a Youth Music Theatre UK (YMT UK) project as an assistant musical director for their show Jabberwocky, which is to be performed at the Theatre Royal Margate from 18th-20th August (plug plug plug). Having done a project with the company last summer in a lesser role I’m so excited to be involved again and have even more creative input on a fantastic piece of original writing.

I’m also going to visit the Edinburgh Festival Fringe for the first time at the end of the month too. I’ve never been before, mostly due to the fact that I live in Devon, and Scotland is a very long way away from here! However, this year I’m going to deal with the lengthy travel times to go and see lots of theatre for a few days, including some shows which my friends from my (old) uni are taking up (writing ‘old’ uni felt weird. I haven’t had to do that before… *graduate crisis ensues*).

The end of August will see me coming back down to reality from the idyllic world of theatre and moving into my new house and preparing to start my proper job. It’s been and will continue to be a summer full of massive changes… I just find it a bit weird that your whole future is mapped out for you until this point: school, sixth form, uni… but then what? I’ve always been adamant that I didn’t want to move back home after uni, and although I have done that for the summer, it’s only temporary. However, when viewing places to live and being faced with adult talk about taxes and deposits and bills and pension schemes, a very small part of me wished I could escape it all and remain a well looked after child at home! But no, I love the freedom I’ve had at uni and I think continuing that immediately is the best thing for me to do – especially as my new job is close to the city I’ve lived in for the last 3 years.

So yes, expect many a blog this month. I’m excited to chronicle all my new experiences this summer and hope that no one gets too fed up with my incessant posting!

Review – School of Rock – New London Theatre, 24/06/17

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Having adored the film growing up, and being a massive Andrew Lloyd Webber fan, I was extremely excited and intrigued to watch School of Rock (the musical) at the New London Theatre. As the show presented a rather different subject matter (and indeed musical style) for the composer to tackle, I was interested to see what he and the rest of the creative team had come up with. And amazingly, this production manages to tick all the boxes, while also striking the perfect balance between remaining loyal to the original subject matter and bringing something new to the story – a combination which many musical adaptations struggle to achieve.

Naturally, the first thing that springs to mind about School of Rock is the fact that a sizable portion of the cast is made up of child performers, some of whom have to be quadruple threats (meaning that they are equally talented at singing, acting, dancing and playing a musical instrument). Add on the fact that the lead actor playing Dewey Finn needs impeccable guitar skills as well, and this must be a tricky show to cast.

Stephen Leask portrayed Dewey Finn at this performance, and he is absolutely incredible. He inhabits the character so well, and he very much manages to make the role his own. His introductory song ‘When I Climb to the Top of Mount Rock’ is energetic and brilliantly executed, introducing the audience to his lively, spontaneous character. I also enjoyed his interactions with the children, as well as with Ned (played by Oliver Jackson) and Rosalie Mullins (Florence Andrews).

Three teams of 13 children each perform a portion of the shows each week, and they are surely some of the most talented young people in the West End right now. I adore Caoimhe Judd’s performance as Summer – her characterisation is impeccable and hilarious, and she leads the act 2 opener ‘Time to Play’ with great conviction. Special mentions must also go to Jude Harper-Wrobel as Freddy, Jack Goodacre as Zack, James Lawson as Lawrence and Selma Hansen as Katie, who all perform on their respective rock instruments live at every performance. The children performed brilliantly as a unit too, with the song ‘If Only You Would Listen’ being a particular emotional highlight.

The rest of the cast give great performances too – Florence Andrews’ rendition of Miss Mullins’ heartfelt song ‘Where Did the Rock Go?’ is another musical moment to remember, and the ensemble do well to create contrasting environments of both a gaggle of posh, pushy parents, and a set of strict, education-loving teachers in the staffroom. The ‘grown up band’ must also be acknowledged for accompanying Lloyd Webber’s exciting score when the children are otherwise occupied. I absolutely adored watching the band members hanging over the edge of the suspended band ‘pit’ to encourage the children during ‘Teacher’s Pet’ – they had been made redundant by this point by the kids actually playing their rock instruments live!

One of the main things that makes School of Rock a brilliant piece of art independent of the film is the fact that the creative team have added other dimensions to the writing. In this musical adaptation the audience gets a much larger insight into the lives and thoughts of the children, and these are explored through both speech and song. So while School of Rock may draw audiences in through its name and association with the original material, it allows everyone to leave with a slightly different perspective on the story and characters.

School of Rock is one of the most exciting, energetic and innovative pieces of theatre in the West End right now. Despite some reservations from the public and the media, Lloyd Webber has written a score which totally delivers, providing classic rock tunes as well as emotional ballads. The children do an astounding job (especially those who play instruments!) and Stephen Leask leads the company with great conviction, creating a hugely likable character from the off. The show combines undeniable talent with great fun, and it really is a show for everyone – whether you’ve seen the film or not.

My top ten shows of 2016

After yet another accidental blogging hiatus (because I’ve apparently been too busy putting on shows to write about shows), I thought I’d (try to) get back into the swing of things with a list of my favourite 10 shows I’ve seen in the last year. So here we go:

  1. Mamma Mia, UK Tour (Mayflower Theatre)

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I enjoyed this a surprising amount, and that might have something to do with 12 year old Megan’s intense obsession with the film. The UK touring production is a lot of fun and features a really talented cast, so this energetic show was amazing to experience.

  1. Murder Ballad (Arts Theatre, London)
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Apart from the fact that it featured Ramin Karimloo (*screams*), this was a cleverly captivating four person show. I loved the intimate feel of it, and the rock style music was performed impeccably by this tight set of performers and musicians.

  1. Avenue Q, UK Tour (Mayflower Theatre, Southampton)

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Avenue Q is an absolutely hilarious show that I would recommend to anyone (except perhaps the easily offended…). Despite being initially dubious of the use of puppets, I soon came round to the idea when I realised the charm and hilarity they bring. Add in some catchy musical numbers and it became one of my favourites this year.

  1. Mrs Henderson Presents (Noel Coward Theatre, London)
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Photo: Paul Cottas

I think one of the main reasons I adored this show was due to the fact that the audience got to experience it in the city in which it is set – the feeling of watching the Blitz take place on stage was like no other! Additionally, the story is fascinating and the music is sublime too.

  1. The Wind in the Willows, UK Tour (Mayflower Theatre, Southampton)
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This is a heart-warming little show which, for one just starting out, is totally brilliant. It’s visually stunning, and the original score features some lovely songs that I just can’t wait to hear again.

  1. Billy Elliot, UK Tour (Theatre Royal Plymouth and Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff)
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Photo: Alastair Muir

Okay, so this is the only show on my list that I had seen before 2016 – but this was the new touring production (which I saw 4 times in various capacities… obsessed?). Billy Elliot has been updated for new audiences all over the UK, and I can’t praise this production highly enough.

  1. Jesus Christ Superstar (Regents Park Open Air Theatre, London)
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This was an outstanding theatrical experience, and I’m so glad I managed to see this show over the summer. The cast delivered the show’s stunning material brilliantly both visually and aurally, and the on stage band were incredible too.

  1. In the Heights (Kings Cross Theatre, London)

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This was another unique show to experience, and hearing Lin Manuel Miranda’s music live still managed to blow me away even after listening to the soundtrack to death. In the Heights is amazing, and London is really going to miss it when it closes in the new year.

  1. The Book of Mormon (Prince of Wales Theatre, London)

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And the award for the funniest show I’ve ever seen goes to… The Book of Mormon, hands down. The music is amazing and the cast have such great comic timing, creating an absolutely hilarious show. I’m desperate to return!

  1. Groundhog Day (Old Vic Theatre, London)
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Photo: Manuel Harlan

I mean, it’s a musical and it’s by Tim Minchin – is it really a surprise that this was my favourite show of the year?! Groundhog Day managed to completely overwhelm me with its stunning music and brilliantly told story. I can’t wait to see where the show goes next (hopefully somewhere near me after Broadway… please?)

My top ten theatre wish list

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Photo: Matt Crockett

I may have seen many, many shows both on tour and in the West End, but I’ve realised that there will always be more shows that I have a burning desire to see! So here is my current list of ten shows I would like to catch soon (some of which are yet to open, I know, I’m keen), and not including any that I already have booked:

Side Show

Having just opened at the Southwark Playhouse for its UK premiere, Side Show is a cult classic. I fell in love with the song Who Will Love Me As I Am after hearing it performed at a concert earlier this year, and I find the story line so gripping and fascinating. The fact that it has a stellar cast featuring Louise Dearman and Laura Pitt-Pulford also makes it a definite must see this season.

Kinky Boots

This show has been running in the West End since last year to much critical acclaim. Having witnessed an excerpt from the show at West End Live back in June, it seems like such a fun musical which both Broadway and West End audiences have thoroughly enjoyed so far – and I’d love to join them!

Motown the Musical

Like Kinky Boots, I also got to watch a segment of this show at West End Live, and was very pleasantly surprised! Although it may not conform to being ‘typical’ musical theatre, it seems like a fun show with some great, well known tunes. The cast were so captivating to watch and it would be so interesting to explore this musical era through a show.

Aladdin

Although I was initially sceptical of this show, batting it off as a glorified pantomime at first (as many did!), the reviews I’ve read suggest otherwise. Having visited the Prince Edward Theatre to see Miss Saigon, this venue is the perfect one for a show such as this, and the casting is sublime.

School of Rock

Having been obsessed with this film during my childhood, this is definitely a show I’d love to see. The fact that it is effectively an actor musician production featuring children is absolutely incredible, and I can’t wait to hear what Andrew Lloyd Webber’s new score is like.

Dreamgirls

This production may be yet to open, but the hype has already started in anticipation of performances starting next month. Having smashed its run on Broadway it will surely do the same in the West End – also, the casting is brilliant and the show features some great songs.

The Wind in the Willows

Ooh, a show that isn’t actually in the West End… yet. It’s touring and then headed for town, so hear me out. This production had its greatly successful world premiere a few weeks ago at my second home, Theatre Royal Plymouth, and is now touring around the country. It’s such a unique concept and I’d love to see what the creatives have come up with.

Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time

Yes, a play. I’ve wanted to see this show for ages, almost ever since the roof fell in at the Apollo Theatre. I’ve loved the book for years and find the story and characters fascinating, so I’d love to experience it as a piece of live theatre.

The Woman in Black

Another play, and possibly an odd choice for someone as easily scared as I am. However, I’ve heard really great things about this show and would love to experience it – because it definitely sounds like an experience!

Hamilton

I mean, this was always going to make it on there, wasn’t it?! We may have to wait over a year for it to arrive in London, but my wish list wouldn’t be complete without including the most talked about show of the year: Hamilton. I simply can’t wait for December 2017, and the excitement will only grow. So yes, if I could wish to see one show now, this would be it!

 

This blog post was kindly sponsored by Box Office UK (although all thoughts and opinions are my own), which is a great website on which you can buy tickets to loads of West End shows. Visit their site here to fulfil your own theatre wish list.

Review – Groundhog Day, Old Vic Theatre, London, 26/08/16

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Photo credit: Manuel Harlan

In the current theatrical climate, a big budget musical that succeeds in every way is very hard to come by and something of a rarity – so the fact that Tim Minchin and Danny Rubin’s new musical adaptation of the 1993 film Groundhog Day has taken both critics and audiences by storm is definitely a pleasant surprise.

Broadway actor and Tony nominee Andy Karl portrays the lead role of Phil Connors, and he carries the entire show impeccably, especially considering that he rarely leaves the stage. His brilliant comic timing, charisma, and incredible voice ensure that the audience is constantly enthralled by his performance, and allow them to form a connection with the character as he becomes increasingly desperate to escape the time loop. It could be assumed that the repeated scenes could get dull, but Karl ensures that this is absolutely not the case by making subtle changes of intonation and timing, further making his interactions with the other characters (particularly Carlyss Peer as Rita) hugely enjoyable to watch.

The opening scene, set in Punxsutawney, paints a hilariously exaggerated picture of the village, visually contrasting the villagers’ colourful costumes with Phil Connors’ monochrome attire, and through the energetic, happy-clappy song which is subsequently repeated numerous times. The cartoon-like appearance of the show is a theme that runs throughout the entire show, and it is also displayed in the hoedown style song We Can Do Whatever We Want. The ironic, comical representations of transport could be viewed as over the top and silly, but in this context it absolutely works and adds to the fantasy and dream like element of the whole piece.

In any musical, the act 1/act 2 break can be difficult to manage – but Groundhog Day glosses over it seamlessly with a stunning act 1 closing number and a thought provoking act 2 opener. One Day, Someday involves all of the characters each singing about their own lives and what they’ll achieve ‘one day’, and this is undoubtedly a sentiment that every audience member can relate to. The revolving stage is used to its full advantage here too, effectively creating the illusion that Phil’s life is going round and round in circles. Tim Minchin’s simple, intelligent and moving act 2 opening song Playing Nancy is a beautiful way of transporting the audience back into the world of the show, and the number is performed brilliantly by Georgina Hagen.

As act 2 progresses and Andy Karl’s character starts to do more good than bad, the meaning and moral of the musical begin to shine through. The song about suicide is incredibly clever (both visually and aurally), and the illusions are carried out flawlessly. The later scenes between Karl as Phil and Carlyss Peer as Rita are touching and heart-warming, meaning that there is a totally refreshing feeling when the time loop is finally escaped from. The balance between song and speech is handled well, with the musical styles and genres never failing to complement the preceding or subsequent scene – and the orchestrations are so full that it sounds as though there is a band twice the size playing the accompaniment.

Groundhog Day is an outstanding new musical which succeeds on every level. Its heavy reliance on the undeniable talent of Andy Karl in the lead role is totally justified and there are some incredibly beautiful musical numbers, showcasing Tim Minchin’s outstanding talent as a songwriter. The staging is innovative and unique, making it extremely pleasing to watch, and the vocal and instrumental forces are perfectly balanced and executed throughout. If this show doesn’t represent the future of high profile musical theatre, I don’t know what ever will.

Star casting in musical theatre

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Photo: Alastair Muir

“Is there anyone I’ve heard of in it?”

As a regular theatre goer (that might be an understatement), this is a question I get asked an awful lot before or after going to see pretty much any show, regardless of its genre, venue or target audience. Obviously to most people, especially those who don’t visit the theatre a great deal, a celebrity in a leading role (because when are stars ever cast in the ensemble) is a huge attraction, and can make the difference between buying a top price ticket and not going at all.

Star casting can be a brilliant thing, but only when said star is able to fulfil the role just as well as a thoroughly trained and experienced musical theatre performer. The big name advertising can have the ‘bums on seats effect’, raking in money and new audiences to see a show that they may not have previously considered seeing. However, when it is evident that a celebrity has been cast in a part purely because of their large fan base and appeal, it can be rather frustrating for both other performers, and audience members who have paid good money not to watch just one star, but to watch a piece of theatre as a whole.

Now for some examples: I saw Jason Manford play Caracatus Potts in the current UK tour of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang in February, and was very impressed with his singing, dancing, acting, and general presence and charisma in this role. And although his name possibly isn’t quite big enough to encourage hordes of new theatre goers to see the show, it definitely helps in the show’s advertising campaign. However, watching Craig Revel Horwood portray Miss Hannigan in Annie last year was a completely different story, and judging by the roars of laughter every time he appeared on stage, I’m sure that a considerable proportion of the audience were indeed there for the opportunity to see the Strictly judge in drag. And this would’ve been fine if he’d actually delivered in the role, but I failed to enjoy his performance very much at all.

Another issue with the concept is the problem of what happens when the celebrity is ill, or can’t perform for some reason. This has become particularly relevant recently due to Sheridan Smith’s lengthy absence from the West End production of Funny Girl, with audience members demanding refunds and firing abuse at her poor understudy. However, having seen Zoe Birkett, the alternate performer for Alexandra Burke in The Bodyguard, audiences are in no way being short changed if they happen to see an understudy rather than a household name. Obviously there’s going to be some inevitable disappointment, but celebrity status doesn’t necessarily correlate with being an incredible performer.

Star casting has been the topic of many a heated discussion in the theatre world as of late, and it’s definitely not an issue that’s going to disappear any time soon. As long as celebrities in musicals are making the producers money, such casting is going to continue, whether individuals are completely suited to the roles or not. Celebrities in leading theatre roles can absolutely be a good thing, but a balance needs to be achieved – and we’re definitely not there yet.

Review – In the Heights, King’s Cross Theatre, London, 02/08/16

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The recent hype surrounding Hamilton – the show that has taken Broadway by storm and won 11 Tony awards – has undoubtedly sparked an interest in its creator’s other, lesser known show: In the Heights. Running at the King’s Cross Theatre in London, Lin Manuel Miranda’s musical tells the story of a Puerto Rican community in Washington Heights, featuring music that is rooted in hip hop and rap influences, arguably revolutionising musical theatre for new audiences.

King’s Cross Theatre is a unique performance space, which this production uses to its advantage in extremely clever ways. Although audience members are seated on both sides of the stage, looking directly at each other, it never feels as though anyone is missing out on the action due to impressive blocking in both scenes and musical numbers.

A number of understudies were on for this performance, such as Michael Cortez as Usnavi, the show’s protagonist. Cortez gives an incredible performance, portraying the character as a likeable, caring member of the neighbourhood, meaning that the audience is able to form a connection with him from his very first words. Cortez’s ability to portray a variety of emotions is greatly apparent when the plot takes a negative turn in act 2, and his performance of Alabanza is beautifully heart breaking.

Gabriela Garcia plays Nina, and performs two of the most emotional songs in the show (Breathe and Everything I Know) well, despite a little too much vocal force in the former at times. The scenes featuring her parents (played by David Bedella and Jocasta Almgill) are definite highlights, and Bedella in particular gives a great performance with noticeable depth having gone into his characterisation, as showcased in the song Inutil.

Emma Kingston creates a sassy and confident portrayal of Vanessa, which works well opposite Cortez’s Usnavi. At times it feels as though she is still settling into it, having only taken over in the role a week prior to this performance, but she gives an assured performance nonetheless, particularly shining in It Won’t Be Long Now. Dex Lee as Benny also deserves a mention for his impressive riffs and undeniable chemistry with Garcia as Nina – as well as his energetic and amusing performance of Benny’s Dispatch fairly early on in the show.

The show revolves around spectacle to a certain extent, often created by the intricate choreography which is based around freestyle and break dancing. The ensemble manage to convey the moods and drama through movement brilliantly, especially in The Club. The use of the ensemble is so clever, and the touch of them often sitting around the sides of the stage watching principle characters sing makes the production feel more intimate and all inclusive – as does the fact that the performers are able to make eye contact with the audience at times.

Further to the idea of a spectacle, the big numbers in the show require great levels of energy and this is more than delivered in title song, 96,000 and Blackout. Blackout is surely one of the most amazing act 1 closing songs in any musical – the choreography, lighting and vocal forces created by so many cast members singing different melodies create an all-consuming theatrical experience which leaves the audience stunned.

In the Heights is an incredible show which seems to offer something different to most of the other musicals that are currently showing in London. It feels completely modern, and full of energy and excitement, as caused by the outstanding current cast and the undeniable hard work of the creative team. The unique performance space only adds to this appeal of a show, creating a great musical experience for a wide range of audience members.

Cast recordings and becoming obsessed with them

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As I’m frequently reminded, theatre going is an extremely expensive hobby, and consequently I spend far more time listening to cast recordings than I do attending actual shows. So that involves seeing anywhere between 1 and 5 shows in a month, compared to listening to cast recordings on every journey I go on, as well as at various points throughout every day at home.

More often than not, before attending a new show I like to familiarise myself with the songs through listening to a cast recording (and often through playing the songs from the piano vocal score too). I find that this makes me even more excited to see the show live, and to hear my new favourite songs being sung for real. This was particularly apparent when I went to see Mrs Henderson Presents, because having listened to the original West End cast recording it was incredible to hear those same actors sing the songs in real life.

My current example of this is In the Heights; the cast recording of which has become my summer soundtrack. I started listening to it merely to get to know the songs (and because I love Hamilton… more on that later) but now I’m thoroughly obsessed, and counting down the days until I see it in the West End!

On the other hand, on numerous occasions I’ve gone to see an unknown show on a whim as a last minute decision, and have come out desperate to listen to all the songs all over again. Examples of this include Phantom (when I saw it for the first time in 2012), Oklahoma, Jersey Boys, Shrek and The Bodyguard. The only issue with this is that belatedly obsessing over the music only makes me want to go back and see the show again – which with touring productions (and my student loan) isn’t always possible!

And finally, there’s the frustrating situation of being totally enthralled by a cast recording but having no chance of seeing said show for quite a while… a la Hamilton. Never have I been so invested in a cast recording as I am with this one, and I love that it’s long enough to almost entirely fill my train journey between home and university. Even listening to the Miss Saigon soundtrack makes me a little bit sad that I won’t be able to see it again for a while. Sigh.

The better known, long running shows tend to have numerous cast recordings, from different years and productions, and it can be really interesting to compare these. For example, as much as I like the Stratford recording of Matilda, I feel that the Broadway version is superior in terms of orchestrations and sound quality. I own several different recordings of Les Mis but couldn’t possibly choose a favourite – each has its own merits and downfalls – although it’s always fun to try and guess which of the 5 versions of On My Own on my iPod has started playing when it’s on shuffle.

I absolutely adore cast recordings, and they’ve got me through many long car and train journeys (funnily enough, most of said lengthy journeys are to go to the theatre!).For me, obsessively listening to the songs from a show is the best way to get excited about seeing it, but it can also be so great to revisit the music after seeing a show live. And seeing as these CDs cost considerably less than a ticket to see the actual show, sometimes I have to make do with not seeing EVERY show live in order to make this hobby a bit less of an expensive one!

Review – The Phantom of the Opera, Her Majesty’s Theatre, London, 17/06/16

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I can’t even begin to explain how excited I was to visit my current favourite musical, The Phantom of the Opera, for the fourth time during my weekend London trip for West End Live (see my last two Phantom reviews here and here). There have been some notable cast changes in the leading roles since my last visit over a year ago, which I have mixed opinions about, but overall the experience succeeded in reminding me why I love this show so much.

Ben Forster currently portrays the Phantom, and he generally gives a good performance. His vocals in the title song and Music of the Night are brilliant, although his accent does strangely seem to switch between British and American at times, and occasionally some sustained vowel sounds become distorted, which can be a problem in some of the most climactic moments of these famous pieces. However, Forster does encapsulate the character well, and his character’s evident love for Lisa Anne Wood as Christine is believable and heart breaking in the Final Lair scene.

Alternate Christine, Lisa Anne Wood, is absolutely brilliant. Having only recently taken on the role of alternate Christine having understudied the part for a while, she performs it immaculately. She seems to bring something new to the character, giving it a bit more life and energy than usual, and her voice is simply divine, as displayed early on in Think of Me. Nadim Naaman plays Raoul, and he may have become my favourite actor to play the part ever! He makes Raoul a more likable figure, showing realistic interactions and reactions, and his and Wood’s performance of All I Ask of You is beautiful.

Long-time Phantom cast member Philip Griffiths portrayed Monsieur Andre at this performance (despite being the second cover), opposite Michael Matus as Firmin. It was great to see Griffiths in a leading role, and both men work together well, although they are not the most hilarious pairing of managers I’ve seen in my various visits to this show. However, I still adore their notes scenes, and their clear lack of knowledge about the ballet!

There are several musical numbers in the show which are particularly powerful, and all of these were absolutely nailed during this performance. The act 1 finale, All I Ask of You Reprise, is so moving and ends dramatically, and Forster conveys the Phantom’s emotions at this point in the plot believably. Masquerade is visually and aurally spectacular, featuring the stunning dance routines and movements and intricate costumes and props, meaning that it is difficult to know where to look as there is so much going on. The mausoleum scene is another musical highlight, because at this point the three main characters sing different melodies, all expressing their issues and predicaments, becoming extremely powerful, particularly due to the stunning vocals of Forster, Wood and Naaman.

However, my absolute favourite part of the show is Past the Point of No Return, leading into the Final Lair – and I have never enjoyed it more than during this performance! Forster’s emotion while singing the line ‘Christine, I love you’ is so incredibly sad, and Naaman’s reactions while in the noose are brilliantly believable, generating so much sympathy from the audience. Wood does a great job of being stuck in the middle, unsure of which way to turn, and I cannot fault her acting or singing here in the slightest!

The Phantom of the Opera remains my absolute favourite musical today! The current West End cast are fantastic, and work together very well in the larger scenes, while also maintaining the level of emotion required for the more intimate sections. Although some of the leads are not necessarily the best I feel I’ve seen before, I thoroughly enjoyed the show and the cast pull off some of the most powerful moments perfectly. I’m now left wondering when I can go back for a fifth visit…!

 

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