Monday, 31 August 2020

Review: Sleepless

Hey readers!
It's time for my review of Sleepless.
When eight-year-old Jonah phones a Seattle radio show and gets his dad, Sam, to talk live on air about the heart-breaking loss of his mother, Sam instantly touches hearts across America. Nearly 3,000 miles away, journalist Annie starts to ask herself whether Sam could be more than just a great news story. It looks like love is in the airwaves, but how do you know if he’s the one for you if you’ve never even met? Perhaps only a last-minute dash to the top of the Empire State Building can prove that somewhere there’s someone for everyone...

Development on a musical adaptation of the movie 'Sleepless in Seattle' first began in 2009, and continued all the way up until 2020. The show went through several creative overhauls and postponements, before finally announcing a run at London's Troubadour Wembley Park Theatre in early March of this year. Unfortunately, the show faced a further set-back with the COVID-19 pandemic, creating further obstacles. However, upon the recent announcement that live performances could re-start, the producers decided to push ahead and at last open Sleepless. This was a very bold move, and one that should be commended. Sleepless is the first large scale in-door show to open in Stage 4 of the government's roadmap to reopening, requiring social distanced seating. In spite of the financial impact this may have, the producers were still eager to open their show as planned in order to give the industry some hope and provide financial stability for those employed in theatre. One can only hope that this will pave the way for other theatrical productions to open in the near future, and hopefully this marks a new beginning.

Kimberley Walsh, formerly a part of girl group Girls Aloud, stars in the leading role of Annie Reed and completely steals the show. It goes without saying that Walsh is a talented singer, but her acting skills are equally as faultless. She conveys the character very well, clearly demonstrating Annie's overly idealistic and romantic nature. Harriet Thorpe, as Annie's mother Eleanor, was also outstanding, and proved to be one of the show's many highlights. Thorpe was very well-suited to the role, and had a real kindliness to her characterisation. Her rendition of 'The Way He Said My Name' was enchanting, and simply a delight to watch. Cory English is also worthy of a special mention, having performed the role of Rob. English has a huge stage presence, and stole the spotlight upon every entrance. He provided much needed comedic relief to the show as a whole, and really brought the fun-factor to it.

The musical score of Sleepless is entirely original, with music by Robert Scott and lyrics by Brendan Cull. The score is enjoyable, and has some pleasant tunes throughout. My one and only critique of the score is that it is not necessarily the most memorable. That is not to say that the music is disagreeable, but I imagine the show would likely benefit from adding one or two big production numbers that really stay with the audience long after departing the show. The orchestrations however, by Larry Blank, were flawless. The entire orchestra are very much worthy of praise, and they were truly excellent.

Now for my final verdict on Sleepless. I give Sleepless...

Sleepless features a handful of very talented performers, as well as pleasing music and outstanding orchestrations. It's great to see live theatre re-starting, and hopefully there will be more of this to come!

Think it should have got a higher rating? Agree with my rating? Think it should have got a lower rating? If so comment below.

Thanks for reading!

-The Basic Theatre Reviewer

Sunday, 30 August 2020

Online Theatre: 'Carousel', 'Kings of Broadway 2020' and 'Grease: Live'

Hey readers!
It's time for my mini-reviews of Carousel, Kings of Broadway 2020 and Grease: Live.
With live performances slowly re-starting across the nation, this is likely to be the last of my online theatre series. I thank all of those that have stayed with me during these trying and testing times, and I remain optimistic for the future. Hopefully theatre will be back in full force soon, both bigger and brighter than ever!


"Set in a coastal New England town, Carousel tells the story of Julie Jordan and Billy Bigelow who fall in love one summer evening. The barker of Mrs Mullins' Carousel, Billy is known for his womanising, yet settles down with Julie despite the warnings from her aunt Nettie Fowler and best friend Carrie Pipperidge. As Julie and Billy marry their relationship becomes fraught and Billy does his best to stay out of trouble, especially when his friend Jigger offers him easy access to money."

I first saw Carousel two years ago during its Broadway revival at the Imperial Theatre and found it to be outstanding. As a result, I jumped at the chance to see a different take on the show, and was particularly intrigued to see Jessie Mueller tackle the role of Carrie Pipperidge, having previously seen her as Julie Jordan. The musical score of Carousel, by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, is utterly phenomenal. It's a true classic, with a handful of beautiful melodies throughout. A few of my personal favourites include 'You're a Queer One, July Jordan', '(When I Marry) Mister Snow' and 'Soliloquy'. In this particular production, Kelli O'Hara starred in the lead role of Julia Jordan; a role which she excelled at. O'Hara boasts incredible vocal talents, and had a clear warmth to her characterisation. Likewise, Nathan Gunn, as Billy Bigelow, also had a marvellous voice, and delivered a stellar rendition of 'Soliloquy'. Jessie Mueller was also excellent, giving the character of Carrie Pipperidge a sweet and child-like innocence.

Carousel can be watched on YouTube for free here: Carousel.

Kings of Broadway 2020

"Charity concert that premiered 31.5.20 and is raising money for Acting For Others, NHS Charities Together  and Black Lives Matter Global Charities."

Whilst having taken place quite some time ago, Kings of Broadway 2020 was a wonderful event that served a very fitting tribute to these brilliant composers, including the likes of Jule Stune, Jerry Herman and Stephen Sondheim. Some very talented performers were a part of this, and it was a true delight to watch. Whilst each and every singer was exceptionally gifted, it was Jamie Parker and Deborah Crowe that stole the show with their incredible rendition of 'Too Many Mornings'. In spite of my adoration for 'Follies', this is not a song that I have given much thought to prior to this point; never before had I appreciated how hauntingly beautiful it was. Ramin Karimloo was yet another highlight of the concert, giving a phenomenal rendition of 'Being Alive from the musical 'Company'. Karimloo has a real powerhouse of a voice, and I'd love to see him one day star in a revival of 'Company'. Special mentions must also be given to the stunning orchestra who performed the Overture from 'Gypsy', as well as Samantha Spiro. 

Kings of Broadway 2020 can be watched on YouTube for free here: Kings of Broadway 2020.

Grease: Live

"After enjoying a summer romance, high school students Danny and Sandy are unexpectedly reunited when she transfers to Rydell High. There Sandy must contend with cynical Rizzo and the Pink Ladies in attempt to win Danny's heart again."

Grease: Live features an exceptional cast, with each and every one of them having a wide array of talents. It is however Vanessa Hudgens, in the role of Betty Rizzo, who steals the show. On the day of this live broadcast, Hudgens was unfortunately struck by personal tragedy, and yet she still went ahead with the performance and gave it her all. This was an outstanding display of professionalism, and it was more than admirable. Additionally, the leading performers, Julianne Hough and Aaron Tveit, were also excellent, and well-suited to their roles. The musical score of Grease is written by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey, and that too is remarkable. Almost every tune is extremely memorable, and will likely stay with you long after viewing. A few of my personal favourites include 'Those Magic Changes', 'Beauty School Dropout' and 'There Are Worse Things I Could Do'. The most remarkable aspect however of this particular production is the scenic design, by David Korins. The set covers a wide range of different locations, and the amount of detail and effort put into it is truly awe-inspiring. 

Grease: Live can be watched on Netflix here (please note that a subscription is needed in order to view): Grease: Live.

Thanks for reading!

-The Basic Theatre Reviewer

Thursday, 20 August 2020

Review: Jesus Christ Superstar - The Concert

Hey readers!
It's time for my review of Jesus Christ Superstar - The Concert.
Jesus Christ Superstar recounts the last days of Jesus Christ from the perspective of Judas Iscariot, his betrayer. As Jesus' following increases, Judas begins to worry that Jesus is falling for his own hype, forgetting the principles of his teachings and growing too close to the prostitute Mary Magdalene. After Jesus has an outburst in a temple, Judas turns on him.

After UK Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden announced that live performances could re-start whilst adhering to social distancing, Regent's Park Open Air Theatre took it upon themselves to meet the challenge, and declared they would be putting together a new production of Jesus Christ Superstar. It was an extremely ambitious project in these uncertain times, and all of those involved were venturing into uncharted territory. Nothing like this had ever been done before, and the stakes were very high indeed. I am thrilled to report that the hard work has more than paid off, and it was a night at the theatre I am unlikely to forget anytime soon; I was honestly blown away. More so than anything, it was great to be back in a West End theatre. There really is quite nothing like it, and I am delighted at how far we have come. Hopefully this will pave the way for a return to normalcy within the near future.

The musical score of Jesus Christ Superstar is a collaboration, with music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyrics by Tim Rice. A number of years ago I stated that the score of Jesus Christ Superstar is my favourite of Lloyd Webber's works; that statement is still true to this very day, and I continue to stand by it. Lloyd Webber is one of the greatest composers of all time, and he's truly in his element in this remarkable rock opera. Both the music and the lyrics are very easy to connect with on a personal level; in their own way, they are both uniquely powerful. The score is also bolstered by a very talented orchestra, who were beyond phenomenal. It was among the strongest live orchestras I have ever seen, and each of them were extraordinarily talented. In particular a special mention must be given to tenor saxophonist Howard McGill, whose solo in 'Damned for All Time' was spellbinding.

For this particular production, the roles of Jesus, Judas and Mary have been double-cast in order to allow for maximum flexibility in relation to scheduling or illness. At the performance I attended, the leads were as follows: Pepe Nufrio as Jesus, Ricardo Afonso as Judas and Maimuna Memon as Mary. In the role fo Jesus, Pepe Nufrio's vocals were genuinely astounding. To simply refer to him as vocally talented would not do his performance justice; his voice was a true powerhouse. The infamous 'Gethsemane' is among the most vocally demanding songs of all time, and yet his rendition was faultless. Ricardo Afonso, as Judas, was equally as mesmerising. Judas Iscrariot is arguably one of the best musical theatre roles ever written, meaning it requires the most talented of both actors and singer. Afonso more than lives up to the expectation, giving a performance that was well and truly spellbinding. Beyond this, his portrayal also proved to be very moving, making Judas's tragic demise all the more heartbreaking. Maimuna Memon, as Mary, was also excellent. Memon delivers a good characterisation, convincingly conveying the character's warmth and empathy. Additionally, she too had an outstanding voice, and one that was reminiscent of singer-songwriter Adele.

The choreography of this production, by Drew McOnie, had the added challenge of generating large dance numbers whilst still adhering to social distancing. It would have by no means been an easy feat, and yet it's still masterful. The large ensemble of dancers were incredible talented, and flawlessly in synch with one another. Additionally, the lighting design by Lee Curran was also dazzling, and proved particularly effective in a night-time environment. The lighting used to convey the tragic nature of certain events was particularly compelling, and really helped to add to the production's overall tone.

Now for my final verdict on Jesus Christ Superstar - The Concert. I give Jesus Christ Superstar - The Concert...

I am honoured to have had the chance to see this production. I thank all of those that have made this production possible, and hopefully this will mark a new beginning in the theatre industry. As Mary Magdalene says, "Could we start again, please?". 

Think it should have got a higher rating? Agree with my rating? Think it should have got a lower rating? If so comment below.

Thanks for reading!

-The Basic Theatre Reviewer

Tuesday, 18 August 2020

Online Theatre: A Taste of Pater Noster

Hey readers!
It's time for my review of A Taste of Pater Noster.
Pater Noster is a fusion of clown and bouffonnerie, following an eccentric Catholic monk who finds himself in sticky situation after sticky situation in his attempt to remain dutiful, yet God-fearing. With a clear focus on Catholic rituals and customs, Pater Noster explores the murky relationship between individual spirituality and the religious spectacle. Through the playful offering of religious-connoted motifs including idolatry, gluttony, and of course, Catholic-guilt, the piece considers the ways in which faith – a seemingly intimate relationship forged between self and God – is influenced by the often dogmatic practices of the religious collective.

To refer to Pater Noster as artistic would be an understatement; its creativity knows no bounds. I don't use this phrase lightly, but it really is quite unlike anything I've watched before, either live in the theatre or digitally. It's a very abstract piece of theatre, and one that proves to be simultaneously ambitious and intriguing. Praise must be given to playwright and star Francesca Caruso for her inventiveness in relation to this project. To carry out an idea such as this takes a lot of innovation, which is clearly a skill Caruso has plenty of.

The play is intended to be a satire on the Catholic Church, something which is conveyed quite well. Whilst on the outside the play may appear to be no more than slapstick comedy, there is more than meets the eye. There are a number of hidden messages to be found within the performance, examining devotion to one's faith and the ensuing practices.

Paster Nastor would usually last approximately 40 minutes with an audience; however, this particular version of the play without an audience stands at 7 minutes in length. This highlights how much the audience would add to the piece, as it would almost sextuple the play's duration. I do think that Pater Noster would likely play better in front of a crowd, though I appreciate that this is difficult at this current point in time. Hopefully it won't be too long before this is made possible, and Pater Noster can reach its full potential in front of an audience.

Overall, Pater Noster is extraordinarily inventive, and for that alone it should be commended. It's not a production that will appeal to everyone, but its imaginative nature is certainly worthy of praise.

Thanks for reading!

-The Basic Theatre Reviewer

Monday, 17 August 2020

Review: Pearl and Dagger

Hey readers!
It's time for my review of Pearl and Dagger.
Pearl and Dagger is the story of Tokoyo, a young woman dealing with the grief over her deceased mother. When her father, the former samurai Oribe, is wrongly imprisoned on a mysterious island, she sets out on a journey to find him, and must discover the secrets of the island, her family, and the meaning of real bravery.

The last time I attended the theatre was in early March, and as a consequence of this I have not attended any live theatrical production in over 5 months. Whilst it has been a privilege to watch so much digital theatre during this period of time, there really is nothing like being there in the moment and experiencing something live. I was so grateful to once again be reunited with the theatre, and it's certainly a step in the right direction. Whilst we still have a long road to go before reaching normalcy, we should be very grateful for what we have at this point in time. Those responsible for this production of Pearl and Dagger should certainly be commended for putting this together. It was an experimental project, intended to examine the ways in which live theatre could take place in the age of social distancing, and it appeared to go very well indeed. I would therefore like to extend my personal gratitude to all of those that took the time and effort to ensure this could run as smoothly as possible. In addition to this, it was also a free event, which is yet another quality worthy of commendation. By making these events accessible to all, it is possible for all within the community to engage with the arts. This too is remarkable, and worthy of high praise.

Pearl and Dagger's strongest attribute is its musical score, which has been written by Eden Tredwell. The songs proved to be quite powerful, with several melodies there were evidently quite haunting. In particular, the song 'Weightless' proved to be a particular highlight; it had a real emotional impact, with poignant lyrics and a beautiful melody. The orchestrations were carried out by a sole pianist, also Treadwell, who was simply wonderful. She really helped the musical score to come alive, and her precision was outstanding.

The entirety of the cast were excellent, and every one of them should be commended for their skills. They gelled very well together, and had good chemistry with one another. The stand-out performance however came from Sok-Ho Trinh, who portrayed Master Shima. Trinh had so much passion, his performance, and the affection he conveyed through his portrayal of a concerned father was genuinely believable. Beyond this, he was also an outstanding singer, demonstrating strong vocals throughout.

Now for my final verdict on Pearl and Dagger...

Pearl and Dagger was a very unique experience, and I am thrilled to have had the chance to attend. This production played for one day only, however I hope that the show will have a future life later down the line.

Think it should have got a higher rating? Agree with my rating? Think it should have got a lower rating? If so comment below.

Thanks for reading!

-The Basic Theatre Reviewer