Friday, September 27, 2013

The Musical Theatre Soundtracker Project - introduction

Lately I've been feeling like I keep listening to the same musical theatre soundtracks over and over and that I fancy a change so I came up with 'The Musical Theatre Soundtracker Project'. The aim of this is to dig up some soundtracks currently unfamiliar for me and to widen my knowledge of musicals. I will do this by embarking onto a month's soundtrack-a-day period starting on the 1st October. Every day I will listen to a musical theatre soundtrack on Spotify which I have never before listened to in its entirety. I will also find a little bit of background information about the show in question because I feel that's important and will be useful for me. I intend to post a short blog each day including a description and my views on the soundtrack. I'll try to pick out musicals from various eras and styles and I think I will end up embarrassing myself by admitting to having not listened to some pretty famous stuff... 

Stay tuned! :)

Thursday, September 26, 2013

'Pipe Dream' by Rodgers and Hammerstein

For a musical theatre fanatic, the idea of there being an entire musical by a writing partnership as famous as Rodgers and Hammerstein that they have never heard of seems almost ridiculous. Not a single person I talked to had heard of Pipe Dream before seeing it advertised as coming to the Union Theatre. According to the programme for this production, Pipe Dream opened on Broadway in 1955 and only ran for 246 performances which is less than any other Rodgers and Hammerstein show which made Broadway. The Union Theatre is the first to bring the musical on to a London stage. 

Pipe Dream at The Union Theatre
Performance: Friday 23rd August 2013 at 19:30
Seat: Front row (unreserved)
Music: Richard Rodgers
Book and Lyrics: Oscar Hammerstein II
Director: Sasha Regan
Cast included: Kieran Brown (Doc), Charlotte Scott (Suzy), Virge Gilchrist (Fauna), David Haydn (Mack), Nick Martland (Hazel)

Poster for the Union Theatre production. (Source)
Let's just say, I can understand why Pipe Dream didn't do brilliantly when it first came out. The story is predictable (a love story between Doc and Suzy) but that is not a huge problem in itself considering the age of the piece. I was more distracted by the number of seemingly random and loose-ended subplots and sudden scene changes jumping from one end of the story to another. In addition, some scenes felt too long and others left me uncertain of their purpose in the first place. 

The score of Pipe Dream was not what I think of as typically Rodgers and Hammerstein. Legit yes and the melodic accompaniment gave the game away to an extent but it lacked a let's-see-how-high-a-note-I-can-reach principal girl part and the musical mostly worked with a less operatic style of singing. Also, although this might have been to do with the small size of the theatre, the whole musical felt a little bit less fairytale-like to me than other works by Rodgers and Hammerstein. The prostitute girls reminded me of The Little Whorehouse in Texas - I wonder if they would have been presented in the same way back in the 1950s. Apparently in the original novel on which Pipe Dream is based on written by John Steinbeck, Suzy was a prostitute too but the writers did not feel comfortable having an upright prostitute protagonist and so Suzy's profession is left up to audience interpretation. 

I enjoy going to the Union Theatre for its intimate atmosphere. It was a shame overall that the audience was non-existent the night I went (I counted 19 audience members including myself - never seen the Union as quiet as that) but at least that meant I had a guaranteed front row seat and got to enjoy a virtually private performance with the opportunity to observe the actors' gestures and facial expressions closely. 

Kieran Brown (Doc) and Charlotte Scott (Suzy). Picture: Kay Young Photography

Charlotte was her wonderful self and it was nice to hear her and the other cast members sing without amplification. The role of Suzy really suited Charlotte and, again, although Suzy is also a girly, naïve role, there was a detectable difference between this role and others I have seen Charlotte play. Kieran Brown was a brilliant choice for the role of Doc. He successfully found the lonely, irritable and enigmatic traits of the character. The only part I have seen him play before is Dr Dillamond in Wicked and playing that he obviously had a mask on so facial expressions did not count for much. This time I watched him with a lot of interest.
One of the highlights was hearing David Haydn sing. He had an absolutely beautiful voice and with him dressed in farmer clothes, one just did not expect that voice to stream out (a slight Susan Boyle effect). 

Researching the musical further I found that there has been a recent (2012) live concert recording of the musical with Will Chase and Laura Osnes as Doc and Suzy respectively. I would highly recommend the recording especially if you are interested in finding out more about Pipe Dream

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Review from the archives: 'Mamma Mia'

Found a shortish review I had written but never posted.

Mamma Mia! at Prince of Wales Theatre, London
Performance: Thursday 23rd August 2012 at 19:30
Seat: Left Rear Stalls
Cast included: Sally Ann Triplett (Donna Sheridan), Charlotte Wakefield (Sophie Sheridan), Joanna Monro (Rosie), Rebecca Bainbridge (Tanya, u/s), Gary Milner (Sam Carmichael), James Gaddas (Bill Austin), Neil Roberts (Harry Bright), Andreas Gyllander (Sky)

I personally can't believe this was my first time seeing Mamma Mia! on stage. Having spent my childhood in Finland, I had been exposed to ABBA's music from an early age and as a teenager I even went through a stage when I would be listening to ABBA all the time. Of course I have seen the 2008 film and, well, thought it was okay. Whatever anyone else says, I personally think that Mamma Mia! has a decent plot considering it is a jukebox musical (silly but decent) and the songs do mostly tie in well with the story.

My experience at the Prince of Wales was not the most amazing as there were people somewhere behind me applauding at inappropriate times and a middle-aged man two seats down on my left singing along whenever he knew the lyrics to the songs. By the middle of the first act the thought of leaving at interval seriously crossed my head - it was that bad. I decided to stay until the end though. At least I can now say I have seen the show.

The show itself was entertaining anyway. To start with, it had many more jokes and sexual innuendos than the film - some of them truly funny and some of them I found myself laughing at because they were rather cringe-worthy. The stage version included more songs as well even though the story was effectively the same as in the film version - complete with guys in swimwear.

The whole set radiated a light, feel-good atmosphere with its tropical blues, yellows and greens.
Out of the cast, I greatly enjoyed Sally Ann Triplett's performance as Donna. Joanna Monro was hilarious as Rosie also. Rebecca Bainbridge was a little bit young for the role of Tanya but considering that and as she was an understudy, she did a great job too. 
Of course the music of ABBA played a principal role in the show but none of the arrangements or performances of the songs were near as good as the originals. However, if you love the film, do go and see the stage show! Even if it did not particularly appeal to me, the fact that it has been running in the West End for over 10 years not to even mention all the tours and international productions, does suggest that audiences are enjoying it and recommending it to others. It is one of those shows which, along with other long-running shows such as We Will Rock You and The Lion King, attracts a lot of tourists even if you cannot imagine a local person to go and see the show several times.  

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

BA Music with Musical Theatre at the University of Chichester

Some of you may be aware that I will be going to university in September to study BA Music with Musical Theatre. I originally auditioned for the straight Musical Theatre but they offered me this Music degree with a specialism so I accepted as it is my singing that I really want to work on more than anything.

The University of Chichester has two campuses, one in Chichester and one in Bognor Regis, the towns are approximately 6 miles (~10km) apart. Bognor Regis is located on the south coast of England and it is a popular seaside resort, Chichester is northwest from there.

Chichester Location Map
The red dot marks the location of Chichester. (Source)

Chichester Location Map
Location of Bognor Regis in relation to Chichester (Source)
I will be living in a four-bedroom house near the Chichester campus with three other first year girls. None of us had secured the university accommodation we wanted and we are, in fact, cheaper off renting privately even if Chichester can be a fairly expensive place to live. I have also succeeded in getting a job transfer at the opticians chain I work for, to the store in Bognor Regis so I will be able to keep working on Saturdays and do extra days during the holidays :) My move-in date will be the 15th September and university officially starts on 23rd September the first week being freshers' week. 

I believe we will have about four set lectures a week and the rest will be modules of our choice (e.g. acting, dance, orchestra, I'm going to ask if I could do technical theatre too). We also get 1 hour of one-to-one tuition a week. I have chosen to have half an hour of classical voice and half an hour of musical theatre voice. I debated for a long time whether to do half voice half violin as I played the violin for several years when I was younger but in the end I decided I wanted to concentrate on singing. I will still take my violin with me and get back into playing it. Maybe even join an orchestra again. 

I know I completely failed doing updates on my musical theatre foundation course but if people are interested, I promise I will update you on my university studies every now and then!