The Commitments is DEFINITELY bringing soul to the people

image

Last night I had the absolute honour of going to one of the first previews in the world of The Commitments musical. Directed by Jamie Lloyd (and already a film), the Roddy Doyle novel has been brought to life in London’s Palace Theatre.

It was my first time being witness to a brand new show with an original cast but I am so pleased that I managed to get tickets. I have to confess to not having read the book (my copy didn’t arrive in time) but I knew the sort of thing I was expecting and I was not disappointed. The story is set in Barrytown (a fictional town) in Ireland, in the mid 1980’s in a time of social upheaval due to high taxes and unemployment. Many people found themselves in the grasp of Heroin. The Commitments is a group formed from people who want to bring soul back to Ireland, to their lives and who are passionate about the music because it’s all they have.

Friends- Outspan, a guitarist, (Matthew Wycliffe) and Derek, a bassist, (Mark Dugdale) – are looking to progress in the music industry, so they end up looking for advice in Jimmy Rabbite, played by Denis Grindel. The Commitments is Grindel’s West End debut, but there is no hint that this is the case as he gives a confident and professional performance as the young hopeful. He has grand ideas for the group and begins auditioning for members. He remembers seeing a drunken performance from a young man and goes to ask him to join the group. This chap becomes The Commitments’ (who are as yet to be named) front man, Deco, played by Killian Donnelly.

After getting together, more members are added – these include The Commitmentettes (the backing singers) – Imelda, Natalie and Bernie (played by Sarah O’Connor, Stephanie McKeon and Jessica Cervi respectively), James the pianist, played by Barnaby Southgate, Joey the trumpeter (Ben Fox), Billy the drummer (Brian Gilligan) and Dean the saxophonist (Andrew Linnie).

An extremely mismatched group, with very little musical talent between them, Rabbite sends them away to learn various soulful tunes, from the likes of The Supremes and Marvin Gaye. They struggle to play their instruments, the singing is pretty terrible, as is the saxophone, and Deco is extremely difficult.The actors playing the Commitments all play their own instruments (initially very badly) but as they begin to perform in public, they begin to improve, gradually playing bigger venues and they eventually start to get press attention and the chance for a recording deal.

Donnelly plays the crude, arrogant and moody Deco with such conviction. He is very temperamental, inclined to walk out at the slightest thing and really only looking out for himself, and most of the other band members really don’t like him. They are told to tolerate him, however, for his vocal ability. And I have to say that Donnelly is incredible. Vocally he is extremely strong, powering out the soul. His energy on stage is infectious and despite the fact that he is difficult, obnoxious and a law unto himself he is hysterically funny (as is the entire production) and you cannot fail to be mesmerised by him. He also throws quite a few shapes, however, he also seems to like eating and getting his kit off!

Each of The Commitmentettes are strong characters, using their female charms to impress Joey the trumpeter, the only member of the group with any real musical experience. This leads to tensions and jealousy between the other members of the group (who all rather like Imelda, including Rabitte), so when she is seen kissing Joey, punches are thrown, fighting ensues and the band, which is barely holding it together anyway, falls apart. The girls throughout all hold their own, each one with a great voice and on occasions get their chances to sing, which they do most impressively.

One of my favourite performances came from Joe Woolmer, who plays the bouncer Mickah. He was absolutely superb as the ‘no messing’ character and literally every time he was on stage I was in stitches. For me, he was the icing on a rather delicious cake.

There are quite a few elements to the set and although much of it is set on one level there are scenes taking place upstairs and also ensemble scattered around in balconies and higher up positions. This potentially creates a problem for those faced with an overhang from upper theatre tiers, but I think probably not a lot is missed. I thought the set design was great though – some of it (the Rabbite house, for example) done using trucks which could be easily and quickly wheeled on and off.

At times there was an element of audience participation and there was a real sense of being part of it -on occasion the cast are in the auditorium – and with classic music – songs such as I Heard It Through The Grapevine, Knock On Wood, Mustang Sally and Reach Out I’ll Be There – it is nearly impossible not to join in. What I did enjoy is that although these are all classic hits, the performers in this production very much make them their own. It was hard to stay seated throughout, as my toes (and I could feel others too) were tapping along, so when the opportunity to get up and dance came about at the end, not one person remained in their seat.

Without giving too much more away, every single cast member has clearly worked hard to make this production really impressive. During the interval and at the end I heard only positive comments from the audience. Certainly there was hilarity all the way through, I don’t think I stopped smiling once. If bad language offends I would advise staying away, as it is rife throughout but it really doesn’t bother me in the slightest and apparently didn’t seem to be concerning anyone else either. I can’t find a bad word to say about any of the cast – if I haven’t given them an individual mention here it is simply because I don’t want to go on too much, but they are all super talented and a joy to watch, many of them making their West End debuts. I defy anyone not to be smiling and singing when they leave the theatre.

I absolutely can’t wait for a return visit, and there WILL be one. And another, and more after that…this is a watchable show which I would happily see again and again. And I very much intend to. Do go if you can, it really is great fun and this cast deserve to be seen. I hope this will be sticking around for some time.

Keep Dreaming,
Naomi xx

Craig Mather Answers….

I am delighted to share with you all my most recent interview with the very lovely Craig Mather. I am sure that many of you will know him as Marius in London’s Les Miserables, but recently he has been concentrating on his own music and is shortly to be releasing an EP. Read on for more details:

1. You’re originally from Stroud but moved to London for your career. Do you ever miss being in the West Country or is London well and truly your home now?

I miss it EVERYDAY! However, I do love the hustle and bustle of London life and I don’t have the work opportunities in Stroud as I do here but maybe one day I might go back to raise a family!

2. You have recently finished playing Marius in Les Miserables. Was this a role you had always wanted and if so, why?

It’s a dream role for any aspiring actor who can sing – it’s been around longer than I have been alive and apart from Valjean (who, hopefully when I can grow a beard and age about 30/40 years, I can go back to play) this is the only role I could see myself playing.

From 2012 West End Live, begins with Bring Him Home (Geronimo Rauch) into One Day More, where Craig is Marius, see him perform this here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ihe91zMRH-0

 3. Some of your earlier roles include Nanki Poo (The Mikado) and Jean Valjean. Both very different roles – do you prefer musical theatre or do you enjoy operettas such as G&S? Both of these must have been challenging to play?

I love a challenge whatever that maybe…i’m not someone who likes to just float through life… I like a good challenge and something to make me think.

4. Are there any roles you particularly fancy having a go at playing?

Albert in War Horse

5. If you could choose to sing any song from any show (male or female role) which would you choose and why (if different to the above)?

Bring Him Home as its been massive part of my life from singing it as Valjean at my secondary school, auditioning at drama school with it and obviously getting it sung above me (many times) in the west end!!!

 6. You have since been gigging with and supporting your friends (including Hadley Fraser and Scott Garnham) at their respective performances. How have these gigs gone down?

Good I think!? Although it’s very nerve wracking performing songs that no one knows.

Watch here for Scott Garnham and Craig performing Empty Chairs at Empty Tables together: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oiDaA-sQNjM

7. You clearly enjoy performing your own material – how long have you been writing for?

I have been writing since I can remember but I only started taking it seriously last year!

8. You are soon to be releasing an EP – can you tell us anything about it?

It’s all my own songs and it’s POP / rock style and I think there is something for everyone on it!

It’s going to be released on 11.11.13 on iTunes and there is going to be an EP Launch is the night before, that is – 10.11.13 in West Kensington. Visit www.craigmather.com  for more details.

9. Who or what are your inspirations and why?

Everything!!! Thats the beauty of writing isn’t it? You can write about anything you wish!

10. When writing, do tunes or lyrics just come to you or do you have to sit down and ‘decide’ to write something? Please talk us through your song-writing process.

It kind of just happens?! Sometimes I wake up at 3am and write lyrics down and sometimes I’ll just be playing the guitar/piano and a tune will pop out. I don’t have a set way.

11. You’re very musically talented – you play a large variety of instruments. Do you have a favourite?

I think drums are my favourite, only because they are the most releasing to play.

 12. How would you describe your musical style?

My musical style is alternate pop / rock. Think BBC Radio 2!!! 🙂

 13. Is this EP a taster towards releasing an album? Are there any special guests featuring at all?

No guests, just me and my producers… I think I’m going to release a couple more EP’s before I do an album, depends how this goes down!

14. Do you have plans to return to musical theatre or do you think you would prefer to be a recording artist? Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

I’m still in the musical world. I’m not leaving it. You might see me soon on stage you never know 😉 …my own writing is a hobby of mine that I would like to share with everyone! If it goes somewhere then brilliant.

15. Do you still offer singing lessons and if people would like to have lesson with you how can they get in touch?

Yes…If you want a singing lesson contact me through my twitter @craigmather or @craigstuition

 16.  Is there anything you can tell us about Craig Mather that we may not know? (That you’re happy to reveal of course!)

Ummmm not sure. I can be reserved when I want to be…but I think I’m quite an open person and what you see with me is what you get!

17. What one single item couldn’t you live without?

My YELLOW PILLOW (sad)

18. How would you describe yourself in three words?

FUN, CRAZY, and you choose another one, thats hard!!!? Hahaha (N: Ok, my word for Craig would be talented!)

19. If you could spend a day any way (and anywhere) at all, how would you choose to spend it?

The moon!!!

 20. If you could pick out one moment of your life so far as a highlight, what would it be?

I cant pick, there are far too many!

I would strongly recommend that you look Mr Mather up, whether he is someone you are familiar with or if this interview has introduced you to him. With his multitude of musical talents and a fabulous singing voice, I just know that his EP is going to be something special. I have been lucky enough to experience some of Craig’s original music prior to this interview and I thoroughly enjoyed what I heard.

Here he is performing part of one of his own compositions at St. James Theatre: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wZHZ-dXqW-w I vote that you all YouTube Craig Mather at St James’ Theatre or Studio as it will pull up lots of examples.

He is also a fantastic singing teacher, so again, if you fancy lessons then he comes highly recommended. As he has so far been unable to pick a career highlight, let’s make the success of this EP and launch gig that moment for him. I hope you have enjoyed discovering more about Craig and I hope to see many of you at his EP launch. If you can’t make it, then WATCH THIS SPACE for a full blog post about it with (hopefully) videos.

EP Launch: Black Velvet Club, Kensington, West London, Sunday 10th November, 2013.

Follow him on Twitter @CraigMather and on Facebook (which has many details and videos regarding the EP’s progress) at: https://www.facebook.com/craigmathermusic?fref=ts

You can also find out more and purchase the EP and  launch tickets at: http://www.craigmather.com

Les Miserables still as strong as ever

So, as you all know, and as per my last post, I went to see Les Miserables last night. Last weekend doesn’t really count as tonight’s was the one I had been waiting for. The only minor downside was that we had no Tam Mutu, so Javert was played by James Gant who actually made a perfectly decent policeman.

I had booked front row seats for myself and my friend Jessica, I personally love the front row and I wanted her to be blown away the first time she saw the show live. This was my fifth time seeing this musical, but it still never fails to give me goosebumps. I dont think I’ll ever tire of the orchesta sounding out those first few bars.

Each role is so famous that it is quite difficult to go in without any expectations but to give credit to the cast they each make the roles their own and all offer excellent vocals. I enjoyed Dan Koek’s singing immensely, his Bring Him Home was beautiful and his upper register seemed to come fairly easily to him. Jean Valjean has a huge range to cover and the expected big notes – “Fliiiiiigghht”, “2-4-6-0-waaaaaann” etc – did not disappoint.

Gant was a good replacement for Mutu. There is something about Mutu’s Javert, a presence perhaps, that was slightly lacking for Gant, however I cannot really criticize his performance. Vocally he was strong, wavering a little at opposide ends of the range, but both his suicide and Stars were sung pretty much spot on. He certainly got a huge cheer for both. I am quite happy to watch understudies performing,  it often offers you a different interpretation of a part as well as the chance to see new/less well known but often equally (and occasionally more) talented folk.  

I still rather like the use of the revolve, which is used throughout,  it definitely maximises space and it is ideal for those ‘2-sided’ scenes such as the barricade or the courtyard. Both slow motion and smoke are used to cleverly create effects (I personally enjoyed Niall Sheehy’s slow-motion forward roll). The barricade is cleverly put together,  the runaway cart is effective and although a majority of the show is dark (dark streets, dark set, not exactly cheerful content) it would be wrong to add more colour than just the costumes, and of course the red flags. It also adds more of a contrast for the scenes involving the Thenardiers, the only comic relief of the piece and a most welcome one.  

Cameron Blakely has been playing the grotty innkeeper for many years and as expected his portrayal is hilarious. Wendy Ferguson (Madame Thenardier) is much newer to her role but you would never guess. Both are vulgar and conniving but deliver the comedy aspect flawlessly,  very important in these characters and they make a most enjoyable partnership to watch.  

Anton Zetterholm plays a strong Enjolras, his voice has the strength that the role requires. I feel that sometimes Enjolras, or rather his voice (I do not mean Zetterholm here, rather a general comment) can be a little weak and is therefore a bit lost, which as the leader of the students is not ideal, particularly when he burats in during One Day More. Occasionally Zetterholm’s accent comes through, but on the whole I was impressed by him. I do also really want to see his cover, Niall (one of my interviewees) in the role so fingers crossed another trip will be on the cards soon.  

There has been much speculation over Carrie Fletcher playing Eponine – why was she cast, will she be any good, etc, you name it, it’s all been asked. But I can definitely say that she makes a likeable, passionate and strong Eponine, her voice is powerful and her death is heartbreaking. It was great to finally see her play the role she has wanted for so long, and two fingers to all doubters because Miss Fletcher is brilliant as the tragic (at least, I always think she’s a tragic character) Eponine.

The ensemble are all – as you would expect – very together, well rehearsed and they make the most fabulous sound.  one Day More has always been a favourite of mine and I literally had shivers down my spine during this. The students were excellent,  most notably Grantaire (played by Adam Linstead) as he plays the most convincing drunkard and several times really made me chuckle. Of course I enjoyed also seeing ‘the many faces of Niall’ too, and Gavroche was, as always, a confident young lad. Les Miserables always has remarkably talented children, the Cosette seemed particularly tiny but still very competent.

I’ve never been a fan of Cosette, Marius or Fantine really, (though Michael Ball set an exceptionally high standard for Marius), so I dont have a huge deal to say about them, they all sang well enough (and I way preferred Samantha’s voice to Amanda Seyfried’s in the movie).  

It is really no surprise that this show has been running for so many years. The score still sounds as fresh as ever, the story in many ways still relevant. I guess I am a bit predictable but it truly is one of my favourite shows for so many reasons. Everybody should see this show (and I don’t mean the film) at least once. It is fair to say that the film has raised more interest, and to some extent I think Carrie being in it has also heightened the show’s profile again. Tonight’s audience seemed to consist of a lot of foreigners,  but in all honesty, the wider the audience the longer the production will run. My next visit wont be after such a long gap, that’s for sure. In fact, I am already planning it….

Keep Dreaming,
Naomi xx

Apologies for the formatting, this was done on my phone.

Just checking in…

I realise it has been a while since I posted anything. Truth be told I have been feeling rather flat and disheartened lately. Partly because I have no money and don’t live in London and haven’t been able to get to see half the things I wanted to (such as Title Of Show and The Colour Purple). This doesn’t however mean that my theatre trips have stopped – far from it. I have actually seen the following:

Top Hat – to write about it here would not do it justice so I shall try to do a full review post of it, but I thought this was brilliant and thoroughly enjoyed it.

Les Miserables (I will blog this properly on Thursday as I am seeing this again then)

A Chorus Line – I just don’t know about this one. I knew what the show was about and I knew some of the music. But if I’m honest, I really didn’t enjoy it, in fact I actually got quite bored at one point, and I never get bored watching musicals! I don’t know if the cast were having a slow day, whether I wasn’t in the mood (although I had been really looking forward to it for months and was delighted to be getting to see it before it closed) or whether it just wasn’t what I was expecting. I thought I was going to be blown away – maybe that was the problem – but I heard so many good things about it and as I said, I had some knowledge of the show so didn’t go in completely blind. I don’t like to say I didn’t enjoy it but I certainly won’t be in a hurry to see it again should it ever be on anywhere and I left feeling thoroughly disappointed. It had good moments of course, but in my opinion not enough to stop me looking around the auditorium, checking the time and wondering how much longer the two hours was going to be. I hate leaving shows I didn’t like – I feel bad for not enjoying them.

Billy Elliot (for the third time) – I won’t write this up as I have done a recent post on this show. Seeing as the two previous times I saw it though it had Killian Donnelly in it, it was a little strange to have a different Tony. There were a few new cast members but all were very good, the MIchael had only been in it for a week but he acted as though he’d been performing the role for years. I had seen Harrison’s Billy previously.

The Three Musketeers by Barbershopera at Salisbury Playhouse, this was a review and can be seen in its original format here: http://www.thepublicreviews.com/the-three-musketeers-the-salberg-salisbury-playhouse-salisbury/

A Little Hotel on the Side at Bath Theatre Royal, also a review and the original of this can be found here: http://www.thepublicreviews.com/a-little-hotel-on-the-side-theatre-royal-bath/

I think that is the list. Though after seeing Les Miserables on Thurs I will be seeing the new Phantom cast on the following Tuesday and then the Commitments on the Sunday after that. Phew! These will all be written up of course so watch this space for those. I am really excited to see the Commitments, I am also hoping to catch some shows at Bristol Hippodrome, I know they have Cabaret there this week and Evita there soon. I need to find out if there is any way I can get to see those. If anyone wishes to accompany me then I would love to see you.

Although I will be writing about Les Miserables when I see it next, I must say that Tam Mutu will not be on as Javert. Thankfully I was fortunate enough to see him on Saturday, something I have been trying to do since he started in the role, and it was absolutely worth the wait. The guy is stunning as the law abiding, criminal hating policeman. He has such a strong voice, I literally cannot fault anything about his performance. I was sadly too far away to see facial expressions and things so can not really comment on those but from where I was sitting his acting looked as strong as his voice. Adam Linstead and Nicky Swift were also on in place of Cameron Blakely and Wendy Ferguson as the Thenardiers. I personally prefer Cameron’s Thenardier, though Adam was still very good, and I am yet to see Wendy undertake the role of Madam.

I do also have a couple more interviews coming up soon so I shall publish those as soon as they have been sorted. I am also thinking of writing a review for Nadim Namaan’s album, We All Want The Same. I think I shall try to do that this week, but I have been so busy. It is rather marvellous though and I would recommend it.

I have been wondering guys if you could please help me out? I am looking to make this blog better in any way I can so if there is anyone you would like to see me interview, something you would like me to write about or some other way to improve this then please let me know. I will then do what I can to sort it. Also if you could share my blog wherever you can, be that Twitter, Tumblr or Facebook etc (if you enjoy what you read) then please do, I will be extremely grateful. I believe that if folk are good enough to take their time out to answer my questions, then the least I can do is give them plenty of exposure to make it worth their while. Of course, if you don’t like what I write then I would also be interested to know why so I can hopefully improve this blog for everyone.

I would finally like to add that I had a singing lesson with Craig Mather this weekend. I loved my lessons with Fra but I have found it hard to pin him down lately so Craig offered to teach me. He is fab and I would definitely recommend him to anyone. I was a blithering, self conscious, nervous wreck, but Craig was great and after about 15 minutes I was able to at least attempt what he was asking. So if you’re looking for lessons, then look him up.

Apologies that this is not particularly exciting but I thought I should check in with you all and let you know where I’ve been and what will be coming up, but please do watch this space as there should be some exciting things coming soon. As always thank you for reading, thank you for your feedback and most of all thank you for your support. I appreciate every single one of you who contributes (by reading, sharing, answering questions or even by performing in the shows I’m reviewing).

Keep Dreaming,

Naomi xx