Album

JUNE FAVOURITE: Heathers the Musical Cast Recording

Heathers the Musical is the hottest show off-Broadway. Graphics for the show are all over the internet so I decided to take the plunge and find out who those three mallet wielding, mini skirt wearing girls are and why they seem to be taking the theatrical world by storm.

My first stop was to check out the 1989 movie on which the new musical is based. Initially a box office flop but now a cult classic, Heathers is noted as one of the best high school based films around. The plot centres around seventeen year old Veronica who, at the opening of the movie, has successfully secured a place in the most powerful and feared clique in Westerburg High School: the Heathers. Beautiful and wealthy, the trio consists of Heather, Heather and (yep, you’ve guessed it) Heather. Regardless of her new-found power, Veronica quickly grows tired of the Heathers’ behaviour and, teaming up with the rebellious JD, decides to punish one of the Heathers who recently vowed to destroy Veronica’s reputation after she embarrassed the clique at a significant party. Heather’s punishment is death and a quickly forged suicide note is enough to throw suspicion away from Veronica and JD. The plot thickens with deception and additional deaths; Veronica ultimately escaping the evil glares of the Heathers and righting wrongs along the way. The plot may be extreme and unlikely but elements of the film are still relevant today and perhaps this is why the musical is proving to be such a hit with off-Broadway audiences.

Video footage is limited but the promotional photographs for the off-Broadway production are enough to convince that the show is easy on the eyes. Costumes are reminiscent of the eighties whilst remaining surprisingly trendy and edgy. The staging is minimalistic and modern.

Heathers the Musical‘s newly released cast recording boasts a collection of 20 songs, each track as strong as the previous. The book and lyrics were written by Kevin Murphy, the score was composed by Laurence O’Keefe (creator of Legally Blonde the Musical). Opening with ‘Beautiful,’ the show quickly summarises Veronica’s assent to power with convenient narration through Veronica’s diary entries. The audience is quickly introduced to the pre-Heathers Veronica who is somewhat “dorky” and therefore rendered as uncool amongst fellow high school students, several of whom are introduced in this number. The Heathers arrive and are duly introduced before they take Veronica under their wing and suitably make her over to become the fourth Heather. By the end of the number it seems we have already experienced an entire musical but anyone familiar with the storyline knows that this is just the beginning. ‘Candy Store’ displays the Heathers’ manipulation of power and marks the first of several frustratingly catchy numbers in the show. ‘Seventeen’ stands out as a significant duet between Veronica and JD yet it seems impossible to select an individual song as the stand out moment of Heathers the Musical. Each song continues to contribute to the overall impact of the cast recording which is incredibly easy to follow without any visual aids.

Barrett Wilbert Weed is outstanding as Veronica, her dialogue often sounding fascinatingly identical to Winona Ryder’s movie delivery over twenty years ago. Jessica Keenan Wynn gives a fantastic vocal performance as the ringleader of the Heathers meanwhile Anthony Crivello and Daniel Cooney threaten to steal the show with their rendition of ‘My Dead Gay Son.’Heathers the Musical will reconnect with the original target generation of Heathers and will also capture the hearts of younger generations. With the score on occasions sounding reminiscent of Legally Blonde the Musical it is guaranteed that any fans of modern musicals will appreciate this dark comedy of crime, relationships and popularity within the confinements of a clique-driven American high school.

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MAY FAVOURITE: Der Besuch der alten Dame

Der Besuch der alten Dame (The Visit of the Old Lady) was originally a play written by Friedrich Durrenment. It has previously been translated into English and performed on Broadway starring Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontaine. It has also been adapted into an opera libretto and several films have been loosely based on the original play. In the Summer of 2013, a second musical adaptation starring Pia Douwes and Uwe Kroeger premiered at Switzerland’s Thun Festival. It opened in Vienna in February this year and the “gesamtaufnahme” – better known as a cast recording featuring most (if not all) of the show’s dialogue – was made available worldwide. iTunes UK have priced the album at a steep £17.99 however I have enjoyed listening to the cast recording enough to justify such a price.

The town of Gullen is in trouble and in desperate need of funds to revitalise the community. An incredibly wealthy woman who grew up in Gullen, Claire Zachanassian (Pia Douwes), arrives home and offers to give a huge donation – on one condition: the townspeople must kill Alfred Ill (Uwe Kroeger), general store owner, most popular man in town and Claire’s lover many years ago. Aghast, the mayor refuses Claire’s offer but Alfred becomes increasingly paranoid when he realises many of the townspeople are buying expensive items in his shop and have presumably received payments from Claire. Fearing his life, Alfred decides to flee for Australia – but is it possible to escape the wrath of the bitter Claire?

Aided by many reprises, the musical numbers are quickly recognisable; many are upbeat and catchy whilst others possess beautifully haunting qualities. Pia Douwes’ numbers are outstanding although Masha Karell’s “Ich Schutze Dich” is also a stand out moment. The score consists of a fantastic range of ensemble numbers, showcasing all members of the cast. The numbers range from dramatic to touching, joyful to sorrowful. As visible in the show’s trailerBesuch has been staged to perfection. The sets and costumes look wonderful and the choreography contributes towards the overall impact of the dramatic musical numbers.

FEBRUARY FAVOURITE: Sierra Boggess ‘Awakening’

A Broadway star transforms a skeptic teenager into an inspired believer
Earlier this month, one fine Sunday morning at 7am, I dragged myself from my warm bed with the intentions of studying for an English exam that was just over 72 hours away and to complete a Geography study that was just a little overdue. My chosen soundtrack to the morning’s activities was Sierra Boggess’ 2013 album ‘Awakening’ – an official, live recording of her cabaret at 54 Below, New York that consisted of the complete set list and the dialogue between songs. Having listened to the albums of Sutton Foster, Aaron Tveit and Laura Osnes, I was familiar with this album format of songs and relevant chit-chat time fillers that were relatively interesting on the first listen but were a nuisance afterwards – particularly if they turned up in a full music shuffle. In my bleary eyed, morning state I somewhat reluctantly pressed play. Thanks to the power of Twitter, I was fully aware of Sierra Boggess’ “inspired by nature” approach to life and, knowing fully well that I was far from the type of person to be heavily inspired by anyone or anything, I braced myself for 72 minutes of stressed out studying and a crash course in the hippy culture.
Instead, I was greeted by familiar, beautiful vocals and an infectiously excited Boggess. Her entire being seemed to seep through my earphones and take form in my darkened room. With a set list containing several songs I knew well and a handful of ones I was unfamiliar with, it was a delight to bring in a new week by listening to the stunning sounds of Sierra Boggess.
Boggess energetically explained to her audience after her opening number (a charming rendition of I Have Confidence from The Sound of Music) that she hoped to touch on the various inspirations throughout her life. These ranged from a book (appropriately called ‘Inspiration’), her family members, nature and the one and only Barbra Streisand. Between songs Boggess discussed these inspirations with such enthusiasm that I simply couldn’t resist smiling to myself. Her stories were woven between a selection of songs that helped to bring her anecdotes to life, each song beautifully complimenting her vocal range. The result was a heart-warming album of attractive melodies and charming tales of Boggess’ life. For the first time, I thoroughly enjoyed the dialogue section of an album and as the minutes ticked by, I even found myself beginning to feel inspired by Boggess herself. Her energetic, enthusiastic, carefree and happy outlook in life is enviable and by the time Boggess had sung her final note, I found myself wishing I could have a similar way of life. Will I be dashing to the River Clyde for inspiration? Perhaps not, but this album has inspired me to have a more appreciative view of life and has encouraged me to admire the success of Sierra Boggess’ career and her finely tuned vocal chords.

AUGUST FAVOURITE: Rachel Tucker’s ‘The Reason’

In recent times, “monthly favourites” have become more and more popular among YouTube users and bloggers. As someone whose interests seem to change as often as the weather it seemed appropriate for me to exercise my opinions in my own monthly favourites and what better way to start off than with a review of the album that really kick started this month: Rachel Tucker’s ‘The Reason.’ 
 
The highly anticipated debut album of the West End actress, who shot to fame in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s TV search for Nancy in “I’d Do Anything,” was released for download on 12th August whilst fans who had pre-ordered the CD had to wait an additional few days for their own signed copy. 
 
The album was instantly greeted with enthusiastic and favourable 140 character reviews on Twitter – enough to drown my timeline in praise and  inspire me to check out this album for myself. It’s safe to say I wasn’t disappointed. The Reason is bursting with fantastic songs, perfectly capturing Tucker’s distinct voice. Anyone who has followed Tucker’s career will appreciate the selection of songs which include ‘Defying Gravity’ from Wicked and ‘No One But You’ from We Will Rock You. Alongside these theatrical songs are Ed Sheeran’s ‘Small Bump,’ Paloma Faith’s ‘Stone Cold Sober’ and even a Jolson and Judy medley featuring Tucker’s father. The flawless transition from genre to genre displays Tucker’s talent and demonstrates the versatility of her voice. 
 
Fans new and old will be able to hear the characterisation featured heavily in the penultimate track ‘Defying Gravity.’ A song her career is closely identified with, Tucker does justice to this famous track. Her cover is complete with riffs and growls that will delight her fans as this seems to be the “ultimate” rendition of Defying Gravity and a combination of all of Tucker’s highlights during her two year stint as Elphaba in Wicked London. 
 
The Reason is a highly listenable and enjoyable album that will delight anyone who buys it.
 
The Reason is available on iTunes, racheltucker.co.uk and amazon.