Review: You Will Believe ‘Love Never Dies’ After Seeing This…

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Love Never Dies opened on Monday, 22 February 2010 at London’s Adelphi Theatre to a packed house full of excited theatregoers and Andrew Lloyd Webber himself.  The audience was all a buzz with anticipation.  It seems that a lot of time had passed since this new show was announced formally at the press launch on 8 October 2009 at London’s Her Majesty’s Theatre but it is here now and is a must see!  The world premiere performance of Love Never Dies is scheduled for 9 March 2010.  

It is unimaginable all the people required to make a production like this but a thank you goes out to all involved for making such a remarkable and history-making musical.  Bravo.  Andrew Lloyd Webber must be very proud seeing this idea finally come to life. 

It opens on the pier at Coney Island on a dreary, cold, moonlit night with Madame Giry (played by Liz Robertson) reminiscing of Coney Island in its day.  The sound effects complimented the set with seagulls and the wind blowing.  Even the moon turned into a ferris wheel – how imaginative.  The visual effects were stunning as screens and projections enhanced / portrayed what she was thinking about.  The tall man, acrobats, fire baton performer, trapeze artists and the circus acts were terrific and their costumes authentic looking.  This is just the beginning as it only gets better. 

© Tracey Nolan

Before I go further into the story, I must comment on the fabulous music written by Andrew Lloyd Webber and conducted by Simon Lee.  It intensified and supported what was being performed by the talented actors.  Be prepared to get shivers when you hear The Phantom (passionately and perfectly played by Ramin Karimloo) sing ‘Til I Hear You Sing.  All the songs are special but my three favorite are ‘Til I Hear You Sing, Look with Your Heart, and Love Never Dies.  

The wonderful actors are commended on delivering such convincing performances.  A list of the main characters follows but it is not to disregard the ensemble who all add to a successful show. 

The Phantom is absolutely perfectly played by the talented Ramin Karimloo.  The beautiful Sierra Bogges makes her West end debut playing Christine Daae.  Christine’s husband, Raoul, is played by Joseph Millson.  As mentioned above, Madam Giry (manager) is played by Liz Robertson and her daughter (and performer), Meg Giry is played by Summer StrallenThe Phantom’s devoted trio Fleck, Squelch, and Gangle were played by Niamh Perry, Adam Pearce, and Jami Reid-Quarrel.  And last, but not least… Christine’s son, Gustave (the only new character) is played by a multitude of children but on this night, the character was wonderfully played by Harry Child who sang with a pure voice. 

I must reiterate Ramin Karimloo plays such a passionate character.  You can feel it in his songs, you can see it in his actions.  He is absolutely brilliant.  Sierra Boggess is beautiful and delicate with a softer voice.  All of the actors are talented in their own right, of course.  It is easy to see why everyone got a standing ovation. 

This may be a continuation of the most famous love story but it is a separate story all it’s own.  Taking place 10 years after the infamous Paris Opera House, it offers one surprise after another. The Phantom is a Man in his own right having created a mysterious and intriguing world on Coney Island, his Phantasma.  He sends for Christine to perform there.  Due to monetary problems, Christine accepts and brings her husband and son with her, no one realizing who Mr Y is.  Her husband seems like a pompous jerk who complains about everything but her child seems to share her qualities and is kind and innocent.  Just when they think no one is there to meet them at the dock, a ‘glass’ horse and a seemingly empty carriage with a glass skeleton driver pulls up.  The door opens and The Phantom’s Devoted Trio get out to greet them and take them to their master.  The visual imagery projected was terrific as it showed ‘the carriage’ travelling over a bridge and a map showing where they were going from and travelling to.  The combination of projection, the actual scenery/stage set, and live actors complimented one another and helped to portray the story. 

My first opinion of Raoul is confirmed by the way he treats his son and talks to his wife soon after they arrive at the Hotel.  He does nothing but complain and his drinking problem evident (which is added to by the gambling problem referred to more than once).  Their son, Gustave, has a pure voice to match his pure heart and it is easy to see that Christine loves him dearly.  It’s even apparent that she loves her husband and is devoted to him though one wonders why.  Raoul leaves for ‘fresh air’ (at the local bar) and Gustave goes to bed after his mother comforts him when he questions if his father loves him.  Then Christine, left alone, plays the musical toy that was given to her son and recognizes the music.  She is standing there obviously feeling a presence as The Phantom enters from the balcony.  They sing the ‘why’ and ‘what if’ game.  The love, history, and attraction is so transparent but she remains the dutiful wife.  By the way, the detail in the hotel room, particularly the door / balcony was splendid.  Gustave awakens from a nightmare and meets his mother’s ‘friend’, Mr Y (the man who brought them there). 

The next day, Christine and Gustave go backstage at Phantasma for business-related reasons when who should she run into but Meg Giry.  They are joined by Raoul and Madame Giry where they have a surprise reunion.  As they sing, Dear Old Friend, it is apparent that it is an awkward reunion and not a welcomed one especially for Meg and Madam Giry.  This is when Raoul finds out who the boss is and he is not pleased about the news. 

The Phantom calls for Gustave and his devoted trio brings the boy to his room.  The boy is intrigued with all the inventions / gadgets (like the walking skeleton with lady’s legs) which pushes a table across the stage).  He also plays the piano for The Phantom.  The Phantom marvels at his musical talent and enjoys that Gustave is at home there.  There is some important news that is revealed before the intermission and not something that makes everyone happy. 

After the intermission, the Orchestra plays Entr’acte, a beautiful introduction to Part II.  The rest of the scenes are as good as the first half.  There are humorous parts throughout the musical… one being in the bar when The Phantom (pretending to be a bartender) reveals himself to Raoul.  That was a good scene between the two men in Christine’s life.  I will say that Christine obviously will have to make a choice but I won’t say any more.  I don’t want to spoil anything so will just continue that it is full of intrigue, surprise, laughter, tears, and an undying love.  The ending was very unexpected but again I can’t divulge more because I want you to go and enjoy it.  I want you to be surprised and moved.  Whether you’re a hopeless romantic or a sceptic of love or whether you just want to see how the story continues… you’ll want to see Love Never Dies.  Go, take it in, feel it, and enjoy! 

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S P O I L E R   A L E R T

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If you want to know more, please read on… if not, PLEASE READ NO FURTHER!!! 

The Phantom figures out before intermission that Gustave is his son (which I also figured out so may not be a surprise to you).  At the altercation at the bar, the men make an agreement… if Christine performs that evening, Raoul will leave.  If she does not perform, The Phantom will let her be and will pay all of Raoul’s debts.  It is touch and go what she will do as she is almost pulled in by Raoul’s words.  Her love for The Phantom though is too strong and at the last minute while on the stage, she starts to sing.  She sings Love Never Dies… Raoul surprisingly honors the deal made or maybe just realizes he has no chance and leaves.  She has chosen her true love.  Just when you delightedly think there will be a happy-ever-after ending… there is more – Meg has taken Gustave.  She is saddened by the realization that her boss loves another and feels used for all the years she gave to him.  She is beside herself with grief.  After a chase / search on the streets of Coney Island, they are found on the pier.  Gustave is scared.  Meg lets him go and he flees to the protective arms of his mother.  Meg then pulls out a gun… The Phantom’s gun and points it at him while The Phantom and her mother try to talk her out of doing anything stupid or dangerous.  She then turns the gun to herself when The Phantom talks her (or sings her) out of doing any self-harm… you think everything is fine until he accidentally calls her Christine at the end.  That pushes her over the edge and she almost unknowingly fires the gun at Christine’s direction.  Yes, Christine is shot to the dismay of all, even her shooter whom she forgives before she dies.  She also reveals to Gustave who his father is and helps him accept it.  The Phantom and Christine share a love-filled, emotional kiss and embrace before she tragically dies.  The scene ends with Gustave removing his father’s mask and touching his face – a form of acceptance and a moving moment between father and son indicating that they will be okay.

by Ann Kamran (stagetalk.co.uk)

[Rating:5.0/5]

Book Tickets for Love Never Dies at Adelphi Theatre London!

OMIGOD – You have to see Legally Blonde!

Legally Blonde The Musical playing at London’s Savoy Theatre is full of fun from start to finish!  Just from sitting in the spacious Stalls before the show looking at the screen on stage with silk look material as a backdrop for the silver bracelet laid in the shape of a heart with a heart shape locket saying Elle Woods with the Delta Nu symbol, you could feel the anticipation.

I was very pleasantly surprised with this West End production.  I liked the movie but didn’t know how it could be successfully done on stage.  Well, it could be.

The whole show is full of energy, good lines, good songs and lots of humor.

Sheridan Smith who plays Elle Woods is an absolute Star.  You couldn’t help but like her character… feel for her… root for her.  Although she’s first perceived as a spoiled, rich homecoming queen, she is put in the position of the underdog when going up against her peers having to prove herself to be more than just a beautiful blonde.  Duncan James (Warner Huntington III) has a very nice, strong voice even when singing a song to break up with Elle who thinks he’s going to propose.  Elle follows Warner to Harvard to show she can be the smart, successful woman he could marry but in doing so finds herself and realizes she doesn’t need Warner.  You can see the friendship evolve between Elle and Emmett (played by Alex Gaumond) and the on-stage connection – perfectly cast.  It’s a star-studded show with Peter Davison as Professor Callahan, Caroline Keiff as Vivienne Kensington, Aoife Mulholland as Brooke Wyndham, Jill Halfpenny as Paulette, and Chris Ellis-Stanton as the UPS Guy just to name a few.  The audience loved the scenes with the UPS guy strutting his stuff.  

The whole cast is top-notch but the two 4-legged characters stole the show.  Elle’s dog Bruiser and Paulette’s dog Rufus were adorable.

The show is packed with entertaining songs and scenes of which Elle (Sheridan Smith) sings 16 of the 18 songs.  You’ll have fun watching the ‘bend and snap’ scene and the relationship between Paulette and Kyle (Mr UPS) unfold.  The courtroom scene is hilarious and you feel pride watching Elle solve the case clearing exercise guru Brooke Wyndham of murder.

‘OMIGOD’ get’s a lot of mileage in this show and is infectious.

If you want to see a funny, cute, feel-good show, go see Legally Blonde The Musical.  It’s a guaranteed enjoyable time.

by Ann Kamran (stagetalk.co.uk)

[Rating:4.0/5]

Book Tickets for Legally Blonde at Savoy Theatre!

An Inspector Calls… or does he? Go find out!

An Inspector Calls was written by J B Priestley in 1945 with it’s first debut in 1946.  It has had a long, successful history over the years and is currently playing at Wyndham’s Theatre.  It is a very popular, well-known thriller that has won numerous awards and it is easy to see why.  It grabs your attention right from the beginning when the first child comes on stage looking around.  You’re intrigued at what he’s doing and it then begins and doesn’t stop for the whole 1 hour 45 minutes it is playing.  You are so engrossed that the time seems to go quickly even with no intermission.

It is superbly cast and the set and effects are unique.  It is always amazing to see what can be done with a set and you’d be surprised at what all goes on on this seemingly small stage.  The rain and fog add to the mystery and bring a touch of realism.

The year is 1912 and the scene is the home of successful industrialist Arthur Birling (David Roper).  A stranger interrupts an important family dinner – the housekeeper Edna (Elizabeth Ross) announces an Inspector Goole (brilliantly played by Nicholas Woodeson) is there to see them.  Inspector Goole is there to enquire about the family’s role / involvement in the life and death of Eva Smith (also known by different names by different family members).  He talks to each of them – Father Arthur Birling who fired Eva from his factory; Daughter Sheila Birling (Marianne Oldham) who got Eva fired from his shop clerk job; Son Eric Birling (Robin Whiting) who had a relationship with Eva and got her pregnant; Sheila’s Fiancé, Gerald Croft (Timothy Watson) who also knew Eva and had provided accommodations for her / had a relationship; and last but not least, Mother Sybil Birling (Sandra Duncan) who, with a condemning and superior attitude, refused to help the pregnant girl (not realizing until it was too late that it was actually her own grandchild).

Amazingly, each person had an interactive role in what happened to poor Eva and contributed somehow to her death even if it was technically by her own hand.  It goes to show though, as a society, that we each have a responsibility to the other and how our actions have consequences although we may not know what they are.  Be kind to one another.

I don’t want to give too much away as it is very entertaining and enthralling to see.  It keeps you engrossed.  I will just say that the ‘Inspector’ may not be who he seemed so who was he and why was he there.  Perhaps we all need someone who makes us question/evaluate ourselves and our actions and to keep us accountable.

Bravo to the talented cast and to the crew, directors, designers and all involved for a job well-done.

by Ann Kamran (stagetalk.co.uk)

[Rating:4.0/5]

Book Tickets for An Inspector Calls at Wyndham’s Theatre!

Hop like a CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF to get your ticket!

Excitement and anticipation was in the air as people arrived for Press Night on 1st December 2009 at the Novello Theatre, London for Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.

One word sums it up – BRAVO!  This Tennessee Williams play directed by the talented Debbie Allen and played by an all black cast is full of passion, conviction, drama, humor and touching moments.  The unchanging set seemed authentic… making you believe you were in a big beautiful mansion on a Mississippi plantation.  You could see the wealth and prestige of the Pollitt family.  The mirrors on either side of the Stalls seating area in the beautiful Novello Theatre actually made the stage seem bigger.

All the characters play specific contributing roles but James Earl Jones (Big Daddy) was bigger than life – what a presence!  Sometimes you weren’t sure what to think about Big Daddy as he was usually what could be perceived as loud, rude and uncaring.  However, maybe he was who he was from working his way up in the cotton fields to owning the largest plantation this side of the Nile and putting up being surrounded by mendacity.  There were some words (actually one word said a few times) and movements that I wasn’t expecting from James Earl Jones but they seemed to fit the character – so well done.  As Big Daddy faced his mortality, he was trying to figure out who to leave his large estate to… wanting to leave it to his favorite son, Brick, but not knowing he could handle the responsibility while being an alcoholic.

I expected Big Mama played by Phylicia Rashad to be bigger (literally), especially the way Big Daddy talked about her but she played her part really well… the way she acted ‘older’ and as a loving and devoted mother and wife… strong and fearless when she had to be.  You could see her love for Big Daddy though he said he wished he could believe it.  That’s a sad statement after 40 years of marriage though you saw some tenderness between them at the end.  It was odd how sometimes what he said to her made us laugh when in reality, we would have been upset at the harsh tone / words he used disrespecting someone who deserves respect.

Sanaa Lathan as Maggie the Cat and Adrian Lester as Brick the alcoholic husband/son gave outstanding performances.  There were times I had to laugh thinking she is hounding that poor man and does she ever shut up but by the end I was admiring her for her strength and perseverance.  She seemed genuinely concerned for Big Daddy and caring towards Big Mama though at first she did only seem worried (like the others) about what they would inherit.  I found myself wanting to defend or protect Brick as you could feel his pain with the loss of his best ‘friend’ and having to think / talk about that in an unwelcomed heart-to-heart with his father.  Maggie and particularly Brick seemed to have the genuine affections of Big Daddy which was such a stark contrast to how he talked to / treated everyone else.

Nina Sosanya (Mae) and Peter de Jersey (Mae’s husband, Gooper) did great in their supporting roles.  I was just wondering where the fifth kid was as they kept talking about their 5 kids and 1 on the way… usually there were only 4 on the stage that I noticed anyway.  You kind of loved to hate them as they were annoying with their pettiness and greed while appearing upper class / proper.

The show passionately and accurately touches on alcoholism, loss, illness (cancer), facing mortality, family gatherings, greed, family discontent, sibling rivalry, being childless, sexuality, love, pain, and fear.  It has everything.  All the actors gave it their all from Big Daddy to the servants to the children and everyone in between – that was quite obvious.  I liked the references to a ‘Cat on a Hot Tin Roof’ tying the title with the characters / behaviors.

The lighting was well done showing the sun setting, seeing the moon and stars, fireworks, etc.  As mentioned, the set/stage was well done and I thought it was interesting how the whole play took place in Maggie and Brick’s bedroom (due to Brick’s injured ankle) though it had everything needed from a sitting area to a bar complete with radio and television to a couple of doors leading out to the Gallery.

I’m not sure about the two ‘intermissions’ (or the 15 minute interval and 5 minute break).  I’m not sure the 5 minute break is needed unless people know how long it is so they can get back to their seats before the play continues although it gives people an opportunity to stand and stretch their legs.  The intermissions seemed to be timed right though according to what was going on within the play.  The safety curtain was a beautifully painted nature scene of the Mississippi contributing to the feel of the south.

It is certainly worth it to experience this brilliant play with the cast and creative team involved.  They are responsible for making this magnificent version of this play the success it is.  The Novello Theatre is the perfect venue… suitable luxurious-feeling surroundings (with marble and mirrors), comfortable seats… nice view from the Stalls (seemed to be light and spacious).

Bravo, everyone!  Bravo!  And ‘many happy returns’.

by Ann Kamran (stagetalk.co.uk)

[Rating:4.0/5]

Book Tickets for Cat on a Hot Tin Roof at Novello Theatre!

Review: Pick your Pockets so you can go see Oliver!

Oliver the Musical was written by Lionel Bart.  It is directed by Rupert Goold & Matthew Bourne and produced by Cameron Mackintosh in association with the Southbrook Group Limited.  Cast, crew, stagehands, and management (all concerned) have really done a fabulous job with this musical.  The Drury Lane Theatre is a perfect theatre to host this funtastic show.  It is likely one of the larger theatres I’ve been in so far – very grand in size.  It is clean.  Its colors of cream, tan, red curtains, wood stained walls with gold accents add to its style.  The seats are stylish and comfortable enough.  Staff / ushers seem friendly.  There are crests and emblems on the fronts of the boxes adding to the character.  The theatre was a nice temperature.  A couple comments not so favourable would be that the exit doors aren’t very clearly marked.  Oh, they are clearly marked ‘exit’ but do not indicate where they exit to.  People would go out the wrong doors at intermission… doors that lead nowhere, certainly not to the bathroom or bar and we tend to follow the pack so where one goes, others follow.  The soft drinks were room temperature thereby requiring that I get a glass with ice which I dislike as it prevents me from being able to clap properly when the show restarts.  With a bottle and twist cap, I can reseal it when not drinking.  I’m not sure what was going on coming out of the theatre but traffic wasn’t flowing very smoothly (people seemed to be bumping into others or not knowing where to go, etc.) and the bike taxis parked on the sidewalk prevented ease of flow of foot traffic and vehicle traffic.  Minor things really, but just wanted to comment. 

I wouldn’t want to sit further back than Rows R/S in the Stalls as the full stage is used and there are times when there are actors up high (i.e.: on a bridge, etc.).  You can still see them but any further back and you might find yourself leaning forward to see.   Having said that, I think you still get the gist of what is going on. 

I must comment that there are not many shows these days which are totally kid friendly.  While, appreciatively, there was no swearing in this show, there is a pub scene which has some (perhaps unnecessary) adult-related acts / movements / suggestions that kids really don’t need to be exposed to.  Does it add to the musical?  Maybe.  Will it be missed if not there?  Probably not.  Are there other things that can be done to fill the time that would be just as amusing?  Probably.  It’s not as bad as I’ve seen in other shows and sadly enough our kids are exposed to this or worse on a daily basis but does that mean it should be the norm??  No.  Is their death in this show… yes… but not gory to the eyes – thank you for that.

This next comment is for the theatre goers.  They ask you to turn off your mobiles for a reason… it is distracting.  Whether it is ringing or you have it on vibrate… the light is distracting as well.  Unless you’re expecting an emergency / need someone to get hold of you at any time… turn it off all together – please.

Everyone must have heard of Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist.  It’s a book, movies, and a musical.  And why not… it’s a story everyone can be drawn to with misfortune, love, greed, sadness, and a happy ending.  Really, what’s not to love about this classic story and about this timeless musical?  There’s absolutely not one thing not to love!

I was thoroughly impressed with the whole package… the costumes looked so authentic, the actors all talented, the music absolutely terrific, and the set – well, I cannot say enough about the set.  It is absolutely amazing how you feel like you’re on a London dock on a foggy night or how the cobbled street looks like it goes on for miles or how the night sky looks so real or how you feel you’re underground in Fagin’s accommodations.  The buildings look so real along with everything else.  Also, the use of the walkway on the other side of the Orchestra just gives an added depth / interest.  I could write forever just about the set.  It is truly the most magnificent set I have ever seen.

A gentleman who was sitting beside me, a fellow Canadian, saw Oliver 25 years ago for the first time in London and he was seeing it again last night.  He only had good things to say… about Oliver back then and Oliver now.  He did say that technology has come such a long way.  I was looking on the internet and saw clips of different Oliver Musicals over the years.  I remember seeing one that had just a drawing of buildings as the backdrop and while I’m sure that worked back then, you’ve come a long way, baby!

When the show first started I thought… ‘What’s all the hype about’ but it didn’t take long to get into it (only a few moments – the first musical number had me).  I was totally amazed at the number of children in this musical… and bless them… they were absolutely terrific.  Oliver has a voice of an angel… Dodger is a likeable sort… but the littlest thief stole my heart.  Fagin’s ‘dears’ were all wonderful.  Honestly, I don’t know how the kids do it performance after performance… but they don’t miss a beat and just show so much energy and talent.  Nancy is like a big sister to the children and takes a shining to Oliver Twist who isn’t your run of the mill pickpocket.  Dolly Parton’s ‘bigger sister’ is in the musical – you’ll recognize her when you see her and you will see her.  Bill Sikes is a scary character but you know he does a good job at acting when he makes you hate him.  It’s nice to see him smile after the show is done when they’re taking their bows… he no longer looks menacing.  And Sikes has a pooch (Bull’s Eye?)… a sweet little four-legged character who although not seen much throughout the show, certainly does well when he is playing his parts.  There are so many characters to acknowledge… truly they are all brilliant but I don’t have that much room.  I will touch base on one more though… Fagin, played by Omid Djalili.  He is an absolute scream.  His dances, his songs, his jokes… for not such a nice man, you’ll become endeared to him.  And, what can we say… we have to give mention once more to the namesake… there wouldn’t be a show without OLIVER!

This is a classic story… one which everyone knows and loves.  The way it comes to life on the stage at the Drury Lane Theatre is worth experiencing.  Pick your pockets so you can become engaged with the beloved story of Oliver – only your own pockets though or you’ll be joining Fagin’s ‘dears’ in the workhouse!

by Ann Kamran (stagetalk.co.uk)

[Rating:5.0/5]

Book Tickets for Oliver at Theatre Royal Drury Lane

Review: STOMP, Slap, Clap… You name it, they do it!!!

Stomp, created by Luke Cresswell and Steve McNicholas, has been playing at The Ambassadors Theatre on West Street in London since September 2007.  Prior to that, it was at the Vaudeville Theatre since September 2002.

I always like to talk about what the Theatre is like because it is as important as what shows there.  If anyone were to say they’re all the same, then they haven’t been to them all.  They are as unique as the play or musical showing.  I was trying to think of a word to describe the theatre – intimate comes to mind.  It has two seating sections (Stalls and Dress Circle).  It’s not a large theatre but it is this that makes it possible for the actors to interact with the audience so well… in other words, the venue is perfect for this show.  The Dress Circle is on a steep incline… the seats not very comfortable but fine for the duration of the show.  It’s not so much uncomfortable but old, perhaps and in need of repair or replacement (the seat/cushion came off on the seat beside me).  There were several crests painted that were interesting / gave character along with the ornamentation.  It’s an older looking theatre but in a good way.

For a small stage, it’s a big performance!  There’s just enough room for the 8 performers and their props.  I was pleasantly surprised to find it a full house (at least from what I could see in the Dress Circle, likely the same in the Stalls).  It was nice to see so many attend as the performance is definitely intense and should be appreciated.  I remember thinking before the performance started that the theatre was pretty dusty and had amusingly wondered if it was part of the props… well, yes it was.  It must be from the dancing, shuffling, sweeping, and so on.

Before I go any further, I will say that it may not be everyone’s cup of tea.  It depends on what you’re expecting for ‘West End Theatre’ and if you have the kind of attitude to have fun wherever you go.

However, having said that, I thought it was fabulous.  The performers must get such an intense workout from every performance.  I would think they must be exhausted and/or sore.  It’s amazing the sounds that can be created with everyday things such as brooms, boxes of matches, dustpans/brooms, small garbage cans, large garbage cans, tin buckets, plastic pipes, kitchen sinks (including rubber gloves, dishes, and water), inner tubes, sticks, big blue drums/barrels, garbage bag, lighters, chairs, newspapers, and large water bottles.  That’s just external items… that doesn’t include the music they make just by using their hands and feet – clapping snapping, slapping, tapping.  Not only were they on the stage but on the back wall as well, sometimes in harnesses swinging back and forth – amazing!  They’re bodies just must be vibrating throughout the show.  I know it was loud at times from where I was sitting and that my hands / arms hurt from clapping so much, so I can’t imagine knocking sticks together or banging on garbage cans or slapping your thighs/hands, etc constantly for the approximate 100 minutes they perform (without intermission).

I was very impressed… loved the comedy… loved the talent… loved the stamina… loved the interaction with the audience.  And when I left there, I could hear music everywhere… from my footsteps to the fastening of my seatbelt to the clicking of my tongue (had to make my own music) to the typing on the keyboard.  That’s the way it should be… we should find music everywhere and appreciate it.  Way to go Stomp!

by Ann Kamran (stagetalk.co.uk)

[Rating:4.0/5]

Book Tickets for Stomp at New Ambassadors Theatre

Review: Good Ol’ Boys, Jersey Boys

Note: Jersey Boys was written by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, with music by Bob Gaudio and lyrics by Bob Crewe. 

I couldn’t think of a better venue for Jersey Boys than the Prince Edward Theatre on Old Compton Street in London.  What a theatre!  It’s simple on the exterior… nice clean lines.  It has a patio above the entrance.  What a cool feature.  The foyer is posh looking… like stepping back in time – a perfect backdrop for Jersey Boys.  I remember walking down these stylish winding stairs through the bar into the Stalls area and it’s like ‘wow’.  I must say, out of all the theatres I’ve been to thus far, this is the grandest one yet.  It is magnificent and regal.  The ceiling seemed so high and the decor even extended to the ceiling with a vine / leaf cut out letting the lights shine through.  The theatre is beautifully done in red tones and gold.  The seats are very comfortable and plush.  Delfont Mackintosh has outdone themselves.  I must say it was the most comfortable theatre temperature-wise especially on a hot summer night.  We sat central in Row N of the stalls… the best view.  I don’t think there is any bad view there though… it’s wide open.  Staff were terrific, friendly and helpful.  One young man took the time to ask an elderly lady in the row in front of us if she was comfortable… if she needed anything.  That was very thoughtful.

Now on with the show… and what a show it was!  It’s a true story about four boys from Jersey who experienced life together as one of the most famous musical groups of the times.  And while it is most definitely about the lives and successes (and failures) of a musical group, it really highlights the major role of Frankie Valli.  While Tommy seemed to be the force behind the group, Frankie was the leader.  It was a historical look in time.  I had heard of Frankie Valli & the Four Seasons and knew their music but I didn’t know their trial and tribulations, their losses and their successes, their ups and downs.  You get to see the story behind the boys from Jersey and it is an interesting one.  I was surprised at the honesty of it as it looked at prison, gambling, drinking, infidelity, drugs and first times.  I remember thinking it was a tough neighborhood they group up in.  Despite it all, you can’t help but get pulled in especially with the terrific music that they produced.  And the story was told in an unique fashion.

Fifty plus years on and people still know their sound… people still love their music.  Thank goodness for the Musical ‘Jersey Boys’ so it can be introduced to the generations to come.  And bravo that Frankie Valli is still performing… something he has always loved and that was of great importance to him.  The group has always credited the American public for their success (i.e. they couldn’t do it on their own).   Speaking of future generations, it was nice to see some young people in the row in front of us obviously enjoying the music that their parents were intent on sharing with them.

The boys lived by some codes: don’t lie to your mother, don’t tell the truth to your wife, and don’t cross the line with your best friend’s gal.  They also believed in the importance not to forget where you come from.  And through one of the most trying times of Frankie’s life… the death of his daughter, Francine, at the young age of 22… he remembered what his mother had said, ‘This too shall pass’.  The good and the bad both shall pass. 

The show features all the classic hits such as Sherry, Big Girls Don’t Cry, Can’t Take My Eyes Off You, Bye Bye Baby (Baby Goodbye), Working My Way Back To You, Walk Like A Man, December 1963 (Oh What A Night), Rag Doll and more.  You will be tapping your toes, clapping your hands, and singing along.  And at the very end, you will be waiting for them to come back for an encore not wanting the night to end. 

The Jersey accents were perfect!  I was amazed that the actors could sound so authentic as it is a different accent.  And there was Italian in it as well.  The main characters are played by the following: Ryan Molloy (Frankie Valli), Stephen Ashfield (Bob Gaudio), Glenn Carter (Tommy DeVito), and Philip Bulcock (Nick Massi).  Although the performance I attended, I think there may have been some alternates… kudos to all the actors for brilliant performances and of course, the band/orchestra. 

Tommy (DeVito) ended up in Vegas.  Bobby (Gaudio) ended up in Nashville on a riverboat with his family.  For Nicky (Massi), family ended up being more important to him.  Frankie (Valli) continues to perform… because the first time they made that sound, the first time they met… that’s what it’s all about to him.  Family has also become more important to him.

Catch a bit of history… catch a bit of nostalgia… let yourself get enthralled in the fabulous music.  Go see Jersey Boys today!

by Ann Kamran (stagetalk.co.uk)

[Rating:5.0/5]

Hairspray Review: A Toe-tapping Night at the Shaftesbury!

The Shaftesbury Theatre is currently home to Hairspray. It is the perfect spot for a perfect show! The classic, Roman decor is beautiful, the seats very comfortable and the theatre laid out well. The Stalls area was easy to move around in and the number of aisles was perfect to help people get to their seats. There were crystal chandeliers, angels, Roman figures, lions, cherubs… all of great detail. There was even beautiful scenic wall paintings above the box seats. Speaking of boxes, there are 8 boxes that seem to have a good view as they protrude out instead of being flush with the wall. People sitting there seemed to be sitting comfortably and enjoying themselves. The lights and speakers were placed strategically so that they didn’t really stand out or take away from the beauty of the theatre. I would comment that the bars need an extra person or two at intermission. The line-ups were atrocious and after waiting for almost the whole intermission, I got to the counter to be told they didn’t have any bottled water and I had to go to another bar. Other than that… staff seemed friendly / polite, the theatre seemed clean / well-maintained.

I’m afraid I have a new favorite! Sorry Mamma Mia (which has moved to a very close second now). The ‘Welcome’ greeting at the beginning of the shows always help set the mood, it seems. Reminding people that it was Baltimore 1962 before the time of mobiles and hoping we could return to that time, i.e.: turn your mobile off. I enjoyed the movie so figured I would enjoy the theatre version, however, I wasn’t prepared for enjoying it more than the movie or enjoying it more than other favorite theatre shows.

Right from the first note, it was just energy, laughter, and toe-tapping songs. From the first song, ‘Good morning Baltimore’… it just didn’t stop. I couldn’t stop moving involuntarily… either tapping my toes, bobbing my head or dancing in my seat. The audience, myself included seemed so into the show. You felt like you were in the audience of ‘The Corny Collins Show’ or engrossed in the lives of some real people. I loved being part of their lives, so to speak. The family bond of the Turnblads was something so nice to see in an age where family sometimes appears to take a back seat. Adam Price was ‘priceless’ as Wilbur Turnblad. Brian Conley was unbelievably believable as Edna Turnblad. It’s sometimes weird watching a man play a woman’s role but it really wouldn’t be the same otherwise in this instant. Welcome to the show, Brian! Good job! I adored Chloe Hart, who as Tracy Turnblad wanted to make you want to abolish segregation and to follow your dreams. She has a great voice and can really hit those notes. You couldn’t help but root for her… wanting her to obtain her dreams including getting the love of her life, Link Larkin played by Liam Tamne. Speaking of hitting those notes, Link did a pretty good job himself! The dancing of all the cast was excellent but most noticeable was that of Seaweed played by Adrian Hansel. He really had the moves! Motormouth Maybelle (Sandra Marvin) is a great singer and stand-out personality.

It’s not just a fun, happy, energetic show… it has meaning, too. It was a reminder that everyone isn’t equal… that people who look different are treated different… maybe not as much as in 1962 but still so. In particular… ‘big, blond and beautiful’ women and people who are not white get the shaft but that changes with the determination of one young lady and the encouragement of Edna, Wilbur, Motormouth, Link, Seaweed, and best friend Penny Pingleton (played by Verity Rushworth)! Go, Tracy! There were scenes when you could feel the oppression and sympathize and also cheer when ‘colored’ people decided to rise above the oppression and take their rightful place in society even with a start like integrating on a TV show.

Of course, Hairspray, isn’t just the title of the show… it does involve Hairspray and boy, they must go through tons of it. I read that 175 hand-made wigs are used in this production and cast go through 80 cans of hairspray a week.

I enjoyed the ‘I can hear the bells’ song, almost got caught up and clapped with the kids at the Patterson Park High School Sophomore Spring Hair Hop, and couldn’t help but laugh when Edna’s voice got really DEEP like when she says, ‘Excuse Me’ when talking to snooty Velma Von Tussle played by Liz Robertson.

The whole show was absolutely fantastic… no question about it. There is not one part that was ‘so-so’ or where you might be bored. One scene in particular though just had me laughing so hard… it was the ‘You’re Timeless to Me’ scene with Edna and Wilbur Turnblad. I didn’t notice until after I got home but my eyeliner had extended outward with nice black streaks as the tears filled my eyes from laughter and I tried to wipe the tears away. It was also touching… a love song between a husband and wife who obviously loved each other no matter what the other looked like or acted like. They were perfect as they are which is how spouses should feel about their other half. Even Brian and Adam had a hard time with the scene as the crowd roared with laughter and cheered with wild abandonment. The cast must have such a fun time with this show.

‘You can’t stop the beat!’ It will live on. I was so impressed with the energetic and brilliant performances of the cast. This is a show I would go see again. It leaves you wanting more. The audience didn’t want to leave at the end and waited for the performers to come out again. Bravo, Hairspray, bravo! If you want a ‘feel good’ time… go see Hairspray today!

by Ann Kamran (stagetalk.co.uk)

[Rating:5.0/5]

Book Tickets for Hairspray the Musical at Shaftesbury Theatre!

Theatre Review of Sister Act the Musical at the London Palladium

Hallelujah! Singing isn’t the only thing raised to the rafters!  Raise your Praises, as well!

Who knew an evening with Nuns could be so fun!! It started even before ‘Sister Act’ began when the voice of Whoopi Goldberg welcomes you and gives a friendly and amusing warning to turn off your mobiles or she ‘will find you’. Go Whoopi! So, the amusement began before the show.

I think everyone knows the story but for those who’ve never seen the film… this is a little bit about it. Deloris Van Cartier is a singer / performer in Las Vegas. She thinks her boss (and lover), Shank, is going to leave his wife and also encourage her singing career. He does neither, of course. She gets fed up and decides to leave. As she is leaving, she witnesses her man and his thugs killing someone. She goes to the police. At the police station, she is reacquainted with someone she went to school with, Eddie, who is now a police officer but she doesn’t take him very serious (he doesn’t even carry a gun). He suggests the Witness Protection Plan to keep her safe until the trial. He looks for a suitable place for her to hide and much to Deloris’ protest, Eddie places her in a Church with Nuns. The laughter, antics and drama that ensues will keep you engrossed and amused. Deloris or Sister Mary Clarence as she is known to her ‘Sisters’ has a difficult time adjusting to the life of a nun but you see as she bonds with the other nuns… and how they bring the best out in each other not only in every day life but as a choir. She’s no longer just a show girl as you see Deloris grow. And, it’s her spirit and determination that brings the people into the church. And it’s fun and funny watching as the church grows as the community starts taking interest… money starts coming in and the church gets some much needed repairs. If the nuns’ singing is good enough to bring the Pope to the church, it is good enough to keep you entertained. It’s interesting as well to see how Eddie develops / changes and becomes the man he has been inside all along and shows that side to Deloris eventually. I won’t say anything more about the story. We know the ‘good guys’ win but go see it for yourself to experience the fabulous journey to that destination!

It’s always amazing what can be done with scenery in such a seemingly small space of a stage. It was particularly the case with the stage at the London Palladium for Sister Act. It was terrific how it easily transformed from a Las Vegas stage to an alley to Shank’s pad to the Church to a bar and so on. It added to the quality of the show already enhanced by the expertise and interaction of the actors.

I found the crowd really engrossed with the show… cheering, laughing, interested in the love aspect, enjoying the singing (and dancing!) and even turned on by Shank’s thugs during ‘Lady in the Long Black Dress’. TJ, Bones and Dinero had their own fan club, I do believe, and may have got some women’s numbers after the show!

Watching ‘Sweaty Eddie’ change from the mild, meek guy to the sexy, self-assured man was a pleasure to watch during, ‘I Could Be That Guy’.

Mother Superior was terrific as she went from vocally protesting to noticeably protecting their Sister Mary Clarence (aka Deloris). I loved Sister Mary Patrick’s enthusiasm and boundless energy. Sister Mary Robert was sweet and seemed to blossom before our eyes. But, I absolutely adored Sister Mary Lazarus. She gave the best one-liners that kept you in stitches and to watch her go was fun. She reminds you of an Estelle Getty or of my wee Grandmother… spunky! All the nuns were great… their acting, dancing, and singing were inspirational. Monsignor Howard added to it all with his appearances.

Patina Miller’s performance of Deloris / Sister Mary Clarence was top-notch. She was strong in vocals and acting. There were times I could have swore it was Whoopi Goldberg I heard.

I missed some of the songs / hymns from the original movie but that doesn’t take away from the songs included in / made for the show.

It was fantastic how the ‘Poooooooope’ stood and waived to the Sisters in the final act. I thought it was the Conductor but when I looked back a minute later, the Conductor was standing there again and couldn’t have changed that quick or could he. It was priceless and was the cherry on top of the already sweetly, satisfying sundae.

Well done, Whoopi Goldberg and Stage Entertainment!  It’s a two thumbs up to all the cast and crew of ‘Sister Act’.

Sister Act is playing at the classic and stylish London Palladium in London’s fabulous West End.  While it is bound for much success… don’t wait – go see it now!  Be ‘part of one terrific Sister Act’.  You’ll be glad you did!

by Ann Kamran (stagetalk.co.uk)

[Rating:4.0/5]

External Reviews from Popular Press:

Glorious Fun! The Daily Telegraph
 

A divine all singing, all dancing musical comedy! Daily Express
 

Patina Miller – a star is born Magic FM
 

Sheila Hancock is splendid! Daily Express
 

Sister Act answered all my prayers and more! Daily Mail 

Review: Be Prepared to be Swept Away When ‘Kissed by Brel’…

We had the privilege of attending ‘Kissed by Brel‘ tonight in the intimate setting of the Jermyn Street Theatre. It was an entertaining evening… more entertaining than one would expect with only two performers on stage.

The set simple yet effective. The floor and back wall painted a shade of gray (the rest of the room black). Two chairs. Tow Glasses. One piano. Crumpled black paper around the perimeter, looking like leaves when the lights dimmed. A hand fan. And, of course, don’t forget the lighting. That’s it… besides Claire Watling using her scarf to change the look of her outfit. Simple, right? Maybe, but definitely all that was needed.

Seventeen songs… seventy-five minutes. It was 75 minutes jam-packed with talent. It was amazing how Claire performed the songs with such passion and emotion… bringing the stories alive through the words of the captivating and talented Jacques Brel. I could picture the carousel, the bull, the dog… (from ‘Carousel’, ‘The Bulls’, and ‘The Girls and the Dogs’). Her actions, movements, facial expressions, her tears… they all provided images for the songs… brought them alive. You could experience the sadness, humor, love, sarcasm. You felt like you were in Amsterdam. You could see the cinema where Madeleine’s love waited for her. You could envision the dog as she kissed it on it’s nose. That’s how real it was made.

And, the musical accompaniment by Godfrey Johnson definitely cannot go unnoticed. His natural ability added intensity to the songs. No compositions sounded alike. He helped tell the stories. And, it’s easy to see that Claire and Godfrey have a close, wonderful bond.

The lighting, as mentioned above, was well done. One wouldn’t think that there would be much work involved but that is before you see that it is more than a talented singer standing on stage singing. Spotlights, colored lights… it all helped enhance the story as she moved around the stage. Kudos to Lighting Operator, Justin Emrys Smith.

There is much talent and experience between Director Geoffrey Hyland, Performer Claire Watling, and Accompanist Godfrey Johnson. South Africa has been blessed with their gifts and now we are being blessed.  All their abilities shine through in this wonderful production of ‘Kissed by Brel’. You’ll want to see it! You’ll want to experience it!

by Ann Kamran (stagetalk.co.uk)

[Rating:4.0/5]