CD Review: ONLY DREAMING, Matt Croke
In the sleeve for his debut album Only Dreaming, Matt Croke writes: "As a small boy I always loved listening to albums - I dreamt and hoped that one day I would be lucky enough to actually make one myself. Years later... here it is."
Currently playing the titular role in the West End production of Aladdin, Croke's Only Dreaming is a celebration of roles and songs he knows and loves, some roles he's played, others perhaps to come. What is for sure, though, is that the whole album shines with an infinitely likeable charm and ease.
The striking point from the outset is that the choice of songs showcase tremendous versatility in terms of style, and it's wonderful to see an artist so confident in their choices. In the 15 tracks, we hear familiar old classics such as "Singin' In the Rain" and "Something's Coming" to numbers from more modern musicals such as Big Fish and Catch Me If You Can, encompassing jazz as well as the more traditional orchestra feel.
The album is playful musically and toys with the idea of hearing the familiar done anew; notably, there's a version of Moulin Rouge's "Come What May", traditionally sung as a duet, this time done as a solo piece.
There's also a good sprinkling of Disney in there for good measure, with a little help from fellow Aladdin castmate Trevor Dion Nicholas, former Broadway Jasmine Hiba Elchikhe and current West End Simba Nick Afoa - with the latter joining forces for a mash-up of their characters' major solo numbers: "Proud of Your Boy" and "Endless Night".
Croke's voice is adaptable and versatile; there's a warmth and richness to it that makes notes soar, as well as endearing sense of vulnerability, should the song call for it. As such, he shows a real gift for storytelling and emoting meaning in lyrics - in particular during Stephen Schwartz's "Beautiful City" from Godspell, where the arrangement is stripped back to only his voice and a piano, and a hauntingly tender "Not While I'm Around", from Sweeney Todd.
Only Dreaming feels like a love letter to the versatility and depth of musical theatre, as Matt Croke blends traditional and contemporary influences. His portrayal of Aladdin has no doubt earned him many fans, and if the quality on this album is anything to go by, his star looks set to only continue to rise.
Matt Croke's Only Dreaming is available now