I try not to think about Christmas until absolutely necessary in an attempt to hang on to my sanity for as long as possible. I love the day, but the stress of preparing the Christmas dinner, trying to schedule in all the family visits and financing the whole damn thing is enough to drive you insane. Granted, I’ve never cooked a Christmas dinner, but the rest stands and there is one thing more which is guaranteed to stir up the crazy more than anything else: gift shopping. If you’ve ever been caught up in the mayhem of a Christmas shopping rush then you will understand how it could easily drive you to murder, but you will probably send yourself into the arms of a straitjacket long before then just trying to figure out what the hell to buy for everyone! Finding the perfect present can feel like a punishment cooked up from Satan himself, but those friend and family members who have a passion in life make the job a little easier: take musical theatre for example. If you are Christmas-shopping for someone who has a love of theatre, then a plethora of options are open to you. You can buy tickets for their favourite show, or a piece of merchandise perhaps? One thing you can be sure of is that there will be a number of new musical theatre-related albums released around the yuletide holiday. On 11th December, popular American composer Scott Alan is bringing out a special edition CD of his Live album from earlier this year, which features a whole host of leading UK musical theatre performers, and Phantom star Simon Bailey is releasing his debut album Looking Up the same month. Edging in a little earlier though are Alfie Boe and Susan Boyle, who both have albums coming out in November.
Alfie Boe is releasing his latest album Storyteller on 12th November, following on from his previous platinum-selling albums Bring Him Home and Alfie. Boe was working as a mechanic before training as an opera singer. He enjoyed a successful opera career before finding wider recognition on the musical theatre stage when he played ‘Jean Valjean’ in the 25th anniversary concert and West End production of Les Miserables. After publishing his autobiography My Story this year, he has recorded a personal selection of songs that continue to reflect his life and who he is as a performer. Working with producer Mike Hedges, Boe has created an album that covers songs from a vast range of musical genres that he has tailored to suit his voice. He performs classic hits such as ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ (Simon & Garfunkel), ‘Angels From Montgomery’ (John Prine), ‘Shine A Light’ (The Rolling Stones) and a stripped back lullaby-esque rendition of ‘I Can’t Help Falling In Love With You’ (Elvis Presley). At first glance, songs such as these may seem out of step with his usual repertoire, but Boe has proven on numerous occasions that there are no boundaries in music. Although I couldn’t say I loved every track on his previous two albums, I’ve heard him sing live many times now and I’ve always found myself to be both surprised and impressed by his vocal ability. Not everyone will find those rich tenor tones of his to their liking, but there can be no argument that the man can sing. Storyteller will certainly appeal to the fans Boe already has, but time will tell if it can bring a few more to his table.
Susan Boyle follows a day later with the release of her fourth studio album Standing Ovation: The Greatest Songs From The Stage on 13th November, on which she sings hit songs from some of the best-loved film and stage musicals. Having first come to the nation’s attention with her rendition of Les Miserables’ ‘I Dreamed A Dream’ on the ITV show Britain’s Got Talent, Boyle has since established herself as an international recording artist. Her first three albums had a contemporary pop feel to them and were mostly filled with covers of well-known songs by artists such as The Rolling Stones, Lou Reed, Madonna and Joni Mitchell. For her latest album though she has teamed up with producer Biff Stannard to pay homage to the world of musical theatre: she recently spoke out about embracing a genre of music she has had a love of most of her life for this album:
“Creating this album was a joy and came very naturally as I knew the songs and could identify with the characters in the studio…I have been a fan of musicals since I was a wee girl. I love them and have enjoyed the drama and the range of emotions they inspire in you.”
For Standing Ovation, Boyle has covered songs from a range of hit musicals, such as ‘As Long As He Needs Me’ (Oliver!), ‘Bring Him Home’ (Les Miserables), ‘Somewhere Over The Rainbow’ (The Wizard of Oz) and ‘Send In The Clowns’ (A Little Night Music). She has also brought in Michael Crawford and Donny Osmond for a couple of duets, performing with Osmond on ‘All I Ask Of You’ and ‘This Is The Moment’ and singing alongside ‘The Music Of The Night’ with the original Phantom. I’ve had an early listen to her duet with Crawford and to be frank, I can’t say it really did anything for me. An entire album can’t be judged on the merits of one track though, so it’s impossible for me to give an opinion on Boyle’s latest offering just yet. The fact that she has sold over 18 million copies of her first three albums certainly says something for her as a successful recording artist, but musical theatre fans will just have to wait until number four’s release to decide whether or not it’s their cup of tea.
Alfie Boe and Susan Boyle have an undeniably immense fan-base and both can proudly claim a large number of musical theatre lovers to that. One or both or these new albums would probably be a very welcome surprise in the stockings of such fans, although you can never tell for sure – that’s the joy of Christmas shopping for you!
By Julie Robinson (@missjulie25)
Thursday 8th November 2012