Motown The Musical

10. MOTOWN THE MUSICAL. The Company. Photo Tristram Kenton

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Motown the Musical is not your average jukebox production, while of course it’s jam-packed with sensational Motown classics it goes much deeper educating audiences in the history of this ground-breaking musical movement and doing so with real heart and soul along the way.

The story is told in a flashbacks by Motown creator Berry Gordy (Edward Baruwa) who started the label with just $800 and went on to launch the careers of icons such as Diana Ross, Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson, Smokey Robinson, The Temptations and Marvin Gaye  to name but a few. The show begins as the 25th anniversary celebration is looming but Gordy is in no mood to party.

23. MOTOWN THE MUSICAL. The Company. Photo Tristram Kenton

With such an incredible back catalogue to pick from it would be easy to fall into the tribute concert category but Mowton the Musical offers so much more as personal relationships and professional struggles play out. We begin with Gordy’s childhood where he dreams of being somebody. Through his founding of the Motown label not only does he become somebody but changes the face of not just music but popular culture forever.

The music is joyfully allowed to take centre stage, at times it moves the story on and on other occasions is there for pure enjoyment & boy does it do its job. With hits including ABC, Baby Love, My Girl, Dancing In The Street, What’s Going On and Stop In The Name Of Love delivered by the most talented of casts Motown is an absolute thrill from start to finish.

16. MOTOWN THE MUSICAL. Reece Richards 'Jackie Wilson'. Photo Tristram Kenton

Edward Baruwa is entirely convincing as label boss Berry Gordy, his journey from optimistic youngster through to disillusioned & disappointed record label boss is committed & believable. Karis Anderson as Diana Ross goes on an incredible journey; maturing before our eyes from wide/eyed schoolgirl to ultimate Vegas diva she is sensational.

Nathan Lewis shines as Smokey Robinson on what is his professional theatre debut while Shak Ganbbidon-Williams is superb as Marvin Gaye. Special mention must also go to the talented ensemble cast who take on multiple roles with incredible skill.

22. MOTOWN THE MUSICAL. The Jackson Five. Photo Tristram Kenton 2500

The real genius about this production is that it manages to effectively portray the way in which the political & social climate influenced the sounds of the time whilst still entertaining enormously; the Vietnam war, assassinations of both JFK & Martin Luther King each taking the story in a new direction, adding authenticity and richness.

In addition to this absorbing story & unforgettable music is a stunning use of projection. Scenic designer David Korins & projection designer Daniel Brodie have effectively managed to recreate houses, TV studios, theatres & offices with their intricate & dynamic designs. Panels sweep in & out adding multiple layers to the bold visuals.

Motown is a show which will appeal to all & will without doubt gain a whole new generation of fans. From its world-class soundtrack to its stunning design this high-energy, super slick production is told with genuine heart & heaps of soul; if you’re not dancing in the streets of Manchester afterwards we’d have to ask What’s Going On?

On at the Opera House until Saturday 23rd March tickets available here.

 

 

 

 

 

Les Misérables

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Les Misérables is one of those few tour de force musicals that need no introduction; the buzz surrounding its arrival in Manchester a rare phenomenon. Performances sold out within days while the shows return to the region in May 2020 at the Lowry was announced even before Jean Valjean had uttered ‘24601’ on this current visit; within minutes of the curtain raising at tonight’s performance it becomes abundantly clear why.

While the West End production of Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg’s masterpiece has been running at the Queens Theatre since 1985 it is a newly conceived touring version that has been taking the country by storm since opening in Leicester in November 2018. 

This stunning production first conceived by producer Cameron Mackintosh in 2009 in celebration of the shows 25th anniversary offers a fresh vibrancy which will no doubt recruit a new generation of theatre fans while making devoted fans fall in love with Les Misérables all over again.

Laurence Connor and James Powell’s inspired direction ensures that the almost three-hour duration whizzes by; keeping the audience fully engaged throughout this epic spectacle. There is not one drop in pace nor lull in action. Act I ending with the rousing One Day More perhaps the most epic way to lead into an interval ever.

The biggest change from the current production running in the West end is Matt Kinley’s striking design. Gone is the famous revolve and in its place come vibrant and visually stunning projections; this new design still triggering the heartfelt emotion of the traditional show whilst adding the thrill of a cinematic feel to proceedings.

Kinley’s designs (expertly animated by 59 Productions) are based on Victor Hugo’s original paintings, and offer a new depth and authenticity to the material while Paule Constable lights each scene with atmospheric perfection. Benefitting from this design creativity the scenes in the underground sewers of Paris are outstanding while Javert’s demise is quite simply jaw-dropping.

The journey Killian Donnelly takes us on as Jean Valjean is bursting with gut-wrenching emotion; from embittered convict through to tired elder nearing ultimate redemption his commitment to the role never wavers. His voice is perfection, from the gentle soothing tones during the opening of Bring Him Home to the full-out goosebump-inducing Who Am I? Nic Greenshields is equally convincing as the brooding Javert, commanding in his presence and convincing in his delivery, his stunning performance during Stars receiving one of the biggest applause of the evening.

The Thénardier’s (Sophie-Louise Dann and Martin Ball) comical interludes are an absolute joy, both clearly delighting in their roles and cementing themselves as audience favourites.

Both Katie Hall as Fantine and Tegan Bannister as Eponine break audience hearts with their moving performances while Harry Apps’ emotional delivery of Empty Chairs At Empty Tables convinces further that this is a company for who nothing less than perfection will do.

The inevitable and well-deserved standing ovation confirms the power of this enduring story; combine that with the beauty of its soaring score and the astonishing quality of talent on stage and you quite literally have the perfect piece of theatre. Every person in the ensemble gives their heart and soul to this production and the result is sensational. Epic in its scale and breath-taking in its brilliance. If you only ever see one piece of theatre make it Les Misérables.

On at the Palace theatre until Saturday 30th March, currently sold out but check here for returns otherwise tickets go on general sale for The Lowry on Friday 1st March and can can be purchased here.

 

 

Interview | Nathan Lewis | Motown The Musical

Nathan Lewis Headshot

X Factor finalist Nathan Lewis heads to Manchester next week as part of the sensational Motown the Musical. Playing the legendary Smokey Robinson, Lewis is amongst a talented cast who bring the legends of Motown to glittering life in a musical adaptation which uncovers the true story of the legendary record label that changed music history and created the soundtrack of a generation.

We caught up with Nathan to hear a little more about the show and how it feels to be making his theatrical debut in such a thrilling role.

For your first musical production this must be an absolute dream role?

Absolutely 100%, it’s the first time I’ve done any kind of theatre production before so it really is a dream come true. Beforehand I was so so nervous even just about auditioning for the role let alone playing it and Smokey Robinson was such an important part of the Motown story that it really is an honour.

How did you feel ahead of your 1st performance in front of an audience?

It was very, very nerve-wracking but at the same time we have such a great team here, an amazing cast, fantastic creatives, director, sound, wigs, costume, everyone is just so encouraging that while of course I was nervous the support I had from this great team really helped prepare me and helped me to feel comfortable and ready to take it on. Part nerves, part excitement!

13. MOTOWN THE MUSICAL. Nathan Lewis 'Smokey Robinson'. Photo Tristram Kenton

Do it add pressure playing a real person?

I think it definitely does, you have to be very careful not to make any of the characters too different from their real selves; it’s so important they don’t become caricatures. With it being based on real people and real events you do have to reflect that but it’s a lot of fun because their stories and lives are so real and so interesting.

It’s such a fast paced show including 50 Motown classics how do you look after yourself and stay well?

I’ve recently just got over having a little bug and I think what helps with recovery and getting back performing is just really knowing your body, some people can bang out eight shows a week no problem, others have to be really careful. For me things like honey, ginger, lemon, hot water, the occasional steam and even long hot showers all help in looking after my voice. Also and this may sound stupid but knowing when to shut up, when you have time off it’s best to use it as well as you can and to rest your voice, just chill out and relax.

How do you prepare for each performance?

I just try to get myself feeling nice and relaxed really, I might listen to some music, drink some hot water, ginger and honey, occasionally might go over my lines. I find feeling relaxed helps me to feel confident and ready to perform.

Which Motown artists dead or alive would you love to meet or even sing with?

Oh my God that’s such a tough question, I’d definitely love to meet Smokey, to sing with him would be amazing and also he’s such an incredible song writer. It would be incredible to not only see him perform but also to pick his brain as well and find out a little more about him and how he did things. Michael Jackson would absolutely be one of them, he’s one of the biggest stars there’s ever been, meeting him would be amazing, and I’m definitely gonna put Stevie Wonder on the list as well, 100%.

You’re with us in Manchester from 26th Feb until 23rd March have you made any plans while you’re here?

I’ve only been once or twice before so I’m looking forward to doing some sightseeing, when you get to stay at a venue for a longer time it’s great as you get the chance to get comfortable in the place you’re at, it can be quite jarring when you’re just doing a week somewhere then onto the next place so a longer spell is really lovely and an opportunity to discover somewhere new.

The show has been a huge hit on the West End and now the tour is taking audiences by storm, what makes it such a fan favourite?

I’d have to say the music, it’s got to be the music, it is so iconic. For me having never done a theatre production before being lucky enough to get Motown as my first has been amazing I can totally see why audiences love it so much. The music in it is all my favourite kinds of music, its high energy, great storytelling about real people. To say the music of Motown shaped the world is an understatement, the music and the creative way in which its delivered is what makes it so popular.

You can see for yourself why Motown The Musical continues to thrill audiences when it arrives at Manchester’s Opera House on Tuesday 26th February tickets available here.

 

Twirlywoos Live

twirlywoos - 2019 uk tour

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

The producers of The Very Hungry Caterpillar as well as Sarah and The Duck Live clearly know a thing or two about creating entertaining children’s theatre. Their latest production: The Twirlywoos Live sees the much loved CBeebies TV show and its colourful, mischievous characters live on stage much to the delight of the youngsters in the audience.

For those not in the know the Twirlywoos are a family of bird like creatures who travel round in a big red boat spreading a little mischief wherever they wash up. They are made up of Great Big Hoo, Toodloo, Chickedy and Chick not forgetting colourful creature Peekaboo, whop pops up every now and again to cause a little mischief. There was also a flying visit from the Quacky Birds who took to the audience for a bit of noisy exploration as well as a surprise guest in the form of The Very Important Lady.

The innovative set changes from boat to laundrette to pizza parlour to party room with ease as the actors/puppeteers work with the Twirlywoos to teach the little ones in the audience about physical actions like ‘pulling’ and ‘rolling’ all done to simple yet memorable effect.

There’s singing and comedy as well as opportunities to interact including a rather exciting section where bubbles rain down on the audience causing a near frenzy of excitement.

The children I took loved the interactive elements enjoying shouting out their favourite pizza toppings and laughing hysterically at the washing basket which kept getting ‘pulled’ in different directions.

There were times at the Epstein Theatre when we struggled to hear the dialogue between the actors, while this show is very visual the dialogue is important to aid the storytelling and also retain the full attention of the audience; upping the volume a little would ensure there are no such problems in future performances.

With mischief, music and lots of giddy hijinks on the agenda Twirlywoos Live is a laugh-out-loud adventure, lapped up by little ones, great family fun.

Catch the show at the Epstein until Thursday 21st February tickets can be found here.

What’s Love Got To Do With It?

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

The award-winning producers who brought audiences the hugely popular Whitney – Queen Of The Night have joined forces once again with incredible vocalist Elesha Paul Moses to celebrate another iconic performer this time Tina Turner in sensational new show What’s Love Got To Do With It?

Strutting on stage in glitzy gold sequins, supported by backing singers/dancers and an impressive showband, Elesha bursts into a note-perfect performance of Steamy Windows immediately taking the atmosphere up a notch she’s greeted by whoops of appreciation from the keen audience. She sounds incredibly like Tina Turner and has the legendary stars iconic moves down to a tee. This Liverpool audience needs no encouragement to let their hair down and from the off let Elesha & Co know they are here to party.

The classics continue as we shift effortlessly into Private Dancer before Elesha takes us back to 1983 with a smooth rendition of Let’s Stay Together which the audience delight in singing along to.

Elesha’s unstoppable energy shows no sign of slowing as she belts out Wilson Pickett’s Land of 1000 Dances and In The Midnight Hour complete with Tina’s trademark swagger and jerky leg kicks.

A swift costume change takes us to the Mad Max era where sequins have been replaced by post-apocalyptic silver and Tina’s tussles become a sleek cropped wig. A dramatic delivery of We Don’t Need Another Hero (Thunderdome) takes us into the interval leaving the audience’s appetites suitably wetted.

Part 2 opens with a sultry version of I Can’t Stand The Rain delivered in perfect harmony by Elesha and her backing singers, each sat on high stools swathed with crimson light complete with a superb saxophone solo.

The tempo is ramped up again with a powerful performance of Addicted To Love followed by a high-energy Rolling Stones medley of Jumpin’ Jack Flash and It’s Only Rock’n’Roll (But I Like It).

As the lights dim the first bars of Golden Eye strike up; the backing dancers enter dressed in flamboyant Vegas showgirl style costumes as Elesha joins them for a powerful rendition of the classic Bond Theme, her vocals soaring through every inch of the Liverpool Empire’s expansive space.

What’s Love Got To Do With It is greeted by huge appreciation from the audience while When The Heartache Is Over almost becomes the anthem of the night as people leap up from their seats to sing in solidarity with each other.

The fizzing energy from the audience is rewarded with a quick costume change into an iconic Tina style red beaded number; a clear indication that party time has arrived. The hits come thick and fast in this final part of the show whipping the audience into a Tina induced frenzy, River Deep Mountain High ensures every bum if off its seat and wiggling away in time to the music. Simply The Best sends the atmosphere soaring followed by a knock-out performance of Nutbush City Limits which leads into the infectiously brilliant Proud Mary leaving the audience on a massively feel-good high.

What’s Love Got To Do With It? is an enormously entertaining night out, Elesha Paul Moses is a true talent and this upbeat celebration of the iconic Tina Turner will leave you without any doubt that she is simply the best, top-class entertainment!

Further information and tour dates can be found here.

 

 

The Full Monty

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

FM

The Full Monty arrived back in Manchester this week and judging by the whoops and excited cheers from the audience when Gary Lucy and Co take to the stage their return is very welcome.

Adapted from Simon Beaufoy’s 1997 film of the same name, The Full Monty tells the story of six out of work Sheffield steel workers, bored, broke and battling various issues of their own.

Gary Lucy as Gaz is behind on his child maintenance, his custodial problems worsening by the day. Best mate Dave’s (Kai Owen) confidence is rock bottom and his relationship with wife Jean (Liz Carney) is suffering. After stumbling upon a Chippendales night at the local social club Gaz sees an opportunity to earn a quick buck and hopefully prove to son Nathan (Fraser Kelly) he’s not a complete failure.

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Right from the off it’s clear what the audience are here for; they want a reet good laugh and of course ‘that’ infamous scene at the end of the show. Each teasing flash of flesh is lapped up as this story familiar to many begins to play out. Fans of the film will be glad to know the adaptation has been respectfully done, characters remain the same ones they fell in love with back in the 90’s and the northern witty one-liners come thick and fast.

Designer Robert Jones has translated the industrial disused steelworks into an effective and efficient set, doubling up as offices, social clubs and performance space with ease.

What starts off as feel-good escapism soon deepens into something more as we see friendships grow, self-respect return and important issues raised. Beaufoy’s script doesn’t shy away from sensitive themes; suicide, sexuality and self-worth are all covered here but done so in a typically northern no-nonsense fashion where problems are faced with a laugh and a joke but at all times a genuine warmth.

FM 1

Heading up the cast Gary Lucy is clearly an audience favourite although his accent takes a trip across the Pennines on more than one occasion the audience lap up his cheeky banter as Gaz the Lad. Fraser Kelly as son Nathan is convincing and committed, leading you to question just who is raising who here. Kai Owen as Gaz’s best mate Dave gives a warm and relatable performance while both Joe Gill as Lomper and Andrew Dunn as Gerald shine in their respective roles. Louis Emerick as Horse proves despite a dodgy hip he’s still got the moves while James Redmond as Guy proves he’s packing more than just a girder down there!

The Full Monty is an entertaining night out, a heart-warming story delivered in a fun and feel-good way with more than enough laughs to send you home smiling.

Catch The Full Monty at Manchester’s Opera House until Saturday 23rd February tickets available here.

 

Mydidae

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

The day starts as any other, Marian (Hollie-Jay Bowes) practices her French while brushing her teeth, her partner David (David Gregan-Jones) does his best to convince that his business spiel has some actual meaning; it soon becomes clear however that their inconsequential chatter & random mutterings are merely a means of avoiding a much deeper, darker and undoubtedly more difficult conversation.

Affectionate chat becomes increasingly saturated with barbed comments as with each trip to the bathroom insecurities and an inability to communicate honestly are exposed.

Jack Thorne’s script is both challenging and remarkably honest, stripping each character both physically and emotionally. Laura Woodward’s focussed direction ensures warped domestic life takes centre stage as light-hearted interrogation becomes something altogether more shocking.

Hollie-Jay Bowes & David Gregan-Jones unselfconsciously move throughout the intimate space allowing the audience a genuine fly on the wall insight. Each have an ability to connect deeply with the audience; you feel their pain, their heartache, their frustrations as the reality of their grief in all it’s complicated detail is stripped bare.Their believability as a fractured couple allows the emotion of Jack Thorne’s piece to rise to a brutal and unexpected peak which literally knocks you for six. Both are outstanding.

Natalie Johnson’s set and costume design of varying shades of blue are lit to subtle yet dramatic effect by Joseph Thomas, a hint of what’s to come with a flash of colour lighting up the freestanding bath between scenes.

Wonderhouse Theatre succeed in delivering this provocative & powerful piece impressively well, holding the audience entirely for the full 75ish minutes. It is the kind of theatre that will remain in your thoughts for days, weeks, maybe more as you pour over the detail & examine the issues raised.

Brutal, honest and brilliantly executed theatre.

Catch Mydidae at Hope Mill Theatre until Saturday 23rd February tickets £12/14 are available here.