Category Archives: Musical Showcases

Dress Circle Benefit Gala – Her Majesty’s Theatre, 7th August 2011

Image from westend.broadwayworld.com

As London began to burn and the world’s finances teetered on a knife-edge, most of the musical theatre community in the West End bundled into Her Majesty’s Theatre. The event was an evening to celebrate and attempt to save Dress Circle, the Monmouth Street ‘Showbiz Shop’ that is a haven for the committed musical-goer.

This place is definitely a gem, and it would be an awful shame to see it go – whether this show has been produced to raise funds or to attract an investor to save the shop is unclear, but the brightest and best of the West End certainly value Dress Circle – a huge spread of top names turned up to perform in its name. Organised in only a few weeks by the hugely dedicated Stewart Matthew Price and James Yeoburn, a night of great variety and talent was the result.

Although the nature of one-off charity performances inevitably produces a patchy result between the extremely well-rehearsed and those who have only managed to drop in for a song and run off, those who shone did so extremely brightly.

It was a joy to see the original cast of the 2007 Donmar production of Parade reunited, recreating the immense atmosphere and power of that autumn at the Warehouse. Unformtuately Lara Pulver was unable to attend, shortening the intended set to only one song – it would have been amazing to see more. Three of the original London Avenue Q cast gave a great rendition of ‘I Wish I Could Go Back to College’, reminding us of the amazing cheek and fun that has made the West End a duller place to be since the show’s closure.

Of the individual performers, Landi Oshinowo (currently ‘Dragon’ in Shrek the Musical) triumphed with her ‘And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going’, which continued a wonderful Dreamgirls set after Portia Emare, Emma Lindars & Charlotte Riby’s ‘One Night Only’. Two wonderful songs from a hugely underrated musical performed with panache – fantastic.

Similarly impressive was Tracie Bennett, bringing her manic Judy Garland from End of the Rainbow to Haymarket, leaving none of her explosive energy and complete dedication to the character behind after a summer resting before taking the show on a UK tour.

Possibly the most affecting performance was that of Ellen Greene, the original Audrey in Little Shop of Horrors singing ‘Somewhere That’s Green‘ . As immersed as Bennett was in Garland, these two women made it entirely clear how they have made these roles their own. Greene was clearly affected by the standing ovation that she received – shedding tears in response. Such diamonds of rare performances make these events entirely unmissable.

So, in all a great night that hopefully can be a step towards a continued physical presence of Dress Circle in the West End – I certainly don’t want to be denied my browsing for sheet music for obscure new musicals and esoteric DVDs! Please drop in next time you’re in Seven Dials and tell your friends to do so too – hopefully a suitable long term strategy to ensure the financial viability of the shop can be reached soon so that all of this effort and goodwill has not been in vain.

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Michael Bruce & Guests – The Pheasantry, King’s Road

Image from garidavies.me.uk

 An evening of top-quality entertainment – Michael Bruce’s unique repertoire was brought to life in sparkling renditions from the brightest and best performers of music theatre.

I do love a cabaret. My first real steps into music theatre were at uni when I sang with Music Theatre Bristol over a very happy four years in the Mandela Bar. I’ve missed it ever since. There are many wonderful things about a full show, but there’s something great about the more low-key, unscripted intimacy of a small cabaret – not constrained by plot and instead getting to the point – showcasing fabulous songs.

This evening had it all – numbers ranging from hilarious comedy to tearjerkers – along with the only-on-the-night mix of spectacular stage falls and intra-cast banter. We took our seats close enough to be at risk of getting black eyes from the guitar, and before long the 60-seater space of the Pheasantry was filled with a good-humoured appreciativeness for the sheer talent and passion on display.

Michael Bruce is a young British composer whose work personifies almost everything that is right about new music theatre – his songs are beautiful and powerful, with a lot of laughs along the way. ‘Portrait of a Princess’, an irreverent (and explicit) take on the life of a Disney heroine (written especially for Julie Atherton) has become an internet sensation – if you haven’t seen it yet, you’re in for a treat:  http://www.portraitofaprincess.com/ . Sadly Julie wasn’t there to perform due to illness, but the comedy song slots were more than adequately filled with the hilarious ‘I Want a Man’ and Helena Blackman’s rendition of the cheeky ‘This Christmas’.

Yes, there were a couple of Christmas songs in June, but along with Stef Booth’s lovely performance of ‘Children’, they were of such good quality that the summery context didn’t matter at all. ‘Children’ won Bruce the Notes from New York competition in 2007 that kick-started his now booming career (he has recently written the score for Much Ado About Nothing starring David Tennant and Catherine Tate at Wyndham’s Theatre) – it’s almost too important to leave out, whatever the weather.

Whilst the comedy songs were tantalising, Michael Bruce is no one-trick pony. Two performances from Paul Spicer – of ‘Even Then’ and ‘Unwritten Song’, were hugely emotional. The lyrics cut right to the quick, betraying far greater insight and maturity than one would expect of Bruce’s 27 years. Listening to ‘Unwritten Song’ – that gives his album both its name and final track, and was written for his mother who passed away last year, it would take a heart of stone not to be moved. Keep an eye on this one – I for one am extremely excited about watching his career develop.

Act One   1.  My Kind Of World – Tori Allen-Martin  – 2.  Even Then – Paul Spicer 3.  I Want A Man – Amelia Adams Pearce/Tori Allen-Martin 4.  Looking Back – Ben Alyn Francis/Phoebe Fildes 5.  It’s Not Gonna Rain – Helena Blackman 6.  Someplace Beyond The Moon – Phoebe Fildes 7.  Money, Honey –  Dale Page

 Act Two  1.  Don’t Wanna Leave You Now – Michael Bruce 2.  What Do You Do? – Amelia A- Pearce 3.  Away – Sam Edwards 4.  Children – Stef Booth 5.  This Christmas – Helena Blackman 6.  Unwritten Song – Paul Spicer7.  The Musical Theatre Song – Michael Bruce

Michael Bruce’s debut album, ‘Unwritten Songs’ is available from Dress Circle, iTunes and Amazon.co.uk.

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