Sunday, December 30, 2012

Things that happened in 2012

I saw a post like this in someone's blog and I thought it was quite a nice idea: recap on all the major things that have happened in 2012.

  • January: I started taking classes in tap and musical theatre as well as continuing with private singing lessons.
  • February: I started working as an optical consultant again after having dropped out of my Law course at university at the end of last year and having spent Christmas in Finland with my relatives.
  • I started seeing a lot of shows, musicals in particular, as I now had the funds to do that. By doing this, and also by going to musical theatre cabarets, I got meet a lot of the fellow musical theatre fans I had spoken to on Twitter.
  • April: I performed in a cabaret, Insane about Broadway, at Charing Cross Theatre after taking a musical theatre Sunday programme. 
  • I started taking jazz and ballet classes in addition to tap.
  • June: I had a problem with my gums so I went to the dentist's for the first time in about four years.
  • I successfully auditioned for a 1-year musical theatre foundation course.
  • July: The Olympics taking over London - Londoners were mostly dreading it but everything went smoother than expected. I went to see women's handball in the Olympic Park.
  • September: I visited Finland for the first time since the beginning of the year.
  • I started my musical theatre foundation course and became a part-timer at work.
  • October: I was allocated the role of Little Bo-Peep in an amateur pantomime in January and rehearsals for the show started.
  • December: I passed my CBT (Compulsory Basic Training) and bought myself a motorbike which I started using for commuting to college and work.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

"I am Little Bo-Peep!" "Oh no, you're not!" "Oh yes, I am!"

My friend Ford mentioned in passing that he was going to audition some people for a panto which he would be assistant directing.
"Oooh! Can I come and see the show when it's done?" I asked.
First verse of the nursery rhyme.
"You can come and be in it," he replied. 
And so I ended up going to the auditions and was cast in the title role of Little Bo-Peep (although the story revolves around her, she is not actually the one who appears in the show the most).

A short synopsis: Fanny owns a farm which she runs with her son, Freddie. Little Bo-Peep is Freddie's girlfriend and she looks after the sheep on the farm. The problems start when a Lady Sneering appears and has such a crush on Freddie that she asks Mefisto, the magician of a touring show, to make Bo-Peep disappear so she can have Freddie for herself. 

For the Finns and other people outside of the UK reading this, I may need to just explain the concept of an English pantomime. It is not a show where the actors don't speak but a musical comedy usually performed around Christmas time. It is often based on a well-known fairy tale (our one, Little Bo-Peep, is based on the nursery rhyme where she loses her sheep). Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and Peter Pan for instance are very standard ones. Pantos are targeted at the whole family with singing and dancing slotted into the play and  they would not work without the participation of the audience. Gender lines are often crossed with men playing women's parts and vice versa and the characters, although obviously named according to the story, tend to be very much the same and exaggerated. You have a dame, a yokel, a comedy duo etc.. The jokes are usually bad and there are witticisms flooded with sexual innuendos which children are oblivious to but which are amusing for the grown-ups. 

Bo-Peep in Toy Story. (Source)
Confession: I have never seen a pantomime let alone been in one. I will go and see one before we perform ours though so I actually have a proper idea of what we are aiming for. I am also lucky to have Ford, who knows what he's doing, there playing Freddie. 
The atmosphere within the group doing the panto, Manor Players, is absolutely lovely and I am always looking forward to going to rehearsals. They currently take place four times a week so I have virtually no free time. If I am not at school or work, I am in a rehearsal. I like being busy though when it comes to things I genuinely enjoy doing though. Really looking forward to performing this.  

Poster for the panto below. Do come and see it if you have the opportunity :) It will be lots of fun! 

Manor Players website:

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Overdue update

Apologies for being so quiet on here: I always seem to be on the go at the moment :/

Firstly, my course is going well. To begin with it was tough with a minimum of 14 hours of dance/body conditioning every week but I have gotten into the routine now and I certainly should have a beach body by the end of the year. In terms of dance classes, we have ballet, jazz, commercial and tap. Some of the jazz classes are technical and some are musical theatre based in which we learn routines from shows.
On top of dance, we have various classes in acting and singing. So far we have covered a bit of Stanislavsky, Shakespeare, acting through song (a BIG component) and acting for TV among others.

Aside from me there are only 4 people on the course which means that no hiding can take place: you will get caught if you haven't done your work. However, it is above all a positive thing because of the vast amount of time the teachers have to spend with each of us giving individual feedback. 

I would be lying if I said I have not improved in all the different areas. However, I have noticed particular improvement in terms of core body strength, flexibility and stamina. I have never been much of a dancer and only started dancing upon the realisation that if musical theatre was what I want to do, I will have to learn to dance decently. The course has made me rather enjoy dance and because my fitness level is higher, my body doesn't wear out as quickly and I am able to enjoy the exercise more. In addition, my technique and ability to remember routines have improved which makes everything more fun. 
My confidence has gone up a lot as well. It is not a big deal for me to get up and sing in front of the class anymore. I used to have a problem with my voice locking up as soon as I had an audience but as I have learned to accept that I can sing and produce a fairly good sound, it has made me relax significantly.

So far we have covered a lot of West Side Story: acted out some scenes, practiced a Puerto Rican accent, sung Somewhere, worked on the dance routine to Cool and at the moment we are putting together a whole musical theatre number to America. We have also danced to Grease and In the Heights among others.

On a Friday morning we do work on individual production numbers. Each of us gets to choose a song from a musical which is then choreographed so that everyone can be in it. You get to sing and act your own song and everyone else become the ensemble. I am doing So Much Better from Legally Blonde for that. Gives me a reason to learn to sing and dance in heels as well. I bought a gorgeous pair of tan-coloured character shoes with 2 3/4" (~7cm) heel which are also incredibly comfortable and I love wearing them. I must post a picture on here soon. Or maybe I should do a video blog...(?)

Over the Christmas holidays I promise to catch up on reviews of shows and such on here so stay tuned! 

Saturday, September 22, 2012

'The Wizard of Oz' - colourful and sparkly

This show was not at the top of my list of things to see but I did want to see it and hurriedly booked my ticket when I found out the production was closing.

The Wizard of Oz at the London Palladium
Performance: Sunday 29th July 2012 at 15:00
Seat: Front stalls, right
Cast included: Des O'Connor (the Wizard), Sophie Evans (Dorothy), Paul Keating (Scarecrow), Terel Nugent (Tin Man, u/s), Martin Callaghan (Cowardly Lion), Emily Tierney (Glinda), Marianne Benedict (Wicked Witch of the West)

The story is, for those unfamiliar with this new stage production, the same as in the original musical film from 1939 and the music from that film has been retained also. Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice have teamed up to add some new music. I fell in love with one of these new tracks, Already Home, from the end of the show. It is a very simple track but there was something profoundly sweet about Glinda singing it and Dorothy and the rest of the company joining in.
I must say Sophie did an excellent job as Dorothy. I did love the Scarecrow, the Tin Man and the Cowardly Lion too: it was funny watching the actors play these parts. Sometimes when you see people play characters that are not supposed to move in exactly the same way as humans do, you aren't perhaps quite convinced as moving like an animal (or as if you didn't have a brain or something) is not necessarily the easiest thing to do. However, Paul, Terel and Martin definitely managed to convince me with their portrayals.
One of the stars of the show was, of course, Dorothy's dog Toto, who was played by a real Westie; a very well-behaved one too.

Danielle Hope as Dorothy (Source)
I absolutely loved Emily and Marianne as the Good and the Wicked Witches respectively with their gorgeous voices. They would float above the stage with the Wicked Witch even coming down from a trap door in the ceiling of the auditorium once (this seriously scared me but surely that's understandable: it's not like you have a live green witch hanging above your head on a broomstick every day). The Wicked Witch's broom spat out fire on a few occasions and where I was sitting you could actually feel the wave of heat caused by it. Things like that look magnificent live on stage. The show was visually attractive with lots of colour and these... can you call them 'special effects'? A honorary mention goes to Glinda's dress. I should have thought that the cast would have become blind after looking at it under the stage lights for a few months, eight shows a week. I can honestly say I have never seen a more sparkly dress. 

Emily Tierney as Glinda. An idea of the dress, doesn't look as sparkly in the photo though. (Source)

What amuses me about The Wizard of Oz in general is that the Wizard is one of the main characters and is always credited as such as he is vital to the plot but the amount of time he is actually on stage is next to nothing compared to many of the other characters. So when people asked me afterwards: "How was Des O'Connor as the Wizard", I felt I had to reply that he was good but that I didn't feel I could really review him as such because he wasn't really in it.
And speaking of funny/peculiar things to do with The Wizard of Oz, do read this blog entry if you haven't already: 5 Reasons The Greatest Movie Villain Ever is a 'Good' Witch . Sharply written and actually very accurate when you think about it, how Glinda is actually the bad one in the film.

Anyway, I did enjoy the show. It was much better and more impressive than I had expected it to be. I would not have taken very young children to see it though because there are scary bits and bits that make you jump. It is still a family show though and I cannot imagine teenagers and adults going to see the show over and over   so maybe in that respect it isn't surprising it only ran for a year and a half. 

This is the track I mentioned earlier, Already Home:

Also Red Shoes Blues sung by the Wicked Witch is well worth a listen. Sung by the incredible Hannah Waddingham:

Saturday, September 8, 2012

An update on ME! Yay!

I thought that it might be nice if I actually started blogging about myself every now and then. Because, well, surprisingly people do seem interested in me as a person. Very flattering. Or maybe they just want to read about the everyday life of other people. Hoping for schadenfreude moments perhaps. Reading about someone whose life sounds significantly worse than your own makes you feel like you're doing good. That's kind of depressing but true.

Now, another reason why I thought it might be nice to write updates about myself once in a while on here is that the blog has, as you must have noticed, very much drifted into a musical theatre direction and I will be studying musical theatre from 24th September.
It will be a one-year full-time foundation course and I am hoping that that will help me get onto a BA course and this then into doing musical theatre professionally and fulfill a couple of things on my life list in the passing. Performing in a West End show of course would be one of the most amazing things ever. I would also like to perform solo in a lovely, intimate musical theatre cabaret; be a part of an international touring production and perform at an open air theatre in Finland (because open air theatre is a part of a traditional Finnish summer so it would be a honour to be involved in creating it).

As I will be a student again, there is no way I will be able to afford to go and see as many shows as I have over the past year unfortunately but I am hoping I'll still manage to keep this blog remotely interesting.
Would people be interested in reading a short update on what I have learned every week on my course for example? All ideas welcome. Also, any improvements that you feel could be made on the blog, please let me know - those would be greatly appreciated! :)

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

'Wicked' with Charlotte Scott in the bubble

I think after one has seen a show three or more times, writing a box standard review becomes rather difficult and because you obviously enjoy the show immensely and are able to connect with it. hence the more diary-style entry and -photos. 

Wicked at Apollo Victoria Theatre, London
Performance: Wednesday 25th July 2012 at 14:30
Seat: A23 (day ticket), £27.50
Cast included: Rachel Tucker (Elphaba), Charlotte Scott (Glinda, u/s), Matt Willis (Fiyero), Christopher Howell (The Wizard, u/s), Julie Legrand (Madame Morrible), Lillie Flynn (Nessarose), Adam Pettigrew (Boq), Kieran Brown (Dr Dillamond, u/s)

We had been planning this trip to say-seat Wicked for a month. Therefore, coincidences do happen. Some people call it luck. Whatever the name is, I got very excited (even that is an understatement) when I found out the performance we were going to see would be Charlotte's first show as Glinda. To quote an old blog post of mine which I wrote after hearing the lady perform in a cabaret for the first time: "What an amazing voice! And the acting and comic timing were spot on. I am now determined to try and catch a performance of Wicked with her as Glinda."

It was my first time queuing up for day-seats as well. Once Charlotte had announced she was going on as Glinda, we knew we had to get there even earlier than we had originally planned in order to secure great seats: we expected hardcore fans would be planning last-minute trips to the show following the exciting news. I was the second person in the line so my seat was nicely in the middle.

Stage-doorers enjoying the 30 degrees: Becki, Sam, Carla and Amanda
General information for people who are thinking about day-seats for Wicked (a couple of my lovely Finnish followers have asked me about this), it is not necessary for you to get there by 6am. Apparently 7.30-8.00 is okay in general. Most tourists would turn up closer to 9.00 (box office opens at 10.00). The earlier you turn up the better but it is very much down to chance as to how many people there will be queuing on any given day. Sometimes you can get a brilliant seat by coming at 9.30 (some of the front row seats on the sides are restricted view so you don't want to end up with those). It literally depends on how many people have come up with the thought "Hey, let's get day-seats for Wicked on that same date!" .

Charlotte seemed remarkably calm when she stopped for a brief chat with us on her way into the theatre. I suppose she had had time to prepare for this mentally as she had known for a while she would take on one of the leads for this performance. Normally she is in the ensemble but she is the understudy for both Nessarose and Glinda. She has been on as Nessa in the past but as first cover Glinda (i.e. she will go on only if the principal actress as well as the standby are unavailable), this was going to be her first time playing that part. She was excited (well, who wouldn't be in her position: about to play one of the most sought-after female roles in musical theatre on West End stage). She had some new costume and all. We were all thrilled for her. I knew she would be brilliant but how brilliant I could never have imagined.

Us at the theatre: Rukaya, Becki, Sam, Carla and Nic 
The front row seats were great and the sound quality was perfect. Enter Glinda in her bubble. The blonde wig did suit Charlotte! She came and delivered. It was a privilege listening to her effortlessly hitting the high notes (already in No One Mourns the Wicked but particularly at the end of Thank Goodness). She captured the character of Glinda very convincingly and she had the perfect innocent blonde face. She had come up with her own little leg flick thing for Glinda: We got a "Toss, toss *flick*" in Popular for instance. Elphaba of course then has to copy whatever Glinda does so we got an entertaining attempt of this "toss, toss, *flick*" from Rachel.
And I don't know whether it was intentional or whether Charlotte just miscalculated the momentum at which she would land on the bed when it came to the 'planking' but I don't think I have ever heard as massive a thump as the one with which Charlotte landed.

Rachel was incredible as per usual: her Wizard and I and Defying Gravity are mind-blowing every time (she has been on as Elphaba every time I have seen Wicked in London) not to mention No Good Deed which I think I enjoy listening to her sing the most. That song did not particularly appeal to me until I heard Rachel sing it. She and Charlotte worked brilliantly together and I thought their voices blended exceptionally well. 

Me and Charlotte before the show
No, you could not tell this was Charlotte's first show as Glinda. Only those who had seen the show multiple times may have noticed some slight fiddling with the pink flower when trying to attach it to Elphaba's hair and that doing the clasp of Elphaba's cloak took a beat or two longer than usual but little things like that hardly count. Charlotte's Glinda is now definitely one of my favourites. I just hope she gets to play the part at least once more before she leaves the company at October's cast change. 

I think someone has uploaded some audio of this particular show on YouTube so go and have a search around there if you fancy a listen. 

Since this post seems to be about the greatness of the understudy, I must mention Christopher and Kieran too. They both were great! I like the Wizard to have a good singing voice as well as being able to act the part and be funny and Christopher definitely fills these criteria.  

A big thanks for the company to those lovely people who came to see the show with me! I had a great time :)

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Cabaret: 'Chloë Hart - Redesign'

I didn't hesitate in booking a ticket right away when I found out Chloe was organising another cabaret. I had enjoyed the last one immensely and this time it would be even better because I had become better acquainted with the "regular" attendees to these sorts of events (promotion: Twitter is great for meeting people with similar interests as well as for finding out about smaller scale cabarets you might wish to attend) and therefore I would have people to chat with at interval rather than being that loner in the corner.

Date: Sunday 22nd July 2012
Location: Union Theatre, London
Featuring: Lucy May Barker, Gina Beck, Liam Doyle, Chloe Hart (surprise!), Charlotte Scott, Thomas Sutcliffe, Rebecca Trehearn

Charlotte Scott and Chloe Hart. Photo: Fonsaca Malyan-Brooker
I was reading the diary entry I had written right after this cabaret and it seemed to be mostly about what people were wearing (there seemed to be a strange fascination when it came to shoes...) but since Fonsaca's lovely photography provides a taste of that aspect of the night, I'll talk about the songs instead. Don't take any of this as a review though: wrote this mainly for all the people who did not have the chance to attend.

Now, Chloe was supported by Charlotte and Rebecca in the opening number, I'm A Star. I thought it sounded perfect. Chloe was not happy, however, because she had messed up some of the lyrics (I bet no one noticed!) and asking we would not put that performance on YouTube. She added another rendition of the same song at the start of Act 2. The funniest thing was that by the time we got to the start of the second act, I had forgotten about Chloe's promise to perform that first song later on and I wondered why the song sounded freshly familiar. For anyone who noticed me having a quiet laugh halfway through: that was why. Stunning harmonies and Chloe's got such a gorgeous, clear voice.

We heard several Kooman and Dimond songs. Chloe's a massive fan of theirs. "They deserve to be more famous," she says and readily shares her enthusiasm for their compositions. In general, Chloe tends to go for a lot of new writing - she says she is a bit of a geek that way - so many of the songs were unfamiliar to me. However, some of the songs I had most certainly heard in cabarets before (what would a Chloe cabaret be without her signature song: Stagey and Proud?) but I just did not know the titles or the composers. That goes for Chloe and Thomas's The Temp and the Receptionist (such a great song) and the "die, die, die" song Lucy sang (sounds very obscure but anyone who has heard the song will know what I am on about - that's the section of the track that stays with you!). To comment on the latter: it really made me realise what a difference the singer can make. I have heard Jacqueline Hughes sing the same song in the past. A brilliant, humorous performance in both insteances but just very different in terms of the voice. Liam Doyle sang a song from the Catch Me If You Can musical. I think that was the first time I heard a song from that show. I might need to go away and have a proper listen.

Charlotte sang Scott Alan's beloved Never Neverland. You hear that song at just about every cabaret: it's such a beautiful song people want to perform it and audiences are always happy to hear it. That I may not have been able to find a recording of on the generally omniscient YouTube but I just discovered this from Chloe's previous cabaret. I think Charlotte does an incredible job of this Cheno song, hence the sharing:

Because Gina Beck ("My next guest doesn't need an introduction") was there, how could they not sing For Good? Gina also performed a song called My Prince by Alexander S Bermange. Rather Glinda-y that one.

Gina Beck and Chloe Hart singing For Good.
Photo: Fonsaca Malyan-Brooker
Gina Beck singing My Prince.
Photo: Fonsaca Malyan-Brooker

And look, I found Gina's rendition of the song. Just listen to the lyrics (not that you can actually miss the beautiful voice):


And this is what we were treated with to finish off:

I love Smash (the TV series about making a Marilyn Monroe musical in case someone's been living under a rock) and I love Chess so I was very content to have experienced both of these songs live. I was surprised by how deep and powerful Rebecca's voice was. This video doesn't really do it justice but live it was incredible to listen to, especially the belt in Let Me Be Your Star and when she performed With You from the musical Ghost in which she currently understudies the female lead. I have much love for the video clip above because it captures some of the lovely atmosphere of an intimate musical theatre cabaret. It's informal (I'm sure we all noticed Liam checking the lyrics on his phone) and both the performers and the audience get to have a bit of a laugh. I have absolutely fallen in love with these kinds of events. One thing on my life list: to perform solo in a cabaret like this. 

If anyone is interested in hearing additional tracks from the cabaret (this one and also Chloe's first one), you can find more video footage on Chloe's own YouTube channel:
And Rukaya's uploaded some stuff from this cabaret too including a great capture of Chloe and Gina singing For Good 

And thanks again to Fonsaca for letting me use her photos for this :)

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

'Phantom of the Opera' - The Brilliant Original

Despite The Phantom of the Opera being my favourite musical of all time, this was only my second time seeing it on stage. I have seen the film and the 25th anniversary concert on DVD countless times of course but somehow I have not gotten round to revisiting Her Majesty's. So much has happened since the last time I went there in 2008. This time I was much more observant of little details and having gained a greater understanding of musical theatre I was more capable of appreciating the show.

The Phantom of the Opera at Her Majesty's Theatre, London
Performance: Wednesday 4th July 2012 at 19:30
Seat: Stalls D6
Cast included: Peter Jöback (The Phantom), Claire Doyle (Christine Daaé, u/s), Killian Donnelly (Raoul), Cheryl McAvoy (Madame Giry), Anna Forbes (Meg Giry), Wendy Ferguson (Carlotta Giudicelli), Jeremy Secomb (Ubaldo Piangi), Barry James (Monsieur Firmin), Gareth Snook (Monsieur André)

Gina Beck and Ramin Karimloo - the two I saw on my
first visit. (source)
The show was magnificent of course. Even my sister whom I had dragged with me stated that she had forgotten how impressive the music was. I love Phantom because of the show in itself: the music and the story (however sloppy-romantic it may be). Hence I am generally not fussed over which actors are playing the main parts. I must say, however, that knowing Peter only for having dubbed the voice of Aladdin for the Swedish-language release of the Disney film, I was most interested in seeing him as the Phantom.

Peter's take on the role was very different to what I have witnessed before. I found myself having more pity for him than normal since his younger voice and shorter statue (in comparison to what I have been used to seeing the Phantom have) made him come across more human rather than a supernatural being.
Claire impressed me greatly with her Christine as she had a lovely innocence to both her looks and her voice.  I have heard recordings of people with stunning voices singing Christine but they have sounded too mature and had I seen something like that on stage I don't think I would have been convinced. So Claire did a great job. 
Peter Jöback and Sofia Escobar
Photo Michael Le Poer Trench

I loved Killian as Raoul. This was my first time seeing him perform live and I found he has a great stage presence. I found myself fixated on what he was doing during Prima Donna for example rather than watching the overall action. I very much enjoyed Anna's take on Meg. She was genuinely funny to watch with her sharp facial expressions but she did not come across exaggerated. I had never thought of a comedy side to Meg before so it was lovely to see Anna bring that up. 

It was a little strange for me seeing some of the 25th anniversary concert cast members on stage playing their respective parts - that made me half expect Sierra Boggess or Ramin Karimloo to walk on - but they were all brilliant and their acting felt very familiar and "right" due to the fact that I have seen that DVD several times. 

As one expects to happen, I walked out of the theatre after the performance randomly humming some of the recurring melody snippets of the score. My main thought was: Why have I not come to see the show again sooner? I need to try and come back more often than every four years as I had almost forgotten how incredible the original stage show is. I am hoping to go and see the UK touring production this autumn also. 

Friday, July 20, 2012

'Sister Act' - UK Touring Cast

I am sure many of you have seen the film of the same name starring Whoopi Goldberg on which the stage show is based on. I watch films quite rarely but I am happy I saw that one because it did make me laugh.

Sister Act at New Wimbledon Theatre
Performance: Wednesday 13th June 2012 at 19:30
Cast included: Cynthia Erivo (Deloris Van Cartier), Denise Black (Mother Superior), Michael Starke (Monsignor O'Hara), Julie Atherton (Mary Robert), Jacqueline Clarke (Mary Lazarus), Laurie Scarth (Mary Patrick), Edward Baruva (Eddie Souther), Cavin Cornwall (Curtis Jackson), Gavin Alex (Pablo), Tyrone Huntley (TJ), Daniel Stockton (Joey)

Brief plot summary: Deloris Van Cartier sees her gangster boyfriend kill a man and the police deem it necessary to hide her until his trial. She is placed in a convent and has to get accustomed to a new life as a nun under the name Sister Mary Clarence while her boyfriend's men do their best to hunt her down.

Apparently this touring production is slightly different to the West End production of 2009 (I did not personally see it though): A song has been taken out, another one added and so on. However little I enjoy comparing stage musicals to films, I must say in favour of the stage version in this case that I found it even funnier than the original film. The film is not actually a musical even though, as proved by this show, it lends itself well to one thanks to the focus on the convent choir.

One thing is certain: the audience loved the show and rewarded it with a standing ovation at the end. I got the feeling that many of the audience members present that night had seen the musical before: there was that anticipation in the air, and there was a fair amount of that special kind of cheering at the jokes (the kind where you can tell people haven't been taken by surprise). I adored the show: it was a feel-good musical with a notably clever plot. Many of the songs were catchy and the dance routines entertaining. I don't know why but there is just something hilarious about a bunch of people dressed as nuns doing a stereotypical musical theatre group number.
I really loved Mary Robert's solo song, The Life I Never Led. It is very me in style so I thought I might find the sheet music and learn it. I enjoyed all the nun group numbers, especially It's Good To Be A Nun, Raise Your Voice and Bless Our Show

Bless Our Show from the Original London Cast recording:

I absolutely agree with the multitude of people who have said Cynthia Erivo does a fantastic job of Deloris. It did not even take her half a scene to convince me I was in safe hands when it came to the portrayal of the character.

Laurie Scarth was hilarious as Sister Mary Patrick and Tyrone Huntley stood out in a positive way with his brilliant portrayal of TJ - it was the perfect part for him!
On this visit I had decided not to look at the programme in detail beforehand like I usually do in order to make a note of any familiar names. I figured I would just concentrate on seeing how each of the actors perform before finding out whether I had heard of any of them before. When Sister Mary Robert started singing, I could tell straight away the actor had to be someone famous and if she was not, she certainly ought to be. "Julie Atherton" - well, there you are. I was very happy I now had had the opportunity to hear her perform live having heard numerous recordings of her in the past. 

Julie Atherton singing The Life I Never Led:

I would definitely go and see this again! 

Sunday, July 1, 2012

'Jekyll and Hyde' - very creepy but good

I looked up this musical for the first time after hearing this gorgeous track from the show on Louise Dearman's solo album: Someone Like You (the version below is sung by the Original Broadway Cast member, Linda Eder) .

Jekyll and Hyde at The Union Theatre
Performance: Sunday 10th June 2012 at 18:00
Cast included: Tim Rogers (Dr Jekyll/Mr Hyde), Madalena Alberto (Lucy Harris), Joanna Strand (Emma Carew), Mark Goldthorp (John Utterson), Mark Turnbull (Sir Danvers Carew)

The Union Theatre is a small off-West End venue near Southwark underground station. I remember when I went there for the first time (last year to see The Baker's Wife) and we got there very early, we couldn't figure out where exactly the theatre was as we did not suspect the back wall of the little cafe would open up to reveal a box office and a door to an auditorium.

Poster for this production
Jekyll and Hyde enjoyed a long Broadway run (1997-2001) but it has never been performed on West End stage. It has, however, toured the UK twice to date and there have been a large number of regional productions.
This off-West End production had been modernised and taken into the era of mobile phones and the NHS reverting from the setting of the novella on which the musical is based (Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson, published in 1886). Dr Henry Jekyll is determined to test the chemical formula his father has discovered which supposedly separates the good and evil in a human. He cannot get permission to use a volunteer for the experiment so he ends up taking the drug himself causing him to suffer from split personality: half of the time he is still the intelligent, chronically late doctor who wears glasses and is hoping to marry Emma, the daughter of Sir Danvers Crew, but uncontrollably, without warning he may transform into the bold and dangerous Edward Hyde.

This show actually scared me: I had to keep reminding myself it was just a musical and therefore no one would creep up on me from behind. The fact that the actors hovered around in the audience and the singing surrounded you completely did not help. In those numbers the sound was everywhere and you could feel the occasional gust of wind at the back of your neck when a cast member hurried past. I was trying to act normal despite: I was sitting on my hands to prevent them from grasping the arm of the person next to me. I don't mind scary though and the story was gripping: very much my kind of thing. The music was great too: I discovered several tracks which I enjoyed a lot.

Tim Rogers and Madalena Alberto (source)
Tim Rogers blew me away with his portrayal of Dr Jekyll on one hand and Mr Hyde on the other. The complete transformation that happened in him when going from one character to the other was astonishing even if the only physical difference between the two personalities was Mr Hyde's lacking a pair of spectacles. There was even an obvious difference in the voice quality: Dr Jekyll had a tender, slightly nervous way of singing which was a total contrast to Mr Hyde's powerful belt.

I loved Madalena Alberto's rendition of Someone Like You. Despite being such a slim, small woman, she has a strong, belty voice.

Moment which had the audience in hysterics: Mr Hyde murders an elderly lady and puts the body in one of those big, green rubbish bins which have two wheels. Now, putting a real person in one of those is quite funny in itself but it gets better. Two other characters went and threw stuff (one of them being a decent size bin bag) inside, on top of the lady not realising the supposed body in there. The garbage man then came, tilted the bin onto its wheels and pushed it off through the audience. Okay, me telling about it like this isn't that funny. I guess you did have to be there...

But yes, great show! I was very impressed by Jekyll and Hyde and I would definitely go and see another production of it if one cropped up.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

'Matilda the Musical' - the one everyone's talking about

Of course I could not avoid seeing this one. It is the one all of London is buzzing about at the moment and it has received so many awards that surely it must be special somehow. Besides, Matilda was one of the books I used to love when I was younger so I was intrigued to see what they had done with it.

Matilda the Musical at Cambridge Theatre, London
Performance: Sunday 3rd June 2012 at 15:00
Seat: 3rd row Dress Circle
Cast included: Bertie Carvel (Miss Trunchbull), Haley Flaherty (Miss Honey), Melanie La Barrie (Mrs Phelps), Steve Furst (Mr Wormwood), Lucy Thatcher (Mrs Wormwood, u/s) and Hayley Canham as Matilda

The plot of the book had been slightly altered for the stage show. The key moments, the sections which I remember most vividly from reading the book such as Bruce Bogtrotter and the chocolate cake and Matilda tilting a glass of water with her eyes, were still there. However, the musical focused more heavily on Matilda's love for books and reading and on her relationship with Mrs Phelps, the librarian. And, without giving the ending away, I must say they had tied the whole thing together very nicely in my opinion.

The child actors were absolutely incredible, all of them. They delivered every song and every dance routine with confidence and they really acted their heart out. Haley Flaherty was lovely as Miss Honey. Likable and gentle, not one to stand up for herself - exactly as she is in the book. However, if there was one performance that stood out above all the others, that was Bertie Carvel's portrayal of Miss Trunchbull. It was incredible beyond words: funny but threatening at the same time. Having a male perform the part in the first place was definitely the right decision as it would be hard to find a female to match the height and the physique of the character (Miss Trunchbull was made to look very similar to Quentin Blake's illustrations in the book). 

Another honourable mention goes to Tim Minchin's hilarious lyrics. The music is a little different to what I expectedl and I have to say I was not too keen on it on the first couple of listens but eventually it started growing on me too. I have had a few Finnish friends say that they did not like the show much because they did not understand the show at all and I can see where they come from. There is a lot of humour hidden into the dialogue and the lyrics of the songs (many of the songs are very wordy) plus into the characters' ways of speaking so for someone whose native language is not English, this may not be the easiest musical to understand.
Matilda is a very British show and I am intrigued to see how it does on Broadway once it gets there. If the general British public's reception is anything to go by, Matilda will be running in the West End for quite while.
I also enjoyed the very book-heavy staging (I mean there were literally books everywhere: attached to the ceiling etc.) and the way in which they convincingly conducted the chocolate cake scene. Oh, and the choreography with the swings was lovely! 

A video of the Matildas performing the song Naughty from the musical at this year's Olivier Awards ceremony:

If you love Roald Dahl's Matilda, I do recommend seeing this. It is different to the book so don't spoil your visit by intentionally attempting to compare the two but it is a lovely show and it is child-friendly :)
Official website:

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

'Blood Brothers' - another legendary musical

People (myself included) are often initially surprised to hear that Blood Brothers has been on in London since 1988, making it the third longest running musical in London's West End, because they have never heard of the show before. I imagine one of the reasons for this to be that Blood Brothers was never particularly successful outside of Great Britain: where all the other long running shows such as Phantom and Les Mis also became famous on Broadway, Blood Brothers only played a 2-year Broadway run and one year-long national tour. (Thank you to the amazing Wikipedia for all this information.)


Blood Brothers at Phoenix Theatre, London
Performance: Wednesday 23rd May 2012 at 19:45
Seat: Stalls right, second row (very close to the stage but the stage slopes so the view was fine)
Cast included: Vivienne Carlyle (Mrs Johnstone), Philip Stewart (Narrator), Mark Rice-Oxley (Mickey), Paul Christopher (Eddie), Abigail Jaye (Mrs Lyons), Louise Clayton (Linda), Michael Southern (Sammy), Kevin Pallister (Mr Lyons)

Plot summary for those not familiar with Blood Brothers: It is the story of Mickey and Eddie, twins separated at birth, out of whom one grows up in the wealthy Lyons family and the other in poorer conditions with Mrs Johnstone (the biological mother) but both equally unaware they have a twin brother and the mothers are determined to keep it that way. However, at the age of 7 the boys happen to meet each other and they become the best of friends.
They've made a Blood Brothers stamp!

Blood Brothers is a remarkable musical. I should like to say it is more like a musical play than a musical. That is not because there isn't enough singing in it but rather because one cannot classify it as full-on cheesy, I think. Blood Brothers is about death (no, that's not a spoiler because that's revealed right at the start!) and economic depression. The show has become increasingly relevant again now that the economic situation is not looking promising and even though its setting is very specific in terms of location and historical context, Blood Brothers can be enjoyed also by those who do not have this background knowledge. The one thing I would point out to those whose first language is not English, though: some of the characters speak in a fairly strong accent so you may not catch absolutely everything they say. Don't be frightened off by that though, and I thought this one was easier to understand than Billy Elliot.

One would expect Mickey and Eddie to be the main characters and in a way yes, they are the ones referred to in the title and without them there really would not be a story to tell. However, it is Mrs Johnstone who sings and is featured the most along with the narrator who eerily hovers around. The part of Mrs Johnstone has been portrayed by many famous singers because that distinct musical theatre voice is not essential to play the part. And now that we are on the characteristics of Blood Brothers that make it different to most musicals, I might mention that it does not have tons of those spectacular in-real-life-no-one-would-dance-there-like-that kind of dance numbers - you know what I mean. 

All of the cast did a great job, especially Vivienne Carlyle as Mrs Johnstone and Louise Clayton as Linda. The former had a very pleasant singing voice and the latter succeeded particularly well in conveying Linda's aging process (one could really see her getting old before her time). Abigail Jaye also had a gorgeous voice (a little more of a musical theatre one) and she is the understudy for Mrs Johnstone - it would be most interesting to see her play that part. On the whole, however, I don't think this musical is as much about who's in it. People will go and see it regardless because it has gained the classic status

Tell Me It's Not True from the 1995 London cast recording (if people know one song from the musical, it is usually this one): 

Sunday, June 3, 2012

'Sweeney Todd' - My favourite Sondheim

I am sure lots of people with an interest in musical theatre and otherwise have seen the Tim Burton film, starring Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter. The film is based on this Stephen Sondheim musical which was first performed on Broadway in 1979. 

Sweeney Todd at Adelphi Theatre
Performance: Friday 18th May at 19:30
Seat: Rear left Dress Circle, £30
Cast included: Michael Ball (Sweeney Todd), Imelda Staunton (Mrs Lovett), John Bowe (Judge Turpin), Peter Polycarpou (Beadle Bamford), Robert Burt (Pirelli), James McConville (Tobias), Lucy May Barker (Johanna), Luke Brady (Anthony), Gillian Kirkpatrick (Beggar Woman)

This always reminds me of a film poster.
This production transferred to the West End after a successful run at the Chichester Festival Theatre. Its popularity does not surprise me. After all, the film has made Sweeney Todd the musical more popular, and it stars Michael Ball and Imelda Staunton. I would happily have paid fora ticket just to see the two of them perform. Michael Ball has done a lengthy career both as a stage actor and a solo singer having played, amongst others, Marius in the original London cast of Les Misérables, Alex in Aspects of Love in both West End and on Broadway as well as more recently Edna in Hairspray. Imelda Staunton is perhaps nowadays best known for her portrayal of Dolores Umbridge in the Harry Potter films but she has also participated in a large number of stage productions.

Photo: Jonathan Hordle/Rex Features
Staunton pretty much stole the show: she acted the part of Mrs Lovett brilliantly and her comic timing was excellent. I had had a difficult time imagining Professor Umbridge as Mrs Lovett to be honest but as it turned out, Staunton's portrayal of Mrs Lovett was nothing like Umbridge. You could not tell it was the same person behind the two characters! She also sang well: her voice was rough and focused on acting and character rather than attempting to make it sound pretty.
Michael Ball did a great job of Sweeney. He also had a 'Sweeney voice' - his singing as the character sounded very different to the sound I have learnt to associate him with and I was very much in agreement with the choice he had made there as it suited the character.
The third special mention goes to Gillian Kirkpatrick for her portrayal of the Beggar Woman. In comparison to the film, the part of the Beggar Woman had been given much more weight in the stage version throughout.

Having just made a comparison between this stage production and the film (because you do that automatically if the film is the reason behind being acquainted with Sweeney Todd in the first place), I feel obliged to point out that they are completely different from each other and that one probably would not get very far if they went to the theatre expecting to see a replica of the film. The characterisations are totally different and obviously that famous artistic touch Tim Burton tends to add to all his work is naturally not there. You will get much more out of it if you go and treat the two as separate things.

Photo: Catherine Ashmore
Visually Sweeney Todd was amazing. The overall darkness and gloom had been brilliantly captured. I did not expect there to be as much fake blood as there was as well. I thought Todd would be cutting the throats open out of view but with a bit of blood you could well do it in front of the audience. There was even a chair which tipped the body down the passageway in the floor. All this was very believable! I should not even need to comment on the music - it is magnificently powerful. This one is now definitely my favourite Sondheim musical.

Sweeney Todd is only doing a limited run, until 22nd September 2012 so get your tickets booked!
Official website:

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Louise Dearman's album launch

A ticket to Louise's album launch I had had booked for months. I had enjoyed Louise's gig so much last time that this was a must-see. This gig was to celebrate the release of her second solo album, Here Comes the Sun.
Put together by Amanda who makes lots of
amazing things like this one.
Date: Sunday 13th May
Time: 19:00
Location: Bush Hall, West London

I arrived at the venue at about 6:45pm. The queue outside already extended a long way around the corner of the building when I joined it. I have to admit I felt slightly awkward standing there on my own when just about everyone else was queuing with their friends. I started playing around with my phone and pretended to text. Standard. I kept a look out for any 'famous' people, the word 'famous' in inverted commas because the people who were likely to turn up would be people famous to me and other musical theatre fanatics rather than mainstream famous (I could get into a whole discussion on how 'fame' is defined but I don't quite know how that is relevant). First I spotted Zoe Rainey and Ben Stott whom Louise had worked with in Wicked and a little bit later Julie Legrand who still stars as Madame Morrible in the show. I completely froze when Lee Mead casually strolled past. He played Fiyero in Wicked for a while and Louise joined him as a guest star on his solo tour earlier in the year. I had never seen him in real life before!

It was 8 o'clock by the time everyone was inside and ready to begin. The size of the hall nicely fitted everyone who had come to see Louise. The VIP lounge was located upstairs and you could not help but glance in the direction of the window every now and then in case any other familiar faces would appear. Rachel Tucker (surely she does not need an introduction!) sneaked down at the interval to have a stroll among us. I was one of the first people to notice her slip in and I watched, highly amused, as people gradually became aware of her presence: I could see their eyes widen and mouths falling open in total surprise before regaining their senses and  joining the crowd already gathered around Rachel. The star herself did not seem to mind and she signed autographs and took photos with everyone while chatting away.
Photo: Fonsaca Malyan-Brooker
Anyway, back to Louise: as the music started, she sprung on stage accompanied by applause and cheers from the crowd. The entrance did not turn out quite as grand as planned as she was supposed to go straight into her first song but I think she missed the start or something and ended up having to stop the band, babble a little and start again. She sang through her whole album with one break in the middle. The music on the new one has taken a turn away from musical theatre which her debut album, You and I, was heavy on. I do not think there are any songs Louise could not pull off -she seems to be able to sing anything at all- and the power in her voice always astounds me. The guest-star of the evening was Steve Balsamo who sang a duet with Louise. He features on her album and he has quite a distinctive voice. Look him up and have a listen.

It's difficult to pick a favourite track on the album but I do really love the title track as well as Gravity and Little Bird. That might be because I have heard them all before, though, and Louise does brilliant versions of them. The more I listen to the rest of the songs, such as Squander, the more I realise I like it so if you ask me in a few weeks' or months' time which track I like the best, he answer is very likely to be different.

If you haven't yet seen the music video for Louise's Here Comes the Sun cover by the way, here it is:

Although the atmosphere was amazing and Louise was being her babbling, funny, sweet, talented self, I much preferred the intimate setting of her January gig at the Alleycat. However, aside from the fantastic performance, the great thing was that I got to meet several people with whom I have become acquainted with on Twitter. It was lovely to finally meet them and also seeing those I have already met previously. Thanks, guys! You made the night so enjoyable! :)

Louise's website where you can listen to some more tracks and buy the new album if you haven't already:

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

'The Lion King' - something visually stunning

The Lion King... one of my favourite films of all time. That's right. Not only one of my favourite Disney films but one of my favourite films overall.

The Lion King at Lyceum Theatre, London
Performance: Wednesday 2nd May 2012 at 19:30
Seat: Rear left stalls, £42.50
Cast included: Andile Gumbi (Simba), Carole Stennett (Nala), Shaun Escoffery (Mufasa), George Asperey (Scar), Brown Lindiwe Mkhize (Rafiki), Stephen Matthews (Zazu), Jamie Golding (Timon, s/b), Keith Bookman (Pumbaa)

I won't go into explaining the plot because I am sure pretty much everybody knows what happens in The Lion King. Consequently, I am sure most of you can also imagine how difficult staging something like that is. The stage production does a great job of recreating the famous Disney film: the story line and even parts of the script have been kept the same with some added material to extend it to a full-length musical.

Rafiki, who didn't speak a lot of English (Source)
For those planning on seeing The Lion King: I strongly recommend getting Stalls seats if you can as the actors move around in the audience and it was interesting seeing some of the costumes close-up including a giant elephant which I literally could have touched when it passed (imagine the shock I felt when I turned around to see what everyone else was looking at and saw this huge thing at least twice as tall as me).
An enormous amount of creativity had been used with the costumes and the puppetry. Of course one cannot expect it to be completely realistic: you do remain aware of the fact that there are people jumping around the stage with two heads dressed as lions and others running back and forth with decorated sticks that represent birds.

Footage of the Original West End cast doing their thing: 

The Lion King I think is a show you go and see for the costumes and the amazing merchandise rather than the story line. The musical has become a part of London's street view by now; it has been playing in the West End continuously since 1999 so it obviously is something people want to go and see. These Disney musicals seem to do pretty well (think Beauty and the Beast for instance). Personally I would love to see The Little Mermaid come over. Sierra Boggess kind of should be Ariel for that... not trying to be greedy or anything... 

Wallace Smith and Kissy Simmons in the
Broadway production (Source)
Anyway, back to The Lion King: had I not known the story from before, I may have ended up a little bit confused because some scenes were slightly abstract: well presented but abstract and arty (for instance I don't know if my 6 year-old half-sister who has seen the film maybe once would have quite understood the whole show). Even the visually challenging scenes from the film (especially the one where -SPOILER- Mufasa dies; that was one of my favourite scenes) had been brilliantly staged.
One of the most surreal things was hearing and seeing all the songs from the film (which is one of the very few films I have seen umpteen times) sung live. In a way it never dawned to me that a group of people have actually gone and recorded the songs for the film - I knew it but the realisation only hit me while watching the musical. 

Aren't those giraffes awesome! (Source)
This time the special mentions go to the little boy who played young Simba (you never find out which one of the children it is) who acted the part brilliantly as well as having a great singing voice, the ensemble members who played the giraffes and the guy who played Pumbaa because he sounded exactly like Pumbaa in the film - I couldn't believe it! 

I'm happy I went to see this one as it was definitely worth seeing once. I just had one question when leaving the auditorium and I cannot say I have figured it out yet: Why did Mufasa not have a tail?