75 years since first opening on Broadway, Leamington & Warwick Musical Theatre Society gloriously brought to life Rodgers and Hammerstein’s first musical triumph, Oklahoma!
Unlike many musicals that open with grand ensemble numbers, Oklahoma! opens with just one actor, Curly, taking centre stage as he sings one of the most iconic numbers, Oh, What A Beautiful Mornin’. Chris Gilbey-Smith made for a swaggeringly smooth Curly, with sublime acting and a super voice he really did take centre stage through the night. His pairing with Bex Walton’s Laurey worked incredibly well. Walton brought a great feistiness to Laurey and their duet of People Will Say We’re In Love was a particular highlight.
Sally Jolliffe delighted as Aunt Eller, she was a warm and glowing presence on the stage throughout, with great comic moments sprinkled in her performance. An equal presence, but not for the same reasons, was Tom Vickery as Jud Fry. His brooding character was incredibly unnerving. There was a great supporting ensemble and I must say it was refreshing to see assured characterisations from these smaller, but no less important roles. In particular, Nelle Cross as Kate and the rest of Laurey’s girls.
There were some diction issues, with the accent causing lines to be missed and some occasional imbalances in the sound meaning that some lyrics were missed, however, this is only a small criticism of what was an incredibly slick production. Director Stephen Duckham added some clever nuances in to hide the larger scene changes, but even these were executed expertly. Perhaps some of the most impressive changes I’ve seen in an amateur performance.
However, the stand out element of this show lay in its stunning choreography, crafted by Hannah Hampson. The Farmer And The Cowman showcased this excellently in its vibrancy and celebratory atmosphere, however the pinnacle was the Dream Ballet, with Charlotte Cochrane in the role of Laurey in this beautiful sequence. It was utterly entrancing and a testament to Cochrane, Hampson and the talents of this company.
Musical Director Matt Flint breathed wonderful life into Rodgers’s music and there was nothing more joyous than the entire ensemble taking to the stage for the title song, Oklahoma! Full of vim and verve, LWMS proved that age is no obstacle; 75 years on and there’s still a sparkle there.
In the literary work On Lying In Bed And Other Essays by G.K. Chesterton, the great man describes Charles Dickens' masterpiece The Pickwick Papers as “...a sense of the gods gone wandering in England.”
Which is exactly how it felt tonight at The Core Theatre as an enraptured audience were entertained by Peterbrook Player's superb production of Spamalot. I do not think a single person would have been surprised to have seen the odd celestial being wandering around, so out of this world was the whole show.
As a Python obsessive, I must confess to feeling a certain sense of trepidation as I took my seat. The plot of Spamalot is taken from the 1975 Monty Python film Monty Python and The Holy Grail, and I was not convinced that the unique genius of The Pythons could be reproduced anywhere, let alone in Solihull.
How wrong could I be?
The story revolves around King Arthur and his recently recruited knights attempting to find the Holy Grail. In a stunning line up of chivalrous persons, Andy Alton shone as the slightly long suffering and depressed King Arthur. It was a testimony to his 33 years treading the boards that he was able to maintain his rather melancholy character throughout the whole show, with all the madness going on around him. He was ably assisted in his quest by Patsy, his servant and loyal steed, played to perfection by Gregory March. Their rendition of I'm All Alone brought the house down. Special mention from the line up of knights (including Michael Greene as Sir Bedevere and Mike Bentley as Sir Robin) has to go to James Gough, who's comic timing and delivery took comedy to a new dimension, both in his portrayal as the 'outed' gay Sir Lancelot and also as the French Tauntor; if sent to the EU, this latter character could easily derail Brexit with one single word!
The strength of Monty Python always lay in it's success in poking fun at, and parodying of, 'The Establishment' and the order of things, and nothing showed this off better than Thom Stafford's brilliant portrayal of Dennis. He initially will not become a knight due to complex reasons surrounding the role of the Executive and the electorate in a democracy, but is then easily turned (and thus becomes Sir Galahad) by the introduction of The Lady of the Lake, portrayed with utter conviction and star quality by Penelope Simpkins. She completely owned the stage in all her scenes, and her rendition of Whatever Happened To My Part not only had the audience in stitches, but I suspect struck a chord with many an overlooked diva sitting in the audience. Her strong vocals really stood out among some stellar singing.
In every production there are a few roles which have the potential to steal the show, and the role of Prince Herbert, played with comic genius by Richard Perks, was one such part. It was testimony not only to Python's clever writing but also to Perks' natural understanding of the nuances of comedy that his conversation with Sir Lancelot about curtains had the whole audience rocking with laughter.
There were some sparkling cameos; Robert Bateman's portrayal of Not Dead Fred, not to mention his dancing, was excellent, Brendan Bloomer as Chief Ni Knight had the audience laughing uncontrollably, Richard Haddock was wonderful as Dennis's mother and no mascara was safe when Richard Bateman as The Black Knight challenged King Arthur to a duel and ended up with no limbs.
It seems too churlish to single anybody out, so strong was the line up; from principals through to dancers/Swamp Castle Guards/Herbert's Father, there was not a weak link anywhere. Every single person performed to the highest standard.
The costumes were magnificent and the set superlative. The band played with conviction and credit for the whole matchless performance has to go to the production team of Richard Agg, Jonathan Clark and Suzanne Ballard-Yates for drilling the entire cast into turning out such a West End standard show. The singing, dancing and acting were of top quality from everybody, and the tail of this motley band of knights and their search for, and ultimate success in finding, the Holy Grail was hailed by a well earned standing ovation at the end.
It was impossible not to be looking on the bright side of life as we left the auditorium, and this peerless production ensures that the legacy of Monty Python not only lives on, but is more than alive and kicking!
Spamalot runs at The Core Theatre until Saturday 14th April.
In a unique and hilarious celebration of musical theatre, the Old Joint Stock was rocking with laughter last night as Stage Door Johnny took to the stage in his premiere solo show Less Miserable.
Cabaret meets musical theatre in this absolutely laugh-a-minute show, as ‘Johnny’ rips off various musical standards. But it was more than just an evening of songs re-imagined, it was sheer genius.
Without spoiling any of the surprises, the jokes came thick and fast and for any musical theatre fan it was an absolute delight. With lyrics tweaked, Good Morning Baltimore became Good Evening Birmingham and The Surrey With The Fringe On Top became an expletive explosion.
Cats met Cats Protection, Evita met Europop and much more as the audience were left in fits of laughter.
A true star, Stage Door Johnny brought everything you could possibly want in a performance and squeezed it into a neat 75 minutes. When he comes back, which he no doubt will, make sure to grab a ticket because this is musical theatre cabaret at its most joyous.
Never before have I seen such a terrific parody of the classic 80’s sci-fi movie genre as comedy duo LoveHard have created in their new show Tales From The Elsewhere. Take all the classic examples such as E.T., The Goonies, Back To The Future, the recent phenomenon Stranger Things, strip them down to their nostalgic clichés and inject them with the energy, hilarity and genius of LoveHard; that is what this show is. And it is utterly, utterly brilliant.
Jacob Lovick and Tyler Harding look as if they have arrived at The Old Joint Stock by time travel, wearing funky 80’s jackets and headphones. And yes this duo consists of…well…two people, but they constantly and effortlessly swap through an entire suburban American town of individual characters in (literally) a whoosh. Distinctive voices and small mannerisms distinguish the cast members of this sci-fi story of a group of ordinary school kids, who discover some mysterious cassette tapes at a yard sale and inadvertently initiate a monster invasion putting their town in jeopardy. Jumping from the group of high school misfits, their crushes, bullies, moms, teachers as well as a pair of dim-witted undercover agents and cops to list but a few, the energy presented in this duo is so fast-paced and it is remarkable how they can remember each character’s certain aspects. Also their use of space around the small Old Joint Stock stage is effectively presented.
The humour relies on parodying the genre but also LoveHard parody themselves, especially at times breaking character and corpsing (particularly during a scene with a hunchbacked old man). Their one-liners and recurring gags are so clever, witty and to some extent reminiscent of the contrast of sarcasm and innocence of Rick and Morty as well as the humour of Leslie Neilson in Police Squad and Airplane!
What is also excellent about this show is that while lighting and sound effects are used, it is a very natural and organic form of theatre presented by this double act. It is simply the pure creative minds among two comedy geniuses that entertain and make us laugh for an evening. Wherever they are heading to next it is crucial that you grab yourself a ticket and witness LoveHard do what they so brilliantly do. I would rush to watch them parody any form of genre or tell any form of hilarious story as amazingly as they did in Tales From The Elsewhere.
Once again, Giovanni Pernice, best known for his 3 years on Strictly Come Dancing, brings his dance show to Coventry. Tonight, was the first night of a nationwide tour, Giovanni claimed to be nervous, but it didn’t show.
Born to Win loosely tells the story of Giovanni’s life from his parents first meeting to his time on Strictly. Of course, the tale is illustrated by dances varying from waltz to tango and everything else between. The dancing is as slick and polished as you would expect with the leads (Giovanni and Luba Mushtuk) more than ably supported by 6 other dancers with long dancing careers behind them. The footwork is lightening fast and the lifts breath-taking. With costumes and shoes that sparkle and delight as they spin and move across the stage the overall effect is one of polished perfection and energy. The second act themed around musicals didn’t seem to give the dancers or the audience a chance to take a breath as the tempo was raised.
With a simple and minimal set, (a few curtains lit to enhance the mood), the star of the show is of course Giovanni. He thrills the audience not only with his dancing, the hip gyrations being particularly popular with the mainly female audience, but also with his humour and story-telling. The costumes are also designed to get a reaction with a number of topless or open shirted outfits.
A standing ovation at the end sent the tour off on the road with smiles all round. Born to Win is a show that is guaranteed to get feet tapping and pulses racing.
With a warning of mild peril this much-loved Henry James thriller, adapted by Tim Luscombe, is faithful to the original.
Set in 1840, the staging and actors immediately draw the audience into the eerie atmospheric tale of a new governess agreeing to looking after two orphans.
The problem is that soon after arriving she realises they are not alone. She also learns of Bly’s troubled past but now is the time to confront what really happened. By using an unreliable narrator, it powerfully leaves the audience drawing their own conclusions.
The small cast all gave impeccable and powerful performances throughout. With a seamless and suitable adaption to their acting to suit when the story was set. This included Carli Norris as the governess; Maggie McCarthy as Mrs Grose, Annabel Smith as Mrs Conway and Michael Hanratty as the man. The two understudies were played by Jen Holt and Tom Macqueen.
All the costumes and staging helped to build the intensity of this psychological thriller. The audience remained silent throughout and the sense of unease was heightened by the inability to predict what was about to happen.
The clever use of staging effects induced panic and their were noticeable jumps from the audience before reaching the big finale.
Turning of the Screw plays at Wolverhampton Grand until Saturday 14 April.
Graham Greene’s 80-year-old story takes on new resonance in Bryony Lavery’s dark and thrilling adaptation of Brighton Rock at The Rep.
This brooding tale of the criminal underworld follows teenage sociopath and gang leader Pinkie Brown (Jacob James Beswick) as he attempts to cover his tracks after a brutal murder, leaving a fresh trail of destruction in his wake.
In a demanding anti-heroic role Beswick owns the character of Pinkie, his exaggerated mannerisms work perfectly and he captures Pinkie's tortured nature, dominating arrogance and inner struggles with great skill.
Sarah Middleton produces a beautiful performance as naive waitress Rose, whose blind devotion sucks her into Pinkie’s dangerous world. The tragically abusive nature of their relationship is portrayed with power and sensitivity.
Meanwhile Gloria Onitiri is superb as the unwitting detective and good conscience of the piece, Ida Arnold, who won’t settle until she learns the truth. Onitiri’s naturalistic portrayal is striking throughout and she owns every scene to the point her character transcends the boundaries of the story itself.
Other members of the small cast produce an impressive series of cameos in which Angela Bain and Shamira Turner stand out with their versatility and characterisation.
A simple but striking set allows for slick changes of location to help the story move along at break-neck speed and a two-piece band playing Hannah Peel’s excellent score in the shadows adds cleverly to the constant sense of foreboding.
Pilot Theatre deliver a dark and thrilling reboot of Greene’s suspenseful story of the criminal underworld with bags of substance to match its considerable style.
Brighton Rock plays at The Rep until Saturday 14 April.
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.
A brilliant comedy with a clear freshness of performance
Written by world-renowned playwright, Oscar Wilde, in 1894, The Importance Of Being Earnest was written as 'A Trivial Comedy for Serious People' and, with its farcical exuberance, has graced the world's stages ever since. Wilde proffered a satirical take on Victorian practices such as marriage and the preoccupation with manners, and this legendary masterpiece is brought to the Lichfield Garrick stage by Original Theatre Company who ensure its journey continues with a clear freshness of performance.
In an attempt to escape the mundanity of Victorian life, and its extraordinary social conventions, affluent gentlemen Jack Worthing (Peter Sandys-Clarke) and Algernon Moncrieff (Thomas Howes) create imaginary friends and alternative personas. The play's protagonist, Jack, is known as Jack in the country and Ernest in the city. Jack's best friend Algernon, the charming, idle bachelor and nephew of Lady Bracknell has invented a fictional friend, Bunbury, whose frequent sudden sicknesses allow Algernon to wriggle out of dull social duties in order to visit. When Jack and Algernon's lives intertwine with their fictitious alter-egos, affairs of the heart become rather complicated and result in a comedy of errors involving love interests Gwendolen and Cecily.
The responsible, respectable Jack Worthing is played perfectly by Peter Sandys-Clarke who has an impressive resume of theatrical, TV and film credits to his name, as does Thomas Howes who is as brilliant as he is witty with his portrayal of Algernon delighting the audience with his insatiable, and reckless, consumption of muffins.
Gwen Taylor stars as Lady Bracknell. BAFTA Award nominated actress, Gwen has appeared in a long list of British TV favourites including Coronation Street, Heartbeat, Holby City and Casualty and has too a wealth of theatrical experience which she brings assuredly to the Garrick stage. Cunning and authoritarian, she is possibly the most quotable character in the play as she enters the room with frozen stares, demonstrates her methodical mercenariness by itemising Jack's assets in a notebook and shows her disapproval at the discovery of Jack's birthplace.
The pretentiously sophisticated Hon. Gwendolen Fairfax is played beautifully by Hannah Louise Howell, whose theatre credits include roles in Romeo and Juliet, Mermaid and Much Ado About Nothing. Gwendolen is fixated on the name Ernest, saying she will not marry a man without that name. Louise Coulthard, who plays Cecily Cardew with vigor and confidence, is also enamored with the name Ernest. She has imaginatively fallen in love with Jack’s brother Ernest and diarizes a fictional romance between them. Cecily's governess, Miss Prism, is played hilariously by Susan Penhaligon, whose many TV credits include Upstairs Downstairs, Tales Of The Unexpected, Bergerac, Casualty and Dr Who, and her role is paramount to the plot as we later discover her part in the disappearance of baby Jack.
Dr. Chasuble, played smoothly by actor, writer and former comedian, Geoff Aymer, is the rector on Jack’s estate. Chasuble agrees to baptize both Jack and Algernon in the new name of Ernest. Chasuble entertains secret romantic feelings for Miss Prism and vice versa, Chasuble concealing his romantic signals to Miss Prism beneath scholarly figures of speech and Miss Prism later returning with her famous metaphoric fruits line. Simon Shakleton (Lane/Merriman) and Judith Rae (Moulton) confidently complete the cast line up and light up the stage with their charming characterisations and comedy moments.
With a warm and inviting set this three act play directed by Alastair Whatley and designed by Gabriella Slade was well received by a full house on opening night, three acts ensuring just enough time for two ice creams as we indulged and submerged ourselves in this brilliantly written piece of theatre.
Runs to 31 March. (contains smoking on stage)
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