Favourite

JULY FAVOURITE: Sunshine On Leith

Dubbed as the feel good film of 2013, holder of several four and five star reviews and easily reaching out to audiences of all ages, I mysteriously avoided Sunshine on Leith during its cinema period. When I purchased the DVD earlier this year I realised what a mistake I had made. Sunshine on Leith, directed by Dexter Fletcher, is a delightful and joyous tale with tender heartbreak at its core.

When Davy and Ally return from their duty in Afghanistan they are welcomed home to Leith with open arms. Ally is in a relationship with Davy’s sister Liz; Liz thinks Davy would be the perfect match for her friend Yvonne. Meanwhile, parents Rab and Jean are planning a huge party to celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary. When an event from Rab’s past looms up in the present, it seems all three couples’ futures may be at risk. This is the story of hope and the power of love told through the music and lyrics of The Proclaimers.

The strong cast is headed by the superb Peter Mullan and the interlacing songs by The Proclaimers are executed with reasonable style and flair.  Although I am a fan of musicals, I feel Sunshine on Leith suffers from spontaneous and therefore cheesy dialogue to song transitions. The best transition is perhaps featured in the upbeat ‘Then I Met You’ performed by the quarrelling young lovers Davy (George MacKay) and Yvonne (Antonia Thomas). Many of the songs are recognisable and catchy; the instrumentals playing throughout dialogue scenes are simply stunning.

Many interior shots were filmed in Glasgow with outdoor scenes featuring the iconic landmarks of Edinburgh. Fletcher has captured a beautiful portrait of the capital city of Scotland and in true style of the title of the film, not one drop of rain is visible in any frame thus creating the ultimate feel good Scottish musical.

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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.

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.

APRIL FAVOURITE: Beautiful The Carole King Musical

As a rule I tend to approach jukebox musicals with an air of caution. After all, they’re everywhere. Mamma Mia, We Will Rock You, Rock of Ages, Thriller, Buddy, Jersey Boys, Tonight’s the Night and American Idiot all fall into the jukebox category and it’s increasingly obvious that these are the shows that the general public want to see. Musicals with already-familiar-to-us scores are crowd drawers. With ticket prices soaring, theatregoers seem content to splash the cash on a show that guarantees some recognisable songs for a theatrical sing-along. With Beautiful: The Carole King Musical receiving seven Tony nominations, I wondered if this jukebox musical was a stand out candidate.I believe that theatre shows based on real life events or inspired by the lives of various iconic personas can be incredibly interesting. Evita, Funny Girl and Bonnie and Clyde are amongst my favourite shows, each providing an evening’s entertainment that is engaging, touching and memorable. The latter received mixed to negative reviews during its short Broadway run; Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Stephen Ward flop proves that “real” storylines are not the key to success yet there is still something charming about a plot that rings true with events with which we are already familiar.

In this sense Beautiful is no different. The show details the rise of King’s career from a teenager dreaming of becoming a songwriter all the way to her first performance at Carnegie Hall. In addition, it portrays the meandering nature of her marriage to Gerry Goffin (who was also her writing partner) and her close friendship with her rival songwriters Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann. Although providing insight to King’s personal struggles and reluctance to step into the spotlight, I failed to make a strong connection with the plot line or any of the characters presented to me. Drawn in by the polished and witty script by Douglas McGrath, I did not feel any emotional link forming between myself and the stage therefore could not share the joys or sorrows of any characters throughout the show.

In addition to the polished writing, scene changes are well executed and the scenery itself is relatively simple and effective. Through an array of costumes and colour featured in the show, the character of Cynthia Weil enjoys a selection of attractive outfits, contrasting with the motherly wardrobe of King. There is a particularly impressive on stage costume change towards the end of act one as a plainly dressed babysitter transforms into Little Eva and performs The Locomotion. The music featured in the show, as anyone who is familiar with Carole King’s work will already know, is simply stunning. Her melodies are haunting and continue to echo around my mind. Anyone interested in King’s work or this show will benefit from a purchase of the cast recording which ranges from You’ve Got a Friend to On Broadway and Will You Love Me Tomorrow to a clever rewriting of Happy Days Are Here Again.

I wish Beautiful: The Carole King Musical the best of luck for the Tonys 2014. They are true contenders and I hope they receive the recognition they deserve.

MARCH FAVOURITE: Anastasia

Thanks to Fox Animation Studios, I grew up with the name Anastasia never far from my lips. My video copy of the 1997 animation Anastasia, based on the urban legend surrounding the Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna of Russia, was long ago worn out by back to back viewings of the magical musical. Upon reflection, it is unfortunate that the historical story I fell in love with as a child was a misleading piece of Russian history and, although Anastasia is Don Bluth’s highest grossing film to date, it was criticised for its “offensive depiction” of the Grand Duchess in a “sugar-coated” reworking of her story. In my experience, this film is socially overshadowed by the works of Disney and as a result of this it is largely overlooked by the public.

Having discussed Anastasia with several friends, I recently purchased the soundtrack of the animated film. This soundtrack contains all the songs featured in the film and a selection of the beautiful score composed by David Newman. Songwriters Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty  received recognition for their work in the form of nominations for ‘Best Original Song’ at both the Academy Awards and the Golden Globes however in both cases Titanic’s ‘My Heart Will Go On’ proved to be victorious. 

Whilst rediscovering the soundtrack of Anastasia, it occurred to me – as it has to many others – that an animation with a soundtrack as distinctive and strong as this one could have the potential of becoming a fantastic theatre show. Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, Finding Nemo and Aladdin have all made successful animation to stage show transformations and Frozen is the latest animation reported likely to be developed into a stage production. 

In 2012 it was reported that Anastasia – A New Musical was in the pipeline but with two years surpassing the latest update, has this project been abandoned? With the success of the previously mentioned shows, is there space for another musical based on an animation? Judging from my research, the theatre community’s answer to the latter is a resounding yes. All we can do is sit and wait. And listen to the Anastasia soundtrack on repeat. 

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.

JANUARY FAVOURITE: Rebecca the Musical

With recent news of extended rights for the ill-fated Rebecca the musical, it seems the German show based on Daphne du Maurier’s novel is finally destined to hit the Broadway stage. With music by Sylvester Levay and book and lyrics by Michael Kunae, Rebecca received its stage debut in Vienna in 2006 and has since been translated into several different languages for successful international productions. Having read the novel last year and viewed the Hitchcock adaption many times, I have developed my own understanding of this haunting and timeless tale of obsession. With the whispers of a subtitled German production available on YouTube, I simply couldn’t resist taking a peak at what could have been – and still could be – the next big Broadway hit.

The show, much like the novel and movie, opens with the central character (nameless in both the novel and movie but christened “Ich” in the German musical) dreaming of returning to Manderley, the seemingly haunted mansion where she and her mysterious husband Maxim once lived. The original novel may be closing in on its eightieth anniversary but I believe the twists and turns of the plot line are still so shocking and intense that I do not wish to spoil the story for anyone who has not yet encountered the tale.
 
As expected by a musical, many of the intentions and emotions of the characters are revealed much quicker through the use of lyrics. The result is a somewhat less mysterious Maxim and an increasingly haunting Mrs Danvers as the audience gains insight to her mind. Without the aid of the second Mrs de Winter’s narration, much of the required background information is revealed to the audience through the use of a chattering ensemble who often gossip amongst themselves during some weak musical numbers such as the irritating ‘Wir Sind Britisch’ (We are British) which was rightfully cut after a short time in the show. In an extensive list of songs, only a handful are memorable. The title song is haunting and the opening number provides an excellent introduction.
 
The musical numbers are often and consistent, the style straying from the typical 1920s vibes expected from a show set in this time which adds to the air of mystery and the other worldliness of Manderley. However, where the music and lyrics succeeds, the character development fails. In my experience with the story of Rebecca, one of the most interesting aspects is her apparently constant presence in which “her footsteps sounded in the corridor” and “her scent lingered on the stairs.” This aspect suffers without the narration present in the novel; the loyal Mrs Danvers is merely highlighted as a servant obsessed with her dead mistress and as a result of sinister music accompanying her scenes, Mrs Danvers is portrayed as a larger enemy than the illustrious Rebecca.
 
The staging is a visual treat with lighting and scenery contributing to the creepy story. The physical appearance of most characters faithfully follows the descriptions present in the novel and, on occasions, the narrator’s talent for description is present in the lyrics of her songs. Overall, Rebecca is an enjoyable show which I believe will gather interesting reviews from Broadway critics if it is fortunate enough to finally secure its place in New York. With an engaging story line and quirky musical numbers, there’s something for everyone in this spooky show of deception and intrigue.