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Over the past couple of years I’ve tasted a variety of musical theatre companies and looked forward to Throroughly Modern Millie at The Core Theatre, Solihull. I’d not seen anything by St Alphege Musical Productions Society (STAMPS) before, so didn’t know what to expect.

Thoroughly Modern Millie – The Core Theatre, Solihull – 5 November 2016

So how were they? Well, the beginning was low key and failed to grab my interest. It needed to be spectacular, but wasn’t. Then came a further disappointment in the characterisation of Ching Ho and Bun Foo. These guys are a comic duo, but hardly raised a laugh, not to mention some of the pronunciation being a bit dodgy. However, the subtitles worked well.

On the plus side, Becky Willetts as Millie gave a good performance and both Miss Dorothy, played by Lucy Clarke and Trevor Graydon (Kris Evans) were excellent. Also, the character of Jimmy Smith played by Jack Walsh was likewise good, but I would expect nothing less from a former student of BOA.

Now I do know the show well and will say, it wasn’t bad, it just didn’t wow me. Good, but not dynamic, and I found concentration waning towards the end of Act One, which is criminal as Millie is funny and engaging. This was illustrated by the fact that on the night, I heard little more than general applause much of the time.

Stand out songs for me were Speed Test and Falling in Love. We also had good choreography in some numbers, but little in others, particularly Muquin. There were also lost opportunities for jokes. For instance, failing to capitalise on the George Gershwin, Rhapsody in Blue gag, and it made me wonder if direction really understood the script.

Also giving good performances on the night were Fran Foster (Muzzy Van Hossmere), Rosie Asher (Mrs Meers) and Kim Bradshaw (Miss Flannery).

Musical direction came from Phil Ypres-Smith with Viv Morrison as director and choreographer.

A decent enough offering, but a lost opportunity after what must have been many months hard work.

Cheers.

 

Nick

The Witches of Eastwick was my first experience of Trinity Musical Theatre Company. In fact, it was everybody’s as the company had recently been reborn from being a Gilbert and Sullivan Operatic Society to reflect more modern trends. So how did they fare?

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Well, I saw Witches of Eastwick in February performed by Year 13 students of Birmingham Ormiston Academy. Now some might class that as a school performance, but such was the excellence of young talent that day, I knew Trinity would have a lot to live up to.

Now the first thing I encountered in the show were glaring lights from the stage in the overture, shining onto the audience and I must admit, I had spots in front of my eyes for five minutes. However, it was a minor negative and from the opening number of Eastwick Knows, superbly introduced by Freya Poulton as Little Girl, I was reminded why Witches is one of my favourite musicals.

Good performances by the three, particularly in Make Him Mine and I Wish I May were all I would expect of a Professional Amateur Theatre Company. Playing Alex was Maggie Page with Phaedra Brickwood as Jane and Beth Berwick Lowe (Sukie). Each produced the power the roles needed, fully exceeding my expectations.

Then we had Mitch Bastable as Darryl Van Horn. A truly great role and Mitch did it justice. Enigmatic, great mannerisms; he was so Darryl Van Horn.

Supporting well were Tina Stephenson playing Felicia Gabriel, Pat Lewis (Clyde), Emily Fisher (Jennifer), David Ball (Michael) and Adam Dolan (Fidel).

It’s interesting seeing different productions. In February, the best chorus number was Dirty Laundry, which although good on this occasion, was outshone by Dance with the Devil. It’s a shame Loose Ends was omitted as was the case with the shorter version of Something, but it didn’t detract from my enjoyment.

Again, comparing to my earlier experience of the show, this time I got the full adult version, doing things maybe Year 13 students couldn’t. All in all, a great experience once more which hasn’t lessened my hankering to see the show again.

Witches of Eastwick was produced and directed by Ashely-Miles Wilkes, choreographed by Emilie Walters with musical direction from Karl Babarczi.

After 8o years as a G&S Operatic Society, I’d say Trinity made the transition into musical theatre with success, and long may it continue where I am sure I will be in attendance.

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Cheers.

 

Nick

I was recently privileged to witness a journey through the years, courtesy of Bournville Musical Theatre Company. And Through the Decades was just that. A showcase of not only several eras in pop, rock and musical theatre, but also an example of how music has evolved during those times.

Through the Decades – The Austin Social Club – 16 October 2016

This was my first experience of the Bournville company and I was not disappointed.

From the opening rock and roll of the 1950s, I found myself captivated, tapping away and singing along (and not always silent, I may add) to the numbers performed on stage.

Good use of a three-piece band: Keyboard, drums and bass, provided all the sound needed. Combine that with great singing, dance and characterisation, you had a fabulous show before you.

Each section was introduced by a video consisting of films representing the relevant decade before launching into their opening number.

Of the songs, themselves, I’d have too long a list if I named all I enjoyed. Therefore, I’ll have to rely on the first which spring to memory.

A mix together of You’re my World and All I See is You were exceptional as was the case with the harmonies of Mr Sandman. For the 70s we had a Grease set of which Hopelessly Devoted to You, shone. Act One ended with a company number of Bohemian Rhapsody, and it shows you’re good if you pull that one off.

Into Act Two and a song from one of my favourite musicals in One Day More (Les Miserables). It was then I found myself further surprised. You see, I consider myself more a rock person. However, I was completely drawn in by fabulous performances of Total Eclipse of the Heart, She’s the One and Torn (one of my favourites of the night). Then we had Bournville’s very own Spice Girls. Now come on, I’ve said I’m into rock, and I’ve never taken any notice of the Spice Girls. But I liked these ones.

Probably, for me, the most powerful number was a combination of the Adele songs, Turning Tables and Rolling in the Deep. And that’s where I come back to what I said at the start. Whereas my eras are more late 70s to early 80s, it’s interesting to see how much music has evolved since the 1950s. Despite not being my type of music, there seems to be greater depth and complexity about more recent offerings. I guess we’re always discovering techniques that it’s inevitable a new generation will improve. And that’s a good thing. I enjoy the past, but don’t want to live it again.

Rounding off the show were two numbers from School of Rock. Great. A bit of rock. I’d not heard these songs before but having done so courtesy of Bournville Musical Theatre Company, I went online and ordered the original cast recording CD the next day. And I’ll probably be making a trip to the West End, too.

So well done to all, especially Rachel Fox (Producer), Chris Corcoran (Musical Direction), and Kris Evans, Helen Gauntlett, Karen Lane, Chloe Turner, Sadie Turner (Choreography).

At the start of Act One, we had a preview of the companies next show, The Pajama Game. On this performance, it will be well worth going to see.

Through the Decades – The Austin Social Club – 16 October 2016

Cheers

Nick

So how do I go about reviewing a show that’s run for thirty years? Well, most I write up are local to me, therefore, I thought I’d concentrate on the difference between these and the West End.

Les Miserables – The Queen’s Theatre, London – 1 October 2016 © Antony N Britt

How did they compare? Well, shows I’ve seen at Birmingham’s Hippodrome and Alexander Theatre, etc, have all been excellent. However, whether or not it was the occasion, or the fact I saw Les Miserables in its actual home, there seemed to be a little extra magic. Yes, I can say I lived the dream.

Les Miserables – The Queen’s Theatre, London – 1 October 2016 © Antony N Britt

The first thing to notice is the intenseness of the Queen’s Theatre auditorium. This helps somewhat to draw you into proceedings, making you feel every emotion as if you are part of the show. I’ve heard the soundtrack too many times to count so from the moment Look Down began, I was hooked.

A set changing like a 3D jigsaw included an impressive barricade, complimented by a revolving stage which heightened the motion before you.

As for the show itself, there were polished performances both on stage and from the orchestra. And I guess there may have been greater impact for my viewing than I’d have seen on a tour. Then again, they’ve had a few years to perfect this at The Queen’s.

By far the best number for me was Stars in which Jeremy Secomb as Javert was excellent. Also delivering a fine performance was Peter Lockyer as Valjean. However, my favourite has always been Eponine as I’m captured by the tragedy and hopelessness her character represents. On this occasion, Eva Noblezada did the part total justice. One My Own was powerful, although I was slightly disappointed with A Little Fall of Rain as I felt the musical arrangement lacked the feeling the song should have had. Other stand out numbers included One More Day, Lovely Ladies and Empty Chairs at Empty Tables, the latter of which had the poignant appearance of the dead behind Marius, this performance, played by Felix Mosse.

David Langham and Katy Secombe added comic relief at times as Thenardier and Madame T. Other cast included Sophie Reeves (Fantine), Zoe Doano (Cosette) and Chris Cowley (Enjolras).

The only down I’d put on the show are certain lines of dialogue. And it’s not really a criticism, more a niggle. There are far too many mentions of God’s will and generally being grateful to God for everything. Quite frankly, I don’t reckon the world’s number one imaginary friend cares much for his subjects portrayed on stage. But as I say, that’s just a personal observation from the atheist in the audience.

On the day, time flew and the cast received a well earned standing ovation at the end. And I have to say, I’m delighted to have been witness to a little magic.

Les Miserables – The Queen’s Theatre, London – 1 October 2016

Cheers.


Nick

 

Have you ever wondered what would happen if happy endings were reversed and heroes suffered while the wicked reigned supreme? Well, Aldridge Musical Comedy Society (AMCS) have the answer with a hilarious return to the world of panto in Once Upon a Time. Here we see the fairytale good guys pitting their wits in order to defeat familiar arch nemesis’ yet again.

Next year, AMCS will celebrate 50 years as a society and have been performing quality productions throughout that time. Once Upon a Time will be no exception.

With an original script by Mark Nicholls (whose 2010 production of Dick Whittington won a NODA award for best pantomime), the show features song after song which will have you singing all the way to Neverland. Great voices, exceptional acting and brilliant dance. Numbers include: Toxic, Let it Go, Somebody to Love, You Can’t Stop the Beat, Uptown Funk and a marvellous rendition of Cell Block Spell Block Tango.

In addition to the direction of Mark Nicholls, Once Upon a Time features music arranged by Mark Baylis, choreography from Sarah Hemming and costumes, Sarah Carter.

Once Upon a Time is on at the Great Wyrley High School Theatre: Thursday 10, Friday 11 and Saturday 12 November (1930 start) with additional matinee on Saturday 12 November (1430 start).

Great value and entertainment for all the family. Tickets are £13/Adults, £11/Concessions, £7/Children with a Family Ticket (2+2)/£35. Tickets available by calling 01543 480626 or 07794 539271.

So come along and meet Cinderella, Prince Charming, Aladdin, Mad Hatter, Sleeping Beauty, Belle and many more defeat the combined might of Jaffar, Evil Queen, Maleficent, Ursula, Gaston and the Queen of Hearts. Plus, a little comic collaboration along the way from Captain Hook, Smee and the Ugly Sisters.

Has anyone ever read you a fairytale
and taken you to places, magical.
Where homes are made of gingerbread
and skies are always blue.
Where pumpkins turn to coaches
and wishes all come true.

Once Upon a Time (The Panto) – Great Wyrley High School Theatre – 10 to 12 November 2016

Cheers.


Nick

* Once Upon a Time Lyrics – Mark Schoenfeld & Barri McPherson

Reading this, you’ll probably think I hated Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. But you’d be wrong. I guess the problem I had was high expectations as this is one of my favourite childhood films. Another complication is that this year I have seen a large amount of productions, some of which have been out of this world. Therefore, the benchmark had been set.

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang – Birmingham Hippodrome – 11 September 2016

My initial impression was that the set was a little dull. Seeing Mary Poppins earlier this year explode into a myriad of colours, I was hoping for something of the same. Not so, unfortunately. Then there was the actual performance of the lead roles. I found delivery of lines to be stilted and have to say, I was disappointed with Lee Mead as Caractacus Potts. Although an excellent singer, his acting, at times, was wooden. Similarly, Phil Jupitus (Baron Bomburst) and Claire Sweeny (Baroness Bomburst) were nothing to shout about, seeming to go through the motions. So much for the big names in the production. Of the billed principals, only Carrie Hope Fletcher gave a five star performance as Truly Scrumptious.

I will say, on the other hand, Henry Kent and Lucy Sherman as Jeremy and Jemima were both excellent, the latter showing a strong professional voice for her age. The kids really put the adults to shame at times with their energy.

I’ve spoken about the set already but also felt the car was a let down. In addition, technical faults had the wings failing to open at the climax of Act One. I know it’s hard to make believe a car can fly, but this one didn’t come close. And speaking of things not being realistic, what the flip was that all about with the tin dog?

Another failure of the show was the poor use of the Child Catcher (Matt Gillett). Very limited in appearances and the song Kiddy-Widdy-Winkies, totally cut. I will say, I’m not sorry about the song as although I’m a fan of creepy, I find Kiddy-Widdy-Winkies to be perversely disturbing. However, the production could still have done more with the character. Also missing in action was the number, Us Two/Chitty Prayer where Jeremy and Jemima sing for help and are rescued. Not a massive song, I admit, but important all the same and a real Daddy, my Daddy tear jerker. What you had instead was Grandpa Potts more or less saying, ‘Hey, I found these two locked in a dungeon.’ Rubbish cop out.

Still, there were good moments of song and dance, notably Me Ol’ Bamboo, Truly Scrumptious, Posh! and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, itself. My favourite overall, though, was Teamwork, especially the performance of the children in the sewers. On the down side, I found The Bombie Samba, although well choreographed, nothing more than a filler and wanted to shout out, get on with it!

Also appearing were Andy Hockley (Grandpa Potts), Ewen Cummins (The Toymaker), Sam Harrison (Boris) and Scott Paige (Goran). The two spies added great comic moments, helped by a good script.

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang was produced by John Stalker, directed by James Brining, choreographed by Stephen Mear with musical direction from Andrew Hilton.

As I mentioned at the start, it wasn’t the case that I hated the show, I did actually enjoy it, but it could have been so much better. I felt I was simply watching a show when what I really wanted was to experience it.

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang – Birmingham Hippodrome – 11 September 2016

Cheers.


Nick

 

Everybody loves Abba … don’t they?

When it was first suggested I go and see Mamma Mia, I thought, great, another evening where I’m among a 10% male minority of an audience. But hey, off I went and even bought a flower garland to wear in order to feel more at home.

So where do I start? I mean, I admit I’d been listening to the soundtrack CD for over a week so I was really looking forward to the show. I only hoped it would live up to the hype and my own expectations. As it turned out, I was not to be disappointed.

Okay, there was the downside that being in a predominantly female audience on Row C, I still managing to sit behind the biggest guy in the theatre. Even so, it didn’t spoil things – much.

From the onset there was a dynamic energy from the cast and orchestra with music played at a volume making you feel as if you were part of proceedings. A basic set was acceptable as what was in front of it meant you were hardly ever looking at the background.

And you had the music of Abba. Yes, hit after hit after hit, the songs fitting well with the storyline. I also cannot compliment the well written script of Catherine Johnson enough. Fast paced and genuinely funny.

Musical highlights for me were Take a Chance on Me, Thank You for the Music, Mamma Mia and Under Attack. The latter of these was sung with an excellent choreographed dream sequence which began Act Two in perfect fashion.

So the cast. Playing the role of Donna was Sara Poyzer with Jacqueline Braun and Emma Clifford as Rosie and Tanya (respectively) – Donna’s old performing colleagues. It was these two, in my opinion, who had the most impact on the show, delivering the best songs and bringing the comedy to the front. Sophie was portrayed by Lucy May Barker with Phillip Ryan as Sky. Sophie’s three potential father’s were Sam Carmichael (Richard Standing), Harry Bright (Tim Walton) and Bill Austin (Christopher Hollis). Completing the main cast were Micha Richardson (Ali), Blaise Colangelo (Lisa), Louis Stockil (Pepper) and Sam Robinson (Eddie).

Mamma Mia was directed by Phyllida Lloyd with choreography by Anthony Van Last and musical direction, Richard Weeden.

On completion of the bows, the audience rose to their feet and joined in with the encore which included the classic Waterloo.

So did I enjoy myself? Well, the proof is the fact that I’m still playing the CD in the car.

Mamma Mia – Birmingham Hippodrome

Cheers.

Nick

I was privileged the other week to be a witness to Shout – The Mod Musical. Shout was the debut show from Third From The Right Productions, and a successful production it was at that. Well, in terms of audience enjoyment.

Shout – Rowley Learning Campus – July 30 2016

Shout tells the story of the 1960s through lives of five women, all of whom have their ongoing struggles. Throughout the show, the five send letters to Gwendoline Holmes, an advice columnist for Shout Magazine who responds in consistent fashion … with useless advice. For instance, recommending new a hairstyle or manicure as remedies for domestic abuse.

Shout was a novel show which had me tapping the beat all the way to the standing (dancing) ovation at the end. Musical highlights were: To Sir With Love, One Two Three, Those Were the Days, Don’t Sleep in the Subway, These Boots are Made for Walkin’ and one of my favourite Sixties songs, Downtown. Interspersed between these were sometimes poignant, but often, funny vignettes and monologues. These ranged from discovering sexuality, dealing with a wife-beater, learning the side effects of the pill, and one girl’s most embarrassing moment in forgetting a word to a song while performing on stage. “Down – Town! It’s the name of the bloody song!

Third From The Right are a new company who aim to bring quality, but lesser known musical theatre to a wider audience, appealing to all ages.

Performing were: Amy Pearson (Red Girl), Natalie Baggott (Blue Girl), Jo Foley (Orange Girl), Kaz Luckins (Green Girl) and Gaynor Whitehouse (Yellow Girl). Gaynor was also responsible for choreography. Completing the all female cast was Jeni Hatton as Gwendoline Holmes.

Directing Shout was Jez Luckins with musical direction from Chris Corcoran.

So with a statement of wanting to bring the lesser known musicals into a wider domain, did Shout do it for me? Well, I’d certainly go and see it again. Well done, Third From The Right.

Third From The Right Productions

Cheers.

Nick

 

 

I’ve got to confess, I’ve never seen the movie, Footloose (shock, horror). And I dare not mention (even though I have) that I fell asleep during Dirty Dancing. However, this did not put me off going to see a stage version of the former at the New Alexander Theatre, Birmingham, especially as it was directed by Racky Plews whose American Idiot a couple of months ago rated highly with me.

Footloose – New Alexander Theatre – July 4 2016

Like American Idiot, Plews used a formula in Footloose of having all the musical instruments played by the actors on stage. Don’t know why, but it works. Not only that, nothing appeared incongruous with them blending in perfectly.

The initial shock of the night was that the billed star, 2002 Pop Idol Runner-Up, Gareth Gates, would not be appearing. He’d apparently been told to rest his voice for a week. I found that out later. Now I admit, I wouldn’t know a Gareth Gates song if somebody played one to me. Not so the rest of the audience, it seemed as a stunned silence ensued with the news going down like a lead balloon.

However, in typical British let’s back the underdog spirit, people soon warmed to Luke Thornton, a man with the unenviable task of appeasing the Gareth Gates Appreciation Society. Thornton delivered such an excellent portrayal of Willard, though, he received the biggest cheer at the end of the show.

So how did Footloose shape up? I enjoyed it and unlike a couple of previous trips to the theatre, the sound guys got it spot on this time. I’ve already mentioned Racky Plews and the similarities in approach to his other recent show. Footloose, likewise adopted a very abstract, but functional 3D use of the stage, if that makes sense. Utilising height as well as area space on the flat.

Musical highlights for me were Holding Out For a Hero, Somebody’s Eyes and of course, Footloose. It was also good to have an audience participation reprise at the end where we were invited to get up, clap and dance along to a medley of the more famous show numbers. Now as a performer myself (yes, deary), I always like to give a standing ovation for the hard working folk on stage, but it was great to see the rest of the audience doing so, likewise.

With no Gareth (sorry for keep mentioning the absentee), the biggest named star was Maureen Nolan (of the Nolan Sisters fame) playing Vi Moore. In the lead role of Ren we had Luke Baker with Hannah Price as Ariel Moore and Nigel Lister as the Reverend Shaw Moore (Shaw Moore? Really …???). Now I’ve already mentioned Luke Thornton who stole the show as Willard but coming close, in my opinion, was Joanna Sawyer who was excellent as Rusty.

Accompanying Racky Plews on the production team was Matthew Cole (Choreography), Sara Perks (Designer) and David Keech (Musical Director). Keech also provided drums on stage throughout the show from his cabin shack up on high.

So yet another show I have absolutely loved. Heck, I might even go and watch the film now.

Footloose – New Alexander Theatre – July 4 2016

Cheers.

Nick

So far in 2016 I have attended productions ranging from lavish shows at the Birmingham Hippodrome to an academy performance of Year 13 students (which to date remains my favourite of the year). With that display of upcoming talent in mind, I thought I would go one step further and see things at a much earlier state of development.

Artrix Theatre  - A Tale of the Railway - The Star Project

Founded in 2008, The Star Project allows children aged 4 to 18 to express themselves in musical theatre through the medium of singing, dance and acting. The project has three schools based across the Midlands region and A Tale of the Railway saw a coming together of these in a major production. Staged at the impressive Artrix Theatre, each school had the opportunity to shine with roles changing several times throughout the show, offering students the opportunity to give their own interpretation of the parts. And of course, with so many on view due to there being three schools, everybody had a chance.

A Tale of the Railway is the story of a young family who uproot and go to live by a country railway line, telling the adventures they enjoy and about all the people they meet. What was most evident was the absolute confidence from all the young people on stage. Confidence is one of the biggest hurdles to overcome in performing arts and it’s a credit to the Star Project management and teachers that everybody looked so comfortable. The singing was powerful, the dance, faultless, and the acting … well, nobody put a foot wrong from where I was sat.

It’s good to see talent nurtured from an early age and encouraging regarding the genesis of stars of tomorrow. If this amount of quality can be seen now, it only bodes well for the future.

The show was directed and choreographed by Star Project Director, Jo Edwards with Project Manager, Sarah Carter as Assistant Director. At the end of the show, after much deserved ovations and presentations, the audience were treated to a reprise of the project’s recent performance in London. A few weeks earlier, many of the students had the opportunity to tread the boards at none other than Her Majesty’s Theatre in the West End, the very arena where Phantom of the Opera has been staged for 30 years. By the evidence I saw, this would not be the only time pupils from The Star Project will grace that famous stage.

It is an understatement to say I was impressed. I have never applied star ratings when doing reviews, but if I were to rate the Star Project, they would be a Five Star Project.

The Star Project has schools in Barnt Green, Droitwich and Solihull and can be found at this link.

The Star Project

Cheers.

Nick