The Band

Opening Night rating: *****

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Tim Firth’s much anticipated new musical using the songs of Take That officially opened in Manchester last night after just over 2 weeks of previews and was without doubt the hottest ticket in town.

Taking us back to 1992 when for five 16 year old friends The Band is their absolute everything, they live, breathe, eat & sleep the music. Fast forward 25 years and life is somewhat different for our ladies as they attempt one last time to meet their teenage crushes. The winning of concert tickets to Prague soon becomes a journey of self-discover as they not only attempt to reconnect with each other but remember and realise the hopes and dreams of their 16 year old selves.

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Tim Firth once again delivers a truly wonderful script; his writing for the women in this show is emotional, informed and enormously relatable, he just gets women. Incredibly emotional in parts, each character feels entirely real and will undoubtedly strike a chord with its audience. Not only do you see your 16 year old self in the younger girls, their sass, their energy and love for each other but the recognisable elements in the lives of the women really make for some incredibly moving moments. Life has moved on and gone in unplanned directions but we soon realise their inner child was there all along, just waiting to be given the chance to run free again.

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The five young actresses playing the girls Faye Christall, Rachelle Diedericks, Katy Clayton, Lauren Jacobs and Sarah Kate Howarth are exceptional, witty, full of fun and incredibly lovable, their portrayal of being 16 and in love with a boy band is just perfect, throw in lots of cultural references and you are literally back standing outside the Apollo with them, plastic dummy round your neck with a train ticket in your hand you should have used an hour ago.

Superb direction from Kim Gavin and Jack Ryder ensures Jon Bausor’s creative set is used to its full potential, moving from High School corridors to airport runways seamlessly, cleverly making use of The Band to change scenes and move props without stalling the action. Take That’s music has been cleverly placed throughout the production; songs are used sensitively allowing the lyrics to be heard differently as well as to great comedic effect when life decisions need to be made. Just as we feel we might be heading down a slightly cheesy path a laugh is delivered and we realise that this clever production isn’t afraid to poke fun at its own jukebox genre.

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Winners of BBC’s Let It Shine, Five To Five made up of AJ Bentley, Curtis T Johns, Sario Solomon, Nick Carsberg and Yazdan Qafouri work incredibly hard throughout the show and deliver as well as some stunning vocals, incredibly slick choreography, creating the perfect soundtrack to this uplifting and vibrant production. They supply the soundtrack to our ladies lives from start to finish, proving to be the one thing they can rely on to be a constant in life, instantly offering a safe haven, taking them away from places of pain and sadness.

As the production progresses our main focus becomes the four ladies, 25 years older and reconnecting for the first time, Rachel Lumberg, Alison Fitzjohn, Emily Joyce and Jayne McKenna are faultless. Witty, full of suprises and entirely relatable, they capture the true essence of friendship, it’s not all plain sailing, just as life rarely is.

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The Band Musical is pure joy, uplifting, life-affirming, laugh out loud fun. Delivering a real message of friendship, love, rediscovery and the importance of being true to yourself. You’ll reminisce, reflect, laugh and cry through this very special show but most of all you’ll leave the theatre with a full heart and a contented soul, an absolute must-see.

On at the Manchester Opera House until Saturday 30th September before beginning a national tour, tickets available here http://www.thebandmusical.com/

 

 

The Band in pictures

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Official images have been released offering fans a first look at Take That and Tim Firth’s new musical, The Band, which has it’s official opening at Manchester’s Opera House tomorrow night.

The show tells the story of a group of friends for whom aged 16 The Band was their everything, now 25 years later they reunite in a bid to meet their heroes and rediscover their friendships.

Directed by Kim Gavin and Jack Ryder and featuring BBC’s Let it Shine winners Five To Five, The Band sets out on a UK tour once leaving Manchester, tickets and further information can be found here; http://www.thebandmusical.com/tour

Credit to Matt Crockett for these fantastic images.

Cheshire Fest 2017

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You may be forgiven for thinking that the festival season is firmly behind us, especially with the lousy weather we’ve had to endure. However at Manchester Rugby Club, they have other ideas as they host Cheshire Fest 2017. Located in Bramhall, Cheshire Fest is in its second year and is a celebration of the best music; food and drink from the local area and a cracking day out for young and old alike.

Boasting a line-up that included: Want You Back, a Take That tribute band, Be-Beyoncé and Oasish, the festival is spread out over two days. In addition to the live acts there are also DJ’s, local bands, and dance troop the MD Dancers on hand to provide entertainment.

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As well as the stellar line-up on the main stage, there was a kid’s stage which included circus performers, a silent disco and visits from various Starwars and Disney characters. On top of all this there was a fairground with plenty of rides and carnival games for all the family to enjoy.

Cheshire Fest had something for everyone and is certainly a welcome addition to the festival family. It’s a cracking day out and the perfect way to spend the weekend. In addition to all the acts and activities there were truly delicious food stalls, selling the finest street food out there, including Indian, Thai, and barbeque. As well as various bars selling craft ales, gin, and a Prosecco bus to help keep you suitably refreshed.

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Despite the constant threat of a down-pour (which thankfully never came) Cheshire Fest seemed more than prepared for the wet weather with plenty of straw and places to shelter should the weather take a turn for the worse.

I can see no reason why this cracking festival shouldn’t grow in size and stature and become a regular on the calendar: everyone there was clearly enjoying the last throws of the summer and having a ball. With Glastonbury not on next year why not take a punt on Cheshire Fest, no queues, no mud, but some great tunes and good times, who could ask for more?

For further info and to be ahead of the game for Cheshire Fest 18, follow; www.cheshirefest.co.uk

Facebook:       Facebook/Cheshire Fest

Twitter:           @FestCheshire

 

 

Behind the Scenes at The Band, Part 3

LtoR Curtis T Johns, Nick Carsberg, AJ Bentley, Yazdan Qafouri, Sario So...

(Left to Right) Five To Five: Curtis T Johns, Nick Carsberg, AJ Bentley, Yazdan Qafouri, Sario Solomon

We’ve met the lovely leading ladies behind the show, the genius that is director and choreographer Kim Gavin, so now we move on to the all important voices who bring all those familiar Take That songs we know and love to life!

AJ Bentley, Nick Carsberg, Curtis T Johns, Yazdan Qafouri and Sario Solomon collectively known as Five To Five and winners of BBC1’s Let It Shine play gave us a little background on just how it feels to be involved in such an exciting and hugely anticipated production.

(Opening Night) ON: From winning on Let It Shine to now must have been quite a ride, how has it been for you guys?

AJ: An absolute whirlwind would be one way to describe it, it’s been completly mad, from the start to where we are now. The rehearsals have been full on and we’re just so glad to be involved in such an incredible show, putting it in front of an audience has just been amazing.

Yazdan: It’s been a long time coming, we’ve been so excited. We’ve been doing workshops, doing some of our own stuff and then into rehearsals. Now, after months of toiling away behind the scenes, we’re finally bringing it to an audience.

Sario: We were literally itching to get on stage, the workshops were great and we learnt so much but they feel like so long ago now.

AJ: We learnt something new each day. With Take That being producers on the show they came in a lot and mentored us which has been absolutely invaluable.

ON: Have you adopted a member of Take That in terms of your character?

Curtis: No, not really, although in the show we play the band, we play ourselves the band Five To Five. All of the qualities of Take That as individuals and as a group we take on board and we feel that singing their songs is part of their legacy and we absolutely have to do it justice and make sure we give every song what it deserves. So, although we take the qualities, we’re not Take That and we’re not trying to imitate them.

ON: We imagine your Mums must have been Take That fans, are they extremely excited about this?

Sario: My Mum’s already seen it three times and we’ve only done three shows!

AJ: We grew up with that music because our parents were fans, now we’re working with Take That, we’re singing their music in their musical, that’s beyond our wildest dreams and I think even what our parents dreamt for us!

ON: Do your Mums want to be roadies?

Nick: Yes! They’re really proud of us, I think for them it must be surreal to watch your child go off and do something so incredible.

ON: Thinking back to the night it was announced on BBC’s Let It Shine that you’d been chosen to be ‘The Band’, what were your initial feelings?

AJ: It was crazy, we’ve all watched talent shows and thought I want that to happen to me then when it does it’s literally indescribable, beyond our wildest dreams.

ON: We absolutely loved the way so many Take That songs are so brilliantly used in the story, we especially loved The Flood. You got a mid-performance standing ovation from some audience members during the song, how does that feel?

Sario: It’s great that we get to deliver the songs differently, with our different voices. People are so used to hearing Take That singing these songs and they sing them so well but hearing different voices offers a different experience. Knowing we have Take That’s stamp of approval makes it even more special.

ON: We’ve seen some tweets off Take That wishing you good luck, have they given you any advice?

Sario: “Don’t mess it up!”

Yazdan: Their mentoring has been invaluable, sharing the stage with them tonight was amazing.

(Take That surprised the boys AND the audience by joining them onstage for a special encore)

Just being in their company we’ve learnt so much.

Sario: The one thing they alway say is just enjoy it, go out there and just enjoy every minute of it. This is such a precious gift we have, to be able to perform to such amazing audiences every night is incredible, we just want to enjoy this unbelievable experience.

Curtis: It’s a cliche but we are ‘living the dream’.

ON: This tour is just starting, but afterwards will Five To Five continue?

AJ: Yes, absolutely. We’ve signed a three year management deal so obviously this is currently our priority but things will be bubbling away under the surface. We will be working with Take That and our management on new material which we’re all very excited about.

ON: Curtis, will you be writing the new material? 

Curtis: I think we’ll all be writing the songs, it all feels very exciting, like we’re at the start of a long journey for us as Five To Five. This really is just the start!

The Band runs at Manchester’s Opera House until 30th September 2017 before starting a UK tour.

For tickets and further information head to http://www.atgtickets.com/shows/the-band/opera-house-manchester/

http://www.bandmusical.com/tour

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Behind the Scenes at The Band, Part 2

Director Kim Gavin (front centre) with Take That and the cast of THE BAND, credit Matt Crockett

Director Kim Gavin (front centre) with Take That and the cast of THE BAND, credit Matt Crockett

Part two of our backstage at The Band sees Opening Night meet director and choreographer of the musical Kim Gavin.

One of the UK’s leading creative directors and choreographers Kim’s back catalogue includes artistic director of the Olympic and Paralympic closing ceremonies for London 2012, the man behind the Circus stadium tour for Take That and the producer of some of the biggest live events of recent years, including Concert For Diana in 2007.

We grabbed him for the lowdown on the challenges of bringing the music of Take That to the stage and making it work as a musical.

(Opening Night) ON: This is an incredible show Kim, how do you get it to that level?

(Kim Gavin) KG: I’ve worked with Take That for 25 years so I know their standard, we created the standards together. Tim (Firth) came up with a great concept and about a year ago he came and spoke to me and said he had this idea.  Essentially about all the people who loved Take That…and hopefully there’s girls in the audience going seeing it now and going… ‘Am I that person?..‘Am I Rachel, am I Claire’? It’s just a great night out and you know you are going to get value for money; you are going to get singing, dancing and just escape for the moment. This is about being 16 and then jumping those 25 years to where you’ve got a lot more responsibilities but how do you feel at that time. I think it resonates with young and old who go to see it.

ON: Was it a difficult decision to come on board with the show?

KG: When I was presented with the story and Tim said this is where I’m going with it, there was no hesitation – I said ‘I’m in’.

AJ Bentley, Yazdan Qafouri, Sario Solomon, Nick Carsberg & Curtis T Johns, credit Jay Brooks

‘The Band’ (Left to Right) AJ Bentley, Yazdan Qafouri, Sario Solomon, Nick Carsberg & Curtis T Johns, credit Jay Brooks

ON:  Where do you start with bringing a show to the stage and making it a reality? Is it a long process?

KG: A surprisingly short amount of time really is needed when you are certain that you are going to go forward with it. You need to get everything in place and certainly from a touring perspective you need to get things in place much more in advance. Putting a show on you need a good 3 to 4 months to say right that’s what we are doing. You can look on paper and read the script in your own mind but when you go into a room at workshop stage with actors – it changes how you see it.  We did a really good workshop at the Manchester Apollo in March and we knew we were on a winner then.  It’s taken on quite a few changes since and we have learnt a lot from – in March we though we’re ready but we are not quite there yet in terms of the story, and what’s in it and how the production moves. Then we started rehearsals on the 17th July.

Howard Donald, Gary Barlow, Mark Owen, Robbie Williams and The Band, credit Jay Brooks

Howard Donald, Gary Barlow, Mark Owen, Robbie Williams and The Band, credit Jay Brooks

ON: There’s a huge back catalogue of Take That songs to choose from to put into the show…did you know straight away which ones you were going to use?

KG: It’s been weird for me doing this and placing the Take That songs in certain places during the show. I’m so used to working with the boys and I can second guess where they think things should be when we tour. If I’ve got a great idea for a number and the idea is fantastical and it should be maybe three quarters of the way in, we easily come up with a set list of what goes where at what time. We always close the Take That tours with Never Forget but for Never Forget to not close Act One in The Band and come before it – well that was quite hard for me to deal with in terms of it felt like we were throwing away a number, because we know how big it can be.  I guess with all storytelling techniques when you start listening to the lyrics with our story and when Tim explained why it’s so significant we have it there, it dictates it. But at first when you are not really immersed in events you think ‘is that the right choice’ then the further you go down the line you start to evolve the story and care about the characters you realise it could only go there.

ON: So what’s the plan for the show after the tour ends?

KG: We want a West End residency, that’s the ultimate. What’s fabulous about Take That is they make music for the people and I don’t mind if this show tours forever because it is about people from all walks of life and everyone will get it. I’m sure there will be some changes to be made if we did move to London as we built the show to ‘tour’ so there are restrictions on what we can do with it. If it went into the West End we would go for it a bit more as we would have the flexibility to be there for a long time without having to constantly move the set in and out.

http://www.thebandmusical.com

 

BRB – Aladdin

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Birmingham Royal Ballet returns to the Lowry’s Lyric theatre this week with their magical, family-friendly production of Aladdin. Taken from the stories of the Arabian Nights, David Bintley’s splendid version of this classic tale, with music by the BAFTA award-winning Carl Davis chose Salford to begin their Autumn/Winter ’17 season.

This enchanting production perfectly balances humour with beautiful chorography, and explores aspects of the tale that audiences may not have been aware of. The story begins with a young, cheeky Aladdin (Mathias Dingman) escaping the clutches of the palace guards with the help of the mysterious Magician, the Mahgrib (Iain Mackay), who subsequently tricks Aladdin into entering the dark cave on his behalf to retrieve the lamp.

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Each Act has its own crescendo which does not fail to dazzle the audience. The Cave of Riches at the end of Act I, is one of exquisite beauty, in which mischievous Aladdin is surrounded by an array of dancing gems who demonstrate a wide range of styles and techniques much to the delight of the audience. The gems lead Aladdin to the old lamp which places him on a road to riches and leads him to his true love, princess, Badr al-Budur (Momoko Hirata).

The sets and costumes become more vibrant and luxurious as the story unfolds, and as Aladdin himself becomes more accustomed to his life of luxury under the brilliantly blue Djinn of the lamp (played by Tzu-Chao Chou). The performance would not be the same without the dazzling orchestra conducted by Paul Murphy and led by Robert Gibbs, which adds to the atmosphere immensely, allowing the performance to swap and change between suspense and humour seamlessly.

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This production is bound to astonish audiences of all ages, with its delightful and superbly delivered chorography, technicoloured sets, sumptuous costumes and enchanting score. Birmingham Royal Ballet once again prove why they are one of the most loved and celebrated companies around, visually stunning, highly entertaining and not to be missed!

On at The Lowry until Saturday 23rd of Sepember tickets available here http://www.thelowry.com/events/aladdin

Reviewed by Emily Cotter

Dirty Dancing

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Based on the iconic 1987 movie starring the incredible Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey, this revamped version using impressive new sets and songs from the movie not originally in the stage musical has been wowing audiences across the UK all year, reaching its final stop of the tour in Liverpool last night.

Director Federico Bellone, choreographer Gillian Bruce and designer Roberto Cometti, have sexed up the original stage musical (yes it’s EVEN sexier than before) as the classic story of Baby and Johnny is played out by the most talented of casts.

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Getting us all hot under the collar as Jonny Castle is the immensely talented and deliciously dangerous Lewis Griffiths, he literally made Liverpool scream as he stepped into Swayze’s Cuban heels and gave Baby (Katie Eccles) the summer of her life. The chemistry between the two is electrifying, you find yourself rooting for them right from the off, the buzz in the audience as we build up to ‘that’ lift is almost enough to raise the roof of the Empire. Eccles is superb as Baby as we see her find her inner strength and go after her heart’s desire. Indeed the energy from the entire cast is incredible; Carlie Milner makes for the most perfect Penny, her skill and talent quite breath-taking as she dances up a storm on stage.

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Roberto Cometti’s set is streets ahead of those we’ve seen in previous incarnations of this production, inventive and impressive it allows for real creativity in the staging. Add to this Gillian Bruce’s incredible choreography, sizzling, sexy and so so slick there’s no wonder audiences keep coming back for more.

Chock full of heartache, passion, sensational dance routines and all the classic hits fans know and love including Hungry Eyes, Hey! Baby, She’s Like The Wind and the legendary (I’ve Had) The Time Of My Life, this production is everything fans of the film could wish for. The hardworking cast deliver in spade loads, whipping the audience into just the right level of excitement before taking it up a notch again, until we literally reach fever pitch at the finale, uplifting, exciting and hugely entertaining surpassing all previous productions, Dirty Dancing will undoubtedly give you the time of your life!

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With only five more days to catch this impressive production, head to www.dirtydancingontour.com/tickets-tour for tickets.

Liverpool Empire Mon 18th – Saturday 23rd September 2017