An energetic, toe-tapping, feel-good production
Set in New Jersey 1985, and based on the 90s hit movie, The Wedding Singer, written by Matthew Sklar and Chad Beguelin, lights up the Tamworth Landau Forte stage this week by well-loved theatre company TMTC.
The plot of this colourful stage version, directed by Brian Morris, sticks closely with that of the movie. Title character Robbie Hart (Adam Gregory) is a popular wedding singer (and would-be rock star) who makes do by fronting a band that plays at wedding parties and, being in love with the notion of happily ever after, he is perfect for the job. When his skanky financeé Linda (Michelle Gregory) breaks his heart by leaving him stranded at the alter he compensates by attempting to make every wedding party a disaster. Cute waitress Julia Sullivan (Nikki Downs) catches his eye but unfortunately for Robbie Julia already has a boyfriend - Wall Street junk bonds wonder-boy, Glenn Gulia (Chris Kimpton).
Essentially, this is a fast-paced, great big musical. With sharp one-liners, hilarious performances and well-executed dance routines this energetic, toe-tapping, feel-good production will lift your spirits and take you back to an era where big shoulders were in fashion, leg warmers were the norm and hard hair-do’s were on-trend.
With choreography by Lisa Cross, the design includes all the dance floor moves from the 80s, well thought out, and executed by a cast that shares equal enthusiasm and vitality. The proficient on-stage band is competently directed and lead by MD Alex Priestly, bringing that all important live element to the show.
In terms of performance leading man Adam Gregory shows off an impressive range of skills from singing while playing guitar and dancing to slapstick and fabulous comedy-timed acting, playing opposite the delightful Nikki Downs who is perfect for the part in her portrayal of Julia, both with beautiful and complimentary singing voices that top my favourite list of the season.
Sammy (Will Lock) and George (Danny Morris) are the perfect band/soul mates, supporting Robbie through his romantic turmoil, again playing their instruments live and providing strong vocals. Chris Kimpton who plays the worst-boyfriend-ever Glenn Guglia, keeps Julia in limbo whilst playing the super-cheat and his song Its All About The Green only proves he is more interested in big bucks, fat cheques and midnight flights to LAX than his forthcoming marriage.
Sammy’s gf Holly (Jenny Barlow-Jennings), with her Madonna styling, super voice and big personality, is a loyal force to be reckoned with, as opposed to Robbie’s fianceé Linda, played by Michelle Gregory whose portrayal is sassy and selfish, singing A Note From Linda and the hilarious Let Me Come Home with saucy confidence. Grandma Rosie (Ang Goodwin) and Mrs Sullivan (Debbie Gill) complete the principal line up, both playing the grown-up roles with a balance of sensibility and daftness.
With an instantly likeable, retro feeling pop score, its hard to single out any particular song performance, but musical highlights for me included the explosive company’s opening number It’s Your Wedding Day, Move That Thing, performed with hilarity and gusto by pink satin-clad Grandma Rosie (Ang Goodwin) and band mate George (Danny Morris) and the charmingly funny Come Out Of The Dumpster sung effortlessly by Nikki Downs.
Supported by a strong ensemble this production features cheeky performances by Karen Terry, who plays both fake Tina Turner and Bar Mitzvah boy with confidence, oozing with stage presence.
In all, a wildly colourful and fun production, worthy of a ticket, with excellent leads and energy from a cast and production team who know exactly what they are doing.
Runs to 7 April. Signed performance on Friday
Award-winning TV writer and director Kay Mellor has turned her hit series Fat Friends, about a group of slimming club members in Leeds, into a stage musical 13 years after it ended. The Super Slimmers are back in this larger-than-life musical comedy currently touring the UK.
Mellor presents this hilarious, heart-warming story that reflects the notions of most people around the world today with the idea of body image, weight loss and its inflation through social media. This subject is represented so perfectly, that it really is a surprise how there hasn’t been a musical before like it until now.
In what is the starriest cast I have seen, each member has perfect chemistry with each other and they are all stand out performers with brilliant singing voices. I’d Do Anything’s Jodie Prenger leads as Kelly, the bride-to-be determined to lose weight for her wedding dress. Prenger’s performance is terrific in all aspects of the character. She is gobby, hilarious, and shows genuine love for her close ones, all through her own determined battle with self-acceptance.
Emmerdale’s Natalie Anderson is gorgeously talented as Lauren, the upbeat club leader with her aching desire to find love, despite what her religious parents want. Let It Shine finalist Jonathan Halliwell does indeed shine in this show as Paul the Vicar who is in love with Lauren. Together these characters are like a Yorkshire Romeo and Juliet, and the audience are rooting for them to be together. X Factor’s Sam Bailey and Coronation Street’s Kevin Kennedy are both a delight as Kelly’s parents and Chip shop owners; the nervous Betty and grumpy Fergus, who also care for their daughter’s well-being as any close parent would.
Atomic Kitten’s Natasha Hamilton plays Julia Fleshman, the perfect antagonist business woman who avoids becoming a typical panto baddie, like a media savvy Cruella de Vil. Rachael Wooding also stands out as the sarcastic younger sister of Kelly who delivers a lot of the laughs and likewise when she changes into Pippa, Fleshman’s bullied assistant. Chlöe Hart and Neil Hurst are also hilarious and easily stand out as Val and Alan, along with the rest of the ensemble.
Probably the most speculated star in this cast is former cricketer and TV personality Andrew “Freddie” Flintoff as Kevin, Kelly’s fiancé, who does surprisingly well in his musical theatre debut. He receives the biggest cheer on his entrance and the audience clearly love him. His character may not be the sharpest tool in the shed, but his love for Kelly is believable and heart-warming.
Nick Lloyd Webber has composed a terrific score among Mellor’s witty lyrics that are a delicious treat. The songs are diverse, upbeat, and beautiful, filled with nods to other great musicals such as Oliver! (of course “Food, Glorious Food”), Les Misérables, A Chorus Line and West Side Story. The choreography by Karen Bruce is also wonderful. Stand-out numbers include the weigh-in song Step Up, complete with straw hats and canes, the brutally honest and revealing number Diets Are Crap and the show-stopping love song Chocolate which is jaw-dropping, leaving you wipe away tears of laughter. And in an all-singing, all-dancing musical about weight loss, what better theatrical tool to use brilliantly throughout than Zumba?
By the end, the audience rose to their feet to applaud the energy and feel-good vibe that this production delivers. While there may be a few minor aspects of this show that could be tightened throughout its run, it is nonetheless a truly terrific new British musical that is fun, naughty, brilliantly witty and an uplifting night out.
Fat Friends The Musical runs at the New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham until Saturday 7 April.
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