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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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Year of release: 2018

Director: Ol Parker

Writers: Richard Curtis, Catherine Johnson, Ol Parker

Main cast: Colin Firth, Pierce Brosnan, Julie Walters, Amanda Seyfried, Cher, Lily James, Dominic Cooper, Andy Garcia, Alexa Davies, Jessica Keenan Wynn, Christine Baranski, Hugh Skinner, Josh Dylan, Jeremy Irvine

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Genre: Comedy, musical

Highlights: Julie Walters steals the show, Colin Firth is getting more handsome by the day, the music

Lowlights: Fewer laughs, more poignancy, a lot of lesser well known Abba songs

Overall: An enjoyable sequel once you have got over the shock of the main character from the first film being dead (not a spoiler – this is revealed at the beginning)

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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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This show is based on, and remains faithful to the 2001 film Legally Blonde, which starred Reese Witherspoon as Elle Woods. For anyone who is not familiar with the story, sassy Elle Woods is dumped by boyfriend Warner when he goes to study at Harvard, as he feels that Elle is too frivolous for him and he needs a serious girlfriend in order to be taken seriously himself.

Not to be defeated by this setback, Elle decides that she too will enrol at Harvard and win him back. She faces all sorts of challenges when she gets there; classmates consider her to be blonde bimbo and mock her love of fashion (“pink is my signature colour”), and her tutor Professor Callahan doesn’t take her seriously either. She finds a friend in Emmett, an older student who now works for Callahan, and who is the only person who really seems to believe in Elle.

When a murder case comes along and Callahan decides that his best and brightest students will help him defend the accused, Elle must step up to the challenge and prove to those who have misjudged her, just what she is capable of…

I really liked the film and wasn’t sure how it would translate into a musical, but I did expect a lot of fun, and that is exactly what this production was. Lucie Jones was adorable as Elle, and a perfect choice for the part, with a lovely voice. She really had the audience on side from the first scene. I also really liked David Barrett as Emmett. Liam Doyle was very funny as Warner, and I also thought Bill Ward was great as Callahan. For me though, Rita Simons absolutely stole every scene she was in as Elle’s friend and confidante Paulette.

The musical has an original score, so I didn’t know any of the songs, but they were all catchy, and accompanied by some very high energy dancing by the young cast. There was LOTS of pink in this show, with the whole cast wearing pink in the finale. Just like the film, there were some genuinely hilarious moments, beautifully played by the entire cast. For good measure, there were also two dogs in this production – Bruisey the Chihuahua, who is a permanent cast member on this tour, playing Elle’s dog Bruiser. Paulette’s bulldog Rufus is cast from local dogs at every stop on the tour, and in this production, the dog playing the part was simply aDORable!!

Overall, I highly recommend this show – I honestly don’t think anyone could come away from it without a huge smile on their face!

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If you haven’t heard of this musical, then all I can say is, where have you been hiding for the last  few years?! Causing fits of laughter, receiving accolades and plaudits aplenty and managing to offend a few people along the way, The Book of Mormon has carved out a huge name for itself, not least because it was written by South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone.

I was lucky enough to be able to see this show on Broadway in New York, and wow! What an experience! The story is fairly straightforward – after a brief intro explaining what The Book of Mormon actually is – we are plunged into the narrative of two young Mormon missionaries, Elder Price and Elder Cunningham, who are given the task of preaching the Mormon religion in Uganda. However, when they arrive in the remote Ugandan village, they discover the inhabitants are more concerned with their own problems, such as famine, AIDS and trying to escape the tyranny of the local warlord.

As Elder Price becomes increasingly frustrated with his inability to get through to the locals, as well as his annoyance at being teamed with the misfit Elder Cunningham, it is in fact the said Elder Cunningham who gets through to the villagers in a most unconventional manner, leading to chaos – and much hilarity.

It must be said – as if everyone didn’t already know – that this is most definitely not a show for children or for the easily offended. It relentlessly takes the mickey out of organised religion (there is a song in it called F*** You God), there is a hefty dollop of swear words throughout, and references to all kinds of lewd and illegal acts. So there are plenty of reasons to think that this show wouldn’t have been a huge success…and there are plenty of reasons why it is absolutely a success and is now in its sixth year on Broadway.

In the production we saw, Mancunian actor Don Simpson played Elder Price – he was excellent, and had a wonderful singing voice and perfect comic timing. The more eccentric Elder Cunningham was played by Brian Sears, who was hilarious and had the whole audience rooting for him, bringing a sense of vulnerability to the character.

Nabulungi, beautiful daughter of the Ugandan doctor and the villager who is most enthusiastic to learn more about The Book of Mormon is played by Kim Exum. She too had a gorgeous voice and was exactly as sweet yet feisty as the role demands. The aforementioned Doctor Mafala was played by Billy Eugene Jones, and has the honour of getting to sing the last – and possibly the funniest – song lyric in the whole show (I’m not spoiling it for you here). The evil General was played by Derrick Williams, complete with yellow cowboy boots and utter confusion at Elder Price’s attempts to convert him.

There are some excellent songs in the show, and although I didn’t know any of them prior to attending, they were all very catchy – my favourites being the opening number Hello!, as well as You and Me (But Mostly Me), Sal Play Ka Siti, and Spooky Mormon Hell Dream, which accompanied an incredibly funny scene set in hell, as the title would suggest (complete with the characters of Hitler, Jeffrey Dahmer, Genghis Khan and…Johnny Cochran.)

Overall, I really enjoyed this show, and the rest of the packed auditorium also seemed to love it. I would dearly like to see this show again and am already looking into the possibility of seeing it in London’s West End.

Highly, highly recommended (but not if you are easily offended!!)

(For more about this production, please click here.)

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Funny Girl is based on the life of Fanny Brice, a singer and entertainer who became famous in the early 1900s. It’s definitely a fictionalised account of Fanny’s life, so if you are after a biography this is not the show to see. But if you are after a couple of hours of great entertainment, delivered by a superb cast, then you should definitely see it.

The story tells how Fanny didn’t fit into the leggy beauty look that people wanted to see on stage, and instead had to rely on her humour and fantastic voice. And the audience loved her! She joined the Ziegfeld Follies and became a main attraction and a huge star. Her private life was less successful – she fell deeply in love with Nick Arnstein, a cad and a gambler, but through it all the show went on, as it always must.

Natasha J Barnes was outstanding as Fanny – she had something of a baptism of fire in the role, being understudy for Sheridan Smith and finding herself thrust into the main role when Smith had to leave the tour for a while under fraught personal circumstances. Barnes has a quick wit, a very expressive face and a cheeky nod and wink, all with perfect comic timing. She is utterly endearing – and that voice! Wow!

Darius Campbell was fetching and charismatic as Nick. Far too smooth a character for my personal taste, but he inhabited the part well and his singing voice was just right too.

Full credit too to Rachel Izen who played Fanny’s mother and almost stole every scene she was in; Myra Sands as family friend Mrs Strakosh and Zoe Ann Brown as another family friend Mrs Meeker. Also to Joshua Lay who played Fanny’s friend, fellow performer and ardent admirer Eddie. His dancing was excellent, and I wished Fanny had ended up with him.

Beautiful songs, with the two most well known probably being People, and the uplifting belter, Don’t Rain On My Parade.

Overall, it’s a feel-good show with some poignant and tender moments. Natasha Barnes fully deserved the standing ovation she got at the end…I highly recommend this production!

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