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I had never seen the film Educating Rita (although I have bought it to watch after seeing this show). However, it was originally a stage show before being filmed for the big screen, so the touring production has gone back to its roots.

It’s written by Willy Russell (who also wrote Blood Brothers) so you know that there is going to be humour, sadness and poignancy in the script. For anyone not familiar with the story, Rita is a Liverpudlian hairdresser and housewife who feels there must be more to life and enrols on an Open University course in English Literature. Frank is her lecturer, a borderline alcoholic, disillusioned with his career. He underestimates Rita’s ability or willingness to learn, but as they work through the course, both of them ending up helping each other in different ways.

The show is a two hander – the only two members of the cast – Stephen Tompkinson and Jessica Johnson are on stage throughout the entire performance (save for the brief moments before and after Rita arrives and leaves her lessons. Its also set entirely in Frank’s study. So there is a lot of responsibility on the two actors to deliver – and deliver they do, in spades. Stephen Tompkinson is perfectly cast as Frank, and despite his issues you cannot help liking him, and more importantly believing in the character. Jessica Johnson was also extremely likeable and entirely believable as Rita, and the two bounced off each other very well.

The dialogue is at times razor sharp, but there is also pathos and both Frank and Rita’s back stories are laced with regret. Willy Russell seems to be able to get to the heart of the human psyche, and has done so brilliantly here. (For my money, this is a much more enjoyable play than Blood Brothers.)

Quite simply superb – if you get the chance to see this production, don’t miss it!

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This is the second time I have seen this show, which is based on the 1992 film of the same name starring Whitney Houston and Kevin Costner. When I saw it in 2015 (review here) Zoe Birkett played the role of Rachel Marron; on this occasion Jennlee Shallow tackled the part and it’s safe to say she was an outstanding success.

A brief recap of the story for anyone who is not familiar – Rachel Marron is the world’s biggest singing star, but has become the target of a deranged and calculating stalker. Frank Farmer is the bodyguard hired to look after her, although neither Rachel doesn’t want him there, and Frank doesn’t want the job. They are initially disdainful of each other, but their relationship start to grow and Frank realises that his feelings for Rachel are getting in the way of his job.

The show literally opens with a bang – a gunshot rings out and you see two men caught in a standoff, before the spectacular opening number, Queen of the Night. The show plunges the audience right into Rachel’s world with this song – the fire, the costumes, the dancing, gets you into the mood immediately.

The musical numbers are of course the real attraction of the show – Shallow has a great voice and uses it to full effect; for me, the ballads are the more enjoyable songs. Run To You, All at Once, One Moment in Time and I Have Nothing, are all beautiful and brought a lump to my throat.

Frank was played by the gorgeous Benoit Marechal, who brought the perfect amount of gentlemanliness and reticence to the role – his karaoke rendition of I Will Always Love You, was a comedic highlight in a show packed with drama. Micha Richardson played Rachel’s sister Nikki, always eclipsed by her younger, famous sibling, and harbouring an unrequited desire for Frank. The stalker was played with menace by Phil Atkinson, and there are six young boys playing Rachel’s son Fletcher – on this occasion Caleb Williams took the role and stole the audience’s hearts.

Just a fantastic show which has drama, laughter, amazing singing and dancing – for me this will be one that I will see every time it comes around and I highly recommend it.

 

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When I was about 10 years old, my Mom took me to the cinema to see the film Annie, and 30-something years later I repaid the favour by taking her to the theatre to see the stage production.

For anyone who isn’t familiar, set during the Great Depression in America, the film tells the story of plucky young Annie, who lives in an orphanage with several other girls, ruled with a rod of iron by the cruel and drunken Miss Hannigan. When billionaire Oliver Warbucks decides to have Annie to stay with him for Christmas, it leads to a search for Annie’s real parents, but Miss Hannigan and her criminal brother Rooster have plans of their own to get rich…

If you have never seen the film – it doesn’t matter, you MUST see this show! If you have seen this film – you MUST see this show! It stays faithful to the storyline, but more importantly it is so filled with joy and laughter that it is an absolute treat from start to finish. The best known of the cast is Anita Dobson, who was genuinely hilarious as Miss Hannigan – let nobody be in any doubt of her outstanding talent – and were it not for the fact that the rest of the cast were also superb, she would steal every scene.

With such familiar songs as ‘Tomorrow’, ‘It’s a Hard Knock Life’ and ‘YOu’re Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile’ and outstanding dancing, I challenge anyone to leave this show without a huge smile on their face.

Kudos to Richard Meek as Rooster, Alex Bourne as Daddy Warbucks and Carolyn Maitland as Grace Farrell, as well as (in this production – the child stars are rotated show to show) Honey-Rose Quinn as Molly and of course Ava Smith as Annie. And I can’t omit the beautiful Labradoodle Amber playing Annie’s cuddliest friend Sandy.

All in all, a total joy from start to finish!

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For anyone who doesn’t know the story of Top Hat, it centres on Broadway sensation Jerry Travers, who falls hard for society girl Dale Tremont, and dances his way from Broadway to London to Venice in order to win her heart. A case of mistaken identity causes all sorts of problems, but there is so much fun to be had on the way.

Having seen and loved the 1935 film, and also seen the West End stage show production (on tour), I can safely say that this is one of my favourite musicals, because it’s impossible to watch it and not feel happy. The songs will make you smile, the storyline is both romantic and extremely funny, and the dancing is spectacular.

All of this means that it is no mean feat for an amateur dramatics company to take on, but South Staffs Musical Theatre Company have taken on many such productions in their long history and are never found wanting.

Watching it, I was mesmerised by Harry Simkin and Fiona Winning, who played Jerry and Dale (Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers famously played the roles in the film, and Tom Chambers debuted the role of Jerry when it was made into a stage musical). Simkin and Winning are 17 and 16 respectively, but you would think they had been singing and dancing for decades, such was their professionalism and obvious talent. I really felt as if I was watching two future stars.

Also must mention Dom Napier as Alberto Beddini, the wannabe rival for Dale’s heart, and John Wiley who played footman Bates. Both of these were in danger of stealing their scenes, and raised some huge laughs from the audience.

Overall, a wonderful show and another feather in the cap for the South Staffs Musical Theatre Company.

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The hugely successful musical Jersey Boys is a jukebox musical which tells the story of The Four Seasons (later Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons). It starts with the band getting together and struggling to settle on a name, takes them through their career, and the disintegration of the band, with Frankie becoming the main name and the Four Seasons becoming his backing band.

I went into it knowing next to nothing about the band, other than a few of their songs. Or so I thought – as it turned out, I knew more of their songs than I realised, I just hadn’t realised that these songs I had known for years were actually by the Four Seasons. I was also surprised by the backgrounds of the band – their music conjures up images of a group of clean cut young men, singing about love. In fact, DeVito was a compulsive gambler and both he and Massi spent time in prison. They also had mob connections, which they had to rely on from time to time.

The band are played by: Michael Watson as Frankie Valli; Simon Bailey as Tommy DeVito; Declan Egan as Bob Gaudio; and Lewis Griffiths as Nick Massi. Each of them narrate a quarter of the show, which allows all the different characters to shine through and which also allows the story to be told from all four points of view. They were all excellent, and although I am trying to pick a favourite, I can’t!

Valli has an extremely distinctive voice, and Michael Watson did a superb job of recreating it, but all four of them contributed to the high energy performances. The supporting cast were also great, and although there were some sad parts of the story, the overall feeling that the audience were left with was one of joy. The audience clearly adored this show, and with good reason – everyone was clapping, singing or dancing along by the end.

Faultless in every way, this is a show I would love to see again and again and again. If you get chance to see it, go and see it. If you’ve already seen it, go see it again!!

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Crazy For You debuted in 1992, but features the songs of George and Ira Gershwin, written in the 1930s. The show is something of an homage to the 1930s style musicals and if you liked the Astaire and Rogers musicals and others of the ilk, then this is sure to appeal to you.

Bobby Child – here played to perfection by multi-talented Tom Chambers – is the son of a New York banking family and expected to take over the family business. What he really wants to do however, is dance on stage, but both his mother and his fiancee Irene Roth (Claire Sweeney) disapprove. Bobby is sent to the town of Deadrock, Nevada, to close down the failing theatre, but as soon as he meets the theatre owner’s daughter Polly (Charlotte Wakefield), he falls for her. In order to stop the theatre closing (and to win Polly’s love), Bobby decides to stage a show at the premises, but he takes an unorthodox approach to achieving this! A comedy of mistaken identities and misunderstandings ensue, and the whole story is told against a backdrop of slapstick comedy, fantastic dance routines and beautiful classic show songs.

I really enjoyed this show, but as a lover of the old 30s style musicals, I am probably  it’s target audience. Tom Chambers is the proverbial triple threat, being able to dance, sing and act – indeed some of his acting was hilarious, particularly the scene where Bobby and famous theatre producer Bela Zangler both get drunk. His dancing was gorgeous to watch, particularly the drum dance as I call it – you’ll know it when you see it.

Charlotte Wakefield was also excellent as the feisty and outspoken Polly. She has a simps beautiful singing voice, which was put to excellent use. She was also a perfect foil for Tom Chambers.

Claire Sweeney’s part was smaller than I expected, but she still got her chance to shine with her own singing number Naughty Baby.

The backing cast were all excellent and very funny, and it should be noted that there is no orchestra in this production – the cast play live instruments on stage for the musical numbers.

In essence, if you are looking for a feel-good romantic musical, you can’t go far wrong with this one!

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This show opens with a voiceover warning people of a nervous disposition that platforms and white lycra are worn during this production. This somewhat sets the tone for the whole show – humour, colour, energy and of course some terrifically ABBA-esque costumes.

The storyline is simple enough – Sophie Sheridan and her mother Donna live in Greece. Sophie is getting married and wants to meet her father…the only problem is that she doesn’t know who her father is out of three potential candidates, so she invites all three without her mother’s knowledge. Naturally, chaos ensues as past memories are raked up. And when you throw together Donna’s best and oldest friends Rosie and Tanya, three men who have no idea why they have been invited to the wedding, and a host of young men and women, there is bound to be action, raunch and a little romance…

Accompanied by some of ABBA’s best known and loved songs – including Super Trouper, Take a Chance on Me, Lay All Your Love On Me, Money Money Money, Does Your Mother Know? and of course the title track – this is such a fantastically feel-good show that it did not surprise me one bit when there was a standing ovation at the end, with audience members dancing in the aisles.

Helen Hobson was great as Donna, and Gillian Hardie and Emma Clifford were wonderful as Rosie and Tanya respectively. In the performance I saw, Sophie was played by first understudy Blaise Colangelo, who was ideal for the part – so loveable and sweet. The three possible fathers were Sam played by Jon Boyden, Bill played by Christopher Hollis, and Harry played by Jamie Hogarth. Their three distinct characters were portrayed excellently.

I don’t see how anyone could fail to enjoy this show, and the beaming faces on the audience as they left the theatre were testament to what a wonderful time everyone had. If you get chance to see this production, do yourselves a favour and buy some tickets!

 

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