My Favourite Musicals

I am fortunate to review theatre professionally. That means that I often see shows that I would not normally have bought a ticket for, and miss shows that I would have liked to have seen because of clashing dates.

Here follows, in alphabetical order, the musicals I have seen professionally produced. I have given each a rating out of ten, and a one line synopsis.  If you want the full review use the search bar and it will come up.

20th Century Boy – 7/10 Above average Juke Box musical featuring Marc Bolan and the story of T Rex
42nd Street – 8/10 About the best dance show around. If you like big production numbers and chorus lines, this one is for you.
All Shook Up – 6/10 Decent Elvis Presley Juke Box Musical
Annie – 7/10 Lovely show, cute kids, who plays Miss Hannigan determines how good the evening is.
Avenue Q – 8/10 Irreverent puppet show that will make you laugh a lot.
Blood Brothers – 8/10 Great show, a bit light on great songs
Book of Mormon – 9/10 Inventive, funny.
Buddy – 8/10 Packed with great songs, this is the jukebox musical others have to beat
Cabaret – 9/10 great story, great songs, enduring themes
Cats – 4/10 “Memory” is the only stand out moment of a show that has not worn well. Best seen with children or an elderly mother who likes cats.
Chicago – 9/10 Brilliant tale of gangster molls. Sassy, great songs.
Club Tropicana – 5/10 Functional, frothy 80’s fun
Crazy For You – 7/10 Underrated. Strong song and dance, average story.
Dirty Dancing – 5/10 Formulaic, routine, but well done. If you like the film you will like the show.
Dreamboats and Petticoats 8/10 Wonderful 60’s Juke Box musical, great music, guaranteed feel good feeling as you leave.
Evita 10/10 Strong story, great lead roles, great songs, great set pieces. Lloyd Webber at his best.
Follies 5/10 A theatre buffs show which is too clever for its own good, but has  some good songs

Full Monty – 7/10 Now a Hen Night out. But good fun, with some enjoyable, if dating,songs.

Grease 8/10 It’s silly and formulaic but great fun with infectious song and dance.
Guys and Dolls 8/10 A classic which has endured, fabulous entertainment
Hair 4/10 A sixties icon which has not travelled well
Hairspray 9/10 Strong story, great song and dance and in “You Can’t Stop The Beat” a stunning signature song.
Half a Sixpence 6/10 Solid, dependable, but dated.
Jersey Boys 6/10 Great songs, perfunctory narrative.
Jesus Christ Superstar 9/10 It’s substance grows as the years go on. Great score and a story everyone knows. The best Rock musical.
Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat 6/10 “Any dream” and “Close Every Door” lift the show from routine to good.
Jungle Book 4/10 Decent adaptation of the Disney Classic
Last Night a DJ Saved My Life 1/10 By far the worst musical I have ever seen.
Legally Blonde 3/10 Dismal, awful, but young women aged 17-27 like it.
Les Miserables 10/10 Imperious
Mary Poppins 8/10 Fabulous Disney revamp.
Miss Saigon 9/10 Stunning modern tragedy, memorably staged, great songs.
Oklahoma 8/10 Seamless song and dance fun on the prairie.
Oliver 8/10 Excellent song and dance show lifted by a great villain in Bill Sykes.
Our House 4/10 Disappointing Juke Box Musical of Madness songs

Porgy and Bess  6/10  Memorable songs.
Priscilla Queen of the Desert 5/10 Warm, fey show, whose whole is greater than the sum of its parts
Rent 2/10 Horribly dated and self- indulgent nonsense featuring characters for whom it is impossible to care about.
Rocky Horror Show 9/10 Wonderful , glitzy and fun.
Spamalot 6/10 A silly delight- very funny.
Starlight Express 5/10 Great kids show
Sunset Boulevard 5/10 Moody, evocative, well done, gloomy.
Taboo 6/10 The Boy George Musical with little Culture Club music – but it works
The Band 7/10 Great Take That songs, and a decent story make for a strong show.
The Bodyguard 10/10 Stunning show, top draw music, compelling narrative, carried by whoever is Whitney.
The King and I 9/10 A show with music, dance, glamour and a story which combine to produce magic.
The Producers 3/10 Smug, insubstantial pap.
Whistle Down the Wind 9/10 A beautiful, mystical, show.

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Rolling Stones, Don Valley, 6th June 1999

 

crop

Unquestionably there are optimum times to see musicians live. My gig going started in the mid 1970’s, I was too young to catch the Rolling Stones in their prime. For me, their last decent album was “It’s Only Rock n Roll”, which was released in 1973. But that was around their fourteenth album, from which they had produced almost twenty top ten singles. Their position in rock’s pantheon of greats is undeniable. As such, they came high on my list of acts whom I felt I had to see live , so when they included Sheffield Don Valley on their 1999 tour on June 6th I bagged my ticket to see what all the fuss was about.

 
In retrospect, the omens were inauspicious. It was twenty six years after “It’s Only Rock N Roll”, eighteen years since their last hit single “Start Me Up”. Support was Sheryl Crow, as bland and anodyne a rock star as it is possible to imagine. Don Valley was an athletics stadium, built in 1990 for the World Student Games, which succeeded spectacularly in losing money until it was demolished in 2013. Athletics stadiums are soulless places at the best of times. Don Valley was no exception. One main half decent stand, partially covered down one side , an open stand opposite on the other, and a temporary open stand at one end, where I was sat. Not exactly a classic rock n roll arena. Fortunately, it did not rain, a rarity for Sheffield.

 
I also do not particularly like open air gigs. Invariably they mean arriving ridiculously early to secure a decent view, and leaving ridiculously late, as the power crazed stewards who directed you to a car park so far away that there might as well have been “Welcome to Barnsley” signs, absent themselves meaning that thousands of cars have to try to exit from unlit, unknown points to unknown destinations taking interminable hours to escape.

 
Once inside if you want to have a good view at the front you have to forego refreshments and toilets, endure crushing, for so long that under any other circumstances, Human Rights lawyers would be queuing up. If you decide to accept a lousy view you are rewarded by the opportunity to queue for hours on end for watery, warm beer, and half cooked, onion soaked beef burgers for a price not dissimilar to the monthly mortgage payment on a large house.

 

Our seats were in the temporary stand, at the pitch end, opposite the main stage. This had the advantage that we did not have to crook our necks to see the band, but the disadvantage that we were positioned nearer to Derby than Mick and the boys.
The idea with support acts is that they should be “alright”. Not so bad that they are booed off, not so good that the main act is “blown off stage “ ( the ultimate humiliation). Prior to seeing Sheryl Crow perform I did not know a single song in her repertoire, afterwards. I could not remember a single song. During her set I found my mind wandering, considering the advantages, and drawbacks, of rotary, as opposed to straight line, washing lines. I also thought what fun it would be if she was on a bill with the Housemartins and the Eagles. That is how anonymous she was.

 

During the Stones set she was brought on for a guest role. Mick Jagger has done some great duets, most notably with David Bowie, Tina Turner and Lady Gaga. This was not one of them. They sang “Honky Tonk Women” together, far from being a gin -soaked queen, she resembled an embarrassed junior school teacher, forced to sing something at Assembly by the Head.

jc
You would have to be dead not to be roused by the opening chords of “Jumping Jack Flash”, my pulse did quicken, as Keith and Ronnie sprayed guitar licks and chords around the stage, and Mick danced and pranced in the manner of someone just tasered by the Police. Yet once that Pavalovian reaction had subsided, reality sank in. A bleak bowl, 35,000 people configured in such a way that creating an atmosphere was impossible, and sound which made car radios seem hi fidelity.

 

There were some decent moments despite it all. “Ruby “Tuesday”, “Paint it Black”, “Route 66”,“It’s Only Rock n Roll” and “Satisfaction” raised my spirits. The rest did not. The Stones did their thing professionally, but there was no connection, no spark. And so, I had seen them. And that was that.
Set List

Jumpin’ Jack Flash
You Got Me Rocking
Live With Me
Respectable
Gimme Shelter
Ruby Tuesday
Honky Tonk Women
Saint of Me
Out of Control
Paint It Black
Before They Make Me Run
(Keith Richards on vocals)
You Don’t Have to Mean It
(Keith Richards on vocals)
B-Stage
Route 66
Like a Rolling Stone
Midnight Rambler
Sympathy for the Devil
Tumbling Dice
It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll (But I Like It)
Start Me Up
Brown Sugar
Encore:
(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction

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The Clash, Live at the Lyceum, London,19th Oct, 1981

clash

The Clash have now assumed legendary status from the Punk era. They were a remarkable band. Some of the myths surrounding them are at odds with reality. Many of their achievements are often under- appreciated. I saw them live twice, and Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros a further two times.
This review is about their finest hour, the run at the London Lyceum Ballroom supporting the “Sandanista” album in 1981. But I want to put the show in context.
I had seen them first at Leeds University on 27th Oct 1977 on the “Get out of control” tour. They were supported by the Slits ( Mick Jones was dating their guitarist Viv Albertine), who were terrible, and Richard Hell and the Voidoids ,who were (very) good (by comparison) with a great rabble rouser in “Blank Generation”. The gig was a 2000 sell out with a suspiciously high guest list inflating the figure further. It was dangerously packed.
The Slits came on at 7.45pm and were canned off at around 8.10pm. It was a mercy killing. Richard Hell appeared at 8.30pm and blazed, impressively, through to 9pm leaving everyone wanting more. Then we waited, and waited. The crowd became more impatient, surges became more threatening, fights first broke out amongst the fans, then frustration became focussed on the empty stage. A few tried to clamber onto the stage. Nervous bouncers repelled them, punches were exchanged, the fans came off worst, and a terrace roar arose, combined with an almighty surge. Dozens began to scale the barriers fighting the bouncers back who were unsure whether they should flee, or protect the equipment. At that precise moment, the house lights went down, the stage lights came on, and the Clash appeared to “Leeds is Burning”. Cynical. Stage managed. Magnificent.

clash 77
Their debut album was barely six months old and had been released amongst a deluge of competing compelling debuts. The material was not that well known, and it peaked at a respectable, but not impressive 12th in the Charts. They had released only one single, “White Riot” which made 38 in the singles charts, and “Complete Control” was barely a month old. The set list was not familiar.
It was a visceral, muscular, loud, performance, but it was not musically accomplished. It was like watching an 800m runner sprinting the first 100m. After that there was nowhere to go. Even “Police n Thieves”, which in theory should have provided band and audience with a breather, was played twice as fast as the recorded version.

 

Contemporaneous performances by The Buzzcocks, Jam, Stranglers and Boomtown Rats were far better musically , and more enjoyable gigs, even if they lacked the outlaw chic of the Clash.
Set List

London’s Burning
Complete Control
1977
Jail Guitar Doors
Clash City Rockers
Capital Radio
Hate & War
Police and Thieves
The Prisoner
I’m So Bored With the U.S.A.
Career Opportunities
Janie Jones
Garageland
What’s My Name?
White Riot
Almost exactly four years on, Oct 19th 1981, everything had changed. They had released their fourth album, but they comprised no fewer than seven vinyl records. An output that matched the Beatles, Rolling Stones and Who in their heyday. Their repertoire was considerable, diverse, critically acclaimed and well digested by the fans. They were playing on their home turf, London, at the all standing Lyceum Ballroom, for a seven sold out nights residency. Their last album, “Sandanista” had delighted, intrigued, outraged and appalled in equal measure. But for every old fan they lost, they gained four.
The Lyceum was a great venue, but artistically was a million miles from the 100 Club. On the Strand, distinguished, not a punk gig, but ideal. They had made it – but on their own terms.

lyceum
It was a long, sprawling, majestic set. “Broadway” an audacious jazz infused opener in London’s West End, before the thunderous reggae stomp, “One More Time”. Musically they were on another planet from that Leeds Refectory gig. Light and shade, changes of pace, space between the notes, with Joe’s vocals now a plaintiff, soulful roar, rather than a hoarse howl submerged by a wall of sound.
Those bands that had previously been ahead of the Clash were now well and truly in their slipstream. The Jam were namechecking Michael Jackson as Weller edged towards soul, the Boomtown Rats had gone down the commercially successful “I Don’t Like Mondays” blind alley never to return, The Buzzcocks struggled to escape their formula, The Stranglers found their groove as a rock n roll band and the Pistols had imploded. Welcome to the Last Gang in Town.
What set the Clash apart was their ability to adopt, adapt and improve upon the constantly morphing musical landscape around them combined with listening to the astute image guidance of manager Bernie Rhodes till he left in late 78.
Somehow they were still hip, even though the setlist was a distant cousin of 1977. “White Man” and “Clash City Rockers” still blazed, but the lighter touch of “Somebody Got Murdered” and “Spanish Bombs” sounded just as good. There was no room for “White Riot”. “Complete Control” gloriously wrapped things up . It would never be better for the Clash.
Set List
1: Air raid sirens intro –
2: Broadway –
3: One more time –
4: Know your rights –
5: The guns of Brixton –
6: Train in vain –
7: White man in Hammersmith palais –
8: The magnificent seven –
9: Wrong em’ boyo –
10: Clash City Rockers –
11: Koka kola –
12: Ivan meets G.I. Joe –
13: Junco partner –
14: The leader –
15: I fought the law –
16: Charlie don’t surf –
17: Somebody got murdered –
18: London calling –
19: Clampdown –
20: This is Radio Clash –
21: Career opportunities –
22: Armagideon time –
23: Julie’s been working for the drug squad –
24: Stay free –
25: Safe European home –
26: Police and thieves –
27: Should I stay or should I go? –
28: Graffiti rap (Futura 2000) –
29: Janie Jones –
30: Brand new Cadillac –
31: London’s burning –
32: Complete control –
Oct 26th 1999, eighteen years later, I saw Joe Strummer and The Mescaleros at Wolverhampton Civic Hall. It was an odd gig. Less than half full, maybe 400 there, Wolverhampton Wanderers were home that night, that Joe reflected may have hit the gate, yet Joe seemed happy, relaxed and determined to put on a good show. There was plenty of Mescalero’s material in the evening, and the Clash material was revamped, most gloriously on “Rock the Casbah”, which was stretched out, filled out, and beefed out in the highlight of the evening. After the demise of the Clash, it seemed as though Joe had found peace, and a purpose, it was a shame more people were not there to witness it.

wolves
Set List
Diggin’ the New
Nothin’ About Nothin’
Rock the Casbah
Quarter Pound of Ishen
Brand New Cadillac
Tony Adams
Trash City
Nitcomb
The Road to Rock ‘n’ Roll
(White Man) In Hammersmith Palais
Safe European Home
Yalla Yalla
Rudie Can’t Fail
Pressure Drop
London Calling
Tommy Gun
Junco Partner

The last time I saw Joe was as support to The Who at the NEC Birmingham, Nov 8th, 2000. It is a paradox that although The Who were definitely part of the Old Order that the Clash usurped, The Who were very supportive of Strummer and the Clash. Giving a resurgent Strummer a helping hand was typical of Daltrey and Townsend.

nec
Joe was superb. A tight ten song set, three Mescalero compositions, then onto the Clash stuff. It was a gem of a performance. “London’s Burning” took us all back twenty -three years to the beginning. “The Harder They Come” was a joyous reggae workout, but the killer double was. “Casbah / White Man”. Live, “Rock the Casbah” was transformed, the Mescalero’s imbuing it with a sophistication, rhythm and joie de vivre that the “Combat Rock” cut never quite reached. “White Man” was belted out as though Joe had just written it. The wild Arena applause gave the man, and his music, the recognition that the song deserved. “I Fought the Law” was the song that non Clash fans knew, “White Riot” was played not as a punk blast, but at skiffle speed, stripped down, an old favourite with a new time signature – and he was gone.
Set List
Minstrel Boy
Bhindi Bhagee
London’s Burning
The Harder They Come
Brand New Cadillac
Rock the Casbah
(White Man) In Hammersmith Palais
I Fought the Law
White Riot

 

I was driving to our office Christmas party on 22nd Decemeber, 2002 when the radio  broke the news that Strummer had died of a heart attack, aged 50. You never know how you are going to react when you learn of the demise of your heroes. I pulled to the side of the road, stunned. A small part of me had died too. I reflected how cruel life was, just when his talent was re-emerging for a new audience, he was gone.

“I’m the White Man in Hammersmith Palais, only looking for fun”

 

strummer solo

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My Town

My town, is like your town
A few bewildered denizens of the past
Hover outside the concrete carcasses of the old ways

New Gods are worshipped,
Kelloggs, Andrex and Dettol

Gucci, Prada and Burberry,
Now corpses in fading thoroughfares
Toppled icons

Overlooked by sterile skyscrapers
Whose night lights
Flash SOS into the emptiness
Without reply

The sick gasp for medicine,
The shelves of the healthy groan
Just in case

Mosques, churches and synagogues
Offer no prayers
While the aisles of Morrisons, Tesco and Aldi sing.

My town is like your town
There’s no-one around

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In the Beach Hut (Self Isolation)

 

Me on the inside
Everything on the outside
Time lies neatly folded
Like an old cloak
In the corner

White pebbles the size of
Loaves of bread
Rest beyond freshly rinsed
Twice daily

Peeled paint flutters
Subject to capricious breeze

Jaded, weather blasted
It holds fast

Against the onslaught
For now.

 

Wren
I saw a wren today
Brown, small, fragile
Agile

For the first time
Since I was a
Child

It was only a
Momentary
Glimpse

Maybe I have not
Been looking hard
Enough

Maybe they have
Always been
There

Maybe I will never
See one
Again

 

Hatton Bridge

They spoke of Waterloo
As the first stones were laid
One asked who Jenkinson was
No-one knew

Elgin sold his marbles
Which surprised the Greeks
They would have looked good
On Hatton bridge

Trout twisted and teased
Descending from the Peaks
Just one might make
Lunch compleat

Tutbury could be reached
Without wet feet
It took three years
It felt like two hundred

How did they know?

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Ben Kane – Eagles in the Storm, Novel Review

eagles
My first foray into Kane’s writing had been with “Clash of the Titans” it had been disappointing, with Simon Scarrow and Bernard Cornwell easily better writers and storytellers on that evidence. But I decided to give him another chance. I am glad I did.

 
“Eagles in the Storm” is the third part of a trilogy, not necessarily the best entry point for a new reader. To my surprise, and delight, what had gone before was no obstacle to my understanding of the story, or my enjoyment of it. Instead I discovered a tight, taut, novel which grabbed my attention from start to finish.

 
Set in AD 15. The German chieftain Arminius has been defeated, one of the lost Roman eagles recovered, and thousands of German tribesmen slain. But senior centurion Lucius Tullus has a score to settle, not only for his lost comrades, but for his legion’s honour, for Rome’s honour and for his own honour, the recovery of the lost eagle.

 
Arminius is the Germanic warlord opponent, fearless, brave, and an adept politician. Kane seems much more at home, and convincing, in exploring the intricacies and treachery of tribal alliances than he does Rome’s in “Titans”. Arminius , burning for revenge, raises another large tribal army, to confront the Roman invaders.

 
Tullus is brilliantly envisaged, and is very reminiscent of Scarrow’s centurion Macro. He epitomises what is good and morally right, while at the same time being perfectly happy to skewer and send to Hades as many barbarians as possible. What makes this story so strong, is that Rome and their Germanic opponents are credibly described, Tullus and Arminius are appealing opponents, and Kane underpins the story with a fragile Germanic Tribal alliance which might split at any time.

 
Kane also resists the temptation which Kane and Scarrow can be guilty of, making the defining confrontation of the book pivotal for Empires. This is primarily about personal confrontation and honour- and is much the better for it.

 
A great read, I intend to read the first two in this trilogy now, and risk the sequel to “Titans” in the hope that it improves.

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Clash of Empires- Ben Kane. Novel review

 

clash of emp

This was my first introduction to Kane’s work I was disappointed. It was swamped by too much unnecessary detail, diluted by multiple sub plots which either went nowhere or added little, and was careless with character.

In one strand Felix and his brother Antonius stand in the Roman legions, ready to deliver the decisive blow against Hannibal Barca and establish Rome as the pre-eminent power in the ancient world. But they are no match for Simon Scarrow’s creations of Macro and Cato. I was not that bothered about them.

In another strand, young senator Flamininus is set on becoming one of the Republic’s greatest military commanders with his eyes on the as-yet-unconquered Macedon and Greece. Too much time is spent on politics in Rome. Once again, he is not drawn in such a way that we are particularly interested in whether he personally succeeds or fails. There is no jeopardy in his personal story.

In the north of Greece, Philip V of Macedon is determined to restore his kingdom to its former glory but needs a strong army to help him do it. Young Demetrios dreams of fighting in the phalanx but is just a poor oarsman. But he is given an opportunity, and seizes it, bringing him into the sphere of influence of Philip. It is broadly a rags to (relative) riches story, and by far the most satisfying.

 
Kane’s historical detail, and love for the period, is beyond reproach. But just because you know something does not mean you have to share it. The story is told from multiple viewpoints and loses focus, and reader empathy, as a result. He has epic ambitions, but falls well short. The ending itself is inconclusive and unsatisfying, the loose ends left being frustrating, rather than enticing, for the next book in the series.

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