There’s always a slight hesitation when attending a jukebox musical, some work incredibly well and some just miss the mark. What makes Love Me Tender that little bit different is the fact it doesn’t take itself too seriously. If you’re looking for a good night out, with some feel-good entertainment, it’s the show for you.
Weaving together some of Elvis Presley’s greatest hits, imagine musical meets Shakespeare as women dress as men, we meet a pair of star-crossed lovers, numerous people fall in love with the same person and then an ending where everything falls into place. The show is full of larger-than-life characters, with some fantastically hilarious moments.
Set in a small USA town in the 1950s, their traditions are turned upside down when Chad (played by Ben Lewis) rides in on his motorbike. The local mechanic, Natalie (played by Laura Tebbutt), is immediately love-struck and things begin to quickly change around the town.
Tebbutt’s voice was mesmerising throughout, she beautifully captured the character of Natalie and delivered an impeccably acted version of One Night with You, filled with humour. One Night with You became a motif throughout the show as characters met and fell head over heels in love, garnering many a laugh.
It was the women that really shone in this production, with the powerful vocals from Aretha Ayeh as Lorraine, Mica Paris’s soul-tastic Sylvia and the utterly brilliant Sian Reeves as Mayor Matilda Hyde. One of the highlights of the show was her interpretation of You’re the Devil in Disguise. Stealing many of the comic moments was Kate Tydman as museum curator, Miss Sandra. Her entrances were hotly anticipated and she delivered a brilliant performance of Hound Dog/Teddy Bear with Ben Lewis.
Special mentions must go to Mark Anderson as Dennis and Shaun Williamson as Jim. Anderson played the shy, nervous and geeky Dennis excellently, with stunning vocals to match, whilst Williamson captured an endearing and adorable quality in Jim.
The incredibly strong ensemble delivered a moving version of Can’t Help Falling In Love in front of the fabulous set created by Morgan Large. Scenes moved seamlessly, through small additions of choreography from director and choreographer Karen Bruce.
For an enjoyable evening out, with plenty of laughs, make sure to pay a visit to Love Me Tender, running at New Alexandra Theatre until Saturday 29 August.
The absurdity of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting For Godot was comically brought to life by SSA Drama Section last night. Performing in The Edge, a rather hidden space in the grounds of Alderbrook School, SSA Drama have already delighted audiences last week with their modern interpretation of The Importance Of Being Earnest. Continuing their celebration of iconic works, Waiting For Godot is the second offering of the month.
A sparse stage greets us; there is just a lone, grey tree and a stump. It is clear that the focus is all on the actors; their acting prowess is firmly in the spotlight tonight. The show begins, much like a two-hander. Quick exchanges between Vladimir (played by Steve Eagles) and Estragon (played by Simon King) are riddled with sprinkles of humour, as we learn that they are waiting for Godot, an elusive character to say the least.
Their exchanges are fantastically broken by the entrance of Jack Bushell and Liam Thorley, playing Pozzo and Lucky respectively. Bushell shines as the verbose Pozzo, combining humour and mania he flawlessly captured the crazed character. Matched exceedingly well with Thorley, playing the hunched servant, Thorley didn’t falter. Only having one monologue in the whole play, his disjointed thinking was beautifully depicted and rightly took centre stage.
Aside from a few nervous hiccups in the second half, the show was well-crafted and led confidently by Steve Eagles and Simon King. Eagles and King made for a superb pairing, effortlessly portraying the oddly charming Vladimir and Estragon. Directed by Thom Faulkner and Jack Bushell (making his directing debut), they have picked a show that not only challenges the actors, but also showcases the talent of the creatives behind the show.
Make sure to catch Waiting For Godot at The Edge this week, running until Saturday 22 August.
There is a tendency with productions of Oscar Wilde’s classic play to go for a traditional setting with period costumes and an over-styled delivery of those famous lines which have themselves become more well-known than the play itself...“A Handbag”, anyone?... It is this traditional approach which often results in the play not really resonating with modern audiences. How refreshing then, to be treated to a production with a completely new take on the text; with set design stripped back to basics and performances that allow the subtlety of Wilde’s wit to shine through, without the need for over-emphasis.
The play centres around Jack Worthing and Algernon Moncrieff who have invented fictitious friends and alter egos as a means by which to escape their duties and enjoy more leisure time, both posing as Jack’s fictional brother Ernest Worthing in order to secure the hand of the woman they love. Director Bethany Hughes’ clever decision to move the setting of the play from 1885 to 1968 provides the perfect backdrop for a play in which the younger characters are challenging the decisions of older generations. She breathes new life into the characters and a modern interpretation into the dialogue, bringing out the sharpness of the humour without the need to play for laughs.
The basic 1960s set design of signature print wallpaper and retro lampshades focused the play immediately in this new era and the cast and crew work seamlessly together, with costumed set changes adding to the slickness of the production. A special mention to Melody Faulkner and Michele Faulkner for the costume design creating a 1960’s look that was both evocative of the era but perfect for the status of each character.
The cast work extremely well together with little touches of humour throughout ensuring that even the smallest roles have a moment in the spotlight. Gerhard Steyn (Lane), Peter Bayliss (Dr Chausable) and Melody Faulkner (Merriman) each share beautiful droll moments across the play, while Angela Ingram shines in Miss Prism’s revelatory scene towards the end.
Following in the growing trend of cross-gender casting, Chris Cooper – completely believable in black patent stilettos and beehive wig - is delightful as a high society Lady Bracknell. His delivery is subtle and measured, bringing more truth to the famous role than I have ever seen played before.
Yet, it is in the performances of the two young couples that this production really shines. Joseph McElligott and Jason Farries are equally strong as Jack and Algernon and are the perfect foils to each other. Kimberley Bradshaw has excellent comic timing and expression in her innocent portrayal of Cecily Cardew, matched wonderfully by Emma Doran’s poise and cutting delivery as a swinging-sixties Gwendolyn Fairfax. Together they create a superb quartet that pushes the production along at break-neck speed.
Having been left wanting with other productions of The Importance of Being Earnest, I confess that it was with some trepidation that I attended SSA Drama’s performance last night... I need not have worried. Thank you to all involved for reinventing this classic and changing my perceptions for the better.
In just over a week, New Alexandra Theatre's Stage Experience students have created a triumphant show. Over 100 beaming faces took to the stage, exuding talent that exceeded their years. Complex dance routines, harmonious voices and superb acting made for a truly enjoyable evening at the theatre.
Following the story of Peggy Sawyer, as she rises from chorus girl to lead, the show is brimming with musical numbers and intricate tap dance. Matt Pidgeon took on the role of Billy Lawler and he was an utterly mesmerising dancer (who just so happens to be a World Tap Dance Champion). Matched well with Peggy Sawyer (played superbly by Caprice Lane), Lane had a brilliant voice, with dazzling vocals in the title number, 42nd Street.
Mark Shaun Walsh’s Julian Marsh displayed maturity beyond his years. His authoritative stage presence and booming voice resonated around the theatre. Special mentions must go to Nicholas Jones as Andy Lee, who had a beautifully rich tone to his voice, and Katie Gladwin as Maggie Jones, whose excellent characterisation, dancing and singing shone through in Go into your Dance and Shuffle off to Buffalo.
Show-stopping numbers included Lullaby of Broadway and We're in the Money, as dozens of dancers took to the stage, executing perfectly synchronised routines. The staging, which was the professional set from the Broadway and UK Tour, was a sight to behold, beautifully framing the action on stage and adding another layer of professionalism to the piece. Not only that, many members of the orchestra also played for the show on the professional circuit, there was no doubt that all the stops had been pulled out.
Under the capable direction of Pollyann Tanner (who was also responsible for the stunning choreography) and Musical Director Chris Newton, New Alexandra Theatre’s Stage Experience stands itself apart and offers a superb platform for young theatre performers. The professional and slick production was a credit to everyone involved, long may Stage Experience continue.
Formed in 2002, Youth Onstage have been entertaining audiences for over a decade with their annual pantomimes and musicals. Tonight's concert, Encore, is very special as it brings together both past and present performers who take the audience on a musical journey. Though most songs in the programme would be familiar to fans of musical theatre there are some fantastic contemporary numbers from less well known shows, such as The Unauthorised Biography of Samantha Brown and The Last 5 Years.
The young performers, from teenagers up to the age of 25, prove committed players. It is clear to see that a lot of time and energy has gone into this production and the end result is a polished product, each song flowing beautifully into the next.
Impressive costume design is first showcased in December '63, as 4 dashing young men take on The Four Seasons, in matching blue suit jackets with black lapels. It is during this number that Dominic Harris first wows the audience with his powerful yet silky voice, later going on to take lead in a showstopping rendition of Run and Tell That from Hairspray which sends the crowd wild! The energy in the room is electric.
Stand out performers include Kia Gates, Hannah Brook, Carly Taylor, Dan Peet, James Hudson and Jay Alves. Choreography shines, particularly in big numbers where the entire company take to the stage, which are always the most challenging. It is apparent that the success of Youth Onstage is down to teamwork, and a shared love of performance. Faces beam from the large stage, full of enjoyment, and for the audience that spirit is infectious. People shout, cheer, and tap their feet in time with the music. It is incredible to witness the confidence and capabilities of so many young, multi-skilled performers.
Youth Onstage will return to the boards later this year with their annual panto at The Dovehouse Theatre, Solihull. Be sure to witness the talent of tomorrow.
For more information about Youth Onstage visit their website www.youthonstage.org.
Playing homage to Jane Austen and the spirit of amateur dramatics, Austentatious is a laugh out loud, hugely entertaining romp full of egos and conflicting agendas. The Watershed Theatre Company is currently performing the UK Amateur Premiere of this new musical at The Grange Playhouse in Walsall. Equipped with a wonderful script featuring many charismatic numbers, the company have embraced the script and delivered on so many levels; vocals are sublime, acting is strong, and there is real chemistry between the performers who so often perform together. The dynamic is all very natural and it works a treat.
Directed by Jennifer Mears, the production centres on the Central Riverdale Amateur Players (‘CRAP’ for short) as they prepare to stage a production of Jane Austen’s ‘Pride and Prejudice’. The show quickly loses its identity as the focus is lost between the quarrelling players, the majority of whom wish to make their mark in the most inappropriate ways imaginable.
A small band sits comfortably at the rear of the stage and provide musical accompaniment for the talented singers. Though comedy is ever-present throughout the production the highlight is the play within the play, full of frolics, mishaps, and suggestive dancing (see if you recognise the routine!). Stephen Ralph deserves a special mention for his Choreography, and an abundance of admiration should be given to the actors for embracing such challenging and fast paced roles. The show is am dram at its finest, and proof that a night out can be affordable – tickets are £10/each.
In fear of giving too much away all I can advise is to drop everything in order to witness Austentatious. You will leave with a smile and memories that will keep you chortling for days. The final performance takes place tonight – Thursday 6 August, 7.45pm at The Grange Playhouse, Walsall. To book tickets call 01922 625100.
It’s said that you should never work with children or animals - whereas the latter may be true, audiences would be missing a treat if they ignored the up-and-coming talent of youth groups, and never was this more apparent than in the charming and wonderful Wizard of Oz, on stage this week as a result of the Stafford Gatehouse Theatre Summer School.
The opening night nerves were palpable, but it didn’t take long for the young performers to hit their stride and by the time they were on the road to Oz they had the audience were in the palm of their collective hand. Although a timid start at first from Emily Wilson as Dorothy, her confidence soared when joined by the other principals ahead of the twister scene that eventually catapulted the cast into Oz. Despite looking a few years their junior her performance commanded respect, as with a smile and heaps of stage presence she moved the story along at a great pace.
No such caution however from Ellie Gilbert as Aunt Em/Glinda or Eleanor Walker as Miss Gultch/Wicked Witch. Both obviously seasoned performers the characters were spot-on from their first step out, and Gilbert’s melodic soaring vocals in the Munchkinland sequence demonstrated quality beyond what you would expect for a children’s production.
The talent just kept coming, as Jack Anthony, Josh Labron and Dan Toney made-up the fantastically funny and loveable Scarecrow, Tinman and Lion respectively. All three were brilliant individually – Anthony’s boundless physicality, Toney’s comic timing and Labron’s old Hollywood style silky tones – but together they provided real heart and infectious charm.
Special mention must also go to Evan Jones whose meek Uncle Henry was to be expected, but who really came alive as the witty Emerald City Guard. Jack Allan Smith as Prof Marvel/Wizard also did a great job as the omniscient Oz.
The company had clearly worked hard, with numbers such as Merry Old Land of Oz and Jitterbug looking very slick, and character work throughout with the crows and monkeys being particular highlights.
With only 3 weeks of concentrated rehearsals you would forgive a much less professional show, but Director Elizabeth Rose, MD Ben Kennedy and Choreographer Verity Bray have created a hit from what could have easily been “just another kids show”.
Of particular note, too, are the set and brilliant traditional-meets-modern costumes which lend themselves to this retelling beautifully, as designed by Tim Heywood.
Ding, dong, the Wicked Witch is dead – but long live Stafford Gatehouse Theatre Summer School. Get tickets if you still can.
There was a buzz of anticipation in the air as the audience wandered into the beautiful Old Joint Stock Theatre last night for Old Joint Stock Musical Theatre Company’s production of Dogfight. A fabulous set welcomed us, created from newspaper cuttings, with a striking American flag painted over it. Adam Carver's vision was simplistic and incredibly effective, providing the perfect backdrop to this beautiful story.
It's 1963, set in a time of significant American upheaval, not only is it the evening before John F Kennedy's assassination, but it is also the decade of Martin Luther King's assassination and the Vietnam War. Dogfight follows a group of U.S. Marines on their last night of debauchery before deployment.
The opening number instantly immerses you in the story. The swelling music, matched with the harmonious voices was a joy to listen to and the bold, brash marines were perfectly cast. Richard Haines, Karl Steele, Robert Bateman, Chris Fox and Nicholas Tuck are equally stunning in their individual roles.
On their last night of freedom, they each compete to find the ugliest woman that will enable them to win the 'dogfight,' which results in the hilarious song Hey Good Lookin'. Whether you were onstage or not, the ladies in the audience found themselves being chatted up by marines, making for a brilliant sequence. A particular highlight was Hannah Fennell's hysterical portrayal of the librarian.
We are then transported to an intimate diner, where we meet Rose, timidly and endearingly played by Hannah Kilroy. She shone throughout the show, effortlessly depicting the innocence of Rose. She meets Birdlace (played superbly by Nicholas Tuck), he's a typical 'Jack the lad' who tries his best to impress her and convinces her to be his 'date' to a party. Meanwhile, Boland (played by Richard Haines) is buying the services of Marcy for the evening, Haines is intimidating as the U.S. Marine and is matched well with Sacha Savory's brassy and feisty Marcy.
The second half is stunning. Beautiful and touching moments between Tuck and Kilroy are juxtaposed with the reality of warfare. As the marines head out to war, there is an abundance of confetti wishing them well on their way. The theatre is then plunged into darkness, all you can see is the faint outline of guns and helmets, the only sound is deep, heavy breaths. Tension was mounting and you felt like you were with the marines on their terrifying journey. The silence is broken with an almighty bang of military fire, through effective use of sound and lighting, one by one you witnessed each of Birdlace's friends fall to the floor, leaving only him standing.
The poignant ending as he returns from war, left you nothing short of breathless. Adam Carver has done a stirling job of directing this show, utilising every exit and entrance possible, allowing the piece to flow smoothly. The rest of the talented creative team, from choreographer Sarah Haines, to band conductor Ian Stephenson delivered a slick, professional production. Music was at the heart of the piece, romantic, rousing and jaunty, the band were fantastic.
The Old Joint Stock Musical Theatre Company is, undoubtedly, a melting pot of talent. I would urge anyone to go and experience this wonderfully compelling and brilliantly performed show before tickets sell out, it's one not to miss.
Yet another contribution as part of Birmingham Fest is Grimm Up North. This hilarious, hap-hazard and zany tale was presented in the intimate Old Joint Stock Theatre space, written and produced by Rachel Green.
Big Al and Bingo O'Wings, played by Richard Nunn and Dan Webber respectively, were wandering around the front of house space prior to the show, handing out bingo and raffle tickets, who knew what the evening would have in store.
As we stepped into the studio space, we were greeted by a group of larger than life characters. More raffle tickets were shoved in our hands, there was a lot of gyrating and oodles of audience participation. Bushy Brenda (played by Rachel Green) hilariously compered an interesting raffle, including prizes such as an orange, video tapes, LPs and petroleum jelly. It undoubtedly set the tone.
We are then transported to the Grimm fairy tale. Set in Yorkshire, it follows the story of Brenda and Tommy (played by Richard Nunn). Tommy is a happily married butcher, whilst Brenda is the bold and brassy Yorkshire lass, who's had a few too many husbands.
The tale turns dark when she lures Tommy into the cellar to have her wicked way with him and with lashings of physical humour throughout, the crazy story left the audience in a mixture of laughter and confusion. It was equally hilarious and mind-boggling.
Much of the audience seemed to lap up the story, which was engagingly delivered by Kirsty Mitchell, with plenty of laughter, heckling and participation. It was a unique evening out and something that won't be forgotten quickly, especially the moments involving mushy peas flying through the air and the infamous candles.
This high-energy show had completely sold out and it was great to see so many people laughing and enjoying this wacky theatrical experience.
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