Tag Archives: Venue Cymru

Review: Jesus Christ Superstar by Richard Evans

Venue Cymru, Llandudno July 1st – 6th 2024 and touring

 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

David Ian for Crossroads and Work Light Productions with Nederlander Producing Co. UK with Michael Watt presenting the Regents Park Open Air Theatre Production

Lyrics by Tim Rice and Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber

What’s the fuss? Tell me what is happening.  

Telling the story of the last week of the life of Jesus through the eyes of Judas was an original, imaginative idea when this musical was first produced in the early 1970’s.  Would this staging of Regents Park Open Air Theatre’s revival recapture that early promise?  Owing to the nature of this story, this would be a near certainty.  To recreate the crucifixion of Jesus on stage, if done well, can not fail to be dramatic and this production adds plenty of imagination to this already thought provoking musical. 

The cast attacked this story with elan, Luke Street who played Judas in this performance was suitably moody and filled with angst.  The moment when he took the payment for his betrayal was done very well.  Ian McIntosh as Jesus grew into his role and provided some stand out moments especially as he was praying in the Garden of Gethsemane shortly before his arrest.  Strangely though, Jesus is portrayed as a vulnerable man who is struggling to come to terms with his fate throughout the play.  However, aside from his episode in Gethsemane, Jesus was in control and walked knowingly towards his fate, scathing to those who attempted to deflect him.  

The choreography was well planned, purposeful and added to the drama.  The set put the cross at the centre of the production, although it was odd that the chief priests walked on an instrument of torture that in Biblical times was a symbol of being cursed.  They would have been ritually pure therefore would never knowingly touch such an instrument of death.

The musical is stuck in a time warp to some extent, the music and lyrics resonant of the early 1970’s and since then some of the stories concerning Jesus are less well known.  It would help to have a good working knowledge of these biblical events.  However, it was great to hear this score once again as some of the songs have become favourites for many.  Hannah Richardsons rendition of ‘I don’t know how to love him’ and ‘Everything’s alright’ were beautiful.   

It is easy to see the play is not without its problems including the logical flaw in its premise.  Telling the story through Judas’ eyes is an intriguing idea, but of course, he was not around to see the crucifixion having already killed himself.  He is the side story.  The power in this story is not the actions of Judas, but what happened to Jesus.  Even then, crucifixion in itself is not significant.  It  is just another, particularly grisly form of execution.  One Roman commander crucified 500 people in one day.  He would have killed more but ran out of wood.  It is the death of Jesus that is significant and it is what happened to, and about Jesus after his death that makes this any story at all.  To give Judas a sort of equal billing as Jesus after their death, sitting down together in the afterlife as the last scene depicted seems very strange.  

However, we should not let factual relevance get in the way of a good story and this remains a striking piece of theatre that brings more awareness of the death of Jesus to the general public.  While it may not be doctrinally sound to those who profess faith, it avoids being offensive as some other plays or films have been.  The first time I saw the play if became a memorable experience.  This too will stay in the memory for a while.

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 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 Rock of Ages, Venue Cymru by Richard Evans

Venue Cymru, May 2 – 6 2023

A DLAP Group and In Fine Company Production

 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Rock of Ages, fit for the stone age or a timeless classic? 

The 1980’s is an ideal setting for a jukebox musical.  For many it is the heyday of glam metal bands, Styx, Journey and Bon Jovi among others and you can take your pick from any number of power ballads.  Would this musical be an excuse for an extended playlist of Metal’s favourite songs or would it have some substance to the story?  

It is the storyline that could be a problem. Many in this genre of theatre are fairly artificial and predictable and at first glance Rock of Ages falls into this trap.  There are two starlets seeking to make it on Los Angeles’ famous strip who meet and fall in love.  In their ups and downs they confront the reality of a rockstar lifestyle and the fate of many young hopefuls who tried to succeed only to see their hopes dashed.  

There is however, more to this musical than that.  The first act felt stereotypical, but the second blossomed into an unexpected parody.  It delighted in poking fun at the characters and breaking expectations.  My favourite was where the business tycoon revealed a secret dream of designing formal wear for pets.  At times it developed into farce, the aging rocker retiring and opening a llama farm in Mexico where he would teach the llamas to swallow and not spit.  

 One welcome aspect of the performance was the willingness to break down the fourth wall and relate directly to the audience.  Most prominent in this was Kevin Kennedy as Dennis Dupree, a rocker turned sound engineer who narrated the play and sought to turn at least one member of the audience into a groupie.  This added to the most welcome comic touch in the second act.

This farewell (at least for the moment) tour is a consummate production as you would expect having come from the West End.  The set is dazzling, the choreography energetic and complimented the action really well rather than being an annoying interlude.  Pride of place goes to the three piece band who, as well as being fittingly loud, were excellent with plenty of screaming guitar solos and thunderous drum rhythms.  To criticise, at times the loudness of the music and the quick pace of the production drowned out the dialogue and lyrics in the songs.  This made the production, especially in the first act hard to follow.  

Would this musical warrant a comeback tour?  Some of the songs were great to hear again and it is good to see a production laugh at its own topic matter.   It would also suit the rock scene, where it is not unknown for bands to break up and reform several times, so such a prospect should be welcomed.  Going by the strength of the standing ovation at the end, this audience would enjoy a return to the stage in the near future. 

Review, The King and I – Venue Cymru by Richard Evans

Venue Cymru, March 7th to 11th 2023

Rodgers & Hammerstein, based on Margaret Landon’s book Anna and the King

Howard Panter for Trafalgar Theater Productions

 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)

“How will I know when I know everything?” “When you are King!”

This faithful production of The King and I portrays the unexpected love story between the King of Siam and a schoolteacher really well. It also draws out a series of dilemmas thrown up by a remarkable passage in history, not least the problem of how one inherits omniscience!

At its heart it is the story of two people, the King and Anna, but like much of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s work, the apparently light musical romance is rooted in political change.

For generations, each king of Siam had ultimate power within his protectorate, but the current king is now struggling to reconcile ancient rights with modern progress and the pernicious influence of western colonialism. The king is seen as barbaric, even though the show is set at the same time as the American Civil War, and only shortly after the Indian Mutiny. 

In fact this king is an educated, intelligent man trying hard to balance his autocratic power with a more considerate, conscience-driven approach.  

Opposite him is Anna, an intrepid, forthright widow employed as a teacher to the king’s children – all 67 of them. She arrives in Bangkok accompanied only by her young son, having never lived outside the British Empire. The culture shock in itself would be extreme. 

While others say what they think the king wants to hear, Anna  speaks her mind, becoming a “difficult woman” in the process. Her arrival throws up a number of clashes of culture, attitude and morality, some of which become humorous. Why did Western, Victorian women wear dresses with hoops ten feet wide?  I have no idea.  It is slightly ironic that I viewed this production on International Women’s Day, which seeks to raise the status of women worldwide today. Anna repeatedly asserts her right to be treated with dignity and equality, yet the king sees the role of a woman as merely to serve a man.  

There is therefore much to take from this story. Helen George and Darren Lee are excellent as the leads and are ably-supported by the cast, in particular the children. The score has a number of well-loved tunes, and Marienella Phillips showed her operatic voice to good effect as Tuptim, the chief narrator, a slave girl with an education and attitude.  The choice of Uncle Tom’ Cabin as a showpiece play for western visitors is a definite dig by R & H at US society.  

But there is a problem with this show in the present age: what was vital, bold and brilliant in 1951 lacks the intensity and grittiness that has become today’s standard. It has become a period piece. Some of the songs are very much of their time, and rather twee. 

But this criticism nonetheless admits the show’s classic status; it’s a rattling good story. The score may seem dated to some, but others will recognise their enduring appeal. The audience, of course, lapped it up from curtain-up and offered a sincere ovation at the end. For all its age and increasing creakiness, no one can deny its star quality.    

Review Sister Act, Venue Cymru by Richard Evans

Venue Cymru, February 13th to 18th 2023

Directed by Bill Buckhurst, book by Cheri Steinkellner and Bill Steinkellner, additional book material, Douglas Carter Beane

Produced by Jamie Wilson productions, Kevin McCollum, Gavin Kalin, Robbie Wilson and Curve

Music by Alan Mencken, Lyrics, Glenn Slater 

 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

“This is a house of worship” “But this could be bigger than Broadway!  Bigger than Vegas!”

The premise behind Sister Act is great: a nightclub singer and gangsters moll on the run after witnessing a murder finds sanctuary in a convent and turns good while transforming their choir from a discordant mess to angelic sweetness. There is plenty of room for farce and slapstick in here and a thrilling ending to go with it.  

There are some excellent parts to this production, especially the singing, as you may expect from Sandra Marvin as Deloris, Lizzie Bea as Sister Mary Robert and more surprisingly from Clive Rowe  as Steady Eddy who stole the show a couple of times.  There is a nice line in humour and some great costuming and choreography.  The set is imaginative and the change from nightclub to convent to police station and back again is slick.  Leslie Joseph is both assertive as she dictates what she expects of the order yet vulnerable as she sees firstly her church community and then the sacred traditions threatened by modernity and the whirlwind that is Deloris. 

As this play is based on the 1992 film of the same name, there are some tough acts to follow. Does this play manage to recapture the appeal of the film?  I have heard some people bemoan the fact that the music is totally different, but this underestimates the quality of the songfest here.  

However, from memory, one thing the film did well was get a good balance between respect and parody.  Like all institutions, the church should be open to being satirised but they are entitled to be represented fairly as well.  I am not sure the play does this as successfully as the film. I was not convinced with a lyric from the mother superior that questioned whether God existed.  In addition, the lyric where the young novice expressed the desire to choose rather than to obey misses the point which is that the monastic life is one where you chose to obey.  In both these examples the musical seems to underestimate the power and depth of personal devotion.  

The limited scope of the stage compared to the film set also precluded the emphasis on service to the community which was a major feature in the original and is something that any faith community should seek to do.  However, there was a willingness to debate the relative merits of a materialistic and spiritual lifestyle and plenty of respect was paid to those who have taken the vows of a nun.  Whenever a play has some gentle moralising, it is important to get these social issues comments correct.  

However, such criticism is perhaps unfair on a production that is primarily a musical show with a happy ending.  In this light, the play is highly successful.  All in all, this was a good nights entertainment and was warmly appreciated by the sell out crowd. 

Review of Waitress, Venue Cymru, by Richard Evans

Book by Jessie Nelson, based on the motion picture written by Adrienne Shelly

Directed by Diane Paulus

Produced by Barry and Fran Weissler, David Ian for Crossroads Live UK

 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Waitress – was this afternoon tea with champagne at the Ritz or a slow morning at Sloppy Joe’s café?

Diane Paulus’ feel-good optimistic musical kept me engaged for the whole evening being consummately acted with excellent choreography and set design.  The leads, Jenna (Chelsea Halfpenny), Becky (Wendy Mae Brown) and Dawn (Evelyn Hoskins) had great chemistry and while they all sang well, Wendy Mae Brown’s was the stand out, powerful voice.  The score added plenty of phase and change to proceedings and the seamless transition from one set to another with well-timed choreography was dizzyingly effective.

When the play was first produced on Broadway in 2016, it had, most unusually, an all-female creative team and the nature of the story has an agenda to suit.  It tells the story of Jenna, a waitress who is a talented pie maker.  She is trapped in small-town America in an abusive relationship with little prospect for betterment.  She becomes pregnant and is seemingly destined to experience the perpetuation of the line of chauvinistic, misogynistic relationships that have oppressed women down through the ages.  Like mother, like daughter.  Then she meets her gynaecologist (David Hunter) and is able to sample what life could have been but she is caught in a tryst that can only bring danger to her and the baby in the future. 

Her saving grace is the supportive network in her place of work, in particular her best friends, Becky and Dawn and the owner of the diner, Joe.  In viewing the friendship of the three women we are invited to view that sometimes hidden expression of femininity including their sexuality, compassion and ambition.  They may live in an oppressive society, but they can experience fullness of life despite their circumstance.  

The male figures do not come out of this play covered in glory.  Some are thoughtful and considerate but they are more often self-indulgent and unappreciative of their partner.  Is it wrong to feel sorry for Earl, the husband of Jenna?  No, not really.  Any abusive, coercive person deserves our condemnation, but he too is a victim of this oppressive society, losing a dead-end job with no hope of change and yet possessive in his love for his wife who then walks out on him on the birth of their first child.  From her perspective he deserves this but he also needs a much better way in life.  If society is to change for the better, it should educate and improve all people.      

Does this setting have much relevance to Britain today?  I believe it does.  We have had nearly 50 years of equal opportunities legislation and it is clear that there is more opportunity for women than there has been in the past.  However, it is also evident that gender bias is still deep rooted and profound and there is much work to be done to give equality of opportunity. 

While this is a fun night out with plenty to satisfy those that love this story, this is a layered play giving much food for thought.  There was evidence in the audience of the cult following this story attracts which is highly understandable as there is much to identify with in both the play and the characters within. Maybe this is not champagne tea at the Ritz and it is definitely not a slow morning at Sloppy Joe’s.  It is more like a good night out at your local.  

Review Sister Act – Venue Cymru by Karis Clarke

 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)
Click on the link below to listen to an audio review of this production by Karis Clarke.
This was my first outing to Venue Cymru and I wasn’t disappointed. Set on the stunning North Wales coastline the venue was alive with activity.  The atmosphere was light and expectation high as several audience members dashed around in habits!
Sister Act is the musical comedy based on the movie starring Whoopi Goldberg, and, unless you were living in a convent yourself back in 1992,  it is highly unlikely you don’t have some knowledge of the film. (It’s popularity has ensured a regular repeats on TV at least once a year since circa 1995).
The stage version, unlike the film is set in the diva disco era of the 70’s and features original music from  ALAN MENKEN,  and the general feel of the show has  Mowtown vibe that is more than fitting to the outstanding vocal talents of  the lead.
Alexandra Burke in a scene from Sister Act
But it’s not all about the star in this show.  Deloris Van Cartier is a fantastic character full of witty one liners, side ways glances and comical physicality that Alexander Burke pulls off admirably. However the ensemble made the show for me. The combined talents of the supporting cast were superior. Acting, singing dancing and playing a variety of musical instruments on set allowed for a fluidity which you can sometimes loose with  larger productions. However this cast owned the stage, literally, they knew every inch.  Their management of the stage movement is a credit to Revel Horwood’s direction.  The scene changes were flawless and were choreographed to perfection.
Credit should also be given to the set design, the main stay an impressive church interior yet with the cleaver use of lighting and props  it easily faded into the background and made the transition between church,  nightclub, street, police station and back to church with very little effort.
The musicality was, as one of the songs repeats, ‘Fab -U- Lous  Baby,’ unfortunately this was also a slight disappointment for me as none of the songs from the movie were featured. So although the end of the play saw the majority of the full house clapping and on their feet I am sure if “I will follow him” had been played the roof would have lifted. However the original score was witty, befitting and more than enjoyable.  It’s easy to see how Alan Menken has Oscars under his belt.
Stand out moments of the show were any time the “gangsters” featured. (They stole the show a little bit from the nuns).  …..Joe Vetch (playing Eddie the sweaty police officer who saves the day) singing “I could be that guy ……Sister Mary Robert played by Alice Stokoe, who had a stunning voice singing a very Disney esq type song called “The Life I Never Had”…….. and the scene when the Sisters stand together for Deloris.
All in all there was nothing not to like, the show delivered everything thing it promised. One particular moment I found touching was on the final bow Alexandra Burke broke the fourth wall and you saw her thank the audience.  She genuinely seemed to appreciate the standing ovation they received and this shone through as she skipped off stage laughing with co cast not as Deloris but as herself and within those few seconds, in my eyes I saw  true star quality.
So unless you have lead in your feet and no soul in your heart I defy you not to enjoy this 4 stars production. Unfortunately for North Wales the runs ends on May 27th but you can still catch performances around the UK up until the 3rd September check www.sisteractuktour.co.uk for more details.
Starring ALEXANDRA BURKE and Directed and choreographed by Strictly CRAIG REVEL HORWOOD, Set and Costume MATTHEW WRIGHT (based on TheTouchtone Motion Picture “Sister Act”)