The Search For A Screecher I Mean A “Superstar” Is On

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I know what you’re thinking, “Dominic is going to say how terrific the new Andrew Lloyd Webber TV search show is”

Nothing very super or starry about this TV show I’m afraid to say.

Well you’d be wrong, I may have waxed lyrical about Over the Rainbow, however last night’s Superstar was so dire I didn’t even bother watching until the end.

Personally I’m not a huge fan of ALW’s Jesus Christ Superstar, I think it’s very much of its time and ALW as we find in his later career writes much better music, when he doesn’t try to write rock songs. His strength is in ballads and more sumptuous orchestrations I think.  So it was always going to be a struggle to watch this show, but as a fan of previous ones I thought this would be at least fun.

How wrong I was, all it consisted of was of singers screeching constantly, it appears ALW wants a “rock star” for Jesus, fair enough, but not sure if screeching equates to rock star though.

The show lacks one thing – Graham Norton, without a presenter I felt it was falling flat and illustrates how much the success of the previous shows was down to Graham Norton. The judging panel seemed a bit dull and seemed to spend the majority of their time sitting their nodding their heads like those dogs on car dashboards. The producers clearly felt that as the public won’t know who David Grindod is, they’ll not include much footage of him, a shame as he’s the most qualified on the panel to make judgements.

The judges David Grindod, ALW, Mel C and Jason Donovan. Dawn French will be joining them in future episodes (not sure why though)

I know the arena tour is selling well, but again those leave me cold, what’s the point in going to the O2 to see the show on large screens? I might as well get a dvd and watch it at home.  I’m not convinced large-scale arenas are suitable for musical theatre.

So I won’t be watching future episodes, it all felt a bit tacky and lacking. I’m sure they’ll sell bucket loads of tickets and sell the tour out – which is the real reason for the TV show, whether a superstar will truly be found I’m not so sure. Especially as they’ll need to step out from the starlight of it’s leading lady Mel C, aswell as watch out for Judas, Tim Minchin who I reckon will steal the show.

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Love Never Dies – Version 3 – Melbourne, Regent Theatre/DVD – Review

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Third Time Lucky?

I’ve followed Love Never Dies with an attentive eye throughout its turbulent existence. I saw the original version and the updated version in London.  As I said there, I enjoyed each production and thought the changes made in version 2 were a good remedy. The score is certainly one of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s best in my opinion. 

Andrew Lloyd Webber has been raving about the Melbourne production and has refered to it as “definitive”, so I was keen to see what changes were made. ALW has been doing a fair amount of promotion for the DVD release, which included an illuminating 30 min interview on Radio 4’s Front Row (alas there is no point me posting a link as it is only available online for 7 days after broadcast). In this interview he talked about what went wrong with LND in London and why he thinks it worked in Melbourne. Primarily he said that Melbourne worked because he simply fulfilled the role of composer rather than the multi-tasking he did in London (whilst suffering from prostate cancer too). 

So was this all hype and salesmanship or is LND Melbourne definitive or disastrous?

As I popped the dvd into the player, several thoughts occurred – would the cast be as stellar as the London cast I’d seen? One reason I enjoyed it the two times I saw it in London was in no small part thanks to Ramin Karimloo, Lucy Van Gasse and Summer Strallen. Looking back with hindsight, I’d even go as far as to say they made the London production. I also wondered how a filmed version of a stage musical would work, would it miss the magic of live theatre and become too much like a film? I also wanted to see what changes had been made. I had my own thoughts on what needed to be done, what did this production team think the show needed?

 Firstly this production is like watching a NEW show, and that’s to its credit. The problem with the previous version was it seemed too much of a mixed bag, “too many cooks spoil the broth” and the London versions missed a feeling of cohesion and single purpose that all good productions need. This LND looks and feels like a complete package.

One of Gabriela Tylesova's Phenomenal Sets

The design is a key part of any musical and Gabriela Tylesova has here designed a magnificent set that perfectly captures the wonders of Coney Island and she also captures the darkness and mystery this piece needs. Her costume design is also perfect, LND in London felt a bit twee on occasions, there’s none of that here, the freaks are freaky, Christine, looks angelic and the Phantom is a smart and imposing figure. A huge amount of credit for the success of this show lies rightly so with her vision and skill.

I love the mask motif

Graeme Murphy’s choreography adds a whole new dimension too. From the Coney Island opening, to the mirror maze of The Beauty Underneath, his choreography brings to life the spectacle this piece deserves to be. 

Ben Lewis and Anna O'Bryne as The Phantom and Christine

Ben Lewis and Anna O'Bryne as The Phantom and Christine

What of the cast then? Ben Lewis portrayal as the Phantom is exceptional, I had reservations about whether I’d be convinced another actor could re-create the LND Phantom after Ramins Karimloo’s outstanding performances in London. Ben Lewis does and is equally as good. I also felt he gave the Phantom a slightly more menacing edge than in the London version.

Anna O’Byrne also gave a very touching performance as Christine, she mentions in the interview that is on the DVD that she wanted to focus on Christina as a mother in this production. It certainly shows and her scenes with her son Gustave certainly show us how Christine has grown up and changed since The Phantom.

The spooky haunted mirrors in the scene "The Beauty Underneath"

The trio of Maria Mercedes, Simon Gleeson and Sharon Millerchip as Madame Giry, Raoul and Meg, give their characters weight and depth, Simon Gleeson’s portrayal as Raoul is noteworthy. One of the criticisms in the London version was how Raoul was a bit of a wet blanket, Simon Gleeson, makes him a much more tragic figure. Sharon Millerchip also shows the desperation and fear that Meg has superbly in this production. As I said in previous reviews Meg has the largest journey in this show and I thought this portrayal was spot on.

The principal cast - brilliant performances from each of them.

What of Dr Gangle, Fleck and Squelch??? Finally they’re no longer extra’s from We Will Rock You! This production makes them a much darker and key part of the story. They seem to be used less in this production, and it really is a case of “less is more”, they’re matching costumes and quirkyness made them fit in seamlessly whereas previously they were a superfluous and extraneous element to the show.

I’ve mentioned the choreography and design as helping to redefine this show and also a massive part of the success is Simon Phillips direction. He seems to have really understood the show and created a team and version that is worthy of the splendid score.

All that remains for ALW to do now is release this versions soundtrack, as it’s been cleaned up a lot since the original version and I feel that deserves to be released for posterity. There are more motif’s from the original Phantom and Charles Hart has certainly helped sort out the lyrics.

The ending in this version is also so much better than the previous two versions. Much more tension and drama, which it deserves.

I’m also genuinely excited about how this production was filmed. It is hard to believe you’re watching a live theatre production. However this isn’t a film version, it never lets you forget this is a theatre show, I was glad the curtain call was included and the audience applauding after certain numbers is included, rightly so. I trust ALW and other producers make use of this technology as it is a wonderful tool to capture performances. One thing I’d like to see is an option to watch it filmed with a static camera, so that you can see it just as if you were in the best seat in the house. That’s a personal preference, but I’d like to have the option to see the whole stage too.

I wasn’t doing star ratings when I reviewed the previous 2 versions. Looking back I’d have given version 1, 3 stars. Version 2, 4 stars.

Is it a case of third time lucky? YES! This really is definitive version and a brilliant musical. Yes it’s a shame that the original did not reach these heights. Nothing is certain in theatre, lots has been learnt by us all by this shows history. ALW in the interview I mention above laments that the days where you could preview a show and work on it before it “opened” officially seem to now be over due to the internet etc. Theatre is an existential art form and some things can only be learnt when it is put on stage in front of an audience. This show has proved that. It’s also rather humbling I think for the West End to realise it can get things wrong. This team from Australia have shown that there is talent by the bucket load elsewhere.

I’d love to think this version will come to the UK but that is very unlikely. However a Broadway transfer seems possible, if so, that’ll mean one more reason I need to make the journey across the pond to visit the Great White Way. I’d better start saving now.

STARS: * * * * *

Love Never Dies (Version 2) – Adelphi Theatre – Review

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As promised in my review of the first version, I made the journey to the Adelphi theatre to see “version 2” of Love Never Dies this week. This theatre visit jumped to the top of my list due to the fact that it is closing on August 27th. This is a show that’s had a very interesting journey and the story of its ups and downs could be the subject for a musical in its own right.

As mentioned in my previous review, I enjoyed version 1, despite its faults. On reading reviews of version 2 since it came into being last November, most have said the changes were positive. A few have bemoaned them. I was keen to make my own mind up.

The first change was in the performers, this was a different cast mainly. Tam Mutu was the Phantom and he excelled. I was wondering if he’d be able to reach the heights Ramin Karimloo set, he did. The most striking and obvious change is moving “‘Till I Hear You Sing” to the beginning of the show. As I said in my first review I LOVE this song. It sits much better here as the opener, and it sent tingles down my neck hearing it live with the thundering orchestration. A great start to the show.

Then it was into some of Jon Driscoll’s clever animations which I was glad have been used throughout the show still as these are one of the highlights of the production.

The biggest difference I noticed was the change to the lyrics, Charles Harts influence is obvious (why oh why didn’t Lloyd Webber get him in from day one??). They’re no longer as clunky and clichéd as they were in the earlier version. They also help to tell the story better than before, and there has been a judicious cutting and recasting who sings what which definitely worked.

It's worth going just to see Lucy Van Gasse's splendid performance as Christine

Seeing Lucy Van Gasse as Christine again was a real highlight, as mentioned in my previous review I thought her performance was something special, 8 months later it still is. Her voice is perfect for this role and she fills the theatre during her solo of “Love Never Dies”.

The ending has been changed,  its not been changed to how I’d have done it, but it is now MUCH better and feels more in keeping with the characters and story. One member of the audience near me was reduced to tears by it, and whilst I wasn’t blubbing away it is  certainly is a tragic and emotional ending.

So on second viewing any other thoughts from me?? I still think the score is excellent, it’s beautiful in places (Coney Island Waltz and The Ayrie especially) it’s a lavish and sumptuous score. There are now many more motifs and bits of the original Phantom score woven into this one now, which worked and gave a sense of this being an extension of that show.

Action from the "Beauty Underneath" scene.

It still contains the song “The Beauty Underneath”, which despite being referenced earlier in Act 1 still sticks out like a sore thumb, but in a perverse way  I quite like this incongruous element to the show now!

I was VERY surprised to see this advert in this weeks Time Out :

Yes it's referred to as Phantom 2!

In the run up to the launch, ALW repeatedly said that LND is a stand alone show, that’s it’s not a sequel! Which always seemed a bit silly and odd. Now it seems he does want to trade-off the success of Phantom, perhaps he should have done this all along?

So, there’s just over 4 more weeks left of LND in the West End. I’ve enjoyed both versions and do think the revised one is better. If I had the time, I’d visit it again before it closes as I think the score is one of ALW’s best. If you enjoyed Phantom, you’ll enjoy this, or if you like musical theatre I think you’ll appreciate it too.

It’s a shame it’s had such a turbulent existence, ALW has in recent interviews said he should have halted the production going ahead while he was ill, and I’d have to agree. Although I’m surprised they got so much wrong to begin with. It just shows that nothing in theatre is certain.

The Melbourne production is getting good reviews, with ALW saying this is the definitive version. It’s currently being filmed for a dvd release, so that’ll go on my pre-order from Amazon list as soon as I’m notified of its release date.

Will it ever go to Broadway though? That is the question. There seems to be much speculation about that and no answers from ALW as of yet. I think it deserves to go, it won’t run for decades like Phantom, but it’ll certainly have 12 – 18 months worth of life there as it did in the West End. I’ll be interesting to see if it tours the UK, but with Bill Kenwright brought in for version 2, I’m sure those discussions have or will take place.

I’ve really enjoyed seeing and watching the progress of this show, its time in the West End is coming to an end, but it’ll continue a good while longer elsewhere in the world, it’s no Phantom of the Opera, but it’s not the dud many have wanted to make it either. If it comes your way, have a visit and make you’re own mind up. I’m glad I did.

The Wizard of Oz – The London Palladium – Review

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After purchasing my tickets at the end of last year, I’ve been patiently waiting 7 months, but the day arrived and I was finally off to see The Wizard of Oz.

At work usually on a Thursday or Friday afternoon, one of the team has a quick visit to the local sweet shop, to give us a sugar rush and treat. This show was the theatrical version of a sweet shop visit to me. So many reviews that I’ve read seem to have missed the point about this show. My criteria for going and now reviewing the show is totally different to how I’d review a straight play for example. I’ve not been to see a big scale “commercial” musical since Betty Blues Eyes , and so I was in need of my theatrical “sugar rush”.

So was this a Vimto Bon Bon of a show (yummy and great) or more of a Parma Violet (yuck!) ?

A Wizard if ever there woz

Michael Crawford is the title character, and I was genuinely excited about seeing him live for the first time. he also has other roles in the show. His (new) song as Professor Marvel, is a charming number and he delivers it with the right touch of humour and sentiment. Andrew Lloyd Webber’s also written the song “Bring me the Broomstick” for the Wizard, which gives the chance for Michael Crawford to fill the Palladium with his strikingly powerful voice and was a great close to the first Act. When he’s not singing, his acting is witty and just right for this role. Corny to say, but he really is a “Wizard if ever there woz”!

I’d voted for Danielle Hope in Over the Rainbow and was watching with anticipation to see how she had settled into the role now that she’s been doing it for four months. She certainly was the right choice for Dorothy, she has a stunning voice and exhibits a great warmth from the stage. Her interaction with the Lion, Scarecrow and Tin Man is perfect. Most of her scenes involve her being with Toto and she handled him brilliantly (yes the dog steals many scenes and possibly the show!).

This broomstick has a few tricks up it’s sleeve too

Hannah Waddingham is excruciatingly evil as the Wicked Witch of the West, suitable boos from the audience were signs of this. She has a good number (again another new addition) “Red Shoe Blues” which was excellent.

The Dress is Sponsored by Swarovski

Emily Tierney is a magical Glinda, her entrance in Act one is breathtaking and she has probably one of the most amazing dresses in any musical I’ve seen.

Edward Baker-Duly, David Ganly and Paul Keating as the Tin Man, Cowardly Lion and Scarecrow have great fun with these roles and play perfectly to the audience. Paul Keating does some demanding physical theatre with his Scarecrow, Edward Baker-Duly does a great tap routine and David Ganly has some of the best laughs of the show, and he knows how to deliver his lines to get the best reactions. (I loved his, “I’m a Lion in Winter” and “I’m proud to be a friend of Dorothy”  lines).

The new songs by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, certainly contain their hallmarks but I thought they fitted in well. I especially liked the final song of “Already Home”, which is beautiful.

I was disappointed by the choreography which can at best be described as “functional”, the (admittedly few) large cast numbers certainly did not give me a wow factor from the choreography which to me is necessary part of musicals like this.

The sets are amazing and the new double revolve at the Palladium is a serious piece of kit that is fully realised to its potential in this production and I’m sure will become a key reason producers choose this venue for future productions. The twister scene has been well documented as to how effective it is, and Jon Driscoll is certainly the Wizard of projection in the world of theatre, I loved his work in Love Never Dies, and he excels again here.

So this was a perfect “sugar rush” of musical theatre. It’s a superb production, everything is slick and perhaps a bit saccharine, but that’s kind of the point of these types of musical surely? An extremely enjoyable piece of entertainment.

For tickets go to  : http://www.cheaptheatretickets.com/london/london-palladium

Love Never Dies – Review

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I posted earlier this year when Love Never Dies opened and said then that I’d see it in a “few months time”, well I finally got the chance yesterday, so what did I think????

It’s had a huge amount of attention and comment made, both in the theatrical press and also the blogosphere. I’ll be honest I went with a bit of trepidation. I’m a HUGE Phantom of the Opera fan, I think it’s one of the best musicals ever, and to me it ticks all the right boxes, story, score, spectacle. Would Love Never Dies, build on that or simply be a bit of a damp squib in comparison to the original in my mind?

I bought the soundtrack to Love Never Dies in the summer as I was keen to hear it as I liked the title song and “‘Til I Hear You Sing Again.”. I’ve never bought a soundtrack prior to seeing a show, but it certainly gave me a familiarity with the score before seeing it. I’m not sure I’d buy a soundtrack prior to seeing a show again though, as I had a load of pre-conceptions in my imagination to how I “saw” the show.

I’m aware that many changes have been made to it since opening and that they are in fact closing the show for four days later this month to implement further changes. Having seen “Mark 1”, I’m intrigued to find out what they decide to change.

The score itself has some wonderful moments, the opening Coney Island Waltz, really is beautiful and the visuals created on stage are breathtakingly wonderful. “‘Til I Hear You Sing”, is certainly the song of Act 1 for me, although “Look with Your Heart”, is a charming and sweet song, that seeing live I appreciated more than I originally had on the CD. There is an incongruous song in Act one, “The Beauty Underneath”, which when I heard it originally on my iPod, I thought I’d downloaded a rogue song! Seeing it in the show did little for me, and I still feel it needs changing as it really doesn’t fit in. It’s a good song, and frustratingly gets wedged in one’s mind, but it sticks out like a sore thumb.

Act II, I felt worked much better, the orchestras overture set the scene perfectly and it seemed to flow better than Act I. “Love Never Dies” is definitely the song of this act and it was sensational to hear this performed live.

The entire cast was excellent, but special mention must got to;

Ramin Karimloo

Ramin Karimloo was perfect as The Phantom, he played him with just the right amount of menace and sense of “tortured genius”. His voice is also amazing and this score shows that off. It’s easy to see why Andrew Lloyd Webber wanted him to perform the title role. He’s definitely made it his own and has set the standard for all who follow in his shoes for this show. I know I keep harping on about it but “‘Til I Hear You Sing”, is for me THE song of the show, and Ramin Karimloo’s performance yesterday, took my breath away.

Lucy Van Gasse (Photo by http://www.rodography.com)

We were fortunate to see it with Lucy Van Gasse playing the part of Christine Daaé. WOW, WOW, WOW, she was brilliant. she filled the whole theatre with her soaring voice. Yet the gentleness and tenderness of Christine came to the fore as and when required. Her performance of Love Never Dies is without doubt one of the highlights of the show.

Summer Strallen

Summer Strallen was gloriously radiant as Meg Giry, she had some great fun numbers, her quick changes during “Bathing Beauty”, were executed superbly and her beaming smile throughout her numbers was infectious. She was clearly loving this role and we caught that vibe. Her character has perhaps the longest journey of them all and as the show comes to its conclusion we see the price she’s paid. Ms Strallen showed us this journey with magnificent skill.

The general feedback from people seems to be that the story is the big let down of the show, and while I don’t think it’s the shows strong point , it’s not as awful as many make out and certainly no more predictable that 90% of other musicals. As I’ve said before on this blog, if you’re going to a musical expecting a deep complicated storyline, that’s probably a false expectation. I was disappointed that there wasn’t more humour in it, especially as Ben Elton is one of the writers.

As with any production of this scale it’s a huge team of people who help it come together. Jon Driscoll’s outstanding projections really must be mentioned. These are incredible and add so much to the show. The first scene’s projection is amazing and if you have any interest in theatrical effects or where modern technology is taking the art form, go and see this and pay close attention to his projection. I was also keen to see what Scott Penrose had contributed from a “special effects” point of view. His illusions and handiwork were used throughout and added to the overall magical nature of Coney Island and The Phantoms lair.

It’s a spectacular show both visually and musically, hearing a full orchestra and cast perform the score was much better than on CD, and visually it’s an orgy of effects and visuals that are staggering. Here’s a few tasters;

If you’re a fan of Phantom, Lloyd Webber or musical theatre I’m confident you’ll like and enjoy this production, it’s certainly not as bad as many are reporting, admittedly it’s had a good six months to bed down, but that’s to be expected, it’s foolish to think a show of this scale is going to be perfect on the first few previews! It will be very exciting to see what changes are made at the end of this month, rumour has it that the ending may change and that Charles Hart (lyricist from original Phantom) will be helping to re-write the lyrics. I’m glad I got to see “Mark 1” and look forward to seeing “Mark 2”. Personally the ending does need changing and Raoul needs to be changed as he’s a complete wimp currently!

Overall this ticks most of my boxes and I had an enjoyable time watching and experiencing this show and seeing how the Phantom story continued. I’m curious to hear others opinions on what they thought so please feel free to add comments. Once I’ve seen the updated version I’ll add a review.

 

 

Over the Rainbow – it’s not over yet

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I’ve held off writing about BBC’s Over the Rainbow, but now feel it’s time to have a quick blog about it.

Much has been said and written about these shows, both positive and negative, I personally think they’re a good thing for the musical theatre industry and theatre in general. I also think they make great TV. This years show has had a few surprises, most notably that each week a different pair have been in the sing offs.

The choice of panel is rather interesting, I can understand Sheila Hancock and John Partridge but I’m not sure why Charlotte Church is there, I don’t feel she adds anything and her constant interruptions when John is being asked his opinion are annoying to say the least. I really like Sheila’s observations and John’s comments are always constructive (more so than John Barrowmans’s “Fantastic, Fantastic, Fantastic”!) The girls are really privileged to be getting such input this early in their careers.

I was genuinely saddened to see Stephanie leave this week as I thought she would be a contender for the semi if not the final. I’m sure she’ll continue training and will have several offers coming her way very soon. I look forward to seeing her in a production in the not too distant future in the West End.

In my view there are now three I feel could be Dorothy and one in particular;

Danielle, is Dorothy for me, I think she’s grown each week and for the last two weeks has given the performance of each Saturday night, last weeks was just brilliant. Each of the panelists agreed (for once!) that she gave the performance that most stood out on Sunday.

She has a great stage presence and poise that some of the others don’t have and her vocal and dance talents are up to West End standards despite her age. It’s up to the public vote and I sincerely hope she at least gets to the final, and ideally win it.

It’s a double elimination this weekend, so it will be exciting to see which two go, as long as it’s not Danielle, I’ll be happy!

Phussing about Phantom

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This week has been all about one show – Love Never Dies.

It opened this week and has had a huge amount of attention. The reviews have been a mixture. The Stage had three pieces on it this week, one of which was an interview with the Director Jack O’Brien. As said in a previous post, I’ll be going to see it in  couple of months. It’s been interesting to see the buzz this show has caused and it’s certainly caused a bit of a stir and frenzy, which is no bad thing for the industry.

Mostly it’s been fairly positive, most critical of the story over anything else, they’re still in the “tweeking” phase, so it’ll be interesting to see how it evolves over the next few weeks and months.

From my point of view, I’m pleased that we have a new musical (albeit a sequel) that’s not based on some pop stars back catalogue opening in the West End (however a Spice Girls musical is currently in the pipeline for release soon).