Titanic – Southwark Playhouse, 27th July 2013

When a very good friend of mine invited me to join her at a preview of Titanic: The Musical at the Southwark Playhouse, I thought I knew what to expect. Everyone knows this famous story – the “unsinkable ship” that tragically sank in 1912. I mean, I was amongst the generation, at age 12, that was educated about this legendary story thanks to James Cameron’s epic film adaptation starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet and THAT song!

(Picture from www.theguardian.co.uk)
 
But when I arrived at the venue, an intimate off West End theatre amongst a range of office-like buildings, and just off a dual carriageway, something told me that everything I thought I knew about this tragic story was about to change.
 
 
I had been fore-warned by my previous interviewee and one of the stars of the show, Nadim Naaman, that I would be seeing an “epic show, epic score, epic cast. No Jack or Rose.” But I could never have expected that what I was about to see was one of the most moving and emotional pieces of theatre that I have ever witnessed.
 
 
From such a simplistic opening – a spotlighted Andrews (Greg Castiglioni) examining his design drawings of the “greatest ship ever built” as the audience enters, you are quickly swept into the euphoria of those who would be travelling on this epic voyage.
 
 
From Ismay (Simon Green) focusing on how his new boat was such a technological advancement and would be remembered for many years to come, to the Three Kates (Scarlett Courtney, Grace Eccle and Victoria Serra), dreaming of all of the wonders that America will bring. Charles and Caroline (Nadim Naaman and Claire Marlowe) who aimed to start a new married life away from Caroline’s disapproving father, to Isidor and Ida Strauss (Dudley Rogers and Judith Street), the owners of Macy’s Department store returning home from a holiday in Europe. Just some of the names that the audience would come to know so much about over the next 2 hours and 15 minutes.
 
From this point, you are taken – and I know this is a cliche but it’s so true! – a total emotional rollercoaster. You experience the highs and lows of all the characters that you encounter and you feel a bond with every single one of them, whether they are part of the Crew, the wealthy First Class, or the members of poorer Third Class. All the way through, the audience know what is coming – and when the show reaches its heartbreaking finale, I defy anyone not to be blown away by such a moving and emotional piece of theatre. 
 
Judith Street, Dudley Rogers, Victoria Serra, Claire Marlowe, Nadim Naaman, Celia Graham, Oliver Hembrough (Picture from http://westend.broadwayworld.com/article/Photo-Coverage-First-Look-at-European-Premiere-of-New-Chamber-Version-of-TITANIC-20130729)
 
There are so many things that stand out about this show, and if I were to list them all, I would still be here at Christmas 2014! So let me pick out some of, what were for me, the stand-out elements and performances within the show. 
 
The score to this show is just stunning! With music and lyrics by the legendary Maury Yeston, and orchestrations by Ian Weinberger, every single song just fitted perfectly within the story as a whole. From the joyous “Doing the Latest Rag“, to the dream-like “Lady’s Maid“, all the way through to the heart-breaking “We’ll Meet Tomorrow“, every song stands out for its power, passion and precision in delivering one of the most epic scores ever written.
 
 
On to the cast! This show is definitely a true ensemble piece – and every single performer that stepped on to the stage needs to be congratulated for such a phenomenal performance! You can see how much work they have put in to making this show the best that it can be – and with rehearsals and last minute “tweaks” still going on in the run up to Press Night, I have no doubt that this will only add to the stunning nature of the show as the run goes on.
 
 
Special mentions however must go to the magnificent Celia Graham (Alice Beane), the brilliant James Austen Murray (Barrett), the beautiful Victoria Serra (Kate McGowen), the stunning Claire Marlowe and Nadim Naaman (Caroline and Charles) and the fantastic Leo Miles (Fleet), who all just pulled at my heart strings so much at every point they were on stage.
 
A final massive shout-out must go to the entire production and technical team -including producer Danielle Tarrento, director Thom Sutherland, the musicians, the sound, lighting, costume and set designers – every single person who put this mesmerising show together deserves to stand up and be congratulated! You have all truly created something beautifully passionate and emotionally epic that will stand the test of time for so many years to come.
 
Titanic runs at The Southwark Playhouse until Saturday 31st August – and I would urge you all to get tickets to see this stunning piece of theatre! Check out availability over at http://southwarkplayhouse.co.uk/the-large/titanic/ or on Twitter @Titanicatswplay
 
Signing off for now
 
Blue Eyed Girl Xxx
 

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Blue Eyed Girl interviews . . . David Hunter

(Picture from www.digitalspy.co.uk)
 

David Hunter is probably best known for his involvement in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s search for a new Superstar which aired just over a year ago on ITV1.

However, his CV shows what an accomplished performer he is, even before he was in the running to become the lead in the new production of Jesus Christ Superstar!

After graduating from the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts in 2006, he has gone on to achieve great success in both music and acting. His acting credits include such smash hits as One Man, Two Guvnors, Tommy, Seussical, The Hired Man and a workshop for new British musical My Land’s Shore. His music career has also seen him play in every major arena in the UK, in front of audiences of 200,000 people as part of the band Reemer.

Most recently, David has been announced as the newest cast member of West End smash hit ONCE, currently playing to sell out audiences at the Phoenix Theatre, London.

I was lucky enough to sit down and chat with David about the Circus, The Full Monty, James Corden and his hopes for the year ahead . . .

Tell us a little known fact about yourself – something we wouldn’t know by just looking at you!

When I was 16, I ran away to the circus for our Year 11 work experience. I learnt to juggle, walk the tightrope and ride the unicycle…while my mates stacked shelves in Tesco.

What has been the biggest obstacle you have had to overcome in your career so far?

My own expectations. As soon as I achieve one goal, I want something bigger, better and even harder to achieve, meaning it never feels easy and there’s always something you’re yearning for. I think it’s exciting to be very driven, but the trick to life is to love where you are as well. I think I’m finding a good balance.

And what is the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?

Be brave.

Which West End show (be it a play or musical theatre) would you like to see revived and why?

The Full Monty Musical, there’s some wonderful songs in there and I’m nearly at an age where I could play the lead, I think! And while it’s not a revival, I would love to see James Corden come back to lead One Man, Two Guvnors again. I loved watching him every night during that run and I want everyone to see that performance. He’s incredible!

If you could play any part in any show, male or female, past or present, what would it be and why?

Guy in Once. I’ve just been cast as standby Guy, so hopefully I’ll get the chance to play the part very soon! I’ve never had a “dream role” before, so it’s incredibly exciting for me. I can’t wait!

(Picture from www.thedavidhunter.com) 


You are probably best known for your appearance on the Andrew Lloyd Webber show “Superstar”. How valuable and insightful was the whole experience for you? Would you encourage other performers to get involved in similar style shows?

I’ll always advise people to be very careful when entering a reality TV show. Superstar was perfect for me and came at a good time in my career. It’s the only show I’ve ever thought about entering and fortunately, it went really well. Before anyone thinks about participating in a show like that, I’d advise them to run all the scenarios, good and bad, in their minds and also decide what they want to gain from the process. It’s a strong focus on a final goal that will lead you to make wise decisions. Having said all that, I had an absolute blast on Superstar and I remember the experience with real happiness.

Since “Superstar”, you have been involved in such a wide variety of projects. Which did you most enjoy?

The Hired Man. I had very clear plans when I left Superstar (there’s that “focus on a final goal” thing!) and that show ticked pretty much all of my boxes; a great role in a great show, playing opposite one of our finest Musical Theatre actors (Julie Atherton) and all in a beautiful theatre. We earned five star reviews and standing ovations. It was a wonderful experience and a lot of fun.

What are your plans for rest of 2013 and beyond?

Well, Once will take up a lot of my time now and I’ll be squeezing in a few other things when I can, including a workshop for a really cool new musical next month. There’s whispers about possible things for 2014, but that all seems very far away right now. I just hope to continue working on great shows, playing great roles, so let’s see what happens!

**Check out the BRAND NEW Trailer for Once – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IGCEThkHsV4**

To keep up to date with everything that David has going on at the moment, check out his website www.thedavidhunter.com or follow him on Twitter @thedavidhunter. You can also keep up to date with all things ONCE over on Twitter @oncemusicalLDN

Thank you so much to David for taking the time to chat to me – a truly humble and very talented man who I can’t wait to see in ONCE!

Signing off for now

Blue Eyed Girl Xxx

The Machine – Manchester International Festival, 20th and 21st July

 
When I first heard that one of my favourite West End performersHadley Fraser – was to star in a play about a controversial Chess match, pitting man against machine, that took place when I was only 12 years old, I have to admit, I had my doubts over what to expect.
 
I mean, everyone knows how much respect and admiration I have for Hadley as a performer and as a person – but could even he convince me that Chess was interesting? It is a sport I only knew a small amount about – my Dad had tried to teach me how to play when I was younger, but, so he tells me, “You lost patience pretty quickly!”
 
Moreover, after seeing Hadley in so many musical based roles – how would the non-singing, very serious, methodical role of Garry Kasaprov be received by myself and the many other Hadley fans that were in attendance on that fateful Saturday afternoon at Manchester’s Campfield Market Hall?



(Photo taken by Helen Maybanks)
 
The atmosphere was set as soon as you walked into the auditorium – or in the case of this play, the TV studio. You were immediately thrust straight into the heart of that momentous day back in 1997. A solitary table adorned with a specifically set chess board. A computer screen, ready to deliver what its team hoped would be the winning moves. Cameras, “backstage staff” and the host himself making sure everything was perfect, and finding out what those around him thought about the whole event. You could sense amongst everyone of the audience members present that we were about to witness something special.
 
And indeed we did!
 
One of the things that made this production so sublime for me was the strength and depth of the cast. With such a complex storyline, which moved swiftly between the final duel between Man and Machine, to the early days of both competitors and how they got to the present day, the cast were required to be fully focused and ready to go from the second the play started, to the final words of Hadley’s dramatic and tension filled last line.
 
From top to bottom, the entire cast played their parts superbly. Special mentions must go to the divine Francesca Annis, who, as Garry’s formidable mother Clara, absolutely commanded the stage every time she stepped on to it. She held herself with such class and grace that you couldn’t do anything less than just look on at her in absolute awe – a true legend!
 
(Photo by Helen Maybanks)
 
Kenneth Lee’s Doctor Tsu – one of the creators of the legendary Deep Blue, went on the biggest journey throughout the play. From the shy, nervous computer geek, all the way through to the confident lead player for his team, you really felt like you were completely part of his journey. Through his highs and his lows, from his budding romance with college sweetheart Tamsin all the way to the final realisation that he wasn’t “good enough” to take on Garry without the help of a machine, your heart both flew and broke for him – and it takes a special actor to take the audience on that sort of journey.
 
And what can I say about Mr Hadley Fraser?
 
 
Every time I seem to see Hadley in a new production, he raises the bar to a new level and I always think, how can he top this? His portrayal of Javert in “Les Miserables” (the first time I saw him live) was just brilliant. Then on to lovable rogue Sid Sorokin in “The Pajama Game” – which was so different but yet again, utterly phenomenal! And now to Garry Kasparov. I can honestly say, hand on heart (and I mean it this time!), this is the best role I have ever seen Hadley take on!
 
So genuine, so powerful and so focused, Hadley was able to show so many different sides to Kasparov’s personality with such ease, and his portrayal really put across that there was a lot more to this Grandmaster than the cold, serious shell that people would see during his matches. He moved around the stage with such power and precision that you could not take your eyes off him for one moment – even when he wasn’t the focus of the on-stage action. His interactions with Francesca Annis were just brilliant, and his almost operatic like Chess playing sequences, which he told me were perfected as a result of MUCH rehearsal practice with Kenneth Lee were absolutely mesmerising!
 
(Photo by Helen Maybanks – from www.mif.co.uk )
 
One thing that strikes me with Hadley is how he can do so much by doing so little when it comes to his performance. Let me explain . . .
 
It was noted by numerous people on my Twitter timeline that during his albeit brief appearance in the recent movie adaptation of “Les Miserables“, particularly in his reaction to Gavroche’s death, that just by looking in Hadley’s eyes, you could see so much emotion – despite the fact that he never said a word at that crucial moment.
 
The same can be said for The Machine. I noticed this so much more on my second visit, where I was lucky enough to be sitting in a block facing Hadley during the Chess Match focal point. (The previous day, I had been on the opposite side, facing Kenneth Lee.) Even though his on-stage portrayal was of such a high standard, you could see just by looking in his eyes, so much more. Something so simple took his performance from being brilliant to utterly phenomenal – and it is something so precise as this that, for me, makes Hadley one of the best performers currently in the industry, bar none.
 
(Photo from www.uktheatre.net) 
 
I was so privileged to see this production twice – and I am so pleased it will have another “life”, so to speak, when it goes to New York in September. I only hope that the American audiences embrace what is just a stunningly brilliant production, with an out of this world cast – whether it be Man or Machine, this play is not just about chess, but about so much more!
 
New York – you’re in for a treat!
 
Signing off for now
 
Blue Eyed Girl Xxx

Blue Eyed Girl interviews . . . Shoshana Bean

(Courtesy of blog.oregonlive.com)
 
Shoshana Bean is one of the biggest stars that Broadway has ever produced. After training in Cincinatti, and moving to New York City, she went on to be a part of such phenomenal shows as Godspell, Leader of the Pack and Hairspray.
 
However, she is probably most recognisable for her role as Elphaba in amazing production of “Wicked“, a role which she took over from the legendary Idina Menzel, and played for a year on Broadway before taking it on the road across America in the shows first national tour. 


Shoshana is also a recording artist in her own right, having released 2 solo albums and her new single “Skywriter” is out to buy now. She will also be a part of Scott Alan’s massive concert coming up on 4th August at London’s Indigo O2.

I was truly honoured to chat to Shoshana ahead of her trip to the UK to learn a little more about this extremely talented lady . . .

Tell us a little known fact about yourself – something we wouldn’t know by looking at you!

I bite the inside of my lip when I’m nervous!
 
Who or what inspired you to get into the acting profession?
My desire to sing.
 
What has been the biggest obstacle you have had to overcome in your career so far?
I think I am my biggest obstacle and I’m still working on overcoming myself! I guess being in control . . . letting go of control and learning to receive
 
What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
Trust your gut!
 

Shoshana sings the Wicked classic “The Wizard and I” – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h9Rg8vtqBMM (Courtesy of hbcamera)

What is your favourite play or musical from the perspective of an audience member?
Sunday in the Park with George.
 
Who are your favourite actors/musical theatre performers?
Alice Ripley, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Mark Rylance (just to name a few!)
 
If you could play any role (in any play or musical, male or female, past or present), what would it be and why?
Funny Girl. Best score, amazing character and journey and one I really relate to. 
 
For any of my readers who haven’t heard it before, how would describe your own style of music?
My latest album is vintage soul music, largely influenced by the late 1960s and artists like Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding, Etta James  . . . I like to call it music for the bruised but not broken!

**Watch Shoshana perform her single “Cold Turkey” from her album “O’Farrell Street” – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ejCv7G2HG6Y (from her official Youtube Channel)

What is the one album (apart from your own!), past or present that you think everyone should listen to at least once?
The Beatles: Sergeant Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band
What was the last concert/gig you went to that left you speechless (in a good way!)?
The Teddy Campbell Band . . . I felt like those teenage girls must have felt in the 60’s just losing their minds!!! Teddy is the frontman, a drummer, he sings while he plays . . .and the whole band is just unreal! My friend Audra Mae is an incredible singer/songwriter, and her intimate shows, just her and her little guitar, blow my mind
If you could collaborate with any artist – past or present – on one of your own or a musical theatre song , who would it be and why?
John Mayer. He’s just my ultimate as a songwriter, musician and artist.

**Shoshana sings the beautiful “Home” written and accompanied by the brilliant Scott Alan – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ThsUa9heVJM (from his official YouTube channel)
You are going to be a part of Scott Alan’s epic concert at the Indigo02 on the 4th August. What do you think the UK fans – some of whom may never have seen Scott, or some of his guests, live before – can expect from the show?
I don’t know! I don’t know what he’s got planned. But I know with Scott, you can always guarantee the best singers and a lot of tears!!! His music really moves people

Shoshana will join Scott Alan and some phenomenal guests at the Indigo O2, London on 4th August. Tickets are still available from http://www.theo2.co.uk/event/scott-alan-20130804.html You can also buy Shoshana’s own music from iTunes or any music download site.

I must say a personal thank you to Shoshana for taking the time to answer my questions – and I can’t wait to see her perform live on 4th August!

Signing off for now

Blue Eyed Girl Xxx

 

Blue Eyed Girl catches up with . . . Nadim Naaman

(Courtesy of MUGPhotography)


Earlier this year, I interviewed the truly sensational Nadim Naaman as he prepared to take on the role of Anatoly in “Chess” at the Union Theatre. Needless to say, the production gained rave reviews and the majority of performances were sold out – a ticket to “Chess” was worth its’ weight in gold! Not only that, my interview with the man himself became one of the most popular posts ever here at my little blog – and it was not difficult to see why.

Many of my readers commented to me that one of the best parts of Nadim’s first interview was the depth he gave in his answers and how much they learnt about him both as a person and a performer, just from some simple answers!

Nadim was definitely one of the most talented and truly humble performers that I have ever interviewed – and I can say that even though I had never had the honour of meeting him in person!

Fast forward 6 months – and with so many exciting projects ahead, it seemed only right that I tried to catch up with Nadim to see how things had changed since our first interview. And, despite his extremely busy schedule, which included writing material for his own debut album and preparing to star in a new production of “Titanic” at the Southwark Playhouse, Nadim graciously agreed to sit down and have another chat with me. . .

As far as music goes, who are your biggest inspirations?

There are so many – different inspirations for different genres, and different inspirations that I associate with different periods of my life. Music is so brilliant because it can conjure a memory, a place, people, moods, events… But I suppose the biggest are the artists that I have always gone back to, and haven’t just been phases; the artists I love as much now as I did when I first heard them. Queen, Simon and Garfunkel, The Police, Billy Joel, Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson… Something they all have in common is that their songs tell real stories, and are often theatrical in their style. More recently, I have really gone for Ed SheeranBruno Mars also really knows how to write a catchy pop song.

What is the one album (apart from your own!), past or present that you think everyone should listen to at least once?

Thriller by Michael Jackson. It’s not a cliché answer. There’s a reason it’s the biggest-selling album of all time. Rumours by Fleetwood Mac would be a close second.

What was the last concert/gig you went to that left you speechless (in a good way!)?

Tony Bennett at The Royal Albert Hall. He oozed charisma, and his voice is still effortless. 
 
What has been your favourite part of the album-making process?

The best part has been working with my producer, Joe (Auburn Jam Music). The songs all started in my living room, either on my piano or guitar, and Joe has transformed them into so much more. I played them all to him, and spoke about my ideas for arrangement and instrumentation, and he then threw in all of his brilliant ideas. We’ve turned what could have been eleven acoustic songs into a fully produced album. Almost every song is in a different style, yet he’s found a way of keeping them all under the one umbrella of the album. I couldn’t have done it without him.

All of the songs on your album are your own original material – what do you think your fans will learn about you from these songs that they don’t know already?

I suppose the main thing is that being in shows can restrict what people think you are capable of, and also what you like to do. You can spend ten years in the musical theatre business without a single person hearing you sing a pop or rock song. It’s easy to get pigeon-holed in our business – “he sings this way“, “she has that kind of voice“, “he can’t sing that“… It’s simply not always the case. Just as it’s possible to enjoying hearing different styles, it’s possible to write and sing in them too. This applies to all singers in the business, not just me. Whilst musical theatre has been an enormous part of my life, it’s far from being the only musical style that I connect with. The album hopefully mixes what you already know of me with some surprises too.
 

(Courtesy of MUGPhotography)

If I am allowed to ask – do you have a favourite track from the album?
It’s hard to pick one, but at the moment it’s probably “Amazed“. It was the last one that I wrote, and is very personal to me. When people hear it and think about why I wrote it, it’ll hopefully be clear why. I also have a soft spot for “Do My Best” which is the opening track, as it’s the first complete song I ever wrote that wasn’t for a children’s musical (how I got into song-writing). It’s upbeat and a lot of fun, and now sounds a world away from when I first figured it out.

You said in our previous interview that you are very proud of producing all original material for your album BUT! If you had to include one musical theatre song – from any show past or present – on your album, what would you choose and why?

It would have to be a song from a production that had a huge impact on my life. It might be One, Two, Three from The Fix, which I did at the Edinburgh Festival in 2005. It was the production that persuaded me to pursue acting professionally. If it was going to be something more well-known, it would have to be Anthem or All I Ask Of You – I am hugely lucky to have sung such iconic numbers in my career so far.

If you had to choose any 3 songs as the soundtrack to your life so far, what would they be and why?

1. Beat It by Michael Jackson. Any time I hear this, I think of so many brilliant times in my life; my childhood, through school, nights out with friends, holidays. It’s one of those that is timeless for me and I associate with great memories

 2. Vincent by Don McLean. Have found it hauntingly perfect since I first heard it however- many years ago. I think he’s one of the greatest lyricists of all time, and perfect proof that you don’t need more than the right words, a good melody and a guitar. It’s stunning. 

 3. What Is It About Her? from Andrew Lippa’s The Wild Party. I did the show at uni, I sang the song and won a prize with it at drama school, and I’ve got several jobs having used it as an audition song. It’s been a good one for me!

Not only do you have your album coming out, you are also about to take on a role in “Titanic The Musical” at the Southwark Playhouse. What can we expect from a show with a story that so many know so well?

You can expect the most human version of the story you’ll have seen. Everything about the Titanic was so vast and epic, which has been reflected in the Hollywood versions of the tale. This one reminds us that underneath the scale of it all were so many individual and personal stories. It follows many characters, and focuses on their hopes, histories, and reasons for being aboard the ship. It’s also a tribute to them – the characters are all real or based on those who were there that night in 1912. You can wikipedia them and see their photos and biographies.

The audience dip in and out of all of the stories, and it is a real ensemble piece with plenty of doubling-up from the cast to portray multiple characters. Add to all of that the amazing Tony-winning score of Maury Yeston, and it’s really a powerful piece. There’s a reason in won the Tony for Best Musical in 1997, and it’s great that audiences will have a chance to see it in London after so long; particularly in this revised chamber version, which the writer himself believes makes the show even more about the people, not the ship.

Are you able to tell us about the character that you play?

I play Charles Clarke. Charles was a journalist who was travelling with his fiancé to New York to start a new life. Her father was a Lord and disapproved of his daughter’s relationship with a working man, even though he’s extremely bright, well spoken and successful in his field, and so they decided to leave for America where social class was not an issue. I also get to play a steward and a first-class passenger.

If you had to convince my readers to come and see Titanic if they hadn’t got tickets already – and you only had 10 words to do it in, what would you say?

Epic show, epic score, epic cast. No Jack or Rose.

You can catch Nadim amongst an extremely talented cast in “Titanic” at the Southwark Playhouse between 26th July and 31st August. Check out http://southwarkplayhouse.co.uk/the-large/titanic/ for more information and ticket details. Nadim’s highly anticipated debut album “We All Want the Same” is released in August – check back here to the Blog for more details as they become available!

A huge thank you – yet again – must go out to Nadim for taking the time to be involved in this interview. He is a such a kind hearted soul and true gentleman, and I wish him nothing but the phenomenal success he deserves, and no doubt will receive in the exciting times ahead!

Signing off for now

Blue Eyed Girl Xxx