Archive for March, 2019


I have a confession to make. I had never seen Phantom of the Opera until this experience. Sure, I’m familiar with the Andrew Lloyd Webber music, having played the soundtrack for years and have also seen the 2004 film version. However, I always thought the first time I saw Phantom it should be at its traditional home of Her Majesty’s Theatre in the West End. That was until I discovered it being performed local to me by Birmingham Ormiston Academy (BOA).

Now, I’m no stranger to BOA, having seen and reviewed two of their Year 13 productions in The Witches of Eastwick (2016) and Sister Act (2018). Both were of the highest quality, talent surpassing the years of those on stage. Therefore, when I searched out this years’ offering, I had no hesitation in breaking my promise of waiting for London. I knew I’d be in for a treat with BOA and boy, I was not disappointed.

As before, the academy provides four performances with the cast split into A and B (Two each). The fact they can produce this with two entirely different casts of the same calibre makes it more amazing. I won’t go over the plot as really, if you’re reading this, you should know it. What I want to do is laud as much praise as I can on the remarkable BOA students.

In the role of The Phantom on the night we had Llewellyn Graham who captured the role with mystery, character and great voice. Then, speaking of voice, we had our Christine Daaé. OMG! Colleen Curran was amazing. I have witnessed leading ladies in professional shows who were not as good. An outstanding performance. I was on the edge of my seat during Think of Me with goosebumps on my arms, it was so magical. See you in the West End one day, Colleen. Equally, Rhiannon Street as Carlotta owned the stage with her presence. A fabulous voice and acting which totally exploited the character the way it needed. Then, playing Raoul was Sam Astbury who complimented his love interest in great fashion. Much good chemistry between the two.

An interesting take on the original tale saw André and Firmin played by in Kitty Hosty and Libby Clifford respectively. I know these are generally male roles, but these two worked so well, providing much comedy in a wonderful double act. Rounding off the principals were Niamh Slater (Madame Giry), Katherine Lester (Meg) and Leo Carl Abad (Piangi). Each once more than attained the high standards of others on stage. And that went for the rest of the cast too, which was massive. Wonderful ballet routines added to great sound from the chorus during musical numbers with lots of interaction and characterisation.

Then we had the effects. Yes, the chandelier came down (and made everybody jump, even though I suspect half the audience knew it was coming). Also, there was good use of the set for the signature number where The Phantom takes Miss Daeé into the catacombs. A successful use of doubles also made this appear like the long journey down into the depths it’s meant to be. Mood and magic were consistent throughout until that final scene where The Phantom disappears into his chair, leaving Meg Giry alone on stage with the mask. Both chilling and beautiful.

Of the musical numbers, there are many highlights: Phantom of the Opera, Music of the Night, All I Ask of You, Masquerade, Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again, The Point of No Return … Hell, I could list the lot.

In charge of production was Dan Branch with musical direction of a good band by Daniel Summers. Choreography was from Lee Crowley, assisted by Lucy Jennings and Georgie Meller.

I began by saying this was my first experience of the show. My partner, who accompanied me, has seen it both in the West End and on tour. Her verdict was that this surpassed both. These student productions are not just for parents to watch and credits towards an education, they are welcome inclusions in any theatre schedule. I thoroughly recommend them to be checked out. I know I’ll certainly continue to do so.

Phantom of the Opera – The Old Rep Theatre, Birmingham – 22 March 2019

* Post to this review being published, I’m informed all production and tech were completed by students too, making the entire process more amazing. Full details kindly supplied by Heather in the comments section below. Thank you.

Cheers.

Antony N Britt

Many thanks to BOA for providing cast names for this article.

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The sun has got his hat on. Hip hip hip hooray!

This May, the NODA nominated Aldridge Musical Comedy Society (AMCS) return to The Prince of Wales Theatre, Cannock with a classic musical in Me and My Girl.

Set in the 1930s, Me and My Girl tells the story of the noble residents of Hareford Hall and their search for a new heir. That lucky person is common cockney, Bill Snibson, however, the Duchess of Dene, who has the task of imposing tradition onto Bill, does not approve of Bill’s girl, Sally Smith. He must learn to live within the rules or retire back to Lambeth with an annuity.

With a musical score by Noel Gay, plus book from L.Arthur Rose and Douglas Furber, the show enjoyed colossal success in the 80s and 90s following script revisions by Stephen Fry. Me and My Girl is still funny today with instantly recognisable songs: The Lambeth Walk, The Sun Has Got His Hat On, Love Makes the World Go Round, Leaning on a Lamppost and Once You Lose Your Heart. These are but to name but a few. Adding to that, great dance routines which audiences will love.

Now in their 52nd year, AMCS are known for delivering quality and professional shows which go beyond the remit of amateur dramatics. At the directorial helm this time is long-serving member, Julie Lamb. She is supported in production in excellent fashion by the trusted team of Sarah Beckett (Choreography) and Mark Bayliss (Musical Direction).

Tickets are on sale now and you can get them by calling 07588 141841 or direct from the box office (01543 578762). Alternatively, they can be purchased online at this link.

Me and My Girl is on 16 to 18 May 2019 (1930 start) with an additional Saturday 18 May Matinee (1430 start). Prices for evening shows are £15/Adult, £12/Concession and £10/under 16s. Matinee prices are £12/Adult, £10/Concession and £10/under 16s.

Next time that you’re Cannock way, any evening, any day, you’ll find us all, doing the Lambeth Walk. Oi!

Me and My Girl Prince of Wales Theatre, Cannock – 16 to 18 May 2019 AMCS

Don’t miss out.

Cheers.

 

Antony N Britt.

I first saw Avenue Q years ago, therefore when I heard of a touring production coming to my area, I had no hesitation taking a second helping.

Avenue Q – New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham – 16 February 2019

Avenue Q is Sesame Street grown up – and totally corrupted. Simple, but it works, and there are numerous messages in the show which we may not wish to admit to – but are oh so true. With a book by Jeff Whitty, plus music and lyrics from Robert Lopez and Jeff Mark, Avenue Q has been entertaining audiences for years, and this packed New Alexander Theatre experience was no exception.

For those not acquainted, Avenue Q features puppet characters alongside three humans, interacting with each other. The puppets are animated and voiced by actors, who although unconcealed onstage, are completely ignored by both human and puppet characters. All puppeteers wear black to minimise distraction as opposed to the colourful clothing of the humans. This works and you soon focus on the puppets as though they were real.

The script to Avenue Q is funny, well-written and backed by an excellent selection of songs. These include Sucks to Be Me, If You Were Gay, There is Life Outside Your Apartment, I Wish I Could Go Back to College and For Now. But I also have special favourites. Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist totally speaks the truth while There’s a Fine, Fine Line would be at home in any musical. Also, The Internet is For Porn, which will bring the house down every time. “Me up all night honking me horn to porn, porn, porn.” Oh yes!

Then we come to the scenes. No matter how many times I see it, I will never be ambivalent towards puppet sex. And the dream sequence … “I know, put my earmuffs on the cookie.” But we also have the closet gay (Rod) singing My Girlfriend in Canada who “Comes from Vancouver and sucks like a Hoover.” The song then finishes with the words, “And I can’t wait to eat her pussy again.” I do have to admit, I’ve played around and used that line on many a musical theatre song at the end, just to hear how it sounds.

A great night with a brilliant cast led by the puppeteers: Lawrence Smith (Princetown/Rod), Cecily Redman (Kate Monster/Lucy the Slut), Tom Steedon (Nicky/Trekkie Monster/Bad Idea Bear), Megan Armstrong (Mrs Thistletwat/Bad Idea Bear/Second Arm), And then the humans: Saori Oda was brilliant as Christmas Eve as were Oliver Stanley (Brian) and Nicholas McClean (Gary Coleman). Yes … this is meant to be Gary Coleman from TV’s Different Strokes. Ensemble were: Jasmine Bell, Ellis Dackombe, Chloe Gentles and Robbie Noonan.

Directing and choreographing Avenue Q was Cressida Carre with musical direction from Dean McDermott.

If ever you get the chance, I would certainly recommend a trip down to Avenue Q. I guarantee you’ll enjoy being in the neighbourhood.


Avenue Q – New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham – 16 February 2019

Cheers.

Antony N Britt.

It’s always a privilege to witness youth productions so I was delighted to attend this showcase from Walsall College’s Supported Learning Performing Arts Students.

A Showcase of Performance Work – Walsall College – !4 February 2019

With my background in autism, I’m all for inclusion, and my recent 2018 Sleeping Beauty Pantomime highlighted this with two of the cast members taking part. Performing Arts is for everyone, and a way people can express themselves.

On the night we were treated to music, dance, sketches and monologues, plus other spoken word. And what a joy it was to see the diversity of talent.

Kicking the evening off were the Level 1 Diploma Group dancing to Hairspray’s You Can’t Stop the Beat. A nostalgic trip for me, having danced this in panto (In full Captain Hook costume) a couple of years back. Further dances came with Stray Cat Strut although my favourite was a medley of Smooth Criminal, Don’t Stop Me Now and Mr Blue Sky. Come on, you can’t beat a bit of Elo and Queen. Also by the Diploma Group was a poignant tribute to fallen heroes with music and spoken word. This included The Sounds of War written and delivered by Mikail Ali. As both a writer and performer, I know first-hand how much harder it is with your own work as opposed to someone else’s. And we also had Alisha Clarke, reading from her novel, The Black Rose. Talent indeed.

The second of three learning groups were the Level 1 Certificate Group whose Latino Jazz Vibes was clever and entertaining. This group also rounded off the wonderful evening with When I Kissed the Teacher (No better way to end the show than Abba). However, they were also responsible for many monologues and sketches, the highlight of which for me was a wonderfully delivered piece by Imogen Williams titled, Sorry I’m Late.

The longest section of the show was an adapted version of The Wizard of Oz from the Entry Group 3 students. A delight from start to finish made more so by the wonderful performance of Abdul Raheem as the warlock whose wicked laugh had the audience in stitches. Following this the group then entertained with a mime to the vocals of Gemma Wyke with Somewhere Over the Rainbow.

Credit goes to all students, though. Namely: Tom Andrews, Ayrshire Grant-Cable, Chris Cribb, Kane Hedley, Adil Hussain, Leighton Lewis, Sean Rogan, Devonite Smith, Olivia Tolley, Shantae Watson, Imogen Williams, Mikail Ali, Alishia Clarke, Symone Cunningham, Simranjit Dhillon, Dean Fields, Stuart Foster, Katie Henworth, Eleanor Peat, Brandon Pope, Jessica Matthews, Lauren Robbins, Matthew Britt, Ainsley Edwards, Stephen Miller, Abdul Raheem, Kirsty Startup, Jordan Titley, Ben Twells and Gemma Wyke.

The show was directed and choreographed by Thomas Armstrong, Katie Fieldhouse, Tanya Lewis and Emma Speake.

It’s all very well learning, but this must be fun, and there was evidence in abundance these gifted students were having just that – a great time. In fact, these young people are more than capable of progressing and would be welcome additions to many a dance and theatre company.


A Showcase of Performance Work – Walsall College – !4 February 2019

Cheers.

Antony N Britt

I’ve never reviewed a music album before. As you will see from my previous, I mainly do rock gigs and musical theatre reviews. I’m also not interested in TV talent contests, most of the time. However, for two seasons I have been watching The Voice Kids (UK version) and am totally captivated by the talent of these youngsters which often surpass their years. One such is Lucy Thomas and I was delighted to learn she had gained a recording contract through Cavendish Records resulting in a debut CD, appropriately titled – Premiere.


Album Review – Lucy Thomas: Premiere

Lucy was one of three favourites of mine from the 2018 series (None of whom made the final, strangely enough). A travesty, and I still stand by my opinion that Lucy was the best and more so now based upon the resulting 12 tracks on Premiere.

At the time of release, Lucy is still only 14, and it defies belief when you listen to not only the purest of voices, but one which is so much the finished article. Up there with the best.

Premiere is a delightful mix of musical numbers for anyone with a love of the stage and screen. Opening we have Never Enough from The Greatest Showman. Way ahead of the rest (personally speaking) in being my top tune from that movie. And with this version, I have no hesitation saying Lucy’s is better than the original.

Next, we move to a classic; a tale as old as time with Beauty and the Beast. The words and Lucy’s voice are hypnotic. A true fairy tale in vocals. And these are just for starters. Other tunes include Let It Go (Frozen), Listen (Dream Girls), Someone Like You (Jekyll and Hyde), Defying Gravity (Wicked) and a second from Greatest Showman in Tightrope.

But Lucy also works well with other artists, duetting for two numbers with fellow Voice Kids contestant (and finalist), Will Callan. First, they perform Can I Have This Dance. Now – ahem, I have never watched or listened to High School Musical 3, but this is a lovely tune made special by two great voices. The second collaboration appears with the final track on the CD – The Day I Met You. This and three further songs on Premiere (Starlight, Suddenly and One Day) come from a new musical, Rosie (written by Chris Broom), and are all sung with the same excellence as the rest on the album.

I am so glad I made this purchase and listen to it a lot. I now also watch with interest at a fledgling career developing into a big one. I do hope there is more to come and looking at Lucy’s website, we see evidence of past performances in musical theatre. Maybe one day soon we will hear some of these massive tunes with Lucy in the West End or on tour. That must be the aim, and I think she can make it.

Album Review – Lucy Thomas: Premiere

You can buy Premiere through many outlets but also here from Lucy’s site.

Cheers.

Antony N Britt.

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