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Music Review

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Original Cast Album


Music: Stephen Oliver
Lyrics: Tim Rice
Performed by: Paul Nicholas, Sharon Lee Hill, Stephan Tate, David Burt and Cantabile
Label: SimG Records
RRP: £9.99
STAGE 9050
5 055122 190509
Release Date: 26 May 2017

I started collecting Cast Recordings somewhere in the '80s - on cassette of all things (remember those !?), and it’s funny how you remember buying certain ones, and the pleasure they gave you. One of those I remember clearly was Blondel - a pretty much unknown musical then (and I guess, now too). At the time, I was pretty into ‘flops’ - I remember scouring the earth for Kander & Ebb’s The Rink, before it eventually opened in London, and it was the name of lyricist Tim Rice that drew me into buying this all of those years ago.

Blondel was the first musical Rice wrote with a composer other than Andrew Lloyd Webber. The music for Blondel was instead provided by opera composer Stephen Oliver, who penned a lively score that was not at all operatic.

The musical follows the trials and triumphs of Blondel, an ambitious minstrel in King Richard The Lionheart's court, desperately trying for a chart-topping song. Blondel and his long-suffering girlfriend, Fiona, undertake a multi-nation search when King Richard is taken captive during the Crusades. They rescue him and return to England just in time to prevent the coronation of his brother, Prince John. A trio of doo-wop Monks provide plot commentary between scenes, also putting in appearances are Blondel's backing group, The Blondettes, and a hapless Assassin who does not enjoy international travel.

Blondel starred Paul Nicholas in the title role alongside Sharon Lee-Hill as Fiona, Stephan Tate as Richard, David Burt as John, Chris Langham as the Assassin and vocal quartet Cantabile as The Monks. The show opened at the Theatre Royal Bath on September 12th 1983 followed by a two week run at Manchester's Palace Theatre before opening the newly refurbished Old Vic on November 2nd. Blondel subsequently transferred to the West End's Aldwych Theatre, opening on January 21st 1984, running for 278 performances.

The complete original London cast album of Blondel, originally issued as a 2LP or MC set, now makes a welcome return to CD having been out of print for nearly 20 years - indeed. the 1990’s re-issue on CD has been a collector's item for quite a while now. The album, produced by its creators Tim Rice and Stephen Oliver, represents the complete production including the songs 'Running Back For More', 'The Least Of My Troubles', 'I'm A Monarchist' and 'No Rhyme For Richard’.

I loved this album first time around, and I still love it today. It’s a great score, very much of its time in some ways, but still melodic and catchy. My favourite thing about this recording has always been the monk’s narrative, provided by the very talented Cantabile, and it keeps the story moving in a humorous way. You will either love or hate Rice as a lyricist, and this is him at his best, or his worst, depending on where you sit on that one. Comedic moments are many - 'No Rhyme for Richard', 'Saladin Days', 'The Assassin’s Song'… the list goes on.

It’s not a score short on ballads either. You will probably have heard at least one of 'Running Back For More' or 'The Least Of My Troubles', as they have been featured on several compilations over the years. Indeed, they appear here as bonus tracks performed by Colm Wilkinson and Murray Head, later of Chess fame. Indeed, you can’t fault any of the performances here - it’s a class recording - and Stage Door have done a great job with the re-issue, in keeping this musical alive for generations to come.

Much of the score is sung through, which works especially well, and the chorus back the main voices up tremendously. It’s also worth noting that the chorus features Maria Friedman - destined for bigger and better! John Cameron’s orchestrations were great then, and still are now - he really is the master of this sort of thing.

A very enjoyable re-visit to a great '80s musical.


Ian Gude

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