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: