West End stars Louise Dearman (Wicked), Tim Driesen (Never Forget), Gerard Carey (Masterclass) and Lucy Sinclair (We Will Rock You) are set to lead a workshop presentation of a brand new musical version of JM Barrie’s Peter Pan tomorrow.

The workshop, which will take place in front of an invited audience at the Lyric Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue  at 1pm on  Thursday 28th June, will feature Dearman as Tinker Bell, Driesen as Pan, Carey as Hook and Sinclair as Wendy.

An ensemble of 35 other characters is played by a supporting cast of seven – Allyson Ava-Brown, James Ballanger, Natasha J Barnes, Matt Corner, Anthony Lawrence, Sion Lloyd and Kit Orton – working with a fast-paced, funny new script.

The workshop is directed by Christian Durham (Chicago, We Will Rock You), with movement by Lucie Pankhurst, musical direction by Dean Austin (Taboo, Zorro, Spamalot), casting by Anne Vosser and orchestrations by Tom Curran. Music, book and lyrics are by Jimmy Jewell, with additional book and lyrics by Nick Stimson.

Spellbound: Former Glinda Louise Dearman will appear as Tinker Bell

For further information about the workshop presentation, e-mail peterpanworkshop@gmail.com.


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.

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?

Yes!

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!

Photography: Anne Stern

Were you at Ramin’s Thank You Gig? Share your thoughts on it in the comments box below…

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)

It’s been a long time since I saw a show I was genuinely, hyperventilatingly excited about, but Ghost was just that. The website I write for, The Public Reviews, gave its recent Manchester run five stars, and I’m a huge fan of both the 1990 movie and female lead Caissie Levy. The original score was written by former Eurythmic Dave Stewart, with Glen Ballard (who wrote and produced Alanis Morrisette’s Jagged Little Pill), so is naturally of quite a pop-rock persuasion.

Firstly, I’d say seating choices will alter your experience of Ghost. I was lucky enough to be a friend’s freebie plus one, so we were right on the edge of the stalls, quite close to the stage. Many of the brilliant supernatural illusions were ever so slightly more visible from this viewpoint. I’d really like to go again and sit higher or more centrally, but it was still spine-tingling.

In case you haven’t seen the movie (DO IT), the story begins with sickeningly content couple Molly (Caissie Levy) and Sam (Richard Fleeshman), an artist and a banker, who have just bought their first apartment and moved in. Sam is tragically killed not long after, and Molly is left with only the comfort of Sam’s best friend Carl (Andrew Langtree) – but there is more to his death than she knows. Sam’s spirit is left to put things right with only the help of quirky and fraudulent psychic Oda Mae Brown (Sharon D Clarke.)

Even though it is early days, it is hard to imagine a new cast succeeding the unbeatable combination of Fleeshman and Levy. His tall, Superman physique and her petite boho quality are perfectly matched, as are his soulful voice with her rock-tinged belt. In life, their chemistry sizzles; in death, their connection persists. Even without the careful and spectacular staging and excellent direction by Matthew Warchus, much of the magic of Ghost lies in this pairing.

Levy makes me realise what I look for in a leading lady – utter control, confidence and security in her voice and character. She makes her often wistful and lonely numbers unpredictable and haunting, but you always feel comfortable with her taking the stage. She makes a difficult character, one preoccupied with mourning, fascinating to watch. Fleeshman has the hard job of holding many of the scenes together while ‘invisible’ to 99% of the other characters. His scenes with Oda Mae in particular are a real highlight, and he shows off musical ability (strumming a guitar onstage), comedic talent and a silky vocal tone that is both distinctive and well-suited to the character.

This is an updated Molly and Sam; don’t expect a pixie-cropped Demi or a copper-Adonis Swayze, because this is a whole new Ghost. This works fine in my opinion, as it freshens the characters and you are drawn into a whole new love story, though much of Bruce Joel Rubin’s excellent screenplay remains as the dialogue.

Sharon D Clarke sets the stage on fire with her hilarious, warm, sparkling interpretation of Oda Mae, the unique character originated by Whoopi Goldberg. She avoids pitfall number one by steering clear of doing a Whoopi impression, and her added gospel and disco numbers showcase this woman’s astonishing voice and stage presence. Again, God help the actor who has to step into her shoes.

Andrew Langtree smarms and sweats as the couple’s friend Carl, managing to be both sinister and a man way out of his depth. His ‘New Yoyk’ accent was a little studied and made him more of a caricature than he needed to be, but overall he handled his scenes brilliantly – even as a fan of the movie, I felt like I didn’t know where we stood with him.

Overall this main cast of four are practically perfection – their voices, their chemistry, the slickness of their direction. In the scenes where Sam is talking ‘through’ Oda Mae, no one misses a beat. However, there is also an unaccountably large and awkward ensemble, who appear at intervals for largely pointless group numbers.

I don’t wish to criticise them as performers; I’m acutely aware of how hard a West End ensemble works and how grateful they often are to be part of a new show. I just feel they are badly used; something just didn’t work for me. At times, Caissie Levy is centre stage singing something heartfelt, and there are suit-clad businessmen and women dancing oddly in the background.

Much of their purpose, from what I can glean, is to diplay the fast-paced world of Wall Street and add to the street and subway scenes, but not a line of their songs was memorable, and Ashley Wallen‘s choreography felt clunky and ill-fitting with the simplicity and soul of the main plot.

One use was as a backing choir for Oda Mae in her uptempo number in Act Two, which was obviously needed, but other than that I’m afraid I would have sacked the lot of them and started from scratch as a smaller, more focused musical. I think there is enough of a spectacle with the supernatural effects, and enough lightness and humour in the Oda Mae storyline to get even the most X Factor-fed audience member through it unscathed. Some might disagree.

Sean Ebsworth Barnes

The only moment where their presence truly offended me, was after Sam’s incredibly acted and cleverly-conceived death. We are left grieving with Molly for approximately eight seconds before a tap-dancing ghost (with a host of bizarre, historically-costumed spirits) comes to sing to Sam all about death. The only word I have for this is ‘Why?’ The song wasn’t even good.

In terms of the main characters though, there was just the right balance of music and dialogue, you cared just enough about the couple and saw just enough of Oda Mae’s antics – the central plot of this show is beautifully balanced.

Rob Howell‘s design (with projection design by Jon Driscoll) is for the most part excellent. Most of the scenery turns into a video screen, which is best used in the subway scenes and with views of New York from Sam and Carl’s office. However, it is overused, seemingly to justify having it. This could be scaled down, as the moody, blue-tinged sadness of Molly’s apartment scenes are some of the simplest and best. Again, the structure and different panels of the screens were more clearly visible from the stalls, which may have made it less effective.

To go with this visual display, the sound was also very loud in the stalls (although a friend in the Circle tells me she found it almost inaudible from there at first) so the team are obviously still ironing out the creases in these previews. There is a moving section of the stage which is used to great effect, and the flexible, projected scenery mean we can move from red-brick Brooklyn to seedy Harlem in seconds, great  for those who dislike clunky scene changes.

The smoke and mirrors of the afterlife provide some of the best bits of the show; Paul Kieve‘s illusions are carefully and lovingly conceived, and none of the death scenes were cheesy or overplayed. The score is not memorable, sadly – it does however suit and showcase the lovely vocals of Levy and Fleeshman, and the restrained ratio of songs to dialogue improves it. Stewart produced Stevie Nicks’ latest album, and the country-rock quality of his songs really suits the actors’ vocal tones.

One of the most pleasant surprises was that the producers got the rights to Unchained Melody. I’m not a fan of the song, but  it was appropriately and charmingly used, rather than in a crowd-pleasing, 80s-nostalgia way. Like the casting, it refreshes a visually iconic story so familiar to so many of us. The romance and the resolution of this stunning show are truly raw and moving, and it will hopefully introduce a whole new generation to the magical, original story of Ghost.

 

Warning: this trailer shows you quite a lot of the show!

*The performance I saw was a preview, and some aspects of the production may change before the show opens on 19th July.

http://www.cheaptheatretickets.com/ghost-the-musical/

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.

Idina MenzelIf 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/

Review: Love Story ***

December 6, 2010

by guest blogger Tom Bovington

It’s been much lauded as the little show that could – Love Story was first produced at the Chichester Theatre festival last year, where Michael Ball fell in love with it and decided to bring it to the West End. Mr Ball was there himself when I saw it last Thursday, sat three rows in front, in the dress circle. The show had been plagued with electrical problems (my companion had seen the show on Tuesday when Monday’s performance had to be postponed). Not much has been made of its movie-based background; instead its famous producer and ’boutique’ musical-feel have been its selling points, which seems odd in the days of Legally Blonde and Shrek.

The show itself was interesting and captivating, but not always emotionally engaging. It tells the classic love story of boy meets girl – here, at Harvard university, where rich Oliver Barrett IV (played by Michael Xavier) meets poor Jenny Cavilleri, portrayed by Emma Williams. They fall in love, marry and then disaster strikes.

The book is written almost like a play, and I found it much more engaging than most of the songs. It is well acted by most of the players, who on the whole avoid that over-the-top style which might stereotype musical theatre. Most of the 90-minute running time falls on Williams and Xavier, with particular mentions to Peter Polycarpou who pops up regularly as Jenny’s father Phil, and Richard Cordery as Oliver’s cold, demanding father.

The score is pretty and definitely lives up to the ’boutique’ musical style. However, very few of the songs are particularly memorable (the main two I can recall are the opening/closing number and a song about the happy couple making pasta) and I didn’t find them that captivating. There were some nice harmonies here and there, but the small cast (which benefits the show, don’t get me wrong) don’t make the most of them. It felt like the songs were being sung in the same low-key way as the play, which was nice stylistically, but just wasn’t my thing. It was a shame, because the final few scenes and songs were really nicely acted and should have been emotional, but I just didn’t connect or care that much about the characters. Michael Xavier had a really nice acting style and a lovely voice, which at times had hints at a nice bright belt, but the full potential of his voice never seemed to be explored. Williams had a lovely American-Italian accent and a bright bubbly character, but her voice didn’t seem to have the power the role required. It’s very possible that the director or musical director demanded this underplayed singing but it didn’t work for me.

The simple set and stunning lighting design create a beautiful piece which is nice to look at and pretty for the ear, but neither emotionally engaging nor feelgood. I am looking forward to the cast recording, to see if the songs are catchier on a second listen but I’m probably not going to be heading back to the Duchess for a second visit, especially not at the prices that they’re charging.

At The Duchess Theatre – booking until April 2011