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, 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
"Another big hit from this well-loved group".
Tamworth Musical Theatre Company are performing Barry Manilow’s Copacabana at The Brewhouse Theatre in Burton this week. The story follows present-day composer, Stephen, who is inspired to write a musical set in a glamorous 1947s nightclub where girls are sassy, legs are high-cut, feathers and glitter are abundant and sparkling cocktails are flowing.
His musical centres around self-incarnated songwriter, Tony Forte (Andrew Gilman), and wannabe Copa-Girl, Lola La Mar (Stacey Ward), who find the key to success when they perform together at an audition in New York City’s Copacabana Nightclub. Gladys, a former Copa-Girl, (Nik Ellis) introduces Lola to club owner Sam Silver (Tony Ramsey) in the hope of getting Lola hired at the club. The plot unravels and we are introduced to Italian gangster Rico Castelli (James Gorton) who has taken rather a fancy to Lola, so kidnaps her and flies her to his club in Havana. Having arrived at the Tropicana Nightclub, Lola is forced to sing and dance, now billed as the clubs no.1 showgirl. Rico’s former girlfriend, the sexy Conchita Alverez (Becky Easen), now no longer the no.1, has her thunder stolen when Lola is forced to perform the very number that made Conchita a star. Lovestruck Tony comes to Lola’s rescue and, after a single gunshot is fired, Tony and Lola are able to escape and return to NYC and back to the showbiz life they live for.
Director and choreographer, Emily Carroll, must be very proud of her cast as the group really did deliver a dazzling show. Gilman and Ward were perfectly cast and played charmingly against each other, their beautiful, harmonious voices carrying the uptempo numbers with energy and the ballads with tenderness. Gorton and Easen were strong characters, again with excellent voices, who brought the drama to the stage and Ramsey was fabulous as Sam Silver with just the right amount of humour and toupe control. An excellent principal line-up but I admit Ellis as Gladys stole the show for me with her upbeat confidence, spot-on accent and character projection. The very bubbly supporting cast included an excellent dance troupe in an array of costumes - some daring sequined ensembles and plumed headdresses - who performed many dance styles from samba to tap and ballet to flamenco. Supported by an excellent off-stage orchestra, directed by MD Fiona Ball, it was, in all, a delightful evening of entertainment, performed to an enthusiastic audience and even the local gentry. Congratulations. Another big hit from this well-loved group.
Runs to 10 November
If like me you're a self-confessed loather of anything to do with Christmas before December 1st the idea of seeing A Christmas Carol at the start of November might seem something of a humbug. But by the end of this delightful production of the festive tale by STAMPS at The Core Theatre in Solihull it's hard not to have had a change of heart akin to Ebeneezer Scrooge’s.
There’s little that can go wrong when you have a story as good as this one to work with and STAMPS does a sterling job of bringing the classic Dickensian story to life once more.
Richard Bateman excels in the role of Scrooge, effortlessly transforming into a much older man and channeling the curmudgeon’s turmoil as his life is played out in front of him. It takes skill to make Scrooge's transformation credible and Bateman handles the character with great care so that the final scenes of his euphoric realisation are utterly believable.
Chris Cooper is usually the best thing about the productions in which he appears and this performance is no exception. His ghostly portrayal of a rather grittier Jacob Marley than aficionados of the story will be used to is the highlight of the show.
There's good support from Becky Wicketts as the Ghost of Christmas Past and Kathy Lovell as the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come and Zoe-Nicole Wheat shines too as Young Scrooge's lost love Emily.
A Christmas Carol relies on having a number of children in the cast and in a company used to producing adult shows this can be difficult. Each and every one of the youngsters in this production does the company proud. Particularly impressive are Will Wharton as Tiny Tim and Matt Alton as Young Scrooge who both possess lovely vocals. But all of the children bring a fantastic level of enthusiasm and energy to the stage which contributes hugely to this production's feelgood factor.
The chorus numbers are strong throughout too and Mr Fezziwig’s ball is the highlight, ably led with gusto and humour by Andrew Halliday and Helen Hunter as Mr and Mrs Fezziwig.
There were a few small timing issues on some of the numbers but for each of these there are moments where the sound is quite beautiful. The score is charming and Phil Ypres-Smith's band ably belts it out throughout.
In all this makes for one of the strongest productions STAMPS has produced in recent years. Congratulations to director and choreographer Rob Bateman (who also stars in the show as the Ghost of Christmas Present) and his team for a production which is bound to get audiences in the festive spirit early this year.
A Christmas Carol plays at The Core Theatre until Saturday 10th November.
In this 100th Anniversary week of Armistice Day on November 11th 1918, On The Floor Theatre Company are presenting a timely and, at times, thought provoking piece that mixes sketches and poetry to show the journey from the outbreak of war in 1914 to then final end of the bloody conflict.
Presented in a very simple staging that allows the text and stories to come to the fore, each of the performers, James Edge, Victoria Piper, Tom Silverton and Tonia Staite act with great conviction and sincerity for the stories they are telling.
The overall effect was a little haphazard however, with the few attempts at comedy falling rather flat, and a rather off-putting moment of physical theatre while one performer was reciting Rupert Brookes’ beautiful The Soldier. The sketches in the very short first half felt like they often ended as they were just getting going. The second half was far more effective, with one monologue of a soldier in a trench, delivered by Edge, and a duologue between a mother and son (Piper and Silverton) particularly affecting.
I would have loved to have known more about the sources of these stories (especially the Elephant story) and how the show was put together by writer / director Matthew Tweedale. I do hope this, and other pieces like this, have a life beyond this month, especially in schools, as these are stories that need to still be told and remembered.
A Journey Through War is at the Blue Orange Theatre until Saturday 10th November. Evening performances at 7.30, Saturday Matinee at 3.30.
The Full Monty went “all the way” to provide an excellent night’s entertainment with lots of laughs, moments of real poignancy and a spectacular ending which gave the audience more than they were banking on!
Despite some first-night sound issues, Bilston Operatic Company coped well with what I think is a very tricky musical score to provide some excellent moments of musical theatre. There was an array of talent within the company with all performers totally throwing themselves into their characters, whether they were principal or chorus roles.
Dominic Smith (Jerry) led the cast with a confident and enthusiastic performance, demonstrating excellent vocal skills. His relationship with his on-stage son Nathan, played confidently by Owen White, was believable and showed a real pathos at times. Amy Frost played Jerry’s wife Pam with a passion, giving an excellent performance.
Joseph James (Dave) provided some excellent moments of comedy but was also able to show the character’s insecurities to give a really rounded performance with which many of the men in the audience could relate to! Laura Canadine (Georgie) was a perfect partner for Dave and really showed her character’s love for her husband, despite their problems.
Joy Brown and Mike James gave strong performances as Vicky and Harold, both showing great vocal skill and excellent characterisations. Patison Harrigan gave a great performance as Noah (aka Horse!) demonstrating excellent comic timing and driving the audience wild in his first number!
Stephen Burton-Pye gave an excellent performance, demonstrating excellent comedy-timing alongside some real pathos and emotion when his character, Malcolm, lost him mum. The funeral scene was a really poignant moment and one in which both Malcolm and Ethan (Jake Winwood) gave tear-jerking performances, showing their love for each other. There were also some really sassy performances from members of the ensemble, particularly Amy Evans and Laura Leo!
A wonderful pit orchestra, under the baton of Musical Director Dan Tomkinson, accompanied the singers flawlessly and adapted to problems of timing with total professionalism!
The Full Monty is a show that Director Laura Canadine and all at Bilston Operatic Company should be proud of. A slick, professional-standard production with excellent use of the stage, an interesting set and a cast full of enthusiasm! The Full Monty runs at The Wolverhampton Grand Theatre until Saturday 10th November.
Whether it is from his late 80's series Talking Heads, the recent film adaptation of The Lady in the Van, or his smash-hit plays The History Boys, The Madness of George III and most recently Allelujah!, most of us are all familiar with Alan Bennett's tone of voice which is full of both wit and intellect. One of his more recent plays, The Habit of Art is no different in displaying that tone, since its opening at the National Theatre in 2009 with Richard Griffiths and Alex Jennings.
For the two hours, we are the fly on the wall for a rehearsal of a play called Caliban's Day - which shows a fictionalised meeting between the poet W H Auden and composer Benjamin Britten in their later years. We are immediately faced with the strikingly realistic set of a local church hall, designed by Adrian Linford. It is a spacious with tall walls, noticeboards, fire exit signs, black curtains and hanging LED lights which are switched on by the cast both at the start and end of the play (and virtually the only source of lighting in this performance). But what is fascinating is the amount and use of props around the stage, like a clutter of resources for our actors to rehearse with.
The performances from this company of seven are individually terrific and work masterfully with Bennett's writing and Phillip Franks' marvelous direction with pace, intricacy and charm in this humorous piece. Leading the cast is Olivier-winning actor Matthew Kelly as Fitz an actor who plays Auden in the piece. There is initially something a bit diva-ish about Fitz's rehearsal process, constantly asking for the next line due to his old age, but Kelly gives a delightful performance as Auden, a decrepit old man who pays for rent boys and is full of ego. Star of screen and stage David Yelland also gives a great performance as Henry, who plays Britten. He is more reserved and nervous than Kelly's Auden but is sharper and full of expertise in his craft as a composer.
As the title may suggest, the whole piece is about the practice of art and how we as human beings tend to use or create it. The supporting characters personify brilliantly the need to feel purpose with their art, or in this case acting. We tend to both laugh and sympathise with John Wark as Donald, who acts as an omnipresent narrator in the Caliban's Day, but bevomes full of frustration as merely a device, not knowing where to stand and desperation leads him to entering the second half in drag to feel needed among the company. Benjamin Chandler also provides a lot of laughs as the rent boy hired by Auden and at the end of the piece also begins to feel frustration of his purpose as an actor. Robert Mountford who plays Neil, the writer of Caliban's Day as someone who is protective of the piece he has written and having to make do with misbehaving actors and script cuts or changes beyond his control.
Alexandra Guelff and Veronica Roberts are both superb as George and Kay the stage managers ensuring the production goes ahead as planned. They also have funny scenes personifying Auden's furniture and help deliver the context of Britten's music and Auden's poetry. Roberts in particular ends the play with a moving monologue that helps us the audience understand the craft that actors and theatre makers bring to an evening like the one we are watching.
There is plenty to enjoy in this profound and multi-leveled play that is packed with many themes that will survive for as long as great theatre, such as this, will survive as well as all other forms of glorious art.
The Habit of Art runs at the Belgrade Theatre, Coventry until Saturday.
"The Full Monty is the full package at Birmingham Hippodrome".
This professional touring show delivers everything you could want in a theatre adaption of the much loved 1997 film The Full Monty. It brims with entertainment with hits like Flashdance `95, Hot Stuff and You Sexy Thing. It is made even stronger by the talented cast with noticeably great chemistry between each other.
The story itself is based on the struggles of a group of unemployed Sheffield steel workers when they are driven to desperate measures. The gritty reality is perfectly balanced with comedy, fun and plenty of dance moves. One of the most amusing scenes to watch included the renowned signing on queue at the job centre which was both perfectly choreographed and hilarious.
Gary Lucy shone in his role as Gaz and appreciation for his dance moves was heard amongst the excited audience. The partnership between him and Dave, played by Kai Owen, appeared natural and they both created great comedic moments throughout. Every single cast member gave a perfect performance and they were all incredibly well suited for their roles.
The show builds to the much-anticipated big finale of the strip dancing, to the hit You Can Leave Your Hat On, and they don`t fail to deliver the full monty. With some clever use of lighting the stripping off was done in a suggestive and tasteful way. It was everything you could want for in the ending of a show like this.
The enthusiastic audience was kept keen and they also delivered their own sounds effects, mostly when an extra bit of flesh was on show or in response to some hip wiggling. After much anticipation everyone was wowed by the big finale and immediately up on to their feet to give a standing ovation.
With such a positive response and by winning awards, such as best UK theatre award, this show is likely to be a firm favourite for a long time.
The Full Monty is playing at the Birmingham Hippodrome until 10th Nov.
“Nobody puts baby in the corner” - an iconic line that was met with rapturous whooping and applause at last night’s performance of Dirty Dancing. Playing to a more than gracious audience, you felt at times you were part of an oversized hen party with the wolf whistles, ‘oohing’ and plentiful giggles that happened within the walls of The Alexandra.
The key to the success of this show is in the title - ‘dancing’ - and dancing there was. Packed with impressive routines, meticulously choreographed by Gillian Bruce, the performers really set the place alight with their joyous movement.
Michael O’Reilly’s Johnny Castle proved a hit with the audience. A wonderfully talented dancer, it was hard to take your eyes off him. Whilst Simone Covele was nothing short of mesmerising as Penny Johnson, and when they danced as a pair it was a sheer delight. Completing the trio was Kira Malou as Frances ‘Baby’ Houseman. From nervously stumbling through steps, to the iconic final scene, she beautifully captured Baby’s journey.
There was strong support from Lizzie Ottley as Baby’s sister, Lisa, with some cleverly crafted comedic moments that gave her a chance to shine. Meanwhile, impressive vocals were delivered by the pairing of Sian Gentle-Green and Alex Wheeler, whose voices soared through the auditorium.
In an attempt to fully emulate the film, the show found itself stumbling through scenes that felt surplus to requirement. With a few trims here and there, the production could have felt slicker. There were also times where the sound felt slightly imbalanced and lines were mumbled, and the rather unrealistic use of the gauze in a couple of moments, led to the audience laughing.
Nevertheless, the show’s finale is special. And I defy anyone to not sit there with their mouth agape, because, boy do the cast deliver in that final scene. From Sian Gentle-Green and Alex Wheeler’s gorgeous vocals in I’ve Had The Time Of My Life, to that iconic lift, it really is a spectacular ending and judging by the audience reaction, they certainly had the time of their life too.
Dirty Dancing plays until 10 November at The Alexandra.
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