Tag Archive: Birmingham Hippodrome


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

Advertisements

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

 

Everybody loves Abba … don’t they?

When it was first suggested I go and see Mamma Mia, I thought, great, another evening where I’m among a 10% male minority of an audience. But hey, off I went and even bought a flower garland to wear in order to feel more at home.

So where do I start? I mean, I admit I’d been listening to the soundtrack CD for over a week so I was really looking forward to the show. I only hoped it would live up to the hype and my own expectations. As it turned out, I was not to be disappointed.

Okay, there was the downside that being in a predominantly female audience on Row C, I still managing to sit behind the biggest guy in the theatre. Even so, it didn’t spoil things – much.

From the onset there was a dynamic energy from the cast and orchestra with music played at a volume making you feel as if you were part of proceedings. A basic set was acceptable as what was in front of it meant you were hardly ever looking at the background.

And you had the music of Abba. Yes, hit after hit after hit, the songs fitting well with the storyline. I also cannot compliment the well written script of Catherine Johnson enough. Fast paced and genuinely funny.

Musical highlights for me were Take a Chance on Me, Thank You for the Music, Mamma Mia and Under Attack. The latter of these was sung with an excellent choreographed dream sequence which began Act Two in perfect fashion.

So the cast. Playing the role of Donna was Sara Poyzer with Jacqueline Braun and Emma Clifford as Rosie and Tanya (respectively) – Donna’s old performing colleagues. It was these two, in my opinion, who had the most impact on the show, delivering the best songs and bringing the comedy to the front. Sophie was portrayed by Lucy May Barker with Phillip Ryan as Sky. Sophie’s three potential father’s were Sam Carmichael (Richard Standing), Harry Bright (Tim Walton) and Bill Austin (Christopher Hollis). Completing the main cast were Micha Richardson (Ali), Blaise Colangelo (Lisa), Louis Stockil (Pepper) and Sam Robinson (Eddie).

Mamma Mia was directed by Phyllida Lloyd with choreography by Anthony Van Last and musical direction, Richard Weeden.

On completion of the bows, the audience rose to their feet and joined in with the encore which included the classic Waterloo.

So did I enjoy myself? Well, the proof is the fact that I’m still playing the CD in the car.

Mamma Mia – Birmingham Hippodrome

Cheers.

Nick

I’ve got to confess, I’ve never seen the movie, Footloose (shock, horror). And I dare not mention (even though I have) that I fell asleep during Dirty Dancing. However, this did not put me off going to see a stage version of the former at the New Alexander Theatre, Birmingham, especially as it was directed by Racky Plews whose American Idiot a couple of months ago rated highly with me.

Footloose – New Alexander Theatre – July 4 2016

Like American Idiot, Plews used a formula in Footloose of having all the musical instruments played by the actors on stage. Don’t know why, but it works. Not only that, nothing appeared incongruous with them blending in perfectly.

The initial shock of the night was that the billed star, 2002 Pop Idol Runner-Up, Gareth Gates, would not be appearing. He’d apparently been told to rest his voice for a week. I found that out later. Now I admit, I wouldn’t know a Gareth Gates song if somebody played one to me. Not so the rest of the audience, it seemed as a stunned silence ensued with the news going down like a lead balloon.

However, in typical British let’s back the underdog spirit, people soon warmed to Luke Thornton, a man with the unenviable task of appeasing the Gareth Gates Appreciation Society. Thornton delivered such an excellent portrayal of Willard, though, he received the biggest cheer at the end of the show.

So how did Footloose shape up? I enjoyed it and unlike a couple of previous trips to the theatre, the sound guys got it spot on this time. I’ve already mentioned Racky Plews and the similarities in approach to his other recent show. Footloose, likewise adopted a very abstract, but functional 3D use of the stage, if that makes sense. Utilising height as well as area space on the flat. I did feel the musical numbers waned towards the end, particularly those featuring the Reverend, but that was a minor niggle.

Musical highlights for me were Holding Out For a Hero, Somebody’s Eyes and of course, Footloose. It was also good to have an audience participation reprise at the end where we were invited to get up, clap and dance along to a medley of the more famous show numbers. Now as a performer myself (yes, deary), I always like to give a standing ovation for the hard working folk on stage, but it was great to see the rest of the audience doing so, likewise.

With no Gareth (sorry for keep mentioning the absentee), the biggest named star was Maureen Nolan (of the Nolan Sisters fame) playing Vi Moore. In the lead role of Ren we had Luke Baker with Hannah Price as Ariel Moore and Nigel Lister as the Reverend Shaw Moore (Shaw Moore? Really …???). Now I’ve already mentioned Luke Thornton who stole the show as Willard but coming close, in my opinion, was Joanna Sawyer who was excellent as Rusty.

Accompanying Racky Plews on the production team was Matthew Cole (Choreography), Sara Perks (Designer) and David Keech (Musical Director). Keech also provided drums on stage throughout the show from his cabin shack up on high.

So yet another show I have absolutely loved. Heck, I might even go and watch the film now.

Footloose – New Alexander Theatre – July 4 2016

Cheers.

Nick

The stage was alive in Birmingham with the Sound of Music in the form of Rodgers and Hammersteins’ world famous show.

The Sound of Music – Birmingham Hippodrome, 25 June 2016

As one of my favourite musical films, I did wonder how seeing the live version would compare. Yes, it is different, of course, with no place on stage for the Austrian mountains. There is also the matter of songs excluded from the 1965 film and a slightly different order of others. No matter. After all, the stage version came first and unlike the film, each performer in front of me sang their own lines.

Having recently seen a magnificent set at the same venue for Mary Poppins, The Sound of Music was the complete opposite in comparison. The barest of backdrops and a sparse scattering of props was in keeping with a small cast. However, this did not distract from the experience. The performances on stage were exceptional enough that any superficial extras were not needed.

So how did a live version of a popular film match up? Excellent, as it happens. I loved the numbers, How Can Love Survive and No Way to Stop It and cannot understand why they were omitted from the film in the first place. Also, I do prefer the more sympathetic characterisation of Elsa, the Baroness and that Rolf helps the family escape at the climax of the show.

As well as the songs already mentioned, other musical highlights for me were Do-Re-Mi, So Long, Farewell and Something Good.

Portraying the part of Maria was The Voice Runner Up, Lucy O’Byrne with Andrew Lancel (more familiar as DI Manson in The Bill) as Captain Von Trapp. Max Detweiler was played by Duncan Smith, Elsa Schraeder by Lucy Van Gasse, Liesl by Annie Holland with Jan Hartley as The Abbess. There were also good performances by all of the children on duty which topped off a fine day, indeed.

The Sound of Music was produced by Bill Kenwright, directed by Martin Connor with musical direction from David Steadman and Tim Whitting. Choreography was by Bill Deamer with Gary McCann on Design.

So was it a case of so long and farewell when I left the theatre as I considered my verdict? Well, unlike recent shows I’ve seen, I haven’t been motivated to play the London Cast CD since. I felt the show was a little let down by the meagre set and maybe the whole thing could have been more dynamic, but the cast pulled it round. And I’d say it was still an enjoyable experience which I would happily see another version of in the future.

The Sound of Music – Birmingham Hippodrome, 25 June 2016

Cheers.

Nick