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The Mikado is the third of three Gilbert and Sullivan operas performed at Wolverhampton Grand Theatre, as part of the G&S Festival 2014 (the previous two being The Pirates of Penzance and Iolanthe).

Nanki-Poo, a wandering minstrel, arrives in the town of Titipu, Japan, to find the love of his life, Yum-Yum, the ward of Ko-Ko.  Yum-Yum had been engaged to Ko-Ko, but he has been sentenced to death for flirting(!).  However, Nanki-Poo is dismayed to find that not only has Ko-Ko been pardoned, but that he has also been appointed to the post of Lord High Executioner, and the wedding to (a reluctant) Yum-Yum is back on!  Lots of comic twists ensue, providing lots of laughs and glorious music, all leading up to a joyous finale.

Nick Allen, who earlier in the week took on the role of Frederic in The Pirates of Penzance, was Nanki-Poo, and he played the role just right, swinging from utter joy at finding the love of his life, to utter despair when he realises that they can’t be together.  Bruce Graham was perfect as Poo-Bah, an inept politician who holds a number of conflicting positions.   John Savournin played Pish-Tush, a noble Lord with great humour, and Simon Butteriss was absolutely brilliant as Ko-Ko, raising both laughs and sympathy from the audience.  Ko-Ko is a cruel and selfish character, but he’s so completely inept at his job that he is hilarious to watch.  Super performances too from Claire Lees as the vain but loveable Yum-Yum, and Sylvia Clarke as Katisha, an elderly lady who believes that she is betrothed to Nanki-Poo.

The songs were all beautifully performed and staged.  I loved Ko-Ko’s song about a list of potential candidates for execution.  This song is often updated for modern performances of The Mikado, and in this production, Ko-Ko sang about a certain Uruguayan footballer with a penchant for biting opposing team-mates and those who voted for UKIP in the recent European elections.

The scenery and costumes were spectacular, and the musical ensemble numbers were fantastic – so imaginatively and cleverly staged.  If you want an evening of comedy and music performed to the highest standards, try and catch the Gilbert and Sullivan Festival on tour.  This is a show not to be missed.

(For more information about this production, or the Gilbert and Sullivan Festival 2014, please click here.)

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Part of the 2014 Gilbert and Sullivan Festival on tour, The Pirates of Penzance is the first of three productions by the Gilbert and Sullivan Opera Company being performed at Wolverhampton Grand Theatre.

The story concerns a young man named Frederic, who having reached the age of 21, is released from his apprenticeship as a pirate.  No sooner is he free, than he meets and falls instantly in love with Mabel, the daughter of a Major General, but circumstances conspire to keep Frederic under the employ of the hapless band of pirates, and also to keep him and Mabel apart.

G&S operas are not meant to be taken too seriously, and the great comedy and uplifting music meant that I was smiling and laughing throughout.  Nick Allen was lovely as Frederic, the lovelorn young man who is torn between Mabel and his duty to the pirates.  John Savournin, who also directed, was wonderful as the dashing pirate king, and Richard Gauntlett was simply hilarious as the Major General – his song, I am the Very Model of a Modern Major General was a particular highlight.

Excellent performances too from Bruce Graham as the ineffective Chief of Police, Elinor Moran as Mabel, and Sylvia Clarke as Ruth – Frederic’s former nursemaid and wannabee girlfriend.

The whole cast sang beautifully, whether in solo or group numbers, and the production hit just the right note (no pun intended) – it was funny and satirical, but never just plain stupid.  Fantastic colourful costumes and scenery added to the enjoyable experience.

This was the first G&S play I had ever seen, and I don’t think I could have had a better introduction to their comic operas.  The Festival is touring, and I recommend anyone to catch them while you can.

(For more information about this production, or the 2014 Gilbert and Sullivan Festival, please click here.)

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It’s hard to believe that Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical adaptation of Gaston Leroux’s novel is over 25 years old, because in 2013, it still feels as fresh as ever.

Cameron Mackintosh has produced the current show which is touring in the UK, and which I was lucky enough to see at Birmingham Hippodrome, which was an ideal venue in which to see such a spectacular show.

Briefly, the story concerns the mysterious Phantom of the title who falls for Christine Daae, a young chorus girl, who is promoted to lead soprano at the Opera Populaire Playhouse.  The Phantom threatens the life of anyone who comes between him and Christine, but Christine has meanwhile fallen for Raoul, her childhood sweetheart…she fears however that she may never escape the hold of the mysterious Phantom.  (There are far more detailed synopses available online.)

In this production, the Phantom was played by Earl Carpenter, and he was superb in the role.  He elicited just the right amount of fear from the audience, while remaining charismatic and mysterious.  His voice, unsurprisingly, was excellent.  Equally superb were Katie Hall as Christine, and James Bisp as Raoul.  Bisp was actually the understudy, and he was wonderful in the role.  Claire Platt also appeared as the understudy for Carlotta, the soprano who is ousted by the Phantom’s desire to promote Christine.  Carlotta brings comic relief to proceedings, and Platt played the part to perfection.

The supporting cast were also terrific, with not one weak link.

The music is very familiar to audiences nowadays, but it was still mesmerising to hear, and the title song in particular made the hairs on the back of my next stand on end.

Finally, the costumes and stage sets were imaginative and wonderfully designed, with the chandelier which forms part of the story hanging high above the audience.

Overall, it was a wonderful show from start to end, and I would highly recommend it to anybody who enjoys good theatre.  A solid 10 out of 10 from me!

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

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Click here for my review of the 2004 film adaptation.

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This review is for the 2004, Joel Schumacher directed film version of The Phantom of the Opera (adapted from the stage show with music by Andrew Lloyd Webber, which in itself was adapted from Gaston Leoux’s novel).

Gerard Butler plays the Phantom, the mysterious man/creature who haunts the opera house in Paris in 1870.  The Phantom is in love with young singer Christine (Emmy Rossum), and manages to replace the usual opera singer Carlotta (Minnie Driver, in a fantastic comedic part) with Christine, in order to further the career of the woman he loves.

However, when Christine’s first love Raoul comes back to the opera house and Christine falls in love with him again, the Phantom becomes jealous and vengeful.

I enjoyed this movie very much – certainly a lot more than I thought I might.  I watched it on a whim, and I’m very glad I did.  The music is familiar to many, and it sounds fantastic here.  My three favourite songs – and probably the most famous of the show – are the title track, Music of the Night and That’s All I Ask Of You – and they all come across well.

The cast are all great – even, as mentioned earlier, Gerard Butler, who I would not normally associate with or expect to see in such a part.  Simon Callow is great and very funny in a supporting role, but the aforementioned Minnie Driver steals of her scenes and provides some terrific moments of light relief.

The story itself is quite sad, and I did actually want to cry at certain parts!  If I was determined to find something to criticise, I probably could – it’s perhaps slightly overlong, and the inclusion of Jennifer Ellison in a supporting role was something of a surprise.  But sometimes a whole film is worth more than the sum of its parts, and I think that that is the case here.  I really enjoyed this film – a modern musical with a dark theme – and I definitely recommend it.

Year of release: 2004

Director: Joel Schumacher

Writers: Gaston Leoux (book), Andrew Lloyd Webber, Joel Schumacher

Main cast: Gerard Butler, Emmy Rossum, Miranda Richardson, Patrick Wilson

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Click here for my review of the 2013 stage production at Birmingham Hippodrome Theatre.

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An unnamed Latin American country is holding an international gathering, in the hope of securing trade with a rich Japanese businessman, who has only attended because his favourite opera singer is performing there.  However, shortly after her performance, terrorists storm the house, but are disappointed when their intended target – the President of the country – is revealed not to be present.  They take everybody there hostage, and a siege situation develops, which lasts four and a half months.  Over this time, the hostages and terrorists become accustomed to one another and form friendships – two couples fall in love – and many people on both sides find out things about themselves that they never realised.

I really enjoyed this book, despite the fact that I found the behaviour of almost all of the characters to be unbelievable.  However, for the most part, their actions take second place to the development of the characters, who are revealed bit by bit, so that in the end, we feel like we know most, if not all of them, very well.  The book treats hostages and terrorists with the same sympathy.

The situations which develop seem to be a highly unlikely scenario, but it is interesting to see how people’s personalities and priorities developed in the isolated situation they found themselves in.

The writing is beautiful and poetic – sometimes too much so; I felt that at times, the story got bogged down in too much unnecessary description.  However, those times were few and far between, and for the most part, it was a pleasure to read.

Overall, I would say that if you are looking for a realistic book about a hostage situation, then this might not be the one for you.  But if you are willing to suspend your credibility a little, and enjoy eloquent writing, I would recommend it.  I am certainly considering seeking out more by this author.

(Author’s website can be found here.)

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