Category: West End


Image result for motown the musical

June 2018. I’m sat in baking hot Trafalgar Square, in a crowd of thousands, watching Motown the Musical perform at West End Live. I like motown music, but, honestly, I wasn’t compelled to see the show until this moment.  Performing a medley of songs from the show, the cast were incredible and the enjoyment from the crowd was palpable.

Flash forward to August 2018 and I’m taking another trip down south to the West End, this time accompanied by two friends. We’d chosen Motown as our show (thanks again to TodayTix, best app ever), deciding that we’d know most of the songs. (We were correct!)

The production wasn’t perfect. It got off to a rocky start with the sound for dialogue being too quiet and the music too loud. It was also quite tricky to grasp what was going on at first, as the time shift between Motown’s 25th anniversary party and Berry Gordy’s early years wasn’t always clear. However, Berry had opened his first studio and Martha and the Vandella’s were sashaying around the stage for a vibrant, goosebump-inducing performance of ‘Dancing in the Street’, Motown really found its soul.

Motown has a very talented ensemble cast who take on many roles throughout the production. Stand out stars have to be Jay Perry (from S Club Juniors, would you believe?) as Berry Gordy and Natalie Kassanga as Diana Ross. Kassanga became Diana Ross and anyone who didn’t know any different would be forgiven for thinking they were watching the real deal.

Motown is essentially the love story between Gordy and Ross, whilst Gordy faces the troubles of building his empire. The show also addresses plenty of politics of the era, and the effect events such as the assassinations of Martin Luther King and President Kennedy had on the artists. The first act builds to a moving performance of ‘What’s going on’ by Carl Spencer (playing Marvin Gaye), as we see the stars reacting to the tragedies of the era.

It’s fun to spot the many famous faces that pop up throughout the story (Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye to name a few). Motown puts the music centre stage and the live band and super-skilled artists do a fantastic job of bringing the music to life. Musical highlights include ‘Dancing in the street’, the Jackson five medley and ‘Signed, Sealed, Delivered’.

With energetic versions of familiar songs sung by extremely talented performers, it’s easy to see how Motown has remained so popular over its three year run. Although the story might sink in parts it’s definitely a slow burner, and by the end you’ll be on your feet. It’s a must for any fan of Motown music.

Goosebumps – 3

Stars –  ****

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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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Ok so this one is coming a bit a late, but last weekend, after an awesome time at West End Live, I caught Strictly Ballroom at the Piccadilly theatre. It was the perfect end to a super-stagey day.

Knowing nothing about the film, I didn’t know what to expect, but it was a fabulous evening of comedy, campery and sequins galore that followed.

Will Young headlines the stage version of the Baz Luhrmann film, in the brand new role of Wally Strand; a sort of omniscient character who guides us through the love story between Scott and Fran with a selection of familiar musical numbers.Image result for strictly ballroom musical

Young’s distinctive singing voice provides an entrancing soundtrack to the story, though it’s the dancers that really shine during this production. Jonny Labey and Zizi Strallen are fantastic as Scott and Fran, performing many fast-paced, eye-popping moves with ease. They are joined by a super-talented cast of dancers who perform with an energy that makes you want to join in (before you realise you are a rubbish dancer and settle back down with your glass of pino).

This version has had a bit of makeover from the touring production, with chart classics by artists such as Cyndi Lauper, Whitney Housten and David Bowie, included to take us through the story. Although Will Young sings the bulk of the songs, the small bit of singing by Strallen and Labey is lovely, and the cast once again support Young fantastically.

There’s a lot to be said for the way music is used in the production. The styles of classic pop songs are played with, so at first they appear unfamiliar, and then suddenly you’re hit with that moment of recognition. Songs are also very rarely sung all the way through, with Young weaving in snippets of familiar hits and mash-ups to illustrate the story.

It’s not just about the love story between Scott and Fran. The subplot of the romantic breakdown (and then regeneration) between Scott’s parents is also surprisingly touching, as Scott’s overbearing mother and his mild-mannered father rediscover their passion for one another.Image result for strictly ballroom musical

I was also really surprised by how funny the show was. Anna Francolini was a dream as Scott’s ballroom-obsessed mother, providing many comedy moments in an over-the-top, hilarious style. Strallen also delivered as the clumsy wannabe-dancer Fran, who transforms into Scott’s dream partner. Stephen Matthews also gave a wonderful performance as Scott’s oddball dad, who turns out to have a heart-breaking back story.

Strictly Ballroom is a vibrant, energetic production with some hilarious and touching moments. I definitely think this is a production which deserves more recognition so, if you’re in the west end, go and see it!

Watch Strictly Ballroom’s performance at West End Live 2018 here.

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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.

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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 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