This was, quite simply, a magical evening of traditional family entertainment, delivered with wonderful panache by an incredibly hard working cast, band and technical crew. The script was sharp and full of laughs and was delivered the ensemble cast with astonishing pace and confidence considering the early point in the run; costumes and set were eye-catchingly excellent,
From the opening appearance of the suitably sinister Abanazar (Stefan Pejic, a real commanding presence, but would love to have seen a bit more of his magical talents used) and the effervescent Slave of the Ring (T.V. favourite Lisa Riley in sparkling form) we knew we were in safe hands. The junior reviewers with me were booing and cheering from the word go, and didn’t stop until we dragged them out of the theatre 2 ½ hours later.
And what a lot QDOS Entertainment have crammed into that playing time. I know the cast were exhausted by several routines in the show, and we were getting exhausted just from clapping and cheering so much. Panto veteran Ian Adams sings and dances up a storm as Widow Twankey, with a better pair of pins than most of the dancers; Ben Faulks (CBeebies Mr Bloom) hits just the right note as the comic policeman PC Pong; and Adam C Booth (Wishee Washee) engages effortlessly and energetically with the audience throughout the evening. The old panto favourite If I Was Not Up On This Stage sent the audience into hysterics, with Adams, Riley, Faulks and Booth showing great comic timing, excellent stamina, and admirable concentration dealing with misbehaving props, which made the whole routine even funnier.
As our leading couple Joe McElderry (Aladdin) was effortlessly charming and in great voice, and was joined in a couple of excellent duets by Lucy Kay’s Princess Jasmine.
But none of this was enough to steal the show. That accolade undoubtedly belonged to the Lazy Empress (Doreen Tipton). All credit to the Grand's Chief Executive, Adrian Jackson, for bringing real local colour to the show by including Gill Jordan’s inspired comic creation. The self-proclaimed new Queen of the Black Country is a benefit scrounger, who will no doubt take her award, wrap it up in old newspaper, stick it on the back of her mobility scooter, take it home and hide it from the Social Security inspectors next time they come to call.
The music was excellent throughout the show (a big shout out for MD Kelvin Towse and his 5 piece band), and the dance routines sparkled.
Choreographed by Matt Flint, the Money Medley that opened Act Two was a particular highlight.
Last words to the junior reviewers: Robyn (aged 10): Absolutely amazing. All the effects were very good. It was very traditional, the Dame (Ian Adams) was fantastic, and everyone really engaged in their roles. Alice (aged 8): One word; three letters; F A B!
Aladdin runs at the Grand Theatre until Sunday 22 January. Highly recommended.
With pantomime season in full swing, Youth Onstage threw their contribution into the mix, with a sparky performance of Aladdin.
We are quickly introduced to our young hero, played by Tom Ashen. His unique, husky voice worked well and shone through when he sang in the ensemble numbers. He was paired well with Ellie Burley as a sweet, yet determined Princess Jasmine.
A young Empress, played by Esme Read, exuded confidence beyond her years and Lauren Chapman as Wishee was equally endearing in her role.
Strong performances also came from Jessie Miah as Spirit of the Ring and Matty Brook as Genie. Never Had A Friend Like Me closed the end of act one well and was packed with energy from the supporting cast.
A particular highlight of the show was On The Menu This Evening. Jacob Murphy and Harry Ashen were a delightful comic duo, and when combined with Lauren Chapman and Gibsa Bah, they delivered a hilarious performance.
Other commendable performances of the show came from Sinead Donnelly as Abanazar, Gibsa Bah as Widow Twankey and Lilly McIntyre as So Shy.
Youth Onstage continue to deliver enjoyable performances and this one was no different. With a packed out audience, congratulations to all involved.
With a packed house and hundreds of children brimming with excitement, the scene was set for a great Panto, filled with slapstick, one-liners and audience participation and all of the usual traditional Panto elements. The pleasant surprise tonight in Stafford Gatehouse Theatre’s production of Aladdin was that, although these were all there, there was so much for the parents too.
The plot more or less stuck to the usual Aladdin story, but with the twist of being set in China. A young Aladdin (Michael Hamway) is a “penniless peasant” who dreams of falling in love with the Princess Lotus Blossom (Seren Sandam-Davis). This is obviously forbidden by the Emperor (Kieran Kuypers) and Aladdin goes back to work for his mother, Widow Twankey (Steve Simmonds) along with his less-than-intelligent brother Wishee Washee. When the evil sorcerer Abanazar (Benjamin Stratton) comes in search of the lost lamp that will grant him the power of the Genie, he tricks Aladdin into going down into the old salt mines to get it for him. Instead Aladdin rubs the lamp himself and is transported from the cave and becomes a powerful prince himself. He struggles to keep the truth from the Princess, however and it all comes out when Abanazar gets hold of the lamp and banishes the princess half way round the world; at least as far as Stafford. The princess, emperor, Widow Twankey and Wishee Washee stage a daring rescue and bring bring Aladdin back to old Peking where he can start a new life with the Princess.
There are too many great performances to mention everyone personally. Michael Hamway as Aladdin is blistering with energy during his rock numbers, has great timing and a fantastic rock tenor. Benjamin Stratton is beautifully sinister as the evil Abanazar, and lurked about with real menace. Steve Simmonds was an endless supply of great one-liners and gave a masterly physical performance.
Everything about this production screams professional. Firstly there is the ridiculously talented company of actor-musicians who not only had the whole theatre in stitches all night, but gave universally great vocal performances as well as forming a band which were nothing short of perfect. Many of the cast are multi-instrumentalists so there was no compromise on sound, no matter who was performing on stage.
Secondly the set design was magnificent. Capitalising on the Chinese theme, there is a rotating palace, a trap door and moving dragons. The attention to detail is breathtaking, and the entire set has been fastidiously designed, down to the last light. The script moves along at a brisk pace, and when some Panto scripts are bursting under the weight of their own rhyme, the verse is used sparingly and to great effect.
With such great times to be had this Christmas, you will miss out if you don’t get tickets for this riotous production!
I have had the pleasure of seeing Starbuck Theatre Company perform their previous two productions, I Love You Because and The Guide to Being Single. Not only is this small theatre company quickly finding it’s feet, it has entered the scene with a bang, accompanied by a mirage of talented cast and crew. Their most recent challenge is Next Thing You Know, written by Ryan Cunningham with music by Joshua Salzman.
I have been particularly impressed with the choice of venues the company has chosen to perform in, using small individual and completely different theatres for each show, bringing accessible theatre to the Midlands. This time it was the small and hidden Worcester Arts Workshop.
The show follows four New Yorkers as they laugh, love and drink their way through the big questions that face all young dreamers who wake up in the city that never sleeps. Does marrying a really nice guy mean you’re settling down or just settling? Does taking a nine-to-five equal giving up or growing up? Does a decade in the city break you down or break you in? A truly clever and well directed musical comedy with a few familiar faces and a couple of new ones.
Small technical issues that had been apparent in previous projects seem to have been ironed out in this intimate setting, proving for a smoother and more fluid performance.
Sarah Pavlovs, director and leading protagonist Waverley, returns for a flawless rendition of a time in all of our lives as we reach the end of our twenties and continue to grasp on to our youth and grapple with our future. Supported by her best friend Lisa (played by Dru Stephenson), they slowly come to the realisation that their childhood dreams may not come to pass, as love interests come and go, and the ideals they had once pursued become less attainable with age fighting against them.
Waverley’s main love interest, Darren (played by returning Jack Scott-Walker) tries to come to terms with his internal battle between his long-time ambition of becoming a writer and his undying love for Waverley. Scott-Walker brings so much warmth and humour to the role, that you can’t help but feel for him as he explores his own capability to be the man that he thinks Waverley wants him to be.
Alex McDonald-Smith plays long-time womaniser Luke, whose flirting and omelette-cooking abilities leave us all in awe. By breaking the fourth-wall to show off his talents to work colleague and recently single Darren, Luke made every lady in the front row blush and fall in love with him.
Special mention must go to the newest addition to the company Dru Stephenson, who plays aforementioned Lisa, ex-girlfriend of Darren - turned lesbian, whose story is the hardest hitting. Having waited till her mid-twenties before coming out, Lisa is holding out for the woman of her dreams before she can move on to a better life. Her struggle with this and her close proximity to the relationship between her ex-boyfriend Darren and best friend Waverley gives for a hilarious performance. Stephenson is extremely talented with amazing vocals and strong acting, she is definitely one to watch from Sarah Pavlovs’ protégés.
Under the musical direction of Chris Corcoran, Next Thing You Know was accompanied by the beautiful ensemble of Liz Toney on the Violin and Dan Bradley on the Cello, giving the whole performance rich and deep sounds that matched perfectly with the incredible voices on stage.
In summary, I must admit that this project has blown me out of the water and I would not be surprised if it goes on to become the most successful of the three in their repertoire. Everything came together to create their best performance to date, and if you manage to catch the piece in the future, I would thoroughly recommend it! Bravo Starbuck Theatre Company!
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