Category Archives: Musical

Review Strictly Ballroom the Musical, Wales Millennium Centre by Rhys Payne

3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)

Having been a fan of musical theatre for many, many years you can imagine the outrage when I announced at a family gathering that I had never seen quite possibly in the world’s most successful musical Les Mis. My Aunty who showed particular astonishment decided that she would host a French evening (complete with French food) in her home so she could be in close proximity when I experienced this musical great for the first time. We had gathered our snacks, donned our French outfits and were settled ready to switch on the TV only to discover that someone had borrowed the DVD a few years ago and had yet to return it. This meant that we had to scramble around the house looking for another musical movie based in France which is when we stumbled upon the absolute chaos that is Moulin Rouge. Since this unplanned viewing, I very quickly fell in love with “spectacular spectacular” that is movie musical Moulin Rouge and it was only after researching the show for a review of the west-end, musical adaptation production that I discovered it is apart of the Red Curtain Trilogy directed by the iconic Baz Lurhmann. In this collection are Moulin Rouge, Romeo and Juliet and the lesser-known but most important for this musical review Strictly Ballroom.

I think it is incredibly important that different musicals can be opportunities to tour through the UK as you quickly get used to the same shows being on a multi-year rotation. Prior to becoming a musical reviewer, one of my favourite things to do would be book a ticket to a random show that I have never heard of before. I don’t know if it’s the excitement of understanding characters, plot and themes as they happen live but this mystery was always extremely exciting to me. Due to the same shows touring year after a year, you unfairly begin comparing casts and so it is incredibly refreshing to see a show such as “Strictly Ballroom” which I had very little knowledge of before going into the theatre. In fact, I remember a conversation with a close friend a few years where this musical came up and I questioned how they made a musical based on the BBC show Strictly Come Dancing which was met with scoffs from those listening. For those like myself who have not heard of this musical before, Strictly Ballroom (with no connection to the hot TV show) is about Scott Hastings, played wonderfully in this production by Edwin Ray) who is a professional dancer at the top of his game who begins to questions the rigid rules and restrictions of ballroom dancing. This revolutionary spirit leads to him forming a dance partnership with amateur dancer Fran as the pair prepare for the biggest dance computing in the ballroom community!

A highlight performance for me throughout this musical would have to be Eastenders star Maisie Smith who comes fresh from her stint in the aforementioned Strictly Come Dancing. Maisie plays the ugly-duckling style character Fran who is essentially plucked from obscurity to dance with Scott ahead of his championship quest. Maisie managed to beautifully portray every aspect of the character from the awkward and amateur dancer origins to the confident and bold change-maker. Seeing this character go through this journey of confidence almost overshadows the fact that (SPOILER ALERT) the duo do not end up being awarded the first place trophy by this development is worth more than any ward possibly could be! Her comedic timing was absolutely perfect throughout leaving the audience howling with laughter, especially during the earlier stages of the show!

My favourite number in the entire show however would have to be “Paso Doble” where Scott tries (but fails miserably to impress Frans’s father with a ‘traditional Spanish dance.’ It is only once her father played by Jose Agudo begins to show the dancer how this dance should be really done that the music begins to beautifully build up into a wonderful ensemble, dance-heavy spectacle. Before everyone can join in Jose showcases his dance still with an incredible stamp-based choreography where he doesn’t miss a single beat and controls every inch of the stage!

Jose Agudo

Overall, Strictly Ballroom celebrates a very traditional art form in both a homage but also a message of contemporary revolution. The narratives with the story are all timeless stories that are done very cleanly and simply so that every person in the audience can understand and appreciate how each character functions within the story. I do have to admit that I think the scale of the show needs to be exaggerated so that the sense of rebellion can be extremely clear and obvious and for that reason, I would rate this show 3.5 stars out of 5!

Review Bugsy Malone, The Musical, Wales Millennium Centre by Rhys Payne

3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)

Prior to actually taking my seat in the Donald Gordon theatre in Wales Millennium Centre, I was talking to a friend about how I was attending the press evening for Bugsy Malone. This comment was met with an extremely perplexed and confused face and then followed by the remark “I didn’t know you were a fan of grime music?” This miscommunication occurred because I was not aware but there is an extremely popular rapper who goes by the moniker Bugzy Malone. Even in teaching, I often forget that people oftentimes do not have the same experiences growing up and often the list of movies, books, plays etc that were a key part of my upbringing are different from person to person. For those who were not aware Bugsy Malone (with an “s”, not a “z”) is a stage musical/film that tells the story of two rival gangs in New York with one rather unique twist. The lead characters are played by a collection of child actors who run around shooting each other with pies creating an almost comedy spoof of classic gangster movies.

There is no doubt that at some point or another in your life you have heard the famous warning you should “never work with children or animals.” We have all seen some variation of a video when a young child takes to the mic and let out the wildest comments that leaves you wondering where that comes from. In the world of theatre this due to the unpredictable nature of these two groups and their likelihood to forget lines, mess up choreography or miss cues. However, if this cast of incredibly talented performers is anything to go by then this saying needs to be retired ASAP! Every one of the principal cast members showcased the most incredible professionalism, confidence, talent and stage presence that the majority of people (myself included) can only dream of!

The entire show was anchored by the wonderfully talented Gabriel Payne who plus the titular role and cheeky wannabe gangster Bugsy Malone himself. Taking on the lead role of a musical is intimidating for a seasoned performer but Gabriel did not seem fazed in the slightest, in fact, every single moment this young performer graced the stage (which was an overwhelming amount for a such a young performer) he was flawlessly in character, mentally present and used every inch of the stage that had the audience in constant hysterics. One of my favourite numbers in the entire musical would have to be “down and out” which was led by Bugsy and empowered the remaining characters to join in and fight against the bad guys in the story. Gabriel used this number to show off that he is not only a talented actor but also possesses incredible vocal talents. This performance was so fantastic that the empowering message transcended the narrative itself and had the audience wanted to get up and join the revolution themselves.

Towards the beginning sections of the musical we are introduced to the eccentric mob boss and owner of the liveliest club to ever exist, Fat Sam played by the brilliant Albie Snelson! At the beginning of the show, we meet this character as an over-the-top personality that has a sense of Donald Trump about him but as the story progress, and his close friends are taken out, he becomes more and more desperate and frenzied which was captured beautifully by Albie. One of my highlights in the entire show would have to be a moment at his lowest where Sam is forced to carry out his own scene changes which has Albie acknowledging the lack of stage crew and having to run around at take all the set of chair. After becoming overcome with emotions after his invention leads to the loss of one of his closest friends, the lights do not go down leading Fat Sam on stage audibly asking for a scene change. The young performer performed a series of hilarious fourth wall breaks as he ran around the stage wheeling off props and staging which had the audience rolling with laughter throughout!

Both Bugsy and Fat Sam are involved in the brilliant car chase that brings a conclusive end to act one. The creative team working on this production cleverly used a series of strobe lights to portray the high-speed and extremely intense car chase (despite only having one car on stage) which was amazing to watch!

I also thoroughly enjoyed the recognisable song “So You Wanna Be a Boxer?” which was an extremely high-energy, dance-heavy, ensemble spectacle that was cleverly choreographed to include iconic boxing-based movements such as skipping, using a punching bag and even stepping into the ring. The number built up to the large-scale performance logically that had the audiences eyes racing across the stage as so much was going on! Talking about theatric experiences , I also loved the song “Bad Guys” that saw Fat Sam’s henchmen deliver a wonderfully over-the-top, classic Broadway-style song all about why they turned to a life of crime. Everyone of the performers leaned heavily into the exaggerated-ness of the number with fantastic facial expressions, massive movements and involving the audience. The last thing I would have expected from this hamster spoof movie would what could only be described as a rave/club mega-mix with the younger performers living their best lives and showcasing their dance skills with a range of unique tricks!

Overall, Bugsy Malone, The musical is a cleverly written gangster spoof that removes the violence we have come to expect from this genre. Breaking up each ‘death’ having a comedic scene to help soften the idea of a character being shot. As expected, the younger cast members really shine with each showcasing tremendous amounts of talent, professionalism and unlimited potential!

Review Les Miserables, Wales Millennium Centre by Gemma Treharne-Foose

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Les Mis in 2022 hits different 

Even if you’ve been effectively living under a rock since the 80’s, you might at least have a passing familiarity with the striking lead imagery for this big-hitting musical. The banner of the iconic young orphan and the red flag waving behind her is a permanent fixture in London’s West End and a mecca for theatre goers.

Les Miserables is one of theatre’s ‘big boys’, you may have never read Victor Hugo’s 1861 novel or even sat through a musical before but between Alain Boubil (Book and Lyrics), Claude-Michel Schonberg’s Music and Cameron Mackintosh’s golden touch as legendary producer, the production’s breakout songs have become synonymous with the musical theatre tradition, a crossover success as the songs (I Dreamed a Dream, Do You Hear the People Sing, Bring Him Home) have continued to catch the imagination of audiences around the world. 

Seeing the show in 2022 hits different, too. When Victor Hugo penned the original story during turbulent times in 19th century France, things were bad. Wages were being driven down and poverty was rife, while profits for industrialists were soaring. Despite a revolution and revolt against the French King, though – the upper middle classes still reaped the benefits. A new Royal King was anointed – but still, workers were suppressed against a backdrop of “enrichissez-vous” (getting rich) under the leadership of Louis Phillipe. Some things never change, it seems.  By the time we get to the song “Look Down” and the pleading chorus of beggars painting a woeful picture of no safety nets, no compassion and no grace for those unfortunate enough to be born poor – you will sadly relate if you are currently living in Tory Britain in 2022. The wealth gap has never been bigger and we’re sliding backwards to 1815, more’s the pity. 

The opening for this show (beautifully staged in Cardiff under the watchful eye of Directors Laurence Connor and James Powell along with Designer Matt Kinley), brings you into the eye of the storm during this era of unrest, as lead character Valjean’s backstory as a prisoner in a chain gang make their entrance. Even as we skip forward to 1823, conditions are still no better – and workers isolate and turn on one another in a vicious “dog eat dog” environment. We’re introduced to Fantine (beautifully played by Lauren Drew) and in time-honoured tradition of my uncanny ability to tear up at the merest hint of a ballad, her rendition of “I Dreamed a Dream” instantly had me in tears. This is a production that is guaranteed to wow you and pack a real punch. The ensemble cast skillfully demonstrates the pressure, the desperation, the cruelty and injustice of this era and the glimmer of hope that can be found in friendships and lovers. 

Despite being one of the “old kids on the block” this is a fairly timeless story and the production still feels fresh, I saw the show twice in one week and once with my teenage daughter. As parents of teenagers will know, it’s not easy keeping a Tik-Toking teen engaged – and this is a meaty show, too with a running time of over 2.5 hours. I won’t lie, it does feel long. It definitely felt long sitting on the fourth level (and very hot, too!), but numb bums and sweaty pits aside, this is a wondrous production. If you’re a sap like me, your belly will flip and you will blub (Oh Fantine!). 

For a show over fourty years old, it probably wouldn’t pass the theatre equivalent of the Bechdel Test, understandable given that this is a male-dominated environment of uprising, war and revolution. The strongest and most complex female role in this production is Eponine and it was a joy to watch Siobhan O-Driscoll shine in this role. I’m not sure if I detected some Scourse undertones to her accent…but it’s lovely to hear some accent diversity on stage. Cosette gets a rough deal as a character, I feel. She is an archetype of a female love interest and sadly her most interesting element to her character happens in the past, while she is under the guardianship of the Inkeepers. Speaking of Inkeepers, they are utterly brilliant on stage and a very welcome moment of light relief. Merthyr’s own Ian Hughes (as Monsieur Therbardier) and his side-kick Tessa Kadler command the stage and offer a riotous turn in “Master of the House”. Finally, we mustn’t forget the two leads Dean Chisnall (as Jean Valjean) and Nic Greenshields as Javert. They already have an exemplary record of theatre credits under their belt and their powerful performances on this tour will no doubt pave the way to more future greatness. I thoroughly enjoyed this show and I can’t believe I waited so long to see it on stage. 

Les Mis is playing at The WMC in Cardiff until 14th January. If you’re getting the new year blues, I recommend a front seat at the French revolution in the 1830’s…bring your tissues…! 

Review The Lion , the B*tch and the Wardrobe, Wales Millennium Centre by Rhys Payne

Images Credit Jorge Lizalde
4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)

When applying to join Get the Chance I talked about how as someone who has taken part in a plethora of community productions across Wales in both on and off-stage roles I have a deeper understanding of how the mechanics of putting on a show works. Usually, as a reviewer, we are focused on whatever happens on or around the stage for the three-ish hours of a select performance but I am going to start this week’s review a little bit differently by talking about something that happened before the auditorium even opened for “The Lion, the B*tch and the Wardrobe. As me and the famous Aunty Chris sat eating waiting for the doors of the venue to open, we discovered that Bar One at Wales Millennium Centre was selling a unique “B*tch Juice” cocktail to help celebrate the press evening of the show we were moments from seeing. At around £6 (which was under what I expected to pay for a cocktail at the Millennium Center) the vodka, cranberry and lemonade drink was incredibly refreshing and wonderfully delicious! In fact, I’m going to try experimenting at home to try and get the recipe as close to the one I had as possible as it was simply that nice!

This time last year I was invited to attend a performance of XXXmas Carol where I talked about my not-so-secret love of Polly Amorous from meeting her in nightclub settings and being absolutely astonished by how much of an incredible performer she was on the stage! When it was announced that Polly and the gang were returning for ‘The Lion, the B*tch and the Wardrobe’ the surprise of Polly’s acting prowess was gone. I walked into this show (sort of unfairly) with the knowledge of the previous show and how amazing the sober songbird of Splott was but despite all this she still managed to surpass the already high bar she had previously set! Not only had she built on her already fantastic stage presence but her vocal abilities seem to have only grown tenfold since the last time.

The show opens with Polly and her personal piano player Felix Sürbe as they take the audience of a whistle-stop tour of iconic Christmas anthems! The later sections of these mash-ups were where Polly really found her footing and managed to introduce her brand of hilarious humour and amazing vocals! Polly not only plays an integral part of the camp retelling of the CS Lewis story itself but also acts as a narrator of the show helping to transition from storytelling to an array of performers to scenes flawlessly. She is able to maintain the humour embedded into the show while also driving the plot without appearing like she is pushing things along which is not an easy thing to do. Whenever I watch Polly perform I always ask if she can give us a rendition of defying gravity from Wicked as this is a musical I love and is one of my favourite songs she does in her set. This is why I was totally overwhelmed when she not only busted out of a performance of this iconic song but did so while suspended in the air on a zip wire. Seeing her dangle in the air while singing about flying not only made sense narratively but the humour in her being left on stage had the audience howling!

In last year’s performance, we were introduced to the incredibly sensual Erik McGill who wowed the audience with his gravity-defying trapeze skills. This year he was given a much bigger responsibility of playing the loveable (yet extremely horny) Mr Bumnus. From the moment we first met this unique character to the more emotional moments throughout Eric is able to portray this goat/Human hybrid creature wonderfully while taking the audience on an emotional rollercoaster throughout. His first performance was a beautiful routine which involved Erik scaling up a floating lamp post and showcasing the most mesmerising poses and positions while keeping a lustful gaze at Polly the entire time.  He manages to control his body in such a smooth and fluid way meaning that the transitions from poses is just as entertaining as the tricks themselves. Early in the show, we see a hilarious scene where Mr Bumnus was Polly to spank him in return for secrets that would help the host on her quest. Erik does a fantastic job of taking this sexual (by nature) scene and injecting the perfect amount of comedy making it suitable for the stage. My favourite moment of this character however was just after an emotional moment with Mr Bumnus is violently punished for betraying the queen and Polly needs to find a way to bring him back to life. This leads to Polly discovering a paddle and using it to deliver a thunderous spank that not only jolts him back to life but straight into an incredible trapeze act. While Asha Jane delivered a wonderful performance of “It’s Raining Men”, Erik soared through the air on his trapeze with every time he leapt from the trapeze I physically jumped out of my seat! The range of flips and tricks he was able to perform while dangling so dangerously high in the air had my heart racing on the floor so I can’t imagine what he would have been feeling up there!

I was a little disappointed however that Rahim El Habachi had a much more drawn-back involvement in this year’s show not only because he is a friend of mine but also because his unique brand of belly dancing is always a crowd favourite! Last year he was able to showcase his dance skills, live singing and showcase original spoken word pieces and while he could showcase some of his talents, he did not have as many opportunities as last year! This performance was much more focused on his acting talents as he took on the role of a sexy reindeer and the mighty Ass-lan where he was able to throw his voice in such a way to create a powerful, bombing sound this character has become associated with. Throughout the show, Foo Foo LaBelle was able to showcase her incredible burlesque-infused performances including a police-inspired number where a lucky audience member was selected to go on stage and receive a sensual lap dance live in front of everyone. The performer was able to totally command the stage while also allowing for a reasonable amount of chaos and comedy with the audience member involved which is always a gamble in shows! I also thoroughly enjoyed the rendition of “Feeling Good” by Asha which ended with a vibrant explosion of streamers with every performing storming the stage to help mark the end of act one!

Overall, creating a queer retelling of a story originally created by a devoted Christian is not only an extremely powerful and political statement but also the fantastical elements of Narnia lend themselves beautifully to the series of unique performances. Polly managed to anchor the explosion of sensual eroticism (of whips, chains, spanking etc) with a mind-blowing performance and wonderful vocals (from Polly included) which is no easy feat! I would rate this show 4.5 stars out of 5!

You can find out more about the production and book tickets here

Review Girl from the North County, Wales Millennium Centre by Tracey Robinson

Last night I had the pleasure of watching the ‘Girl from the North Country’ held at the magnificent Wales Millenium Centre. The story was written and produced by Conor McPherson using the songs of Bob Dylan. It’s a double Olivier and Tony Award-winning West End Broadway ‘smash’.

For those thinking the story is about Bob Dylan, it’s not! Dylan’s songs have been reimagined, revamped, and weaved into the lives of a group of troubled souls from Duluth, Minnesota (Dylan’s hometown) a city on the shores of Lake Superior. A tale of love, family, hardship, and survival.

Set in a guesthouse in the winter of 1934 in the middle of the great depression – seven years before the great songwriter was born. It was bleak and grim and that radiated out of the performances. Hard times are a test of strength and character and also how resilient we are when all else fails and the chips are down.

Proprietor Nick Laine is down on his luck and financially struggling to keep their guesthouse from being taken over by the bank, while his wife Elizabeth has dementia and floats in and out of moments of clarity. Nick and Elizabeth’s children also have their own struggles going on – Marianne is unmarried and 5 months pregnant and Gene is going nowhere in life, jobless, his struggles are with the demon drink.

I loved the way the ‘super talented’ musicians played using 1930s instruments and were often joined by cast members throughout the production, bringing the music to life. Every song was brilliantly performed but for me, the standouts were ‘Tight Connection’, ‘Rolling Stone’, ‘I Want You,’ ‘What Can I Do for You’, ‘Jokerman’, ‘Forever Young’ and ‘Pressing On’. Dylan was awarded the Nobel Prize for his lyrics and these performances are a superb showcase, all performed with confidence and passion, they had a strong, emotional impact that made my skin tingle with delight.

Dylan’s magic comes from his lyrics, the unique delivery of those lyrics and the exciting driving force of the music was a lot stronger than Dylan’s own voice. The way Dylan’s songs have been reimagined and revamped is impressive.

This was one of the best pieces of musical theatre I’ve seen in a long time, I was so excited I felt like a dog with two tails!

REVIEW Tales of the Brothers Grimm, Sherman Theatre by Barbara Hughes-Moore

Grangetown, 1913. A young girl called Stevie (Lily Beau) is about to face another Christmas without her mother, a Suffragette who is spending Christmas Eve on the campaign for women’s rights. Much to her mother’s disapproval, Stevie’s uncles gift her with a book of fairy tales by the Brothers Grimm. Yearning for a story of her own, Stevie finds herself transported in the weird and wacky Grimmdom and assembles a chorus of fairy tale characters on a quest for a happily ever after.

Written by Hannah McPake (who also plays Mother / the Snow Queen), and directed by Joe Murphy, Tales of the Brothers Grimm is proof positive that there’s no place like the Sherman at Christmastime. Their annual production has become as integral a part of the festive season as a mince pie, and their latest offering is a treat for all the senses.

McPake, most recently Peter Quince in the Sherman’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, continues to prove herself as a real tour de force both onstage and behind the scenes. Her writing is as crisp as snow and sparkles almost as much as her Snow Queen costume does: when she crashes onstage dressed like Elizabeth I as styled by Vivienne Westwood (actually the wonderful Hayley Grindle), you know you’re about to see something iconic.

While riffing on some of the most beloved fairy tales in existence, the show also affectionately draws on The Wizard of Oz, with Stevie stranded in a strange and magical world and wanting to get home. Her actions in the Grimmdom end up disrupting the fairy tale trajectories of Cinderella (Katie-Elin Salt), Sleeping Beauty (Bethzienna Williams), and Rapunzel (Sarah Workman) – and so they journey through the forest to find the Brothers Grimm and put their stories back on track.

The production plays with archetypes and doubles, with much of the hugely talented cast playing multiple roles and instruments. Kyle Lima and James Ifan play both Stevie’s stern bookbinding Uncles and the Brothers Grimm, who make a grand entrance singing a Europop banger while dressed in sparkly lederhosen – and if that doesn’t make you want to see the show, I don’t know what will. Ifan also steals hearts as a soul-searching Prince Charming while Lima huffs, puffs and blows the house down as a bluesy Big Bad Wolf.

Lily Beau leads the adventure brilliantly while Keiron Self as the Narrator (in his seventh Sherman Christmas production) holds everything together with a dollop of charm and a huge dose of silliness – he and apprentice actor Michael Morgan also get to join in on the sparkly lederhosen front, with much aplomb. Elin-Salt, Williams and Workman first take to the stage as the Uncles’ automaton-esque Bavarian helpers, before returning in full Disney mode to great effect. Williams, a finalist on The Voice in 2019, lends real power to ‘Wide Awake’, one of a host of brilliant songs by McPake and Lucy Rivers (with musical direction by Barnaby Southgate). Meanwhile, Hayley Grindle’s set and costumes underscore the jagged magic of this topsy-turvy fairy tale world.

Fairy tales are stories of transformation: straw can be turned into gold, a pumpkin into a carriage, and a frog into a prince. But while ‘happily ever after’ bookends the stories it can also trap its characters: in gender roles, in unhappy relationships, in the illusion of closure. The Narrator yearns for a name, Stevie for purpose – even the Snow Queen longs to rewrite her story. The princesses might all call on Prince Charming to save them, but he is just as much a victim to the patriarchy as they are. Even the Brothers Grimm are trapped by fame and expectations.

In a beautifully subversive move, McPake – as both actor and scribe – encourages her characters and her audience to think beyond ‘The End’: to flout the rules, to rescue ourselves, and to write our own stories. Tales of the Brothers Grimm is a feat of pure Grimmagiantion, and it proves something even deeper: the Sherman isn’t just the place you go to see a show: it’s a place you go to feel like you belong.

Tales of the Brothers Grimm is playing at the Sherman Theatre through to 31st December. There are a number of accessible performances (captioned, relaxed, and BSL interpreted) through its run, and reduced ticket prices for children and under 25s. More information on the show and how to book tickets here.

REVIEW My Fair Lady, Wales Millennium Centre by Barbara Hughes-Moore

There are few things more magical than a classic Hollywood musical: a lavish spectacle with characters to adore and songs to die for. And there are few more beloved than My Fair Lady, one of the last golden age musicals, in which a snooty phonetics professor vows to transform a Cockney flower girl into an English rose. Based on George Bernard Shaw’s 1913 play Pygmalion, the film starred Audrey Hepburn as Eliza Doolittle and Rex Harrison as Henry Higgins and featured iconic Lerner & Loewe songs like ‘I Could Have Danced All Night’ and ‘Wouldn’t It Be Loverly’. It’s a classic for a reason – and, direct from the West End, the Lincoln Center’s dazzling new revival is here to remind us just how loverly a show this is.

Charlotte Kennedy and the My Fair Lady ensemble (photo credit: Marc Brenner)

Lerner & Lowe also brought us the musical delights of Camelot, Gigi, and Brigadoon (not to mention the vastly underrated Paint Your Wagon) – but it’s easy to see why My Fair Lady is their most beloved work. Directed by Bartlett Sher (helmer of the critically-acclaimed revival of The King and I), this new production – the first major revival in fifteen years – comes with revitalised sets, costumes and musical arrangements. The score has never sounded as magnificent does here under the musical direction of Alex Parker, and you won’t find a finer chorus this side of the Edwardian era.

Michael D. Xavier, Heather Jackson and Charlotte Kennedy (photo credit: Marc Brenner)

Having made her professional debut in Les Miserables in the West End, Charlotte Kennedy puts her own instantly-iconic spin on the beloved character of Eliza Doolittle. Her powerful voice and equally powerful performance makes her the beating heart of every scene she’s in – and her hilarious conversation with the aristos in Ascot is truly one for the ages.

Michael D. Xavier, Charlotte Kennedy and John Middleton in My Fair Lady (photo credit: Marc Brenner)

Two-time Olivier Award nominee Michael D. Xavier (who performed opposite Glenn Close to great acclaim in Broadway’s Sunset Boulevard revival) brings a haughty charm to Henry Higgins, pitched somewhere between David Tennant and Dickie Attenborough. Xavier brings a beautifully self-aware silliness to the totally oblivious Prof, especially in ‘An Ordinary Man’ and ‘I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face’. His rapport with Emmerdale’s John Middleton as Colonel Pickering is especially fun to watch – and their ‘Eureka!’ moment with Kennedy during ‘The Rain in Spain’ is a joy.

Adam Woodyatt and the My Fair Lady ensemble (photo credit: Marc Brenner)

EastEnders’ Adam Woodyatt is perfectly cast as the lovably roguish Alfred P. Doolittle, a role he was born to play – in his hands, ‘With a Little Bit of Luck’ is delightfully puckish, but it’s the barnstorming ‘Get Me to the Church On Time’, culminating in an exceedingly camp can-can, which really brings the house down. Woodyatt flexed his dramatic chops the last time he performed in Cardiff, to great effect – but it’s brilliant to see him really let loose here.

Lesley Garrett, Michael D. Xavier, Charlotte Kennedy and John Middleton in My Fair Lady (photo credit: Marc Brenner)

Tom Liggins brings a boyish charm to Freddy Eynsford-Hill (and a sublime rendition of ‘On the Street Where You Live’) while Heather Jackson, known to many as the West End’s Madame Giry (The Phantom of the Opera), brings gravitas even in just a few scenes as Mrs Higgins, as does world famous soprano wonderful Lesley Garrett, who – if slightly under-utilised – brings warmth to the role of Mrs Pearce, and lends her beautiful voice to some of the show’s best numbers. And kudos to Tom Pring for stealing scenes as a sardonic butler.

The My Fair Lady ensemble in full swing (photo credit: Marc Brenner)

Michael Yeargan’s sets are nothing short of an architectural marvel and make an ingenious use of the Millennium Centre’s impressive stage. Especially extraordinary is the way in which Higgins’ luxurious London townhouse rotates during musical numbers to show off an elegant hall, a stylish study, a chic bathroom and a leafy alcove within which an amorous young couple meet by midnight. The sets transport you from the East End to the Embassy Ball, aided by Catherine Zuber’s exquisite costumes which capture every inch of the scale and grandeur of the classic film.

The My Fair Lady ensemble dressed to the nines for a day at the races (photo credit: Marc Brenner)

While there are a few aspects that might benefit from a modern touch – the decision to keep all of Higgins’ unpleasantness towards Eliza does threaten to undercut the budding romance and has an impact on how you view the ending – the sheer talent on display makes My Fair Lady an unmissable night of sumptuous entertainment. With a little bit of luck, you’ll not only have a bloomin’ loverly time, but you’ll dance all night too!

Touring throughout the UK, My Fair Lady is performing at the Wales Millennium Centre for 3 weeks only from 9 – 26 November. For more information and to book tickets, click here.

Review: Theatre Diner Café, London 23.10.22 by Patrick Downes

The idea behind this brand-new diner in the middle of London’s Theatreland has its origins in the heart of New York’s theatreland. Based on Ellen’s Stardust Diner, theatre goers can now be fed and entertained just a stone’s throw from the beating heart of the West End.

For those who may fear the idea of being serenaded, I can dispel that fear straight away. You can be involved or want your own space as much as you’d like. Either way, you’ll feel comfortable here.

Food is standard American diner fayre, burgers, hot dogs, potato skins, onion rings – all with a musical theatre named slant (Show me the meaning of being loaded my personal favourite – potato skins with cheese and chive and bacon bits). Honestly didn’t think the food would be that great – quite surprised – full of flavour and cooked well. Okay, so you weren’t expecting a full dining review here I know, but what makes this diner special and worth the price you pay for food, is the entertainment.

Like Ellen’s Stardust Diner in NY, your server’s will at some point pick up the microphone and start belting out a West End anthem. Whilst we were there, we had two numbers from Six, Les Mis and You’ll be back from Hamilton.

This is where this diner becomes something special. Yes, you can have food at any of the other establishments along Shaftesbury Avenue, but I’m hazarding a guess the staff there aren’t as fun – or friendly, or talented too!

It’s possible on a sitting eating a Aaron Bur-ger, you could be witnessing some nugget of West End talent before their big break happens. This is one of the reason this diner exists. Not everyone can be working in musical theatre, and who knows that one lucky break could be a portion of fries away.

We do have footage of our time in the Diner with some of the talented people we witnessed, and I’m sure we’ll share this eventually. But for now, you’re only chance is if you book a table (walk ins not guaranteed), and as the song from Hamiliton goes, you’ll be Back!

Review: @ImPatrickDownes

Review: Back To The Future The Musical, London, 23.10.22 by Patrick Downes

This was a musical we’d planned to see earlier this year, but the weather won and trains, buses and all manner of transport down the M4 stopped, so we waited, and on a bright Autumn day in London, we finally came to see the brilliance that is Back To The Future The Musical (herein known as BTTFM).

Prior to it’s West End debut, BTTFM was workshopped in Manchester and had a very short run before the world locked down and the pandemic closed theatres all around the UK and beyond. I’d heard about it then and wasn’t 100% on whether a musical on a film such as this would work. I’ve previously seen Titanic the musical, as well as Sister Act and Ghost, so know there’s two side to every film/musical cross over.

I don’t feel I need to explain the plot, but I’ll give it a go;

When Marty McFly finds himself transported back to 1955 in a time machine built by the eccentric scientist Doc Brown, he accidentally changes the course of history. Now he’s in a race against time to fix the present, escape the past and send himself… back to the future.

Add into the mix an incredible 80’s soundtrack and you have a musical, that when it hits 88, you’ll see some serious sh…. You know what.

New songs written by Glenn Ballard based on the script by Bob Gale and Robert Zemekis, this could feel like it’s trying too hard to be BTTF – but it doesn’t and I think that in itself is down to the cast of Ben Joyce (Marty Mcfly) and Roger Bart (Doc Brown), Oliver Nicholas (George Mcfly), Amber Davies (Lorraine Baines), Jordan Benjamin (Goldie Wilson / Marvin Berry), Sophie Naglik (Jennifer Parker) and Harry Jobson (Biff Tannen).

Roger Bart is musical theatre royalty, and in this performance you can see why. The ensemble pieces are amazing, as are the solos – although the songs aren’t quite as memorable as I’d like – I know as soon as I start listening to the cast recording in the car, it’ll all come flooding back to me.

I loved it, can’t say I didn’t, even contemplated doing a rush ticket for the next day’s performance. My only issue with BTTFM is that it relies too much on a that 80’s nostalgia. You find yourself completely immersed in something so familiar that it feels right. Maybe that’s just something I felt, and you won’t feel the same way, needless to say there is a moment when I felt myself get a bit emosh – not saying where, needless to say, Alan Silvestri’s composition is as part of the 80s as anything you’ll hear from John Williams.

The only thing that sets this production apart from anything else in the West End, is that Delorean!

What a machine! In terms of being in the moment, it’s up there with Elphaba’s Defying Gravity moment, Mary Poppins flying, and Cinderella’s rotating auditorium (what, do we not talk about Cinderella now?). It’s an incredible prop – and I realise calling it a prop does it a huge disservice, as it’s so much more than that! The car is literally the star!

Musicals are about escapism, fun, and feeling good, and BTTFM does this in bucketloads.

Your review is whatever you make it. So, make it a good one!

88 mph / 100

Review: @ImPatrickDownes

Review: & Juliet, London, 24.10.22 by Patrick Downes

Having seen this earlier this year and not reviewing it, I thought it time I gave my reviewing fingers a go.

If you didn’t know;

& Juliet is the 2019 coming-of-age stage musical featuring the music of Swedish pop songwriter Max Martin, with a book by David West Read (Schitt’s Creek).

This is where I don’t want to say any further about the plot, as you may think you know, but trust me you don’t.

Max Martin’s songs are neatly interwoven into this tale of a “what if” scenario, where Juliet does not die at the end of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.

You’ll be watching, listening, and thinking “who sung this originally”. Just me? Okay, just me.

The script by David West Reid is perfectly pitched and interweaves the songs quite nicely. The pace feels familiar (as does the music), and you won’t feel the songs are shoehorned into the story as can sometimes happen with other jukebox musicals. Okay, this isn’t Mamma Mia, but it feels fresh and fun and is the perfect accompaniment to a good night out – do try and not sing along though as that can be a bit annoying!

As I’ve said I’ve seen this earlier this year with Keala Settle as Angelique (just amazing), and I think apart from a few other cast changes on the evening, the cast was the same.

Miriam-Teak Lee as Juliet is amazing, as is Cassidy Janson as Anne Hathaway – her version of Celine Dion’s “That’s the way it is”, is probably up there as my favourite Celine cover! There was a little bit of Fenella Fielding in her portrayal of Will Shakespeare’s wife – together with Karen Walker from Will & Grace! Just loved it. Oliver Tompsett as William Shakespeare is sublime and fun to watch in his other guises. You maybe getting the idea I liked this production, if you haven’t so far, we can’t really be friends, because I loved it!

My only concern is the shelf life of the music. Some of the songs are over 20 years old, and as anyone in radio knows, some songs burn out with being overplayed. & Juliet is finishing in the West End in March 2023, so that’s a good time to be able to rest it in it’s current guise (specially since the Shaftesbury Theatre will be undergoing a transformation), but I’m also guessing a UK tour will be on the cards. The Broadway version started on October 28th 2022, and I’m sure it’ll do amazingly across the pond, and in the UK a tour will bring new life (and fans) into this little piece of musical history.

Before I end, one thing of note – the story maybe called & Juliet, but like another musical named after a historical person (rhymes with Samilton), maybe this story too isn’t actually about the one female protagonist?

Rating, Two be, or not two be….? No – 9 / 10

Review: @ImPatrickDownes