Tag Archives: Musical

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: Waitress Musical #NYC 2nd March 2018 by Patrick Downes

IMG_5243So whilst in NYC for a few days myself and my girlfriend went to see Waitress at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre. The main reason for this being the theatre was 50 metres away from our hotel (honesty being the best policy I believe). That aside, it also had an extra bonus in that Sara Bareilles – the composer & lyricist was appearing as Jenna.

If you don’t know much about Waitress, it was a quirky little film from 2007, written by the late  Adrienne Shelly and starred Keri Russell in the lead role. It was bought by Fox Searchlight pictures for about $6 million, and went on to make $16 million, winning plaudits along the way.

It tells the story of a young woman trapped in a little town, a loveless marriage and a dead-end job as a waitress, who falls into the next trap of an unwanted pregnancy. Escape beckons when she falls in love with her gynaecologist, but he hesitates to leave his practice and his wife.

Staging wise it’s like nothing I’ve seen before. There’s not the effects like Wicked, or Frozen, but in its own way, the Brooks Atkinson Theatre is a small venue and that adds to the cosiness of the musical. It’s a little piece of small town USA in the big city.

Musically, it feels right – with lyrics written and performed by Sara Bareilles. It has a country contemporary feel that oozes emotion with each note. Till seeing it, I’d not heard any of the score, but once was enough and it left me wanting more – so much so, upon arriving back in the UK I bought the original cast album and Sara’s album of songs from the musical.

As a lead character, Sara Bareilles is able to inhabit the role quite well – considering she wrote the music and lyrics – there were moments that left me speechless – “She used to be mine” certainly has left a lasting impression.

NaTasha Yvette Williams as Becky (a role once taken by Keala Settle – her that now is part of The Greatest Showman), together with Caitlin Houlahan as Dawn provide the perfect harmony and backing to the main story, and both excel with their own story arcs.

Drew Gehling as Dr Pomatter plays Jenna’s love interest with brilliant comic timing, as does Christopher Fitzgerald as Ogie for Dawn. His “Never ever getting rid of me” performance ranks as one of my favourite musical theatre moments – ever!

My one slight problem with the production lays in the fact, will it transfer across the pond to the UK? The musical style is intrinsically American country – so would audiences in the UK buy into it? I don’t see why it shouldn’t work – Leann Rimes, Shania Twain, and Taylor Swift are all country music based – and they’ve done quite well over here.

I hope it does, because I’d say you need to see it. If you’re a fan of Sara Bareilles, the film Waitress, or a beautifully written musical that will send you away with a song in your heart, and the taste of pie in your belly, this is for you.

REVIEW: Patrick Downes

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Review The Sound of Music by Jane Bissett

 

(5 / 5)

 

The Sound of Music is a musical masterpiece from the talented duo Rodgers and Hammerstein. Based loosely on the life of Maria Augusta Trapp and her journey from novice Nun to devoted mother. The Sound of Music has taken the drama which hangs on the story ‘The Trapp Family Singers’ (written by Maria) and has condensed it into a stage musical with a romantic rosy glow.

Oscar Hammerstein’s lyrics are set to music by Richard Rodgers and between them they produced wonderfully descriptive songs that take us from an abbey, to the top of a mountain and capture family life in its simplicity. These songs have been sung by enthralled cinema and theatre goers worldwide for the last five decades.

Indeed, I found myself singing whilst working the following morning, tending sheep in a windswept field in South Wales. Perhaps not such a dramatic landscape as mountains of Austria in the summer, but uplifting all the same.

The story of the family is set in Austria in 1938 with WWII on the horizon. Maria is a young novice Nun who is sent by the Mother Abbess to the home of Captain von Trapp to act as governess and care for his seven children.

Without a mother the children crave the attentions of their father who in his grief has distanced himself from the children, their family home and the memories it holds.

The welfare of the children is Maria’s primary concern and she can see how much they need to regain the love of their father. All she wants is to see the children happy again. She teaches them how to sing and bring music back into their lives. Little does she know that the Captain is himself an accomplished musician and singer and when eventually he hears the children singing it breaks the spell of his unhappiness and allows him to rebuild his relationship with his children whilst unwittingly falling in love with their governess.

Lucy O’Byrne gives an outstanding performance as Maria as does Neil McDermott as Captain von Trapp and for me, much more believable that Christopher Plummer ever was, maybe it was the beard.

Megan Llewellyn was a truly realistic Mother Abbess, kind, compassionate, and wow, what a voice!

The nuns were outstanding, their voices breathtaking and the children adorable in every scene. It was easy to imagine their lives being improved by the arrival of a much needed mother figure who would love them and bring their family back to life.

The set design was a triumph. The audience was transported from the Abbey to the Von Trapp residence effortlessly. The sets were vast and visually beautiful providing an atmosphere that extended well beyond the boundary of the stage. The vastness of the scenery and the skillful way in which it was brought to the stage added to the audience being effortlessly transported from place to place. Although the New Theatre is not the size of a West End stage, for the visual effect and the performances, it was for this production.

It would be unjust to single performers out as this was a whole cast production of talented individuals who together made us believe that we were there.

The audience were so engaged with story and the performances that I am certain that I head an audible ‘boo’ for the Nazi Officer!

Although unseen the orchestra gave an awe inspiring performance of musical talent. The balance of instruments and voices were perfect and crated a world of musical pleasure that elevated the entire show to completely fill the auditorium.

It was no surprise at the end of the performance when the audience rose to their feet before the curtain call and gave the entire cast the standing ovation that they so clearly deserved.

This really is a ‘must see’ production. I was only disappointed that it was not like the film shown in the 1960’s when you could remain in your seat and see it all over again.

The Sound of Music

The New Theatre Cardiff

Tuesday 13 – Saturday 17 February 2018

Evenings 7.30pm

Wednesday, Thursday & Saturday Matinees 2.30pm

For further details about the show or to book tickets call the Box Office on 02920878889

Review The Greatest Showman by Jonathan Evans

The Greatest Showman comes in loud and proud to be a movie musical. I relishes in it’s ability to sing and dance and show colour before you. I wonder how it will fair with the not clear advertising that seemingly wants to hide the fact that it’s  musical.

It’s opening song says that you yourself want to be  entertained with a musical and showmanship and it will provide. If you are not in for the ride now you should leave the theater because then it’s not for you. We are then taken back in time to a young boy named P.T. Barnum, he is the son of a poor tailor, they serve some sort of rich man who has a daughter (guess what happens). Time passes and as they grow up and marry two children join them. While working as a clerk at a shipping company everyone looses their job because all the ships were sank. So he is out of a job but also reflects that this is not the life he promises his wife and seeks out wonder. He opens a museum of oddities, but mannequins and stuffed animals don’t do good business. So he seeks out real life oddities, little people, giants, women with beards etc.

Hugh Jackman is by no means a closeted musical lover. He has spoken about it in interviews, hosted the Oscars with opening musical numbers and stared in other musicals and worn it on his sleeve very proudly. You can tell that he is so happy to be here as a character that gets to sing and dance to entertain you, he is of course no slouch in the singing and dancing department (he greatly excels at it in-fact).

To gain respect Barnum recruits Philip Carlyle (Zac Efron) a highbrow theater producer. He is talked into by being reminded that this career he is on gives him no joy and is sold on the promise of excitement in what he does (also a few shots). While working there a spark develops between him and the trapeze artist Anne Wheeler (Zendaya). They are an attractive movie couple and have both acting and dancing chemistry together. I want to highlight Zendaya’s performance because she very strongly conveys the characters repressed mentality to the public with very little screen-time she’s given, possibly due to limited run-time and a lot of focus given to Barnum. But knowing that she is completely different from how she was in Spider-Man: Homecoming truly highlights her as a talent to watch-out for.

This is Michael Gracey’s directorial debut however he has been in the business since 1997. He has been a visual effects artist, which he probably channeled into his vision of this bouncing, high speed world. I believe this man has a strong future in this business.

It wouldn’t be much of a musical if the songs weren’t up to scratch. Most of them are big, upbeat showy numbers designed to impress. There are variations, with ones of different genres and slower and/or more intimate ones. They are catchy and have visuals that compliment them nicely, but they don’t really push the characters and story forward very much, they are just minor moves in the plot or a character saying what we already know about them.

This movie is so happy to be doing what it does. The director absolutely got high on their own supply and got actors that are just as happy to be dancing and singing for us. There are shortcomings, in the passing and compared other top movie musicals, like La La Land, it falls short of perfection. But the movie’s smiles and enthusiasm melts away all those criticisms and made me and will probably leave you smiling.

Jonathan Evans

 

 

Review Hamilton by Jonathan Evans

 

(5 / 5)

 

Hamilton is a phenomenon. Lin Manauel Miranda’s show about the rise and fall of the founding farther Alexander Hamilton who would be immortalised by having his face on the ten dollar bill is one of the biggest shows to musical theatre in a long time. It’s fan-base has grown and grown and it has conquered America and  is now taking on the rest of the world.

The London show at the Victoria Palace Theatre has grabbed and magnificently run with the baton of standard that this show has gathered. From the words on the page,  the set, to the performances themselves they bring this show to life with grace and fury.

The opening number sets up almost everything we need to know. From our heroes backstory to where he is when the story stars and even his end.

The stage has the floor and rafters so that actors can ascend and descend to signify gain and loss of power. The unique aspect of it is the revolving mechanic of the floor of the stage. It is both technically impressing but also essential to the language of the play.

The rotation gives a greater geography to the limited space of the stage, now the actors can continually walk. Also it happens during more key moments so it becomes an expression of Hamilton’s life moments, when he meets someone new or a choice is to be made his world has shifted. It again serves as having Hamilton as the centre while the character and events revolve around him also the ticking of a clock that waits for no one. Along with the unique element they also use the lighting to paint the mood of the scene and represent when a character is isolated. The actors navigate the space expertly with almost nothing out of sync.

As we all know the founding fathers were all white men and married white women. For historical accuracy this cannot be disputed. However this is a contemporary piece of art so it is not so much interested in being historically accurate but more in spiritually representative of America. The casting for the Hamilton cast is very diverse, having almost everyone of every ethnicity represented on stage. If someone who is curious what Alexander Hamilton really looked like then they have only look it up.

An elements of the performance that there is an argument for being cut (but people would be hounding for blood if it was.) This is the segments with King George, they are the point of view from his perspective as he learns about Americas quest and gaining of independence. Really they don’t need to be there, yet they are so loved and funny they must. His lack of choreography is also immensely amusing, because he is dressed to the ninth all he can really do is stand there but it works by making him seem more uptight.He manages to work in some shoulder movements and he works the crowd greatly. His musical style is more like that of British rock which adds another level of diversity to the show.

The songs carry the narrative and theme. No speaking breaks, all songs, non-stop. The backing musicians play extremely well. The songs themselves area all immensely catchy and will have you repeating a few of them when you leave the theatre. Some of the top favourite are My Shot, Helpless, You’ll Be Back, Burn and others but count on you leaving with a favourite (mine’s Non-Stop).

The play as a whole is divided into two acts. The first is establishing Hamilton himself as well as a few of the others that will play big roles in this story, also about Americas fight for independence. The second act is about dealing with independence and the conflicts they have to deal with become more personal and internal.

The acting from the players is very good. There are many characters in this story and in the second act the actors switch roles to the new characters that are introduced. There is just so much to say about them that it would take up too much of the review, so I’ll just summarise by saying their performance, from the expressions, to the singing is indeed top notch.

The main feats of dancing and choreography come from the background extras. The main players in the scene don’t really bust out many impressive moves, but then again they have many lyrics to remember and sing and if they were doing something more physically taxing then they’d most likely be out of breathe and that wouldn’t be any good. They do indeed do some dancing and hand movements to stop them from becoming dull planks which keeps us looking at them.

Hamilton is the story of the American dream as well as other things and told with modern sensibilities. It is incorrect in a few historical details as others have pointed out, but this is a work of art not an accurate historical account of events. It tells it’s story succinctly through it’s chosen medium of rap with very efficient and fast lyrics being sung and the visuals on-stage from the dancing to the lighting do so many things to draw your eye that you’ll be engaged for the full three hours and then complain that it was over too soon.

Jonathan Evans

Review The Band, The Musical, Wales Millennium Centre by Jane Bissett

(5 / 5)

WOW!   Where to start?

Having never been a fan of Take That, or indeed boy bands in general, I was a little apprehensive as to what lay in store when entering the Wales Millennium Centre for the opening night of ‘The Band’.

The night was memorable and the performance totally unmissable!

For the first time in Cardiff, this wonderful new musical by Tim Firth hit all the right notes and pushed more emotional buttons than the audience could possibly have prepared themselves for.

A delightful mix of dialogue and song, the story follows teenage friends, Rachel, Heather, Debbie, Claire and Zoe, as they share their love of music and the same boy band.

The girls are full of life, funny with a deep friendship that binds them together. They share their inner most thoughts and aspirations. Rachel declaring that she wants to marry all the members of the band and Debbie agreeing to be her bridesmaid.

Debbie wins tickets to a concert in Manchester and the girls set off on their big adventure seeing the band, missing the last train home and having to make it part way home on the bus.

This musical is a coming of age story that every teenager has experienced even if musical tastes do change you never forget your teenage loves.

The two greatest sensory markers in our lives are music and smell, they have the ability to transport us instantly to another time and place whilst bringing to the forefront our greatest and most precious memories.

Move on 25 years and Rachel has moved away and the girls have all lost touch. Then Rachel wins a radio competition for tickets to see the band at a concert in Prague and the only thing on her mind is getting the girls back together.

Having made contact the girls (now 41yrs old) meet at the airport and fly out togther on another adventure. Their experiences and revelations in Prague serve to cement their friendship and to change their lives again.

The soundtrack of the girls lives are the songs of Take That, they punctuate the story in a way that gives it depth and meaning.

Five to Five, the boy band chosen through the talent show ‘Let it Shine’ gave an inspiring performance by almost being in the background. There is no doubt of their musical talent and the vocals were seamless and outstanding.

All credit goes to the Creative Team, too numerous to mention individually, who staged and produced this remarkable new musical, one that I am sure will endure for many years to come.

The stage craft of every cast member drew us ever closer to the action. We laughed, we cheered, we shouted, we sang, and some of us even cried.

At the end of the performance the entire auditorium was on their feet, waving lit mobile phones and generally going wild. I can honestly say that this was an experience like no other and despite myself, like everyone around me I just wanted more.

THE BAND plays at Wales Millennium Centre;

Tuesday 9 until Saturday 20 January

For further details about the show visit www.wmc.org.uk or to book tickets call the Box Office on 02920636464

Review: Legally Blonde The Musical, New Theatre – By Eloise Stingemore

 

 

 

 

 

 

(5 / 5)

OMG Legally Blonde is back in town! Anthony Williams UK revival of the musical adaptation of the hit 2001 film, which starred Reese Witherspoon in the iconic role of Elle Woods, is back in a dazzling pink-hue production of frothy songs, fabulous sets and catchy dance routines. With more sparkle than one will find on Strictly Come Dancing, Legally Blonde The Musical, will brighten up the coldest and darkest of winter nights.

Based on the hit film it follows the perils of Elle Woods played by home-grown talent Lucie Jones, a cheer-leading sorority girl who ditches her air-head image to train as a lawyer at the prestigious Harvard School of Law in the hopes of winning back her preppy boyfriend, Warner Huntingdon III, played by Liam Doyle. Packing up her trusty pooch, Bruiser, and with the support of a new bunch of friends she quickly learns that one can be an intellect, have a heart, superior fashion sense all whilst battling against envy, pettiness and a sordid professor.

Lucie Jones is a perfect fit for the role, her beautiful voice and her ability to do the bend and snap to perfection brings the perky Elle Woods to life in all her pink glory. Whereas Liam Doyle who plays Warner Huntingdon III exceptionally well especially when singing Serious, where Elle is expecting to him to propose but ends up breaking up with her. However, Rita Simmonds (most well-know for playing Roxy Mitchell in EastEnders) is a true revelation with her beautiful singing and great characterisation of salon owner Paulette Bonafonté. Her ode to her character homeland with the song Ireland saw Simmonds balance comedy with genuine emotion perfectly all whilst doing a fabulous river dance. As for Bill Ward’s interpretation of the disgustingly slick Professor Callahan, he commends the stage with his presence and gets all the Panto boos, the highest accolade for any antagonist. It’s safe to say that the biggest cheers of the night and who drew the biggest smiles from the audience was the four legged cast comprising of Bruiser played by Bruisey Williams-Dood and Rufus played by a local star canine.

Legally Blonde The Musical is fun and fluffy, lifting the darkest of spirits and bringing them into Elle Woods’s fabulous bubble-gum pink world. It is light-hearted and delivers its fair share of touching moments all set against a backdrop of glitz, glamour and girl power.

Tour dates and ticket information can be found on Legally Blonde The Musical website.

Review: How to Win Against History by Gemma Treharne-Foose

 

(5 / 5)

If you’ve never heard of the 5th Marquess of Anglesey or Henry Cyril Paget – that’s exactly what his family intended to happen when they erased him from their family history by burning every photograph and possession relating to his life.

Based on true story, this completely original production pieces together the charred remains and distant memories of the 5th Marquess of Anglesey – a cross-dressing dandy who inherited the keys to the kingdom in Victorian Britain, but lived fast and died young.

At one time the richest man in Britain, he rejected the duties of his title to live an outrageously opulent and controversial life, putting on elaborate plays, building over the chapel on the family estate to build a theatre and tour Europe with his ‘Electric Butterfly Orchestra’ – with himself as the leading artist, of course.

This is a fabulously foppish flight of fancy that will have you belly laughing from lights up until lights down.

The Marquess of Anglesey was an unapologetic narcissist, who if born in more recent times would no doubt be the subject of a gaudy commercial deal, a magazine spread or a reality TV series. But although the production pokes fun at the story, it is never cruel.

How to Win Against History is a high-camp, high energy extravaganza, subverting the almost homoerotic goings on within public schools, the aristocracy and the Empire.

Starring Seiriol Davies who plays (or should I say ‘slays’) as Henry Paget, this show chasses, minces and shimmies its way through his back story, shining a light on the social awkwardness of Victorian times, the absurdity and pomposity of theatre and the sheer hilarity of being a square peg in a round hole.

Matthew Blake plays the part of Paget’s right hand man – the Victorian west end actor Alexander Keith and the pair have incredible chemistry and comic timing. Every movement, sigh and flick of the hand is played up and milked for laughs.

Imagine a show featuring Lawrence Llywelyn-Bowen’s lovechild on acid at Mardi Gras, mashed up with Monty Python, Downton Abbey and Ru Paul’s Drag Race. That wouldn’t even come close to how remarkable this is.

Despite the madcap silliness and outrageousness though, it’s a show with substance and heart. Seiriol Davies has created something quite heartfelt and poignant, the music and lyrics are sharp and clever and the incredible vocal performances of the trio on stage meander from genre to genre.

You really want Henry Paget to win and the way audiences are responding to this production shows that in the end – he has.

Some lights are too bright to ever be distinguished.

Review: Hairspray, Wales Millennium Centre – By Eloise Stingemore

(5 / 5)

Hairspray is back and bigger than Tracy Turnblad’s hair. It’s louder than the Corny Collins show at full volume. It’s a big bouffant of a musical!

Set in 1962 Baltimore, Tracy Turnblad, a big girl with big hair and an even a bigger heart, is on a mission to follow her dreams and dance her way onto national TV with The Nicest Kids In Town. Tracys audition not only makes her a local celebrity, she sends sales of Ultra Clutch Hairspray through the roof and bags local heartthrob Link Larkin. However, when Tracy uses her newfound fame to fight for equality, it puts her at loggerheads with Velma Von Tussle the producer of the show but also mother of the show’s “star” teenager, Amber Von Tussle, jeopardising her place on the show and her freedom.

From the opening vamp of “Good Morning Baltimore,” to the final chorus of the finale, “You Can’t Stop the Beat,” the shows score a mixture of bubble-gum pop to rhythm and blues is irresistibly catchy. Rebecca Mendoza shines in her professional debut as Tracy whereas Edward Chitticks plays Link Larkin with the right amount of cool that manages to capture your attention and make your heart flutter every time he is on stage. As for Layton Williams who is best known as Stephen Carmichael in the hit BBC Three show Bad Education, he presents a dazzling array of dance skills all whilst crafting a touching relationship with Liard-Bailey’s Penn. However, it is the coupling of Mat Rixon and Norman Pace as Edna and Wilburn Turnblad that gives the show a fantastic comic spark. Their duet of “Your Timeless To Me” was delivered to perfection and Pace body language had the audience in stitches, which makes it shame that the audience saw so little of the two together during Kerryson’s production.

The show features an impressive variety of costumes by Takis from the fabulous ’60s fashions Tracy and Edna get from “Mr. Pinky’s Hefty Hideaway”, to Corny’s comical red sequinned suit, and, of course, the giant hairdos sprayed with the titular product. However, Takis’ reliance on a projected backdrop to capture the Civil Rights protests meant at times the stage felt slightly bare but nevertheless did an excellent way of demonstrating the two sides to American society at the time.

Hairspray is full of colour, soul and free spirit that defined the 60s. It is the ultimate feel good show and judging by the amount of smiles in the foyer as people left the venue they didn’t want the beat to end.

Hairspray opened in Cardiff on August 16, 2017, with a tour around the UK until June 2018. Tour dates and ticket information available can be found here: http://www.hairsprayuktour.com/tour-dates/

 

 

 

 

 

 

REVIEW: ‘HAIRSPRAY’ BY GEMMA TREHARNE-FOOSE

(4 / 5)

If you’ve toyed with the idea of seeing Hairspray on stage but doubted whether anyone could top Ricki Lake’s original 1988 portrayal of Tracy  – or indeed Nikki Blonsky’s 2007 film version, you really needn’t worry.

The new stage version of Hairpray brought to you by producers Mark Goucher, Matthew Gale and Laurence Myers will delight new and old fans from start to finish.

The show hasn’t lost an ounce of its popularity, having first swept the board at the Tony Awards on Broadway in 2002 and the more recent film version introducing a new generation of fans to the musical and original film.

Set in 1960s Baltimore, Tracy Turnblad dreams of  a starring role as one of the teenage dancers on the popular Corny Collins show – a cheeseball TV format of young beautiful things dancing and miming to the latest pop / rock n roll records.

Already at a disadvantage due to her shape, she encounters the realities of colour segregation rife in Baltimore and the US at the time. Only white teenagers were allowed to dance on the show, apart from ‘Negro Day’ every other Friday.

Based on real events with the real ‘Buddy Deane Show’, on which Hairspray was based, the story sees Tracy lead a group of friends to storm the TV studio and force the live broadcasting of integrated dancing, leading a protest against colour segregation and challenging preconceived ideas about women of shape at the same time.

The show is perfectly aided by a riot of technicolour staging and costume courtesy of TAKIS, while Drew McOnie’s superb vintage choreography will have your heart fluttering and your foot tapping.

But the story reminds us that for all the iconic fashions, bubble-gum scented nostalgia and fondness for the golden era of pop and rock and roll, black Americans were denied basic civil rights across America.

Such was the power and divisiveness of segregation, we see ‘seemingly nice’ young all-American kids suddenly spewing hatred and vitriol when the status quo is challenged.  Underneath the petticoats and the chucks and the varsity jackets and polite manners, there is suddenly spite and anger.

Hairspray is gently subversive, poking fun at the idiocy, prejudice and fear at the heart of  white America. What’s all the more cutting is the reminder that while the 60s may seem far away, the lurking presence of racism is rearing it’s ugly head again in the US.  

Two years ago I used Hairspray (the movie) as a vehicle to talk about civil rights and race in America in the 60s with my little girl.  Suddenly, it’s time to return to that ugly, awkward conversation.  We’re at a crossroads once again – because ‘nice guys’ in middle America are waving around swastika flags and white hoods.   

It’s not too hard to believe that the ‘nice polite white kids’ at the Corny Collins dance might have been the same kids lining up to shout abuse at kids entering the first integrated schools or kicking off at the lunch counters they thought were their domain when black protesters sat in ‘their place’.

So as an audience we laugh when Penny Pingleton’s Mum screams when she finds her daughter in bed with a black boy and shrieks ‘But what about the neighbours….the house prices!?’, when her deep-rooted instinct is to flinch/cower when Seaweed gives her a hug or when others gasp with horror as Tracy Turnblad admits she WOULD swim in an integrated swimming pool.

In some shape or form, we’ve all encountered the tropes and the stereotypes surrounding integration and mixed heritage relationships. We’ve rolled our eyes at the staggering lack of awareness even the nicest of people have, just like those kids at the hop in the ‘Nicest kids in town’ song in the first act.

I was overjoyed to once again see Layton Williams (in the role of Seaweed) at the WMC, who previously slayed in the role of Angel Dumott Schunard in RENT earlier this year. I’ve decided it is utterly impossible to take your eyes off him whenever he is on stage.  Former X Factor contestant Brenda Edwards was spellbinding as Motormouth Maybelle, with vocals that shook the rafters and I loved Annalise Liard-Bailey’s squeaky/dorky portrayal of Penny.  Ensemble cast member Graham Macduff was also hilarious in all his guises.  

As anyone who’s seen the 2007 film adaptation of Hairspray will tell you – you can never unsee the sight of John Travolta in a dress, but Matt Rixon and Norman Pace (of ‘Hale and Pace’) had a wonderful on-stage presence together and clearly enjoyed each other’s company

Hairspray recognises the ridiculousness of racism, blinds it with sequins and deafens these ugly faults with a soundtrack of rock n roll, pop, cha-cha-cha and motown.  

It calls racism out for what it is and still dares you to believe that the future will be different.  It’s hammy, it’s cheesy, it’s sweet and it’s a glitter bomb of cherry-cola scented joy.