Category: Reviews


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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The Tide is High. Forty years ago I discovered Blondie and since then they have been my number one when it comes to feelgood pop. Therefore, even with Debbie Harry now 72 (Really …? Wow!), I knew I was in for a great night out. And yes, much of the audience were, ahem … older than most, but that didn’t mean they had to behave and were on their feet most of the show.

Kicking off with One Way or Another, I was suddenly a teenager again and the goosebumps continued throughout. Some things seem timeless.

On the night there was a blend of old and new. Five songs from the current album, Pollination, included Long Time, Too Much and Fun. But then we had the classics. Hanging on the Telephone, Call Me, Atomic and Heart of Glass, the list goes on. Highlight for me was the inclusion of Fade Away and Radiate, one of my favourite album tracks. Okay, the set was only 90 minutes long, but so much energy was packed into it. Another feelgood moment was the occasions Harry waved at the audience and on several occasions, seemingly straight at me.

Okay … I can dream.

Making a stand about saving the planet, in particular, the dwindling bee population, Harry appeared wearing a bee head-dress and cape which said, Stop fucking the planet. It was a message repeated throughout the night and one which hit home.

One thing I always have to shout, Blondie are a group and not just Debbie Harry. Integral to things are original members, Chris Stein and Clem Burke, supported by Leigh Foxx, Tommy Kessler and Matt Katz-Bohen. Without these, the music wouldn’t be the same.

I’m fortunate that many of my favourite bands just seem to go on and on. I know nothing lasts forever, so I enjoy these shows while I can. This was so good, though, I can only hope for more to come.

Cheers.

 

Antony N Britt

This was my second experience of Trinity Musical Theatre Company, having seen their offering of The Witches of Eastwick twelve months ago. So, would this year’s production also deliver satisfaction?

Return to the Forbidden Planet – Dormiston Mill Theatre – 4 November 2017

The first thing to note is the cast are already on stage as the audience enter the auditorium. A good effect which grabs your attention as soon as you hit the seats. An impressive set with costumes reminiscent of Sci-Fi films, one of which Forbidden Planet is famous. In particular, the clone-like appearance of the females which had me thinking of Gerry Anderson’s UFO series of the 1970s.

The show has a low-key opening with flight attendants giving a demonstration of safety precautions. Different, but amusing. Then we have countdown and blast off to the sound of Wipe Out. What caught me straight away was how full the stage was. This was much down to members of the Linzi G School of Dance. A great collaboration which not only sees additional energy and interaction on stage, it also gives pupils experience to add to the CV.

Any fan of rock and roll will love Forbidden Planet; the hits come one after another. Great Balls of Fire, Good Vibrations and Young Girl, to name a few. And a good way to end the show with a medley of tunes, culminating with the comic, Monster Mash.

This is a strange show for me because there is so much I don’t like to begin with. I’m not a fan of the clunky Shakespearian dialogue, neither do I like the cop-out reprise at the start of Act Two where you have a different conclusion to the previous scene, but that’s just the writer in me. The fact I have niggles with the original Bob Carlton script goes to show how good a job the cast and crew have done to get me still raving positive about what was before me.

On the night there were excellent performances from Mitch Bastable as Tempest, Beth Berwick-Lowe (Miranda) and Pat Lewis (Prospero). Also supporting well were Naomi-Leeanne Millard (Gloria), Steve Taylor (Ariel), Abigail James (Bosun) and Mark Moran (Cookie). Okay, Cookie was a trifle older than expected, but this was dealt with in a tongue-in-cheek way at the end of Teenager in Love.

All in all, a thoroughly enjoyable night out. The biggest compliment I can give, though is that on the way to the theatre, I had the London Cast Recording CD on in the car. Trinity’s performance was better. Production for the show was in the experienced hands of Andy Poulton with choreography by Lindsey Grant (of Linzi G fame) and musical direction from Dan Tomkinson.

Return to the Forbidden Planet – Dormiston Mill Theatre – 4 November 2017

Next year, Trinity turn their hands to The Wizard of Oz and on current evidence, it will be another great show.

Cheers.

Antony N Britt

This was the third time I’d seen Bournville Musical Theatre Company in action and like the previous two occasions, I was not disappointed. Hollywood on Broadway featured songs originally from films which had subsequently been turned into shows. And there was much to love. Having seen many of those on the set list, I already knew I’d be in for a good time. But not only ones I was familiar with. Last year, Bournville introduced me to School of Rock and I enjoyed it so much, I purchased the soundtrack and recently saw the West End production. This time, my Amazon account has seen both Heathers and Shrek added to the basket.

Hollywood on Broadway – Dovehouse Theatre, Solihull – 29 October 2017

A fun intro with video montage of both film and stage set the scene. And use of a three-piece band produced a great sound, making one believe  we had more musicians than there actually were.

Opening with three numbers from Footloose, namely the title song, Learning to be Silent and The Girl Gets Around, we were soon in full swing. And then there was an excellent performance by Rachel Fox with I Have Nothing from The Bodyguard. Highlight of Act One for me was Freak Flag from Shrek. So much energy, so much fun.

A year ago I was in Thoroughly Modern Millie and despite seeing it twice since, I never tire and enjoyed Forget About the Boy and solos from Peter Holmes (What do I Need with Love) and Sophie Wood (Gimme Gimme). Also, we had tunes from Little Mermaid including Fathoms Below (Male Chorus), Part of your World (Natalie Buzzard) and Poor Unfortunate Soul (Lily Moore). Another lovely song on the day was With You from Ghost, delivered well by Claire Brough.

Act One ended on a high with an ad for next year’s show, Legally Blonde. Featuring first, Adam and Rhian Heeley with Serious, we then had the energetic Bend and Snap. And then into Act Two with a chorus of 42nd Street.

I’ve mentioned already that I’m intrigued by Heathers and this is due to the song, Candy Store. Then to contrast the previous fast pace, we had the poignant Seventeen from Jonny Stoker and Lily Moore.

One the best bits for me in Act Two were three numbers from Witches of Eastwick, featuring much of the cast. I’ve seen Witches twice in the last couple of years and it was a pleasure to revisit.

What I enjoy most in theatre are character parts and two stand out performances showcased this. Chloe Turner with What’s Wrong with Me from Singin’ in the Rain and Karen Lane with He Vas My Boyfriend from Young Frankenstein.

The show then ended with a retro trip and medley from Saturday Night Fever, leaving the audience in no doubt, they’d been entertained. Apologies for not naming everybody, but it’s impossible to do so. However, I will pay tribute to the fact all played a great part.

Hollywood on Broadway was directed by Sadie Turner with musical direction from Chris Corcoran.

Hollywood on Broadway – Dovehouse Theatre, Solihull – 29 October 2017

Cheers.

Antony N Britt

Apart from recognising a couple of numbers, I knew little about this show prior to arrival at the Birmingham Hippodrome. I’d hurriedly purchased the Broadway Cast soundtrack but in two hearings, very little had sunk in. So, would seeing it live change that?

Crazy for You – Birmingham Hippodrome – 25 October 2017

 

Crazy for You tells the story of Bobby Child who is sent by his banking mother to foreclose a loan in the backwater town of Deadrock, Nevada. Based on the 1930 Ira/George Gershwin show, Girl Crazy, the story was reworked with a book by Ken Ludwig in 1992 and incorporates songs from several other Gershwin productions.

The first thing of note was the doubling up of band/cast with most instruments played on stage. It’s a method I’ve seen a lot recently and works well, although this time at the loss of huge dance routines. We had a decent opening which continued in an inoffensive manner throughout. Songs like Someone to Watch Over Me, Things are Looking Up and But Not For Me were well delivered but it’s the chorus numbers which make the show. I’ve Got Rhythm is no doubt the best known but equally, Stiff Upper Lip and The Real American Folk Song is a Rag were also enjoyable.

Taking the lead in Crazy for You was Tom Chambers as Bobby with Caroline Flack (Irene), Charlotte Wakefield (Polly) and Neil Ditt (Bela Zangler). My only real criticism would be that the supporting characters lacked depth, making them more forgettable, which is a shame for the actors who did a good job. The script was decent, if a little predictable, but there were several funny moments. My favourite had to be the drunk double scene which (I’m not sure if intentional or not) paid homage to the Marx Brothers mirror scene from Duck Soup.

The ending is a little low key but I still came out of the theatre with the feelgood factor. And next day, I listened to the CD for a third time and on this occasion, found myself reminiscing the show with more familiarity concerning the numbers. Therefore, for me, the show had done its job.

Crazy for You was directed by Paul Hart with musical supervision from Catherine Jayes and choreography, Nathan M Wright.

Crazy for You – Birmingham Hippodrome – 25 October 2017

Cheers.

Antony N Britt

Recently I performed Nothing Like a Dame during a concert and never having watched South Pacific, my interest was piqued.

The pleasant Kidderminster Rose was the venue for Carpet Trades Musical Theatre Company’s presentation of this show. Rehearsing Tuesday’s from late spring to October, they are on the lookout for new members to join. Founded in 1944 as an activity for employers of the carpet company of the same name, CTMTC are now open to all with a major production each year.

South Pacific – The Rose Theatre, Kidderminster – 21 October 2017

The show by Rodgers and Hammerstein is set during World War II on a Pacific Island and was made into a Hollywood movie in 1958.

The first thing to note was the use of the movie structure as opposed to the stage version. I’m in two minds about this. The writer in me hates tampering and I like how the stage show comes full circle with Dites Moi. However, I can see swapping the order to begin with Bloody Mary and There is Nothing Like a Dame makes it more dynamic.

There are many well-known songs in South Pacific and highlights for me were Honey Bun, Happy Talk and I’m in Love with a Wonderful Guy. I did feel, though, the cast were not helped by only having a three-piece band. The vocalists needed support and didn’t get it while there could also have been better use of harmonies. These are all things to learn from. In addition, the dialogue at times needed speeding up. There was some choreography but not enough and while many of the cast could obviously dance, particularly Ruth Campbell as Liat, they were underused. Nice to see smiles during the dances, though.

Stand out vocals for me were provided by Sarah Richards as Nellie Forbush who excelled throughout. Also in principle roles were Zoe Darks (Bloody Mary), Nigel Preece (Emile), Alex Thompson (Cable), Chris Paine (Bilis), Stephen Day (Cpt Bracket) and Brian Potter (Harbison). South Pacific was directed by Darren Richards with musical direction from Chris Yates and choreography, Lucy Crane.

Cheers.

Antony N Britt

Another show off my tick list this week as Hairspray was in town. Always a fan of the story as far back as the John Waters film starring Ricki Lake, I recently also saw the musical movie plus the Hairspray TV Live last year. And the soundtrack gets played a fair bit too.

Hairspray – Birmingham Hippodrome – 11 October 2017

Hairspray is a story of the fight for racial integration in the early 1960s. It seems abhorrent now, the views of that time, but that’s how life was.

So how was the show? From the opening beats of Good Morning Baltimore, goosebumps rose and I knew I was in for a treat as one great number followed another. Nicest Kids in Town, Mama I’m a Big Girl Now and I Can Hear the Bells.

In the lead role was Rebecca Mendoza, giving a great acting performance while excelling in both song and dance. The perfect Tracy Turnblad. There were also good comic moments, (and some of them I’m not sure scripted) between Matt Rixon as Edna and Norman Pace (Wilbur). One that also shone for me was Annalise Liard-Bailey, blossoming from wallflower to summer rose in the role of Penny. Showing vibrant energy we had Layton Williams playing Seaweed. Also onstage were Brenda Edwards (Motormouth Maybelle), Gina Murray (Velma Von Tussle), Jon Tsouras (Corney Collins), Edward Chitticks (Link Larkin), Aimee Moore (Amber). Monifa James (Little Inez), Graham McDuff (Male Authority), Tracey Penn (Female Authority) and a full ensemble.

Hairspray boasts music and lyrics by Marc Shaiman with additional lyrics from Scott Whittman. The book is by Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan. Production credits for the show include Paul Kerryson (Director), Drew McOnie (Choreography) with musical direction from Ben Atkinson.

I don’t know how long it actually was, but Act Two rattled by. A good testament to the production in not giving the audience chance to catch breath. More good numbers including, You’re Timeless to Me, Without Love and The Big Dollhouse. Of course, the number I had waited for came at the end with You Can’t Stop the Beat and I was taken back twelve months when I performed that myself as part of a pantomime. Great fun. Great show.

Hairspray – Birmingham Hippodrome – 11 October 2017

Cheers.

Antony N Britt

It’s been a year since I first heard the soundtrack to this and my annual West End weekend was never going to involve any other show.

School of Rock the Musical – New London Theatre – Saturday 7 October 2017

School of Rock the Musical is a stage version of the 2003 Jack Black film of the same name. The plot follows closely to the original so fans of the film will not be disappointed. However, what makes the musical special is a fantastic soundtrack and performances by a cast playing their own instruments.

There is a decent opening with the No Vacancy number, I’m Too Hot for You. However, the show kicks into top gear when Dewey Finn takes centre stage with When I Climb to the Top of Mount Rock. Playing the hapless Finn on this occasion was Stephen Leask. Billed as Alternate Dewey, Leask takes some shows each week and I was glad I caught one of these because his performance was out of this world.

There is so much to love about School of Rock. The struggles of life as a child while growing up, excellently portrayed during, If Only You Would Listen. It’s a great story and throw in a kick ass soundtrack and you have the hit this show has become.

Top numbers for me in addition to those already mentioned include: You’re in the Band, Time to Play, Teacher’s Pet and Where Did the Rock Go? However, my favourite is always going to be Stick it to the Man.

The cast were amazing. Leask as Dewey Finn, I’ve mentioned already, but then we had Florence Andrews (Miss Mullins), Oliver Jackson (Ned Schneebly) and Michelle Francis (Patti). And there were the kids. Oh my God! They were fantastic. Such talent, not only in song and dance, but those who played the band instruments blew the audience away. I really hope I’ve got the names right in this review but if I haven’t, feel free to correct me.

In the role of the bossy Summer was Stella Hayden whose lead in Time to Play kicked off Act Two perfectly. As for the band, Santiago Cerchione played guitarist, Zack with Milano Preston (Lawrence on Keys), Jacob Swan (Freddy on Drums) and Eliza Cowdrey (Katie on the Bass). And Katie … loved the hard face to the audience. Finally, giving great vocals, we had Nerys Obeng as Tomika.

Music for School of Rock was by the legend that it Andrew Lloyd Webber with lyrics from Glenn Slater and the book provided by Julian Fellows. Directing was Laurence Conner with choreography from Joann M Hunter and musical direction, Matt Smith. Special mention for the grown-up band who helped make the entire experience … rock.

It would have been nice to put cast names to characters and Dewey did introduce them in an energetic finale, but do you think I’m going to waste time writing them down when there was so much energy on stage.

School of Rock the Musical – New London Theatre – Saturday 7 October 2017

Yes, I said at the start, I’d waited a while to see this, and was not disappointed. The only downside now is that School of Rock is reportedly remaining in London until early 2019 at the very least. Damn … I was hoping for a tour. Looks like I’ll have to make another trip to the capital then.

School of Rock the Musical – New London Theatre – Saturday 7 October 2017

Cheers.

Antony N Britt

I have a confession. Up until now, I’d disliked West Side Story. And it isn’t that I’ve not given it a chance. I purchased two separate cast recordings recently, but didn’t rate either. Also, I saw the 1961 film starring Natalie Wood and Richard Beymer, and was bored by that too. However, I couldn’t totally write it off until I’d seen it in a theatre, so I took the opportunity with The New Alexander Theatre’s Stage Experience.

The Stage Experience offers just that to youngsters aged 9 to 24 where they get to put on a show to a paying audience, all in two weeks. Two weeks! Wow! Those on stage came from all backgrounds. There were many who’d been in productions before, those who attend performing arts schools and academies, plus some treading the boards for the first time in their lives.

West Side Story – New Alexander Theatre, Birmingham – 25 August 2017

And what a show they gave.

As I say, I’m not a fan of West Side and that’s due to the original template. I find much of Arthur Laurents’ script poor and dated. And … puerile lyrics in some of the Bernstein/Sondheim songs.

When you’re a Jet, you’re a Jet all the way,” and “We’re gonna hand ’em a surprise, tonight. We’re gonna cut ’em down to size, tonight. Sounds lame this day and age.

To be honest, the show could do with a new book, bringing a fresh approach. This may shock traditionalists, but everything needs a revamp now and then. A fault with the book was I found little empathy with the main characters. The Sharks and Jets, as written, are pretty much … nobheads. Also, I had little fondness for Maria who sleeps with Tony knowing he has just killed her brother. And the whole gang thing. Maria says her parents would not approve, yet are happy for their offspring to belong to violent gangs.

Maria, it was an accident,” Tony says about killing Bernardo. No it bloody wasn’t! You stabbed him four times – twice in the back. Cue the daggers from those seated around me. I really must learn to shut my mouth at times.

So, how were a bunch of youngsters going to turn me in the case of a show I’d decided I was probably going to hate? Answer – by giving a fantastic performance with much energy.

Stand out numbers for me were Maria, America, Somewhere and Tonight – Pt 1, all done with superb voices and a great band. However, it was also the dance routines which made the show a hit. With a huge cast and great choreography, numbers like Dance at the Gym and the ballet sequence were amazing.

The leads were great and superbly playing Tony was Elliot Gooch, while Grace White as Maria was equally excellent. Also on the night, Riff was portrayed by Jordan Rickets, Bernardo (Javier Aguilera), Rosalie (Kathryn Irwin), Consuela (Melissa Huband), Action (Caven Rimmer), Snowboy (Charlie Howell) and Anybodys (Jasmine Bailey). The show was produced by Becky Charles with choreography and direction from Pollyanna Tanner, while the music was directed by Chris Newton.

I still dislike the show, but it proves one thing. You can make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.

West Side Story – New Alexander Theatre, Birmingham – 25 August 2017

Cheers.

Antony N Britt

This was my second experience of Bournville Musical Theatre Company, having witnessed their concert, Through the Decades, last year. Therefore, I hoped I would also be well entertained with a full show at the prestigious Crescent Theatre.

The Pajama Game – The Crescent Theatre, Birmingham – 6 June 2017

The theatre itself is a fine setting, even if my seat, F2, did collapse as I sat on it, meaning I had to move forward to an empty one. But these things happen, especially to me, and I should expect it by now.

With music and lyrics by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross, The Pajama Game tells of the Sleep-Tite Factory and the workers’ fight  for a pay rise. The conflict plays out aside a love story between new factory superintendent, Sid Sorokin and the head of the grievance committee, Babe Williams, both acted superbly with powerful vocals from Steve Kendall and Rhian Clement.

Kicking off the show was a good overture by the band who shone all night, although I feel we could have done with some lighting on the house curtains to heighten anticipation of what was to come. Then, after a brief introduction and title song from character, Vernon Hines (the excellent, John Morrison), the company pulled audience attention further onto the stage with Racing with the Clock. In fact, it was the combination of chorus vocals and choreography in this number, plus Hernando’s Hideaway and especially Once a Year Day, which stood out. So much movement and background activity going on, there was no chance of getting bored. And boredom was never an option because in the words of time management obsessive, Hines; “Tempus fugit, tempus fugit.” Time literally did fly as before I knew it, the first act ended for a quick drink and an eager return to the auditorium for more of the same. Pajama Game is a fast-moving show which seems a lot shorter than it is. And that’s a great testament to the original script of George Abbott and Richard Bissell.

Other enjoyable numbers included, I’m Not at All in Love, I’ll Never Be Jealous Again, Her Is, Small Talk, Hey There and Seven and a Half Cents. I’d have to say, though, my favourite of the night was Think of the Time I’ll Save. Well written comedy mixed with good choreography.

There were further comedic scenes and many of my favourites involved the duo of Hines and Gladys, for whom Natalie Buzzard gave an outstanding performance as Gladys. My main love in a personal acting sense is when I create or interpret a character, and Natalie did just that, truly becoming Gladys.

Now I’ve mentioned dance, but special acclaim must go to showpiece number, Steam Heat. This was a routine which certainly raised the temperature in the auditorium, courtesy once more of Natalie Buzzard along with Sarah Sheppard, Peter Holmes, Helen Gauntlett, Sophie Wood, Kai Murai and Verity Smith.

I can’t list everybody involved but giving fantastic support to the leads were Kris Evans (Prez), Jill Hughes (Mabel), Karen Lane (Mae), Jonathan Eastwood (Hasler), Rebecca Lowe (Poopsie), Chloe Turner (Brenda), John Clay (Pop), Phil Snow (Max), Adam Slack (Charley), Phil Holloway (Joe), and an energetic ensemble.

The Pajama Game was well directed by Ann-Louise McGregor with stunning musical direction from Chris Corcoran and sublime choreography by Sadie Turner.

The main thing to note, the cast looked like they enjoyed it and it’s always a cert that if you can project that, the audience will have a fantastic time too. I know I did.

The Pajama Game – The Crescent Theatre, Birmingham – 6 June 2017

The Pajama Game is on at the Crescent Theatre, Birmingham until Saturday 10 June with tickets still available at this link.

Cheers.

Antony N Britt

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