‘Grease is the word’ and has been for over 40 years; a story of friendship and teenagers in love. It's 1959 and the students of Rydell High School are starting a new school year.
After a summer romance on the beach Danny Zuko, the leader of the T-Birds, a gang of greasers and Sandy Dumbrowski, the new girl in town who is befriended and hangs out with the Pink Ladies, discover they're both unexpectedly at the same High School. We follow them through the ups and downs of trying to fit in with their piers and eventually trying to be like each other so they can be together. Will they rekindle their summer loving?
How fitting that SMTC should chose the 40th anniversary of the film Grease to be the year to put on their production of Grease the Musical. A slightly different offering than the film, the stage musical has songs and scenes pop up in different places to where you’d expect and the storyline isn’t as strong as the film which makes it rather interesting to try and follow at points, especially if you’re overly familiar with the film. Despite this SMTC seem to have bought on board a good Director in Tim Willis whose ensemble approach with minimal scenery and staging made the scenes flow from one to the next very well with all cast members moving scenery and props and staying in character whilst doing so. A great team effort that looked great on stage.
The casts’ group musical numbers were vibrant and enthusiastically delivered with lovely little touches of doo wop backing vocals which the audience responded to with encouraging giggles as it was perfect for the songs where it featured putting us firmly in 1950s America. Great bursts of harmony from the cast and well rehearsed moves on the bleachers and for iconic full cast numbers such as Summer Nights were a credit to Musical Director Sam Young and Choreographer Julie Bedlow-Howard.
The cast was strong with great solo vocals and from Ian Meikle (Doody) and Doug Gilbert-Smith (Kenickie/Teen Angel). Although a little unsure in the first half Zoe Hobman (Sandy) really made up for it in the second half with flawless vocals in Hopelessly Devoted to You and the reprise of Look at me, I’m Sandra Dee and when she smiled with determination before her transformation from girl next door to bad girl Sandy, she came alive.
Casey McKernan (Danny) played some familiar characteristics to John Travolta’s Danny Zuko but brought his own coolness to the part and Bex Lou Walton (Rizzo) was as feisty as Stockard Channing’s Rizzo, especially in the fight scenes with Kenickie and she led the girls throughout the show setting the acting bar very high for the whole company.
Some great performances from all the cast but perhaps the loveliest for me was the comedy and blossoming on stage relationship between Nicola Noble (Jan) and Isaac Alun-Jones (Roger); a lovely vocal duet in Mooning, great comedic line delivery by Noble throughout a great on stage chemistry between them both that you could see unfolding. It was really lovely to watch and totally endearing.
If you’re looking for a fun filled, action packed, exuberant, fast paced and feel good evening then this is a must see show by SMTC. A young cast full of energy and all those songs we love right through to the Grease Megamix at the end that’ll have you singing along.
Runs until 1 December 2018 at the Bridge House Theatre, Warwick.
"...absolutely guaranteed to delight the whole family".
Christmas city lights are on, trees are up, panto season is truly upon us - and Coventry’s magnificent Belgrade Theatre has certainly switched on the shimmer this year with writer/director Iain Lauchlan’s very entertaining family panto Sleeping Beauty.
Iain Lauchlan has been in charge of Belgrade’s panto for many years, and its easy to see why. He is well known for his writing and production talents - Tweenies, Boo!, Jim Jam and Sunny, Playschool, Fun Song Factory etc. etc., to name just a few. The man is super talented and knows exactly how to put on a show of quality and the Belgrade audiences are in for a treat this year.
This is the tale of Princess Belle (not Aurora!) who is cursed at her Christening party by the wicked Fairy Carabosse (who, incidentally, had been previously banished from the Kingdom and now has the hump for not being on this guest list). She casts a wicked spell to ensure Belle will prick her finger on a spinning wheel on her 18th birthday and die but Carabosse’s sister, Fairy Azuriel offers some hope to the King and Queen, and helps to change the spell so that the Princess, and all those in the palace, will just fall into an enchanted snooze for 100 years… with a warning that the spell can only be broken by a true love’s kiss.
Nanny Fanny McWheeze (Iain Lauchlan), the Princess’s new nanny, arrives at the Palace of King Hugo (Declan Wilson) and Queen Hyacinth (Vicky Field), to learn that Carabosse (Laura Judge) has cast the spell. As a solution, King Hugo orders the destruction of all spinning wheels in the Kingdom and the palace-folk return to their normal day-to-day. A little magical panto time-hop and we move on to Belle’s (Melissa Brown-Taylor) 18th birthday party. Carabosse and her sidekick, Grunge, (Vicky Field) hide a spinning wheel in the palace and enchant Belle to a remote room where she pricks her finger on the needle. A delighted Carabosse retreats to her lair, Nanny McWheeze, Prince Valiant (Joanna Thorne) and Muddles the Jester (Craig Hollingsworth) find Belle, and everyone else at the Palace, in a deep sleep and the adventure begins as the friends travel through time, battle past dragons and cut through thorny forests to find Belle and break the spell.
This traditional production really does contain every pantomime treat you could dream of with a breath-taking set and sumptuous wardrobe by Terry Parsons, animatronics and clever gauze projections. It is fast-paced with thrill after thrill and delight after delight, lots of brilliantly choreographed slapstick, subtle adult jokes that the kids won’t notice and songs to make you feel festive, even in November.
Anna Mitcham as Good Fairy Azurial captures everyone’s hearts with her graceful, yet cheeky beauty offering plenty of reassurance for the younger viewers. Laura Judge as Carabosse plays a magnificent baddy, with a powerful singing voice and stunning Maleficent-styled costume. I applaud Vicky Field’s Grunge character and her exceptional dancing, and routines with fellow dancers Ivano Turco and Katy Anna-Southgate were really exciting. Melissa Brown-Taylor plays a charming Princess and sings beautifully with Joanna Thorne as the Prince and Declan Wilson is full of love, life and song as the King. A bubbly ensemble includes some very confident and charming young performers.
Hollingsworth and Lauchlan’s comedy double-act is a joy to witness - the hilarious cake decorating messy scene, chats with ‘Morag’ and the ‘If I was not in pantomime’ routine are laugh-out-loud, memorable show highlights not to be missed.
Lauchlan has written an outstanding and hilarious pantomime, full of love and fun, which is absolutely guaranteed to delight the whole family.
Runs to 5 Jan
Rugeley Musical Theatre Company
“...a fun-filled family treat”.
Rugeley Musical Theatre Company are bringing a panto version of The Wind in the Willows to Staffordshire this week and it really is a fun-filled family treat.
Directed by Claire Hughes and Dan Smith, with Matthew Hunt as MD and Hana Bradbury and Claire on choreography, the show is full of traditional panto gags and just about as much silliness as you can imagine.
The story centres around two naughty, scheming weasels who succeed in getting Toad and his housekeeper into trouble (and into jail!), then move into Toad’s house to throw wild rodenty parties. An adventure ensues and, with the help of Otter, Badger, Ratty and Mole, Toad and Mary Twinkle escape and the friends save the day.
Its a lovely plot and is easy for children to follow. The show is full of dancing, singing and traditional panto jokes that will make you giggle from start to finish, along with a few fun innuendos for the grown-ups and some well-known singalongs.
Matthew Hunt played a fabulous Otter, who is the energetic and very funny spokesman for the story. Mole and Ratty were very well played by Kittie James and Emily Rogers and grumpy old Badger was played hilariously by Jacob Bishop. Loved the Weasels - scheming Weasel One was played by Judi Whitehouse and daft Weasel Two was played by Pat Giles and they worked really well together as the comedy duo, earning their boos.
Dan Smith kept the show, props and scenery running smoothly playing Kenneth, and Ellie-Mae Taundry gave a delightful performance as Froglette. Lewis Thompson really was the most perfect Toad, larger than life, gentlemanly and as daft as can be and David Stacey was super as Mary Twinkle the dame, traditionally played, and brought a lot of humour to the story as well as a glorious pair of finale knickers.
Supported by a competent live band and full cast of furry friends, some excellent character make-up designs and costumes, it is a charming production worthy of the applause it received on opening night and the Society's production team have ensured a lot of love was shared with the enthusiastic Rose Theatre audience.
In all a great amateur, laugh-out-loud pantomime that will warm your heart and set you up ready for Christmas.
Runs to 24 Nov
Suitable for everyone but be wary of weasels
Goodnight Mister Tom by Michelle Magorian has always appeared on the surface as a rather simplistic children’s story at first glance, however it is anything but and there are plenty of elements and themes that make up this heart-warming and incredibly human tale set on the brink of World War II. It explores friendship, loss, religion, child abuse, bullying and parenthood but through the eyes of a young, fragile London evacuee, settling into the countryside with a reclusive old man and the surrounding community to bring out the best in both of them. This faithful stage adaptation by David Wood has gained success since opening in 2011 in Chichester, having won an Olivier Award, and now is bought to life in a remarkable production by Union Theatre.
What is noticeably marvellous about this piece is that the sense of community really shines throughout, which makes it feel very much like an ensemble piece where everyone puts in an equal amount of effort, therefore this Solihull audience feels part of the Little Weirwold village among the characters. However, a special mention must go to the main leads such as the titular character Tom Oakley played by Mark Firmstone who carries warmth and caring to both William, Sammy and everyone around him. There is a very natural and paternal manner in which he brings to the character. Eoin Hodgkiss plays William (or Willie) Beech as a fragile, tortured soul who we see blossoming into a joyous and youthful character among the other children in the village. James Williams also gives a delightful performance as Zach, who is brimming with confidence and lighting up the stage whenever he enters through the central aisle on his bike. And finally, the other star of the show is Alexander Butler who operates and designed Tom’s lovable dog Sammy, a puppet that wouldn’t look out of place in a professional show such as War Horse.
This piece is wonderfully entertaining, containing everything you would want in a family show, such as classic War song numbers (with musical director John Gough accompanying on the piano), funny, scary and heart-breaking moments all thanks to this terrific company and the work of the director Victoria Ellery-Jones and the entire creative team. This story has become a timeless classic over the years and the transition to the stage in this production seems effortless.
Goodnight Mister Tom runs at the Solihull United Reformed Church until this Saturday.
"...an excellent principal line-up, timeless songs and a first rate orchestra..."
This week, the beautiful Palace Theatre in Redditch is host to Redditch Operatic Society’s production of White Christmas, the musical based on the 1954 movie made famous by Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye, featuring those well-loved songs by Irving Berlin, the song “White Christmas” being a blockbuster hit that we still sing today when the baubles and mistletoe have their yearly airing. And ROS have really gone to town to deliver a fun and sparkling show.
Ok, so its not the most dynamic of story-lines but when you have strong stage direction by Tony Jay, an excellent principal line-up, timeless songs and a first rate orchestra lead by Joe George, you really are onto a winner.
Ryan Allen-Rose, playing Phil Davis and Paul Mitchell playing Bob Wallace, bring lots of all-singing-all-dancing energy to the stage - vibrant Phil, the ladies’ man, with his wit and boyish charisma, and sensible Bob, a rather more principled character who is searching for true love, both deliver the songs with excellent voices and have a very appealing onstage chemistry.
Emma Sansom as the responsible Betty and Laura Woodall as the more starstruck Judy are the beautiful Haynes sisters, both well cast with, again, excellent singing voices and character. I really enjoyed their ‘Sisters’ number, which was later hilariously recreated by the boys with rolled up trews and the iconic blue feathered fans.
Ann Mayor as Martha Watson, the former Broadway star and now housekeeper, brings the best of the humour to the stage with her dry, one-liners, persistent meddling and witty retorts and entertains us with her belting top hat routine Let me sing and I’m happy (and she certainly was) and Tim Eagleton as US Army General Henry Waverly is a fine actor, portraying the stern and sensible General with strong principles and a warm heart.
Ralph Sheldrake, the Ed Sullivan TV show producer and former army buddy of Bob and Phil, is played by John Reeves, and John really gets that swanky New York professional personality across perfectly, as do the dim-witted, giggly chorus girls, Rita (Roz Chalk) and Rhoda (Kelly Mitchell), who are perfectly pretty and very silly. Jessica Taylor is delightful as the General’s granddaughter, Susan, and she performed a confident reprise of Let me sing and I'm happy. Samuel Smith plays the energetic stage manager, Mike Nulty and Tessa Lodge as Tessie and Matt Bridgewater as Ezekiel Foster both give self-assured performances and complete the lead line-up, with Matt receiving many giggles from the enthusiastic audience.
The principals are supported by a very large cast (at one point I thought they were attempting the Guinness book of records entry for the most dancers on one stage at any one time), but the fun and happiness was apparent and everyone performed well with some really nice standard routines from the tappers and some well choreographed formations, all under the choreographic direction of Paula Lacey, whom I applaud for such a large undertaking. A shimmering set with twinkling Christmas tree and ‘real’ snow was a treat and show highlights included Betty and Bob’s How deep is the ocean, Bob and Company’s Blue Skies and an audience participated rendition of White Christmas’
There were a few first-night hiccups, which I am sure will be ironed out quickly and American accents came and went a couple of times but, in all, ROS have delivered a sparkling, festive, family show with a lovely light design and great sound quality.
So, if you enjoy the very beautiful surroundings of traditional theatre, are a fan of superbly orchestrated music and fancy an alternative to panto, then this is for you.
Runs to 24 Nov
Suitable for everyone
We all know the song and some of us may remember the 80's movie and TV series. But Fame is once again back on stage in this new touring production from Selladoor for its 30th anniversary, proving that it really is "gonna live forever."
But does this musical still resonate just as well in 2018?
Well, the story is fairly basic, and it almost feels like we are watching a soap opera on stage as we get to know a lot of the students at the High School of Performing Arts in New York. It all seems like a showcase of talent (which demonstrated by this company is undeniably brilliant) but in the second half, we learn the struggles and difficulties that these youths are going through to try and reach their desire for fame.
However, the story isn't really the biggest draw to this show. It is the energy, passion and vibrancy of this cast bring that entertains us throughout, and boy, do they all really impress. Particular standout performances come from Jamal Cane Crawford as Tyrone, the student conflicted by his educational dilemma who excels in all styles of dancing from Dancin' on the Sidewalk to his intimate ballet scenes. Stephanie Rojas gives an outstanding performance as Carmen and is an incredible triple threat when her fame-hungry character starts to make the wrong choices, but our hearts can't help but break as she belts out In L.A. Singing sensation Mica Paris makes a delightful appearance as Miss Sherman. Her character is strict, yet maternal which shines through during her song These Are My Children and of course she is a powerhouse as the audience rises to their feet in the finale - which of course is the titular song that we all know and love.
Director and choreographer Nick Winton has mounted a production that ticks all the boxes for an entertaining evening, though there are some areas that could be tightened up for added slickness. Having said that, the lighting design by Prema Mehta is rather impressive illuminating the dancers from different angles, as well as the simple, yet stylish set design by Morgan Large made up of portraits of the school's alumni.
Going back to my earlier question about whether this show has a place today, then I suppose my answer would be; yes. The arts industry continues to be something that loads of young people strive to excel in and this show highlights the importance of balancing talent with education and health. But all that aside; for an electrifying, all-singing, all-dancing night at the theatre, this sure is the place to be.
Fame runs at The Alexandra, Birmingham until this Saturday.
The Classic Screen to Stage Theatre Company
"Mathew Horne steals the show..."
Now and again you see a pro production that just simply blows your mind and this stage adaptation of the movie Rain Man, for me, was one of them. I admit I was sceptical at first, pondered on how such an iconic film could possibly transfer to the stage, but with the truly genius set, the magic of Bill Kenwright and the casting of such great actors it worked a dream. The story, by screenwriter Barry Morrow, was inspired by ‘savant’ Kim Peek, an autistic man with extraordinary mental abilities, who Morrow met in 1984. The main character in the movie, Raymond, Babbitt, was based on Kim Peek and the story centres around Raymond and his younger brother Charlie, who were separated at a young age yet find each other by unfortunate circumstances. They embark on a journey, not only in the form of a road-trip to Vegas, but also a life journey where they find a connection, embrace Ray’s disabilities and Charlie’s frustrations, and bond again as brothers. Its a story that will touch your heart in many ways.
This play by Dan Gordon and directed by Jonathan O’Boyle is a sensitive and powerful adaptation. The cast as a whole gave truly stunning and memorable performances. Ed Speleers as Charlie, and his girlfriend Susan, portrayed by Elizabeth Carter played superbly and convincingly against each other and the gentleness and caring personality of Dr Bruener was captured wholeheartedly by TV actor Neil Roberts. I applaud Morgan Large who designed the set, an ingenious interlocking, flying in-out mechanically engineered masterpiece cleverly lit by Jack Weir, which created a variety of rooms, situations and doorways, supported by back-screen lighting and projections.
But Mathew Horne steals the show as Raymond. His emotions, involuntary movement, diction and outbursts are so convincing and breathtaking it will give you goosebumps. And, I have witnessed many standing ovations for excellence but this entire audience leapt to their feet within seconds of the last line and it was an ovation truly deserved.
This play is currently touring the UK. If you get chance to see it then don’t miss the opportunity, especially with this line-up.
Runs to 17 Nov
Contains adult themes and strong language
Not suitable for children
Rock of Ages really did get the audience at Birmingham’s Alexandra Theatre rocking out last night with a well-deserved standing ovation and nothing short of dancing in the aisles. This high-energy juke-box musical relies heavily on the clever way the songs, by such legends as Journey, Bon Jovi and Europe, are intertwined with the basic but hilarious plotline but why not?! Rock of Ages doesn’t take itself too seriously but delights the audience with random jokes, physical comedy and enough high-octane dance moves to exhaust even the audience sitting in their seats.
Danielle Hope (Sherrie) and Luke Walsh (Drew) really do shine in the lead roles. Danielle’s stage presence and pure yet strong vocals are ideal for the innocent Kansas girl turned stripper and Luke plays out many a young boy’s dream of becoming a rock star. His vocal dexterity and skill seem to know no bounds and he belted out some amazing performances worthy of a stadium performance.
Every member of the cast deserves a special mention for keeping the energy, comedy and pure spectacle up throughout the performance! However, Kevin Kennedy (Dennis) gave an impressive performance and his relationship on stage with Lucas Rush as Lonny gave us comedy, pathos and a truly believable blossoming relationship. Lucas gave an outstanding performance as “narrator” of the proceedings, involving the audience to hilarious effect.
A vocal highlight of the show came from Zoe Birkett as Justice, the owner of the local “gentlemen’s club”. Such a strong and powerful voice and yet, at times, held the audience in the palm of her hand in some really tender moments.
Politically correct Rock of Ages is not. What with caricatured German businessmen goose-stepping around the stage and simulated-sex on stage, there were moments of near to the knuckle humour but the audience last night lapped this up, entering into the whole racy nature of the production.
The numerous rock songs were ably accompanied by an amazing band, who were on the button at all times, led by Musical Director Barny Ashworth. Unfortunately, there were moments of balance issues, mainly in dialogue sections over incidental music, but this was only on occasion and did not detract from my enjoyment.
The set was extremely impressive and the projection only served to enhance the slick changes of set and the audience’s understanding of where we were at any given time. Fabulous lighting effects (Ben Cracknell) added interest and effect to the already pacey production resulting in a real spectacle.
A fast-paced, energetic production which every single person should be proud of, not least Director Nick Winston who used the stage fantastically well with a clear vision and attention to detail.
Rock of Ages runs at The Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham until Saturday 17th November 2018.
It was incredibly refreshing to head into the hustle and bustle of the city centre on Saturday to see a brand new piece of musical theatre. Adrian Kimberlin has left no stone unturned in this new musical, The Stars That Remain. Marking the premiere of this production, it seemed fitting that the show found its home in the Old Joint Stock Theatre, where the piece had been previously supported by the Open Doors initiative. In Kimberlin’s note he mentions how the show has re-shaped and re-formed over the six years he has been working on it and having written the book, music and lyrics himself, there is no denying that this is an impressive feat.
Kimberlin has crafted some beautiful music, with particular highlights including Erase, Delete, Undo, Haunt Me, Au Revoir, Starstruck Lovers and Ghost To Be Gone. There’s a real spark in these numbers and the talented cast bring out the best in Kimberlin's compositions.
Set in a small British town, The Stars That Remain follows the story of the Hartson family and a host of other characters whose lives all entwine in unexpected ways. The fragility of life is exposed in this raw and emotional tale of love, loss and friendship. The success of this show lies in the Hartsons, they are the beating heart of this piece of theatre. Hugh Blackwood, Sarah Riches, Lucy Follows and Ashleigh Aston suit their respective roles to perfection - they form a formidable quartet of talent. Follows brings a real innocence to Poppy, whilst Aston fiercely takes on the resilient Rosa. Blackwood breathes sheer joy into the character of Ian and Riches has an undeniable warmth and generosity as Vivian.
There is great support from the ensemble of characters (Paul Lumsden, Tim Benjamin, Neil Jacks, Pete Beck, Dru Stephenson, Jeni Hatton), but particular mention must go to Charlotte Middleton whose Angela was a force to be reckoned with. Capturing the devastating effects of alcoholism (just one of the many themes Kimberlin’s show unpicks) Middleton was a triumph.
Director Alan Magor has captured the beauty of this show and there were a number of moments where audience members were visibly wiping away tears (including myself).
Admittedly, there are some flaws. It runs too long at 3 hours and there are a few elements that could be adjusted to help tighten up the storyline, but at its core, when all the superfluous characters and additional storylines are stripped away there is one beautiful family with a heart-wrenching story.
I can’t wait to see the show’s life beyond this premiere and I hope it continues to grow into a gem of new musical theatre.
If you are looking for something to brighten this drizzly weekend, you couldn’t get much better than a trip to the Dormston Mill Theatre for WBOSY’s production of Hairspray.
This award-winning musical is always a firm favourite with audiences on both the professional and amateur circuit and it is packed full of toe-tapping numbers (Good Morning Baltimore, Welcome To The Sixties, You Can’t Stop The Beat), larger than life characters and a cracking storyline of overcoming adversity.
The talented youth company have really created a show to be proud of. From start to finish the audience are treated to impressive dance routines, spectacular costumes and a whole host of excellent performances. Furthermore, from the principal performers to the youngest chorus member, there is excellent characterisation in a production which does not shy away from the serious themes of racism, body image and bullying inherent in the story – the whole production team are to be commended for their thoughtful staging and choreography in this respect.
There are excellent performances across the whole company, with members of the Dance Council and Mr Pinky’s Crew really standing out for their excellent energy and dance ability. We certainly spotted a number of younger cast members who will no doubt be taking on lead roles with the company in the future.
Leading the cast, Jessica Harrison gives a polished, professional ‘triple-threat’ performance as Tracy Turnblad and her performance blended beautifully with Joe Simmons’ stylish but sensitive Link Larkin and the hilarious Arabella Yardley as Penny Pingleton, who practically steals the show whenever she is on stage. Tia Mcdonald is the perfect Amber Von Tussle, full of attitude and scathing looks while displaying some excellent song and dance skills. Nevaeh Leveridge handles Motormouth’s tricky showstopping number with ease, making it a real stand out moment in the show and despite a few diction issues Thomas Rantell and Finn Smith make a pleasant double act as Edna and Wilbur.
In fact, if I had to pick up on any points for improvement for future shows it would be to work on the diction to achieve clear delivery of the script, as there were some very inaudible moments. This was not helped by an imbalance in sound levels between the very loud band and the far too quiet microphones, which a number of audience members commented on at the interval. It is a shame to see people working really hard on stage but not being able to hear them in the auditorium.
These minor points aside, WBOSY have once again lived up to their reputation for excellence . Grab your dancing shoes and join them for their final performances this weekend.
Final performances on Saturday 10 November
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