Month: Apr 2018

Seussical – The Musical

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Seussical is the fourth musical from the award-winning Bilston Youth Company.

Written by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty this family musical based on the stories of Dr Seuss, opened on Broadway in 2000 and ran until May 2001.

The Cat in the Hat leads the viewer into the jungle of nool, where we meet Horton the kind-hearted elephant, who is guarding a speck of dust which contains Whoville. When Horton tries to tell the rest of the jungle about the existence of the Who’s he is put on trial for insanity. This musical is a story of love, friendship, uniqueness and the importance of fighting for what you believe in.

Costumes by stage world and Jo Evans combined with scenery by scenic projects Ltd; effectively draw the audience into the bright fantasy world of Dr Seuss.

Producer/ Choreographer Laura Canadine has created a piece of theatre that is a joy to watch. The dance routines were delivered to a very high standard (the “bird girls” were fabulous).

Musical director Sam Deakin’s vocal arrangements throughout the production, but particularly in the ensemble numbers, assisted the young cast to create beautiful harmonies that soared through the auditorium.

William Tyne gave a very believable and confident performance as Jojo; he has a lovely singing voice and delivered all songs pitch perfectly.

Ella Morgan’s delivery of Amazing Mayzie took us completely by surprise. Her voice is superb, and she is also a wonderful dancer which resulted in one of my favourite performances of the show.

Jacob Kohli as “The Cat in the Hat”, had excellent comedic timing and a strong voice. His engagement with the audience caused two little boys, who were seated near us, to giggle with great excitement.

Jolie Uppal gave a strong performance as Gertrude, she has excellent stage presence and a fantastic voice; we particularly enjoyed Jolie’s rendition of Notice me Horton.

The stand out performance for us was delivered by Joe Riley as Horton. He portrayed Horton with such gentleness whilst still maintaining a great stage presence and he held our attention every time he was on stage. He delivered the emotion of Solla Sollew perfectly, creating a little piece of musical theatre magic. Joe is one to watch and we would not be surprised if we see Joe in the West End in a role such as Evan (Dear Evan Hansen) in the future.

This is a very talented cast, each person on stage worked together as a team to deliver a piece of theatre that was a delight to watch.

We left the auditorium with a smile on our faces and our heads full of the The thinks you can think.

Seussical – The Musical played at Dormston Mill Theatre, Mill bank, Sedgley, between 24th – 28th April 2018. For more information on Bilston Youth visit their website.
MT

Theatretastic 5/5:

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We say: “This is a five star production from an insanely talented youth company. Seussical was a delightful treat!”

Blithe Spirit – Union Theatre Solihull

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Opening in 1941 and running in the West End London for 1,997 performances, Blithe Spirit is one of Noel Coward’s best-known works and our personal favourite.

So, when we discovered award winning Union Theatre group were preforming this piece at Christchurch URC, we purchased our tickets and headed to Solihull. This non-for profit amateur theatre company (any profit made from productions are donated to charity), have three productions planned for this year, Blithe Spirit being the first of the season.

This “comic play” tells the story of Charles Condomine an author, who in order to gather information for his next novel, invites an outlandish medium to his home to carry out a séance. Madame Arcati accidentally conjures up the spirit of Condomine’s first wife Elvira, who has been dead for seven years.

Elvira attempts to disrupt Condomine’s marriage to his second wife Ruth (who can not see or hear Elvira), causing chaos and commotion in the Condomine’s household.

Director Mark Firmstone and musical director John Gough have captured the style of Noel Coward perfectly in this production. Recordings of songs from the era were played, complete with crackles, whilst the audience gathered in the church, which had been transformed very effectively into a theatre setting. As the lights went down, John Gough entered onto the stage and played the theme from Blithe Spirit on the piano, this was a very effective and unique way to begin a performance of a play.

Blithe Spirit is set in the sitting room of the Condomine’s house, the furniture and furnishings used, together with costumes by Belinda Piasecki, transported the viewer into Upper Class England of the 1940’s.

Alex Butler is a very accomplished and engaging leading man; and gave a strong performance as the author Charles Condomine.

Julie Moore creates the character of the flighty clever Elvira perfectly. I enjoyed her scenes with Alex Butler and thought they had very good chemistry.

Jackie Justham as the eccentric Madame Arcati was delightful; her comedic timing was just spot on particularly each time Madame Arcati went into a trance.

Victoria Ellery Jones as Ruth Condomine, for me gave the standout performance of the evening. She has excellent stage presence and held my attention throughout the production.

This Noel Coward classic is an ambitious piece of theatre for any company to undertake, however Union Theatre delivered both an accomplished and entertaining performance fully appreciated by the audience.

We thoroughly enjoyed Blithe Spirit and look forward to future productions by this very talented company.

Blithe Spirit runs at Christchurch URC, Warwick road, Solihull from 26th – 28th April. For more information on Union Theatre visit their website.

MT

Theatretastic rating 4/5:

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We say: “Union Theatre are a talented company who delivered accomplished performances in this Noel Coward classic.”

Kiss Me, Kate – Manor Musical Theatre Company

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Kiss Me, Kate is an iconic film and musical that I have never seen on stage. When we saw that Manor Musical Theatre Company were performing Cole Porter’s classic at Sutton Coldfield Town Hall, we seized the opportunity to catch the show.

Kiss Me, Kate was written by Bella Spewack and Sam Spewack with music and lyrics by Cole Porter. The original Broadway production of Kiss Me, Kate opened in 1948, ran for 1077 performances and had Tony Award wins including best musical and score in 1949. It is set for a Broadway return in 2019 and Opera North are taking the show to the London Coliseum in June. Many people will also remember the musical from its 1953 film starring Kathryn Grayson, Howard Keel and Ann Miller.

The story is a classic ‘show within a show’ and is set both on and off-stage during the production of a musical version of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew. The leading actor-director Fred Graham co-stars with his leading lady (and ex-wife) Lilli Vanessi. Their stormy relationship creates tension and calamity as Fred tries to make sure that the show goes on. Throw in a couple of gangsters and new love interests and you have a recipe for comedy gold.

This production by Manor Musical Theatre Company was directed by Pam and James Garrington with musical direction by Peter Bushby and choreography by Maggie Roberts.

The company have been producing high quality musical productions for many years. Formed in 1952 as Manor Operatic Society, the company only recently changed its name to Manor Musical Theatre Company in June 2015. With previous shows such as South Pacific (2017) and Calamity Jane (2016) already in their repertoire, I had high hopes for their performance of Kiss Me Kate.

Susan Bushby, who played Lilli Vanessi/Katharine, was a real shimmering star. She commanded the stage and made us laugh along with her comedic performance. She has a beautiful soprano voice delivering her solos with effortless grace. Fred Graham/ Petruchio played by Barry Styles was a fantastic leading man and their chemistry together really stood out in all their scenes and songs. My particular favourite duet was Wunderbar, where their voices complimented each others perfectly.

The company ensemble and dancers were wonderful as they delivered the charismatic choreography of Maggie Roberts, with energy and spirit. I particularly enjoyed Another Op’nin’, Another Show and Too Darn Hot where we see Roger Inigo as Paul lead the number with great character and style.

Rebecca Perry as Lois Lane/Bianca had wonderful stage presence throughout. Beth Hooper as Hattie and Andy Hooper as Hortensio shone with their natural acting abilities.

I have to mention George Fletcher and Lynne Ridge as the gangsters. They were a real highlight of the show for us and had us laughing every time they were in a scene. They both have such natural comedic ability (fantastic New York gangster accents), and they create such a spark when together on stage. We would have happily had Brush up your Shakespeare continue on and on just to keep them both performing together.

This company has infectious energy and you can really tell that they are having a great time on stage. It is so refreshing to see a company of all ages work together as a team and have a good time delivering a high quality show. The entire company are talented and they all offer different skills that enhanced the production. There wasn’t one smile from this company that didn’t leap off the stage and make you smile along with them. The professional attitude of the company meant that even opening night mic glitches couldn’t hinder the production.

With wonderful direction, fabulous costumes and an extremely talented orchestra, Manor Musical Theatre Company are a breath of fresh air in the world of amateur dramatics.

DT

Theatretastic rating 4/5:

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We say: “A talented company that delivers this hilarious production of Kiss me, Kate with their infectious energy and terrific stage presence.”

The Twisted Tale of Hansel and Gretel

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Patrick studio, Birmingham Hippodrome, Hurst street, Birmingham.

The Twisted Tale of Hansel and Gretel is a co-production between Birmingham Hippodrome and the Open theatre company, with artistic direction and assistance provided by Metro-Boulot-Dodo.

This fully integrated production includes cast members from BecauseWeCanCanCan, a learning disabled-led theatre company based in the West midlands.

A flustered storyteller is joined by a mischievous mocking bird as he follows Hansel and Gretel deep into the forest. All is not what as it seems as the characters start to tell their own version of this “twisted tale”.

Our guest reviewers Theatretastic Family (Mum, dad and twin boys aged 6) describe their experience of attending a performance of Hansel and Gretel during the Easter holidays:

“As we had tickets for a Sunday morning performance we decided to drive to the venue. We found parking available in Hurst street which was very convenient.

The Patrick Studio was easily accessible either through the main Hippodrome entrance or the Thorpe Street side entrance. The theatre is located on level three, there is a lift available if required. We found the amenities child friendly and the refreshments on sale were reasonably priced.

The studio is intimate with seating for 200 people. Our seats in row E were perfect as the boys had a clear view of the stage but wherever you would sit you would have a fantastic view.

It was really refreshing to see a cast of all abilities on stage. Audience interaction was encouraged at specific times by the mocking bird character and the narrator, the boys really enjoyed this part of the show.

This was a thoroughly enjoyable experience and we would recommend this production and the Patrick Studio to other families.

We look forward to future Twisted Tales by this very talented cast and production team.”

Theatretastic family rating 4/5:

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There are plans for the Twisted Tale of Hansel and Gretel to tour nationally next year.

Our Theatretastic twins have recorded answers to our questions about the production for our podcast which is available now and their answers are also available below. We look forward to more wonderful reviews from our Theatretastic family!
MT and DT
Hear our Theatretastic Twins answer our questions:

Strictly Ballroom – The Musical

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Strictly Ballroom is my favourite Baz Luhrmann film. The characters, story, dry wit and breathtaking dancing make it a true classic for me.

MT and I often quote some of the best lines from the film in casual conversation. Of course, I deliver them with my best (terrible) Australian accent.

When I found out that the film had been adapted to the stage I was desperate to see it. The first UK staging of Strictly Ballroom The Musical had its première at the West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds on Wednesday 30 November 2016, playing a season through until Saturday 21 January 2017. I wished for a West End transfer and my musical genie made the wish come true.

Now playing at London’s Piccadilly Theatre, Strictly Ballroom has lit up the West End with its energetic and dazzling presence. Director and choreographer Drew McOnie has breathed life into a cinematic classic and made a sensational piece of theatre.

With costumes by four-time Oscar-winner Catherine Martin, the cast of Strictly Ballroom are bold and bright as they effortlessly glide across the stage in the classic ballroom sequences.

For those not familiar with the story, Strictly Ballroom tells of Scott Hastings and his radical dance moves which cause a commotion with the Australian Federation. Wanting to dance his own steps, he starts to dance with Fran, a beginner and an outcast from the world of dancing. The story tells of their courage to defy the rules and to show the world that to win you don’t need to dance “strictly ballroom”.

We went to a Saturday evening performance as a group of four (MT, myself, my aunty and sister) on our weekend in London. We had high hopes for the production after reading the reviews and knowing of the standard of talent involved. None of us were disappointed.

Zizi Strallen is glorious as Fran. She is already a favourite with MT after she saw her in the 2017 production of Follies, but this was the first time I got to watch Zizi in action. We can only describe her as the triple threat. She is an impeccable dancer, effortless actress and beautiful singer. Zizi captured the essence of Fran and her flawless comedic timing only made the audience love Fran (and Zizi) more.

Jonny Labey commanded the stage with his dynamic dancing and powerful stage presence. There was an electricity between Jonny and Zizi which should be bottled and sold on.

There were so many outstanding performances in this production. I had to look twice when I saw Stephen Matthews as Doug Hastings, who looked almost identical to the character in the film, Stephen captured the qualities of Scott’s father that fans of the film will appreciate. The dance scene with Stephen and Anna Francolini (Shirley Hastings) was a personal favourite. Will Young as Wally Strand was a perfect razzle-dazzle host and helped the production flow seamlessly as he narrated the story with his soothing vocals.

The musical score included classics from the film such as Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps, Love is in the air and Time after Time. The music complimented the production and the addition of so many classic hits only added to the contemporary feel. I would have liked to have heard Fran and Scott sing for slightly longer together as both Jonny and Zizi had wonderful voices.

Other personal favourites were Gary Watson’s performance as Ken Railings, who made us laugh and smile throughout. Fernando Mira as Rico also dazzled as he taught Scott how to dance the real Pasodoble with passion and raw energy.

I could go on and on about the cast of Strictly as everyone was outstanding but I’ll save the rest for the podcast…

Strictly Ballroom – The Musical deserved the standing ovation that night and every night that it runs in the West End. A true gem of a show that had me smiling from start to finish and made me feel lucky that I got to share in a little bit of dancing theatre magic.
DT

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Theatretastic rating 5/5:

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We say: “Strictly Ballroom – The Musical is a true gem of a show that had us smiling from start to finish. Audiences are witnessing theatre magic in this beautiful, funny, bright and dazzling production.”

The Last Ship

From the opening anthem We got nowt else, quickly followed by The island of souls, with its descriptive lyrics and haunting harmonies, I sailed away on the “Last Ship”.

This Tony nominated musical, opened at the Neil Simon theatre on Broadway in October 2014 and ran until January of the following year.

In the UK production directed by Lorne Campbell, changes have been made to the original story. Some characters have been removed and the ending altered reflecting current political issues, such as the future of the NHS. The changes make the political message of this piece relevant to today’s generation.

Stage design by the Tony award winning company, 59 Productions, is exceptional. The staging perfectly recreates the industrial setting of the era complete with iron staircases, steel girders and cranes that shudder into action. Images such as stain glass windows and interiors of rooms are effectively projected onto the stage.

With an original score and lyrics by Sting this musical (based on the concept album Soul Cages together with his childhood experiences), tells the story of Gideon Fletcher, the son of a North East shipyard worker, who chooses a life in the navy rather than following previous generations into the shipbuilding industry.

17 years later Gideon returns to Wallsend, hoping to reunite with Meg, the girl he left behind, who he now realises, he has always loved. Meg is very reluctant to re-kindle her relationship with Gideon and even more reluctant to tell him, they have a child.

This piece of musical theatre is set in the 1980s at a time when industry was closing throughout the country, destroying the communities whose identity has been formed by people’s places of work.

In the Wallsend shipyard, sits a half built ship, “The Utopia” towering over the terraces. Here we find foreman Jackie White, his wife Peggy and the workers of Swan Hunter, who are on strike, fighting to protect their jobs and community. When the men are betrayed, they throw caution to the wind and take bold, daring action.

There are strong performances from Charlie Hardwick and Joe McGann (Peggy and Jackie White) who have excellent chemistry and are believable as the couple trying to hold everything together.

Richard fleeshman gives an excellent performance as the troubled Gideon Fletcher, his vocals sound uncannily like Sting, suiting the songs perfectly.

Frances McNamee gave the stand out performance of the show for me as the strong independent Meg. She has a beautiful voice, and her rendition of If you ever see me talking to a sailor, was just superb.

On the opening night Sting himself joined the cast on stage for the encore, which was really appreciated by the Birmingham crowd.

This is an outstanding piece of musical theatre and I class myself as incredibly lucky to have been able to see both performances and a production of such high quality at my favourite local theatre (the Alex). I would not be at all surprised to see the Last Ship sail (sorry!) into the West End.

The Last ship runs at the New Alexandra theatre from the 16th – 22nd April then continues on its national tour.
MT

Theatretastic rating 5/5:

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We say: “The Last Ship is an outstanding piece of musical theatre and Frances McNamee is superb! This production deserves to sail straight into the West End.”

RSC Macbeth

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In this fast-paced RSC production of Macbeth, set in the current day, director Polly Findlay quickly transports the viewer into Shakespeare’s “darkest psychological thriller”.

We were unable to purchase tickets for the theatre and were delighted to be given the opportunity to watch Macbeth as part of the Showcase Live event programme.

It is fantastic that event cinema can transport the audience to the live world of theatre. On our entrance into the cinema screen we were given a colourful information sheet containing all the information about the production. The sheet informed us of the cast and creative team of Macbeth in addition to details of future live RSC broadcasts at Showcase cinemas. On entering the auditorium, a member of staff asked audience members if they needed assistance locating their seats, which we found very helpful and made the experience feel very similar to the theatre experience. Our local Showcase even sold ice-cream in the auditorium in the interval which was very convenient, particularly for older members of the audience. The entire experience didn’t feel like the usual trip to the cinema.

In this unique version of Macbeth, the role of the porter is central to the plot. The porter is usually a background character, however the porter, portrayed very convincingly as a sinister individual by Michael Hodgson, remains on the stage throughout the production, sitting in the background as a witness to the evil deeds of the Macbeths. Each death that Macbeth is responsible for is recorded by the porter with a single chalk mark on the back wall of the set. He appears in various scenes using a carpet sweeper, indicating to the viewer that he is clearing up the mess left behind by the murderous Macbeths.

The three “weird sisters” are played by three girls of primary school age. All are dressed in polka dot pyjamas, speaking in unison whilst clutching a plastic doll. For me personally, there is nothing that sends shivers down my spine like a child cast in a supernatural role; this has been used so effectively by directors of horror films for many years.

Fly Davis’s stage design includes a large digital clock displayed high on the back wall of the stage. This is set by the porter and begins to count down from the point of Duncan’s murder. The countdown ends when Macbeth is slain where the clock is then reset.

Throughout the production, after each major speech, key quotes from the text of Macbeth appear on a screen above the stage, which was very effective and added to the contemporary feel. Costumes also designed by Fly Davis fit well with the production, particularly those worn by Lady Macbeth who was resplendent in various couture gowns.

Christopher Eccleston, making his RSC debut, gave a solid down-to-earth performance as the troubled Macbeth. Niamh Cusack’s portrayal of lady Macbeth is one of the best performances I have personally seen by an actress in this role. Her portrayal of a woman descending into madness was delivered with great sensitivity and conviction.

The highlight of the production for me was Edward Bennett’s portrayal of Macduff’s grief on discovering his family have been killed by Macbeth. I had tears in my eyes as I felt this man’s pain and heartache.

For us, this production and its visual effects worked wonderfully on the big screen. The music composed by Rupert Cross helped to create a sinister, tense atmosphere in the auditorium. I appreciate this production will not be to everyone’s taste, but if you like Shakespeare in a modern setting this may be something you will enjoy. As for me I love Macbeth and the RSC, so it was a perfect combination.

We thoroughly enjoy these live cinema events and it was good to see that many people in the nearly full auditorium felt the same way. We heard many positive comments about the Macbeth live cinema experience at the Showcase, with a group of friends planning their next event whilst still in the auditorium. Bravo to the Manager and the team at the Showcase Cinema Dudley for offering the audience an enjoyable theatre type experience in a cinema setting.

We look forward to the next live RSC cinema event screening of the classic Romeo and Juliet at Showcase Cinemas on the 18th July.

Macbeth runs at the RSC Stratford until the 18th September before transferring to the Barbican London from 15th October until 18th January 2019.
MT

Theatretastic rating 4/5:

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We say: “A sinister, tense and haunting production of Macbeth. Niamh Cusack’s Lady M is one of our favourites as an actress in this role. She was captivating!”