Sleepless

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Fresh from last weekend’s Strictly Come Dancing final, it’s been announced that Danny Mac and his real-life leading lady Carley Stenson, will be playing the roles of Sam and Annie in the world premiere of Sleepless, the new romantic musical based on the Tristar Pictures Inc. film Sleepless in Seattle.

With a book by Michael Burdett, music by Robert Scott and lyrics by Brendan Cull, the production will run at The Lowry, Salford from 25th to 29th April prior to a West End run.

Like the much loved movie, Sleepless tells the heart-warming tale of Sam, who moves to Seattle with his eight year-old son, Jonah, following the tragic death of his wife. When Jonah phones a radio show, Sam is forced to talk about his broken heart and sleepless nights live on air, and he suddenly finds himself one of the most sought after single men in America and a great news story for feisty journalist Annie on the opposite side of the country.  A fresh and lively book alongside a brand-new musical score bring this most timeless of romantic comedies to life on stage.

Danny Mac is best known for playing the role of Mark ‘Dodger’ Savage in Channel 4’s Hollyoaks. He was given his first professional role as Gavroche in Cameron Mackintosh’s touring production of Les Misérables, a role he reprised in London’s West End at the Palace Theatre in 1999.  After graduating from drama school, he went straight into Wicked at the Apollo Victoria.  Most recently, he played Warner in Legally Blonde at the Leicester Curve.

Carley Stenson played the role of Steph Cunningham in Channel 4’s Hollyoaks for 10 years. West End credits include starring as Elle Woods in Legally Blonde, Princess Fiona in Shrek The Musical and Lady of the Lake in Spamalot.  Carley also starred as Christine Colgate in the national tour of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.

Danny Mac and Carley Stenson will be joined by Jennie Dale as Becky and Cory English as Rob. Jennie’s most recent theatre credits include Maggie Jones in 42nd Street (Théâtre du Châtelet, Paris) Deb in Elf (Dominion Theatre), Dora in Singin’ in the Rain (Théâtre du Châtelet, Paris) and Mae in The Pajama Game (Shaftesbury Theatre).  On television, Jennie has appeared in The Tracey Ullman Show and Victoria Wood’s Mid-life Christmas and What LarksCory English can currently be seen in She Loves Me at the Menier Chocolate Factory.  His many previous musical theatre credits include Max Bialystock in the UK Tour of The Producers, Igor in Young Frankenstein and Max Bialystock in The Producers, both for Susan Stroman on Broadway, and Benny Southstreet in Michael Grandage’s West End production of Guys & Dolls.

Sleepless

The Lowry, Salford

Tue 25– Sat 29 April 2017

7.30pm (Wed & Sat 2pm)

Tickets: £24 – £53.50 (Including booking fees)

Box office: 0843 208 6000

http://www.thelowry.com/event/sleepless

 

Witness

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Creator: Kate Jackson

Cast: Bettina Carpi, Jacqueline McCormick, Malachi Simmons, Lauren Tucker

Creatives: Mike Dunn, Rosalind Noctor, Richard Owen, Daniel Thomas

Witness is a truly unique immersive piece of work which sees performers and audience travel together through the stunning grounds at Tatton Park whilst offering an intimate and personal experience which explores the senses and draws you into the performances in an engaging and mesmeric way.

A beautiful cast of artists guided by Kate Jackson have explored immersive dance, focussing on the experience a performance offers an audience if delivered in a stripped back, raw and honest way. As an audience we are asked to surrender to our senses, to the sounds offered through the audio provided via individual headsets and to follow where we are led. We are guided and encouraged to trail their stories as we travel through this extraordinary all immersive experiences. Creator Kate truly gives her audience the opportunity to immerse themselves into the performance wholeheartedly, it almost feels like you are the only person there, observing the emotional performances as you travel from merry-go-round, to Stately Home gardens, to café effortlessly.

Kate has guided her performers through an exploration of well-being, mental health awareness and looked at depression, anxiety and isolation thinking about how all of these elements affect our lives, our interactions and our emotions. Inviting the audience to become aware of their own feelings and senses through interaction with the artists at one point makes for a very poignant moment in the evening, as I am led blindfolded through the courtyard my sense are on high alert as I experience a total trust in performer Malachi Simmons to guide me safely. A truly beautiful piece of work which not only delivers a powerful messages but challenges its audience.

 

 

Aladdin

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If you’re looking for a cracker of a show complete with flying carpet, dazzling costumes and laughs a plenty then look no further than Manchester’s Opera House where Aladdin has landed for the festive season!

Before the curtain goes up the audience are buzzing with excitement, eagerly awaiting their opportunity to boo, cheer and yell out the traditional ‘It’s behind you!’ that’s part and parcel of any good panto and boy is this a good one!

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The evil Abanazar (John Thomson) sets the scene by rubbing his ring (ooh-err) until fabulously flamboyant Genie of the Ring (Sherrie Hewson) appears all glitter and sequins and ready for some comedy capers. Cue Magician Neil Henry (Wishee Washee) who transports us to Old Peking with some festive tricks and so the fun begins as we meet our hero Aladdin (Ben Adams) and his larger than life washerwoman Mother the hilarious, Queen of all Pantomime Dames, Widow Twanky (Eric Potts).

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Writer/Director and Widow Twanky, Eric Potts has come up with an absolute gem of a panto, with all the usual thrills you’d expect from Aladdin, Chinese laundry hijinks where poor PC Pong (Phil Holden) gets more than he bargained for after wrestling with the mangle, menacing meddling from the evil Ababazar and enough brilliant local references to keep you giggling for days, Potts and Producers First Family Entertainment have gone the extra mile by sprinkling more sparkle on this production than even the Strictly final will see.

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Ben Adams makes for a brilliant Aladdin, cheeky, likeable and engaging, his voice is fantastic and he delivers each number with effortless style, he’s also rather easy on the eye which didn’t go amiss amongst the Mums in the audience! John Thomson and Sherrie Hewson make for a great comedy duo in their scenes together, it’s clear to see they are loving every minute of this show just as much as the audience watching, which makes you enjoy it just that little bit more. Bringing everything together in his own spectacular way is the marvellous Eric Potts, his Widow Twanky left me with streaked mascara and aching sides, he truly is Pantomime royalty, with perfect comedy timing and the most lavishly flamboyant costumes (designed by John Brooking) he lights up the stage and is an absolute joy to watch.

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Aladdin is pure fun-packed escapism with gag after gag that will have you laughing your socks off, the great performances and stunning sets will keep the little ones totally engaged while the cheeky jokes and knowing winks will have Mum and Dad sniggering all the way home. An absolute corker!

On at the Opera House until Saturday 8th Jan

http://www.atgtickets.com/shows/aladdin/opera-house-manchester/

 

 

Winter Wonderland

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Event City’s whopping 22,000sq m of exhibition space has been transformed once again into a fabulously festive ‘Winter Wonderland’ to both thrill and delight young and old alike.

Entering through the plush red velvet curtains with snow falling onto the revellers below it’s clear that fun and lots of is at the heart of Manchester’s Winter Wonderland, with giant Candy Canes and Nutcrackers adorning the space there’s a wonderfully festive feel from the minute you step inside.

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With over 50 rides and attractions all under one roof you really are spoilt for choice, from traditional merry-go-rounds to hilarious Bucking Bronco’s Winter Wonderland quite literally has something for everyone, with the best part being that they’re all included in your ticket price, so no need to worry about limiting the number of rides you go on or searching for loose change, you can literally go on each ride as many times as you like! We absolutely loved the fact that sessions are limited to avoid overcrowding, further adding to our enjoyment of this magical place.

For the littlest members of the family there’s a large soft play area as well as a meet and greet with Santa, numerous toddler friendly rides with flashing lights and beeping horns which kept my little visitors entertained long past their usual bedtime. For older children and adults there’s all the favourite classic rides you’d hope to see, the dodgems, the waltzers and a dizzying cyclone (which I’d advise going on before you enjoy a Bratwurst!)

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If this wasn’t enough there are some beautiful shows at various intervals throughout each session, a Princess show with Anna and Elsa, traditional fun with Basil Brush, Jedi training in a fabulous Star Wars themed show and an adorable mini Cinderella panto, all of which proved to be hugely popular. In addition to the family shows on the main stage is an enchanting Christmas Circus, you really are spoilt for choice.

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With tickets prices held at 2015’s prices, £19.50* (plus £1.50 Quaytickets booking fee) per ticket for adults and children aged 3-16 (under 3’s free) or £64 for a family of four, Winter Wonderland really is excellent value for money, each sessions last for four hours and I can guarantee you will love every minute of it! My family and I left feeling festive and giggling about all the fun we’d had whilst planning our next visit to this enchanting place, an annual visit (or two) will no doubt become a new tradition not just for us but all who are lucky enough to visit.

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Open from 10th December 2016 until 1st January 2017, booking is highly recommended as some dates are already sold out, tickets are available here; www.winterwonderlandmanchester.com

 

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang

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Last month Amazon Prime launched Jeremy Clarkson and Co’s latest offering, The Grand Tour: which in effect is three big kids getting into scrapes at home and abroad with cars. Well that isn’t too dissimilar to the plot for the Ian Fleming, penned Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. However that’s where the similarities end and quite frankly the world is a better place for it.

The 1968 film version is as much a part of Christmas as the Queen’s speech, turkey dinner and indigestion so it seems only right that this much loved classic is The Lowry’s big show for Christmas wonderfully brought to life the West Yorkshire Playhouse.

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Set in 1919 we find the rather eccentric widowed father, Caractacus Potts trying to forage enough money to save a bent and broken race-car from the scrap heap. Chitty Chitty Bang Bang has become the beloved plaything of his two children Jeremy and Jemima. However the family soon find themselves in great danger as the evil Baron and Baroness Bombast of Vulgaria also have designs on the former Grand-Prix winning race car: dispatching a couple of dodgy spies, the might of the Vulgarian navy and the truly terrifying Childcatcher. Can the Potts family save themselves and their beloved car? Will they all live happily after? Here’s hoping!

Director James Brining has the monumental task of transferring the magic of the film onto the stage and it’s fair to say he pulls it off magnificently. Aided and abetted by designer Simon Higlett and video designer Simon Wainwright, Higlett’s set design is wonderful: from the Potts family windmill house to the Baron’s fortress – they are all stunning. Wainwright’s video is first class as it manages seamlessly to transfer us from one location to the next: one minute we’re on an idyllic drive through the countryside and the next you’re involved in a gun battle at sea.

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As we all know the car is the star of the show but it is supported by some fine performances. Jason Manford in the lead as Caractacus Potts is likable as the doting father, he brings warmth and charm to the role: sometimes he grins and gurns a bit too much, maybe he was channelling his inner Dick Van Dyke, but that was Mary Poppins not Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. However Manford’s main strength lies in his singing voice: he is a very talented singer indeed highlighted in the beautiful Hushabye Mountain. Charlotte Wakefield is on good form as the fabulously named Truly Scrumptious bringing a touch of spirit and zest to the role. The on stage chemistry between the two is a joy to watch, especially during Doll on a Music Box. The Potts children are delightful, played by three teams rotating nightly they give a beautiful performance.

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There are also fine performances from Sam Harrison and Scott Paige as the Vulgarian spies Boris and Goran, both are great fun and very nearly steal the show as they get all the best lines and lots of laughs. There are some jokes which are pretty near the knuckle but will fly over the younger audience members heads and amuse the adults; they had both audience members young and old alike howling with laughter. Claire Sweeney is fabulous as Baroness Bomburst with her exaggerated accent and almighty performance of The Bombie Samba. Phill Jupitus offers a bizarre turn as Baron Bomburst: flip-flopping between over exuberance and looking completely disinterested: frequently breaking between his over the top Vulgarian accent to a dead-pan delivery. It’s not abundantly clear what he is trying to achieve by this but it certainly is what can best be described as a ‘Marmite’ performance. Jos Vantyler is outstanding as the Childcatcher, helped along with a wonderful piece of lighting from Tim Mitchell; we have a villain as wicked, as sinister and even more terrifying than the original.

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There were a few technical difficulties on the night which stopped the show for roughly 10 minutes which upset the momentum slightly, however the cast carried on like true professionals. The main problem with the show is its pacing: acts one and two are quite bloated and do become slightly drawn out at times. Whilst the ending seems slightly rushed with the payoff not justifying the lengthy build up. Overall this a good solid family fun show, filled with fun and adventure, it just needed a few more thrills and spills, it is probably not suitable for young children as it will not keep them engaged for the duration of its running time.

Judging by the impromptu audience clap-along as soon the signature Chitty Chitty Bang Bang tune is played there is plenty of love for our “fine four fender friend”, she just needs to heed the warning of those motorway signs about tiredness.

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is on at The Lowry Theatre till the 15th Jan 2017

http://www.thelowry.com/event/chitty-chitty-bang-bang

Billy Elliot – The Musical

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Billy is from a place where the men don’t dance, end of story, but, with a gritty determination, and an undeniable charm plus more talent than most of us have in our little fingers, he sets out to prove his doubters wrong by breaking the mould and going all the way.

Billy Elliot the Musical is a total phenomenon which has been seen by almost 11 million people across five continents and has won over 80 awards internationally, including an almighty 10 Tony Awards and a hugely impressive 5 Olivier Awards. Based on Lee Hall’s 2000 film, set in a northern mining town against the background of the 1984/’85 miners’ strike, the story revolves around Billy, who trades his boxing gloves for ballet shoes and soon discovers a passion for dance that ultimately changes not just his but the lives of his family and community forever.

So ingrained was life in the pits that son’s followed in their father’s footsteps, proud to do so and loyal to their communities. The impact of Maggie Thatcher and her Conservative Government on these communities is something that will never be forgotten and for most certainly not forgiven. Billy Elliot tells the story of a boy with a talent who wants out of the hardships of life in a mining town but needs the support and the backing of the proud men he adores yet watches become more and more broken by the oppressions of the state.

Billy Elliot does not shy away from the reality of the hardship and ill-treatment of the working classes during the miners’ strike of ‘84/85 and this only makes it more powerful and spellbinding. The contrast of the softness and innocence of the children in tutu’s dancing amongst the striking miners and heavy handed baton-wielding Police is powerful and emotive, reminding me of days in the 80’s when my sisters and I would help my Father seal envelops to send for job after job after first striking then being made redundant, unsuccessful time after time, yet never giving up.

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Billy Elliot is a story of hope, with emotional highs and heart-breaking lows, it is utterly absorbing. it will make you laugh out loud as well as pause an take The talent on stage is simply mind-blowing. With four Billy’s cast on the tour, tonight is the turn of Lewis Smallman to show us he truly was born to boogie. I don’t think any words could do justice to just how incredibly talented this young actor is, the challenges of the role are immense, not only do the boys need to have excellent contemporary dance, tap and ballet skills, but they’ve got to be able to sing and act and all with a Geordie accent! Lewis is totally mesmerising, his sheer talent and commitment to the role brought me to tears as I watched him move, he made for the perfect Billy.

As well as Lewis all the children in the cast are magnificent, with special mention going to Samuel Torpey Billy’s cross-dressing best friend Michael, whose duet with Lewis Smallman on Expressing Yourself is just perfection, funny, fabulous and full of razzle-dazzle, no doubt we will be seeing much more of this incredible talent, a true star in the making, he has the x-factor in bucket loads! Evie Martin takes on the role of Debbie with all the cheeky wit you’d hope for, she is fantastic, sassy and witty with just the right amount of attitude. The adult cast are exceptional too, lump in the throat moments between Billy and his dead Mum are at juxtapose with the scenes of violence and intimidation on the picket line. Annette McLaughlin as Mrs Wilkinson is outstanding, firm and feisty she truly believes in Billy, the scenes between the two are incredibly powerful as she offers a little of the Mother’s touch missing from Billy’s life. Martin Walsh as Billy’s Dad and Scott Garnham as Tony, Billy’s brother are real and believable, hardened by life and the rough hand they have been dealt yet when it comes down to it their love for both Billy and each other shines through.

Billy Elliot Tour

Everything about this production for me was perfection, from Elton John’s sublime score, to the incredible lighting design from Rick Fisher, and as for Peter Darling’s choreography, wow! Totally awe-inspiring, complex and compelling, expressive and moving, I barely blinked for fear of missing anything it just is that good.

Billy Elliot is an absolute triumph of a show, heart-warming, inspiring and utterly mesmerising, it’s very rare you see a whole audience leap up in appreciation but I absolutely guarantee by the time the curtain falls you will be on your feet roaring for more!

On at the Palace Theatre until Saturday 28th January tickets available here;

http://www.atgtickets.com/shows/billy-elliot/palace-theatre-manchester/