Lauren Turner: Play On – Broadway Records

Rating: 2 out of 5.

For near-on over a decade, Texan vocalist Lauren Turner has been a crowd favourite across the Cabaret haunts of New York City. Featuring five of Turner’s memorable song choices from her childhood and cabaret career, Play On is a demonstration of which tunes led her down the path to the woman she is today. With a portion of proceeds going to charities benefiting doctors fighting the pandemic, Play On aims to showcase Turner as a performer and looking towards the next decade.

Immediately, there lies a particular issue with Play On, and while a couple of numbers change enough to offer Turner’s unique spin, I Have Nothing feels like an audition number – an exceeding well-performed one, but this isn’t Turner’s The Bodyguard. Iconic, it’s difficult to detach from Whitney Houston’s original as well as the context of the song in the musical, and Turner doesn’t bring enough to remove these from the equation. Though she has exceptional control, the emotion doesn’t come across. Not a good start for the album, but thankfully things take a turn.

Tracks two and three, Michael Jackson’s I’ll Be There and a belter of a classic from Sheryl Crow with If It Makes You Happy offer insight into Turner’s style. There’s a sense of self in the direction taken with these numbers, with decent harmonising with the instrumentals. Turner matches Crow’s ability to hold notes and reaches clear highs without allowing a break or having to build to the final tones – quite skilfully allowing for seamless routines. It’s a start, but there’s the suspicion there’s something more for Turner to offer – and then…

What at first seemed an out of place number, stepping away from the rock and power ballads, a gorgeous rendition of Fire and Rain, the emotional James Taylor classic, effortlessly communicates a sense of who Turner is. There’s an immediate difference, not only vocally, but in the direction and composition of the track – allowing for Michael Isaacs’s piano work to strikeout. Harmonising with the pianist, without detracting, Turner puts such intensity into a softer, yet still empowering cover of the song. It builds, echoing Taylor’s original sentiment with the number, without ruining the memory of his intention. The build-up at the end tops it all off with small scratches, vinyl-record etches we all have fond memories of resulting in a stand-out number for a compact album.

Closing the album, Don Henley’s The Heart of the Matter is a let-down following Fire and Rain. It can’t match the emotional output of the previous track, even if it outweighs it in vocal capability. It’s an evident demonstration of Turner’s ability with ballads and adapting her range to the song, benefiting from Daniel Muniz on guitar and backing from Tara Martinez. Similarly to the album opener, the inclusion isn’t as clear to the listener, this feels like it was chosen and structured not from choice, but as a way to wrap-up the album. This doesn’t feel like a finale, it doesn’t belt with the weight it should do to leave a lasting impression.

Unquestionably personal in moments, Play On feels like a starting point, a direction of personal choice for Turner as she reflects on the songs which morphed her into the powerhouse beltress that she is today. A short album, containing a heft of voice and talent, Play On is a pleasant listen for a sombre evening, best accompanied with a glass of your tipple and a quiet room – just expect to find yourself waiting around for an encore which won’t arrive.

Review originally published for The Reviews Hub: https://www.thereviewshub.com/cd-review-lauren-turner-play-on/

Lauren Turner: Play On is available from Broadway Records now

Rock of Ages @ The Playhouse

Video Rights:
Rock of Ages

Book: Chris D’Arienzo

Director: Nick Winston

So, let’s dust off the Jukebox musical list: Lovers? Check. Business tycoon antagonist? Check. Glam Rocks’ greatest hits? Check. A flamboyantly fabulous narrator who also doubles as a sassy sound god. You betcha’. Welcome to Rock of Ages, not the usual Jukebox musical.

Set on the glorious Sunset Strip in the late eighties – dreams are lofty for the likes of Drew and Sherrie (Luke Walsh and Jodie Steele). They meet at the famous Bourbon Room owned by Dennis (Kevin Kennedy) and his associate Lonny. True to form, they fall in love – don’t admit it to one another and make mistakes, take gambles and drift apart. All as a sex-starved misogynistic singer robs Sherrie of her early chances and an occasional goose-stepping German buys out the club. It’s quite straight forward really.

Our strutting narr-a-tor Lonny, on paper, should not work. When in reality Lucas Rush carries the character with such fine comedic timing, giving every ounce of energy and charisma that it’s impossible not to find him endearing, hilarious and a highlight of the show. His interactions with the audience break down any barrier reservations, encouraging all to rock out.

Vocally – there are little to no faults with abundant talent and admirable control from our lead performers. Most notably Zoe Birkett, playing Justice, owner of Venus ‘gentleman’s’ club. Nick Winston’s direction knows where and when to utilise Birkett. In closing numbers, we can see how staging is constructed so she delivers the final notes. Her control is sensational. Whilst sharing the stage with the likes of Steele, who herself is vastly talented, the effortless delivery Birkett offers is remarkable.

Rock of Ages breaks the fourth wall, stamps on it and later invites it onstage to take a bow. It’s balanced as both pastiche and parody to sell itself. Whilst skewering the tropes of Andrew Lloyd Sondheim, (or is that Stephen Webber?) by physically announcing its need for a romantic lead it also pays homage to the great glam rock artists from White Snake to Styx, even Phil Collins gets a brief mention. The in-house band do a stellar job supporting the singers, with dynamic choreography supplied by Winston.

Now. As the production breaks the fourth wall it draws attention to a fault many musicals suffer, glancing into the attitudes of the music industry. It treads the line with performers ‘assets’. Raunchy, red-blooded and empowering some audience members may still find the flesh on display bordering on excessive. For the intelligence of the script, it’s part of the productions lampooning as much as it glorifies. For a general crowd, it’s an oversight they can enjoy. The only flaw is that its female stars, whilst written well only come into their own quite late into Act One.

Productions of a similar ilk – take note. This is precisely how to showcase Glam Rock in all of its thrusting, dark denim glory. Rock of Ages does not angle itself to be something it cannot be, it isn’t trying to tackle intense issues of the music empire. It thrives as its own piece, separate from others it (unfairly) will be held against. Whilst other shows may ‘rock you’ Rock of Ages will rock with you.

If at some point your blood isn’t pumping, a leg isn’t itching to dance, or you aren’t laughing – chances are you’d rather spend an evening with the Guardian. From the outset the audience of Rock of Ages are slaves to the beat, surrendering themselves over from quiet theatregoers to gig-screaming fans. If you think you’ve experienced a Jukebox musical – you haven’t until you’ve lived through Rock of Ages.

Review originally published for Reviews Hub:
https://www.thereviewshub.com/rock-of-ages-the-playhouse-edinburgh/

Production Touring:
http://www.rockofagesmusical.co.uk/tour/