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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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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

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

I went into The Commitments blind. I’ve not seen the film, or read the book, so at least I could evaluate this show on its own merits. And, oh, how disappointed I was. However good the earlier incarnations are supposed to be, The Commitments does not translate well to stage.

The Commitments – The New Alexander Theatre, Birmingham – 15 March 2017

Straight from a lukewarm opener in Proud Mary which totally failed to make an impression, I was treated to a lacklustre Act One in which not a single number grabbed me. There was no flow or rhythm, and not only with the music. Too many characters diluted performances, giving no standout acting. Fast dialogue with little cohesion made the whole thing a mess. I like to be drawn into proceedings, feel as though I’m on stage and part of the wonderful theatre process. Not with The Commitments.

And Act Two was little better. After an hour of a first half which dragged, there were at least a few performances to make me sit up and take note now. But not many. (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction was the first to make me really want to applaud, as was the case with Papa Was a Rolling Stone. These instances, however, were too few during the show.

I think the main issue was the flawed script which production had to work with. The book written by original author, Roddy Doyle, is poor with characters lacking anything which would make me want to warm to them. Basically, I didn’t care about any and even in the case of the unlikable, that’s criminal in writing, to have gained no empathy. Also, little use of choreography meant there weren’t any plus points to be salvaged in that department, either.

Only when we reached the encore/finale did the talents of those on stage have a chance to shine once free from the bindings of the awful script. However, Mustang Sally and best of the night – River Deep, Mountain High were too little, too late. Many of the audience were fed up by then and there was nothing to be salvaged. Even the premier number, Try a Little Tenderness, didn’t live up to expectations. Asked to get to their feet with hands in the air, roughly 30% of the audience obliged, when it should have been everybody.

Playing the part of Deco on this occasion was Ben Morris with Andrew Linnie (Jimmy), and former Coronation Street star, Kevin Kennedy as Jimmy’s Da. It was a shame for Kennedy to have such an underused and irrelevant role, his only purpose seeming to be to shout, “Turn that shite off,” every now and again. I wish they had turned it off.

Supporting were: John Curran (Billy/Dave), Padraig Dooney (Dean), Sam Fordham (Mickah), Christian James (Outspan), Alex McMorran (Joey the Lips), Peter Mooney (Derek), Amy Penston (Natalie), Leah Penston (Imelda), Christina Tedders (Bernie) and Rhys Whitfield (James).

The Commitments was directed and choreographed by Caroline Jay Ranger with musical direction – Alan Williams.

I did feel for the cast, as I’m sure on another day, their talents will shine. But not in The Commitments.

The Commitments – The New Alexander Theatre, Birmingham – 15 March 2017

Cheers.

Nick

The Facebook page said it all. One man performing songs from West End and Broadway Musicals. So, did Richard Beckett (our one man) pull off a success?

One Man Musical – Pelsall Community Centre – 10 March 2017

Straight into West Side Story’s Somewhere, we were taken on a journey through the breadth and depth of musical magic. A great tenor voice, delivered with power and charisma, had the audience captivated. From the powerful (Anthem) to the poignant (Empty Chairs at Empty Tables) to the downright lively (Footloose), Richard showed his versatility. And an enthusiastic audience was on hand to lap up the atmosphere as hit after hit sounded from the stage. Many of the songs I have heard in shows over the past couple of years were here, and it was enjoyable to relive those moments reproduced so well.

Richard Beckett One Man Musical – Pelsall Community Centre – 10 March 2017

On the night, Richard got the crowd going and inspired many to sing along to Sandy while getting on their feet to dance to numbers such as Move It. Heck, I’d have done so myself if I’d thought to wear my knee supports.

Personal favourites for me were Stars and Can’t Help Falling in Love, while finishing the show was This is the Moment. Yes, I can honestly say Richard Beckett pulled off the One Man Musical, and truly, this was his moment.

Richard Beckett One Man Musical – Pelsall Community Centre – 10 March

But that wasn’t all on the night and not quite one man as opening in support was the incredibly talented Katie Teitge. With charisma and humour, Katie also offered a variety of songs from musicals and beyond.

Katie Teitge One Man Musical – Pelsall Community Centre – 10 March

Beginning with I Don’t Know How to Love Him and the incredible On My Own, we also had Defying Gravity, I Dreamed a Dream and – the entertainment didn’t stop. With You, from Ghost, a song I’d not heard before, was also exceptional. Liekwise (and this is where my fondness for the humorous comes in), I absolutely loved The Alto’s Lament and The Girl from 14G. I’d not heard ‘Alto’s’ for years, and never sung live, while neither in the case of 14G, but I’ve been You-Tubing them ever since. That itself tells you the impact of the performance.

Between sets, Richard and Katie duetted with Last Night of the World from Miss Saigon to top off a fabulous evening. Here’s to many more from both.

Listen to Richard Beckett on Soundcloud

Watch Katie Teitge on YouTube

Cheers.

Nick

The pantomime is a great tradition and I’m always looking for companies I’ve not seen before. Therefore, when the two factors combine, I end up in places like the Dormiston Mill Theatre, Sedgley, watching Rainbow Pantomimes’ production of Cinderella.

Cinderella – Dormiston Mill Theatre – 20 January 2017

First off, a niggle at the audience. I watch loads of shows and people always forget to applaud the overture (and even more so, exit music). The band have worked damned hard, so give them appreciation, folks.

But the rest of the show. We all know the story of Cinderella, and Rainbow did the classic tale justice. Exuberant enjoyment from the cast projected to those watching, straight from the start with opening number, Reach for the Stars. Yes, good acting combined with decent dance numbers had the crowd whooping it up. There were comic moments, in particular, the Ugly Sisters’ Face Cream scene, although what had me laughing most was an innocent and incredulous comment from a child sitting in front when we had a delay in changing scenery. “Mom, they’ve left the door …” Oh, the little things that amuse me.

Fabulous musical numbers, notably: She, So Close, I See the Light, Open Doors, Raining Men and Celebrate. By far the best for me, though, was the full company version of Timewarp. Not a song I particularly like, so credit for making it stand out.

Of the cast, Katie Randle (Cinderella), Katie Teitge (Prince Charming) and Amy Cooper (Buttons) were superb. Also, well supporting were Jake Millington (Dandini), Helen Hollis (Beryl), Jonathan Pountney (Cheryl), Gemma Wilson-Brown (Baroness), Sally Parker (Fairy Godmother), Ian Totney (Mouse) and Dan Cubberley (Major Domo/Bear).

Cinderella was directed by Gemma Simner with Choreography by Emma Bate. On the music front, there was excellent use of a four-piece band directed by and including, Danny Teitge. Great sound throughout.

The only criticism I have is at times, the flow of certain scenes slowed. Too many pauses on stage with nothing happening. Although this may have been down to the original script, there was a danger of lost interest.

Still, as I say, I enjoyed, as did the rest of the audience. And my God, there were some hyper kids in the front of the auditorium. Was there a shortage of Ritalin or something?

All in all, well done to Rainbow Pantomimes. Looking forward to the next one.

Cinderella – Dormiston Mill Theatre – 20 January 2017

Cheers.

 

Nick

Last summer I reported on A Tale of the Railway, a joint project between all three schools of The Star Project. The branches in Droitwich, Solihull and Barnt Green give children a chance to express themselves through musical theatre. This time, however, I was in the audience to witness Barnt Green go it alone.

Once Upon a Time – The Artrix Theatre Bromsgrove – 6 December 2016

There were two reasons for returning to The Star Project. Mainly, I was so impressed with my first experience of A Tale of the Railway, but also, I had myself taken part in Once Upon a Time a mere four weeks previous, and I was dying to see how it looked. I’m glad to say, I was not disappointed.

Written by Mark Nicholls, Once Upon a Time tells the story of what happens when villains turn the tables on the heroes and all the happy endings are reversed.

A more condensed version than my own, I still managed to get the same vibes from watching as opposed to being on stage. The feel-good factor came rushing back and I found myself laughing at all the jokes I’d heard for six months previous. This is a great testament to the young cast and teachers behind the project. A thoroughly enjoyable and professional production and more important, the kids looked like they had fun. There was great energy on stage as the show was brought to life before me once again. An excellent version of Let It Go ended Act One but my personal favourite of the night was All About the Bass.

The acting was what I expected after my previous experience, as was the dance. Once again, the singing of many was fantastic with voices defying their years. Okay, it’s a month later now but still sticking in my mind are performances by Genie, Jaffar, Evil Queen, Ugly Sisters, Charming and The Queen of Hearts. That’s not to devalue anyone else. They were all splendid. A special mention for poor little Ariel who had the unenviable task of contending with the most difficult costume ever (mermaid … having to slide on backside all evening), plus the fact she was unfortunately in line of fire for the fake snowstorm when it fell on stage. Well done for carrying on through adversity.

Once Upon a Time – The Artrix Theatre Bromsgrove – 6 December 2016

Barnt Green was the first Star Project, opening in 2008 with the children guided by the watchful eyes of Jo Edwards, Sarah Carter and the brilliant team of teachers. I often see the case of people who love musical theatre, never live their dream, then regret the lost years later. Here at The Star Project, talent can be nurtured from an early age, hopefully with development leading to more in adult life.

So, cheers for The Star Project Barnt Green. Well done, fabulously performed, and just good all round entertainment.

The Star Project runs weekly with special workshops during school holidays. The next is a two-day event during February half term, titled Musical Madness. Details can be found at the Star Project’s website.

Cheers.

Nick

Over the past couple of years I’ve tasted a variety of musical theatre companies and looked forward to Throroughly Modern Millie at The Core Theatre, Solihull. I’d not seen anything by St Alphege Musical Productions Society (STAMPS) before, so didn’t know what to expect.

Thoroughly Modern Millie – The Core Theatre, Solihull – 5 November 2016

So how were they? Well, the beginning was low key and failed to grab my interest. It needed to be spectacular, but wasn’t. Then came a further disappointment in the characterisation of Ching Ho and Bun Foo. These guys are a comic duo, but hardly raised a laugh, not to mention some of the pronunciation being a bit dodgy. However, the subtitles worked well.

On the plus side, Becky Willetts as Millie gave a good performance and both Miss Dorothy, played by Lucy Clarke and Trevor Graydon (Kris Evans) were excellent. Also, the character of Jimmy Smith played by Jack Walsh was likewise good, but I would expect nothing less from a former student of BOA.

Now I do know the show well and will say, it wasn’t bad, it just didn’t wow me. Good, but not dynamic, and I found concentration waning towards the end of Act One, which is criminal as Millie is funny and engaging. This was illustrated by the fact that on the night, I heard little more than general applause much of the time.

Stand out songs for me were Speed Test and Falling in Love. We also had good choreography in some numbers, but little in others, particularly Muquin. There were also lost opportunities for jokes. For instance, failing to capitalise on the George Gershwin, Rhapsody in Blue gag, and it made me wonder if direction really understood the script.

Also giving good performances on the night were Fran Foster (Muzzy Van Hossmere), Rosie Asher (Mrs Meers) and Kim Bradshaw (Miss Flannery).

Musical direction came from Phil Ypres-Smith with Viv Morrison as director and choreographer.

A decent enough offering, but a lost opportunity after what must have been many months hard work.

Cheers.

 

Nick

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