Category Archives: Musical

Review, The Drifters Girl, Wales Millennium Centre, 8th May 2024 by Bethan England

 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)

It’s always a challenge to bring something new and different in a Jukebox musical, where some, if not all, of the audience are going to know (and want to sing along to!) the songs. What is refreshing about The Drifters Girl is that it comes at the story of The Drifters from a completely different angle; that of Faye Treadwell, the woman behind the infamous band. Faye and her husband, George were the duo who brought us the musical sensation and it is really a breath of fresh air to focus on the duo and, specifically, the woman behind the music.

The stage is well designed, with moving flats creating recording studios, stages, bars and the office of Atlantic Music. I especially loved that the projections behind the performers crackled with static and black lines, the image distorting slightly and reminiscent of 50s and 60s television. The set moves seamlessly behind the actors meaning that new scenes and areas are created with no distraction to the action. Projection is particularly well used in the very funny section where we see the tumultuous time in the Drifters history where the members of the band were repeatedly changing; their names projected behind them as we manically try and keep up with these rapid shifts. Light and sound is also clever; I thought this was particularly poignantly used in the police interview sections, where bright white lamps flashed, and rapid blackouts took us straight to an Arkansas police station where the band were wrongly accused of a crime, simply due to the colour of their skin. Lighting was used to great effect with beautiful tableaus capturing the emotional moments; the band cast in blue light, spotlights, in darkness, whatever the moment called for.

The music is obviously a highlight of the show with toe-tapping numbers, including Saturday Night at the Movies, Come on Over to my Place, Save the Last Dance for Me and many more. The performers raise the roof with fantastic vocals and slick dance routines capturing the essence of the original performances. The Drifters switch with ease, becoming Ben E King, Rudy Lewis, Clyde McPhatter, Johnny Moore and the various other members of the band. It doesn’t matter which one takes the lead singer role; Ashford Campbell capturing starstruck Ben and tragic Rudy, Tarik Frimpong electrifying with his dance routines as Clyde and Daniel Haswell belting the high notes with ease as Johnny. Taking on the key role of George Treadwell is Miles Anthony Daley, breaking our hearts with There Goes my Baby, his voice soaring. The physicality and fast-pace costume changes is incredible to watch. Once minute they’re in the band, the next they’re feather clad showgirls! But throughout it all, you are never in any doubt as to which character you are watching.

The boys are complemented well with ‘The Girl’ played ably by Jaydah Bell-Ricketts, encouraging the tale to unfold; she is a constant presence on stage as she comes to understand the story of her mother’s part in the band’s history. Last and by no means least, is The Drifter’s Girl herself, Faye Treadwell played by Olivier Award Winner, Carly Mercedes Dyer. Her voice is wonderful, especially during Harlem Child and I Don’t Want To Go On Without You. You could hear a pin drop in the theatre as her vocals soared. She perfectly captures the battle that Faye Treadwell faced not only as a woman, but as a black woman in the music industry. Her command of the stage during her musical numbers is a joy to watch.

The show is full of humour and heart, but also touches on the racism faced by the band and Faye but also the sexism of the industry towards Faye. The words ‘No Irish, No Dogs, No Blacks’ remind us all too well of our own very recent history of racism and the issues we still face to this day. Faye being asked ‘how long she has worked FOR the band’ and then asked, ‘which one are you sleeping with?’ reminds us that women still face this kind of question, even today.

It’s ultimate message as the audience got to its feet at the encore is that we must keep going and ‘do what is necessary’ to overcome whatever might be thrown at us. Faye’s determination that the Drifters would go on after losing her husband, in the face of outright prejudice and bigotry is still such an important message to be taken home with us after we leave our seats. So, this is more than your average jukebox musical, which is what makes it stand out amongst the likes of Mamma Mia and We Will Rock You. Yes, the music is wonderful, but the message is just as important as the songs that will draw those audiences in.

Review, Operation Julie, Theatr na nÓg, The Riverfront, Newport

 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)

I’m not sure what to expect as I take my seat at The Riverfront in Newport. A tree trunk branching over a stage set with psychedelic colours and ready for a rock gig is the perfect set for this show. The true story of the greatest drugs bust in history bursts onto the stage with its actor-musician performers alive with energy and blowing the roof off the theatre, even in the opening number.

The loveable cast of characters are introduced through their instrumental solos; an eclectic mix of guitars, percussion, cow bell, oboe and more. They switch between instruments, being ‘in the band’ and in the show and even between characters with poise and speed, costumes change in the blink of an eye, accents alter and even the stage crew are in costume, moving the set on and off stage. This means we are instantly transported back to the events of 1975 and 1977 in rural West Wales, the music mixing perfectly with the sometimes barmy, but always heartfelt plot.

The action opens with Londoner, Richard Kemp in his lab, mixing his latest batch of acid, the one that will cause a catalyst that he hopes will change the world. The couple of Richard and Christine are excellently played by Joseph Tweedale and Georgina White and their singing voices are amazing; ethereal in places, singing the prog rock score with ease. From there, we are catapulted into the lives of Smiles and Buzz with a hilarious section of Buzz driving Smiles to pick up his acid from various locations. Gerry accompanies them in a surreal yet side splitting section, where we feel ourselves swerving with the ‘car’ as Buzz spins the wheel. More excellent voices and fantastic comedic chops come from Daniel Carter-Hope, Sion Russell Jones and Dan Bottomley.

We visit the various other locations of the story including the police station where the ‘chameleon’ of the piece Phylip Harries delights us as PC Evans (he also plays Wil Bach and Wright throughout the rest of the tale). The scenes alongside Kieran Bailey as Richie Parry are so well executed, the lines pacey and thick with local references that the audience love. Richie is the perfect opposite to Steve Simmond’s cockney copper, Dick Lee. They’re like the original odd couple, colliding worlds, and personalities in their efforts to execute the largest drugs bust in history. A highlight for me, (without spoiling the surprise), is Steve’s musical number at the end of act one; he definitely got the audience rocking! Finally, Caitlin Lavagna gives a multi-role masterclass as she switches roles (and costumes!) with ease between landlady, Sgt Julie, Meg and Anne Parry.

These talented performers navigate the material with ease, expertly directed by Geinor Styles, who also wrote the show after interviewing a range of people who lived through the events, including Smiles himself and Anne Parry, Richie’s long suffering wife. This lends an authenticity to the piece; the characters live and breathe on the stage, brought to life through excellent writing. The musical direction also brings out the best in this talented cast, the music of the time brought to life by Greg Palmer.

The show is very funny, but at the heart of it all is a story which pulls us right back to the modern-day issues we are facing now. Kemp’s moving speech at the end, intended for his court case, but never delivered, is poignant; emphasised by the images projected behind him as he speaks. This movement was not only about the drugs; it was so much more; it was the start of a revolution intended to make people sit up and listen to the very real world issues starting back in the 70s and that we are now facing in 2024.

I was sorry I missed this when it toured in 2022, so I am thrilled I got to catch it this time. This psychedelic, surreal, trip of a musical play makes us laugh, makes us feel joy but is counterbalanced with this powerful message that we are left with as the music fades. The real-life Smiles sums it up perfectly; hoping the play hits the right chords of the serious issues that the LSD was trying to tackle, but also hoping that the sheer joy of the time is captured. I think the audience members would definitely agree that Operation Julie hits these targets and a lot more. Catch it if you can on this limited 8-week tour!

Review Come From Away, Wales Millennium Centre by Bethan England

 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

Come From Away has been called one of the ‘best new musicals of the century,’ which is high praise indeed when you consider the sheer choice and variation of shows and, in particular, musicals, when you consider attending the theatre. This assessment, however, is truly well deserved, proven by the instantaneous standing ovation at the end of the opening night of Come From Away at the Millennium Centre.

The plot focuses on the true-life story of the town of Gander. Once the biggest airport in the world, Gander International was at the forefront of aviation, perfectly placed for planes to land to refuel during their transatlantic flights. Since those glory days, however, there’s talk of tearing down the airport as planes can now make their journeys on a single tank. However, the peaceful lives of the residents of Gander are shattered as 38 planes were diverted there due to the airspace being closed after the catastrophic terrorist attack in America on 9/11.

Starting with the staging; there is no safety curtain as we take our seats; the stage is set simply with chairs and tables. The band is on stage alongside the action. The back wall is simple, but projections create all the atmosphere we need; starting with clouds and transitioning as the show progresses to show us various locations and occurrences, such as small lights as the residents gaze up at the numerous planes landing. The simple set means that nothing detracts from the stories being told here. The chairs are moved around to create Tim Hortons where the Mayor sips a Pepsi and ‘gets the lay of the land,’ the rows in the planes or the seats in the school buses that escort the fearful temporary residents of Gander to their impromptu homes on the island. Lighting is incredible, with several moving tableaus perfectly highlighted by the creative placement and tones.

The music is uplifting, joyous and the hooks are infectious. The musicians being on stage and sometimes involved in the action is the perfect way to ensure that the music is well and truly integral to the piece. The pace is non-stop, the harmonies are perfectly placed, the voices are excellent and so heartfelt. Particular favourites of mine were ‘Welcome to the Rock’ which is a rousing opener, ‘Prayer’ which shows the diversity of the passengers on those flights so perfectly, ‘Me and the Sky’ which is Beverley Bass’ homage to her journey to becoming a pilot, and the hilarious ‘Screech In.’

The cast was wonderful and it’s hard to pick out one member as this is such an ensemble piece where every actor is equally as important. However, special mention must be made to Kirsty Malpass, the resident co-director and choreographer, who stepped in to play ‘Bonnie and Others.’ It really shows the importance of understudies, covers, and swings and epitomises that the ‘show must go on.’ Every cast member play multiple parts; the residents of Gander initially, then numerous, various passengers and the pilots and crew on those 38 flights. Each transition is seamless. You are never in doubt of which character is speaking; the change in accents is impressive, as is the Brechtian technique of adding a hat, jacket, or similar, to show that we are now seeing the story of a new character.

What Come From Away does so well is these stories. You feel for every single person delivering their tales. The real characters are presented with sensitivity and truth. The fictional ones too, show what those people went through being so far from home, maybe alone, scared, wondering about their loved ones and appalled at the visions unfolding before them on television screens. It does not shy from showing us the difficult things; the fear and suspicion of the Muslim Egyptian passenger, the difficulty with understanding one another’s language and culture, the overcoming of those issues and coming together because, when it comes down to it, we all ‘come from away’ and all deserve to feel loved, for our stories to be heard, for someone to hold our hands when we feel isolated.

So, is Come From Away truly one of the ‘best new musicals of the century’? It more than earns this accolade, in every note, every story portrayed, the way that we can still learn from it, even over 20 years after that terrorist attack. If anything, we need this musical more than ever, as it shows us that even as we stand ‘on the edge of a moment,’ perhaps in need or feeling alone, there is someone ready to make you feel like you belong, whether that is one person, or a whole community.

Review Bonnie and Clyde, Wales Millennium Centre by Charlotte Hall

 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)

‘Bonnie and Clyde’ is based on the American outlaw duo called Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow. They were real life fugitives, in this production at The Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff, Clyde had always been running from the law, and believed that the only way you could be free was to steal it. Bonnie seemed like a textbook perfect student, but when she met Clyde, they fell intensely in love, and she never left his side after that, she even helped him break out of jail. Once he got out, they were casually robbing places like banks together, and to show how romanticised they were by the public, in the musical, when they were robbing a bank, a hostage asked for their autograph. The crime began to escalate and when a store owner got killed, they had to go on the run. After about two years, they had killed at least 13 people, and the authorities finally managed to track them down, and they were shot and killed, at 23 and 24 years of age.

I didn’t know any of this information prior to watching the performance, I had only heard of their names as being somewhat related to crime. The story was very easy to follow, and you didn’t need to know any backstory to understand what was going on, which is always a plus.

During the production, there were lights dotted on the walls to the side of the stage, and whenever there were ‘gunshots’, the lights would flash at various points and there was an accompanying sound effect. The musical starts with these gunshots and Bonnie and Clyde’s car where they found their demise, and I think showing what happens at the end is effective in this instance, because the story isn’t about trying to figure out what will happen to them, it’s about the journey and Bonnie and Clyde’s deep connection.

Even though the music isn’t pop music or widely known, it immediately grips you. The score consists of gospel, blues, ragtime, and country, which is quite a mixture, but it blends very well, and suits the genre of the musical. Also, the singing was absolutely phenomenal.

As a whole, the diction was clear considering the accents, and every single actor did their job justice, as they all played their characters incredibly well. I didn’t particularly feel for Bonnie and Clyde’s characters, and I don’t think you are supposed to completely empathise with them, but I didn’t want them to be killed by the authorities in the end, I was rooting for them to turn their lives around. As Buck (Clyde’s brother) was telling Blanche, no one is too far gone for you try and help. He was living proof of it, because his relationship with Blanche was always bringing him back to reality and moral ground. Unfortunately, in the end, his love and feeling of responsibility for his brother got him shot not long before Bonnie and Clyde got killed, and I was crying as Blanche was crying over his body, convinced that he would survive if they could get back home in time.

Each of the actors put on a brilliant performance, their singing was top notch, and the story and music was written/ composed also brilliantly. I love how you can write a story about anything and feel a sense of connection/ empathy for anyone, no matter how morally corrupt they are in the end. The only reason it doesn’t get 5 stars, is because I want my soul to be ripped out, and it didn’t quite do that for me, but I still enjoyed all parts of it and would choose to see it again.

Review: The Wizard of Oz, Venue Cymru by Richard Evans

Venue Cymru, Llandudno March 5th – 9th 2024, Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff July 23-28th and touring

 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)

Produced by Michael Harrison and Gavin Karin Productions. By arrangement with the Really Useful Group Limited. Adapted by Andrew Lloyd Weber from the 1939 Motion Picture.  Book by L. Frank Baum

Somewhere over the rainbow… in a land that I heard of once in a lullaby

Why has this film and subsequent musical retained its attraction?  In the preface to his book, L. Frank Baum describes the book as a modernised fairy tale in which the wonderment and joy are retained and the heartaches and nightmares are left out.  It is this fantasy and escapism that has proved enduring, for the same reason, Star Wars has retained its appeal. 

The storyline starts with a petulant Dorothy who feels a common teen angst where she feels neglected.  On running away, she is transported to a fantasy land and seen as a hero for accidentally killing the wicked witch of the east.  She then embarks on a journey to Oz, to see the wizard and gain the means to go home.  She encounters various characters and makes firm friends with the brainless scarecrow, heartless tin man and cowardly lion.  In order to earn her passage home and to find respectively a brain, a heart and some courage, the intrepid four are sent on an arduous task, to bring the broomstick to the wizard of the wicked witch of the west.  

This story is well known and ranks among many peoples favourites so it is a challenge to bring it to the stage once again in a fresh way.  This production adds a bit of glitz and glamour to do this, the props are minimalistic, but the music and video backdrop add plenty of pizazz to proceedings. Some of the visuals are stunning, notably the tornado scene which was highly effective, and in general they are used imaginatively to set the scene and augment the action.  

The cast have a couple of celebrity names, Gary Wilmot gives an assured performance as Professor Marvel and the Wizard while The Vivienne, winner of the first series of Ru Paul’s drag race makes a threatening, devious Wicked Witch of the West.  However, the show is carried by Dorothy, played by Aviva Tulley.  She made ‘Somewhere over the rainbow’, the signature song, her own and was a lively presence throughout.  The supporting cast were energetic and committed, making this a fast paced, joyful experience.  

The musical is faithful to the original story and incorporates most of the favourite songs from the 1939 film as well as some more contemporary numbers from its recent revival.  However, the production lacks the simplicity and innocence of the film, replacing it with the loud score and striking visuals.  Does is loose some of its allure in this process?  

There is plenty of enduring meaning here, not least, your heart, brain and courage are latent inside you.  Dorothy learns to appreciate home when she understands what she is missing.  But it is in joyful escapism that this story comes to life.  It is a colourful interlude from the mundane, gritty reality of life.  This may explain its appeal to marginalised groups in our society but there is enough here for anyone to identify with and makes this a warm, feel good experience that is well worth seeing.

REVIEW: Hadestown by Sian Thomas

I had the pleasure of seeing Hadestown live in the West End on March 3rd, 2024. It was in the Lyric Theatre – a beautiful and ornate setting for this play, and thankfully, came equipped with the brilliantly rotating floor that’s perfect for this show. Hadestown is a musical that I’ve been listening to since about 2018, and unfortunately for me – I discovered it right after it had ended its first London debut with its test run of shows, and have been waiting for it to return ever since. Which, in a way, is very relevant and poetic of me. This is a musical that I’ve always found fantastic, either the Broadway or Off-Broadway version, and now the West End version too, since I always knew I’d more than just enjoy seeing the production live.

I would describe Hadestown as one of my favourite musicals of all time, and having the opportunity to see it live was not lost on me. I was emotional from the first few notes (and cried more often during the show than just during the ending – anyone sitting near me was a trooper for sure).

I’ve always loved the way its themes seem to rise above the era. When I first discovered it in 2018, I’d had no idea it had been around and predated Off-Broadway with even earlier versions of the recording by Anais Mitchell, since I had assumed there were implications of the 2016 US election, general poverty, and the Great Depression in there. And, there are, but there’s more than that, too – so much of the story circles all the way back around to love, and trust, and faith in yourself and in each other.

The myth of Orpheus and Eurydice is, and remains in this production, a tragedy – which I knew going in, though I still found myself weepy when it happened – and coupled with the mirror of Hades and Persephone, the show is perfect for a Greek mythology enjoyer, as well as anyone who appreciates a good song and dance number, and hands you a good excuse to cry in a theatre from the story.

Softened to the original Broadway recording, I went into the West End production fairly blind to the casting choices.

The acting and singing, and general performance, of each cast member was genuinely incredible. I’d have to pinpoint Gloria Onitiri’s performance of Our Lady of the Underground as my absolute favourite song from the show – which was a surprise for me, as the songs that I tend to gravitate back to the most is Wait for Me, and its reprise. She deserved her flowers and more for that performance, and I’m sure she gives that same energy each night. Genuinely a delight to watch her sing one of the greatest notes in the whole show.

Overall, this show was already near and dear to my heart, but this production was absolutely phenomenal, and worth seeing again and again.

Sian Thomas

Review, Hadestown, Lyric Theatre, London by James Ellis

Photo credit: Marc Brenner

 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

I’ve wanted to see Hadestown for sometime. Anas Mitchell has whipped up a frenzy with this Greek myth inspired musical take on the tale. This being it’s West End premiere, can it live up to the hype?

Whilst it might work better as a concept album, it is Mitchell’s songs which are the pulling power of Hadestown. The familiar story has been on stage and screen in varying styles, yet its the lack of innovation which bores here. This is one of the most famous stories in Western literature, with a real opportunity do something interesting with it. Granted the New Orleans style jazz and hearty folk stylings do meld only to a certain degree. Its the former which is punchy and keeps toes tapping. They could have even pushed the jazz even more from this golden band,

My main gripe is that this story (presented as it is) does not fill 2 hours of a show, this is made clear in the second act when Hades stops and pauses as the Furies sing about his indecisions to free our young couple. Some press night jitters also saw a hanky nearly fall and a few instances of mic scratches. We let this slide, as this press and guest night performance had great energy. The ensemble for the show are very impressive in their energy, their diverse apperance another great thing. Musically, they have the least interesting songs, the Fates might just claim that crown.

As a cast they are top tier. A spirit of a bard, Dónal Finn is Orpheus with piercing falsetto and an all round Irish charm. His love: Eurydice is Grace Hodgett Young who is equally matching Finn in voice and atmosphere. Melaine La Barrie is the wise Hermes, the narrator guide who really loves to belt out numbers and use a novelty train whistle of the underworld. Zachary James is Hades in the vain of the comic baddie, not really songs for a singer, more acting songs. He looks a bit like Wesker from Resident Evil and Robotnik from the Sonic franchise. Not much to the depth of the part other then having some mercy for the couple leading to an atmospheric trial home scene. Gloria Onitiri is an easy favourite as Pesephone, of colour and spring lost to the underworld. Some blazing moments with her, really stirring powerhouse songs and good fun too. The Fates: Bella Brown, Madeline Charlemagne and Allie Daniel are analysing and wild sparks to the party, their harmonies a revelation. 

Rachel Chavkin could have done more with this show as director. Something about it not filling it’s true potential, yet the show has become a hit. Some costumes and set pieces might not have wowed as much as they should. Steam punk, art noveau and the Wild West all seem to be a part of this, though only in suggestion. If kept shorter this could have worked better, the songs though getting love and the all round gun-ho attitude is what makes this memorable.  

Review Jesus Christ Superstar, Wales Millennium Centre by Jane Bissett

 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

Wonderful, powerful, explosive and emotional almost to the point of exhaustion is the only way I can describe the first night performance of Jesus Christ Superstar at the Donald Gordon Theatre at the Wales Millennium Centre – IT WAS ELECTRIC!

The whole performance was an assault on the senses from curtain up to the final act and culminated in a roaring standing ovation which brought the whole theatre to its feet.

Jesus Christ Superstar is a sung through rock opera which focuses on the final days of the life of Jesus from his triumphal entry into Jerusalem up to and including his trial and crucifixion. Written in 1969 by the amazing and talented duo, Tim Rice (lyrics) and Andrew Lloyd-Webber (musical score) has not been without controversy and comment. It is the age old story of popularity, fame, deceit, betrayal and corruption.  First brought to the stage in 1970 and to the big screen in 1973, it has endured for over 50 years and by the reaction of the Cardiff audience will continue to do so for many more to come.

Ian McIntosh’s performance as Jesus was inspiring. He took us on a journey of understanding of a man who was victim of the system and indeed an ultimate scapegoat for the ruling powers to control the masses. An age old story which is as relevant today as it was then.  McIntosh’s voice rocked the auditorium with every song.  His performance when bloody and beaten was so powerful that my theatre companion, who is generally very calm, admitted to wanting to stand up and shout “leave him alone!” and indeed you could feel a change in the atmosphere in the auditorium.

Shem Omari James (Judas) was outstanding and it was too easy to be swept away with him as he struggled with his emotions as he became the betrayer Jesus has predicted.  James gave a truly credible performance, his powerful voice was gripped with emotion and drama as he sang and this in itself translated his inner dilemmas.

When Hannah Richardson (Mary) took to the stage and sang it was almost a respite. Richardson was a most believable Mary, compassionate and heartfelt, when she was on stage you were always drawn to her as she seemed to anchor those around her. I enjoyed her performance throughout and her voice was quite haunting.

Matt Bateman who played Annas, the first High Priest, was wonderful. His voice and performance throughout was true opera, matched beautifully with the amazing voice of Jad Habchi which was like a deep liquid velvet and honestly I was memorised every time he opened his mouth and unable to take my eyes from him. Even if you didn’t realise you knew instinctively that that these guys were the baddies.

The casting of this production was superb. The costumes, set design and lighting were not what I had expected but this new and imaginative production really changed my mind and it pulled into a performance that just kept on giving. A good production is memorable for all the above reasons, this production is outstanding and there was not a single cast member who was not integral to the success of the performance.

This is a sung through musical and the power and volume of music is there right from the overture at curtain up and for this credit has to go the musicians, Felix Strickland, Ryan Webber, Gordon Davidson, Laura Llewellyn Jones, Gavin Tate-Lovery, David Csizmadia and Vanessa Domonique.

An experience which will stay with me for a very long time.

Review Disney’s Aladdin – Wales Millennium Centre by Kate Richards

A Feast for the Senses!

 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

As soon as I saw that Aladdin was the big Christmas production at the Wales Millennium Centre this year I wanted to go, and after seeing the trailer I had really high expectations (which is often dangerous) but I am delighted to say that it surpassed my high expectations in every way!

From the second the curtain goes up; this epic production is a (wonderful) assault on your senses!  I was expecting colour, a few good special effects, an atmospheric set and some high-energy singing and dancing but WOW!  It’s genuinely hard to know where to start – it truly was Disney brought to life!

I can’t even imagine how many trucks it must take to transport all the set, props and costumes for this production, even the cast member with the smallest part must have at least 8 costume changes, each one, brighter, more colourful and sparkly than the last!  My 12-year-old self-re-emerged and was mesmerised by the set and the costumes, and I’ve no doubt that every little girl in the theatre was jealous of the perfect Princess Jasmine (the enchanting Desmonda Cathabel) resplendent, in turquoise and crystal!  Then, just as you thought she couldn’t get anymore ‘Disney princess-like’, she emerges in a pale pink wedding dress that shimmers with every movement. Every ‘girlie girl’s’ dream!

But don’t let that put you off boys – Aladdin is the perfect story for a family show because there really is something for everyone and this production capitalises on that brilliantly!  The high-energy and humour brought to their roles by Gavin Adams (Aladdin) and his band of buddies (Nelson Bettencourt, Adam Taylor and Nay-Nay) would definitely appeal to many of the young boys in the audience, not to mention the shiny silver sword fights, the soldiers and the ‘baddies’ – Jafar (played by Adam Strong) and his hilarious side-kick Iago (Angelo Paragoso).  Tap dance sections complete with top hats and canes take you back to the classic days of musical theatre and cabaret, and iconic songs from the original animated film are reproduced with feeling and precision.

So, what about our Genie?  Fans of the live action Disney film will know that Will Smith is a hard act to follow in this role but let me assure you that Yeukayi Ushe does a spectacular job! He definitely has the stage presence to pull off this role with his energy, nuanced comedy and just the right amount of ‘camp’! I don’t ‘have a friend like him’ – but I definitely want one!

For me, it was the set, the effects and the costumes that put this production above other musicals I’ve seen.  I’d heard people saying before the show, how good the flying carpet scene was – and it really was – not a wire or a safety harness in sight (and believe me we were looking), but I wasn’t prepared for the cave scene!  It was exactly as wonderous and glistening as a cave full of treasure would be in any child’s imagination, and that’s why this production doesn’t disappoint – it feels like it has been plucked straight out of a child’s imagination.  No expense has been spared in the costumes, the set and the props, so add that to the talented cast, the fabulous tunes and the special effects and you have a recipe for pure Christmas magic!  My guest told me that she ‘didn’t know where to look’ for much of the production as there was so much going on and so much to see and I have to agree; it’s one of the only musicals I’ve ever walked out of and though ‘I’d like to see that again’!

A wonderful start to my Christmas, a delight for the whole family, I can’t recommend this magical production highly enough.

Aladdin is playing at the Wales Millennium Centre until 14th January.  For more information and to book, please click here:

Review Willard White & Eugene Asti Wigmore Hall, London by James Ellis

Photo credit: David Levene

 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

It was smiling all round with Sir William White at Wigmore Hall. Joined by the full-bodied force of Eugene Asti as accompanist, things went down very smoothly.

Sir Willard recounted, with the first song when he was in school and the promise of a young singer. Noticed by a teacher with a good ear, him singing Schubert’s and Silvia would catch anyone off guard, his wonderous bass-baritone voice is so satisfying. Roger Quilter and his Come Away Death followed keeping with a sombre tone. More thrills with Samuel Barber with a stellar Sure on this Shining Night and Promiscuity. The latter was so much of Charles Ives, brief, funny, weird and more. Some Vaughan Williams and his Songs of Travel highlights also stood out. The English air shining through, folk like charms ever present.

The Old American Songs from Aaron Copland, saw a selection of thrills. The Dodger sees a busker touting for cash, Simple Gifts (a Copland favourite) never fails in its loveliness. The infectious melody had weight, Copland recycling it for Appalachian Spring, one of his ballets. Being told the next song was “silly”, I bought me a cat is also a laugh and Willard never one to listen to nonsense, was glad to see we enjoyed this nursery-rhyme like ditty. Bernstein’s rare outing of his early musical Peter Pan saw two songs: Who am I? and My House. I’ve given less love to these songs in the past, though Willard’s ringing, warm voice makes them worthwhile.

Choices from South Pacific and Carousel continued the musical theatre theme. Some Enchanted Evening stood out for its beefy delivery and pleasing melodic structure. The festive side of things came with a selection of spirituals Deep River in an arrangement by Carl Davis as one fine example. Proud Jamaican and Brit, Willard must have sung these innumerable times, I saw teary eyes in one of them. They took away some of the stuffy nature of the concert hall and brought much cheer. An encore of Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas has now official brought me into the holiday season. I best get shopping…