Tag Archive: Birmingham Hippodrome


One of the most famous shows of the last thirty years with the role of Mrs Johnstone considered iconic. However, I had never seen Blood Bothers so needed to tick another off the list.

This is a tale of a mother who after having twins, gives one (Eddie) away to make ends meet. To stop her ever seeing Eddie, the adopting mother uses Mrs Johnstone’s superstitious nature to spin a tale, saying if ever the boys learn of each other’s identity, both will die. Of course, they do meet, become friends, fall out, and then reach an inevitable tragic conclusion.

I had little empathy with Mrs Johnstone, as it happens. Well, she gave away her son far too easy. Still, the lead was played well by 1970s singer, Lyn Paul, considered by many to be the definitive in the role. Very powerful and poignant vocals. I am so glad I saw her on this occasion.

Also billed at the top was Robbie Scotcher as the Narrator. He too gave an excellent performance, although I did find the inclusion of a narrator obtrusive at times. Then we had the twins; the rough-edged Mickey and more sheltered and studious Eddie, portrayed by Alexander Patmore and Joel Benedict respectively.

Now, the thing about Blood Brothers is that it is set when the twins are aged 7, 14, then through to 18 and beyond, with all their Act One scenes as juveniles. And as well as Patmore and Benedict tackled being 7-year-olds, I still found it cringing and embarrassing to watch at times. Women can get away with this far batter, as was shown by the excellent Danielle Corlass as Linda, but grown men pretending to be little kids … Noooooo! Then, supporting well on the night we also had Chloe Taylor (Mrs Lyons), Daniel Taylor (Sammy) and Tim Churchill (Mr Lyons) in addition to a good chorus.

My biggest praise for the show, as a writer, must go to the book by Willy Russell. Well-written, being funny and dark at the same time. It takes talent to turn a mood so quickly. However, if Russell’s script is top-drawer, the music is less so. I found the songs generic and dull, with the same tunes reprised too much. The most enjoyable for me was Kids’ Game with the more popular Tell Me it’s Not True, overrated (in my opinion). Other decent numbers included Easy Terms, My Child and Bright New Day, while on the other hand, Marilyn Monroe must be the most awful song I’ve heard in musical theatre (and it’s reprised to death).

Positives from Blood Brothers in addition to the script were the performances from the cast and band, whereas a major negative was the lack of dance (There is very little). Plus, the show has a dated feel to it, although that seems par for the course with Bill Kenwright directions, I’m afraid.

This review might suggest I hated Blood Brothers, and that’s not so. I did enjoy the show, but was not bowled over as one might expect. Still, I’ll give 7 out of 10 for a production which survives more on reputation than delivery.

Cheers.

Antony N Britt

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What came first, the stage or the movie? That’s a question sometimes asked when attending a performance which has been showcased in both mediums. And it might surprise a few that Grease was on Broadway six years before the 1978 Newton-John/Travolta film, such is the iconic status of that version. As with Annie recently, I had seen neither. Okay, I probably have seen most of Grease, one way or another in bits during the million and one times it’s been on TV, but this was a first for me, viewing from start to finish.

So how did it start? Quite well actually. In a predominantly female audience, we had a good opening with Grease is the Word by the company before the legendary Summer Nights. However, for me, this summer night didn’t get going until the energetic and brilliantly choreographed Greased Lightening. A great showcase by all involved; it was amazing.

But then we had a series of lulls. The show did drop several times with a risk of the audience losing interest. As a writer, I immediately saw that some of this was the script, but also the energy on stage fell too. These lapses were only temporary, though, and it wasn’t long before things picked up again. The script is nearly fifty years old now, so maybe it’s time for an update to give a more contemporary feel in terms of language and structure.

The same can be said for Act Two which did not become exciting until Hand Jive. In fact, the several preceding minutes were mostly irrelevant. Which is a crime. You really must make every word count.

It really lifted, though, with my number of the night, Hopelessly Devoted to You. This was sung with passion and quality by Martha Kirby (Sandy) who gave a five-star performance throughout the evening.

In the opposite lead role was Dan Partridge who delivered a softer Danny than might have previously been seen. He did well, though, and it’s nice to vary things with a different interpretation.

Playing Kenickie, we had the excellent Louis Grant, more in tone of what I would expect of a Danny. Also giving a good showing was Rhianne-Louise McCaulsky as the formidable Rizzo.

The above were well supported by numerous T-Birds and Pink Ladies. But I did have one criticism here. All the male and female characters in the respective groups seemed … generic, with little distinction between them, which was a shame.

Then came Teen Angel. On the night we had TV presenter and Strictly Come Dancing winner, Ore Oduba. This is a cameo role, but I have to say, I do love Beauty School Dropout.

Other numbers of the night to note included: There Are Worse Things I Could Do, You’re the One That I Want, Sandy and the rousing We Go Together.

The director for Grease was Nikolai Foster with musical direction from Neil MacDonald. I cannot praise enough, though, the choreography from Arlene Phillips. No more than expected from one of her experience, but what the show needed anyway.

All in all, a decent, likeable offering, but probably not one I’d see again.

Cheers.

Antony N Britt

The Sun’ll come out tomorrow.

Well, I certainly felt it had last week at the Birmingham Hippodrome.

Confession time. I’ve never seen the original Annie film or watched a stage version. I did sample the 2014 movie remake, though, which I thoroughly enjoyed but knew it differed in style to the traditionals. Therefore, I approached this show with an open mind of the unknown. I am happy to say then, I enjoyed this stage Annie from start to finish.

Beginning in the orphanage, we immediately see the magnificent stage presence which was to compliment a powerful song and dance performance by leading lady, Mia Lakha as Annie. A lovely vocal opener with Maybe was followed by a kick-ass rendition of Hard Knock Life, sung with attitude by all the orphanage kids. And it’s those kids too I must also heap great praise on. Zara Bench (who was amazing as little Molly), Kacey Agwuegbo (Duffy), Dulcie Allsop (Tessie), Marie Peedle (Pepper), Saskia Salmon (July) and Sophia Smith (Kate) were all outstanding. What young talent, indeed. Great dancing, too.

Then, we had the entrance of the top-billed actress and Jodie Prenger (as Miss Hannigan) gave a five-star performance. A great character throughout, delivering comedy alongside impressive vocals, particularly during the gloriously over-the-top, Little Girls.

In the role of Daddy Warbucks we had Alex Bourne and like Prenger, he led with a commanding and likable character. Also supporting well though was Carolyn Maitland (Grace), Richard Meek (Rooster) and Jenny Gayner (Lily). Then we had the remainder of the cast who are too many to mention but all were of the highest quality.

Song highlights other than those already mentioned were Hooverville, I Think I’m Gonna Like It Here, You Won’t Be an Orphan for Long, You’re Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile and I Don’t Need Anything but You. A special mention must also go to the brilliant Easy Street and I cannot review Annie without singling out the iconic Tomorrow.

Although an old musical now and set in 1933, there was a real contemporary feel to this Annie which is a credit to production who kept it fast-paced all the way through. The cast and crew can be well proud and each of them fully deserved their ovation at the end, especially Little Orphan Annie.

For this production, the director was Nikolai Foster with excellent choreography by Nick Winston and musical direction – Daniel Griffin.

Not knowing what to expect is always the risk when going to the theatre, especially when the previous visit to the same venue was the appalling Joseph and his Awful Technicolour Dreamcoat. However, not only did Annie deliver the entertainment, I rank it as the best and certainly most enjoyable show of the year so far.

Cheers.

Antony N Britt

Okay, the most popular musical in the world comes to town. Now, I’ve experienced Les Misérables in the West End so therefore couldn’t pass an opportunity to see the tour. However, the fact it is so popular means tickets are like gold and despite great efforts, my party was still in Row W of the Birmingham Hippodrome (Three from the rear of the stalls).

Now my only major gripe is with the theatre itself. Don’t charge over £50 for seats with what is essentially a restricted view. In Row W, you’re under the Circle and viewing the stage is somewhat akin to watching through a letterbox. Then, the sound. You’re in this claustrophobic area and the full audio experience doesn’t reach. Think ditching a surround sound system to use a transistor radio instead. There we have the big niggles, so on with the show.

From start to finish Les Misérables is everything you’d expect. Good staging and excellent performances in both acting and voice. Okay, the set is nowhere near as good as at The Queen’s Theatre, London and the revolving stage is sorely missed. But not every theatre is equipped for this, therefore I’ll give the tour the benefit of doubt.

I must first pay great praise to Killian Donnelly (Jean Valjean) and Nic Greenshields (Javert). Both are at the top of their game and could not have been better in the respective solos of Who Am I? Bring Him Home, Stars and Javert’s Suicide. Other great numbers on the night (Not that any were poor) included Master of the House, In My Life, A Heart Full of Love and A Little Fall of Rain. My favourite number, though, is always One Day More, having performed the Javert lines on several occasions.

The character of Marius was Harry Apps who gave a good rendition of Empty Chairs at Empty Tables. However, the appearances Marius’ dead friends were not as haunting as I’ve previously seen them. Cosette was portrayed by Bronwen Hanson and for once, it was lovely to see this character less of a Mary-Sue and more realistic as the young woman she would have been, given her upbringing. And a beautiful voice.

The unfortunate Fantine was Katie Hall who delivered I Dreamed a Dream the best I’ve heard. Then there were the Thénardiers (Martin Ball and Sophie-Louise Dann). These roles always add comic relief, surprising for characters so vile, and this occasion did not disappoint. Eponine has always been my favourite, though, so I was delighted with the excellent vocals from Tegan Bannister while Will Richardson was also in good form as Enjolras.

A couple of downsides with the show itself: I did wonder why Eponine changed ethnicity during puberty and it would also have been nice to know which child performers were in the roles on the night. Plus, the consequences of the barricade battle were a let-down without the revolving stage to reveal a tableau of broken bodies on the other side.

The touring production of Les Misérables was directed by Laurence Connor and James Powell while musical supervision and direction was in the hands of Stephen Brooker, Graham Hurman and Ben Atkinson.

So, which is better, the version in the West End or this one? If, I’m honest, I’d opt for the former, but this was still a fantastic show which I highly recommend.

Cheers.

Antony N Britt

I’m a great fan of theatre, be it professional, amateur or youth. And to be honest, some of my best experiences come from the latter two. Therefore, it was pleasing I saw a mixture of both in Around the World in Amazing Musicals, presented by Comic Theatre Company.

Around the World in Amazing Musicals – Sunfield Community Theatre, Clent – July 6 2018

Interspersed between amusing sections of dialogue from Phillies Indiana Fogg (John Underwood) were song after song from a variety of musicals which indeed, covered all areas of the globe.

Kicking off with Hello and You and Me from Book of Mormon, we then journeyed to Chicago where I particularly enjoyed We Both Reached for the Gun. This was sung well by Justin Randle with a superb ventriloquist performance, if a little creepy (But we like creepy) from Natalie Buzzard. Afterward, Natalie showed her singing skills in Roxie with great support from Peter Holmes and Ian Underwood.

We then went on a sea trip with songs from Anything Goes, a show I’ve enjoyed in the past and it was great to see an exuberant cast giving it all for Bon Voyage. So much so, I then wanted to see the whole of Anything Goes. Of course, I didn’t, apart from further offerings of I Get a Kick Out of You (Denise Jefferson) and You’re the Top (Jan Brennan and Peter Holmes).

Further numbers on our trek came from Sweeny Todd, Oliver! and Mamma Mia. Who doesn’t like a bit of Abba.

Into Act Two and three from Matilda. This is a show I’ve not seen and is currently on at the Birmingham Hippodrome near me. After seeing Comic’s interpretations, I may just check the whole show out.

I’ve said in the past how much I adore youth theatre, seeing the genesis of careers and the potential. Well I did on this occasion as one of my two favourite numbers of the evening came with Holly Nelder’s rendition of Naughty. And it wasn’t just the powerful voice, also the performance which captured the attention. Owning the stage.

The other highlight of a great evening was Movie in My Mind from Miss Saigon. An incredible duet by Chloe Turner and Jess Billingham. Then, to round off the night we had a bit of fun with When You’re an Addams from The Addams Family.

Direction and Choreography was by Chloe Turner with musical direction from Edward Harrison.

An excellent evening supplied by an excellent company. And to top it off, we won a very nice picnic basket in the raffle. Okay, this now means I have to go on a picnic, but who’s complaining.

Around the World in Amazing Musicals – Sunfield Community Theatre, Clent – July 6 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

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

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

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).

Billy Elliot was directed by Stephen Daldry with choreography, Peter Darling and musical supervision from Martin Koch . The producer was Sally Green.

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

So how do I go about reviewing a show that’s run for thirty years? Well, most I write up are local to me, therefore, I thought I’d concentrate on the difference between these and the West End.

Les Miserables – The Queen’s Theatre, London – 1 October 2016 © Antony N Britt

How did they compare? Well, shows I’ve seen at Birmingham’s Hippodrome and Alexander Theatre, etc, have all been excellent. However, whether or not it was the occasion, or the fact I saw Les Miserables in its actual home, there seemed to be a little extra magic. Yes, I can say I lived the dream.

Les Miserables – The Queen’s Theatre, London – 1 October 2016 © Antony N Britt

The first thing to notice is the intenseness of the Queen’s Theatre auditorium. This helps somewhat to draw you into proceedings, making you feel every emotion as if you are part of the show. I’ve heard the soundtrack too many times to count so from the moment Look Down began, I was hooked.

A set changing like a 3D jigsaw included an impressive barricade, complimented by a revolving stage which heightened the motion before you.

As for the show itself, there were polished performances both on stage and from the orchestra. And I guess there may have been greater impact for my viewing than I’d have seen on a tour. Then again, they’ve had a few years to perfect this at The Queen’s.

By far the best number for me was Stars in which Jeremy Secomb as Javert was excellent. Also delivering a fine performance was Peter Lockyer as Valjean. However, my favourite has always been Eponine as I’m captured by the tragedy and hopelessness her character represents. On this occasion, Eva Noblezada did the part total justice. One My Own was powerful, although I was slightly disappointed with A Little Fall of Rain as I felt the musical arrangement lacked the feeling the song should have had. Other stand out numbers included One More Day, Lovely Ladies and Empty Chairs at Empty Tables, the latter of which had the poignant appearance of the dead behind Marius, this performance, played by Felix Mosse.

David Langham and Katy Secombe added comic relief at times as Thenardier and Madame T. Other cast included Sophie Reeves (Fantine), Zoe Doano (Cosette) and Chris Cowley (Enjolras).

The only down I’d put on the show are certain lines of dialogue. And it’s not really a criticism, more a niggle. There are far too many mentions of God’s will and generally being grateful to God for everything. Quite frankly, I don’t reckon the world’s number one imaginary friend cares much for his subjects portrayed on stage. But as I say, that’s just a personal observation from the atheist in the audience.

On the day, time flew and the cast received a well earned standing ovation at the end. And I have to say, I’m delighted to have been witness to a little magic.

Les Miserables – The Queen’s Theatre, London – 1 October 2016

Cheers.


Nick

 

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