Nuns, guns and flares so funky they'd make even Huggy Bear jealous - yes it's the new production of the West End musical.
Sister Act returns to the UK with an abundance of sparkling 70s soul, fun and disco dancing to die for. Starring the most talented Alexandra Burke (X Factor, The Bodyguard) this terrific musical adaptation of the 90's Whoopie Goldberg and Maggie Smith movie will lift you up and leave you feeling happy and super-energised.
Directed and choreographed by Strictly judge Craig Revel Horwood, Sister Act tells the story of nightclub singer, Deloris Van Cartier, who witnesses the shooting of a gang member by her sleazy gangster-style boyfriend (Aaron Lee Lambert). The local cops hide her in a convent, under the protection of nuns, and disguised as a nun (under great protest) she's left there under the watchful eye of Mother Superior whilst awaiting the murder trial.
To keep her occupied, and hopefully out of trouble, Mother Superior gives her the task of managing the convent choir, which of course Deloris does with her own, unique style, turning the nuns into soul-singing disco divas and thus attracting an excited, new, paying audience to the convent and Deloris eventually learns to love herself for who she is, under the guidance of her Sisters.
To hear the original Alan Menken score with the inclusion of live musicians on stage is a real treat and the vocal harmonies are abundant in colour, sometimes in capella with added reverb creating an incredibly beautiful and dreamy sound. Alexandra Burke plays the part of Deloris effortlessly, captivating the audience with her exceptionally powerful voice, supported by a very strong cast whose energy never dips.
The production set is a slick, transitional design cleverly constructed to change within seconds from scene to scene, and, with an exceptional lighting design and exciting musical arrangements, this is definitely not a show to be missed.
Contains some adult themes.
Runs to 4 March at Wolverhampton Grand.
Farce at its finest.
You can't beat a good old farce to warm up a winter’s evening, and SSA Drama's production of Derek Benfield's Caught on the Hop is just the ticket. With a large, airy and well-crafted, multiple doorway living room set, almost good enough to live in, the pace and energy of the play shoots from the starting block at the very first second pulling the audience into the scene and deep into the action.
Phil (Chris Cooper) is an addicted romantic with a penchant for meeting and falling for girls on the No. 49 bus. He confides in his best friend, George (Ashlee Sopher) telling him he intends to divorce his wife, Maggie (Maria Theresa Rodriguez) in order to marry his latest girlfriend, Julie (Emma Doran). Phil wants George to tell Maggie about his latest plan but poor bewildered George refuses, only resorting to despair and a swig of the ever-diminishing bottle of whisky when Phil informs him of his intention to move in with Julie, next door. Life becomes rather complicated as events spiral out of control, identities are mistaken, sofas are removed and replaced, plots are plotted and hilarious confusion engulfs the stage.
Chris Cooper and Ashlee Sopher give outstanding performances as Phil and George with excellently balanced and convincing ‘bromance’ interplay between the characters. Maggie, the sensible woman you really want to root for, is played captivatingly by Maria Theresa Rodriguez, her character being in perfect contrast to the innocent and unsuspecting Julie, played equally as well by Emma Doran.
Rachel Pinwell is a delight as the despairing Mrs Puffet, the housekeeper, who isn't fooled by the sofa antics and the men's desperate and somewhat ridiculous explanations of events. Greta, the unconvinced ex-girlfriend, portrayed splendidly by Alice Fennell, arrives at the scene to complicate matters, only to be escorted by George to the linen cupboard and kept happy with the voddy bottle.
The enthusiastic and slightly batty fireman Mr Brasset is played well by Steve Carey and Harvey Grant has us all guessing when Alan arrives at the scene to visit Maggie (or was that Greta?).
Best line of the night goes to the wonderful Mrs Puffet as she exits stage left with her concluding remark "it started with a bang up the backside and ended with a bang in the oven", leaving the audience in fits of laughter, as a well-produced farce should.
With really nice, warm lighting and an uncomplicated set that compliments the chaos, this amateur production is as good as any professional comedy I have seen. Congratulations must go to directors Chris Cooper and Peter Bayliss for their part in ensuring ten out of ten perfection in pace and timing.
There is an art to farce and this was executed perfectly.
This is an all new musical based on the book of the same name by Eric Idle, adapted for the stage by Dougal Irvine.
From the start, when you are involved in a company warm up, singing a song and making noises, you can tell this is going to be a fun family show. It is established that the poem The Owl and the Pussycat doesn’t make much sense, why would an Owl and a Pussycat go to sea in a beautiful pea green boat?The players decide to make the poem into a story that at the same time tries to make sense of parents, shopping and the extinction of the dinosaurs. This is no small task in 2 hours.
Owl and Pussycat don’t quite fit in with their peers, they have a secret that makes them different. These two unlikely friends soon find themselves on a journey to the Land of Bong to save the world.
Danny Lane is the shy and gentle Owl while Sally Frith is the outgoing dancing Pussycat. Both work well together contributing different things to the adventure. Playing Flicker and Brimstone at the same time with a twist of the hat is Yanick Ghanty. His ability to change between characters instantly is impressive, the fight scene between his two characters will have children giggling and parents in wonder. Other multi character players are Miri Gellert who handles the puppets Yin and Yang to great effect and plays the nonsense speaking Turkey. Lizzie Wofford playing Professor Bosh, Pig and Dinosaur and Dougal Irvine as the Guitar and Pyron the dragon. The energy and enthusiasm from the cast shine through and ensure an enjoyable performance.
The set was cleverly lit with projections to create the different scenes, this added an extra dimension to the production.
This is a lovely show that is sure to keep the children and adults entertained. There are plenty of messages hidden within the story, including to be yourself and that diversity and nonsense are good. These make this more than a light hearted musical and hopefully will give children and adults alike something to think about. A perfect treat for the family that will put smiles on their faces.
Reviewer: Annette Nuttall
This is 1922, Thoroughly Modern Millie proudly boasts in its opening number and when entering the New Alexandra Theatre this week, I was hoping to be whisked away for 2 hours from the doom and gloom of the modern world, and be transported back to the dawn of Jazz... and for 2 hours I was well and truly enthralled.
Strictly Come Dancing's Joanne Clifton had the audience in the palm of her hand as Mille. Sweeping them away with her charm and bubbly personality. It should be noted that although she is known for professional dancing, there was not one song that sounded anything less than fantastic. She was the very definition of a leading lady.
Graham MacDuff was a fantastic foil to Clifton's Millie, whilst playing the big boss Trevor Graydon. His comedy timing was perfect, and provided the biggest laughs of the night. Meanwhile Jenny Fitzpatrick's stunning vocals as Muzzy Van Hossmere were a delight, and you certainly knew you were in for a treat when a microphone was placed infront of her.
The star name of this production Michelle Collins, star of stage and screen played 'Mrs Meers' in the production, an American criminal hiding in the disguise of a Chinese concierge, shipping young orphans off to White Slavery. Perhaps it was the subject matter, but Collin's performance fell just the wrong side of comfortable. Her characterisation was never wild enough to be wildly funny, but too placed to come across as scheming and mischievous.
Unfortunately, the part of this production that was the most disappointing was the set. It's small and compact design meant that the stage never felt particularly full, with a black curtain having been draped from halfway up as there was nothing else left to fill. Morgan Larges art deco designs looked stunningly created, but the harsh greys felt cold and industrialised, rather than the bright gold and warmth that would be associated with the jazz age.
The real star of this show however, is the choreography. I was in awe as every single member of this talented ensemble cast burst into performing Racky Plews dazzling dance numbers. It is worth going to see the show purely for the dance alone, you certainly wouldn't regret it when seeing the talent on offer!
Thoroughly Modern Millie is a fantastic glimpse into a golden age and the energy that this cast bring forward to the stage is worth getting a ticket. You could sense a clear bustle of excitement for this cast onstage, and if you want 2 hours to sit back and escape, this is the show for you.
BOA Musical Theatre has never been a school to be complacent - offering bold and often unknown musicals of the highest quality. Dougal Irvine's The Other School tells the story of Kester and Polly Parish who mysteriously arrive at 'The Other School' one morning, not knowing how they got there and the students cannot leave.
Joseph Riley and Sophie Charlton held fantastic chemistry as Kester and Polly. It was refreshing to see chemistry that is representative of a modern family from the pair, their performances never felt contrived or forced, and their several duets throughout the production were personal highlights, showing both their growing love and loss of one another.
Paige Barratt delivered a show-stealing performance as Mrs Parish, the grounding and subtly that Barratt brought to the role of a grieving mother showed maturity far beyond her years. Her vocals soared across the intimate venue, and every ounce of emotion was wrung out of her ballad in Act Two. Meanwhile, in the real world Tom Withers played the loveable Barny, his unique sense of comic timing, along with his clumsy expressions of friendship towards Polly was a joy to watch.
They were joined onstage by a highly talented ensemble, the students of The Other School, often providing the light relief in an extremely dark comedy, there was not a beat missed when they charged onto the stage, every single one working together, a standout song in the first act, How I Got To School, was extremely funny indeed. The teachers at 'The Other School' get their fair share of drama too. Thom Lambert (Mr Morton) and Ellie-Georgia Perks (Headteacher), were uniquely sinister throughout, although it would have been nice to see them have more to do with their parts, as their unnerving personas were a joy to watch.
Andrew Exeter's lighting design was a masterstroke, with the switch between the real and fictional worlds very easy to understand for the audience, however the set and lighting was at its most impressive during the final bus sequence in Act Two, the lighting and music complemented each other exceptionally well, and I deny anyone to not have goosebumps whilst watching the sequence.
Director Rian Holloway has captured the heart of Dougal Irvine’s tale of love, loss and acceptance, and with her young cast, excelled in creating a challenging musical for a whole family audience to enjoy, accompanied with fitting choreography from Gemma Mills and a beautiful sounding band directed by Alison Chapman, I urge you to see this new contemporary work.
The Other School runs at the BOA Theatre until Thursday & you can catch Year 13 Musical Theatre performing How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying at The Old Rep from 28 March - 1 April.
An alternative Valentines offering can be found at the Old Joint Stock this weekend as Starbuck Theatre Company present The Guide to Being Single. Having seen the premiere of this show when Starbuck originally performed it; it was a delight to see it performed within the intimate surroundings of the Old Joint Stock. With minimal set, it allowed the acting and singing to shine through in this polished production.
Following the story of a group of twenty-somethings, this musical comedy is a laugh-out-loud show, presented by an exceptionally talented group of performers. The comic timing was sublime and the characterisation on point throughout.
Sophie Grogan's Heather was utterly brilliant. From loved up to broken up, her facial expressions spoke a thousand words, with superb vocals throughout. She was paired well with the hapless Zack (Jack Scott-Walker) who always seems to make the wrong decisions and can never turn up anywhere on time.
The trio of Liza (Leila Thompson), Stacy (Holly Russell) and Dude (Edd Pope) ensured the pace of the show never faltered, whether it was little skits in between scenes or the abundance of awkward looks, pregnant pauses and multiple character changes - they kept the audience laughing throughout. Particular highlights included Thompson and Russell's duet about getting out of the bathroom and into the bar and Thompson's hilarious walk on part as a security guard.
Bringing the show together is the fiery relationship between Jackie (Sarah Pavlovs) and Derek (Robert Dearn). Both following the 25 rules in 'The Guide to Being Single' they are determined to stick to them, but it seems there is more fun in breaking them. The chemistry between Pavlovs and Dearn was palpable and the audience were drawn into their world.
The casting was nothing short of perfect and with the support of MD/Piano Chris Corcoran, harmonies were tight. Comedy is always a difficult genre to execute well, but Starbuck have done just that and judging by the audience reaction, it certainly is a show not to miss this weekend.
Frank Wildhorn presents a contemporary take on Lewis Caroll’s classic story about a girl in trouble, who falls down a magic hole in an effort to solve her problems. Wonderland places Alice (Kerry Ellis) as a single, feminist mother trying to do best for her daughter when she loses her job, car and all hope… until a rather mature and distinguished White Rabbit (Dave Willetts) takes her down the elevator to Wonderland. It is a show that re-invents the tale for contemporary audiences antagonising the once lovable Mad Hatter (Natalie McQueen).
The fundamental problem with this production is its confused design. Undergoing a complete re-design from its Broadway premiere, this new concept with Set by Andrew Riley, Lighting by Nick Richings and Costume by Grace Smart, places a contrasting theme to Alice’s real world (a bleak black and white place) and Alice’s Wonderland (a neon rainbow world). Unfortunately, even with this new concept, it's still the design behind the story that lets this production down. Andrew Riley's never-ending spiral of circles sets the stage nicely, but it's the cartoon bushes and creaky set that loses its appeal. A similar problem is experienced in Nick Richings lighting design where several moments are missed, it is to a degree understandable due to the limited tech time in the venue, but it was heightened by the occasional clunky scene changes.
Frank Wildhorn's score contains some great numbers, notably Through The Looking Glass and Finding Wonderland. A punchy Act One Finale is complemented by a few pleasing solos and a mysterious, scene setting underscore in Act One. It feels like there is still a bit of work to do on the music, but this is salvaged by several strong performances of the night. Natalie McQueen shines as the Mad Hatter. In this production this character is not a friendly eccentric but an evil antagonist. Her performance is faultless and her voice is stunningly powerful in The Mad Hatter, following up with outstanding vocals in I Will Prevail where the score began to strengthen. Her vocals also blended well with Kerry Ellis in the latter of Act Two in This is Who I Am. Ellis, who leads the piece, provides some strong vocals and works well with Kayi Ushe as the smooth, soul Caterpillar in Advice From The Caterpillar.
It felt like there was a bit of a spark missing, but it is clear this production has an abundance of potential.
It’s natural to enter a theatre with slight trepidation when you’re about to watch a production of Les Miserables. Presented by SOSage Factory, the youth section of Solihull on Stage, it was quickly apparent that this group of young performers were no strangers to accepting a challenge. And boy, did they rise to the occasion.
Possessing one of the more complicated scores in musical theatre, the company ably tackled it with gusto. Under the Musical Direction of Mel O'Donnell, harmonies rang through, with particularly excellent vocals from the entirety of the principal cast. There were also some strong vocals displayed by some individual ensemble members, notably Joe Canning and Dan Bradbury.
Richard Loughran made for a striking Javert, dogmatic in performance with brooding vocals, his rendition of Stars was haunting. Taking on the daunting role of Jean Valjean was Matt Smith, vocally confident throughout; he brought a beautiful maturity to Bring Him Home and led the show exceedingly well.
Eilidh Evans's Fantine and Kathryn Ritchie's Eponine each excelled in their roles. Both performances combined a depth of character and passionate vocals. A Little Fall of Rain was quietly masterful. Poignant and moving, it was an outstandingly moving moment.
Strong supporting performances came from Patrick Shannon as Marius, Elizabeth McLurgh as Cosette, Ethan York-Biggs as Gavroche and Charlie Loughran as Enjolras.
Near show-stealing performances came from the duo of Thernadier and Madame Thernadier. Ciaran Walker and Georgia Rabone shone in their respective roles, bold, brash and hilarious - they each possessed some seriously impressive talent.
Despite some minor microphone hiccups, this production provided the perfect stage to showcase some of Solihull's brightest talent.
There was no doubt that audiences were moved by this company, with a performance that more than exceeded their years. The audible sniffs and visible tears made it abundantly clear that this is one talented group. You have to pinch yourself occasionally to remind yourself they are all aged 18 or under. But more than this, the beauty of this production lies in the camaraderie. The stage was filled with a formidable team of performers and I'm sure the rest of the team behind the scenes are bursting with pride.
I have to be the first to admit that I was skeptical of this show and how long I would be able to watch an ensemble make music out of random objects. Stomp is not at all this. Instead, it is a production that utilises noise, rhythm, comedy, dance, pantomime and light to provoke a narrative.
From match stick boxes and lighters to broom sticks and rubber rings, it is these everyday objects that help to make this show so sensational. The show is fundamentally a series of devised sketches in which different performers use different objects to make a noise, motif or pattern that tells a story of some sort. Although there are no defining ‘characters’ one performer shone throughout, there were some brilliant moments created from the pantomime esque individual who could not quite keep up. This turns into a beautiful message about music being for everyone and is further heightened as the audience is invited to create their own rhythms and beats with the performers. This sense of community and belonging is something that Stomp brings to an audience and allows for a mutual understanding of each other through music without the barriers of language, race or opinions- a motif particularly apparent in current contemporary world issues.
Contrast is key to the success of this show. Moments of sheer noise in the show have a very tribal, confrontational feel between the cast, notably in the louder scenes with bins and sticks which are contrasted nicely with delicate scenes where 3 performers pull items out of a bin bag and experiment with the noises they can make. This contrast keeps audience’s intrigue as to what they will do next. The movement and direction throughout was simply awe inspiring and there were many moments of thunderous applause.
Light (from Steve McNicholas) is also used ingeniously throughout the show, with audience murmurings of 'wow' incredibly apparent. Stomp is a show for everyone; you simply cannot miss it on its international tour (running at the Warwick Arts Centre until Saturday 4 February and in London for its 13th year).
It is uniquely stunning and an experience you will never re-live.
The so-called “Jukebox musicals” that have appeared over the past twenty years or so carry a mixed reputation. While some have gone on to international acclaim, garnered top awards and are now listed in those ‘Greatest Musicals of All Time’ polls (Mamma Mia, the prime example), others have come and gone almost without mention.
As the majority of the failed ones tended to be the more biographical shows and not a fictional story linking popular songs, I was intrigued at what made Buddy – The Buddy Holly Story stand out from the rest. For, in essence here is a story of a man whose time in the spotlight lasted only a matter of a few months. Surely, not enough to fill an entire evening properly! But I was wrong. The story of Buddy Holly’s sudden rise to fame was cut short tragically after that fatal plane crash which killed Buddy, The Big Bopper and Ritchie Valens during their combined winter tour. It is in the subtle treatment of retelling the tragedy, set against the celebration of great music that sets this show apart from the rest. There was a buzz in the audience from before the curtain rose in anticipation of what was to come, and with every hit song the atmosphere in the auditorium intensified. As the second half moved further into a re-enactment of the final concert on the tour before the crash, the audience were built up more and more, clapping, singing along and dancing in their seats. We all knew that the tragedy was coming, but I couldn’t see how it would be achieved appropriately in this setting. Then with a simple change of lighting, the 1500 strong crowd were hushed in a moment of quiet memorial as the news of the plane crash was broadcast, before being whipped into a final rock’n’roll frenzy again. Poignant and instantly moving this was where the production ticked the box for this anti-jukebox reviewer!
Glen Joseph in the title role gave a masterclass of a performance – singing, playing guitar and dancing practically non-stop and engaging the audience brilliantly. He is well-supported by the whole company of talented actor-musicians, not only playing an array of other characters between them but making up the orchestra too.
With a simple set and great costuming the show transports you back to the heyday of early Rock ‘n’ Roll. Toe-tapping, zesty and packed full of hit songs, “Oh Boy” this show is fabulous and the perfect tonic for the grey weather and dismal news headlines that might be compounding any January blues at present! It runs “Every Day” until Saturday 4 February.
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