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American comedy about a college female acapella group called Barden Bellas. When rebellious Beca starts at the college she is not interested in making friends, but her great singing voice leads her to join the group which is made up of popular girls, bitchy girls, and other girls who would never have been friends otherwise (and are barely friends anyway). Story features on the quest to win a prestigious competition, their rivalry with male acapella group the Treblemakers.

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Year of release: 2012

Director: Jason Moore

Writers: Mickey Rapkin (book), Kay Cannon

Main cast: Anna Kendrick, Rebel Wilson, Brittany Snow, Anna Camp, Adam Devine, Skylar Astin, Ben Platt, Ester Dean, Hana Mae Lee

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Genre: Comedy

Highlights: Rebel Wilson steals the show! Also the Treblemakers are really really good!!

Lowlights: None really. Possibly aimed at a more youthful market than this viewer, but overall lots of fun

Overall: Definitely worth a watch if you want a feel-good comedy

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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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Paul Maddens (Martin Freeman) is a primary school teacher with a failed ambition to be an actor. His girlfriend Jennifer (Ashley Jensen) left him five Christmases earlier to become a producer in Hollywood, and Paul hates Christmas as a result. So he is distinctly unhappy about being tasked with creating the school nativity play, and in an attempt to win one over his former best friend Gordon Shakespeare (Jason Watkins) tells Gordon that Hollywood are coming to see the nativity play. The rumour spreads and things start to get out of hand.

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Year of release: 2009

Director: Debbie Isitt

Writer: Debbie Isitt

Main cast: Martin Freeman, Ashley Jensen, Jason Watkins, Pam Ferris, Marc Wootton

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Genre: Comedy

Highlights: Lots of humour, lots of pop up roles from the likes of Ricky Tomlinson and Alan Carr. Freeman’s role was made for him, and even the kids were really cute without a sugary overload of sweetness

Lowlights: None really

Overall: A thoroughly enjoyable Christmas movie. Very British and clearly pretty low-budget, but all the more charming for it

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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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