Sunday, 30 December 2007

Lavish Your Daughter With Eggs And Affection 30-12

“Save the cheerleader save the world!”

Well that got your attention!

So the year is almost over which means there is no better time for me to take a (slightly tongue in cheek) look back,and also forward into 2008.

Hmmmmmmmmmm 2007, well it’s been an eventful year I guess. Gordon Brown was voted king of the jungle. Christopher Biggins became our new prime minister after the resignation of Lionel Blair. The shy and retiring John Barrowman spent another year out of the public eye. Oh, and Cheryl Wilkin has gone off jammy dodgers! Now what else……..

Well (“Celebrity Big Brother” aside) it’s been a good year for reality television I guess, “Grease” jumped on the Maria bandwagon and “Any Dream Will Do” discovered a new star in Lee Mead. The X Factor was won by Leon and Alisha Dixon danced to glory. We also had our first taste of “Reality theatre” as “Desperately Seeking Susan” debuted. Each night the audience saw a different performance and the clapometer decided what bits had worked and what didn’t then the next night it was all change as they strove to make a hit show! Sadly despite the work of the clapometers it was a bit of a failed exercise as the hoped for results never materialised! Never mind.

In Theatreland, recent arrival “Hairspray” starring Edna Everage as Michael Ball is wowing crowds at the Shaftesbury. Sadly over at the Duke of York’s Denise Van Outen can’t pay her rent - but despite this she is over the moon. Last years crop of big musicals are still going strong as “Spamalot”, “Dirty Dancing”, “Wicked” and “The Sound Of Music” continue to attract audiences. Next year sees Connie Fisher bid so long, farewell to her dirndl as she climbs ev’ry mountain to her next project. Meanwhile there is much speculation on her replacement. We have heard rumours of pop stars, soap stars, film stars even Christopher Biggins as the new Maria. I do have my sources of course so I can make a quiet announcement here. Shhhhh though, it’s a secret. What isn’t a secret is that early in the new year Liz Dawn leaves “Coronation Street” after over thirty years as Vera Duckworth. So yes I can exclusively reveal that from next march the hills will be alive with the sound of “Jack!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

“There’s going to be an amputation in the village”

So we move on to television and the village in question would of course be Cranford. Possibly one of the most entertaining series to grace our screens in years. Where else would you see a cow in pajamas and as for the cat that ate Imelda Staunton’s best lace – well you had to see that! Some things you just can’t make up! The minutiae of Victorian village life was beautifully realised in this enchanting series. As Judi Dench said in the last episode it was “such a fine close weave”

As for that cheerleader, “Heroes” has been the years cult success. A group of seemingly ordinary people discovered they have special abilities then battled to save the world. Of course See/RUT is not without it’s heroes too……the call centre operator who can make one call last 35 minutes, the usherette who can juggle three ice creams whilst doing the dance routine to “All That Jazz” and let’s not forget the most astonishing ability of all…..yes at the Palladium we have a goat that sings show tunes! Save the goat save the world!!!!!!!!!!!

Also from America came “Brothers and Sisters” . In this surreal world Very Annie Mary is the sister of Ally McBeale and their mother is Gidget (try “Google”). We have a fiftysomething who used to be a thirtysomething, and a straight welsh man playing a gay American. Not to mention a Getty who was looking for missing millions! Oh the lives they lead!

I should of course mention “Doctor Who” as, former Drury Lane usherette, Freema Agyeman boarded the Tardis as his latest side kick Martha Jones! Hot casting rumours for next year include Anna Keighley as a terileptil and Andre Ptazynski as the newly regenerated Master.

In the world of pop Amy Winehouse didn’t want to go to rehab. No no no. Pete Doherty didn’t want to go to jail. The Spice Girls have got back together and Take That ‘s return goes from strength with the news that they are finally replacing Robbie Williams. Christopher Biggins begins rehearsals in the new year. The year’s big success story has been Leona Lewis of course with her debut album breaking all records.

The O2 Arena opened with a string of high profile concerts including Bon Jovi, Take That and Barbra Streisand. Plans for their next year include Kris Boobyer doing his Girls Aloud tribute show and Chrissie Tanners “Don’t Mess With My PPs” tour.

So what else?

Tracey Barlow was jailed. The Drowsy Chaperone failed. Louis Walsh was sacked – rehired. Steve McLaren was fired. Michael Parkinson retired. Sarah Jane Smith was revived. That canoeist was found – seems he survived. The American writers went on strike. Ewan McGregor got on his bike. All in all somewhat poetic year!

So 2008?
The producers of “Heroes” have announced a new character for the third season – Gee Foo the Malaysian cousin of Hiro – the catch phrase set to grip the world is “If I cut my hair I lose my powers!”. In the West End Boublil and Schonberg return with the musical “Marguerite” at the Haymarket. Over at the New London Anna Charles and Berni Green have “The Wind”. Last but not least Andrew Lloyd Webber is to begin work on his new musical “A Tale Of Two Valleys” the story of (unassuming box office manager) Allan Ferris and his life in Wales and California. Christopher Biggins is mooted to star.

So on that exclusive note I draw this parallel universe review and preview to close. All that remains is for me to wish you a very happy new year!


Monday, 17 December 2007

We Represent The Lollipop Guild

There are many things that sum up Christmas. Chestnuts roasting on an open fire. The weather men talking of that elusive white Christmas. Small terraced houses covered with thousand of pounds worth of flashing lights. Perhaps, even going through the advent calendar and eating all the chocolates before the first week of December has passed. For many of us though, much of what sums up Christmas is to be found on our television screen. The Queens speech of course, a vintage Morecambe And Wise Christmas show and now it seems we have a seasonal episode of Doctor Who. However, for most of us, it’s probably a movie that captures our imaginations more than anything. I am of course talking about that classic 1939 picture – a seasonal essential musical – “The Wizard Of Oz”. As I write I haven’t seen the Radio Times double edition but I am sure it will be lurking in the schedules somewhere. You can count on it!

I must have been around five or six when I first saw this most magical of screen musicals. I can recall it’s monochrome beginning and my Nan saying she thought it was supposed to be in colour. But no, Dorothy’s mundane Kansas existence was definitely black and white. But the lack of colour did nothing to spoil my pleasure as the evil Miss Gulch attempted to take Dorothy’s dog Toto. Then it happened, the twister hit, and the little farmhouse was blown away to the enchanted land of Oz. Next, the house landed with a bump, Dorothy opened the door and as she did it happened. Technicolor!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I ran to my Nan in excitement “it IS in colour” I cried with great excitement before settling down to watch the rest of the movie. Now friend of Dorothy or otherwise I doubt there are very many readers who haven’t seen this movie at some point. So to tell you of the munchkins and flying monkeys is kind of superfluous. You know the difference between a good witch and a bad witch and also know that the yellowbrick road leads to the Emerald City. It’s not without good reason that almost seventy years after it’s original release this movie continues to hold each new generation of children spellbound. It isn’t so long ago since my nine year old little brother came to stay and insisted on watching it over and over. And over and over and over. It was ten years before I could face it again!

Making the movie was not without it’s problems. The first disaster was possibly the failure to get the chosen actress to play Dorothy. How different would it have been if, first choice, Shirley Temple had been transported beyond the rainbow? The casting of the Tinman also was subject to change as Buddy Ebsen had to withdraw from the role because of a reaction to the lead in the silver make up. Further difficulties have often been cited as down to the munchkins. Allegedly more than a few of the munchkin performers had a predisposition towards fornication and drink! To put that into perspective though many of the diminutive cast had come from communities where they were the only small person. Imagine meeting someone like themselves for the first time – who could blame them for getting excited? With more than one director attached to the project at different times there were so many reasons that the movie should be a failure. History of course tells us otherwise. Despite a successful launch in the States it initially failed to meet it’s expectations worldwide due to the outset of war, but over the years it touched the hearts of each passing generation, sealing it’s success as one of the all time greats.

There are some great (albeit silly) songs in the movie such as “We’re Off To See The Wizard”, “If I Only Had A Brain” and “FollowThe Yellow BrickRoad” but special mention should of course go to one particular song that was almost cut before the movie was released. I speak of course about “Over The Rainbow”. It’s simple sentiments were perfect for a time when most of the planet were facing a long and terrible war, and it became a song beloved by the troops, and also those left behind at home. Is it a coincidence that in the first few years of this new millennium that the song has achieved a renewed popularity? It’s very much a song that everyone has done, be it Eva Cassidy, Barbra Streisand, Harry Connick Jr or even Shayne Ward – but until recently the song was so strongly identified with one particular performer that it was very unusual for any one to record a cover version….

Judy Garland. How could I have written so much about “The Wizard Of Oz” without mentioning her name until now. If there was ever anyone who “owned” a song it had to be Judy Garland and “Over The Rainbow”. The serendipity of her casting in the defining role of her early career. Whoever may sing the song I suspect it’s Judy that people think of. Can you even imagine the movie if it had been Shirley Temple not her? No, I thought not! Needless to say “Over The Rainbow” was the song that Judy continued singing over her entire career. Even here at the London Palladium where there is a special plaque commemorating her long association with the theatre.

There have been many attempts to recreate what the original movie had. The first official stage version based on the movie was produced by the RSC in the late eighties with Imelda Staunton for a Christmas season, returning a year later with a different cast – this time generating a cast recording. A stage version also appeared at New York’s Madison Square Garden for a couple of seasons. Prior to these productions the early seventies saw a brand new stage musical based on Frank L.Baum’s original book. This of course was “The Wiz” with an all black cast. A big hit on Broadway the show was transferred to film where it’s cast included Michael Jackson, Richard Pryor, Lena Horne and a slightly implausible Diana Ross as Dorothy. Aside from “The Wizard Of Oz” Baum wrote many more Oz novels, although with the notable exception of Disney’s “Return To Oz” adaptations to other mediums have been pretty thin on the ground. Today it’s through re-invention that the magical journey to Oz has continued…..

Of course if I am to speak of the movie version of “The Wizard Of Oz” then I must mention the current hit show “Wicked”. Are there any of you who haven’t seen it? Probably not that many. The show ( and Gregory Maguires novel that preceded it) takes a very different spin on Baum’s magical world by telling the story from the viewpoint of the Wicked Witch of the West. This show has really captured the publics imagination and I suspect that a large part of this is because of that old movie musical that first got shown back in 1939.

But anyway, here I am talking about the film and you should really be tidying up your desk and going home to watch it! So all that is left is to wish a happy Christmas to you all.


p.s. don’t eat too many mince pies!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Friday, 7 December 2007

"Best Kept Secret" - "Bare" the musical

Approximately three years ago I was surfing the web and read that I could go to a particular web page and download ten tracks from the, then current, Off Broadway musical “Bare”. I knew absolutely nothing about the show but found myself bowled over by these energetic and compelling songs and was determined to find out more. I then discovered a site on the show and also set about telling friends to download the free tracks. Everyone was hooked!

With music by Damon Intrabartolo and lyrics by Jon Hartmere Jr, work began on “Bare, A Pop Opera” (as it was initially titled) in 1987 culminating in a successful Los Angeles run in 2000-2001. 2004 saw a short run off Broadway. A proposed full length cast album was cancelled and that should have been the end of the story, but a dedicated and loyal following had emerged and they weren’t going to let “Bare” die. The people who had worked on the show since the beginning were determined to at least get an album out. So this week my “Deluxe Edition” of the cast album of “Bare” arrived through the post, and I am pleased to say that my expectations have been more than met. What’s more I now know what it’s all about too!

The action takes place in an American Catholic boarding school between Epiphany and graduation of their senior year. At the forefront of the drama are gay students Peter Simonds and Jason McConnell whose struggles as they deal with their relationship take up much of the plot. Other principal characters include the most popular student, Ivy, her sometime boyfriend Matt, and Jasons overweight and lonely sister Nadia. Also featured is earth mother Sister Chantelle, whose school production of “Romeo And Juliet” provides a thread that runs throughout the show. During the shows two hours a whole plethora of teenage issues are explored such as drug abuse, teenage pregnancies and the isolation and loneliness of some of the characters. Peter’s longing to be open is often at odds with Jason’s desire to keep their relationship quiet, and both of them struggle to find answers or acceptance within their faith. Although many of the shows themes are pretty serious there is plenty of comedy throughout the show so you do get an opportunity for a few laughs as it hurtles towards its tragic conclusion. By the way, if you are wondering, yes there is also a parallel with “Romeo And Juliet” to be found in the show.

Of course the aspect of the show that grabbed my attention more than anything was the music. The score has a real modern Broadway sound. If you like “Rent”, “Spring Awakening” or the music of Jason Robert Brown I suspect you will find much to enjoy. The frustrations of Peter and Jason’s relationship are brilliantly portrayed in “You And I” and the later “Best Kept Secret” and “Bare” illustrate other aspects of their romance equally effectively. Nadia’s two big numbers, the comedic “Plain Jane Fat Ass” and “Quiet Night At Home” ” provide a humorous and tender view of her isolation and loneliness as the schools “fat girl”, and Ivy’s “Portrait Of A Girl” and “Touch My Soul” are equally revealing about her character, showing that despite being the girl with the looks and the admirers she is often equally lonely. “Are You There” is a fantastic soul searching number where Matt and Peter ask God for answers. Other highlights include Sister Chantelle’s “God Don’t Make No Trash” where she asserts that “there’s a black woman inside the soul of every gay man” . Best of all are “See Me” and “Warning” . “See Me” is Peter’s heartbreaking attempt to tell his mother about his sexuality as she determinedly keeps the subject on almost everything but. “Warning” is the emotionally devastating response of his mother as she comments on what Peter has been trying to tell her, which despite her knowing all along still comes as a shock.

I should of course mention the casting of the recording too. It combines cast members from the Broadway cast (Kaitlyn Hopkins as Peter’s mother), the LA cast (Kelli Lefkovitz as Nadia, Stephanie Anderson as Sister Chantelle) with Matt Doyle and James Snyder, who weren’t in either production, as the two leads. Special mention should be made of Jenna Leigh Green as she played Ivy in both productions. They all sound great and, I am sure, we will hear much more of them in time to come.

Now it’s difficult to get people enthused about music without letting them hear it, but in this instance I can point you in the right direction to do just that.
MySpace finds various opportunities to catch some of the songs is the official mysapce page – but doesn’t feature any songs is the official page for the album which does, as does the fan site is the official web page for the album and that features video clips

If “Bare” wins you over you will find all the links to buy the CD there. It’s a double disc with a “making of” Dvd and with current exchange rates my copy came in at around £16. The DVD is quite interesting but as all of the contributors are people working on the show who love it you don’t get a balanced perspective at all, but then again maybe it’s a show that everyone loves?

Anyway I hope this weeks column has piqued your interest, if any of you like the sound bites on the web be sure to let me know! It’s nice to have an opportunity to share this “best kept secret” with you all