March 21, 2012
On Monday 19 March, Les Misérables, Love Never Dies and Phantom of the Opera star Ramin Karimloo held a small, secret gig to thank a sample of his loyal fans. The evening was an informal mix of tracks from his soon-to-be-released album, Ramin, and personal favourites, with a Greenday song and a folky hymn thrown in for good measure. WEG was lucky enough to be there and, having recently interviewed the actor for theatre website The Public Reviews, caught up with him afterwards (although he ended up quizzing me almost as much as I did him!) Here’s Ramin on nerves, song choices and hitting the road on tour in May….
Did you enjoy the gig?
I had a great time, I’m a bit tired… It hit me today, I thought I had it all together but then this morning I was like, oh crap, it’s tonight. You know, putting my own songs out there again. Some of them we orchestrated to give more of the album feel. But it went well.
Do you think everyone showed up?
I think so, I had two lovely friends help me run the door. Those who couldn’t come I think let me know.
How did you arrange the guestlist?
I basically said, anyone who has pre-ordered [the album], tell me when you pre-ordered it and your name. I put them all in the month that they ordered them, and then took 20 per cent from each one. I had to be fair – I didn’t want to make people think that just because people bought it in October they support me more. I thought it was fair. The venue was over capacity.
How did you choose the songs?
We did an album launch a few weeks ago, so I used the same album songs from that so the band didn’t have to rehearse more – because I did this off my own back. The rest was rehearsed by email sometimes! I would send them a song, have them give it a try… the drummer had never heard them until tonight, so he was just going with it. I wanted to see how the set flowed without any musical theatre. The one song we were arguing about was Bring Him Home; my guitarist Steve Young (who is Darren Hayes’ guitarist) loves to play it on classical guitar, but it would have just felt weird to do Bring Him Home then and there.
It is your night off as well! We loved the Muse cover (Guiding Light).
Great, well that’s on the album. How did you find the country stuff?
Really good – amazing work on the banjo.
Yeah, I love bluegrass and folk. I also thought that hymn would be fun to do. I enjoy it but my band are all professional musicians who play for people like KT Tunstall – they’ll be with me on tour.
What are you looking forward to most about being on the road?
It’s just about being a songwriter and a musician, and finding myself – I’m not a character for once. It will be interesting to see the Ramin that starts it and the Ramin who finishes. Tonight, I was surprised how comfortable I felt. When I did this for industry folks, I was so stiff. I think people when they come to see this stuff, they want to see the artists enjoying their own music. It’s not about performing a character, it’s like, ‘I would do this whether you were here or not’. I felt relaxed, I didn’t feel any nerves really. Did you enjoy it?
I really enjoyed it, the band were so slick – I thought it was going to feel more impromptu than this.
Did it look like I could play the piano?
Good, because when I was in rehearsal I was like, I wanna try the piano. But then up there, with the words…!
How do you feel about wrapping up Les Mis at the end of next week?
I need it, man, I need a break. I am tired. But I’m leaving wanting more.
Do you think you would go back to it?
I hope so – if they’ll have me and I had the time to do it, that would be great.
Thanks for inviting me, and good luck on tour!Were you at Ramin’s Thank You Gig? Share your thoughts on it in the comments box below…
June 17, 2011
The eek-worthy rumours are true! Idina Menzel has added a London date to her current tour! The Elphaba-creating, Maureen-mooing, Enchanted-starring, barefoot-singing goddess of musical theatre will grace us with her presence (at the Royal Albert Hall, no less) on 6th October. Never have I so wanted summer to hurry the hell up.
If you’re not already a huge Idina fan – firstly, get off of my blog. Secondly, this would mean you have missed out on her basically unbeatable performance in Wicked, her show-stealing portrayal of Florence in Chess in Concert (also at the RAH) AND her fabulous cameo as Vocal Adrenaline coach/Gay Dads’ babymama on Glee. Not to mention her definitive performance as Maureen in the original cast and wonderful movie version of Jonathan Larson’s Rent.
As well as being musical theatre royalty, Idina has come out with two very respectable pop-rock albums, including some great tracks on the 2008 release, I Stand. As someone who has never caught her in a show, and fearing she might be settling down to family life more and more with hot hubby Taye Diggs and baby Walker, I am definitely not missing this one.
Videos of Idina live (and her assertion in the Daily Mail that she will go barefoot to perform) suggest she is passionate, committed and almost spiritual when commanding the stage.
The show, ‘a diverse repertoire of musical theatre and classic pop favourites’, will no doubt include some Rent, some Wicked, and maybe a little Funny Girl. I have my fingers crossed for all three. As well as the sheer strength and clarity of Idina’s voice, we will also be treated to the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra, led by songwriting legend Marvin Hamlisch. Lucky London.
Idina, charming as always, recorded this little video message for her London fans (with the help of Mr Diggs):
Tickets are £25-75. Call 0845 401 5045 or book at http://www.royalalberthall.com/
April 6, 2011
Writer: Charles Dickens
Adapted by: Tanika Gupta
Director: Nikolai Foster
I was very eager to see Great Expectations after speaking to its director, Nikolai Foster, as he started on the project last year. As a great fan of the classic Dickens novel, I knew the writers were working with a wonderful story. The only problem, as Foster mentioned in our interview, would be condensing its epic 59 chapters, spanning protagonist Pip’s childhood and adult life, into something suitable for the stage. Playwright Tanika Gupta (White Boy) was commissioned to adapt it, and transferred the story to the English Raj, using the backdrop of colonial India for the timeless tale of love, fate and class divides. Obviously this applied the layer of race and even caste to the already complex plot, and the English Touring Theatre company had the hefty task of making it all clear and captivating for its audience.
The plot was faithful to the book with a few exceptions; a young village boy, Pip, comes into contact with the world of the rich and privileged when he is invited to play at the ghoulish Miss Havisham’s manor house. Falling in love with her haughty and cold ward, Estella, Pip struggles between loyalty to his humble working family (especially father figure Joe Gargery), and the allure of becoming an educated gentleman. When a mystery benefactor offers to set him up with this life of leisure, he moves to the city, but struggles with his transformation when that benefactor’s identity is revealed.
The production had a lot of energy, with fast-moving scenes and dialogue that seemed on occasion to throw away a few of the best lines. One highlight was the fairly minimal set, with a bold red gauze and hints of sizzling sunset in the background, as well as decrepit-looking shutters to indicate Miss Havisham’s house. Another show stealer was the choreography, with excellently crafted scenes from Pip’s small-boy antics (played by the adult Tariq Jordan) to the convicts coming in from the stalls fighting and growling. The best scenes were between Pip and Herbert Pocket (Giles Cooper) – both their fight as small boys and their bachelor life together in Calcutta were charmingly acted and directed.
Jordan coped well with being onstage almost the entire time, but for me, the use of he and Simone James as both the child and adult Pip and Estella didn’t quite work. Their portrayal of youth could be simplistic (fidgeting and sticking out tongues) and my companion and I were somewhat baffled by the use of a mournful-looking small boy and elder woman on the front of the programme, neither of whom featured in the play itself.
Like the programme, unfortunately, this adaptation just did not seem adequately thought through. The Indian setting, while interesting, did not add any real depth or perspective to the plot, instead half-heartedly changing matters or confusing them. We saw Mrs Joe Gargery’s (Pooja Ghai) injury in Act 1, but this was never followed up or referred to after. Similarly, the convict Magwitch was African in this version (strongly performed by Jude Akuwudike), but there seemed to be no clear reason for this decision. It also linked him early on to Estella, the only other black character, dismantling some of the mystery at once. Tony Jayarwadena as Joe Gargery was full of heart and genuinely comic, but there was simply not enough time to feel the vital bond between him and Pip.
Overall this was a gutsy performance which kept the audience’s attention, but there were too many flaws in the change of setting and delivery of narrative to ignore. The Gargery family had northern accents, further confusing the situation, and Jordan’s portrayal of Pip as a slightly stiff gentleman in Act 2 seemed to squeeze some of the honesty out of the dialogue. I sensed that the material was hard to convey, narrative crammed in as it was, so the actors deserve a lot of credit for keeping the pace and the energy high. There was a notable absence of live music, unless you count the cacophony of ringtones we were treated to by the Richmond Theatre audience, but the recorded music between scenes was certainly atmospheric. I really wanted this brave adaptation to work, but it just didn’t quite pull it off.
March 2, 2011
Reviewed for The Public Reviews
I wasn’t sure what to expect from this revival tour of Chess. Widely known for the breakaway pop duet I Know Him So Well and being co-written by the boys from ABBA, I knew from a brilliant amateur production I’d seen in my teens that there was a lot more to this rock-opera than board games.
Set amidst the icy tensions of the Cold War, the show focuses on the 1979 world chess championship, where the USA’s egomaniac champion Freddie Trumper must defend his title against the USSR’s Anatoly Sergievsky. This evolves into a passionate love triangle over Freddie’s assistant and lover, Florence Vassy, as the two men are pitted against each other by their nations and the media, reflecting the politics of the time.
This production, promoted heavily as the brainchild of Strictly’s Craig Revel-Horwood, is clearly on crystal meth and styled by Lady Gaga, a whirlwind of pop-culture elements that really shouldn’t work – but it does. The show-stealing ensemble are dressed as flamboyant, Westwood-esque chess pieces, with black-bobbed, black lipped pawns in military dress. Christopher Woods’ incredible designs animate the politics of the chessboard, each piece vivid and charismatic in its own right.
One of the main triumphs of this staging is that 25 of the 30-strong cast play instruments on stage (orchestrated by Tony-winner Sarah Travis), deftly built around their witty and macabre choreography and flawless vocals. The three principals, although sometimes obscured by the intensity of the chorus, are equally fantastic in their rockstar vocals and stage presence. James Fox is the standout performer, with just the right amount of American smarm and rage, and owns the stage in One Night in Bangkok and even the somewhat whiny Pity the Child. His range seems endless and his vocals are constantly at full-throttle.
More light and shade is provided by Shona White in the Elaine Paige-originated role of Florence; a fairly one-dimensional character with undoubtedly the best songs in the show. White’s powerful voice and feisty yet fragile character earned her the biggest applause of the night. Daniel Koek as the introspective, forceful Anatoly provides a very different but complimentary sound with his rich tenor, although in some of his more wordy songs the meaning was lost to amped-up sound and too much ensemble backing.
Slick support is provided by David Erik as the devilish, trumpet-playing Arbiter, clad in a full-length leather coat, and Steve Varnom as the seedy Molokov. Poppy Tierney is graceful and steely as Anatoly’s wronged wife Svetlana, but the material doesn’t offer much of an insight into her character. The choreography, under scrutiny due to its star creator, is frenetic and varied, dipping into classical as well as hardcore gay-club territory. Though the dance numbers were undeniably entertaining, I would still say the vocals were the best part, making me long for a touring cast soundtrack.
Chess had a meagre three-year West End run in the 80s, and quickly flopped on Broadway. Not only does it demand of its audience a basic understanding of Cold War politics, but Tim Rice’s sublime lyrics are fast-paced and intellectual – this is a musical which requires concentration. Contrastingly, its standout numbers (bar the rousing Anthem at the end of Act I) are recognisably-ABBA pop ballads, with some haunting music-box waltzes and rock numbers to combat the cheese factor. It is a challenging show, but a thoroughly enjoyable one if you are open to the humour and genius within. Entertaining touches such as ‘broadcasts’ by the characters into cameras hidden in the onstage instruments and projected on to the minimalist scenery, really add flavour.
This dark story of media hype, global superpowers and on a smaller scale, one woman’s emotional survival, is still compelling and thought-provoking stuff more than two decades after its creation. Highly recommended for Rice fans, although ABBA’s may be in for a shock.
Runs until 5th March in Bristol.
Tour continues to Woking, Torquay, Dublin, High Wycombe and Glasgow – dates here.
December 2, 2010
For years, those lucky West End Wendies had the constant warmth, fuzziness and xenophobia of Avenue Q right on their doorstep. We all shed a little tear when it closed in October, but for those nowhere near the gold-paved streets of London it was a tiny hooray moment.
For the Avenue residents go on tour from February, and us Cardiff dwellers will get a chance to enjoy their hilarious lyrics about porn, loud sex and closet homosexuality from 14-18 June 2011 at the Wales Millenium Centre. If you didn’t catch the show during it’s four year run – shame on you – this is the perfect chance to see it.
In the style of Sesame Street (complete with educational animations), it follows a group of young misfits trying to have functional relationships, pay the rent and, in Trekkie’s case, watch porn – a lot. It will be interesting to see how AQ translates to regional audiences; having started out as a very New York-specific piece, then becoming a huge hit in culturally-similar London, I do hope the rest of the UK finds it as funny. Be warned – not one to take your granny to. It is, however, one of the most touching and happy-making musicals I’ve seen in years. Also coming to Bath, Bromley, Cornwall, Richmond, Aberdeen, Norwich, Woking, Sheffield, High Wycombe, Southampton, Milton Keynes, Nottingham, Brighton, Cambridge, Birmingham, Bristol, Salford and (breathes) Glasgow. That’s plenty of puppet sex to go around!