Category: Music


Image result for Mary Poppins returnsAs a child, I was the boy who skipped around the garden with his umbrella raised high, in the hope that he would take off and float away (it did not go down well). Mary Poppins was one of my favourite films growing up and I have found memories of singing the songs with my Grandma. The classic film means a lot to many and their childhoods.

So when the sequel was announced I was cautious. I was initially worried that it wouldn’t live up to the magic of the first film and was simply a cheap effort to make money (having the same thoughts about Toy Story 4. Please don’t mess it up, Disney). But I was wrong to worry, as this film has clearly been in very capable hands. Mary Poppins Returns is practically perfect in every way. *smug face*.

From the gorgeous opening credits, it’s clear this is a film made with love and respect. Spotting the fleeting glimpse of the bird woman on the steps of St Paul’s made my inner-child jump and that was just the first of many exciting moments. It’s a carpet-bag full of pure joy.  Newcomers to the franchise will enjoy the new story, but those familiar with the original classic are invited onto a carousel of nostalgia.

Obviously the main buzz has been around Emily Blunt taking on Julie Andrews’ iconic role. Blunt slips into the hat and heels perfectly, adding her own dash of quirkiness to the titular character. Lin Manuel Miranda is a great addition as cheeky lamplighter Jack, sharing his impressive trademark musicality, particularly during a rap (yes, I know, but trust me) segment of ‘A Cover is not the book’. Then there’s Ben Whishaw, who will overwork your tearducts as a grieving and grown up Michael Banks. Seeing him smile in the final number would melt the coldest of hearts. Emily Mortimer is perfect as an adult Jane Banks, mixing the innocent giggling girl from the first film with her mother’s determined activist nature, to create a progressive and passionate character (and wearing trousers throughout – a nice touch.)

It’s also great to see some of the secondary characters from the first movie given more screen time. Housekeeper Ellen (this time played by Julie Walters, who is her usual fantastic self), neighbours Admirable Boom and Mr Binnacle, and Bank Manager Mr Dawes all make lots of appearances that aren’t just self-indulgent but serve the plot well. Mr Dawes Jr is played by Dick Van Dyke, and his short appearance towards the end of the movie is lovely. It’s clear this film means a lot to everyone involved, and this is beautifully evident in the emotion in Van Dyke’s eyes as he reprises a role similar to one he played in the original movie. Speaking of Disney royalty, Angela Lansbury also makes an appearance as the Balloon lady, a role that could have been written for Andrews, but Lansbury is perfect, adding her trademark warmth and wit to her small scene. I’m glad Lansbury appeared because I bloody love her. If your inner-child hasn’t overdosed on nostalgia, it will be totally hyperactive by the time Mr Potts starts singing.

Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman have done a cracking job of the score, blending just enough wistful references to the previous score with new material to create some very catchy and moving new numbers. ‘The Place Where Lost Things Go’ will have you sniffling in your popcorn, whilst the final number, ‘Nowhere to Go but Up’ will leave you grinning from ear to ear.

Some people have picked holes in the plot but honestly……I don’t care. Who cares if a couple of things don’t quite make sense? This film wraps you in a feeling of warm, satisfying nostalgia that is worth overlooking a few minor quibbles.

So much care has been put into this film, and it has been met with so much love and praise, that, as much as I would enjoy a chance to visit these characters again, I hope Disney aren’t tempted to make a third any time soon. Sequels aren’t usually a success, but this one is so close to the original (which is a brilliant achievement considering the time span between films) and made with so much respect that its success is well earned. This is going to become a modern classic.

*grabs a balloon and runs to the garden*

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Blwyddyn newydd dda!

As 2018 draws to a close and I crack open the wine and tuck into the Christmas chocolates, I’ve joined the NYE bandwagon in looking back over the last twelve months. I’ve seen some cracking theatre productions and some, frankly mind-boggling shows (Summer Holiday, I’m looking at you), but here are 8 of my best from 2018.

Wicked, UK Tour, Cardiff Millennium Centre, November

Fifth time viewing, but no less spectacular. Wicked was an optical and musical treat. Despite knowing the show inside out since 2006, the UK tour cast brought fresh joy to one of my favourite shows. Sitting in the front row during Defying Gravity added extra special goosepimple-ness.

Full review

Home, I’m Darling, Theatr Clwyd, June

Theatr Clwyd has been my home from home this year and we are SO lucky to have such a fabulous venue on our doorstep. Theatr Clwyd has welcomed some excellent productions but one that’s caused quite a stir is Laura Wade’s Home, I’m Darling. A thought-provoking, topical and hilarious play, featuring the wonderful Katherine Parkinson, Home, I’m Darling is set to transfer for a limited run to the Duke of York’s theatre in January.

Full review

Strictly Ballroom, Piccadilly Theatre, London, June

I think this one has suffered quite an injustice and doesn’t get the credit it deserves. A vibrant but touching show centred around an Australian dance competition, Strictly Ballroom features some impressive choreography and catchy renditions of familiar tunes. Unfortunately the show closed in October but fingers crossed for a UK tour!

Full review

Aladdin, Prince Edward Theatre, London, April 

The stage version of the Disney classic may have had a panto flavour to it, but there’s no doubt it boasted a talented cast and some very clever visuals. Friend Like Me was a show stopper thanks to the charisma of Trevor Dion Nicholas and it’s well worth catching the show before it closes in the autumn.

Full review

Thick as Thieves, Theatr Clwyd, Wales, October 

A powerful one-act play that was a last minute ticket-buy for me. I’m rarely gripped from start-to-finish but this play had me thinking of nothing else. Full of twists and turns with plenty of secrets spilling out across the stage. Thick as Thieves saw powerhouse performances from Polly Frame and Siwan Morris. So glad I caught it!

Full review

Kinky Boots, Opera House Theatre, Manchester, December

A big bundle of fun to warm up the pre-Christmas chill. Myself and my Kinky Crew weren’t too sure what to expect with this one, but it turns out Kinky Boots is a warm-hearted show with some cracking musical numbers, which is definitely deserving of its popularity.

Full review

The Assassination of Katie Hopkins, Theatr Clwyd, May

Assassination caused a bit of controversy when it was announced late last year and with a title like that I knew I had to see it. Topical and thought-provoking, Assassination isn’t the Hopkins-hating leftie production you might expect, but neither is it a love letter to the professional troll. Another show that deserves a comeback in 2019.

Full review

Miss Saigon, Palace theatre, Manchester, March

Finally, a classic musical that had managed to escape my interests until recommended to me in March. An emotional story with a beautiful, haunting score. I didn’t expect this show to be so….sad! And the drive home with my pals was a lot more morose than the journey home from Kinky Boots. Unless you have a heart of stone, you’re going to need tissues after this one.

Full review

It’s been a great year in terms of my personal theatre-viewing and it was hard to whittle the list down to just eight. Also deserving of a mention is my trip to West End Live, which shared brilliant performances from many top west end shows. I’ll definitely be planning on going to West End Live again in the future. I’m not making resolutions this year, but it goes without saying I’ll be hoping to see more excellent productions in 2019, with some really exciting shows already booked in (Hamilton and Harry Potter and the Cursed Child to name two *squeak*). The ticket shelf is already filling up, so as the curtain falls on 2018, here’s to an exciting new year. Now, let’s crack open that box of Heroes from under the tree…..

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‘Change the world when you change your mind.’

That’s the message behind Kinky Boots, currently touring the UK.

Part fabulous, part hilarious, with a great big dollop of heart-warming, Kinky Boots is the show that stands on high heels above the rest.

We follow the story of uninspired and fed up Charlie (Joel Harper-Jackson) as he inherits his father’s shoe factory and, ahem, struggles to fill his shoes. After a chance encounter with bold and beautiful drag queen, Lola (Callum Francis), the pair join forces to make some super sexy boots and rescue Charlie’s factory. An odd partnership at first, we learn they’re not as different as it might seem.

Joel Harper-Jackson delivers some powerful vocals, particularly in his emotionally charged ‘Soul of a Man’. Charlie is conflicted throughout the show as his is torn between honoring the memory of his father, re-inventing the family business, pleasing his new friend Lola, as well as keeping his fiance Nicola happy. Harper-Jackson portrays Charlie’s enthusiasm and frustration well, ensuring he is likeable even during the moments when Charlie isn’t making the right choice. Paula Lane proves to be equally hilarious and endearing as gobby factory worker Lauren, especially during her solo ‘The History of Wrong Guys’. Callum Francis is mesmerising from start to finish, serving up sass with every line but not failing to show Lola’s vulnerability. Surrounded by his team of glamorous angels, Francis performs with fizzing energy and it is a joy to watch him on stage. Francis shines during the more emotional numbers, such as the stunning ‘Not my Father’s Son’, where he sings about his father’s struggle to accept him.

From Lola’s entrance during the earworm, ‘Land of Lola’ ,to the empowering final number ‘Raise you up’, each song will have you grooving in your seat. ‘Sex is the Heel’, sung with pure sexy sass from Francis, also boasts some highly impressive choreography on a set of conveyor belts.

But it’s not just about boots and glitter. This show carries an important message, which is sung in its final number – just be! Whether you like flats or heels, overalls or dresses, boys or girls – this is a show that tells its audience that it just doesn’t matter. ‘Just be who you want to be.’

Kinky Boots is a fun, glittering night out with a heart. Enough to warm up any December night.

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Summer Holiday is weird.

There are lots of good points, but on the whole I found it odd.

I’m not familiar with the film, so maybe it’s that. I walked into the Storyhouse knowing only the incessantly upbeat title track and that the film featured Cliff Richard. In Cliff’s role, Don, was Ray Quinn, who did a sound job as the lead. He’s got a good voice and he can certainly move. Don’s friends are a mixed bunch, varying in oddness, with Matt Trevorrow standing out as Cyril, Don’s lazy, but confident buddy. Don and his friends renovate a London bus and travel across Europe, picking up a girl group and reluctant famous singer on the way. Sophie Matthew plays Barbara with gentle naivety. Taryn Sudding also adds fabulous humour, giving Velma-Von-Tussle-realness, as Barbara’s overbearing mother, Stella.

The standout feature of the production is the choreography. It’s imaginative, fast-paced and carried out with expert precision by the cast. There were plenty of foot-tapping wow-moments. The set is simple but effective, with the double decker bus taking centre stage.

It’s the story that is weird. I know that, being written and set in the sixties, it is going to have aged, but there’s quite a few holes to pick in the narrative. For a show that is billed as a feel-good production, some of it is just uncomfortable. Running away from her mother, Barbara disguises herself as a fourteen year old boy and is invited to travel on the bus by the group of twenty-somethings (Wouldn’t happen in 2018!). I was assured during the interval that Barbara isn’t fourteen but it is still a bit weird when Don, believing she is fourteen, steps out of the shower and asks her to hold his towel whilst he tucks in his ‘old chap’. It’s all played for laughs but…..ewww. For a squeaky clean family show, there’s also a surprising amount of crotch tugging and erection jokes.

The audience were familiar with most of the songs (I could tell by the out of tune singing behind me), and the (on-stage) singing was very strong. Again, it’s in terms of story that the show falls flat. Some of the songs make sense, but some are shoehorned in with zero subtlety. For example, when the gang stumble upon a distraught Italian bride who doesn’t speak English, they decide to use the ‘universal language of music’ to find out what her problem is. So they sing ‘Living Doll’. Why?!

If you’re after a fun and fluffy (if utterly confusing) night at the theatre, Summer Holiday is for you.

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Perhaps it’s because I missed out on the 80’s phenomenon that was Fame, being a child of the nineties, but I found the 30th anniversary touring production to be a bit of a mixed bag. Set in a New York school of Performing Arts, the story follows a bunch of wannabes as they negotiate the perils of being a Stagey in the 80s.

Led by Mica Paris as the home room teacher Miss Sherman, there’s no doubt about it that Fame does boast a very talented cast. Keith Jack shows off his impressive vocals in his role as serious thespian Nick. Jorgie Porter, of Hollyoaks fame, is able to demonstrate her dance skills in the role of snooty Ballet dancer Iris. Stephanie Rojas delivers a powerful performance as fame-hungry Carmen, and performs the title track with spine-tingling ease. Fame has a very strong ensemble, made up of mesmerising dancers and a cast that perform their own instruments throughout (which always adds a special something to any production).

The problem, for me, lies with the story. Maybe I’m just a bit too close to being a millennial to appreciate it, but parts of the story just didn’t sit right with me. For the first few minutes, when the characters are finding out they’ve been accepted to ‘PA’, I really struggled to piece together what on earth was going on! The first act seemed to be a mash up of events with a scattering of rubbish jokes in between. Then, just a few tracks in, I couldn’t quite believe I was listening to a song about a hard-on.

There are lots of characters who are likeable (hard-on singer not being one of them), such as Serena, the nerdy girl who longs to be with Nick and hapless but talented Schlomo, who is another audience favourite. Particularly heart-breaking is the scene where Schlomo meets Carmen after her return from L.A., which Simon Anthony plays very movingly. I should also mention the ‘Teacher’s argument’ duet, between Miss Sherman and dance teacher Miss Bell which was electric (but I’ve always been a sucker for a good musical argument).

Another big problem lies with the character of Tyrone. Jamal Kane Crawford can certainly move, that’s for sure, but I found it hard to sympathise with Tyrone after he refers to two separate female characters as ‘bitch’. After the second incident, when he has angrily squared up to Miss Sherman and shouted in her face, we are expected to clap along and enjoy a bouncy, jolly tune about how Tyrone wants to make it as a dancer. I didn’t want to cheer for him. I wanted him to sod off.

Whilst it is an enjoyable night out, the story does seem to be a bit of a mess, but it’s more so a fault with the script than the performers. For me, the show does improve as it plays out, with a stronger second act, building to a cracking finale. The whole cast performing ‘Bring on Tomorrow’ is genuinely stirring, especially for those who have ever been part of a theatrical clique. In this production, the curtain call to the famous title track was brilliant. The whole audience were on their feet, it was like being at a concert, and Mica Paris brought the house down. There were plenty of hardcore Fame fans in the audience whose enjoyment was very clear, so perhaps if you’re an avid fan of the film or TV series, this is for you. If you’re not, I’d still recommend going, for a night of live music and dance from a super enthusiastic cast.

Image result for everybody's talking about jamieLimited Edition. Thursday night special. I headed down to my favourite local theatre to catch the one-off live screening of Everybody’s talking about Jamie. I knew very little about the show beforehand. I’d seen the cast perform at West End Live and thought they were very good but, whilst I appreciated the music I had heard,  I couldn’t help but feel this show wasn’t going to be my thing. I know. I’m full of shame for judging it but I think it’s important to admit my preconceptions because….I was bloody wrong.

Everybody’s talking about Jamie was fantastic.  A lively, hilarious, sucker-punch of a show that struts its stuff unapologetically for a glorious two and half hours. The script, by Tom Macrae, is one of the best in the musical theatre I have heard. Witty, sharp, full of acerbic lines from Jamie, but never in a way that is too forced. The way the characters interact always feels very natural and nothing ever seems cringey or false. It’s refreshing to see a modern, original musical where the characters don’t use plummy RP or grating false american accents. This is Sheffiled! The setting brings the production down to the earth, but makes it no less fabulous.

John McCrea is an absolute star in the title role, serving up sass, high kicks and prom queen realness. Jamie’s pain at being rejected by his (bastard) father (played by Ken Christiansen) is palpable, and the fall out from his Dad’s criticism is devastating. Christiansen is also brilliant within his role as Jamie’s homophobic, anti-drag father who struggles to accept his son for who he is. We all know a ‘Jamie’s Dad’, unfortunately, and Christiansen portrays the tough role well. Jamie’s mum is played by Josie Walker, who wins the audience over from the moment she sets foot on stage. Anyone who didn’t have a tiny tear (and wish there mother would sing about them like that!), during ‘He’s my boy’ is made of pure stone. Shobna Gulati also adds glamour and hilarity in the role of Jamie’s alternative parental-figure, and his mum’s best friend, Ray. Lucy Shorthouse plays Jamie’s meek ‘fag hag’, Pritti, to perfection and has a lovely singing voice to boot. The whole cast as an ensemble are something special and you can tell they have worked incredibly hard to build this production into the success it has become.

Dan Gillespie Sells has created one of the best musical theatre scores. Interestingly, each song doesn’t sound like it should be from a stage show. Any one of them could be played on the radio and no one would think any different. From the opening, upbeat earworm, ‘Don’t even know it’, to the heart-breaking, ‘He’s my boy’, Gillespie Sells shows he has a fantastic talent and creates a perfect score for the story.

The message of Jamie is so important. Through its story of drag queens, frustrated teachers, loyal mothers and confused teens, it encourages you to be whoever you want to be – whether that’s a flamboyant drag artist or studious medical student. It’s a vibrant, modern musical that I know the sixteen year old me would have loved. Though I had my doubts, Jamie has strutted its way confidently into my top five and taught me a valuable lesson – I have to get myself to London to see it live.

Jamie is a killer production, with mesmerising choreography, some wicked one-liners and a heart-warming story that urges its audience to get out of the darkness, and into the spotlight. Image result for everybody's talking about jamie

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Home, I’m Darling is a fresh, original play from Laura Wade with all the makings of a classic. Directed by Tamara Harvey, Home, I’m Darling, is funny, thought-provoking and, in parts, quite sinister, and it certainly leaves the audience with plenty to mull over.

Katherine Parkinson plays Judy, a former business woman who has taken voluntary redundancy to spend six months living the life of a fifties housewife. Problems arise when six months turn into three years, and an obsessed Judy is struggling to hide her money woes from her husband, Jonny. As the couple have to choose between living the frugal, fifties life of their dreams or facing their problems in the twenty-first century, they also have to deal with Jonny’s confused feelings for his boss, Alex, and his desperation to get that important promotion. As the plot unfolds, there are plenty of hilarious moments from women uncomfortable in their time. Judy’s mother laments over her own mother’s post-war suspicions, including when a new dairy product came to Britain. (‘My poor mother. Frightened of a yoghurt’). Then, there’s Judy, who has totally lost touch with the present day. (‘People standing in doorways sucking on a biro’.)

Parkinson gives an electric, and poignant, performance as Judy. When we meet her she is the epitome of perfection, serenely cooking breakfast in her gingham palace, before waving her husband off to work with a peck on the cheek. As the story unravels, so does Judy. Near the end of the play she is dishevelled and terrified at the prospect of stepping foot into 2018 (she doesn’t even know what ‘Bake-off’ is!’). Although some might be frustrated at her retreat into this male-dominated world of a fifties housewife, Judy maintains that it is her choice, therefore it is a feminist choice. She is likeable and you can’t help but feel sorry for her as she makes mistake after mistake in a desperate attempt to keep her fantasy alive.

Judy’s friend Fran acts as a mouth-piece for the audience, gently questioning Judy’s choices and even dipping her toe into the fifties pool herself. Fran’s husband Marcus undergoes quite the transformation as he moves from cheeky, ‘huggy’ chappy, to creepy sleezeball. Drysdale gives an excellent performance as Fran, particularly as she is torn between the love for her husband and the allegations set against him. Sian Thomas is striking as Judy’s frustrated, former-hippy mother, Sylvia, who is fraught at the prospect of her daughter living the ‘repressed’ lifestyle she fought against. Sylvia’s monologue about the forgotten drawbacks of the fifties, and the ridiculousness of modern nostalgia from those who weren’t even alive in the era, is particularly fantastic and delivered so passionately and naturally that it is easy for the audience to forget they were watching a scripted performance.

Home, I’m Darling is a rare thing of beauty. There were no stand-out performances, (although Parkinson was, of course, incredible) because every cast member was a joy to watch. Everyone was playing with honesty which led to a very natural and believable production. It’s not just the acting. Everything about it dazzles. Home, I’m Darling opens up many hot topics for debate, from an uncomfortable case of sexual harassment in the workplace, to the reasons behind Judy’s obsessive, almost fetish-like passion for her fifties fantasy, to the grey-area of Jonny’s feelings for Alex.

Home, I’m Darling is a modern think-piece that will leave you chuckling and jiving long after the curtain call.

 

Would I go to West End Live again? HELL YES!

I’ve wanted to go for years and this year I finally made it happen, and after following the hype on twitter for weeks, I was more than ready to soak up the stagey awesomeness in Trafalgar Square on Saturday.

Thankfully, I was up early and had my place in the queue just after 8am (two hours before the gates opened). Apparently, the queues were soon stretching right up to Leicester Square and when I left the event at 2.30pm, there were still people waiting to get in, which is a testament to the popularity of the event.

Just like Comic Con, West End Live has a very comfortable vibe. Everyone there loves theatre and no one is there to judge. You can belt the words to ‘Defying Gravity’ or join in with the exact choreography to ‘All That Jazz’ (and people did) and no one will bat an eyelid.

My early start paid off as I managed to grab an excellent spot. Sitting on the wall of a fountain I had a clear view of everything happening on the main stage and the stage right screen. Presenters Tom Price and Ruthie Henshall did a great job introducing all the acts, starting with the cast of Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, who kicked the day off with a burst of energy and fabulousness.

It’s impossible to choose a favourite act. Adrienne Warren from Tina was a highlight, fully embracing Tina-isms to a point where a passer-by would have been forgiven for thinking Queen Turner was performing. Trevor Dion Nicholas from Aladdin knows how to work a crowd and whipped the excitement up with his trademark charisma. (How is he not constantly exhausted?) The Dreamgirls cast delivered powerful vocals, particularly as they passionately sang ‘Listen’. Then there was the cast of Mamma Mia who had the whole crowd singing along to ‘Dancing Queen’ in a moment of pure, unapologetic campery that had everyone waving their arms in the air. Alice Fearn delivered an incredible ‘Defying Gravity’ from Wicked and the audience went crazy when she walked on stage in full Elphaba costume.

It was the cast of Bat of out Hell who really rocked Trafalgar Square though, with an energetic medley of songs from the new hit musical. Andrew Polec was fantastic and proved to be very charming during an interview after his performance. Bat of out Hell is definitely high up on the list, now.

Will Young introduced his show, Strictly Ballroom, and lead performers Jonny Labey and Zizi Strallen who wowed with their impressive moves….but more on that next week!

There was also a surprise appearance from Matt Willis who has joined the cast of Little Shop of Horrors as the evil Dentist, Orin. There was also serious Ab-envy towards most of the cast of Chicago who, in my opinion, where too greedy with their ab muscles and should consider sharing them with the ab-less, such as myself.

Each performance was so amazing – even the very few shows that were at the bottom of my ‘to-see’ list have risen to the top thanks to their routines. Unfortunately, I had to leave at 2.30, but thanks to the wonder of youtube I was able to catch the acts I missed and the quality certainly did not diminish as the day went on.

Of course, no visit to London would be complete without a pit stop at the theatre café and I celebrated in style with a green tea in a Wicked cup (well what else would you put in a Wicked cup?)

So after years of planning to go and not quite making it due to one thing or another, I finally made West End Live. Celebratory jazz hands all round!

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On the surface, Hairspray is a vibrant shot of colourful campery. But after my trip to Venue Cymru on the weekend, I found myself delving a little deeper into a musical that provided the soundtrack to my later teens.

After first seeing Hairspray in London in 2007, thoughts of comparing that wonderful production to the latest tour scratched at my mind from the moment ‘Goodmorning Baltimore’ began. Although this production was a fine incarnation of the bouncy,  but far-from-fluffy musical, it paled slightly in comparison to the original London run. It felt like I was watching a watered down version. However, there were still plenty of gems to enjoy.

Whilst Rebecca Mendoza gave a comedic, gurning take on Tracey Turnblad, her portrayal erred on the side of panto. The clearly rehearsed ‘spontaneous laughter’ between Norman Pace and Matt Rixon as Wilbur and Edna added to the pantomime taste that wasn’t so apparent in the original London production. Though they were both excellent in their roles, but the panto-banter sort of let their big duet down.

I felt Brenda Edwards should have been perfect casting for the role of Motormouth Maybelle, but although she blew the audiences socks off every time she sang (hitting each note with pitch-perfect ease), she chose to portray a gentler, simpering side to Maybelle that I didn’t expect. Maybelle is a strong and confident woman. Queen Latifah played her! Her name is ‘Motormouth’ for God’s sake! Edwards seemed to lack bolshiness to really deliver in her role. This only really shone through when she sang.

Layton Williams was a delight as Seaweed, slaying ‘Run and Tell That’ with his trademark backflips and mid-air splits. Gina Murray also wowed as Velma Von Tussle, giving new depths to the campy villain. Having seen Tracy Bennett play Velma perfectly in London (and of course the wonderful K-Cheno in Hairspray: Live), I was skeptical about whether Murray would be able to bring anything new to Velma, but she added a new confidence and sexiness to the character. She didn’t hit one wrong note during any of her songs.

Don’t get me wrong, this was a big bundle of fabulous fun, great family entertainment for a Saturday night, but the production fell foul to the increasing trend of projected set pieces. I can see how it lowers and eases production costs but to me it just waters down the whole production and, unfortunately, cheapens it. Perhaps I’m being unfair by comparing it to a previous production. In it’s own right, this is an excellent performance but it’s only when looking at previous incarnations that the cracks begin to appear.

Finally, let’s talk about the ending. I’m sure before the 2007 movie everyone was thrilled that Tracey wins Miss Teenage Hairspray. But surely anyone watching the stage version post-movie will be more than disappointed that it’s not Inez who takes the crown. Many noticeable additions from the movie appear in the stage show but the ending remains unchanged. After listening to the strong messages of the show for two hours, it just doesn’t sit right that the white girl gets the glory.

Right, it occurred to me that this year I have seen a lorra lorra theatre and, ridiculously, have only written about a few shows. So to catch up, this week I’m giving you four fast reviews for the productions I missed, but really did deserve to be talked about…..

Wonderland, Venue Cymru, LlandudnoImage result for Wonderland the musical

I’ll start with Wonderland because it’s got a bit of a tragic story.  I saw this in Llandudno in June and it was spectacular. Wonderland is the familiar story of Alice given a modern twist. Alice is a 40-something divorcee with a teenage daughter who enters Wonderland via a dodgy lift in her apartment block. She doesn’t take the trip alone as she’s joined by daughter Ellie and awkward love-interest Jack. Whilst in Wonderland they’re encouraged to go through the looking glass, a magical archway that exposes the other side of their personalities (cue Alice becoming stern and sensible and Jack transforming into a confident charmer.)

Wonderland boasted many memorably songs, particularly ‘Through the Looking Glass’ and ‘Finding Wonderland’, sung with passion and energy by a very talented cast. Rachael Wooding was a powerhouse as Alice, revealing Alice’s faults and insecurities poignantly. Bree Smith gave a cracking performance as the sassy Queen of Hearts, slaying with her performance of ‘Off with their heads’. Ben Kerr and Francesca Lara Gordon were also brilliant as the March Hare and Mad Hatter, giving us refreshing twists on the classic characters. The set pieces were gorgeous, fully immersing into the crazy world of Wonderland where anything is possible. Most striking was the way the famous tale of  Alice was re-worked into a modern setting, giving the characters (particularly Alice) a bit more depth along the way. Wonderland was a work of art and must-see, modern musical.

However, just a couple of weeks after seeing Wonderland, the tour was cancelled due to problems behind the scenes. There’s plenty of speculation online, but, whatever the reason, it’s a great shame that the hard work, commitment and talent of the cast and crew will go unseen.

Les Miserables, Queen’s Theatre, London

Image result for les miserablesThis was a bucket-list show that lived up to all of my expectations, and beyond. The star of the show is its musical score and I was not disappointed to hear Claude-Michel Schönberg’s music played by a live orchestra. ‘At the end of day’ saw the full cast launch into action with breath-taking harmonies whilst ‘Do you hear the people sing?’ gave the audience goosebumps you could strike a match on. Simon Gleeson was made for the role of Jean Valjean, whist Hollie O’Donoghue was perfect as Eponine, giving a beautiful performance of ‘On My Own’. Katy Secombe and David Langham stole every scene as the dastardly Thenardiers, providing much needed comedy amongst all the tragedy! The revolving set works really well, seamlessly taking the story across France and through the ages. The battle sequence in the second act is particularly stunning, with tense performances (and gun fire!) keeping the audience well on the edge of their seats. At one point it took all my will not to cover my eyes. The deaths during this battle scene are especially heart breaking (no spoilers), and many gasps were heard as the barricade revolved to reveal the true carnage. Les Miserables remains packed with emotion throughout and it ends in spectacular fashion with the beautiful finale. There’s no question as to why this show has been around for so long. It’s a must-see and a show that I’m sure I’ll revisit.

Don Juan in Soho, Wyndham’s Theatre, LondonImage result for don juan in soho

Sex, drugs and David Tennant – what’s not to love? Though, admittedly, the main pull to this production was, initially, that is starred a certain former Time Lord, I was pleasantly surprised to find a sparkling script and stellar performances waiting for me at Wyndham’s Theatre. Updated to 2017 and relocated to Soho, Don Juan tells the story of a privileged, hedonistic party-goer as he sleeps his way around London, picking up plenty of hookers and cocaine along the way. David Tennant was, of course, fantastic as the titular bastard, unleashing his inner-Russel Brand and being fantastically horrid to every other character, including his loyal aid, Stan, played excellently by Adrian Scarborough. The relationship between Stan and DJ is surprisingly endearing, though Stan, on the edge of a breakdown, is desperate for DJ to pay him so he can retire, he can’t help but stay by DJ’s side. Don Juan in Soho is strikingly contemporary, with references to the ‘strong and stable’ government we find ourselves trapped under today as well as several witty remarks about American politics. DJ deliciously berates the world we live in, stating social media, fake news and lying politicians as factors of a crumbling society in one passionately performed monologue that had the audience on the verge of shouting ‘Amen!’. DJ tries to explain to Stan that life is all about pleasure – shamelessly seducing the chavtastic Lottie (a brilliant comic performance from Dominique Moore) in a hospital whilst simultaneously trying it on with grieving bride Mattie in one ridiculously outrageous scene. Don Juan in Soho was theatre at its best as it forced the audience to think before they left their seats. It was engaging from the first moment, topical and surreal, and definitely one of the best plays I’ve ever seen.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, Venue Cymru, Llandudno

Image result for the curious incident of the dog in the night-timeA really touching story told in a refreshing, and visually brilliant, way. Christopher finds his neighbour’s dog has been killed and takes it upon himself to solve the mystery. His mission sees him uncover a family secret, which in turn takes him to the terrifying world of Central London. Scott Reid was phenomenal as Christopher, giving a truly powerful performance, particularly as Christopher’s condition begins to take control. The modern and tech-heavy set pieces drew us in to the story using clever effects (a green box giving the effect of a football match on TV, a remote control train bringing London to life before our eyes) to add an extra fizz to the already sparkling performances. Surprisingly, Christopher has uncovered the culprit by the interval, leaving the second act to explore the secrets of Christopher’s family and the effects his ‘behavioural problems’ have on his loved ones. Anyone who doesn’t feel prickly-eyed throughout Act 2 is incapable of emotion. The emotional energy of the performances is sometimes borderline unbearable, and the sequences in London are also quite overwhelming, as we experiences flashing lights, loud noises and almost nightmarish scenes, we’re forced to view the world from Christopher’s point of view. This is a play that will stay with you long after you’ve left the theatre.