The Three Billy Goats Gruff (Studio Cast Recording) | Review
Monday, February 27, 2023
The narrative and characterisation are admirably clear, and there’s tension without it being too scary
Family shows never get enough credit. But they absolutely should: these are the productions that introduce a new generation to the arts, and hopefully instil a lifelong love of musicals. That’s why it’s so heartening to see leading British musical team George Stiles and Anthony Drewe devote their energies to family shows, like their trilogy of 50-minute works, commissioned by the Singapore Repertory Theatre.
These musical fairy tales are cleverly constructed so that they can all be staged by the same five-person cast. Three Little Pigs and Goldilocks and the Three Bears arrived in 2013, followed by The Three Billy Goats Gruff in 2015. Now wider audiences get a chance to enjoy the latter via a new studio recording with an impressive West End-calibre cast.
Stiles’s score is irresistible catchy, with jaunty tunes – plus the odd rap break – for the goats, and, since the devil must get the best tunes, or at least the jazziest ones
Aimed at three- to six-year-olds, plus the odd gag thrown in for their accompanying adults, this cheery version of the Norwegian folk tale is admirably clear in its narrative and characterisation, and has just enough tension without being too scary. The liner notes contain a synopsis, but you get the gist of the story just via the songs.
We are introduced to the three billy goats (Big, Middle and Baby) and their forgetful goatherd, Little Bo-Frilly (Bo-Peep’s sister). The goats spy some delicious-looking green grass on the other side and decide to go ‘trip-trapping’ over the bridge. But will they survive the lurking Troll?
Stiles’s score is irresistible catchy, with jaunty tunes – plus the odd rap break – for the goats, and, since the devil must get the best tunes, or at least the jazziest ones, a smoky number for the Troll with bluesy brass. There are plenty of reprises, helping young listeners to absorb the songs, and goofy butt jokes. It often sounds like a celebratory hoedown, with busy strings, whistling, a mouth organ and yodelling (orchestrator Ruth Ling electronically conjures up the recording’s accompaniment).
As the Troll, David Bedella (who recently graced the West End stage as Lance in & Juliet) has enormous fun with his evil laughs and silky, deep-voiced threats. A swaggering Michael Xavier, chipper Millie O’Connell and warm Tyrone Huntley blend beautifully as the goats, while sweet-voiced Lizzie Bea brings an appealing sincerity to Little Bo-Frilly, who gradually grows in confidence.
Drewe’s lyrics are generally straightforward, with firm rather than surprising rhymes, but the prevailing theme of finding contentment among your family and friends, rather than greedily fixating on some distant prize, is an indisputable lovely one.
George Stiles music
Anthony Drewe book, lyrics
Studio cast Lizzie Bea, David Bedella, Tyrone Huntley, Millie O’Connell, Michael Xavier
Orchestrations Ruth Ling