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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).

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

The pantomime is a great tradition and I’m always looking for companies I’ve not seen before. Therefore, when the two factors combine, I end up in places like the Dormiston Mill Theatre, Sedgley, watching Rainbow Pantomimes’ production of Cinderella.

Cinderella – Dormiston Mill Theatre – 20 January 2017

First off, a niggle at the audience. I watch loads of shows and people always forget to applaud the overture (and even more so, exit music). The band have worked damned hard, so give them appreciation, folks.

But the rest of the show. We all know the story of Cinderella, and Rainbow did the classic tale justice. Exuberant enjoyment from the cast projected to those watching, straight from the start with opening number, Reach for the Stars. Yes, good acting combined with decent dance numbers had the crowd whooping it up. There were comic moments, in particular, the Ugly Sisters’ Face Cream scene, although what had me laughing most was an innocent and incredulous comment from a child sitting in front when we had a delay in changing scenery. “Mom, they’ve left the door …” Oh, the little things that amuse me.

Fabulous musical numbers, notably: She, So Close, I See the Light, Open Doors, Raining Men and Celebrate. By far the best for me, though, was the full company version of Timewarp. Not a song I particularly like, so credit for making it stand out.

Of the cast, Katie Randle (Cinderella), Katie Teitge (Prince Charming) and Amy Cooper (Buttons) were superb. Also, well supporting were Jake Millington (Dandini), Helen Hollis (Beryl), Jonathan Pountney (Cheryl), Gemma Wilson-Brown (Baroness), Sally Parker (Fairy Godmother), Ian Totney (Mouse) and Dan Cubberley (Major Domo/Bear).

Cinderella was directed by Gemma Simner with Choreography by Emma Bate. On the music front, there was excellent use of a four-piece band directed by and including, Danny Teitge. Great sound throughout.

The only criticism I have is at times, the flow of certain scenes slowed. Too many pauses on stage with nothing happening. Although this may have been down to the original script, there was a danger of lost interest.

Still, as I say, I enjoyed, as did the rest of the audience. And my God, there were some hyper kids in the front of the auditorium. Was there a shortage of Ritalin or something?

All in all, well done to Rainbow Pantomimes. Looking forward to the next one.

Cinderella – Dormiston Mill Theatre – 20 January 2017

Cheers.

 

Nick

Last summer I reported on A Tale of the Railway, a joint project between all three schools of The Star Project. The branches in Droitwich, Solihull and Barnt Green give children a chance to express themselves through musical theatre. This time, however, I was in the audience to witness Barnt Green go it alone.

Once Upon a Time – The Artrix Theatre Bromsgrove – 6 December 2016

There were two reasons for returning to The Star Project. Mainly, I was so impressed with my first experience of A Tale of the Railway, but also, I had myself taken part in Once Upon a Time a mere four weeks previous, and I was dying to see how it looked. I’m glad to say, I was not disappointed.

Written by Mark Nicholls, Once Upon a Time tells the story of what happens when villains turn the tables on the heroes and all the happy endings are reversed.

A more condensed version than my own, I still managed to get the same vibes from watching as opposed to being on stage. The feel-good factor came rushing back and I found myself laughing at all the jokes I’d heard for six months previous. This is a great testament to the young cast and teachers behind the project. A thoroughly enjoyable and professional production and more important, the kids looked like they had fun. There was great energy on stage as the show was brought to life before me once again. An excellent version of Let It Go ended Act One but my personal favourite of the night was All About the Bass.

The acting was what I expected after my previous experience, as was the dance. Once again, the singing of many was fantastic with voices defying their years. Okay, it’s a month later now but still sticking in my mind are performances by Genie, Jaffar, Evil Queen, Ugly Sisters, Charming and The Queen of Hearts. That’s not to devalue anyone else. They were all splendid. A special mention for poor little Ariel who had the unenviable task of contending with the most difficult costume ever (mermaid … having to slide on backside all evening), plus the fact she was unfortunately in line of fire for the fake snowstorm when it fell on stage. Well done for carrying on through adversity.

Once Upon a Time – The Artrix Theatre Bromsgrove – 6 December 2016

Barnt Green was the first Star Project, opening in 2008 with the children guided by the watchful eyes of Jo Edwards, Sarah Carter and the brilliant team of teachers. I often see the case of people who love musical theatre, never live their dream, then regret the lost years later. Here at The Star Project, talent can be nurtured from an early age, hopefully with development leading to more in adult life.

So, cheers for The Star Project Barnt Green. Well done, fabulously performed, and just good all round entertainment.

The Star Project runs weekly with special workshops during school holidays. The next is a two-day event during February half term, titled Musical Madness. Details can be found at the Star Project’s website.

Cheers.

Nick

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