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REVIEW: Girl from the North Country - Original London Cast


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Billed as a 'play with songs' rather than a musical, Conor McPherson's Girl from the North Country, now in the final week of a run at London's Old Vic, has proved to be one of the summer's sleeper hits. In the early part of the run, discounts were readily available, but the final performances are completely sold out. There's every chance the show will have some kind of further life elsewhere; in the meantime, the cast recording makes a strong case for it as an unusual, sometimes achingly beautiful piece of music theatre.


REVIEW: Lost West End Vintage: London's Forgotten Musicals 1948-1962


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From Stage Door Records, another worthwhile curiosity. Lost West End Vintage is a compilation of tracks from British musicals that premiered during what is generally considered the American musical’s “golden age” – that is, between the mid-1940s and the 1970s. These shows almost all predate the ascendance in this country of the Lloyd Webber megamusical, and they have mostly sunk without trace; you’re unlikely to see a revival of Wild Grows the Heather or Expresso Bongo or Cage Me a Peacock anytime soon. That doesn’t mean they don’t contain any worthwhile music, though, and the 52 – yes, 52 – tracks included on this compilation’s two discs include several unappreciated gems. They include some things you’ll listen to once and subsequently skip, of course, but that’s the nature of this kind of album; fortunately, the good here far outweighs the bad, and the best of this recording is very entertaining indeed.


REVIEW: Bandstand - Original Broadway Cast


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On the penultimate track of the new cast recording of Richard Oberacker and Robert Taylor's Bandstand, the final new Broadway musical of the 2016-2017 season, the marvellous Laura Osnes tears into a furious diatribe against the horrors seen by World War two veterans during their service and the difficulties they face in readjusting to civilian life. The song – "Welcome Home" – is genuinely electrifying, the band (which includes six of the show's actors) is red hot, and Osnes is sensational. It's one of those performances that forces you to sit up and pay attention. If everything else in the score was this good, Bandstand would have won every award going. It isn't, and it didn't, but this is still a rather more enjoyable score than you might guess from some of the show's reviews.


REVIEW: Blondel - Original London Cast


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Tim Rice’s 1983 musical Blondel is a fascinating show. Not everything in it works, but throughout Rice’s career there’s been an obvious, yawning chasm between the two different sides of his personality as a lyricist: the downbeat, somewhat self-absorbed small-R romanticism of Chess and Aida, and the slightly glib, rather archly anachronistic prep-school humour that underpins Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and much of his work on The Lion King. The original London production in 1983 was a modest success, but the cast recording has long been out of print. It’s now being reissued by the invaluable Stage Door Records, and it’s well worth a listen: you may well form the impression from it that the show is an unworkable mess, and the writing badly short-changes the two leads, but it also contains some of Rice’s funniest work, and some of the late Stephen Oliver’s music is glorious.


REVIEW: Dreamgirls - Original London Cast


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It's hard to believe that it's taken almost thirty-five years for Henry Krieger and Tom Eyen's dazzling Dreamgirls to be staged in London. It's also, perhaps, a little surprising that it's taken six months for Casey Nicholaw's UK premiere production to yield a cast recording, given that it opened to mostly very strong reviews and has been doing well at the box-office – particularly since neither the Broadway cast album nor the much more complete concert recording from 2001 is entirely satisfactory. That's unfortunate, because this is one of the great late-20th-Century theatre scores; in telling the story of the tempestuous rise of a Motown-style 60s girl group, composer Henry Krieger offers a whistle-stop tour through twenty years of (black) popular music. Krieger continually blurs the line between recitative and standalone arias so that the sung scenes bleed imperceptibly into the score's big takeaway hits; three and a half decades after it first premiered, the brilliance with which Krieger manipulates straight-from-the-radio pop, soul, r&b, and funk into a genuinely theatrical pop opera remains more or less unparalleled.