Interview – Sunset Boulevard’s Ria Jones

SUNSET BOULEVARD. Ria Jones 'Norma Desmond'. Photo Manuel Harlan SMALL

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s award-winning Sunset Boulevard opens at the Palace theatre next week starring Ria Jones, who received standing ovations every night when performing the role of Norma Desmond at the London Coliseum, joining Ria is Strictly Come Dancing‘s Danny Mac as Joe Gillis, in this compelling story of romance and obsession.

We chatted to Ria Jones ahead of the show opening at Manchester’s Palace theatre on Monday and discovered more about the show that critics have described as a masterpiece.

Opening Night (ON):You have a real history with Sunset Boulevard, where did your involvement first begin?

Ria: Well I first workshopped Sunset Boulevard 26 years ago at Andrew Lloyd Webbers home in Sydmonton where he workshops all his new shows, it’s in a beautiful converted chapel, so whenever he writes a new show he invites family , friends, agents, producers to come and see the piece and then discuss it afterwards, I was 24 at the time so I know I was way too young then to play Norma Desmond so I joked with him and said ‘Maybe one day I’ll do the revival’ then fast forward all those years and there I was stepping in for Glenn Close, very surreal.

ON: What is it about Norma Desmond that you love so much?

Ria: She’s such an iconic character, she’s such a dramatic, strong, powerful woman and yet underneath like us all so fragile and broken, and lonely and insecure. She’s a real mixture, she can flip on a coin, one minute she’s saying ‘Don’t mess with me’ and the next minute she’s absolutely in bits, like so many of us she just can’t deal with aging, she can’t deal with the fact that her career has fallen because talkies came in and she was a silent movie star, and not just a star, a big star, the biggest star of all as they say in the piece and she feels forgotten, she lives as a recluse in this huge mansion on Sunset Boulevard, with her butler Max where she lives a life of delusion, she happens upon a writer called Joe Gillis and their lives collide and they need each other for certain things in their lives that they’re lacking and they use each other, it becomes a very dark love story that results in a very dramatic ending, I think the most dramatic ending of any musical out there.

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ON: How important is it that there are strong lead roles for older ladies to play?

Ria: Very important, it’s so very current too particularly in Hollywood older stars such as Meryl Streep are saying there’s a real lack of parts for them out there and it’s the same in musical theatre too I think you have Mamma Rose in Gypsy, you have Dolly, Mame and Norma Desmond, and I think that’s about it. Also particularly with Norma is a tough role, my voice is different now to how it was when I was in my 20’s or 30’s it changes and I think this role really is a big sing, I’m doing 8 shows a week so I really have to ensure I look after my voice, I’m twice the age of most of the Company and I get envious sometimes when they’re going out after shows, I think ‘oh I wish I could do that’ but I know I can’t anymore, the role is so demanding that I really have to ensure I take care of myself. But I am really, really enjoying it and the challenge of her, I just think she’s such a great role to get your teeth into as an actresses well as a singer and to have more roles out there like this would be brilliant. There’s shouting, there’s some real emotion, I cry, I’m running up and down stairs, each performance is a real workout, I absolutely love it, the end of the show is just so dramatic and by that point I am so emotionally drained it’s a great way to be at the end of the show because it lends itself then to those final scenes.

ON: How does this production differ from recent London Coliseum version?

Ria: The one at the Coliseum was a staged concert, there were costumes and the whole score and dialogue was played out whereas this is a full production with set changes, costumes changes, full orchestra in the pit where the orchestra were on the stage at the Coliseum, this is a proper full production and there’s not been a full production on tour since 2002, there was an actor musicians one but it didn’t tour so this is the first full scale production in many years. Andrew Lloyd Webber doesn’t tour it often, he doesn’t give the right often, it’s a rare outing. We’ve got a 16 piece orchestra which is by far the largest touring orchestra in the UK so to hear the score alone just played by that incredible orchestra I think is worth the ticket price, it’s absolutely stunning.

ON: Are you looking forward to returning to Manchester?

Ria: I cannot wait, I did Evita there when I was 19 at the Opera House, I also did Les Mis in 1992 at the Palace, when I played Fantine, that was the first time Les Mis had been performed outside of London, I had such a great time there. I’ve been back several times since then with High Society, Anything Goes, Acorn Antiques at the Lowry, directed by Victoria Wood playing Mrs Overall, what a difference to Norma Desmond! Manchester is very dear to me because some of my best roles and best times have been in Manchester, it’s such a great, great city and we’re there for 2 weeks which I’m thrilled about, I’m in my hometown at the moment which is wonderful and I’m having such a great week so I’m really happy our next stop is Manchester because after such a high this week I thought I need to go somewhere wonderful to continue this high so Manchester will be brilliant.

SUNSET BOULEVARD. Ria Jones 'Norma Desmond'. Photo Manuel Harlan (4)

ON: Do you have any superstitions or rituals you have to do before taking to the stage?

Rita: I always say a little prayer to myself and to my Nanna who I know watches over me, I’m not terribly religious but I do have a moment between me and her before every show. I’m not a fan of whistling in the dressing room, if I see one magpie I’ll always salute it and I’d never walk under a ladder, and always try to enjoy it as much as possible, when I get nervous I tell myself ‘come on this isn’t life or death’ I do actually get nervous before every show because I want it to be good, people have paid a lot of money so I always want to deliver.

ON: Finally we have to ask is Danny Mac as gorgeous in the flesh?

Ria: He’s an absolute dream, he’s a lovely person to work opposite, lots of people didn’t realise he could sing and I can tell you he’s absolutely brilliant, come and see it and you will be blown away, he’s so fantastic.

Sunset Boulevard opens at the Palace theatre on Monday 23rd October and runs for two weeks until Saturday 4th November, tickets available here; www.atgtickets.com/shows/sunset-boulevard/palace-theatre-manchester/

 

 

The Wipers Times – Ticket Offer!

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Ian Hislop and Nick Newman’s The Wipers Times tells the true and extraordinary story of the satirical newspaper created in the mud and mayhem of the Somme.

The Wipers Times arrives at Manchester’s Opera House on Tuesday 31st October for one week only, direct from a record breaking West End run.

Best available seats for Tuesday-Thursday are only £19.50 using the promotional code ‘WIPERSOFFER‘ at the online check out or via the booking line 0844 871 3018

For tickets head to http://www.atgtickets.com/shows/the-wipers-times/opera-house-manchester/

 

Joesph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat

2)Joe McElderry in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (c)Mark Yeom...

Sibling rivalry has always made for a decent narrative tale: Cain and Abel, the Hound and the Mountain in the Game of Thrones saga, and of course the on-going feud between Noel and Liam Gallagher. Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat goes one step further including a colourful coat, human trafficking and the slaying of a goat!

Director Bill Kenwright brings his version of the theatre classic to the Palace for a 6 day run this week as part of an extensive UK tour. The story centres on Jacob and his twelve sons of whom Joseph is his undoubtedly his favourite. Jacob bestows a multi-coloured coat to his number one son which somewhat irks his eleven brothers who sell their sibling to be a slave and inform their father that Joseph has tragically died whilst wrestling a goat. So begins Joseph’s long journey back to his father, not before he discovers a talent for dream analysis and meetings with a Las Vegas style Pharaoh.

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I must confess I hadn’t seen a production Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat until tonight however on this basis I can certainly see why it’s still a fan favourite after 45 years.  It’s bright, it’s camper than an entire series of RuPaul’s Drag Race, and most of all its jolly good fun.

Star of the show Joe McElderry sparkles as Joseph, bringing warmth and charm to the role. He clearly loves being the face of this prestigious production and it’s clear to see he’s having as much fun on stage as the audience are having watching. His voice is smooth yet powerful, his performance cheeky and hugely likeable. Trina Hill more than holds her own as the Narrator and does a fine job, guiding us gently through the story. Both are supported by a hard working cast who are clearly having a ball and relishing their roles. A scene stealing turn by Ben James-Ellis as the Pharaoh is comedy gold. Special mention also must go to the children of Chester and Wirral Stagecoach who are excellent.

14)Joe McElderry in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (c)Mark Yeo...

There are toe-tapping songs from the opening ensemble number of Jacob and Sons, the earworm that is Benjamin Calypso through to the big tunes of Close Every Door, and Any Dream Will Do.  The costumes and set design are bold and vibrant, fully in keeping with theme of the show.

There were a few opening night nerves: faulty sheep, a dysfunctional stage curtain but these were minor quibbles. My main issue was with the sound, at times some of vocals weren’t quite loud of enough at the start of the song, small tweaks which I’m sure will be swiftly looked at.

Overall this fun feel-good show suitable for all the family and well worth a watch.

On at the Palace theatre until Saturday 21st October, for tickets head to www.atgtickets.com/shows/joseph-and-the-amazing-technicolor-dreamcoat/palace-theatre-manchester/

 

 

 

 

 

Behind the Scenes of Flashdance – The Musical – Part 1 Joanne Clifton

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Starring Strictly Come Dancing Champion Joanne Clifton and A1 heartthrob Ben Adams, Flashdance – The Musical based on the classic film arrives in Blackpool next week as part of a UK & Ireland tour.

Telling the unforgettable story of determined welder Alex, who dreams of becoming a professional dancer, Flashdance promises to be an unforgettable night of entertainment. With phenomenal choreography all set to an incredible score including the smash hits Maniac, Gloria, I Love Rock & Roll and of course the famous title track Flashdance… What a Feeling, Flashdance will have you dancing in the aisles as sparks fly and love blossoms.

We caught up with Joanne Clifton ahead of Monday’s opening night to hear all about the show plus her thoughts on returning to Blackpool and taking to the Opera House stage.

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Opening Night (ON) : You have received rave reviews for your performance, what can we expect from this show?

Joanne : I absolutely love the show and I think that comes across to audiences, I think they can see and feel that, it’s such a different role to the last musical I did playing Millie in Thoroughly Modern Millie, Alex in Flashdance is a tomboy, quite serious, sexy, a really strong woman. I’ve always played lots of comedy characters so I didn’t know how much I’d like playing someone so different but I absolutely love it. The only thing I can’t do is ride a bike and the first thing I do in this show is come on stage and ride a bike, I’m having regular lessons, every day after warm up I’m on there practicing, it’s so much harder than it looks!

ON: Flashdance is such an iconic dance film, everyone who knows Flashdance immediately thinks of THAT water scene, it the water hot or cold?

Joanne: It’s actually cold, I did ask could it be slightly warm as the first few times when it was coming down it was actually shocking me, but if it’s warm it affects the mechanics of the machinery, but I soon realised it’s actually ok as I have been dancing just before that happens so it’s actually quite refreshing.

ON: Is there an additional pressure to deliver something so iconic?

Joanne: Definitely, I felt a similar pressure with Millie especially as Julie Andrew’s had played it, but what I tend to do is I’ll watch the film once then I’ll kind of try and forget about it, so yes I have a link to that character but I’m playing it in my own way. So there is pressure but I enjoy the challenge of doing something my own way and creating my own take on that character.

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ON: You’ve played Marylin Monroe in Norma Jean The Musical, Millie in Thoroughly Modern Millie and now you take on the lead role of Alex in Flashdance, do you feel you have silenced any critics who may only associate you with Strictly?

Joanne: I do like the fact people may come to the show not realising that as well as being able to dance I can also sing, it’s nice to read reviews where people have been pleasantly surprised. I love to show people that I can do other things; I’ve been so lucky and enjoyed such great success with my dancing career that it’s wonderful to be able to show people that as well as dancing I can also act and sing and act.

ON: We have heard they may be a single in the pipeline with your co-star Ben Adams could a pop career be on the cards?

Joanne: It’s actually a song from the show, it’s the duet we do together in the show, we’re recorded it, Ben’s produced it so it’s a little bit different from how we sing it on stage, and we’re also filming a little video for it, all very exciting but I think I’ll leave the pop career to Ben and stick with musical theatre.

We’ve heard recently that you’ve signed up to appear in Top Hat during your Christmas break from Flashdance, you are literally the hardest working woman in showbiz!

Ha ha I’ll tell you something I literally haven’t stopped working since the 1st August last year, the 1st of August was when Strictly started so we had all our pro rehearsals and then the show started in September, then two days after the Strictly final was Thoroughly Modern Millie, then Flashdance rehearsals overlapped the final week of Thoroughly Modern Millie, Top Hat overlaps Flashdance, Flashdance then is back so my next week off is the 5th of March, I’m gonna take myself off on a plane somewhere warm and sleep!

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Not only do you ride a bike on stage but you also get a soaking each night, how do you look after yourself to ensure you’re fighting fit?

I think just the sheer amount of dancing I do in this show keeps me fit, I love it coz I really do dance a heck of a lot in the show, when we have two shows a day by the time I go to bed I’m really tired, I make sure I get plenty of sleep but the great thing is I can literally eat what I want, which is brilliant coz I love my food, sausage and mash, pie and mash, I literally can eat anything I want coz it all comes off!

Are you excited to be returning to Blackpool?

Definitely, it’s one of my absolute favourite places in the whole world and has been my whole life because I’ve danced there since the age of about six, from my ballroom dance career then Strictly it’s been a really important place for me and now going back as a musical theatre star, it’s really special for me.

You’ll be in Blackpool for Halloween; do your cast members play any tricks on each other?

Joanne: I’m rubbish at playing tricks because if I’ve done something you can tell, my face just gives it away but I’m hoping if anyone plays any tricks on me they don’t put anything in the water!

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Now you have committed into 2018, are there any other venues you’re particularly looking forward to?

Joanne: I think we’re going to Ireland which I’m really excited about as I’ve never done anything like this over there before so it will be a real adventure.

ON: Finally who would be your dream partner once Ben Adams finishes his run?

Oh heck, it’s going to be really hard to think of anyone else in that part because I get on really well with him so I’m secretly hoping that he will continue with us into 2018 because we have so much fun together, it’s literally a laugh a minute with him, he’s amazing to work with and I feel really lucky that I’ve found someone like that to be my leading man, I would really love him to stay.

Flashdance opens at the Blackpool Opera House on Monday 23rd Ocotber and runs until Saturday 4th November for tickets head to www.wintergardensblackpool.co.uk/events/flashdance/

Tango Moderno


Following on from the success of Midnight Tango, Dance ‘Til Dawn, and The Last Tango, Vincent Simone and Flavia Cacace bring their latest offering to Manchester with the much anticipated Tango Moderno.

Sadly we learn at the very start of the show that due to injury Vincent will be unable to join us tonight but of course the show must go on so we have not one but two additional dancers taking his place in the form of Italian pro Pasquale La Rocca and Argentine Tango expert Leonel Di Cocco.


Fusing elements of Latin, Ballroom and Contemporary Flavia and partner dance their way through modern day scenes featuring the ‘unlucky in love’ spreading their fairy dust Cupid style allowing love to blossom. Flavia as always is sublime, she sizzles and scorches her way through each routine, all eyes undoubtedly fixed on her every time she takes to the stage, she truly is the most beautiful of dancers. Both Pasquale La Rocca and Leonel Di Cocco do a superb job of filling Vincent’s shoes, each dances exquisitely, both are strong, sharp and commanding.


The narrative however (yes you could argue that’s not what the audience are here for) is clunky and lacks any depth. Singer Tom Parsons tries his best to give the production pace with clever lyrical rhyme between songs which he delivers with style but each piece feels very disconnected. Accompanying singer Tom Parsons is singer/dancer Rebecca Lisewski, who too delivers some stunning vocals. Special mention also goes to violinist Oliver Lewis who gives a note perfect performance. The dancers who make up the Company work hard delivering some intricate and imaginative routines but at times often feel cluttered as the set takes up a large part of the stage, reducing the amount of available floor space.


As this is a Tango Moderno modern themes are introduced in the form of internet dating, selfies and smartphones, does this work? In parts, yes, there’s a really inventive ‘Tinder themed’ dating routine where dancer are swiped out of frame and unsuccessful dates are portrayed hilariously with some great character acting but on the whole and judging from the audience reaction when Flavia and partner deliver a traditional and absolutely faultless Argentine Tango during the finale it is clear what the audience came for. While there is absolutely a place for hip hop and more modern themes can you really improve on the classic when that is exactly what your audience loves you for? What we really wanted was some good old razzamataz, big band show stoppers that sizzled and wowed, that sent us away with that warm fuzzy feeling, ready to dig out our sequin gowns. When your average audience member (me included) would rather tango than watch Towie, it’s better to leave the tinder and the texting at home.

Tango Moderno on at the Opera House until Saturday 21st November www.atgtickets.com/venues/opera-house-manchester/shows/tango-moderno

 

Matilda announce tour cast

25 - Royal Shakespeare Companys Matilda The Musical. Credit Manuel Harlan

 

Today, the Royal Shakespeare Company announced the full adult casting for the first five venues of the Matilda The Musical 2018/19 UK and Ireland Tour, which includes a visit to Manchester’s Palace Theatre from Mon 18 September – Fri 24 November 2018.

Craige Els will reprise the role of Miss Trunchbull, having received rave reviews playing her in the West End for three years between 2014 and 2017. Craige will be joined by Carly Thoms as Miss Honey and Sebastien Torkia as Mr Wormwood as well as former West End cast-mate Rebecca Thornhill as Mrs Wormwood.

The rest of the adult cast are Joe Atkinson, Peter Bindloss, Oliver Bingham, Emily Bull, Matthew Caputo, Samara Casteallo, Matt Gillett, Michelle Chantelle Hopewell, Sam Lathwood, Steffan Lloyd-Evans, Charlie Martin, Anu Ogunmefun, Taylor Walker, Adam Vaughan and Dawn Williams.

The tour of Tim Minchin and Dennis Kelly’s award-winning show will begin at Leicester Curve on 5 March 2018 before heading to Dublin, Sunderland, Milton Keynes, Birmingham, Manchester and Cardiff. Further dates will be announced in due course.

Tickets can be booked for Manchester dates here www.atgtickets.com/shows/matilda/palace-theatre-manchester/ Tuesday 18 September – Saturday 24 November 2018

The Threepenny Opera

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Opening with a snarling and solo rendition of the much loved Mack the Kinfe, David Thacker’s version of Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill’s 1928 anti-capitalist ‘play with songs’ packs a re-energised and impressive punch.

Set in the near future where Queen Elizabeth is dead the country is awaiting the coronation of King Charles III, the powers that be work together to oppress the poor. Corrupt police are in cahoots with criminals while ruthless capitalists getting richer by the day by keeping the working classes down, making fat profits from the work they tie them to. Macheath (David Birrell) runs rings around both the corrupt authorities and the ever plotting underworld, with women, his only weakness in life seemingly being the only people who might be able get the better of him.

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James Cotterill’s set is industrial and inventive; levels of scaffold add height to the Octagon’s performance space offering the actor/musicians full involvement in the production.

The themes in David Thacker’s version resonate deeply as corrupt police, dodgy politicians, seemingly inexplicable fires and benefit cuts all get a mention bringing this Threepenny Opera bang up to date. Macheath’s treatment of women mirrors the injustice and exploitation seen so frequently in society, no more so than this last two weeks, it is a production which speaks powerfully about the times we’re living in. As always where there is social commentary there is sophisticated satire as the cast deliver this script with genuine wit and great style.

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Birrell is exceptional as Macheath, dangerous and manipulative; his brooding presence has just the right amount of menace about it, his voice rich, strong and powerful. Eric Potts as the odious Jonathan Peachum is superb, full-on and incredibly funny his paring with wife Celia (Sue Devaney) offers genuine laugh out loud moments throughout. Anna Wheatley as Polly Peachum is outstanding, sassy and strong she throws herself heart and soul into the character and has the audience in the palm of her hand.

Packed full with live music and incredibly clever and catchy lyrics The Threepenny Opera is a show that will entertain hugely yet send you away contemplating life and the injustices within it, powerfully politically and enormously entertaining David Thacker has got the balance just right in this slick, snarling and incredibly entertaining production.

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On at the Bolton Octagon until Saturday 4th November https://octagonbolton.co.uk/whats-on/theatre/the-threepenny-opera/#tickets