Originally premiering in 2005, Peter Quilter's End of the Rainbow opened at Wolverhampton Grand last night. Produced by Paul Taylor Mills and Mercury Theatre, Colchester, in association with Coventry's Belgrade Theatre, the story chronicles Judy Garland's tumultuous last few months before her untimely death.
Over the years there have been numerous reincarnations of Judy's life through film and television, but Quilter's writing made this piece a delight from beginning to end. Sharp, witty and comical, it was a beautifully balanced piece. At times the audience were the eavesdroppers on the behind the scenes conversations and at other points the audience were the crowds flocking to see Garland perform live.
It felt raw and from the heart, with many moments that descended the audience into laughter or gasps. However, this was undoubtedly due to the sheer talent on the stage. Lisa Maxwell paints a thoroughly convincing portrait of Garland, with mannerisms, vocals and stage presence reminiscent of the fallen star. She was a triumph.
There was an equally excellent performance from Sam Attwater as Mickey Deans - his dominating stature made Maxwell's Judy look all the more fragile. Their heated exchanges, were juxtaposed to the mix of adoring love and anguish felt as Deans placed pills into Garland's hand, allowing her what she wanted. The audible 'tuts' from the audience, proved how engrossed each and every person was in this story.
Completing the trio of glittering performances was Gary Wilmot as the endearing and steadfast pianist Anthony Chapman. He captured his role beautifully, offsetting the bubbling arguments with comedy and level-headedness. A poignant moment was sensationally captured as he sat with Maxwell and applied her make-up, it didn't feel like you were in a theatre anymore, you were completely sucked into this honest and frank exchange.
Within the vast auditorium of the Grand, this show never faltered and a word wasn't lost. The ornate set was cleverly and dynamically designed by David Shields with just some simple set changes to turn it from grandiose hotel suite to a concert hall stage. And, the addition of the familiar Over The Rainbow melody to aid these scene changes, kept up the pace of the show.
As Garland's iconic songs rang through the auditorium, it was hard to believe it was Maxwell singing, she was uncanny. The entire production was utterly fantastic and it thoroughly deserved the standing ovation that it received.
There is no doubt that Singin' in the Rain is one of the most memorable movie musical classics and it's no wonder that it is rarely seen on the amateur circuit, because - blimey - it's a monumental challenge!
However, whatever challenges LWMS may have faced in staging this classic, they were long gone as the utterly fantastic cast took to the stage tonight. In an explosion of cinematic Technicolor before the audience's eyes, the familiar music, dancing and iconic scenes were brilliantly brought to life by this multi-talented cast.
It was a thoroughly polished production and a treat for the eyes and ears. Considering many of the audience would have Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor and Debbie Reynolds etched in their minds, it didn’t phase the three leads in this production. Taking on the role of Don Lockwood was a suitably charismatic Kenny Robinson – with a lovely, rich tone to his voice, he was a natural in the role. Equally impressive was Hannah Hampson as Kathy Selden; she captured the innocence of Selden with a beautiful vocal to match. Whilst Matt Goodwin’s Cosmo Brown was a delight, quirky and hilarious, he captured the frivolous character perfectly. Not one funny opportunity was missed.
Superb support came from Colin Ritchie as R.F. Simpson, but it was the comedy delivered from Nikki Claire Cross’s Lina Lamont that really had the audience whooping with laughter. Her characterisation was sublime and she really did shine.
The musical is cleverly interspersed with movie footage, all impressively recreated by the team. There was no let up in pace and the scenes transitioned smoothly, making for a truly professional feel to the performance. But, the crowning glory in this show (aside from the fantastic orchestra under the direction of Alastair Evans) was the exhilarating choreography. Nikki Shurvinton did not miss a trick in this carefully executed dance extravaganza. Staying true to the original, one of the shining moments came in Good Morning and the finale of Singin In The Rain, as the entire ensemble took to the stage in an epic tap routine.
Having never seen a production from LWMS before, the talent was staggering. From the talented ensemble, to the super principles, Stephen Duckham has directed a show that everyone should be thoroughly delighted with. A huge well done to everyone involved.
Ray Cooney's Run For Your Wife has proved popular over the years, particularly after its run in London (which incidentally lasted 9 years). In 2000 he followed this play up with a sequel, Caught in the Net, and last night the audience at Grange Playhouse were treated to an uproarious production, courtesy of the Fellowship Players.
The cast of seven were a delight in this fast-paced, non-stop comic triumph. As the play unfolds, the audience are left breathless as the story twists and turns - you never knew what would happen next!
Excellent supporting performances from the two wives, Julie Barry as Barbara and Ruth Bosman's hilarious Mary, with assured performances from the two youngest cast members, Josh Bosman as Gavin and Emily Hawes as Vicki. There was also an equally brilliant cameo from Roger Shepherd as Mr Gardner, however it was the sheer energy, commitment and execution from the duo of Keith Ellis and Ian Eaton as John Smith and Stanley Gardner that made this play a joyous success.
Eaton's descent into hysterical despair was replicated in the audience as the lies built up and up and up - by the end you had completely lost track of what was truth and what wasn't. Making this a truly great show.
Ellis and Eaton threw everything they had at their respective roles and the pace never let up. Quips left, right and centre, unrelenting physical comedy and a good old dose of farcical door slamming, the audience were roaring with laughter throughout.
If you want to have a good, proper belly laugh, then this is the show for you! Under the sublime direction of Michelle Jennings, there was not one laughable opportunity missed.
Congratulations to all involved.
I had the pleasure of being in the company of Lichfield Operatic Society last night, as they brought Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s epic rock opera, Jesus Christ Superstar, to life.
The impressive set and lighting was immediately apparent as the band struck up under the baton of Oliver Rowe. As the familiar songs blasted through the auditorium, it was a joy for the ears. Although there were moments where words on stage were lost, this didn't detract from the enjoyment of the show.
The stage buzzed with energy throughout and performances were strong from all involved. Phil Bourne's Judas dominated the stage, spitting lines with passion and the gravelly tone to his voice was a delight. Paired well with Eoin Edwards as Jesus, they made for a formidable duo to lead the show.
Equally strong performances came from Victoria Beck as Mary, with some beautiful characterisation as she sang, and the utterly hilarious Dan Anketell as King Herod - if you have a cameo part, that's how you pull it off!
Amongst the cameo appearances from the men, there were some rather impressive performances. Michael Manser was excellent as Peter - in voice and character - whilst bass, Mark Johnson, was a vocal delight as Caiaphas. He was complemented well by James Pugh (Annas), Ray Hibbs, Elliot Beech and David Hill (Priests).
One particular performance of the night came from Pete Beck as Pilate. His dominating stage presence and vocals were outstanding.
However, it was when the whole ensemble came together that the show shone. Under the direction of Lynne Hill and stunning choreography from Charlotte Middleton, this show was a true success.
Set in a theatre, showing the daily roles Ushers play, and their turmoils, this 6-hander is an utter sensation from start to finish.
Directors/Producers Adam Lacey and Karl Steele have succeeded in creating a side-splitting, but at the same time, very moving production of this fantastic show.
The lyrics and script are relatable and accessible to any audience, however if you have worked front of house - like me - this will particularly tickle you. In numbers like Spend Per Head we see the profitable nature of the theatre being mocked and it's hilarious.
Dazzling choreography from Sarah Haines and uplifting piano accompaniment, complements a hugely competent cast of vocalists, musically directed by Nick Allen. With sensational layered harmonies and a powerful sound, it was hard to believe there was only 6 members in the cast.
The range of voices not only complemented one another, but the solo turns spotlighted well crafted vocal performances from all involved. With exceptional casting, individual performances were thoroughly convincing, particularly the humour between Rosie (Hannah Kilroy) and Lucy (Cecily Redmond). Kilroy is a born comedian, her facial expressions alone could entertain for hours, whilst Redmond's voice is stunning as she belts the high notes.
Aidan Cutler as Gary and Bradley Walwyn as Ben make a delightful duo as we see the journey of their endearing relationship and their strive to keep each other. Whilst Alex Wadham has a powerful and soaring voice, which brings his solo number to life - and his on stage romance with Cecily provides a sweet comedy that we are all rooting for.
It was equally great to see a villain in the piece; greedy stage manager Robin Pockitts played by Andrew Weeks makes exceptionally entertaining appearances, both live on stage and via the TV advertising channel - a nice touch.
Filled with theatre puns throughout, the audience roared with laughter. Not only was the material they had to play with excellent, they did it more than justice. The touches of authentic props and set, alongside the genuine interval ice creams sold by the cast, added yet another level to this production.
All in all it was a beyond excellent evening of entertainment.
Peterbrook Players are known for their polished and colourful musicals and this production follows the tradition.
Copacabana is a musical based on the Barry Manilow song of the same name. It tells the story of Lola, a girl who wants to make her name as a dancer at the Copacabana Club. There she meets Tony who helps her. All is well until Rico Castelli visits the club and takes a shine to Lola.
Tony is played by Richard Perks who portrays the unlikely hero with ease, and leads some of the numbers in the Copacabana Club with a smooth voice. This voice is put to great use in the duet This Can’t Be Real with Samantha (Penny Simpkins). Penny’s experience shone through as she mastered all aspects of the part of Lola, from new girl to dancing showgirl.
A sprinkling of comedy came from Sam Silver (Andrew Alton) and Gladys Murphy (Jennifer Cole), especially in the perfect timing of Who Am I Kidding. Rico (Dave Shuttleworth) was deliciously evil and self-centred while his girlfriend Conchita, the fading star was portrayed with heart by Jo Smith.
The colour for this production is provided by the many costumes changes. Full of feathers, sequins and frills, they looked stunning as the chorus and Copa Girls perform the impressive and varied dance routines. Every number was full of energy and polish.
Copacabana provides a colourful spectacle of escapism and glamour, set to an upbeat score that takes you from New York to Havana.
A great night out!
This is a quintessentially English show full of traditional one-liners, slapstick humour and lively numbers set against a rags-to-riches love story. Me and My Girl is one of those popular shows that tends to be done in the same format across any production, amateur or professional. So, it was with some level of pre-conception that I attended Willenhall Musical Theatre Company’s opening night last night.
The traditional comedy “set pieces” are all there - fans of the show will recognise the bowler hat tumble on the sofa, the suit of armour, the tiger rug routine – but it was refreshing to see these contrasted against a fresh approach to the staging of numbers such as the Lambeth Walk.
Choreographer Lindsey Grant has made full use of the space, storyline and characters to turn this number into an end of Act 1 show-stopping finale that really gets the audience going and avoids the repetitive well-established choreography so often attributed to the song.
Both the choreography and music are particularly strong throughout, with solo pieces delivered with confidence across the board and the full chorus numbers really giving the show a lift. It is a credit to the hard work of the whole company that each cast member looks at home on stage and everyone is fully integrated into each number.
It is in the drama scenes that the production tends to flounder a little. A lot of the comedy is lost even in the well-known set piece sequences, with the action being run at such a pace the audience have a hard time keeping up and lines are rushed through making the punch lines difficult to hear. This makes some of the longer scenes cumbersome at times, but it is nothing that a few pauses and controlled delivery would not improve.
This would certainly help relieve the pressure for Will Phipps as cheeky-chappy east-ender Bill Snibson. He comes across extremely well in the song and dance numbers, oozing charisma and with excellent dance skills, but in this relentlessly speedy production, the audience have little time to pick up on every punch-line and visual gag that he is working so hard to deliver.
Rosie Rachel Harper as his love interest Sally Smith gives a strong performance throughout, with excellent vocal control. The connection between Sally and Sir John Tremayne (played with charm by Roger Stokes) is truly endearing and highlights their plotline more than has been seen in previous productions.
The true heart of this production though is in the energy brought to the stage when the whole ensemble is featured; the audience’s attention is drawn to notice individuals amongst the chorus and smaller roles. Matt Cullis is suitably dead pan as put upon butler Charles and there are strong cameo performances deserving of mention from Philip Field, Zak Douglas and Georgia Haycock.
Endearing and energetic, the production had the first night audience humming and Lambeth-walking their way out of the Dormston Theatre. All things considered it was a jolly ripping evening out!
If you are looking for something to do this weekend, look no further than a trip to the Prince of Wales Theatre Cannock to visit The Addams Family. Better be quick though – there are only a handful of tickets remaining for this delightful production from Brownhills Musical Theatre Company.
Set a few years later than the cult 90s films, the show revisits the Addams Family in their New York home as they prepare to meet Wednesday Addams new boyfriend and talk of love threatens to turn their family unit upside down.
All the well-known characters are there: Morticia, Gomez, Wednesday and Pugsley, Uncle Fester and Grandma. Even Thing, the dismembered hand, makes an appearance. There is a risk sometimes when tackling a show that is so rooted in a cult classic, that the audience will expect the performers to be carbon copies of their on screen characters. Achieving a balance between meeting this expectation and putting a new take on things requires clever casting, a keen eye for detail and the confidence to take a few chances, and the production team here have got it spot on! With perfect casting, quirky choreography and music that has you humming (if not tango-dancing your way back to the car park) Jamie Norgrove (Director), Michele Windsor (Choreographer) and Ian Room/James Madison (Musical Direction) have crafted a show that is a sheer delight from start to finish.
There are few musicals which provide the chorus with a lot to do in so slick and simple a fashion – particularly with a company that ranges in age from 10 yrs and up. Here though they plan an ensemble of long-dead Addams Family ancestors, dressed totally in white (with fabulous costumes from Triple C Costume Hire) with skeletal make-up to match; making for a visual spectacle which constantly draws the audience’s attention. Their harmonies and musical numbers are extremely well-polished and their individual characterisation is maintained throughout, with each person adopting a stance and an expression that is suitable to their character (be it Caveman or Greek Goddess, Ballerina or Boudicca!). Full praise to every single member of the clan.
Heading up the family tree Neil Horne is a superb Gomez, full of wit, charm and charisma, while Louise Hewitt (Morticia) is simply captivating to watch. Emma Annis (Wednesday) and Nick Room (Pugsley) have their sibling rivalry down to a tee and both display excellent singing skills in some tricky numbers. There are strong performances too from Steph Coleman (Grandma) and Pete Smith (Uncle Fester). Together they create the perfect image of the abnormal family unit.
This is a slick, professional production that has you under its spell from the moment the oh-so-familiar Addams Family theme tune has you clicking in time to the overture. Rush to get a ticket or regret it for all eternity.
Runs until Saturday.
Disney's Little Mermaid was first adapted for the stage in 2007. With music by Alan Menken, it's a given that the orchestral music will be nothing short of spine-tingling. That, coupled with a group of talented performers and hey presto, you've got a great show on your hands! Therefore it goes without saying that a massive congratulations is in order for Wing It Theatre, who confidently delivered a show with a super air of professionalism tonight!
Taking on the leading role of Ariel was Aiyana Khan. Sweet and endearing, she was captivating as the young mermaid and paired well with Alfie Pearce as the charismatic Prince Eric, who had a truly beautiful quality to his voice.
King Triton was played by the young Patrick Ward, proving that age is merely a number. Delivering a performance significantly beyond his years - he held his own as the powerful ruler of Atlantica. Meanwhile, Paige Gatford made for a hilariously quirky Sebastian.
Delightful cameos came from Aston Sidwell as Flounder and Holly Boden as Scuttle - each making their mark in the production. They are little stars in the making. Plus, special mentions to Kirsten Hamilton as Chef Louis and Jenna Hancock as Grimsby.
However, the performance of the night came from Elizabeth Simpkins. She was utterly mesmerising as the scheming, devilish, tentacled Ursula. Each and every element of her performance made it entirely clear that she has got oodles of star quality.
What is always such a joy when seeing young people perform on stage, is the 110% that is put into everything they do. There was not a weak link in the cast, and by the end the audience were up on their feet.
It would be a huge omission if I did not commend the hours, weeks and months of hard work the incredibly talented creative team put in. Clever additions, such as the use of Heelys to evoke gliding through the water, and umbrellas turned into jellyfish, were strokes of genius!
Callum Roberts, Charlie Guest and Sophie Ayers (along with the rest of the team on and offstage) created a production of the highest quality with an incredibly talented bunch of 9 to 16 year olds.
Well done to all involved.
Little Mermaid Jr plays at The Albany Theatre, Coventry until 9 April.
This evening, Birmingham Repertory Theatre presented a humble and thought-provoking production of Richard Cameron’s stage adaptation of The Rotters’ Club, cast entirely from the performers of the Young REP. The play itself, inspired by Jonathon Coe’s original novel, explores the daily encounters of a group of school children as they live through the harrowing events that overshadowed 1970’s Birmingham. Underlying themes of racism and political division are exhibited amongst more light-hearted relationship conquests and nostalgic school boy humour to give the show both an entertaining and educational value. Director Gwenda Hughes has shaped the production with a perfect balance between humour and sincerity.
From a company comprised solely of young performers, I was impressed with the consistent level of professionalism. Within the cast there are some extremely strong performers who are already pushing boundaries; it is evident these youngsters have a very strong work ethic. Charlie Mills presents the role of Ben Trotter with exceptional relatability and is clearly a very gifted actor. He is the rock of the play, engaging us with the character from beginning to end and positioning us in his viewpoint for the most part.
He is supported by enthusiastic performances from Yusuf Niazi, Adnahn Silvestro and Andrew Morrin who play the group of friends he is at school with. The boys have great chemistry and it is clear they have had a lot of fun engaging with the material. Anna Bradley confidently plays the role of Claire Newman. Anna is vibrant and charismatic on stage, but is also able to cope with distressing scenes maturely and convincingly. A particular treat was watching Haris Myers; with a great aptitude for physical comedy and voice work, his performance leaves the audience in stitches, applauding his contributions to the show. This group of young people are very talented and ones to watch for the future.
The diverse and minimalistic set from Michael Holt allowed for swift and artistic scene changes that complimented the pace of the action. The effective newspaper style design and grey colour scheme created an old-fashioned filter, as if the audience were watching a black and white film. This helped to reflect the period, but also mirrored the cold mood of some of the more tragic events taking place. Stage blocking, coupled with Simon Bond’s use of lighting, was well designed to map the stage with clear and identifiable locations, even with the use of very few additional set pieces. 1970’s style props and costumes were used to provide authenticity and in addition, created an air of nostalgia for the audience, many of whom were entertained by the reminder of them. In addition, the use of projection and video created by Louis Price became an intriguing backdrop to the action, with particular emphasis on political and cultural propaganda. I am always impressed when the technology used in a performance becomes its own individual character and this was certainly the case here.
Overall, it was a treat to watch and provided real insight into life in the 1970’s. Whilst the play itself has some references to Birmingham, it was centred more so on time period as opposed to location, in that the plot could work just as well having taken place in other UK cities. For this reason, the play is diverse and certainly transferable - the production has been very well received and quite rightly so. Whether you fancy a trip down memory lane, want to gain some insight into what life was like at this time, or just want a good giggle – this show has it all.
The Rotters' Club plays at The REP until Saturday 9 April.
Love Midlands Theatre
Sharing the latest theatre news and reviews around the Midlands.