Category Archives: Musical

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…


The wedding is OFF, but the honeymoon is ON!

In a world of AI, EDM and BPM*, one acronym from over thirty years ago still lasts the time. SAW (Stock Aitken Waterman) were a highly successful British songwriting and production trio in the late ’80s and early ’90s, creating numerous pop hits for artists like Kylie, Rick Astley, Bananarama, and Jason Donovan. Mike Stock, Matt Aitken, and Pete Waterman crafted a signature sound that dominated the charts, known for its catchy hooks and energetic beats, contributing significantly to the era’s pop music landscape. And in fairness back in the 80s/90s – their chart presence was sometimes mocked – but fast forward thirty years, how many jukebox musical have been made about The Smiths, New Order or Nirvana?

I Should Be So Lucky is about family, friends, love and great times. Ella and Nathan, a young couple, hopelessly in love, and about to take the biggest step of their lives – marriage. Until it all goes wrong. Will they be together forever, or will he make her cry and say goodbye?

To start, I need to declare I do love jukebox musicals. They’re not everyone’s cup of tea, but there’s space in musical theatre for something with a feel-good factor – not all musicals want to make you cry (Wicked/Les Mis). One of the most successful is of course Mamma Mia, so there’ll always be some kind of comparison. A common complaint can be that the songs are crowbarred in and don’t really follow the narrative of the story – I can’t say this wasn’t the case of I should be so lucky, but when the story is crafted by Debbie Issit (Nativity-The Musical, Christmas at Mistletoe Farm), there’s enough character for everyone to relate to. It does feel though that there’s just too much going on, and at times I felt instead of jumping back and forth each characters’ story arc, just concentrate of two sets of story, and make the others into a sequel? Just an idea?

Set wise, simple but effective and worked so well – touring productions must find it difficult to adapt to different venues in short spaces of time – but sound and lighting was also spot on.

Cast was on point – and actually looked like they were enjoying themselves – you do often see productions where for performers, it’s just a job. Kayla Carter’s reimagined version of Sonia’s you’ll Never Stop Me Loving You was the stand out moment of the night. As well as Dead or Alive’s you spin me around in a Turkish folk style. I need this soundtrack album in my life!

A proper feel good jukebox musical with so many classic (and yes I mean that sincerely) SAW songs. Even Donna Summer’s Breakaway from 1991.

Loved also seeing Pete Waterman doing selfies with people. A true British music legend, who at the time wasn’t regarded as cool. The man is the epitome of Britishness cool – and the back catalogue of him, Mike and Matt, provides the soundtrack to many a night out of the 80s and now.

If you want a real good, feel good night out in the theatre, I should be so lucky is definitely that. It’s all there especially for you.

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Reviewer: Patrick Downes


  • AI – Artificial Intelligence
  • EDM – Electronic Dance Music
  • BPM – Beats Per Minute

Review Everybody’s talking about Jamie, Venue Cymru by Richard Evans

Venue Cymru Nov 28 – Dec 2 2023

 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Nica Burns and a Sheffield Theatres Production, music by Dan Gillespie Sells, book and lyrics by Tom McRae

Why would a teenager want to stand out from the crowd?  For many teenagers, fitting in with your peers is hugely important so there must be a reason to be different. 

This is the story of Jamie, someone who by force of personality stood out from the crowd.  Perhaps he always knew he was different.  Perhaps an extrovert personality made him a born performer, but why choose to be a drag queen? By any stretch of the imagination this is an unusual ambition, and this play is a recounting of a now well known story based on the real life experience of Jamie Campbell. 

The action centres around the school environment of a year 11 class in the lead up to their end of school prom.  It focuses on Jamie, who is coming to terms with himself, and explores his ambition to be a female impersonator.  It seems he came out twice, once as gay and subsequently as an aspiring drag queen.  As the school setting is a working class environment in Sheffield, these factors brought with them the scrutiny, must of it unwanted,  from his peers and teachers.  

The stand out performer was Ivano Turco as Jamie who started shy, and mixed up yet became increasingly feminine and confident.  My problem was that in using a soft voice to accentuate his femininity, he became hard to hear.  He was ably supported by Rebecca McKinnis as his mother, Darren Day as his mentor, Hugo/Loco Chanelle and Talia Palamathanan as Priti Pasha, whose songs were memorable.

The production was great although not without its problems.  There was a 10 minute hiatus for a sound system failure near the start, yet the cast and crew addressed this and the musical continued without affecting the enjoyment of the audience.  The set was varied, flexible and effective, switching seamlessly from school room to nightclub to kitchen.  The choreography was energetic and balletic and the score varied in intensity from highly charged to being soulful and poignant.

In one sense, this play is mundane.  The vast majority of 16 year olds go through struggles to assert their identity and individuality and many struggle with attendant mental health problems.  In another sense this story is highly unusual and comes with layers of meaning and issues.  Jamie knew from a young age that he was gay and had an attraction bordering on compulsion for dressing up in so called girls clothes.  This made him out of step with society, such that his father thought him a disgrace and some of his peers poured scorn on him, even bullied him.  As he explores his ambition to be a drag queen, he faces losing his best friend, and being excluded from the prom because he wants to wear a dress.  Issues such as prejudice and discrimination and then human rights spring to mind but most importantly, it is clear from the play that one should stay true to yourself and then it is possible to fight through the barriers of social limitations and achieve success.

Even if a story of an aspiring drag queen is not your cup of tea, there is much in this play that makes it thoughtful, entertaining and uplifting theatre.   

Review, Branwen: Dadeni, A Wales Millennium Centre & Frân Wen Production, by Gareth Williams

 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

A turning point? Branwen: Dadeni certainly feels like it. This “epic new Welsh language musical” heralds a potentially exciting new era for the nation’s theatre. Why? Because it is by far the most ambitious, large-scale theatre production in the Welsh language yet. Testament to what can be achieved when the might of Wales Millennium Centre meets the creative ambition of Frân Wen. It is no understatement in describing the show as worthy of a West End run. The culmination of a long-held confidence by some that our culture is worth investing in.

Adapted from The Mabinogi, this new version exports the mythic weight of the original into a bold and contemporary style. The result is a classic piece of theatre, Shakespearean in size, but with a cutting edge that makes it feel fresh and new. The musical element is a key component to this: a combination of choral tradition, music hall operetta, Sondheim-influenced harmonies and Disney-inspired ballads. Seiriol Davies has not been afraid to draw from the wide pool of musical theatre history and infuse it with Welsh character to create a score brimming with personality. The result is a captivating story. An absorbing commentary on power, family and history that could have been heavy or dictatory but has, instead, been generously and lovingly portrayed.

The costumes fit nicely with each of the characters: from the flowing dresses of the idealist Branwen (Mared Williams) to the army-like uniform of her renegade half-sister Efnisien (Caitlin Drake). So too, the choreography captures beautifully their contrasting personalities: particularly the swish swooning of Matholwch (Rithvik Andugula) in the presence of a buttoned-up Bendigeidfran (Tomos Eames). It is in the songs though that this royal cast of kings, queens and consorts really comes to life. And when one hits the right note, the emotional affect can be overwhelming. Take the tale of the snowfall for instance. The way that Mared gently presses her vocal against the window through which her character witnesses such a scene. So poignant and hopeful, it brings a tear to the eye. Or Gillian Elisa’s vivacious solo, in which her character runs roughshod over the King to proclaim where true power lies. It is delivered with such abundant force as to raise a rapturous applause from the audience.

These are moments which are memorable not just in the context of the show. They make an indelible mark on the mind in the way that some of the best musical theatre productions do. Finding yourself driving home with lyrics still playing out in your head. Fingers tapping the melody on the steering wheel. Feelings still flowing through your body as you go to bed. This is a sure sign that Branwen: Dadeni has in some way been a success. It certainly lays down a marker for future work, which is as challenging as it is inspiring. At a time when investment in the arts is in danger of falling, may Branwen: Dadeni be the start and not the end of something.

Reviewed on the final night at Pontio Arts Centre in Bangor by Gareth Williams

Review The King and I, New Theatre Cardiff by Jane Bissett.

 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

This is the first time I have been to the theatre since lockdown and this was a most wonderful reintroduction. There is nothing that compares to live theatre and this opportunity did not disappoint and I would certainly recommend this musical to everyone.

When composer Richard Rodgers and lyricist-dramatist Oscar Hammerstein teamed up they became the greatest musical partnership of all time. Their influence and innovation to theatre musicals has been celebrated the globe over.

This production of The King and I comes to Cardiff following a critically-acclaimed season at The London Palladium where it was no surprise that it was a sell out!

From curtain up the audience was transported and transfixed to another world far from the mundane. For many the bench mark for this elaborate musical is the 1956 film with screen performances of Deborah Kerr (Anna) and Yul Brynner (King Mongkut).

The West End’s Annalene Beechey and Broadway’s Darren Lee did not disappoint with their interpretation and performances that transported us to the Siam of Margaret Landon’s novel Anna and the King of Siam on which the musical is based.

The story follows Anna, a widow, and her son as they travel to Bangkok, where Anna has been assigned as a tutor to the King’s children. Anna soon finds herself having cultural clashes and differences with the King whilst endearing herself to both the children and the king’s many wives.

The Royal children were a delight, completing the illusion of being in a far country at a different time.

There are also the side stories of star crossed lovers and references to slavery. These must be viewed in context but the female narrative cannot be ignored and gives additional depth to the story as a whole.

The stand out actor for me was Caleb Lagayan, who excelled as a truly believable Prince Chulalongkorn. His voice was powerful, captivating and commanded the stage.

From the golden age of musicals, The King and I is one of the greatest, with what many would consider one of the finest scores ever written.

Many in the audience seemed to genuinely find it difficult not to sing along to the familiar songs including Whistle a Happy Tune and Shall We Dance.
Tony Award-winning director Bartlett Sher and his internationally renowned creative team created the atmosphere of old Siam. The wonderful full-scale orchestra led by Christoper Munday, must be given credit for keeping us spell bound all evening, even before the curtain rose.

A truly memorable evening I would recommend to everyone.

Shrek the Musical, Wales Millennium Centre by Kate Richards

My 10-year-old son went to a drama camp over the summer holidays where, outnumbered almost 10 to 1 by the girls, he was relieved to learn a couple of scenes from Shrek the Musical having endured a little too much ‘Frozen’ for his liking. He came home from camp and spent several evenings on YouTube watching extracts from the show, so was delighted to see it was coming to the Wales Millennium Centre and asked if we could go.

The show started almost 15 minutes late with no explanation – which isn’t ideal for a long production aimed at children on a school night, but these things happen I guess.  In the opening scenes we learn a little about how our green heroes came to be living alone in a steamy swamp and a dragon-guarded tower respectively. This backstory adds credibility to the unlikely love story between a princess and an ogre and the ultimate moral of the story – not to judge a book by its cover! My son was delighted by the colourful costumes and humour of the displaced fairy-tale creatures that found themselves wandering unwelcome into ‘ogre territory’.  Worthy of note was the acrobatic Pinocchio whose dancing was far from ‘wooden’ and a Christmas elf/Gingerbread man with one of the best singing voices I think I’ve ever heard on stage.

We were quickly introduced to the other hero of the story – Donkey. This character is to my mind, one of the most memorable and humorous animated characters in the Disney/DreamWorks genre, so a pretty hard act to follow, but I’d say that Brandon Lee Sears did an admirable job. Looking somewhat like an animation himself with his energetic and exaggerated, sometimes discordant movement as well as a good approximation of Eddie Murphy’s voiceover as Donkey, Brandon was well cast. That said, one of the aspects of the show that I did find a little odd, was the strong American accents affected by most of the rest of the cast. Granted it would be hard to conceive of a convincing Shrek without his Scottish accent – but I did find the combination of that, with the microphone and the extremely loud music, made the lyrics of the opening songs a bit difficult to decipher. For other characters however, I am not sure why it was necessary to have such exaggerated American accents.

The sets and costumes were as colourful and high quality as you would expect from a high-budget, big-name show and made for the spectacle I had been hoping for, and the storyline was kept simple (though almost to the point where I thought they could have shaved off a couple of minutes to reduce the length of the show and the resultant squirming in the seat next to me towards the end!) The dancing rodents were lovely to watch, and the tap dancing a rare treat these days, but in all honesty, they didn’t add a great deal to the story.

It was good to see that the show didn’t rely on projection for the dragon, as could so easily have been the case, and I am sure that many of the audience will have delighted in both the puppetry skills and the vocal range of Cherece Richards – certainly the audience members around me did! 

For me Joanne Clifton stole the show somewhat as Princess Fiona.  Her vocals turn out to be almost as good as the dancing skills for which she is renowned but actually that brings me to the one thing I felt was missing slightly. It took me a while to figure out what for me, stopped the show from going from a good night out to a really memorable experience that I’d want to see again – and that is the lack of some catchy songs.  I read somewhere else that this musical lacks a really powerful soundtrack and I must agree.  It’s clear why the advertising only references ‘I’m a Believer’ because that really is still the best song of the show, and no others have had the stand-out qualities that mean they are heard outside the confines of the theatre unlike other kids musicals such as (love it or hate it) ‘Let it Go’ or ‘Defying Gravity’.  I did enjoy both the performance and the sentiment of ‘Freak Flag’ and the ‘sing-off’ between Shrek and Fiona in ‘I think I got you Beat’ but I didn’t come out of the theatre singing them in my head as I sometimes have from other performances. For me it’s definitely the sound that held the show back from getting a 5-star review. As with most things in live theatre and cinema these days –my son and I found the entire production a little too loud. At the start, the volume definitely prevented me from hearing the lyrics in Anthony Lawrence’s opening songs, and at times when the whole cast was singing together it felt a bit more like a fight to be heard than a cohesive harmony.  In reality I don’t think it made any real difference to the volume, but my son commented on there definitely being no need for the additional handheld microphones in the final number.  It does make me wonder if sound technicians really consider younger audience members when setting the volume of productions because it is a consistent complaint in our family that everything is just a tad too loud to be comfortable?

So, was it an enjoyable evening out?  Absolutely! Is the standard of performance that which you’d expect from a big-name show?  Totally! Is the storyline easy to follow and are the characters closely recognisable as their animated counterparts for younger fans of Shrek? Definitely!  So there was very little not to like – the cast can’t be held accountable for the lack of any really memorable songs, but they definitely weren’t afraid of delivering the songs they have, in big voice, and it was clear that many of the audience around me love the show and have seen it more than once.  How else do you get a capacity crowd on a Monday night in November?

Review Sister Act, Wales Millennium Centre by Rhys Payne

 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Those who are familiar with the iconic 1992 movie will know that the movie is headlined by the incredible Whoopi Goldberg as the fugitive singer turned nun. As this is such a recognisable movie/character the pressure is on for anyone who not only spear heading the show by stepping into the role of the fabulous Dolores Van Cartier however Landi Oshinowo did not seem fazed in the slightest! Landi seemed to be most comfortable during the more vocally centered aspects of the role as her beautifully soulful voice suited the aspiring club singer character flawlessly. Their rendition of “Fabulous Baby” was crammed full of fabulousness and extravagance with the lead character balancing the comedic side of the song with vocal endurance wonderfully! 

What worked incredibly well about this production is that Lesley Joseph, who played the stuck in her ways and head of the Covent mother Superior was an almost total contrast to the Dolores in this production. Her powerfully moving rendition of “Here Between These Walls” was not only a treat for the ears but also explored the importance of community which will be forever a very important thing! This character could be considered as the stereotypical, caricature of how you would expect a nun to act/behave. This obviously clashes with the extravagance of Dolores and caused these two characters to have an instant conflict from the moment they stepped into the church.  This contrast was purposefully exaggerated in the enth degree which made the inevitable change of ways even more powerful.

The closing moments of the show sees Mother Superior come to her senses as she literally jumps in front of a bullet for the ‘thorn in her side’ and finally accepts Dolores as a certified sister. This moment was followed by the other nuns forming a human shield around Dolores hiding her from her gun wielding boyfriend which was very emotionally powerful to watch!

My favourite character by far in this musical production would have to be the clumsy yet lovable Lt. Eddie Souther (played in this production by the amazing Alfie Parker) whose sole responsibility is making sure that Dolores is safe from her murderous ex-boyfriend. However, this compassion and care for the singer doesn’t not just purely come from a place a professionalism as we discover that during their time in high school together Eddie had a crush on Dolores. This childhood bond means that Eddie has almost given up all hope of a potential relationship but there is still some hope left within the officer’s mind! My favourite sequence in the entire show came during the spectacular “I Could be That Guy” where Eddie talks about stepping up from this bumbling office to a serious crime fighter. The highlight of this song came with Eddie tore off his boring office outfit to reveal a sparkly disco-centric suit only to then tear this off to yet another plain office outfit! In the middle of this sequence dancers flooded the stage to launch into a spectacular dance routine that the audience absolutely went wild for! After all this had happened Eddie hilariously stumbled down from the table, he had scaled up to be the centre of attention (where he deserved to be) as the scene turned back to the day-to-day running’s inside a police centre which again had the audience in howls of laughter!

My personal highlight of the production was the fact that from the moment the ensemble stepped into the stage to the moment they left, every single one showcased the most outlandish and over-the-top characters I have ever seen! Raise your voice is the song where the nuns finally come together (under Delores’ supervision) and realise they can actually sing and out on a performance that isn’t a boring, old fashioned church hymn. This number builds itself in such a way that each character is allowed their own individual moment to flex their comedic muscles and shine, but it was the moments when the spotlight was not on them that really made the show for me. Whether it was facial reactions, hamming up the choreography or interacting with one another, it kept the world alive and made for a very exciting watch!

I thought that the church medley sequence was not only wonderfully staged but also exactly performed. As the nuns are performing their usual Sunday hymns (albeit of a higher quality than normal) they suddenly burst into a high energy medley of Dolores’ biggest hits! The physicalisation of each character in and out of the spotlight was amazing and meant that everywhere the audience looked there was something going on without it being too distracting from the main narrative. One of the greatest vocal performances in the number would have to be Lizzie Bea (who played the easily excitable sister Mary Roberts) during their rendition of the life I never had which was incredible. Every single audience member was instantly moved to tears as the character talked about missing out on the more rebellious moments in life due to be confined in the church. Even though I have never personality taking a vow of service, we all still have regrets that we wish we took and so seeing a character talk openly about these was very powerful to watch!

At an almost antithesis to the nuns, Dolores’ criminal ex-partner Curtis (played wonderfully by the talented Ian Gareth-Jones) and his gang of incompetent sidekicks. What is somewhat strange about these roles is that despite being a criminal gang, the majority of the numbers contain a massive amount of comedy which had the audience laughing alongside them. Their performance “when I find my baby” simultaneously talked about how Curtis is going to beat/kill/attack etc. Dolores when he finds her but also utilised a very love-struck musical motif. The intense violence and adoration contrasted beautifully and had the audience laughing as the number progressed! Throughout all of their performance the gang maintained the most over-the-top, cheesy grins known to man which again added the unusual comedy undertones of the role. Due to the criminals and nuns being so diametrically opposed, you knew that when they finally come through something spectacular would happen and that’s exactly what went down! The scene of criminals trying to intimidate and threaten the nuns obviously go as planned but the number was choreographed in such a perfect way! The nuns were able to overcome the invaders with very little physical force through a sequence of slapstick-esque rope moments so when Curtis entered armed with a gun the entire mood flipped upside down! This sudden and drastic change of mood only served to amplify the emotional moment preceding moments of the human shield!

Overall Sister Act the musical managed to capture the majority of the magic from the movie with a few minor tweaks for stage purposes. It was crammed full of hilarious comedy moments with numerous powerful and moving vocal performances. I do have to say that one of my least favourite scenes involved Dolores riding a bicycle taxi while being perused by the struggling criminals as it did look somewhat strange until the closing moments when two of the villains began rolling down the stage to show the bicycle was moving forward!

I would rate this production 4 out of 5 stars!

Review, Steven Sondheim’s Old Friends, Gielgud Theatre, London by James Ellis

Photo credit: Danny Kaan

 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

If ever there was a more perfect introduction to the work of Steven Sondheim, it is Old Friends. Carefully arranged by Cameron Mackintosh, the evening is a complete triumph, the spirit of Broadway and of the man himself lies in every note.

If I’m very much mistaken, most if not all of his shows are crammed into this spectacle. All his retrospection, the machine gun lyrical delivery, the tender phrasing and punchy musical gustro all frequent his heaven sent show. You really can’t belive your luck when sat there and seeing this career which spanned decades go by, we only lost Steven not long ago and even his last musical has just opened in New York.

I’ve less love for Into the Woods, though here Bernadette Peters made for a hilaroius Red Riding Hood, aside the sexed up Mr Wolfman from a marvellous Bradley Maden. Much billing has gone to Peters and I can see why. It is her innocnet and infecious voice that reels you in, a delight upon closer inspection. I did hear perhaps a voice crack or two, though these were during the big, ballsy nunmbers, though I have no complaints. I love her. Lets not forget her Send in the Clowns and Losing My Mind as well!

Lea Salonga, most famous as Kim in Miss Saigon, also gets meaty ballads and rowdy numbers all over the place. Her passion got the audience in a state of rapture. The familar face of Bonnie Langford also impressed with strident vocals and good comic timing. Janie Dee might just be my favourite persona on the night, her Ladies Who Lunch a total highlight, The Boy From… another thrill with a few refrences to Wales, which got me in a whooping mood, perhaps I was the only Welsh in on the night?

Clare Burt and Christine Allado were in fabulous company, more treats along the way. Gavin Lee getting heaps of solos and duets with quick wit and vocally well paced. Jason Pennycooke coming into his own with the frantic song Broadway Baby from Follies, another triumph leaving me quite dizzy. Joanna Riding and Damian Humbley were even more joys in the cast, their many musical moments spread out over the evening. A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, his first musical as both composer and lyricist, got a piffy flutter though remains slightly overshadowed by what would follow. 

Photo credit: Danny Kaan 

Jeremy Secomb as Sweeny Todd faired well in the demands of the roll, perhaps the most operatic of Sondheim’s whole oeuvre. Time spent with Gypsy and Everything’s Coming Up Roses was affirmed and I am so glad they included it. Pickings from West Side Story and Dick Tracey also help up well, the later an Oscar winning turn. Merrily We Roll Along has found fame since its first flop, the title song of the show coming from his musical. Its remains the best moment in Merrily and used as an encore was perfection. Beyond catchy.

Sunday in the Park With George might be one of his best, used an a first act ender was finely poised. Company holds up, the Not Getting Married song was another outstanding corker Passion and The Mad Show I know less of and I note the lack of Assassins and Pacific Overtures too.

See it. My word, just see it.

It runs till 6th January 2024

Review: Everybody’s Talking About Jamie by Gemma Treharne-Foose

 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Press Night 23 October 2023

“A riotously upbeat tale for our times….” 

Everybody’s Talking About Jamie (playing at the WMC until the 28th October) has had a meteoric success since the original documentary about 16 year old Jamie New (who wants to be a drag queen) was introduced to us on our TV screens in 2011. Since then, we’ve seen a musical, an award-winning world tour and a movie starring Richard E Grant and Sharon Horgan. Attending the opening night in Cardiff with my teenage daughter, I wondered if the setting of much of the play (in a typically grim British state school) would chime with her or potentially be shot down as a sad attempt by Millennials to capture Gen Z culture…never an easy line to tread!

It’s the kind of premise that would make a Daily Mail reader’s head explode. We have a gloriously camp 16 year old Jamie New who daydreams of stardom as the next big thing in the Drag scene. His accomplice, a Muslim, hijab-wearing Pritti Pasha (Talia Palamathanan) is his best friend and wing-woman. Supporting his bold and some might say outrageous career aspirations while maintaining her own moral and religious code, the friendship represents the kind of unity and integration that we all wish for. This is never too forced, or too jarring in its earnestness. Talia Palamathanan’s voice is absolutely sensational and her solo number ‘It means beautiful’ (by Dan Gillespie Sells) is stunningly delivered and I saw multiple folks around me wiping away the tears at the end of the number.

Huge credit for first-class character work and rapport with the audience must go to Shobna Gulati as Ray and stand-in Georgina Hagan (who was replacing Rebecca McKinnis as Jamie’s Mum Margaret New the night I attended). Georgina’s two solo tracks “If I met Myself Again” in Act 1 and “My Boy” in Act 2 were truly some of the best numbers in the show. Georgina’s vocals gave me goosebumps and although I’m not usually a fan of sequences with contemporary dance peppered into some scenes, Georgina’s emotional delivery took the whole scene to the next level. The dancers accompanying her were superb – it helped to tell the story and made Georgina’s incredible vocals even greater.

Some of the set-up for Jamie’s big reveal may remind you of Billy Elliott (young Northern lad overcomes toxic and stifling masculinity and a troubled father-Son relationship to follow his dreams, plucky ‘Diamond in the rough’ family members will rally around to support him when it really counts, etc etc). But this show, though perhaps formulaic in places, manages to simultaneously pack in a great story, outstanding choreography, quality songs and a great set. I wasn’t a huge fan of the visuals on the screens behind the stage set – it made the overall look and feel a little ‘commercial-like’ or trying to be like MTV or a swishy campaign when the action and performance on stage really is enough to carry the show…no glossy brand-like photography needed!

Hot on the heels of the incredible Layton Williams who played Jamie New in 2019 (and is now fox-trotting across our screens in BBC’s Strictly), is Ivano Turco. Ivano’s performance as Jamie is spectacular. Sometimes when you listen to the original soundtrack to popular musicals, it can feel like it’s not possible to improve on this ‘original recipe’ – and no disrespect to anyone on the original soundtrack but Ivano’s silky smooth voice is like honey. His approach to the songs is beautifully soulful and his relationship and interaction with Georgina Hagan as his Mum was lovely.

My daughter and I LOVED this show. We listened to all the songs again on the drive back home and we’ll be closely following Ivano’s career – he’s destined for a glittering future. This is a gloriously upbeat tale for modern times and it’s a dopamine booster. Highly recommend it!