Maybe I’m a little late to the party, as its stars appear to have been tweeting from the set for some time, but the photos on the Les Misérables movie Facebook page are rather exciting. From the convicts in the Prologue to the gaudy, bourgeois wedding cake presumably for Marius and Cosette (via Hugh Jackman’s excellently-sculpted beard), the visual choices made by Tom Hooper and team look vivid, gritty and just different enough from the traditional design of this well-loved show.

I’ve mentioned before my hesitance about Hooper’s professed intentions to live-record the cast’s vocals – I like a raw sound, but not all of the actor’s chosen are famous chiefly for their dulcet tones – but since reading that a mixture of live and studio vocals were used for several of Meryl Streep’s scenes in Mamma Mia, I’m more open to the idea.

Using a mixture of locations including rural France and the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich, London, the film will feature a brand new, original song (in the style of the excellent Phantom of the Opera film adaptation – unfortunately its additional song was godawful. Let’s hope for better from Messrs Boublil and Schönberg).

This piece of musical theatre history is set to hit our screens on 11 January 2013, and I for one am looking forward to spotting past West End cast members playing students, whores and beggars, as well as original Valjean, Colm Wilkinson, giving a no-doubt moving cameo as the Bishop of Digne.

Image: London’s Old Royal Naval College is transformed into Paris, 1832 https://www.facebook.com/LesMisMovie

UPDATE: More images have been published (with Cameron Mackintosh’s comments) here.

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One great place to see shows not often performed in the West End is the Fringe; another is London’s generous sprinkling of drama schools. Central School of Speech and Drama has become one of the most famous dramatic institutions in the capital since being founded in 1906, and last night I attended the MA Music Theatre course’s final production, Stephen Sondheim’s Sunday in the Park with George.

The cast were slick and assured in their delivery of this complex and intense musical. The show full of Sondheim’s signature rhythms, rhymes and scattered stream-of-consciousness lyrics, Rick Woska as intense artist George and Kate Adler as his lover Dot kept a fantastic pace and stayed on top of the relentless material. Both possessed with a strong stage presence and vocal talent, these two propelled the show along.

As someone who finds Sondheim unreasonably lofty and intellectual for a musical theatre composer, Sunday did not change my mind so much as give me a small insight into the man and his methods. ‘Art isn’t easy…’ sings the cast in the modern-day second act, and this certainly isn’t one of Sondheim’s most accessible shows. The character of George, absorbed in his work, a perfectionist, closed to the demands of everyone but his art, and the reaction of his contemporaries, seemed reflected by the show itself – Sunday may not hit you with waves of emotion or wit, but you can see a lot of thought has gone into the process. Still, the CSSD actors made it a visual treat using paint-spattered curtains, cleverly employed frames for both sketching and photography, projection and effective choreography. Not to mention the spot-on costumes for the stunning close of Act 1, where Georges Seurat’s painting A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte – the inspiration for this entire show – is recreated amid the powerful harmonies of standout number Sunday.

Each soloist had a strong and vivid voice, and the scenes were absorbing and well acted. The one sadness was that the material did not allow for much humour or passion – personally, my spine remained un-tingled and my diaphragm unstretched by laughter. But I can’t blame the cast for this; Stephen Sondheim and I largely go together like chocolate and pickled herring (he’s the herring), and I think this may be one of his driest pieces.

One of the more touching moments was George’s duet with his mother (Vassula Delli), Beautiful. Bada Ruban and Kimberley Shore also provided lightness as Mr and Mrs America, struggling to get off the island and appreciate Paris’s charms. Overall, Sunday did exactly what it was supposed to do in this instance: showcase the professionalism and confidence of its cast. It may not be a spectacularly entertaining or moving show, but it’s certainly a thinker, and this came across neatly in this CSSD production.

Image: cssd.ac.uk

I’m not sure whether I absolutely love this or want to burst out in hysterical laughter. Mark Evans and Siobhan Dillon sound pretty good (albeit with some muted production on this version of the track), but the bit where they try to merge the Ghost storyline with a betrayed-ex-themed pop song is a bit funny.

Anyway, good on them for doing a bit of out-of-the-box promotion. As I was saying about Wicked, I think West End shows could stand to do some fresher and more innovative multimedia marketing – stuff like this is a great way to get attention. I haven’t been back to see Ghost since my visit in previews, but I hope to soon. A great day for musical geekery!


Quite a cool video on the Time Out website talking to the Wicked cast backstage at the Apollo Victoria – lots of facts and PR snuck in, but interesting to any fans of the show, plus nice to see the actors au naturel in the theatre.

Watch the video here (I can’t embed it as it’s Time Out‘s content)

Always love seeing them greenify (I tried it one Halloween – see my Twitter profile pic) and I never knew that Elphaba has a green spotlight as well as her painted hue. I can never understand, though, why they always use that same footage from the German tour production or whatever it is that they use on all the ads and trailers – it’s not even the original cast. You’ve made millions, Wicked HQ – splash out on some footage of your own production!

Makes me want to see it again, for the (whisper it) fourth time. Rachel Tucker is definitely one of the best green girls out there.

When I reviewed Ghost after it came to London back in June, I wrote that I couldn’t imagine a new cast post-Levy/Fleeshman. Well, it’s happened; a press release today announced that Wicked‘s Mark Evans and How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria? finalist Siobhan Dillon will replace Richard Fleeshman and Caissie Levy as doomed couple Sam and Molly. Thankfully, my favourite member of the cast, Sharon D. Clarke, stays on as loveably batty medium Oda Mae Brown. Having seen Evans command the stage in last year’s Oklahoma! tour and Dillon shine most recently in the Soho Theatre’s EX, I’m actually quite excited about this casting choice. While both are a little more glossy than Levy and the Fleesh, I’m sure they can be roughed up a bit to fit in with this gritty, New York-y production.

As the year draws to a close, I would like to applaud Ghost for bringing a little magic into the West End in a time of tired concepts and cartoonish musicals. It has been slated by some for reproducing Bruce Joel Rubin’s 80s screenplay on the stage, but the illusions are innovative, the music interesting in its rock-pop quality and the emotion of the narrative perhaps even more raw than in the movie. Yes there’s a chorus that didn’t entirely agree with me and a few rogue musical numbers which didn’t enhance the story, but the central plot is mesmerising and Caissie Levy and Richard Fleeshman’s chemistry explosive.

The new cast will appear from 13 January 2012, with performances now booking until next October. It could be that Ghost is just commercial enough to stay afloat, despite its new score and ambitious staging – and I hope to be back there to see it succeed.

Ghost is at the Piccadilly Theatre (ghostthemusical.com)

Men and musicals

September 30, 2011

If you love musical theatre (and are not a gay man) chances are it won’t enhance your love life. Much has been made of the effect of Disney on girls’ expectations of romance, but what of the good old fashioned musical?

Neeever going to happen

Watching too many musicals when you’re small and impressionable will slowly indoctrinate you into a world of serenades, serendipitous timing and females who just win at life (while delivering some killer soprano.)

Rationally, you know that men aren’t going to walk up and down your street singing about how much they love doing that (My Fair Lady), be your next smokin’ hot but complicated employer (The Sound of Music) or drop all of their friends and debauchery to be your perfect man (Grease/Guys and Dolls).

When bad hair happens to good heroes

But equally, you are left with a lingering disappointment when they don’t spend an evening dedicated to repeatedly singing your name (West Side Story), ditch the blonde cheerleader for the weirdo outcast (Wicked) or love you despite the impending doom of your mutual AIDS diagnosis (Rent).

Avenue Q came too late for me – blokes are infinitely more likely to hand you a confusing mixed-tape or freak out about you morphing into a giant bride monster. But too little too late, musicals – you injected me with beautifully-sung romance and I had no shot at a clear perspective.

The social scene that comes with London theatre is also a weird sci-fi experience, as if a sparkly dictator simply weeded out all of the straight men in a hetero-intolerant parallel universe. Catch a guy’s eye across the stalls bar? He may have a dreamy tan and impeccable shoes, but he’s not looking for a

The tight trousers are a myth too

leading lady. It’s getting so I actually have to schedule designated ‘straight man’ social events to avoid spending my golden years as a fag-hag spinster with two mangy cats called Lloyd and Webber.

Now I’m off to wait for a handsome aristocrat and a sewer-dwelling musical genius to start fighting over me. Have a fabulous anniversary weekend, Phantom fans 😉

I’d never been to The Landor before, I didn’t know the show and thus everything about it, from the plot to the cast to the press night drinks, were a surprise. The Hired Man was adapted by Melvyn Bragg and British musical treasure Howard Goodall from Bragg’s novel of the same name, drawn from his grandfather’s stories about pre-war life in Cumbria.

The story follows the inhabitants of a small Cumbrian village as they start out as youngsters looking for farm work  at a hiring fair, their struggles as relationships mature and an increasing numbers of local men embark on dangerous work ‘down t’pit’, all this cut through by the disruption and devastation of World War I.

Bright-eyed young couple John and Emily Tallentire are the main two agonising over their life decisions. John is ably played by Joe Maxwell, his singing as open and pure as his character, who manages to make an irritatingly nice and moral bloke just edgy enough to be interesting. Catherine Mort is an interesting choice as Emily; while vocally she didn’t sparkle as much as the rest of the small but brilliant female cast, she brings a melancholy touch to the show and her acting is impressive, with real tears closing the first act. The Dissatisfied Wife is perhaps the hardest role to make appealing, and she did a good job with it.

The real magic is in the supporting cast, especially Les Mis graduate Martin Neely, delivering an Enjolras-type leader in Seth Tallentire. His rousing song about unionism oddly bridged the gap between labouring peacetime and chaotic wartime, but as I wanted to hear more from him, it sort of worked. Neely is one of the only cast members to remain completely poised and in control through speedy scene changes, energetic choreography and emotional turbulence, and draws the audience to him for this reason. It is the combination, though, of seasoned performers and drama school graduates that makes this cast so compelling. The amount of nerves and calm, tension and effortlessness exactly creates the differences in maturity and temperament you’d find in such a community, and the rawness of the younger performers really adds something – you wouldn’t want this show too polished.

The male chorus is the main reason to see The Hired Man. Every time another labourer or soldier had a solo, we were treated to a sensational voice. The vocal and acting strength in every performer is exceptional, and as a reviewer who has become bored of listening to weedy, pop-lite boys singing American musical theatre, this celebration of the male voice was such a treat. Beards, sweat and testosterone-filled tenors; I thought I’d died and gone to musical heaven.

Special mention must go to the beautifully-voiced Ian Daniels as the third point of Emily and John’s love triangle, as well as Abigail Matthews as their sweet little songbird May Tallentire – the perfect amount of innocence and freshness, while avoiding a period-drama cliché. Your eyes are continually drawn to the steely acting of Jamie Birkett and the sweet hopefulness of Kimberly Powell in the group numbers, no mean feat when you’re battling with thirteen strapping men. Sean-Paul Jenkinson also charmed as the wheeling-and-dealing Isaac.

The staging is slick, with Andrew Keates’ direction providing us with both witty dialogue and beautifully interpreted songs. The way Howard Goodall’s score weaves in repeated themes and connects the musical narrative is breathtaking, as are many of the vocal performances here. The group songs are infinitely more stirring than the solo numbers, however. Niall Bailey’s musical direction is perfection, and I’ve rarely seen actors so spot on with their musical cues, which often seem to come from nowhere. All round a tight team, with Cressida Carré’s choreography adding a touch of country-dancing joy and stomping-rhythm grittiness.

There are holes and swift fast-forwards in the narrative which prevent you from basking properly in the characters’ story, but overall The Hired Man is an important narrative, and far more worthy of funding and venue than so many vapid musicals I’ve seen in recent years. Melvyn Bragg feared while writing it that it was “a cavalcade of working class history so unfashionable it’s almost out of sight,” but what could matter more than real people’s lives, loves and tragedies? It isn’t a perpetual giggle, but neither is life sometimes; there is a reason why shows about nothing more glamorous than the human condition, like Les Misérables, have endured. There is something gritty, earthy and defiantly British about this piece that might just be the antidote to the Dirty Dancings of the theatre world. I definitely want to see more from the Landor and Andrew Keates after experiencing this show.

Runs until 27th August

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