Category Archives: Musical

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.

Review Son of a Preacher Man, New Theatre Cardiff by Barbara Hughes-Moore

There’s something about the musical as a concept, as an art form, as a melodic thrill ride through convoluted plot and high emotion, that hits me where I live. I have an infamously high tolerance for even the most tentative and trite examples of the form. In the case of Son of Preacher Man, however, my tolerance – and my patience – started to wear thin as the story grew more and more bizarre with every poorly-placed number.

Its first offence of many is that it is a jukebox musical, which are notoriously more miss than hit. This is because the very nature of the jukebox musical – think Mamma Mia! – requires the songs to be wrenched, kicking and screaming, into some semblance of a cohesive narrative. Unfortunately, cohesion is not this production’s strong suit. Neither is narrative. So how, you may ask, does a show get a Dusty Springfield jukebox musical so wrong?

Directed and choreographed by Strictly’s Craig Revel-Horwood, the show starts back in the swinging ‘60s. Apparently the place to be back then was a thriving record shop in Soho, London, run by a guy known only as the Preacher Man. The Preacher Man, as his name suggests, was a semi-spiritual figure, someone who could solve any problem as easily as recommending the perfect EP. Flash forward to the modern day, and we see three troubled people with personal or familial connections to the Preacher Man’s shop who travel to that mythic place for a sense of closure, and solutions to their problems. They strike up an unlikely inter-generational friendship, and subsequently meet the son of the Preacher Man (see what they did there?) who regretfully informs them that his father has passed away; in his absence, the record shop has been – gasp – converted into a chain coffee shop. With the Preacher Man gone, the three strangers turn to his son to solve their divergent dilemmas.

The show’s major failing is a deeply fundamental one: despite being sung well across the board, the songs don’t add anything to the narrative, and vice versa.  The songs should be there to express the depth and nuance of our characters’ emotions, thoughts, and the story as a whole. But the narrative gives the songs no meaning; in fact, the music is often trivialised and hollowed out by their purposeless placement.  A jukebox musical already has to work hard to retrospectively craft a believable narrative around a discography that shoehorns in as many hits per minute as possible. But Son of a Preacher Man’s clumsy inclusion of Dusty’s timeless classics is particularly obvious in its desire to shove in as many Springfield’s songs as possible, narrative relevance be damned – and the show suffers for it.

Take for example Alice Barlow’s Kat, one of our main trio, who holds the dubious honour of possessing the least interesting, and perhaps most unsympathetic, storyline of the lot. Kat falls madly in love with the picture of a random guy on the internet she’s never met and who, incidentally, swiped left on her profile. It’s safe to say, then, he’s just not that into her – but Kat feels she is one Dusty Springfield serenade away from eternally winning his heart. She dreams of seducing the Tinder Guy (other dating apps are available), which we learn through her well-sung rendition of ‘I Only Want to Be with You’, never mind the lyrics of the song require the singer to have actually met the objection of their affections. The song’s inclusion in the show is rendered meaningless, because it does not resonate with Kat’s situation, giving the show a roughshod, random quality. One of the few exceptions to the otherwise purposeless song placement is a moving  rendition of ‘A House is not a Home’, through which the characters reminisce about the loss in their lives. It showcases the full force of the ensemble at its best; unfortunate, then, that most of the time, the nonsensical, strange and awkward plotting often diminished the power of the songs and the performances of them.

From the nonsensical to the uncomfortable: Michelle Gayle, the strongest singer of the ensemble, is saddled with the unfortunate task of portraying a widowed teacher who is passionately in love with one of her pupils. ‘He’s legal, I swear!’ Gayle’s Alison proclaims to the audience, as if that would make us feel less icky about a teacher/ student love affair (spoiler: it doesn’t). Though the relationship has progressed no further than a few longing glances from across a classroom (ew), it is so profoundly uncomfortable to watch unfold that I found myself cringing at every moment of this astoundingly misjudged storyline. It’s to Gayle’s credit that she manages to make the character realistic and sympathetic, but the problematic plot ultimately proves too much to overcome.

It all works out in the end, of course, because there’s a convenient – and age appropriate – love interest just waiting in the wings for lovesick Alison, a twist I guessed approximately ten minutes into the show. I mean, *someone* has to sing the titular song to the son of a Preacher Man, so by all rights it should be sung by Alison, his endgame love interest. It was RIGHT THERE. Only it’s not. The song is in fact led by Kat of all people, whose surprise inheritance restores the Preacher Man’s record shop back to its vintage glory. The fact that Kat sings a song about a sexual awakening to her sort of adopted father figure makes for yet another uncomfortable viewing experience, and I was even more glad when the rest of the ensemble joined in on the chorus.

Michael Howe’s Paul has the best storyline of the three leads by far, and it was wonderful to see an LGBTQ+ love story take centre stage in a mainstream musical such as this. During his youth, Paul fell in love with young man he met at the Preacher Man’s record shop. The relationship lasted a summer before they went their separate ways, and now Paul wants to rekindle the romance they started all those decades ago. In a hauntingly beautiful scene, Paul sings ‘I Close My Eyes and Count to Ten’ as his younger self and his past love dance together. And because I’ve got to get me doubles research in wherever I can, it was a lovely touch to have the older Paul mirror some of the movements of his younger self during the dance as he relives the memory.

Nigel Richards’ put-upon Preacher Man proxy is the most consistently entertaining of the bunch; as Simon, he channels Lee Evans as a harried, hapless everyman who bears the burden of being a ‘60s saint’s scion. Simon’s kooky coffee-shop staff are an odd mix of coffee baristas and metaphysical Muses, if you can believe it. for these ladies, Coyote Ugly isn’t just a movie: it’s a state of mind.

The rest of the ensemble perform with admirable stamina and style, though at times they exaggerate to near-parodic levels. Revel-Horwood’s choreography is enjoyable but rarely inventive – except for the aforementioned spectacular dance between Paul and his past love – and some sequences felt entirely inconsequential or arbitrary. The way in which Kat, aided by the Coyote Ugly baristas, stages her seduction of the Tinder Guy is awkward to the point of embarrassing – and, had the genders been reversed, probably would have resulted in a lawsuit.

The set, designed by Morgan Large, effectively evokes a pop-up book, the walls opening up to a surprisingly adaptable set that smoothly switches between the decades as needed. The live music was wonderful, and the intermittent appearance of musicians (who also doubled as cast members in the show) onstage with the other actors was a really lovely, inventive touch.

Son of a Preacher Man is a strange, shaky and not entirely successful show. Occasionally, it soars; but mostly, its ramshackle, roughshod approach to narrativizing Dusty’s discography reveals how deeply its flaws run. The enthusiastic ensemble alone makes it an enjoyable night out at the theatre, and sang with passion and aplomb, but the production’s problems proved to be insurmountable. Dusty’s damn-near indestructible songs are really put through the ringer in this wildly miscalculated and uncomfortably odd example of a jukebox musical that I wouldn’t care to put another quarter in.

Review: Titanic The Musical by Patrick Downes

At first sight, and if you didn’t know any better, the idea of Titanic The Musical might sound a little off-key. The most tragic maritime event in history being told through the medium of song? Well, that’s what I thought but then I did a little digging (thank you Mr Google) to find this musical is not what you first think. It’s nothing to do with any Celine Dion song (thankfully, my heart can go on), nor Jack and Rose, but at its heart it tells the story of a ship and the three classes of people that boarded, each with their own hopes, dreams and reasons for wanting to go to America.

There are four couples the story highlights, one from each class – first, second, third, plus another couple who were first and are now second, together with the hierarchy that was the captain and crew. Sometimes in review it’s easy to avoid the ending, for obvious reasons on this occasion you should know already. If not, google it.

This musical though is something special, having won five Tony awards in 1997 including best musical, it’s the kind of musical that’s seemingly rare these days in terms of how it’s written and performed. It feels like a classical musical opera, and I think for some people, this might be a little bit of a stumbling block. But if you stick with it, it has the power to move you in ways you don’t really expect.

The sound that filled the auditorium is immense, not just the voices, but everything. The orchestration, and the general feel of the piece. Act one is all about introducing each character and their place on Titanic, this takes us to the end of act one and the iceberg. The first half of act two is then a frantic nonstop piece as the ship slowly succumbs to the Atlantic.

There aren’t any star names in this musical, not that I realised anyway, but that just means the entire cast are the star of this musical. They tell the story with heart, compassion and an amazing all-round performance.

Whatever version you know of Titanic, be it the James Cameron film, or the ITV miniseries, it all comes down to a story of humanity, and how people can be flawed, and how some love stories don’t have happy endings.

Officialpoptart Score: 8/10

You can see Titanic The Musical at Wales Millennium Centre till May 5th 2018 and it continues around the UK afterwards

Review: Patrick Downes

FAT FRIENDS THE MUSICAL

(4 / 5)

Fat Friends The Musical brings fun, laughter, hopes, dreams and a range of talented voices to the stage of the Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff.

Originally written for the small screen, Fat Friends effortlessly transfers to a stage musical with a timeless story of love and romance, centered around the all consuming trials and tribulations of diet goals, body image and the search for true love.

Created by the talented Kay Mellor, the characters of Kelly, Kevin, Betty, Fergus, Lauren, Val, Paul and Alan are brought to life once more and this time with song.

All Mellor’s characters are larger than life in every way and the hilarious story-line is both engaging and true to life. Far too often people put their lives on hold whilst they try to achieve their goals in dealing with weight and body image. Mellor shows us that this is a fruitless exercise and that life is for the living and quite often what you seek is indeed right under your nose, you just have to open your eyes and look.

Nick Lloyd Webber’s original music score partnered with Mellor’s lyrics give the characters voices to match the entertaining story-line. The powerful vocal performances add to the larger than life characters feel so familiar.

Jodie Prenger gives a credible performance as Kelly and her energy on stage is breathtaking. Kelly’s intervention in her mother’s television interview is the funniest thing I think I have ever seen. All the things we would like to say and do but society and convention prevent us. “Let it go!” However, be aware there are always consequences as Kelly discovers.

Sam Bailey plays Kelly’s mother, Betty, a seasoned dieter and a long standing member of the slimming club. She is married to Fergus and is very much the mother figure of the group taking Alan in hand over his diet whilst his wife is away.

There is also a hillarious fantasy scene which brought the house down. Feel assured that this really is a musical where you felt that the cast are enjoying the experience as much as the audience.

Natalie Anderson and Jonathan Halliwell are delightful as they portray Slimming Club leader, Lauren and Vicar, Paul. It is hard to watch as they struggle to overcome their lack of confidence, self-esteem and awkwardness. Their duets are wonderful and their chemistry believable, nevertheless you can feel the audience willing them to take the next step forward without looking back despite their social and cultural differences.

The Set and Costume Design is by the awarding winning designer, Bretta Gerecke and is outstanding. Centered around a row of buildings the exterior and interior of the dress shop is realistic and charming. Nick Richings lighting design is a triumph both with the neon foreground on the buildings but also bringing them to life. The clever use of the lighting in the background on the sky-line added atmosphere for both day and night.

The whole cast, including the talented ensemble of wonderful voices, gave a high impact, fast moving and hillarious night.

During the closing number ‘Love who you are’ it didn’t take much encouragement from the cast to raise the audience to their feet to join them in celebrating this triumph of a musical.

This is a musical to see in the company of friends, large or small, young or old, married or single. You will enjoy a entertaining time packed with fun and laughter, a guaranteed night to remember.

Review: Shrek The Musical at Wales Millennium Centre by Patrick Downes

Imagine for a moment you’re back in 2001 and the only kind of computer animated films were Disney’s. They’re good but once you get past the age of 12, there seemed to be a gap in the market. That gap was filled by Dreamworks and Shrek which gave enough simple plot and humour plus additional jokes that adults would get, you have the starting of what I witnessed tonight in Wales Millennium Centre – Shrek The Musical.

Returning to Wales Millennium Centre on the latest UK tour bringing Donkey, Lord Farquaad, Princess Fiona, Pinocchio and a cavalcade of fairytale characters together with the main man himself Shrek – played by Michael Carolan. If you’re not sure of the story of Shrek – well, spoiler alert – they live happily ever after, but getting there is a rollercoaster buddy movie type comedic spectacular.

If the original Shrek had references to other cartoons, well, Shrek the musical has references to other musicals – you might just spot a Wicked reference, a Lion King bit, and Cabaret all receive some mention in passing.

The music and staging is amazing, and before those reading that previous line mock in saying “it’s no Les Misérables is it”, well, it’s not meant to be. It’s the perfect musical for children from eight to eighty. A great introduction into the world of the musical, and a fab night out for all the family.

Special mention to Samuel Holmes (Lord Farquaad) who as the baddie of the piece pretty much stole each scene he was in – wonder how the knees will cope for the rest of the run though. Laura Main as Fiona had the right balance of comedy timing and exceptional vocals, as did Michael Carolan who played Shrek at the performance I saw. Joseph Dockree as Pinocchio was another performer who seemed to steal each scene he was in – yes, he is a real boy!

For a few hours you’ll transferred to a land far far away, wonder if you know the muffin man, and in the morning, you’ll be making waffles.

https://www.wmc.org.uk/Productions/2018-2019/DonaldGordonTheatre/shrek2018/