Posts Tagged ‘ Parade ’

The Singing Librarian looks back on 2007

This time last year, I looked back over the previous 12 months from a personal perspective of achievements, experiences and lessons learned.  This year, to avoid creating an annual tradition, my year-end post will look instead at some bests and one or two worsts.


There’s really no contest for me.  Parade was not only the best production I’ve seen this year, but the best production I’ve seen for a very long time.  I was fortunate to see a number of excellent productions this year, but this one was head and shoulder above the rest.  It was emotionally moving, intellectually engaging and theatrically inspired.  I haven’t seen Hairspray, the winner of this year’s Evening Standard award, but from my position of ignorance, I cannot see how it can in any way be considered better, unless ‘better’ means ‘more profitable’.  I waxed lyrical on Parade when I saw it, so won’t repeat myself.  It really was extraordinary, though.


It may be odd, but the best thing I’ve seen on television this year is ‘Blink’.  Why odd?  Well, it’s a single episode of Doctor Who, a science fiction drama for a family audience.  It is, however, a series that attracts very talented writers and actors and this episode was wonderful.  Deeply scary (what could be more disturbing than statues that move whenever you stop looking at them?) and probably produced on a lower budget than your average episode with an emphasis on characters being drawn in to the Doctor’s strange world of “wibbly wobbly timey wimey…stuff” though meeting him only briefly.  The new incarnation of Who has had some stunning episodes and for me, this was the best thing I caught on the small screen all year.

On the opposite end of the scale is a show that shares the same time-slot when Doctor Who is not being broadcast.  Robin Hood.  It has become traditional for the denizens of my house to gather round and watch this together and although I rather enjoyed the first series, I have found other things to do as this year’s batch of episodes has gone on.  It has taken preposterousness to new heights (or rather depths), which is really saying something since my favourite piece of television this year features a time traveller and living statues.  I didn’t mind the occasional anachronism, the odd bit of perturbing erotic subtext and what have you, but several of the episodes I’ve seen recently have made me despair.  Perhaps not the worst thing I’ve seen, but by far the most disappointing.


The Simpsons Movie is probably the most entertaining film I’ve seen this year, with the choral arrangement of ‘Spider-Pig’ over the end credits being a particular delight, but it certainly wasn’t the best.  Enchanted was almost as entertaining, nodding and winking to Disney movies of the past and containing a few wonderful musical moments, but that wasn’t the best of the year either.  Stardust was the most anticipated, and I enjoyed it, but that wasn’t the best.  Atonement was very moving, but that doesn’t clinch it for me.  No, my cinematic highlight of the year is a film I hadn’t even heard of before I arrived at the cinema, and which I only saw because we arrived too late to an attempt to see Stardust.  A drama called Lions for Lambs, which is essentially composed of three conversations, each in a static location (though one of those locations is a mountainside in Afghanistan with Taliban fighters approaching, so static is perhaps not the right word).  Six people.  Talking. 

But it was incredible.  Tom Cruise was superb (not something you’ll hear me say very often), Meryl Streep and Robert Redford proved that they deserve their longevity in the business, and the three younger actors more than had what it took.  It was a film about choices.  Right choices, wrong choices, right reasons, wrong reasons.  Highly politically charged, it managed not to preach any particular angle without sitting on the fence either.  And it left things open.  At least one key choice remained unclear as the credits rolled.  It made me think very hard, and that’s always a good thing.


Leaving aside theatre music (the London cast recording of ParadeNoise Ensemble recorded!  Me and Julietreleased on a public domain label!), the music charts provided some interest for me this year.  John Barrowman’s pop recording debut was underwhelming to these ears, but he was far from the biggest disappointment of the year.  That was Paul Potts, an opera-singing average bloke who won a TV contest called Britain’s Got Talent in June which led to a recording contract and an appearance on the Royal Variety Performance, which is where I finally saw and heard him.  My goodness.  Worst opera singer I’ve ever seen or heard.  He hit the notes and had a fairly pleasant voice, but there was no soul behind the performance, no special spark at all.  I totally fail to see what all the fuss was about.  Meh.

More positively, Michael Bublé released another album, Call Me Irresponsible, which contained many pleasures, though perhaps not as many as previous albums.  Mika was an impressive newcomer, the Plain White T’s had me hooked on ‘Hey There, Delilah’ but my favourite singles this year are perhaps two by Take That.  I know, I know, and I may even have ridiculed some people for liking the group in my time.  But ‘Shine’ and ‘Rule the World’ (the latter written for the film Stardust) were infectiously enjoyable singles.  So much so that I downloaded them from i-Tunes.


This has not been a fantastic year for reading chez Singing Librarian, and much that I have read was not published in 2007.  In fact, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows may well be the only 2007 book I’ve read this year.  The books that I have most enjoyed reading this year have been The Moonstoneby Wilkie Collins (I find I enjoy Collins more than I enjoy Dickens, though I still feel that Dickens is in some way ‘better’), Night Watchby Sergei Lukyanenko and The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch.  All were read over the summer months and all were excellent.  The only execrable book I’ve read this year is The Alchemist.  Blah.

I was given the latest Terry Pratchett and the original illustrated novel of Stardust for Christmas, though, and am greatly looking forward to reading them.


I don’t appear to have blogged about comics this year, but I have been reading them.  52 concluded well after a dip in excitement and interest levels, going out with a bang in May.  It introduced new characters, brought others to greater prominence and  was followed up by a rather less well-produced weekly series called Countdown.  It has spawned a number of followups and Countdownis a spinoff-producing monster which I have been ignoring more and more as the year plods on.  Most entertaining 52-followup is definitely Booster Gold.  Time travel, egotism, heroism, betrayal and comedy is a heady mixture.  Ongoing series in the DC Universe (home of Batman, Superman et al) which have been most enjoyable are probably the most obscure.  Blue Beetle has introduced a great new hero, and Checkmate, which features political skull-duggery where the lines between superheroes and the United Nations blur, is quite simply an excellent read.

But my favourite is less mainstream and sadly, much less regular.  Rex Libris features the black and white adventures of a librarian who will travel the universe and the time-stream to recover an overdue book, saving lives and defeating monsters along the way.  It’s silly but intriguing and I am thrilled each time it appears.


So what do we make of this?  My favourites of the year include a musical about a miscarriage of justice, an episode of television about killer statues, a film about the war on terror, the return of a boy band and the adventures of a gun-toting librarian.  I think we can gather that I have eclectic tastes and that 2007 has managed to cater to them.  2007, I salute you!

“I’ve seen that cast” recordings

I have a lot of cast recordings.  Several hundred of the things, in fact, more than any sane person probably ought to own, including multiple recordings of some shows, particularly Cabaret, where I think I own every English-language recording of the show.  Generous people would say I’m a collector, others might just back away and flee from the crazy man obsessed with musical theatre on CD.  I often get hold of them through eBay, charity shops and record sales where they can be obtained at much less than recommended retail price, because they tend to sell at higher prices than pop or easy listening, appealing to a more niche audience.  I find them all fascinating, even though I don’t, to be honest, enjoy absolutely all of them.  And some hold a special place in my affections.

These are the very rare instances when I’ve seen the production that was recorded.  Not the show (I have seen A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to the Forum several times for instance, but not in productions that were recorded), but the particular iteration of the show.  Perhaps even the same cast.  That’s always exciting.  It’s a very rare thing, you see, as I don’t often get up to London to see shows, and these are the only casts generally preserved on disc in the UK.  From time to time, I may see a performer who has recorded the role, such as Richard Dempsey as Ugly in Honk!, but only three CDs in my collection are “I’ve seen that cast” recordings.

The first is The Witches of Eastwick, which ran in London around the turn of the century, having a much shorter run than I felt it deserved.  In this case, I got hold of the CD before the trip to Drury Lane, but we managed to get up to London while the original cast were still in their roles.  I was excited to see performers such as Maria Friedman and Joanna Riding, veterans of many productions and recordings, and the CD got me excited in advance about such numbers as ‘Dirty Laundry’, a wonderful piece for the ensemble, and ‘Something’, an exceedingly cute love duet. It was somehow more exciting knowing that I’d be not only hearing the same orchestrations (and believe me, orchestrations can vary a huge amount between productions) but seeing the same performers. 

The other two are the other way around, as the CD was produced after I saw the shows in question.  Both shows were deeply moving, though in rather different ways.  The London productions of Billy Elliot and Parade.  In years gone by, cast recordings would be available very shortly after opening night (if not before, sometimes recorded during tryouts and previews), but this is rarely the case now.  With Parade, which was presented for a limited run at the Donmar Warehouse, the recording became available a couple of weeks after the show ended.  The Billy Elliot one just took quite some time to put together.

With both of these recordings, having seen the show with same cast (almost – I saw a different Billy) gives the CD extra resonance, being able to associate the songs (and in the case of Parade, the dialogue, as it is a truly complete recording) with the emotions, thoughts and experience of seeing the cast perform them on stage.  It’s not quite the same as a video preservation of the show, particularly since I lack the capacity to summon up images of what I saw on the stage, but perhaps that’s a good thing.  Filmed stage productions always lack something, because the camera chooses where the eye will focus, while in the theatre there is generally a choice of things to look at.  The whole stage picture, the principals, the chorus, details of the set, sometimes even the stage crew.  But you still remember what happened.  The police cordon in Billy Elliot.  The way Bertie  Carvel fidgeted nervously in Parade.  The sheet-snapping in The Witches of Eastwick.  It makes the experience of listening to these particular recordings subtly different to that of listening to any other cast recording, even of different recordings of the same songs.  It makes them special, in a way completely unconnected to the quality of the music or performances.  It gives them a connection to me.

Go on, go on, go on, go on…

Last Saturday, I saw one of the previews of Parade at the Donmar Warehouse in London with a friend.  This was very exciting, as I had never attended the Donmar before, and this was also the first time I’d seen one of Jason Robert Brown’s works live.  I arrived in plenty of time, to make sure I found the place, which meant that I had a good reason to visit Dress Circle, possibly my favourite shop in the whole world – purely in order to kill time while I was waiting to meet my friend, you understand!  Anyway…

This is a very, very good show indeed.  Tickets have sold like hot cakes, so if you’re at all interested in going, call the box office right now, before even finishing this post, before they all disappear!  There were a few sticky moments in the staging, where the pace and tension flagged for a moment, but they may have been ironed out as previews continued, and other than this slight problem, it was a very engaging, involving show.  It is based on the case of Leo Frank, an infamous miscarriage of justice due to anti-Semitic sentiment in early 20th-century Georgia.  It paints, though Alfred Uhry’s script, Jason Robert Brown’s score and Rob Ashford’s double duty on direction and choreography, a vivid picture of the time with its tensions and resentments, beginning with the Civil War, particularly significant since the major events take place on Memorial Day.

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