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I have a confession. Up until now, I’d disliked West Side Story. And it isn’t that I’ve not given it a chance. I purchased two separate cast recordings recently, but didn’t rate either. Also, I saw the 1961 film starring Natalie Wood and Richard Beymer, and was bored by that too. However, I couldn’t totally write it off until I’d seen it in a theatre, so I took the opportunity with The New Alexander Theatre’s Stage Experience.

The Stage Experience offers just that to youngsters aged 9 to 24 where they get to put on a show to a paying audience, all in two weeks. Two weeks! Wow! Those on stage came from all backgrounds. There were many who’d been in productions before, those who attend performing arts schools and academies, plus some treading the boards for the first time in their lives.

West Side Story – New Alexander Theatre, Birmingham – 25 August 2017

And what a show they gave.

As I say, I’m not a fan of West Side and that’s due to the original template. I find much of Arthur Laurents’ script poor and dated. And … puerile lyrics in some of the Bernstein/Sondheim songs.

When you’re a Jet, you’re a Jet all the way,” and “We’re gonna hand ’em a surprise, tonight. We’re gonna cut ’em down to size, tonight. Sounds lame this day and age.

To be honest, the show could do with a new book, bringing a fresh approach. This may shock traditionalists, but everything needs a revamp now and then. A fault with the book was I found little empathy with the main characters. The Sharks and Jets, as written, are pretty much … nobheads. Also, I had little fondness for Maria who sleeps with Tony knowing he has just killed her brother. And the whole gang thing. Maria says her parents would not approve, yet are happy for their offspring to belong to violent gangs.

Maria, it was an accident,” Tony says about killing Bernardo. No it bloody wasn’t! You stabbed him four times – twice in the back. Cue the daggers from those seated around me. I really must learn to shut my mouth at times.

So, how were a bunch of youngsters going to turn me in the case of a show I’d decided I was probably going to hate? Answer – by giving a fantastic performance with much energy.

Stand out numbers for me were Maria, America, Somewhere and Tonight – Pt 1, all done with superb voices and a great band. However, it was also the dance routines which made the show a hit. With a huge cast and great choreography, numbers like Dance at the Gym and the ballet sequence were amazing.

The leads were great and superbly playing Tony was Elliot Gooch, while Grace White as Maria was equally excellent. Also on the night, Riff was portrayed by Jordan Rickets, Bernardo (Javier Aguilera), Rosalie (Kathryn Irwin), Consuela (Melissa Huband), Action (Caven Rimmer), Snowboy (Charlie Howell) and Anybodys (Jasmine Bailey). The show was produced by Becky Charles with choreography and direction from Pollyanna Tanner, while the music was directed by Chris Newton.

I still dislike the show, but it proves one thing. You can make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.

West Side Story – New Alexander Theatre, Birmingham – 25 August 2017

Cheers.

Antony N Britt

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This was my second experience of Bournville Musical Theatre Company, having witnessed their concert, Through the Decades, last year. Therefore, I hoped I would also be well entertained with a full show at the prestigious Crescent Theatre.

The Pajama Game – The Crescent Theatre, Birmingham – 6 June 2017

The theatre itself is a fine setting, even if my seat, F2, did collapse as I sat on it, meaning I had to move forward to an empty one. But these things happen, especially to me, and I should expect it by now.

With music and lyrics by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross, The Pajama Game tells of the Sleep-Tite Factory and the workers’ fight  for a pay rise. The conflict plays out aside a love story between new factory superintendent, Sid Sorokin and the head of the grievance committee, Babe Williams, both acted superbly with powerful vocals from Steve Kendall and Rhian Clement.

Kicking off the show was a good overture by the band who shone all night, although I feel we could have done with some lighting on the house curtains to heighten anticipation of what was to come. Then, after a brief introduction and title song from character, Vernon Hines (the excellent, John Morrison), the company pulled audience attention further onto the stage with Racing with the Clock. In fact, it was the combination of chorus vocals and choreography in this number, plus Hernando’s Hideaway and especially Once a Year Day, which stood out. So much movement and background activity going on, there was no chance of getting bored. And boredom was never an option because in the words of time management obsessive, Hines; “Tempus fugit, tempus fugit.” Time literally did fly as before I knew it, the first act ended for a quick drink and an eager return to the auditorium for more of the same. Pajama Game is a fast-moving show which seems a lot shorter than it is. And that’s a great testament to the original script of George Abbott and Richard Bissell.

Other enjoyable numbers included, I’m Not at All in Love, I’ll Never Be Jealous Again, Her Is, Small Talk, Hey There and Seven and a Half Cents. I’d have to say, though, my favourite of the night was Think of the Time I’ll Save. Well written comedy mixed with good choreography.

There were further comedic scenes and many of my favourites involved the duo of Hines and Gladys, for whom Natalie Buzzard gave an outstanding performance as Gladys. My main love in a personal acting sense is when I create or interpret a character, and Natalie did just that, truly becoming Gladys.

Now I’ve mentioned dance, but special acclaim must go to showpiece number, Steam Heat. This was a routine which certainly raised the temperature in the auditorium, courtesy once more of Natalie Buzzard along with Sarah Sheppard, Peter Holmes, Helen Gauntlett, Sophie Wood, Kai Murai and Verity Smith.

I can’t list everybody involved but giving fantastic support to the leads were Kris Evans (Prez), Jill Hughes (Mabel), Karen Lane (Mae), Jonathan Eastwood (Hasler), Rebecca Lowe (Poopsie), Chloe Turner (Brenda), John Clay (Pop), Phil Snow (Max), Adam Slack (Charley), Phil Holloway (Joe), and an energetic ensemble.

The Pajama Game was well directed by Ann-Louise McGregor with stunning musical direction from Chris Corcoran and sublime choreography by Sadie Turner.

The main thing to note, the cast looked like they enjoyed it and it’s always a cert that if you can project that, the audience will have a fantastic time too. I know I did.

The Pajama Game – The Crescent Theatre, Birmingham – 6 June 2017

The Pajama Game is on at the Crescent Theatre, Birmingham until Saturday 10 June with tickets still available at this link.

Cheers.

Antony N Britt

Very honoured to have two of my poems in a new anthology compiled by chairman of the Walsall Poetry Society, Richard Archer.

Diverse Verse 2 is a collection of poetry from around the world with proceeds going to Cancer Research UK.

From the passionate to the philosophical, flippant to the fantastic, and everything in between.

Diverse Verse 2

Buy this fantastic collection now.

Find out more about the Walsall Poetry Society.

 

Cheers. 

Antony N Britt

When deciding to review this show, I was dreading what I might have to write. You see, never have I attended a show with so much favourable feedback as in the case of Billy Elliot. My God, everybody loved it, giving rave reviews. But what if it was another dud for me? That certainly happened with the Commitments.

No such fears. From the opening segment with The Stars Look Down, I was drawn into the stage. And this was no mean feat as I wasn’t in the best position to appreciate the view and acoustics back in Row T of the stalls.

With a book and lyrics by Lee Hall, plus music from Elton John, the show is based on the 2000 film of the same name. Billy Elliot tells of a 12-year-old boy set against the backdrop of the 1984 miners’ strike. Rather than attending boxing lessons, Billy stumbles into a ballet class and finds he has a love of the dance.

Now the writer in me first looks to the script, and this one was epic. Clever, natural dialogue which slaps you in the face when you least expect. Best line of the show. “Susan Parks, you look like a spastic starfish.” Oh yes, how I love blatant political incorrectness. And the music and dance was … fantastic. This is a show which truly ticked all the boxes.

Of the musical numbers, Shine stood out immediately. Then we had the spectacular of Solidarity with Billy and the Ballet girls amidst the conflict between miners and police. One, however, which really entertained was Expressing Yourself with the dancing dresses. At the start to Act Two, I can’t emphasise how much I loved Merry Christmas, Maggie Thatcher. Thatcher masks, puppets, and finally, a giant ogress nemesis of the 1980s miners. And my favourite song lyric. “Oh, my darling, oh, my darling, oh, my darling Heseltine. You’re a tosser, and a wanker, and you’re just a Tory swine.” Sung by children. Brilliant.

On the dance front, we were treated to an amazing segment of Swan Lake in which Billy dances with his older self. Electricity was as it says in the name – electric. Towards the end, we had the poignant farewells as the miners return to work and Billy says his goodbyes. Many a tear in the house. Then the finale topped off a great evening of spectacular choreography, voice and performance.

On the night, Billy was played by Haydn May with Amy Rhiannon Worth as Mrs Wilkinson. Dad was Martin Walsh, Tony (Scott Garnham), Grandma (Andrea Miller), Mr Braithwaite (Daniel Page), Michael (Elliot Stiff) and Debbie (Lilly Cadwallender).

Billy Elliot was directed by Stephen Daldry with choreography, Peter Darling and musical supervision from Martin Koch . The producer was Sally Green.

So, everybody else loved it, and as much as I enjoy being the dissenting voice, I can’t on this occasion. Billy Elliot was out of this world.

 

Cheers.

 

Antony N Britt

 

 

 

Antony N Britt

This May, Aldridge Musical Comedy Society (AMCS) make a welcome return to the Prince of Wales Theatre, Cannock for a magnificent celebration of fifty years as a society. The show is Fabulous at 50 and never has a title been so apt. Last year, AMCS put on two well-received productions of the highest standard in Thoroughly Modern Millie and Once Upon a Time. You can expect Fabulous at 50 to be no different.

Aldridge Musical Comedy Society (AMCS) Fabulous at 50 – Prince of Wales Theatre, Cannock – 18 to 20 May 2017

Great voices, breathtaking dance and good humour, Fabulous at 50 features numbers from Les Misérables, Oklahoma, All Shook Up, Oliver, Rent and many more. Direction for Fabulous at 50 is in the safe hands of Julie Lamb with choreography by Sarah Hemming and musical direction – Mark Bayliss. Julie, who is also chairperson of the society, spoke about the show, “I’m so proud to be celebrating the 50th anniversary of AMCS and feel very honoured to be directing such a talented group of people on this special occasion.”

Making a return to the stage is society president, Paula Garratt, who appeared in AMCS’ first ever production – Calamity Jane. “When I started with AMCS 50 years ago,” Paula said, “I never thought I would be lucky enough to join this great company on stage in celebration of those 50 years. I am very proud of everyone associated with the society.”

AMCS currently has a core of 30 members and are always on the lookout for more of all ages. Rehearsing in Aldridge every Wednesday, the society, in addition to two shows a year, also perform for charity functions and care homes.

Aldridge Musical Comedy Society (AMCS) Fabulous at 50 – Prince of Wales Theatre, Cannock – 18 to 20 May 2017 © Antony N Britt 2017

And the shows continue. With Smokey Joe’s Café (Nov 2017) and West Side Story (May 2018) already confirmed, the next fifty years is underway. But not until this current celebration is complete and from experience, AMCS guarantee the 50th anniversary show will be nothing less than Fabulous.

Fabulous at 50 is on 18 to 20 May 2017 (1930 start). Prince of Wales Theatre, Cannock.

Tickets available from AMCS (01543 480626) or Box Office (01543 578762).

Adults £12. Concession £10 and Under 16s £8.

Aldridge Musical Comedy Society (AMCS) Fabulous at 50 – Prince of Wales Theatre, Cannock – 18 to 20 May 2017

Cheers.

Antony N Britt

I’ll admit it now. I know nothing about dance, as my society’s choreographer will testify. I can’t tell a Cha Cha from a Paso Doble. Therefore, you may wonder how I can comment on and review a dance show? Well, there must be others out there like me, so what’s in a show like this for the uneducated? The answer – plenty of entertainment.

Brendan Cole: All Night Long – Birmingham Symphony Hall – 24 March 2017

So, an evening with Strictly Come Dancing’s, Brendan Cole. We had a spectacular opening of a Samba to the song which titled the show – All Night Long. Then followed the Cha Cha with Love Potion Number 9. I was initially worried that being on a stage and not a dance floor, someone might fall off, which then promptly happened when Mr Cole slid at the end of a number and ended in the lap of a woman in the front row. Mind you, I don’t think she minded.

And it wasn’t just Brendan Cole. He was superbly supported by five dancers who went it alone in such routines like I Can’t Stand the Rain, of which the ladies costumes were, ahem, interesting. Certainly had the few men in the audience captivated.

And that’s another thing. About 90% of the audience were women, and of the males I could see, all were older than me. Now, being the youngest man at a gig isn’t something which happens to me a lot these days, but I didn’t feel left out. A Rumba (Fields of Gold), Quickstep (Nine to Five) and Jive (Tell Her About It). All captivated as did the spectacular Argentine Tango to Skyfall.

In between some routines were non-dance songs from singers and the band, the singers being, Iain Mackenzie and Julie Maguire. Musical arrangements were overseen by pianist, Barry Robinson. The cast of dancers for the tour were: Faye Huddleston, Crystal Main, Matt Harris, Craig Jones, Victoria Burke, Sallyrose Beardall and Michael Johnson.

But it wasn’t all about dancing. On the night, we heard tales of the Strictly show with many of the anecdotes referring to politician, Ed Balls, the surprise novelty hit of the previous series. Also, expected quips about fellow dancer and friend of Cole, Anton Du Beke.

So how did the show satisfy an ignoramus? Well, I loved it, and apart from worrying about the women’s dresses igniting during the Paso Doble, my entertainment lasted all night long.

Brendan Cole: All Night Long – Birmingham Symphony Hall – 24 March 2017

Cheers.

Nick

I went into The Commitments blind. I’ve not seen the film, or read the book, so at least I could evaluate this show on its own merits. And, oh, how disappointed I was. However good the earlier incarnations are supposed to be, The Commitments does not translate well to stage.

The Commitments – The New Alexander Theatre, Birmingham – 15 March 2017

Straight from a lukewarm opener in Proud Mary which totally failed to make an impression, I was treated to a lacklustre Act One in which not a single number grabbed me. There was no flow or rhythm, and not only with the music. Too many characters diluted performances, giving no standout acting. Fast dialogue with little cohesion made the whole thing a mess. I like to be drawn into proceedings, feel as though I’m on stage and part of the wonderful theatre process. Not with The Commitments.

And Act Two was little better. After an hour of a first half which dragged, there were at least a few performances to make me sit up and take note now. But not many. (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction was the first to make me really want to applaud, as was the case with Papa Was a Rolling Stone. These instances, however, were too few during the show.

I think the main issue was the flawed script which production had to work with. The book written by original author, Roddy Doyle, is poor with characters lacking anything which would make me want to warm to them. Basically, I didn’t care about any and even in the case of the unlikable, that’s criminal in writing, to have gained no empathy. Also, little use of choreography meant there weren’t any plus points to be salvaged in that department, either.

Only when we reached the encore/finale did the talents of those on stage have a chance to shine once free from the bindings of the awful script. However, Mustang Sally and best of the night – River Deep, Mountain High were too little, too late. Many of the audience were fed up by then and there was nothing to be salvaged. Even the premier number, Try a Little Tenderness, didn’t live up to expectations. Asked to get to their feet with hands in the air, roughly 30% of the audience obliged, when it should have been everybody.

Playing the part of Deco on this occasion was Ben Morris with Andrew Linnie (Jimmy), and former Coronation Street star, Kevin Kennedy as Jimmy’s Da. It was a shame for Kennedy to have such an underused and irrelevant role, his only purpose seeming to be to shout, “Turn that shite off,” every now and again. I wish they had turned it off.

Supporting were: John Curran (Billy/Dave), Padraig Dooney (Dean), Sam Fordham (Mickah), Christian James (Outspan), Alex McMorran (Joey the Lips), Peter Mooney (Derek), Amy Penston (Natalie), Leah Penston (Imelda), Christina Tedders (Bernie) and Rhys Whitfield (James).

The Commitments was directed and choreographed by Caroline Jay Ranger with musical direction – Alan Williams.

I did feel for the cast, as I’m sure on another day, their talents will shine. But not in The Commitments.

The Commitments – The New Alexander Theatre, Birmingham – 15 March 2017

Cheers.

Nick

The Facebook page said it all. One man performing songs from West End and Broadway Musicals. So, did Richard Beckett (our one man) pull off a success?

One Man Musical – Pelsall Community Centre – 10 March 2017

Straight into West Side Story’s Somewhere, we were taken on a journey through the breadth and depth of musical magic. A great tenor voice, delivered with power and charisma, had the audience captivated. From the powerful (Anthem) to the poignant (Empty Chairs at Empty Tables) to the downright lively (Footloose), Richard showed his versatility. And an enthusiastic audience was on hand to lap up the atmosphere as hit after hit sounded from the stage. Many of the songs I have heard in shows over the past couple of years were here, and it was enjoyable to relive those moments reproduced so well.

Richard Beckett One Man Musical – Pelsall Community Centre – 10 March 2017

On the night, Richard got the crowd going and inspired many to sing along to Sandy while getting on their feet to dance to numbers such as Move It. Heck, I’d have done so myself if I’d thought to wear my knee supports.

Personal favourites for me were Stars and Can’t Help Falling in Love, while finishing the show was This is the Moment. Yes, I can honestly say Richard Beckett pulled off the One Man Musical, and truly, this was his moment.

Richard Beckett One Man Musical – Pelsall Community Centre – 10 March

But that wasn’t all on the night and not quite one man as opening in support was the incredibly talented Katie Teitge. With charisma and humour, Katie also offered a variety of songs from musicals and beyond.

Katie Teitge One Man Musical – Pelsall Community Centre – 10 March

Beginning with I Don’t Know How to Love Him and the incredible On My Own, we also had Defying Gravity, I Dreamed a Dream and – the entertainment didn’t stop. With You, from Ghost, a song I’d not heard before, was also exceptional. Liekwise (and this is where my fondness for the humorous comes in), I absolutely loved The Alto’s Lament and The Girl from 14G. I’d not heard ‘Alto’s’ for years, and never sung live, while neither in the case of 14G, but I’ve been You-Tubing them ever since. That itself tells you the impact of the performance.

Between sets, Richard and Katie duetted with Last Night of the World from Miss Saigon to top off a fabulous evening. Here’s to many more from both.

Listen to Richard Beckett on Soundcloud

Watch Katie Teitge on YouTube

Cheers.

Nick

This show is personal to me because less than 12 months ago, I performed in Thoroughly Modern Millie with my own local theatre company. So how did the professionals measure up?

Well, the first thing to note was looking at the programme, I saw one of the Chinese duo was being played by someone from Hong Kong. Now having spent six months learning lines in Mandarin, I reckon that was cheating.

I jest. The show was great. Straight from the off we had vibrant energy and good fun.

Thoroughly Modern Millie – New Alexander Theatre – 13 February 2017

Playing the part of Millie Dillmount was Strictly Come Dancing’s, Joanne Clifton. What can I say? Well performed with good vocals and fantastic dance. Nothing, though, that I wouldn’t expect from one who had just partnered the winner in the recent series.

The other billed star was soap actress, Michelle Collins, who played the villainess, Mrs Meers. Now I do actually like Ms Collins, but I wasn’t particularly wowed on this occasion. There was a lack of character and not enough differentiation between the American accent (which wasn’t convincing to start with) and the fake Chinese. It seems a regular downside for me, seeing the big name stars not living up to the hype. She was still good, but not up there with others in the show, particularly Katherine Glover as Miss Dorothy,

There was excellent direction and choreography on the night, but I’d anticipated this when learning Racky Plews was at the helm. This is the third Plews outing for me in a year and all have been of a high standard. Amazing for me, also, was how good a sound was produced by only having a seven-piece band under the direction of Rob Wicks. Overseeing everything was Executive Producer, David King.

Also on stage for the tour are: Sam Barrett (Jimmy Smith), Jenny Fitzpatrick (Muzzy Van Hossmere), Damian Buhagiar (Ching Ho), Andy Yau (Bun Foo), Catherine Mort (Miss Flannery) and Graham MacDuff (Trevor Graydon III). The latter stole a good part of Act Two and it’s amazing how a drunk scene can do this.

It’s hard to pick a stand out number as I am so familiar with all of them. Therefore, I’ll simply say, Gimme Gimme, Speed Test, Forget About the Boy, and all the rest were top quality, too.

Couple of niggles. No Mamma appearance at the end, and Muqin could have been more OTT.

Still, a great night out, and plenty of goosebumps reliving my own experience of last May. So did the pros do it justice? Certainly, in my opinion.

 

Cheers.

 

Nick

Where do I start with Green Day? One of my favourite bands who I have seen three times previous. And from a hundred or so gigs over the years, those rate as the best. So how would this one cope with the challenge to make it four out of four by the same?

Green Day – First Direct Arena, Leeds – 5 February 2017 © Antony N Britt 2017

Well, from the moment the crowd sang along to Bohemian Rhapsody, then Drunk Bunny ambled onto stage to Blitzkrieg Bop, the excitement heightened. Not that you need to be warmed up for the arrival of Green Day because as soon as Billie-Joe Armstrong runs out and shouts, “Everybody stand up,” a 13,000 audience stands. He says, wave your hands, everybody duly obeys. And not just obey, give themselves freely to this Svengali who also convinces males and females of all ages to stage dive, much to the better judgement of some.

Then we were off. Straight into Know Your Enemy, Bang Bang, Revolution Radio and Holiday. Yes, we had the expected the anti-Trump comments, but also with a message that we were to have no negativity, but joy, love and passion.

Playing half of the recent Revolution Radio album alongside a full back catalogue, Green Day showed not only are they at the top of their game, they never went away.

Of recent songs, my personal favourites were Still Breathing and Youngblood. Then we had the old: Basket Case, Hitchin’ a Ride, Letterbomb, Waiting and She. Of course, there was the obligatory live rendition of King for a Day/Shout, of which no Green Day show should be without. Also well represented was American Idiot with several tracks including the title number and Jesus of Suburbia in the encore.

And what can I say about audience participation. The usual conscript lead vocals on Longview, plus a young girl singing on stage to Know Your Enemy. The biggest wow moment came, though when a young boy was invited to play a few chords alongside the band and was told by Mr Armstrong, “You can keep the guitar.”

So, was this performance up with the rest? Yes, I can honestly say that about a crew who I consider to be the best live band ever.

Green Day – First Direct Arena, Leeds – 5 February 2017

Cheers.

Nick