Monday 28 April 2014

Review | WEST END SWITCHED OFF (Album) Vol. 1 - April 2014

At a time when new musicals are struggling to sustain themselves and the old ones are loved - but hardly fresh, the young team behind new album West End Switched Off may have have just come up with a winning formula. Success, at least in this case, is not by risking new, unfamiliar territory but revisiting previous musical triumphs and breathing new life into them with the best from the current West End talent-pool.

Following a launch performance at St James Studio, the first in a series of albums is released. A relatively new company, Parallel Productions - produced by Kris Rawlinson and assisted by Ed Theakston - brings together an incredibly accomplished line up of musicians and performers to arrange musical theatre songs that you know – and a few that you may not – into unheard acoustic, ‘unplugged’ covers.

The popularity of 'Live Lounge' has finally found it's home in the West End and Simon Bailey (I Can't Sing, Phantom Of The Opera, Les Misérables) begins the album with a surprise version of Part Of Your World from The Little Mermaid. A rockier sound to the original, it's fun and a perfect opening song to set the tone for the rest of the album. Traditionally a female song, what this does and what the album continues to do is let anything go, it's experimental and challenges the songs origins, offering a fresh perspective that delights at every moment.

Next, Tori Allen Martin sings Touch Me from Spring Awakening, the song about expressing desires for physical intimacy, not one you'd often find on a musicals compilation, but Martin delivers a sensual, haunting sound that remains lustful with plenty of opportunity for the vocal to simply flow.

Ian Stroughair

From his heavenly performance of Angel in the recent concert tour of RENT, Ian Stroughair hots things up with Judas' Heaven On Their Minds from Jesus Christ Superstar. It's followed by Wicked's Ashleigh Gray with Somewhere Over The Rainbow. You'll have heard several versions but with such faultless vocals, there is every reason for this beautiful rendition to contend with Garland and Cassidy.  Equally as beautiful, Nothing Stops Another Day from Ghost The Musical, effortlessly performed by Ambra Caserotti (RENT, Cockpit Theatre) is next. Fans of Ghost shouldn't notice too much a difference between this and any Molly they've seen on stage - it's just as powerful and if not, more so, given the intimacy of the set-up and expert arrangement.

Dale Evans

The albums biggest change in tone is Dale Evans' Stranger In This World from the Boy George musical Taboo. Evans, who will covering the role of Chris in the revival of Miss Saigon has recently been seen in From Here To Eternity the musical. A recent graduate, there is no inexperience, one of the most powerful performances and definitely one to look out for.

Perhaps the most reinvented song is You Can't Stop The Beat, sung by Hairspray's long-serving Seaweed, Adrian Hansel. What is so clever about this particular track is that it bares resemblance to the slow groove that the kids dance to in the detention scene. In-keeping with the musical's own sound, it is cleverly re-invented, completely relevant and yet couldn't be further from the high energy, no-time-to-breathe finale of the musical.

Defying Gravity... I don't think there's been a musical theatre concert since 2006 that hasn't featured someone trying to belt it out like Idina and yes, it has to be on the album, but here - you're safe. The traditional two-female duet is here performed by Thomas Suttcliffe and Chlöe Hart. The only duet on the album, there's great opportunity for harmony and the mix of male and female voice is a real treat.

Jodie Steele

Currently wowing audiences across the UK as Carmen Diaz on the tour of Fame The Musical is Jodie Steele, riffing her way through Footloose's Lets Hear It For The Boy. This is the track that'll have you tapping your feet, it's girly, it's country, it's fun. She has a phenomenal voice and must return for the second album with a version of Fame's In L.A. - that's my request in!

Katie Hall (Phantom Of The Opera, West Side Story) sings Bring Him Home from Les Misérables and Falsetto King Jordan Lee Davis concludes the album with Summertime - Porgy & Bess. What's great about both of these is that you'll never hear these versions within the musical. Valjean is never going to be female and last time I checked, Jordan Lee Davis wasn't a black woman... it's unique and just an absolute joy to listen to. You'd struggle to find better.

The album's biggest strength is that although these are reduced orchestrations, stripped back and laid bare, each song could easily replace it's original within the musicals. Rawlinson's genius rediscovery of some of theatre's classics allows for much more of the emotion, the original message and the talent to shine through. Nothing is overwhelmed, it's from the heart and this album is the very reminder of the talent in today's West End, both currently and upcoming. If this is just the beginning then I'm very much excited by the future.

CLICK HERE to purchase the album.

Chlöe Hart: "When I was approached about taking part in West End Switched Off and learnt what the concept was I was totally excited, I love the idea of songs being rearranged and interpreted differently, and then I was told which song I would be doing and I got very nervous! It's a very VERY well known song and there have been many versions of it done before. However when I heard the new arrangement I got excited again! It's so different to any other version and Kris Rawlinson, our genius arranger and MD had so many brilliant ideas. He also allowed us all to add our own little touches which means it feels really personal. If you are expecting a generic musicals complication album, this is not the one, but if you want something fresh and innovative then go for it! I don't think you'll be disappointed!"

For more information visit or follow Parallel on Twitter @ParaProd.
Related Articles
Rebecca Trehearn & Simon Bailey
Album Launch Announcement
Interview With Kris Rawlinson
Gala Launch Announcement

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