It is one thing to laugh along with a production, and in some cases, this one-off concert version of Zorro The Musical provides some opportunities to do just that. When Ramon (Robert Tripolino) goes to confession regarding his relations with his father Alejandro (Zubin Varla), he’s duly informed it is customary to address the person being confessed to as ‘Father’: but when he speaking about his own father, and when the priest calls him ‘my son’, who are they really talking about? But there are also times when I found myself laugh at this production. For all the talent on stage (and looking at the cast biographies in the concert’s programme, it is considerable to say the least), a fair few of them came across as simply trying too hard, which somewhat took away from the enjoyment of a technically skilled performance.
Zorro, for people like me who only really get introduced to famed fictional characters on seeing a stage adaptation of an otherwise well-known story, has been portrayed by, amongst many others, Anthony Hopkins and Antonio Banderas. He is really Don Diego de la Vega (in this production, Ricardo Afonso, who sang so beautifully he gained a mid-show standing ovation from certain members of the audience). Diego – as I understand it – is the heir to the vast lands owned by Don Alejandro. In this version, however, Don Alejandro is instead some kind of unelected and supreme ruler of a section of California (nope, I have no idea how that works in the ‘land of the free’ either). He puts on an elaborate disguise – which wasn’t very elaborate at all in this concert version, frustratingly – in order to try to stop the tyrannical regime run by Ramon, who has succeeded his father, not exactly legitimately.
Aside from Afonso, who is from Portugal, Lesli Margherita (playing a gypsy, Inez) from the United States and Tripolino, from Australia, this is largely a bunch of British actors, who, to be frank, fail to convince as being of Spanish or Latino heritage. At least Emma Williams’ Luisa doesn’t even attempt an accent, delivering her lines in stage school style British English. Fair play to her on that, and on some spine-tingling performances in ‘Falling’ in the first half and ‘Man Behind The Mask’ in the second.
Fifteen actors comprised the LMTO Chorus (in the order given in the programme, Catalina Amaral, Charlotte Clitherow, Daniel Amity, James Leeman, Joe Thompson-Oubari, Justine Saville, Mia Michaud, Richard Upton, Richard James-King, Danny Lane, Enrico Volpi, Grace Mouat, Lauren Lockley, Margarida Silva, Matthew McDonald), with the London Musical Theatre Orchestra itself, as ever under the baton of Freddie Tapner, reduced from its usual twenty-something to ten – somebody somewhere decided violins and cellos (and so on) were completely superfluous to this concert. The children’s cast – Young Ramon (Tahj Kerr), Young Diego (Devon Francis) and Young Luisa (Caterina Bargioni) did brilliantly.
Overall, though, this felt like a production put on by the BBC. I simply didn’t feel like I had been transported to a place filled with Spanish characters. Perhaps the concert format didn’t help, but there was relatively little dancing (given the style of the music of The Gypsy Kings, who perform in Spanish) going on. Most of it happened, to be honest, in the encore, post curtain-call. Perhaps it is just one of those shows that needs to be done as a full production to be properly appreciated for what it is. Some tremendous singing voices though.
Simon Stephens (Paul Sloss) is seeing a psychiatrist, Dr Peters (Stephen Atkins) in what the audience is told is a subsequent visit, though in When The Birds Stopped Singing it feels like a first visit, as the session is used as a framing device to give structure to a plot revealed almost entirely through a series of monologues. Having a series of direct addresses to the audience interspersed with sections of the conversation between the psychiatrist and his client may have effectively deprived the rest of the cast of bouncing off one another’s lines through dialogue. It is, nonetheless, a method, even if slightly overused here, of holding the attention of a live audience. Interestingly, the production has also been filmed: in my view, it would work better as a radio play.
The play does well to reveal the storyline in stages, even if the warped theories of Sigmund Freud came to mind as the psychiatrist wanted to delve into Simon’s childhood memories. The audience hears, at length, from his father Tom (Phillip Gill), and his mother Alison (Jenny Perry) – the former has felt “jealousy and resentment” as he felt the arrival of baby Simon displaced the love and intimacy that once existed between him and his wife. Alison, needless to say, showered Simon with love and attention, which eventually only compounded the dislike – no, hatred – between father and son, both ways.
Enter Kim Reynolds (a highly engaging Bethany Staton), who became good school friends with Simon, having warmed to what she perceived to be his “vulnerability” and “sensibility”. Phillip Carter (Ray Calleja), who bullied others as well as Simon, has become a repeat offender, and in his own story manages to reveal much about how the prison system didn’t so much reform him as embolden him: “I am respected in here [a young offender’s institution]”. Granted, he may well merely be a legend in his own mind and have ideas above his station. Either way, it would have been beneficial if the play had found a way of uncovering more about his background in order, as it has done with Simon, to determine the root causes of his current situation: how did he get to where he is now?
At some point, Simon grew up and moved out of the family home and moved in with his partner Ben. I’m still not sure what to make of not portraying Ben and thus not hearing his side of the story, however implausible it may have been. The production has also chosen not to try to depict or re-enact instances of domestic violence, instead relying on kindly neighbour Cicely Walters (Jacqueline Parram) to tell the audience about a chance meeting with Simon in which she felt compelled to enquire about a large bruise on his face. As the show has been deemed unsuitable for persons under the age of 18, staging an example of what happened (like one of those ‘reconstructions’ of criminal activity that used to be televised on a BBC programme called Crimewatch UK) would have been hard-hitting – in more ways than one.
That said, as the human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell pointed out after the “world premiere performance” (his choice of words), the play is more effective than a speech, article or leaflet would have been. Some immensely important and relevant contemporary issues are fleshed out in a credible and harrowing narrative.
I haven’t sat through such an infectiously warm and gushing performance from a musical theatre actor doing their own concert with an orchestra since seeing Idina Menzel at the Royal Albert Hall in 2011. Lucie Jones had booked in the London Musical Theatre Orchestra (conducted, as ever, by the effervescent Freddie Tapner), plus special guests John Owen-Jones and Marisha Wallace, but the production budget somehow couldn’t stretch to a table or a stand, leaving her to bend down periodically to consult notes taped to the floor of the Adelphi Theatre stage.
At the time of writing, the Adelphi is home to the West End production of the Broadway musical Waitress, though Jones is not in the show for some weeks as the show’s composer, Sara Bareilles, is playing the leading role of Jenna herself, alongside Gavin Creel (thus putting David Hunter on hiatus as well). This is not the first time Jones has been rather uncharitably treated by Waitress, and frankly she was more than gracious to that production. Whatever one thinks of Waitress as a show (I’ve been once and have not at all been inclined to return), Lucie Jones deserved, and deserves, better.
Anyway, the concert itself was highly authentic, peppered with anecdotes stretching back as far as her amateur dramatics days and even her childhood. One gradually realised over the course of the evening Jones’ sheer versatility, in a set that ranged from ‘A Piece of Sky’ from Yentl to ‘Take Me Or Leave Me’ from Rent (sung with Marisha Wallace, who stood waiting for quite a long time before her ‘bit’ in the song began) to ‘Never Give Up On You’, the United Kingdom’s entry in the Eurovision Song Contest 2017.
She’s done Les Misérables, including being part of the huge cast of casts for that show for its 25th anniversary celebrations at The O2 Arena. She was in We Will Rock You, and had played Molly Jensen in Ghost the Musical in China. She played the lead character in Legally Blonde the Musical, Elle Woods, in the 2017-18 UK tour of the Curve Theatre Leicester production, and before that toured in a production of The Wedding Singer, itself preceded by a UK tour of Rent. She is married to Ethan Boroian, who she first met when they both auditioned for the ITV Saturday night show ‘The X-Factor’ in 2009. And for all that, she is still only 28 years young.
‘She Used To Be Mine’, that slightly overcovered song from Waitress, had the capacity crowd on its feet. The second half also included ‘Moon River’ – which I tend to associate in my own mind with Andy Williams (1927-2012), but was originally performed by Audrey Hepburn (1929-1993) in the motion picture Breakfast At Tiffany’s – and a surprisingly charming rendering of ‘Bring Him Home’ from Les Misérables. Jones very much came across after the show as someone who doesn’t take her fanbase for granted. (I noted others in front of me in the queue to meet her had brought gifts, and having pointed out to her that I didn’t get the memo about presents, she replied she would rather I spent my money on seeing shows. Just as well, then, that that’s what I do.)
‘That’s Life’, in an arrangement from the West End’s first Jenna Hunterson, Katharine McPhee, was a delight, as was a solo version of ‘So Much Better’ from Legally Blonde the Musical. The evening was recorded for an album release by the end of 2020 – to the point where the audience sat through brief reprisals post-curtain call in order for the production team to capture whatever it was they didn’t capture the first time around. So, even if you weren’t there, perhaps you’ll enjoy Jones’ version of Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz’s ‘God Help The Outcasts’ as much as I did. Either way, this was a brilliantly varied and highly engaging evening.
“You are enough. You are SO enough. It’s unbelievable how enough you are.” Sierra Boggess’ core fanbase have, presumably, heard that enough (so to speak) times to be able to say it with her. Oh, and she’s been in Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals on multiple occasions, so naturally her London concert at Cadogan Hall was going to feature some songs from his shows (irrespective of who they were ‘really’ composed by). I’ve made Boggess sound like a seriously soppy and sentimental sort of person, which she did tend to veer towards at times, but I found her to be down to earth and very, very friendly.
She has the sort of personality that is easy to warm to, telling her stories compellingly, and reacting accordingly dependent on the audience response. Some people think standing ovations are all too generously given these days – this one, or large parts of it anyway, rose to their feet at the interval as well as at the close, and given the sheer versatility and breadth of music presented to the audience over a couple of hours or so, I thought it was justified.
According to someone on Twitter (I know, I know) someone left at the interval because they were unhappy with Boggess talking about the political situation in the United States. But she only did so in very general terms and didn’t namedrop any particular politicians or specific policies. There was certainly no “impeach now!” ranting, or any other kind of tirade, and so it’s the audience member’s loss. It is not unfair to disagree with Boggess’ views, but it is unfair to believe she should not speak her mind.
And her mind is highly positive, almost overwhelmingly so, at least to a cynical Brit who is used to sarcasm and snide remarks. While the show was never rushed, Boggess could cover a lot of ground in a single song – one of her selections from The Phantom of the Opera encompassed a ‘Phantom in Vegas’ verse (awful but deliberately so, and hugely entertaining), a section in French (because she was invited to play Christine in a Paris production, which never actually opened because a fire engulfed the Théâtre Mogador, damaging the set) and a final section in what Boggess called “the Queen’s English”.
Speaking of HM The Queen, Boggess was also invited to a private function at Sydmonton Court in Hampshire, a 5000 acre estate owned by Lloyd Webber. The event was part of Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations, and Boggess’ recollection of the evening was interspersed with verses from ‘If My Friends Could See Me Now’ from Sweet Charity.
The second half opened with ‘Stars’ from Les Misérables – though she played Fantine in the hit musical, ‘I Dreamed A Dream’ was probably too depressing for a positivity-themed concert (“Now life has killed the dream I dreamed” wouldn’t fit her worldview). She did the Javert number justice – and then some, and while Love Never Dies isn’t exactly top of the list of Lloyd Webber shows I’d like to see again, her rendering of the title number was nothing short of sublime.
Musical director Brian Hertz glided through the varied numbers seemingly effortlessly, as did the rest of the (rather small) orchestra, which included Boggess’ sister Summer, on cello. I can’t usually abide the mawkish ‘Smoke Gets In Your Eyes’ but again, Boggess’ way of singing it was pleasing to the ears. There was also an ode to Barbra Streisand, in which Boggess almost did Streisand better than Streisand does Streisand, nailing her mannerisms and facial expressions.
Tunes from The Little Mermaid and The Secret Garden also featured, and such was the warmth and love that emanated from this Broadway and West End performer that one would have to have a heart of stone not to have been moved and encouraged in some way. An angel of music indeed.
London lad, loving life and all that it has to offer.