Lea Salonga

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Theatrical royalty and original Miss Saigon Lea Salonga brought her sensational one-woman show to Manchester’s Opera House over the weekend as part of her current UK tour. Rescheduled from February due to an unfortunate skiing accident Salonga quickly proved to an excited Manchester audience that she was more than worth the wait.

Opening with the Nina Simone classic Feeling Good Salonga sets the tone for the evening, slick, sharp and effortlessly brilliant. Accompanied by a six-piece band which includes Musical Director Larry Yurman whom worked with Salonga back in her Les Misérables Broadway days the talented musicians accompany her beautifully. Each piece is perfectly paced while the incredible acoustics within the Opera House make it feel as though she is singing directly to each and every person there. The impressive lighting design adds to the visual appeal of the show while Salonga’s vocals really do speak for themselves.

Incredibly warm and charismatic her frequent exchanges with the audience between numbers further add to the charm of her incredible performance, already enraptured with her judging from the enthusiastic applause even before the first note was sung Salonga further seals the deal when she announces “Manchester, you are giving me life right now”.

The varied set list caters wonderfully for all tastes; there’s lashings of musical theatre numbers including Les Misérables, Miss Saigon, Company and Hamilton as well as a brilliant selection of contemporary songs ranging from Tracy Chapman’s Fast Car to perhaps rather surprisingly One Direction’s Story Of My Life which is delivered with warm emotion.

Of course no performance would be complete without Salonga treating audiences to pieces from the Disney productions she famously voiced. Her performance of Reflection from Disney’s Mulan allows for a significant introductory speech about the importance of representation and visibility and how honoured she feels to represent not just Asian women on stage but an ‘badass Asian warrior’.

From Reflection Salonga moves poignantly into Train’s Drops of Jupiter which she dedicates to all those who have been affected by cancer after revealing that the Grammy award-winning song was written by lead singer Pat Monahan after the loss of his mother.

Act 1 comes to a close with an absolute fan favourite which Salonga describes as ‘the gift that keeps on giving’; a song she has sung many hundreds of times but one which walloped her emotionally the first time she sang it after the birth of her now 13 year old daughter. I’d Give My Life For You sounds as fresh and as devastating today as it did 30 years on from those first days of Miss Saigon rehearsals.

Act 2 opens with a lively delivery of Another Hundred People from Stephen Sondheim’s Company swiftly followed by a spectacular rendition of Let It Go from Disney’s Frozen which Salonga wittily describes as a song ‘you simply can’t escape from’ while inviting the eager audience to join in with the chorus to which they happily oblige.

The addition of a stripped back acoustic version of A-ha’s Take On Me is a real highlight of the show, showcasing not only Salonga’s incredible range and control but also the sheer talent of guitarist Chris Allard. Next comes a haunting rendition of Burn from Lin-Manuel Miranda’s smash-hit Hamilton a work she describes as ‘absolute genius’ and a show she has seen three times.

Salonga’s first stint as a Disney Princess was voicing Aladdin’s Princess Jasmine which resulted in one of the most successful duets in cinematic history, A Whole New World. Salonga takes this opportunity to ask for a volunteer to join her on stage in delivering the iconic song. Audience member Mark Cunningham, a dedicated fan since he first saw Salonga in Miss Saigon back in 1989 when he was just 14 is the lucky person chosen and delivers an impressive rendition of the much loved piece, complementing Salonga wonderfully. The pair thrill the audience with the duet receiving one of the warmest responses of the evening; an unforgettable opportunity for Mark as well as a heart-warming moment for the watching audience.

Salonga brings the show to a close with a medley of Les Misérables numbers I Dreamed A Dream and On My Own. The first Asian actress to play the roles of Eponine and Fantine on Broadway Salonga leaves the audience speechless with her goose bump inducing, note perfect delivery.

Salonga thankfully sticks with the tradition of delivering an encore and reappears to thunderous applause as she bursts into a celebratory performance of This Is Me from The Greatest Showman followed by her final song for the night, Whitney Houston’s Greatest Love of All.

Salonga thrills effortlessly from start to finish, her voice smooth as honey is as powerful as it is perfect. Thirty years of entertaining audiences have cemented her as without doubt one of the most extraordinary talents in the world today. Her warmth and talent combined with a varied and accessible set list ensures her appeal endures while she no doubt gains new fans along the way.

With limited dates left on this current tour we suggest you summon your inner badass and get booking tickets ASAP!

Further information and tour dates for Lea Salonga can be found here.

 

 

Disney on Ice | Dream Big

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Reviewed by Kate Goerner

Created in the late 1980s and seen in over 65 countries around the world, Disney on Ice as a brand is now a firmly established part of the Disney family. And the current tour – billed Dream Big – is indeed a  bit of a dream for fans young and old.

Produced by live family entertainment specialists Feld Entertainment, Dream Big is a lavish all-twirling, all-jumping show that packs in more than enough Disney princes and princesses, songs (and special effects) to keep audiences in a Disney dreamworld.

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For those who are unfamiliar with a Disney on Ice production. Minnie and Mickey act as hosts and introduce segments devoted to various iconic movies – this time round including Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, Tangled, Cinderella (complete with coach) and recordings of the soundtracks are played that the skaters perform and mime too.

With a stunning set backdrop and literally dazzling costumes and perfect wigs – we really do see our favourite heroes brought to life in front of our eyes. (It was particularly lovely to see them all regularly waving at audience members throughout the show). The skating was stunning – and for some of the performers (Maui and Sebastian the Crab – I’m looking at you) some in what must be quite tricky costumes.

A real highlight was the (new for this tour) Moana section – the solo skating routine performed by ‘Moana’ to How Far I’ll Go was a perfect example of music, performance and skating combining perfectly. I had goosebumps and a large lump in my throat – just stunning! It was as it had always been on ice!

Be Our Guest from Beauty and the Beast was a big company number, and a real crowd pleaser, as was Under the Sea from The Little Mermaid.

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Another favourite was the extra-long segment donated to Frozen, that was basically a mini version of the movie. Yes we’ve all heard Let it Go a million times, but it was pretty special seeing a version on ice! With twirling! Yet more goosebumps.

My 3 year old was admittedly a little scared of Ursula the sea witch from The Little Mermaid and the fire-breathing dragon from Sleeping Beauty (we took the opportunity to beat the loo queues and later on get an ice cream when it got a bit too scary for him), but he loved the Genie from Aladdin, Mickey and Minnie, Belle and (of course) seeing Elsa. He genuinely did not want to leave when the house lights went up.

Cynics begone – if there’s a more magical and uplifting way to spend an autumn evening, well…..I’ll get my skates on!

Preview | Disney on Ice

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There’s no disputing the magic of Disney for little (and hey, who are we kidding, and big!) kids, and the regular visits by Disney on Ice bring a real element of enchantment to Manchester.

The popular arena shows give fans the chance to see some of their favourite Disney characters performing live on ice – bringing to life much-loved tales and songs from classic animated movies from over the years.

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This time round the show is billed Dream Big – and seems likely to make plenty of dreams come true for Disney fans, not least because the show brings the first appearance on skates by Moana, the most recent inspirational heroine from the House of Mouse.

Theatre fans will no doubt be aware that the Oscar-nominated Moana had songs co-written by Hamilton’s Lin Manuel Miranda, who is now clearly firmly part of the Disney family thanks to this, and his forthcoming role in Mary Poppins Returns.

Expect lots of excitement from Moana fans at seeing Disney’s latest heroine in Manchester – with Demi God Maui (brilliantly voiced by Dwayne Johnson in the movie) also promised to make an appearance.

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Also in the show – which features spectacular figure-skating, beautiful costumes and stunning sets – will be sections dedicated to classic tales including Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, Aladdin and more.

As well as – of course! – a suitably icy section dedicated to all things Frozen!

Opening Night also hears tales of a fire breathing dragon…….we can’t wait!

Disney on Ice presents Dream Big at the Manchester Arena from Wednesday 10th October until Sunday 14th October.

For more information visit www.disneyonice.co.uk

 

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

Aladdin Press Launch

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First Family Entertainment and The Opera House, Manchester have announced their star-studded line up for this year’s fabulous family panto and boy are we in for a treat! Oh no we’re not……OH YES WE ARE!!!!

There will be superb sets, sparkling costumes and of course side splitting comedy all headed up by a spectacular cast! Rumour has it there may even be a flying carpet and don’t get me started on what that magical lamp might do!

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First up is much loved Manchester actor John Thomson, currently riding high in the TV ratings with the return of the brilliant Cold Feet, John takes on the role of the evil Abanazer. After playing Captain Hook back in 2007 John is thrilled to take on another notorious baddie and is looking forward to the challenge of getting the fine balance right between the comedy of the role and also the mischief and villainy.

“Playing a baddie is all about getting the balance right…one foot in the booooooo’s and one foot in the ha ha ha’s, to the kids watching it means everything, it’s so real to them, they get so involved and everything that happens on stage is so important”.

John spoke about his admiration for Panto greats who have paved the way for our current stars, Cannon and Ball, Norman Wisdom, Russ Abbot, Cilla Black..and more recently Joe Pasquale, Bradley Walsh, Bobby Davro and Brian Conley;

“..they delivered performances I not only admire but also aspire to, for me it means I want to get this right”.

John loves the unique charm and the Britishness of Panto, noting that the top three trending items on Twitter over the weekend were “The Archers, Country File and Antiques Roadshow” John thinks it’s clear what the British public want, good ,well made, wholesome entertainment, with hopefully the successful return of Cold Feet shaking things up a bit and paving the way for a return of more quality drama and entertainment and what better place to start than with the much loved tradition of Panto!

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Joining John for the festive season as the Genie of the Ring is the legendary Sherrie Hewson. Sherrie is hugely excited to return to Manchester, where she had an enormously successful five years on the cobbles at Coronation St. Aladdin is one of her absolute favourite Panto’s so she’s thrilled that her Grandchildren will get to see her in such a magical production.

A veteran of Panto with many tales to tell Sherrie will make for an exceptional Genie, dramatic, flamboyant, not to mention totally and utterly fabulous!

Sherrie hugely values the importance of Panto and loves how it gives so many children their first opportunity of live theatre. Sherrie described how Panto has given her own Grandchildren a taste for the theatre, something they now all enjoy as a family with regular trips to London.  Sherrie takes great pride in knowing her part in this year’s Panto will create magical memories for many more children and families new to the world of theatre. With great experience comes great knowledge and after working on so many panto’s in the past Sherrie certainly knows a great cast when she sees one;

I’m so looking forward to working with my fellow cast members, this cast feels really good, everything fits and feels just right.

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No Panto is complete without a dashing Prince and there’s no exception here, taking on the role of Aladdin is they very lovely Ben Adams known to many as the lead singer of popular 90’s boyband ‘A1’. Ben is now a hugely successful songwriter having recently enjoyed a spell at No 1 with the track ‘Guilty Flowers’ which he co-wrote with Ward Thomas and Shelly Poole. Add to this the fact Ben still tours with A1 and has recently reached No.1 with his own Classical Ep ‘One Beautiful Mourning’ as well as creating a new musical Eugenius! Phew!

Ben is really excited to be in Manchester, this is actually his third Christmas playing Aladdin after previously playing the role in Woking and Milton Keynes so when given the chance again he was keen to perform somewhere new, Ben reflects on his touring years with A1 and described past Manchester audiences as ..”Brilliant, always great fun” but due to being on the road he’d only ever get to stay for one night before heading off to the next gig so Ben’s taking this time as a great opportunity to explore Manchester and get to know this fabulous city.

While Ben is excited to take on the role again he’d love in future to tackle the challenge of playing a dame, having lots of fun with the role and of course enjoying the great interaction with the audience.

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Completing the start-studded line up and appearing as the long-suffering Widow Twankey will be Eric Potts, one of Britain’s best loved panto dames. Eric has previously won critical acclaim for his panto roles at the Opera House playing Widow Twankey in Aladdin in 2009 and Sarah the Cook in Dick Whittington in 2013 and is a huge crowd pleaser. As well as appearing in and writing the script, Eric will also be directing this year’s show!

With laughs a plenty, chart-topping songs, tonnes of unforgettable Panto puns, lamp loads of wishes AND a real flying carpet, Aladdin is set to be the most magical show of the season. Once you rub the magic lamp this fine cast will transport you into a magical world of boo-able baddies and hunky heros with more than a few tricks and treats along the way!

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Opera House, Friday 9th December – Sunday 8th January

Tickets available now from  http://www.atgtickets.com/shows/aladdin/opera-house-manchester/

ACCESS PERFORMANCES FOR ALADDIN
There are two BSL Interpreted Performance scheduled for Thu 15 & Fri 16 Dec 2016, 7pm, and on Fri 30 Dec 2016 at 1pm a Relaxed Performance. For more information on access performances call the access team on 0161 245 6605.