Review: Chicago, Cambridge Theatre

If you wait long enough, it feels like you could watch anyone you wanted to in Chicago such is the roundabout that is their ever-changing cast, but recently it has become to go-to place for television stars to come and tread the boards. Jill Halfpenny is the latest person to make this journey, but in winning Strictly Come Dancing, has already established her dance credentials and so this show feels like a good fit for her.

She’s in the role of Roxie Hart, an ambitious chorus girl who murders murders her lover, smears her husband’s name and razzle-dazzles her way in court in order to make herself a star. The show mixes great songs, Fosse-inspired dance routines and a whole load of showmanship into an exuberant whole which is now probably one of the longest-running shows in the West End.



Unfortunately, I wasn’t as mad keen on the rest of the show around her which disappointed on a few levels. Anna Montanaro’s Velma Kelly was vocally quite weak and lyrically very unclear, French looked like her was just going through the motions and there was not a lot of cohesion in the chorus, most of them look gorgeous and buff but there were rarely synchronised well. Maybe this is because I had the film in my mind throughout, but ultimately this production did feel a little shabby.

Halfpenny does well as a character who seems so very far from her own (one disadvantage of reality tv over regular acting means that one gets a greater sense of actors as people rather than their acting skills) but pulls it off really rather well. Her American accent was flawless, her dancing strong and she has a great sense of comic timing too, her rendition of We Both Reached for the Gun with Michael French’s Billy French was hysterical. She seems very much at home on the stage, no awkwardness or over-acting and given that she was reason I’d booked to see the show, this made me very happy.

Review: Joseph and his Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat, New London Theatre

Joseph and his Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat is a show that has a special place in my heart: I’ve sung in primary school productions, played the piano for high school productions and seen it countless times so I struggle to see how other people can actually have gotten through life without seeing it at least once! And when I find people in my life who have escaped it thus far, I do try my best to drag them along, the regular changing of its lead star meaning that there’s something new and different for me as well.


Currently wearing the Dreamcoat is former Steps star H, otherwise known as Ian Watkins, who takes the lead role in Bill Kenwright’s production which is currently residing at the New London Theatre. Watkins transfers much of his chirpy pop persona to the stage very well, strong and secure in his singing but managing a commanding leading man presence too, engaging well with the audience but reining in the excesses to ensure we have the requisite emotion too.


There’s enthusiastic support from the ensemble especially Vivienne Carlyle as a clear-voiced narrator, but the company is too small to be really effective as a proper West End musical in a big theatre: there’s noticeable doubling up even within the brothers, there aren’t enough women to balance out the sound, being so familiar with the score I wasn’t keen on the changes that have been made to accommodate this with a loss of many solos and all in all, it just doesn’t feel value for money.

To be frank, the production looks cheap and shoddy, and doesn’t quite make enough of its homespun virtues to be able to get away with it. This is exacerbated by the endless encores, repeated songs and megamixes that make up the finale of the show which goes on well beyond tolerable levels: I don’t think people mind a short show as long as they have been entertained, and padding it out in this way simply highlights the uncertainty of the producers that there is actually enough here to satisfy.

So a big disappointment for me: this feels like a show that is resting on its laurels somewhat and relying on its reputation and the familiarity that so much of the audience will have with so many of the songs. It simply doesn’t make enough effort to reinvigorate the material despite the best efforts of Watkins and the rest of the cast.

Review: Tell Me on a Sunday, Gielgud Theatre

Tell Me On A Sunday is a funny beast, not quite a full musical, more of a song cycle as it has now been divested of its other dance-based half in its original form as Song & Dance to create this vehicle for Denise Van Outen. Andrew Lloyd Webber’s music and Don Black’s lyrics have now been blessed with updated new material from comedian Jackie Clune, showing that broken hearts and disappointments are still just as easy to come by, if not more so, in the 21st century.

Our leading lady is a girl from Ilford who, when she discovers her boyfriend is cheating on her, relocates to New York for a fresh start and a whole new set of men to be unlucky in love with as time and time again, she find the perfect guy, tells everyone back home about him and then it goes pear-shaped. The set is on a revolve with an ever-changing set of props that evoke the range of locations, helped by projections onto the walls, as we move from England to the USA, from date to date, from New York to LA. It fills the stage well, but there is the ever-present nagging sense that the material here is paper-thin. There’s no real attempt to make its leading lady anything more than a dumb blonde, or show any real depth to her, any sense of her learning from her mistakes. Like the Duracell bunny, she just gets back up and keeps on going same as before.


Consequently it needs star quality to deliver it some weight and fortunately Van Outen rises to the challenge in a star-making performance. Vocally, she is strong at everything: the anger of Let’s Talk About You, the tenderness of Come Back With The Same Look, the playfulness of Capped Teeth and Caesar Salad and best of all, a hushed version of Unexpected Song which is probably the loveliest thing I have heard all year. She really controls the stage well though, taking us through the ups and downs and more downs of her romantic life and remaining utterly convincing throughout. She really sells the whole damn thing and deserved the wild reception when the curtain finally came down.

So can I recommend this to people? I am really not sure. If you like Lloyd-Webber’s stuff and/or Denise Van Outen, then this will be perfect for you as it involves someone at the top of her game delivering the goods superbly. For casual viewers though it might be too much of an ask and at these ticket prices, it is too slight and insubstantial a piece to justify what they are charging, no matter the quality.

Re-review: Anything Goes, Theatre Royal Drury Lane

Not much more to say about this as the production is largely the same as that which we saw at the National but enjoyed so much that I wanted to take my little sister who was visiting for the weekend. The major change was a sadly enforced one as one of the actors Denis Quilley died of cancer just before the transfer opened, but there’s also a few new faces in the ensemble.

I think I might even have preferred it this time round, it suits the ‘proper’ theatre building it is now housed in and knowing what to expect meant my anticipation levels were sky-high (and fortunately met). This is definitely the kind of theatre I love and hope to see much more of now I live in London: who knows, I might even try and sneak in another visit to this!

Review: Anything Goes, National Theatre

Anything Goes is a Cole Porter show, directed here at the National Theatre by Trevor Nunn, which has to be one of the happiest, sunniest ways to spend an evening ever, this feel-good show really does work wonders and should be seen by everyone. Set onboard a cruise liner, there’s a tangled web of romantic intentions with singer Reno in love with Billy who loves Hope who’s engaged to an English Lord who just happens to be keen on Reno. Throw in people running from the law, a minor gangster and his moll and a bunch of tap-happy sailors, plus a generous dollop of schmaltz and everyone’s a winner.

Stephen Mears’ choreography which is played out on a relatively static set, the multi-level deck of the cruise liner, was probably my favourite element of the night, if pushed, the sheer imagination and skill on display is just breath-taking and magnificent to watch – the excellent tap numbers just make me want to learn to do it properly. But there’s no real weaknesses here and Porter’s music is just so full of classic songs that everything is just so irresistible, it really was one of those evenings where I didn’t stop smiling. Continue reading “Review: Anything Goes, National Theatre”