Liza Pulman sings Streisand

 

Liza sings Streisand The Regent Christchurch Sunday 15th October 2017

Liverpool Philharmonic Hall will play host to a unique collaboration of one of the finest voices and one of the finest brass bands in the UK on Sunday 29th April. Acclaimed singer, comedienne and one third of the satirical and much-loved comedy trio Fascinating Aida, Liza Pulman takes to the stage to sing Streisand with her band alongside the world-famous Brighouse & Rastrick Band.

Liza’s 18 date UK tour pays homage to the great Barbra Streisand, one of the finest singers of all time and for 2 dates only (including Liverpool) she collaborates with the very special Brighouse & Rastrick Band. Liza’s mother, the actress Barbra Young was born in Brighouse and Liza travelled to the town to record with the band in their famous bandroom.

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Liza Pulman said “I am so excited to bring this very special evening of entertainment to the beautiful Liverpool Philharmonic Hall, which I have played in many times before. This concert is going to mean a lot to me, not only for my love of Barbara Streisand, but also to perform with this world-famous band. Liverpool audiences are in for a very special treat.”

Tickets for this critically-acclaimed show can be found here.

Interview | Darragh Cowley & Jabez Sykes | Spring Awakening

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Ground-breaking pop-rock Broadway musical Spring Awakeningwith it’s emotive and important themes of sexuality, religion, gender and self-discovery opens in Manchester’s Award winning Hope Mill theatre this week. The UK revival of Duncan Sheik and Steven Slater’s musical set in the late nineteenth-century has themes which resonate heavily today as we follow a group of young teenagers on a journey of self-discovery in a environment of censorship and silence.

The production which opens for previews on Thursday 29th March is the second of five in-house musicals this year from the enormously successful collaboration between Hope Mill Theatre’s founders Joseph Houston and William Whelton and co-artistic director and resident producer Katy Lipson. Directed by Luke Sheppard the defining musical of the last decade has created a buzz on social media since the moment it was first announced.

We spoke to Manchester cast members Darragh Cowley who plays Melchior and Jabez Sykes who takes on the role of Moritz to find out a little more about the production and hear how it feels to be performing something so hotly anticipated on home soil.

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Opening Night: For those unfamiliar with the show can you give us a brief outline and tell us a little about your characters?

Darragh Cowley: I play Melchoir, who is a very forward thinking young teenager, very clever, very intelligent. Spring Awakening is a real pop, rock, rah rah against the system really, it’s the youth trying to defy the system in which they have been brought up and to break the traditions that they don’t really think are right. It covers themes of teen pregnancy, child abuse, mental health and youung persons suicide but then the overall theme towards the end is about growth and rebuild and how people can get back from that sort of thing, it’s a beautiful, beautiful piece it’s gorgeous.

Jabez Sykes: I play Mortiz, there’s a lot going on for Moritz at this time, he’s dealing with a lot of pressure, his mental health maybe isn’t the best that it could be, which has been quite a daunting task really to take on, it’s such a sensitive subject and such a hot subject right now but I really think we’ve done it justice, working with the cast, our director Luke Sheppard, choreographer Tom Jackson Greaves and musical director Gareth Bretherton it’s been a real collaborative experience and I think we’ve really got there with tackling the important issues in the piece.

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How as a cast do you work on developing trust and chemistry?

JS: From day one we were all so comfortable with each other, it was almost like we knew each other from another life.

DC: There was such a nice feeling in the room, it was immediately really comfortable.

JS: It really was lovely, I think no one is scared of getting anything wrong, everyone is so supportive of each other, which makes for a really great working environment.

DC: Luke Sheppard our director has made it very much a collaborative process so before we do any scene we’ll sit and talk through it so we can all put our ideas in, even a few weeks into the rehearsal process we might say, actually Luke can I try this idea, can I still play with it? And he just tells us to go for it and see what it’s like, it might be terrible idea and he’ll say ‘Darragh what were you thinking?’ But if not he is more than welcome to accommodate and include our ideas.

JS: In terms of trust a lot of the subjects are very delicate and everyone is fighting their own personal battles so something might affect somebody in a way that doesn’t affect somebody else, but one of the things we’ve all learned is that you have to be patient with everybody, you have to have respect for each other and I think with that comes a natural trust.

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There is a real online buzz about the show, is that felt by the cast and does it add any pressure?

JS: I think there’s always that little bit of your head that’s saying oh my God so many people are really excited about this and I think because it’s such a special and quite a cult show for some people but I feel confident that what we have produced is a really, really beautiful piece and we’re excited now and ready for audiences to see it.

DC: The buzz online about the show has really put some wind behind our sails, I’ve never been in something of this scale, we’ve been rehearsing now for six weeks or so and I feel ready to stat beginning to share it, I’m excited, there’s a pressure but there’s an excitement too, I just feel right now let’s go, let’s do it!

JS: We really feel that everyone who has been tweeting about the show is really positive and really behind us and are coming to support us because they love the show and they want it to be as brilliant as we know it is.

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Are you looking forward to performing at Hope Mill Theatre?

DC: It’s a dream, I started my theatre career doing amateur dramatics at the plaza in Stockport, went through Manchester Musical Youth then went to Guilford to train for 3 years, finished two weeks ago and it’s literally a dream to come back to the city where it all started, where I grew up, went to school, it’s just gorgeous to be able to come back and say ‘Hi I’m an actor now, look I did it!’ It really is an absolute dream to be back in the city where I’m from.

JS: I’m so excited, I just can’t wait, it feels really special, I feel like things have gone full circle for me, I went to watch Parade at Hope Mill which was their first in-house musical, and I knew the moment it finished I wanted to work at Hope Mill and now here I am, I’m so grateful and so excited for this opportunity and I really cannot wait to get started.

Spring Awakening begins previews at Hope Mill Theatre on Thursday 29th March and runs until Thursday 3rd May tickets available here.

Art

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Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️

Reviewed by Matt Forrest

It’s nearly 25 years since the Yasmina Reza short play Art made its theatrical debut in Paris and judging by the anticipation and buzz around the Lyric theatre this evening, it would appear the play still has a huge drawing power. However, the big question is, is it still worth the hype and praise? Or is it a bit like the Cecilia Giménez restoration of the Fresco, and doesn’t deliver what is promised?

The plot focuses on three life- long friends, Serge, Marc and Yvan. Serge, a wealthy divorcee with a supposed penchant for modern art, decides to spend £200,000 on a painting of a white canvas. His friend Marc takes great offense by this show of extravagance.  Marc believes Serge is, either going mad, having a sly dig at him, or is just plain foolish for making such an inane purchase. Marc  enlists the help of Yvan, their down trodden people-pleasing friend to either get to the bottom of their friend’s behaviour, or at least get him onside with his assessment that the painting “is shit”.

As the debate rages between Serge and Marc, and Yvan’s piggy-in-the-middle stance on proceedings, it would appear that this rather bland, neutral piece of art exposes some home truths and harsh realities that threatens to blow the lid off their friendship once and for all.

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Art proved to be a bitter-sweet night at the theatre, with more to say about the insecurities and foibles of middle-class-white men than a critique of modern art. The script is razor-sharp, filled with stinging- barbs and some cracking set pieces that include possibly the funniest olive eating scene I have witnessed and a finale that drew loud, audible gasps from the assembled audience. The trouble is that the 2 of the 3 characters are quite loathsome and that you really don’t care about them, their friendship or the painting.

That said there is no shortage of star-power on display here: Dennis Lawson is clearly having a ball as cantankerous Marc, delivering most of the plays most venomous lines with real gusto. Nigel Havers does what he does best as the suave, extravagant Serge, a role we are all too familiar with seeing him play, but he does it so well. However the biggest applause for the night was saved for Stephen Tompkinson, whose speech mid-way through is comedy gold, and his turn as the well -meaning wet blanket Yvan very nearly steals the shows.

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Mark Thomas has created simple but effective beige set with only a few paintings and different style chairs used to show off the personality of our protagonists.

I suppose, as all Art, the idea is to challenge and debate. This piece of Art certainly does that; love it or hate you won’t forget it in a hurry that’s for sure!

Art is on at the Lowry until the 31st March tickets available here

Hairspray

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Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Ever popular audience favourite Hairspray burst into Manchester last night for a fun, feisty and feel-good two week stop at the city’s Opera House theatre.

Multi-coloured and multi-layered this is an uplifting and vibrant production with a serious and important message at its heart. Based on the 1988 John Waters film, Hairspray follows Baltimore teenager, Tracy Turnblad’s dream to dance on The Corny Collins Show. Tracy isn’t as conventionally looking as the show’s usual crew and faces an uphill battle from the start. What begins as a burning ambition to win a role on her favourite teen show soon becomes a campaign for social change which sees Tracy crusade to promote racial integration as she battles not only bigots but body shamers too.

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Newcomer Rebecca Mendoza makes her professional debut and as the bright, bold and beautiful Tracy Turnblad with a big voice and personality to match her buoyant bouffant she perfectly embodies the impassioned teen. Her comedic acting really raises her performance from excellent to exceptional and she puff and pants to perfection every time teen idol Link Larkin (Edward Chitticks) comes near.

Annalise Liard-Bailey smashes her professional debut as Penny Pingleton, the stunning pairing of Liard-Bailey and Layton Williams being a real highlight of the show, Williams shines as Seaweed, ensuring all eyes are upon him as he twists and flips across the stage, both are an absolute joy to watch.

Brenda Edwards returns as the mighty Motormouth Maybelle and raises the roof with her soulful and emotional rendition of I know where I’ve been. While theatre has a job to entertain it also has important role in educating audiences, which Edwards and cast do so with gusto.

Matt Rixton (Edna) and Graham MacDuff (tonight covering the role of Wilbur) solidify their status as audience favourites with each outrageous and hilarious scene, they’re clearly having just as much fun on stage as the audience off stage as they delight and deliver in style.

While it promotes a message of equality and inclusion Hairspray does it with such wit and charm it is anything but preachy. Drew McOnie’s punchy choreography ensures the pace always remains high while Takis’ sets and costumes are bright, blingy and whisk us straight back to the sixties.

With a vibrant and memorable score including numbers such as You Can’t Stop the Beat, Welcome to the Sixities and Good Morning Baltimore Hairspray never fails to entertain as the audience leapt to their feet in approval. Empowering, uplifting and most of all enormously entertaining!

On at the Opera House until Saturday 7th April tickets available here.

Miss Saigon

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Based on Pucci’s heart-breaking 1903 opera, Madama Butterfly, Miss Saigon remains one of the most powerful and deeply moving musicals of all time, bold in its subject matter, this gritty and gut-wrenching story packs a punch as it carries you along on an epic and emotional journey.

Set during the final days of the Vietnam War, naive 17 year old Kim who tragically lost her family in the bloody battles is forced to take a job in a sleazy Saigon bar, managed by notorious pimp ‘The Engineer’ who revels in selling his girls to the highest bidder. GI John buys Kim for the night for his buddy Chris in a bid to take his pals mind off the horrors of war, resulting in a life-changing 24 hours that see Chris and Kim fall hopelessly in love. Tragedy however is ever present as Chris is ripped away from tragic lover Kim who finds herself cast out and desolate but never losing hope that one day Chris will return and meet the young son he doesn’t know he has fathered.

The themes of war, displacement and a warped almost grotesque American dream resonate strongly and are scarily poignant as gritty and emotive numbers playout beside glitzy showstopper “American Dream”. This revised 25th anniversary production loses nothing from the original 1990’s production which ran at London’s Theatre Royal Drury Lane for over 10 years and indeed is enhanced by advances in technology and added depth to the story. The helicopter scene is even more breath-taking as the desperate scenes below unfold and the misery of those left behind feels more urgent and hopeless.

Sooha Kim captures perfectly the trusting innocence of Kim; the changes she goes through are dramatic and desperately tragic. From giddy and gleefully in love to a woman shattered by desperation and the grief of abandonment, she remains hopeful and strong to the end, fiercely determined to give her son the life she knows he truly deserves.

Ashley Gilmour makes for a strong and entirely convincing Chris, dependable and sure his steely attitude turns to mush in the presence of Kim who captures his heart entirely. Their duets together are perfection and offer a beacon of hope in the midst of the desperate scenes to follow.

Red Conceptión’s commitment to the role of the Engineer is impressive, sleezy, sneering yet full of charm his cheeky winks and witty quips ensure the audience love to hate him as his eternal optimism he’ll make it to the USA drives him through.

Zoë Doano’s portrayal of Ellen is sensitive and believable. The addition of Ellen’s song ‘Maybe’ allows the audience to see her as more than just Chris’ new wife (who lets be honest we all kind of hated) and gives a new empathy and understanding of the impossible situation she finds herself in.

As with all Cameron Mackintosh productions the quality shines through, touring productions can often feel a little pinched compared to their West End equivalents however there is no such worry here. The sets are as lavish as Claude-Michel Schöenberg and Alan Boubill’s score is sublime, in this gripping and heartbreakingly beautiful show packed full of passionate emotion. While there are scenes to warm your heart there are those which will also smash it into pieces and leave you barely able to take a breath as you reach for the tissues while this sensationally spine-tingling and unforgettable story unfolds. Has Manchester already seen the best production of 2018? Quite possibly, get yourselves to the Palace theatre to find out!

On at Manchester’s Palace Theatre until Saturday 12th May tickets available here.

Cinderella

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Panto isn’t just for Christmas at the Theatre Royal in St Helens with Regal Entertainments continuing their tradition of regular school holiday pantomimes with this Easter’s offering of Cinderella.

The theatre continues its run of attracting well-known names to St Helens with Lee Latchford-Evans from cult pop group Steps taking the role of Prince Charming.

A trained actor as well as singer, Latchford-Evans showed off an easy likeable charm as the Prince as well as a predictably good singing voice.

Georgina Parkinson was a sweet-voiced Cinders with funny man Lewis Devine returning as Buttons following his stint at The venue at Christmas, and proving just as popular with audiences this time.

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Resident dame Si Foster (who also co-writes with Ben Ebgelen) and Mark Newall take on the role of Kendall and Kylie the Ugly Sisters – a brilliant double act who throw plenty of shade and wow in a series of tremendously tacky frocks and wicked weaves. Watch out for the Bags for Life gag – bravo!

Samantha Palin is a warm and distractedly dotty Fairy Godmother, with big hair and bling that wouldn’t look out of place on a Real Housewife of Cheshire. And Andrew Geater is a dashing if somewhat snooty Dandini – they both have fantastic voices and get their moments to shine vocally.

I’m a sucker for the traditional panto transformation scene that usually closes Act 1 and the show certainly doesn’t disappoint here with a gorgeous mix of ballet, baby animals (courtesy of the charming juvenile dancers) and yes – real Shetland ponies! (One of these makes a hilarious reappearance in Act II that had my young co-reviewer in stitches and that I know he will be talking about for days to come.)

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All of the music is incredibly well chosen. From 80s anthems like Holding Out For a Hero and Love Lifts Us Up (Where We Belong) to musical theatre floor fillers like One Night Only and Fabulous Baby, every song was a total crowd pleaser.

And needless to say Step’s fans won’t go away disappointed with a medley of their biggest hits featuring to the audience’s total delight.

Add to this beautiful and vibrant costumes, charming sets and a brilliantly funny and topical script (anyone who has ever pleaded with ‘Alexa’ will appreciate one gag in particular) that will appeal to all ages, adds up to a warm and witty show that will leave you feeling fuzzy inside.

And with ticket prices starting at an incredibly reasonable £13 – this is a high quality family pantomime at applaudingly affordable prices.

A cracking treat for Easter!

On until Sunday 15th April, tickets available here.

East Is East

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Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Set in Salford in the 1970’s, East Is East is a powerfully sharp and deeply moving story of an Anglo-Pakistani family struggling to find their place not only in society but also within their own four walls.

Patriarch George (Kulvinder Ghir) rules his family with an iron fist, emotional torment and physical threats are his go to methods for gaining respect from his wife and his frustrated children who are desperate to make their own way in the confused world they’re struggling to make sense of.

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Mother Ella (Jane Hazlegrove) loves them fiercely and longs for her husband to love their children for who they are and allow them to explore the opportunities their Western lifestyle allows. The family is fractious and fraught as siblings squabble desperate for release from the pressure of their fathers imposed conformity.

Kulvinder Ghir is outstanding as George, warm and loveable one moment, seething with explosive anger the next. He takes George to breaking point with sensitivity and conviction. Ultimately a frightened man, lashing out at those he loves most due to his pride, his fears and his need for control.

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Jane Hazelgrove impresses as ballsy mum Ella, with a heart full of love for her children and a genuine loyalty towards husband George, her portrayal is believable and honest. The scenes between Ella and Auntie Annie (Claire Hackett) are playful and fun, putting the world to rights over a steaming hot brew being the order of the day.

Each of the children are well cast and deliver their differing roles convincingly, torn between love for their family and their desperation for their own identities they bicker and squabble yet love each other fiercely. This is an enormously talented ensemble cast each and every individual excels with special mention to Shila Iqbal as foul mouthed Meenah who shines as the sassy sole female of the siblings.

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Director Ben Occhipinti guides his cast beautifully ensuring Ayub Khan Din’s sharp script is delivered with maximum impact and perfect pace. The laughs which come thick and fast are perfectly interjected with dramatic action which stops you in your tracks, witty dialogue is interrupted by heart-breakingly poignant moments which silence and shock.

The production superbly explores themes of culture, identity, family and acceptance. It may be set in the 70’s but these themes still resonate strongly today. In our modern world with there’s often thinly veiled pretences at multiculturalism East Is East feels relevant, current and is an important story to tell. The laughs plentiful, are balanced beautifully with ‘hold your breath’ heart stopping moments of raw emotion in this slick and superbly delivered production. Sharp, honest and boldly brilliant.

On at the Octagon theatre until Saturday 14th April tickets available here.