Saturday, 31 January 2009


We went to see Cabaret at the Sunderland Empire last night. This touring production (directed by Rufus Norris, featuring Wayne Sleep as the EmCee and Samantha Barks as Sally) really just served to show how brilliant the film was.

On the plus side, the stage show generally looked excellent, with appropriately tacky sets for the Kitkat Club and more subdued colours and lighting for the boarding house. Samantha Barks as Sally shows great promise and gave an impressive performance in the musical's better songs.

Unfortunately, attention to detail was sadly lacking. Anyone who knows a word or two of German can tell you that their translation of "Miss" is not pronounced "Fraw-line", and yet here, we had at least three supposedly German natives saying it that way. While that would be understandable in an amateur production, in the professional theatre it just isn't good enough.

The problems didn't end there. The whole thing didn't seem to "gel": while the female lead and the dancers were all thoroughly professional, some of the other major characters looked as if they weren't trying hard enough. Herr Schultz was given at least three songs but, sadly, Matt Zimmerman (playing him) showed no talent for singing. Jenny Logan's Fräulein Schneider sounded more like the cliché Jewish mother than a native of Berlin. Wayne Sleep seemed to forget to act at all for 50% of the time, and never came across as remotely convincing. Some of these problems are no doubt the fault of the musical itself, rather than the production: almost all of the songs omitted from the film came across as pointless and forgettable. "A pineapple for you"...what was that all about? The bottom line is entertainment value, and this one had us checking our watches more than once before the end.

Overall it was an interesting evening, but we're glad we didn't fork out for the more expensive tickets!

Thursday, 1 January 2009

Desert Island Discs

New Year's Day can be pretty grim - one way of lightening things is to go out for a walk (which I'll be doing soon); another is to listen to some good music (my plan for later on).

Catching the famous theme from Brief encounter on Classic FM one Sunday morning reminded me of how wonderful I think Rachmaninov's Piano Concertos are - and there are more reasons than that film why Number 2 is his most popular. Later on, listening to Radio 4's Desert island discs (and exercising my prejudices, thinking that some of the guests' musical choices are unbelievably poor) made me think of my own list of favourite records. Try it yourself - if you have any love of music at all, it's quite hard to get it down to eight!

  • Debussy's La mer (strangely enough, not all about his mother...). Debussy was a pioneer of a whole new musical sound, dubbed "impressionism", and this is probably my favourite example.
  • Finzi's Severn Rhapsody. An encapsulation of everything that's good in pastoral "English music" in less than seven minutes, this is an amazing piece. I only discovered this one about three years ago.
  • The Police's Message in a Bottle (from "Regatta de Blanc"). The eighties pop track that I think has stood the test of time better than any other.
  • Rachmaninov's Piano Concerto number 2. Enough said!
  • Ravel's Bolero. One of my eccentricities is that I collect different versions of this, and currently have more than twenty. It can be quite boring if it isn't played right, but a good performance is electrifying. However, contrary to Ravel's instructions, it sounds much more exciting if the tempo is slightly increased throughout. The best recording I've heard is a Decca recording from Riccardo Chailly conducting the Amsterdam Concertgebouw Orchestra.
  • Vaughan Williams' Fantasia on a theme of Thomas Tallis. See my post Dark and Tempestuous for more on what I think of Vaughan Williams.
  • Villa-Lobos' Forest of the Amazon. I'm always going on about Villa-Lobos and how underappreciated he is, and this is one of his most colourful and uplifting orchestral/choral works.
  • Villa-Lobos Piano trio number 2. The wonderfully melancholy berceuse-barcarolla in this really speaks to me - its use of rhythm and conterpoint take chamber music to a level of sophistication I had never heard before, and it seems to be saying that even in a bleak and strife-torn world, there is always hope.
The presenter of the radio programme always asks which one disc the guest would choose if all the others were being swept away: this is even more difficult but, for me, I guess it would be Forest of the Amazon.