“5-Star Fabulous Baby!”
Sutton Coldfield Musical Theatre Company's production of Sister Act is being performed with an abundance of sparkling energy at the Lichfield Garrick this week - and it sure is 5-Star Fabulous Baby!
This well-loved musical comedy, based on the 1992 film, is directed by Paul Lumsden with choreography by Aimee Holding and with the musical direction of Sheila Pearson.
Lounge singer, Deloris van Cartier (MARSHA WEBBE) accidentally witnesses her boyfriend, Curtis (BEN ADAMS) commit a mob murder. Suddenly her dreams of becoming a big-time nightclub diva come to an abrupt end as cop Eddie Souther (JONATHAN BLAKE) persuades her to hide in a convent - the very last place Curtis would think of looking for her as he awaits trial. Disguised as Sister Mary Clarence and, under the watchful eye of Mother Superior (DEB CRUMP), Deloris moves into the convent, adopts the habit and joins the Sisters. Soon enough her singing talents are noticed and she helps the incumbent tone-deaf choir raise their voices and inject soul into the church, shaking the religious foundations with sassy dance moves and heavenly funk, all to the dismay of Mother Superior and all whilst trying not to be discovered by Curtis and his three stooges TJ, Joey and Pablo (ANIL PATEL, DAVE CRUMP and MATTHEW COLLINS). Meanwhile, Monsignor O’Hara (JOHN JOHNSON), one of the heads of the convent who has financial concerns for the church, announces they are to perform a special concert in front of religious royalty - the Pope! Deloris, afraid for the nuns’ safety, then has to confess who she really is and why she’s hiding there. Curtis and his gang close in but the Sisterhood stick together and prove that its good to be a nun.
Leading lady, Marsha Webbe, was an absolute delight to witness in the role of Deloris with exceptional voice, stage ownership and similar qualities in the role, I thought, as those of actress Alexandra Burke. Deb Crump’s portrayal of the vigilant and motherly Mother Superior was perfect with, again, an impressive and beautiful singing voice and strong stage presence, complimented by the humour and talent of theatre stalwart John Johnson. Pure comedy-gold performances (and dance moves in particular Anil!) were given by Ben Adams, Anil Patel, Dave Crump and Matthew Collins and Jonathan Blake was just heaven to watch as the lovable Sweaty Eddie, who deservedly gets his gal in the end. Too large a cast to mention individually but special mention must go to the principal nuns Beth Dickson, Paula Lumsden, Naomi O'Borne, Sally Midwinter and Sarah Corden who played their parts very similarly to the movie portrayals and certainly perfected audience expectation in characterisation.
With disco-themed score by Alan Menken, Sister Act features up-tempo, gospel-style numbers throughout, with live music provided flawlessly by the orchestra. The solo numbers interspersed throughout the show highlighted the talent of the cast, including Jonathan Blake’s ‘If I Could Be That Guy’, Deb Crump’s ‘I Haven’t Got A Prayer’ and Beth Dickson’s ‘The Life I Never Had’.
With strong supporting actors and ensemble, an impressive stage set, lighting scheme and sound design, wardrobe, perfected American accents and on-stage camaraderie, the show really did capture every essence of the story and deserved the standing ovation it received. Technically, it was well managed except for a few mic issues which were quickly resolved (and well done to the actors who continued with their performance without hesitation). But one of the main highlights of the show for me was the sensational choreography by the clearly talented Aimee Holding. Loved every move. Take a bow.
Congratulations to all involved.
Runs to 28 Sep
Even from the moment we step into the auditorium, we know we are in for such a fun and energetic night as the cast of Inua Ellams' vibrant play Barber Shop Chronicles are grabbing up people from their seats to join them up on stage to dance with them and pose in their barbers chairs. From then on we whizz through an uplifting set of stories set in the urban barber shops of London and parts of Africa to learn more in depth about the people who own them and the culture these men reside in.
Following sell-out seasons at the National Theatre, the Roundhouse and a world tour, this production is hilarious, touching and informative without being too didactic which not only comes from the poetic and passionate dialouge from Ellams, but Bijan Sheibani's production is so intricately detailed that it makes the eveing a delight to watch. The design by Rae Smith takes the tacky worldwide barber shop signs as the frame for the story which is told simply, but craftly on a floor of various barber shop chairs that are constantly on the move and swung about during the nightclub-like scene changes. Speaking of which, it is an excellent choice of familiar club tunes like going to Snobs or Walkabout on a Saturday night and African chants amd songs sung by the company that keep the piece at speed.
This cast of eleven men carry the evening fron start to finish without letting their energy drop and adding such life and soul to each of the various characters they play. But ultimately we gain a wide scope of British-African culture and their stories concerning race, politics, opportunity, masculinity, parenthood and relationships, stringed together by a common love of football. Yes, at times it may feel like a lot to take in and difficult to keep up with but nonetheless the pace and humour of it all keeps us head-bopping like we all just want to get up and dance and laugh.
It is a unique piece of theatre that is manifested by the idea of barber shops being a safe haven for conversation and friendly banter between men, where everyone respects each other. But this play truly does have something for everyone of all backgrounds to celebrate in our society today.
Barber Shop Chronicles runs at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre until Saturday 28th September.
If you are looking for a sparkling night out, look no further than The Alexandra this week. Arriving in spectacular style, 9 to 5 opens its UK tour right in the heart of Birmingham and boy is it worth the hype. Already receiving critical acclaim in the West End, this toe-tapping treat of a show has undergone a few tweaks since its previous visit to UK soil. This fresh, new(er) version is a sheer delight from start to finish.
Based on the film of the same name, the storyline (progressive for the time its set) follows the trials and tribulations of the three central female characters who have to tackle the everyday obstacles thrown in their way by their male counterparts, in particular their misogynistic, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot of a boss, Franklin D Hart - played exceptionally well by the brilliant Sean Needham.
With music and lyrics by Dolly Parton, there is a real joy to be found in the melodies from start to finish. Her signature sound is stamped across the production, from the titular ‘9 to 5’ to the act one closing number, ‘Shine Like The Sun’ - the music brims with an infectious energy.
Much comic relief comes in the form of the excellent Lucinda Lawrence as Roz, with ‘Heart to Hart’ being a certain highlight. The stage pulses with excitement thanks to the talented ensemble, executing well drilled choreography from Lisa Stevens. The staging is impressive from designer Tom Rogers, complemented well by the lighting from Howard Hudson, it comes into its own during ‘Change It’.
But it is the trio at the forefront of this production who absolutely shine - Louise Redknapp (Violet), Amber Davies (Judy) and Georgina Castle (Doralee) are individual forces to be reckoned with. Their exceptional voices deliver spine-tingling moments throughout, including the beautiful harmonies in 'I Just Might’, Louise Redknapp’s brilliant ‘One of the Boys’, Georgina Castle’s beautifully memorable ‘Backwoods Barbie’, through to Amber Davies’ stand-out vocals in ‘Get Out And Stay Out’ - just wow.
Under the musical direction of Simone Manfredini and direction from Jeff Calhoun, this production certainly ‘shines like the sun’. Not only a fantastic night out, this newest version of Parton’s 9 to 5 is a triumph.
A brand new musical chronicling the story of Emilio and Gloria Estefan is brought to sparkling life on the Hippodrome stage. On Your Feet is a jukebox biopic, showcasing Estefan’s rise to fame, through the highs and the lows.
In a nutshell it’s an entertaining night out. Featuring Estefan’s back catalogue, the music erupts in spectacular style on stage, with a fantastic band under musical direction of Danny Belton coupled with an exceptionally talented ensemble.
Philippa Stefani as Gloria Estefan and George Ioannides as Emilio Estefan oozed charisma, as the talented pair of lovers. You could not mistake their chemistry on stage and they both showcased superb vocal talent. Stefani embodied Estefan excellently, whilst Ionannides made for a strapping Emilio. Their relationship very much led the storyline, but there were brilliant characters we met along the way, including the indomitable Karen Mann as Consuelo. She brought so much warmth and laughter to the stage, she was a joy to watch. Meanwhile, Madalena Alberto was a force to be reckoned with as Gloria’s mother, Gloria Fajardo. As she watches her daughter achieve what she could only dream of, we uncover how she yearned to be a star. Alberto was in great voice, hitting notes that made the spine tingle. It was a poignant and well measured portrayal of a loving, sometimes misunderstood Mother.
Some moments felt glossed over, the loss of her Father and Grandmother seem to take a backseat in the narrative, yet they are characters the audience build a rapport with. Whilst other moments are dealt with tenderly, following the awful crash Estefan was involved in, Emilio reconciling with her Mother is beautiful, culminating in the emotionally charged duet ‘If I Never Got To Tell You’ - which was written especially for the show by Gloria Estefan and her daughter Emily.
Despite this, the overall production appeared polished, with a dynamic set design from David Rockwell, which thoughtfully integrated the band. Whilst the lighting pulsed to the Cuban-fusion rhythms courtesy of Kenneth Posner. Sergio Trujillo’s outstanding choreography lit up the stage, with each cast member expertly executing the dances. With overall direction from Jerry Mitchell (known for directing the likes of Legally Blonde) there is a simplicity to the story that makes it an easy-going night at the theatre.
By the end of the evening the audience were literally up on their feet, dancing in the aisles and judging by the title – that’s what Estefan would want!
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