10 of my top moments of the decade

Ever behind the curve, I present 10 of my top moments in a theatre over the last ten years (plus a few bonus extra ones because whittling down this list was hard, and it will probably be different tomorrow anyway!)

© James Bellorini

Extraordinary Public Acts for a National Theatre

The establishment of the Public Acts programme at the National Theatre offered up something sensational in Pericles, an initiative designed to connect grassroot community organisations with major theatres, resulting in a production that swept over 200 non-professional performers onto the stage of the Olivier to create something that moved me more than 99% of professional productions.  A truly joyous and momentous occasion. 

Honourable mention: this year’s musical take on As You Like It proved just as heart-swellingly beautiful over at the Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch. Continue reading “10 of my top moments of the decade”

Review: Hairspray, Orchard Dartford

“You can try to stop my dancin’ feet”
This mahoosive new tour of Hairspray started in the middle of last month and stretches right through to June 2018 and it certainly feels like it has the potential to be a great success. There are some cracking performances which really elevate Paul Kerryson’s production of this most effective of shows (music by Marc Shaiman, lyrics by Scott Wittman and Shaiman, book by Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan) and choreography from hot-shot of the moment Drew McOnie.
And given how dance heavy Hairspray is, it is an astute move from Kerryson as McOnie’s inventive use of movement establishes and reinforces so much of the febrile mood of simmering racial tension and potential societal change. In the hands of the likes of Layton Williams’ Seaweed and an effervescent ensemble, it’s hard to keep a smile from your face as the sheer toe-tapping enthusiasm of it all as fabulous group numbers shake and shimmy their way across the stage.
Slight reservations about men taking women’s parts aside (*cough* Craig Revel-Horwood *cough*), Matt Rixon’s Edna is sensitively portrayed in locating real heart within the broader character moments, and Gina Murray’s Velma is a vivacious villain against her. And it is hard not to be thoroughly impressed by Brenda Edwards’ ferocious vocal performance as Motormouth Maybelle – really selling the weight of the socially conscious material. 
But for all that I enjoyed, I couldn’t help but feel that the central couple here are still feeling their way into the show. Rebecca Mendoza is making her professional debut as Tracey Turnblad and she does do well in establishing a genial stage presence. Her singing voice doesn’t quite match up to the full breadth of Tracey’s ballsy confidence at the moment, similarly Edward Chitticks doesn’t have the full measure of Link Larkin’s innate charisma yet – as the tour progresses though, you can imagine they may well yet both grow further into their roles.
Given the length of the tour, I can easily see myself going back to reassess Mendoza and Chitticks, such is the joy of the production around them. And it is a real pleasure to see the work of one of our brightest choreographers in Drew McOnie proudly taking centre stage across the country, not just in a London where his reputation is deservedly fixed.
Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 9th September,then touring to…
Bord Gáis Energy Theatre, Dublin 11 September – 16 September 2017 
Winter Gardens, Blackpool 18 – 23 September 2017
Sunderland Empire Theatre 25 September – 30 September 2017
King’s Theatre, Glasgow 2 October – 7 October 2017
Birmingham Hippodrome 9 October – 14 October 2017
Leicester Curve 16 – 21 October 2017
Buxton Opera House 23 October – 28 October 2017
Belfast Grand Opera House 30 October – 4 November 2017
Waterside Theatre, Aylesbury 6 November – 11 November 2017
Sands Centre, Carlisle 13 November – 18 November 2017
Bradford Alhambra 20 November – 25 November 2017
G-Live, Guildford 27 November – 2 December 2017
Theatre Royal Plymouth 15-20 January 2018
Mayflower Southampton 22-27 January 2018
Sheffield Lyceum 29 January – 3 February 2018
Eden Court, Inverness 5-10 February 2018
Theatre Royal, Nottingham 13-24 February 2018
Wolverhampton Grand 26 February – 3 March 2018
Bristol Hippodrome 5-10 March 2018
Edinburgh Playhouse 12-17 March 2018
His Majesty’s Theatre, Aberdeen 19-24 March 2018
Opera Theatre, Manchester 26 March – 7 April 2018
Milton Keynes Theatre 9-14 April 2018
Liverpool Empire 16-21 April 2018
Hull New Theatre 23-28 April 2018
Venue Cymru, Llandudno 30 April – 5 May 2018
Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury 8-12 May 2018
Cliffs Pavilion, Southend 14-19 May 2018
Wycombe Swan, High Wycombe 21-26 May 2018
Cheltenham Everyman 29 May – 3 June 2018

The Curtain Up Show Album of the Year 2015 nominees

Best Cast Recording
Bend It Like Beckham (Original London Cast Recording)
Cool Rider (Original Studio Recording)
Gypsy (2015 London Cast Recording)
Made in Dagenham (Original London Cast Recording)
Memphis the Musical (Original London Cast Recording)

Best Solo Album
Cynthia Erivo and Oliver Tompsett Sing Scott Alan
Hugh Maynard – Something Inside So Strong
John Owen-Jones – Rise
Tim Prottey-Jones – To Do. To Be.

Album Review: Made in Dagenham (Original London Cast Recording 2015)

“And still we’re only dreaming for change, change, change…”

Any semi-regular reader will know the love I had for the late lamented musical of Made in Dagenham so my pleasure at a live cast recording being released was boundless indeed as I always thought that David Arnold’s score was one of the more under-rated parts of the production. And it is so nice to have this kind of full reminder of a much-beloved show although I have to say the first couple of times I listened to this soundtrack, I was still too filled with sadness at its early closing.

But now I’m fully in the appreciating stage and there’s lots to love here. This recording really emphasises the female voice(s) and picks out the sophistication of much of the harmony that wasn’t always immediately apparent at the Adelphi. The spit-wielding mothers of ‘Busy Woman’, the wary onlookers of ‘Storm Clouds’, the weary strikers of ‘We Nearly Had It All’, the depth of the female ensemble just sounds like a dream. Continue reading “Album Review: Made in Dagenham (Original London Cast Recording 2015)”

Review: the final night of Made in Dagenham, Adelphi

“Everybody out…”

So here we have it, barely six months after opening, the machinery at Ford Dagenham has ground to a halt for the last time and Made in Dagenham has played its final performance. To say I’m gutted is putting it mildly, this was a piece of shining musical theatre that I took to my heart from the first time I saw it and again on my subsequent two revisits. You can read Review #1 Review #2 and Review #3. But the opportunity to see it one last time was one I couldn’t resist and if a show has to shutter, then the special energy of a closing night is probably the time to do it. 

And I’m so glad that we went back for more (this is the first show I’ve ever dayseated twice and you can count the number of times I’ve dayseated on one hand!) as it was a truly special night. The occasion aside, it was a genuine pleasure to see and hear the show again and the cast were on fire to a (busy wo)man. Adrian der Gregorian has never sounded better than pouring all his heart and soul into ‘The Letter’, Sophie-Louise Dann tore up the stage and her colleagues’ tear ducts in ‘In An Ideal World’, Mark Hadfield’s Harold Wilson went even further over the top (if such a thing were possible), and Heather Craney’s goofy Clare became almost unbearably heart-breaking with such emotion on show. Continue reading “Review: the final night of Made in Dagenham, Adelphi”

Re-review: Made in Dagenham, Adelphi

“You can’t try and bamboozle me with choreography”

A third visit back to this most heart-warmingly lovely of shows and a fine festive occasion it turned out to be. Review #1 and review #2 can be read here and there’s little much to add that hasn’t already been said. There’s much about Made in Dagenham that is indubitably charming and the breadth of David Arnold’s score has a lovely distinct tunefulness that has really worked its way into my memory (meaning I’m the one humming along!).

Additionally the leading performances of Gemma Arterton and particularly Adrian der Gregorian have really blossomed into something quite touching – I’d always been impressed by Arterton’s Rita but der Gregorian seems to have found a new emotional level as her husband Eddie. It’s also interesting to see where the nips and tucks have come in the show – the quip about Sandra’s dad liking whiskey and Monty’s redemption are two I noticed, and Rita’s daughter’s bolstering presence during ‘We Nearly Had It All’ is also now sadly gone. Continue reading “Re-review: Made in Dagenham, Adelphi”

Re-review: Made in Dagenham, Adelphi

“It ain’t about the money, it’s equality”

Reader, I went back. Before it had even officially opened. A return visit to Made in Dagenham was never really in doubt and so that’s where I was on Saturday night (on the front row again, there’s really nowhere else to see the show from!) My original review can be read here and I’m pleased to report that the show really has settled into its skin to become something that ought to become a long-running success (though whether it will or not is anyone’s guess). An original British musical full of humour and heart, a little bit of Dagenham goes a long way indeed.

Getting to see it a second time was a real privilege as it meant I was prepared for the few things that had bothered me first time round and also flagged up they weren’t ever really that bad. The broad sense of humour that permeates Richard Bean’s book and Richard Arnold’s lyrics perhaps owes a little to Victoria Wood, with something of the ensemble comedy feel of Dinnerladies in there plus the mention of one of her beloved Berni Inns. And knowing it is coming makes Harold Wilson’s bizarre treatment somewhat funnier in its complete randomness, Mark Hadfield clearly having a ball. Continue reading “Re-review: Made in Dagenham, Adelphi”

Review: Made In Dagenham, Adelphi

“Rome may not have been built in a day but Dagenham sure was”

Based on the real-life tale of the Ford sewing machinists whose strike in 1968 kicked into motion a groundswell of a movement that shook Harold Wilson’s administration and culminated in the Equal Pay Act of 1970, Made In Dagenham is one of those rare beasts – a brand new big-budget British musical. William Ivory wrote the story up into a 2010 filmby Nigel Cole but here it is Richard Bean who has written the book, with David Arnold composing the score and Richard Thomas penning the lyrics, with Rupert Goold taking on directorial duties.

The show naturally has had a lengthy preview period (opening officially 5th November) and I saw it a week ago, not having intended to write about it, but after a couple of people emailed me to ask my opinion, I thought sod it, I’ll write it up! So take it all with a pinch of salt, I suspect the show may not be to the liking of some but I really rather enjoyed it, with its huge amiability, its cracking lead in Gemma Arterton and that crucial level of interest that comes from a true story (and one whose legacy continues today, somewhat unresolved). I’ll be going back soon but here’s what I thought first time round.

Between them, Bean and Goold seem to revel in making slightly off-kilter decisions. Making Harold Wilson an unreconstructed comedy character complete with end-of-the-pier routine with a bit of soft-show here and some salty humour there is simply bizarre, though Mark Hadfield makes a genuinely decent fist out of it. Another choice that seems rather random is the striking opening visual in the bedroom which doesn’t really play out as you think it might. Continue reading “Review: Made In Dagenham, Adelphi”

Review: Legally Blonde The Musical, New Wimbledon

“You need to see me in a brand new domain” 

Legally Blonde The Musical turned out to be something of a surprise: a show that I grew to really love over my three visits during its West End run (review#1, review#2, review#3), whilst making a bona fide star out of its leading lady Sheridan Smith. I may not have been blown away by it on first viewing, but it worked its way into my heart and its soundtrack is one that I listen to quite often even now. Capitalising on its finish in London, a national tour of the show has taken up shop in the New Wimbledon Theatre, giving Londoners another chance to dip into the world of Elle Woods, if they’re willing to go to zone 3 that is.

Revisiting something that was so enjoyed though can have its pitfalls, as comparisons are invariably drawn. Some of it is about the realities of seeing a touring version of a show – the set will never be as impressive as in a West End house, but the design here really does come up short on a couple of occasions and the sound quality was shocking in parts. Elsewhere, some performances left me disappointed especially as the casting decisions don’t always seem to have hit the mark. It feels a little churlish to criticise Faye Brookes for not being Sheridan Smith, but her Elle doesn’t capture the loveability that is needed to keep the show swinging through its slower parts and to keep the audience invested. Gareth Gates takes on the thankless role of Warner very much against type and I’m not sure I bought him as the heartbreaker. Both sounded excellent though. Continue reading “Review: Legally Blonde The Musical, New Wimbledon”