Tuesday, 27 March 2012

50 Most Beautiful Songs of Musical Theatre (Part One)

Here is a list of the 50 songs I think are musical theatre's most beautiful. They are not in any particular order, and they are only taken from shows that I have personally seen, or that I have been shown by other people. So here we go with the first 10:

If I Loved You - From Rodgers and Hammerstein's 1945 musical Carousel, this is a song you can only fall deeper in love with after each listen. Marking a moment in the story where Julie and Billy declare their love for one another, hesitant and hopeful, this song is a perfect embodiment of a girl's first step into the world of love. With beautiful music and lyrics, this has to be Rogers and Hammerstein's greatest song, and is without a doubt one of their best known. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iuHAh-2xGxw

Send in the Clowns - Stephen Sondheim's 1973 classic A Little Night Music is up their as one of musical theatre's greatest, and this song has got to be his most heartbreaking and emotional. In my opinion, it is the greatest lament in musical theatre, as the character of Desirée reflects on the ironies, foolishness and disappointments of her life, including the rejection by her former lover Fredrik. Employing a complex triple meter, Sondheim wrote this number especially for Glynis Johns, the actress who originated the role of Desirée on Broadway. The song has become one of Sondheim's most celebrated, and has been recorded by such greats as Judy Collins, Frank Sinatra and Barbara Streisand. Send in the Clowns is undoubtedly as highly regarded by professionals as it is by theatre audiences around the world and possibly the most beautiful rendition of this classic is by Judi Dench at Sondheim's 80th birthday BBC Proms special. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yvZex3Qf7QQ

A Boy Like That/I Have a Love - Now when I was younger, and my sister can confirm this with great displeasure, I would watch the 1961 film version of Leonard Bernstein's 1957 musical West Side Story almost religiously everyday, sometimes winding back the video and replaying it twice or three times a day. Despite Jerome Robbins's iconic and revolutionary choreography and Stephen Sondheim's wonderful lyrics, it was Bernstein's beautiful and timeless score that first struck me and the whole story drew me in effortlessly. Little did I know at the time that this show is based on one of the most beautiful and tragic love stories ever told, Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. Not only would I watch it, but I'd spend the rest of the day singing every song. To be honest I could have put half of the numbers in my list quite easily, and there is another to come in a future post, but this has to be one of my favourites. This duet between Anita and Maria is passionate and fiery but equally, mournful and heartbreaking. Not only are you swept into a whirlwind of emotion, you're left completely exhausted as you live every breath, every gesture, every note sung. Not always the most remembered or credited song from the musical, I believe this song has been at times underestimated and overlooked for some of the show's bigger numbers, but unjustly so. Now, even though both Natalie Wood and Rita Moreno were dubbed over in their songs, these two are two of the most beautiful actresses I've ever seen, and it's no wonder Moreno won the Academy Award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i9kpIUa1hcU

Another Suitcase in Another Hall - A wonderful piece of music from Andrew Lloyd Webber's 1978 production Evita. Cataloguing the story of Eva Perón, this song is in fact sung by Colonel Juan Domingo Perón's Mistress after Eva dismisses her and enters a relationship with the Colonel, seeking a further rise in status. The lyrics of the song describe the Mistress's familiarity with the unhappiness of having to move on after a failed romance, and contemplates how she will move on from such a heartbreak. At this point in the musical, it is most definitely the Mistress and not Eva, who the audience have empathy for. The very simplicity of this song makes it so beautiful. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rytNkRzsZWY

Whistle Down the Wind - Andrew Lloyd Webber's 1996 musical adaption of the 1961 film Whistle Down the Wind, the title song doubtlessly holds the most beauty. Swallow, an innocent young girl and her friends discover an escaped killer who they believe to be Jesus Christ and hide him in a barn from the angry townspeople. In this song, Swallow is singing for friendship, loyalty, love and protection. With some of his most powerful lyrics "So try and stand the tide, Then you'll raise a banner, Send a flare up in the sky", this is again a song that is sometimes overlooked for some of Lloyd Webber's more iconic numbers. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fMchZbf-v88

People - Now in my opinion any list would be seriously flawed if it did not at some point include Barbara Streisand. This song is taken from Jule Styne and Bob Merrill's 1964 musical Funny Girl, which remarkably failed to win any of its eight Tony Award nominations, losing out to Hello Dolly! Telling the story of Fanny Brice, in this song Fanny is singing of her love for future husband Nick Arnstein. Although recorded by other greats such as Dionne Warwick, Nat King Cole, Ella Fitzgerald and Aretha Franklin, this is unquestionably Streisand's signature song, and the lyrics are so relatable, "people who need people are the luckiest people in the world", that it is impossible not to rank this song as one of musical theatre's most beautiful. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9-8gn6vGu_w

Children of Eden - So now we move on to Stephen Schwartz's 1991 musical Children of Eden, based on the stories of the biblical book of Genesis. In this title song, Eve who has been shunned from the Garden of Eden, and whose son Cain and has murdered Abel, is close to death, and so makes a final prayer that her descendants will one day be able to return to the trust that was once lost by her and Adam's actions. Despite it's poor reviews, limited run on the West End and no Broadway transfer, this musical is still incredibly popular amongst community theatres across the United States, and this song is without question the highlight of the production. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1dMgXexQ8uM

Still Hurting - From Jason Robert Brown's 2001 one act musical The Last 5 Years. This show follows the story of a broken relationship, seen from beginning to end through the eyes of Jamie, and simultaneously from finish to start from Cathy's perspective. This is the first song of the production, and essentially records Cathy's heartbreak at the end of her marriage. Musically quite simple, when teamed with the lamenting lyrics, you are immediately drawn into the desperation and emotion of the story at its beginning by witnessing its end. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ujHlChTlC3Q

Sun and Moon This duet is from Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil's 1989 musical Miss Saigon. Incidentally these two previously paired up to write the musical the song next on my list hails from. Inspired by Giacomo Puccini's opera Madame Butterfly, this show is based around Saigon during the Vietnam War, and tells the story of an American marine who falls in love with a Vietnamese bar girl who becomes pregnant with his child. At this point of the show, this song is a declaration of love between the two characters, who after spending the night together, have vowed to leave Vietnam for America. The roles of Chris and Kim were originated by Simon Bowman and Lea Salonga at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane in London, in a production that lasted from 1989 to 1999, and which earned Salonga an Olivier Award. The Broadway production at the Broadway Theatre spanned from 1991 to 2001, again earning Salonga an award. This time a highly coveted Tony. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fqqvXwSVgXg

Stars - As previously mentioned, this song comes from Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil's most celebrated and successful collaboration, the long-running and perhaps the world's most popular 1985 musical Les Miserables. Originally a 1980 production in France based on Victor Hugo's novel of the same name, the story is of an escaped convict Jean Valjean, who is hunted by the God-fearing Inspector Javert. The show recently celebrated it's 25th Anniversary in a concert at the O2 Arena in London, a world tour commencing at the Barbican theatre where it originally opened, and can currently be seen at the Queen's Theatre. In this song, Javert is comparing his hunt for justice and Valjean with the order of the stars, and it is in this song that the audience really starts to empathise with Javert, who is largely considered to be Valjean's antagonist in the show. After seeing the show a few times at the Queen's theatre, and having the pleasure to watch such names as Hadley Fraser take on the role, my favourite portrayal of Javert has to be Norm Lewis, who was chosen personally by producer Cameron Mackintosh and can be seen here at the 25th Anniversary concert at the O2 Arena in 2010. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nSSvH9I1GHI

So here ends the first ten of my top 50 most beautiful musical theatre songs. As I said before, none of these are in any particular order, and I'll be posting the next ten songs after my next review, so keep checking back. It would be interesting to hear some of  your ideas on the most beautiful musical theatre songs, so please leave your comments here. You never know, they may well be coming up on my list too...

Friday, 23 March 2012

REVIEW: 'There's No Place Like London' - Sweeney Todd, Adelphi Theatre, London, 16/03/2012

I went to Sweeney Todd at the Adelphi theatre on Friday 16th March. I was so excited because it was on my 'to see list' when it was at the Chichester Festival Theatre and besides the great reviews, I know that many great shows start there.

To top it off for me was the prospect of seeing Michael Ball and Imelda Staunton, who I just knew (funny theatre feeling in my stomach) would be an absolutely perfect pairing. I was looking forward to seeing how Ball would change my perception of him as a jovial, larger than life, Edna Turnblad character.

Set in a dark and gloomy London, the story is one of a barber, wrongly transported to Australia, leaving his wife and daughter to the mercy of the dreadful Judge Turpin. On returning to his home, he finds the two people he loved have been taken from him, and along with Mrs Lovett who runs the pie shop underneath his barber shop, plots a disturbing and relentless revenge.

So I'll start by saying that I absolutely enjoyed the night. The opening sequence in the prelude alone can be called a highlight, and made my hair stand on edge within about a minute of the show's beginning, and that is a pretty rare feat for me! Musically, there is no doubt that this is one of Stephen Sondheim's most complex and and challenging pieces. The cast gradually took their places on stage before the show started, and drew you in immediately. Picture this: dirty, gritty, smoggy London. The audience anxiously chatting away, some unaware of the cast's presence. Cutting through the noise comes a piercing squeal of a boiler releasing stem, and the show begins. Already disturbed by the abrupt squeal Sondheim's beautiful yet unsettling use of discord in the score enhances the edginess of the piece perfectly.

Enter stage: Michael Ball. Deliciously and devilishly deranged. I admit I was apprehensive about seeing him play such a emotionally deep and disturbed character, but he completely blew me away as the eponymous Demon Barber of Fleet Street. He got the balance between vengeful victim and devoted father and husband perfectly. He was dark, really dark, but also very endearing which was so refreshing for this character, and his deadpan comic timing throughout brought a welcome release to sinister and depressive plot. His rendition of 'My Friends' is deeply moving, and draws you to the human nature that does still remain in his character.

Imelda Staunton: Well just WOW. Honestly this role was perfect for her. Mrs Lovett needs to cut through the darkness of the plot with her deluded love of Sweeney and hilariously blunt attitude. Imelda has got this down to a 't'. You cannot help but find yourself laughing at scenarios and suggestions you would never think to find funny in real life. Aside from her splendid entrance in 'The Worst Pies in London', her highlight has to be her comic brilliance in 'A Little Priest', the lyrics are some of Sondheim's best and the song is laugh out loud funny, and definitely one of the stand out songs of the show.

The supporting cast complemented the two 'stars' perfectly, and with such a talented company, it's no wonder that this revival has gained so many rave reviews. John Bowe and Peter Polycarpou are brilliantly sleazy in the roles of Judge Turpin and Beadle Bamford respectively. Luke Brady was handsome and wide-eyed as Anthony, and along with Lucy May Barker's innocent and naive Johanna offered a welcome touch of lightness to the heavy story of revenge. However, the best of the rest is without a doubt James McConville as Toby. With a beautiful voice and endearing nature, he without a doubt has the capacity to steal the show given half the chance. Perhaps had the leads been played by different people, he would have indeed done so. Charming, lovable, and definitely one, along with Barker, to look for in the future.

I've seen and own the Tim Burton film adaption, and thought it was fine, but after seeing the stage original I have to say the film now leaves me disappointed. The comedy is largely lost and you don't feel as much empathy towards the characters. There is too much focus on Johanna and Anthony's love story and the two leads are at times rather one dimensional in comparison to Ball and Staunton's matching.

Perhaps the one problem I have with the show is it's setting. Of course you can't go wrong with a darkly lit stage or smoke machines to create a sordid and claustrophobic London, and the use of the drum revolve on stage effectively adds level and allows for the juxtaposition of action between the barber shop above and cellar below. However, in this particular adaptation of the musical the setting is not Victorian London as you would imagine, but a 1930s/40s London. Electric shop lights and Pirelli's travelling van are at times a little distracting, however it doesn't take too much away from the fundamental story.

Overall, I'm giving this Jonathan Kent revival of this production four and a half stars out of five.
Michael Ball and Imelda Staunton are glorious in this adaptation and are strongly supported by the supporting cast. Musical Director Nicholas Skilbeck manages to tackle Sondheim's unsettling and complex score, bringing balance to the discord and touches of the sinister to the lighter, romantic songs. With a limited run until 22nd September it's definitely not one to be missed, and will no doubt sell out fairly quickly.