Chicago

Reviewed by Matt Forrest

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Chicago has been wowing audiences since it opened on Broadway in 1975. On the basis of tonight’s performance, it’s easy to see how this became such a musical theatre juggernaut.

For this is a tale “Murder, greed, corruption, exploitation, adultery and treachery… all those things we hold near and dear to our hearts”.

Set in 1920’s Chicago, a lawless place, where bootleggers and gangsters run the show. Prohibition is feeding power to the criminal underworld and the only place to get a decent drink and some decent music is in the speakeasy.

Based on the writing of journalist Maurine Watkins, a reporter for the Chicago Tribune. Watkins began seeing a pattern in the Chicago courts of law, glamorous young women getting away with murder. The bigger celebrity name they made for themself, the more likely they were to be acquitted, no matter how guilty they were!

Chicago focuses on two such women. First is Roxanne Hart (Faye Brookes) a cocktail waitress and wannabe singer accused of murdering he wantaway lover. The second is Velma Kelly (Michelle Andrews) a music hall entertainer in the dock for the slaying of her husband and her sister, who were having an affair.

Both are as guilty sin, but how can they get away with murder, and become the must-see act in town, enter super flash, super slippery lawyer, Billy Flynn (Liam Marcellino), the number one lawyer who knows exactly what jury’s and more importantly the press want to see in order to get these murderous vixens acquitted.

It’s rather timely that Chicago is currently out touring, whilst two of the biggest media circus’s play out over here and across the pond, thus highlighting the shows relevance and bang on point rapier critique of ‘celebrity’.

This slick production is a treat for the senses. Big musical numbers, stunning set pieces and more fun than I was expecting (I’ve never seen the 2002 Oscar winning film adaptation). Faye Brookes puts in a solid comedic if slightly unhinged turn as Hart. Filled with great little comedic asides, facial expressions and a flirty innocent charm, she is in fine form. Her work on the songs Roxie and Me and My Baby is highly impressive

Also in fine form is Michelle Andrews as Velma Kelly. Andrews gives a sassy, spikey performance, a commanding stage presence throughout; she more than delivers and gives no indication that she was stepping into the role as an understudy.

The show boasts an incredible wealth of supporting talent: Sheila Fergurson looks like she’s having a ball as Matron ‘Mama’ Morton, and as you would expect her voice is top of the class. In addition, there is a great comedic turn from Jamie Baughan as Roxanne’s sap of a husband, Amos. His work on the comedic number Mister Cellophane, very much nearly steals the show.

Whilst Liam Marcllino is a treat as the oily, Billy Flynn. His performance of All I Care About brings in some big laughs. The whole cast works so hard throughout for what is a physically demanding show.

Performed very much in the Vaudeville tradition of theatre, we have characters and show numbers introduced by the cast, we see the cast members waiting in the wings, whilst the orchestra takes centre stage, even musical director Andrew Hilton, has a more prominent role than one might expect.

There are stunning set pieces in the form of more familiar numbers such opener All That Jazz and Razzle Dazzle with all the glitz and glamour you would expect from a production of this standard

This sexy, sultry, super smart production is a perfect example of how life imitates art and demonstrates why this is one of the most cherished musicals around.

Chicago is on at the Manchester Opera House 28th May 2022

Tickets available here.

The Cher Show

Reviewed by Jodie Crawford

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

I’m not sure what I was expecting from “The Cher Show”; but it certainly wasn’t what I got. I have never ever considered myself to be a fan of Cher’s music, but what I learned tonight is that my entire life has been punctuated by Cher songs. You do not realise just how many Cher songs you know until you hear approximately 35 of them and you know every single one. 

The success of this show is the clever use of the three versions of Cher: Star (Debbie Kurup), Lady (Danielle Steers) and Babe (Millie O’Connell). These characters share with us the life story of this incredibly courageous and successful woman – The legend that is Cher.

They take us on a journey together, each representing a different period of Chers life, romantically, professionally, musically and stylistically. But these women are not karaoke versions or impersonators of Cher: yes they each use Cher’s well known mannerisms, such as the hair flick and the sway, but each of them showcase their own talent in their performances, and their talent is MIGHTY.

You cannot compare them to each other, they each stand out for their performances in equal measure. The script, the choreography and the costumes for each are perfection. Each performer supports the other and together they are magical.

The whole cast is spectacular – when Lucas Rush sang his first note as Sonny I was left speechless, his comic timing and chemistry with all three versions of Cher was marvellous. Tori Scott as Cher’s mother was kind, funny and engaging. Special mention to Jake Mitchell as fashion designer Bob Mackie, an all-round performer who the audience loved! I’m embarrassed to say that I had no ideas that Sam Ferriday played as many roles as he did until the curtain call when only one of his characters appeared – four characters played in one production so sleekly is a triumph.

The whole production is intelligent and original. Tom Rogers set design is simple, but powerful. The use of the ensemble to guide us through the eras worked really well. Wigs, hair, make up and costume are all outstanding, everything was flawless. I’m sure Cher herself will be putting in a special request to have some of the outfits flown out to her.

The audience were informed at the beginning of the show that the singing should be left to the cast until the finale – most took this on board, but some just couldn’t help themselves, even I had to hold back when “strong enough” came on!

And then we had the finale – and what a finale it was. It was hands down the finale of all finales, and Manchester lapped it up. Everyone was up on their feet, there was dancing in the aisles, singing along and cheering for the cast and the wonderful orchestration.


Arlene Phillips, Rick Elise and Oti Mabuse have created something magical here, something that will delight audiences again and again and perhaps just give us all a little bit of Cher in our lives when we need it most.

A special little mention to the proud husband of Debbie Kurup, who was sitting behind us, his knowledge of Chers music during the interval was incredible and much appreciated for this Cher convert!

The Cher Show is on at Manchester’s Opera House until Saturday 21st May, tickets available here.

Passion

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

With a book by long standing Sondheim collaborator James Lapine, (Sunday in the Park with George, Into the Woods) plus music and lyrics by the late, great Stephen Sondheim, Passion finds a new home in Manchester’s intimate Hope Mill Theatre with a stellar cast led by musical theatre legend Ruthie Henshall.

Based on the 1981 film, Passione d’Amore, which was inspired by Tarchetti’s 1869 gothic novel Fosca; the story introduces us to Giorgio, (Dean John-Wilson) a handsome young officer who is posted to a remote garrison in the mountains; separating him from Clara (Kelly Price), his married mistress in Milan. Once there, his Colonel’s intense and uncompromising cousin Fosca (Ruthie Henshall) begins a relentless pursuit of him, her obsessive chase as manipulative as it is mesmerising.

Henshall is wonderfully expressive as Fosca, her moments of lunacy and lucidity adding depth to this complex character. She is a tortured soul, her mental anguish leaking into her physicality, wringing her hands & cowering under her shawl one moment, shrieking and wailing the next. Her obsession with Giorgio sends him on a fascinating journey from self-assured soldier to self-doubting shell, as the absurd becomes actuality.

Dean John-Wilson makes an excellent Giorgio and portrays the characters complex transition convincingly. Kelly Price is a wonderful Clara, initially frothy and bright her journey too is compelling.

Director Michael Strassen uses the intimacy of Hope Mill Theatre to its full advantage, the synergy of the ensemble fills the theatre with the most sublime harmonies while the claustrophobia felt by Giorgio feels palpable and close.

Elin Steele’s set and costume design is simple but effective, while Charlie Morgan Jones’ atmospheric lighting brings light and shade to the piece. The five-piece band fit perfectly within the setting with Dan Samson’s sound design ensuring every note is crystal clear.

This is a piece I must confess I knew little about and was not disappointed. The storytelling is strong while Sondheim’s undeniable melodic style is identifiable from the first note. The cast are superb, their star quality ensuring this intense and strange tale never feels too heavy in this lovingly staged revival.

It’s a joy to see this impressive cast in such an intimate setting, they draw you into the emotion of the piece and keep you on your toes. It’s fascinating to see the joyful lyrics about love and happiness transfer from the light and carefree delivery of Clara into Fosca’s intense ownership by the end of the production. Special mention must also go to the ensemble who act as almost narrators at times, in the most perfect of harmony.

Passion is a quality piece of theatre, powerful, dramatic and beautifully crafted.

Passion is on at Manchester’s Hope Mill Theatre until Sunday 5th June tickets available https://hopemilltheatre.co.uk/events/passion

Singin’ in the Rain

Reviewed by Jodie Crawford

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

This adaptation of the classic 1952 Gene Kelly film is a thing of charm and laughter.

Adam Cooper plays the role of Don Lockwood, a silent movie star, who is paired with the beautiful (but not so talented) Lina Lamont. Jenny Gayner plays this role brilliantly, and had the audience laughing their socks off in all of her scenes.

Lockwood and Lamont are marketed as Hollywoods golden couple, but Lockwood feels no love for Lamont and falls in love with the talented Kathy’s Selden (Charlotte Gouch).

When talking movies take America by storm producer RF Storm (Dale Rapley) is forced to make his new movie a talking picture, and with the help of Lockwood’s sidekick and best pal Cosmos Brown (played by the fabulous Ross McLaren) they make the movie a musical extravaganza – the only stumbling block is that Lamont cannot sing a note or dance a step- which is where Kathy comes in.

This production is an absolute delight. The talent is incredible. The ensemble hugely impressive – navigating us through the scenes and giving us some belters of dance numbers.

Ross MCLaren (Cosmos) and Jenny Gayner (Lina) provide us with the gags, real big belly laughs with their comic timing and delivery. McLarens energy is endless.

Cooper and Gooch are well matched and the chemistry between them is beautifully presented. Gooch’s voice is spectacular throughout the production while Cooper and Mclaren make a great duo – and these men know how to dance.

“Singing in the rain” is obviously the number we were all waiting for and it didn’t disappoint (although maybe it did disappoint those sitting in the first three rows if they hadn’t brought their raincoats!). Cooper gave the audience what they wanted and more- he was quick and light on his feet, showing us that even after all this time in this role he hasn’t lost any pizzazz.

But singing in the rain isn’t just about one song or one routine – the numbers are plentiful and they don’t disappoint – the choreography and the orchestra deliver time and time again throughout the production.

Special mention to the ensemble and Lockwood for the Ballet scenes – these were just magnificent, the audience rewarded this with a resounding applause and plenty of cheering.

This production is a must see, a real feel good show with plenty of heart and laughter. And Manchester loved it, the audience jumped to their feet before the reprise had even begun.

Doo-dloo-doo-doo-doo

Doo-dloo-doo-doo-doo-doo

Doo-dloo-doo-doo-doo-doo

Doo-dloo-doo-doo-doo-doo

I’m singing in the rain……. All the way home!

Go see it- you won’t be disappointed.

Singin’ in the Rain is on at Manchester’s Opera House until Saturday 14th May tickets available here.

Interview | Ruthie Henshall | Passion

Olivier Award winner and Musical Theatre icon Ruthie Henshall will lead a reimagining of Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s multi-award-winning Passion at the Hope Mill Theatre. Directed by Michael Strassen this revival will reenergise the tale of love, sex and obsession in a new dynamic staging.

Arguably Sondheim’s most lyrical and romantic work, Passion is a legendary musical based on Ettore Scola’s Italian film, Passion d’Amore. Situated in 19th Century Italy, the production tells the tale of a young soldier, Giorgio, who is obsessively pursued by the relation of his superior officer, Fosca – a woman prone to severe melancholy and mania.  

Exploring the consequences of intense passion and obsessive adoration, Passion is a ravishing and thought-provoking look at the lengths people go to for desire.

We spoke to Ruthie about the new production, her role and honouring Stephen Sondheim.

Opening Night: Why did you want to play Fosca in this new production of Passion?

Ruthie: The productions I have seen of Passion have never touched me personally in a way that I would have liked them to therefore for me I wanted to find a new way of connecting with it. 

ON: Can you tell us a little bit about the role?

Ruthie: I am just discovering her as I go in rehearsals. I’ll let you know on opening night! “ 

ON: What can audiences expect from Passion?

Ruthie: Phenomenal music by Stephen Sondheim. The man is a professor of the human condition. There is no one better to know how to describe feelings than that man. So you will leave the theatre having been changed in some way.  

ON: How are rehearsals going so far?

Ruthie: Very very good. It’s not an easy piece to put together because it’s very complicated. It is  like an opera. However it’s going really really well!

ON: This is one of the first revivals of one of Stephen Sondheim’s shows since he passed away last year – does this make it extra poignant for everyone involved?

Ruthie: Yes it does. It’s makes us feel like we really have to honour Stephen Sondheim. The biggest shame is that he will not get to see this. We will do everything we can to honour his memory. 

ON: Are you looking forward to performing in Manchester? And are you familiar with the Hope Mill Theatre?

Ruthie: I spent two weeks in Manchester doing the tour of Fosse and I loved it. It’s a really fun, happening place so I am looking forward to Manchester. I have never been to Hope Mill or seen anything there but their reputation is such that they have become a Donmar Warehouse outside London. 

ON: You’ve played some of the most iconic roles in Musical Theatre – from Velma & Roxie to Fantine and Mrs Wilkinson. Are there any roles out there that you’d still really love to play?

Ruthie: I think there are some iconic roles I’ve yet to have played that I would definitely like to play – like Dolly Levi in Hello Dolly and Mama Rose in Gypsy. I think they are right of passage for any older woman so yes I would I like to play those two.  

Passion runs at Hope Mill Theatre from 5th May to 6th June 2022 tickets available here.

Electric Rosary

Reviewed by Matt Forrest

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️1/2

Writer Tim Foley’s new play, Electric Rosary had quite the inception, back in 2017 it won the Bruntwood Prize Judge’s Award and now it arrives at the Royal Exchange Theatre for a three-week run. This sci-fi comedy promises something original and something we had no idea we needed in our lives till now, nuns and robots sharing the stage for the first time!

Set in the dilapidated grounds of St Grace’s convent, a depleted troop of nuns are struggling to keep the convent afloat. Whilst the recent passing of the mother superior has left the nuns in a state of flux as to who will lead them through these are turbulent times. In addition, the convent had set up strong ties with a missionary in Ecuador which all the nuns have dreamt about visiting, however with funds so low this seems highly unlikely.

With Easter approaching acting mother superior, Elizabeth (Jo Mousley) may have a solution to their problems in the guise of a council funded robot, Sister Mary (Breffni Holahan). Whilst young nun Theresa ( Saroja-Lily Ratnavel) is made up with android Mary, older nuns, Phillippa (Suzette Llwellyn) and Constance (Olwen May) are more sceptical.

The views of the nuns seemingly represent their views of the outside world in general, as the use of robots as workers is commonplace in this world, with some members of the public protesting about the “reapers” as they are called, and as the protests head closer to the convent what will the nuns do about it, and just how will they solve a problem like Mary?

This is a bold, unique at times hilarious production, with some fantastic performances, and razor-sharp script. However, the further you dive into the narrative the darker it becomes, exploring themes such as tolerance, the over reliance on artificial intelligence, and other factors that divide us.

The play opens like an extended episode of Victoria Wood’s classic sitcom, Dinner Ladies, sweet, charming and hilariously funny packed full of well observed punchlines. There numerous strong comedic set pieces as Sister Mary adapts to her new environment and how it reacts to her. However, it’s the final act where the tone shifts becoming more of a thriller.

I felt that the production somewhat loses its way a little after the interval, which is a real shame, it would benefit from another edit. It does manage to get back on track though with a powerful, haunting final 30 minutes. The ensemble cast are excellent throughout: Saroja-Lily Ratnavel gives a fantastic performance, as the innocent, sweet natured Sister Theresa, displaying a gift for comedy. Breffni Holahan as Sister Mary, commands the stage, demanding your attention throughout, with a very physical performance. Olwen May is in fine form as the strong yet cynical world-beaten Sister Constance. In addition, there is a powerful performance from Yandass Ndlovu in two very different yet pivotal roles

This is a strong showing from all six actors who all work hard throughout with each one getting their moment to shine. Electric Rosary despite some minor flaws is a hilarious, ambitious production with a great deal to say about modern times and well worth a watch.

Electric Rosary is at the Royal Exchange Theatre till the 14th May tickets available here.

Strictly Come Dancing – The Professionals

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Strictly Come Dancing – The Professionals arrived at The Lowry last night for the start of a 36-date UK tour and is as sequined and as sparkly as the glitterball trophy!

The huge success of the BBC TV show has led not just to the live arena tour which features celebrities from the show but also this highly polished and slick dance extravaganza featuring ten of the shows much-loved professionals.

From salsas to sambas SCD – The Professionals has it all, no expense is spared in this glittering celebration of all things dance. There are show-stopping group numbers which fizz with energy, sensual slow routines as well as perfect pairings where the technique and skill of each professional truly shines.

Backed by a six-piece live band of incredible musicians, vocalists Tara McDonald and Patrick Smyth breeze through a whole host of singalong favourites from Beyoncé to Coldplay. Their vocal range is outstanding, with McDonald delivering a pitch perfect Defying Gravity that Idina Menzel would be proud of, while Smyth almost convinces us Michael Hutchence is in the room with his stunning rendition of Never Tear Us Apart.

And now to the dancing…in a word, sensational! The pace is quick and the energy high ensuring momentum never wanes. In between the lavish group dances each of the professionals are given the opportunity to discuss their dance journey, their experience with Strictly and their favourite moments from the show as beautiful childhood pictures appear on a huge screen behind them. The Professionals give the audience exactly what they want, stunning routines that wow and a glimpse into their personal lives summed up beautifully by Gorka Marquez who proudly announces without the show he’d never have met the love of his life.

Vicky Gill’s costumes add a visual richness with changes coming thick and fast, each time as stunning as the last complimenting Jason Gilkison’s incredible choreography which both tugs on the heartstrings and makes you beam with joy. From Dianne Buswell’s Aussie Rock inspired sequence to Karen Hauer’s sizzling Latin American style we’re taken around the world in this dance spectacular.

Personal highlights for me were the 1920’s Speakeasy spin on Beyoncé’s Crazy In Love and the joyful finale celebrating British Pop all the way from the Spice Girls to The Proclaimers!

This glittering night makes for a FAB-U-LOUS fixture on the touring circuit filling the Strictly void until the new series begins in the autumn. Appealing to both young and old alike and judging by the roaring standing ovation on opening night it’ll be 10’s across the board on every stop of the tour!

Strictly Come Dancing The Professionals is on at The Lowry today (Friday 29th) at 2pm and 7:30pm tickets available here.

The Addams Family

Reviewed by Alison Ruck

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️1/2

Everyone’s favourite, kooky, spooky and downright creepy family The Addams, have returned to Manchester. A family everyone knows whether you’ve seen the multiple film adaptations, either cartoon or live action, the various television series or if you remember back to the creation of the family from cartoonist Charles Addams in the 1930s… Everyone is familiar with the crazy family, and of course its catchy theme tune you can’t help but ‘click, click’ along to.

The musical can attract all Addams Family, Halloween and musical theatre fans alike, a bonus that is never a negative when it comes to drawing new audiences into theatres across the country. In this musical version we’re introduced to the gothic Addams Family: Morticia and Gomez the lovingly strange parents, princess of darkness and eldest child Wednesday, and youngest pain-lover, Pugsley. They’re joined by extended family members Uncle Fester, Lurch and Grandma. The family are shocked to hear Wednesday has fallen in love with ‘boy next door’ type Lucas, but when the time comes for both families to meet, the Addams family are forced to act normal as two different worlds collide.

Andrew Lippa, Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice’s 2010 Broadway musical The Addams Family premiered in the UK in 2017. With the book from the writers of Jersey Boys, this show’s shining light is absolutely the writing. It’s clever and injected with witty comedy, funny enough to make the adults titter yet family-friendly enough to engage the kids.

Gomez Addams, played by Cameron Blakely, and Uncle Fester, played by Scott Paige (coincidentally both returning cast members from the original tour) are really the standout characters from the show, with brilliant lines between them combined with the actors’ hilarious embodiments. They have the audience belly laughing – at times for long enough for the actors to have to wait for them to finish – and totally commanding the stage each time they enter.

Joining the cast in 2021 is Joanne Clifton as Morticia Addams. Clifton, most well known for her stint on BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing, takes on the role as the family matriarch. Joanne certainly nails Morticia’s sleek, slender and sexy physicality as she sleuths across the stage in the customary black full-length gown. However, she falls a little flat against some of the more engaging performers such as Blakely; perhaps not quite finding the right balance between the darkness the character needs and the energy a musical needs.

Wednesday Addams is played by Kingsley Morton. The character requires strong vocals, as she takes on some of the best songs in the show, ‘Pulled’ and ‘Crazier Than You’. Despite the stunning vocals from Morton, ‘Pulled’ felt disappointingly shallow, as the performance felt to only scratch the surface of the inner conflict she feels between her family’s traditions and her new love, leaving a sense of restraint from the actress.

Despite not saying much, Lurch is always an audience favourite, played by Ryan Bennett. The tall butler is a continuous comedy character, never really doing much but thanks to the brilliant comedic writing and comedy timing from the cast around him, always achieved a giggle from the audience. 

The musical as a whole does lack the energy and panache that’s enjoyed in your ‘standard’ (jazz hands style) musical theatre production. Albeit purposefully dark and different to fit with the characters and themes, the elements that make the show different take away the ‘wow factor’ from the production. Ironically the most energetic scenes are those led by ‘the dead’ ensemble, and in particular ‘Tango De Amor’ where Clifton lets loose and really impresses with her dance skills in the sharp and sexy Tango.

Despite this, the cast are strong, the witty writing and hilarious performances will have audiences laughing, regardless of age. A great family show with a hint of obscurity and darkness and as crazy as they are, the Addams family can teach us all a little something about love…

You can catch The Addams Family at The Opera House in Manchester until Saturday 23rd April tickets available here.

Beauty and the Beast

Reviewed by Christine Peace

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Revamped and re-designed, Disney’s Award-winning production of Beauty and the Beast has arrived in Manchester for a 10-week residency at the Palace Theatre ahead of a West End run this summer.

This stunning production bursts with Disney magic right from the start as Angela Lansbury’s voice fills the theatre, introducing us to this much-loved story, while slick new design blends impressive video projection with traditional set design; allowing for dramatic scene changes and magical moments throughout.

Courtney Stapleton is superb as Belle, strong and independent yet full of heart she brings a genuine warmth and believability to the role while her vocals are pitch perfect. Also, a big fat YES to Belle wearing glasses during several scenes in the show, an unforgettable moment for many glasses wearing little (and big) ones in the audience.

As the Beast, Shaq Taylor is perfection; his rich vocals are sublime with his heartfelt performance of ‘If I Can’t Love Her’ being one of the most beautiful moments in the show. He mesmerises as the Beast, intimidating one moment, vulnerable the next, his physicality entirely convincing while he gifts us with an endearing humour that only makes us root for him even more.

Stapleton and Taylor make for fabulous sparring partners, it’s a joy watching their relationship develop as the Beast morphs from menacing to mush while Belle realises it’s truly what’s inside that really counts.

As well as the classic love story this production is filled with wonderfully comedic moments; Tom Senior as Gaston and Liam Buckland as Le Fou are hilarious; they bound across the stage all beer guzzling and boisterous as they belt out a brilliant ‘Gaston’ complete with fabulous physical comedy, carefully choreographed acrobatics, and seriously impressive staging, much to the delight of the audience.

Nigel Richards as Cogsworth and Gavin Lee as Lumiere make for another perfect pairing as the stuffy and serious Cogsworth’s blustering reaches fever-pitch while Lee’s Lumiere takes it all in his fabulously stylish stride. Lee absolutely shines during his big-number, the show-stopping ‘Be Our Guest’ giving us pure Hollywood razzle-dazzle, tap-heaven, it is truly sensational!

Special mention must also go to Sam Bailey as the utterly charming Mrs Potts, Samantha Bingley as the brilliant Madame de la Grande Bouche and Emma Caffrey as the super flirtatious Babette.

Director & choreographer Matt West has tasked his company with some incredible set-pieces which the ensemble delivers with both style and ease, the talent on stage is immense and it’s easy to see why this production receives a standing ovation night after night.

While this might be a ‘tale as old as time’ this refreshed production feels both modern and magical; taking in all the best elements from the original animated classic, the 1994 Broadway production and the 2017 live-action film adaptation, creating an enchanting production that remains true to its source material and showers the audience with Disney magic. This family show has it all, with the gasps from the audience when Belle enters for the ballroom scene making for an unforgettable moment. At a time where we all need a little escapism, being a guest at Beauty and the Beast will leave you uplifted, entertained and desperate to book a return visit. Theatrical magic at its absolute finest!

Disney’s Beauty and the Beast is on at Manchester’s palace Theatre until Saturday 4th June tickets available here.

Fantastically Great Women Who Changed the World

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Based on the award-winning book by suffragette descendant Kate Pankhurst, adapted by Chris Bush and Miranda Cooper, Fantastically Great Women who Changed The World is an inspirational and empowering celebration of our strong sisters from history told in an inventive and engaging way.

This pacey production (75 minutes straight through) introduces us to schoolgirl Jade who has somehow managed to get left behind on her school trip, finding herself outside the Gallery of Greatness where a new exhibition is being prepared. Jade goes on a journey of self-discovery as she searches for advice amid her parents’ divorce from the many fantastically great women from history who come to life from the exhibition walls.

Kudzai Mangombe is superb as Jade, her portrayal of a young girl searching for her place in the world is both relatable and honest. Her journey is enriched and encouraged by her encounters with the likes of Emmeline Pankhurst, Freda Kahlo, Rosa Parks and cross channel swimmer Gertrude Ederle, portrayed brilliantly by Kirstie Skivington, Jade Kennedy, Renée Lamb and Christina Modestou.

Each actress takes on several roles as well as multiple costume changes, kick-ass choreography and some seriously stunning vocals, this all-female cast and accompanying band leave the audience in no doubt of the power of women. They light up each scene with high energy and skilful enthusiasm ensuring the attention of even the youngest theatre goer never wanes.

This is exactly the type of show young people should be seeing, it’s a wonderful whizz though history but never feels rushed with each character given ample time and space to tell their story. There’s comedy and colour throughout as well as poignancy and powerful moments which are treated with sensitivity and care.

As I watched, inspired by both the stories and performers delivering them, it struck me just how little as a woman in her early 40’s I’d been taught about females throughout my education, (bearing in mind I studied History to A-level standard) I’d only ever learnt about Anne Frank, educating myself further once I became an adult. Knowing there are brilliant productions like this bringing incredible women to the forefront in such a fun and accessible way fills me with hope for our future fantastically great generations.

Inspirational storytelling, filled with heart, colour and charisma, Fantastically Great Women is an absolute joy!

Fantastically Great Women Who Changed the World is on at The Lowry until Saturday 9th April with the tour continuing across the country until Sunday 17th July, tickets and further infomation are available here.

Les Misérables

Reviewed by Jodie Crawford

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Les Miserables is world famous – it’s a tale that’s been told on all the big stages of the world. You might have seen it before, or seen the film, or listened to the soundtrack. But, if you haven’t yet seen this cast, on this tour – then you absolutely must!

From the moment we took our seats, in the sold out Lowry, we could feel the excitement, the atmosphere, the anticipation. Before we went in I honestly thought I would spend the entire production comparing everything to the West End version I saw a few years ago. How wrong was I? Once the first note was played I was lost in the action, the emotion, the heartbreak, the sheer brilliance of it all.

The set design is one of the first things to impress. There are no compromises where the set is concerned; it’s multi layered digital effects compliment the large structures such as the barricades. How the stage crew fit up this set in different locations on this tour is mind boggling. It looks like it belongs on the Lowry stage, like it was purposely built for it. Special mention to the lighting and projection team – they manage to create the most subtle of mood and atmosphere changes, the sewer scene particularly is very clever and original.

This cast knows how to impress. Every single voice is note perfect, the company numbers like “One More Day” make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up.

Dean Chisnall’s portrayal of Jean Valjean, is quite simply the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen on stage. His delivery of “Bring him home” was breath taking. The roar from the crowd for him during the curtain call was most deserved.

Marius played by Will Callan was exceptional, and I still cannot believe that this tour is his first professional show. He plays the role with such expertise, his talent is incredible. He is definitely someone to look out for in the future.

Monsieur (Ian Hughes) and Madame (Helen Walsh) Thenardier are hilarious – this is an excellent piece of casting by Paul Wooller and Felicity French.

This show gives us show stopper after show stopper – it takes us on an emotional journey where we are 100% invested in what is to become of our hero Jean Valjean, the villain of the piece, Javert (who is played by the superb Nic Greenshields), and of course, the sweethearts Marius and Cosette. We all gasp as Gavroche is shot and lays lifeless on stage. Many of us ( definitely me) had to wipe away a tear as Epinine (Nathania Ong) lies in Marius’ arms while singing pitch perfectly (as she does in every number). And the finale is the most powerful finale I have seen. The audience were on their feet before the last note was even sung – you could feel the rush and the excitement in the auditorium – it was electric.

The whole cast do not disappoint, they impress over and over again. I have never heard applause like it throughout a performance. And every single clap was richly deserved.

Les Misérables is on at The Lowry until Saturday 23rd April tickets available here.

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat

Reviewed by Demi Franks

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

‘But if you think it, want it, dream it, then it’s real. You are what you feel…’


Fresh from London’s Palladium, this new production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat kicks off it’s UK & Ireland tour right here in Manchester. Although it feels as though Joseph has been around since ‘way way back many centuries ago…’ with it being the first of Lloyd Webber and Rice’s musical collaborations to be performed publicly over 50 years ago, originating in 1968 (albeit in a school setting and only 15 minutes in length), it is still as much loved and adored by audiences today as ever.


Joseph, the biblical story of Jacob’s first born (and favourite) son, who is sold by his jealous brothers for being gifted a (pretty fabulous) multi-coloured coat by his father and being a bit of a show off claiming to be able to read people’s dreams… you know the rest, has become not only a staple in schools and colleges alike but theatres and tours around the world too. However this latest version certainly throws a spanner in the works and isn’t afraid of shaking things up…

Yes, this version of Joseph has its ‘star cast’ appeal with Jason Donovan and Alexandra Burke billed as headliners and whilst it must be said the later of which provides an astonishing turn not just as Narrator but doubling up as multiple roles, leading the entire show with panache whilst simultaneously entering her third trimester of pregnancy to our (and probably her own) amazement, this version of Joseph is much more than just names. Paying homage to it’s humble beginnings, at the heart of the show is the talented cast of children, often playing roles you wouldn’t necessary expect them too; they provide a warm and sweet cornerstone to this production.

Jac Yarrow who has quickly made a name for himself in the title role, is most certainly the real deal. His onstage charisma is matched by his sensational vocals, with his version of Close Every Door proving to be ‘goose-pimpley-good’ and providing a stand-out moment. The ensemble are tight and slick and deliver some of the most entertaining scenes of the evening, including One More Angel In Heaven and Go, Go, Go Joseph.

A first class creative team has also been assembled here with Laurence Connor directing at the helm. Large’s set and costume design provides all the colour and more that you’d expect from a production of Joseph, whilst Rigby’s orchestra hits powerful perfection with every note, remaining pitch perfect throughout, culminating in Act 2’s Entr’acte getting its own (and much deserved) rapturous applause from an eager audience still clearly lapping up being back watching live theatre. However, what is most revolutionary for me is Hunter’s choreography which adapts and evolves impressively at each modern twist the production takes.

Michael Harrison’s refashioned production keeps the sentimentality and romanticism that a production of Joseph should have, whilst at the same time re-invigorates and brings it up-to-date, with (spoiler alert) tap-dance, cheerleading and can-can routines thrown in for good
measure. Although it may be said at times the modernisation can seem a little over the top and in your face, making it occasionally hard to digest, this newest production certainly can’t be accused of resting on its laurels.

There is still something really warm and reminiscent at the core of this modernised updated version of a much loved classic, that particularly in a world currently full of so much uncertainly, feels hugely soothing, nostalgic and incredibly uplifting.

This newest interpretation of Joseph certainly throws some curve balls to what we are used to expecting with this one, however what we do get is a quirky, funny, bold, modern take on an old familiar musical tale, which certainly makes for an entertaining evening!

Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat is at the Manchester Opera House until the 2nd tickets are available here.