Tag Archive: New Alexander


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

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

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

And what a show they gave.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cheers.

Antony N Britt

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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

This show is personal to me because less than 12 months ago, I performed in Thoroughly Modern Millie with my own local theatre company. So how did the professionals measure up?

Well, the first thing to note was looking at the programme, I saw one of the Chinese duo was being played by someone from Hong Kong. Now having spent six months learning lines in Mandarin, I reckon that was cheating.

I jest. The show was great. Straight from the off we had vibrant energy and good fun.

Thoroughly Modern Millie – New Alexander Theatre – 13 February 2017

Playing the part of Millie Dillmount was Strictly Come Dancing’s, Joanne Clifton. What can I say? Well performed with good vocals and fantastic dance. Nothing, though, that I wouldn’t expect from one who had just partnered the winner in the recent series.

The other billed star was soap actress, Michelle Collins, who played the villainess, Mrs Meers. Now I do actually like Ms Collins, but I wasn’t particularly wowed on this occasion. There was a lack of character and not enough differentiation between the American accent (which wasn’t convincing to start with) and the fake Chinese. It seems a regular downside for me, seeing the big name stars not living up to the hype. She was still good, but not up there with others in the show, particularly Katherine Glover as Miss Dorothy,

There was excellent direction and choreography on the night, but I’d anticipated this when learning Racky Plews was at the helm. This is the third Plews outing for me in a year and all have been of a high standard. Amazing for me, also, was how good a sound was produced by only having a seven-piece band under the direction of Rob Wicks. Overseeing everything was Executive Producer, David King.

Also on stage for the tour are: Sam Barrett (Jimmy Smith), Jenny Fitzpatrick (Muzzy Van Hossmere), Damian Buhagiar (Ching Ho), Andy Yau (Bun Foo), Catherine Mort (Miss Flannery) and Graham MacDuff (Trevor Graydon III). The latter stole a good part of Act Two and it’s amazing how a drunk scene can do this.

It’s hard to pick a stand out number as I am so familiar with all of them. Therefore, I’ll simply say, Gimme Gimme, Speed Test, Forget About the Boy, and all the rest were top quality, too.

Couple of niggles. No Mamma appearance at the end, and Muqin could have been more OTT.

Still, a great night out, and plenty of goosebumps reliving my own experience of last May. So did the pros do it justice? Certainly, in my opinion.

 

Cheers.

 

Nick

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

 

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

I have to admit to some trepidation when venturing to watch American Idiot. You see, I’m a huge Green Day fan and not only that, the original CD on which this show is based is among my top five favourite albums of all time. And I also enjoy the Broadway Cast version, too, so the event had a lot to live up to

Green Day’s American Idiot – New Alexander Theatre, Birmingham – 13 May 2016

The first disappointment, however, was the audience. I was in the middle circle which was only a third full. Then came the opening. On an impressive set which reflects the theme of the show, American Idiot should have burst into action, blasting me from my seat. It didn’t. The title track was … well, too quiet. I expected the sound to near burst my ears from such a fantastic number, but I was left a little deflated. Now this had nothing to do with the performance, more that I felt the sound people had got it totally wrong. The sound did improve, thankfully, as the show went on, in spite of a further complication when Tunny’s microphone failed to work for the entire of Are We The Waiting.

Now this might sound like a disaster of a show but two things swung it round. The magnificence of the Green Day numbers and the dynamic performance of the cast. After the initial problems, I was soon on the edge of my seat in excited anticipation for each song. Highlights for me were, Letterbomb, Extraordinary Girl, 21 Guns and Homecoming.

Okay, the story on stage is pretty thin and often confusing unless you already know what is going on, but American Idiot is more about bringing the music to life. And the show did just that.

Playing the lead of Johnny was English singer/songwriter, Newton Faulkner who delivered an excellent performance. Former X-Factor finalist, Amelia Lily also shone as Whatsername as did Alexis Gerred and Steve Rushton as Tunny and Will, respectively. The role of Johnny’s alter-ego, St Jimmy was undertaken with power by Lucas Rush. For my visit, two of the cast stepped up in their understudy roles with neither giving anything short of marvellous. Alice Stokoe was perfect in the part of Heather as was Karina Hinds as Extraordinary Girl.

I also have to mention the band of Robert Wicks, Alex Machisone, Tommaso Varvello and Nick Kent who along with Steve Rushton, faithfully reproduced the Green Day magic. American Idiot was directed and choreographed by Racky Plews with musical supervision from Richard Morris.

It’s a testament to a show with regard to how much of an impact it makes on you. I have attended performances where I have left the theatre and not thought a lot about it for a while afterwards. This was not the case regarding American Idiot. For nearly a week, I had the Broadway CD playing in my car, then the original Green Day album, followed by Broadway again.

Yes, American Idiot left it’s mark.

It’s not over till you’re underground.

Green Day’s American Idiot – New Alexander Theatre, Birmingham – 13 May 2016

Nick