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

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 

PROUD by John Stanley Reviews

For his 18th birthday party, boxing hopeful Lewis is looking forward to a night in with his boyfriend, his family and his homophobic trainer.

John Stanley’s new play represents a sterling attempt to marry farcical comedy with weightier themes.

Stanley writes in a wonderfully blunt comic style that admirably suits the comedy of manners that makes up most of the play. This tone dominates the work and problems arise when Stanley asks his audience to think much harder than any of his characters bother to.

Issues such as gay men in sports, Olympic aspirations and remembrance of the Admiral Duncan bombing dilute the focus and sit uncomfortably in the comic narrative established in the first act. Broad stereotypes exist here, but they are relatively believable and director Christian Durham keeps the pace up and brings this selection of oddball characters to life.

The casting is excellent and centres on a remarkably realistic performance from Jay Brown as the spoiled, buff 2012 hopeful Lewis. His lover, 20 years his senior, is thoughtfully portrayed by Nic Gilder.

Timothy Dodd puts in a super slimy turn as Lewis’ sports trainer and Emma Swinn gets most of the more sophisticated one-liners as Ally. Anna Lindup plays the outrageously doting working-class mother to great effect and Shana Swash is the put-upon sister charmingly underplayed but woefully under-written.

There is enough raw-material in Proud to make for a fun evening at this burgeoning new venue. With more work, it could become a thought-provoking and provocative evening too.  Paul Vale