Tag Archives: Musical

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

PREVIEW Bat Out Of Hell! at the New Theatre Cardiff 27 Sep – 1 Oct

You took the words right out of my mouth: Bat Out Of Hell!, the electrifying hit musical featuring the greatest hits of Meatloaf and Jim Steinman, rocks and rolls its way to the New Theatre this week!

Bat Out Of Hell! is a post-apocalyptic Peter Pan set in a dystopian version of Manhattan (aka ‘Obsidian’). It’s the stomping ground of Strat, immortal eighteen-year-old leader of ‘The Lost’, a biker gang locked in a deadly war with Falco, Obsidian’s crooked commander-in-chief. When Strat falls in love with Raven, Falco’s rebellious daughter, the game is on and all bets are off.

Winner of the audience-voted best musical at the London Evening Standard Theatre Awards, Bat Out Of Hell! features iconic songs like ‘I’d Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That)’, ‘Two Out Of Three Ain’t Bad’, ‘Dead Ringer For Love’ and the legendary title track that will have you rocking and rolling in the aisles.

Glenn Adamson as Strat in Bat Out of Hell!

Bat Out Of Hell! is playing at the New Theatre Cardiff from 27 September – 1 October, and across the UK through to April 2023.

Review Friendsical UK Tour, New Theatre Cardiff by Barbara Hughes-Moore

Once upon a time, in the far away land of 1994, six best friends told us they’d always be there for us. Ten seasons and 236 episodes later, and they’ve more than kept their promise: Friends remains one of the most iconic television shows ever, even almost two decades after its finale aired. It spawned countless imitators, an iconic haircut, and even its own spinoff, and now it’s reached that coveted next level of fame: its own parody musical.

Cast of Friendsical at Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2022

Produced by Brooke Mauchline Productions Ltd in association with Assembly Festival, Friendsical is a new comedy show which takes you on a whistlestop tour down memory lane via Central Perk, featuring original songs by Barrie Bignold and Miranda Larson (who also directs). Our master of ceremonies is Dr Ross Geller, who has gathered the titular BFFs together for a retelling of their infamous escapades, though its mostly an excuse to ‘pivot’ to his and Rachel’s will-they-won’t-they romance.

Cast of Friendsical at Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2022

This is a show which doesn’t so much break the fourth wall as crash a wrecking ball through it. It’s a metatextual take on a beloved medium in the same vein as Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and Galavant, with the chaotic charm of a Starkid production (the team behind the successful A Very Potter Musical). While Friends was already quite savvy and self-aware, Friendsical turns it up to eleven. There’s lots of singing, dancing, and oodles of iconic references that shows just how much love the cast and crew have for the original, from every ‘We were on a break!’ to every ‘Oh. My. God!’

Cast of Friendsical at Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2022

The multitalented cast includes Nelson Bettencourt as Ross, Sario Solomon as Joey, Sarah Michelle-Kelly as Monica, Tim Edwards as Chandler (giving a pitch-perfect Perry), Ally Retberg as Phoebe (and, memorably, Janice too), and Amelia Kinu Muus as Rachel. There are strong supporting performances by Olivia Williamson and Ashley Cavender and a fabulous guest turn by The Pussycat Dolls’ Kimberly Wyatt (Strictly Come Dancing champion Joanne Clifton will guest star on the 10th September shows). The cast are as charming and lovable as their original counterparts, whose mannerisms and voices they have down to a tee, and bring genuine heart and hilarity to every moment they’re onstage – nothing short of Herculean given the deeply sad and momentous news of Queen Elizabeth II’s passing that came in just before curtain up. The two minutes’ silence observed in the theatre was respectful and profound.

Cast of Friendsical at Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2022

The cast’s dedication and skill was both masterly and moving. If you have a passion for 90s fashion or know the words to ‘Smelly Cat’ by heart, this is the show for you. Ross, Rachel, Joey, Phoebe, Monica and Chandler have been with us for nearly 30 years, and Friendiscal is here to show us why they always will be.

Twitter / Instagram: @Friendsical

Friendsical is playing at the New Theatre Cardiff from 8 – 10 September 2022.

PREVIEW Friendsical at the New Theatre Cardiff 8 – 10 September

The one where Friends gets its own parody musical

Cast of Friendsical at Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2022

Produced by Brooke Mauchline Productions Ltd in association with Assembly Festival, Friendsical is a comedy musical that lovingly parodies the beloved TV show Friends. Featuring original songs by Barrie Bignold and Miranda Larson (who also directs), Friendsical will take you on a whistlestop tour down memory lane via Central Perk, cramming 10 seasons and 236 episodes into just 60 minutes!

Cast of Friendsical at Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2022

The multitalented cast includes Sario Solomon as Joey, Sarah Michelle-Kelly as Monica, Nelson Bettencourt as Ross, Tim Edwards as Chandler, Ally Retberg as Phoebe, Amelia Kinu Muus as Rachel, Olivia Williamson as Hot Girl/Ensemble and Tanveer Singh Devgun as Gunther/Male Ensemble.

And the show continues Friends’ tradition of incredible cameos! The Pussycat Dolls’ Kimberly Wyatt will make a a celebrity guest appearance on 8 & 9 Sept while Strictly Come Dancing champion Joanne Clifton will make a celebrity guest appearance on 10 Sept.

Cast of Friendsical at Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2022

The UK tour begins at Cardiff’s New Theatre on 8 September 2022. Join Ross, Rachel, Joey, Monica, Chandler and Phoebe have been with us for nearly 30 years, and Friendiscal is here to show us why they always will be.

Twitter / Instagram: @Friendsical

Friendsical is playing at the New Theatre Cardiff from 8 – 10 September 2022.

PREVIEW: INTERVIEW WITH THE STARS OF BEAUTIFUL, THE CAROLE KING MUSICAL

What follows is a syndicated interview with the stars of Beautiful: The Carole King Musical: Molly-Grace Cutler (Carole King), Tom Milner (Gerry Goffin), Seren Sandham-Davies (Cynthia Weil), and Jos Slovick (Barry Mann)

What can audiences expect when they come see the show?
Molly-Grace: It’s done by a full company of live musicians, which is very different to the original Broadway and West End productions and previous tours. It’s a really feel-good musical. It’s emotional and very heartwarming, to say the least.

Seren: There’s a lot of energy on stage and audiences are excited and happy to be back in the theatre. The music is infectious, we’re all so passionate about what we’re doing and everyone leaves with a smile on their faces and the tunes going round in their heads.

Jos: It’s like a gig within a play – lots of songs that people will recognise and lots of songs they maybe didn’t know were written by Carole King or Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil. They’re in for some laughs and some drama, and there’s something for everyone from ballads and rock songs to old-style show tunes.

Tom: There’s not a thing that any of our cast members don’t do. It’s full-on because we’re acting, singing, dancing and playing the music so the audience certainly gets its money’s worth.

Beautiful – tour – 2022 Production photos taken on the 28th February 2022, at Curve Theatre Leicester, Directed by Nikolai Foster

Molly-Grace, how would you describe Carole King as a character? And do you feel any pressure about bringing her to life on stage?
Molly-Grace: She’s an incredible music icon. She’s very driven and very determined, and you get to see how resilient she is as her story goes on. As for feeling the pressure, yes there’s a lot of that – especially given that she’s still to this day a living legend. But I’m very happy that I’m getting to play her and her music. The big challenge is in playing someone who is still around, so people will inevitably compare you to her as well as other people who have played the role before. It’s about doing your own thing whilst also paying respect to the people before along with Carole herself.

Tom, Seren and Jos, who do you play and how do they feature in Carole’s story?
Tom: Gerry Goffin is her first husband and songwriting partner. In the show he’s quite chaotic, he’s always striving for more and he eventually suffers a massive breakdown.

Seren: Cynthia Weil is part of a songwriting team with Barry Mann whose paths cross with Carole and Gerry during the Brill Building era in the 60s. As a character she’s ahead of her time. She doesn’t conform and she’s very prescient, plus she’s very funny and having a female comic character to play is an absolute gift.

Jos: Barry, as Seren says, is Cynthia’s songwriter partner as well as her husband. He’s very sharp with a lot of that Jewish humour; think Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld because he has that kind of rhythm to him. He’s a humorous hypochondriac.

Beautiful – tour – 2022 Production photos taken on the 28th February 2022, at Curve Theatre Leicester, Directed by Nikolai Foster

Were there things you were intrigued to learn about your characters?
Molly-King: [Laughs] That she married many times after Gerry Goffin. I also learned she was incredibly resilient and let nothing stand in the way of her success. She wrote from the heart, and that’s evident in every song she’s ever written. They’re very emotional.

Tom: I’d heard of Goffin and King’s music but I didn’t realise how much they wrote and how much they did for the industry. I also didn’t know about him as a person. He was always chasing happiness and the next big thing, which set him on a downward spiral.

Seren: I knew all the Mann and Weil songs but I didn’t know about the people who wrote them. I was intrigued by how Cynthia grew up in a conservative Jewish family but went against the grain of having that traditional life.

Jos: I knew a load of their songs but I didn’t know who wrote them. When I was a kid I had this talking dog toy and when you pressed its paw it would play Who Put The Bomp. I remember asking my dad ‘Who wrote that song?’ and he told me Barry Mann. But that’s all I knew about him. I didn’t know he’d also co-written On Broadway and You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling among many others.

Beautiful – tour – 2022 Production photos taken on the 28th February 2022, at Curve Theatre Leicester, Directed by Nikolai Foster

There are so many great numbers in the show. Do you have any favourites to perform?
Molly-Grace: I’d have to say (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman because it’s such an honest, emotional song about her relationship with Gerry.

Seren: That song is very special because it has such an impact on the audience. I also love the rockier numbers and It’s Too Late, which has a jazzier feel. There are so many good songs, it’s hard to choose between them.

Jos: I play the guitar on It’s Too Late and it’s got a great groove to it. [Laughs] It’s my jam, as the kids say, and Molly-Grace sings and plays it wonderfully.

Tom: There’s a song I do with the cast called Pleasant Valley Sunday and it’s a great rocking, uptempo song.

Beautiful – tour – 2022 Production photos taken on the 28th February 2022, at Curve Theatre Leicester, Directed by Nikolai Foster

As an actor and musician, it must be great getting to bring all your skills to the table?
Molly-Grace: Absolutely. We’re very lucky that we have such a talented cast of actors and musicians who create this amazing sound. Being an actor-musician is what I trained to do but I think these kind of productions are still pretty new for the theatre industry.

Tom: I love music and acting so getting to scratch both itches with this show is brilliant. I’ve done regular acting roles, especially on TV, that I’ve loved but it’s so creatively fulfilling getting to do a bit of everything.

Seren: Having actor-musicians play the parts works so well for this show because it has music at its core. When you have a story like Beautiful that’s all about music and musicianship, it takes it to a whole new level.

Jos: It’s always fun because I get to combine my two great loves, namely acting and playing music. Are there enough shows that offer the chance to do both? [Laughs] I’ll say no because I want to get more work!

Beautiful – tour – 2022 Production photos taken on the 28th February 2022, at Curve Theatre Leicester, Directed by Nikolai Foster

Beautiful aside, what have been your other favourite theatre roles?
Seren: I was in Brassed Off in 2015 and that was such an amazing job. The majority of us had a connection with mining through our families and we still keep in touch. Then I did a tour of Crazy For You which was great fun, getting to perform all those wonderful Gershwin tunes.

Molly-Grace: My first-ever job I did after finishing my training was a punk rock show called Oxy & the Morons and doing that straight out of drama school was very cathartic. I did a panto of Beauty and the Beast, I did Priscilla Queen of the Desert and I did a show called Girls Don’t Play Guitars and it was incredible playing a lead guitarist in a 60s rock-and-roll band.

Tom: My first-ever stage role was in a George Styles and Anthony Drewe musical called Soho Cinders and they were the first people to give me a leg up the musical theatre ladder because I was more of a TV boy. That was a real learning curve. Then recently I was in American Idiot and being able to sing Green Day songs for a year was great.

Jos: I was in Once, where I was a Czech burger joint manager and which I got to play bass, ukulele, banjo and mandolin. Then I was in the Theatre Royal Bath production of Bad Jews, which I loved because it’s such a great play.

Beautiful – tour – 2022 Production photos taken on the 28th February 2022, at Curve Theatre Leicester, Directed by Nikolai Foster

What are you most enjoying about taking Beautiful around the country? And how do you hope people will feel when they leave the theatre?
Molly-Grace: It’s about getting to share some incredible music with people as well as getting to share Carole’s story. A lot of people don’t know enough about her so it’s nice to show what she went through and how much she’s achieved.

Tom: It’s the kind of show everyone needs right now. We’ve all been through the pandemic and hard times and this show has such a feel-good factor. When we do the finale everyone is dancing, singing, clapping and smiling. For us to take it round the country and bring people so much joy is just amazing.

Jos: When we play the finale you can’t help but feel uplifted. Carole had a bit of a rough life but the music she produced was so wonderful that people will be skipping out of the theatre.

Seren: I hope they’ll be happy to be back in the theatre and that they feel excited and exuberant, and that they’ve made a connection during a time that’s been so hard for everyone. I just hope they feel the joy of this truly joyous show.

Beautiful: The Carole King Musical is playing at the New Theatre Cardiff from 24 – 28 May 2022

REVIEW Orbit’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, New Theatre by Barbara Hughes-Moore

Orbit Theatre has dazzled and delighted Cardiff audiences for five decades and counting. As Wales’ number one amateur theatre company, it’s staged productions of everything from Grease to Godspell, and now Orbit is back at the New Theatre with an enchanting new version of L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

Sophie Baker as Dorothy Gale (and Ella as Toto)

The story follows Dorothy Gale, a young girl from Kansas who dreams of escaping her dreary existence. She gets her wish when a tornado sweeps her and her little dog, Toto, to the fantastical land of Oz, a place filled with lions and tigers and bears – oh my! With a pair of magical ruby slippers and three new friends – a scarecrow, a tin man, and a cowardly lion – she heads to the Emerald City to meet the only person who can grant her wish to return home: the great and powerful Wizard of Oz – that is, unless the Wicked Witch of the West doesn’t catch her first.

Deryn Grigg as the Wicked Witch of the West

Directed by Rob Thorne Jnr, the show is every bit as magical as the beloved movie starring Judy Garland. It’s hard to believe this is an “amateur” production because everyone both onstage and behind it is working at such a professional level. As Dorothy, Sophie Baker steps into the iconic ruby slippers with ease and sings an enchantingly beautiful rendition of Over the Rainbow, leaving not a single dry eye in the house. Her duet with Paige Hodgson’s glamorous Glinda the Good Witch is a highlight, as are her interactions with the Wizard himself (Lewis Cook). The timeless songs you know and love all sound incredible here – everything from We’re Off to See the Wizard and the Merry Old Land of Oz to If I Only Had a Brain / a Heart / the Nerve.

Dorothy’s new friends are all on top form, from Daniel Ivor Jones’s nimble Scarecrow to Fran Hudd’s graceful Tin Man, and especially Matthew Preece as the Cowardly Lion, who has all of Bert Lahr’s mannerisms down pat (you’ll truly believe he’s The King of the Forest). The Gatekeeper might have been a throwaway role in other hands than Joe Green’s, who brings a real star quality to his scenes, while Deryn Grigg is devilishly good as the Wicked Witch of the West. Orbit’s talented young cast bring spirit and spectacle to the stage as munchkins and monkeys and trees – oh my! – and really deliver on Nicola Boyd-Anderson’s fabulous choreography. No-one, however, steals the show more than the adorable Ella as Toto who is easily one of the cutest canines to ever grace the stage – not to mention the most mischievous.

Lewis Cook as Professor Marvel/The Wizard of Oz

Orbit has won countless awards and has launched numerous careers, but their real magic comes from the fact that they make dreams come true. Their ‘Open Audition’ process means that newcomers have the opportunity to tread the boards and learn from the best. Dorothy’s story tells us that while there’s adventure to be found over the rainbow, there really is no place like home – and there’s no show quite as charming as The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. If you and your family want a little bit of magic and a lot of fun this half term, then all you have to do is click your heels three times and follow the yellow brick road to the New Theatre.

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz will be playing at Cardiff’s New Theatre from 20 – 23 April, with performances at 1pm and 5pm each day.

Review by
Barbara Hughes-Moore

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Rview: Six the musical Wales Millennium Centre by Patrick Downes

Where to start with Six? Is it a musical, is it a concert or is it a degree in Tudor History?

It’s all the above and some more. If like me you didn’t do very well on your History GCSE, but have since seen Horrible Histories, the story of Henry 8th’s six wives should be known to you in some way.

Divorced, beheaded, and now live, Six The Musical’s success of the last few years has been extraordinary. From humble beginnings at the Edinburgh Fringe, back to the West End, UK tours and being performed around the world. It’s quite a feat for something that on paper doesn’t sound that brilliant, but when you see it, you get proven very wrong.

Performed as a concert, Six is the 6 wives of Henry 8th telling their individual story through the means of song. The twist is that each queen is based on a 21st century female pop icon. Be that Adele (Jane Seymour), Lily Allen (Anne Boleyn), and Beyonce (Catherine of Aragon). What this brings is a modern contemporize twist to history from hundreds of years ago, but in realizing that, there’s an underlying cause that brings it to the present with the likes of #MeToo.

The production, the sound and the overall feel is something that hasn’t really been done before. Maybe this will see more musical theatre being created this way. It was nice to see a spread of ages attending too. People going for different reasons, maybe history students, young teenage girls, or wanting to witness something quite special and different from a normal musical.

Performance wise it would be unfair to pick one individual since that’s what the whole remit was supposed to be. Individually, the Six women sing amazingly, as a group is where their power truly lies. If there’s going to be a new girlband, maybe they’ll come from the one of the Six’s line ups? All I do know is that it was an amazing afternoon spent at Wales Millennium Centre, witnessing something quite unique – plus it meant I went home and watched documentaries on Youtube about the 6 wives.

Don’t worry about losing your head – it’s worth it.

☆☆☆☆☆☆ performance (See what I did there)

Reviewer: Patrick Downes

REVIEW: CLUB TROPICANA BY GEMMA TREHARNE-FOOSE

Club Tropicana 

Press Night: 13 Aug 

Wales Millennium Centre

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

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

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

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

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

So what then of Club Tropicana? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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


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Review: Patrick Downes