Re-review: Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, Apollo

Michelle Visage joins Everybody’s Talking About Jamie and it is just as much fun as you’d imagine

“Tell it like it is but they don’t wanna know it.
Life don’t owe you no you owe it”

Having just celebrated its first birthday in the West End (a pleasant surprise to see such a musical thriving there), Everybody’s Talking About Jamie is starting to make the kind of moves that will hopefully see that success continue. Layton Williams will be stepping into Jamie’s killer heels when John McCrea finishes his award-winning turn at the front, and some borderline-stunt casting got me back to the Apollo no worries.

Chucking Michelle Visage into the cast is actually a rather inspired move. Regardless of what you think of her, her friend-to-the-gays credentials are beyond reproach, particularly where drag is concerned. and Miss Hedge is the kind of supporting role that doesn’t pull too much focus while still offering a couple of opportunities to shine. And Visage does seem to have settled right into the company.

Continue reading “Re-review: Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, Apollo”

Review: Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, Crucible

“Sometimes you’ve got to grab life by the balls
You take those balls and tuck ’em between your legs”

We should be talking about Sheffield, and how its place in the fragile ecosystem of British musical theatre has only become more and more invaluable. Nurturing shows like Flowers For Mrs Harris and This Is My Family into existence and taking pride in their understated nature, the venue has also been incubating new writing talent. Well, new to musical theatre at least, for Dan Gillespie Sells is the lead singer-songwriter of The Feeling and Tom MacRae has written several episodes of Doctor Who and sitcom Threesome. And inspired by a BBC3 documentary, a meeting with director Jonathan Butterell and a fairy godmother-like intervention from Michael Ball, the result is brand spanking new musical Everybody’s Talking About Jamie.

And what a joy it is, a breath of feel-good fresh air that can’t help but leave you feeling fabulous. With career advice flying by unheeded, all 16-year-old Jamie is really bothered about as his school-time comes to an end is whether he will attend the school prom as his drag persona Mimi Me or not. And rather brilliantly, the writing hones in on Jamie just as a young man – yes he’s queer and a kween but he’s also a person still finding out the extent of his identity and how to relate to a wider world that isn’t necessarily always set against him. It’s a refreshing take on LGBT+ storytelling, and a sorely needed one, tipping its hat to the tales of coming out and battling against intolerance that have gone before and then finding its own space to parse the consequences of being this fierce in the real world. Continue reading “Review: Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, Crucible”

CD Review: Ghost The Musical (Original Cast Recording 2011)

“This is always such a rush”

Some musicals are slow-burners. They may not hit you with their full force on first viewing but rather repay revisits and repeated listens to cast recordings to unfurl the depth of their appeal. So it was for me with Legally Blonde, and also with Ghost the Musical – a show I saw twice in the West End and again on its 2013 tour, liking it more and more each time.

And a large part of that was the way in which Glen Ballard and Dave Stewart’s pop/rock-based score took its time to sidle its way into my affections, not necessarily the kind of music that would appeal to me but ultimately proving irresistible in its finest moments. And it is remarkably diverse too, pulling in from a wide musical palette whilst stamping out its own identity as something refreshingly different from your typical musical theatre score. Continue reading “CD Review: Ghost The Musical (Original Cast Recording 2011)”

Review: Groundhog Day, Old Vic

“I have not a bad word to say, 
about small towns. Per se.”

Expectations were high, how could they not be. Following on from the extraordinary success of Matilda, Tim Minchin’s next foray into musical theatre was to an adaptation of the 90s movie Groundhog Day, playing a two month run at the Old Vic ahead of a presumed Broadway transfer (a move that has had a little doubt cast on it by the withdrawal of major producer Scott Rudin). Now full disclosure, I saw it in its first week thanks to the PWC £10 tickets and the show went for a full month of previews before officially opening, so feel free to take my opinion with a pinch of salt.

For I did not enjoy Groundhog Day, at all. Worse than that, I was bored by it – at least hating something rouses some form of passion, but as Danny Rubin’s book cycled round and round and Minchin’s not unpleasant but in no way striking score dissipated into the ether, I wondered if Rudin might not have had the right idea. There’s a stellar performance from US import Andy Karl as the central Phil, carved out of that leading man material that is particularly American, but for me there was just too little magic emanating from Matthew Warchus’ direction to elevate the material.

Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 17th September

Review: Billy Elliot, Victoria Palace

“What does it feel like when you’re dancing?”

I got to revisit Billy Elliot the Musical as part of its 10th birthday celebrations this year and huge amounts of fun it was too – more than I was expecting actually since having seen the show before. But despite having run for a decade now, the production feels as fresh and exciting as ever, undoubtedly still “one of the best shows in town”. The full review can be read on Official Theatre here.   

Running time: 3 hours (with interval)
Booking until 17th December 2016, for now

DVD Review: Billy Elliot Live

“When the stars look down and know our history”

And what history there is to behold – a run in the West End which has stretched for nearly a decade now, a company that ranges from ages 6 to 84 (surely a record!), a live broadcast to cinemas worldwide which was the first event cinema release to top the UK box office and which contained a finale that brought together 25 young men who have all played the role of Billy. That recording of Billy Elliot the Musical has now been released on DVD so that the theatrical experience can now be recreated in the comfort of your own home and allows to see the detail that you may have missed from your seat in the Victoria Palace Theatre.

That’s the crucial bit really. For all those that worry that filmed recordings are going to replace live theatre, there does seem to be a missing of this salient point that not everyone sees the show from prime seats in the centre stalls. The magic of the theatrical experience can and is tempered by uncomfortable seats and unfortunate viewing lines – so a DVD offering close-ups and other unique shots offers a much-welcomed addition to that experience – and as reasonable a deal as £105 is for a family ticket (the starting price I should add), £15 or so enables a necessary widening of access to a show, which captivate a new audience so much they decide to book tickets – this isn’t a zero-sum game. Continue reading “DVD Review: Billy Elliot Live”

Re-review: Ghost the musical, Piccadilly

“It’s just relief to suspend my disbelief”

It feels a bit like I’m cursed when it comes to Ghost the Musical. I booked it at the beginning of the year to see the original cast before they went to Broadway and Sharon D Clarke injured herself so I missed her and this time round, eager to see Mark Evans’ acting and musical talent / damn fine abs *delete as appropriate, we arrived at the theatre to find his understudy was on. It is not the end of the world when that happens of course but it is sometimes a disappointment when one is looking forward to seeing a particular person (though it helps that there’s videos like this to fall back on) and as it turned out, when I saw the name of the understudy – Spencer O’Brien – I was actually quite pleased as he is someone I have great residual affection for as he was in the cast of the superlative Salad Days the Christmas before last.

And though my feelings about the show were decidedly mixed when I saw it last – review here – I’d listened to the soundtrack quite a bit since then and discovered that it really is a grower. I really like a good proportion of it and so was quite happy to revisit the show, with the bonus of a new cast and a companion that had not seen it before, and in the end I found that I actually enjoyed it much more. The key for me and the soundtrack helped immensely here, is to think of it as a chamber musical, a small intimate piece essentially for four characters, and let the rest simply glide by in a rush of neon light and slow-motion walking.   Continue reading “Re-review: Ghost the musical, Piccadilly”

Review: Ghost the musical, Piccadilly

“You in danger gurl!”

In the story of Ghost the Musical, it is the character Molly who is the ‘gurl’ in danger, but it turned out to be the woman saying it, Sharon D Clarke’s Oda Mae Brown who should have paid heed as a broken foot has ruled her out of the show for a while now and possibly out of the Broadway transfer too. I was particularly gutted as she was one of the main reasons I had booked to see the show, to catch the original leading cast before they trot over to New York to open the show there, and Clarke had been cited as one of the main attractions of the show.

As the show premiered in Manchester, my parents were amongst the first to see it and I even got my dad to write about his opinions for me on this very blog. But even despite his qualified recommendations, I couldn’t quite work up the enthusiasm to fork out for the show and it was only this imminent departure of Caissie Levy and Richard Fleeshman that got me there (which is ironic in itself as I don’t really see what all the fuss is about with Levy and Fleeshman struggled for me in Legally Blonde). But off to the Piccadilly I went with my mixed feelings, along with a pleasingly diverse crowd of theatregoers, and I left with mixed feelings too. Continue reading “Review: Ghost the musical, Piccadilly”

Guest Review: Ghost – the Musical, Opera House Manchester

I owe all sorts of things to my parents, not least my love of theatre to which I was introduced from an early age, and though our tastes coincide on many things (Propeller’s Richard III being the most recent example), they vary on others and I was quite surprised when they announced that they were going to see Ghost – the Musical in its premiere run at the Opera House in Manchester. So, I prevailed upon my father to write up his thoughts in advance of my trip to see the show when it moves down to the Piccadilly Theatre in London on 22nd June and so I present to you, unedited, the real Mr Foster đŸ˜‰

Sometimes, it pays not to expect too much. That way, you stand a chance of being agreeably surprised, as I was by how much I enjoyed ‘Ghost – the Musical’.

Whoopi Goldberg apart, I was no big fan of ‘Ghost – the Movie’, so I wasn’t anticipating that a musical version sticking very faithfully to the film screenplay would appeal all that much. However, the show is visually spectacular and features some impressive performances by a strong cast. Dave Stewarts’s songs, though not particularly memorable (I didn’t come away humming any of the tunes), are well crafted and listenable. With one clunking exception, of which more below, the weaving of the songs into the storyline is skilfully done.

The lead performances are very good. As in the film, Oda Mae Brown is crucial, because she gets most of the best scenes and lines, and Sharon D. Clarke is outstanding in the role, with terrific stage presence, good comic timing and a rich, deep, soul singing voice. Her introductory number ‘Are you a Believer?’, sung with her two assistants, is a cracker (for older readers, think The Pointer Sisters ‘It’s Raining Men’) and her final routine, ‘I’m Outta Here’, was my favourite bit of the show.

Richard Fleeshman and Caissie Levy are engaging and likeable as Sam and Molly. Both have really good singing voices, even if they did tend to get a bit ‘shouty’ (especially Fleeshman) as some of the songs reached a loud climax. In fairness, they at times had to compete with an overloud band. Their first song ‘Here Right Now’ lifts the start of the show after a rather sluggish opening scene and the excellent ‘Rain / Hold On’ gets Act 2 off to a flyer. I also liked Molly’s solo ‘With You’.

The rest of the cast provide solid support. Andrew Langtree as the baddie Carl is a better actor than singer; Adebayo Bolaji is spectacular as the subway ghost; and the ensemble provide energetic backing to many of the musical routines.
Visually, the show is terrific, with an imaginative set, superb lighting and some dazzling special effects. The set is basically a box, but all of the walls move in and out to create other scenes and the walls are video screens, used particularly well to give pace and energy to the street and subway scenes. There are also conveyor belts across the stage and these are used effectively in the crowd scenes.

There are some flaws. As already indicated, the first act is a bit slow to get going and the sound balance is poor on some of the songs, meaning the singers are struggling to make themselves heard and the lyrics are difficult to make out. For me, the show’s worst feature by a distance is the song ‘Ball of Wax’. It is sung to the newly-dead Sam by a chorus of ghosts and is a jokey ‘you’re a ghost now’ number. Coming as it does after a dramatic murder scene, done with some clever special effects, the song is completely out of place and spoils the atmosphere they have worked hard to create.

Notwithstanding these reservations, ‘Ghost – the Musical’ is an engaging and entertaining watch. It is playing to packed houses in Manchester and every performance has apparently received a standing ovation (it certainly did the night I was there). Not sure I’d go that far but it was a thoroughly enjoyable evening.

Rob Foster