Tag Archive: Musical Theatre


It’s always a challenge to review a company one has had connections with, but a writer can only give a critical appraisal without showing favouritism as was the case when Aldridge Musical Comedy Society took the stage in their latest showcase.

Musicals That Rock — Prince of Wales Theatre, Cannock — 25 November 2022

I have spoken a lot recently in reviews about needing the right product to market in relation to shows. Therefore, it was a brave move to highlight one specific genre of musical theatre in this production. Fortunately, rock music is my speciality so I for one wasn’t complaining. However, I do have to question some of the song choices as I feel many shows in this category were absent from proceedings. And when over 50% of songs come from just four musicals, you wonder how well production knew their subject. Where were tunes from The Commitments, Shout, All Shook Up and most famous of all, The Rocky Horror Picture Show? And more blatantly, an absence of Hair, the original rock musical which started off the others. Despite this, there was plenty for an audience of family and friends to love and with excellent costumes and a simple but effective set which I approved of, we experienced Musicals That Rock.

Opening with Bat Out of Hell (Sung well by Ashley Brown and Emma Wallage and Company) followed by Rent and Radio Ga Ga, the pace picked up dramatically when Richard Beckett took centre stage for Step One (Kinky Boots). Then followed Evie Etheridge with an outstanding offering of Anywhere But Here from Pretty Woman which for me was the best performance of the night.

Musicals That Rock — Prince of Wales Theatre, Cannock — 25 November 2022

You can’t beat a bit of Joan Jett, someone I have seen several times, so I particularly enjoyed I Hate Myself For Loving You sung by Helen Jolly. Other stand out numbers included No One But You (Only the Good Die Young) and Defying Gravity, both delivered strongly by Chloe Robinson. Act One finished well with a full company medley from Come From Away, a show I know nowhere near enough about, but this gave me the incentive to do so.

One song which received huge applause was the excellent Revolting Children by the junior cast led well by Amelia Critchley with Grayson Brown, Holly Etheridge, Zach Jolly, Ella Thornley, Evie Westley, plus Rebecca Oatley and Evie Etheridge from the older children. These kids are the future and need nurturing after showing such promise.

Act Two began with a bang in We Will Rock You led by Matthew Britt before being joined by Lucy Pountain for A New Argentina with Full Company. I also enjoyed Give Up Your Dreams, ditched from School of Rock before that show ever reached Broadway and the West End, but Nicola Critchley exploited the humour well with on-stage stooge, William Bosworth while engaging well with the audience. If I’m honest, that was an area I found lacking elsewhere. Nowhere near enough audience interaction. This is rock. Performers need to be in the audiences’ faces while many were at the back and some numbers too static.

My major niggle, however (and it is only a personal one), was the bastardisation of Green Day. I have followed the band for 30 years and know every track intimately, as I do the musical, American Idiot. These numbers are meant be edgy, raw, but what we had were soft rock Glee-type arrangements. Again, know your subject. Some may disagree but as a die-hard fan, this was a heinous crime against the guys from Oakland.

Musicals That Rock — Prince of Wales Theatre, Cannock — 25 November 2022

Musicals That Rock was directed by Gaynor White and Ashley Brown with excellent choreography in some numbers from Sarah Beckett. And when you do rock, you need a band, and Musical Director, Mark Bayliss (also Keys) oversaw a fantastic one featuring Dan Stubbs (Keys 2), Nigel Beer (Guitar), Lauren May Ross (Bass) and Ben George (Drums).

It was unfortunate on this occasion the audience was smaller than most amateur company productions I have seen recently, and this could be due to Rock being a niche genre and not everybody’s cup of tea, even though it is mine. A lesson to learn.

Musicals That Rock — Prince of Wales Theatre, Cannock — 25 November 2022

Cheers.

Antony N Britt 

We’re going to need considerably bigger buns.

An iconic line from an iconic film now transformed into a popular musical. But to make that musical a success you need an excellent company and fortunately, everything I have ever seen from Third From the Right Productions has been out of this world.

Calendar Girls — The Cornbow Hall, Halesowen — 19 November 2022

Calendar Girls is a 2015 musical based on the 2003 film of the same name. With music and lyrics by Gary Barlow and a book from Tim Firth, it tells the true story of a group of women who produce a nude calendar to raise funds for a local hospital when one of their husbands dies of cancer. This is an extremely emotional story which includes humour side by side with tragedy and eventually an ending of euphoria.

In the role of the feisty Chris was Natalie Baggot who as always portrayed a commanding figure on stage, excelling at the climax of Act One in Sunflower. As Annie, who loses husband, John (Jez Luckins) was Sarah Coussens who I saw earlier this year in Shrek. Again, it was a top notch performance and Coussens continues to be one of my favourite actors in local Musical Theatre. Kilimanjaro was sublime and Scarborough equally as poignant.

Gaynor Whitehouse returned to the stage as Cora after being at the directing helm during TFTR’s pre-Covid show, Soho Cinders while Jo Tranter aged up to play pensioner, Jessie, giving a great showing during What Age Expects. Completing the Calendar Girls were Bekki Jackson as the brassy Celia and Gillian Homer playing low self-esteemed Ruth who struggles to break free from her deadbeat husband. Both were excellent in solos, So I’ve Had a Little Work Done and My Russian Friends and I, respectively.

Supporting tremendously, though were Kaz Luckins (Marie), Charlie Bullock (Danny) and Niamh Hadley who along with Natalie Baggott provided one of the numbers of the night in Protect Me Less. Then we had Jeni Hatton (Lady Cavendish/Brenda Hulse), Carl Cook (Rod), Sam Gordon (Lawrence), Ian Howarth (Colin), Adrian Raybould (Denis) and Joe Neale (Tommo). Finally, the two unmarried Miss Wilsons (Laura Wright and Shan Nolan Beach) who bared near all in a cheeky cameo.

Jez Luckins was Artistic Director with assistance and choreography from Gaynor Whitehouse in addition to both treading the boards on stage. And then there was Chris Corcoran who continued his wonderful association with TFTR as Musical Director while the Production Manager was Dave Gardner.

Calendar Girls — The Cornbow Hall, Halesowen — 19 November 2022

The climax of the show sees the girls discreetly hidden by various food produce and utensils in For One Night Only before an uplifting finale in Sunflower of Yorkshire. At the end, the entire audience were on their feet with an ovation richly deserved.

The fourth production by Third From The Right I have seen and each time the bar raises higher. November 2023 will see the company return with (the delayed by Covid) Tommy. By then I expect the bar to hit the roof.

Calendar Girls — The Cornbow Hall, Halesowen — 19 November 2022

Cheers.

Antony N Britt

  • Some photos taken from TFTR’s Facebook page.

Never land that’s the secret of flying. Never land, nothing equals the thrill.

Peter Pan: A Musical Adventure — The Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton — 10 November 2022

I’m always harping on about the secret to success in amateur theatre. Well, Bilston Operatic Company certainly had that in Styles and Drewe’s Peter Pan. Three Ps: The right Product in the right Place with the right Publicity. Another couple of Ps with Peter Pan, there’s added family appeal. Parents bring their kids to shows like Peter Pan, enjoying the experience so much, they do return.

Peter Pan: A Musical Adventure is a 1996 reimagining of J.M Barrie’s original 1904 play. With music and lyrics from George Styles and Anthony Drewe plus a book by Willis Hall which is still faithful to the original, I need no explanation of plot. Really … who doesn’t know Peter Pan?

Peter Pan: A Musical Adventure — The Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton — 10 November 2022

I really like this version and the main reason is the score. Styles and Drewe are epic, probably the best musical theatre song writing collaborations in recent times. Catchy tunes with emotion and depth. However, I do think Willis Hall’s book needs bringing up to date with 21st century attitudes. Make Peter Pan less egotistical and Wendy certainly more feminist as opposed to her lot in life being there to cook and clean for males.

Peter Pan, is of course, a magical story, whatever format it takes, and in this show you had the perfect opener with a full chorus and There’s Something in the Air Tonight. Talk about goosebumps, but nothing you would not expect from Styles and Drewe. Even so, this song needs to be done right and with swirling fog and ethereal mystery, Bilston’s voices were magnificent.

Peter Pan: A Musical Adventure — The Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton — 10 November 2022

Leading the way as the boy who never grew up was Fergus Edwards, and no surprise to find he is a student at the prestigious Birmingham Ormiston Academy. The performance was out of this world; a fine singing voice up there with the professionals. The same for Maddy Evans who captured the character and innocence of Wendy Darling perfectly. The duets in The Cleverness of Me and One Big Adventure were wonderful, and Neverland is just a magical number. The latter also included 12-year-old Joseph Dowen as John and Jett Austin-Richards at an amazing 7 years old playing Michael. Such confidence and stage presence from ones so young. Amazing.

Peter Pan: A Musical Adventure — The Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton — 10 November 2022

Narrating we had Amy Frost as the storyteller, eventually revealed to be grown-up Wendy who duetted lovely with Lydia Hackett as Mary Darling in Just Home. Hackett also set the scene early on with Just Beyond the Stars which was tremendous. Supporting also as George Darling was Jon Dempsey who portrayed well the consequences of his children’s disappearance, inducing what was basically a personal breakdown.

And then there be pirates … Ahhh! Captain Hook is such an iconic role; one I had fortune to play once upon a time, and Dan Smith had the voice, the presence, and overall charisma to make you believe he was Hook. When I Kill Peter Pan was especially good, mixing humour with menace at the end of Act One. But you can’t have Hook without Smee, and I have to say Zachary Hollinshead is up there with the best and made himself the audiences’ favourite. Yes, it’s in the character as written but you need talent to complete the task and Hollinshead had that in abundance. A Pirate with a Conscience with Hook and Rose-Tinted Eyepatch which included all the pirates were top-drawer on the night. The same could be said for Good Old Captain Hook – a rousing ensemble number which showed good characters and chemistry. We also had excellent dancers in the indigenous inhabitants of Neverland (Natives, Mermaids and Wolves) led wonderfully by Issy Checketts (Tiger Lily) during Crocodile and Tiger Lily/Siren Song.

Peter Pan: A Musical Adventure — The Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton — 10 November 2022

Now, I’m a great advocate of kids in shows, for they are the future, and the audiences love them. Fortunately, in Peter Pan, there are so many opportunities for these to shine. The Lost Boys were magnificent and even included a couple of girls in their number. This is great for inclusivity as in the past I have despaired when shows like this and Oliver have restricted the junior numbers to male only, just because an original script says so.

Peter Pan: A Musical Adventure — The Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton — 10 November 2022

Peter Pan was produced and choreographed by Laura Canadine with assistance from Amy Evans while an eight-piece orchestra delivered an auditorium of sound with musical direction in the hands of Gareth Howard.

Wow! I’ve gone way more than my usual 500-word reviews which reflects how much positivity I have to say about this production. It did look expensive with no cost spared and while the cynic may think the company have endless money thrown at them, I disagree. Although the programme had a page filled with patrons and financial support, this is simply good business for which Bilston Chair, Brenda Arnold can be proud.

So, an enormous success which looks to be repeated next year in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Family show, lots of kids, and well-known songs. Bilston surely have that succesful formula nailed and I for one can’t wait.

Peter Pan: A Musical Adventure — The Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton — 10 November 2022 

Cheers.

Antony N Britt

  • Some photos blatantly stolen from Bilston Operatic Society’s Instagram page.

Omigod! Omigod, you guys. Looks like Elle’s gonna win the prize.

Well, you need to have been at The Crescent Theatre, Birmingham watching The Arcadians Musical Theatre Company’s production of Legally Blonde to find out if Elle Woods really did win that prize.

Legally Blonde — The Crescent Theatre, Birmingham — 5 November 2022

Legally Blonde is a 2007 musical with score and lyrics by Laurence O’Keefe and Neil Benjamin and a book from Heather Hach. The musical itself is based on the 2001 film of the same name and follows sorority girl, Elle Woods as she enrols in Harvard Law School to win back ex-boyfriend, Warner.

This show is now officially the one I have seen the most over four different productions, both amateur and professional and the first thing I saw was an absence of the usual pink sorority backdrops and law school sets. This did not matter. I am quite a fan of the stripped-back approach. Let’s face it, as a director, I’d rather the audience be watching the cast than the scenery and when the cast are as good as The Arcadians were on view, who needs scenery? The other noticeable thing was the use of backing tracks instead of a live band. Yeah, I could tell the difference, but many wouldn’t and even I settled into it. But don’t be too hard on companies who choose this road as in times of financial hardship, an orchestra to do Legally Blonde justice would cost a minimum £3-4K; probably more.

In the role of Elle was Bethany Neame and as well as great vocals, I was impressed with the overall acting, especially facial expressions and reactions. Bethany shone, particularly in solo numbers So Much Better and Legally Blonde (Slow Version). Playing opposite as Emmett Forrest was Jacob Standbridge and again, a superb performance, including the humour for Chip on Your Shoulder.

Now, I always have a fondness for the character of ditzy Paulette. It has so much scope for the actor and I’m happy to say Rebecca Eastwood was the best out of four Paulette’s I have seen to date, and that includes Rita Simons. I just love Ireland as a musical number and Eastwood nailed it in great style.

Legally Blonde — The Crescent Theatre, Birmingham — 5 November 2022

But Legally Blonde has baddies too where Cieran Nixon (Warner) and Rob Pushkin (Callaghan) excelled in that department during Serious and Blood in the Water, respectively. Supporting well in the principal line-up were Eleanor Hewer (Vivian), Adaze Crawford (Brooke Wyndham), Tom Cullen (Kyle) and Helen Rourke (Enid Hoops). Then, leading the Greek Chorus of Delta-Nu, we had Robyn MacPherson (Margot), Laura Peters (Pilar) and Ella Saunders (Serena) who due to an injury, was understudied in some scenes by Becky Murray.

This is such a feelgood show with a great script and so many memorable tunes. There! Right There! is always going to top my list due to its hilarity but What You Want, Positive, Whipped Into Shape and Legally Blonde (Full Chorus Version) come close. And not forgetting Bend and Snap. The auditorium of this marvellous theatre was full which is no surprise due to the popularity of the show. It just goes to prove having the right product in the right place with a great company is the secret to success.

In an earlier review for this show I was pulled up for not recognising the canine performers, so I make sure now not to repeat that mistake. On stage we had Willow (Bruiser), Archie (Rufus) and Mindy who is guide dog to Helen Rourke.

Legally Blonde was produced and directed by Nikki Genner with choreography from Adele David and vocal coaching courtesy of Jodi Matthews.

Arcadians appear an inclusive company, enjoying what they do. Congratulations are in order, and they fully deserved the standing ovation on the night of this performance.

Legally Blonde — The Crescent Theatre, Birmingham — 5 November 2022

Cheers.

Antony N Britt 

Look out, here comes Audrey Two. Look out, here I come for you.

Ominous words, summing up events witnessed in Brownhills Musical Theatre Company’s offering of Little Shop of Horrors. With music from Alan Menken and book and lyrics by Howard Ashman, this 1982 musical is loosely based on the 1962 film of the same name.

Little Shop of Horrors — Prince of Wales Theatre Cannock — 4 November 2020

Seymour Krelborn works in a failing flower shop for the cranky Mushnik while harbouring feelings for fellow assistant, Audrey. When Seymour discovers a strange and interesting plant, he puts it in the shop window which attracts customers, boosting sales in the shop. However, this alien plant feeds on blood, leading to Seymour supplying it with humans to protect his secret. Having only ever seen the 1986 musical film adaption, I was surprised about the different conclusion which I won’t spoil here but let’s say with the scenario just described, it’s never going to end well.

Little Shop of Horrors — Prince of Wales Theatre Cannock — 4 November 2020

Little Shop caters for a smaller cast than most shows with less opportunity for chorus, but Brownhills used these well when used. The set was impressive, giving the feel of the shop but the most spectacular was the Audrey Two models themselves with several to show the progression of growth.

Present throughout are the street urchins: Hattie Parry (Crystal), Sarah Taylor (Chiffon) and Charlottle Trigg (Ronnette) who were amazing. They supplied a running soundtrack which allowed scenes to flow. Also on stage for the duration was a wino (Brian Washington) who spent much of the time slumped in the rubbish but then used for good comic foil.

In the role of Seymour, we had Brett Dewsbury who showed a fine voice and good characterisation during Grow for Me before teaming superbly with Charlotte Foulkes (Audrey) in Suddenly Seymour. Foulkes was also excellent in Somewhere That’s Green, a lovely number and my favourite of the night.

Another brilliant song was the team-up of Dewsbury’s Seymour with Peter Brown (Mushnik) for Mushnik and Son. Brown captured the florist’s character perfectly as did Chris Parry with Orin Scrivello, particularly during Be a Dentist. Orin’s death scene was hysterical, inducing infectious laughing from the audience while the ill-fated dentist dies from inhaling nitrous oxide. But I can’t heap praise without Audrey Two itself. It must be surreal to be in a production as vocals only, but Katie Gibson gave stunning deliveries as the monster plant’s voice. But if I’m mentioning the audibles of Audrey Two, I can’t leave out Lauren Knowles’ skills as its puppeteer. This was a sharp professional production directed by Kelly Tye and Richard Tye with Alex Priestley overseeing a sympathetic orchestra as Musical Director.

Little Shop of Horrors — Prince of Wales Theatre Cannock — 4 November 2020

In a time of recession and financial hardship, it was still nice to see a near full auditorium which gave their appreciation with a standing ovation at the end of the show. Brownhills’ next offering is A Chorus Line, February 17 & 18 next year at the same venue. If it’s as good as Little Shop of Horrors, it will be well worth seeing.

Little Shop of Horrors — Prince of Wales Theatre Cannock — 4 November 2020

Cheers.

Antony N Britt 

  • Some photos blatantly stolen from BMTC’s Facebook Page.

Love is in the air, everywhere I look around.

That may be so, but wonderful dance is also on the stage in this musical version of Baz Luhrmann’s Strictly Ballroom. Based on the 1992 film of the same name, itself adapted from Luhrmann’s original play, Strictly Ballroom tells of the love affair both on and off the dancefloor between talented amateur, Scott Hastings and beginner, Fran. When Scott loses his dance partner due to him wanting to pursue his own style, Fran persuades him to take her on and compete in the Pan-Atlantic Grand Prix Dancing Championships.

Strictly Ballroom — Birmingham Hippodrome — 31 October 2022

With the popularity of the another Strictly (Strictly Come Dancing), this musical can be equally well-received. But for that you need a strong script, good music, and most important in a dance themed show, brilliance on the dancefloor. Thankfully, we had all of that. The book by Luhrmann himself and Craig Pearce is sound in character development and funny. But it was dance along with excellent vocals which had the audience wowed right until the end. Choreographed and directed by Strictly Come Dancing’s Craig Revel-Horwood with co-choreography from Jason Gilkinson, even dancing ignoramuses like me were impressed. Then, under the musical supervision of Stuart Morley, we had excellent vocals from all involved.

In the lead roles of Scott and Fran we had Kevin Clifton and Maisie Smith respectively. Both excelled in song and dance, as you would expect and were equally supported by Nikki Belsher (Shirley Hastings), Mark Sangster (Doug Hastings), Gary Davis (Barry Fife), Quinn Patrick (Les Kendall), Oliver Brookes (JJ Silvers), Jose Agudo (Rico) and Karen Mann (Abuela) among over 20 cast members.

Best number of the night for me was the Paso Doble at the end of Act One, full of energy and breath-taking excellence, however, Beautiful Surprise ran a close second with amazing vocals from Clifton and Smith. I also had fondness for the Barry Fife comic number, Dance to Win, performed by Davis. In among the original score with offerings from Sia and Eddie Perfect, were retro classics in the form of Tequila, Time After Time and during the finale, a rousing and feelgood, Love is in the Air.

Strictly Ballroom — Birmingham Hippodrome — 31 October 2022

The whole show was not only a spectacle of dance though. Mark Walters colourful costumes were equally sparkling as was the impressive (and rather surreal) wooden curved panelled set. Add some great lighting from Richard G. Jones and you had the icing on the cake. At the end, most in the auditorium were on their feet and it was great to see the band on stage too for a bow.

This production; I loved it. The only criticism is a minor plot device with the cliché of Fran only considered attractive once she’d changed from unfashionable clothes and removed her glasses.

Strictly Ballroom is touring the UK the rest of the year and into next summer. Even if you are not a fan of dance, do not let this put you off. This is a fabulous show, darling.

Cheers.

Antony N Britt

There’s a message floatin’ in the air. Crazy horses ridin’ everywhere.

This had to be one of the most surreal experiences in all my years of Musical Theatre audiences, witnessing Osmond Mania at The New Alexander Theatre, Birmingham.

The Osmonds, A New Musical — New Alexander Theatre, Birmingham — 25 October 2022 

The Osmonds Musical is the brainchild of Middle Osmond, Jay, and tells the story of 60 years in 2 hours 20. An impossible task, of course, but Jay Osmond has done a decent job of getting across what it was all about.

Now I’m not that knowledgeable about the band as although at school in the 1970s, I was male, and that made a difference. Sure, I saw the crowds on TV, plus the reactions on Top of the Pops, and read Look-In each week. What I do understand, though, it was like the mania surrounding the Beatles a decade earlier. And I saw a fair bit of mania in the theatre.

I’m won’t go over the plot, check Wikipedia for the history of the band. What I can say is even for the uneducated, the show delivered a good feel for events of the relative times. We had aspiring dreams, euphoria, success, and rebuilding when it all went wrong. What the show said, though, was that The Osmonds were a tight unit, and family was more important than anything.

And then there were the songs. 30 … Yes 30 massive numbers. Okay, some had edited treatment, but the big tunes were there. One Bad Apple, Love Me for a Reason, Down by the Lazy River, Yo-Yo, Crazy Horses, Double Lovin’, Goin’ Home, The Proud One, Hold Her Tight and One Way Ticket to Anywhere. All of these were top drawer as were the solo Osmonds with Puppy Love, Paper Roses and Long Haired Lover from Liverpool.

The Osmonds, A New Musical — New Alexander Theatre, Birmingham — 25 October 2022 

The band were Alex Lodge (Jay), Ryan Anderson (Merrill), Jamie Chatterton (Alan), Tristan Whincup (Donny), Danny Nattrass (Wayne) with Georgia Lennon as Marie. All were amazing in vocals, reproduction so good, you could not tell the difference between them and the real thing. Charlie Allen and Nicola Bryan also gave strong performances as parents, George and Olive Osmond.

Also featured heavily were the Osmonds as Children: Miles Redwood (Jay), Jayden Harris (Alan), Dexter Seaton (Merrill), Austin Redwood (Wayne), Herbie Byers (Donny) and Austin Riley (Jimmy) were all excellent where involved.

The Osmonds, A New Musical — New Alexander Theatre, Birmingham — 25 October 2022 

The book was by Julian Bigg and Shaun Kerrison (also directing) with added material from Bosse Anderson and Anders Albien. The only criticism was I found the Jay narratives broke the flow at times and didn’t add much, if I’m honest. Choreography was by Bill Deamer with musical direction from Will Joy.

I mentioned at the start about the mania and even though this was a Jukebox retelling, we had people passing out. In all my years I have only had a production halted once while I was on stage and never when in the audience. October 25, it happened twice, once in each Act, and with people on the same row but not connected to one another. Now I have a scientific theory which could be rubbish but it’s all I can come up with. The audience were mostly 60+ and back in the Osmonds heyday, these would have been the screaming teens of Osmond Mania. Maybe some kind of retro hysteria took them back in time and let’s face it, older bodies cannot cope as they might have in 1972. It’s just a thought and I hope the two unfortunates were okay. It was strange though.

Apart from that, a great night out and even if you weren’t much of a fan, this was a good show. The production is touring the UK the rest of 2022 with further dates to be added next year. Well worth a night out.

The Osmonds, A New Musical — New Alexander Theatre, Birmingham — 25 October 2022 

Cheers.

Antony N Britt 

There is nothin’ like a dame. Nothing in this world.

Well, there is … actually. Nothing like having women regarded as more than aesthetic creatures, which is a fault of the original script. But I can’t be too hard on Rodgers and Hammerstein and the sexism in South Pacific as it was ground-breaking on opening more than 70 years ago for another reason of equality. 

South Pacific tells the story of the US Navy stationed on a Pacific Island during World War II. The main plot focuses on the romance between an American nurse and a French plantation owner with the subplot of a US Marine’s flirtations with a Tonkinese girl. The topic of racial prejudice is included in both, way ahead of its time and thankfully, addressed.

South Pacific — New Alexander Theatre — September 30 2022

The term iconic is not one I use often but the fact that most of the numbers are instantly recognisable says how big this musical is. A Cockeyed Optimist, Some Enchanted Evening, There is Nothin’ Like a Dame, Bali Ha’i, I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair, I’m in Love with a Wonderful Guy, Younger Than Springtime and not forgetting Happy Talk. That’s eight straight off that I knew before I saw it for the first time a few years ago. Admitted, the 70-year-old script and score is dated but this production induced a new freshness with a stark but simple backdrop of corrugated panelling. Here shadows were projected with basic scenery wheeled on and off when necessary. It worked. Good use was also made of a rotating stage, especially in numbers, giving two different perspectives.

South Pacific — New Alexander Theatre — September 30 2022

Julian Ovenden gave a superb performance as a somewhat younger Emile than I have seen in the past and was well matched with Gina Beck (Nellie Forbush), equally excellent, particularly in vocal numbers.

It was nice in this production to see the character of Bloody Mary less of a stereotype in grass skirts, but quirky instead with individuality. Superb by Joanna Ampil. Also strong was Rob Houchen in the role of Lt Cable with an equally stong voice as were all the principals. Then there was Luther Billis, played wonderfully by Douggie McMeekin, giving a huge helping of comic relief to the show.

Supporting well was Sera Maehara (Liat) who excelled in individual and company dance, plus David Birrell (Capt. Brackett) and Stephen John Davis (Cmdr. Harbison) who made an amusing double act at times.

In this production, choreography was by Ann Yee with musical direction from Jon Laird. The director was Daniel Evans.

One thing to note, particularly for amateur societies thinking of doing this show when available, the audience seemed mostly 70+. Even so, the auditorium was still full, showing there is life in South Pacific yet.

The show is still touring in the next few weeks at Edinburgh, Canterbury and Leeds. Well worth an evening out.

South Pacific — New Alexander Theatre — September 30 2022

Cheers.

Antony N Britt 

If I became you, and you became me, and we became one another.

Identical — Nottingham Playhouse — 12 & 13 August 2022

It’s unusual to give my overall impression in the first paragraph of a review, but the fact I went to see Identical twice in two days will let you know how much I enjoyed this brand new, feelgood musical. 

George Stiles and Anthony Drewe are probably the best song-writing team currently in Musical Theatre and with a book by Stuart Paterson and direction in the hands of Trevor Nunn, Identical was always going to exceed expectations.

Identical is based on Erich Kastner’s 1949 novel, Lisa and Lottie which was more famously adapted into a treasured movie of mine and many other childhoods in Disney’s The Parent Trap. However, set in Munich and Vienna, Identical follows Kastner’s original plot closely.

Of course, unlike the Disney films with Hayley Mills (1961) and Lindsey Lohan (1998), to have actors in a dual role on stage is near impossible. That is why production auditioned over 100 sets of identical twins (now three years ago, before Covid occurred) resulting in the successful trio in this premiere run at Nottingham and Salford.

Identical — Nottingham Playhouse — 12 & 13 August 2022
Kyla and Nicole Fox – Friday August 12 2022.

Lisa and Lottie meet at summer camp (“She’s got your face!”) and realise they are twin sisters during the beautiful, tear-jerking You’re My Sister. Working out they were separated at birth, their parents taking one each, the girls swap places in an excellent number of punch the air proportions in If I Became You.

Once the girls return from camp, the changes are noticeable. Lottie has forgotten how to cook, gets in a fight at school, and becomes a terrible student, while Lisa will no longer eat her favourite food, becomes a model student and can now miraculously play the piano. However, no one suspects the girls are not who they claim to be, and the situation complicates when Father announces he is to marry a famous ballet dancer.

The first thing to notice is the wonderful set with video projections creating a magical stage, complete with rustling leaves, flying birds and later, moving cars in the city. So much credit, therefore, must go to Douglas O’Connell (Video Designer), Robert Jones (Set Design) and Johanna Town (Lighting). However, it is an all-round combination that makes Identical so good. Script, songs, musical direction (Caroline Humphries), choreography (Matt Cole) and especially the performances. And none more so than the leading twins.

I have already mentioned that me and my partner liked it so much, we returned for a second helping at the Saturday Matinee. Therefore, we saw two out of the three Lisas and Lotties: Friday was Kyla and Nicole Fox while Saturday saw the roles played by Eden and Emme Patrick. Not only could I not separate the twins on stage, but it was also likewise with their respective performances as both sets were excellent. Out of this world in every number. Obviously, I didn’t get to see the third (Savannah and Sienna Robinson) but having viewed a West End Live Performance on YouTube, I know they would have been of an equally high standard. 

Identical — Nottingham Playhouse — 12 & 13 August 2022 
Eden and Emme Patrick – Saturday 13 August 2022

But there were also top performances from the adults. Emily Tierney was magnificent as Lisalotte, especially during the title track, Identical while James Darch was equally so with Tierney during Fear Only Makes the Wolf Bigger and Safely Back Home with You.

Supporting well though were Louise Gold (Roza/Miss Muthesius) and Michael Smith-Stewart (Dr Strobl) who duetted in a lovely number, It’s Not for Me to Say. And there was David Bardsley (Franz) and Ellie Nunn (Miss Ulrike), the latter opening the show with In the Summer. A massive shout out, though, must go to Gabrielle Lewis-Dodson as Miss Gerlach. Her duet/argument with Lottie in What He Doesn’t Need was for me, the best number. And I kind of felt sorry for Miss Gerlach as unlike the films, her character isn’t as scheming, and she really doesn’t do an awful lot wrong. Still, a happy conclusion it will be and for that to happen, both parents must reunite, along with the sisters.

Identical — Nottingham Playhouse — 12 & 13 August 2022
Savannah and Sienna Robinson – The twins I didn’t get to see.

Identical is a wonderful show of magical proportions which not only appeals to audiences of today, but also captures the spirit of musicals of old. Next to me on one performance was a man twenty or so years my senior (and that does not happen often these days). He laughed and enjoyed as much as the kids who filled a good percentage of the auditorium. And it is those kids who are so important.

Theatre in the 21st Century needs shows like Identical, as well as similar in School of Rock and Matilda. Children will go along with families and enjoy them so much, they will come back. And there you have your musical theatre audience for the next generation.

As I have said, this was an all-round smash for me, as you can tell by the fact this review is double the length of my usual. Therefore, credit to all adult ensemble members: Rico Bakker, Hannah Cauchi, Paige Fenlon, Rosie Glossop, Dominic Adam Griffin, Jordan Isaac and Rutendo Mushonga. And the young cast: Parrine Long, Kirsten Muzvuru, Poppy Pawson and Helena Middleton who were on show for me with Winter Jarrett Glasspool, Daisy Jeffcoat, Saffia Layla and Isabelle Larrey at other performances. And well done to the Nottingham Ensemble of children, plus Louby as Pepi the Dog.

I really hope Identical becomes the hit it deserves as in my opinion, it’s up there with Mary Poppins and Annie in terms of magical family entertainment.

The show has now finished at Nottingham but moves to The Lowry in Salford. Friday 19 August to Saturday 3 September 2022. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Identical — Nottingham Playhouse — 12 & 13 August 2022

Cheers.

Antony N Britt 

And another one bites the dust.

Well, at least another musical off the tick list. I’m a massive fan of Queen, and a musical theatre fan, but I’d never seen We Will Rock You until this showing. Okay, I was supposed to see it two years ago, then Covid came calling. Finally, though, I got to experience what it’s all about.

We Will Rock You — Birmingham Hippodrome — 11 July 2022

I have never witnessed a show like We Will Rock You before. Or rather, never been faced with two extremes. On one hand, the cast and band with their musical performances were outstanding. As good as anything I have ever seen or heard. Then on the other, you have the book by Ben Elton. I can honestly say, it is awful. I’d compare it to a low-grade GCSE project, but that would be unfair to the students. Little or no plot, terrible script, and contrived that many lines are only there as an excuse to wring out another Queen number. Many of the songs are irrelevant to the plot as well: Crazy Little Thing Called Love, Flash, The Show Must Go On and Fat Bottomed Girls. All fillers which do not move the (tenuous at best) story along. Not only that, many are not even great Queen songs. No One But You (Only the Good Die Young), These are the Days of Our Lives and Radio Ga Ga are average at best. Even the title number, We Will Rock You, is vastly inferior to the fast live version from Queen gigs of old. At least we got a cameo of that in the bows.

And then there were the characters as written. Little to them and only made good by the excellence of those in the roles. We are introduced to Meat and Brit, whose characters are built up to be major influences on developments, then both are discarded, having served their purpose.

The dialogue was filled with song puns, like “I’ll tell you what I want, what I really, really, want,” then “I can’t get no satisfaction,” and the comment that the truth is “Blowin’ in the wind.” One or two maybe, but when you’re on the 30th pun, you want to scream. And that was just Act One. Similarly, did we really need four Covid references? Less is good; no chance of overkill. But you didn’t need to kill Ben Elton’s script as it was dead already in an act of suicide by the writer.

We Will Rock You — Birmingham Hippodrome — 11 July 2022

But I still enjoyed the show. Well, mostly. This was because, as I have mentioned, the cast were phenomenal. I can’t give them enough praise. In the role of Galileo was Ian McIntosh who was out of this world. I Want to Break Free, in particular. Similarly, Elena Skye gave one of the best vocal performances I have ever seen. Let’s face it, unless you can deliver with power, sass, and stage presence, don’t even try to sing Somebody to Love. Skye was brilliant. Best number of the night.

Michael McKell played Cliff and he gave a good rendition of These Are the Days of Our Lives. Likewise, Martina Ciabatti Mennel (Meat) and Edward Leigh (Brit) were on top of their game, the former, excellent in No One But You (Only the Good Die Young) and together with I Want it All.

The villains of the piece were Jennifer O’Leary (Killer Queen) and Adam Strong (Khashoggi). Both were superb. O’Leary with Don’t Stop Me Now and Strong giving us Seven Seas of Rhye, plus together on A Kind of Magic.

And I must mention the band: Zachary Fils, Matt Herbert, James Barber, Simon Croft, Neil Murray, and  Dave Cottrell. All delivered a sound of pure rock genius and it was wonderful to see them invited into the bows and take front stage at the end.

So, a standing ovation for the performances, they were excellent. Shame about the script, though. It says it all when there are only seven named principals in a show and half of them only used when needed. Ben Elton — Could have done a whole lot better. Perhaps he was Under Pressure when he wrote this book.

What! Bad pun? Jeez, it must be catching.

Cheers.

We Will Rock You — Birmingham Hippodrome — 11 July 2022

Antony N Britt 

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