Category: West End


Image result for Hairspray UK

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.

Advertisements

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.

Related image

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