Tag Archives: Musical

Review : La Cage Aux Folles, New Theatre By James Briggs

5 Stars5 / 5

Cardiff’s New Theatre was packed to the rafters with a dazzling array of glitter and sequins last night for the first performance of La Cage aux Folles. The musical adaptation of French playwright Jean Poiret’s script is largely recognised as one of the greatest modern musicals. The stage production, directed by Martin Connor, is a throwback to the old glamour and glitz associated with the French Riviera but also has a very key message in the story.

One of the leading characters, Georges, is played by the US TV and Broadway actor Adrian Zmed who greets the audience with a heartfelt welcome to La Cage. There was something a little different about this cabaret, however, in the form of all the main performers in the cast being men dressed as women.

‘La Cage’ is a drag cabaret club in the heart of Saint Tropez, run by Georges and his very flamboyant husband Albin who is played by West End actor and former Eastenders star John Partridge. As the audience are waiting for Albin’s arrival on stage we are first greeted by the appearance of his on-stage alter ego Zaza. John Partridge creates an impressive character as he struts across the stage in a robe and a pair of high heels. He wins over the audience from the beginning and really gives the part his all.

The story unfolds when Georges and Albin’s son, Jean- Michele, (Georges’ from a previous relationship) arrives to tell his father that he is engaged to Anne, the daughter of a French politician who is well-known for his conservative views. Jean- Michele played by Dougie Carter drops a few bombshells on his dad. Including that of breaking the news to Albin that he can’t be there when the parents come over for dinner at their home.

Albin is horrified when he hears the news and his disappointment leads to a spine tingling performance from John Partridge of the musical’s most iconic number ‘I Am What I am’. Georges and Albin soon make up and it’s easy to like the two contrasting co-stars who have a brilliant on-stage chemistry with each other which could be compared to that of Ian McKellen and Derek Jacobi in the ITV series Vicious. The arrival of Dindon, the French politician, and his apparently conservative wife raised the bar once again on the entertainment as Albin comes up with a hilarious plan to meet the in-laws to be.

John Partridge’s performance as Albin and Zaza is absolutely superb and while the audience cheered and got to its feet for the entire cast, the largest applause and cheers were saved for him. During the performance John Partridge fell down some of the stairs on stage but being the true professional he is, kept in character and even made a joke about it. He carried on with the rest of the show and came on for the second act. Following the show John Partridge had to go to A&E and I really have to applaud him for being so professional and continuing with the show despite being in pain.

All of the cast were amazing and really very talented especially during the tap dancing scenes in which the male dancers very skillfully danced in high heels and gowns. A special mention must also go to Samson Ajewole who played Jacob and was exceptionally funny. He delivered a very strong performance and was one of the stars of the evening. As too was Marti Webb who played Jacqueline and created a very likeable character for the audience.

The stage sets used during the show were simply divine. All of the scenes in the show were very well thought out and the sets changed seamlessly. My personal favourite set design of the show was that of the stage at La Cage. The show saw a theatre stage constructed within a stage which is shown in the picture below and worked really well as it gave the audience the perspective of watching a whole different theatre on stage.

La Cage Aux Folles is a brilliant and moving, feel-good production that will be guaranteed to leave you smiling as you walk out the theatre doors and taking a whole new look on life. I urge everyone who get’s the chance to see the show to go as you will not regret it!

La Cage Aux Folles is currently on a UK tour so make sure you visit the New Theatre website in the link below and book your tickets before its too late.

http://www.newtheatrecardiff.co.uk/what’s-on/la-cage-aux-folles/

 

Review: ‘Sunny Afternoon’ by Gemma Treharne-Foose

5 Stars5 / 5

 

So it’s January, everyone is detoxing, skint after Christmas and bruised after Brexit, Trump and a string of celebrity deaths in 2016. I can hand on heart say that if you are suffering from SAD or have lost all hope for the year ahead, you need to find the sun behind those clouds and get your butt down to WMC pronto to see ‘Sunny Afternoon’, the touring production running until Saturday 21st, before it shuttles off elsewhere.

Even if you are not a fan of The Kinks or a fan of musicals featuring the back catalogue of certain bands (let’s not even mention ‘Viva Forever’ here!), you will be hard pressed to find a more inclusive and entertaining musical in 2017.

A real kick in the 60s!

The soundtrack to your Mam and Dad’s wild years, the show focuses on four working class lads riding the crest of the wave of the ‘British invasion’ in the 60s – the meteoric highs and the crushing lows.  Natalie Gallacher/Pippa Ailion’s casting of Ryan O’Donnell and Mark Newnham as brothers Ray and Dave is a triumph – the pair have sensational synergy and energetic friction on stage and O’Donnell’s sweet vulnerability shines through his entire performance.

Newnham is unmissable as outrageous rebel Dave, everything from his swagger, his cockney banter and his swinging from the chandelier in a pink dress had the audience eating out of the palm of his hand.

The most famous of the Kinks’ songs were cleverly deconstructed and re-packaged, allowing us to delve further into the back story to possibly the most influential riffs and tunes ever written.  The scene where Ray and Dave are trying to perfect the edgy baseline to their hit song ‘You really got me’ is pure magic, reverberating through your chest and rattling around your rib cage.

There are some delicious comic lines, especially from the plummy stockbrokers-turned-agents Robert Wace and Grenville Collins, who groomed the four for stardom, even coming up with their name, with the help of another agent Larry Page.  I couldn’t help laughing out loud when one of them says in a voice that may remind you of certain Harry Enfield characters: ‘Now…let’s talk about it over a nice plate of kippers’.

You’ll laugh when Ray’s Dad (played by Robert Took) complains about ‘wearing out shoe leather’, about the house prices in Muswell Hill (£3,500 – with a £500 deposit!)…and you wonder what the hell Mr Davies would make of the prices in Muswell Hill these days. This is nostalgic but not cloying, sentimental but not syrupy.

There are multiple sharp observations and throwaway comments referencing other 60s bands and celebrities. When the managers find Ray in a depression in bed with Rasa his wife, one of them quips: ‘You wouldn’t find John Lennon lounging around in bed with his wife!’.  Later on, when the band are on tour in America and are uneasy about the guns and violence there, their manager assures them ‘You’re a pop star! You’re not important enough to shoot!’.

A blueprint for future musical trends

The real pleasure for those not born in the 60s is the discovery of music you didn’t know existed – for my parents’ generation, it’s all familiar territory.  But if you only know a handful of the old (and most famous) of songs by the Kinks, you get to unwrap a new gift.

Aided by the clever studio/house/concert hall design of the stage by Miriam Bluether and the choreography by Adam Cooper, watching ‘Sunny Afternoon’ will transport you back to the excitement, the optimism and the feeling of being on the cusp of something completely original and unchartered.  

From the time THAT guitar riff kicks in, you understand exactly what it is your Mum has been harping on about all these years. It’s hard to imagine how utterly new, how extraordinary this must have felt for teenagers in the 60s, to go from stale crooners in suits to long haired rebels with rock guitars.  

The Kinks were the masters of social commentary which would foreshadow the later emergence of musicians and bands of my generation: the blueprint for American garage and rock bands like grungy Nirvana in the 80s and the Britpop boom in the 90s.  I hadn’t realised it until last night but ‘A well respected man’ was clearly influential for Damon Albarn and his crew with Blur’s hit ‘Country House’.

Delightfully rebellious, clever and heartfelt

Credit must be given to the wonderful pacing, characterisation and story for the musical by Ray Davies himself.  It’s clearly a personal and heartfelt snapshot of an incredible moment in history.  The result is rebellious, clever and heartfelt and I witnessed something I hadn’t yet seen at the Wales Millennium Centre: an entire audience on their feet, no awkward seat lurkers in sight. Inhibitions were gone and for a moment I felt like we were watching the real Kinks.  I was genuinely sad to leave the theatre and re-emerge into 2017.

My Mum, who had accompanied me (and by the end was a bawling mess) had enjoyed every last morsel of the show. I asked her why she was crying, she said: ’I remember it – I remember it all!’.  If only to see what your parents saw, feel how they felt and see how bloody awesome the fashion and sounds of the sixties actually were, this is an absolute treat of a show.  

Type of show: Theatre

Title: Sunny Afternoon

Venue: Wales Millennium Centre  

Dates: 17 – 21 Dec (Touring show)

Directed by:  Edward Hall

Music, Lyrics, Original Story: Ray Davies

Choreographer: Adam Cooper

Sound: Matt McKenzie

Musical Director: Barney Ashworth

Cast:

Ryan O’Donnell (Ray Davies)

Mark Newnham (Dave Davies)

Richard Hurst (Larry)

Tomm Coles (Grenville Collins)

Joseph Richardson (Robert Wace)

Lisa Wright (Rasa)

Garmon Rhys (Pete Quaife)

Running time: Approx 3 hours (with interval)

Produced by: Sonia Friedman Productions and Ambassador Theatre Group

Review Chicago, Wales Millennium Centre by James Briggs

chicago

4 Stars4 / 5

“Murder, greed, corruption, violence, exploitation, adultery and treachery…all those things we hold near and dear to our hearts “and so Cardiff welcomes the touring production of Chicago. In a first for the Wales Millennium Centre the smash hit musical Chicago has arrived to entertain packed audiences. Chicago is based on the real life events in the roaring 1920s. A nightclub singing sensation Velma murders her husband, and Chicago’s smoothest lawyer, Billy Flynn, sets out to act has her defence. But when Roxie ends up in prison on similar charges, Billy takes on her case too, turning her too into a media sensation. Neither of the two women will be surpassed in their fight against each other for fame and celebrity status.

As the audience sat down before the performance an announcement was made informing us that John Partridge who plays  lawyer Billy Flynn would not be performing due to ‘unforeseen circumstances’ and therefore the role would be played instead by his understudy Kerry Spark. Despite the obvious disappointment by some audience members we needn’t have worried as Kerry Spark gave an excellent performance.

This revival tour of Chicago showed a whole different side to the show by stripping the production back to its bare bones, with a full band positioned on a podium on stage, minimal costumes on the performers and some chairs. As an audience member, you seem to have the feeling that the music is the main star of the show and the thing you should be concentrating on most of all.

In the performance, Sophie Carmen-Jones played Velma Kelly, the tough performer awaiting trial for the murder of her husband and sister. Sophie Carmen-Jones delivers a brilliant Velma who is very confident and self-assured but still beneath her many layers is highly vulnerable.

Hayley Tamaddon is utterly sublime as Roxie Hart. Hayley Tamaddon brings out a different version of Roxie with slightly more comedy and shyness in Roxie than audiences will not have seen before. There are many moments during the performance where Roxie really comes into her own and shines like a star.

hayley-tamaddon-as-roxie-hart

In my opinion, the two leading ladies are perfectly matched and when they come together and perform the ‘Hot Honey Rag’ to the end of the show they are wonderfully in synch with each other bringing a smile to every audience member.

The Matron of the Cook County Jail, Mama Morton was played by Gina Murray. The role is usually played by former X Factor winner Sam Bailey however she took a break from the tour. Gina Murray was brilliant as Mama Morton and has a good mix of being stern and kind to the inmates. Her performance in the song ‘When You’re Good To Mama’ was amazing and received a loud applause from the audience.

One of the real stand out characters during the musical was A D Richardson as Mary Sunshine. Each line of the song ‘A little bit of good’ is presented with a strong sense of carefulness and delicacy. It’s an extremely gruelling role that can be extremely difficult to sing night after night, but you get one of the best vocal performances I have seen. Without giving a major plot spoiler away it is unbelievable how good the characters voice is considering the circumstances.

4-chicago-20th-anniversary_650

Roxie’s all loving and walked upon husband Amos Hart is played by Neil Ditt. Extremely well performed, the character is worked, used and mistreated by Roxie and Billy but it is a truly wonderful performance by Neil Ditt and this is especially shown in the song Mr Cellophane which demonstrates to the audience how this extremely bland man is constantly striving to be noticed by others.

‘The 6 marry murderesses of the cook county in jail in their rendition of the cell block tango’ are outstanding with the cast consisting of Sophie Carmen-Jones, Lindsey Tierney, Ellie Mitchell, Nicola Coates, Frances Dee and Chelsea Labadini. This performance is very powerful and each character portrayed is very different with a stand out personality that draws in the audience.

cell-block

It would be very wrong to not mention the utterly divine band for the performance led by the fantastic Ben Atkinson. It truly is the icing on the cake for this touring production. All through the show the energy levels of the band were extremely high and the music blasted out around the Wales Millennium Centre. The two real highlight moments of the band was during the Entr’acte and Playout because it was then they came into their own. Ben Atkinson was conducting upside down leaning over a wall and climbing over the staging while leading his band. He finally ended up draped over the piano upside down with his band dancing around the stage. An utterly amazing performance.

You don’t want to be ‘Mister Cellophane’ so make yourself seen and go and watch Chicago: The Musical at the Wales Millennium Centre. The musical is showing between 25th  Jul – 30th  Jul 2016. Tickets are selling fast so please make sure you get them via this link-

https://www.wmc.org.uk/Productions/2016-2017/DonaldGordonTheatre/Chicago15/

REVIEW CABARET ((RICHARD BURTON COMPANY) RWCMD BY JAMES BRIGGS

4 Stars4 / 5

Audio review of the production with music from the production

‘Cabaret’ is highly regarded as being one of the greatest musicals of all time and has some magnificent songs and fascinating characters, it also has a strong compelling and highly political storyline with a message from history that can’t be ignored. Set in Berlin on the eve of World War Two in the 1930’s, it shows the rise of the Nazis against the apathy of the masses, and describes a change that would prove to have terrifying consequences for everyone who lives in Berlin. Most of the story unfolds in the seedy ‘Kit Kat club’.

I was not sure of what to expect when attending the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama for this production as I had only heard some of the songs from the musical and was unfamiliar with the storyline, so I must admit when the house lights dimmed and the characters began to enter the stage to the song ‘Willkommen’ I was slightly perplexed at the characters in front of me and their stage presence especially only being 17.

For many, including my mother who I attended the show with, imprinted on their mind was the film version of the musical starring Liza Minnelli as Sally Bowles, Joel Grey as the compère and Michael York as the young Englishman.
The stage show opens with the arrival of a young American, Cliff Bradshaw (played by Jonathan Radford) in Berlin on New Year’s Eve 1930. In a chance meeting at the railway station, he’s becomes friends with the very polite and helpful Ernst Ludvig (played by Tom Corbishley) who refers Cliff to Fraulein Schneider’s lodging house while he is staying in Berlin. Later in the story, Cliff is introduced to the ‘Kit Kat Club’, a cabaret club where anything can happen. He meets Sally Bowles, a singer who escapes reality when performing her songs in the club.

Set against Cliff and Sally’s relationship, and the relationship between Fraulein Schneider and her Jewish fiancée, the Nazis start to show their might and their threat is felt by all at both the unassuming lodging house and the Kit Kat Club. Adena Cahill as the upper class English Sally Bowles is very good. Fraulein Schneider was played by the believable Rosie Archer whose characterisation was excellent as well as that of Dafydd Gape who played the kind, caring and helpful Herr Schultz. Jennifer Ruth-Adams who played Fraulein Kost was able to do this very well and produced some comical scenes when trying to get her sailor lovers out of the lodging house without Fraulein Schneider finding out.

However, for me the star of the show was Corey Jones as Emcee, whose performance was outstanding and whose stage presence was simply mesmerising and as soon as he entered the stage you could not take your eyes off him. Jones’ Emcee was extremely dark and edgy with an exceptionally strong character and you were never quite sure if he was simply a welcoming host, or one that really despises all people.

Corey Jones as Emcee

Photographic credit Kirsten Mcternan

The level of the singing in the production was brilliant and there was not one character that slipped out of their German or American accents. It felt as though I was in Berlin watching the show. The performance of ‘Tomorrow Belongs to Me’ by Ross Hoey as a young Nazi was very chilling and this was made more powerful when the Nazi flags dropped down on each side of the stage. With well-known songs such as ‘Maybe This Time’, ‘Cabaret’ and ‘Mein Herr’ it is sometimes difficult to live up to audience expectations but the cast of this production surpassed themselves. The band that played during the performance was equally exceptional and brought the music to life.

The ‘Richard Burton Theatre’ housing the performance was very fitting and gave the audience a feeling of intimacy with the characters on stage. You felt you were part of the audience in the ‘Kit Kat Club’ taking part in all the action.

The staging worked equally very well with the theatre and as one entered the theatre we were greeted by a large structure hanging diagonally on stage with simply some chairs below it. There was also a large use of period lights on chains that along with the structure moved during the performance. This was used extremely well as it gave the effect that the ‘Kit Kat Club’ was opening up in front of the audience. The minimal set worked extremely well and allowed the audience to concentrate more on the characters opposed to the surrounding.

The Entr’acte from the Musical ‘Cabaret’.

Overall, this is an utterly breath-taking performance even if it is rather risqué in parts with a chilling end but I will certainly be attending far more shows at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama because if the level of performance is always this high, you are guaranteed an amazing night at the theatre.

Type of show: Theatre
Title: Cabaret
Venue: Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama
Dates: 22-30 June
Director: Paul Kerryson
Music: John Kander
Lyrics: Fred Ebb
Musical Director: Nathan Jones
Choreographer: Tom Jackson Greaves
Set Designer: Tina Torbay
Lighting Designer: Becky Heslop
Costume Designer: Jessica Campbell Plover