Celebrating their 70th anniversary this year, Brierley Hill Musical Theatre Company have chosen a true musical classic to mark the occasion and have created a production to be proud of. All the well-known hallmarks of the original versions are there – the black and white Ascot Gavotte providing a good contrast to the raucous atmosphere of the Covent Garden street sellers – but the production team (Craig Sproston – MD, Tye Harris – Director and Anna Forster – Choreographer) have managed to inject just the right amount of contemporary elements to give the production a well-balanced, fresh and pacy feel throughout. As a result the enjoyment and enthusiasm of the whole company comes across from the very beginning.
Of course, performing such a classic often brings with it high expectations from audiences who have the performances of former Hollywood versions very much imprinted on memory. Stepping in to the lead roles in these cases means stepping into very big shoes indeed! On her first performance with BHMTC, Lucy Follows is a confident Eliza Dolittle, full of attitude and with the perfect air of poise and grace for becoming the ‘princess’ of the later scenes. The score for Eliza is notoriously difficult, but Lucy handles it effortlessly and her vocal performance in all numbers is impeccable. I would like to have seen a much starker contrast between her flower girl and the later scenes. Her early Eliza could afford to let go and be much more ‘common’ to make the transitions in the story more obvious. Unfortunately some of the humour of Higgins’ early interactions with her get a little lost as a result of the lack of contrast.
Tim Brown brings a renewed approach to Henry Higgins. Here is a Professor who is much more likeable and charismatic (though still infuriating!) than previous incarnations of the role and it really works to convince the audience why Eliza might actually decide to return to him at the end of the show. Tim’s singing is equally skilled, bringing lots of character and feeling to the very word-heavy score. He is ably supported by John Leaman as Colonel Pickering and Deb Glennon as Mrs Pearce and the four of them combined really hold the show together.
There are strong performances too from Carol Preston; a suitably demure but scathing Mrs Higgins, Adam Siviter as the bumbling Freddy Eynsford-Hill and Stephen Homer as the unswerving Alfred Doolittle, whose Get Me To The Church On Time number combines well with an exuberant chorus to give a real boost to Act 2 and conjures up images of what we can only imagine a turn of the century Covent Garden stag party to have been like!
Brierley Hill Musical Theatre Company have created a production to be proud of for their 70th year. Happy anniversary to all involved!
So what exactly do you get when 5 lesbians come together to eat a quiche? A night of pure comical delight flavoured with wit, madness and plenty of melodramatics, all topped off with a nice bit of cheesy humour.
It’s 1956 and we are welcomed to the Susan B. Anthony Society for the Sisters of Gertrude Stein for their annual quiche breakfast. From the minute you walk into the box office, the tone for the rest of the night is set, be sure you will not be greeted by your regular box office staff, only making you more eager to see what exactly your night with these five lesbians will entail – it is a night you will not be forgetting anytime soon, all for the best reasons.
The dialogue is sharp and brilliantly handled by the cast, hitting the full comic potential of the jokes, leaving the room full of laughter. They say the best comedies are measured by the audience’s reaction, going by last night’s sold out run it was a roaring success. The high energy set off from the start never threatens to falter, being in part to the cast looking to be having as much fun as the audience are during the whole night.
The five lesbians all look to be your typical prim and proper 1950’s American woman, a façade for their saucy, wicked personas underneath, thankfully a disguise that does not last. With their exaggerated mannerisms and accents only adds to the play’s humour without being too heightened to ruin the night altogether. The cast appreciates the cleverness of the dialogue as it begins to be get saucier, packed with nothing short of sexual innuendos, making for some of the best moments of the night, especially when they do eventually get to eat some quiche.
By the end, you will be a fully converted sister of the Susan B. Anthony Society for the Sisters of Gertrude Stein, standing proud and respecting the egg!
5 Lesbians Eating a Quiche is part of the Birmingham Comedy Festival and plays until Sunday at The Old Joint Stock Theatre.
Melissa Westhead as Lulu Stanwyck
Lisa MacGregor as Wren Robin
Dru Stephenson as Veronica ‘Vern’ Schultz
Emma Waterford as Dale Priest
Perdita Lawton as Ginny Cadbury
South Staffs Musical Theatre Company have chosen a real classic piece of British nonsense for their production this year. Monty Python’s Spamalot (lovingly ripped off from the motion picture Monty Python and the Holy Grail) is Eric Idle and John Du Prez’s often very clever send up of Musical Theatre history, combined with all the well-loved Python sketches and gags from the 1975 film (and a few extras from the TV series for good measure).
The cast, under the direction of Alf Rai, threw themselves into the silliness of it all with great gusto, and there were some great laughs to be had, not least from the famous French taunting scene. The pace at the start of the evening did feel a little slow (and technical issues meant that Roger Stoke’s well delivered Historian was not always audible), but it soon picked up with the entry of the Lady of the Lake (Natasha Bennett Ince), displaying a very impressive vocal range and range of singing styles.
Leading the cast, Jon Ranwell as Arthur had the right amount of dead pan humour, and was very well supported by the excellent Patsy of James Collins, complete with the obligatory Python coconut shells. Ranwell’s I’m All Alone, delivered with Collin’s exasperated reactions throughout, was a particular stand out moment.
Idle’s script does, to me, seem rather disjointed; a series of scenes and sketches very loosely linked. I appreciate some may say that that is rather the point of a Python show, but it didn’t seem to flow very freely, particularly in the first half. Also there was an issue with not being able to hear the chorus vocals. Some eerily magical vocal moments when Arthur first introduces The Lady were less effective as the on stage microphones were simply not strong enough to pick up the chorus voices. This was a shame as the chorus were working very hard. Maybe a few singers supporting from an off stage mic could have helped.
However this did not spoil a very enjoyable evening over all. Knights Carl Cook, Simon McGee, Mike James and Chris Dowen all had very strong comedy moments, Dowen’s cameo as Prince Herbert’s father being particularly strong. And the dancers, choreographed well by Zoe Russell, had a ball moving energetically through just about every dance style known to musical theatre.
Ince’s Lady of the Lake nearly had her “Star of the show” tag stolen late on by the very vibrant cameo of Adam Starr as the rather camp Prince Herbert, but her range of vocal styles was simply dazzling.
Amazingly she is sharing the role this week (as there is only one female role in the show) with her sister. Tough act to follow, sis!
Musical direction was by Rob Murray, and as the strong band played the last bars of the final sing-a-long Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life, the audience left with a very warm smile, knowing they had seen a very hard working company give them a thoroughly silly night’s entertainment.
This brand new musical is written and directed by the same team that gave us One Night In November (the smash-hit about the Coventry Blitz) Alan Pollock and Hamish Glen.
Set in 80’s Coventry, we follow the story of developer Leo Freeman and his family. Not everyone is as keen on his developments of The Orchid Ballroom and soon his daughter gets involved with the protesters, one of whom, Patrick, is in search of the truth. The Orchid Ballroom has a history with events in the 60’s causing repercussions on the characters in the musical.
The show is studded with 22 songs, ranging in style, that were written in Coventry. Included with a dual purpose, these songs not only move the story along, they serve to depict the 60’s in the Orchid Ballroom.
Presenting two eras at various points could be a problem, but this was solved by basing the majority of the 60’s in the Ballroom behind a gauze. The design also reflected the eras with ease, especially the costumes and the lack of use of modern lighting technology.
Every performance was heartfelt and delivered with conviction. The stylised dances were particularly impressive. There were powerful vocal performances from Alexia McIntosh as Rosa and Georgie Ashford playing Nell.
With local references that bring this story into the hearts of the Coventry audience, if you want to relive a piece of Coventry’s musical history this is the show for you.
Frederick Knott’s classic story of murder and deception has been revived on both sides of the Atlantic countless times since its Broadway premier in 1966. Given further prominence in the 1967 film version starring Audrey Hepburn, Wait Until Dark has been a long-standing favourite for professional, amateur and repertory companies for over 50 years. So, what is it that makes the story so continually appealing? Is it perhaps the notion that we are all, subconsciously, a little afraid of the dark and the things that we cannot see?
The story revolves around Suzy, a housewife in 1960s suburban London, who has quickly adapted to living without her sight after losing it in a car accident a few months earlier. She is visited by three conmen, each claiming to know details about her husband and his involvement in a crime that has taken place in the neighbourhood recently. As an audience we are rendered powerless as we watch the three men work their way into Suzy’s home and mind, deceiving her at every possible turn.
The Original Theatre Company’s current touring production really plays on this sense of helplessness for the audience, taking them on a gripping rollercoaster with plenty of nail-biting moments along the way. You do have to remind yourself to take a breath every now and again! From the very opening of the production the tension is palpable; and it is evident that this production has relied on great involvement across the whole theatre production company to create such an atmosphere.
From David Woodhead’s clever set design – inviting yet somehow unnerving with its slightly ajar doors and hidden corners – to the subtle but powerful sound effects of a gate closing, and a refrigerator humming (Giles Thomas – Sound Composition); everything combines to create a truly sinister undertone to the story. And when, during the climactic scenes the whole auditorium is plunged into total darkness (emergency exit lights included) and we are forced to experience the panic through our use of hearing only, the effect is quite simply spine-tingling.
Taking on the role of Suzy, Karina Jones is stunning. As the first registered blind actress to play the role in the play’s 50 year history there are huge discussions to be had as to why we do not represent disabled actors in disabled parts as a matter of course and Jones’ performance is a shining example for all those who might dispute the idea. Highly engaging, warm and vulnerable to start, Jones’ performance takes on a huge change as the play progresses and it is captivating to watch.
Jack Ellis (Mike), Graeme Brookes (Croker) and Tim Treloar (Roat) are a magnificent trio of conmen, each more sinister than the next, with Treloar in particular handling the demands of Roat’s quirky mannerisms and insanity well, without falling into the trap of being too absurd. For those who remember the TV series Bad Girls and Jack Ellis’ chilling portrayal of Warden Jim Fenner; his performance here as Mike is equally as unnerving – charming and benevolent, yet with a constant undercurrent of deception. Some (much-welcomed) light relief is given by Shannon Rewcroft as the 12 year old Gloria, who captures the tone of a moody pre-teenager brilliantly.
To say anymore would be to give away the twists and turns of the plot and ruin a fantastic production. It is rare to see a well-known, sometimes over-performed play reimagined with such creativity. If you can get along to the Lichfield Garrick Theatre or another of the tour venues to see this you will not be disappointed – just a little afraid of the dark!
Playing at Lichfield Garrick until Saturday.
How do you condense the rise to fame of one of Britain’s best-loved stars into a two-hour show? Just ask Bill Kenwright.
When Cilla Black died suddenly in 2015 a musical adaptation of the successful television miniseries about her life was already in the making and she had given it her full blessing.
You have to think Cilla would be nothing but glowing about this thoughtful and hugely entertaining production.
Kara Lily Hayworth is quite simply magnificent as Cilla, mastering the characterisation of her singing and spoken voice and her quirky mannerisms.
Much of Cilla’s mainstream success lay in her charm and innocence; she was an ordinary girl from Liverpool with an extraordinary talent. The story is so very loyal to this - portraying her early life in a flat above a salon with real warmth; much of which relies on great performances from Neil Macdonald and Pauline Fleming as her wonderfully unsophisticated parents.
Cilla’s audiences warmed to her immediately and here too it feels like you’re on her journey with her, from the lows of her first failed single to her euphoric rise to the top of the charts, from nervy Priscilla White to superstar Cilla Black.
Andrew Lancel gives a thoughtful portrayal of Cilla’s manager Brian Epstein, who she famously had to share with The Beatles, and the production weaves in his tragic story with great effect.
The production strikes the balance between being loyal to reality and condensing Cilla's story quite beautifully. Cilla really did sing her first audition to Epstein out of key, she really didn't like America and her relationship with Bobby (Carl Au) wasn’t exactly plain sailing.
Au is excellent as the unflinchingly loyal love of Cilla’s life, charmingly portraying Bobby’s determined and ultimately successful battle for the young star’s attention.
The production weaves Cilla’s music into the story alongside a number of 60s hits, most notably from her contemporaries The Beatles, who ultimately discovered her. At times it feels a little formulaic in the first act with one short performance scene after another, predictably followed by a section of dialogue. But Hayworth’s rendition of Cilla’s biggest hit, Anyone Who Had a Heart, is simply marvellous and the second act is much better at letting the songs tell the story.
Seamless set changes and musical interludes mean the pace never drops, but plenty of time is given amid the frenzy of 29 numbers (18 of which feature Cilla!) to tell a story with real heart.
Kenwright's production is no mindless trawl through Cilla's hits with some action to keep you occupied, it's a story with integrity and depth.
The only sad thing about this triumphant show is that Cilla, having given it her blessing, will never get to see it.
Plays at the New Alexandra Theatre until Saturday.
After gaining critical acclaim and scooping up a number of Tony awards back in 2003 when it first opened, Paul Kerryson and the team behind the new Hairspray UK tour have clearly worked tirelessly to assemble a multi-talented cast of actors, dancers and singers that bring this colourful musical to toe-tapping life.
Ever-relevant, many of the themes sadly still ring true. As addressed in the programme note from Mark Goucher, we are still seeing these prejudices first hand today. Following the story of one gutsy teenager, Tracy Turnblad - who will stop at nothing to earn her place on The Corny Collins Show - she comes face to face with the abhorrent prejudices of the time.
Rebecca Mendoza delivered a sparkling performance as Tracy, whilst her geeky best friend Penny (played by Annalise Liard-Bailey) was every bit the part. When joined by Aimee Moore as Amber Von Tussle, the trio shone in Mama, I'm A Big Girl Now.
Played by many iconic actors, Edna Turnblad is a role you can't easily forget. Matt Rixon pitched his performance perfectly. He brought the character remarkably to life and paired with Norman Pace (of Hale and Pace), their endearing performance of You're Timeless To Me, melted hearts in the audience.
There were standout performances throughout and it was evident that there was not one weak link. From Layton Williams’s suave, snake-hipped Seaweed to Jon Tsouras’s Corny Collins and Edward Chitticks’s Elvis-inspired Link Larkin – they brought the delightful cast of characters to life.
The trio of Lauren Concannon, Melissa Nettleford and Emily-Mae as the Dynamites was an absolute triumph. Incredible talent amongst the three of them, they lit up the stage in Welcome to the 60s. The ladies reigned supreme in this production with a stunning performance from Gina Murphy as the bigoted Velma Von Tussle. However, it was Brenda Edwards as Motormouth Maybelle, who blew the audience away with her breath-taking vocals and unwavering sassiness.
With a psychedelic set that instantly transported you to the swinging 60s and an on-stage orchestra who played the score to perfection, Hairspray is a hair-raising hit with a beautiful message at its heart. 'Strive for greater tolerance'. Go see it while you can.
Plays until Saturday at Birmingham Hippodrome.
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