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I love youth theatre. I’ve seen a fair bit in the past couple of years and however much I enjoy professional and amateur productions, youth theatre is where it begins.

I’d not heard of Back to the 80s before but being (Ahem!) a certain age, the tunes were familiar to me. I’d also not had any experience so far of Birmingham Youth Theatre but on the night, was not disappointed.

Back to the 80s – Old Rep Theatre, Birmingham – 9 June 2018

Back to the 80s is a coming of age, feelgood romp set in the senior year of William Ocean High School (nice pun) and told retrospectively through the narrative of Corey Palmer Senior (Callum Byrne). Characters are split into the familiar which you would relate to from any school experience. We had the regular kids, the cool guys (Were they ever really cool in our school days?), the popular girls, the outcasts and the teachers. With a decent script from Neil Gooding, the show is brought to life immediately with Kids in America. Okay, I was sold, and suddenly seventeen again.

And the numbers kept coming: Girls Just Want to Have Fun, Let’s Hear it for the Boy, Footloose, I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles), Total Eclipse of the Heart, Material Girl, Get Outta My Dreams (Get into My Car) and The Final Countdown. These were just a selection which made Back to the 80s such a blast. Ending the night, we had I’ve Had the Time of My Life, a song which has never been a favourite of mine, but one perfect to finish on. Also, strangely, another song which I openly dislike, ended being my top tune in We Are the World.

Founded in 1987, Birmingham Youth Theatre stage two shows a year, featuring talent up to 19 years of age. And talent was very much on view. What impressed me most was that nobody was left out. Everyone appeared to have dialogue and more importantly, solo lines during the songs. All delivered in great style.

Playing the lead role of Callum Junior was Dylan Mulholland who turned in a fine performance. Equally so were Sam Cox (Mr Cocker), Georgia Taylor (Miss Brannigan), Cameron Simpson (Billy), Zak Hayes (Michael), Anna Simpson (Cyndi), Harry Chamberlain (Fergal) and Maddison Clarke (Tiffany). However, those were the principles. I never normally stretch as far as naming an entire cast, but the whole of BYT deserve it, so I will. This includes: Sydney Pope (Mel), Wiktoria Matysiak (Kim), Molly Ewins (Laura), Abbie Hudson (Debbie), Kishan Sambhi (Alf), Daniel Bromley (Kirk) and Holly-Mae Nelson (Eileen). In the chorus, we had Saran Sambhi, Abigail Guest, Abi Shiriane and Karina Galloway. Lastly, a special mention to the lad who appeared to be the youngest member; Dylan-Jak O’Dwyer who portrayed several comic mini characters including Yoda, Mr Miagi and Mario.

In charge of production we had Adam Swift (Director), Chris Corcoran (Musical Director) and Sam Depper (Choreography).

After the curtains closed I was, as often, the solitary sole applauding the band’s play-out music (Everyone always forgets the band). And I could hear from the stage the cries of “We are BYT! We are BYT!” Something to be proud of, indeed.


Back to the 80s – Old Rep Theatre, Birmingham – 9 June 2018

Cheers.

Antony N Britt.

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A month ago I saw Legally Blonde at The Crescent Theatre, performed by the brilliant Bournville Musical Theatre Company. As I enjoyed that so much, I thought I’d take the opportunity of seeing the touring production at the New Alexander Theatre.

Legally Blonde – The New Alexander Theatre, Birmingham – 23 May 2018

Unlike last month, the opening was low-key, and the show took time to build the energy, perhaps needing some of that Red Bull Elle drinks in the show. I guess some of the atmosphere came from the fact this was a matinee with the auditorium barely a third full, which was a pity as it was a great show.

Legally Blonde is fast climbing the list of my top shows and this performance did nothing to harm that. In the role of Elle we had Rebecca Stenhouse, standing in due to the illness of Lucie Jones. Well, I never watch X-Factor or Eurovision, so had no knowledge of Lucie, and could therefore appreciate the characterisation with an open mind. And what a good portrayal she gave. Suited the role perfectly, giving a faultless showing with strong voice and acting.

Playing Paulette, the top billing went to former EastEnders actress. Rita Simons, who captured the role well, making Ireland one of the best numbers. I did think Paulette’s outfits weren’t oddball enough, but this did not detract from Rita’s performance. Also from the world of soaps we had Bill Ward, last seen plunging from a bridge in Emmerdale. He made the perfect Callaghan.

I have said the atmosphere grew throughout and the culmination of this was an energetic finale, complete with pink ticker-tape, much of which I found on me hours later. Best number of the day for me was Legally Blonde itself. However, Gay or European did not live up to my previous experiences. A slight downside also was that dialogue seemed a little rushed on occasions. Still, a show full of memorable numbers: Bend and Snap, What You Want, Positive, So Much Better and Take it Like a Man were all highlights of an enjoyable afternoon.

Also appearing were David Barrett (Emmett), Liam Doyle (Warner), Laura Harrison (Vivienne), Helen Petrova (Whitney/Brooke Wyndham), Ben Harlow (Kyle), Mark Peachey (Winthrop/Dewey), Alexandra Wright (Margot), Rachel Grundy (Serena), Delycia Belgrave (Pilar), Nancy Hill (Enid Hoops), Rosie Needham (Kate/Chutney), Michael Hamway (Aaron Shultz), Felipe Bejarano (Sundeep/Nikos), Lucyelle Cliffe (Judge/Pforzheiner/Store Manager), Sally Frith (Gaelen), Brett Shields (Grand Master Chad), Craig Tyler (Carlos) and Laura Mullowney (Swing).

Legally Blonde was directed and choreographed by Anthony Williams with co-choreography from Dean Street. The musical director was James McCullagh.

The second production of Legally Blonde I have experienced within a few weeks, and I would see a third if the chance came. A great show that I’d highly recommend if it comes your way.

Legally Blonde – The New Alexander Theatre, Birmingham – 23 May 2018

Cheers.

Antony N Britt

I’ll admit straight off, I’m not a Take That fan. Okay, I don’t dislike them. They seem nice guys and the music isn’t offensive. However, they wouldn’t be on my playlist and I could just about name five songs.

The Band – Birmingham Hippodrome 7 May 2018

The Band focuses on a group of 16-year-old girls who steal away in the night to see the famous, but unnamed band in the show. A series of soul-searching moments ends with them vowing to never lose touch. Of course, things never work out that way and an incident I won’t reveal a spoiler of, causes them to go their separate ways. Only 25 years later do they reunite, coinciding with the boybands reunion in Prague.

Now, both Queen and Abba have sounds which transformed brilliantly to the stage, therefore, would the biggest boyband of the 90s do likewise? Only partly, in my opinion.

Don’t get me wrong. I enjoyed the show. Tim Firth’s script is well-written and funny. Add to that, all the characters were brought to life in brilliant fashion by a superb cast.

And then the band began to sing, which is where the show falls flat. The lads in the band were chosen from TV talent show, Let it Shine and cloned from every generic boyband of the last quarter of a century. Decent enough singers, but nothing special and they were given too much exposure which took attention from the main characters in the show. They needed to be further in the background and I found myself switching off every time they took centre stage. The Band weren’t the stars, more of a Greek Chorus and should have been used so. If you want to see a boyband perform, go see a boyband. I watch an awful lot of musical theatre and unfortunately, many songs didn’t transform well to stage. In fact, the only ones which did wow me were those sung by the women (in both young and older incarnations).

The Band wasn’t about the pop band, rather the band of friendship between our main characters. Favourite of these for me was the introverted Zoe (Played by Jayne McKenna {grown up} and Lauren Jacobs {younger}) who came to life once when out of the comfort zone. I can relate to that. I also had a soft spot for Every Dave, a man portrayed superbly by Andy Williams who turned up in many situations with no pretence at all to be a different person.

In addition to Zoe and Every Dave, Rachel was played by Rachel Lumberg and Faye Christall. Claire – Alison Fitzjohn and Sarah Kate Howarth. Heather – Claudia Bradley and Katy Clayton. Debbie – Rachelle Diedricks. And finally, Jeff – Martin Miller.

Top numbers for me were: Rule the World, Shine, Greatest Day and Relight my Fire. But by far the best was the poignant Back for Good. Beautiful from start to finish.

The Band on the night were: A J Bently, Nick Carsberg, Yazdan Qafouri, Sario Solomon and Harry Brown. The show was directed by Kim Gavin and Jack Ryder.

At the end, we had a rousing finale in which most of the audience rose to join in, including me. And why not. It’s a great feat to perform and the cast deserved their moment.

The Band – Birmingham Hippodrome 7 May 2018

Cheers.

Antony N Britt

You know a band has stood the test of time when they have 20th anniversary tours. This happened with The Manic Street Preachers in 2014 and 2016 with The Holy Bible and Everything Must Go, respectively. However, the Manics are not ones to rely on past glory and April saw the release of their 13th studio album, Resistance is Futile.Manic Street Preachers – Birmingham Arena 27 April 2018

There may not be singles chart successes these days, but albums continue to do nicely with Resistance is Futile reaching number 2. However, this still seemed to be a sore point for James Dean Bradfield who spoke tongue-in-cheek to the crowd: “Five number two albums now. Which of you are buying The Greatest Showman?”

Not needing to prove themselves in charts, though, with a career showing no signs of waning, the band continue wowing large audiences while fickle chart followers move onto the latest short-term fad.

And wow a large audience the Manics did.

Manic Street Preachers – Birmingham Arena 27 April 2018 (C) Antony N Britt 2018

Full of energy, and launching straight into new number, International Blue (a song ready-made for the live circuit), the scene was set: You Stole the Sun from My Heart, Your Love Alone, If You Tolerate This … the hits no longer fit on a double CD. However, as previously mentioned, the Manic Street Preachers are not ones to rest on their laurels with the tried and tested. First outings for Distant Colours, Dylan & Caitlin, People Give In and the brilliant Hold Me Like a Heaven were welcomed with arms waving. And not only debut songs. Rare outings for 4 Ever Delayed, Let Roebson Sing and There by the Grace of God were complimented by a first time live of the 1996 B-side, Horses Under Starlight. Then we had the solo acoustic interlude from James with Faster and From Despair to Where.

Also, no Manic Street Preachers gig would be complete without mention of Richie Edwards. If by some chance you’re reading and don’t know the story, google it. Even the term, gone but not forgotten, does not apply. There is a vacant space on stage with one song always dedicated to the genius that is, Mr Richard James Edwards. This time, Motorcycle Emptiness, and even on the huge screen we see the man cavorting on a backing video. Very much part of things to this day.

The Manics don’t do encores, and nobody cares. Once you hear the opening of A Design for Life we know “This is the end.” A fantastic show from one of the best bands of the last three decades.

I like to think I have good taste in music and lucky my favourite bands seem to keep going. Perhaps I do have an ear for a good-un – ones the public don’t want to give up on. I guess it makes a point. For those hoping the Manic Street Preachers would go away, resistance is futile. Long may they continue.

Manic Street Preachers – Birmingham Arena 27 April 2018

Cheers.

Antony N Britt

A new one for me and yet again, a show I’ve not seen a film version of. However, I hadn’t gone unprepared and bought the CD a couple of weeks earlier, and so good is the soundtrack, I knew I was in for a treat. Equally so with the case of it being staged by the wonderful Bournville Musical Theatre Company (BMTC) whose 2017 Pajama Game was one of my theatre highlights of the year. You know what you’re getting with BMTC so add a show which is impossible not to enjoy and you have the recipe for a great night out.

Legally Blonde – The Crescent Theatre, Birmingham – 26 April 2018 Bournville Musical Theatre Company BMTC

Legally Blonde tells the story of ditzy Elle Woods who goes to law school in search of love, and her ex-boyfriend, Warner Huntington III. However, things rarely go to plan and Elle shows we can find our way without having to change who we are.

A great show full of energy from the opening Omigod You Guys and beyond. It’s a great testament to Legally Blonde and the cast and crew of BMTC that I never checked the clock once and that time literally flew. Stunning acting, fabulous dance and great voices.

Other number to love include … well, there are so many. I particularly liked Ireland, What You Want, Whipped into Shape, Bend and Snap, Legally Blonde and Find My Way. Heck, I even loved the bows. However, my outright favourite (and best scene of the show) was There! Right There! (Gay or European?). It’s so wrong, it’s brilliant. Had me rolling all though the number.

Playing our Legally Blonde Elle we had Chloe Turner who was made for this role. Great voice, great moves and a wonderful presence that owned the stage. No mean feat when you consider the fantastic support. Can’t name everyone but I’m going to try a lot. It’s not often you come across a situation where every part seems to have been perfectly cast, but is was here. David Page as Emmett, Peter Holmes (Warner) and Phil Snowe (Callahan) were everything I’d imagined from my two weeks listening to the CD. Also giving fine performances were Lily Moore (Vivienne), Karen Lane (Enid Hoops), Claire Brough (Brooke Wyndham) and Adam Heeley (Kyle). Loved the walk, Kyle. Providing sporadic appearances were the girls of Delta Nu (Sophie Woods, Natalie Buzzard and Siobban Ganley). They shone throughout as Elle’s conscience and inner thoughts, a surreal idea I approve of totally. And then the rest of the cast – I can’t find fault with any. So much fun, so much professionalism, so much enjoyment. Finally, I always have a favourite character and this time it was Paulette, the oddball underdog, portrayed magnificently by Rhian Heeley. Very believable. Great comic timing.

At the directorial helm was John Morrison who has delivered a real hit. Supporting on the production side was Sadie Turner (Choreography) and Chris Corcoran (Musical Direction).

Next year, BMTC are performing Oliver and I already have my tickets sorted. I would say go and see Legally Blonde at The Crescent as it’s on until Saturday. However, it’s sold out, and justifiably so. One thing I’m sure of, audiences for the three remaining performances are in for the ride of their lives.

Legally Blonde – The Crescent Theatre, Birmingham – 26 April 2018 Bournville Musical Theatre Company BMTC

Cheers.

Antony N Britt

The Jets are gonna have their day – tonight. The Sharks are gonna have their way – tonight.

But which gang will triumph? Well, you can find out when the wonderful Aldridge Musical Comedy Society (AMCS) return to The Prince of Wales Theatre, Cannock with the legendary musical, West Side Story.

West Side Story – Prince of Wales Theatre, Cannock – 16 to 19 May 2018 Aldridge Musical Comedy Society AMCS

Set in the Upper West Side of New York in the 1950s, the two warring gangs are thrown into turmoil when former Jet leader, Tony, falls in love with Maria, sister of Bernardo, leader of the Sharks. Inspired by Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, Arthur Laurents book brings an urban touch to the story. With music by Leonard Bernstein and lyrics from Stephen Sondheim, it’s no wonder West Side is as popular today as in 1957 when first on Broadway.

Instantly recognisable are the songs: Somewhere, Tonight, I Feel Pretty, America and Maria. Add to that spectacular dance routines and you have a show the audience will be talking about for a long time.

Now beyond their 50th year, AMCS are known for delivering quality and professional shows which go beyond the remit of amateur dramatics. At the directorial helm is Sarah Beckett, doubling up with her usual role of choreographer while as musical director, Mark Bayliss leads a 19-piece orchestra.

West Side Story – Prince of Wales Theatre, Cannock – 16 to 19 May 2018 Aldridge Musical Comedy Society AMCS

The show is going to be massive. Tickets are selling fast but you can still get some by calling the ticket secretary on 07984 465400 or the box office (01543 578762). Alternatively, tickets can be purchased via StageStubs at this link.

West Side Story is on 16 to 19 May (1930 start). Prices are £15/Adult, £12/Concession and £10/under 16s.

Tonight, tonight, won’t be just any night …

Don’t miss out.

Cheers.

Antony N Britt.

I love Me and My Girl, and I’ve had good experiences of youth theatre in the past. Therefore, when I saw the show was being performed by Brewood’s Lollipop Theatre Arts, I had no hesitation in giving them a try. Particularly so because my society, Aldridge Musical Comedy Society, are doing the show next year.

Me and My Girl – Prince of Wales Theatre, Cannock – 26 March 2018

Lollipop cater for kids 6 to 18, and the full range were on show on the first of two nights.

Me and My Girl tells the story of Bill Snibson, the long-lost heir to the Hareford fortune. However, when the family discover Bill is a cockney of no standing, sparks begin to fly.

The score is from Noel Gay and book originally by L. Arthur Rose and Douglas Furber (although it has been updated by Stephen Fry and Mike Ockrent). A funny and entertaining show filled with well-known songs throughout, there isn’t a dull moment.

First impressions of Lollipop … My God, they’re so young! Yes, I know it’s a youth company, but the opening chorus of A Weekend at Hareford was delivered with such a professional sound, you might have thought otherwise.

In the lead role was Tom Horton who totally captured the character of Bill Snibson with superb comic timing. Most impressive in a demanding role was Tom’s ability to carry on, ad-libbing on a couple of occasions when lines slipped the mind. The improvisation added to the enjoyment.

Also on the opening night we had a shining star for the future in Florie Miles. Playing Sally Smith, so good were Florie’s vocals, I did think it was an older actress to begin with. Then I saw the cast photo and realised her years and saw a maturity which went way beyond them. Once You Lose Your Heart was equal to the version on The London Cast Recording. Florie would be at home in an adult company.

Additionaly excellent were Abbey Laycock (Duchess of Dene), Alex Jeffrey’s (Sir John Tremayne), Katie Hayes (Lady Jaqueline), Emily Smith (Gerald), Jake Watkins (Parchester), Sam Green (Charles), Isaac Brant (Sir Jasper Tring), James Shaw (Lord Battersby) and Amy Horton (Lady Battersby). I must also acknowledge, on 27 March, Sally Smith was to be played by Millie Cooper.

Me and My Girl has so many great numbers: Thinking of No One But Me, The Family Solicitor, Me and My Girl, Leaning on a Lamp, to name but a few. And that’s before you get to The Lambeth Walk and The Sun Has Got His Hat On.

Direction was from Lucy-Ellen Parker and Grace Bradshaw with choreography by Helen Stone and Isobel Burgess. In charge of musical direction was Matthew Davis with lighting – Dan Bywater.

Watching a youth show, it’s always good to witness the next generation of musical theatre in the making, but more important, seeing the kids enjoy themselves. A thoroughly entertaining night from a company I would strongly recommend for future productions.

Me and My Girl – Prince of Wales Theatre, Cannock – 26 March 2018

Cheers.

Antony N Britt

Two years ago, I witnessed one of the best shows I’ve ever seen in The Witches of Eastwick. It came courtesy of Birmingham Ormiston Academy (BOA), therefore, browsing the What’s On pages, I had no hesitation in giving them a second run with Sister Act. Still, we had different Year 13s, and I wondered if it would it live up to expectations.Sister Act – The Old Rep Theatre, Birmingham – 24 March 2018 Birmingham Ormiston Academy. BOA

I have to say, I had never seen Sister Act and only knew one number (which isn’t in the show these days), so you can say I went in blind.

Sister Act tells the story of Dolores Van Cartier, on the run from her crime boss boyfriend. About to give evidence against him, Dolores is given sanctuary in a convent.

A blast of an opener in Take Me to Heaven had everything from great vocals to fabulous dance, all performed with skill and energy. Other numbers I enjoyed were Good to Be a Nun, I Could Be That Guy and Raise Your Voice before a powerful reprise of Take Me to Heaven. Act Two was equally blessed (sorry for the nun pun) with Sunday Morning Fever, Here Within These Walls, The Life I Never Led, Sister Act and a rousing finale in Spread the Love Around.

As for performances, I must pay a huge tribute to the wonderful Grace Mikhael in the lead role of Dolores. On the night, Grace gave everything I love in a character. Excellent throughout, fantastic voice and acting with attitude. Body language was superb, mannerisms perfect. She owned the stage.

Not alone, there was magnificent support from other principles, namely Beth Tyrrell (Mother Superior), Hana Copestake (Sister Mary Robert), Callum Maine (Monsignor O’Hara), Mariah Loizou (Sister Mary Lazarus), Tom Cowan (Curtis Jackson), Meg Aucott (Sister Mary Partick), Jack Christou (Eddie Souther), Frazer Howes (TJ), Nathan King (Joey), Harry Singh (Pablo) and Keith Barratt (Ernie).

Sister Act was produced and directed by Dan Branch with choreography from Lee Crowley and Musical direction, Daniel Summers.

Two years after my first experience of BOA, I was once again left breathless and am already looking out for future productions. This was better than many professional shows; my partner even commenting that it outshone a touring Sister Act some years back at the Birmingham Hippodrome.

There’s little more I can say but as a school/academy offering, I have no hesitation in giving Sister Act full marks.

Sister Act – The Old Rep Theatre, Birmingham – 24 March 2018 Birmingham Ormiston Academy. BOA

Cheers.

Antony N Britt

Okay, I can officially announce the release of my second book.

Ghost Stories: Tales From The Dead Of Night © Antony N Britt 2017

Ghost Stories: Tales From The Dead Of Night is a collection of 20 short stories which might have you afraid to turn out the light. But don’t take my word for it. Read the blurb.

Meet …

Mark, who loves Alison, but must first get past her dead father.

Jessie and Tommy. In fear of what’s in the attic.

Colin. As a medium, he’s used to ghosts. It’s the living he needs to be scared of.

Alec, haunted by a tragedy which took place forty years ago. Now the past has caught up.

Karen and Matthew, locked in a manor house with the spirit of its sadistic former owner.

Irene. All she wanted was attention; now she wishes it would go away.

And meet Cara. Disturbed by the presence in her bedsit, and a bloodstain which keeps returning.

You don’t need to sleep to have nightmares.

You can buy Ghost Stories in either digital or print from Amazon by following the link below.

Ghost Stories: Tales From The Dead Of Night by Antony N Britt.

Cheers

Antony N Britt

 

October 25 1980 was the day I purchased a vinyl LP. My 17th birthday with money to spend, I had already been captivated by Eighth Day, which then led to me seeing the film, Breaking Glass, and so, in turn, progressing onto getting the album, and I was hooked.

I’d seen Hazel O’Connor as recent as 2014 but when advertised she was touring in a set showcasing the three albums released at the peak of her career, I had to go.

Hazel O’Connor – Birmingham Town Hall – 2 December 2017 – © Antony N Britt

Hazel O’Connor had what would now be considered a short spell in the limelight during the early 1980s. However, although Breaking Glass and their follow-ups, Sons and Lovers and Cover Plus had great commercial success, life is short in the fast lane.

But not if you’re a fan.

Those three albums, incredibly, came out within the space of just over a year, but to me they’ve lasted 37 and are still going strong. Breaking Glass, as well as being one of my favourite films, is probably still in my top ten albums I love to listen to. And that’s out of a massive and varied collection of rock.

Opening with the awesome, D-Days, we were treated to hit after hit taking me back to that time when I first heard them.

Okay … maybe not every song was a hit in the commercial sense, but they were, and still are, to me: Runaway, Monsters in Disguise, Blackman, Writing on the Wall, If Only – to mention a few. But we also had the more personal where Hazel engaged with the audience (most of whom looked, ahem … about 50 to 55). Many songs were introduced with their backstory including the beautiful Calls the Tune, inspired by the murder of Blair Peach at the hands of the SPG. Also, the tale of not knowing who Nina Simone was which led to the inclusion of Do What You Gotta Do on Cover Plus. And some great memories Hazel shared relating to her mother.

A couple more of my favourites were Cover Plus (Track) and the classic Will You? One of the most wonderful songs ever written, Will You? is also memorable for its sax solo and this was delivered in brilliant fashion by Clare Hirst (Ex Belle Stars), who along with Sarah Fisher (Keys), have toured with Hazel for years. Also in the band on this tour was Hazel’s brother, Neil O’Connor (Guitars) who played on the original Sons and Lovers and Cover Plus albums. Cover Plus tells of growing up, and it also takes on an additional meaning now because we’ve all truly – grown up.

Hazel O’Connor – Birmingham Town Hall – 2 December 2017 – © Antony N Britt

Afterwards, it was a fanboy’s dream for me to meet Hazel in the foyer (Despite the efforts of the rude jobswoth venue employee who tried his hardest to get rid of the waiting crowd). Hazel was happy to talk to the fans, though, have photos and sign everything thrust at her. And for me, it was a dream to get that very same vinyl LP from 1980 inscribed.

Hazel O'Connor Breaking Glass © Antony N Britt

A great night. Thanks Hazel for taking me back and if only for a moment, making me seventeen again.

Hazel O’Connor – Birmingham Town Hall – 2 December 2017 – © Antony N Britt

Cheers.

Antony N Britt

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