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THEATRE: Close To You – Bacharach Reimagined, Criterion (22/10/15)

SIR Patrick Stewart did not return to his seat in the stalls after the interval, beamed up somewhere else. If he had gone home early, you couldn’t have blamed ol’ Picard. The lack of storyline in the show is fine; the crowbarred narrative in jukebox musicals can sometimes be an aggravating factor. But what the world needs now is not a set of ska, skiffle and rock and roll makeovers of these songs, which are meant to lilt and glide, not bleed static and reverb.

THEATRE: Sunny Afternoon (2/5/14)

RAY Davies, perhaps this city’s greatest of musical storytellers, sat in the back seats of the Hampstead Theatre somewhere at last night’s press gala for the new Kinks musical, Sunny Afternoon. It would, after all, have been a bit strange if he had been in the front row for the euphoric sing-song conclusion, clapping and slapping along to his own hits. Especially so for a man who has marinated himself in melancholy for so long and who has seemed to have grown more and more reserved, almost shy, as time has past.

BOOKS: Chop Chop, Simon Wroe (3/4/14)

Simon spent three years on the Camden New Journal, graduating on the job from a reporter scolded by a coroner for the barmy idea of trying to sit back and tape a courtroom inquest into an award-winning feature writer with a talent for the unusual and absurd. We were lucky to have him. But before he reached our offices, this gentle dreamer had toiled in gastropub and restaurant kitchens for real, chopping onions while masochistically marvelling at those screaming in his face to hurry up.

THEATRE: Charlie And The Chocolate Factory musical, Theatre Royal (27/6/13)

IT’S as if they had looked at Gene Wilder titting about as Willy Wonka in the 1971 film and decided to ignore all of the things that made that enduring memory sugary, but more importantly, lovable. For sure, it is hard to flood a West End stage with a chocolate river but at times the Wonka factory – a place every kid dreamed of exploring at least once before they got to big school – feels more like a forgotten dungeon wing of Pentonville than a secret fantasy world.

TV: Eurovision 2012 (27/5/12)

SO, even enlisting the help of a singer who has sold more than 150 million records wasn’t enough. Not even Engelbert Humperdinck, not even The Hump, could do it for us. Europe once again looked the other way last night as the United Kingdom’s soul searching quest for a Eurovision Song Contest winner.

THEATRE: South Pacific, Barbican (8/9/11)

WOMACK plays a small-town American woman who has never read a book but still manages to snag the wise old panda of a French colonel who lives up on the hill. It’s nothing to do with her short uniform, blonde hair and all of that – it’s love. LOVE. The story runs that she almost throws him to the sea when she realises he has two black children from a previous life back at home, only to quickly realise that racism is plain silly and love conquers all. That’s musicals, folks – a world where characters with broad drama school American accents completely change tack when they are singing. The curiosities are all part of the fun, though – and whenever the dated plot throws up a loose end, it can be smartly glossed over with a resident cast of hooting Popeye sailors and grass-skirted people leaping about singing There’s Nothing Like A Dame.

THEATRE: Wizard Of Oz, London Palladium (12/5/11)

IN the dizzy old cyclone that speeds Dorothy from Kansas to Munchkinland, a girl watching from the stalls, can’t have been more than five, suddenly gripped her mother’s shoulders and cried: “I wannnna go home, don’t like it, don’t like it”. Not at these ticket prices, ma’love! And so the little girl had to sit, wincing at flaming broomsticks and cackles from a green-skinned horror, people spinning out of the Palladium’s loft on a trapeze, a talking tinpot and those pesky flying monkeys all from the relative security of her parent’s lap. For years, her folks will no doubt remind of her of the night she cried at the Wicked Witch of the West. It’ll be her 28th birthday and somebody will joke about going, or not going, to see The Wizard of Oz – oh, no, better not take Emily, she’ll only cry her eyes out. Do you remember, Emily? Do you? Crying?


THEATRE: Grease, Piccadilly (19/8/10)

IMPORTANT life lesson alert: if the woman in your life ever wanted to be Sandy and not Rizzo when they first saw the film, believe me right now they aren’t for keeps. Axe them asap. Rizzo is the cool one, and even the leathery biker-look thing that Sandy uses to make Travolta’s eyes pop in the finale doesn’t balance the score. In fact, the transformation makes Sandy less cool because it just means she has let greaser Danny Zuko – pronounced Zewwwko in the baudy American accents here – do whatever he wants and still get the girl to dress sexy.

MUSIC: Chuck Berry, Jazz Cafe (20/11/08)

Some songs he jacked in after the first chorus but Johnny B. Goode could not be curtailed, the mock ‘aw shucks’ surprise on Berry’s face when ‘Go Go Go’ was chanted back to his face has been part of the act for decades. As has the trick of getting five or six girls to dance on stage to provide cover for him to sneak away. They clapped and cheered for an encore – but anybody who knows anything about Chuck know he doesn’t come back to the stage once he’s left. He certainly wasn’t going to tackle the stairs onto the stage again.

THEATRE: Fame, Shaftesbury (17/5/07)

CASEY, who played the wacky one in Hollyoaks and then played the wacky one in Two Pints Of Lager, is cast here as the, erm, wacky girl in search of romance. She has two skills: quizzical looks and shouting. Shame then, that this is a musical and what the show really needs is people who can sing and dance. Similarly, Watkins reveals the sham that was Steps, struggling with the high notes and failing to conjure up any emotion. You should be rooting for the pair to get together but you couldn’t care less if they ever kiss.

MUSIC: Candi Staton, Jazz Cafe (24/8/06)

Candi Staton launching into You’ve Got The Love, inexcusably uplifting in all its mutated gospel glory, could not fail to send shivers down the spine. Everybody under 35 has some sort of association with that song, a beacon for old-school ravers, student freshers and bedroom DJs. Hearing it kick in live, b-line in tact, a crowd of hands up in the air – even the suits at the back – is devastating.

THEATRE: Footloose, Novello (27/4/06)

DEREK Hough sparkles as Ren (the part played by Kevin Bacon in the movie), taking each dance as if in front of the bath- room mirror rather than a theatre audience. Ariel, the main love interest, crowned foxiest girl in town, it seems, solely because she wears red cowboy boots, is captured just as expertly by Lorna Want.

THEATRE: Saturday Night Fever, Apollo (15/7/04)

WHICH bright spark came up with the idea of slotting Barry from Eastenders into a skin-tight disco romper suit, tossing him a false perm and giving him carte blanche to sidle across the Apollo’s stage bellowing Disco Inferno? It’s worrying that somebody somewhere came up with this chilling thought in the first place but even more disturbing that others have picked up the blueprint and run with it with enough enthusiasm to make this glitterball Frankenstein a hideous reality.




BOOKS: The Banned List, John Rentoul

HOW many more times does David Cameron want to tell us that a certain policy is part of the DNA of the Conservative Party? That particularly sicky cliché was later, like a fast-spreading flu, borrowed by Gordon Brown. Rentoul is right: there is too much “thinking outside the box”. Too many countries have “maxed out” their credit cards. Too many ministers want to “draw a line in the sand”. Too many opposition politicians complain about “moved goalposts”. All must have sounded sensible, or at least PR funky, when they were uttered genuinely for the first time.


THEATRE: Oliver!, Theatre Royal

IN the end the winding story of where Oliver comes from and where he ends up is unsurprisingly wrapped up at a speed to make scholars of Dickens scowl. But there is no denying that Lionel Bart created a masterpiece with Oliver!, lyrically audacious and musically infectious. And in moments when the cast seem overwhelmed and singing shadows of the famous film and previous productions, the ingenuity of the show, its sheer feel-good chutzpah gets them through.’

BOOKS: TJ & The Hat-Trick, Theo Walcott

THERE is a simple, linear equation in football and if we had all done the math(s) before the World Cup started, we would have known England were doomed, doomed I say, from the outset. The bigger the headphones around a player’s head as they come off a team coach, the more likely they will underperform, flatter to deceive, go home early in a crashing haze of tinny dance music.’


THEATRE: Jack The Ripper – The Musical, Jermyn Street

ONE minute we are rosy-faced and riding the crest of a cockney sparrow knees-up, peering into a mythical world where being poor and even a whore doesn’t seem that bad as long as you can sing, dance, rhyme and joke. The next, we feel guilty for all the stomping jollity and top-hat slap- stick when the Ripper steals in to leave the neck of one of this show’s pride of twirling hookers dripping with ketchup.


MUSIC: Kelly Joe Phelps, Jazz Cafe

GIRL in front: stop dancing, stop jiggling around and stop beating your head backwards and forwards. Don’t sing-a-long to the lyrics (although well done for deciphering them) and don’t encourage others to join in your careless bouncing up and down. The country blues sound of slide guitarist Kelly Joe Phelps was not made for such carefree abandon. The rest of the mixed-bag crowd at the Jazz Café are on my wavelength. They knew these warm blues workouts are meant for sunken heads chewing on bottles of warm beer. Phelps – bulging eyes, lumberjack shirt – is on my side too, sitting low in his chair and slurring cryptic banter with the front row.

MUSIC: Nancy Sinatra, Royal Festival Hall

THERE was a touching moment, given it was Father’s Day, when she dedicated One Shot Of Happiness, penned by U2’s Bono, to Frank. I think there was a tear and definitely an emotional croak in her voice. And another throat frog ribbitted when somebody called for Something Stupid, the neat duet recorded with Dad. “I can’t sing both parts,” she said sorrowfully.


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