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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

The stage was alive in Birmingham with the Sound of Music in the form of Rodgers and Hammersteins’ world famous show.

The Sound of Music – Birmingham Hippodrome, 25 June 2016

As one of my favourite musical films, I did wonder how seeing the live version would compare. Yes, it is different, of course, with no place on stage for the Austrian mountains. There is also the matter of songs excluded from the 1965 film and a slightly different order of others. No matter. After all, the stage version came first and unlike the film, each performer in front of me sang their own lines.

Having recently seen a magnificent set at the same venue for Mary Poppins, The Sound of Music was the complete opposite in comparison. The barest of backdrops and a sparse scattering of props was in keeping with a small cast. However, this did not distract from the experience. The performances on stage were exceptional enough that any superficial extras were not needed.

So how did a live version of a popular film match up? Excellent, as it happens. I loved the numbers, How Can Love Survive and No Way to Stop It and cannot understand why they were omitted from the film in the first place. Also, I do prefer the more sympathetic characterisation of Elsa, the Baroness and that Rolf helps the family escape at the climax of the show.

As well as the songs already mentioned, other musical highlights for me were Do-Re-Mi, So Long, Farewell and Something Good.

Portraying the part of Maria was The Voice Runner Up, Lucy O’Byrne with Andrew Lancel (more familiar as DI Manson in The Bill) as Captain Von Trapp. Max Detweiler was played by Duncan Smith, Elsa Schraeder by Lucy Van Gasse, Liesl by Annie Holland with Jan Hartley as The Abbess. There were also good performances by all of the children on duty which topped off a fine day, indeed.

The Sound of Music was produced by Bill Kenwright, directed by Martin Connor with musical direction from David Steadman and Tim Whitting. Choreography was by Bill Deamer with Gary McCann on Design.

So was it a case of so long and farewell when I left the theatre as I considered my verdict? Well, unlike recent shows I’ve seen, I haven’t been motivated to play the London Cast CD since. I felt the show was a little let down by the meagre set and maybe the whole thing could have been more dynamic, but the cast pulled it round. And I’d say it was still an enjoyable experience which I would happily see another version of in the future.

The Sound of Music – Birmingham Hippodrome, 25 June 2016

Cheers.

Nick

 

I have to admit to being highly pleased when opening my July copy of Writing Magazine to find Dead Girl Stalking had been shortlisted for Self-Published Book of the Year. Okay, so I didn’t win or come runner up, but to get in the top eight, having had my work judged and praised by the writing industry is reward itself.

Dead Girl Stalking © Antony N Britt

Many thanks to the panel, and to magazine editor, Jonathan Telfer for the fantastic write up.

Front Cover - Writing Magazine July 2016Writing Magazine July 2016

Writing Magazine July 2016Writing Magazine July 2016

Dead Girl Stalking – Available to Buy on Amazon

Buy Writing Magazine – July 2016

Cheers.

Nick

I have to admit to some trepidation when venturing to watch American Idiot. You see, I’m a huge Green Day fan and not only that, the original CD on which this show is based is among my top five favourite albums of all time. And I also enjoy the Broadway Cast version, too, so the event had a lot to live up to

Green Day’s American Idiot – New Alexander Theatre, Birmingham – 13 May 2016

The first disappointment, however, was the audience. I was in the middle circle which was only a third full. Then came the opening. On an impressive set which reflects the theme of the show, American Idiot should have burst into action, blasting me from my seat. It didn’t. The title track was … well, too quiet. I expected the sound to near burst my ears from such a fantastic number, but I was left a little deflated. Now this had nothing to do with the performance, more that I felt the sound people had got it totally wrong. The sound did improve, thankfully, as the show went on, in spite of a further complication when Tunny’s microphone failed to work for the entire of Are We The Waiting.

Now this might sound like a disaster of a show but two things swung it round. The magnificence of the Green Day numbers and the dynamic performance of the cast. After the initial problems, I was soon on the edge of my seat in excited anticipation for each song. Highlights for me were, Letterbomb, Extraordinary Girl, 21 Guns and Homecoming.

Okay, the story on stage is pretty thin and often confusing unless you already know what is going on, but American Idiot is more about bringing the music to life. And the show did just that.

Playing the lead of Johnny was English singer/songwriter, Newton Faulkner who delivered an excellent performance. Former X-Factor finalist, Amelia Lily also shone as Whatsername as did Alexis Gerred and Steve Rushton as Tunny and Will, respectively. The role of Johnny’s alter-ego, St Jimmy was undertaken with power by Lucas Rush. For my visit, two of the cast stepped up in their understudy roles with neither giving anything short of marvellous. Alice Stokoe was perfect in the part of Heather as was Karina Hinds as Extraordinary Girl.

I also have to mention the band of Robert Wicks, Alex Machisone, Tommaso Varvello and Nick Kent who along with Steve Rushton, faithfully reproduced the Green Day magic. American Idiot was directed and choreographed by Racky Plews with musical supervision from Richard Morris.

It’s a testament to a show with regard to how much of an impact it makes on you. I have attended performances where I have left the theatre and not thought a lot about it for a while afterwards. This was not the case regarding American Idiot. For nearly a week, I had the Broadway CD playing in my car, then the original Green Day album, followed by Broadway again.

Yes, American Idiot left it’s mark.

It’s not over till you’re underground.

Green Day’s American Idiot – New Alexander Theatre, Birmingham – 13 May 2016

Nick

It’s showtime again and Aldridge Musical Comedy Society (AMCS) are taking us back to the 1920s with their production of Thoroughly Modern Millie at the Prince of Wales Theatre, Cannock. Now approaching 50 years as a society, AMCS are known for quality shows and this is one of the best.

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Thoroughly Modern Millie is an energetic musical which will have you singing (and tapping) in your seats. The year is 1922 and Millie Dillmount arrives in New York, a place filled with frisky flappers, dashing men and a dragon lady of a villainess the audience is sure to love to hate. Loosely based on the 1967 film of the same name, Thoroughly Modern Millie first opened on Broadway in 2002. Featuring songs such as Gimme Gimme, Forget About the Boy and Not For the Life of Me, the show won six Tony Awards at the time, including Best Musical.

Determined to experience the rip-roaring twenties, Millie sets out to test the modern ideas she’s read about back home in Kansas. The goal is to pursue her dreams of becoming thoroughly modern by marrying for money instead of love. She first meets, and is immediately attracted to, the poor, but fun loving, Jimmy. Despite this, she goes to work for pompous, Trevor Graydon with every intention of marrying him instead. When not typing up a storm at the Sincere Trust Insurance Company, Millie also parties with her fellow residents of the Hotel Priscilla, a house for aspiring actresses which also hides a sinister secret.

Thoroughly Modern Millie is the perfect musical for the whole family, appealing to all ages. It stars Chloe Hancox as Millie, Danny Teigte as Jimmy, Hattie Sketchley-Bates as Miss Dorothy, Mark Nicholls as Trevor Graydon, Kerry Flint as Mrs Meers and Linda Bloxham as Muzzy Van Hossmere. Producing is Andy Poulton with musical direction from Mark Baylis and choreography by Sarah Hemming.

Do come along and share in this magnificent experience. A show filled with charm, comedy and romance, plus a little intrigue. Great acting, fantastic voices, excellent dance and a fifteen piece orchestra. What more could you wish for?

So beat the drums ’cause here comes Thoroughly Modern Millie … Now!

Staged Thursday 19, Friday 20 and Saturday 21 May 2016 (1930 start). Tickets can be obtained from the box office on 01543 578762 or direct from AMCS (01543 480626 and 07932 688485).

£13/Adult, £10/Concessions and £7/Under 16s.

Cheers.

Nick

I didn’t know what to expect about Mary Poppins. With the reputation built of being spectacular and so many friends lauding praise, I wondered if the show would live up to the hype.

One of my reservations came from listening to the 2005 Original London Cast Recording CD release which although full of many of the well known Sherman tunes from the 1964 film, still fell flat in my opinion. However, a live performance is a different matter so I was interested to see if a little theatre magic would explode from the stage. It stood a chance having being devised by Cameron Mackintosh, a producer whose shows have never let me down.

Mary Poppins – Birmingham Hippodrome – 11 April 2016

I needn’t have worried. From the opening number I witness to over two hours of dynamic energy from a wonderful cast. Also, possibly the best set I have ever seen including a house on Cherry Tree Lane which unfolded before your eyes.

There seemed to be so much going on, you dared not switch attention for a second. During Jolly Holiday, the lighting altered on the backdrops so many times in a myriad of colours, you’d be forgiven for thinking they’d changed the entire set mid song.

Yes, the old favourites were there: A Spoonful of Sugar, Feed the Birds, Let’s Go Fly a Kite and Chim Chim Cher-re. In addition to these, you also had the bigger song and dance numbers, particularly Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious and the immense Step in Time. Rather Bert than me climbing the side of the stage before walking upside down from a great height as he went over the rooftops. Also, the newer live numbers came across better than the recording I’d heard, In particular, Practically Perfect and Anything Can Happen.

I was informed on arrival that the part of Mary Poppins would that night be played by an understudy. However, there was no disappointment. Jennifer Davison delivered with such power you’d be hard pressed to think she hadn’t been doing it for the entire run. Also supporting was Matt Lee as Bert, Milo Twomey as George Banks and Rebecca Lock as his wife, Winifred. Jane and Michael were played with enthusiasm in this performance by Madeline Banbury and Regan Garcia.

My only two criticisms would be that one, I thought some of Julian Fellows’ scripted dialogue was a little laborious at times. However, that wasn’t a fault of the production and with everything happening in front of you, it was forgotten most of the time. The other was that the vocal amplification appeared weak to start with. Whether this was rectified or I just got used to it is unknown. It wasn’t an issue later on.

All in all, a wonderful experience right until the end where the magical nanny flies above the audience, disappearing into the sky (or rather an exit in the theatre ceiling).

So did I enjoy after my original uncertainty? Absolutely. In fact, I would go as far as to say it was supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.

Mary Poppins – Birmingham Hippodrome – 11 April 2016

Cheers.

Nick

The Witches of Eastwick – The Old Rep Theatre, Birmingham – 18 March 2016 Birmingham Ormiston Academy (BOA)

I have to admit, when buying tickets for this, I’d never heard of Birmingham Ormiston Academy (BOA) before and at £10 a seat, I wondered what level of performance I should expect. Despite the excellent value in price, though, I still guessed it would be good, but never expected how good.

Over the past few months I have seen The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe at the newer Birmingham Repertory Theatre, and Jesus Christ Superstar (starring Glenn Carter) at the Hippodrome. I can honestly say, this production of The Witches of Eastwick knocked both those offerings out the building in terms of enjoyment.

The Witches of Eastwick – My new favourite show, and all thanks to the wonderful production team, orchestra and more important, the talented Year 13 musical theatre students of BOA.

An academy in performing arts for ages 14 to 19, BOA have the cream of the region and it was obvious from the outset, you’ve got to be damn good to get into this school.

My interest in The Witches of Eastwick had been piqued while taking part myself in a concert featuring two of the numbers, and I wanted to see what the entire show had to offer.

The Witches of Eastwick – The Old Rep Theatre, Birmingham – 18 March 2016 Birmingham Ormiston Academy (BOA)

Loosely based on the novel of the same name by John Updike, but having more in common with the 1987 film, The Witches of Eastwick tells of three women searching for the man of their dreams. Pooling energy together, their dreams do come true, but they also get more than they bargained for.

The enigmatic Daryll Van Horne arrives and soon seduces all three, causing destruction, and eventual death along the way. The women realise what it is they have created and decide they have to put things right and send Daryll back from where he came.

Looking at the programme, the pen pictures tell me there were two casts. I learned that these were basically the A and B teams. I don’t know if there was any significance in these categories, or that it was simply a way of dividing to give the students an equal opportunity over the course of the run. As it was, I saw the B cast and if the A lot were meant to be the primary, then they must have been something extra special because the B team I witnessed were out of this world.

Once you got over the fact that, yes, the majority of parts are meant to be played by older people, you soon became lost in the show. In fact, I’d forgotten how old they really were halfway through the opening. Sitting in Row B, I think I spent the entire show leaning forward with chin in hand, mesmerised by what I saw on stage. Not an easy task to keep me from fidgeting throughout a performance.

I imagine it must be hard to pull off characterising much older parts, especially the males, but Jack Sanders did a fantastic job with his portrayal of Daryll. And then you had the witches, themselves. Wow! To get one good voice is great, but all three? Talulla Wheatley (Alex), Heather Foster (Jane) and Lydia Gardiner (Sukie) were all amazing. Incredible voices and fantastic harmonies with great acting to top it off. Then you also had the supporting principles and an ensemble which brought their numbers onto another scale, Dirty Laundry, in particular. And what an opening we had!

I have to say I already had a liking for I Wish I May but at the climax to Act One when Alex, Jane and Sukie send their spirits soaring skyward and fly, I wanted to get to my feet and give a standing ovation there and then. But I thought, behave, there’s still the second act to come yet.

As well as those already mentioned, I loved every number in the show, in particular, the three seduction numbers, each different in their own way. Now I’m not into narcotics, and the strongest thing I’ve ever smoked is a piece of salmon, but even I craved a cigarette after Waiting for the Music.

Since watching, I’ve had the Original London Cast CD on repeat in the car. This is all testament to the BOA cast and production team. A mention, of course, has to go to Director – Rian Holloway, Musical Director – Michelle King, Choreographer – Lee Crowley and Company Manager – Amy Rutter. I hope those credits are right, I got them from the back of the programme. Also, hats off to the rest of the band and crew who made this occasion for me – magic.

Cheers.

Nick

2016 has not been good for rock fans. In the first few months we’ve seen the passing of David Bowie, Lemmy and Keith Emerson. When the news of Bowie broke, I recall commenting that people my age are going to be seeing a lot of this in the near future. Add to that, I’m unlikely to witness AC/DC in any familiar incarnation soon. Things are certainly changing. More personal to me, though, I’ve also had to concede I may never again see a Stranglers gig featuring Jet Black on drums.

I guess it’s inevitable when you’ve followed music through five decades, that your heroes will one day be no more, but you still hope the magic will last a little longer.

March 12, Birmingham O2 Academy, I gazed upon the stage with eyes confirming what I already knew, even though the reality hurt.

One drum kit.

For the past four years, despite health issues, the drummer in black has beaten the odds and appeared in a cameo role during tours. Sadly, not this year. If it’s the end, we wish Jet well and thanks for everything.

But it begs the question. How much longer will it be before I have seen my last Stranglers gig? Something I ask every year but until the inevitable happens, I’ll keep turning up to lose myself in the ecstasy of the moment.

Now a regular for a few years, Birmingham lad, Jim MacAulay plays in the band alongside Jean-Jacques Burnel, Dave Greenfield and Baz Warne. Slight change in lineup, though nothing different about the performance.

IMAG0146_1

My 16th Stranglers show dating back to 1983 and as all previous, it didn’t disappoint.

Billed, The Black and White Tour, the band played the album of the same name in full for the first part of a near two hour set. Exploding straight into Tank, followed by Nice and Sleazy until the final conclusion with Enough Time, a song I finally heard live for the first time. As always, the band were in fine form although it was noticeable the atmosphere lifted another notch higher once Black and White had concluded and a wider variety set commenced with (Get a) Grip (On Yourself). Now I don’t mean that as any criticism of Black and White, I simply think playing the album from start to finish maybe lessened the anticipation with the audience already knowing what was coming next.

Not so the the second half which was as excellent as the first but with a few surprises thrown in. By far the biggest was the first time absence in my memory of Golden Brown. Call me controversial, but it’s about time. Must be frustrating for a band to be expected to play certain tracks every concert so I applaud the decision to exclude this sacred cow. That doesn’t apply to No More Heroes, though. Never remove that one from the set, guys, just so you know.

Other favourites were there in a set which spanned the decades: Five Minutes, Something Better Change, Always the Sun, plus more recent classics including Relentless and Norfolk Coast. A nice surprise was A Soldiers Story. Not sure about being the first time live, but it certainly was for me.

The guys come round my way every March/April and 2016 was as good as ever. Loads of energy with no sign of the band ending soon. Ironically, one of the biggest cheers of the night was the usual Baz ad-libbing during Peaches.

 “I could think of a lot worse places to be.
Like down in the street,
or down in the sewer,
or Villa Park at the end of the season.”

Hey, the show was in Birmingham and if you’re not into football, all I can say is, it’s a local joke.

2016 – a year not yet three months old where so many rock legends have left us. Not so the Stranglers. Yes, it’ll happen sometime, but until I see it in Black and White, I’ll savour every minute, every year.

2016tour-280px

Cheers.

Nick

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