June 4, 2011
This time last week I had the pleasure of interviewing Julie Atherton, who I’ve long admired since seeing her early on in Avenue Q and later in The Last Five Years. She’s performing at The Pheasantry on the Kings Road tonight and tomorrow night, and although she didn’t give much away in our chat, you can bet it will be a stunning show.
Since then two more pieces of Atherton news have popped up (every interviewer’s nightmare – just missing the big questions by a week): her biggest solo gig to date at the Apollo Theatre on 26th June, and her casting as Sister Mary Robert in the Sister Act UK tour.
Julie had hinted at a tour in our interview, but news of this role came as a surprise. It was posted on the BroadwayWorld message boards and confirmed by the lady herself on Twitter today. Not many people have both the charm and the lungs for the role originated by Katie Rowley Jones, but Miss Atherton has oodles of both. I’m really looking forward to seeing what she brings to it.
I had a great time at Sister Act when I went in its first week, and thought it closed far too quickly. We still haven’t found out who will be our Deloris – I have my fingers crossed for some fabulous unknown talent from the open auditions – but with this piece of news further casting announcements can’t be far behind.*
Look out for a review of the Apollo gig on here – I’m looking forward to seeing Julie paired with guests such as Daniel Boys for some great songs; she has impeccable taste when it comes to up and coming musical theatre. She’s set to perform tracks from her brilliantly-received album No Space for Air, alongside songs from her most famous shows. Favoured composers Lance Horne and Michael Bruce will even pop up to accompany her, and Richard Fleeshman is taking a break from his Ghost duties to join her for a duet.
Congrats to Julie on the new role, the new concert, and her Pheasantry shows this weekend. If you aren’t yet a fan, get yourself to one of these – I promise you will be afterwards.
*Rumours are rife that Deloris will be played by Cynthia Erivo of Umbrellas of Cherbourg fame. Cynthia reportedly announced the casting in a tweet some weeks ago – unlike the demure Patina Miller, she’s pretty outspoken on Twitter, so WEG has high hopes for some Van Cartier attitude! However, the tweet and a blog post about it have both been removed, so this isn’t 100% official.
March 24, 2011
I know as a theatre blogger I should be all Sondheim this and Larson that, but the truth is, I’m an absolute whore for a chick flick. I sat watching the movie Legally Blonde tonight (still brilliant after a decade) and it reminded me just how well-timed and spirited the songs in the musical version are.
It’s one of my favourite shows to hit the West End in the past couple of years, and even though our version didn’t quite hit the glossy highs of the original cast, fully deserved its hat-trick at the Oliviers.
Another screen-to-stage adaption I absolutely loved was the much underrated Sister Act. Although it has catchy tunes, sassy script and humour galore, I think it was a hard one to pitch to audiences who expected the Motown and Sixties classics featured in the film.
Alan Menken’s funky disco score was pastiche at its very best, and Patina Miller absolutely sublime as diva Deloris Van Cartier. Sadly, its West End run lasted just 16 months, and it is now Broadway bound (opening April 20th.)
Now faithful co-producer Whoopi Goldberg has teamed up with Stage Entertainment to look for a brand new Deloris for a UK & Ireland tour. They are holding open auditions – and I mean open; the playing age is 20-40 – at Pineapple Dance Studios on Monday 4th April.
I’m so glad that this is going on tour and, looking at the casting requirements, that the producers appear to want a certain, shimmering je ne sais quois rather than a Patina or Whoopi clone.
These are big, sparkly boots to fill, however. Whoever gets the role will need to rock an afro, a nun’s habit and this much attitude:
Good luck ladies.
The year-long tour of Sister Act will open in October 2011.
December 7, 2010
An odd, but fascinating column from The Stage’s Mark Shenton today, on the current titans of the West End, and what he sees as possible lack of a ‘new generation’ of musical theatre stars. Shenton shows his distinct taste very honestly, listing Bernadette Peters, Patti LuPone and Angela Lansbury as shining beacons of Broadway, and pondering our dearth of high-class British equivalents. Firstly, as part of the new generation of theatregoers, these vintage ladies are just not my style. I grew up listening to the likes of the Les Mis original cast, and LuPone and her ilk have a certain camp, self-indulgent tone to their voices that just feels dated now. There is a new rawness in musical theatre, and this should be celebrated. Those warbling wonders were perfect for the original Chicago line-ups (Chita Rivera), and now for classic material like A Little Night Music (Peters and Lansbury), but I don’t think we need new versions of them, especially not in the West End. That is one part of musical theatre history, this is another.
Unfortunately, a large part of this new era is its ‘stunt casting’ (much bemoaned on WEG, so apologies) – producers’ seemingly compulsory casting of at least one ‘face’ from reality TV, soaps or the charts to bring in a wider range of punters. I wish I could say these are all multi-talented folk who simply started off in a less desirable medium, but I have sat through too many shows with one weedy weak link with insufficient breath control and high-school acting (*Jonas*). Sorry, must have slipped while typing there. Apart from anything else, celebrity status is just distracting; you want to be affected by that character, not by how Gareth Gates is playing them. So in this sense I’d say this is a bleak moment for musical theatre talent. The trained, the dedicated and the naturally spine-tingling are being edged out by people for whom fame was more important than the work they chose. Snobbish perhaps, but WEG’s theatre experience has definitely gone downhill in the past five years or so (although it isn’t entirely new; I remember going as a very small person to see Jason Donovan as Joseph.)
When Jason Robert Brown came to London for a two-night gig, it spoke volumes that he hadn’t invited any West End talent to sing his brilliant material. Having said that, if I were asked to cast a JRB-worthy line-up, I’m not entirely sure who I’d pick either. However, I disagree that there are no exciting talents treading our boards; Shenton suggests Kerry Ellis is “carefully positioning herself as” a leading lady, but I would say she’s already there. This smacks of individual dislike, as no one who has seen Ellis sing can deny she is luminous, nuanced and spectacular in range – all leading lady qualities. Anyone remember the sinking feeling when this year’s Over the Rainbow introduced five top ‘leading lady’ mentors, including Tamzin Outhwaite (who later performed incredibly flatly on the show) and Melanie C? Only Ruthie Henshall and Ellis (the new Henshall, really) were really worthy of that title. Sheridan Smith is a tough one; I’ve always admired her as an actress, she is a great TV personality, and she has brought a fresh charm to our Legally Blonde. But her singing is just not up to it, for me. Incidentally, Smith’s understudy Amy Lennox is tremendously talented, but without the Two Pints of Lager and Gavin and Stacey background, it would seem her resume was not starry enough. Let’s not forget that Kerry Ellis first gained admiration as the oft-sickly Martine McCutcheon‘s reliable understudy in My Fair Lady, and some of the best Elphabas I have seen in Wicked were first or second covers (Cassidy Janson and Ashleigh Gray were both stunning.) So we do have leading lady potential in the West End – it’s just not being used enough.
After reading Shenton’s column, I sat and tried to think of those West End Stars who have truly impressed me over the past few years. Julie Atherton, who he has the decency to credit, is someone whose wit, intelligence and power vocals make her a unique presence in our theatre landscape; not to mention her choice of new writing and smaller projects in recent years. John Owen-Jones was probably my favourite performance of the year in the Les Miserables 25th Anniversary tour, played with such fervour and sung with such emotion that it made a well-worn role seem new. Of the reality show darlings, I think Samantha Barks has (excuse the brand) the elusive X factor they all profess to seek, and in terms of leading men Oliver Tompsett has always had that extra charisma, although he is only really associated with Fiyero at this point. Katie Rowley Jones really shone in Sister Act, giving even powerhouse Patina Miller a run for her money. Gemma Sutton, who I saw in the Oklahoma tour this year, also has real potential with her subtle acting and songbird soprano. But while I can list those who I’ve enjoyed in the past few years, I agree that only a handful have been goosebump-inducing. Come on WestEnders; up your game for 2011.