Wednesday, 25 April 2012

50 Most Beautiful Songs of Musical Theatre (Part Two)

So here I am again with the next ten songs on my list. Remember, they are not in any particular order in relation to each other or in relation to previous songs posted, 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 next 10:

As if We Never Said Goodbye - The iconic song from Andrew Lloyd Webber's Sunset Boulevard, a 1993 musical adaptation of Billy Wilder's 1950 film noir of the same title. The plot revolves around Norma Desmond, a faded star of the silent screen who is still living in the past in her decaying mansion on Los Angeles Street. Joe Gillis, a young screenwriter crosses her path, and she sees in him an opportunity to make her comeback to the big screen, but whilst romance follows, so to, inevitably, does tragedy. At this point of the show Norma has returned to her old production studio to drop in on the set the current film there. In this moment, she feels nostalgic, returning to an atmosphere fond and familiar where she believes she will be accepted again. The tragedy in this song is that although she has found happiness here, this is not the return to the screen that she hopes for. I could have chosen a wealth of performances for my video link: Patti LuPone the London original, Elaine Paige whose voice is always outstanding; but instead I've opted for the original Broadway Norma, Glenn Close, whose performance earned her the Tony for Best Actress in a Leading Role in 1995.

Fallen Angel - I'm not a huge fan of them, so this is the only song from a jukebox musical that I am allowing onto my list, because quite frankly (excuse the pun), Jersey Boys, telling the story of The Four Seasons, is the only jukebox musical that I have enjoyed every aspect of. Opening on Broadway in 2005, and the West End in 2008 at the Prince of Edward Theatre, the production has won four Tony Awards and an Olivier Award, as well as opening in other major theatre cities across the globe. This song comes at a point in the story where things seem to be looking up. Frankie Valli and Bob Gaudino have paid off Tommy DeVito's debts, and Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons continue to be successful, but the story soon turns tragic when Frankie's daughter Francine dies from a drug overdose. In this song, Frankie mourns, makes peace with, and says goodbye to his daughter in a truly beautiful and heartbreaking moment in the production.

Maybe I Like it This Way - From Andrew Lippa's off-Broadway production of The Wild Party in 2000, based on American poet Joseph Moncure March's 1928 poem of the same name. The musical follows a party held by Vaudeville performers Queenie, a showgirl and Burrs, a clown. Their fiery and dysfunctional relationship is brought to light during the course of the party, at the hands of Mr Black, who Queenie falls for. Tragedy ensues and a dramatic denouement scene makes this musical a must see for all lovers of fringe theatre. This particular song comes at a moving in the party. Queenie is soul searching, unable to decide if she is truly unhappy with Burrs or if she in fact prefers her relationship to work like this. The characters aren't exactly the most lovable, indeed, they all have their faults, but they are also some of the most human characters. Lippa's intriguing score which mixes jazz with Vaudeville won a Drama Desk Award, and the original cast included modern day Broadway legends such as Julia Murney, Brian D'Arcy James, Idina Menzel and Taye Diggs. The show later enjoyed a run at the 2004 Edinburgh Fringe Festival, and again in 2008 in Brooklyn.

Tell Me on a Sunday - Tell Me on a Sunday is the title song from Andrew Lloyd Webber's 2003 one-act, one-woman musical of the same name. Previously the musical was the first act of the 1982 show Song and Dance, which incorporates both music and ballet (as the title implies!) The production tells the story of 'the girl' who moves to New York and later LA from England in search of love and success, and the failed romances she engages in along the way. As you would imagine, this song chapters yet another break up in 'the girl's' quest for love, yet for me what makes this song truly beautiful is the pure simplicity with which it is delivered, allowing for the actress to truly explore her emotions and put her personal stamp on the song from her experiences. To be honest, I struggled to find a video version that I liked or wasn't by Sarah Brightman, so here's Denise Van Outen singing it on Parkinson, prior to her run in the show.

Now and for Always - Now perhaps you're thinking this is a very odd choice of song, but I think it beautifully tells the story of true friendship and loyalty, to the point where it made me fully understand and appreciate those closest to me (okay, a little cheesy I'll admit, but still true). From A.R.Rahman and Matthew Warchus's 2006 musical The Lord of the Rings, perhaps the most expensive production to grace the West End thus far, costing around £12million, at this point in the story (which I'm sure you're all familiar with), Frodo and Sam have broken from the rest of the Fellowship on their way to Mordor, and are reminiscing about the Shire and singing of how thankful they are to be able to make this desperately gruelling journey with their closest friend. Now whilst this was by no means one of the best shows I've ever seen, trying to squeeze the story of three books into one play, (the script was a little weak, and it was rather long - 3 acts in total), the whole visual spectacle and staging of the show was breathtaking, and the score by Rahman (Bollywood, Slumdog Millionaire, 127 Hours etc.), Christopher Nightingale, and Finish folk band Värttinä is quite unique and definitely one of the show's strong points. First opening in Toronto Canada for just a few months in 2006, winning 7 Dora Awards, and then in London at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane from 2007 to 2008, the production gained mixed reviews, though it was relatively popular amongst audiences and gained 5 Olivier nominations, not winning any. Here's a video of the original Toronto and London Frodo (James Loye) and Sam (Peter Howe) singing the song, although unfortunately it's not the whole song.

Loose Ends - This song is on the list because I feel as though I have a strong personal connection with the song, that comes from John Dempsey and Cameron Mackintosh's 2000 musical The Witches of Eastwick, based on the novel by John Updike. The story is based around the lives of Alex, Jane and Sukie, who are bored with their mundane and overly scrutinised lives in the village of Eastwick. One night, they all wish for a man to come and spice up their lives...but they get a little bit more than they bargained for in the form of the devilish Darryl Van Horne! This song is Sukie's attempt to comfort the newly orphaned Jennifer, with her own experience of never knowing her father. Being an orphan myself, I found it both beautiful and heartbreaking hearing Dempsey's lyrics, and it is for that reason, and perhaps not the musical qualities of the song that it is on my list. The show was nominated for four Olivier Awards in 2001, but failed to win any, before having short runs in Australia, Russia and the Czech Republic, to mixed reviews. The 2007 production in Virginia fared much more favourably, as did the 2008 UK tour, but it has yet to return to a major stage.

Being Alive - Gasp...I know, it's another Sondheim...but I just really love this guy and just as a warning, there are a few more of his to come in future posts! Sondheim's 1970 musical Company opened in Broadway to rave reviews, so it's no surprise at all that it went on to be nominated for FOURTEEN Tony Award, winning six, and has enjoyed successful US tours, Broadway revivals and stints in the West End and Australia since. The plot actually comprises of short vignettes played out in no chronological order, all linked by the celebration of the protagonist Bobby's 35th birthday. The production was one of the first to deal with adult themes and relationships. Bobby is a single man who is unable to commit to steady, long term relationships, and is frustrated by his best friends who are all married couples. This song comes at the end of the show, when Bobby finally realises that he does actually want someone to share his life with. 1995 London revival was also nominated for several Olivier Awards, and won three. Perhaps a return to the West End is a little overdue!!! Here's Raul Esparza, the 2006 Broadway revival Bobby singing the song. How incredible is this...the actors are playing the instruments!

Papa, Can You Hear Me? - Ok so this is technically from a musical film, but I think this song HAS to be on this list. It's emotional, it's beautiful, it's slightly hypnotic, and it was sung by the legend that is Barbra Streisand. From the 1983/4 film Yentl directed by Streisand, based on Leah Napolin and Isaac Bashevis Singer's play of the same name. The story is about a Polish Jewish girl who dresses up as a man (a la Twelfth Night) in order to be educated in Talmudic Law after her father dies. The film's score was composed by Michael Legrand won the Academy Award, and Streisand became the first woman to win a Golden Globe for Best Director. The theme of the song speaks for itself. Yentl is singing to her late father, seeking help and guidance in her attempt to study at a Jewish religious school. I think with this song I should just let you hear for yourself why this song has made the list.

So in Love - From Cole Porter's 1948 Broadway musical Kiss Me Kate, the show within a show based on Shakespeare's comedy The Taming of the Shrew. The musical was awarded five Tony Awards, including the Tony Award for Best Musical in 1949, and has since enjoyed success on the West End, and revivals in both London and New York, as well as an Italian version in Bologna in 2007. The 1953 film version was also very popular. I was lucky enough to see the 2001 West End revival production at the Victoria Palace Theatre when I was about 11 years old and I can remember finding many of the songs comical and uplifting. The plot revolves around the cast of a musical production of The Taming of the Shrew,  directed by and starring Fred as Petruchio and his ex-wife Lilli as Katherine. This song comes relatively early in the show. Lilli receives flowers and a card from Fred, originally intended for another woman but mistakenly delivered to her instead. As a result she declares that she is still in love with Fred, although she later finds out about the mistake. Originally sung in 1948 by Patricia Morison, the song has been recorded by many artists, including Peggy Lee, Ella Fitzgerald and Dinah Shore. This video is from the 1999 Broadway revival, and features Marin Mazzie and Brian Stokes Mitchell.

Younger Than Springtime - Another Rodgers and Hammerstein blinder here from the 1949 musical South Pacific. I have to say, this is probably third in my list of their musicals, but it still has some fantastic songs, and it's considered to be one of Broadway's greatest musicals, winning ten Tony Awards, and a further seven for the 2008 revival. The 1958 film was also successful, being nominated for three Academy Awards and two Golden Globes. Set on a South Pacific island during World War two, the plot follows navy nurse Nellie, who falls in love with a French plantation owner named Emile. Emile is sent to spy on the Japanese, and Nellie who originally rejected him realises that she cannot be without the man she loves. This song is actually sung by an American Marine Lieutenant who has fallen in love with a Tonkinese girl named Liat. I chose this song rather than Some Enchanted Evening for example, because it defines the naivety and idealistic nature of young romance. The show opened at the Majestic Theatre Broadway before moving to the Broadway Theatre in 1953, and has also enjoyed runs at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane and the Barbican Theatre in London, as well as both US and UK national tours. Here's familiar Broadway and Glee actor Matthew Morrison singing the song in 2008.

Thursday, 5 April 2012

REVIEW: 'Everything's Coming Up Roses!' - Gypsy, The Curve Theatre, Leicester, 30/03/2012

Here she is boys! A long overdue revival of Gypsy, tackled brilliantly by Paul Kerryson at the  Curve Theatre in Leicester. I've been wanting to see this musical for a very long time, and this was a highly awaited and anticipated opportunity that I could not ignore.

So first let's talk about the Curve Theatre. It's a theatre I had previously never been to, and I must say that I was really missing out on a fantastic performance space. The theatre is modern and architecturally an inspired setting for theatre. Perhaps not somewhere one would conventionally expect a production of Gypsy to be staged, the theatre served the show well, and it is definitely a theatre that I highly recommend to anyone in the East Midlands area if you are looking for a cultural night out.

The story is based on the 1957 published memoirs of the famous 1930s/40s burlesque dancer Gypsy Rose Lee (Louise), focusing on the stage act put together by her over bearing mother Rose, and staring Louise's younger sister June. After June elopes and the act starts to fail, Rose tries to continue the act with Louise as the star, however her singing and acting are not good enough, so Louise turns to striptease, discovering she has a talent for it, and becomes a highly celebrated burlesque dancer. The musical, whose book is written bu Arthur Laurents, music by Jule Styne and lyrics by a young Stephen Sondheim, charts the life of Louise as she is pushed from theatre to theatre on the Vaudeville circuit by her 'ultimate show business mother' Rose, who lives her own failed dreams of being a Vaudeville actress through her young daughters. The original Broadway production directed by Jerome Robbins opened in 1959 at the Broadway Theatre was nominated for eight Tony Awards, but failed to win any, making it highly ironic that the musical is now regarded by many critics as being one of America's greatest, with one even going as far as to say it is the American musical theatre's answer to King Lear.

The set, designed by Sara Perks was adequate, with a catwalk style extension over the orchestra pit lined with light bulbs adding depth and dimension to the stage. Of course, in a show where much of the action takes place in theatres a red curtain is compulsory, but what really intrigued me was the use of monochrome ad boards as the main vehicles for the set. It didn't exactly scream of the true setting of the story; a dying Vaudeville. Whilst these ad boards did serve well in breaking up scenes, perhaps a more typical set could have captured the audience and brought them into the lives of the characters a little more.

Musical Director Michael Haslam handles Styne's score brilliantly. The exciting, heavily brass based overture immediately draws you into the production and excites a sense of nostalgia harking back to the 'Golden Age' of Hollywood and Broadway. The balance and precision in such complex songs as 'Some People', 'Everything's Coming Up Roses', and of course 'Rose's Turn' are tackled effortlessly and it was thrilling even to hear the transitional music between scenes mirroring the sounds of a steam engine, truly reflecting the characters being dragged from one stage to another across the country.

Now the character of Rose is one of the most complex and challenging in musical theatre, and I truly believe that the right to play such a role needs to be earned by a seasoned and truly remarkable actress who can then justify such a casting with a performance of epic proportions. Okay, so I may be going I little over the top, but I'm not exaggerating when I say that Caroline O'Connor suits the domineering Rose incredibly well, and deserves all praise due to her. She truly is sublime as the pushy stage mother, carting her children across America in search of fame and success. Not only this, but O'Connor is vocally superb in all of her challenging musical numbers, with show stopping performance of 'Rose's Turn'. I found the breath taken from me as she completely embodied Rose and excellently portrayed her breakdown onstage. An absolute powerhouse of a performance, from a truly glorious actress.

There was also a fantastic onstage relationship between O'Connor and David Fleeshman, who plays Herbie, Rose's love interest and the children's agent. Whilst Fleeshman's American accent was noticeably weak, his acting most certainly made up for it. Heartwarming, endearing and lovable, your heart breaks along with his when Herbie comes to the realisation that Rose will never truly be able to love him more than show business.
Victoria Hamilton-Barritt is cast in the role of Louise, and plays the transition from the shy, innocent, vulnerable Louise we see in Act One's 'Little Lamb' to the headstrong, self-assured, successful and independent Gypsy Rose Lee in Act Two's 'Let Me Entertain You' beautifully. Hamilton-Barritt is exceptionally talented and at times steals the show when O'Connor is not onstage.

Credit must also be given to the highly talented supporting cast, who interchange roles seamlessly. Daisy Maywood is incredibly talented in the role of Dainty June, and whilst her stage time is rather limited, she performs her songs and choreography very well. Particular mention though, should be given to the trio of Geraldine Fitzgerald, Jane Fowler and Lucinda Shaw, whose hilarious performances in the comedy number 'You Gotta Get A Gimmick' is easily one of the highlights of the show. However, I can't finish without giving a special mention to the extremely talented children in the show, playing Baby June, young Louise and the rest of the children in Rose's troupe. They deal well with opening the show, handling some tricky choreography from David Needham with great flair and gusto.

Overall, I'm giving this revival of Gypsy four stars out of five. The set design may be a little lacking, but the casting is perfect and this is an opportunity to see a truly talented group of performers in one of musical theatre's finest shows, at a wonderful theatre. Perhaps the second act is stronger than the first, but this is where the transition of Louise to Gypsy occurs and the catharsis is played out. The production is running at the Curve Theatre in Leicester until the 15th April, so there's not much time left, but if you can, I really urge you to book tickets and see this show.

Photography by Catherine Ashmore and Pamela Raith