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?

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

My West End cabaret experience

As a part of the 12-week Sunday intensive musical theatre course I took at the American Musical Theatre Academy of London, known just as AMTA, my course mates and I got this amazing opportunity to perform in a cabaret at Charing Cross Theatre (i.e. actually in the West End) with an ensemble and four West End soloists.

Insane About Broadway at Charing Cross Theatre
On 29th April 2012 at 19:30
Main soloists: Kenneth Avery-Clark, Mark Goldthorp, Alice Fearn, Kirsty Hoiles

Our call was at 10:30am. It really wasn't my morning: Not only did I succeed in getting lost while changing tubes at Earl's Court underground station (note to self: never change there, however desperate you are) but I also had trouble finding the theatre. It is slightly hidden from view with the entrance in an alleyway underneath an arch which read something like 'Arches Shopping' over it. In addition, it was still down on the maps under its former name: The New Players Theatre. Obviously I did successfully arrive in the end, otherwise this blog post would cut rather short. 
Charing Cross Theatre is one of those gorgeous, old-looking venues. You know when you think of the word 'theatre' as a building, you probably think of the interior as something like Charing Cross Theatre. It seats 275 people so it is decent size as well: very nice for a cabaret.

Fave! Me with Elaine and Bronwyn in Skid Row

Alice's gorgeous shoes.
Kaisla's Dorothy shoes.
We only had the theatre for the day of the cabaret so we did all the tech and finalised the blocking then. Of course we had blocked all the ensemble numbers previously but we did not actually know whether it would work on the stage we had or not (mind you, we did have to make a fair number of changes due to things like the stairs on either side of the stage not being lit enough for people to stand on them during numbers). The best you can do is keep track on all the changes. Preparing for this cabaret really made me realise what a huge responsibility each ensemble member has. A group of people put on stage together does not automatically transform into an ensemble but each person needs to put in maximum effort in order for the ensemble to function.

Alice, who had a matinee to do at Shrek the Musical (she in in the ensemble playing the Sugarplum Fairy and Gingy as well as understudying the role of Princess Fiona), rehearsed her solo numbers and duets first. I decided to sit and watch. Alice was on as Fiona when I went to see Shrek last August. She was brilliant in the part and I absolutely loved her voice. While I was sitting there listening to the rehearsal progress, the realisation that I would get to be a part of all this finally hit me. I smiled and snuggled deeper into the comfortable, cushioned seat absorbing in that special theatre atmosphere which I have grown so very fond of. It was great watching the professionals work, you can really learn a lot by doing that although sometimes they make you roll your eyes by saying how badly they did even though it sounded perfect to you. Obviously Kenneth, Mark and Kirsty also had fabulous voices (go Google them all!). I listened with particular interest to Kirsty's rendition of Somewhere That's Green from The Little Shop of Horrors as that is one of the songs I have recently learnt but have not had the chance to perform anywhere yet. 

Interval photos, with Michelle, Elaine,
Bronwyn, Claire and Rachel
Everyone shared one small dressing room which, as I am sure you can imagine, ended up hot, stuffy and crowded. I took forever getting ready as usual. Apparently I also looked too pale on stage and I was trying to figure out how to dispose of the problem without ending up looking orange. Clothing-wise I had only brought one dress with me: the only one I own which could be considered vaguely "glam" (I think I need to get some more nice dresses) and which was not extreme in terms of the colour. Some people had brought several outfits and were trying to decide which one to wear for which number.
There were five group numbers: Skid Row from The Little Shop of Horrors, 'Til We Reach That Day from RagtimeSeasons of Love from Rent, One Short Day from Wicked and In Whatever Time We Have  from Children of Eden as well as a group of six girls (Claire, Michelle, Elizabeth, Irina, Elaine and Chiara who all deserve to be mentioned by name because they did an amazing job) singing and dancing to Cellblock Tango from Chicago and most of the boys sang What You Own from Rent as a group number. Some of the students on the full-time programme at AMTA performed solo songs. Incidentally, one of them happened to be Finnish - very surreal but it was nice to chat to someone in Finnish for a change. We also had some of the full-time students doing stage management. Thanks for being such a great help! 

Mark (left), Alice, Kirsty and Kenneth in the last number:
In Whatever Time We Have
Was I nervous? Of course I was. Excited-nervous though, and only just before the show began. I am one of those people who just tends to go into calm-mode. Once I got on stage, I enjoyed being there too much to have any second thoughts. With the number of times we had rehearsed all the songs, there really was no reason to panic. Everything was in muscle memory.

Special thanks to all the people I had the privilege of meeting and working with over the 12-week course, our teachers Duncan, Ross and Alex and Kenneth and Christie for giving us this fantastic opportunity to perform :) I had such a great time on the course and on the day of the cabaret and I suppose it goes unstated that I would love to do something similar again in the future. (Such a sloppy way to end the post...)

I was on a post-show high or something... My "cousin", Lumi, was in the audience :)

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

'Friday Night Is Music Night' with Kerry Ellis

I don't know if I have mentioned this in my blog before but Kerry Ellis is by far one of my favourite singers. Musical theatre is where she started her career and playing the role of Elphaba in Wicked both in the West End and on Broadway was her big breakthrough. She is also famous for playing Nancy in Oliver!, Meat in We Will Rock You and  Svetlana in the concert version of Chess at the Royal Albert Hall amongst others. She has become noticed by the general audience also as a result of collaborating with legendary Queen guitarist, Brian May, who played on and produced her solo album, Anthems

Friday Night Is Music Night at Watford Colosseum, Watford
On 20th April 2012 at 20:00
Organised and broadcast live by BBC Radio 2
Seat: Stalls right, 3rd row
Performer: Kerry Ellis
Guests: Ramin Karimloo, Jonathan Ansell, Brian May

The last time I've been to a show that was broadcast live was the ABBA tribute concert in Hyde Park in 2009 I seem to remember (incidentally Kerry sang a song there as well). That went live on both radio and TV. Anyway, both times have been awesome already due to the fact that the audience really gets into the show. One of the worst things I know in the theatre is a boring and quiet audience so I really enjoyed this concert. The auditorium was completely full as well. Only when we actually sat down did I realise how good seats we actually had. 

Kerry was the main performer of the night singing a bunch of songs mostly famous from musical theatre. I've seen Kerry perform live twice before. Apart from that time in Hyde Park, I saw her on her Anthems tour last year. What I like about seeing Kerry do solo stuff live is that she never pretends to be anything aside from herself (and she seems like a lovely person). She doesn't need to. She only needs to open her mouth and start singing and she will have the audience listening. 

I had never heard this song before but it was one of my favourite songs of the evening: 

After the orchestra (they had a full orchestra on stage) had blasted out an instrumental medley including Wicked, 9 to 5 and My Fair Lady, Kerry came on and opened the concert with Don't Rain On My Parade from Funny Girl. It was great to hear her sing again and, above all, to see her perform so close-up.

Some other songs sung by Kerry over the course of the evening:
  • I Could Have Danced All Night from My Fair Lady (new arrangement)
  • Cabaret from Cabaret
  • Defying Gravity from Wicked (new arrangement)
  • Love of My Life
  • Born Free
  • 9 to 5 from 9 to 5
  • Lady is a Tramp from Babes in Arms
  • Rock-A-Bye Your Baby

Because I know I have lots of Wicked fans reading this blog, here is the Defying Gravity Kerry performed on the night. Personally I didn't like this arrangement that much because I think this song needs much more guts but that put aside, Kerry does a beautiful job out of it: 

Ramin performed two songs from his new album as well as a duet, Somewhere from West Side Story with Kerry. Ramin is also one of my favourite musical theatre performers. He has such a fantastic voice, too perfect for Phantom. So when he sang "Hold my hand..." I was thinking in my head "Kerry, don't do it! He's the Phantom!". From where I was sitting you couldn't hear all of Kerry's high notes in the song that well, her voice is quite breathy generally and obviously she isn't a soprano, but in this audio I found the whole song is fine actually (and the song itself goes on forever, doesn't it...!): 

Jonathan Ansell I had never actually heard of before but his rendition of Anthem from Chess was one of the highlights of the evening. It was definitely one of the best versions I have heard and the final note was just "Wow". Kerry picked it up and said, kind of in passing "I don't do that on my album". The way she said it made everyone laugh.
Jonathan also sang a classical piece and a duet with Kerry: Come What May from (I'm sure you all know where) Moulin Rouge. Kerry sang this with Alfie Boe on his album and I was half expecting Alfie to come on stage but Jonathan did a great job of the song as well.

I had absolutely no idea Brian May was going to be there. I spotted his distinctive hair by the side of the stage when the previous song was reaching its end and I had to keep myself from bouncing up and down. I had seen the pair of them perform together on the Anthems tour and, well, you can imagine it was incredible. The audience was treated to Save Me and No One But You: Kerry blew the roof belting them out. One could just tell she was comfortable singing these songs, it's peculiar how confidence can shine through like that. 

So a very enjoyable evening overall, it was great hearing Kerry live again. And of course we are all waiting for a second solo album from her...