Category: Theatre


Image result for Aladdin the musical

A last minute dash to the West End resulted in Saturday night at the Prince Edward Theatre. Disney’s Aladdin was spectacular – a bouncy, vibrant musical and a special treat for any fan of the Disney film.

Everything from the set pieces to the costumes is big, bold, and classic Disney, screaming Disney from the moment the curtain rises. The decision to add extra characters, such as Aladdin’s friends, does sit a bit oddly at first but his pals prove their likeability during the second act.

This script fizzes with wit in moments, mostly during the Genie’s scenes, however it does feel slightly panto in parts, particularly during Jafar and Iago’s front of curtain scenes. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, especially given the shows target audience are children, but it does seem a bit unexpected,  when compared to Disney’s other hit, The Lion King.

Aladdin was played with heroic charm by Antony Hewitt and Jade Ewan was perfect as Princess Jasmine. Admittedly, the Genie is the star of the show. Just as the first act is starting to dip, the lamp is rubbed and out pops Trevor Dion Nicholas with his fast-firing jokes and impressive magic tricks. ‘Never Had A Friend Like Me’ is the definition of a show-stopper with an extended arrangement, extravagant tap routine, vanishing male lead, and appearing showgirls, all accompanied by a riffing genie. It’s enough to leave even the Disney-adverse humming the chorus days later.

It’s not just the Genie’s magic that adds an extra special charm to the production. There were ooohs and aaaahs a plenty when the magic carpet actually floated around the stage with not a string in sight. It took a bit of googling to discover how it’s done, but the clever use of modern tech adds a whole new world of magic to the show.

Overall, Aladdin is a dazzling diamond in the West End. A real cave of wonders.

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Image result for miss saigon I walked into the Palace theatre knowing nothing about Miss Saigon, but I left with a haunting soundtrack flickering through my mind. Whilst the story of Miss Saigon is simple, Sooha Kim and Ashley Gilmour make stunning work of captivating the audience as Kim and Chris. I was struck by how quickly the audience cared about them, particularly Kim, whose naivety and innocence is performed beautifully by Sooha Kim. Whilst the doomed romance between Kim and Chris makes for plenty of drama, it’s the score that gives Miss Saigon its real power. From the dramatic opening as Kim’s village is attacked to the thunderous rumblings of the finale, each song whips up the tragedy and emotion perfectly. ‘The Last Night of the World’ was the only song I was familiar with prior to watching, but the intense crescendo of the song wasn’t the only musical piece that left me with goosebumps. Gilmour gave a vulnerable performance during ‘Why God Why?’ and Kim’s ‘I Still Believe’ was pitch perfect in every way.  But it wasn’t all drama – thankfully Red Concepcion was on hand to provide some light relief as the sleazy Engineer, delivering every vulgar comment with extra grease. This was a production where every cast member was giving their all – even the helicopter earned a round of applause!

The most poignant theme of Miss Saigon isn’t the heart-breaking relationship between Chris and Kim, but the desperate lengths Kim will go to in order to protect her son, Tam. It’s a story about the strength of love, but not necessarily the story you were expecting.

 

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.

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‘Darkness, grief and unspeakable sorrow.’

Well…not quite. Darkness, yes, but there were plenty of laughs at the WMC in Cardiff on Friday night. I’ve been reading a lot on twitter about The Addams Family musical so I was really excited when, by pure luck, I bagged two tickets for last Friday.

As the orchestra struck up the familiar theme tune, what was initially clear was just how well cast this show was. Samantha Womack is a perfect Morticia – cool and sultry throughout – whilst Cameron Blakely makes a terrific Gomez. Both actors have sizzling chemistry together (proven with a sexy tango) and match each other with each witty punchline. They both resurrect these iconic characters perfectly. Perhaps surprisingly, ‘Love’ is a key theme of this production, most prominently the love between a family, and Blakley shows Gomez’s love for his daughter,Wednesday, beautifully, particularly during the song ‘Happy/Sad’, where he reflects on the memories he has of his young daughter, such as the first time she set fire to the Jehovah’s witness, evoking the dark humour we associate with the family.  (Another example, when Alice asks if the Addams’ have a little girls’ room, Gomez responds with ‘We did, but we had to let them go.’)

At first, Wednesday’s (Carrie Hope Fletcher) change of character is a bit awkward, but all becomes clear when Wednesday belts her showstopper number ‘PRelated imageulled’, explaining that her change is a result of her love for Lucas. As the show progresses, it becomes clear Wednesday’s sadistic side is still lurking as she tortures her brother and gets very excited about potentially shooting Lucas in the head with her crossbow (all in the name of love, of course).

Valda Aviks was also fantastic as Granny, particularly during her ‘Full Disclosure’ speech. It was a smart move to address the ambiguity around Granny’s connection to the family from the cartoons and movies, by having Morticia refer to her as Gomez’s mother before Gomez retorts with ‘My mother? I thought she was your mother?’.

 

Les Dennis gave a great performance as Fester and his story thread of being in love with the moon was typically ‘Addams’ and, at the end, quite sweet. Dickon Gough also deserves a mention for his scene-stealing performance as Lurch. Lurch doesn’t speak but became a clear audience favourite thanks to Gough’s comic timing and surprising hip action in the finale number. (One complaint – where was Cousin itt?!). The main cast are supported by an excellent cast of ancestors, complete with choreography reminiscent of Thriller.

As well as the familiar quirky characters, the show boasts a catchy score. Andrew Lippa nails the new music and each number feels very natural to the characters. In particular, the opening number ‘When you’re an Addams’ is a definite ear worm and the final number, ‘Move towards the darkness’, will haunt you after you leave your seat.

What’s also impressive is the way the gothic Addams mansion is brought to life on stage via moving staircases and hidden entrances. The suspended moon above the Addams family home creates an eery and dramatic scene.

Overall, The Addams Family is a treat for theatre fans with a gorgeous score, fantastic visuals and a stellar cast.

Watch the opening number here

Watch the trailer here

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Image result for 42nd street londonI had an unexpected and very last minute trip to London last week.  Amongst the walking, talking and dining, I found myself at the Theatre Royal for a surprise tap-dance down 42nd Street.

I had very few preconceptions about the show, and I didn’t really have time to consider it too much, but I knew I was in for an old-fashioned, high-kicking performance. Four rows from the front, I had perfect seats (courtesy of TodayTix rush tickets) which gave a great close-up view of the stage.

The shows standout quality is its sheer spectacle. The sets and costumes are absolutely dazzling and during several musical numbers it’s hard to be anything but totally absorbed. The lights, moving set pieces, harmonies….It really is mesmerising. During one sequence a huge mirror is lowered to firstly, reflect the audience, and then tilted to show the dancers lying on the stage floor carrying out a very intricate synchronised sequenced. It was so impressive even the mirror got a round applause!

Tom Lister and Gabrielle Lewis-Dodson gave great performances as theatre producer Julien Marsh and clumsy chorus girl Peggy Sawyer. Sheena Easton was also brilliantly bitchy as the acerbic actress Dorothy Brock. I really enjoyed Jasna Ivir’s performance of Maggie Jones, delivering her witty one-liners with perfect comic timing (On musicians ‘Let’s just say they’re in a pit… and there’s a reason we keep them there!’)Image result for 42nd street london

Musically, the show boasts lots of catchy numbers, many of which I wasn’t familiar with until I’d seen the show, but caught myself humming many times since. ‘Go into your dance’ and ‘42nd Street’ are big tap numbers that get the audience going, but it’s ‘The Lullaby of Broadway’ that really steals the show. Ear worms a-plenty in this show!

The overall plot, a chorus girl getting her big break in a huge Broadway show, is a bit flimsy in parts, particularly some of the songs in the ‘Pretty Lady’ musical (What is the plot of that show?!), but that doesn’t distract from the energy and passionate performances of the cast.  42nd Street is a spectacular night out of good old fashioned West-End magic.

Watch the trailer here

I used to have a bit of a fear. I didn’t like doing things on my own. I’ve got friends who would happily go to the cinema alone or eat in a restaurant by themselves but I never felt comfortable doing any of those things. I’d feel like all eyes were on me and I just the thought was enough to make me cringe.

As we get older, we do start to lose that horrible feeling of self-consciousness and realise that the world is not looking directly at us. If anything, we’re pretty invisible. Last year, I started going to the gym. At the first, it was with a friend, so any awkwardness could be laughed off, but when my friend could no longer find the time to gym, I was faced with the option of ‘go alone or stay at home’. I was tempted to jack it all in and vegetate in front of the television but the desire for a healthier lifestyle made me choose the first option. Initially, I was self-conscious but after a couple of solo visits I realised everyone else was too busy focusing on their own work-out to be scrutinising my sweat sessions. Hitting the gym became my ‘me time’, a chance to work out and spend quality time with myself.

I started to realise that I could do things on my own….

I’ve been desperate for a break away for years. I wasn’t fussed on where – abroad or closer to home – but I needed a trip away. When it became clear that going with someone wasn’t going to be possible, I decided not to wallow in self-pity at home but to bite the bullet and go solo!

So, I spent three days of the half term in London. It might not seem like a big deal to some people, the kind of people who travel alone all the time, but for me it was huge. I can be quite an anxious person, so the thought of being away from home, where so many things could go wrong, worried me for a short time after I’d booked the trip, but the possible adventures my trip could produce soon dawned on me. Being a huge theatre fan, I was determined to see a show or two whilst in the West End and I realised that I could see whatever I wanted! I didn’t have to compromise with anyone because this was my trip! I made all the decisions. So, on my first night I saw Les Miserables, a show I’d wanted to see for a years, and I was not disappointed. On the second night I saw David Tennant in Don Juan in Soho which was hilarious and extremely topical. Not once did I feel odd for being a solo audience member. In my time in London, I visited all the places I’d always wanted to see. I went to see Van Gogh’s painting in the National Gallery, spent a few hours in the British Museum, had a coffee at the Theatre Café and shopped in Covent Garden. I literally did not stop walking (just ask my poor feet!). I didn’t have to consult with anyone because each decision was my own to make – and it was very liberating!

So, if you’re the kind of person who would turn down the chance to do something great because it would mean doing it alone, take the plunge and be brave. This half term break has been the best for a long time because I didn’t let anything restrict my fun – I grabbed it and made the most of it! Not only did I have an awesome time but I learnt a bit about myself.  Travelling solo reminded me that I have strength, I can be brave and I can relax, and I can be comfortable in my own company. So my advice: Do it for yourself, go solo and enjoy!

Oh. My. God.

48hours left.

Months of planning and prepping and rehearsing have led us to this week. We’ve spent today on a last minute hunt for props and costumes before having our final rehearsal.

Everything is as ready as it will ever be. A tree has been erected in the dinner hall and the PE cupboard is now home to Excalibur.

With just one full day left before the performance, the children are far more relaxed than the staff (which is how it should be!). Although today’s performance was not quite as energy-fuelled as other rehearsals, the children have worked hard to put this production together and I’m sure they’ll dazzle for the school and their parents on Wednesday.

Strangely, for me, an odd calmness settled over me today. I’ve got faith in the children to pull it off but it’s also oddly comforting to know that I only have to days left to worry about anything performing arts related! Bring on the show!

Right, it’s official. I can’t stop buying theatre tickets. I’m seeing six productions before June and already looking for summer productions. I’ve been keeping up to date with West End productions lately and I noticed The Harold Pinter Theatre has become the first to request that audience members do not eat or drink during its performance of Who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf?. Apparently Imelda Staunton, who plays Martha in the production, is very much against people eating in theatres and has cited it as distracting and rude behaviour.

I must admit, I’m with Imelda. When you think about it, it’s an odd notion. ‘You just stand there and speak and I’m going to watch you whilst I eat popcorn.’ As someone who has dabbled with treading the boards, I can imagine just how infuriating it must be to be mid-monologue, only to have the tension broken by someone opening a bag of Doritos. Imelda apparently said she can’t understand why people can’t go a few hours without eating. Again I agree. It seems to be the norm to see people piling into theatres carrying bags of sweets and crisps and whatever-else, but really they have paid for a ticket to watch the play. Not shovel Rolos in their mouths. In most cases people would have perhaps gone for dinner beforehand too so….why all the food? I can understand an interval ice cream and I’m certainly pro-water. The last thing the actors need is to put up with one of my unfortunately timed coughing fits so I always make sure I have a bottle of water with me.

Imelda’s comments reminded me of something I’ve often thought when visiting the theatre. Whatever happened to Theatre Etiquette? I’ve been going to the theatre since I was a child and I was always aware there were some rules. No talking being rule number one. But in some productions I’ve been to lately, people just don’t seem to care! They’ll gladly and loudly chat to their friend, sometimes about the price of the programme, sometimes about the view (or ‘I can’t hear what she’s saying! Can you?’) and is there anything more annoying than someone providing their friend with a running commentary? (‘That’s the brother she thought had died….)

Another important rule – Make sure your phone is switched off. I went to see Stig of the Dump at the Open Air Theatre in Chester last summer. One man in the audience was talking so loudly to the people around him that we thought he was part of the production! Then, just as the story was really kicking in, this man’s phone rang….and he answered it! Not only that, but he continued the conversation for a good two minutes before an usher politely asked him to stop…and he shushed her! I’m sure you can imagine the huffs, puffs and glares coming from our corner. Ooh it makes me furious just thinking about it!

Thirdly, and I’m aware this might be a personal preference, but I always thought of the theatre as a place you visit in your best clothes. I’m not talking tux and ball gown, but certainly smart/casual. I went to see Joseph last year and I was shocked at how many people had rocked up in tracksuits. TRACKSUITS! It’s also worth mentioning that at this performance of Joseph a bunch of people in front of me were singing along! Cue sighs, tuts and eyerolls from G. I prefer to save my singing for outside the theatre and let the performers do their job. I also prefer to shut up and allow the people around me to enjoy listening to the trained singers. Surely, it’s a mark of respect. These people are performing for us, putting themselves all out there and sometimes going through horrendous emotions. The least we can do is not dress like we’re going to a gym class.

I say bring back theatre etiquette. Oh, and next time you’re at the theatre, particularly if you’re sitting behind me, don’t eat, don’t talk, don’t sing and for God’s sake make an effort!

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Warning: Spoilers within as well as references to explicit material.

Hello. My name is RebelliousG. And I would like to share with you the most amazing show.

In principle, The Book of Mormon sounds like it should be a pretty dull show. A musical about Mormons? Really? You’d be forgiven for guessing this show is an elaborate plot to promote the religion but, for those uninterested in changing faith, have no fear. This show is anything but an advertisement. And it’s certainly not dull. With tongue placed firmly in cheek, The Book of Mormon tells the story of smarmy, self-absorbed Elder Price and his loveable, clueless fellow missionary, Elder Cunningham, as they are deployed to Uganda on a hopeless mission to convert a village of agnostic Africans.

The opening Image result for book of mormon londonnumber welcomes us to the pristine and innocent world of Mormon friends as they practise their perky greetings. It’s a full on cheese-fest that’ll win anyone round immediately. It all goes a bit pear-shaped when, after dreaming of being sent to Orlando, Elder Price is packed off to Uganda and saddled with Elder Cunningham to dampen his mood further.

This is where things get a bit….explicit. The Mormons arrive in Uganda and meet a bunch of hapless missionaries who have yet to recruit anyone to the church, but stay positive by ‘turning it off’ – a useful technique of switching off all negative feelings, told wonderfully though a big tap number. Turn it off is the definition of a showstopper. Tap-dancing Mormons singing cheerfully about turning off their guilt, grief and suppresse
d sexuality. What more could you want? It’s topped off with the quickest costume change I’ve ever seen.

Another stand out number is the ‘Hakuna Matata’-esque, Hasa Diga Eebowai, sang by the Ugandan villagers on the Elders arrival. Don’t be fooled though, the writers knew exactly what they were doing with this one. At first it sounds like the Ugandans are singing a message of jolly perseverance to an INCREDIBLY catchy tune, but the true translation of Hasa Diga Eebowai is soon revealed to the horrified Mormons as a great big eff-you to God. It then descends into a barrage of explicit insults at the ‘heavenly father’ which, annoyingly (well…OK…not really), is a bit of an ear worm. (You’re really gonna have to try hard to get this tune out of your head!) The lyrics might be enough to force even the most open-minded person to cringe but the message of Hasa Diga Eebowai is actually a powerful one. The villagers have to deal with genital mutilation, awful living conditions, the threat of a war lord and the AIDS outbreak. A powerful line from the song sums it up

‘If you don’t like what we say,

Try living here a couple days.

Watch all your friends and family die,

Hasa Diga Eebowai!’

Some people might judge this musical number as offensive and I imaginRelated imagee this is the point where people might walk out (two people did in our performance) but if you put yourself in their shoes, you can see where their lack of faith has come from. The song actually does
what theatre is supposed to – it makes the audience challenge their ideas and empathise. I loved it!

From a show that tackles topics such as rape, FGM, violence and intercourse with amphibians, it has a really warm heart. The show never cruelly mocks Mormons or their beliefs, nor does it preach to the audience. Elder Price collapses under the strain of his new environment, and even endures having his book inserted somewhere very painful in another darkly comic moment, and it’s Elder Cunningham who emerges the hero. Although he lies to the villagers and spices up the Book of Mormon by ‘taking the holy word and adding fiction’, such as threats of the fiery depths of Mordor and being struck down by Boba Fett, he gives them something to believe in which gives them strength. Whilst Elder Price might lose his faith, he, as well as the other missionaries and villagers, are given a new one. The Book of Mormon promotes the power of Belief and how, whatever you choose to believe in, it can help you through the toughest situation.  We’re also given the message to ‘take one day at a time’ and not worry about life after death.Image result for book of mormon london hasa

KJ Hippensteel was delightfully cheesy as the ‘all American prophet with the Donny Osmond flare’. It must be hard to find the balance between face-punching arrogance and endearing naivety but Hippensteel treads that fine line perfectly as Elder Price. David O’Reilly gave us some side-aching moments of comedy as Elder Cunningham and you could tell he was enjoying every minute of being on stage. Another reason the show is such is a hit is that its main characters are poignantly human and flawed. They both make mistakes, whether that’s lying or, in the words of Jesus, just being a dick. There are moments when you know you shouldn’t like them….but you still do! Alexandra Ncube is a power house as Nabulungi (or is that….Neutrogena? Or Nutella? Or Nigel Farage?), giving us some sweet moments with Elder Cunningham and tingles as she sings her heart out in Sal Tlay Ka Siti. I’ve also got to mention Stephen Webb who gave an excellent performance as the secretly gay Elder McKinley, with subtle comic timing, never over-doing it.

The show is held together tightly by an excellent supportive cast. The Mormon missionaries are a joy to watch, whether they’re tapping in Turn it Off, high-kicking in hell during Spooky Mormon Hell Dream or breaking our hearts as they prepare to leave the village after a disastrous mission. The actors playing them gave a masterclass in being a dazzling ensemble with eye popping footwork and super-quick costume changes.

So, The Book of Mormon comes with the highest recommendation. Put any preconceptions aside, they’re not needed. This is a refreshing piece of theatre that pulls out all the stops and shocks in all the right places, for the right reasons. You’ll be tittering at the dark comedy for a long time afterwards, just as you’ll find yourself singing about the most inappropriate things at the photocopier at work the next day. But it stays with you for other reasons too. Beneath all the grimness and cynicism is a very warm heart and an important message. Plus it’s got a kick-ass soundtrack.  The worst thing about seeing this show is the desperate urge to see it again!

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Last year I was totally won over by NBC’s live broadcast of The Wiz. In fact, I’m pretty sure I sang Brand New Day all over Christmas (complete with dance moves). So I was pretty excited when they announced this year’s live production was Hairspray – especially as I spent some time as a teenager obsessed with the show. Just to make me even more eager, Queen Kristen Chenoweth (of Wicked fame) was cast in the role of Velma.

So Friday night arrived, I’d resisted watching any clips on youtube so I could get the full first-viewing experience and the verdict was: pretty good.

There were a few problems with this production but nothing to stop it being an enjoyable bit of fun with a very important message. Firstly, some of the new dialogue seemed a bit forced and cheesy. Hairspray is a naturally funny show, but some of the new ideas made it appear like the production team were trying too hard. I also don’t think Kristen was given enough to do.  I know I’m biased (because I really do bloody love her) but she has a lot of talent and I was waiting for her to be really showcased. (Don’t even get my started on how angry I am that they cut her bow). I felt like Ariana Grande was used as the star vehicle. I’m not saying Ariana was terrible, I’m just not sure the production company realised just how much talent they had in the ensemble cast. However, the main issue with Hairspray live was the ad breaks. I honestly felt like I was watching ad breaks interspersed with bits of Hairspray. I don’t know if NBC or ITV2 were to blame but it really was ridiculous and it killed any momentum.  Image result for hairspray live

Casting Harvey Fierstein as Edna, reprising his role from Broadway, was a nice touch and I loved the little references to the Hairspray canon. (Ricki Lake making a cameo, a plumbing company named after John Waters). The final number, You Can’t Stop the Beat, is meant to have audiences dancing in the aisles (or in this case, their living rooms) and, thankfully, it did. It was definitely a high point of the show, along with anything Jennifer Hudson sang and Welcome to the 60’s.

What is most striking about Hairspray is its relevance. It’s been almost 30 years since the original movie and its themes and messages about diversity and segregation are still important. Hairspray reminds that we are all equal – regardless of race, size, gender, interests etc. – and any one of us is capable of achieving any goal. It was a much needed tonic for 2016 and, after the dreadful few months our World has had, I can’t think of a more perfect show to end the year with.

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