Category Archives: Musical

Audio Information on The Last Five Years by Leeway Productions

Leeway Productions supported by Wales Millennium Centre, and in partnership with Blackwood Miners Institute presents

THE LAST FIVE YEARS

Written and composed by JASON ROBERT BROWN ­­­­­­­­
A hit both off-Broadway and internationally, The Last Five Years comes to Wales for the very first time.

This ground-breaking production combines an emotionally powerful score with sign language and beautiful movement by award-winning deaf choreographer Mark Smith.

This intimate musical charting New Yorkers Cathy and Jamie’s passionate five-year relationship is an affecting tale of love found and lost. By turns funny and poignant, with catchy tunes and a clever chronological twist, The Last Five Years will keep you riveted from beginning to end… or should that be from end to beginning?

Supported by the Arts Council of Wales, Welsh Government and the National Lottery.
Every performance of The Last Five Years is accessible to D/deaf, deafened and hard of hearing audience members, with open captioning and integrated sign language to be enjoyed by all.

For full tour dates and booking information, visit www.leewayproductions.com

 

Leeway Productions â chefnogaeth gan Ganolfan Mileniwm Cymru, ac mewn partneriaeth â Sefydliad y Glowyr Coed Duon

THE LAST FIVE YEARS

Ysgrifennwyd a chyfansoddwyd gan JASON ROBERT BROWN

Ar ôl llwyddiant eithriadol oddi ar Broadway ac yn rhyngwladol, daw The Last Five Years i Gymru am y tro cyntaf erioed.

Cyfuna’r cynhyrchiad arloesol yma sgôr ddirdynnol gydag iaith arwyddion a dawnsfeydd hardd y coreograffydd byddar mawr ei glod, Mark Smith.

Mae’r sioe gerdd onest yma am gariad a thorcalon yn dilyn hynt Cathy a Jamie, cariadon o Efrog Newydd, gan daflu golau ar bob cam o’u perthynas pum mlynedd tanbaid. Gan blethu’r doniol a’r teimladwy, gyda chaneuon bachog a chronoleg stori glyfar, bydd The Last Five Years yn eich cadw chi ar flaen eich sedd o’r dechrau un hyd at y diwedd… neu dylwn ddweud o’r diwedd i’r dechrau…

Mae pob perfformiad o The Last Five Years yn hygyrch i aelodau cynulleidfa sy’n drwm eu clyw neu’n fyddar, gyda chapsiynau agored ac iaith arwyddion yn rhan annatod o’r sioe.
Cefnogwyd gan Gyngor y Celfyddydau Cymru, Llywodraeth Cymru a’r Loteri Genedlaethol.

Y Daith: www.leewayproductions.com

Fame: The Musical at New Theatre, Cardiff by Barbara Hughes-Moore

‘You want fame? Well fame costs and right here is where you start paying – in sweat!’

This is the warning that Principal Sherman (Mica Paris) gives the audience, and the future class of ’84, as the curtain opens on NYC’s School of Performing Arts. Students flock here, hoping it holds the key to one day seeing their name in lights. But these hopefuls, like the musical they inhabit, have a lot to live up to, and not all of them make it to the top.

I somehow missed the boat on the entirety of the Fame franchise, knowing only the excellent title song, the iconic street dance scene, and a vaguely sketched synopsis. This UK tour is a restaging of the 1988 musical, developed by David De Silva, story by Jose Fernandez and original music/ lyrics by  Steve Margoshes and Jacques Levy, which incorporates elements of both the movie and the series that came before it.

We’re first greeted with a wonderfully evocative image: a bird’s-eye view of a taxi driving down a skyscraper-lined street, the sounds of traffic transporting us to a balmy summer in 80s NYC. The production design is never quite as effective after that; for most of the action, the stage is illuminated by yearbook photos of the cast, perhaps implying that this is the closest some of the characters will get to seeing their names in lights.

Although the actors work incredibly hard throughout, the characters sadly aren’t much to hold up the two and a half hour runtime, neatly slotting into the archetypes we’ve seen time and again. We have the talented but overconfident hopeful (Stephanie Rojas’ Carmen), the insecure progeny of a prodigy (Simon Anthony’s Schlomo), the hipsterish wannabe playwright (Keith Jack’s Nick) and the shy girl with an unrequited crush (Molly McGuire’s Serena). And despite the talent on display, some of the cast members are about as convincing as high schoolers as Steve ‘how do you do, fellow kids?’ Buscemi was in 30 Rock.

Jamal Kane Crawford’s Tyrone has the most compelling story by far, as a young African-American man trying to make it in the white-dominated world of professional dancing. Getting by on his natural talent and charm, Tyrone focuses on the performance side of PA over the academic in an attempt to avoid anyone finding out about his dyslexia. One of the few powerful scenes in the production involves Tyrone opening up about this to Principal Sherman, and Crawford shines in the role, especially with his fellow dancer and love interest Iris (a lovely turn by Jorgie Porter).

However, the most egregious mistake this production makes is the music. Despite an excellent finale featuring the titular iconic tune, the rest of the setlist is an exercise in mediocrity. At one point, Schlomo criticises Carmen for lyrical blandness, which, frankly, was a bit rich coming from a show featuring possibly the most clichéd songs I’ve ever heard. And the ballad they write together, ‘Bring on Tomorrow’, heralded in-show as a future hit, has the emotional richness of a ringtone.

The songs here are as generic as the American (Generican?) accents on display. The ballads in particular are pretty dire (and I really didn’t need multiple reprises of ‘Let’s Play a Love Scene’, ‘I Want to Make Magic’ or ‘In L.A.’), but not quite as bad as the nightmarishly on-the-nose ode to Meryl Streep, creatively titled ‘Think of Meryl Streep’. There’s nothing that reaches the tuneful heights of ‘Hi-Fidelity’, the melancholy magnificence of ‘Beautiful Dreamer’, or the delightfully disco-ish ‘I Can Do Anything Better Than You Can’ from the beloved series. It’s a shame to squander such uninspiring songs on a clearly talented cast who deserve better, especially Mica Paris, who is burdened with a thankless role and the most clumsily literal number of the show in ‘These Are My Children’.

For a show which proclaims the value of innovation over duplication, it sure does bask in banality. And yet it kinda messes up the bit we were all waiting for. ‘There’ll be no dancing on cars here’, Miss Sherman states, as if leaving out the most iconic scene from the film was some kind of subversive, revolutionary act. Not having the cast dance on cars at the end was a sin of the same magnitude as The Importance of Being Earnest daring to omit ‘a handbaaag?!’ We came here to see the street dance scene, Fame – and, car-less through it was, it still eclipsed every other number with its timeless intensity.

In the end, the musical suffers greatly in comparison to its predecessors, possessing none of their charm or quality despite the best efforts of a great ensemble cast. It has neither the gritty realism of the original movie, or the frenetic joy of the tv series, and sits somewhere between the two as the awkward, sleazily comedic middle child of the Fame family. Plus, it manages to be even less progressive than its forbears, particularly in its treatment (or is that wilful omission?) of LGBT characters. If you are a die-hard Fame fan, particularly of the musical itself, I’m sure you’ll enjoy this latest production. But, for me, it hasn’t got what it takes.

Review Evita, Wales Millennium Centre by Barbara Michaels

(3.5 / 5)

The real-life story of Eva Perón is a classic case of fact being stranger than fiction, and couldn’t be more suited to adaptation as a musical, and a highly successful musical at that ever since Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s hit production in London’s West End back in 1978, followed by Broadway a year later and since then a string of professional productions worldwide.

Eva Duarte was living in poverty in rural Argentina in the late 1930s when her involvement with a musician takes her to Buenos Aires where her determination to become a star eventually results in a meeting with Argentinian Colonel Juan Perón at a benefit concert. He too has an ambition – in his case to become President of Argentina. With Eva – who later becomes known as Evita – by his side he succeeds. Meanwhile, despite her unflagging work for the poor of the country, Eva’s extravagant lifestyle leads to criticism.

This new production by the really Useful Group under the banner of Bill Kenright breathes new life into the show with a brand new cast including the charismatic Glenn Carter as Che. Acting as narrator, Carter’s expressive delivery and fine voice guide the audience through the twists and turns of the story of the ambitious girl from the sticks who becomes the wife of the President of Argentina, with all the trappings of wealth and status that go with it.

Taking on the role of Eva is Lucy O’Byrne – not an easy task, given that not one but two showbiz icons – Elaine Paige in the Seventies West End production and Madonna in the film – have previous in this respect. O’Byrne’s voice is strong but she needs to guard against a resulting loss of clarity at times, which is shame given the emotive quality of Tim Rice’s wonderful lyrics. O’Byrne came into her own in the second half with her performance of what was to be Eva Perón’s last appearance and her singing of ‘Don’t Cry For Me, Argentina’ – heart-rending in its beauty. Interpreted by, and under the baton of musical director Anthony Gabriele, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s marvellous musical score is given full throttle, at times to the extent of being overloud in the first half but meltingly moving in the highly charged and emotional second half.

Good to see some of the talent that comes out of Wales in Swansea-born Mike Sterling as Perón. Historically in the musical the role is underplayed in relation to that of Eva. Accordingly, Sterling gives us only a glimpse of the man that was Perón leaving us aware that behind a pragmatic exterior lies an ability to recognise and rely on the power behind the throne – Eva.

Important to the first half of the story is Magaldi, the musician whose eye for the girls is Eva’s route to Buenos Aires. The dark good looks of Oscar Balmaseda make for a neat bit of casting, as does that of Cristina Hoey as Perón’s former mistress, swiftly given the boot by Eva. Although Hoey makes only one appearance, and a brief one at that, her singing of Another Suitcase, In Another Hall is up there with the best. This girl is definitely one to watch.

At the end of the day it is, as with much if not most musical theatre, the story plus the songs that make or break the show, and here the plot is a given and as for the songs – beautiful.

Runs until Saturday 8 September 2018

Review Carmen La Cubana, Sadlers Wells by Hannah Goslin

 

(4 / 5)

If you do not already know the story of Carmen, you will at least recognise the music.

Usually performed as an Opera, Carmen has been taken through lots of different twists and turns, in dance, in performance and the tale is retold in different places, in different ways. It is a versatile and, at times, relatable story.

For those who are unaware, Carmen tells the tale of the meeting of an elusive woman, and an (at the time) attached man. They fall in love but in the end, their love is too detrimental and Carmen grows bored, leaving Jose. With rage and jealousy, Jose returns, finding Carmen with another man and he decides that if he cannot have her, no one can.

The original Opera was set in Seville, Spain. This time around, at Sadler’s wells, we are transported to Cuba; rife with latin music, dance and attitude. It is fierce, sexy and full of drama and life – almost like a soap opera. We laugh, we cry, and we notice how ridiculous some of the dramatic storyline is.

Seeing Carmen at Sadler’s wells a few years ago, the premise was very different – set in a garage – a literal ‘Car-man’. It was full of dance, full of what we would expect from contemporary – showing all these fighting emotions through movement.

Whether I was assuming something similar, while set in a different part of the World, this time, Carmen La Cubana was in a way very traditional; there was plenty of singing, an almost Opera meets Musical theatre production with the same hammed up characters, fighting and ensemble dance.

While it was perfection in all emphasis of musical theatre, and could not be faulted in its execution, I think part of me wanted more dance – latin dance is so energetic and beautiful, it felt as if there was little room for this and it was just an after thought. When it did happen, it was beautiful and vibrant, it flowed well and left us in awe of their abilities, but there was a lot more emphasis on speech and the singing.

I did enjoy this, but maybe the fault is in me thinking more with a dance head, when attending a dance venue such as Sadler’s wells.

I was also undecided whether the narration should have had translation or not – on screens to the side and above, we had translation, which, with the speed of Spanish, was unable to keep up and I felt my eyes being drawn more to this than the stage. I felt perhaps if I did not have to read as well as watch, I would have been more invested in the on stage action. This is not to say it should be in English – far from it. While my Spanish ability has little to be admired, knowing the story, I would have liked the performance to tell me it; much like Carmen a few years ago, in only dance, did.

Overall, Carmen La Cubana is brilliant, beautiful and to all intent and purpose, perfection. But I felt a little disappointed with the lack of dance in the production, when Cuban dance is so energetic, beautiful and fantastic to watch.

 

 

Review: An Officer and a Gentleman – The Musical at the WMC by Roger Barrington

Emma Williams as Paula Pokrifki Jonny Fines as Zack Mayo Ray Shell as Emil Foley Ian Mcintosh as Sid Worley Jessica Daley as Lynette Pomeroy Directed by Nikolai Foster

 

 

 

 

 

(3 / 5)

 

Verve Leicester’s version of the 1982  double Oscar winning film “An Officer and  a Gentleman” is the second attempt to adapt this iconic movie into a musical. The first premiered in Australia in 2012 and bombed out of sight. So can we expect more from this improved 2018 version?

Still set in 1982, the story seems a little dated nowadays with gender issues much more under the spotlight. It is essentially a Cinderella storyline set in Pensacola, Florida, the location of the first Naval Aviation Station in the U.S. military set up in 1914. Since that time, countless number of naval aviators have been trained here. Rather like my home town of Brecon, which also has a, (although diminishing), military presence, there is an uneasy relationship between army personnel stationed there and the local inhabitants. Writer Douglas Day Stewart trained at this base for service during the Vietnam War so his story is based upon his own experiences.

Pensacola, or at least the part around the naval base is depicted as a depressed area where local girls dream of capturing the heart of a trainee officer, in order to raise them from their station.

Friends Paula and Lynette are two of these girls, although it turns out have different agendas. The story shows the courtship of the two officer candidates Zack and Sid, who have to endure a tough twelve-week course to determine whether they are officer material.

 

You’re in the navy now

 

 

The musical version follows the basic story-line of the movie interspersed with a number of well known hits which generally have a slight connection with the action, that helps to keep the show within its historical context.

Early on in the show, a gang of girls working in a mundane job sing, “It’s a Man’s World” and the development of the plot tends to emphasise this.

Emma Williams as Paula is the pick of the singers on display.

Emma Williams as Paula and Jonny Fines as Zack

 

 

Her strong and versatile voice is highlighted in her duet with her mother Esther, (Rachel Stanley), in “Don’t Cry Out Loud” – one of the highlights of the show. Other 80’s pop and rock standards, ” St. Elmo’s Fire”, “Livin’ on a Prayer”, “The Final Countdown”, “On the Wings of Love” and altogether a total of 22 songs are present to entertain you. Most are sung well enough, although sometimes a little stridently, and they are accompanied by recordings of a commissioned band.

Michael Taylor’s set design and Ben Cracknell’s Lighting are of a high standard. With a backdrop of video projections, it provides a filmic effect. The love scene against a backdrop of crashing waves rushing on to Pensacola Beach is memorable.

 

 

The performance was well received and I think this was influenced by the final scene, which director Nikolai Foster judges perfectly by not going too over the top. This is the scene where Richard Gere playing Zack was at odds with director Taylor Hackford for being too overly romantic in contrast to the social deprivation and class issues that preceded it. He wanted a different more realistic ending but lost out.

An Officer and  Gentleman – The Musical isn’t a classic, but it did get audience members around me singing and moving in their seats to the motion of the music and was rapturously received.

If your bag is 80’s music, and a familiar story-line, then you will love this show.

It lasts around 2 and a half hours including a 20 minute interval.

There is strong language throughout and sexual references and scenes.

It runs until 30th June

https://www.wmc.org.uk/Productions/2018-2019/DonaldGordonTheatre/AnOfficerandaGentleman/

Cardiff marks the first touring location for this production. For further details of tour dates

http://officerandagentlemanmusical.com/book

 

Roger Barrington

 

Review Double Vision, Gagglebabble, Wales Millennium Centre, Festival of Voice by Tafsila Khan

Double Vision is a brand-new thriller co-produced by Wales Millennium centre and the award-winning theatre company Gaggle Babble for Festival of Voice 2018. This is a very ambitious and multi-sensory show which is predominantly set on a luxury cruise liner called The Empress of the Sea.

As you take your seat in the auditorium you can already sense you are about to embark on a journey filled with humour and a surreal feeling, as you are seated by ushers played by members of the cast, who don’t seem to know when the show is about to start.

The show opens with the amazing voice of Lisa Jen Brown who is a member of the welsh folk band 9Bach who plays Serena in the show. The show has no interval but there is a definite sense of it being split into two halves.

The first half begins with the weird and wonderful guests boarding the cruise liner, this half of the show is performed behind a white gauze sheet, which reduces the visual nature of the show for the audience. Mel played by Mared Jarman works in the Bijoux bar on board with Serena who mesmerises the guests with her haunting voice as the singer in the bar. You get the sense that the women are good friends and get a sense from Mel’s character that she is very fond of Serena and is very protective of her. This makes sense a bit later in the show when you find out that Serena is blind. One night after performing at her usual spot in the bar Serena tells Mel that she is looking to leave the ship once it docks in Miami, this throws Mel who does not want her to leave. Another point in the show where again you feel Mel is protective over Serena is when the ship docks in Havana and the women get separated. This scene is in the middle of a nightclub where there are steamers which are released on to the audience and balloons printed with a single eye that are thrown into the audience.

In the second half of the show the white sheet is dropped making the view clearer to the audience. The atmosphere onboard changes from a light humour, to one of terror and danger as the ship is caught up in a storm. We learn that one of the passengers have fallen overboard and with this the story takes a dark turn of a surreal nature.

I was lucky enough to catch the last showing of this production which for me contained amazing singing, music and performances from all the cast. This show was very accessible for visually impaired people as a detailed touch tour was provided before every show and also the cast did an amazing job with integrating audio description into the show. I hope to see more work like this in the future and feel that Gaggle Babble have set the bar quite high. I look forward to attending the next production by this theatre company and see where they take it from here.

An interview with Joe Wiltshire Smith

The director of Get the Chance, Guy O’Donnell recently met with playwright and actor Joe Wiltshire Smith.They discussed his background, creative opportunities for young people in Bridgend, his new play Five Green Bottles and his thoughts on the arts in Wales.

Hi Joe great to meet you, can you give our readers some background information on yourself please?

Hello! Good to meet you too! I was born in Bridgend. Primarily I’m a playwright and actor; having graduated from Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama in 2017 and I’m currently studying Creative Writing and English at Cambridge. Most recently, I’ve been performing in “Ghost About the House” at the King’s Head Theatre in London.

 So what got you interested in the arts?

A multitude of reasons. My family, my friends, Roger Burnell, dressing up as a ladybird in St Fagan’s? It could be anything. But I’m mostly in love with the freedom that the arts provide. It’s limitless, there’s something equally terrifying and hugely exciting about that… and realistically I couldn’t and still can’t do anything else

Roger Burnell, Head of Bridgend Youth Theatre and It’s My Shout with Michael Sheen

Your career to date has been supported by local authority funding to the arts, including Bridgend Youth Theatre and It’s My Shout. Was this support important in your development as a young creative artist?

Both It’s My Shout and BYT, both headed by Roger Burnell, are simply the best at nurturing young creatives from across Wales and beyond. I owe a lot to both projects, I would urge anyone to get involved, the opportunities in film and theatre are endless.

You have co written a new play with Kirsty Philipps  called Five Green Bottles. The play was performed by  Spilt Milk Theatre on Saturday, June 9, 2018 7:00 PM  8:10 PM at  Little Man Coffee Co. Can you tell us more about this production ?

Headed by the inspired and talented Becca Lidstone, the development of this play has been a joy. Even from the initial meetings, I knew it was in far safer hands than mine. Combine this with a cast of Angharad Berrow, Olivia Martin, Tobias Weatherburn and Aly Cruikshank, it’s been a dream. The support I’ve had from Spilt Milk Theatre has been truly wonderful and I’ll be forever grateful. 


The cast of Five Green Bottles

Image credit TS Photography

The production is described as “A surreal, satirical, carnal-romp of a comedy exploring the sexual awakening of the beat generation in the 1960s.” What drew you to this time period and theatre style?

The early 1960’s has always fascinated me. Especially how the enormous social and political change impacted the Beat Generation in working class areas of the UK. The glamour of American Culture and the sexual revolution really alienated a youth from their conservative elders; creating a lack of direction, a sense of helplessness, cabin fever and disconnection. I believe that influences some of the events of this play, but certainly not all.

The cast of Five Green Bottles

Image credit TS Photography

Five Green Bottles is part of this years Cardiff Fringe Theatre Festival which was established  to make theatre affordable for audiences and artists. Have you been involved in the festival before?

I haven’t been involved before, but the welcome that I’ve had into the Fringe community has been amazing. It’s very exciting to be amongst some of these other innovative and brilliant shows.

Get the Chance works to support a diverse range of members of the public to access cultural provision. Cardiff Fringe are working to “make theatre affordable for audiences and artists. ” Are you aware of any barriers to equality and diversity for either Welsh or Wales based artists or specifically writers? 

I’m speaking from a place of a privilege because I’m a Welsh writer that’s white. There are barriers, but I’ve never come against any and it’s my responsibility to be aware of this fact. There can always be more opportunities for BAME Welsh writers, there has to be. However the essential work and opportunities of both Get the Chance and Cardiff Fringe is definitely doing more to change this.

You are an actor as well as a playwright. I wonder if your knowledge of both disciplines cross-pollinates when you are working in both different disciplines?

Yes, they both feed into each other at points. However I make sure to sort my brain and perspectives into compartments, so not to confuse the two. For example, is that particular line really serving the character and driving the narrative forward? Or is the line there because the actor in me would love to say that line? There’s pros and cons. Hopefully with further experience it should get easier. Hopefully…

There are a range of organisations supporting Welsh and Wales based writers, I wonder if you feel the current support network and career opportunities feel ‘healthy’ to you?

The opportunities have always been there for me. Whether it’s SEEN at the Other Room or Spilt Milk’s Scratch nights, I’ve always had an opportunity to share my voice. However I’m just one person and it wouldn’t do any harm to see some more new writing opportunities for everyone.

If you were able to fund an area of the arts in Wales what would this be and why?

Anything that nurtures young, Welsh, BAME writers. It would be great to see even more of this work in Cardiff and beyond.

What excites you about the arts in Wales? What was the last really great thing that you experienced that you would like to share with our readers? 

The fact that its unapologetically WELSH… and here to stay. It’s pride, humour, community, class and passion, I could go on forever.

Thanks for your time Joe.

Review The Dress Rehearsal, Felix and Sam by Martin Patterson

 

(4 / 5)

 

The Cardiff Fringe has enjoyed a nice drag contingent as of late- for the past couple of years we’ve seen drag nights, street parties at Mary’s, as well the delightful Felix and Sam (among others!) at the launch party, and with a bonafide show of their own on the roster. And what a lovely show it was.

I’ve always been a little terrified of drag- I’m very much a cardigan-and-corduroy queer, so the noise, the glitz and bombast has always made me a little hesitant to attend such shows. ‘What better introduction’, I’ll pretend I thought for the purpose of this review, ‘Than a structured show to get a taste of what it’s all about?’ I’m ever so happy to report that my fears were allayed, and we came away with nothing but praise for this wonderful offering.

The normally cavernous foyer of the Sherman Theatre had been transformed into an intimate cabaret setting (side note: they’re also stocking beers from local brewery Mad Dog, who make an extraordinary New Zealand Pale), ready to explode into a supremely entertaining hour of songs, laughs, costume changes, magic and thankfully minimal audience participation (outside of the many roars of laughter heard throughout the show).

Our titillating titular stars emerge to perform a rousing rendition of Puttin’ on the Ritz, before the first of many of Felix’s costume changes. Don’t think that Sam has nothing to offer in the fashion department- we are treated to a fantastic onstage costume change from him that I’m loath to spoil (it’s far, far more than just putting on a new shirt!). Both are living up to the opening number, dressing an re-dressing throughout the evening, treating us to a fantastic array of dresses and suits. It’s a feast for the eyes that’s matched by a bewitching soundtrack, with plenty of musical hits to keep my partner happy, as well as The Dresden Dolls’ Coin Operated Boy, which I had a lovely time with. The piece gains momentum throughout the evening until the grand finale, replete with the most extraordinary suit jacket I’ve ever seen accompanying a wondrous fan dance. Both Felix and Sam were approachable after the show, which is always welcome- it’s great to enjoy performers both on and off stage, and both have a wit and geniality that makes them great company on either side of the playing space.

The Dress Rehearsal is a wonderful hour of entertainment, with a wide range of different set pieces to delight the audience, but therein lies my personal gripe with the show- and what a small gripe it is! I’m a huge proponent of character development in all its forms, particularly within the narrative of a structured performance. I would have loved to have seen a little more of just who Felix and Sam are- this is pure conjecture based on their blurb in the Fringe brochure reminding me of Tim Foley’s blistering backstage opus The Goddess of Walnuts, and does not detract from the delectable cabaret that was offered unto us. Perhaps one day we will enjoy a vaudevillian evening of talent bolstering a deeper narrative. Until then, I’m more than content to enjoy clapping along to the songs, laughing at the jokes, being impressed by the magic and enjoying the good-natured bickering between the two.

If The Dress Rehearsal is Felix and Sam in a nutshell, then let’s hope that we’ll see them take root and grow into something even more magical soon.

 

REVIEW: ‘SON OF A PREACHER MAN’ BY GEMMA TREHARNE-FOOSE

(3 / 5)

It helps when you see a show if you take along someone who actually remembers the era the show was set in. When I saw ‘Sunny Afternoon’ at the Wales Millennium Centre, my theatre companion (who happens to be my Mum) remembered the energy and the buzz of the musical revolution of the 60s.

Through them, you get to imagine what it was like – they are the ‘litmus paper’ for the legitimacy and authenticity of the storyline, the music, the fashion and the dancing. Sunny Afternoon captured the wonder, the outrage and the rebellion of the era – and even if you have no direct experience of it, you admired it and felt part of it. It was beautifully done without overly relying on nostalgia and famous songs. Although I didn’t know anything about Dusty’s life, I knew many of her songs through my mother and was hoping for a feel-good good show which would bring her original material to life – perhaps even a sense of nostalgia for my own childhood, where I spent many happy hours dancing in the kitchen and living room to my mother’s vinyl records.

Son of a Preacher man is clearly written to cater to the boomers and the sense of nostalgia they feel about their teens. The British public clearly still have a sense of loyalty and affection towards Dusty Springfield, whose memorable songs were the soundtrack to their youth.

My mother recalls seeing Dusty Springfield perform in Cardiff during her teens. In a nod to the rivalry (real or imagined) between Dusty and Sandy Shaw, Dusty came on stage wearing massive comedy feet – taking a pop at Sandy’s reputation for singing on stage while barefoot. Perhaps this is testament to Dusty’s rebellious spirit and humour. I hadn’t known until my Mother relayed it to me in the interval but Dusty’s real life was marred by a set of tragic and difficult events, from her early childhood in a children’s home run by Catholic nuns, to being in the closet then losing her eyesight at an early age.

The production doesn’t really pick up much on Dusty’s legacy or life story – this is a show punctuated by her musical repertoire plus a few additional tracks from the era. This production looks back wistfully at a more innocent time – spent in Saturdays in record shops, dancing, and dating.

The three central characters all have a connection with the ‘Preacher Man’s’ record shop. Somehow they all end up going back to find him – and find their histories and collective futures become intertwined. We blend in an out of the 60s back to present day, through the youngest character Kat (played by Alice Barlow), Michelle Gayle’s character Alison and Paul – who on the night I attended was played by Gary Mitchinson.

Audiences will surely remember Michelle Gayle, best known for playing ‘Hattie’ in Eastenders and releasing a number of hits in the 90s including ‘Sweetness’. Her role as Alison is a little awkward at times – she doesn’t really suit the character she plays.

Hats off though to two of the show’s stand out stars – the incredible Alice Barlow who played Kat – her vocals were incredible and she is magnetic on stage. Also, the charismatic Nigel Richards who plays Simon (The Son of a Preacher Man) had a beautiful baritone voice and great comic delivery.

It was easy to forgive some of the cliches of the script when Alice Barlow was performing. It’s a credit to the cast that they were able to rescue the credibility of the show with their fabulous ensemble performances and blended vocals. Michelle Gayle is far too fabulous for the role of Alison – but her vocal performance is still hitting the spot years after ‘Sweetness’ was released and she is an accomplished singer and dancer.

The jury is still out on how well the show straddles both the 60s flashbacks and present-day vignettes. We get scenes talking about Tinder interjected with a cheeseball 60s routine with an unhealthy dose of Dad-dancing. So much Dad-dancing! But perhaps I wasn’t the right demographic for this show. When I whispered to my Mum ‘Look at that Dad dancing!’ she said ‘That what it was like – it WAS hammy and cheesy.’

Perhaps best known for his attachment to the show as Director with a musical staging credit is Strictly Come Dancing’s outrageous judge Craig Revel Horwood. His flamboyant touches are evident throughout – and don’t always land in the way they are perhaps intended – the ‘Cappucino Sisters’ deviate between 60s dancing and the occasional twerk, bump and grind.

I’m going to be frank. The story was a little…underwhelming. A teacher falling in love with a teenage boy, a teenager falling in love with someone she saw on Tinder and a man who is still in love with a guy he danced with a few times in the 60s. It was weak and was held up (just about) from the talent of this great cast and fabulous on-stage musicians. For me (and I speak as a lover of the poptastic and the cheesetastic), I found certain elements a little cringeworthy. The show was overly wistful, the opening scenes with the smoke and the ‘I remember it…. I remember it….I STILL remember it…’ were overdone and made me fear for what was ahead.

Was it just me?

Apparently not, according to the criticisms I heard in the queue in the lady’s loo during the interval. You know you’re in trouble as a theatre producer when you hear a lady say to her friends “The music is brilliant, but the story! It’s like pulling teeth” and everyone else in the queue laughs and agrees.

Theatre producers should be made to listen to reviews of their shows in ladies loos – they could learn a thing or two and perhaps even improve it before they tour with it.

Musical theatre isn’t to everyone’s taste. Some complain that songs are shoehorned in, there are too many ‘filler songs’ and some even dread the moment an actor starts singing. With this production, I found myself hoping they would hurry up and get to the song. It’s hard not to enjoy the music and it’s done really well – it’s the saving grace of the production. But It’s such a shame the show didn’t quite hit the mark. It just doesn’t quite match up to the true legacy of Dusty Springfield – and she deserved better.

If you’re a die-hard Dusty fan, you need to take the show with a pinch of salt and keep a (very) open mind. If you go – go along for the ride, have a few glasses of vino and enjoy the music. The story is a bit of a stinking bishop, but who doesn’t love and look forward to a slice of cheddar or a Dairylea triangle now and again?

Son of a Preacher man is currently on tour and will play in Venue Cymru in Llandudno on May 29th-June 2nd. The production will then visit King’s Lynn Corn Exchange in Norfolk, Bradford’s Alhambra Theatre, Her Majesty’s Theatre in Aberdeen, Orchard Theatre in Dartford and Empire Theatre in Liverpool.