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As the title of the act might suggest, Three Phantoms consists of three men who have all played the West End as the lead role in Andrew Lloyd-Webber’s musical, Phantom of the Opera.  With backing singers, including Rebecca Caine, who has not only played Christine Daae in Phantom, but who also played the original Cosette in Les Miserables, they perform a series of songs from many different musicals.  In between numbers, they share jokes with the audience, and anecdotes about their time playing the Phantom.

The Phantoms who were performing when I saw the show were Matthew Cammelle, Stephen John Davis and Glyn Kerslake (it’s not always the same three Phantoms for every tour), and the whole thing was staged by Earl Carpenter, who I was lucky enough to see playing the Phantom himself, earlier this year.

Starting with Invocation and Instructions to the Audience from The Frogs, was a nice touch because it really helped get the audience relaxed and ready not only for some beautiful singing, but also for a lot of fun.  Other songs included Dont’ Stop Believin’, by Journey; Unchained Melody, from Ghost; I Could Have Danced All Night, from My Fair Lady; Big Girls Don’t Cry, from Jersey Boys; a selection of songs from Les Miserables – including a stunning acapella version of I Dreamed A Dream, which brought tears to my eyes – and a selection of songs from other musical adaptations of Phantom, as well as a wonderful rendition of Music of the Night.

Annette Yeo, Mandy Watsham Dunstall and Alistair Barron sang beautifully with the Phantoms, and each had their own moment in the spotlight, with Alistair coming in for some merciless teasing from them!  Musical accompaniment was provided by a single pianist and a single cellist, who were on stage throughout, and the staging itself was beautifully done.

Overall, for fans of musical theatre, this show is a must – a hugely enjoyable afternoon or evening out.  I will definitely be booking to see the Three Phantoms again in the future.

(The Three Phantoms website can be found here.)

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Marion (Vanessa Redgrave) and Arthur (Terence Stamp) play a married couple, who love each other very much, despite being very different.  She is outgoing, cheerful – and terminally ill.  He is reserved, unable to show his feelings, and well…grumpy.  She is a member of a choir of pensioners known as the OAPz (with a ‘z’ to make it street, as explained by the choir leader Elizabeth, played by Gemma Arterton), which Arthur adamantly refuses to get involved with.  Is it too late for Arthur to change his mind and honour his wife’s wishes by becoming involved with the choir, and mend his relationship with their son James (Christopher Eccleston)?  Time will tell in this sad, but ultimately uplifting film.

I saw this on a whim, and expected to quite enjoy it – but I absolutely loved it.  It is by turns hilarious (the free concert in the park where the choir showcase their talents to the locals is so funny that I was crying with laughter) and heartbreaking (Stamp conveys so much feeling with just one look or one small gesture).

With a cast that includes Stamp, Redgrave and Eccleston, it will come as no surprise that the acting is truly excellent.  I was not familiar with any other films featuring Gemma Arterton, so I was not sure what to expect, but she was actually lovely as the young lady who is much more able to connect with the pensioners than people her own age.

People will sometimes describe a film as unbelievably sad, but this is better than that – it is believably sad.  Stamp and Eccleston are truly marvellous as the devastated husband and son of Marion.  Their heartbreak manifests itself as resentment, withdrawal and anger, and you just can’t help rooting for these people to find some relief.

I cried several times throughout, but the comical scenes complemented the sad ones perfectly, and as mentioned above, despite the subject matter, the film is really very uplifting.  Totally, definitely recommended.

Year of release: 2012

Director: Paul Andrew Williams

Producers: Christian Angermayer, Marc Hansell, Sean Kelly, Tara Moross, Alistair Ross, Ricky Sans, Bob Weinstein, Harvey Weinstein, Ken Marshall, Philip Moross, Christopher Billows, Rachel Dargavel, Caroline Levy, Jens Meurer, Jona Wirbeleit

Writer: Paul Andrew Williams

Main cast: Vanessa Redgrave, Terence Stamp, Christopher Eccleston, Gemma Arterton

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I saw this show at Wolverhampton Grand Theatre, on 2nd March 2013.  For anyone who doesn’t know the story, it revolves around the imminent marriage of socialite Tracy Lord.  Events are complicated by the arrival of her first husband, C.K. Dexter Haven, and a journalist named Mike Connor, who has been sent to do a magazine article on the wedding.  Tracy realises that she has unresolved feelings for Dexter, and there is further trouble when she finds herself attracted to Mike!  It was adapted into a film starring Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant and James Stewart, in 1940, and it was again adapted, this time into a musical starring Grace Kelly, Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra.  This play is an adaptation of the musical.

It was a wonderful performance.  Michael Praed was fantastic and just right for the role of Dexter (resembling Cary Grant’s portrayal more than Bing Crosby’s), and Sophie Bould was perfect as the cool and critical Tracy, who becomes warmer as the story with it’s unexpected romantic entanglements proceeds.  Daniel Boys struck just the right note as Mike, and Alex Young was great as Liz Imbrie, the photographer who accompanies Mike, and whose love for him is clear to everyone except Mike himself.  There was not a single weak link in the whole cast, which also included Teddy Kempner as Tracy’s alcohol sizzled Uncle Willie, Marilyn Cutts as Tracy’s mother Margaret, and Craig Pinder as her disgraced father Seth.  Katie Lee played Dinah, Tracy’s spunky and intelligent younger sister, and reminded me of the character as portrayed in The Philadelphia Story; she was terrific.  In the performance that I saw, George Kittredge, Tracy’s dull-as-dishwater fiancé, was played by the understudy Steven Butler.  He was extremely good in the role.

Finally, I must mention the rest of the cast who played the staff of the Lord household, and who put on some amazing dance displays, and performed some wonderful songs.  In fact, all of the cast had lovely voices, and brought the songs to life.

I thought the scene changes were highly effective, with the use of the revolving stage – the sets were imaginative and very evocative of the era.

This was a very high-energy, feel-good show, and I was laughing and smiling all the way through.  I saw a matinee performance, and I could easily have gone to see the show again that same evening, and would have thoroughly enjoyed it.  A wonderful show from beginning to end.

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

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Click here for my review of the 1940 film The Philadelphia Story.

Click here for my review of the 1956 film High Society.

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The author is the widow of Frank Sinatra.  She was his fourth wife, and their marriage lasted longer than his previous three put together (and longer than her previous two marriages put together).

In this book, she not only talks about her life with Frank, but also describes growing up in the sleepy town of Bosworth, Missouri, from where she moved to Wichita with her parents and became a model.  She decribes her unhappy marriage to Bob Harrison Oliver, with whom she had her son Bobby, and her second marriage to Zeppo Marx (of Marx Brothers fame).  Finally, she describes her relationship with Frank, how it started, progressed to marriage, and how they apparently had a very happy life together.

There are some good things about this book.  It’s an undemanding read, and even the parts of Barbara Sinatra’s life that happened before she met Frank Sinatra were illuminating.  However, the vast majority of the story is understandably given over to their life together.

Unfortunately, I found it difficult to warm to, or even like, the author very much.  I suspect that she wants the viewer to believe that she and Frank were the absolute loves of each other’s lives, and nobody who they had relationships with before even really mattered.  It also seemed like she was trying to convince the reader that nothing she ever did wrong was her fault.  Ever.  She cheated on both of her first two husbands – the first time with Joe Graydon, the television host, who was a married man himself.  While married to Zeppo Marx (and poor old Zeppo does not come out of this account very well), she flew to Monaco for a holiday and said that she worried about what Zeppo might get up to with other women while she was away – but this was while she herself was flying away for an illicit liaison with Frank Sinatra!

She claimed at one point to be ‘joined at the hip’ to her son Bobby, but this is the child who she dumped on her parents when he was just a small toddler, while she swanned off to Vegas with her married lover, and became a Vegas showgirl.  Later in life, Bobby moved to Switzerland and met a girl who he wanted to marry.

Her love of money and the glamourous life is also plain to see.  Barbara describes in detail many of the pieces of jewellery that Frank bought for her (yet his children and grandchildren barely get mentioned in this book, and his daughters Nancy and Tina are never mentioned by name.  This may of course be because Barbara famously did not get on with Nancy and Tina Sinatra.  Far from the account of a very happy marriage that is described here, Tina believed that Barbara made Frank’s life a misery.  Nobody who was not there can really know the truth, but there’s no reason to suppose that both women aren’t telling the truth as they see it; after all, different people can have widely differing perspectives on the same situation).  She more or less admits that she married Zeppo for his money, and when she wanted to leave him at one point, she decided not to, because after all, she could have gone back to work if she had to but after years of not having to earn her own money, that would be very tough on her.

However, while I still have not been able to warm up to Barbara Sinatra at all, I did enjoy the latter part of her story, because that is where – to me at least – Frank Sinatra was portrayed as less of a personality, and more of a person.  I even shed a tear when reading about how devastated he was when his old friends Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr died, and the respective stories of Frank’s mother Dolly’s death in a plane crash, and his own death also made me cry.  I think it was during these moments that I could see a flash of how Barbara must have actually loved her husband very much (although I’m not sure if she would have loved him so much if he had not been rich and famous).

There are some funny anecdotes in the book – not just about Sinatra, but about the many famous people who were his friends.  Initially the name dropping got on my nerves a bit, but I can forgive it, because if Barbara Sinatra’s life with Frank involved mingling with celebrities, it would be hard to discuss that life without mentioning those people.  There’s little doubt though that this is a sanitised version of Frank Sinatra, and there are no real new insights for fans.  The book demonstrates his immense charisma, the fact that he could be difficult to work with, but also generous to a fault.  An interesting read, but there are better biographies of Frank Sinatra out there.

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