Tag Archives: Musical

REVIEW: CLUB TROPICANA BY GEMMA TREHARNE-FOOSE

Club Tropicana 

Press Night: 13 Aug 

Wales Millennium Centre

After a long absence from theatre reviews this last year and with the media a toxic cesspit these days, I felt so ready to be entertained. Like, seriously entertained. I have been awaiting the next chance to review something lively and upbeat, like a demonic glitter leopard stalking her pray. Yes, I was so desperately in need of an escape from the grim reality of Britain in 2019, that when news came from our friends in the WMC of a spectacular 1980s musical that harked back to the cheesefest pop era of my childhood, it truly felt like a gift. 

So it’s quite appropriate that in order to share this therapeutic time-warp, I should invite along my older and let’s face it superior older sister. Even though we only really got to know one another when I was already in my twenties, I have always looked up to her. Not least because my earliest fleeting memories of her were when I was a little nipper and she was already in her teens. At this point in the 80s, Wham were still going full pelt and George Michael wasn’t gay yet. My sister had Wham and A-ha posters on her wall and her teenage bedroom was a treasure trove of jewellery – wowwwww, magazines – wowwww and hairspray – wowwwwww.

It was a warm fluffy 1980s memory, a defining moment. Perhaps even stronger than my memories of the more grim aspects of the 80s – miners strikes, recession and poll tax riots. But look – kids need a dream! They need icons! Which is why I once cos-played as Madonna with a friend when I was eight and we called for a boy we both fancied. Back-combed hair. Beads, lace gloves – and a black kohl beauty spot penciled onto our top lips. Papa don’t preach, it seemed appropropriate at the time. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea as an era, but Maggie Thatcher or not, the 80s was epic! 

This was my frame of reference for coming along to the press night for Club Tropicana – I was already buoyed by my love of cheese, the 80s and musical theatre. I must admit I had my reservations about Joe McElderry (X Factor) as lead, but I learned my lesson after judging former X-Factor contestant Lucie Jones before seeing her utterly slay in the role of Maureen in Rent. I was also skeptical about the use of ‘Love Island’ references in the musical’s marketing literature. I might like cheese and pop music but even I have my standards.

The premise of this family friendly show is that a budding young bride and groom get cold feet and take a hiatus ahead of their impending wedding only to – surprise! – find themselves at the same resort where the drinks are free and tans glow. The show is an unapologetic romp through some of the poppiest, cheesiest anthems of the 80s. I wasn’t sure to what degree these anthems could complement or dovetail with the storyline or how the proposed story would hold up…this is something I suffered I mean ‘struggled with’ with at Son of a Preacher Man in 2018. You can love the songs, but if a musical isn’t delivering on the storyline then it will fall on it’s arse. 

So what then of Club Tropicana? 

Let’s be frank. It won’t win any prizes for being clever or original. The characterisation (bar a few stand out examples) is challenged at times by a simple (to the point of dumbed down) script and carosel of smash hits that come so thick and fast, it’s dizzying. It was difficult for me to connect to the characters, some of whom felt like musical theatre stereotypes and perhaps lacking in personality at times. The story hardly allowed for any development of some of the supporting cast’s stories beyond a few lazy jokes.

Imagine Hi-De-Hi mashed up with Mrs Brown’s Boys and a splash of Alan Carr and Eldorado. There are jokes about sex, farting, diarrhoea, being sick. There is humping, there is more innuendo than a Carry On comedy, more ham than a Danepak factory. But while all this stuff may leave an extremely nasty taste in the mouth of the more sophisticated theatre-goer (like the couple in front of me who seemed to have gotten lost on the way to a Chekov play or the ballet and cringed and recoiled with any hint of smut), we were mosty all there to unwind, have fun and enjoy the tunes – like refugees from the toxic wastelands of 2019.

Joe McElderry is hard to dislike and he works his socks off to win over the crowd, he plays the part of super-camp holiday rep Gary and is great fun, getting the audience to their feet and joining in a locomotion-type dance from the get-go. His personality shines through and vocals are super strong. The choreohraphy, costumes and hair – all excellent – one highlight being that gravity-defying quiff on Christine’s sidekick Andrea (played by Tara Verloop).

There are some surprisingly lovely musical arranegements in the show, with a beautifully crafted accoustic version of ‘Take on Me’ being a standout song, performed by lead actors Neil McDermott as Robert and Emily Tierney as Christine. I hate to be predictable but in every musical there is a suporting cast member who lingers in the memory (perhaps unfairly sometimes, given the pressure and scale of task facing the lead role actors). They seem to have a presence that even surpasses the role they embody – carrying with them an effortless ability to shine, no matter how lame or stereotypical the role they play.

For this show, it’s Kate Robbins as hotel maid Consuela – a Spanish trope so tired, they had to bring it back out of retirement. But her physical comedy and impersonations of a raft of 80s stars throughout the show is the backbone of Club Tropicana. For all the dazzling choreography, pretty musical theatre performers and bright lights – you need someone who will cut through the noise and make you belly laugh. More than that though, her impressions of the vocals of Tina Turner, Madonna, Shirley Bassey and even Cilla Black are truly sensational.

In places Club Tropicana was clunky, and yes – it’s possible to eat up so much cheese you are quite tired of it and need to lie down afterwards, but it’s a show that is unashamedly for those of us who remember the 80s as a time when sitting on the floor doing the ‘Oops up side your head’ dance seemed like such innocent fun. It’s nostalgic and warm and you won’t even mind being part of a Butlin’s-style Spanish package holiday experience where you wouldn’t normally be seen dead.

Take your Mam or your mates, listen to Cyndi Lauper in the car on the way down….eat the cheese! You can always have a lie down afterwards….


REVIEW: School of Rock – London 25th May 2019 by Patrick Downes

What you get it you cross a film from 2003, one of musical theatreland’s legends plus add in a little piece of youthful magic – School of Rock!

Based on the 2003 film that starred Jack Black, overly enthusiastic guitarist Dewey Finn gets thrown out of his band and finds himself in desperate need of work. Posing as a substitute music teacher at an elite private elementary school, he exposes his students to the hard rock gods he idolizes and emulates — much to the consternation of the uptight principal. As he gets his privileged and precocious charges in touch with their inner rock ‘n’ roll animals, he imagines redemption at a local Battle of the Bands.

Set at the Gillian Lynne Theatre, the theatre has more a studio feel than an auditorium, but this brings everyone closer to the sound. I was fortunate enough to get the ticket lottery for the evening performance, meaning I paid £30 for a pair of tickets valued at £160 – and good seats too!

Craig Gallivan stars as Dewey (he was Stella’s son Luke in the Sky 1 show), and for those who weren’t aware, the boy can sing, plus has the Jack Black act to a tee. As for the kids, what can be said? Very talented musicians in their own right – plus having proud parents – one of which was sat in front of me!



Andrew Lloyd Webber and Julian Fellowes would not be the first two people I’d associate with a production like this, but underneath, every part of the production is polished. From the stage direction, the sound, and the performances.

Generally speaking, musicals based on films can be a little fractious with songs crowbarred in, but School Of Rock bucks this idea with having a plot and musical cues to suit.

It’s the perfect way to introduce children into the theatre, it’s entertaining with an all rounded quality cast and production. You’d be put into detention if you didn’t consider School of Rock as your next London musical adventure!


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Review: Patrick Downes

REVIEW Aladdin the Musical #London 27th May 2019 by Patrick Downes

A little bit of Disney magic, one of musical theatres most loved lyricists & composers, and some of the most iconic musical sequences in animation history all add up to Aladdin the musical in London.

Nearing the end of it’s time at the Prince Edward Theatre, you still have a matter of weeks to catch this before 24th August 2019.

In the town of Agrabah, Princess Jasmine is feeling hemmed in by her father’s desire to find her a royal groom. Meanwhile, the Sultan’s right-hand man, Jafar, is plotting to take over the throne. When Jasmine sneaks out one evening, she forms an instant connection with Aladdin, a charming street urchin and reformed thief. After being discovered together, Aladdin is sentenced to death, but Jafar saves him by ordering him to fetch a lamp from the Cave of Wonders. There’s a lamp, and where there’s a Genie, and once Aladdin unwittingly lets this one out, anything can happen!

It’s everything you could expect from a Disney musical, although it took a few songs for the sound to flow through the theatre. There was a tendency for it to be a little bit panto at times, but generally speaking I was entertained all the way through.



Aladdin played by Matthew Croke might be a reformed thief, but Trevor Dion Nicholas as Genie, stole the show. The set pieces of Whole new world, Friend Like Me, and Prince Ali all make this one incredible production. The staging and the ensemble sounded brilliant, but only thing that stops me giving these five stars is some parts of the singing felt a little “screechy”. Maybe that’s just my opinion but it didn’t spoil what was a magical flight on a magic carpet ride.



It closes at the end of August to make way for the other Disney masterpiece that is Mary Poppins, so you’ve got limited time to enjoy some Arabian Nights.

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Review: Patrick Downes

Review Mary Poppins Returns by Jonathan Evans

3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

Apparently, it’s never too late to make a sequel. Anchorman 2 came out a decade after it’s initial release, Incredibles 2 fourteen, Mad Max: Fury Road thirty and now here’s Mary Poppins Returns fifty-four years after the original movie came out. I’d say better late than never but Mary Poppins wasn’t the kind of movie where you thought about what came next, it seemed pretty well wrapped up. But here we are.

Though it’s been fifty-four years since the release of the original movie it takes place about twenty years later. The original Banks children have all grown up, Michael (Ben Wishaw) is living in the old house, Jane (Emily Mortimer) has a place in the city but visits regularly. Michael himself has three children Annabel (Pixie Davis), John (Nathanael Saleh) and Georgie (Joel Dawson), his wife that has passed on so he’s a single parent that has a lot to deal with, adding to everything he’s missed out on the last three payments of the mortgage which means the house will be repossessed, however, they do have stock in the bank which could save them, but they cannot find it, so they have one week and the search is on.

With this very tense time, the children go fly a kite out in the park. They get it in the air with the help of Jack (Lin-Manuel Miranda) the local lamplighter but a big gust a wind sends it flying off. Luckily there’s a nanny in the clouds that catches it. So here again, on Cherry Lane, Mary Poppins is the nanny to the Banks children.

Emily Blunt takes up the umbrella and fills the shoes of Julie Andrews as the magical nanny, this is no easy task. The image of Disney’s original Mary Poppins is pretty much ingrained into the public subconscious. From the colors, her posture, voice etc. We all know it in one form or another. Emily Blunt more takes on the bullet points of the character and makes it her own. She has the same stance and is perfectly postured and finely spoken but isn’t mimicking Julie Andrews. This way the performance is organic while still being recognizable as the character we know. Even her costume is different, she has a hat, scarf and velvet coat but they’re different, more colorful, she still looks like Mary Poppins but her own version of the character.

There are segments of the movie where Mary Poppins takes the children to do some seemingly mundane activity and they become grand, fantastical excursions. One particular one where she takes them inside a vase and they are brought into an animated world. 2D animation isn’t done much these days (sadly) but when it comes to Disney they are still the best at it. We get a big, loud and proud musical hall segment. The designs are more sleek and modernized than the original movies and the live action actors eyelines match with their animated co-stars which makes the whole segment more convincing. A nice touch to this is that the conflict that occurs within the bowl parallels the conflict in the real world. This is a good touch because it makes the excursions more meaningful rather than just time-fillers.

The song is written by Marc Shaiman and Scott Whittman with Richard M. Sherman serving as a consultant. Lyrically they have done some fine work with some of the slickest rhymes you will find in a musical in some time. Though while the songs were playing I had a fun time when I walked away I found that I couldn’t remember one, except for two. “Lovely London Skies” (which opens and closes the movie) and “Can You Imagin That” where Mary Poppins takes the children on a fantastic experience in the bath.

Director Rob Marshall, who also directed Chicago, seems to be built to direct movie musicals. He has the right sense of camera choreography as well as when there are intricate dance movements happening either slow it down or lock it down so there’s not too much movement going on and the screen does not become a blur.

Mary Poppins doesn’t fly down when everything is all going swimmingly, she arrives when there are some serious problems brewing. People probably remember the songs and the dancing and laughs more than anything in the previous movie and they’re not wrong to remember them, they’re wonderful moments, but the core of the story comes from a person that arrives when things are going bad and used magical things to teach us basic lessons. The movie knows that and isn’t afraid to layer itself with heavier moments.

Is this another one of the great movie musicals? I don’t think so, but who really knows, maybe time will prove me wrong. What it is is bright, energetic, confident and more than charming with some nicely handled delicate moments.

 

REVIEW: ‘ADDAMS FAMILY: THE MUSICAL’ BY GEMMA TREHARNE-FOOSE

3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

Anyone growing up in the late 80s and 90s will have a fond recollection of the original Addams Family TV series. Inspired by the creator of the Addams Family comic strip by Charles Addams, the family were a dark inversion of the idealised nuclear American family. What started out as a popular comic strip and TV show snowballed into a staple of iconic popular culture across the entire globe.

The Addams Family creative treatment has now expanded to encompass TV remakes, several films, multiple theatrical productions, and video games. The show has already toured extensively in the UK, with dates at Cardiff’s Wales Millennium Centre, but this time Kinetic Theatre company bring a smaller version of the production to the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama. The company, headed up by Artistic Director Kris Cowley is a training company for musical theatre for young people aged 16 and over – and has now been relaunched as Kinetic School of Performing Arts.

Their members are at differing stages of their theatrical experience, with many of them acting as mentors for other members to develop their confidence and skills. I overheard Artistic Director Kris Cowley tell another audience member in the interval that they had given one of the lead roles to twelve-year-old Lewys Rees, who was nervous about cutting his teeth on his first production while playing the part of Pugsley Addams, but was being supported and encouraged by his team.

It’s great to see new talent like this emerging from grass-roots groups and being given big breaks often not afforded to those without significant experience with established performing arts schools or academies. In this sense, companies like Kinetic do great work in opening up access to performing arts and removing the barriers people often face. It takes a lot of courage to hold your own at such a young age – but Lewys Rees had a promising voice, which I’m sure will put him in good stead for next year’s ‘Camp Rock’ musical being developed by Kinetic.

The synopsis for the show is good – kooky Wednesday Addams meets a rather conventional (some might say bland and boring) romantic prospect. Chaos follows when she asks her father Gomez to keep a secret about the real reason for inviting her boyfriend Lucas’ family – they are engaged to be married. As Lucas’ Mother and Father descend on the Addams family mansion, tensions build as the Beinekes encounter the macabre Addams family, their dead ancestors, family rivalries and inevitable fall outs when their two worlds collide.

The story lends itself well to a musical format and there’s a generous mix of upbeat songs from a variety of genres to move things along. The ensemble cast (dead ancestors) were superb in amplifying the story and musical directors Liz York and Emma Pawsey have done a stellar job in translating the musical score into strong blended vocals and punchy choreography on stage.

I loved the opening number ‘When you’re an Addams’ and the production is at it’s strongest during the whole-cast ensemble pieces. The segment when the two families sit down to dinner (‘Full Disclosure’) brought to mind Fosse-like choreography and a flavour of the Chicago movie song ‘Both reached for the gun’.

Now for the not so great bits. At such an early stage in their performance experience, the production does lack gloss and finesse in places. Lights seem late to come up after blackouts, the microphones on the actors’ faces pick up sound (breathing and talking) after the actors have left the stage. Gomez’ accent is a little…off….and can be distracting at times, nevertheless – Jack Davies is enviable in his delivery of personable Gomez, his comic timing is great and his execution during the ‘Happy/Sad’ song was sweet.

Georgia Tonge as Wednesday seems unsure of herself at times, yet her accent as Wednesday is impeccable and her vocals are generally good. For me, one of the standout characters was Fester (who I believe was played by Thomas Price the night I was there) – his zany antics and wiry, frenetic physicality bring great energy and pace to the show’s story. A truly charming presence on stage.

The star of the show has to be the poker-faced Zoe Martin who was simply brilliant as Morticia Addams. Sleek and sassy and with a ‘bitchy resting face’ to rival Anjelica Houston, her deadpan demeanor and withering put-downs were as sharp as a tack.

The routine between Zoe Martin and Jack Davies as a tangoing-couple during the song ‘Tango de Amor’ was fabulous. Well done lastly to the superb ‘dead relatives’ who did so much to bring life and zest to this production. My daughter (age 9) was watching you all like a hawk, noticing every facial expression and raise of an eyebrow.

“They’re really good actors, Mom!” she told me during the interval – she’s part of a performance group herself and always keeps a beady eye on the supporting actors in the background. I’d better bring her back to RWCMD to see Camp Rock next year – though I suspect in the meantime she’ll beg me to join Kinetic, because they’ve clearly made an impression on my little Miss!

Keep it up, Kinetic!

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

3 out of 5 stars (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 out of 5 stars (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 out of 5 stars (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