CD Review: BLONDEL Original London Cast Album

It's been over 10 years since the comedy musical Blondel was last seen on stage in London, and with a new production about to open at the Union Theatre, Stage Door Records has released the Original London Cast album as a timely reminder of the wonderfully wacky show.

Blondel is the first musical Tim Rice wrote with a composer other than Andrew Lloyd Webber, with the music instead provided by opera composer Stephen Oliver. The original 1983 production of Blondel starred Paul Nicholas in the title role alongside Sharon Lee, Stephen Tate and David Burt.

Set at the time of the Angevin Empire, Blondel follows the story of an ambitious minstrel, who embarks on a quest to find his lost King, Richard the Lion Heart.

With a cameo appearance from Robin Hood, an irascible assassin and a barbershop quartet of monks helping to add a comical narration, it is packed full of funny characters. Although there is a wealth of silliness, the musical is actually quite educational, as much of the plot is historically accurate.

Blondel has a classic comedy structure, but is lyrically so intelligent and humorous that it sets itself apart from many others. Master wordsmith Tim Rice - when in collaboration with composer Stephen Oliver - created an abundance of earworms, and you'll find yourself singing randomly "I'm a Monarchist" at impromptu moments.

There's a very 1970s feel to the score and the incidental music is not dissimilar to that in Jesus Christ Superstar - lots of wailing guitars and complex lyrics, although with none of the atmospheric discords, which means it has a more joyful sound.

It's great to hear Paul Nicholas's pleasant and cosy vocals rendering the stirring melodies especially in "The Least of My Troubles", and his performance is reminiscent of his portrayal of the Rum Tum Tugger on the original London cast recording of Cats.

Sharon Lee-Hill has an old-fashioned musical theatre voice, which you don't hear these days as it has a quite shrill tone, but with an emotive and expressive quality, particularly when she sings "Running Back for More".

The comedy highlight comes in act one with "Assassin's Song" using the method of spelling the word out in parody of Tammy Wynette's country and western song "D-I-V-O-R-C-E" (a trick later also used by Richard Stilgoe for the song "U.N.C.O.U.P.L.E.D" in Starlight Express).

The show becomes more melodious in Act Two - as is the traditional structure of musical theatre already tried and tested by Rice in his previous hits - and when Nicholas and Lee-Hill combine to perform a reprise of "Running Back for More", their vocals perfectly complement each other.

There are also some great bonus tracks, including a version of "The Least of My Troubles" performed by Colm Wilkinson of Les Misérables fame.

The original London cast recording of Blondel is a classic soundtrack of an underrated musical and a show that very much deserves its revival.

Blondel will run at the Union Theatre from 21 June until 15 July


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From This Author Nicky Sweetland