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NEWS: Brian May & Kerry Ellis launch Candlelit Christmas tour

In Concerts, London theatre, Musicals, News, Press Releases, Regional theatre, Touring by Press ReleasesLeave a Comment

Queen star Brian May and singing sensation Kerry Ellis today announced they are teaming up once more for a new series of UK concerts at the end of the year. May and Ellis will play 11 shows across the country in the lead-up to Christmas. Their Candlelit Christmas Tour kicks off on 7 December 2016.

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NEWS: West End Live features 25 shows & stars including Samantha Barks, Matt Cardle & Tom Chambers

In Concerts, Festivals, London theatre, Musicals, Native, News, Press Releases by Press ReleasesLeave a Comment

WEST END LIVE with MasterCard takes place in Trafalgar Square on Saturday 18 and Sunday 19 June 2016. Celebrating its 12th year, the free musical extravaganza showcases the best of the West End. Attracting crowds of more than 500,000 people over the course of the weekend, WEST END LIVE with MasterCard is the largest event of its type in the world. The 2016 performance line-up, announced today, includes over 25 shows and stars including Beverley Knight, Michael Xavier, Kerry Ellis, Tom Chambers, Samantha Barks, Matt Cardle and Pixie Lott.

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NEWS: Mates founder Terri Paddock launches new musical theatre digital directory

In Features, London theatre, Musicals, Native, News, Press Releases by Press ReleasesLeave a Comment

For the past year, Mates co-founder Terri Paddock has also been working on a new business venture, dedicated totally to musical theatre. Today, after months of testing, she officially announces #StageFaves and her involvement with it. The Mates kindly invite you to have a look and let Terri know what you think. Here’s the official launch press release…

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NEWS: Denise Van Outen, Michael Xavier, Kimberley Walsh and Kerry Hall lead Cadogan Hall Sweet Charity concert

In Broadway, Musicals, News, Press Releases by Caroline Hanks-FarmerLeave a Comment

Cadogan Hall presents the concert version of Sweet Charity with musical theatre stars Denise Van Outen (as Charity), Michael Xavier, Kimberley Walsh and Kerry Ellis. The soloists are joined by the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra and Arts Ed Chorale, under musical director Richard Balcombe. The creative team is completed by stage director Paul Foster and choreographer Matt Flint.

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NEWS: Beverley Knight to play Grizabella in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cats

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Beverley Knight is to star in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s record-breaking musical Cats to play the role of Grizabella. Returning to the London Palladium from 23 October 2015, Lloyd Webber’s record breaking Cats will run for a ten-week season until 2 January 2016. Tickets are from £20 with top price seats at £59.50 and children’s tickets at half price for Monday …

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Don Black In Conversation – Pt 1: Cabaret

In Features, Interviews, London theatre, Musicals by Jonathan BazLeave a Comment

Don Black

The London Festival of Cabaret opens this week and runs for a fortnight across the city. Featuring a line-up from both sides of the Atlantic you can expect legendary names getting up close to a microphone, singing songs that they love (and may also have composed) and reaching out beyond the spotlight to share stories with an audience.
Unlike a staged musical the atmosphere couldn’t be more relaxed – and over a cocktail or glass of wine, maybe with a bite to eat too, listening to an inspirational performer either singing beautifully or sharing a sparkling anecdote makes for a charming evening.
As the final preparations were being drawn up for Tuesday’s opening night, I caught up with Festival Patron and Oscar-winning lyricist Don Black to talk about his love for the art-form.

JB:    Don, what drew you to supporting the Festival? 
DB:    I’ve always, for as long as I can remember, loved cabaret. When I was managing Matt Monroe, all those years ago, I used to go to those northern clubs and cabaret clubs which were rife in the ’60’s. Places like Talk of the Town, I used to love the atmosphere. 
When I started going to America a lot, I used go to all the cabaret places in New York. Lots of things drew me to these places.
You would get singers there who sang the different songs, special material, witty songs. Songs you hear very often. No one in cabaret sings My Way or those out and out popular songs. You get some very, very interesting and intriguing artists.
In New York I used to go and see a guy named Oscar Brown Jr., wherever he appeared. In fact I was discussing him only the other day with Van Morrison, who is a huge fan of his, so is Paul Jones, and many people.
I used to go and see Matt Dennis who wrote great songs like Angel Eyes and Let’s Get Away From It All. 
I just like that closeness, the intimacy of the cabaret room. I’m delighted that so much is going on in London, in cabaret. I go to the Crazy Coqs quite often along with the St. James and I go to The Pheasantry too. The other night at The Pheasantry I saw Charles Strouse, the man who wrote Annie and Bye Bye Birdie. Now, you tell me where you can go see a guy, nearly 87 years old, talking for 2 hours and sharing anecdotes about Jule Styne and Hal Prince singing his songs?
Also, I really like the idea of them not being great singers! I like watching the song writers, like Strouse, who’s not a great piano player, not a great singer. You get so much heart and so much emotion in those couple of hours. It’s a different kind of evening. Cabaret really is a great love of mine. 
I recently saw Anne Reid at the Crazy Coqs. Now Anne is a great example of someone and she won’t mind me saying this, who really is not a great singer. But she’s a great actress, and therefore a great story-teller. 
JB:    What are your thoughts on the younger cabaret artistes, as compared to those who do cabaret on the back of longer established careers? 
DB:    What you get from young artists, that you may not get from the older people, is new material. You do get the younger people, they’ll find a song from a failed musical. You think, “Oh isn’t that beautiful.” They can be full of surprises.
But of course the more seasoned a performer is, the more they’ve got more to draw on and of course you can feel for them too. You are close up. So when you see a person in their 60’s and 70’s singing a song about years gone by or missed opportunities, you cannot help but be moved. It is very touching when you see Anne Reid, who’s I don’t know nearly 80 now, singing a Barbara Cook song. You get the goosebumps. And as I said about Charles Strouse, when he went into The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow, I mean, god almighty it was phenomenal!
I saw Mitch Winehouse at the Hippodrome a few weeks ago, Amy’s dad. He really put through with about a 12 piece orchestra, and he was terrific. So interesting and of course lots of anecdotes about Amy. It was very personal and also very touching. 
JB:    So – is it about the songs or the story-telling?
DB:    Being a lyric writer I’ve always gone for the story teller. It’s interesting because Tony Bennett’s favourite singer and he’s often said this and it says a lot, is Louis Armstrong. Sinatra’s favourite singer was Fred Astaire. These people aren’t known for singing but they are known for storytelling. You hang on every word when these people sing. That’s what I like about cabaret, you don’t have to be the greatest singer, but you just have to get your story across. That’s why with people like Lorna Luft, you hang on every comma. 
JB: Don, thank you so much for sharing your thoughts, and enjoy the Festival!
Aside from cabaret, Don also spoke at length about his song-writing career and part 2 of this fascinating conversation will be published shortly.
The London Festival Of Cabaret – Celebrating Song opens on 28th April and continues at venues across the capital until 11th May. Confirmed artists appearing include Kerry Ellis, Barb Jungr, Janie Dee and Scott Alan (amongst many others) and you can also watch some of today’s younger stars such as Jamie Parker and Caroline Sheen branching out onto the capital’s cabaret circuit. 
www.londonfestivalofcabaret.com
www.londonfestivalofcabaret.com/diary/

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Don’t fall into the pit: Backstage with MD Anthony Gabriele and the Cats orchestra

In London theatre, Musicals, Native by Jonathan BazLeave a Comment

At nearly every musical, after the cast have taken their final bow and as the audience start filing out onto the street, the band will typically play a minute or so of exit music, almost the opposite of an overture, before they too sign off for the night.

I try to make a point of staying in the auditorium until that number is over, by which time often more than half the crowd will have left, so as to applaud the band (and at that moment in time, only the band) for the usually top-notch contribution that they will have made to the evening’s entertainment.

A good musical production is akin to a three-legged stool. The cast, the creative team and the orchestra make it a success and if you take away any one of those legs, the show flounders.

So I was delighted when, on having mentioned to my friend Anthony Gabriele, currently the musical director (MD) of Cats at the London Palladium, of my curiosity to see inside the orchestra pit during a big West End show, that he graciously invited me to sit in for a performance.

Cats_OrchestraPit3-AG-KEllis-JB_apr15

Cats’ MD Anthony Gabriele, star Kerry Ellis (Grizabella) and Jonathan Baz

Meeting me at the stage door, he showed me down to the pit and as we made our way through the clowder of feline-costumed actors having their radio mikes checked, I felt suitably humiliated surrounded by such talented and athletic performers each of whom could probably summon up more fitness in their little finger than I could muster at all!

A good musical production is akin to a three-legged stool. The cast, the creative team and the orchestra make it a success and if you take away any one of those legs, the show flounders. Traditionally, a show’s pit is located sunken and to the front of the stage, where the conductor’s head and whirling baton is just visible to the audience, allowing him eye contact with both stage and band.

The staging of Cats is such that there is no room for such a luxurious, standard location and instead the musicians are located completely out of sight beneath the stage in a virtual musical dungeon. TV monitors allow Gabriele to see the action up top, whilst the usual screens fixed to the front of the dress circle (carefully located out of audience sightlines) allow the performers to clock the conductor.

It takes an MD of considerable talent to connect with performers located elsewhere in the building…

Like a train formed of an engine and its carriages (and for that read the orchestra and the cast – and I daren’t say as to who is the engine!), it is the MD who not only drives the train but, more importantly, couples those units into one. He or she must be strong enough to hold the train together, yet flexible enough to allow bumps along the track to be absorbed into a smooth journey that neither derails nor delays the train and which, 99 times out of a hundred, will not even be noticed by the paying passengers enjoying the journey.

It takes an MD of considerable talent to connect with performers located elsewhere in the building, but the youthful Gabriele is amongst the very best of the bunch. The man knows Lloyd Webber’s show intimately, along with many more shows besides. Indeed, during the interval, he was helping Joseph Poulton (Mistoffelees in Cats) with the tongue-twisting Zulu lyrics from The Lion King‘s “Circle of Life” opener, before the actor transfers there when Cats closes at the end of April. Gabriele has MD’d that show too….

 

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Continuing our feature series educating audiences on the importance of musical directors, critic and blogger Jonathan Baz spends an evening with Cats‘ MD Anthony Gabriele in the orchestra pit at the London Palladium.

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I Know I Mustn’t Fall Into The Pit – Backstage With Anthony Gabriele and the Cats’ Orchestra

In Features by Jonathan BazLeave a Comment

At nearly every musical, after the cast have taken their final bow and as the audience start filing out onto the street, the band will typically play a minute or so of exit music, almost the opposite of an overture, before they too sign off for the night. I try to make a point of staying in the auditorium until that number is over, by which time often more than half the crowd will have left, so as to applaud the band (and at that moment in time, only the band) for the usually top-notch contribution that they will have made to the evening’s entertainment. 
So I was delighted when on having mentioned to my friend Anthony Gabriele, currently the musical director (MD) of Cats at the London Palladium, of my curiosity to see inside the orchestra pit during a big West End show, that he graciously invited me to sit in for a performance. Meeting me at the stage door, he showed me down to the pit and as we made our way through the clowder of feline-costumed actors having their radio mikes checked, I felt suitably humiliated surrounded by such talented and athletic performers each of whom could probably summon up more fitness in their little finger than I could muster at all!
A good musical production is a akin to a 3-legged stool. The cast, the creative team and the orchestra make it a success and if you take away any one of those legs, the show flounders. Traditionally a show’s pit is located sunken and to the front of the stage, where the audience’s typical view is of the conductor’s head and whirling baton just visible, allowing him eye contact with both stage and band. The staging of Cats is such that there is no room for such a luxurious, standard location and instead the musicians are located completely out of sight beneath the stage in a virtual musical dungeon. TV monitors allow Gabriele to see the action up top, whilst the usual screens fixed to the front of the dress circle (carefully located out of audience sightlines) allow the performers to clock the conductor.
Like a train formed of an engine and its carriages, (and for that read the orchestra and the cast – and I daren’t say as to who is the engine!) it is the MD who not only drives the train but more importantly, couples those units into one. He or she must be strong enough to hold the train together, yet flexible enough to allow bumps along the track to be absorbed into a smooth journey that neither de-rail nor delay the train and which 99 times out of a hundred, will not even be noticed by the paying passengers enjoying the journey.
Anthony Gabriele, Kerry Ellis and Jonathan Baz
Stopping off en-route to the pit to say a quick hello to the lovely Kerry Ellis, starring as the show’s Grizabella, I was then sat close to Gabriele (but out of the way), in front of his 8 musicians and issued headphones (cans) to listen to the voices that would be coming from afar. 

Out of sight, the dress code is a casual mix of jeans, trainers and t-shirts, but this is an appearance that couldn’t be more deceptive. As the overture starts it is clear that these men can play tunes, known the world over, to a world class standard. My phone was safely set to flight mode and with baton raised, maestro Gabriele got the show underway.
Andrew Lloyd Webber began composing Cats in the 1970’s and there is a strong synthesised/ keyboards bias to his compositions. Gabriele’s band comprise 3 keyboard players, 2 people on reeds, a drummer, a guitarist and a bass player.

The Cats pit has some clever touches. An array of speakers feed the keyboards’ electronic output (already being channelled directly to the show’s sound desk) into the room, to blend with the acoustic sounds of the traditional instruments. Microphones suspended from the ceiling pick up this ambient melding of the sounds, providing a further layer of texture to the finished product that the sound team put out to the audience. It has proved to be a gorgeous enhancement of the melodies.
Paul Slater, Tom Clare and Ben Kennedy (note the arrayed speakers)
It takes a MD of considerable talent to connect with performers located elsewhere in the building but the youthful Gabriele is amongst the very best of the bunch. The man knows the show intimately along with many more besides. Indeed, it was a surprise during the interval to find him helping Joseph Poulton (Mistoffelees in the show), with the tongue-twisting Zulu lyrics from The Lion King’s Circle Of Life opener, before the actor transfers there when Cats closes at the end of April. Gabriele has MD’d that show too.
A musical that is either sung or danced through completely, there is barely a moment in Cats that is music-free, and whilst the headphones proved a useful assistance in following the action on stage, there were times when I just took them off and listened in amazement to the talent manifest around me.
What struck me on the night observing the 8 musicians was the passion and commitment writ on their faces as they delivered the classic score, along with an immense sense of welcoming camaraderie shown to the two deputising musicians (“deps”) who were in on the night, covering for absent regulars.

In no particular order and amidst a sea of excellence, memorable moments were the relaxed banter amidst the keyboard players, the gorgeous double-bass work during Growltiger’s Last Stand with a deliciously jazzy syncopation throughout the number. There was a “funk-rock” sound to Mr. Misstofelees that included moments of percussive wonder from the drummer, (I was amazed to see and hear played, up close and for the first time, the enchanting glissando of a mark tree) whilst the brash big-band sound of Mungojerrie and Rumpleteazer was a delight and of course the overall orchestral splendour of the Jellicle Ball helped explain why, for so long, this show had been the longest running hit on both sides of the Atlantic.

Cans were slipped back on to hear Kerry Ellis smash the line “Touch me..” from Memory, proving that even through a headset and on a black and white monitor, her performance is still nothing short of sensational – though as the song played out I took the cans off to luxuriate in these 8 musicians generating what has become one of the most broadcast and beloved songs in the canon in recent years.
Gabriele brings the show to a close – in the background Howard McGill, Dan Czwartos and Darren Lord
The musicians who welcomed me on the night were:
Keyboard 1: Paul Slater Keyboard 2: Darren Lord (depping for Assistant Musical Director: Tim Davies) Keyboard 3/Deputy Conductor: Ben KennedyElectric Guitar/Acoustic Guitar: Nick Rees Electric Bass/Double Bass: Nathan Finn Drums/Percussion: Tom Clare Woodwind 1 – Flute/Piccolo/Clarinet/Tenor Saxophone: Howard McGill (depping for Gavin Tate-Lovery)Woodwind 2 – Clarinet/Soprano Saxophone/Baritone Saxophone: Dan Czwartos
Gentlemen, thank you all. It was a night I shall never forget.

Orchestral Management: Stephen Hill for Musicians UK Ltd.